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Mr. Dahl

John Dahl found himself wrapped in a soft, white blanket. There were voices nearby, either in the room or down the hall. He was not sure where they were because the blanket was wrapped around his head as well, but guessed they were not very close because he could not make out what they were saying.

He thought back to the last thing that happened before he ended up here, trying to put together some causal link between then and now. There was none. How could there be? The last thing Dahl remembered was dying.

Maybe this was the afterlife, but it was not like any that he had imagined. Heaven and Hell were supposed to be harps and pitchforks. Nowhere did Dante mention being swaddled and mumbled at. Or maybe he had. Dahl had never read any of Dante’s work, but he did have his preconceptions and assumed they were in accordance with the accepted authority on such matters.

For a fleeting moment, Dahl considered the possibility that he did not die at all. He quickly dismissed the notion. That bullet definitely entered his brain via his eyeball and he did have that brief, semi-lucid moment realizing what happened to him as he lay on the ground before everything went black.

Why did the cop shoot him? People who are white and unarmed are usually taken into custody. Dahl wasn’t even making any sudden moves. The policeman probably reacted emotionally and if so, it would have been most unprofessional.  Perhaps he had a daughter of his own at home, someone like Susie. But it wasn’t this Susie so in Dahl’s mind, the cop was way out of line.

How many Susies had there been? Dahl knew early on that he couldn’t keep track so decided to count in reverse. As a result, the latest became number one. The rest were unimportant. He had no recollection how many of them were named Susie, if any. He just liked the way it sounded and considering all that was forced upon them, a name change was small potatoes.

Over the years, Dahl had managed to go through life leaving a vapor trail of AMBER Alerts. It was quite a streak of success and Dahl owed much of it to his approach.

The conventional wisdom was to make his move under the guise of familiarity. “My name’s John. I’m a friend of your mother’s. Get in the car.” That sort of thing.  The problem is that most kids have learned to see through that ruse.

So instead, Dahl would play the authority card. He would introduce himself as “Mr. Dahl,” tell the kid she was in a lot of trouble, and that she had better do what he said if she knew what was good for her. That tactic proved to be highly effective and as a bonus, it established the fear dynamic. This dynamic would be instrumental for what would transpire later on.

What did transpire varied little from Susie to Susie. Anything about a particular girl was unimportant. He did not care much about what she looked like. Hair color, eye color, and facial features were all superfluous details. All that mattered was she was nine years old (or near enough) and that she was terrified. For the rest, the Susie du jour was just, pardon the expression, along for the ride. Dahl then did what needed to be done, to use words he would later tell himself.

With the important business concluded, all that was left was a sobbing, frightened loose end. Sealing the girl’s fate by using his own name was merely a formality for Dahl. Her fear that made her so pliable (as well as so much fun) would wane once she was away from him.

This latest Susie was no different. She would tattle because that is what children do. The only way to silence her was to do it permanently. The problem was that Dahl did not see himself as a killer. For him, strangling the girl with a ligature or plunging a knife into her little heart was as much an anathema as dating a legal adult.

Fortunately for him, he had Mother Earth to do his dirty work. He also had a shovel. So in a rehash of events played out countless times before, he ordered the girl to lay still while he dug a shallow grave. Dahl worked up a sweat as he dug. He thought about making the girl dig the hole herself, but decided that would be unnecessarily cruel. She was also too small and weak to be any good at it.

Dahl stopped when the hole was three feet deep.

“Get in,” he said.

Susie complied.

She continued to sob as he put shovelful after shovelful of dirt on top of her. Dahl was not completely heartless. He could see the sadness in the tragic events taking place and to make himself feel better, he decided to believe in reincarnation.

Dahl convinced himself that Susie and all the Susies before her would come back and lead charmed lives, devoid of this sort of unpleasantness. Of course, there was a small chance that all future lives would be an endless stream of sex and death coming way too early.

What kind of God would allow that, Dahl asked himself as he emptied the last of the unearthed soil to the hole and smoothed it flush with the ground around it. It was a deep philosophical question and Dahl promised himself to ponder it when the next Susie came along.

That moment would never come. A hiker witnessed Dahl and Susie walking into the woods, thought it suspicious, and called the police. The cops arrived, but as is often the case, a little too late.

While one officer held Dahl at gunpoint, the other frantically dug up the girl. She was unresponsive. He tried reviving her with mouth to mouth, but to no avail. Seeing this made Dahl smile, as he recalled doing something that looked like this just 20 minutes before.

“Does this amuse you, you sick fuck?” said the cop who was holding the gun on him.

Dahl thought it prudent to try to calm the police officer. He knew getting caught would eventually happen. When it did, it behooved him to come off not as a monster, but as a man who genuinely loved children. And who better than Mister Rogers? Dahl had spent years practicing the late Fred Rogers’ grin in front of the mirror and now it was time to put it to use.

The impression was spot on. Maybe that’s why the policeman shot him. Dahl died before any explanation was given.

So here he was now, wrapped in a blanket, and neither shot nor in any afterlife that he had ever heard of. Perhaps he had been reincarnated, just as he hoped Susie would be. It seemed as likely an explanation as any.

Hands large enough to cover most of Dahl’s torso surrounded him and carried him away. The blanket kept him from seeing anything, but the echo of heels on floor tiles made it sound like he was being taken down a long hallway.

He heard a door open.  A few moments later, the blanket came off and he was staring into the face of a girl who looked to be about nine.

“OK,” a woman’s voice said. “I want you to meet a friend of mine. His name is Mister Doll. He is your friend as well. He’s going to help me know things that you may not want to talk about. All you need to do is point out the part on his body where the man touched you.”

The girl reached out and touched a spot between Dahl’s legs. Her hand was trembling. There were tears in her eyes.

She was just his type.

Acoustic Kitty 2001-2018

“To think, I killed a cat” -Sid Vicious 

I woke up shortly after midnight on June 13. The cat was on the bed with us and I thought I had rolled over on top of her. I had read a tragic news story about a father who had killed his infant child in this manner and while this might have been a good move for him in a financial sense, it must have been emotionally devastating.

I checked the cat to see if she was still alive. There was no response to my gentle prods. This did not necessarily mean she was dead. She was dying, but had been for some time. I grabbed my phone from the bedside table and turned on its flashlight. Kitty squinted a bit from the light and I could see that she was breathing normally.

That was a relief. Becca and I had already decided that we were going to take her to the vet to be put down, but I did not want my fat ass to move up the timetable. We both knew the risks of having her sleep on the bed with us, but we did not want her last night to be spent on the floor alone. There was not much we could do for her at that point, but at least we could do that.

Confident that I had not clumsily bumped off the cat, I put the phone back on the cordless charger. I keep this on the bottom shelf of the bedside table because the charger’s pulsing light, barely noticeable in a well-lit room, is annoyingly bright when the light is off. With the pulsing glow largely eclipsed by the edge of the bed, the effect was almost soothing. I stared at Kitty next to me. Every so often, her legs would twitch or her head would briefly raise. For the most part, she was motionless. She was not really asleep because her eyes were partially open.  She was not really awake either because she seemed mostly oblivious of everything around her, including me.

I watched the cat fade in and out with the charger’s light and thought about the night we met for the first time.

Acoustic Kitty was born nameless and feral sometime in the middle months of 2001. When she was a kitten, she, her mother, and other members of the litter would sit on the deck outside the sliding-glass door to the kitchen, hoping to get some food. Both Laura (my wife at the time) and I were softhearted when it came to cute animals so their endeavor was almost always fruitful.

As months passed, the litter began to shrink in size. It would be nice if Kitty’s siblings were adopted by loving residents in the network of backyards. This was doubtful, doubly so as it was more infirm-looking kittens who disappeared first. It was far more likely that they fell victim to raccoons, disease, or young serial killers in training.

After a while, only Kitty and her mother were left.  They eventually went their separate ways. Neither Laura nor I were interested in adopting a cat at first, but Laura did arrange with the SPCA so the mother and daughter could be spayed. Captivity lasted only long enough for surgery to heal and then they were set loose.

That November, Laura traveled to Bolivia to visit friends who were living there. Meanwhile, I spent my days working at a startup that was circling the drain.  Nights were spent in a bar, drinking until I half believed that I might still become one of those dot-com millionaires after all.

One of these nights, I staggered home and decided to conduct a little experiment. Instead of setting the food dish outside, I would plop both it and myself on the kitchen floor. I sat cross legged and tried to remain motionless. Kitty, being feral, was hesitant at she moved behind me, rubbing her body against my back as she passed. She eventually let me pet her. By the time my wife returned, we had ourselves a cat.

Six months later, Laura left for reasons that had nothing to do with the cat. Kitty stayed on for another 16 years. I learned to adore her quirks and mannerisms, and perhaps she did mine as well.

Her habit early on of attacking my toes when they poked from under the comforter was less than ideal, but for the rest she was utterly charming. I loved how talkative she was, her affectionate head butts, and how she was a total attention whore. I didn’t even mind the prezzies she gave me from her hunting expeditions. They were gruesome, but her heart was in the right place so I made it a point to let her down easy.

“Thank you for the eviscerated mouse, but after this burrito I don’t think I could manage another bite,” I would say.

By the time Becca first visited in 2013, Kitty’s days of hunting mice (and toes) were behind her. She was just as affectionate as ever, perhaps even more so as her feral instincts began to mellow with age. It was not long before Becca was in love with the cat as much as I was.

In recent months, Kitty began to decline. She lost weight, grew more listless, and peed wherever it suited her. Multiple trips to the vet turned up evidence that her kidneys were failing and a few suggestions to improve her health. Nothing really worked. She was old and dying. Becca and I resigned ourselves to that and figured all we could do was keep her as comfortable as possible for the time she had left.

Neither of us were in any hurry to have her put down. She did not seem to be in any pain and still purred when given scritches. As long as she could enjoy her existence at all, that was good enough.

On Tuesday evening, that all changed. When we were giving her subcutaneous fluids, we noticed a raw spot on one of her hind legs. Her walking skills were not great and she must have been dragging herself around while we were at work. She also looked miserable.

That was it. She was clearly suffering and we could no longer in keep her around in good conscience. I would call the vet in the morning to have her euthanized. I didn’t want to do it. I had hoped that Kitty would check out on her own schedule, peacefully and painlessly. But just as living can be a messy business, dying can be as well.

I had a hard time getting back to sleep after I awoke that night. I watched Kitty in the pulsing light, breathing rhythmically. She seemed OK for the moment, or at least as OK as she was going to get. I figured that if there was a perfect time for her to exit the world, this would be it. Instead, she just kept breathing, neither awake nor asleep, somewhere between dead and alive.

Looking back, I’m glad she held on until morning. Dying on her own might have been painful, and neither Becca nor I wanted that. I called Mission Pet Hospital and made an appointment for 11 am. The vet was very nice and gave us a few moments alone to say our goodbyes and shed a few tears,

There were a lot of tears.

Chiming In

Consider this a placeholder, an acknowledgement to my few but treasured readers, a fart to blast away the dust that has been gathering on this blog for the past two and a half weeks. I’ve been trying to regain focus, both in writing and in life in general.

There has been some progress on both fronts, but nothing to brag about. As for writing, I have the beginnings of a story. It’ll take some time to turn that into something that doesn’t suck so you won’t be able to read it for a while.

As for life in general, I don’t see anything too horrible on the horizon except for the imminent death of Acoustic Kitty. I don’t know when that’ll be. I just want her to be as comfortable as possible between now and checkout time. I would prefer that to happen on her timetable rather than having a vet expedite the process. That may not happen though. If she gets any worse, I may not have a choice.

I’ll probably hit the bar tonight, the first time since we got back from Portland. I want to treat myself to a moment of booze clarity,  that moment when I have just enough liquor in my system to stifle the noise so I can make sense of a little piece of my existence. It won’t last. Even if I stop drinking right then, the alcohol in my stomach will snuff out that wisdom after it enters the bloodstream.

That’s all for now. Have a lovely weekend.

 

 

The Chicken Crosses the Road

I kicked the cat last night. I didn’t mean to do it. I was asleep and dreaming about something that made my legs flail about. The cat was apparently down by my feet.

I woke up to Becca telling me, “You’re kicking the cat. Stop it!” When my eyes opened, she had gotten the cat out of harm’s way and was turned away from me holding the animal and shielding her from further assault.

If I were a truly decent person, my reaction would have been something like Holy shit, I hope the cat is OK. Instead, it was Great, so now I have to endure the shame of being a cat kicker. As a result, the delay I had getting back to sleep was not caused by worry for the cat. I was more preoccupied with coming up with a way to demonstrate how sorry I was. Skulking away to sleep on the couch was one option that popped into my head. Committing suicide was another. Ultimately, I did neither.

This is familiar territory when I fuck up somehow. The idea is if I punish myself sufficiently, then maybe no one else will. Admittedly, it isn’t healthy. Then again, neither am I.

The cat isn’t healthy either though I can’t expect her to be. She is 17, which is pretty old by cat standards. Her white-cell count is up and she has kidney disease. She probably has more stuff wrong with her that the recent blood test and ultrasound can only hint at.

In the morning, she gets her daily dose of antibiotic, an anti-inflammatory, and an appetite stimulator. In the evening, she gets a needle jabbed into the loose skin in her shoulder and has 100ml of water drain into her from a plastic bottle that hangs from a lamp near the couch. Becca does the needle jabbing. I hold the cat in my lap and tell her what a good girl she is for putting up with our shit.

I believe the cat will die this year. I have no expertise in these matters, but I do know she is old and sick, and that old, sick things have a way of dying.

Her death, when it does come, will make me sad. I know she’s just a cat, but she’s my cat and she has been part of my life longer than most humans.

I try not not to think about it too much. Like most unpleasant occurrences in life, I’ll pretend it’s not happening while it’s happening and try to make sense of it later.

In the meantime, I go through the motions. Motions are put there for us to go through. No good has ever come from asking what the point is. Just stick to the script and play part I was given. It sucks, but it could be a lot worse for me.

I could be the cat.

Murray the Moray Cures Cancer

Murray was not an average moray eel. For one thing, he was much bigger. Remember that moray in The Deep who ate Lou Gossett’s head? Murray was perhaps even bigger than that.

Unlike many morays, Murray did not make his home in a coral reef. Who can blame him? The reefs are in a state of decline. The Great Barrier Reef, which may have to change its name soon, has lost half of its living coral. As is the case with most ecological disasters, humans are to blame. Some of the damage is up close and personal, caused by divers who are souvenir hunters or just plain clumsy. The pieces of coral broken off by these inconsiderate clods in a matter of seconds can take years to grow back.

Some might argue that it was Murray’s moral obligation to defend the reef, to bite the intruders’ heads like so many Lou Gossetts. While satisfying perhaps, this course of action would not be terribly effective. The bulk of the damage done is not from divers, but by climate change and pollution.

Instead, Murray has chosen to make a portable toilet on a city street his lair. In pure Darwinist terms, this was a smart move. For one thing, this habitat was not threatened. Human influence has been proven to increase, rather than diminish, the prevalence of public toilets. Also, the water is bluer than in any ocean.

So it was there Murray lurked and waited, his mouth opening and closing in a manner consistent with a moray eel. He was hungry, but he was also patient, and it was not long before a suitable meal came along.

Casanova Joe needed to poop. All the businesses up and down the street had signs in their windows saying that their restrooms were for customers only. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem. He would duck into a cafe, order a coffee, make a trip to the toilet, and be on his merry way. Today was different. He was late to work. Even if we wasn’t, he had no money because he left his wallet at that woman’s house.

Was her name Marion or Marianne? He couldn’t remember. She was a sales rep for some cheese company. His wallet must have fallen out of his pocket when he was hurriedly taking his pants off. As was often the case when hooked up, he was in an equal rush to put his pants back on so he could slip out of her apartment unnoticed. There wasn’t anything wrong with the woman other than that she was really into cheese and made him sample it before she agreed to have sex with him. The sex was not bad. Neither was the cheese, but he sampled so much of it that it sat in his gut like a brick.

Joe spotted a portable toilet on the sidewalk. Thankfully, it was not padlocked. He went in, latched the door, dropped his pants, and sat down. He grunted. He was looking forward to ridding himself of this cheese log, but it did have one benefit. It took his mind off the dull ache in his testicles. He had an unusually high sex drive, which earned him the moniker “Casanova Joe,” and was prone to painful bouts of blue balls if he went too long without release. He thought he was experiencing that again now even though neither masturbation nor sexual intercourse could make it go away.

Meanwhile, Murray the Moray waited in the dark blue water below, poised to strike.

The fact was that Joe did not have blue balls at all. What he had was testicular cancer. It started to hurt when it hit stage three and like Murray, it was ready to make its move. Any lymph node would do, telegraphing the malignancy to a spot where it might kill him.

Murray was unaware of the tumor as well. What he saw was a juicy morsel, his for the taking. He was not about to let the opportunity slip by. He sprang forward and clamped his jaws tightly on the scrotum.

Casanova Joe shrieked in pain and tried to stand up, but could not. The mouth on his testicles refused to release its grip. Joe’s bowel movement fetched loose in the melee and poked halfway out of his anus, firm as a baguette. Perhaps if Murray had bitten down on his penis as well, the feces would have come out the rest of the way. The professional literature in this area of medicine has yet to take a stand on this issue.

Murray thrashed about in the toilet water while Joe struggled in vain to get to his feet. In this tug of war, something had to give and the weakest link was the flesh of Joe’s scrotum. When it it tore, Murray fell back with a mouth full of testicles and tumor, which he soon swallowed.

Joe burst out of the portable toilet. The half-birthed cheese turd sticking out of him wagged like a dog’s tail, but that did not mean he was happy.  He could not walk very well because his pants were around his ankles. He could not walk very well because his balls had been bitten off.

He could, however, scream perfectly well so he did a lot of that. “Snapping turtle!” he shouted over and and over as blood gushed from his crotch. He wasn’t sure that it was a snapping turtle, but it was the first thing to pop into his head and he was in no mental condition to come up with other options. A passerby took Joe at his word and called the Department of Animal Control.

When Animal Control arrived, they expected to find a snapping turtle in the water. They did not expect to find a creature like Murray the Moray. Murray was no ordinary moray eel. He was not only much larger, he had arms, legs, and a wife and kid at home.

Penny from Heaven (Part 3)

Saturday had come and the news was still abuzz over the plane crash Wednesday afternoon. It had gone down in a wheat field, sending a thick plume of smoke into the sky. Over 200 people were aboard that airliner and the air hung thick with the smell of jet fuel and overcooked meat.

Special media attention was paid to the 16 students in the choir and two faculty members who had died. It was heartstrings gold so the adults were portrayed as saints, the teens as perfect angels.

One news reporter lusting for a Local Emmy stood in front of the wreckage, rattled off the 18 names then said, “They’re all behind me in that twisted metal and debris, hopes and dreams snuffed out by this tragedy.”

He was wrong. Not everyone in the choir died in that plane.

Upwind and a few miles north on the Burrell farm, the air was clear and calm. There was no fire and smoke, no stench of charred flesh. It was there that Penny Nicholls had fallen from the sky and landed almost unnoticed.

Earl was the only witness when it happened. He had just returned from watching the lacrosse team practice. After he parked the pickup in front of his shed, he saw Penny in free fall. She had her arms outstretched and looked like she was trying to fly, but not doing a very good job of it. Then he noticed her tartan skirt and knew she was meant for him.

Three days later, Earl was still madly and deeply in love. Nevertheless, he needed to focus. He had a job to do.

He was in the master bathroom grabbing his mother’s makeup and stuffing it into a pillowcase he was holding. He wasn’t sure what was needed and what wasn’t so he decided to take it all. He also took her perfume and deodorant because those might be needed as well.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” his mother said after walking in on him.

“I’m just borrowing these, Mom. I’ll bring them back when I’m done.”

“Done using them for what? Have you turned into a transectional? Say it isn’t so, Earl. You’d make one plug-ugly girl and it would break your father’s heart.”

“I need them for my girlfriend.”

“You have a girlfriend? Will wonders never cease? Does she have a name?”

She did indeed have a name. It was Penny, but Earl had no way of knowing that. He started off calling her either “Honey” or “Babe,” and the two soon melded together.

“It’s ‘Honeybabe’,” he said.

“That’s a stripper’s name,” his mother said. “Just because you stuff dollar bills in a whore’s panties while she dances with a pole, that doesn’t make her your girlfriend.”

“She’s not a whore. You don’t know her. You don’t know anything. I’m leaving,” Earl said. He turned and walked away with as much a resolute stomp a man missing half a foot could muster.

“Not with my things, you’re not,” his mother said.

“Screw you, Mom.”

Earl descended the stairs and crossed the living room toward the front door. His mother was close behind, yelling how no girl could possibly want him, how worthless he was, and how much she regretted not aborting him.

Earl’s father sat on the couch, not looking away from the TV.

“Earl’s gone crazy and ransacked my belongings. You’re his father. Say something to him,” Earl’s mother demanded.

“Knock it off,” his father said. This was his go-to when Earl got out of line.

“Screw you too, Dad,” Earl said.

“I said knock it off,” his father said. This was his go-to when Earl did not knock it off.

By now, Earl was out the door and hobble-marching to the pickup truck parked on the gravel driveway. His mother stood in the entrance to the house and continued to shout unkind things, but he had already mentally blocked her out. The sound that hit his ears was transformed into how adults talked in “Peanuts” TV specials by the time it reached his brain.

He got in the truck and started the engine. Penny was in the passenger seat, leaned against the window and door.

“Hey Honeybabe,” Earl said. “I should apologize for not introducing you to my parents, but trust me. You wouldn’t want to meet either of them. All they care about is pretending to farm and getting a fat subsidy check. They don’t know what it’s like to be in love.”

He put the car in drive and drove off in the direction of the public road. Perhaps his parents were going to throw him out of the house for this. It was a strong possibility, but Earl didn’t care. They were his past and the past was time spent without Honeybabe.

That past Wednesday when Penny Nicholls quite literally fell for Earl, he felt like he was the luckiest man in the world. She was just a speck when he first saw her, becoming bigger and more beautiful the closer she came to earth. Did she look at him and smile just before she hit the ground? Earl was pretty sure that she had and there was no way to prove that she hadn’t. Upon impact, she had bounced several feet in the air before coming to rest face down in the rich topsoil of the Burrell farm. Earl ran to her, rolled her over, and smiled. He knew she was 18, of age. He was sure of it. Earl put his hand up her skirt, worked his finger under her panties, and plunged it into her lovin’ stuff.

“Consent,” he said.

Things moved pretty fast from there. He picked her up and carried her to his shed. She was not a small girl and with his handicap, he found it difficult to keep balanced. Still, he loved the way she felt in his arms.

She was a vision of loveliness when she swept downward from heaven, but it was the landing that perfected her for Earl. Nearly every bone in her body was broken. This made her very pliable.

He dumped Penny on the cot in the shed and began to undress her. Dead girls were supposed to be cold, but this one’s body was still quite warm. Earl liked that, but what he really liked was how flexible her shattered limbs were. He could bend them any which way and they would offer no resistance. A girl shouldn’t resist. She should consent.

For the briefest of moments, Earl wondered if a dead person really could consent. He quickly dismissed the concern as ridiculous. Was what he was about to do any different from that time he went to town with a sweat sock stuffed with Libby’s Potted Meat Food Product?

After Penny’s last article of clothing was removed, Earl spent the next several hours doing things he had never done with a woman before. Earl was still a virgin so one of these was simple sexual intercourse. So that’s what all the fuss was about, he thought. Good stuff, that vaginal penetration, but what else could he do? It turned out plenty.

He gave the other two popular orifices a whilrl then found he could improvise many more simply by folding her skin into a receptive crease. Given her corpulence and extensive skeletal trauma, almost every part of her body was a potential field to plow. After traversing her anatomy, he would always return to the original point of entry. It was the alpha and the omega, the homecoming, and the promised land.

Six hours into this marathon lovemaking, things began to go horribly wrong. Her body stiffened, resisting his advances.

“Come on, Honeybabe. You know I love you,” Earl said, but to no avail. Even her face had changed. Gone was the relaxed smile she wore when he first saw her that seemed Do whatever. I’m done caring. It had now hardened into a disapproving scowl.

In the following hours, her muscles tightened even further.  It got to the point where he could not force her knees apart. Even though both femurs were snapped, her thighs were like granite.

Earl gave up. He sat on the floor in the corner of the shed and stared daggers at her. He called her unkind names. He threw an empty Coke can at her head (it missed).

He left the shed and did not return for an entire day. During that time, he went about his routine as if nothing changed. He limped around the fields of the family farm, overgrown with weeds because the government was paying them not to grow anything that year. He sat at the dining table with his parents, eating his food but not speaking with them. The external Earl was as fine as he always had been. On the inside, he was devastated.

The world might have dismissed him as human garbage, but he thought Honeybabe was different. What had he done wrong? Was he really that worthless? He finally could not bear his heartbreak any longer and returned to the shed. Penny was still stiff as a board. Even though he didn’t believe it would work, he begged her to take him back.

“Oh Honeybabe, my heart is in a tizzy and I yearn to get busy,” he said, hoping an attempt at poetry might melt her. It did not. He began to sob and rocked her in his arms. He cried himself to sleep.

When he woke, Penny had relaxed. She was not as limber as when she bounced off the ground, but there was a definite improvement. She also looked a little bloated. Had she put on weight? Earl didn’t mind. He liked a woman to have some meat on her.

“Who’s my little piggy?” he said and gave her a playful squeeze. She responded with a fart that sounded like someone clearing the spit valve on a tube and smelled a whole lot worse. Earl chuckled and let out a fart of his own.

Honeybabe was his again and he decided to celebrate the occasion by taking her out on a date. She did need some freshening up beforehand.  Her eyes looked a little deflated and her once creamy complexion had turned into paisley-like red splotches on fish-belly white. If he took some of his mother’s beauty products, they would fix that right up. It wasn’t like they were doing the old bat any good anyway.

“Tits on a mule,” he said.

An hour later, the makeup and sundries had been procured, and Earl had made his escape and fled the family farm. He grinned and tunelessly whistled as the car continued down the road.  Penny was slouched in her seat, perfectly still except for a bit of pinkish foam bubbling from one nostril. He had stopped a while back to put some makeup on her. He used too much and made her look like the Joker, but he didn’t mind. She was beautiful to him no matter what.

“Out for a drive on a glorious day with my Honeybabe. Life couldn’t be better,” Earl said.

He sniffed.  Had Honeybabe farted again? It sure was something. He rolled down the window. That helped some. He then reached into the pillowcase, pulled out his mother’s perfume. He gave her a few squirts from the atomizer, and realizing this was insufficient, he unscrewed the top and dumped the remaining contents on her head.

“Nothing personal, Honeybabe,” Earl said. “Your womanly aroma is just going to take a little getting used to. What a day I have planned for us. We’re going to a lacrosse game. The girls there think they’re too good for me, but I don’t need them. I have you. Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s give them a little show, you and me. It’ll be fun for us and maybe they’ll learn a thing or two. How ’bout it?”

Penny from Heaven (Part 2)

Thirty-two thousand feet above Earl, an 18-year old high school senior named Penny sat in an airplane and adjusted her tartan skirt. It would cover her legs almost to her knees if she pulled it taut and remained still. That was a small victory, but she was willing to take what she could get. If she was lucky, it might be enough to get Mr. Braden to stare at something else for a change.

Penny still did not regret sitting next to the faculty chaperone. At least he kept his hands to himself, which was more than could be said for any of the teenage boys on the trip. Still, it might be nice if he made eye contact with a girl without her snapping her fingers at him first and when he finally did, could he just once not have his eyes red from not blinking and also not be wearing a coat of saliva as lip-gloss?

She would have preferred sitting next to the choir teacher, Ms. Zurbuchen, despite the instructor’s near-constant disapproval of everything and everyone. Another female student would have been fine, but not perfect either. The ones who did not know Penny well would often gossip that she was a slut and a prude (and sometimes both). Penny’s supposed friends weren’t much better, often giving helpful advice like “People might like you better if you lost weight and learned to be interesting.”

No matter what, Penny would on the receiving end of unwanted attention. It was just the way things were and the way it had always been. Her parents were largely to blame for sending their daughter down this path. They meant well, as parents often do when making dreadful mistakes.

Mr. and Mrs. Nicholls chose her name because they thought it would make her popular with other children. As far as they were concerned, there was no way that anyone named “Penny Nicholls” could not be well liked. It just sounded adorable rolling off the tongue and besides, who doesn’t like money? To drive the point home, they often had Penny wear print dresses with pictures of coins on them.

Penny showed up to her first day of kindergarten in such attire. By the time her parents came to pick her up, she was crying. “There is no reason for tears,” they assured her while choosing to ignore the library paste on her dress, gum in her hair, and fingerpaint in her ears.

As the year wore on, the bullying leveled off and even dipped a bit, but never went away completely. Penny was clearly not happy, but her parents did not mention anything to her teacher. It probably would not matter if they had. The teacher had been on the job long enough to know that children were pint-sized psychopaths and every so often, there would be one kid in her class who was a lightning rod for abuse. The best she could do was keep the body count at zero until this group moved onto the first grade and became somebody else’s problem.

When Penny got older and she and her peer group hit puberty, many of the taunts became sexual in nature. In the seventh grade, they were more rudimentary. “Penny Nicholls sucks all the boys’ pickles,” kids would say.  Two years later, they had morphed into a comparatively sophisticated “Not getting any? Talk to Penny.”

None of these insinuations were accurate. Other than a perfunctory smooch during an awkward game of spin the bottle when she was 12, Penny had never even kissed a boy. She assumed she would eventually be sentenced to love, marriage, and a baby carriage, but was in no hurry for that to happen. Instead, she was content to have a series of crushes she dared not tell anybody about for fear of being mocked. Most of these only lasted a few weeks. The one exception was a boy named Terrence, whose nickname for her was “Penny Antichrist” and was the only ninth grader she knew who smoked. She was smitten for him for close to a year and felt heartbroken when he and his family moved away.

Penny was mostly a loner in high school. She was a good student, but not exceptional. She was not an athlete, but had the appetite of one and began to put on weight. As her figure became ample, boys would call her a fat pig while lustfully looking her up and down.

It was during her junior year that she discovered her one true talent. Penny was walking home from school with her earbuds in and singing along to a song playing on her smartphone. She wasn’t watching where she was going and almost collided with the choir instructor Mrs. Zurbuchen.

Ms. Zurbuchen told Penny she should audition for the school choir. Penny shook her head no.

“Look, kid. I need a good alto and I think you’d fit in well. Think it over.”

Penny did think it over. The prospect of trying out for anything frightened her,  but she liked the idea that she might fit in somewhere. She was sold. Her parents approved and she felt no need to talk it over with her close friends because she did not have any.

The audition went well and Penny made it into the school choir, but she soon found out that Ms. Zurbuchen was not always gentle in her criticisms. Penny’s singing wasn’t the issue. It was that she kept doing it with her eyes closed.

“What are you, Jim Morrison? Open your goddamn eyes!” the instructor often suggested.

Penny did not get the cultural reference, but did make an effort to comply. That worked for a while, but her eyes would close again as soon as she stopped actively trying to keep them open. Ms. Zurbuchen eventually gave up and remedied the situation by having Penny stand behind Nathan, a tall, gangly youth with an Adam’s apple the size of a man’s fist.

This suited Penny fine. She wanted to sing, not be seen. With the view of her blocked, she found she had less of an urge to close her eyes so it had nothing to do with her singing. In fact, she found herself wanting her eyes shut in most situations that made her uncomfortable, or in other words, most situations.

With the rest of the world comfortably on the other side of her eyelids, she often liked to imagine she was flying high in the air, away from everything and everyone. She would not fly like Superman because her arms would be out at her sides. It would not be like a bird either because there would be no flapping. Instead, they would be stationary like an airplane’s wings. She took care not to have her arms actually do this after that time someone said, “You’re too fat to be Jesus. You’d pull out the nails.”

Penny found the choir to her liking. She knew it was a tall order for her to fit in completely, but sang well and was reliable so no one tried to get her to quit.

By her senior year, her efforts really began to pay off. The choir won a number of local competitions and after securing the regional title, they were invited to Chicago for a big national sing-off just after Easter.

Money was of course an issue, public-school budgets being what they are. A GoFundMe campaign was launched in addition to more traditional ways students raised money such as a bake sale and a car wash. The choir even organized a small carnival and gave Penny the seat of honor in the dunking booth.

The fundraisers were a success. There was not only enough money to fly the choir to Chicago and put them up in junkie-free accommodations, there was enough left over to supply uniforms. Penny’s high school didn’t have much of a dress code, let alone a uniform requirement, but there was a push for the students to look sharp when representing the school. There was an additional push by Mr. Braden that girls should wear a traditional tartan skirt. Boys should wear navy slacks and a white shirt. Maybe a sweater and tie. Whatever.

The students, including Penny, were so excited about going to Chicago they didn’t care what they wore. Even for those who had traveled by air fairly regularly saw this as a special occasion because their parents were not coming with them. For Penny, who had only been on an airplane twice in her life, it felt like the trip of a lifetime.

She did not know how right she was.

About midway through the flight to Chicago, Penny got up to pee. It would give her a respite from the creepy gaze of Mr. Braden, but it also meant she would have to go through the gauntlet of walking back to the lavatory. She wished she could close her eyes and walk straight ahead, but that meant a risk she would trip and fall into the lap of a boy with an erection. Her best option was to keep her eyes forward and soldier through.

As she walked, girls made faces and rolled their eyes. Boys sitting in aisle seats grabbed at her legs. Nathan, the tall boy she stood behind in choir, sat in the back row. He had gotten the idea that Penny chose to stand behind him to check out his ass so when he saw her approach, he grinned at her with unbrushed teeth and thrust his hand down the front of his pants.

Penny wondered how the situation could get any worse and the inside engine on the left side of the plane provided an answer. Back at the airport, there had been some confusion over who was supposed to inspect this engine so no one did it at all. If someone had, they sure would have seen that it was likely to explode, which is what it did.

The explosion took the wing clean off and the plane spiraled toward earth. Centrifugal force threw Penny against the lavatory door. The rest of the passengers had their seat belts on, which was in accordance with FAA regulations but did not do any of them much good.

When the plane dropped 15,000 feet, the tail section came off. Penny was hurled from the passenger cabin into the open sky. She was cleanly jettisoned and did not have any part of her person in contact with the jagged edges of fuselage on the way out.

After an initial blast  of wind that stunned but did not injure her, Penny looked around and realized she was no longer inside of an airplane. She closed her eyes, put her arms straight out, and pretended to fly.

Penny from Heaven (Part 1)

Earl Burrell stood at the edge of a bare section of farmland and kicked at the dirt with what was left of his right foot. He was 36 years old and had spent the last 20 of them missing everything from his mid-arch forward. This was the result of a self-inflicted blast from a 12-gauge shotgun. The buckshot did not remove all of it, but it made enough of a mess that the doctor had to amputate much of what was left over.

Earl grew up as the only child in a farming family. He had little aptitude or affinity for working in the fields and was always coming up with excuses so he could escape the daily toil. It was therefore of little surprise that his parents suspected the partial amputation of one of his feet as just another dodge.

He might very well have blasted off a piece of his foot for an idle existence had he thought of it. Earl was not a fan of running, or even walking, so the pluses did outweigh the minuses. It was unintentional however, something Bob Ross might have called a “happy accident” if he had worked with firearms instead of paint. Intentional or not, Earl was OK with limping from one place to another as long as the destination was where he could do a whole lot of nothing.

His parents’ initial irritation morphed into acceptance when they realized that Earl was destined to be a layabout anyway so not much had really changed. In time, they even believed Earl’s claim that his injury was an accident though they took this to mean he was aiming at his other foot.

A hefty out-of-court settlement from the gun manufacturer set Mr. and Mrs. Burrell’s minds at ease. Telling Earl the money would be put in a “college fund” (he was a high-school dropout), they pocketed the cash except for a small allowance and a shed where he could masturbate in private.

In what was the closest Earl got to ambition, he vowed that his jack-off shed would one day become his love shack. He returned to his high school since this was where girls could be found. He did not start attending classes. He just staked out a spot and the hallway and waited for the moment when he would have the courage to ask one out.

That moment never came. A number of students complained and despite having never re-enrolled, Earl was expelled and told never to set foot on school grounds again.

Earl shrugged and found a new location at another school where he could continue to look at girls.  He was often able to borrow the family pickup truck so mobility was rarely an issue. In time, every secondary school in a 100-mile radius (with the exception of an all-boys military academy) became part of his ogling circuit.

Years passed. The girls would eventually graduate and get on with their lives, only to have a new set take their place. The one constant was Earl Burrell.

So here he was today doing what he did best. He took a bite from his pulled-pork sandwich and stared through his binoculars at the girls’ varsity lacrosse team. They were having their afternoon practice before the big game against the league champs. If they were victorious, they stood a good chance of winning the league themselves.

Earl did want the team to win, but he was mostly just happy that they were able to play at all. Most public high schools had their budgets slashed and few teams other than football and basketball. Fortunately, this was a private school so its athletic program was kept intact to attract enrollment. Fortunately for Earl, this was a Catholic school so tradition was important. The team uniform, including the tartan skirts, had not changed in decades.

Earl just loved those skirts.

He would have preferred to sit in the bleachers like a civilized human being instead of having to watch from the far end of an open field. He feared violence from the fathers (and some mothers) for what they thought was an unhealthy interest in the girls practicing.

This bothered Earl. If the parents wanted to fear for their daughters, it certainly should not be because of him. There were some real creeps out there like the ones who liked to watch the JV team. Earl wasn’t like them. He only watched the varsity team, which was largely made up of seniors with many of them having reached their 18th birthday. Some of the mentally slower players may have been held back a year or two and would even be older than that.

Earl placed a high value on consent so being of age was crucial. It was a non-negotiable first hurdle on the sexual-satisfaction roadmap, but not the only step. She of course would have to say yes. Persistent unwanted advances might enrage the objects of his desire and there were a few of the larger girls who looked like they could inflict serious bodily harm.

There were a lot of guys who would enjoy such punishment, but not Earl. He was no masochist and he preferred females who were pliant and demure, bordering on catatonic. Her yes was a must, but only a slut uttered it loudly and with unabashed enthusiasm. Instead, Earl wanted it delivered as a simple nod while looking away and tears in her eyes that showed that she was a lady.

The absence of a no would do in a pinch as well.

Although he didn’t want a woman much older than 18 (one’s better half should be half one’s age, he reasoned), a reverse “The Price Is Right” rule was in effect. She should be close to the age of consent without being under. For this reason, Earl put a lot of effort into being able to guess a young honey’s age.

So far, he had yet to be proven wrong. He had never been proven right either, but that did not erode his confidence. He scanned the lacrosse field, deciding who was 18 and who was not.

“I want a cheeseburger, not veal parmesan,” he said, when in fact he would not get either. All he’d get was pulled pork.

It looked like the day would end like countless others. He would retreat to his shed, have a tug, and convince himself that the next day was somehow going to be different. If he were a praying man, he might look to God and ask for a miracle.

What Earl did not know was that a miracle was about to happen. Whether divine intervention was involved was up for debate, but Earl’s miracle was unfolding where God was said to live, way up in the sky.

Backup Plan

I awoke in the wee hours of Monday morning last week. I do that a lot. Often it’s because I have to pee, but sometimes it’s my waking from a nightmare. The week prior, I had a real doozy that had a werewolf that sprang in front of me and grew so large, it blocked out all traces of light. I woke up screaming. Becca, understandably concerned, asked if I was OK. I was fine because I was awake. That meant the monster was gone.

This past dream was not so bad. I had escaped my abductors in SF and was sneaking around some dream version of Oakland that’s a lot nicer than Oakland really is. I wasn’t sure about the people I escaped from. Maybe they wanted to own a hostage the same way one might want to own a dog. There was certainly nothing to indicate they wanted to vivisect me or use my fingers and toes as a pizza topping. I was happy to be rid of them, but never felt any real fear. I woke up relaxed.

I checked my phone and it was just after three in the morning. The VM where I host my blog had one job scheduled to run at two on Monday and another at three. The first job dumped the contents of the blog’s database into a file in a backup directory I had created. The second job uploaded that file to a remote storage account I recently set up.

For the briefest of moments, I felt like a grownup. I behaved prudently. Poison Spur is the only endeavor I’ve pursued with anything approaching a sustained effort and now it had a means of disaster recovery. Never mind giant werewolves and pizza chefs who wield bloody tin snips. Losing this blog would be a real fucking nightmare.

It happened once before. Roughly ten years ago, there was a disk crash and I had no recent backup. Sifting through both Google and disk cache, I was able to piece most of it back together. It was a painful experience and I should have learned my lesson right then. Instead, I pushed my luck for another decade.

So what changed? What motivated me to do something smart after all these years? The answer is what made my feeling of maturity so fleeting.

Back in January, I upgraded my DSL to a high-speed fiber-optic thingamabob. The new modem had a router built in, which meant I had to learn how to configure the thing. You know the five-second rule when food hits the floor. I have a five-minute one when it comes to figuring out a technical task. Of course, figuring out technical things is what I do for a living so I make an exception whenever money is involved. Otherwise, I say fuck it and either play a game or catch up on what’s happening in the world of porn.

The five minutes elapsed so I declared partial victory. There was Wi-Fi access for our phones and desktops, and my desktop computer could access the internet via an ethernet cable to the modem/router/whateveryoucallit. What I didn’t have was the means for a device to access the desktop through the Wi-Fi.

I bought my desktop in 2010, which makes it about as modern as a horse-drawn carriage in as far as computers go. Lately, it had pretty much been relegated to a backup device for my phone. I would launch my rsync app, tap a few buttons, and my pics and whatnot would get backed up. I didn’t even have to get out of bed.

Those days were gone and I realized it was all for the best. If my shit is worth anything at all (a debatable point, granted), shouldn’t it be recoverable even if there’s a burglary or a fire? I did a bit of googling and decided to go with IDrive (not an Apple product, note uppercase “I” #fuckthecult) because there’s no limit on number of devices and it works easily with Linux.

For my $69/year, I get 1 TB in cloud storage. I don’t process that figure well. It’s bigger than I can mentally size in anything but abstract terms, yet it’s too small to be infinite. That left me with the perplexing task of deciding what to back up.

My music collection was a no brainer. The same went for my writing projects. Conversely, there were some things I had no desire at all to back up: downloaded installer files, CPAN modules, and the like.

The jury is still out on porn. There are no legal reasons not to. Even if is law enforcement subpoenaed my encryption key from IDrive or the company gave it up just to be dicks, there is not much that can be done to me. Child porn ain’t my thing and the mere possession of other kind of obscene material is not prosecutable. I think snuff porn might be another criminal no-no, but I doubt I have any of that either. I’ll need to check my archives.

Legal issues aside, I don’t see much of a point. Most of that crap lives in folders that have been opened in years because I have no interest now. My old friend, the late great Ray McKelvey of the band Stevie Stiletto once said in a song, “I’m sitting on the toilet thinking about a girl I used to know. Like a pornographic movie, she was only good the first time.” There is a lot of wisdom in those words, largely because of the near-universal truth of their foundation. Porn serves a purpose and then we move on. There are exceptions of course. I have a friend who automated his Usenet porn downloads back in the 90s and lovingly catalogued them into burned CDs with titles like “Redheads Vol. 4,” but his level of devotion is a rare thing indeed. I’d say doubly so now that we live in an era when there is convenient access to live, streaming whatever the hell you’re into.

So porn, like anything, will have to be considered on a case-by-case basis and because storage devices will someday fail, I have the power to decide what ultimately lives or dies. I’ll be like God with my own personal rapture roster. I may make a few mistakes along the way, but there is one I do know: Most stuff, whether it is on a planet or a hard drive, is not worth saving.

The Cat Who Cheated Death

I worked from home on Tuesday so I could take the cat to the vet. I wanted to bring her in that following Saturday, but they were booked solid. Becca and I would be in Portland the next weekend and I didn’t want to put it off another week.

Kitty (full name “Acoustic Kitty”) hasn’t been doing well lately. Her appetite isn’t what it once was and she’s lost a lot of weight. Kitty will turn 17 this summer and that’s getting up in the range where a lot of cats drop dead. I’d rather that didn’t happen to Kitty right away because I like her better than I like most people.

After dialing into the daily stand-up meeting for work, I loaded the cat into her carrier, bungee corded that to a cart, and headed off toward Mission Pet Hospital.

Becca had the day off so she tagged along. I appreciated that. I could use the company and also the emotional support if the diagnosis was bad.

The cat carrier is way too big. It is intended for a dog and a large one at that. I bought it at a flea market in the parking garage beneath the big church at 24th and Valencia. On October 31, the church would hold a “harvest festival” in the same space and beckon children to come enjoy a Halloween free of ghosts, goblins, and other manifestations of Satanism. Unsurprisingly, attendance was quite low at these events. It was better at the flea market because the junk sold there did not exist to spoil anyone’s good time.

I used to have a cat-sized cat carrier, but it was too small. I got it at a thrift store back in 2002. Technically, Kitty could fit in the thing. Whiskey dick can also fit in a condom, but not without a comparable level of difficulty getting it there.

I suppose if I follow the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” model, I’ll eventually purchase a cat carrier that is just right. There is no rush on that though. A trip to the vet is going to suck for the cat no matter what. Riding there in something less spacious than a barn won’t make it any better.

Kitty hunkered down and stared through the bars of the carrier. Other than roaming the network of backyards behind our place (a privilege that got revoked in recent years), trips to the vet are her only glimpse of the outside world. I would like to think that there is some small part of the experience she enjoys, but I doubt it.

I’m sure it’s one big assault on her senses. There’s the sound of traffic on the street and footsteps on the sidewalk, the smell of car exhaust, and the sight of unknown people and the occasional dog.

If there was any noise that comforted her, perhaps it was the sound of the wheels on the concrete. It comforted me. It was the sound of progress being made. We would soon be at the vet and past having to maneuver around people who choose the middle of the sidewalk to congregate and talk about their bullshit, as well as the constant threat of one the wheels hitting a pebble and sending cart, carrier, and cat tipping sideways.

I doubt Kitty thought much about the destination. That would entail some grasp of the concept of the future. Cats live wholly in the present and this cat’s present must have seemed unendurable.

In a way, I envied her that. Not knowing anything is often preferable to knowing just enough to worry. In my case, I knew there was a chance that Kitty would have to be put down. If I had also known the visit would result in blood and urine tests, a change in medication, and a wait-and-see, I would have been more relaxed.

I’m not trying to pretend that showing some concern for my cat makes me a good person. It doesn’t work like that. Hitler was nice to his dog. I just know what it feels like to have an animal put to sleep.

Back in 2005, I used to leave my bedroom open so Kitty could go out whenever she pleased. This also meant other cats (and the occasional raccoon) could come in. There was this orange, feral who came by on a regular basis. As time passed, the cat became less skittish. He also began to stumble around as if he were drunk. I don’t know if the two were related.

Anyway, he came to visit one day and started rubbing against my leg as I sat on the toilet. He did not look good so I caved and took him to the vet, where he was diagnosed with advanced liver disease and cat AIDS. I said OK to the suggested euthanasia and gave him scritches while he died.

Even though this was a cat I didn’t care about that much, it kind of fucked me up. That probably explains why I was in a partial state of denial about my cat and would have put off her trip to the vet even longer if Becca hadn’t reminded me. God knows how I’ll react when it comes time for Kitty to get her hot shot.

Maybe I’ll handle it with dignity, only tearing up in a subdued manner reminiscent of manly men watching the end of Brian’s Song. A more likely scenario is that I’ll freak out, perhaps even grab the needle from the veterinarian’s hand and plunge it into the side of my neck.

OK, that last part is not all that likely, but what if it happened? I doubt a cat dose would kill me, but it might get me really high. Better yet, it might give me a red-pill (more Matrix than MRA) epiphany that allows me to see the world as it really is. And if seeing reality turned the vet into a lamprey and Becca into a chimp, so be it. Kitty would still be alive and I would still love Becca even if she started eating my face.

When you have an aging cat to care for, you need to be ready for all eventualities.