Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jack and Jill - A Halloween Tale

Jill's father was a bastard. Jack sat, perched in the ancient elm tree, and seethed as he watched the leathery old coot shaking a gnarled fist threateningly at Jill as he berated her. Even from this distance, Jack could see Jill's face. She shot a worried glance towards the tree. Likely she knew that Jack was watching her father's outburst and was inwardly preparing her excuses for the man. She was irrationally defensive of his tyrannical behavior.

Of late, Jack spent a lot of time in this tree. Its thick foliage kept him hidden from onlookers beneath, but from this vantage, aloft in its branches, Jack was easily able to survey the surrounding area. The tree was situated on the far side of the prairie, East of Jill's farmhouse. It grew at the base of Water Hill, which was thusly named for the well which sat atop it.

That well was somewhat of a legend in these parts. Every decent farmer knew that the best place to dig a well was at the lowest point available. Yet, here in Colby County, the best well within a 12 mile radius was audaciously situated at the apex of the tallest hill in said area. Old Hank said it wasn't a well at all, but a spring that someone had made to look like a well with a stone facade. But Old Hank also picked the fleas out of his beard and ate them.

Jill was now making her way across the prairie towards the hill, holding a large pale made of faded wooden slats bound together by two copper bands. Her jackass of a father consumed nearly as much water as he did whiskey, which is why Jack had been spending so many of his afternoons in this tree. At least two, sometimes three or four times a day, the old man sent Jill to fetch water from the well. Since her father's opinion of Jack was nearly as dour as Jack's was of her father, visiting Jill at her home was out of the question. So it was only these brief water errands each day that afforded Jack the opportunity to steal a few moments with the girl he ached to be with always.

"Jack... are you up there?" Jill was nearing the tree and squinting into the shaded branches.

"Why do you put up with that man?" Jack asked as he bent himself in half over a branch and somersaulted out of the tree. "Let's run away together and leave him to fetch his own water."

She rolled her eyes, but was smiling at the sight of him. "You know I can't do that. He's my father."

"No father could treat his own daughter the way that man treats you." Jack fell in beside Jill and took the large pale from her. "I think he might actually be an ogre who kidnapped you at birth."

"Stop that." She said, slapping his shoulder playfully. "You've only seen his bad side." Then more seriously, "I've told you. He wasn't this way before mother died."

"Look, " Jack said, "you loved her too, but her death didn't turn you into the worst version of yourself. You need to stop making excuses for him."

"Jack, you don't understand... he needs me."

"Tell you what, " Jack said with a grin, "we'll race up to the top of the hill. If I get there first, we drop this pale in the well and run away together right now. If you beat me, I'll never say another bad word about him."

"Wouldn't be fair." She replied, "Even holding that pail, you're faster than me, and you know it."

"All right, I'll give you a ten second head start." Jack doubted that Jill would ever actually do something so irresponsible and spontaneous as to leave everything and set out to start a new life, but he was unable to bat down the spark of hope that had suddenly ignited itself somewhere in the back of his throat.

Jill was running up the hill. Fast. Jack was so shocked he almost forgot to start counting. "One Mississippi..." he said out loud to keep himself honest. She was nearly half way up the hill when Jack finished his tenth Mississippi, and he started to run.

He ran harder than he had ever run before. He ran as if his life depended on it, and he realized that, in a very real way, it did. He thought of the bruises on Jill's arms, and he ran faster. He thought of being chased at gunpoint off of Jill's porch, and he ran faster. He thought of a nine year old girl, forced to go alone to her own mother's funeral while her father lay unconscious in a saloon, and he ran faster.

When Jack's foot found the sink hole, the world slowed. A large rock on the ground in front of him came towards his face and he instinctively twisted. The thing crashed into the back of his head with a sickening crunch and Jack landed roughly on his back. The blue sky above him blinked off and on a few times before returning as a dull grey. Jack tried to focus his eyes. Everything around him looked backward. Like those backward film panels that came out of Mr. Goodfellow's camera before he developed them into photographs. Irrationally, Jack wondered if Mr. Goodfellow was there, taking a picture. But no, he would have smelled the smoke from the flash powder.

As if through water, he could hear a muffled screaming sound. He turned his head enough to see a frantic Jill running fuzzily down the hill toward him. She lost her footing as she neared and tumbled to a stop by his side.

"Oh no Jack, " Jill sobbed, "are you hurt badly?" Her face paled when she saw the blood pooling at his shoulder. Gingerly, she turned his head and probed at his wound with her fingers. She gasped as her fingers sunk easily into flesh where bone should have resisted her.

"It's my crown." Jack said hoarsely, "I think it's shattered."

"I'll... I'll get help."

Jack managed to grab her wrist weakly. "Don't go. It's too late." He tried to focus his eyes on her. He knew he was dying and wanted to burn the clear image of her face into his mind forever. "Jill, I'll never stop loving you."

Jack stopped loving Jill. He stood above her as she sobbed helplessly over his lifeless body. He felt... weird. He remembered loving Jill only seconds earlier, but couldn't recall exactly how. Perhaps, he thought, love really did exist in the heart. He no longer had a heart.

He wondered idly if Jill's father would be happy about all this and, as he thought it, he burned. Had he blood, it would have boiled. Wherever hate lived, he realized, it wasn't in the heart.

Jack turned and began floating towards Jill's home. He knew he no longer had love. Perhaps he would never have peace, or joy. But he would have pleasure. Haunting Jill's father.

Monday, October 17, 2011

An Attitude of Platitude

In the song, "The Fly" by U2, there's a lyric that my forthcoming thoughts exemplify. "Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief. All kill their inspiration and sing about their grief."

I'm about to start an incohesive rant about trivial things using the most vitriolic and verbose prose that I can muster. I do this knowing full well that it is easier to criticize than to create. That is, in fact, the point. I'm trying to follow the age-old, "If you don't have anything nice to say, lambast an innocent bystander" rule.

I'll start with the most callous of my criticisms. It relates to a quip I saw recently on a bumper sticker that read, "Don't Drive Faster than Your Guardian Angel Can Fly!"

Ok, so how fast is that exactly? I'm no expert on guardian angels, but I'm pretty sure any one of them could outpace my Corolla on a straightaway. Not that he'd need to. What kind of a guardian angel would watch me get into the driver's seat of my car and not realize I might be planning on going somewhere? Maybe the bumper sticker should say, "Don't Start Driving Until Your Guardian Angel Has Had a Chance to Grab Shotgun!"

I don't know, maybe there really is some sort of transdimensional barrier that keeps guardian angels from entering vehicles, and maybe they do have a maximum flying velocity that happens to correspond with a reasonable highway speed. But if that's the case, a more helpful message would be, "Just FYI, If You Ever Get in a Plane, You're Screwed."

Maybe you're sitting a little uncomfortably in your chair right now, wondering how I've come to this dark and cynical place in my life. I don't know, but while I'm here, I may as well move on to cookies.

Suppose you're at a carnival. You see a brightly colored tent beneath a painted wooden sign which reads, "Madame Mystique's Fortune Telling $5". You realize that you would indeed like your fortune told, so you enter the tent. After handing over your hard-earned money to the Gypsy-esque Madame Mystique, she gazes into her smoke-filled crystal ball for several tense minutes and then gravely pronounces, "You have an infectious smile."

"Uhh...Thank you." you say, "So, what does my future hold?".

"Another reading will be five dollars." she replies.

You grind your teeth and wonder if punching Madame Mystique square in the nose would be worth the resultant curse upon your progeny. You decide it wouldn't, so instead leave in a huff and ultimately take your anger out on a well-intentioned bumper sticker you see while driving home.

The fortune cookie at the end of a Chinese dinner is more than just dessert. It represents hope, dreams and destiny. By definition it should be a glimmer of light cast into the unseen darkness of the future. How infuriating is it then to break into one of these little hope-holders only to find a generic statement about your positive attitude? For the love of all that is decent and good in this world, they're not called compliment cookies!

Rrrgh. Now I've gotten myself so worked up about fortune cookies that I can't think of anything else to rant about.

Oh yeah! Greasy politicians that never make good on their campaign promises. I mean, how hard is it to... you know what, never mind. I'm sure they're doing their best.