The Crazy Dog Lady’s Dogs pick up a scent

It looked like an ordinary night when our Two Legs let us out to do our business. All the squirrels were aloft, the rabbits gone to ground, and the bird feeder out of seed. The trash can that had been tipped earlier that day had its cover fitted tightly and taken back in. The Stupid Cat watched us from her window, her tail twitching in futile agitation. There didn’t seem to be much business to do but catch up on the news at the fire hydrant, squat on the sidewalk, and go back in to spend the night with our Two Legs sleeping at the foot my bed, when the wind shifted to the North-by-Northeast and Beagle picked up a scent. 

Beagle was proud of her nose and we were tired of hearing about it; but, I have to admit that, whenever she says she smells something, if we take the time to follow her, there’s something to it. I’ll never forget the time she claimed there was a deer carcass decomposing three miles out. We thought she was crazy; but, when we followed her, sure enough, there it was in the bushes by the side of the road. We all had a feast and rolled in the delicious fragrance so much that it lingered a month thereafter. Yes, Beagle has a good nose, and she talks a lot, but it’s generally worth listening to what she has to say. 

Setter was off, following her, until he caught the scent as well, and took the lead. The stupid Labs, dumb as a box of rocks, flanked him on either side. I prefer to keep a quiet dignity, as befits my station. I ordered them to keep me informed about their general location and direction while I accompanied Dachshund. It’s not that I liked his company, but I felt it’s my responsibility to keep everyone in line. 

Dachshund was yapping about how, if he was the Alpha, he’d do things differently. He’d show a few teeth to Setter and the Labs for running on ahead, if it were up to him.  

“I agreed it is better to be feared rather than loved,” I said. “But I’m a St Bernard and am able to inspire both fear and affection. Should I ascertain a lack of obedience due to a deficiency in the latter, then they will get my teeth, I assure you.” I didn’t say how close I was to giving that hot dog a good chomp. All he does is complain.  

We caught up with Beagle, who was out of breath with all her baying. 

“Barefoot Two Legs…hasn’t had a bath in a week…scent of marijuana, espresso, and fear…bearing nine degrees…passed by, oh, maybe…twenty-four to twenty-six hours ago.”  

I licked her face in admiration. “Well done, Beagle. When we down her, you get the liver.” 

She licked her chops and nuzzled me back. If you want to lead dogs, you have to understand what motivates them. 

She knew as well as I that we were highly unlikely to down a Two Legs. They’re an extremely difficult game to kill, very cunning and dangerous. Some of us, having made pets of them, may hesitate to go for the throat; but, a dog can dream, can’t he? Even if she never got to taste the Two Legs’ liver, Beagle appreciated the pleasure of being out at night with one’s pack, pretending to be a wolf. 

We must have trotted five miles before catching up to the Two Legs. She lay very still at the foot of some stairs. Setter and the Labs surrounded her, lolling their tongues, and waving their tails as we approached. 

“Good dogs,” I said and looked over to make sure Dachshund saw them so obedient. They not only located the game, but they waited for their betters to arrive. That’s the kind of loyalty you summon when you’re a St Bernard. However, Dachshund didn’t seem to notice. He was complaining that his feet hurt. 

“She hasn’t moved since we got here!” said the Labs, who could barely speak properly, with their tongues in the way. “We nosed her and she’s cold! Can we keep her? Huh? Can we keep her? We followed her here!” 

Beagle licked her chops again. I only had to give the order and she’ll have a taste of that liver. The entire pack was arguing in favor of consuming the found game. Dachshund contended that, since we had come all that way, we deserved our dinner, even though it was not likely to be any good. 

I was in no hurry to give the word. Rewards should be accorded gradually, so they taste better. I commanded Beagle to sniff the perimeter while I examined the Two Legs. Except for a few ants, who don’t count, there were no other animals by the body, guarding it. There was not another Two Legs in sight, either, although a very large stone Two Leg den was nearby. I was concerned that a Two Legs might come by and claim the body, or worse, catch us all and put us in jail.  

I have never been able to understand the morals of a species that would incarcerate a dog for something as ordinary as a bite. I have been Alpha for years. I’ll admit that, from time to time, another dog has taken some food that had been reserved for me. I give them what they deserve, a good nip in the hindquarters. Therefore, I would never have a problem if a Two Legs did the same regarding some game they thought was theirs. I wouldn’t think of chaining up a dog, or worse, shutting him up in a cage, away from his pack. There is something terribly brutal about the Two Legs kingdom. We can only hope that someday we will succeed in taming them, so we can trust them to be around. 

It’s hard for me to say for sure because, except for the Two Legs that lives with us, they all look the same; but I thought I recognized her. She was a tan colored female with matted fur and some discolorations on her limbs. I always felt sorry for her as someone who had no one to give her a brushing and take her to the vet. Perhaps years of neglect had finally caught up to her and she died here for us to find. I began to feel sad, but then I reminded myself that she was just a Two Legs and one must not let oneself get too attached. It is perhaps too caninepomorphic of me to treat them as conscious creatures, possessing awareness of their mortality.

I inserted my nose far up her crotch, where the black box recording all the Two Legs’ activities is kept. The smell of fear was strong and there was a base note of marijuana and espresso, just as Beagle had said. She seemed to have been in heat and a male had mated with her recently. Her body had the distinctive odor of a wet Two Legs, far greater than what you might expect from the trace left behind on the trail, as if the male she had mated with was more aromatic than she. There was no blood, but her head was cocked at an unnatural angle, leading me to believe that the cause of death had not been disease, but a fall down the stairs. 

Beagle reported that the perimeter was clear of carnivores, although a murder of crows had assembled in the tree tops. Setter and the Labs didn’t even flinch when Beagle stated there were six squirrels and a couple rabbits nearby, indicating that they really expected me to give the go-head on the Two Legs. 

Honestly, I was highly conflicted about giving the command to consume the meat. Like any dog, I had often fantasized about sinking my teeth into the soft pink thigh of a Two Legs; but I was raised, since I was a pup, to be solicitous of a weak species utterly dependent on us. I am a St Bernard, after all, and was told, with my litter, all the stories of our fore-dogs, rescuing travelers in the Swiss Alps. I wondered, had any St Bernard ever consumed a traveler, rather than let her drink from brandy keg and keep her warm until help arrived? I didn’t think so, but this Two Legs was already dead, and I had left my brandy keg behind. Moreover, I had the welfare of the pack to think about. They were counting on me to lead with judicious wisdom, and I had promised Beagle the liver. 

It’s rough, rough, being the Alpha, let me tell you. Few things are black and white. If one is to lead, it’s necessary sometimes to do the hard thing, to sacrifice one’s own principles for the good of the pack. I was glad my mother, refined bitch that she was, was not there to see me now. Although she would have been proud I was an Alpha, she would not have approved of everything that entails. Scruples have no place in leadership; the only thing that matters to a pack is survival.

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S. Harry Zade goes for a walk in the woods

I’d never seen such a beautiful day for a walk in the woods. A moderate breeze caused the trees to sway, as if they had something to dance to, and shake their leaves, as if rattling soft tambourines. What was the music that caused the trees to move so happily? It wasn’t the wind, for wind can uproot them and strip their clothes from their limbs. It wasn’t the birds, although the birds sang sweetly in their branches. It wasn’t even the sun, granted the sun possessed everything to which trees aspire. It was the mood of one fictional character, yours truly, who recently discovered he was in love, and believed that, thanks to her misfortune and distress, he actually had a chance with the Lisping Barista.

This pleasant mood was interrupted at intervals by the ominous rumbling of the Moodus Noises. It seemed like the rocks, deep underground and ignorant of the sun, the birds, the breeze, and one optimistic fictional character, were having a bad day. They grumbled as much as a thousand stomach aches ineffectually digesting a thousand shellfish dinners. They growled, as if to warn me away from the cave near Gillette’s Castle, where I predicted I would find the Lisping Barista.

I was bringing food and, she, having poured me many coffee concoctions, would recognize me as a familiar, if not friendly face. I would offer her a ride out of town, we’d catch up to her beloved Spellbinding Fish Fry, and she’d do to me as she tried to do to the Geeky Guy, furtively in the back of an empty bus. Then, she’d tell me all her stories, if only because I’d listen, and I’d have plenty material for a dozen sequels, keeping me alive, and my slave-driving author on the New York Times bestseller list for the rest of his life. That’s why I was having a good day. As for the clamorous Moodus rocks, I don’t know what their problem was.

Legend has it that the noises portend gloomy developments, the approach of danger, an enemy lurking, like a creepy south-central Connecticut soundtrack. I did my best to decode what they were warning. I didn’t want to be the first victim to fall in a slasher film. I didn’t know what my author had in mind for me, but I hoped that feeding him story ideas, wry observations, and developing compelling characters might have earned me the right to be the protagonist who gets the girl, and rides off in the sunset while the credits spin and the theme music from the Spellbinding Fish Fry affirms everything we’ve hoped about peace, love, and understanding.

There was one thing that the creepy Moody Noises might be foreshadowing. I was, after all, about to make my move, hit her up, propose a bid, run something up the flagpole, toss it against the wall and see what sticks. The Lisping Barista might not care about me, she might have long been skeezed out by my looks and too polite and too reliant on my tips to let it show. Tweedy professors may not be her type. By courting the Lisping Barista, I may be courting rejection, setting myself up for a fall.

The closer I got to the cave, the more my anxiety, and the Moodus Noises, seemed to tell me I was doing something stupid. By the time I found the entrance, my heart was pounding, my palms were sweating, and my knees threatened to buckle. At the same time, the Moodus Noises gathered up a crescendo that would have made Tchaikovsky proud. I almost turned away, rather than go through with my plan; but longing beckoned and I stepped into the cave.

My apprehension subsided somewhat when I saw that the cave was unoccupied. She had to be around here, somewhere. I couldn’t have been wrong about her coming here and finding a cave for shelter. But, then I thought, there’s more than one cave. The place abounds with caves. It’s Connecticut, there are rocks everywhere and, where three or more boulders are gathered and lean together, the space between them might be called a cave. She would have been unlikely to find this particular cave, the one that she and the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat had occupied, while she was stumbling around in the middle of the night. She would have settled on any place where she could hide. Therefore, I set about scouring the woods for more caves, any cave where she might be.

I spent the rest of the day that way, until it began to get dark. The Moodus Noises had ceased and so had my dread of finding her. It was replaced by a dread of not finding her and having my newly hatched excitement perish from lack of feeding. It was then that I came across the most impressive pile of rocks anywhere on the grounds of Gillette’s Castle. I had overlooked them because they were especially remote and, I thought, unlikely for her to find in the dark. Nestled under them was as comfortable a cave as you’d imagine there could be.

I made up my mind this would be the last place I checked, and my anxiety returned. With the café closed and the Lisping Barista gone, and the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat also gone, I didn’t know how I could continue to find stories. I was a dead duck if I didn’t locate her, a failed narrator, and would soon be like all those characters in all those novels people start, never finish, and are kept in a desk drawer somewhere, so forgotten it seems they never existed.

At the entrance, I was heartened to find that a fire had been built and still had some embers; but there was nobody residing within. This could have been the very cave where she spent the night, sleeping late, and waiting for the safety of darkness to enable her to be on the move again. She must have just left, and I happened to be looking in the wrong direction as she skulked by. I loved her so much that I hoped she was still hungry, thirsty, barefoot, and in despair. I would have a chance with her, if only I could find her and convince her of my good, if not pure, intentions.

At this point, I figured the Lisping Barista would try to catch up with the Spellbinding Fish Fry. The only means she had of getting there was hitchhiking, so I hoofed it to my car as fast as I could. I would intercept her on the road and we’d rapturously ride off to the tour.

I had left my car in the parking lot at Gillette’s Castle. The quickest way there was up a long staircase from a garden below, up to a portico above. I don’t know what made me look up when I reached the stairs, for I was in a mad rush; but, I did look up. There, as big as life, was the Lisping Barista, standing on the portico of Gillette’s Castle, looking out over the Connecticut River. My heart jumped, as if trying to leap straight to her before my legs could carry me. But, she wasn’t alone. The Leatherman, of all people, was there with her. He had his repulsive arm around her waist and his revolting leather coat over her shoulders, looking, for all the world, as if they were on a date.

The Moodus Noises started up again, this time matching my mood. She was out of my league, all right. She was a skanky faithless whore, to have taken up with the vagrant Leatherman when she could have taken up with me.

Rabbi ! enchants his congregation

I walked the most likely road the Lisping Barista took out of town. It was a perfect route for someone on the run, with woods on both sides in which to hide whenever a car came along. She was, after all, fleeing from both the Drug Dealer and the Geeky Guy, as well as any number of private demons. I had not gone a mile until I realized this was the road to Gillette’s Castle. The caves the Lisping Barista visited with the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat were nearby.

I predicted the Lisping Barista would find a cave and hide for the night; so, I ended my walk, and went home to get some sleep. Yes, this fictional character needs to sleep. I’m not a superhero, after all. I may have exceptionally keen hearing, the ability to hack into laptops, and an active imagination; but, in every other respect, I’m just like you and would never choose to walk ten miles, when I can spend the night in my bed and drive it the next day.

In fact, I was so sure that I would find the Lisping Barista right where I thought she would be that, it being Shabbat, I decided I would visit Rabbi !’s synagogue and see what he had to say. I never got a chance to hear his sermons anymore, since the Epiphany Café was closed. While the rest of us migrated to Dunkin Donuts, the laughing Rabbi would never set foot in there, for the donuts were not kosher. Not that he would even eat a donut; but, being a rabbi, he could not give the appearance of eating one. Not that the baked goods at the Epiphany Café were kosher, either; but, it being a coffee shop, and not a donut shop, appearances weren’t so apparent.

I expected that seeing Rabbi ! in his natural setting, he would be different than observed at the Epiphany Café; and, indeed, that was the case. I was surprised to find that he seemed more himself at the café than at the synagogue. The difference was as dramatic as coming across a tiger in the wild, where it can pounce on you at any moment to deliver a sermon, versus seeing one caged in a zoo, performing only at feeding time. Furthermore, in the wild, one would hope to not come across a tiger; just as we often groaned when Rabbi ! entered the café. On the other hand, one may travel to a zoo especially to see and hear the tiger; as these good people arrived, all dressed up, for the rabbi.

After an hour of singing incomprehensible songs in a foreign language, marching around with a scroll, and chanting, also in a foreign language, the daily portion of the Torah; Rabbi ! was, at last, permitted to speak to us in English.

“What really happened that day in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?”

The congregation didn’t seem to know. At least, they didn’t answer. They seemed to think he was about to tell them.

“I think that Eve took a big bite out of that apple and found a worm! No, half a worm! That’s how she discovered Evil!”

Nobody asked him, but the man behind me said to someone in his row, “I wouldn’t have eaten that apple, I don’t even like apples; but, if it was a rugelach. Oy, I wouldn’t have been able to resist a rugelach.”

“Evil never looks like Evil on the surface,” continued the Rabbi. “It always looks good; but disgusting underneath. Evil ruins every good thing we come across! Life is a good thing! But then there’s death. Health is a good thing! But there’s sickness. Kindness and compassion are great things! But they are only needed as an antidote to cruelty and grief. Every one of us has bitten the figurative apple and found the figurative worm. Blah!”

If he were delivering this sermon at the café, he would have actually spit something out on his plate. Here, he had to make do with pantomime.

“Eve said to Adam, ‘Check this out! Do you believe this?’”

“Adam said, ‘God wouldn’t ruin an apple like that! Let me see!’ He plucked another apple from the tree and took a big bite, himself! Blah! He got another worm!”

It was about then that a thought struck me. The Lisping Barista will be hungry. I could find her cave, bring her food, and get the real story about why she left the Geeky Guy, if she would tell it to me. No apples, though. After this, I’m not getting any more apples.

“Together, Adam and Eve said the same thing at the same time. ‘How could a good and gracious God permit worms in his apples? Why would He plant Evil within the very Garden of Eden? It must be that God is not as good as he says He is.’”

The congregation may then have started to regret coming to synagogue this Shabbat. They may have wanted an easily digestible sermon. What they got was theodicy, the theological equivalent to a stomach ache.

“Now, to be fair to the worm, the worm was no more evil than Adam and Eve! He was doing the same thing they were. He was eating the apple! A worm’s got to eat, too! He just got there first!”

The congregation laughed, along with their laughing Rabbi. That’s what they liked about the Rabbi. He could bring them even the perspective of a worm.

“No matter where Evil was, in the worm eating the apple or in the human eating the worm, they still found Evil in the Garden! They looked around and saw imperfection everywhere! That’s when they sewed fig leaves together to cover all the ugly parts of their own bodies.”

That’s a good thing: people generally look better clothed than unclothed. A few look better with no clothes on, but they’re usually photoshopped. The Lisping Barista, on the other hand, is the exception. She looks fine, unclothed. I’ve seen it. I’d like to see it again.

“We have a word that describes what happened to Adam and Eve: they were disenchanted.”

The sermon had taken an unexpected turn.

“That evening, when it got cool, they heard God walking around. But everything was different, now. The Garden seemed different. It was no longer the Garden of Eden! It was just an ordinary place! They were no longer happy to see God! Their feelings about Him had gotten complicated! The spell that made everything special was broken.”

I was thinking about the Lisping Barista, alone in a cave, without even the thought of peace, love, and understanding to comfort her. In every one of her apples, a worm.

“That’s precisely the situation we’re in, my friends! We’re living in the Garden of Eden; but we don’t know it because, as a whole, we’re disenchanted with God. We’ve posted our own angel guarding the gates of Eden to prevent God from entering! This angel is called Rationality!”

We’re living in the Garden of Eden? Why hasn’t anyone told us?

“Being enchanted, or disenchanted, changes everything! Everything has meaning when we’re enchanted! Without it, the Garden of Eden is nothing but a natural resource to be extracted and used for our desires! It’s stripped of its sacred character. We’ve treated each other that way, too. When we’re disenchanted we fail to recognize the holy in each another. When we allow ourselves to be enchanted, we treat all of creation as something strange, wonderful, mysterious, and surprising!”

This is when I realized something about the Lisping Barista. She may be disenchanted, but she was still enchanting.

I didn’t stay till the end of the service.

S. Harry Zade explains madness

I can tell, dear Reader, that the one problem you’re going to have with my story is that you don’t understand why the Lisping Barista would run out of the house in the middle of the night, with no shoes, no jacket, and no three-hundred-thousand dollars she had risked so much to take. You might be more inclined to believe the neighbors’ account of the event: that the Lisping Barista had been hanging around the haunted house too long, came under the spell of the Witch, and became frightened by the headless ghosts of her parents. The simplest theory is often the best, except when it must resort to supernatural beings to explain things away.

I am in possession of a bit of backstory that may spread light on her behavior. Where did I get this backstory, you want to know? What you are really asking is, have I pulled it out of my ass? No, it didn’t come from that part of my anatomy. It’s elementary, my dear Reader. I got it from a process of deduction. It all came from the operations of my mind.

Let’s start with what we know. The Lisping Barista caught the Geeky Guy red handed in bed with his sister. That, by itself, is horrifying. Few people, who have discovered this about folks they were visiting, would want to stay. No, they’d be getting a hotel room as soon as possible. If both guests and hosts are like fish, reeking after three days; coming across incest is like tripping over a skunk. The stink is immediate.

Despite the Geeky Guy’s protestations, it really doesn’t matter whether he and his sister’s embedded embrace was as chaste as he claimed. We do not know whether the Geeky Guy was naked in that bed, but he was nude enough to need a sheet to cover himself up. That’s coming pretty close to the act of incest, whether they took it all the way, or not. If you get that close to something that unthinkable, your disgust detecting device needs an adjustment. We residents of Kenilworth have always known that there was something strange about those two.

As off putting as incest may be, it’s still no reason to run out of the house in the middle of the night, without shoes, jacket, and lacking three-hundred-thousand dollars that you took the time to count each day. The jacket is easy to explain. The Lisping Barista had no jacket when she entered the house, days before, having been shot by the Geeky Guy, so she had no jacket when she left. Leaving in the middle of the night is to be expected of someone on the run, as she was from the Drug Dealer. She would cherish the cover of darkness. As for the three-hundred-thousand dollars and the lack of shoes? Gathering them up before she left would have involved the Lisping Barista going back up the stairs and cornering herself in the attic. No, she had a clear route to the door, so she took it.

After she hit the street, I did my best to catch up. I had shoes, but was no match for her. The Geeky Guy broke off his chase after about three blocks because his feet hurt. It took about the same distance before I stopped, hands on my knees, blowing my guts out. After I caught my breath, I continued at a walking pace. I couldn’t see to follow her, but I had an idea where she would go. She would head out of town, by the most direct route possible.

When you encounter seemingly inexplicable behavior, like being in such a hurry to depart that an otherwise rational person leaves three-hundred-thousand dollars behind, it helps to start with the assumption that you can explain it and then try to imagine what would. Aside from ghosts, the first thing that came to my mind was that the Lisping Barista was a victim of childhood sexual abuse from her own brother. Such a thing, I’m told, is far more common than realized, it being always on the hush-hush. The thought is riveting and repugnant. It sheds a light on so much, yet raises so many questions.

Let’s imagine that the Lisping Barista was the youngest of many children, born to parents more interested in making babies than watching over them. Competition was fierce among the Lisping Barista’s siblings, a dog-eat-dog nursery in which she was the runt. All punishments were passed down, like clothing that no longer fits, from eldest to youngest. Any favors received by the youngest were bitterly resented by those ahead in line. Elder siblings were given parental responsibilities, with none of the authority, which they tried to make up for by force. The normal inhibitions that govern interactions between close relations, namely, that one does not have sex with them, was overcome by increments; for here is nothing so grand, or atrocious, that can’t be accomplished bit by bit. The urge to have sex was introduced to the elder siblings, perhaps in the natural way or the unnatural; but, at any rate, they had the desire, but no legitimate means to carry it out. Small transgressions were overlooked or rationalized away, paving the way for larger transgressions. Small children were silenced by prohibitions against tattling, or they simply lacked the words to describe what was going on. Innocence was exploited, and cooperation harnessed by small gifts. Then the younger sibling’s shame was put into play. She blamed herself for what happened, just so she could feel more in control. If she did speak up, she was disbelieved because the cure, which would involve the dissolution and public shame of the family, was perceived to be worse than the disease. Things went on like this for years, the little sister pushing her dresser in front of her door every night, until the big brother went on to others, or she moved out, went mad, or drew a knife.

Now let’s imagine that she grew older and left home. She put these memories into an inaccessible filing cabinet and hid the key. She developed a fondness for tattoos, cutting up her body, and grew dreadlocks incongruent on a blond, white woman; showing an eagerness to change whatever she was given. The Lisping Barista developed a certain, shall we say, enthusiasm for initiating sex, together with an indifference about following through. A victim of sexual abuse might be expected to either disavow all interest in sex, with men, at least; or to advertise her appetite for the activity, as a way of compensation; sort of like whistling in the dark. However, once she initiated sex, all the memories would return, and she’d freeze; sort of like someone whistling in the dark, until she realizes her whistling tells the lurkers where she is.

As the Weather-Beaten Man with a Cowboy Hat would say, her brother’s ghost accompanied her wherever she went. As the Reverend Abraham Pierson would say, she had a demon. As the Therapist Emeritus would say, she had flashbacks and all the indications of a post-traumatic stress disorder. As the rest of us would say, she was bat-shit crazy, but we loved her anyway.

If she was crazy, her craziness had a reason. It was too much for her to see the Geeky Guy in bed with his sister. It brought up all the memories of not having any choices. She was a kid when it happened to her, after all; but, she had choices now. She could run out of the house in the middle of the night, leaving behind three-hundred-thousand-dollars, and nowhere to go if she wanted to. It may not be the most sane thing she ever did, but she was taking a step, if not running headlong, towards sanity.

The Lisping Barista loses her shit

“It’s not the way it looks. She was going to tell.”

That’s all I heard before the cat took off. The High Street Witch’s black cat, which had my listening device slipped under her collar, reckoned hollering was about to start. Humans would begin to yell, flail their arms and stamp their feet. Things would be thrown, and objects would be broken. Cats would be kicked, their tails stepped on, and their feline feelings miffed. Therefore, the cat took off, tail high, until it found a place to hide, and waited out the storm, its shining eyes looking out from underneath, witnessing the human equivalent to a cat fight.

The cat, with my listening device, was not so far away, or hidden, that I could not hear the voice repeat himself, “It’s not the way it looks. She was going to tell. Honest. You’ve got to believe me.”

It was clearly, without doubt, the Geeky Guy whom the Lisping Barista caught in bed with his sister. He could have explained that, since their parents died, this was how they comforted each other. The world is a lonely place when you’re an orphan, you have no one to hug you or to hold you. Yes, we were sleeping together, he might’ve said, but we were actually asleep. He could have said his sister was jealous of her, resentful of her, and threatened to tell the Drug Dealer where she was hiding. He was doing it all for her.

If the Geeky Guy had said all that, and the Lisping Barista believed him, we’d have a different story to tell; but all the Geeky Guy could do was repeat what he had already said, ineffectively, over and over, again.

“It’s not the way it looks. She was going to tell.”

I could not hear what the Lisping Barista said back. I pictured her standing and staring, with the same inertia that she had that night in the bus; the immobility she had in the cave with the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat; the fixity of a person whose mind wasn’t there. It had already gone somewhere else, and she wasn’t listening to anything he had to say.

The sister, for her part, was already out of bed and had left the room, abandoning her brother to his futile explanation.

If Lisping Barista’s mind was not there, where had it gone? I have a theory that, when the Lisping Barista saw the Geeky Guy in bed with his sister, her mind excused itself and went into a back room of the brain, where the files are kept. It fingered through the cabinets until it found something that could help in this situation. It took a long time searching, for the folder was hidden away, where it could not be found unless she was really sure she wanted it. When she pulled the file, and opened it, she found documentation that everything that was happening now, had happened before in a similar way. No, it wasn’t a perfect match, but it was a close analogue to it. The file told her what she had done then and how it turned out. She was determined to do things differently.

By the time the Lisping Barista’s mind returned, she had a plan. It wasn’t a very well thought out plan, but it was a plan that had to be executed immediately, decisively, before she changed her mind. I could tell this was happening from my post in the lilacs because the activity inside the house seemed to have paused for a long caesura, as if it had held its breath, waiting to see what she would do. Then, when the Lisping Barista’s mind returned with an ill-conceived, but definitive plan, the house sprang into activity. I could hear feet pattering and stomping on the floor. Lights were turned on. Doors were slammed shut. The hollering, as the cat predicted, began. Nothing was said that illuminated anything. Just more, it’s not the way it looks, fuck you, she was going to tell, and when you’re done thcrewing your thister, go thcrew yourthelf.

A scuffle could be heard. Towers of papers were toppled. The cat abandoned one hiding place, to find another. Something broke. The sister grabbed her broom to clean it up. The Lisping Barista emerged, none too well dressed for the outdoors, without shoes, without jacket, and without a bag that might have contained three-hundred-thousand dollars. A foot fell through the soft spot on the porch, and she was launched out into the yard. The Lisping Barista tumbled a single summersault, sprang to her feet, and ran down the road. The screen door flung open, again. The Geeky Guy emerged, wearing a bedsheet over his head, like a hood. “No!” he said, “Nooooo! Don’t gooooo!” The screen door banged shut and he followed her down the street, as best he could, unaccustomed to bare feet. The screen door opened again, and the High Street Witch emerged, still carrying her broom. The cat made its escape. The door banged shut. The Witch began to laugh.

When the commotion had begun, I could see that the neighbors heard. Their lights switched on and they peered out their windows to see if they needed to worry. When the screen door began to bang, they came out, just in time to see the Lisping Barista running barefoot down the street, a headless ghost, chasing after her, wailing, “Ooooo! Ooooo! Ooooo!”, and the High Street Witch, cackling to herself, with her broom and her cat. Any suspicions they had about the haunted house of High Street, were confirmed that night. They had a story they would tell for a long, long time.

S. Harry Zade fudges a little

With the Epiphany Café closed, I had to go somewhere else to find my stories. Therefore, your intrepid reporter has been lurking in the lilacs outside the Geeky Guy’s house. This location does not have the advantages I enjoyed in Kenilworth’s finest coffee establishment. I could sip the take-out from Dunkin Donuts and sit quite comfortably on the ground, with my back against a trunk, but the rain could get me wet and spiders liked to size me up for their web. However, a fictional character need not fret about the weather if his author doesn’t mention it and he will never get bit unless it advances the plot, so I was happy to spend hours in the lilacs gathering information to share with you.

I’m sorry to say I had little to go on. I could not directly witness the proceedings inside the house. I had planted a bug by catching the witch’s black cat when it was let out, slipping it under her collar, and waiting till it was let back in. She now was purring at the foot of the witch’s bed, along with whomever her companion might be, while I sat outside with a set of earphones on and a receiver tucked underneath my jacket. I could just make out the creeps and groans of the floor as the Lisping Barista came down from the attic to go on her exploration. I could see shadows cast to the inside of the curtains, and I could use everything I knew about the characters involved to assemble a reasonable narrative of what was going on. However, I must confess that most of what I have already told you about what happened in that house is constructed from the little bit of data I have gathered.

Some more meticulous readers may object to my rendering scenes I did not observe. Wait just one cotton pickin’ minute here, they might say; although I’d doubt it, few people say cotton pickin’ any more, if they ever did. Wait a minute, they would repeat, you mean to say that everything we just read as written by the Lisping Barista was made up?

Yes, that’s right, I would answer. Everything since she left the Epiphany Café is entirely my own creation. I have learned to mimic both her patterns of thought and her writing style by studying her closely. Then, I used my imagination to present to you what is, strictly speaking, a story that blurs the lines between what you call truth and fiction.

Don’t get me started on what you call truth. You know my beliefs about fictional characters and the ones who are said to be real. I shouldn’t need to repeat them here. I can summarize them by saying everyone is fictional, anyway. The same goes for events. Every bona fide event, even those reported by the Associated Press, or some other highly respected source, is fiction. That is to say, the event as it occurred was cut and pasted, photoshopped, proofread, and edited for your consumption. You see, events don’t come with a narrative; we create a narrative for them. There is no beginning, no end, and no context. The things world leaders utter in their own language are nicely translated for you. News photos are framed to exclude extraneous distractions. Soundbites are fashioned to get right to the point. There’s nothing between the lines, for there are no lines. It’s all just blooming, buzzing confusion until us storytellers nicely package it for you.

What I have done is akin to an archeologist who finds an ancient manuscript with four out of five words missing. He fills in what he supposes is there. It’s like an astronomer who takes a reading of a star one day, another reading a week later, and traces the line between them as the path the star had traveled. It’s no different than Darwin studying the birds and beasts of the Galapagos and constructing a tale of how they got to be so different. It takes imagination to see the truth, so I should not have to apologize for using my imagination.

I was in the lilac bushes, explaining this to you; explaining it to myself, really, for you, dear reader weren’t there, except in my imagination; when a passerby, walking home from the bar, stopped because he thought he heard someone who sounded like a professor of literature lecturing in the lilacs. He listened for a while and peered through the bushes, to see if he could make out a classroom, a podium, and a tweedy, self-absorbed instructor, surrounded by sleepy students, staring at their phones. I halted my hectoring, sat very still, and counted on incongruity to hide me better than the bushes ever could. In the end, he pulled his eyes away, shuddered his head, and staggered on, carrying an amusing anecdote to tell his wife when he got home. She wouldn’t smile at the story, but she would renew her efforts to get him to stop drinking.

Returning to our imaginary conversation, the meticulous readers might ask, how is it possible to tell truth from falsehood? Is it all fake news anyway?

I believe stories can be tested for truth. Truth is not correspondence to things in themselves, for the things in themselves can never, ever be adequately represented on a page. You know truth by a different test. It has a ring.

For instance, the story the passerby would tell his wife, that he’d heard a literature professor lecturing in the lilacs on High Street, did not have the ring of truth for her. The story that his wife would tell herself, that he’d heard voices because he was drinking too much, did. If only he had said he found a homeless man, camping out on High Street, talking to himself, then that would’ve been a story that could be believed; but it would’ve been a story so unremarkable that it would not have been worth telling.

The ring of truth is not something that can be explained; you know it when you come across it. When a story has that ring, all the parts harmonize together. The characters sound like human beings you might have heard speak and the plot flows out of things they might have done. You can trace their history up to their present situation and their conflicts are something you would care about, if you were them. The setting has enough details to make it seem like an actual place and the conclusion is not dropped out of the sky, but it emerges as a natural consequence of what has happened.

Let me tell you what happened next with the Lisping Barista, so you can see the ring of truth in action. You will read a work of imagination, constructed from few actual facts. Then you tell me if it has that ring I’m talking about.

The Lisping Barista goes exploring and finds something she wasn’t supposed to see

I’ve been in this attic for, like a week or two and I’m going crazy. Boooooring. Yea, I’ve got the oxies, all the stuff in the attic, three-hundred-thousand useless dollars, no place to spend it, and my gratitudes for company, but that’s not going keep a girl like me happy for long. I’m used to doing things, seeing people, going places, and doing my little part in bringing peace, love, and understanding into the world. Sitting around, waiting for my guy to come to in, just for nothing to happen when he does, seems like something my grandmother might think was a good idea and she had her cooking, sewing, and bridge parties to keep her company. All I have is a bunch of old stuff no one wants, or I can’t use, and a guy who doesn’t seem to want me.

Yea, that’s right. He doesn’t want me. Most guys are all over me; but we’re like an old married couple, never having sex. He just wants to cuddle, but I push him away because it’s too aggravating. He complains as much about that as I complain about not fucking. There’s something unusual about that man.

So, it’s the middle of the night when I wake up and he’s not there. I haven’t been too good with time and there’s no clock anywhere in this attic. There’s no noises in the house. All there is, is traffic outside. It must be no one’s home. It’s the perfect time to go exploring.

I’ve got this reoccurring dream where I’m walking around in someone else’s house uninvited. There’s always some weird things about the house that seem perfectly normal in the dream, like there’s a giant hole in the roof over the living room that looks like it belongs there. Something unexpected always happens and I’m always worried I’m about to be caught. Walking around this house is a lot like that. In this case, every room is jammed to the ceiling with junk and there’s only one path I can take, and I have to walk sideways to get through. None of the doors can open all the way and the windows might as well not be there, they’re blocked by heaps of stuff.

If you’ve ever been in an antique shop, filled to the ceiling so you can’t move around or even see what’s there, you might have an idea of what the inside of the house looks like. Only it’s mostly electronics and piles of old newspapers. Not anything that anyone would ever buy, so it keeps piling up and up. I wouldn’t know how people could live in a place like this, except that I’ve been doing it for the past week or two, maybe three.

I’m feeling on edge as I creep from room to room. I’m not supposed to be here, which is strange, because I came into the house invited and the guy hasn’t wanted me to leave. He sets me up in the attic and tells me his sister wouldn’t want me around, so don’t go down and be really quiet. It was all good to me because I need to be hiding out from Chai Latte anyway and don’t want the witch getting pissed at me and telling him. He brings me everything I need and keeps me as content as a caged bird.

So, I’ve been having lots of time to think. You know how I’ve been changing my mind about love? You remember, I decided love wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Well, I’ve been thinking that way about peace, too. I’ve had nothing but peace up here in this attic.

There’s no weed, but I get all the oxies I want. There’s no sex, but there’s plenty of cuddling. For once in my life, I don’t have to work. I can’t do everything I want, but there’s nothing much I want and, if I wanted anything, I’ve got three-hundred-thousand dollars to buy it. There is the fact that Chai Latte would be wanting to kill me for taking the money, but, if he hasn’t found me yet in this attic, I don’t think he will. I may be kidding myself, I did read Anne Frank’s diary, a chick I can now relate to, and I know how it ends; but, if she can fight with her parents, fall in love, and believe in the hidden goodness of mankind, I can find peace when I know someone is looking to kill me.

Here’s the thing though, once you get peace, you’re not going to want it anymore. It’s fucking boring. You’re going to want to stir some shit up once and a while. You’re going to be compelled to explore a haunted house, poke around through someone’s belongings, and maybe get caught. You’re going to want some danger.

So, that’s why I’m creeping downstairs, looking for what I might see when I think they’re not home.

I get into one room and it’s so dark I run into the bed. When I reach down to stop from falling, I touch something, and it moves. It’s a body. Then it wakes up. I can tell it has long dark hair. It’s that witch, the sister. Then she says something, loud and clear. Too loud to be said in the middle of the night.

“So, now you know.”

Only, I don’t know anything. All I know was that I got caught creeping around the house I’m hiding in. Hiding from her. Really, she’s the one who knows now. She knows I’m here. What am I supposed to know?

Then there’s movement in the bed beside her. It’s a small bed, just big enough for one person. The sister must have someone she’s fucking. That’s it. That must be what I know. But who would want to be fucking that witch?

The person sits up suddenly. I can’t see who it is. Then he says something.

When I hear the voice that says it, that’s when I know. Knowing, and understanding, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, either. There’s some things you don’t want to know. So, now I’m three for three. Peace, love, and understanding, all gone to shit.