The Painter on the Corner of 6th and 7th

Beware the failed artist who keeps creating. Beware the painters who can’t stop painting. Beware their transformation, that never asks to change. -Intellectual Shaman

Julian looked at his paints the way God looks at flesh. “A bit more red and a little less white,” he said. He shaped the image into something he desired; his illusions brought to life. Most of his class at the Secretariat School had moved on with their lives; they had money and spouses, flowing like rivers, rushing to their sunsets. Julian was dammed and his crushing creativity hammered his brain like waves until his hands shook.

He looked up from his two-story window at a woman passing on the street. Rome was an intersection of roads, but living there hadn’t led anywhere. He couldn’t create his future, no matter how much he tried. It was the newspaper stand in the morning and staring at blank canvas at night. Julian drank his espresso and offered delusions to the people; celebrities, cars, and women out of reach. He was at a crossroads of wanting between 6th and 7th where the streetlights told people when to go and when to stop.

A beggar walked towards him and Julian grabbed his pepper spray. The man was flecked with paint; obviously a failed artist who lost his craft.

“You are me and I am you,” he said.

“What?” Julian asked.

“You can’t keep painting without life in your work.”

“Go away or I’ll call the police.”

The beggar pulled paints from inside his coat and gave them to Julian.

“I don’t want them.”

“Eat your art; live on it; make a picture; and watch your dreams come true.” And with that, the beggar walked away, maybe 20 paces, and collapsed in the street.

“He’s not breathing!” Somebody shouted.”

Traffic at the intersection of 6th and 7th stopped. Nobody walked over to buy the news because a story was happening right there.

Julian closed up his shop and walked back to his apartment with the beggar’s paints. “You are me and I am you,” kept flitting in and out of his mind. What did the beggar mean? Julian opened the tubes and squirted the contents onto a palate. They smelled unusual; intoxicatingly sweet; and Julian decided to paint what he desired.

Daylight disappeared in the room and Julian turned on the light. He was shocked by what he wanted; it glared back at him like fate. He crumpled up the picture and right when he thought to throw it away, he remembered the beggar’s words, “Eat your art.” Then Julian swallowed the picture whole; his lips were awash with colors, and paint dripped from his mouth. Strangely, he didn’t feel sick and sleep washed over him like a warm blanket.

The next morning Julian went to brush his teeth and he looked like a clown who slept in his costume. “What did I do last night?” He asked. Julian scrubbed and brushed his face until it was raw, then he prepared to sell magazines to the customers. He usually brought some of his artwork to show off on the corner and sometimes people looked at it, but they never bought it. It was the museum effect; what people see for free, they don’t pay for.

His first customer was a woman in a red dress who looked completely out of place on the sidewalk. Maybe she belonged to a costume party from the 1920s, he thought. Her look matched his artwork.

She didn’t even glance at Cosmo. “How much for The Woman of the Night?” She asked.

“50 dollars,” Julian said.

“No…?”

Julian smiled.

“Oh, you made a joke. I don’t see a price tag, so I’ll offer you 2,000.”

She opened her crocodile purse and gave Julian the bills. “I have an art gallery on 7th. I’m sure you know about it?”

“Yes.”

“Well, bring some of your artwork by and we’ll talk business.”

Julian dropped his artwork off and then went home that evening, smiling at his good fortune. When he turned on the light, the beggar was there, standing in his studio.

“I thought you were dead.”

“Impossible. You are me and I am you.”

“What does that mean?” Julian asked.

“Did you eat your art?”

“I did, and now I’m selling it at the best gallery in Rome.”

“I want you to paint my portrait, so that I might live on after I’m dead.”

“I can do that. I usually charge a fee, but your paints have proven to be most valuable. I’ll do it for free.”

Julian began painting the beggar; his long brown hair, turning grey, with tattered clothes. Hours spent scrutinizing this man caused Julian to see similarities in himself. Nobody looks at a man of the streets; when people give money, they don’t gaze into the eyes. “We’re nearly done. I’ll have you come back tomorrow evening.”

The beggar admired his likeness. “Can I take a closer look?”

“Okay, but don’t wander off.”

The beggar wandered off and then wandered back.

“Where did you put the painting?” Julian asked.

But the beggar was gone.

Julian walked into his studio and prepared his paints. He mixed the thinner and oils and began to paint his dreams. The morning arrived and Julian realized he had an appointment. He swallowed the painting whole and brushed his teeth. Then he walked to the 7th street studio.

“All your artwork sold. Can you bring more?” The owner asked.

“Yes; May I use your restroom?”

“But of course.”

Julian walked into the back where a workbench was. Sweet-smelling paints were strewn on the counter where a portrait of himself stood, selling magazines. He grabbed the paints. They were just like the ones the beggar gave him. He used the restroom and looked at himself in the mirror. His face was changing. Then he walked into the gallery.

“You have a picture of me in the back,” Julian said. He didn’t recognize his voice.

“This is an upscale gallery. No beggars here.”

“What?” Julian asked. He bumbled outside where a man on the corner was selling magazines.

He offered him paints. “You are me and I am you.”

“What?”

“Eat your art; live on it; make a picture; and watch your dreams come true.”

THE END

Moments…

Through it all, there is one thing we cling to

that gives to us, when life takes from us

it could be philosophy, god, or writing

when it doesn’t make sense to believe

we find a way

and every death to our expectations

means life to the other thing

when it doesn’t make sense to keep going

our pure joy remains

to love god

is to love above all things

self-improvement is a dead-end door

when life says “no”

we say “yes”

discovering something

we couldn’t find

otherwise

Knowing we will lose

and going the distance

anyway

against darkness

and the twilight of this world

failures become our possessions

refined by love

greater than trophies

glory

or light

taken by the moments

and not the triumph

over them.

Salvation Sky

This is where I get off

I won’t become what the world wants me to be

What’s safe,

is gone

2 AM silence

speaks to me

like darkness before the dawn

before the man becomes a man

and everything I am

is forgotten.

I pursue things I can’t see

and fall in love

with ethereal air

Society labels me

and I just don’t care

I won’t live

where I belong

I won’t do

for the greater good

I walk alone

into the wild

of my heart

feeling

shifting passions there

dangerous

mixing

mysterious

emotions

like uncharted wilderness

god help me

I’ll walk out

into the wide-open world

though,

I prefer the ocean deep

where waves whisper

to me

so distant

until a word

compels my body

breaking through the surface

to my salvation sky

above.

Supernatural Showdown at High Noon

There is such a thing as good and evil and when they walk into town at high noon, the showdown is like a film real that replays supernatural violence. -Intellectual Shaman

The pale rider had blood on his hands that he couldn’t wash off, even though it was raining; he tried to wash them, time and time again and the burden of releasing so many souls to hell weighed heavily. He never took a life that didn’t need taking, even if he did it for personal gain; this used to bring comfort to him until he learned about redemption. Thomas was a changed man, but men don’t really change, even if they’ve had a change of heart. Past deeds haunt them, whispering who they are, and nothing gets rid of shame. A conscience grows out of thin air, making it difficult to breath and Tomas was like a scarecrow without a heart; the bullets went threw him and he kept staying alive. He was reckless and wild; calm when others were terrified. Now he took his Christian name and went to see Father Mulligan. It was a small church and despite his past where he had no feeling, he was anxious to know what Father Mulligan thought of him.

The Father was tending his roses outside of the white steeple. “Thomas, so glad you made it.”

“How do you know it’s me?”

“Nobody comes here, except when they need a small loan; and you don’t have a needy look about you. In fact, you look like you might die before asking a mortal for help. Am I right?”

“You see a lot Father.”

“That’s why I’m not going to give you advice. God will do that. He will direct your way. Now the sanctuary needs remodeling. Do you have any skill with a hammer?”

“I do.”

“Well, let’s get to work. Idle hands are the devil’s playground.”

Thomas worked at fixing the window shutters, repairing benches, and replacing new rafters in the loft. From above, he saw Father Mulligan asleep and for some reason he smiled. Thomas liked the old man, even though he was soft. Father Mulligan reminded him of a child, a loveable child to be taken care of. The day disappeared and Thomas woke the Father.

“Yes; oh my, I guess I let the day get away from me. Come to my cottage and I’ll feed you the stew that’s brewing. Good work today. I’ll pay you and then we’ll see about your religious instruction. Father Andrew said you were eager to learn; is that right?”

“Yes Father.”

“I can tell your hands have done evil, but God uses the worst amongst us for his glory.”

“Father, I’m not that man anymore.”

“I know you believe that, but once you’ve dipped your fingers in blood, you won’t hesitate to kill again.” Father Mulligan handed Thomas a box.

“Is that what I think it is?” Thomas asked.

“A Colt Peacemaker, if ever a gun was misnamed; it’s killed more than those engravings on the handle.

“Over two dozen?”

“And maybe two dozen more. We all have a past that will find us, and when it does, we have to accept it.”

“Who were you?” Thomas asked.

Father Mulligan kept silent.

That night, Thomas didn’t sleep. The Father’s words kept echoing in his ear. “We all have a past that will find us.”

It was Sunday morning the next morning and the quiet town that minded its own business came from near and wide to hear the words of God and the town gossip.

“Mary Allen is with child.”

“Is that so?”

‘Who is the father?

A drifter to be sure; not a fine upstanding man of our town.”

The mayor took his seat above everyone else. He was distinguished with brushed top-hat and polished shoes. He ran the local gambling casino until more people in the town owed him money than didn’t. He twisted an arm here and broke an arm there, until he had strong-armed the entire county. Nobody knew his past before 5 years ago, but most in a small town who say they’ve been there forever, can’t remember anything beyond 5 years. 3 years is a trial period; 4 makes you known; and 5 gives you the trust of the town.

Little Whiskey was out of whiskey because there wasn’t much there to begin with, and preaching against the evils of drink was shear lunacy, but it was comforting to hear words they didn’t need to work on.

Father Mulligan kept going and Thomas watched the crowd. It was instinct to look for enemies.

“And now we have a new Father in training; Thomas, why don’t you stand up?”

Thomas walked to the podium, so the whole congregation could see him. He looked at the crowd, the way one looks at a sleeping monster. A toenail can’t hurt you or a tooth, but when the whole beast is awakened, it becomes dangerous.

“I’m under the instruction of Father Mulligan, it’s nice to meet you,” Thomas said.

“Tom Haney. You are a murderer. You killed my brother. How dare you darken a house of God with your presence,” the mayor shouted.

“He had it coming, although I regret the killing,” Thomas said. “You were running folks off their land and killin them if they resisted.”

“How dare you accuse me of murder! A duel; pistols at high noon.”

Thomas looked at death the way most people looked at their lunch; he could eat it, or he could leave it.

“A single shot, then,” Thomas said. “If I kill you, I have to leave and if I don’t, I have to leave this life; either way, you get what you want.”

“I want my brother back you son-of-a-bitch.”

“Vengeance can’t bring anyone back; it belongs to God.”

“It belongs to me,” The mayor said.

“Father Mulligan offered the pistols on a cushion and they paced 20 feet.

“Turn to meet your opponent. Get read. Aim. Fire.”

Smoke shot from the mayor’s gun like fate and Mulligan fell to the ground. “You jumped in front of me!” Thomas shouted.

“Every man deserves a second shot; now kill that bastard.”

Thomas fired and the past caught up with him, like an echo heard around the world. When the smoke cleared, the body lay in the earth, and the pale rider left the white steeple for the darkening sunset where the future wouldn’t know him for a moment.

THE END

Murder Mountain

Mountains know more about man than he will ever know about himself. -Intellectual Shaman

Baggy clouds hung low over the suburban metropolis, moving slowly while the traffic moved quickly.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“11 o’clock,” my friend said.

“Don’t you think we should get going?”

“I want to stop at Taco Time.”

“Okay, but we’ll be late.”

Clayton was never on time; it was part of his charm and also the reason why I wanted to strangle him twice a week.

“Your card is declined, sir.”

“What? Andy, can you spot me?”

“Here’s some bills.”

After I paid and Clayton got his food, we drove towards the mountain.

“My girlfriend is losing weight, just for me,” Clayton said. “Yesterday, we had a movie date; she dresses up, and everything.”

“Really?”

“We watch the same movie on Netflix, while we talk to each other on the phone.”

“Um.”

“Yeah, she says she wants to marry me, but last week she asked if she could go motorcycle riding with some guys. I told her I didn’t care, but then she got really angry and told me I wasn’t taking our relationship seriously.”

“Virtual relationships aren’t relationships,” I said. “No big deal though; just date other women. You’ve got lots of girls interested in you.”

“I know man, but I’m worried what will happen if I break up with her. What if it affects my confidence?”

“I wouldn’t worry about that.”

“You’re right man. What did you pack for the hike?”

“Now get this, remember when we climbed last time and there was a checklist of 10 things we needed to bring and we didn’t have a single one?”

“I remember; we didn’t even have water.”

“We made it to the top though, but almost died coming down.”

“Those were good times.”

“Well, this time I brought waterproof matches, beef jerky, Gatorade, and even my Rambo knife.”

“Dude!”

“Let’s go hiking.”

Girls were smiling at me on the trail.

“What’s going on with you?” Clayton asked.

“Promise not to tell anyone?”

“I promise.”

“I’ve been practicing Brahmacharya.”

“Brama…what?”

“Brahmacharya, to increase my creativity. Look it up. Most guys don’t know about it. It’s taboo.”

Clayton googled it.

“You don’t M—”

Two girls walked around the corner.

“Hey, is there snow at the top?” I asked.

“Yes; you should have crampons and not tennis shoes; it’s a strait drop in some places.”

“Well, I’m an all the way kind of guy; we’ve got to reach the top.”

The brunette giggled. “Really?”

Her eyes were getting big; they were brown and I noticed her freckles.

“Oh well, we have to keep going.”

“Nice talking to you,” the girls sang.

“Dude, you’re charismatic,” Clayton said.

“I know.”

The drop-off was a sheet of ice.

“Maybe we should go back,” I said.

“No, look… there’s not snow on the other side.” Clayton began walking across.

Then I walked across. “Shit; I’m going to die.”

“Just keep going,” Clayton said.

Then we made it to the other side.

“Do you feel strange?” I asked.

“Yeah, it feels like we’re not supposed to be here.” I could taste droplets of water in the air, wet against my tongue, as the fog filtered through the trees.

Then we walked across ice that went up the mountain. Blood splattered in the snow like a Jackson Pollock painting.

SCREAMING.

“Look, two men on the ridge. They’re fighting with ice axes!” The big man connected with the small man, sprinkling the snow.

“He’s going to finish him off; call 911!”

“I left my cell phone in the car!”

“Shoot, me too!”

The big man delivered the final blow. Suddenly, an orange helicopter flew over the ridge and dropped a rope ladder. The big man grabbed it and vanished behind the mountain.

“Man, that other guy is dead for sure! Let’s go check him out.” When we got there, the ax was buried in his skull. Not 20 paces away was a duffel bag full of money.

“We’re going to report this, right?” I asked.

“Right,” Clayton said. I could already see the greed in his eyes as he stared at the ice ax with desire.

THE END

What We Found Under the Volcano

The voice inside your head might not be your own. -Intellectual Shaman

I am not a natural risk taker, and maybe that’s because I have a big imagination; I can picture everything going horribly wrong, but, like the frog heating up in boiling water, I am often slow-cooked. My best friend was the best thing that ever happened to me. He was fond of saying things like, “it’s just a bit farther,” or “mopeds are safer than motorcycles; you don’t need to wear a helmet,” or “you swim well enough, I think we could do underwater diving in the Mediterranean.” All of his encouragement and lust for life caused me to take one step farther.

Now we were hiking into a volcanic caldera on one of the Japanese islands. “Isn’t this illegal?” I asked.

“Sure, but they make everything illegal in these Eastern countries,” my friend said.

“You’re not worried about getting arrested?”

“No; everybody here is so worried about playing by the rules that nobody wants to even think about the rule-breakers.”

“What about the fishermen who brought us here?”

“They were afraid to even come near this island.”

“But one of those guys kept making exploding sounds; I think this might be an active volcano.”

“Listen Andy, just because there’s hot water and gas coming out of the fissures, doesn’t mean it’s an active volcano. Trust me, I’m a doctor.”

“You’re a doctor of mathematics; that doesn’t make you an expert on everything.”

“How do you know?”

“Common sense.”

“Common sense is not that common.”

“Okay, Benjamin Franklin, why don’t you shut up.”

And before I knew it, we were half-way into the crater. “It’s getting difficult to breath,” I said.

“Let’s hope the outgassing is steam and not sulfur-dioxide.”

“Sulfur-dioxide?”

“Poison gas.”

“Remind me again, why we came here?”

“This land is uncharted. Haven’t you always wanted to walk where no man has gone before?”

“Maybe there’s a reason for that.”

“Nonsense.”

We reached the bottom where an ice cave opened its mouth, tempting us to walk inside.

“I’m just curious if there’s an ecosystem in there,” my friend said.

The cave was dead and dark, until a light shone through the ice.

“I’m not sure this is still a glacier.”

At the bottom of the tunnel was a tiny room, with a silver saucer at the center.

“Is that what I think it is?” I asked.

“It can’t be.”

The bay doors were down and we walked inside.

Then the hatch snapped shut and the disk began rotating like a merry-go-round.

“I think I’m going to throw up,” I said.

“Don’t you dare.”

I hurled when we shot out of the volcano into outer space.

“What’s our destination?”

“It looks like a blue planet.”

“Do you think you can pick up the alien dialect?” I asked.

“I learned French fluently in six months, so it should be a piece of cake.”

Then out of the corner of my brain I heard a voice.

“Visitors?” I glanced over my friend’s shoulder and there was an alien. It didn’t have a mouth and it looked anorexic. Maybe it couldn’t eat anything. That was encouraging because I didn’t want to get eaten.

“We come in peace,” I said without speaking.

“Peace?” It said. “We haven’t had a live specimen to examine in some time, so there’s no sense killing you.”

“What did you get me into?” I asked my friend.

He turned around and pulled a six-shooter from his holster that I didn’t know was there. BANG. BANG. BANG. The alien died before I could telegraph my surprise.

“You’re pretty good with that thing?” I said.

“Yeah, I’ve been practicing; I’m like the Doc Holiday of Outer Space.”

“So, what’s your plan?”

“Plan?… Just follow my lead,” my friend said. “We’ll take it one step at a time.”

THE END

Outwitting the Devil

We create our own prisons when we accept reality and remove our imagination. -Intellectual Shaman

It was like waking up from a really bad dream. I was in hell. The walls were red as the devil led me down a narrow corridor. She had black hair tied in a pony tail that went down to her waist and red lingerie pulling delicately against her thighs as she walked.

“Go ahead and look,” she said.

Being given permission, removed the fun, and I think she knew that.

We took an elevator down, until my stomach went into my chest. Country music was playing while people paid their taxes, looking tired, stressed, and suicidal. The devil turned her face towards mine and kissed me with her red lipstick. Her mouth tasted like an ash tray and suddenly, computers died. People lost their personal information and couldn’t remember who they were.

She smiled. “It’s just like dementia,” the devil said; “but only for a moment. Soon they’ll realize who they are and that’s even worse.”

A woman began crying and a man broke a monitor with his fist.

“Nothing in hell works,” he screamed.

“Watch him for a second,” the devil laughed. It was a cruel laugh. “He’s going to have a stroke.”

I looked away. “Can you just take me where I’m supposed to go?” I asked.

“Patience,” she remarked. “We have eternity together. Besides, you don’t mind paying taxes; weren’t you an accountant in real life?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, one man’s hell is another man’s paradise; so, I have something special planned for you.”

She led me down a spiral staircase with see-through doors leading to different amusements. There was a beach with swimsuit models tanning themselves. Men stared at them lustfully.

“I don’t get it,” I said. I thought hell was supposed to be full of torment?”

“It is,” the devil replied. “Those men are tortured by their desire; they want what they can’t have.”

A floor down was filled with school teachers in mini-skirts teaching mathematics to boys. “You can spend time here,” the devil said. I sat down and tried not to think about forbidden fruit. I succeeded because I had power over my own mind, but every time I raised my hand to give the correct answer, I got the wrong one, even though I knew I was right.

“You are a dunce. Get him out of my class!” The blonde math teacher shouted!

“Okay, but be careful when you talk to me,” the devil said. “Keep shaping young minds.”

My ego was cut in half, after getting the wrong answers, but I knew I couldn’t give the devil any satisfaction “Had enough yet?” She asked.

“Hell is not a bad place,” I said. “There’s a lot of hot women here.”

She crinkled her face into an evil sneer. “I’ve got just the place for you,” she said.

We took many turns and went down several flights of stairs so that I was completely lost.

“You’re afraid of losing your way, aren’t you?” The devil glowered. We entered a circular room with dozens of doors. “I’ll just leave you hear to find your way out.” And with that, she vanished.

Fear was creeping under my skin like spiders. I itched all over and the spasms were uncontrollable.

“What was it my dad told me about getting lost in the woods? Oh, sit down and think; problems are solved by thinking. That’s right.” So that’s what I did. 

Time past, how much, I don’t know, when one of the doors opened.

“I’m lost; can you help me find my way?”

“I’m afraid not,” I said. “Say, does anyone know the way out of here and has anyone ever tried to escape hell?”

“Oh, that’s foolish,” the man said. He looked like a bum who was looking for a drop of alcohol. “You don’t have any whiskey, do you?”

“I’m afraid not,” I said. “I don’t drink.”

“Then what are your vices? Did you smoke or spend time with whores?”

“No; none of that,” I said.

“Then why are you here? We’re all supposed to get a fair trial.”

“I did. In life, I wanted to do it by myself. I didn’t want to accept anyone’s help or salvation. I guess you can’t go against God. You have to play the game.”

“That’s just crazy,” the bum said. “You didn’t go all in, for pleasure, I mean? If you go against God, why not max-out your credit? Everybody pays the same debt in hell, you know.”

“I’m not so sure,” I said. “Heaven and hell exist in our own mind. It’s not a place; it’s an attitude.”

“You’re just crazy,” the bum said. “Now I’m going to go find somebody who knows where I can get a drink.” I watched him choose one of the doors, as he sought something to help himself feel better.

Then I decided to go for a walk. Maybe I couldn’t escape hell, and then, maybe I could. I was going to find out. It would be my greatest adventure; my greatest challenge; outwitting the devil.

THE END

Bottomless Pit

Our desire for things outside of ourselves is our own undoing. -Intellectual Shaman

I had a problem, and the lies grew larger, as I grew larger. I was fat, very fat, but I believed I was thin on the inside; so, all I needed to do was flip a switch in my brain and become thin again. Wherever I went, people recommended diets to me, but I scoffed at their remedies for the common man. They always gained their weight back because they thought they were fat, but I knew I was thin; so, when I decided to lose weight, it would happen effortlessly.

It didn’t help that I was the reigning champion of the Bottomless Pie Competition. Most scientists agree that eating 12 blackberry pies defies gastric possibility. But I had worked-out my stomach every day like a champion for years, stretching it to the limit with sausages and eggs. Now my training had caught up with me. 300 pounds rolled onto the scale and then I added another 5.

I decided to stop eating, but I couldn’t. It was like my stomach had a mind of its own. So, I confided in my friends at the Belly Bar.

“You look great,” they said. “Why do you say you want to lose weight?”

I looked at them. I guess it’s hard to get an honest perspective from a group that weighs over a ton. “Besides, if you lose weight, you’ll look like Jimmy over there.”

Jimmy didn’t fit in. He was physically fit and thin.

They say a group reinforces behavior, but when I looked at Jimmy, I noticed that he couldn’t gain any weight, even when he tried.

So, I decided to talk to him about his problem.

“Hey Jimmy, can I get a few tips from you?”

“Sure,” he said.

“I noticed you don’t have any trouble keeping weight off and it seems like you eat more than you used to.”

“That’s right; I have to maintain my title for cheeseburgers, hotdogs, and milkshakes and guys keep challenging me. You can never back down from a challenge.”

“But how do you stay thin? Do you run all night?”

“Not exactly. Listen, you can’t tell anybody this and I don’t recommend it, but do you know Martha Mable?”

“I think so; she makes those pies nobody eats, right?”

“That’s right and she’s a witch.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am. I ate her raisin pie out of generosity last year, and you know what it did? It changed my stomach forever. Turned it into a raisin. Now I can’t taste anything or enjoy what I eat. Everything tastes like raisins.”

“How long do you think your condition will last?”

“I don’t know, but if it lasts much longer, I’ll try to eat myself to death and if that doesn’t work, I’ll hunt down that witch and demand a cure.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” I said. “Witches are cunning; they prey on your desire, always giving you what you want, and always causing you to regret it.”

“Then what should I do?” Jimmy asked.

“You know Jimmy, we both have a similar problem, eating doesn’t make us happy; so, we’ve got to find a way to beat the forces of darkness for our own gain.”

“What do you have in mind?” Jimmy asked.

“We’ve got to fool that witch.”

“That’s kind of like outwitting the devil; there may be eternal consequences if we fail, you know.”

“I know; then we’d better succeed.”

Night fell on the Belly Bar as we prepared to call on Martha Mable.

RING…RING…RING

“Who’s there, at this hour?” An old voice croaked.

“My friend here, wants the cure?”

“Cure for what?”

“Fatness.”

“Oh, you weren’t supposed to tell. If word gets out, I’ll be banished forever.”

“Just give my friend what he wants and we won’t tell anybody.”

“Pleased with your body, are you?”

“I am, but I wish my food didn’t taste like raisins.”

“I have two pies coming out of the oven right now,” she said. “Blueberry or Strawberry?”

“I like strawberry,” I said.

“Very well.”

I took a bite and it tasted like mold, the mold that grows on fruit when it’s been left out too long.

Jimmy ate the Blueberry Pie. His mouth contorted. “Tastes like something I ate on Saturday night.”

“Thank you, boys, for stopping by, now I need to close up shop and get my beauty sleep.” We walked home, not knowing what would happen in the morning. “Man, she’s going to have to sleep for a long time to look beautiful.”

Two weeks later, Jimmy was fat and couldn’t get the taste out of his mouth and I was thin and everything tasted like it was rotting.

I guess there’s no cheating when it comes to losing weight

THE END

greater than I am

My mother says, Satan is giving me ideas now.

and my father says, “that was pretty good.”

I dream up things that aren’t real

and I feel things

maybe, nobody else can feel

My sister says, “you’re too sensitive.”

and maybe she’s right.

My brother-in-law doesn’t say anything

perhaps that’s best

and I keep going

because I don’t have a choice

I must believe in things

greater than I am.

Ticking Down to Loneliness

We love what makes us feel good

and we hate what makes us feel bad

this is true for jobs,

the air we breathe,

and the people we spend time with

Basically, the quality of how we feel is increased by the good

and decreased by the bad

Any accountant of life can tell us that

we make withdrawals from the good

far too often

and the bad stacks up like debt

maybe that’s what death is

not the final death

but death in life

this should be avoided at all costs

the good is largely a function of how we think

how we interpret what happens to us

and what we make of others

the bad is exactly the same

when no one listens

we are better off

and when everyone hears

there isn’t much to say

this is true, right before death

our personal eulogy

spoken

Who can follow us?

Who wants to?

the good in life

reaches out

and we feel relief

We aren’t the ones dying

even though we know

it has to happen

like the slow hands of a clock

winding down

to sometime, we don’t know

it is the great mystery

we can’t solve

who knows if it will ever be understood

the dead can’t tell us about death

only the living can tell us about life

not through their words

but through their living.