Friday, January 18, 2019

September in the Rain


September in the Rain
Loren Logsdon

            Sally Wakefield and her husband Lloyd sat at the breakfast table and listened to the September rain beat against the kitchen window. “Do you remember your parents saying that when it starts raining in September it seems never to stop? “Sally asked.
            Lloyd smiled and said, “Yes, my dad used to say, 'It looks like the rain is set in for the day.' What were you planning to do today?”
            “I was going to work in the yard, but that's out. I think I'll do the shopping. Would you like to come along?”
            Ordinarily Lloyd would let Sally do the grocery shopping on her own, but today he said, “Thanks, I can't really do anything else with this rain. I'll go and catch up on the scandal magazines.”
            “And flirt with May Wheat at the check cashing station,” Sally kidded.
            “Well, you have to admit she is a good conversationalist,” Lloyd replied.
            “And, let’s face it, she is also beautiful,” Sally laughed.
            “Yes, it’s a good thing I’m in my 50s and happily married to you, or I would be interested in May in a connubial sort of way,” Lloyd admitted.
            Lloyd and Sally were childhood sweethearts. They were farm people who had married young and had their four children early. Now in their late 50s, with the children grown and moved away, they found themselves settled into a comfortable life. The days and years passed in a quiet, pleasant rhythm that one can find in country living. To describe her life with Lloyd, Sally had a favorite line from an Ann Bradstreet poem: “If ever two were one, then surely we.”
            After seeing about the animals and checking on the water gap, Lloyd came to the kitchen door and called, “Are you ready to go?”
            When the family dog heard the word “Go,” he ran up to Lloyd, wagging his tail. “You can’t go this time, Duffy,” Lloyd said to the handsome collie. “You have to stay here and guard the house.”
            On the way to town, Lloyd, who could not stand to have the car’s radio playing, began to sing
                                               
                                    The leaves of brown came tumbling down
Remember? Last September in the rain.
For every word of love I heard you whisper
The raindrops seemed to beat a sad refrain.
Though spring is here in my heart
It’s still September, last September in the rain.

            “That’s one of my favorite songs,” Sally said. “The lyrics capture the sadness that I always feel in September. I don’t know why I should feel sad this time of the year, I just do.”

            On the way home from the store, Lloyd asked Sally if she remembered that tonight was his lodge night. She admitted that she had forgotten about that, but she told him she would make a nice fire in the fireplace and curl up with the book she had started. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine,” Sally said.
            “That sounds nice, almost nice enough to make me want to stay home instead of going out in the rain to attend a meeting,” Lloyd said.
            Lloyd told Sally not to wait up for him, gave her a kiss, shook hands with Duffy, and left for an evening of fellowship with his lodge brothers.  
            Sally closed the sliding doors between the dining and living rooms and built a cheery fire. She thought the living room was much more comfortable and cozy when the doors were closed to the dining room.
            Sally picked up the novel and snuggled in her chair to enjoy the fictional world of Ann Rivers Siddons. The fire slowly warmed the room, and Duffy stretched out beside her and quickly fell asleep.
            Sally read for about thirty minutes and then began to yawn. The warmth of the room made her drowsy, and her resolve to finish the novel was overcome by her desire for sleep. The book fell to the floor, and Duffy looked up at his mistress to see if anything was wrong. Satisfied that he was not needed, the dog went back to sleep.
            Suddenly, Sally Wakefield awakened with a start. She had an eerie feeling that something was very wrong. She had heard a noise. Was it something she dreamed or had someone entered the house?  She could not be sure. All she knew was that she was afraid, more afraid than she had ever been in her life. It was not the kind of fear one feels in a scary movie, but one that goes down to the very depths of one’s soul.
            Her fear became terror when Duffy began to growl. The aroused dog got up and went to face the sliding doors and began to bark urgently and ferociously. Then Sally had the feeling that whatever was wrong was standing behind those closed doors. Gripped in the saurian teeth of fear, she could not bring herself to take flight; instead, she prayed that whatever or whoever was on the other side would be reluctant to open the doors and face a barking dog. Then she heard a sound of an object crashing to the floor, causing Duffy to bark even louder. Time seemed to stand still as she waited, listening, but she heard no more noise coming from behind the closed doors to the dining room.
            Finally, Duffy stopped barking, but he stared at the doors, ever vigilant. Sally was finally able to move. She flung herself behind the chair and called Duffy to her side. The faithful dog obeyed, and Sally hugged him in relief.
She began to consider what she should do. She could not phone for help because her cellphone was on the kitchen counter. The only way an intruder could get to her, other than through the sliding doors, was by way of the front door, which was usually locked. But was it locked tonight? She could not be sure. She realized that hope was not a strategy, but it was all she had, hope that the intruder would not open the closed doors and hope that Lloyd would come home soon. “Oh, Lloyd, I need you. Please come home soon,” she pleaded.
            It is a cliché to say that sometimes time drags by, but once in a while there is truth in clichés or they would not be clichés. Indeed, time dragged by, while Sally’s imagination was working at full speed, conjuring up the monsters from movies and the serial killers from the newspapers: The BTK Killer, Ted Bundy, the Zodiac killer, Charles Manson’s Creepy Crawlers, and the Green River Killer paraded before her on the movie screen of her mind.
Finally, after an eternity, Sally saw the headlights of Lloyd’s truck pulling in the driveway.
“Saved! Oh Saved!” she breathed. Then a scary thought occurred to her. Maybe Lloyd would be walking into a trap. What if the intruder was waiting to kill Lloyd?  That thought energized Sally and she raced to the front door, opened it, and shouted at Lloyd, “Watch out! There is a prowler in the house. Come to the front door.”
Lloyd was at her side in no time. Sally told him about the intruder. Lloyd picked up the poker from the fireplace and, calling Duffy to his side, opened the closed doors to the dining room. Nothing was there, but he saw that a chair had been overturned, and he could see small traces of mud on the floor. The intruder had entered through the back door, judging from the muddy tracks on the floor. But could he still be lurking somewhere nearby?
“I’m going to search the house,” Lloyd declared.
“No, please don’t. Stay right here and use your cellphone to call the police,” Sally begged. “Let them search the house and the barns.”
That is what Lloyd did. A deputy sheriff responded quickly, and the three of them—Sally would not be left alone—made a thorough search of the premises but found nothing. Whoever or whatever visitor had intruded in the Wakefield home was gone.
But the intruder had done great damage even though the police report indicated that nothing was taken. That report was misleading because something valuable had indeed been taken, never to be recovered. The fearful experience that evening had transformed Sally Wakefield, taking from her the feeling of joy and safety of her home and leaving her with what Ambrose Bierce would call “psychic contamination.” Sally could never again face a closed door without thinking of that rainy September night when she discovered that the universe can be a lonely, terrifying place.    

 
    
           
           
           
           
           
             

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Dark and Deep Waters


Dark and Deep Waters
Loren Logsdon

            Lon was my best friend and my fishing buddy, and he was having an affair with my wife. I
came home early one day and discovered them together sharing the physical joys that should have beenexclusively mine. I felt as though someone had suddenly hit me hard in the stomach. Then I thought of getting my shotgun and demonstrating that perfidious behavior has consequences.  But I am a man with an internal governor, a dependable monitor which has kept me from acting or speaking rashly in a  highly charged situation. I decided that I needed to respond in a different way to this egregiousdisloyalty. After all, these were the two people whom I valued most in my life. They were unaware thatI had stumbled upon their tryst, and I hastily left the house without alarming them.
Apparently the affair had just begun because I kept my ears open to learn if the word was out. In a small community such as ours, the news spreads quickly. Gossip is one of the prices one pays for
small town life. But I heard nothing at all, not even a whisper of scandal. Neither my wife nor Lon
showed any signs of their secret, so I decided that if I acted quickly I could solve the problem before it became public knowledge.
Lon and I had been friends since childhood. In high school we played on all the sports teams
and sometimes double dated. We were fraternity brothers during our undergraduate days at the state
university. We were so close throughout our life that people thought of us as twin brothers. We fished together since we were kids, and I used our love of fishing as the excuse to set up my showdown
with Lon. Fishing was the one activity where I could be sure of complete privacy, and it would not
seem suspicious to Lon.
            I told him I heard that the catfish were biting across the river about a quarter of a mile above the lock and dam. I suggested that we try our luck the following Saturday morning and catch some fish for our church’s annual fish fry.. He would never decline an invitation to go fishing and would go at a moment’s notice, so we loaded our gear into my boat and started across the big river. As usual, I bragged and told him that today I was out to catch the biggest fish.
            He didn't respond to my challenge. He would usually tell jokes and sing “Old Man River” and “We’ll Pay Paddy Doyle for His Boots” at the top of his voice when we were on the river, but today he was quiet and unusually pensive. I asked him if he was feeling ill, and I even offered to turn back. “We can go another day,” I said.
            He didn’t want to turn back, and I didn’t want to either.  Actually I was using this fishing outing to reveal that I was aware of the problem in my marriage and suggest that he end the affair quietly and immediately. I was going to appeal to our long friendship and the truth that we were like brothers.
I must confess that I am a man with old fashioned values. I deplore the chaos, noise, and insatiable hedonism of contemporary life. My idea of happiness is to be a good husband, a good father, and a respected member of the community. Being a man who has always wanted a peaceful life among reasonable people, I fully intended to forgive him and we could move on from there. I wasn’t even going to mention that I knew about the affair to my wife.  
            We had reached the middle of the river when my outboard motor suddenly sputtered and died. I tried repeatedly to get it started, but it wouldn’t start. The current of the river was swift, and we were drifting toward the dam. If I could not start the motor, our boat would be swept over the dam and we would be killed.
            When it became apparent that the motor wouldn’t start, I decided to get the life jackets which I keep under the seat but never used them. I was shocked to discover that the jackets were not there.
“Someone has taken the life jackets,” I said in genuine alarm. “Now we will have to swim for it. We
can make it if we jump now!” I shouted. I leaped from the boat and began swimming toward the shore. I looked over my shoulder and saw that Lon was still in the boat.
            “Why doesn't he jump?” I thought. Then I yelled, “Jump and save yourself! It's your only
chance!”
            But Lon remained in the boat, apparently frozen in panic.
            Seconds later, to my horror I saw the boat go over the dam and turn upside down, flinging Lon into the turbulent water. “Oh, my God!” I screamed, as the boat came down on top of him.
            There was nothing I could do. I watched as a rescue boat was launched quickly by the locks
workers, but they were too late when they reached the spot where I had last seen him. Lon's body was
recovered later in the day just below the dam.
At the inquest I was able to control my grief and testify. I was painstakingly careful to recount
every detail of the unfortunate accident. I explained that in all our years of fishing on the river Lon and I had never used life jackets, and so I didn’t even think to check to see if they were under the seat. I testified that I would put the jackets in the boat at the beginning of the season and never even touch them until I took the boat out of the water in the fall.
 But I didn't reveal the real reason for being on the river that day. Why tarnish Lon’s good name and bring more grief to his family? That would serve no good purpose at all.
 The inquest ruled Lon's death an accidental drowning; the consensus was that he had made a
fatal mistake in staying with the boat instead of trying to swim to safety as I had done. Trying to be
helpful and comfort me, Sheriff Bowen observed that Lon was like a deer suddenly caught in the headlights of a speeding truck. I nodded sadly in appreciation for his effort to assuage my guilt feelings.
            People offered me sympathy for losing my best friend; and later I, in turn, offered sympathy to Lon's widow. I promised her I would be a good role model for Lon's young sons. I would do my
best to help her raise the boys to be good and kind and strong like their father.
            Late that night, as I sat in my easy chair and reflected on the inquest, I suddenly realized I had
left something out in my testimony. There was one detail I had forgotten to mention: Despite his
lifelong love of fishing on the river, Lon had never learned to swim.  Glancing ruefully at the
photograph of my wife in her wedding gown, I sighed and muttered, “Well, it’s too late now.”  




Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Basketball Dream Team: State Championship for Weeder's Clump High


The Basketball Dream Team:
State Championship for Weeder's Clump High
Loren Logsdon

            Coach Hack Procrustes came to Weeder's Clump High School from San Andreas Fault State University, where he had majored in physical education and minored in mythology. He was determined to be an outstanding basketball coach, the kind of coach who is referred to as “a legend in his own time.” The key to achieving status if one is a high school basketball coach is to win a state championship and have an impressive winning percentage in one's career. The winning percentage alone might accomplish such a goal, but a number of state titles would guarantee it and be icing on the cake.
            Since Hack Procrustes had graduated with honors at SAFS, he was a highly intelligent student of the game, and he decided that to be successful at coaching, he needed a winning formula; consequently, he developed one as soon as he could.
            Hack believed that if he could play the best five players the whole game and not substitute, he would win a huge majority of his games. Further, he did not believe in the “star” concept of the game, the notion that a star player was the key to winning; rather, he decided that the team game was the best way to win. So the question Hack had to answer is what formula would produce the best team?
            After reading most of the books on winning basketball and studying coaches carefully to learn strategies which would empower him to succeed, Hack developed the formula he needed. The center should be 6-9, a skilled defensive player and a proficient free throw shooter. The power forward should be 6-7, a dominant rebounder and a superb inside player. The other forward should be 6-5, fleet of foot and a skilled three-point shooter. One guard should be 6-3, an outstanding three-point shooter and good at passing the ball. The fifth player, the point guard, should be 5-10, fast as lightning and the team leader; the coach on the floor, so to speak.
            It was three years before Hack had his perfect team. Abe Skyfellow stood 6-9, Hefty Hooper at 6-7, B. A. Fowler at 6-5, Jim Nazeum at 6-3, and Velocity Jackson at 5-10. Although Hack’s squad consisted of 10 players, he planned to play only the starting five and not substitute except when he was forced to. He believed that to substitute was a sign of weakness.
            Now, among the other players on that squad was a lad named Bryce Nimbus, a senior who had made the team his junior year but who had not seen any playing time. Bryce enjoyed the fellowship of being a member of a team. In addition, there were two other reasons why Bryce loved basketball. First, he could practice the two special shots his grandfather Spike Rose had taught him. One was the Howitzer, a shot from mid-court; and the other was the ICBM Missile, a shot from deep in the backcourt. Second, Bryce liked to survey the crowd during games to search for the pulchritudinous high school girls who attended. If Hack Procrustes was looking for the perfect team, Bryce was looking for the perfect girl. And May Wheat was beginning to look better and better as the season progressed.

            Hack’s boys flew through the season with no opponent coming even close to beating them. In fact, Hack’s biggest challenge came in the game with The Little Brothers of the Poor, a team out of the Windy City. The score at the end of the first half was 144-9, and Hack was so moved by sympathy for the opponents that he almost broke his no-substitution rule. He compromised by ordering his players not to shoot. Anyone who shot the ball would run 50 extra laps in practice.

            When the state tournament games began, Hack’s team was ready. They responded by winning all of the games to qualify them to play in the state championship game against a formidable team from Upperville High School, a team which had made its way through the tough Chicago teams. Hack was poised and ready for his greatest moment; however, cruel Fate, as it often does, intervened.
            Three of Hack’s starting five came down with a mysterious illness. They were so sick they could not get out of bed let alone compete in a basketball game. Hooper, Fowler, and Nazeum had the flu. Abe Skyfellow and Velocity Jackson were the only starters able to play against Upperville High. That meant reserves Clark Kent, Lamont Cranston, and Billy the Id Batson had to step up to the next level and replace the ill players who could only watch the game from their hospital beds. That left only two players on Hack’s bench: Little Pee Wee Odor and Bryce Nimbus.

            By some miracle, Velocity Jackson and Abe Skyfellow were able to provide leadership to the three reserves, and Hack’s team led until there were five minutes left in the game when Billy the Id fouled out. Hack had no choice—Little Pee Wee Odor had to go in to replace Billy, leaving Bryce as the lone player on the bench.
            Still, Hack’s boys managed to lead, and with 10 seconds left to play, they were ahead by two points, with the ball in the hands of Little Pee Wee Odor. How that happened is a mystery, because anyone who knows anything about basketball will tell you that in a close game you need to have the ball in the hands of the best ball handler, and that would be Velocity Jackson. How had Pee Wee gotten the ball and what did he think he was going to do with it?
            To his credit, Little Pee Wee was doing the best he could to keep the ball away from the Upperville players. But in desperation, the player guarding Pee Wee overwhelmed the little fellow and grabbed at the ball, and Swappy Rippov, the referee, threw two thumbs up and called it a held ball. Even with that call, though, Weeder’s Clump would retain the ball because of the possession arrow was in their favor.
            Those of you who follow basketball closely know that referees can sometimes be wrong in their calls. After all, referees are human and capable of making mistakes. In the heat of the moment and in a close game even with not much at stake, a referee’s judgment can be so flawed and egregiously wrong as to cause a coach to fling a chair across the floor or to scream like a banshee on the sidelines.
            Players, too, have a problem with unjust calls by the referees. Pee Wee Odor had a temper worse than the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character, and he was almost fizzing with rabies at what he considered an unforgiveable injustice. He stamped his foot like Rumpelstiltskin, pointed his finger at Swappy Rippov, and yelled at the top of his voice, “You non compos mentis! you Mickey Mouse de Sade! you vapid and irreflective guffin!”
            Swappy immediately called a technical foul and awarded Upperville four free throws—one for each name Pee Wee had called him
            Hack protested, claiming that “a vapid and irreflective guffin” was singular, not plural, only one guffin, and thus only three free throws should be given instead of four.
            Hack was wrong because he had not heard Pee Wee call Swappy an old saphead.
            After a conference at the scorer’s table that lasted several minutes, Hack’s protest was denied, and the Upperville player made all four free throws, giving Upperville a two-point lead and possession of the ball, with only ten seconds to go.
            Since Pee Wee Odor had been ejected from the game, Bryce Nimbus had to go in, and he was ready. Here was his great moment. The game was on the line, and May Wheat, Zephyr Goodson, Olivia Pitts, Leah Borak, and Fairy Brady were in the stands with their fingers crossed and praying for a miracle. Bryce glanced up to be sure May Wheat was watching, and he reported to the scorer’s bench.
            Upperville in-bounded the ball and seemed assured of the victory when, miraculously, Bryce Nimbus forced a turnover with three seconds to go. Hack called timeout immediately and gave his players the following instructions:
            “Velocity, you inbound the ball and throw it to Skyfellow, who will pass the ball back to you for a shot. Skyfellow, if Velocity is double teamed, as he might well be, you have to pass to the open man. Whoever that is, you will not have time to dribble or even to look at me; you will have to shoot the ball immediately. Then, as if an afterthought, he glared at Bryce and said, “And that means you don’t look in the stands at the pulchritudinous nubile maidens.”
            Taken completely aback, Bryce could only respond, “I didn’t think you noticed.”
            Hack laughed and said, “I’m like Zeus. I see everything. You weren’t fooling me one bit.  I know you want to watch the girls.”
            “Sorry, Coach Procrustes, I didn’t think you would mind,” Bryce replied.
            Velocity Jackson then spoke up, “Why don’t you two settle this issue after the game? Right now we have a game to finish, and we have to shoot quickly. Our season hangs on what we do in the next three seconds.”
            Hack glared at Velocity Jackson. He did not like for one of his players to take over the team, even though Velocity was considered the coach on the floor. Consequently, to gain the upper hand, Hack said, “Velocity, you have a firm grasp of the obvious.”
            Not to be outdone, Velocity said, “Thanks, Coach Procrustes! I’ll take all of the accolades you want to give me, but let’s win this game for our three teammates who are watching from their sick beds.”
            “Right you are, Velocity, and I hope you make the all-tournament team,” Hack replied.
            “He deserves it,” said Friendly Fred Fairchild, the referee who came over to break up the huddle and remind the Weeder’s Clump players it was time to resume the game. “By the way, your player was right; Swappy Rippov is an old saphead. In addition to that, he’s a bugbear.”
            “He’s a what?” Abe Skyfellow asked.
            “A bugbear. That’s another word for an obnoxious pest,” Hack explained.
            “Come on, fellas! It’s time to play ball,” Friendly Fred Fairchild ordered.

            Velocity Jackson threw the inbounds pass to Abe Skyfellow, but, as Hack predicted, Velocity was quickly double-teamed, and Abe saw that the open man was Bryce Nimbus, who was well in the backcourt. Bryce took the pass, and in one fluid motion fired an ICBM missile shot at the basket. Then and only then did he glance at May Wheat and notice that her eyes were rolled heavenward and her lovely hands were clasped in prayer. 
            The ICBM Missile shot had not yet reached the top of its arc high in the rafters of the gymnasium when the buzzer went off to signal that time had expired, and the outcome of the game was to be determined by the shot.  At the exact moment the ball started its descent, Hack Procrustes fell to his knees, his arms upraised as if to implore the gods of basketball to dispense their favors on his team.
            Bryce’s shot came slowly, smoothly, and softly downward and nestled gently in the basket, barely disturbing the net as the ball passed through to land on the floor. Hack Procrustes’ team had won the state championship game by a single point!
            The Weeder’s Clump fans went wild. May Wheat gave Bryce a high five, a hug, and a kiss on the cheek. Hack Procrustes apologized to Bryce for the snide remark he made in the huddle, but Little Pee Wee Odor remained firm in his belief that Swappy Rippov was an old saphead. Velocity Jackson was named to the All-Tournament Team. The three players in the hospital recovered after a long battle with a cruel, remorseless old foe.  All the players on Hack’s team were seniors, and they went their respective ways after graduation, empowered by their heroic response to a formidable challenge.

            The following year, Hack Procrustes had a 6-9 center, a 6-7 power forward, a 6-5 forward, a 6-3 guard, and a 5-10 guard. In addition, he hired Spike Rose as his assistant coach, whose duties were to teach a super sub to shoot the Howitzer and the ICBM Missile Shot.  

           
                


Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Rainy Sunday


A Rainy Sunday
 Loren Logsdon

            It was a damp, drizzly Sunday morning in mid-April, and Bryce Nimbus, a freshman at Heliotrope University, was entering the First Malthusian Christian Church to attend morning services. He had big plans for the day. After the worship service, he would ambush Olivia Pitts at the choir room and ask her to accompany him to next Friday night’s Beta Alpha Delta Rites of Spring Bacchanal, then grab a delicious cheese pudding at Mom's Family Restaurant, and devote the entire afternoon to golf. Heaven Meadows, the pulchritudinous weather forecaster for the Quincy TV station, had promised viewers that the skies would clear by noon and everything would turn up rainbows and seashells the rest of the day.

            Bryce had for weeks entertained thoughts of trying to persuade Olivia Pitts to be his main squeeze. She was intelligent and sweet, she enjoyed sports, and she had a lyrical voice that would transform a rats and pumpkins kind of day into a spectacular holiday. Bryce’s friends did not approach Olivia because they concluded they had no chance with her. They thought she was too far above them. On the other hand, Bryce was an idealist, and Olivia made him think of what life must have been like in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Even messed up and got kicked out.
.
            After greeting various people and asking Boone Fowler if the mushrooms were up yet, Bryce took his usual seat, one which gave him a clear view of Olivia as she sang in the choir. Bryce wondered if Olivia was aware that he constantly stared at her, couldn't take his eyes off her, in fact. Women are good about picking up vibes, and Bryce had certainly directed powerful ones at her. Olivia, however, gave no indication she was aware of any worshipful attention. She smiled on everyone in an inclusive kind of way. Recently, Bryce had found himself singing that old popular song “How Do You Speak to an Angel?” It was not an idle question, for he was, as the song goes, “completely in the dark.”

            The pastor was a guest speaker from Peoria, Reverend Goodman, who surveyed the congregation and leaned forward in a dramatic way as if he was going to reach out and touch someone. Then he began. “Postmodern human beings lack adequate concern for their temporal and eternal welfare.” Then he gave several examples, one of which was the Viagra commercial on TV. He shook his head sadly and opined, “As the poet says, postmodern man is lost in a spiritual kindergarten, trying to spell G-O-D with the wrong blocks.”  More examples. Then, “Human conduct must be grounded on the bedrock of morality and responsibility.” Some more excellent examples and a story about Sean Penn and the Mexican drug lord. Then, “Our duty is to obey God and mitigate the suffering of our fellow humans.”

            At that point there was a tremendous clap of thunder and the lights went out. The drizzle had turned into a downpour and a violent electrical storm. The people cowered in the pews and tried to attend to the sermon. After saying, “Be calm, there is no cause for alarm.”  Revrend Goodman quickly concluded his message by urging the congregation to reach upward and pursue the horizon on silvery wings but dodge the lightning bolts as they soared heavenward. He was devout but not without some levity and a lot of common sense.   

         Softly humming “One Way or Another I’m Gonna Getcha, Getcha, Getcha, Getcha,” Bryce quickly made his way to the choir room to speak to Olivia, but she had already gone. As usual, Bryce was a day late and a dollar short, as the famous Peoria lawyer is fond of saying in his TV commercial.

Disappointed, Bryce drove to Mom's Family Restaurant to partake of a delicious cheese pudding, but discovered Mom’s was closed due to the power failure. He would have to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.

            Of course, golf was out of the question. Bryce decided he would watch the Hammond Eggs play their baseball game with the Quincy Gems on TV, but then he realized the power was out. So, he called Dick Bumpass to see if they could hang out somewhere. Dick did not answer his telephone; he was probably over at the biology lab dissecting a baby pig by candle light.  So, Bryce decided to write a letter to his Uncle Biff. He began:

Dear Uncle Biff,
            How are you? I am fine. The weather has turned somewhat inclement here lately. Are you planning to have a big garden again this year?  Do the fruit flies still fight over the bananas at Provender’s Supermarket?  Are you still wearing that shabby DeKalb seed cap? Yesterday I returned some bottles to the IGA.
            Have you made peace with Tooter Hanson? I would cut her some slack and forgive her. She can’t help it, you know.
            There is a girl here on campus I am interested it. She is pretty high class for a guy like me, but what the hey …

            Bryce soon gave up because he realized that his letter was boring, boring, boring. He just could not think of anything interesting to say to Uncle Biff. “Crimony, has my life turned into a collection of sad old clichés?” Bryce wondered.

            Then Bryce had a great idea. He would take a delicious nap. He lay down and closed his eyes, but sleep would not come. He could not even summon up a good fantasy of Olivia Pitts. Bryce gave up on the nap, and the afternoon dragged by like the 8th hour study hall in high school. Bryce thought it would never end.          

Fortunately, the power suddenly came back on. Gratefully, Bryce watched a re-run of “The Dukes of Hazard.” Then he saw an episode of “Honey Boo Boo,” which put him to sleep for two hours.

            The moral for this cautionary tale: In the words of that great British philosopher Benny Hill, “There are those who yearn for immortality who don't even know how to get through a rainy Sunday afternoon.”
             

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Story of a True Artist: Leonardo and Hercules Rolled into One


The Story of a True Artist: Leonardo and Hercules Rolled into One
Loren Logsdon

“To Improve the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts.”   Henry David Thoreau in
“Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”


            Lancaster Markem began teaching at Heliotrope University at the time when the English Department was housed in Clugston Hall, an experimental architectural marvel designed for efficiency. In other words, the ill-advised building had no windows, inspiring one faculty member to opine that it was good only for storing basketballs.  Seeking to avoid the feeling of being entombed alive, Markem took his lunch in the student center across the street from Clugston Hall. There he was soon a member of a lively lunch group that met regularly, and he was able to become acquainted with people from other departments on campus.
            The most impressive member of the group was a young professor of the art department named Sam Parkhurst, who distinguished himself early on as a master at telling jokes. Sam could tell the dullest, dumbest joke and make it seem hilarious. It was the way Sam told the joke that made it funny and send his listeners into paroxysms of laughter. Sam loved to laugh, and his laugh was hearty and enjoyable, almost as good as listening to a joke itself. Lunch time during that first year was a true highlight of the day. Sam Parkhurst always had a joke to tell.
            Two years passed quickly, and the English Department moved to another building, fortunately with windows, and the lunch group no longer met to gnaw bone and listen to Sam’s jokes and stories. It was the mid-1970s, and Mooker G. Tondouri and two other faculty members in the English Department started a creative writing magazine. At the end of the year one of the founders decided to go back to graduate school, leaving the magazine without a fiction editor. Mooker G. Tondouri approached Lancaster Markem and asked him to fill that position.
            When Markem confessed that he had no editorial experience and thus did not feel qualified, Mooker, desperate to fill the position, assured Markem he could learn on the job. Mooker was so persuasive—he could charm an ape out of a tree--that Markem decided to try his hand as fiction editor. Markem was delighted to learn that Sam Parkhurst was going to be the art editor.
            Markem had lost touch with Sam Parkhurst since those days of the lunch group, so he was excited to be working with the fun-loving art professor. Sam was in what his friends called his “Mona Lisa” phase. In fact, his covers for the magazine that year were variations of the Mona Lisa, the most impressive being a playing card titled “The Mona of Hearts.”
            Sam loved to laugh and have fun so much that a woman in the English Department dubbed him fondly “The Eternal Boy.” Sam teased Mooker G. Tondouri that he planned to slip a female nude into the art work of the magazine, no doubt a nude Mona Lisa. Sam would get a merry twinkle in his eyes and flash a sly grin, deliberately rattling Mooker’s cage.  Mooker didn’t think that was funny, even if Sam said he was only joking.  Mooker carefully scrutinized every issue of the magazine to make sure Sam had not made good on his promise about the nude.
            One day Sam Parkhurst came to see Mooker G. Tondouri about the next cover for the magazine. Mooker was not in his office, so Sam stopped by to visit Markem.
            In those days Markem always kept a pot of coffee going for those colleagues who would drop by for a cup of coffee and a brief visit. In addition, Markem had a beautiful, heavy glass ashtray on his desk for the convenience of smokers.
            Markem invited Sam to sit down and have a cup of coffee. “Have you heard any good jokes lately?”  Markem asked, knowing that Sam always had a good joke.
            Sam took out his pipe and nonchalantly tapped it once, twice, three times on Markem’s ashtray. One the third tap the beautiful glass ashtray divided neatly in half. A professional glasscutter could not have done a more expert job of splitting the ashtray into two perfectly equal parts.
            Instantly a look of horror spread across Sam’s face as if he had just destroyed the Mona Lisa. Sam gazed in wide-eyed disbelief at the remains of Markem’s ashtray. It was remarkable to see such a strange, guilty look on the face of a man who lived for fun and laughter.
            Markem was surprised by what happened to the ashtray but even more by Sam’s reaction that he broke out in unrestrained laughter like Edmond O’Brien in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
            When Sam saw Markem laughing, he began laughing as well. They both laughed so hard and long that Markem thought it would never end. 
            When the laughter started to abate, Markem pointed at the two halves of the ashtray and then at Sam’s pipe, and the laughter began again, even louder than before.  Finally, the two friends became exhausted from so much laughter.
            Then, after catching his breath and composing himself, Sam, with a solemn look on his face much like Strother Martin in Fools’ Parade, pointed to the ashtray and said, “Now you know why soldiers don’t march in step when they cross a bridge.”
            Markem could not help himself. Like Martin Luther throwing the inkwell at Satan, Markem grabbed a book, threw it at Sam Parkhurst, and shouted, “Take that, you young sentimentalist!”
            Then the door was flung open and there stood Professor Orville Korkoff. He glared at the two noise makers with an elitist, self-righteous, smug look of pure disgust. Korkoff said, “Hold it down! You are disturbing my class next door.”
Sheepishly, Markem pointed at Sam, who shrugged his shoulders and pointed at Markem. Then, as if visited by a divine inspiration, Sam pointed at the ashtray and said, “So this is the upshot of your deconstructionism, Orville Korkoff!”
The look on Korkoff’s face was so incredulous that Sam and Markem began laughing again, this time uproariously punctuated with snorts and guffaws.
            Completely frustrated and at a loss for words, Korkoff turned abruptly on his heel and left the office, slamming the door behind him, no doubt determined to report the incident to President Iva Biggun.
            For several years after that incident, when Markem would encounter Sam Parkhurst on campus, he would point his finger at Sam and exclaim in an accusatory voice, “You!”
            Sam would cringe and assume an exaggerated defensive position. Then the two would break out in laughter, making people around them think they had lost their senses. Fortunately, no high-level administrators ever witnessed this little cryptic drama.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Unquiet Grave


The Unquiet Grave
Loren Logsdon

I.                Some things are better left undisturbed

            About nine miles east of Weeder’s Clump, on the Big Sleazy River, there is a lock and dam, which maintains the depth of the river and controls the heavy barge traffic going north to Upperville or south to Saint Louis. A small community is situated near the lock and dam. Ten houses, a tiny grocery, and a tavern provide for the permanent residents, who are either employed at the locks, earn a living as commercial fishermen on the river, or farm the rich soil between the river and the rugged bluff that parallels the Big Sleazy along a five-mile stretch.
            This bluff is a wild place, heavily wooded, with deep hollows and ravines so steep as to discourage even the most agile of people.  The area is virtually the same as it was when the first settlers came here, a wilderness so wild that if a Sasquatch does exist, he would probably be found living safely in the heavy timber and thick brush of the area.
            One spring morning Boone Fowler came to this quiet community, not to fish but to hunt for morel mushrooms on the bluff. He was brave to do so because one could easily become lost in the woods and wander around perhaps for days or fall into one of the ravines and disappear. Hungry for morels and confident of his sense of direction, Boone went deep into the woods, climbed nearly to the top of the bluff, and was rewarded by filling his sack with morels. Just as he was about to turn back, he saw a small, long abandoned graveyard. It struck Boone as curious that this burial ground would be located in such an inaccessible place so remote from any human dwelling. Of course, his curiosity got the better of him, and he had to investigate.
            Boone climbed over the rust-encrusted remains of an iron fence and began to search the enclosure. As best he could tell, there were about 10 graves there, but most of the small headstones had faded so badly that he could not read the names. Also, a fir tree had grown up beside one of the graves, dislodging the marker as well as the one on an adjacent grave.  But one grave drew his attention because it was different from the others. Someone had piled heavy stones on the grave, almost as if to make sure the person buried there would stay buried there. And a six-inch margin around the grave was completely barren of weeds and grass as if someone had carefully manicured the ground. But there were no other signs that anyone had been here for years.  
            As Boone bent down to remove one of the stones from the grave, he was overcome by a strange sensation, an eldritch feeling of danger, a sense of imminent evil, and an unpleasant tingling in his hand. He quickly dropped the stone back in place and recoiled from the grave as if he had been stung by hornets. Hastily, he left the graveyard and made his way back down the bluff to the tavern for a refreshing libation and a sandwich.
            Boone proudly displayed the morels he had gathered. It was an impressive assortment of small gray mushrooms, yellow ones, and even a red elephant ear, which he had promised to a friend.
            The bartender, a portly fellow named Suds Guzzle, who reminded Boone of a poor man’s Arthur Godfrey, said, trying his best to be nonchalant, “You wanna sell them ‘rooms?”
            “Not for sale. If I wanted to sell them, I would take them over to Dosh. The taverns in Dosh offer top money,” Boon replied, adding quickly, “No offense meant.”
            But offense had been taken, and a scowl appeared on Suds’ face. Boone realized that he had shot himself in the foot, but he asked anyway, “What can you tell me about that graveyard up near the top of the bluff?”
Suds answered in a somewhat crispy tone, “Don't know nothin' bout no graveyard. Folks round here get buried over in the Bide A Wee in Weeder’s Clump.”
            “Yes, but would you know anyone who could tell me the history of that place. One grave there is unique, and I am curious about it. I think there is a story there.” Boone replied.
            “Look, Mister Fowler, I would let well enough alone if I was you. Don't do no good to poke around in things that don't consarn you. Besides, you can't live in a graveyard.”
            Boone was going to say, “Thank you for your assistance, Dr. Kevorkian,” but he concluded that any levity would go right over Suds’ head.
            Boone picked up his sack of morels and started to leave, and he noticed an elderly, gnome-like man, who looked to be two days older than the Lord, get up to follow him out.
            Outside the tavern, the little old man, who reminded Boone of Barry Fitzgerald in The Quiet Man, introduced himself as Jabez Bodkins and said, “I can tell you what you want to know. Let's just sit down here on this bench and I'll give you the story. But first, my throat is as dry as a woodpecker’s lunch. Would you go back in the tavern and get me a beer?”
            Boone did as was requested. He handed Bodkins a can of Blotto Beer and sat down beside him, eager for the story.
            “Well, this community is the result of a split off from Weeder’s Clump over intense political disagreements that have been forgotten over the years,” Bodkins said. Then he told Boone about the first people to come here, their individual names, the names of their children, the major events that occurred. He went on and on with minute specific details, a wealth of information with very little coherence.
            When Bodkins paused, Boone said, “Yes, but what about the graveyard?”
            Bodkins pointed to his throat to indicate the need for another brew. Boone got the message and went back to get him another can of Blotto.
            Bodkins took a long drink, swallowed slowly, looked thoughtfully at the can, and said, “We only go around once in life, and we should grab for all the gusto we can.” He took another swallow, belched, and then resumed his story. He told Boone all about the lock and dam. It had originally been situated about a mile south, but for some reason the government decided to move it to its present location. He told Boone all about the engineering problems in construction and the names of all the lockmasters who had worked on it. And even the names of some of the famous paddle wheel steamboats such as The Golden Eagle and the legendary tug named The Robert Huarte.
He told about an accident on The Robert Huarte when a deck hand fell overboard and drowned and his body was not recovered until three days later. It had been caught in an undertow by the dam and held there until, also by accident, a lockmaster named Bismark Logsdon discovered it; otherwise the body would never have been found.
            Bodkins paused and cleared his throat several times. Finally, since Boone was impervious to his meaning, he said, “Would you kindly fetch me another beer?”
            Boone did so and was about to remind Bodkins to tell the story of the grave, when the thirsty little gnome resumed by informing Boone about the trouble at the lock and dam during World War II, when the government feared that our enemies could sabotage the river by destroying the dams. As a result of this fear, the Army deployed military personnel to protect the place.
            Bodkins then told of a young girl in the community who fell in love with one of the soldiers, and they were caught in a love tryst in an alcove in the lock’s outer wall when the soldier was supposed to be on guard. He was court martialed and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for dereliction of duty. The girl promised to wait for him, but absence sometimes makes the heart look around and try to find another main squeeze, and she married a husky young melon farmer from the other side of the river up near Beardstown. Bodkins started to name their children when Boone intervened. .
            “Wait just a minute. I’m not buying you another beer until you tell me the story of that grave up there.”
            Bodkins seemed hurt and abashed by Boone’s angry tone of voice, but he segued into the story that Boone wanted to hear. “Well, when people broke away from Weeder’s Clump in the olden days there was a woman among their number named Sadie Stone. She had a look in her eyes that could shiver anyone’s timbers, and she was meaner than nine miles of bad road. She was also loud. People on the other side of the river, some say even in Beardstown, could hear her shrill voice when she laughed or lost her temper. She would put a curse on anyone who crossed her path. She even regarded those who disagreed with her as enemies.
 “People started to take her seriously after Biff  DeWitt, who had a shouting argument with her, was found dead of a broken neck. He had tried to jump a ditch but apparently had miscalculated and had hit his head on a rock on the other bank. Doc Peabody said he probably died instantly.
            “Then Sy Harvest, who had demanded his money back when he found that the eggs he had purchased from Sadie were rotten, discovered that five of his cows had escaped their pasture and had foundered and died in Big Charley Vandeventer’s cornfield. Apparently someone had left the pasture gate open.
            “It seemed that anyone who had trouble with Sadie ended up on the short end of the stick, so to speak,” Bodkins said. “I could go on and on giving you examples of people who suffered at the hands of Sadie and her curses, but I sense your impatience, and I would indeed enjoy another brew. So I will cut to the chase, as the learned people at Heliotrope University would put it.
            “To be brief, the people agreed that Sadie was a witch, and everyone, even those who scoffed at witchcraft and superstition, gave her a wide berth. It is amazing how one person can tyrannize an entire community. We see it so many times in life, from the schoolyard bully to the ….”
Here, Bodkins halted because he saw Boone frown and shake his head, signaling him to get to the point or not get another brew.
            “When Sadie died,” Bodkins resumed, “they buried her up in the old graveyard where the original settlers were laid to rest. Still fearful that she might return, the people piled heavy rocks on her grave to make sure she stayed put. Even now people around here shun that place as if merely to be near is enough to expose them to the malignant power that smolders under those rocks. The legend goes that the full moon empowers Sadie, and she struggles to free herself, but the rocks are too heavy, and she can’t move them. Also, the legend warns that if anyone is close to the grave during a full moon, Sadie can summon their strength and use it to gain her freedom.
            Finally at the end of his story, Jabez Bodkins shook his head sadly, looked off into the middle distance as if imploring divine protection,  pointed a gnarled finger at Boone, and said, “NOBODY DAST GO NEAR THAT GRAVE DURING  A FULL MOON.”
            To be continued
           
II.             Close encounter in the moonlight

            When Boone Fowler returned to town after hearing Conklin Osgood’s  rather meandering tale about the witch’s grave, he did two things immediately. He shared his morels with Molly Turgent, the Goddess of the Electric Griddle at Mom’s Family Restaurant, and then phoned his three buddies and asked them to meet him that evening at Mom’s for coffee and apple fritters.
            So at 7:30 on a fine spring evening Boone, Dr. Wanton Slaughter, August Provender, and Tug Armstrong met at Mom’s. Tug was fondly known in Weeder’s Clump as “Bad News” because he was the expert mechanic at Thornberry’s Garage. These four were fishing buddies, and they frequently camped and fished on the Big Sleazy River. Tug owned a cabin at the mouth of Camp Creek.
            After Boone had told the story of the mysterious grave of Sadie Stone, August Provender said, “Don’t you see, Boone, he was telling you that tall tale just so you would buy him beer. Can’t you see that he has a drinking problem?”
            “I have considered that possibility, August, but I was, after all, in that graveyard, and I did sense something mysterious, even eldritch, about that one grave.”
            “There’s only one way to find out,” Tug Armstrong declared. “Boone, I dare you to visit that place all alone on the night of the next full moon.”
            Tug had hoisted Boone on his own petard, thrown down the gauntlet. The only way for Boone to save face was to accept the dare. He didn’t want people to think he was afraid. “I’ll do it,” he said.
            Dr. Wanton Slaughter expressed some doubt. “How do we know Boone won’t chicken out and just tell us he went up there?”
            “That’s easy,” replied Bad News Armstrong. “I’ll give him my Swiss Army Knife, and he can stick it in the ground next to the grave. That way we will know he was there. The next day I’ll go up and retrieve it.”
            “Not so fast. Not good enough,” replied Boone, who was visited by a divine inspiration. “I dare you, Tug, to go up there the very next night to retrieve your knife.
            What could Tug do but agree to those terms? Boone had out-maneuvered Bad News for once. So plans were made that on the night of the next full moon the four friends would camp near the lock and dam and Boone, all by himself, would visit Sadie’s grave; then Tug would do so the following night
*****
            A month later, when the curtains of night were pinned back by the stars and the full moon was riding high, the four friends found themselves camped on the bank of the Big Sleazy. They fished, told jokes, and recounted stories from their youth. At midnight they escorted Boone to the little tavern, where he was to begin his adventure.
            Boone wanted his friends to know he was not afraid, so as he walked into the woods he sang at the top of his voice:
                                                It’s roamin’ in the gloamin’
                                                By the bonny banks of Clyde,
                                                It’s roamin’ in the gloamin’
                                                With your lassie by your side.

            Boone had read somewhere that if you were alone at night in a scary place, you whistled or sang as loud as you could because that kept the evil spirits away. Then again, he remembered the scariest story he had ever read, “The Damned Thing” by Ambrose Bierce, and he decided that stealth would be better than to call attention to himself. Clearly caution was the better part of valor. So he climbed the hill in silence.
            Boone noticed that the night was alive with sounds. An owl hooted way up on the bluff and was answered by another that was a little too close for comfort. Boone heard the soft swoosh of a flying squirrel and the murmur of a nearby stream. As he listened carefully, he became aware of a world of insect noises—buzzing, humming, singing, whistling, chirping, sizzling, hissing, rasping. It was a veritable symphony of insect sounds, an invisible universe all to itself that most people never take the time to hear.
            But then, as he neared the graveyard, he heard a sound that shivered his timbers and made the hair stand up on his head. It was a female voice singing:

                                                And if I should meet thee
                                                After long years,
                                                How should I greet thee,
                                                With silence and tears.

            The voice was the most beautiful that Boone had ever heard. The song was  more enchanting and lyrical than Keats’ Nightingale. And Boone understood what the Greek hero Odysseus must have felt when, lashed to the mast of his ship, he heard the song of the Sirens. Boone was completely enthralled and drawn to the singer by a powerful force.
            When he reached the gate of the graveyard, he could see an apparition beside Sadie’s grave. Although the moonlight was ambient, he could tell that the figure was a pulchritudinous young woman in a white gossamer gown and not an ugly old witch in black.
            Then the vision of beauty spoke to him. “Oh, my brave lad, why are you so late in coming to me? I have been waiting long for your embrace. I am so lonely. Come hither and hold me in your arms.”
            Boone could not help himself. In fact, he longed to take her in his arms. It was the only thought in his mind, to comfort her, to hold her hand and kiss her lips.
            “I ask only one kiss of thee, my dear one. One kiss! Is that too much to ask?” she implored.
            Boone was about to step forward and embrace and kiss this beautiful vision of the night when something happened to break the spell. All the sounds of the night suddenly ceased. No cricket chirped, no night bird cried. No leaves rustled in the breeze. Not an insect could be heard. There was total silence as if Mother Nature were holding her breath. It was the closest Boone would ever come to understanding what Emily Dickinson meant by “a Quietness distilled.”
            But it saved Boone Fowler. A sixth sense told him he was in danger. And he turned on his heel, leaped over the fence, stumbled, regained his balance, bounced off a tree, ran through a briar patch, bounced off another tree in his wild flight to escape. Glancing over his shoulder, he tripped over the root of a tree, flew through the air and slammed backwards into a shag bark hickory.
            Before he lost consciousness, he heard a sound he had never heard before. It was a low, melancholy, sobbing sound, followed by weeping, then wailing, then shrieking. It was the cry of a banshee with a broken heart.

*****

            Meanwhile back at the camp on the river, Boone’s friends were sitting by the campfire singing the favorite songs of their youth: “Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore,” “Kumbaya,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Old Man River,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” and the opening verse of “That Lucky Old Sun.”

                                                Up in the morning, out on the job
                                                Work like the Devil for my pay
                                                While that lucky old Sun has nothing to do
                                                But roll around Heaven all day.

            The moonlight on the river, the campfire, the sounds of the river at night, the singing of those old songs, and the feeling of peaceful contentment in this communion of friends moved  August Provender, and he voiced the sentiment all the three men when he said, “This is nice. I can’t think of anything nicer than this.”
            “Yes, but what time is it? Boone should be back by now. I’m worried about him,” said Wnnton Slaughter.
            “Yes, he may need help. Let’s go find him,”Tug Armstrong added.
            They found Boone Fowler lying beside the shag bark hickory, still unconscious. Wanton Slaughter gave him a quick physical examination and reported no broken bones or major injuries.
            The friends carried Boone back to the camp and made him as comfortable as possible. They applied a cold cloth to the knot on the back of his head and sat beside him, watching him carefully.             A few hours later, shortly after daybreak, Boone awoke with a splitting headache. He was all right except for a possible concussion, scratches on his neck, face, ears and arms, a slightly sprained ankle, a gash on his forehead, a large knot on his head, and what appeared to be a tiny insect bite on his neck. But they all noticed something different about Boone. His hair had turned completely white.
            “What happened to you?” his friends asked in unison.
            Very gingerly Boone felt the lump on the back of his head. He had not yet discovered his white hair. He flibbered his lips, sighed heavily, and said, “I  can’t remember. I heard some singing and after that nothing. My mind is as blank as John Locke’s famous tabula rasa.
            “What about my Swiss Army Knife? Did you stick it in the ground beside the grave like you were supposed to do?” Tug asked.
            “No, that I do remember. I dropped it near the gate. But I don’t know what else happened. I don’t know. I just don’t know. My mind is as empty as a moonbeam.”
            Boone fainted when Wanton Slaughter informed him of his white hair.
            Tug Armstrong stared down at Boone, contemplating the whiteness of his hair, Then Tug suddenly remembered that tonight was his turn to visit the grave. Tug stared off into the middle distance, furrowed his brow, shook his head sadly, glanced again at Boone’s hair, and said, “I guess I’ll just have to buy a new Swiss Army Knife.”
            All that summer and well into the fall they called Tug Armstrong “Chicken,” but no one ever dared to call Boone “Whitey.”