One Spring Day

By:
ernstluchs@gmail.com

I was floundering in the wake of an apocalyptic bender last Tuesday morning when the intolerable mewlings of my dog, King Midas, awakened me. Due to an oversight on my part, he’d been locked out of the house for several weeks and was desperate to get back in. I touched a match to the pilot light in my head and groped my way to the front door, pausing only once for an unpleasant but very necessary side trip to the washroom.

I was going to throw a paperweight at the dog, but when I opened the door my senses left me. Midas held in his mouth the limp body of a tiny old man. He was bluish white, with a hopelessly bald head and a long, jaggedly trimmed white beard. His eyes were a bottomless black with undulating swirls of iridescent color floating across their surface. They were the eyes of a gnome — that rare breed of diminutive hobos who sleep in abandoned cars and subsist entirely on peyote buttons. He was dressed in a snappy purple suit with silver trim. He wore a wide, diamond-encrusted belt from which hung a beautifully wrought silver dagger of Sumerian or possibly Bolivian design.

The little guy was still alive but obviously the worse for wear. Innumerable tooth marks discolored his neck where the dog had grabbed and shaken him like a rag toy. His neck was probably broken. He rolled his eyes downward and flailed his arms in a silent attempt to retrieve the conical hat that lay crumpled on the doorstep. I kicked the hat away from the porch, thinking it might be a bomb. I told Midas to drop the little man, but like most dogs, he had a mind of his own. A nasty tug-of-war ensued, in which I became the victor and Midas a very sore loser.

The gnome could hardly find the words to thank me. Instead, he begged me not to touch him or take him inside. His accent was strange and very hard to understand. He blubbered something either about burning alive or being turned inside out. I knew he was delirious and unable to comprehend the extent of his injuries. Ignoring his pleas to be left alone, I carried him inside. I laid him on the sofa and took his boots off. His feet were ice-cold.

“So this is the way you would have it,” he said bitterly. “To diminish like a candle, such a long and lingering death. Just as my uncle said it would be.”

“Shut up,” I said, slapping him a few times to sober him up. “You need rest, pal. Don’t worry. You’ll be all right. Now go to sleep.”

“Not sleep, but death,” he moaned. “My feet are growing numb.”

I looked at his feet. They were gone, melted, nothing but a damp spot on the cushion. I shrieked like a little girl in spite of myself, and ran to the washroom where I became violently ill. When I was able to return a few minutes later, half of him had melted away. I bit my lip and tried to pretend everything was okay. “Nice weather we’re having,” I said in the most vacuously cheerful voice I could muster.

“Yes, I’m dying,” croaked the old man. “I don’t care what happens to the dagger. I got it at a dollar store in Philadelphia. But will you see that my wife gets the watch?”

“What watch?”

With his one remaining arm he tugged at a chain in his breast pocket. Out fell a watch that no doubt had once been a priceless heirloom. It now looked like a refugee from a surrealist landscape. As I took it in my hands, the numerals slithered out from beneath the watch crystal and vaporized in midair, hissing. The misshapen timepiece slipped from my grasp, sputtered on the carpet like dry ice and then vanished.

“Please see that she gets the watch. I stole it from her a few years ago and she’d be glad to get it back.”

“But who –”

“Frost. Jack Frost’s the name. But that probably wouldn’t mean anything to a numskull like you.”

He clenched a fist. His thumb snapped off and slid across the floor like an ice cube. “Would you do me one last favor?” he whispered almost inaudibly.

“Yes, of course. Anything.”

“Kill the dog.” With that he closed his watery eyes and rapidly sank into a slushy mess. Soon, nothing was left but a large, gooey stain with steam rising from it. Of course, the cheap little dagger was still there, but I threw it in the garbage. Suddenly I remembered the hat. I ran to the front door. The hat was still lying in the grass and was only slightly mushy. I wrapped it in aluminum foil and stashed it in the basement freezer.

I had every intention of selling my story to the highest bidder and furnishing the hat as irrefutable evidence. But such was not to be. Our city had a power failure on Thursday when, as luck would have it, I was away on a business trip. Needless to say, the freezer defrosted. Inside, all I found was 20 pounds of rancid calves’ brains and a nauseating chocolate-colored swill that knocked me out cold when I got my first whiff of it. Now that the freezer’s been drained there’s really nothing left but a thin red line around the inside, sort of like a bathtub ring, and it seems no amount of cleanser will take it off.

You probably think I’m a fool for not taking some pictures when I had the chance. Or maybe you think I’m a damned liar and that none of what I’ve said is true. Yeah, that’s probably what you think. Well, I’m not going to try to change your mind. Now that King Midas sleeps with the fishes, only a tiny widow woman with icicles hanging from her eyes would believe me.

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Early Working Titles

By: ,

Hero with a Bunch of Faces (Joseph Campbell)

The Trip (Homer)

The Scarlet Tooth (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Big Girls (Louisa May Alcott)

1983 (George Orwell)

Barbara Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)

Appointment with Godot (Beckett)

Richard III: The Man Who Could Not Be Stopped (Shakespeare)

Huck and Jim’s Day Off (Mark Twain)

Oh Boy, Sex (Alex Comfort)

Yay, Cooking (Irma S. Rombauer et al.)

Great Outfit! (Charles Dickens)

Dorothy and the Failed Salesman of Oz (L. Frank Baum)

War and Breaks from War (Tolstoy)

The Grocer (Machiavelli)

Death of a Vacuum-Cleaner Salesman (Arthur Miller)

The Power of Not Thinking Negatively (Norman Vincent Peale)

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O Sherpa! My Sherpa!

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When I moved to Seattle, the booming economy was on a downslide, and all of the jobs were taken. The housing, too. And a good portion of the food. I spent a week living in a hostel, scouring the classifieds, and eating only spiders, packages of sugar, and, occasionally, sugar-covered spiders served on a bed of empty sugar packages. In the second week, through a stroke of luck, a lavish one-bedroom place opened up. It sat high atop the city, on Queen Anne Hill. The view was breathtaking, with all of the bright buildings laid out in front of me, below me. It was a beautiful place. And did I mention the view? Breathtaking.

Anyway, shortly after moving in, I got a job, too. It was something involving the wonderful world of the Internet, and was downtown, at the bottom of my hill. It was sure to provide me with piles of money and, as a result, make me a hit with the ladies. In short, it was breathtaking, too. On my first day, I decided to take advantage of what I thought was perfect health and walk to work. “Hello, Seattle!” I shouted as I made my way to the office, everything getting bigger and bigger as I descended the hill.

After pretending to read a bunch of training manuals all day, I learned that the walk home, up that menacing hill, was not as pleasant as the sweet stroll down it. “Goodbye, Seattle,” I grumbled as I slowly made my way up, my lungs gripping frantically for air, sweat rooting itself in my clothes, and my backpack weighing heavy on my back, as if it were a much heavier backpack.

When I finally opened the door to my apartment and fell to the floor, I had a vision. My vision was a horrible one, a grotesque image of a huge softball-sized spider perched atop a bag of Domino’s sugar. Luckily, that image passed, and I then remembered that during my stay at the hostel, I had seen a movie about Mount Everest at the IMAX theater. What I remembered, aside from that creepy guy who lost his nose and hands to frostbite, was that all of the climbers who were successful on their journeys had Sherpas to carry their equipment. This is what I needed. A Sherpa.

I logged onto the Internet and, after getting sidetracked for a few moments while considering the purchase of a wireless spy camera, I placed a want ad on a popular message board. Just minutes later, my ad, and my prayers, were answered. I had received an email from a man named Lopsang. It turned out that he worked in a Himalayan restaurant in the University District of Seattle with his grandfather. The old man had moved there fifteen years earlier with a dream of serving his culture’s delicacies to rich college kids at high prices, and now he was doing it, with his grandson’s help.

In his email, the young man lamented not being back home carrying heavy things up hills for wealthy Westerners. The work at his grandfather’s restaurant was light, he was bored with it, and yes, he’d love to come and be my personal Sherpa.

Lopsang moved into the basement of my building with his donkey, Robbie the Donkey. They both slept on a bed of old newspapers and old shoe insoles that I put on the floor of my storage unit in anticipation of their arrival. On our first morning together, Lopsang carried my backpack both to and from work. During the workday, he stood outside my building, next to Robbie the Donkey, who was tied to a bike rack and given a pail full of crab apples to munch on. When I came from the door that night, there they were, both just as I had left them, eager to work.

I saddled up on the donkey and we made our way up the hill, Lopsang keeping pace by our side with an ear to ear grin, and wide eyes full of love. It was his dream, to be carrying heavy things up a steep incline and then down again, and he was doing it. Thanks to me.

I would soon begin to add books and even more bags to Lopsang’s load, just to test him. And to my surprise, the more I gave him, the brighter his face would light up. One day he squealed like a piggy when I bought a new set of lead bookends and stuffed them into one of his packs. And when I had him disassemble the snooker table at work, carry it up to my apartment for a dinner party, and then bring it back down a couple hours later, the man actually jumped off the ground and tapped his heels together. This, my friends, was what happiness looked like.

On the weekends, I invited Lopsang up to the apartment to show my appreciation for his hard work. When he came inside, wearing the colorful Hello Kitty poncho that I had bought for him, he would cook me savory Himalayan dishes with the groceries that I had him walk to the bottom of the hill to get and carry back up. And, as the ingredients simmered on the stove, he would dust and vacuum. “This is my life. This is how I am supposed to live,” he said at the dinner table one night as he put a spoonful of pomegranate seeds into my mouth. “Mmmmph,” I said, nodding in agreement.

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10 Increasingly Annoying Short Stories

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A Short Story, About Something Really Annoying

* You accidentally get locked inside your bathroom, which is full of mosquitoes.

* The mosquitoes keep trying to bite you but, just as you start trying to swat them, you realize that they may become your only source of food as the time inside this small bathroom wears on.

* You also realize that you are the mosquitoes’ only source of food and they will die if you stop them from drinking your blood, possibly depriving you of food in the future. So you take off your clothes, sit tightly on the toilet with your eyes clenched, and suffer mosquito bite after mosquito bite, just to fatten up the darned insects, so that you will have something to survive on when you begin to starve to death in a few days.

* Then, a couple hours later, when you’re covered in mosquito bites from head to toe, your buddy Ralph comes by and unlocks the bathroom door.

Moral: Do not lock yourself in a bathroom.


***


An Even Shorter Story, About Something Even More Annoying

* All the vacations to Belgium and France are booked up for spring break, so you settle for a trip to the slums of Colombia.

* Determined to still experience the taste of some fresh croissants purchased from a local bakery, you walk around the streets of Colombia until you find a bakery with a sign outside reading “We Are A Local Bakery Serving Fresh Croissants, Much Like A Similar Bakery Would In France.”

* You enter the bakery and are viciously beaten with a plastic bag full of stale rock-hard Kaisers.

Moral: Feel free to get locked in a bathroom. Just don’t try to buy croissants from a Colombian bakery again.


***


An Even Shorter Story Than The Shorter Story, And Definitely More Annoying

* You accidentally get locked inside a bathroom in a local Colombian bakery while attempting to buy a lemon tart.

* There are no mosquitoes inside this bathroom which you could fatten up on your own blood to eat later.

* There is, however, a ruthless baker covered in tattoos named Salianto inside the bathroom, who proceeds to pummel you to death with a bag full of stale rock-hard Kaisers and a comically large rolling pin.

Moral: Okay, add back the first moral about not locking yourself in bathrooms. And change the second moral to include all baked goods, not just croissants.


***


Even Shorter Than The Last Story, And Even More Annoying Too, Even Though The Last Story Included Your Own Death Which Probably Really Burned You Up

* At your funeral, your friend Ralph does the eulogy, and he tells everyone about how you were killed by being beaten with a bag full of stale rock-hard Kaisers and a comically large rolling pin.

* Everyone laughs, and a few people make rolling-pin gestures.

Moral: In the future, make sure morals from your past really annoying stories include more details about how to avoid death.


***


A Shorter Story That’s Possibly Even More Annoying Than Dying and Having Your Friends Laugh At You At Your Funeral, If That’s Even Possible

* During the funeral, your long-lost brother Raoul, separated from you at birth, runs into the room with a suitcase in each hand, a scrapbook with old newspaper clippings hinting at your whereabouts, and two tickets to France for spring break.

Moral: Who told you to go to Colombia anyway? I don’t remember the moral of the first story mentioning that sensible piece of advice. Clearly, there are a lot of issues at work here, not the least of which is your jaunting off to dangerous South American slums and killing yourself. What’s the point of morals if you never take their advice?


***


The Story Where You Enter The Action In The First Person, Blow The Increasingly-Shorter-Story Rules Out Of The Water, And Come To Near Blows With Your Moral-Spouting Alter-Identity

* I’m not to blame here! Who knew that a ruthless baker would beat me to death inside a Colombian bakery? Nobody, that’s who. Your pointless morals certainly didn’t warn me. Don’t eat croissants? What kind of moral is that?

Moral: You’re so predictable and whiny. I could have just read the title and skipped the body of the story, that’s how predictable you are. You’ll probably argue with me in the title of the next story. Get ready everyone, here it comes!


***


The Death Of The Moral-Spouting Alter-Identity

* If what you say is true, then this should probably kill you once and for all.

Moral: Ah, but it didn’t. And do you know why?


***


The Story Where The Moral-Spouting Alter-Identity Reveals That He Has Taken Control Of The Story Titles And Can Never Die

* No!

Moral: Oh yes!


***


What’s The Point Of Going On? The Hero Is Dead. He was Killed In A Colombian Bakery. He Isn’t Coming Back. The Only Real Mystery Left In This Story Is The Identity Of Me, The Moral-Spouting Alter-Identity Who, For Some Reason, Takes Great Pleasure In Abusing Our Hero

* Ralph? Is that you? Thanks for letting me out of the bathroom, man, but seriously, what’s up? The funeral thing was pretty funny, but these shenanigans have gone too far. A joke’s a joke, man. Ralph? Lay off it. Please just let me rest.

Moral: Say hello to your brother.


***


The Ultimate End

* Raoul, no! But why! Why!

Moral: Because I wanted to go to France! I spent months trying to find you, and bought non-refundable airline tickets so we could go on a vacation together and learn about each other’s lives. I wanted to spend time with you. I wanted us to be together. But what do I find when I finally get to you? You’re dead, man. You went on a stupid Spring Break trip and got yourself killed. I missed the flight to France because of your wake. I will never forgive you for the heartbreak you’ve caused me. I will always desire what I cannot have. So rest, dear brother. But do not rest in peace.

Moral: Don’t buy nonrefundable airline tickets

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