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JennaGlatzer
07-01-2005, 11:21 PM
Congrats, final two! Here is your last challenge...

Sarah, you are to pick one prompt from the two that William chose and write about it. In addition, you are to pick one prompt of your choice and write about it.

William, you are to pick one prompt from the two that Sarah chose and write about it. In addition, you are to pick one prompt of your choice and write about it.

In other words, two final entries from each of you. Any length, any style.

You will have extra time to complete this.

Your deadline is Tuesday, July 12, 2005 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Good luck!

firehorse
07-13-2005, 07:34 AM
Once upon a time, a prince and a princess were living happily ever after. Or so they thought. The princess was as beautiful as any princess in all the land. The prince was utterly devoted to her and could not leave her side for one single precious moment. Unfortunately, this unwavering ardor left the prince no time to oversee the kingdom. His mother, the Queen, watched as her dominion fell into shambles.

“My son,” she said. “Your marriage is ruining our lives. You must go with your wife to see the great wizard deep in the forest, the one they call Shrink. Do this, or you must abdicate your right to the throne.”

The prince and princess traveled day and night and night and day over land and water and water and land, deep into the forest, to reach the esteemed wizard called Shrink. The princess required a special bubble in which to travel. It was a fine bubble indeed, made of unique hypoallergenic material another wizard had invented just for her, to protect her from all the nefarious allergens that could possibly attack her ever-so-fragile immune system. However, everyone knows how difficult it is to gaze at one’s own reflection – not to mention touch up makeup – when one is bobbing up and down behind horses. Every few minutes, the princess insisted the carriage be stopped so she could ensure that not a flake of mascara had fallen from her lashes and not a thread of lipstick had crept above her lip.

At long last, the royal couple arrived at the office of the Great Wizard they called Shrink.

“Do you suppose he dusted?” she asked. “What if he has a cat?”

“Worry not, my darling,” the prince said. “For I have brought your special ionizer to purify the air.” He lifted her, bubble and all, out of the carriage and placed her gently on the ground.

“Ouch!” she screamed. “Be careful!”

True to his name, Shrink was a tiny little white-haired man in a brown pin-stripe suit, with a long beard, wire-rimmed glasses and an indefinable European accent. He wasn’t really European, but he found that the accent gave him cachet.

He peered at this couple, too beautiful for words. The princess had hair the color of beech, her skin was alabaster and her eyes would have made even the purest of periwinkles jealous. The prince was a stately man, square of jaw and shoulder and gracious to a fault.

Shrink watched as the prince carried his bride into the wizard’s office, where he placed her on the softest of couches in all the land and then sat down beside her.

The prince gazed lovingly at the princess, and the princess gazed lovingly at her own reflection in Shrink’s glasses.

“What seems to be the problem?” Shrink asked.

“His mother,” said the princess.

“Hmm,” said Shrink. “Tell me more.”

“She’s jealous of me,” The princess said as she gestured towards her toe. The prince immediately jumped up, knelt before her, removed her platinum slipper – she was allergic to silver and gold – and gently began massaging her foot.

“Ow!” said the princess. “Not so rough!”

“Tell me about your mother.” Shrink addressed the prince.

“Oh,” continued the princess, oblivious. “She is meddling and controlling.” With her fair lips, she took a sip of specially oxygenated water the prince had hand-filtered for her in an ancient river high in the mountains. “She is the one who put the pea beneath those twenty mattresses and twenty featherbeds a long, long time ago.” She shook her foot with an air of annoyance, and the prince returned to his seat. “I’m allergic to down! Besides, you try to keep your balance on a bed 35 feet tall.”

“Hmm,” said Shrink, turning emphatically away from the princess and towards the prince. “How does that make you feel?”

“My mother is very supportive,” the prince said, squirming. “She wants only the best for me.”

“Can you not see?” the princess asked her husband, checking her fractured reflection in the jewels of his crown, “She is jealous of me and is forcing you to decide between us.” In a taunting sing-song voice, she added, “She wants to keep her little baby boy.” She fixed her gaze on Shrink. “Did you know she still lives with us?”

“She is the Queen,” the prince pointed out. “Technically, we live with her.”

“Indeed,” said the princess. To Shrink, she said, “My husband is 35 years old and still he lives with his mother.”

Oedipal issues, Shrink wrote on his notepad.

“My mother needs me,” said the prince, albeit somewhat anemically. “But so does my wife!” He stared at Shrink and shook his head. “What to do? What to do?”

“The princess is but a young woman,” Shrink said, “and fair of health. Why does she need your undivided attention?”

The prince looked at his love adoringly. “A speck of dust will set her on a coughing spell for days, so I must constantly fan the air she breathes; she can only tolerate washing in specially de-mineralized water, so I must constantly purify it; she can only eat the most rarified foods from the most rarified land, so I must constantly inspect it.”

“That sounds like a great deal of work,” said Shrink.

The prince nodded. “Indeed, it is exhausting, but she is my beloved. I fell in love with her precisely because she was so extremely sensitive.”

Codependent, Shrink wrote.

Shrink looked at the princess, who was studying her reflection in the teapot and not listening to a word the prince had said.

“Princess, what made you fall in love with the prince?”

“He took care of me and he loved me.” She found another reflective surface in a framed ink blot on Shrink’s wall. “He worshipped me.” She turned her head to the left and to the right and compared the images. “I’m very sensitive,” she said in a little-girl voice.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Shrink jotted on his pad.

The princess gave the prince a look, and he immediately poured her a cup of tea from the pot on the table in front of them. The princess took one sip and spat at her husband. “This isn’t Lactaid!” she said.

“It’s skim,” Shrink said.

“I do not need to lose weight,” the princess said in a voice that was suddenly and angrily modulated. “I need not to get gas and be all bloated.” She turned to the prince. “Fix this!”

The prince looked at Shrink, and Shrink shrugged. “No Lactaid to be had,” he said.

The princess stomped her foot. “I want Lactaid!”

“I must get her Lactaid,” the prince said to Shrink.

“How does that make you feel?” asked Shrink. “Not to be able to fix her problems?”

“I feel… I feel…” the prince stammered. “She does not like this!” he said.

“I asked how you felt about it,” Shrink said again.

“I – I – I do not know.” He looked befuddled.

“I want my Lactaid!” the princess whined.

“Really, I could go and get some,” said the prince.

“Tell me how you feel,” Shrink said for the third time. The prince looked bewildered. “Okay, I want you to try saying ‘no’.”

“Nn… Naaa… Nana… Naaaaaeeeee… Nye…”

“This is the problem,” Shrink decreed. “You cannot say no.” He went to the one of the very large oak bookshelves that lined his office and plucked out a paperback. “I want you to read this.” He handed it to the prince.

“Codependent No More,” read the prince. “What does that mean?”

“You will see.”

“What about me?” sniffed the princess. “Am I not worthy of a book to read?” Shrink got up again, went to the bookshelf and pulled out another, larger book. He handed it to the princess, who very deliberately dropped it on the floor. The prince swooped down to pick it up.

“Why did you do that?” Shrink asked.

“I cannot read,” said the princess. “I simply desired a book of my own.”

“Oh, look,” said Shrink. “Our time has come to an end. That will be 2000 quarlings.”

* * *

At the very beginning of the very next session, the princess shrieked. Shrink and the prince looked at her.

“Have you no hearing?” she said. “Someone plucked a rose, and the rose screamed.”

“Maybe 30 miles away,” the prince said under his breath.

“I have extraordinary hearing,” the princess seethed. “I can hear something thirty miles away. You think I shall not hear what you whisper right next to me?”

“How is it,” Shrink asked the princess, “That you are pained by a cut rose far, far away, and yet our voices do not injure you?”

“Oh, but they do,” said the princess with a put-upon sigh. “However, I would hate to be a burden to anyone, so I bear my cross silently.”

Martyr complex, wrote Shrink.

“How has your week gone?” he asked the couple.

“Horribly!” whimpered the princess.

“It is wonderful!” proclaimed the prince. “I can identify a feeling! I feel… resentful” he said with relish. And with that word, he was freed. “Yes, yes! I resent having to care for the princess all the time; I resent being unable to carry out my princely duties.” The prince stood up and did a most un-princely little jig around the room. “Resentful! Resentful! Resentful!” he sang in a sing-song voice. The princess did not notice, for she was busy making faces at herself in the chrome of the teapot.

“What else do you resent?” Shrink asked.

“I resent…” the prince jumped in front of the princess and startled her. He lifted her face ever so gently and from her eyes brushed the blonde hairs. “I resent having to attend functions alone.”

“All those people,” the princess bewailed. “All those germs!”

“What else?” asked Shrink.

“I resent…” this time the prince danced behind the princess and tilted her head backwards to look in her eyes. “I resent sleeping alone.”
Shrink raised his eyebrows ever so slightly. “You do not share a royal bed?”

“Nay,” said the prince. “She sleeps in an isolation chamber filled with distilled water.” He gave a contemptuous look at the princess. “She says my breathing disturbs her.”

“I cannot sleep for the noise!” protested the princess.

“Hmm,” said Shrink. “How does that affect your sexual relationship?”

Prince and princess both rolled their eyes and looked away from each other. The princess fiddled with the fabric on her chair and tried to find her reflection in some silver threads.

“She won’t let me touch her,” the prince said. “And I resent that!” He added gleefully.

“It hurts!” She grumbled.

“They make numbing gel for men,” Shrink said. “Perhaps you could use that.”

“I’m sure I’d be allergic.”

The prince glared at the princess.

The princess glared at the prince.

They both glared at Shrink, who glanced at the clock.

“Look at that,” he said. “Our time is up already. But good work! Keep it up. That will be 3000 quarlings.”

* * *

The next week, the prince looked rested, while the princess had deep bags under her eyes. “I am miserable since you came into our lives,” she said. “Any little thing I need, he now denies me.”

“I am taking care of myself,” said the prince. “I am loving myself and my inner child.” He stuck out his tongue at the princess. “I no longer need your approval to approve of myself.”

“Tell me more,” said Shrink.

“I have another resentment,” the prince said. “I desire to have children. Of course I assumed my wife would want the same.” He turned to the princess. “What’s wrong with you, anyway?”

“I refuse to taint my body with stretch marks and saggy breasts,” she said in a huffy tone. “Not to mention –”

“What?” the prince scoffed. “You’d be allergic to children?”

“Quite possibly, yes.”

“We could hire a nanny.”

“How about a wet nurse?”

“Speaking of which,” said Shrink, “Do you not have ladies-in-waiting who can care for the princess?”

With one hand, the prince shielded his face from the princess and silently, with a mocking face, mouthed to Shrink, “She’s allergic.”

“I had them beheaded,” the princess said calmly.

“Hmm,” said Shrink in as neutral a tone as he could muster. “Why?”

“Fourteen hurt my hair by brushing too hard – hairs even came out in the brush! Twenty placed my crown incorrectly and caused me weeks of miserable headaches. And no fewer than eighty-five forgot I was allergic to starch in the laundry.”

“So that’s…” Shrink counted. “One hundred and nineteen you’ve had beheaded?”

“More or less,” said the princess.

Shrink sat back in his very big chair and looked at the couple. From prince to princess, from princess to prince.

“Well,” said Shrink, “I know not what to recommend. This is a fragile marriage indeed, but for the good of the kingdom and the monarchy, here are my suggestions.” He took out a small pad and wrote something.

“Princess,” he said. “I want you to begin taking Gleeoxin. It will alleviate your obsessive worrying.”

“Medication?!” the princess pouted her perfectly pink lips. “I am not mentally ill.”

“Chemically, my dear, you are.” Shrink said. The prince could barely contain his joy at seeing the princess get her comeuppance. “However,” Shrink continued, “You are not nearly as weak as you believe. You must begin to take care of yourself.”

“But I don’t want to,” the princess whined. Ignoring her, Shrink turned to the prince.

“There are several meetings of Codependents Anonymous in the kingdom. I want you to attend meetings thrice weekly.”

“But I am a prince! It would be unseemly.”

“It is an anonymous program, and believe me, you shall be surprised at the familiar faces you encounter. You must learn to assert yourself to both your wife and your mother without being cruel, manipulative or martyrish.”

The princess stuck her tongue out at her husband. “See? You were being mean!”

“My mother was right,” the prince said with a glower. “You. Are. So. High. Maintenance.”

“Princess, you must explore alternate ways of having your needs met,” said Shrink.

“But I want him to pay attention to me!” she complained.

“Aha!” said Shrink. “Maybe you can ask him for that in a way that doesn’t make him feel resentful.” He peered over his glasses at the couple. “That will be 5000 quarlings.”

The couple begrudgingly thanked Shrink and embarked on their journey back to the castle. They did not speak the entire trip, for the prince was busy reading Finding Your Way Home: A Soul Survival Kit and the princess was busy pouting. From that day forward they lived, like most couples, with some good days and some bad.

Moral of the story: even fairy tale marriages have problems.

William Haskins
07-13-2005, 07:38 AM
NOTE: The following is a sequel to "Tom Thumb" by The Brothers Grimm. A translation of the original text can be found here (http://www.fln.vcu.edu/grimm/daumen_e.html).





Tom Thumb and the Conscience of the Crown

by

William Haskins


Tom Thumb, having returned to the bosom of his family, lived a peaceful, quiet existence on the edge of the forest. In the evenings, their bellies full and their minds at rest, his father and mother would sit in the glow of the hearth, where Tom would recount to them all the stories of his travels, and how he had deceived and mocked the gullible people of the countryside.

By and by, Tom found his sleep haunted by dreams of new mischief and would often awaken to find his devilment still gnawing at him. Boredom with his comfortable life led him down a path of devious daydreams until simply relating his tales no longer brought satisfaction.

One night, stirred awake by visions of adventure and the pounding of his own heart, Tom slipped out of the farmhouse, disappearing into the forest to devise new acts of roguery.

When he emerged, there followed a series of pranks that ensnared all manner of farmers and townspeople, craftsmen and maidens.

Tom sneaked into the local church and stowed away in the confessional, where he refused parishioners forgiveness for their sins, instead heaping upon them scorn and curses, sending them into the streets fearing for their souls.

He hid in the thick wool of a goat, convincing the beast to refuse the milkmaid any milk, and then confusing and frightening the poor woman by bleating that one day, the goat would come and milk her.

Soon, the countryside was filled with legends of the mischievous imp, whose trickery knew no bounds. His victims lamented their misfortune, while others laughed at their expense.

In time, news of Tom Thumb’s antics reached even the King, a fat and impatient man who became increasingly fascinated by this tiny man who could engender such tales from the peasantry. Unable to tolerate his curiosity a moment longer, he dispatched his royal courier to find Tom and bring him back to his court.

And so it happened that the courier traveled the countryside, escorted by the King’s best soldiers, where they inquired and searched until—at last—they found Tom and imprisoned him in a velvet purse for the journey back to the palace.

But, as the courier entered the court, Tom cleverly escaped from the purse and scurried beneath the King’s throne before anyone could see him.

“Have you completed your charge?” the King inquired of the courier.

“I have, Your Majesty,” the courier replied. “We found the imp and have brought him to you, as was your wish.”

“Then keep me waiting no longer,” the King ordered. “Bring him forth.”

And, with that, the courier opened the purse—only to find it empty. The blood drained from his face, and the King turned red with rage.

“You dare disregard my orders and mock me in my own court?” he bellowed.

The courier tried to explain, but could not find words or reason. The King grew angrier and summoned his soldiers: “Off with his head!”

The soldiers dragged the poor fool away and, in the chaos, Tom climbed undetected up the back of the King’s throne, stowing himself away in his jeweled crown.

Despondent over not having the imp for his amusement, the King dismissed his courtiers and sat alone in the darkness.

Late that night, as the King began to drift off to sleep, Tom crept to the edge of the crown nearest His Majesty’s right ear and whispered: “Your enemies laugh at your folly.”

The King bolted upright, certain the voice he heard was that of God Himself. He fell to his knees. “My Lord,” he cried, “Reveal thy will to me so that I may do your bidding!”

“Your rivals have heard of your humiliation, and they think you weak… and given to foolish fantasy.” Tom could scarcely contain his laughter at the sight of the King’s desperation. “You must move against them before they take your kingdom and enslave your loyal subjects.”

The King was pained by wounded pride and, by the time the sun came up the next morn, he had ordered his armies into battle against all enemies of the kingdom, real and imagined. His soldiers marched proudly to war for their sovereign, and the people cheered their bravery.

But across the land, rival kingdoms heard of his aggression and struck alliances, laying waste to the King’s armies in battle after battle.

Informed of this bitter defeat, the King paced along the marble floors of his palace and turned his eyes toward Heaven. “Speak to me, my Lord,” he said. “Show me the way to victory.”

Tom felt fear grip his throat, knowing that his mischief had put his very homeland at risk. Unsure of what to say, he spoke foolishly, and in haste. “Send in reinforcements,” he told the King, “and I shall guide thee to certain victory.”

And so the King sent reinforcements, for whom the same bloody fate awaited. When word reached the palace that his armies had been wiped out, the King fell into depression, and Tom knew surely that he had undone the Kingdom.

The land was now weakened by constant war, its people hungry and frightened. The peasantry rose up and, before Tom could escape, they stormed the palace and overthrew the King, locking him away in a tower for his crimes. The King petitioned the Lord, but as Tom had fallen silent, the poor King was driven to madness.

And though Tom slipped undetected from the tower and made his way back home, he was forced to witness, with every step, the misfortune his pranks had brought to his people. When he returned home, he found his parents starving, in rags and overwhelmed by sadness, and realized the enormity of his sins.

He vowed to never play a trick again and, each night, his dreams were vexed by the horror of what Judgment Day held in store for him.

firehorse
07-13-2005, 07:53 AM
Seattle was always grey, Jason thought. Boring. He sat at one of the picnic tables outside Ivar’s Fish & Chips, his gangly adolescent legs sprawled over the bench, feeding French fries to the seagulls. They swooped low enough to eat right out of his hand, and he hoped they wouldn’t drop anything on his lucky Red Sox baseball cap. The water on Puget Sound was peaceful today, moored boats only occasionally had to weather small hiccups. He loved the smell of the lingering salt air. This was the only part of the city that reminded him of Boston.

September. He missed his friends and imagined them walking to school in the crisp – dry – weather, watching the leaves change day by day. On weekends, maybe they’d even rake a pile to jump in. As autumn wore on, they would smell roasting chestnuts as they walked through Faneuil Hall; they’d have snowflake-catching contests when the first snow fell, and they would count down the days till Red Sox spring training. None of that happened in Seattle.

Kids went to school here, of course, but not Jason. Ever since they moved, his mother had home-schooled him. He hadn’t made any friends, because she rarely let him leave the apartment. Today, though, she was working, cleaning houses, and she’d agreed to let him go swimming at the YMCA. “Just don’t let anyone take your picture,” she said.

Swimming, then the ocean. It was a pretty good day. Soon he’d head home to watch his Red Sox play the Mariners. If they won – and of course they would – it would make his day perfect.

At the next picnic table, a couple argued.

“I thought we were going to shop for rings,” the woman said.

“Babe, we can do that later.”

“I didn’t take the afternoon off work to go to some baseball game.” She looked kind of like a Cambridge mom, but wearing Eddie Bauer instead of L.L. Bean.

“It’s not just any game. It’ll be fun.” He was tall, with curly brown hair and a bushy beard, and he wore an ugly green t-shirt with “Mariners” emblazoned on the front.

“You want to go, fine.” She threw her paper napkin onto her paper plate and waved away hungry seagulls. “I have two dozen cases, and I have to be in court in the morning.” She got up and began walking away.

“Wait,” the man called after her. “Elizabeth!” He scrambled to extricate himself from the picnic table and took notice of Jason’s baseball cap.

“Boston fan, huh?” Jason nodded. The man hurriedly took a small envelope out of his pocket and shoved it towards the boy. “Here. Have fun. You look like you could use some cheering up.” With that, he ran after his girlfriend.

Jason opened the envelope and pulled out two tickets to the game. “Thanks!” he called, even though the Reluctant Samaritan was out of sight. Jason hadn’t been to an actual game since his dad took him to Fenway Park for his tenth birthday, two years ago.

The game began at 4:00. His mother was working till at least 8; she wouldn’t be home till an hour later. He knew he wasn’t supposed to go anywhere without permission, but after being cooped up for two months, he felt like he deserved it. And besides, he thought, she’d never know.

Safeco Field was just a short walk away. Jason sold the extra ticket to a scalper – fifteen bucks would get him a hot dog and soda. As soon as he stepped inside the gate, he felt a shiver on the back of his neck. His heart raced as he took in the atmosphere: People swarmed around him, yelling, laughing, trash-talking each other. Their sweat mingled with the scent of roasted peanuts, hot dogs and freshly-cut grass.

The seat was three flights up, overlooking the outfield. Jason could see the entire field, but once he saw All-Star Johnny Damon warming up right below him, he couldn’t look anywhere else. An enormous man squished by him and plopped down, squeezing into the seat next to Jason. Families poured in: parents with kids, all in matching Mariners t-shirts (and more than a few with the available-only-in-Boston pink Red Sox hats). For a city that had such a lousy baseball team, Seattle had die-hard fans. And the Red Sox – if you’re going to lose, it’s always good to lose to the World Champions. So what if they traded Pedro, and Nomar was long gone? They still had Damon, Ramirez and his namesake, Varitek. Jason knew the lineup and stats by heart. He’d even memorized the depth chart and kept track of players in the farm system.

In the third inning, with the bases loaded and two out, Johnny Damon hit a grand slam. The ball came straight towards him, and before he could wish he’d remembered his glove, people were shoving him, reaching into the air with greedy hands. The fleshy man nearly knocked him over, and when it was done, the big man in the other seat who the prize. Jason’s shoulders drooped, and he was about to sit down – the guy was wearing a Mariners jacket, for crying out loud – when the man offered him the ball. “I don’t want a Boston ball, anyway,” he said with a smirk. Jason tightened his grip and stared, awestruck, at the mark where Damon’s bat had scorched the ball. If only his friends could see him now. Then the adrenalin hit, and he jumped up and down, waving the ball like a maniac.

After a few minutes, he sat down and watched the replay on the Jumbotron. An awesome hit, classic Damon. But then his heart froze: up there, on the big screen, for all the world to see - there he was, Jason, clutching the ball and jumping like a fool. The game went on, but for Jason, flushed with shame and fear, that moment seemed to last for hours. He had to get out of there. He pushed past the row of people and ran up the stairs and out of the stadium.

Sh*t. Sh*t, sh*t. Jason knew his father either taped or watched every game on TV. If you were on the Jumbotron, you were on TV. Sports Fan 101. Sh*t.

All the excitement of the day flooded out of him and was replaced by a whirling confusion of panic and shame. His mother would never forgive him. He wouldn’t tell her. He couldn’t.

He thought back to the moment the man had handed him the ball. If my friends could see me now. Now he prayed to a God he didn't believe in that they – and and especially his father – hadn’t.

For the next week, Jason stayed in his room. When his mother asked what was wrong, he said he was reading, or watching TV, or that he didn’t feel well. He couldn’t face her. At meals, he stared at his plate. Every time his mother hugged him, kissed him, told him how much she loved him and how hard she knew this was on him, he felt lower than a worm.

She’d been a lawyer, his mother, in Cambridge. Harvard-educated, politically active, married to a top research scientist at MIT. Jason didn’t understand why his father behaved the way he did; he just knew it hurt his mother. She tried to hide it, leaving him with neighbors when she went to the hospital, giving him the same lame explanations she gave the doctors – but if she had fallen down the basement stairs that many times, wouldn’t he have heard at least once? What he had heard from his bedroom were the drunken rages, the fists against skin, the threats to kill mother and child. Jason could never reconcile the monster he heard late at night with the dad who discussed pitching stats over breakfast.

One Thursday night, when his father was away at a conference, Jason and his mother left. No goodbyes, just a fresh start on life.

Jason decided it was his responsibility to watch out for her. She’d tried to pretend they were going on a big adventure, but when he told her that he knew about the abuse, she burst into tears. “I’m so sorry you heard all that,” she said, stroking his hair.

They changed their names and stayed with different women every few days for a month until they reached Seattle. His mother dyed her hair red and cut it short; she began wearing very different clothes (“So Daddy can’t find us.”). Jason dyed his blond hair black and made it spiky, like the guys in Sum-41. The only concession to his previous life was the baseball cap. “C’mon, Mom, everyone wears Red Sox hats!” She had to agree.

His mother had let him pick his own new name, though she laughingly vetoed his first three choices – Red Sox stars Nomar, Pedro and Manny (“Look at you, WASP as WASP gets. Nobody would buy it for a minute.”) – so he’d settled on Jason – as in Varitek, the All-Star catcher. She changed their last name to Smith, what one of the Safe House women called a “Google-proof name.”

His mother had emptied her savings and retirement accounts, and with that, they rented a small apartment. It was okay, nothing like the enormous Victorian house they had by Fresh Pond in Cambridge. “You can’t tell anybody where we live,” she said. “I know this is hard, sweetie, and I’m so sorry. No child should have to go through this, but you’ll have a better life, I promise.” Jason still blamed himself for what his mother had gone through, and he was determined to be good.

The Jumbotron episode haunted Jason for two weeks. He had nightmares that he kept secret from his mother. His stomach hurt. He punished himself by not watching sports, not even reading box scores.

On Wednesday of the third week, when Jason’s conscience was beginning to ease and he could breathe again, he allowed himself the treat of swimming at the YMCA.

When he came home, even before he got off the bus, Jason saw the police cars and ambulance surrounding the apartment building. Somebody in a uniform was putting up yellow tape. The door was open, and a man in a beige raincoat was talking to a woman cop.

Jason felt dizzy. Once off the bus, he ran as fast as he could, until the detective stopped him.

“Is this the son?” the woman cop asked. Jason took one look at the expression on her face and bolted under the tape and up the stairs. Fueled by panic, he pushed cops and anyone else out of his way.

The center of the ivory carpet was stained a dark red, with pieces of what looked like vomit scattered around. He recognized his mother’s dress, but beneath the bright red hair, no face remained.

“Mommy!” he screamed. “Mommy!”

William Haskins
07-13-2005, 08:00 AM
And Death Shall Have No Dominion



by

William Haskins


The drought lasted 99 days. On the hundredth day, the sky opened and rain poured down in thick, hateful sheets, intermingling the Texas dust with clouds of steam rising from hot pavement. I watched it from my window, ignoring the half-written poem and the stack of unpaid bills that mocked me from my desk.

It made me thirsty.

By the time I arrived at the bar, darkness had enveloped the city, sending the shimmer of neon across the wet concrete. I stepped out of the rain into the sick glow of the dive to find an empty room and a bored bartender.

“Scotch,” I said.

He poured it without speaking. I took a table near the front door and went back to watching the rain as it streamed down the window in tiny, aimless rivulets. I poured half the scotch down my throat and closed my eyes as the heat rose from my stomach and spread over my skin like poison sunshine.

When I opened them, a man stood beside the table, dry as a bone. He had a weak chin and sad eyes set in a pasty face, framed by a mop of curls.

“The record for scotch is eighteen straight, you know,” he said in a British accent, tinged with the music of Welsh.

I drained the rest of the glass and winced as it burned its way down my throat. “That’s a Dylan Thomas quote,” I said.

He sat down opposite me. “Of course it is.”

I looked at him closely in the dim light, and my mind flashed back to scratchy black and white photos from moldy old books. A shot of adrenaline shot up my spine, but I stayed calm. “I don’t believe in ghosts.”

“Really?” he asked, smiling. “Well, you’re missing out on half the universe.”

“Why are you here?” I asked him.

He laughed. “I’d like to buy you a drink, but since I’m tapped out, what say you buy me one?”

I held up two fingers and the bartender brought us each a glass. We toasted the rain and he looked at me seriously. “Do people still read my work?” he asked.

“Are you kidding me?” I said. “You’re one of the giants of the twentieth century.”

He looked sad for a moment, and then shook his head helplessly. “I can’t even remember what I wrote.”

I ordered another round, and we toasted poor memory.

“Come on,” I said, standing up and throwing a twenty on the table.

We stumbled out into the rain and I waved down a cab. The car skidded to a stop, splashing us.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

I pulled him into the backseat of the taxi and leaned over the seat. “We need to get to the UT campus,” I told the driver.

Dylan sunk into the seat and watched the Austin skyline as we headed downtown.


*****


The campus was as quiet as a graveyard, and as we walked through the driving rain, Dylan began to howl a Welsh hymn:

“O! Iesu mawr, rho d'anian bur
I eiddil gwan mewn, anial dir,
I'w nerthu drwy'r holl rwystrau sy
Ar ddyrys i'r Ganaan fry”

“Come on, you wanker,” he chided me. “Sing!”

“I don’t know what the hell you’re saying,” I replied.

This aggravated him. “All right, ya dumb Yank,” he said. “Try this one, then.”

He sang in a loud, boisterous voice:

“Where have you been wand'ring,
Kind old man?
Kind old man, man, man
man, man, man, man.
The kindest man alive.
I went out a-fishin', boys.

Fal dee ree dee ri doh,
Fal dee ree dee riddle o,
fal dee ree dee ri doh!”

He looked at me impatiently, and we sang together: “Fal dee ree dee ri doh!”


*****


The doors to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center were unlocked, but as we walked through the lobby, our wet shoes squeaking on the tile, a security guard rushed toward us, arms flailing.

I looked at Dylan. “You wanna do this or shall I?”

“How long’s it been for you?” he asked.

“To tell you the truth… not all that long. How about you?”

He smiled. “It’s been ages.”

“He’s all yours, then,” I said.

With that, he crouched down a bit and brought his tiny fist, full-force, to the guard’s chin.

“Fal dee ree dee ri doh!”

The guard went down hard, and we stepped over his unconscious body and slipped quietly into the reading room.

Over the next two hours, we read through dozens of his manuscripts and letters, many to and from his wife, Caitlin. I watched his eyes as they scanned the pages: sad, nostalgic, disappointed.

“I could have done so much more,” he said, softly. “You know how old I was when I died?”

“Yep,” I answered. “Thirty-nine…”

I turned away from him and peered out a narrow window into the rainy night.

“…Same as me.”


*****


They found me the next morning, passed out in the reading room, splayed out among the precious collection of a world-renowned poet.

They dropped the trespassing charge, but the guard demanded that I be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.