Posts tagged ‘Stories’

March 4, 2014

“A Carnival Jangle” — Alice Dunbar

by Biblioklept

“A Carnival Jangle”

by

Alice Dunbar

There is a merry jangle of bells in the air, an all-pervading sense of jester’s noise, and the flaunting vividness of royal colours. The streets swarm with humanity,—humanity in all shapes, manners, forms, laughing, pushing, jostling, crowding, a mass of men and women and children, as varied and assorted in their several individual peculiarities as ever a crowd that gathered in one locality since the days of Babel.

It is Carnival in New Orleans; a brilliant Tuesday in February, when the very air gives forth an ozone intensely exhilarating, making one long to cut capers. The buildings are a blazing mass of royal purple and golden yellow, national flags, bunting, and decorations that laugh in the glint of the Midas sun. The streets are a crush of jesters and maskers, Jim Crows and clowns, ballet girls and Mephistos, Indians and monkeys; of wild and sudden flashes of music, of glittering pageants and comic ones, of befeathered and belled horses; a dream of colour and melody and fantasy gone wild in an effervescent bubble of beauty that shifts and changes and passes kaleidoscope-like before the bewildered eye.

A bevy of bright-eyed girls and boys of that uncertain age that hovers between childhood and maturity, were moving down Canal Street when there was a sudden jostle with another crowd meeting them. For a minute there was a deafening clamour of shouts and laughter, cracking of the whips, which all maskers carry, a jingle and clatter of carnival bells, and the masked and unmasked extricated themselves and moved from each other’s paths. But in the confusion a tall Prince of Darkness had whispered to one of the girls in the unmasked crowd: “You’d better come with us, Flo; you’re wasting time in that tame gang. Slip off, they’ll never miss you; we’ll get you a rig, and show you what life is.”

And so it happened, when a half-hour passed, and the bright-eyed bevy missed Flo and couldn’t find her, wisely giving up the search at last, she, the quietest and most bashful of the lot, was being initiated into the mysteries of “what life is.”

Down Bourbon Street and on Toulouse and St. Peter Streets there are quaint little old-world places where one may be disguised effectually for a tiny consideration. Thither, guided by the shapely Mephisto and guarded by the team of jockeys and ballet girls, tripped Flo. Into one of the lowest-ceiled, dingiest, and most ancient-looking of these shops they stepped.

“A disguise for the demoiselle,” announced Mephisto to the woman who met them. She was small and wizened and old, with yellow, flabby jaws, a neck like the throat of an alligator, and straight, white hair that stood from her head uncannily stiff.

“But the demoiselle wishes to appear a boy, un petit garcon?” she inquired, gazing eagerly at Flo’s long, slender frame. Her voice was old and thin, like the high quavering of an imperfect tuning-fork, and her eyes were sharp as talons in their grasping glance.

“Mademoiselle does not wish such a costume,” gruffly responded Mephisto.

“Ma foi, there is no other,” said the ancient, shrugging her shoulders. “But one is left now; mademoiselle would make a fine troubadour.”

“Flo,” said Mephisto, “it’s a dare-devil scheme, try it; no one will ever know it but us, and we’ll die before we tell. Besides, we must; it’s late, and you couldn’t find your crowd.”

And that was why you might have seen a Mephisto and a slender troubadour of lovely form, with mandolin flung across his shoulder, followed by a bevy of jockeys and ballet girls, laughing and singing as they swept down Rampart Street.

When the flash and glare and brilliancy of Canal Street have palled upon the tired eye, when it is yet too soon to go home to such a prosaic thing as dinner, and one still wishes for novelty, then it is wise to go into the lower districts. There is fantasy and fancy and grotesqueness run wild in the costuming and the behaviour of the maskers. Such dances and whoops and leaps as these hideous Indians and devils do indulge in; such wild curvetings and long walks! In the open squares, where whole groups do congregate, it is wonderfully amusing. Then, too, there is a ball in every available hall, a delirious ball, where one may dance all day for ten cents; dance and grow mad for joy, and never know who were your companions, and be yourself unknown. And in the exhilaration of the day, one walks miles and miles, and dances and skips, and the fatigue is never felt.

In Washington Square, away down where Royal Street empties its stream of children great and small into the broad channel of Elysian Fields Avenue, there was a perfect Indian pow-wow. With a little imagination one might have willed away the vision of the surrounding houses, and fancied one’s self again in the forest, where the natives were holding a sacred riot. The square was filled with spectators, masked and un-masked. It was amusing to watch these mimic Red-men, they seemed so fierce and earnest.

Suddenly one chief touched another on the elbow. “See that Mephisto and troubadour over there?” he whispered huskily.

“Yes; who are they?”

“I don’t know the devil,” responded the other, quietly, “but I’d know that other form anywhere. It’s Leon, see? I know those white hands like a woman’s and that restless head. Ha!”

“But there may be a mistake.”

“No. I’d know that one anywhere; I feel it is he. I’ll pay him now. Ah, sweetheart, you’ve waited long, but you shall feast now!” He was caressing something long and lithe and glittering beneath his blanket.

In a masked dance it is easy to give a death-blow between the shoulders. Two crowds meet and laugh and shout and mingle almost inextricably, and if a shriek of pain should arise, it is not noticed in the din, and when they part, if one should stagger and fall bleeding to the ground, can any one tell who has given the blow? There is nothing but an unknown stiletto on the ground, the crowd has dispersed, and masks tell no tales anyway. There is murder, but by whom? for what? Quien sabe?

And that is how it happened on Carnival night, in the last mad moments of Rex’s reign, a broken-hearted mother sat gazing wide-eyed and mute at a horrible something that lay across the bed. Outside the long sweet march music of many bands floated in as if in mockery, and the flash of rockets and Bengal lights illumined the dead, white face of the girl troubadour.

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March 2, 2014

The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (Eleventh Riff: The Nineties)

by Edwin Turner

jgb_complete_ss4003111

PREVIOUSLY:

Introductions + stories 1956-1959

Stories of 1960

Stories of 1961

Stories of 1962

“The Subliminal Man,” Black Friday, and Consumerism

Stories of 1963-1964

Stories of 1966

Closing out the sixties

The seventies

The eighties

IN THIS RIFF:

“Dream Cargoes” (1990)

“A Guide to Virtual Death” (1992)

“The Message from Mars” (1992)

“Report from an Obscure Planet” (1992)

“The Secret Autobiography of J G B” (1981/2009)

“The Dying Fall” (1996)

1. “Dream Cargoes” (1990)

By the 1990s Ballard had written essentially the same stories over and over—with diminishing returns. Some of the weakness in the later entries in the Complete Short Stories can be attributed to Ballard’s prescience. The world caught up to him at some point, blunting his satire into something goofier, more cartoonish, but also sharpening the reactionary streak that always glowed under the surface of his writing. At his peak, Ballard used his stories to provoke readers into looking at their culture in a new way, and the best of those stories still retain a futurist power. However, many of the late period stories blazon their moral outrage in a wearisome didactic streak.

1990′s “Dream Cargoes” is paint-by-numbers Ballard: Themes of time, sleep, mutation, ecological disaster, birds, etc. The plot anticipates one of Ballard’s weaker novels, Rushing to Paradise (1994), a day-glo nightmare about misguided attempts to steward the forces of nature. And like Rushing to Paradise, the prose here is weak—Ballard relies on the stock phrases that litter his earliest stories.

2. “The Message from Mars” (1992) / “Report from an Obscure Planet” (1992) / “A Guide to Virtual Death” (1992)

“The Message from Mars” anticipates public disinterest in astronomy (and science in general), the end of NASA’s space shuttle program, and China’s emerging dominance as a world power with space flight capability. So there you go. (It also posits the horror of a President Quayle!). Ballard sends a group of astronauts on a Mars mission, refuses to share their findings with us, and then leaves them, once they land, in their space shuttle, where they live on for decades, silent, incommunicado, alienated from humanity in their self-imposed exile. Ballard’s cynicism is balanced by his refusal to overstate any kind of moral here—the story succeeds in its evocation of mystery.

“Report from an Obscure Planet” is another riff on millennial anxieties, written in the perspective of a “we” condemning the human race for its shortsighted, disastrous treatment of the planet. Ballard doesn’t seem to keen on the future wonders promised by computers:

Driven by the need for a more lifelike replica of the scenes of carnage that most entertained them, the people of this unhappy world had invented an advanced and apparently interiorised version of their television screens, a virtual replica of reality in which they could act out their most deviant fantasies. These three–dimensional simulations were generated by their computers, and had reached a stage of development in the last years of the millennium in which the imitation of reality was more convincing than the original. It may even have become the new reality to the extent that their cities and highways, their fellow citizens and, ultimately, themselves seemed mere illusions by comparison with the electronically generated amusement park where they preferred to play. Here they could assume any identity, create and fulfill any desire, and explore the most deviant dreams.  

While “Report from an Obscure Planet” uses a didactic narrator and a heavy hand to telegraph its message, its companion piece “A Guide to Virtual Death” is far more fun, wicked, and shockingly accurate (if wildly hyperbolic). Sure, yes, okay—another list from Ballard, and okay, yes, sure—I tend to be keen on his lists (“The Index,” “The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race”)—but they also tend to be his strongest pieces. As usual with his list-stories, Ballard feels obligated to begin with a note:

For reasons amply documented elsewhere, intelligent life on earth became extinct in the closing hours of the 20th Century. Among the clues left to us, the following schedule of a day’s television programmes transmitted to an unnamed city in the northern hemisphere on December 23, 1999, offers its own intriguing insight into the origins of the disaster.

6.00 am Porno–Disco. Wake yourself up with his–and–her hard–core sex images played to a disco beat.

7.00 Weather Report. Today’s expected micro–climates in the city’s hotel atriums, shopping malls and office complexes. Hilton International promises an afternoon snow–shower as a Christmas appetiser.

7.15 News Round–up. What our news–makers have planned for you. Maybe a small war, a synthetic earthquake or a famine–zone! charity tie–in.

7.45 Breakfast Time. Gourmet meals to watch as you eat your diet cellulose.

Brief but Essential. Go ahead and read the whole thing.

3. “The Dying Fall” (1996) / “The Secret Autobiography of J G B” (1981/2009)

The American edition of Complete Stories is more complete than the British volume, including two extra stories. “The Dying Fall” (read it here if you like) is an unfortunate last entry, a weak note in a grand tome. It’s not bad; it’s simply not good, yet another revenge tale with a bad wife, etc. It feels like a frame for Ballard to riff on architecture and psychoanalysis.

“The Secret Autobiography of J G B” is much stronger (you can read it here), although it was also composed at his peak and republished (“rediscovered”) after his death. The final lines would have made a fitting end for the entire collection:

When the summer was followed by a mild autumn, B had established a pleasant and comfortable existence for himself. He had abundant stocks of tinned food, fuel, and water with which to survive the winter. The river was nearby, clear and free of all pollution, and petrol was easy to obtain, in unlimited quantities, from the filling stations and parked cars. At the local police station, he assembled a small armory of pistols and carbines, to deal with any unexpected menace that might appear.

But his only visitors were the birds, and he scattered handfuls of rice and seeds on his lawn and on those of his former neighbors. Already he had begun to forget them, and Shepperton soon became an extraordinary aviary, filled with birds of every species.

Thus the year ended peacefully, and B was ready to begin his true work.

4. On the horizon:

I am done! Sort of. One more post—I’ll revisit these riffs and select the tales that I would include in a collection I would call The Essential Short Stories of J.G. Ballard.

January 18, 2014

“Rooms” — Gertrude Stein

by Biblioklept

“Rooms”

by Gertrude Stein

Act so that there is no use in a centre. A wide action is not a width. A preparation is given to the ones preparing. They do not eat who mention silver and sweet. There was an occupation.

A whole centre and a border make hanging a way of dressing. This which is not why there is a voice is the remains of an offering. There was no rental.

So the tune which is there has a little piece to play, and the exercise is all there is of a fast. The tender and true that makes no width to hew is the time that there is question to adopt.

To begin the placing there is no wagon. There is no change lighter. It was done. And then the spreading, that was not accomplishing that needed standing and yet the time was not so difficult as they were not all in place. They had no change. They were not respected. They were that, they did it so much in the matter and this showed that that settlement was not condensed. It was spread there. Any change was in the ends of the centre. A heap was heavy. There was no change.

Burnt and behind and lifting a temporary stone and lifting more than a drawer.

The instance of there being more is an instance of more. The shadow is not shining in the way there is a black line. The truth has come. There is a disturbance. Trusting to a baker’s boy meant that there would be very much exchanging and anyway what is the use of a covering to a door. There is a use, they are double.

If the centre has the place then there is distribution. That is natural. There is a contradiction and naturally returning there comes to be both sides and the centre. That can be seen from the description.

The author of all that is in there behind the door and that is entering in the morning. Explaining darkening and expecting relating is all of a piece. The stove is bigger. It was of a shape that made no audience bigger if the opening is assumed why should there not be kneeling. Any force which is bestowed on a floor shows rubbing. This is so nice and sweet and yet there comes the change, there comes the time to press more air. This does not mean the same as disappearance.

January 11, 2014

“The Index” — J.G. Ballard

by Biblioklept

“The Index”

by J.G. Ballard

EDITOR’S NOTE. From abundant internal evidence it seems clear that the text printed below is the index to the unpublished and perhaps suppressed autobiography of a man who may well have been one of the most remarkable figures of the twentieth century. Yet of his existence nothing is publicly known, although his life and work appear to have exerted a profound influence on the events of the past fifty years. Physician and philosopher, man of action and patron of the arts, sometime claimant to the English throne and founder of a new religion, Henry Rhodes Hamilton was evidently the intimate of the greatest men and women of our age. After World War II he founded a new movement of spiritual regener­ation, but private scandal and public concern at his grow­ing megalomania, culminating in his proclamation of himself as a new divinity, seem to have led to his down­fall. Incarcerated within an unspecified government insti­tution, he presumably spent his last years writing his autobiography of which this index is the only surviving fragment.

A substantial mystery still remains. Is it conceivable that all traces of his activities could be erased from our records of the period? Is the suppressed autobiography itself a disguised roman à clef, in which the fictional hero exposes the secret identities of his historical contempo­raries? And what is the true role of the indexer himself, clearly a close friend of the writer, who first suggested that he embark on his autobiography? This ambiguous and shadowy figure has taken the unusual step of index­ing himself into his own index. Perhaps the entire compi­lation is nothing more than a figment of the over­wrought imagination of some deranged lexicographer. Alternatively, the index may be wholly genuine, and the only glimpse we have into a world hidden from us by a gigantic conspiracy, of which Henry Rhodes Hamilton is the greatest victim.

A

Acapulco, 143

Acton, Harold, 142–7, 213

Alcazar, Siege of, 221–5

Alimony, HRH pays, 172, 247, 367, 453

Anaxagoras, 35, 67, 69–78, 481

Apollinaire, 98

Arden, Elizabeth, 189, 194, 376–84

Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, The (Stein), 112

Avignon, birthplace of HRH, 9–13; childhood holidays, 27; research at Pasteur Institute of Ophthalmology, 101; attempts to restore anti-Papacy, 420–35

B

Bal Musette, Paris, 98

Balliol College, Oxford, 69–75, 231

Beach, Sylvia, 94–7

Berenson, Bernard, conversations with HRH, 134; offer of adoption, 145; loan of Dürer etching, 146; law-suits against HRH, 173–85

Bergman, Ingrid, 197, 134, 267

Biarritz, 123

Blixen, Karen von (Isak Dinesen), letters to HRH, declines marriage proposal, 197

Byron, Lord, 28, 76, 98, 543

January 9, 2014

“Samuel” — Grace Paley

by Biblioklept

“Samuel”

by Grace Paley

Some boys are very tough. They’re afraid of nothing. They are the ones who climb a wall and take a bow at the top. Not only are they brave on the roof, but they make a lot of noise in the darkest part of the cellar where even the super hates to go. They also jiggle and hop on the platform between the locked doors of the subway cars.

Four boys are jiggling on the swaying platform. Their names are Alfred, Calvin, Samuel, and Tom. The men and women in the cars on either side watch them. They don’t like them to jiggle or jump but don’t want to interfere. Of course some of the men in the cars were once brave boys like these. One of them had ridden the tail of a speeding truck from New York to Rockaway Beach without getting off, without his sore fingers losing hold. Nothing happened to him then or later. He had made a compact with other boys who preferred to watch: starting at Eighth Avenue and Fifteenth Street, he would get to some specified place, maybe Twenty-third and the river, by hopping the tops of the moving trucks. This was hard to do when one truck turned a corner in the wrong direction and the nearest truck was a couple of feet too high. He made three or four starts before succeeding. He had gotten this idea from a film at school called The Romance of Logging. He had finished high school, married a good friend, was in a responsible job, and going to night school.

These two men and others looked at the four boys jumping and jiggling on the platform and thought. It must be fun to ride that way, especially now the weather is nice and we’re out of the tunnel and way high over the Bronx. Then they thought. These kids do seem to be acting sort of stupid. They are little. Then they thought of some of the brave things they had done when they were boys and jiggling didn’t seem so risky.

The ladies in the car became very angry when they looked at the four boys. Most of them brought their brows together and hoped the boys could see their extreme disapproval. One of the ladies wanted to get up and say, be careful you dumb kids, get off that platform or I’ll call a cop. But three of the boys were Negroes and the fourth was something else she couldn’t tell for sure. She was afraid they’d be fresh and laugh at her and embarrass her. She wasn’t afraid they’d hit her, but she was afraid of embarrassment. Another lady thought, their mothers never know where they are. It wasn’t true in this particular case. Their mothers all knew that they had gone to see the missile exhibit on Fourteenth Street.

Out on the platform, whenever the train accelerated, the boys would raise their hands and point them up to the sky to act like rockets going off, then they rat-tat-tatted the shatterproof glass pane like machine guns, although no machine guns had been exhibited.

For some reason known only to the motorman, the train began a sudden slowdown. The lady who was afraid of embarrassment saw the boys jerk forward and backward and grab the swinging guard chains. She had her own boy at home. She stood up with determination and went to the door. She slid it open and said, “You boys will be hurt. You’ll be killed. I’m going to call the conductor if you don’t just go into the next car and sit down and be quiet.”

Two of the boys said, “Yes’m,” and acted as though they were about to go. Two of them blinked their eyes a couple of times and pressed their lips together. The train resumed its speed. The door slid shut, parting the lady and the boys. She leaned against the side door because she had to get off at the next stop.

The boys opened their eyes wide at each other and laughed. The lady  blushed. The boys looked at her and laughed harder. They began to pound each other’s back. Samuel laughed the hardest and pounded Alfred’s back until Alfred coughed and the tears came. Alfred held tight to the chain hook. Samuel pounded him even harder when he saw the tears. He said, “Why you bawling? You a baby, huh?” and laughed. One of the men whose boyhood had been more watchful than brave became angry. He stood up straight and looked at the boys for a couple of seconds. Then he walked in a citizenly way to the end of the car, where he pulled the emergency cord. Almost at once, with a terrible hiss, the pressure of air abandoned the brakes and the wheels were caught and held.

People standing in the most secure places fell forward, then backward. Samuel had let go of his hold on the chain so he could pound Tom as well as Alfred. All the passengers in the cars whipped back and forth, but he pitched only forward and fell head first to be crushed and killed between the cars.

The train had stopped hard, halfway into the station, and the conductor called at once for the trainmen who knew about this kind of death and how to take the body from the wheels and brakes. There was silence except for passengers from the other cars who asked, What happened! What happened! The ladies waited around wondering if he might be an only child. The men recalled other afternoons with very bad endings. The little boys stayed close to each other, leaning and touching shoulders and arms and legs.

When the policeman knocked at the door and told her about it, Samuel’s mother began to scream. She screamed all day and moaned all night, though the doctors tried to quiet her with pills.

Oh, oh, she hopelessly cried. She did not know how she could ever find another boy like that one. However, she was a young woman and she became pregnant. Then for a few months she was hopeful. The child born to her was a boy. They brought him to be seen and nursed. She smiled. But immediately she saw that this baby wasn’t Samuel. She and her husband together have had other children, but never again will a boy exactly like Samuel be known.

November 4, 2013

“The Beloved,” A Short Surrealist Tale by Leonora Carrington

by Biblioklept

“The Beloved” by Leonora Carrington

ONE LATE afternoon, passing through a narrow street, I stole a melon. The fruit man who was hidden behind his fruits seized me by the arm and said to me: “Señorita, I’ve been waiting for an occasion like this for forty years. I have spent forty years hidden behind this pile of oranges with the hope that someone would steal a fruit from me. I will tell you why; I need to talk, I need to tell my story. If you don’t listen, I will hand you over to the police.”

“I’ll listen,’ I said. Without letting me go, he took me to the inside of the store, among fruits

Without letting me go, he took me to the inside of the store, among fruits and vegetables. We shut a door at the far end, and we reached a room where there was a bed on which an immovable and probably dead woman lay. It appeared to me that she had been there for a long time since the bed was covered with weeds.

“I water her every day,” said the fruitman with a pensive air. “In 40 years I have not succeeded in knowing whether she is dead or not. She has never moved, nor spoken, nor eaten during that time. But the curious thing is that she remains warm. If you don’t believe me, look.”

The man lifted a corner of the cover, which permitted me to see many eggs and some little chicks recently hatched.

“As you notice,” he said, “I incubate eggs here. I also sell fresh eggs.”

We each sat down on one side of the bed and the fruit man began to tell his story.

“Believe me; I love her so much! I have always loved her! She was so sweet! She had little agile white feet. Would you like to see them?”

“No,” I answered.

“Finally,” he continued, after exhaling a deep breath, “she was so beautiful! My hair was blonde; hers, magnificently black! Now, both of us have white hair. Her father was an extraordinary man. He had a mansion in the country. He was a collector of lamb chops. For that we came to know each other. I have a certain skill in drying meat with a glance. Mr. Pushfoot (so he was called) heard about me. He invited me to his house in order to dry his ribs to keep them from rotting. Agnes was his daughter. We loved each other from the first moment. We departed in a boat by way of the Seine. I rowed. Agnes said to me: ‘I love you so much that I only live for you.’ I answered her with the same words. I believe that it is my love which keeps her warm, perhaps she is dead, but the warmth persists.”

After a short pause, with an absent look, he continued: “Next year I will grow some tomatoes; it wouldn’t surprise me if they would grow well there inside … It became night, and I didn’t know where we would spend our wedding night. Agnes had become very pale, because of fatigue. Finally we had scarcely left Paris behind when I saw an inn that faced the river. I moored the boat and we walked toward an obscure and sinister terrace. There were two wolves there and a fox, who began to walk around us. There was nobody else … I knocked and knocked at the door, on the other side of which a terrible silence prevailed. ‘Agnes is tired! Agnes is very tired!’ I shouted with as much force as I could. Finally, an old lady’s head appeared at the window and said: ‘I don’t know anything. The landlord here is the fox. Let me sleep. You are bothering me.’ Agnes began to cry. There was no other remedy than to direct ourselves to the fox. ‘Have you beds?’ I asked several times. Nobody responded: he didn’t know how to speak. And again the head, older than the other, but which now descended slowly through the window tied to the end of a little cord. ‘Direct yourself to the wolves; I am not the landlord here. Let me sleep! please!’ I understood that that head was crazy and I did not have the heart to continue. Agnes kept crying. I walked around the house a few times and finally, I was able to open a window, through which we entered. Then we found ourselves in a kitchen with a high ceiling; over a large oven made hot by fire were some vegetables that were cooking and they jumped in the boiling water, a thing that much amused us. We ate well and then we laid ourselves down on the floor. I had Agnes in my arms. We did not sleep. That terrible kitchen contained all kinds of things. Many rats had stuck their heads out of their holes and then sang with screeching and disagreeable little voices. Filthy odors expanded and diminished one after the other, and there were air drafts. I believe that it was the air drafts that finished my poor Agnes. She never recovered. From that day, each time she spoke less . . .”

And the fruitman was so blinded by tears that I could escape with my melon.

June 30, 2013

“The Goblins” — William Gass

by Biblioklept

Capture

May 31, 2013

“Inferno, I, 32″ — Jorge Luis Borges

by Biblioklept

jlb

April 24, 2013

“The Princess with the Lily-white Feet” — Ludmila Petrushevskaya

by Biblioklept

“The Princess with the Lily-white Feet” by Ludmila Petrushevskaya

Once upon a time there lived a Youngest Princess, and everybody loved her. She had tiny little hands like rose petals, and her tiny white feet were like lily petals. On the one hand, this was pretty, but on the other hand, the Youngest Princess was almost too delicate and sensitive – she’d cry at the slightest provocation. She wasn’t exactly reprimanded for it, but the family certainly didn’t condone such behaviour, either. “You can’t let yourself fall apart like that!” her Mama, Papa, Grandma, and King-granddaddy used to say. “You have to keep yourself in hand. You’re a big girl now.”

This would only hurt her feelings even more, and the Youngest Princess would take to crying again.

Nevertheless, there came a time when a Prince came to woo the Princess, which is the way it’s meant to be.

The Prince was tall, handsome, and gentle. “A fine pair!” everybody in the kingdom agreed.

The Prince and the Princess went on lots of walks, they danced together, and the Princess – and for her this was totally unheard of – wove flower garlands on the meadow for the Prince and for herself, garlands of cornflowers every bit as blue as the Prince’s eyes.

The Prince and the Princess were betrothed, which is the way it was meant to be – that is, they were declared fiancé and fiancée. Then the Prince rode back to his own kingdom.

The Youngest Princess stayed home and started crying. Everyone disapproved of such behaviour; they even called the doctor. The doctor talked a bit with the Princess and unexpectedly prescribed not sedatives, which is the way it’s meant to be, but pain pills. Because it turned out that the Youngest Princess had overexerted herself with all that dancing and walking and chafed her tender little hands and feet till they were sore and bleeding.

Time passed, the wedding grew near, but the bride kept crying, sitting in bed and favouring her bandaged hands and feet. She couldn’t walk or hold a cup of tea in her hands: she was fed by her old nurse, who held her cup for her, too.

The doctor, however, optimistically predicted that everything would heal up before the wedding, and said the Youngest Princess was simply too delicate and too sensitive, a crybaby with no self-discipline, and that was the fruit of her improper upbringing in the family, but as soon as the Prince returned she would get up and dance and move her hands just the way she used to. “It’s all psychological,” said the doctor, and kept feeding the Princess pain pills.

Then the old nurse gathered together some photos of the Youngest Princess and set off to see a sorcerer. She brought back an enigmatic answer: “He who loves, carries in his arms.”

This phrase soon became legendary with absolutely everybody who had loved the Princess so much since she was a baby, when she used to smile blissfully, showing her first four tiny teeth and the two little dimples in her cheeks, when her little ringlets were like golden silk, and her little eyes like forget-me-nots.

April 20, 2013

Moon Weed

by Biblioklept

“The Moon Weed” by Harl Vincent

Bart hacked and hacked at the rubbery growth.

 

Hobart Madison pursed his lips in a whistle of incredulous surprise as he regarded the object that lay in the palm of his hand. An ordinary pebble, it seemed to be, but a pebble in which a strange fire smouldered and showed itself here and there through the dull surface.

“Would you mind repeating what you just said, Van?” he asked.

“You heard me the first time. I say that that’s a diamond and that it came from the moon.” Carl Vanderventer glared at his friend in resentment of his doubting tone.

“Mean to tell me you’ve been there? To the moon?”

“Certainly not. I’m not a Jules Verne adventurer. But I’m telling you that stone is a diamond of the first water and that it came from the moon. Weighs over a hundred carats, too. You can have it appraised yourself if you think I’m kidding you.”

Bart Madison laughed. “Don’t get sore, Van,” he said. “I’m not doubting your word. But Lord, man—the thing’s so incredible! It takes a little time to soak in. And you say there are more?”

“Sure. This one’s the largest of five I’ve found so far. And there’s other stuff, too. Wait till you see. Fossils, beetles and things. I tell you, Bart, the moon was inhabited at one time. I’ve the evidence and I want you to be the first to see it.” The eyes of the young scientist shone with excitement as he saw that his friend was roused to intense interest.

“So that’s what all your experimenting has been aimed at. No wonder it cost so much.”

“Yes, and you’ve been a brick for financing me. Never asked a question, either. But Bart, it’ll all come back to you now. Know how much that stone’s worth?”

“Plenty, I guess. But, forget about the financing and all that. Where’s this laboratory of yours?” Madison had pushed his chair back from his desk and was reaching for his hat.

“Over in the Ramapo Mountains, not far from Tuxedo. I’ll have you there in two hours. Sure you can spare the time to go out there now?” Vanderventer was enthusiastically eager.

“Spare the time? You just try and keep me from going!”

Neither of them noticed the sinister figure that lurked outside the door which led into the adjoining office. They chattered excitedly as they passed into the outer hall and made for the elevator.

(Read the rest of “The Moon Weed,” originally published in Astounding Stories, August, 1931)

April 19, 2013

“Reflections for Gentlemen-jockeys” — Franz Kafka

by Biblioklept

“Reflections for Gentlemen-jockeys” by Franz Kafka

When you think it over, winning a race is nothing to sigh for. The fame of being hailed as the best rider in the country is too intoxicating a pleasure when the applause strikes up not to bring a reaction the morning after.

The envy of your opponents, cunning and fairly influential men, must trouble you in the narrow enclosure you now traverse after the flat racecourse, which soon lay empty before you save for some laggards of the previous round, small figures charging the horizon.

Many of your friends are rushing to gather their winnings and only cry ‘Hurrah!’ to you over their shoulders from distant pay boxes; your best friends laid no bet on your horse, since they feared that they would have to be angry with you if you lost, and now that your horse has come in first and they have won nothing, they turn away as you pass and prefer to look along the stands.

Your rivals behind you, firmly in the saddle, are trying to ignore the bad luck that has befallen them and the injustice they have somehow suffered; they are putting a brave new face on things, as if a different race were due to start, and this time a serious one after such child’s play.

For many ladies the victor cuts a ridiculous figure because he is swelling with importance and yet cannot cope with the never-ending handshaking, saluting, bowing, and waving, while the defeated keep their mouths shut and casually pat the necks of their whinnying horses.

And finally from the now overcast sky rain actually begins to fall.

April 2, 2013

“On the Tram” — Franz Kafka

by Biblioklept

“On the Tram” by Franz Kafka

I stand on the end platform of the tram and am completely unsure of my footing in this world, in this town, in my family. Not even casually could I indicate any claims that I might rightly advance in any direction. I have not even any defense to offer for standing on this platform, holding on to this strap, letting myself be carried along by this tram, nor for the people who give way to the tram or walk quietly along or stand gazing into shopwindows. Nobody asks me to put up a defense, indeed, but that is irrelevant.

The tram approaches a stopping place and a girl takes up her position near the step, ready to alight. She is as distinct to me as if I had run my hands over her. She is dressed in black, the pleats of her skirt hang almost still, her blouse is tight and has a collar of white fine-meshed lace, her left hand is braced flat against the side of the tram, the umbrella in her right hand rests on the second top step. Her face is brown, her nose, slightly pinched at the sides, has a broad round tip. She has a lot of brown hair and stray little tendrils on the right temple. Her small ear is close-set, but since I am near her I can see the whole ridge of the whorl of her right ear and the shadow at the root of it.

At that point I asked myself: How is it that she is not amazed at herself, that she keeps her lips closed and makes no such remark?

March 12, 2013

“The Bet” — Anton Chekhov

by Biblioklept

“The Bet” by Anton Chekhov

I

It was a dark autumn night. The old banker was pacing from corner to corner of his study, recalling to his mind the party he gave in the autumn fifteen years before. There were many clever people at the party and much interesting conversation. They talked among other things of capital punishment. The guests, among them not a few scholars and journalists, for the most part disapproved of capital punishment. They found it obsolete as a means of punishment, unfitted to a Christian State and immoral. Some of them thought that capital punishment should be replaced universally by life-imprisonment.

“I don’t agree with you,” said the host. “I myself have experienced neither capital punishment nor life-imprisonment, but if one may judge a priori, then in my opinion capital punishment is more moral and more humane than imprisonment. Execution kills instantly, life-imprisonment kills by degrees. Who is the more humane executioner, one who kills you in a few seconds or one who draws the life out of you incessantly, for years?”

“They’re both equally immoral,” remarked one of the guests, “because their purpose is the same, to take away life. The State is not God. It has no right to take away that which it cannot give back, if it should so desire.”

Among the company was a lawyer, a young man of about twenty-five. On being asked his opinion, he said:

“Capital punishment and life-imprisonment are equally immoral; but if I were offered the choice between them, I would certainly choose the second. It’s better to live somehow than not to live at all.”

There ensued a lively discussion. The banker who was then younger and more nervous suddenly lost his temper, banged his fist on the table, and turning to the young lawyer, cried out:

“It’s a lie. I bet you two millions you wouldn’t stick in a cell even for five years.”

“If you mean it seriously,” replied the lawyer, “then I bet I’ll stay not five but fifteen.”

“Fifteen! Done!” cried the banker. “Gentlemen, I stake two millions.”

“Agreed. You stake two millions, I my freedom,” said the lawyer.

So this wild, ridiculous bet came to pass. The banker, who at that time had too many millions to count, spoiled and capricious, was beside himself with rapture. During supper he said to the lawyer jokingly:

“Come to your senses, young roan, before it’s too late. Two millions are nothing to me, but you stand to lose three or four of the best years of your life. I say three or four, because you’ll never stick it out any longer. Don’t forget either, you unhappy man, that voluntary is much heavier than enforced imprisonment. The idea that you have the right to free yourself at any moment will poison the whole of your life in the cell. I pity you.”

And now the banker, pacing from corner to corner, recalled all this and asked himself:

“Why did I make this bet? What’s the good? The lawyer loses fifteen years of his life and I throw away two millions. Will it convince people that capital punishment is worse or better than imprisonment for life? No, no! all stuff and rubbish. On my part, it was the caprice of a well-fed man; on the lawyer’s pure greed of gold.”

February 7, 2013

“How to Write a Novel” — Gordon Lish

by Biblioklept

“How to Write a Novel” by Gordon Lish

First make sure you have enough time. It is crucial that you have enough time to make things up. Myself, I do not have time enough for anything like that.

But I’ll tell you what’s what. It will not be hard for you to follow me doing it.

Just listen.

Just watch.

I’m composing these instructions on an I.B.M. Selectric. I got it back in 1961. I did not buy it. I finessed it or I finagled it or I stole it.

The person who is the unexpressed direct object of one or the other of these verbs was rich. He said you can borrow this thing, use it for a while. Then he stuck his other thing in my wife’s thing. They still have their things and I have this thing and I’m not giving it up.

It’s given tip-top service. I really loved it when I first saw it, and I still love it just as much.

I never cover it over with anything. I don’t cover it over with anything like a cover or anything—because I like to look at it—the shape.  I.B.M. is good at giving a thing a nice shape. I always look at the shape of things before I snap of the light in a room.

I think 1961 was the Selectric’s first year.

I talk to engineers whenever I get a chance. I don’t mean the kind that build bridges. I mean the fellows that service things. Those are the engineers I talk to.

You know what one of those fellows once told me once? Buy the first of whatever it is! He said buy the first one of whatever it is because the maker of it is never going to knock himself out like that again—making, you know, all of the others after that. That’s why this one’s still going fine after so many wonderful, wonderful years.

The same goes for the Polaroid camera I’ve got. I’ve got the oldest one there is. You know how old that is? Here’s how old it is. It’s called, they call it, the Polaroid Land Camera.

That’s how goddamn old it is!

No shit, it was a first one—it was the very first Polaroid the Polaroid people made!

You want to see pictures? Look at these pictures! Tell me when in your life you ever saw in your life pictures as sharp as these pictures!

Because they’e this big when I start out with them. You see how big? Next to nothing, right? But then what? But then I go get them all blown up as big as life! See them? Look at them all over the walls if you don’t know what I mean!

That’s resolution for you , isn’t it?

Well, that’s my second wife, okay?

They’re framed all over the place.

People come in here and then they look at them and then they smack their heads.

My God, they say, such pictures!

I say, original issue, a maker knows his game.

January 25, 2013

“The Stranger” — Katherine Mansfield

by Biblioklept

“The Stranger” by Katherine Mansfield

It seemed to the little crowd on the wharf that she was never going to move again. There she lay, immense, motionless on the grey crinkled water, a loop of smoke above her, an immense flock of gulls screaming and diving after the galley droppings at the stern. You could just see little couples parading—little flies walking up and down the dish on the grey crinkled tablecloth. Other flies clustered and swarmed at the edge. Now there was a gleam of white on the lower deck—the cook’s apron or the stewardess perhaps. Now a tiny black spider raced up the ladder on to the bridge.

In the front of the crowd a strong-looking, middle-aged man, dressed very well, very snugly in a grey overcoat, grey silk scarf, thick gloves and dark felt hat, marched up and down, twirling his folded umbrella. He seemed to be the leader of the little crowd on the wharf and at the same time to keep them together. He was something between the sheep-dog and the shepherd.

But what a fool—what a fool he had been not to bring any glasses! There wasn’t a pair of glasses between the whole lot of them.

“Curious thing, Mr. Scott, that none of us thought of glasses. We might have been able to stir ‘em up a bit. We might have managed a little signalling. ‘Don’t hesitate to land. Natives harmless.’ Or: ‘A welcome awaits you. All is forgiven.’ What? Eh?”

Mr. Hammond’s quick, eager glance, so nervous and yet so friendly and confiding, took in everybody on the wharf, roped in even those old chaps lounging against the gangways. They knew, every man-jack of them, that Mrs. Hammond was on that boat, and that he was so tremendously excited it never entered his head not to believe that this marvellous fact meant something to them too. It warmed his heart towards them. They were, he decided, as decent a crowd of people—Those old chaps over by the gangways, too—fine, solid old chaps. What chests—by Jove! And he squared his own, plunged his thick-gloved hands into his pockets, rocked from heel to toe.

January 8, 2013

“My Favorite Murder” — Ambrose Bierce

by Biblioklept

“My Favorite Murder” — Ambrose Bierce

Having murdered my mother under circumstances of singular atrocity, I was arrested and put upon my trial, which lasted seven years. In charging the jury, the judge of the Court of Acquittal remarked that it was one of the most ghastly crimes that he had ever been called upon to explain away.

At this, my attorney rose and said:

“May it please your Honor, crimes are ghastly or agreeable only by comparison. If you were familiar with the details of my client’s previous murder of his uncle you would discern in his later offense (if offense it may be called) something in the nature of tender forbearance and filial consideration for the feelings of the victim. The appalling ferocity of the former assassination was indeed inconsistent with any hypothesis but that of guilt; and had it not been for the fact that the honorable judge before whom he was tried was the president of a life insurance company that took risks on hanging, and in which my client held a policy, it is hard to see how he could decently have been acquitted. If your Honor would like to hear about it for instruction and guidance of your Honor’s mind, this unfortunate man, my client, will consent to give himself the pain of relating it under oath.”

The district attorney said: “Your Honor, I object. Such a statement would be in the nature of evidence, and the testimony in this case is closed. The prisoner’s statement should have been introduced three years ago, in the spring of 1881.”

“In a statutory sense,” said the judge, “you are right, and in the Court of Objections and Technicalities you would get a ruling in your favor. But not in a Court of Acquittal. The objection is overruled.”

“I except,” said the district attorney.

“You cannot do that,” the judge said. “I must remind you that in order to take an exception you must first get this case transferred for a time to the Court of Exceptions on a formal motion duly supported by affidavits. A motion to that effect by your predecessor in office was denied by me during the first year of this trial. Mr. Clerk, swear the prisoner.”

The customary oath having been administered, I made the following statement, which impressed the judge with so strong a sense of the comparative triviality of the offense for which I was on trial that he made no further search for mitigating circumstances, but simply instructed the jury to acquit, and I left the court, without a stain upon my reputation:

“I was born in 1856 in Kalamakee, Mich., of honest and reputable parents, one of whom Heaven has mercifully spared to comfort me in my later years. In 1867 the family came to California and settled near Nigger Head, where my father opened a road agency and prospered beyond the dreams of avarice. He was a reticent, saturnine man then, though his increasing years have now somewhat relaxed the austerity of his disposition, and I believe that nothing but his memory of the sad event for which I am now on trial prevents him from manifesting a genuine hilarity.

January 5, 2013

“How the Whale Got His Throat” — Rudyard Kipling

by Biblioklept

“How the Whale Got His Throat” — Rudyard Kipling

IN the sea, once upon a time, O my Best Beloved, there was a Whale, and he ate fishes. He ate the starfish and the garfish, and the crab and the dab, and the plaice and the dace, and the skate and his mate, and the mackereel and the pickereel, and the really truly twirly-whirly eel. All the fishes he could find in all the sea he ate with his mouth—so! Till at last there was only one small fish left in all the sea, and he was a small ‘Stute Fish, and he swam a little behind the Whale’s right ear, so as to be out of harm’s way. Then the Whale stood up on his tail and said, ‘I’m hungry.’ And the small ‘Stute Fish said in a small ‘stute voice, ‘Noble and generous Cetacean, have you ever tasted Man?’

‘No,’ said the Whale. ‘What is it like?’

‘Nice,’ said the small ‘Stute Fish. ‘Nice but nubbly.’

‘Then fetch me some,’ said the Whale, and he made the sea froth up with his tail.

‘One at a time is enough,’ said the ‘Stute Fish. ‘If you swim to latitude Fifty North, longitude Forty West (that is magic), you will find, sitting on a raft, in the middle of the sea, with nothing on but a pair of blue canvas breeches, a pair of suspenders (you must not forget the suspenders, Best Beloved), and a jack-knife, one ship-wrecked Mariner, who, it is only fair to tell you, is a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity.’

So the Whale swam and swam to latitude Fifty North, longitude Forty West, as fast as he could swim, and on a raft, in the middle of the sea, with nothing to wear except a pair of blue canvas breeches, a pair of suspenders (you must particularly remember the suspenders, Best Beloved), and a jack-knife, he found one single, solitary shipwrecked Mariner, trailing his toes in the water. (He had his mummy’s leave to paddle, or else he would never have done it, because he was a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity.)

Then the Whale opened his mouth back and back and back till it nearly touched his tail, and he swallowed the shipwrecked Mariner, and the raft he was sitting on, and his blue canvas breeches, and the suspenders (which you must not forget), and the jack-knife—He swallowed them all down into his warm, dark, inside cup-boards, and then he smacked his lips—so, and turned round three times on his tail.

But as soon as the Mariner, who was a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity, found himself truly inside the Whale’s warm, dark, inside cup-boards, he stumped and he jumped and he thumped and he bumped, and he pranced and he danced, and he banged and he clanged, and he hit and he bit, and he leaped and he creeped, and he prowled and he howled, and he hopped and he dropped, and he cried and he sighed, and he crawled and he bawled, and he stepped and he lepped, and he danced hornpipes where he shouldn’t, and the Whale felt most unhappy indeed. (Have you forgotten the suspenders?)

So he said to the ‘Stute Fish, ‘This man is very nubbly, and besides he is making me hiccough. What shall I do?’

‘Tell him to come out,’ said the ‘Stute Fish.

So the Whale called down his own throat to the shipwrecked Mariner, ‘Come out and behave yourself. I’ve got the hiccoughs.’

‘Nay, nay!’ said the Mariner. ‘Not so, but far otherwise. Take me to my natal-shore and the white-cliffs-of-Albion, and I’ll think about it.’ And he began to dance more than ever.

‘You had better take him home,’ said the ‘Stute Fish to the Whale.

‘I ought to have warned you that he is a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity.’

So the Whale swam and swam and swam, with both flippers and his tail, as hard as he could for the hiccoughs; and at last he saw the Mariner’s natal-shore and the white-cliffs-of-Albion, and he rushed half-way up the beach, and opened his mouth wide and wide and wide, and said, ‘Change here for Winchester, Ashuelot, Nashua, Keene, and stations on the Fitchburg Road;’ and just as he said ‘Fitch’ the Mariner walked out of his mouth. But while the Whale had been swimming, the Mariner, who was indeed a person of infinite-resource-and-sagacity, had taken his jack-knife and cut up the raft into a little square grating all running criss-cross, and he had tied it firm with his suspenders (now, you know why you were not to forget the suspenders!), and he dragged that grating good and tight into the Whale’s throat, and there it stuck! Then he recited the following Sloka, which, as you have not heard it, I will now proceed to relate—

By means of a grating

I have stopped your ating.

For the Mariner he was also an Hi-ber-ni-an. And he stepped out on the shingle, and went home to his mother, who had given him leave to trail his toes in the water; and he married and lived happily ever afterward. So did the Whale. But from that day on, the grating in his throat, which he could neither cough up nor swallow down, prevented him eating anything except very, very small fish; and that is the reason why whales nowadays never eat men or boys or little girls.

The small ‘Stute Fish went and hid himself in the mud under the Door-sills of the Equator. He was afraid that the Whale might be angry with him.

The Sailor took the jack-knife home. He was wearing the blue canvas breeches when he walked out on the shingle. The suspenders were left behind, you see, to tie the grating with; and that is the end of that tale.

WHEN the cabin port-holes are dark and green

Because of the seas outside;

When the ship goes wop (with a wiggle between)

And the steward falls into the soup-tureen,

And the trunks begin to slide;

When Nursey lies on the floor in a heap,

And Mummy tells you to let her sleep,

And you aren’t waked or washed or dressed,

Why, then you will know (if you haven’t guessed)

You’re ‘Fifty North and Forty West!’

 

January 4, 2013

“The Four Fists” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

by Biblioklept

“The Four Fists” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

At the present time no one I know has the slightest desire to hit Samuel Meredith; possibly this is because a man over fifty is liable to be rather severely cracked at the impact of a hostile fist, but, for my part, I am inclined to think that all his hitable qualities have quite vanished. But it is certain that at various times in his life hitable qualities were in his face, as surely as kissable qualities have ever lurked in a girl’s lips.

I’m sure every one has met a man like that, been casually introduced, even made a friend of him, yet felt he was the sort who aroused passionate dislike—expressed by some in the involuntary clinching of fists, and in others by mutterings about “takin’ a poke” and “landin’ a swift smash in ee eye.” In the juxtaposition of Samuel Meredith’s features this quality was so strong that it influenced his entire life.

What was it? Not the shape, certainly, for he was a pleasant-looking man from earliest youth: broad-bowed with gray eyes that were frank and friendly. Yet I’ve heard him tell a room full of reporters angling for a “success” story that he’d be ashamed to tell them the truth that they wouldn’t believe it, that it wasn’t one story but four, that the public would not want to read about a man who had been walloped into prominence.

It all started at Phillips Andover Academy when he was fourteen. He had been brought up on a diet of caviar and bell-boys’ legs in half the capitals of Europe, and it was pure luck that his mother had nervous prostration and had to delegate his education to less tender, less biassed hands.

At Andover he was given a roommate named Gilly Hood. Gilly was thirteen, undersized, and rather the school pet. From the September day when Mr. Meredith’s valet stowed Samuel’s clothing in the best bureau and asked, on departing, “hif there was hanything helse, Master Samuel?” Gilly cried out that the faculty had played him false. He felt like an irate frog in whose bowl has been put goldfish.

January 1, 2013

“The Right Eye of the Commander” — Bret Harte

by Biblioklept

“The Right Eye of the Commander” — Bret Harte

The year of grace 1797 passed away on the coast of California in a southwesterly gale. The little bay of San Carlos, albeit sheltered by the headlands of the blessed Trinity, was rough and turbulent; its foam clung quivering to the seaward wall of the Mission garden; the air was filled with flying sand and spume, and as the Senor Commandante, Hermenegildo Salvatierra, looked from the deep embrasured window of the Presidio guardroom, he felt the salt breath of the distant sea buffet a color into his smoke-dried cheeks.

The Commander, I have said, was gazing thoughtfully from the window of the guardroom. He may have been reviewing the events of the year now about to pass away. But, like the garrison at the Presidio, there was little to review; the year, like its predecessors, had been uneventful—the days had slipped by in a delicious monotony of simple duties, unbroken by incident or interruption. The regularly recurring feasts and saints’ days, the half-yearly courier from San Diego, the rare transport ship and rarer foreign vessel, were the mere details of his patriarchal life. If there was no achievement, there was certainly no failure. Abundant harvests and patient industry amply supplied the wants of Presidio and Mission. Isolated from the family of nations, the wars which shook the world concerned them not so much as the last earthquake; the struggle that emancipated their sister colonies on the other side of the continent to them had no suggestiveness. In short, it was that glorious Indian summer of California history around which so much poetical haze still lingers—that bland, indolent autumn of Spanish rule, so soon to be followed by the wintry storms of Mexican independence and the reviving spring of American conquest.

The Commander turned from the window and walked toward the fire that burned brightly on the deep ovenlike hearth. A pile of copybooks, the work of the Presidio school, lay on the table. As he turned over the leaves with a paternal interest, and surveyed the fair round Scripture text—the first pious pothooks of the pupils of San Carlos—an audible commentary fell from his lips: “‘Abimelech took her from Abraham’—ah, little one, excellent!—’Jacob sent to see his brother’—body of Christ! that upstroke of thine, Paquita, is marvelous; the Governor shall see it!” A film of honest pride dimmed the Commander’s left eye—the right, alas! twenty years before had been sealed by an Indian arrow. He rubbed it softly with the sleeve of his leather jacket, and continued: “‘The Ishmaelites having arrived—’”

He stopped, for there was a step in the courtyard, a foot upon the threshold, and a stranger entered. With the instinct of an old soldier, the Commander, after one glance at the intruder, turned quickly toward the wall, where his trusty Toledo hung, or should have been hanging. But it was not there, and as he recalled that the last time he had seen that weapon it was being ridden up and down the gallery by Pepito, the infant son of Bautista, the tortilla-maker, he blushed and then contented himself with frowning upon the intruder.

December 24, 2012

Read “The Honored Dead,” a Story by Breece D’J. Pancake

by Biblioklept

“The Honored Dead” by Breece D’J. Pancake

Watching little Lundy go back to sleep, I wish I hadn’t told her about the Mound Builders to stop her crying, but I didn’t know she would see their eyes watching her in the dark. She was crying about a cat run down by a car—her cat, run down a year ago, only today poor Lundy figured it out. Lundy is turned too much like her momma. Ellen never worries because it takes her too long to catch the point of a thing, and Ellen doesn’t have any problem sleeping. I think my folks were a little too keen, but Lundy is her momma’s girl, not jumpy like my folks.

My grandfather always laid keenness on his Shawnee blood, his half-breed mother, but then he was hep on blood. He even had an oath to stop bleeding, but I don’t remember the words. He was a fair to sharp woodsman, and we all tried to slip up on him at one time or another. It was Ray at the sugar mill finally caught him, but he was an old man by then, and his mind wasn’t exactly right. Ray just came creeping up behind and laid a hand on his shoulder, and the old bird didn’t even turn around; he just wagged his head and said, “That’s Ray’s hand. He’s the first fellow ever slipped on me.” Ray could’ve done without that because the old man never played with a full deck again, and we couldn’t keep clothes on him before he died.

I turn out the lamp, see no eyes in Lundy’s room, then it comes to me why she was so scared. Yesterday I told her patches of stories about scalpings and murders, mixed up the Mound Builders with the Shawnee raids, and Lundy chained that with the burial mound in the back pasture. Tomorrow I’ll set her straight. The only surefire thing I know about Mound Builders is they must have believed in a god and hereafter or they never would have made such big graves.

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