Be careful what you ask for

The light from the windows of her hundred-year-old house streamed out onto the lawn late that night in February. The light reflected the shadow of her silhouette behind the curtains of her second story bedroom. She was watching me, I knew, as I stood next to the fence across the street and waited. I had been here every night for one hundred days, in rain, in fog that came up off the nearby sea, and on clear nights. It was the key to the door of her heart.

I wondered if she would ever recognize my love for her. At first, I had sent her notes, then candy, then flowers, first one, then a half dozen, then a dozen. But she ignored them. When we had last spoke at our high school, she had urged, “Please don’t.”

But I loved her too much to give up and I knew she would come to love me. It was fated to be and only a matter of time.

Each night I watched her father arrive from some late night appointment and go into the house. He was always going and coming at night. But why? Why did he do this? After all, he was a successful lawyer who had an office downtown, open for appointments all day long. Why did he need to be out this late every night?

One night her father walked out of the house and headed for his car. I looked at my watch. Eleven o’clock. I decided to follow. I hurried around the corner and jumped into my old beat-up green Buick. I started it, then sat there. Her father backed out of the driveway and headed east.

I pulled in behind him, about twenty car lengths, and tailed him. We drove for thirty minutes or so until we came to an old rundown warehouse. He parked in its parking lot, next to the three or four other cars there. I pulled to a stop a block or so away and watched him enter a side door into the building.

I got out of the car and walked over to the partially lit parking lot. I went around to the side and listened in through a half-broken window. All I could hear was the sound of barking dogs in the distance. I pushed my ear closer to the window. Then I felt it. The cold metal in my back. It was a gun.

“Come with me,” the man behind me demanded and grabbed me by the neck and shoved me forward. Before I could turn around to see who it was, I was forced through the side door and into the warehouse. Before me stood several men.

“I caught this outside,” the voice behind me said.

“Welcome, Mr. Benedaro,” her father greeted me with a smile.

I was pushed toward the group of men and forced to drop onto my knees. I was in the center of a circle of these men.

From behind me, I heard her voice. “Now, Father?” she said.

“Yes, Daughter,” her father said.

I turned to see a large wolf, charging me with its teeth bared.

“What the he…,” I screamed as she bit into my neck.

Tudorama

“Double double toil and trouble.” Oops, wrong story. Just a sec. Oh, here it is. Right where I put it. Amazing what you can’t see without your glasses. So here goes.

In Merry Olde England, there was a very happy couple. He called her Puddin’; she called him Dumpling. Would have called him her Doughboy, but that one had already been taken by the King of France. Francis One.

Annie Boleyn met Henry on a blind date. She was a sub for her sister Mary Beth. When he walked into the Great Hall of Boleyn Estates and her two peeps saw him, it was love at first sight. It was true that he did look like a doughboy. That was the charm of King Hal. Plus there was that twinkle in his eye, and he was a regular party guy.

Within hours of his arrival, King Hal had a party going at Casa Boleyn. It was a toga party. After all, Hal was a regular practitioner of toganomics. If a courtster was unwilling to wear a toga at court, he was on his way outster. The outster for most was Scotland where the lord in question was condemned to wearing a kilt without underpants. One could get a chill and catch the flu.

Pretty soon Annie eased up close to Hal. She wanted a little kissie-poo as she called it. The king was real accommodating with the kissie-poo, but soon he was wanting more. He was wanting Annie to share her boudoir. She may have been the partyingest of party girls, but she wasn’t about to give Hal the key to her chastity belt for free. She’d heard stories. He even said, “Pleeeze with a cherry on top.” But Annie wasn’t about to give in.

“I’m not that kind of girl,” Annie said. She was not about to be easy, even for a king. Annie being Annie, she had found her Daddy Warbucks in Hal and that was all there was to it. Opportunity came knocking, and she was ready to open the door. But Hal had to purchase a ticket to walk through that door. And her ticket was not cheap. It was a 500 carat diamond wedding ring.

Hal was devastated. This was definitely a true love he had for Annie. He could feel it in the way down yonder. He said, “Don’t be a heartbreaker, Puddin’. Don’t you know I’m a hunka hunka burning love?”

Annie’s response was a smile and a few words. “I really would like to give you the key to my heart, Dumpling. But I will need a ringie-poo pretty please with pudding on it.”

Hal could give his Puddin’ the sable she wanted. He could give her an Astin Martin. He could even give her the Queen Mary. But that wedding ring was out of the question. He already had a wife. If Hal had been a Middle Eastern potentate, he could have potentated all over the place and married as many women as he wanted. Deep down in the heart of Texas, Hal wanted a harem.

His wife was Catherine of Aragon. Thing was, Cate was no Annie Boleyn. She had her daddy’s looks and her mother’s hygiene. Like her mom, Isabella, Cate hated to take a bath. She wasn’t partial to showers either. So the odor coming from her boudoir was a bit overpowering. Not in a good way. At one time, Hal sent in the fumigators. But the smell returned within a week. Add to that, Cate wore one of them smiles upside down. So much so she was called Sourpuss, or SP for short. She was the original SPCA, short for Sour Puss Cate of Aragon.

On top of everything else, each fortnight she walked around the castle like Hamlet’s ghost, mumbling, “I can’t get no respect.” It was true. Cate got no respect. Hal wanted a boy and all he got from Cate was a Mary.

“So what to do?” Hal asked himself one dark and stormy night. “What to do?” Then with a flash of brilliance it came to him. “I know. I will get a divorce,” Hal said, and he said it where everybody could hear.

“A divorce?” one courtster said.

“A divorce?” another courtster echoed.

When the echoing finally settled down, King Hal commanded the Pope to give him a divorce. After all, Hal was the Pope’s right hand man in England and Defender of the Faith. But the Pope wasn’t up to the job. He had other things on his mind. Like Cate’s brother, the King of Spain. King Charlie had an army close to Rome and he wasn’t hesitant in using it.

Besides that, it would set a precedent. Precedent is legalese for all those things that come before everything else and give folks permission to do a thing. Like, if you marry a virgin, she has to be a virgin in order to get a divorce. Cate was no virgin. She had a kid name of Bloody Mary. And, no, she was not mixed with vodka. Mary was a teetotaler all the way.

Pretty soon any earl or lord would want a divorce. Before you knew it, the papacy would be so overloaded there wouldn’t be any time left for infallibilities, bulls and indulgences. What if the Pope wanted to profligate a Papal Bull or two, he wouldn’t be able to rope the darn thing and ride him all the way to Rome. No, the Pope had decided. Divorce wasn’t going to happen. So Pope said, “No way. Pretty soon we’d be backed up with all that paper work.”

Hal’s motto was “Esse rex bonum est.” He had a coat of arms to prove it. Now he felt like he was in Nowheresville.

“What to do?” Hal asked everybody. “What to do?” he even asked himself. No one had an answer.

Then he received a letter from far far off. It was across the Channel. It was from Germany. Unfortunately it was written in German and no one could translate it. Hal and his subjects could barely read Latin. But German? Nobody, but nobody could do German. Then Hal realized, “My portrait painter Hans can. Yes, he can can, can he not?”

“Of course, he can can,”” a duke said. So did an earl. In fact, it was the Duke of Earl.

Hans translated the letter. It was from one Marty Luther. “Hal,” Marty wrote, “Is not your motto, esse rex bonum est? Of course, it is. It indeed is good to be the king. As king, you have the right to a divorce. If the Pope don’t like it, he can go out and start his own church. That’s what I did.”

Before Cate could spell it, she was singing D-I-V-O-R-C-E. When asked by a reporter years later about the whole thing, all she could say was, “Yes I have no bananas today.” There was even a rumor that she was zombified in her later years. But I think it was Mary, Queen of Scots, who pushed that gossip.

Anyway Hal got his divorce and a church to boot. He also got the key to Annie’s chastity belt. On their wedding day, King Hal increased every Englishman’s sheep allowance two-fold. That’s twice in today’s lingua franca.

For a while, Puddin’ and Dumpling were just as happy as two finches in a birdbath.

Well, y’all know what happened next. Annie gave Hal a Liz, not a Tom, Dick or Harry. And certainly not a Richard Burton. So his smile turned upside down. Annie delivered a girl. Yes, you heard that right. She gave birth to an eight pound two ounce little darling. Called her Elizabeth, or Bess for short. But oh boy, no boy.

Again Hal was what-to-do-ing all over the place. Then he came up with a plan. Let’s call it Plan B. Hal would get another divorce and then get married again. He already had a victim, I mean a queen picked out. After all, Hal could have the pick of the litter. And Jane Seymour, not the actress, but the daughter of John and Margery, was his Queen for a Day.

So what was Hal to do with Annie? Here’s where Plan Boleyn came in. Annie would be accused of consortin’ with those she shouldn’t be consortin’ with. Treason with a capital T. A trial, Then she would be singing “Going out of my head”. The executioner would do a Lizzie Borden.

But the truth was that Hal couldn’t bring himself to truly rid himself of Annie. She was his Puddin’. She was his One True Love. At the Archbishop of Canterbury’s suggestion, Hal got a sub for Annie. No one would know the difference. Except for the sub. Sub would wear a hoodie. Annie would hide out in a nunnery down the way. Only there weren’t any nunneries left in England. Instead Archbishop would start a Home for Wayward Girls and Annie would supervise. Then once a fortnight Archbishop would slip Annie in the back way to Windsor Castle and up to Hal’s room.

And that’s the real story. Not.

“It’s just the wind”

“It’s just me, the wind,” the wind howled, trying to calm our fears. It was not working. No, the bewitching lie of that West Texas wind was not working on my ten-year-old brother and me. Ralph and I buried our heads under the bed sheets, shivered in our pajamas and hugged each other. We were barely breathing, trying to keep that wind from finding us all alone in the house.

“Th-th-that wind d-d-d-don’t like us, do it?” Ralph said. There was a hope in his quiet, chattering voice that I would contradict him. But I knew that he was right. That Old Devil Wind was outside, circling our house and hankering to come at us inside. I swallowed hard and there was nothing to swallow. My throat was dry.

Just then my brother surprised me. He buckled up his courage, wrestled himself free from my hold and threw the covers off us to face the dark. Sitting bolt upright in the bed, he said to the wind, “You’d better leave us alone, or we’ll tell our Daddy.”

Still the wind howled. But its words changed, “I ain’t none too scared of your daddy, but he should be scared of me,” it laughed. It was not anything near a human laugh. More like a banshee screeching at us.

I sure wished my Daddy was home to prove it wrong. He would prove it wrong. At least, I could hope. Mother and Daddy had gone out to a party for the evening and wouldn’t be back until past midnight.

Ralph ducked back under the sheets and pulled them completely over us. He scrunched up beside me and grabbed a tight hold of my twelve-year-old body. I wrangled myself free. The wind’s screech turned into a wail. A tree branch clack-clack-clacked against the bedroom windowpane. I reached for my brother and we held each other close. I felt him shiver; he felt me shiver. The smell of his sweat filled the bed. His strategy had not worked and now the wind knew where we were. It smelled our fear. It was coming, and it was coming for us. It was just a matter of time.

“Do you have to sweat so much?” I asked. “That Old Devil Wind is going to smell you. It’ll know exactly where we’re at. We’re going to be goners. It’s going to eat us alive.”

“I can’t help it. I’m scared and I sweat when I’m scared. That thing out there scares me. ‘Sides you’re sweating too. More’n me actually.”

I hadn’t realized. My pajamas were soaking wet with sweat.

Everything went quiet. The house. The tree branch. The wind. Nary a sound, not even a whimper. No wind wailing at us. Just a dead silence, the kind of silence you hear in a cemetery in that evening twilight after everybody has departed from their loved ones’ gravesites and before the spooks come out to go on their nightly haunting. Seemed as if the wind had left us in peace, and maybe, just a big maybe, headed out across the West Texas plain that reached out and shook hands with the sky.

“You think?” Ralph whispered into my ear.

“Shhhh.” I was taking no chances. Could be that Old Devil Wind was lying outside in the grass like the snake it was, waiting till a cloud slipped over the full moon and dowsed its bright light. In the darkness, it would strike. “Boo!” It would be out again and on the hunt for my brother and me. We couldn’t drop our guard. We had to keep scared. That wind loved to eat brave boys. At least that was what one of my friends at school had said. Said he knew a boy that stood up to the wind. Rumor was that his scream from the wind’s bite could be heard across three counties.

I whispered back to Ralph, “It’s just waiting on the moon to slide behind one of them clouds. That’s cause the moon and the wind ain’t friends and it ain’t coming out till the moon has disappeared. You know that, don’t you?”

“No, I never heard.”

“Oh, it’s true,” I said, trying to keep my mind off the thing that scared me most. “Those two, the moon and the wind, they don’t get along at all. ‘Least that’s what Daddy says. And he ought to know. He’s had dealings with the moon.”

But it was quiet and, after a while, we were feeling a little safe, relaxing our grips on each other.

“Look,” I said in my quietest voice, “and see if it’s gone.”

“I’m not about to look. What if he catches me looking?”

“He won’t ’cause he’s gone.”

“If you’re so sure, you look.”

“Aw c’mon. Be brave.”

“You be brave. You’re the older one. Mom says you’re supposed to watch out for me. I’m just a dumb little kid. I’m allowed to be scared. So you be brave and look.”

Well, it was quiet. Seemed like it was safe enough to slip the covers from over my head and down to my neck. Couldn’t hurt anything. My head peaked out from the bed. The moon filled the window. The shadows grew longer and longer as the moonlight reached across the room and shone in my eyes.

“I got to go pee,” Ralph said, throwing the bedding off of the two of us.

I grabbed his hand. “Are you crazy? He’s probably waiting to ambush us like some outlaw gang when he catches us by ourselves. You stay here, y’hear me?”

“But I can’t wait. I got to go.”

I choked back my fear. Maybe it would be all right. We hadn’t heard from Old Devil for quite some time. Maybe it was in Amarillo by now and wouldn’t be back. I released my brother’s hand.

“Well, go,” I said. “But you get back here in a hurry, y’hear? Before you-know-who…before it’s back and at us again. And leave the lights off so it won’t know you’re up.”

Ralph jumped out of the bed and lunged for the hall. The moonlight was fading, a cloud passing across the sky. A shadow crossed my face. Then the room was dark, then chilly. It seemed like a good idea to go all the way back under the covers to warm up.

The wind rose from the grass, then whistled its way across the field and toward our house. Under the sheets, I heard that hunter coming for its prey and prayed that my brother might make it back to the bedroom before the wind go to us. Maybe together we could fight it off. Alone there was no hope for Ralph or me against the beast.

I thought about giving a yell out to warn Ralph. But he could hear the wind and would hurry back to the bed as fast as he could.

The whistle outside grew stronger and transformed itself into an even scarier howl than before. The tree branch tap-tap-tapped against the window. The howl became a banshee scream just the other side of the window. The branch kwak-kwak-kwak, and it broke the glass. The wind was inside our bedroom and slammming the door to the hall shut. Every board in the body of the house creaked under its weight.

Under the covers and shaking, I heard Ralph from the hallway. He turned the doorknob and pushed at the door. “Let me in,” he said. Let me in.”

The demon of a wind laughed, knowing it had me trapped.

“Let me in, Door. Please. Let me in,” Ralph said, struggling with the door.

The banshee was coming for me. I could feel its cold breath and it was turning frosty under the sheets. If I didn’t move, maybe.

“I’ve got you,” the wind’s words seeped into the bed.

But it was not talking to me. It was talking to the door. It was threatening Ralph. It was readying itself to let him fling the door open and rush into its arms. Then that would be the end of my brother.

“No,” I said and threw the bedding off my body. “You leave my brother alone, y’hear me?” I jumped out of bed and made for the door. I grabbed the knob, turned it and jerked the door open. Suddenly the wind was gone.

“Dad?” I said.

My father’s silhouette stood behind Ralph in the dark hall. I hugged Daddy’s waist as tight as I could.

“What’s the matter, boys?”

“The wind, Daddy,” I said, relief surging through my body. “The wind was coming for us.”

“Ah, the wind.” He looked down at me and, even in the darkness, I could feel reassurance in his voice. His fatherly smell of Brut Aftershave calmed my nerves that had been all shot up with fear from that Old Devil Wind. “Where is it now? I don’t hear it. Do you, guys?”
I had to agree that my Daddy was right as he usually was when it came to things that go bump in the night. “No,” both Ralph and I said.

He took my brother and me by the arms. He ushered us back into our bedroom, still dark from the lack of moonlight. “Get back into bed.”

Ralph and I did as we were told. Tucked into bed and under the sheets, I looked up at my father standing at the end of the bed. Though I could not see it, I could feel his smile. I knew that there was no wind in the world that could challenge that smile.

“Haven’t I told you boys not to be afraid of El Diablo. It can’t hurt you. That is unless you let it scare the fear into you. James, when you suspected your brother was in danger, you stared it down face to face. You wouldn’t let it bully you. Now, look. It’s gone, and it will stay gone as long as you don’t let it get at you.”

Daddy reached down and mussed my hair, then Ralph’s. Then he said, “We’ll repair that window tomorrow.” He walked out into the hall.

“Is everything all right, Alan?” I heard my mother’s soprano ask my father.

“No need to worry about our boys. They’re brave boys.”

Their steps receded down the hallway and outside onto the back porch. Safe in my bed, my brother already dozing, I looked through the broken windowpane and saw the moon peak out from behind the clouds. My mother and my daddy gazed up at it. Then my parents, two werewolves, raised their heads toward the sky and bayed their love song for that moon.

So you want to live forever

This is how it feels when you’re seventy-three
You ache in places where your aches can’t be

Five times a night you get up and go pee
And fall asleep watching favorite shows on tv

Your drool runs down your chin for all to see
And the pills you take they give you the burpies.

You can’t remember where you put your keys
You search for glasses you’re using to see

You lose your car in a parking lot or three
And it takes hours to find where it ought to be

So it’s forever you want you age to be?
Wait till you reach the age of one hundred and three.

Halloween County

It was well-known through out Halloween County. If you became sick, you were going to Dr. D’s hospital and eventually would end up in Dr. F’s mortuary. So the people of the County went on strike and refused to get sick. Unless it was absolutely necessary.

At that point, the EMTs delivered the person to the Emergency Room at Dr. D’s. Before they left home, it was “Goodbye, Uncle Osar” or “It’s been nice knowing you, Aunt Agnes.”

So the people of Halloween County did not get sick. It just wasn’t done. Or if they did, they acted like they were still well.

Before you could say, “I want to bite you on the neck,” Wellness Clinics sprang up around the County. Pretty soon they were like the churches. There was one on every corner.

One of the Clinics advocated exercise. Another gave out herbs. If the acupuncture treatments didn’t work, there was the Pyramid Spa. There you spent a day in the crystal construction. When you left, your pores were cleaned and your eyes saw through walls. At the Om Clinic, you did here an Om, there an Om and everywhere an Om-Om-Om. On every corner, there was an acapella group singing, “Om on the Range.”

Some of the residents didn’t trust the fancy-dancy new treatments. They went home remedy all the way. Maude Hickenbottom’s was the most popular. She recommended that  folks drink a thimble of bleach at midnight of a full moon. So every full moon you could hear the howls on the other side of the State.

And mothers were constantly urging their kids to take their vitamins. “But what kind of vitamin is it?” Junior asked. “I don’t know. Take them anyway.” Then mom added a threat that went all the way back to Hansel and Gretel, “Or you end up at Dr. D’s.”

This led to some good news and some bad news. The good news was all the residents of the County were healthy as horses and nobody ever went to the hospital. There was a Halloweeni woman who was a 137 years old and ran three miles a day. “I’m going to run till I drop” was her motto. As everybody knew, she never dropped.

The bad news was that Dr. D’s and Dr. F’s business had run out of customers. Being resourceful, the two of them brought in a team of experts.

For months, the team went through the County, examining each of the residents and studying their lifestyle. During the exam, one of the team would attach a whatchamacallit to a thingamajig and jot down the readings. Then they would ask a series of questions that would drive an advanced degree in physics student up the wall.

Finally the head of the team, Dr. Hypochondriactus, met with Dr. D and Dr. F. “There’s only one conclusion we’ve come up with.”

Dr. D was white as a sheep and had been unable to get a good day’s sleep in his coffin despite drinking a whole cellar full of Transylvania Kola. He leaned forward and demanded, “What?”

Dr. F joined Dr. D in his “What.”

“There is nothing wrong with these folks. They don’t have any special immunities or extra special genes to enable them to fight off sickness. There’s only one thing they all have in common. And it’s the one thing that prevents them from visiting your establishments.”

“And what’s that?”

“Fear.”

“Fear?”

“That and they drink a lot.”