The old wolf

It had rained most of the night, but not now, so he stood quietly so not to waken his mate. He left the cave to trot the short distance to the overlook.

wolf-8978911Clouds were clearing and he sat on his haunches and viewed the incredible distance, the morning valley below and the faraway mountains.

They had left the old home because Homo erectus became more of a worry down in the valley. Now they lived in a different cave that was very high and well hidden. Homo erectus was no threat here.

They lived in peace, eating the occasional rodent and rabbit that were becoming more difficult to catch. He was not as quick as before and gray covered his snout. One fang ached now and then.

His mate, whom he loved so, had caught a burr in a back paw. She never got it out, and it festered. He did all the running now, and sometimes he came back to the cave breathing heavily.

But with a rabbit. He would always have a rabbit or something like that. It had to be done if they were to eat and continue.

There had been pups over the years. Those were very happy times, the little ones climbing over his chest and biting his ears. He loved that. But they had gone.

They had found their own mates and walked far away.

This cliff edge where he sat now was a favored spot.  At night he saw the moon, and he howled at it. He didn’t know why he did that. He only knew that he had to, that it was absolutely required.

How would the moon hang in the sky without his songs?

He thought about how he had met his mate so many years ago. They were young together, and they played among the trees farther down the valley. One day she smelled like a ripe pine nut, and they got married in the bushes. She had never given him anything but joy.

* * * *

The years had passed. The pups. Hunting and being hunted by Homo erectus. Fresh mountain summers and cold winters of snow, which were the hardest times. But most times were good. Few were bad.

In both the first cave far below and this new higher home, distant from Homo erectus, they had slept all those nights atop brown leaves with their bodies touching. Their spirit of love had never waned, and it was warming in the winter, cooling in summer.

* * * *

As he sat this morning on the cliff watching the clouds disperse and the sun rising over the distant damp crests, he thought of these things as he did more and more in recent weeks.

And his fang ached.

He stood with a deep sigh and walked toward the cave entrance. His mate would be awake by now, waiting. But she was not. She lay where he had left her. He drew near and nudged her with his old nose.

The cave was quiet. He heard spiders climbing the walls. A hollow sound crept from the farther depths where they had never dared to walk, deep in the cavern. His heart grew chill. His love had died.

He sat and stared at her. He inhaled deeply. He turned to look at the cave entrance where there was more light. After an hour he stood and walked back to the overlook. It was a brilliant morning.

He asked the unseen moon: What am I going to do?

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Dark to light

IT WAS COLD and dark, but she did not shiver nor was she afraid.

She was dead, lying inside a refrigerated cubicle in the morgue of the Hospital Popular in Los Santos, Mexico. She had died yesterday after weeks of silent suffering and waiting, waiting for this day and death.

Her children visited most every day, but not yesterday, the day she died. They should have been notified, of course, but perhaps the staff was rushed or maybe it was a clerical error. But here she sprawled inside the cubicle, alone.

The cubicle door opened, and the drawer on which she lay rolled out into the cutting room. Though it would be bright there, she remained in darkness, and the cold did not go away, though it did not bother her. She heard gasps of her two daughters, Gertrudis and Lupita.

Then she was pushed back into the drawer.

Time passed. She had no way of gauging it, and it did not matter anyway. But then the cubicle door opened, and she was pulled once more into the cutting room. There was Father Ignacio. He spoke in the tongue of the old Romans and she felt his hand on her head.

LeafShe opened her eyes. The blackness had turned to a baby-blue light, and another hand was on her head. It was Manuel, her husband of 42 years who died long ago. He smiled, and he was young again. And so was she.

And it was warm, like the constant springtime of Cuernavaca.

Waco spaceman

Billy Bob deployed one iron anchor and then the other. The wooden space ship was bouncing loonily.

Moments earlier, before skidding onto the moon’s surface, he opened a big silk parachute he had purchased at the military surplus in Waco.

rocketThe parachute and two anchors combined to slow the ship down pretty darn good, and he was skipping along the moonscape now at a diminishing velocity.

Billy Bob was a deacon at the Second Baptist Church in Waco, so he was praying to God Almighty.

He had built this spaceship out of wood planks, and he’d shellacked it 37 times for re-entry protection. Billy Bob sat in a wicker chair inside the wooden rocket in a steel septic tank he had uncovered in a Waco junkyard.

The tank was kept intact by a compressor he’d purchased at Home Depot. The blastoff from his backyard was done with dynamite. The trip had taken two days during which Billy Bob dined on Cheetos, Moon Pies and RC Cola.

Suddenly, the spaceship stopped.

Billy Bob opened the septic tank, then the wooden door, and stepped out. He had a goldfish bowl over his head, duct-taped at the neck. A scuba tank — full of mesquite-flavored Texas Hill Country air — sagged on his back.

How you doing, honey?

The voice startled Billy Bob, and he swung around. There was a hole in the ground, and the most dazzling woman he had ever seen was standing there, half out of the hole and half in. Her smile was stunning.

Billy Bob later learned that millions of Moon People lived below the surface, and that 95 percent were lovely women whose average life span was 32. Men, being in critically short supply, were highly prized.

Billy Bob never went back to Waco. And he quit being a Baptist too.

Sunny side up

Like all pre-menopausal women, Bett produced a monthly egg. But it wasn’t like the egg of other women. It was more like a condor’s.

EggShe had never married, and she’d never taken the issue to a medical professional. It was her secret. She had a nest in the spare bedroom, made of pillows and potpourri, not twigs.

And none of her eggs had ever hatched. Bett assumed that if she kept one warm, like good mothers should, it would in time vibrate and crack open. And there would be her baby.

Or likely not, due to lack of fertilization. Bett had no boyfriend.

So she ate them. Over easy. Sunny side up. Scrambled.

They even poached.

And they were great with grits.

The wagon ride

WagonThank you, God, the old man said in his own language because he knew God speaks all languages.

For these many, many years.

He flicked Katya with the long wood switch. Katya was his horse, and she too was very old as was this wagon that had come down from his father who was born in the mountains during Tsarist days.

The wood box in the back was also old. For a box, that is.

He had built it with iron nails and fresh planks 23 years ago when he was just 73. The box had sat ready ever since.

He and Katya were on a mountain trail, heading down. They weren’t going very fast. Neither of them had ever gone fast. The old man’s name was Yefim.

He could see for so many miles, a green Spring valley, more mountains, a distant blue lake. It was beautiful, all of it, here where he lived with Oksana.

Yefim and Oksana had never not known one another. They were born one year apart as neighbors. They played as children. They kissed as adolescents. And later, but not much later, they married.

Because they were so distant from the tumultuous capital, they had always lived in peace. The commissars had never come.

As time passed, their friends and relatives died, even their three children, leaving just the two of them alone, as they had begun.

Katya had paused for a munch of grass, and Yefim flicked her brown back gently with the switch to get a move on. And she got a move on.

Finally, after a trip of 26 minutes, the destination arrived, and they halted by the hole the two young men had dug that morning.

The two men hoisted the box from the wagon bed to the green grass. Then they stepped back. Yefim lifted the lid and looked one last time at Oksana, beautiful as ever in his eyes.

A black hand squeezed his heart.

From the wagon, he pulled a hammer and leather pouch, and he pounded the lid with 79 nails so the wolves could never touch her.

It took a while.

An hour later, as he and Katya rolled back up the mountain trail, Yefim repeated, Thank you, God, in his own language.

For giving me Oksana for such a long time.

* * * *

(Wagon artwork by John Helms.)

The broken staircase

Five steps rotted and collapsed in the middle of the staircase, and that’s how it all began.

Alcott was upstairs. He never left his home again.

He decided to write a history of mankind. It would be thorough, but due to having no reference materials upstairs, it would be fiction by necessity, a history of mankind as it should have been, the perfect people. He liked the idea, and dedicated the rest of his life to writing fictitious history.

. . . which should not be confused with historical fiction. No, he wrote history hidden by a mask, creating a dream world, but really, after all, it was not so different from actual historical writing at times.

But first there was the matter of survival. For that he turned to his old friend Beaman whom he had known since boyhood.

Beaman lived nearby.

There was the question of food.

Beaman tossed up a rope, and that was how Alcott received his daily meals, a basket connected to the rope. Beaman’s wife, Aldyth, simply made a bit more than she and Beaman ate each day, and Beaman took the leftovers to Alcott.

We should mention that Alcott was married too. His wife was Godeleva, but Alcott had not loved — or even liked — Godeleva in many years.

As luck would have it, Godeleva was downstairs when the five steps rotted in the staircase. She noticed the problem even before Alcott. She smiled, walked into the downstairs bedroom, packed two bags, and headed to the beach.

. . . and never returned.

* * * *

Alcott was not a social man, so the upstairs isolation suited him, plus there was lots of time to invent fictional history.

Luckily, there was a bathroom on the second floor of Bockingfold and an antique typewriter.

Bockingfold was the name of the home, which had been in Alcott’s family for generations. Godeleva had always found it dreary there.

About a year after the five steps rotted in the staircase, Alcott awoke one morning thinking of Godeleva whose body was as fine as her personality was foul. That afternoon, during their daily chat through the second-floor window, as warm stew was ascending, he asked Beaman for a woman.

Man does not live by stew alone, he said, or something like that.

There was an obstacle. The rope was medium-weight, and the basket had been bought at a discount outlet that imported from India.

The woman, they concluded, must be lightweight and short, a wisp of a girl.

This was acceptable to Alcott, desirable even, because Godeleva, although quite beautiful, was big-boned. And Alcott was ready for new adventures.

Find a mini-version of womankind, Alcott said to Beaman, but she must be over 21 because Alcott wanted no problems with the police.

One week later, Beaman stood beneath the window with Vulpine, which means like a fox. She said she was 26. And she was quite small, a midget actually, which should not be confused with a dwarf. She was well-formed, firm and fine.

Her hair and full lips were flaming red.

She fit perfectly into the basket, holding the day’s stew in her lap. Alcott, with a bit of extra effort, hoisted both dishes to the window sill and inside the room to which Vulpine hopped effortlessly and looked up at him, smiling.

* * * *

Vulpine did not speak much about her past. There was something about a circus, a prison and horse rides through the mountains with a man named Smoke.

Alcott and Vulpine hit it off immediately. She liked the security, the daily stews, and he liked the look of her, the red lips, the hair blazing like a bonfire.

redhead1And that’s how it stayed. The years passed, and Alcott wrote. In time there were 35 volumes of fictional history. He grew old and gray and stooped. But Vulpine never changed a bit.

She was like magic, and that was what he wanted. No one ever repaired the staircase of Bockinfold, and when Alcott died one day, Vulpine kissed his cheek, shimmied down the rope like a child and walked off into a sunny winter afternoon, her hair lit like Christmas candles.