Friday, April 14, 2017

36 - I've Come to Say I'm Going




 Bartholomew entered the coffee shop worried and confused. Xavier was out to hurt him, maybe even kill him, and he didn’t understand why. Surely, The Nanny would have some idea how to handle this. She had raised Xavier for many years. It was only a week ago that Claire advised Bartholomew to stop dating The Nanny, but now she was the only friend he had.

The Nanny waved at Bartholomew from a table near the back of the shop. Normally, The Nanny’s smile and beauty put Bartholomew in a good mood, but today she didn’t smile but had an earnest expression. This made Bartholomew even more worried and confused.

“Hi,” said The Nanny.

“Hi,” replied Bartholomew.

“It’s nice to see you,” said The Nanny.

“It’s nice to see you, too,” replied Bartholomew.

“Would you like something to eat?” asked The Nanny.

“Xavier’s trying to kill me,” replied Bartholomew.

“Why don’t you go get a muffin, and when you come back we can talk about it,” suggested The Nanny.

Bartholomew got up from his chair and went to the counter. The barista offered several options of muffins. They all looked tasty to Bartholomew, and being a little confused, he bought five muffins. Bartholomew had a habit, after his parents died, of buying more things than he needed. That’s why he has twelve phones, eight toasters and three televisions. As he walked back to the table with five muffins, four of which he knew he wouldn’t eat, he realized that when he’s confused he has a hard time making decisions. He was so confused and in a daze after his parents died that he couldn’t decide what to buy when offered several options. Thus, he ended up with twelve phones, eight toasters and three televisions. Bartholomew also realized that he hadn’t had this problem since Charlotte and Topping’s New Years Eve party where he made several friends and decided to start a garden.

“By golly,” he thought as he placed the muffins on the table where The Nanny was waiting, what he wanted had come true: he wanted friends who could help him make better decisions. He figured this would happen by discussing decisions with his friends but, in fact, they seldom talked about making decisions. His friends helped him make better decisions simply because he knew they were there. They were an anchor, and their support made him more confident and more able in his own life. And now they were all scattered and mad at each other – all except this beautiful woman sitting across the table from him.

“Bartholomew, I have to leave you,” blurted out The Nanny as soon as he sat down. “I have to leave you, but someone else is coming who will make you happy, even happier than you are now.”

It wouldn’t be hard to make Bartholomew happier than he was at that moment.

“Why?” he asked like a lump.

“Situations are almost where they need to be. You are going to have to make it the rest of the way on your own. I’ve done all I can to prepare you.”

“Prepare me for what?”

“Hard times.”

“Do you know about Xavier wanting to kill me?” asked Bartholomew.

“Yes, but he won’t. But he will destroy something you love and he will hurt the ones you love the most.”

“How can you possibly know this?” Bartholomew asked raising his voice. “How can you possible expect me to sit here and listen to this when someone wants to kill me? I come to you with my concerns and you pretend you can see into the future, like you’re some seer or something. What I need is for you to help me!”

Without saying a word, The Nanny stood up and walked behind Bartholomew. She wrapped her arms around him and placed her chin on his shoulder. Bartholomew instantly felt a warmth and peace move through his body.

“Bartholomew,” The Nanny said crying, “I love you. Do not falter. Your friends will return, and your true love will return. And… some day, I will return. I am so sorry.” The Nanny squeezed him tight and sobbed into his neck.

“What are you sorry about?”

The Nanny struggled for her voice amidst her sobs, “The next time you see me I will not have a message of hope and love for you. I will be a messenger of death.” The Nanny squeezed Bartholomew even harder, kissed him on the neck and she was gone. Bartholomew looked behind him; The Nanny was nowhere to be seen.

Bartholomew stared at the muffins in front of him. “What the hell is going on?” he muttered. When he left the shop he wandered for hours retracing in his mind the strange events that had brought him to this point in time. The more he walked, the more his stomach began to bother him. He wasn't sure if this was because of the stress he was feeling or if it was from having eaten all five muffins.
_______________________________________
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by Liz Carlson

Thursday, March 23, 2017

35 - Mo and the Tree of Want




The first part of the recognizance was simple: observe Bartholomew and determine when he is at home and when he is in his garden. Mo had done this very carefully, only being seen by Bartholomew four times. The second part of his assignment was to peek into Bartholomew’s house and see if there is anything of value. Mo knew, from overhearing Bartholomew’s conversation, that Bartholomew would not be home that night. This would be the perfect time, he thought, to look in some windows and see what valuables Bartholomew owned.

It was about eight-thirty in the evening when Mo decided to head over to Bartholomew’s place. By the time he arrived it was getting dark. Mo figured he would not be seen by the neighbors. He parked his car two houses down from Bartholomew’s house and, in the cover of dark, he pressed his face against a bedroom window.

“Huh…?”

Mo hadn’t realized that if he could not be seen at night, he could not see what was in Bartholomew’s house either. Bartholomew, being energy conscious, did not leave his lights on. “Crap!” said Mo who went around the house once just to make sure all the lights were off.

Done with his covert activities for the evening, Mo’s mind drifted to what he really wanted to be doing: gambling, investing in the stock market, stealing money, etc. anything that would make him richer – other than working. Then he wondered if the doors to the house were locked. He checked those. Locked. Perhaps the windows were unlocked. He checked those. Locked.

Mo peered through one more window and saw Hump-Pug blankly staring back at him. For a moment Mo thought he saw something else in the window, something shiny and gold. It took him a moment to realize it was a reflection. He assumed it was from one of his many rings or necklaces or maybe his gold tooth. But the reflection seemed to be something else. He looked behind him at a gigantic old tree in Bartholomew’s back yard. There in the lower branches was a shiny gold object.

He went to the tree. He grabbed hold of the first branch and pulled himself up. It was dark out and Mo was afraid of heights, but he had to see what this was. It was a rather easy tree to climb with branches at even intervals as far up as he could see in the dark. He only had to climb three or four branches before he was at his destination: a small mesh bag of gold pieces. Mo thought that this was an odd, but fortuitous, placement of a bag of gold pieces. There were eight to ten pieces in the bag, which was heavy for its size. Mo unhooked it from the branch and put it in his pocket. “How lucky I am,” he thought.

He started down the tree but caught a glimpse of something else in the corner of his eye. It was another shiny object much bigger and much further up the tree. “Hmmm,” Mo thought, “that one is much higher. I don’t like heights. I better let it go. But… it is much bigger than this little bag in my pocket. It must be worth much more than this.” Because Mo wanted wealth more than anything else, especially wealth that took little effort, Mo climbed on.

The branches were easy to reach until he was about twenty-five feet off the ground. Suddenly, Mo wasn’t sure how to proceed. He made a few attempts at the higher branches, but, being afraid of falling, didn’t try anything difficult. One branch was almost in his grasp. He could touch it with his fingers, feel the ridges of its bark, but couldn’t quite get a hold of it. In the trunk of the tree was a bump, a canker, that if he put his foot on it, maybe he could reach the branch. But it would mean letting go of the tree with both of his hands. He panicked a moment at the thought and held close to the tree.

“Xavier would think I was such a woos for not trying,” thought Mo. “I can do this. I know I can.” Then with all his adrenaline pumping, he stepped on the canker and swung his arms upward. It worked. His hands grabbed around the branch and then he scampered up. “Well, Mo ain’t no woos after all,” he said to an Xavier who wasn’t there. He rested on the branch for a moment and then continued his ascent.

Mo reached the next object a few minutes later. It hung in a large mesh bag tightly tied to a branch. It was impossible to untie the bag from the branch, so Mo pulled the very heavy gold object out of the bag. It was a vest made of gold chainmail. Mo estimated it weighed about forty pounds. “What the heck?” said Mo as he pondered this object being hung so high in the tree. It looked like it was his size, so he wrapped his legs around the branch and he very carefully tried it on. It was a little small and he almost fell when his elbows were stuck in the arm holes. It was so small, in fact, that once he had it on he couldn’t get it off.

“Crap!” said Mo.

Resigned to wearing the golden vest, Mo began to climb down. He went very slowly, worried about the added weight. “How lucky I am,” he thought as he knew the golden vest would be worth a fortune. Then he caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye. It was something a bit higher up in the tree. From the glimmer of moonlight he could see that it was something encrusted with jewels. He could see green sapphires, red rubies and clear bright diamonds – lots of diamonds. This one object alone would be worth more than all the gold Mo had found thus far.

“Crap,” said Mo again, knowing full well that he would climb up to get this fabulous object. He began steady and carefully. The climbing became more difficult as the added weight of the vest was making him tired. He didn’t have far to go when he lost his grip for a moment. But Mo caught himself and continued on.

“Whoa, crap!” said Mo when he finally reached a golden crown completely covered with jewels hanging in a mesh bag. He removed it from the bag and put it on his head. It was just a little too small but there was something magical about this crown. When he put it on his head he felt like a king in his heart. He suddenly felt courage and bravery as he never had before. His mind understood confidence in his ability to make decisions, to discern which sacrifices are necessary and which are not. Mo now knew love of country, love of a people and commitment to his bloodline – his family. A slight breeze came up and Mo grabbed the branch between his legs as it began to sway. The crown slipped from his head.


Just as quickly as Mo had felt all these wonderful feelings, they quickly vanished. There was Mo, alone in the dark swaying in a tree in Bartholomew’s backyard. His life suddenly felt so empty, so shallow and so meaningless compared to the life of a king. This transition happened instantaneously, for the crown had only just slipped from his head. It bounced off his shoulder and out in front of him. That was what Mo wanted most, he wanted to be courageous, brave, true-hearted and loving. It was what he tried to attain his whole life by wearing expensive jewelry and clothes and by acting like he knew everything when actually he knew very little.

The contrast in lives was so sudden and so strong that Mo became desperate for the life he wanted. He reached out with both hands to grab the crown. The weight of his vest was more than he could adjust for and Mo slipped off the branch. As he fell he grabbed the crown. He placed it on his head and held it there as tight as possible. As his body ricocheted off of branches and crashed through leaves… and eventually came to smash into the ground, Mo only experienced the death of a king; noble, full of dignity and beloved.

Having come in the front door that night, Bartholomew did not find the body until the next morning. While eating a grapefruit and leftover polenta cakes, Bartholomew looked out his window and saw the broken body lying under his family tree. He called the police.

By late morning, Gerald, Mo’s father, and Xavier and Khua, Mo’s brothers, had arrived at Bartholomew’s house and identified the body as Mo’s. The police had indicated that, judging from the injuries and leaves and branches found around the body, it appeared Mo had fallen out of the tree and died on impact. Neither Bartholomew nor the police had seen a golden vest, a bag of gold pieces or a crown.

As the police moved the body into an ambulance, Xavier came over to Bartholomew and leaned close to him.

“You did this, didn’t you?” Xavier asked in a quiet voice.

“No!” Bartholomew replied, not believing that Xavier could think such a thing.

“First you mess with my sister, who is now missing. Then you mess with my stuff, which got broken. Then you mess with The Nanny, who starts treating me like crap. Now you messed with my brother and he ends up dead. Is there something you fucking want to tell me?” Xavier asked while bumping into Bartholomew.

“What?” Bartholomew responded at the threading of these separate incidents together.

“You heard me asshole. You want to mess with me? Then quit messing with everything else around me and come and get me. You better do it soon, ‘cuz I’m coming to get you.” With that threat Bartholomew felt a slight stab in his ribs. He moved quickly away from Xavier who had a knife in his hand. He looked down at his shirt and saw a drip of blood. Xavier quickly folded up his knife and slipped it in his pocket. Khua grimaced at Bartholomew, cracked his knuckles and pointed a finger at him. Gerald gazed at Bartholomew with empty souless eyes and an expressionless face. He turned and exited the house. Xavier and Khua followed.

The police left soon after and Bartholomew was alone with Oliver in his lap and Geraldine the pug at his feet. He put his head in his hands and had a long cry.
_____________________________________
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by Meghan Hogan

Monday, February 27, 2017

34 - Eve of Destruction


Xavier wasn’t sure how to approach his father. He had never done anything like this before, but he was sure that his father would approve. But would he help? Xavier felt his plan was a good one, but if his father helped him, this plan could be a great one. His only question was how to approach his father who would be home soon.

“Xavier?” a voice surprised him. It was The Nanny with Hump-Pug on a leash. The Nanny was watching Hump-Pug for Bartholomew.

“What do you want?” sneered Xavier as he looked in disgust at the dog.

“Xavier, why such a harsh voice? I just wanted to know what you are up to today.”

“Nothing, nothing at all,” he said trying to sound more casual.

“Good, I was wanting some help with…”

“I’m busy,” interrupted Xavier.

“I thought you just said you were doing ‘nothing,’” said The Nanny.

“Did I? I meant I’m doing… something,” said Xavier.

“You are? What are you doing then?” asked The Nanny patiently.

“Eh… nothing. Nothing that concerns you. What are you doing?” Xavier retaliated.

The Nanny looked at him suspiciously. “I am going to look for Geraldine. Care to help me?”

Xavier, whose sister had been missing for five months, was startled to hear her name for the second time in two days. “The police haven’t found her and my father’s people haven’t found her. What do you think you can do?”

“I know her better than them. I know she’s out there. She’s out there right now getting the life that she needs, the life she deserves. You wouldn’t even recognize her, but when she comes back you are going to be surprised. She is going to be beautiful and at peace and have a happy ever-after life.”

Xavier’s face folded-up in disbelief at The Nanny’s words. “What the hell are you talking about?! Have you gone looney?!”

“Now, Xavier, you should trust me more instead of only trusting yourself – and trusting Khua to beat people up for you. I know that you want to be happy and at peace, too. You let this need for excitement get in your way. Hurting people and planning their destruction might be exciting, on some level, but it’s not going to make your life better. You can break this addiction you have. It only draws you away from people, away from yourself. Please Xavier, come help me find your sister, your own flesh and blood.”

Xavier had known The Nanny for quite a long time. He found her curious in the way she would suddenly say things that went right to his soul. It seemed to Xavier that The Nanny would spend a lot of time with Geraldine and barely pay attention to him, Khua and Mo. Then, out of the blue, she would say something to them that proved him wrong. She had been paying attention to them – so much attention that her words would penetrate their violent and addictive world. This was one of those times.

He should help find his sister. After all, she is family. He stared at the family crest above the fireplace mantel. Because his world is full of violence, he assumed his sister was dead – probably killed by some psycho. But what if she was alive? Shouldn’t he be looking for her? For a brief moment Xavier felt how lonely Geraldine must feel if she was still alive. Destroying Bartholomew’s garden didn’t seem that important right now.

“Xavier?” The Nanny looked pleadingly at him.

A loud door slam was heard in a distant part of the house. Gerald’s strides could be heard coming down the hall as he approached the room.

“Xavier, The Nanny,” said Gerald without saying anything else.

“Hello, Gerald,” said The Nanny.

“Hi, Gerald,” said Xavier with an odd look on his face.

“Xavier. Do you want something?” asked Gerald.

“Uh… I was going to… uh.”

“What an exciting day!” bellowed Gerald, not waiting for Xavier to finish. “I finally bought out Old Man Tompkins. He has been holding out on me for years. I finally got him at twenty-five percent less than I was willing to pay. Ah, what a day!”

Gerald looked so happy – happier than Xavier had seen him in a long time.

“Were you going to say something?” Gerald asked Xavier.

“Uh… I was going to… uh.”

“Guess what?” interrupted Gerald. “It was such a good deal I went out and bought myself a car. A red XT Turbo with flames painted on it. Awesome, huh? So I won’t be needing my MG roadster. Here.” Gerald tossed the roadster keys to Xavier.

The MG roadster was Xavier’s favorite car that his father owned. It was sleek and fun and could go more than one hundred and sixty miles an hour. He once watched his father bury the needle on some back roads up north. The wind whipped through his hair, the trees passed by so fast – it was very exciting! And now it was his. Xavier sprang up to go for his first drive in his new car.

“Xavier?” asked The Nanny.

Xavier stopped mid-spring and felt an odd weight around his heart. His sister. What could he do? She hadn’t been found for months. It was hopeless. Looking for her and not finding her, which was exactly what was going to happen, sounded boring to Xavier. Driving his new car did not.

“Uh, I’m really busy with something right now. Can I help you later?” asked Xavier.

“Later is too late,” said The Nanny knowing that Xavier had to help now or forever be lost.

“Not later like too late later, I mean in about an hour.”

“This time one minute is too late, Xavier,” replied The Nanny with a very serious look on her face.

“What the fuck are you two talking about?” interrupted Gerald. “Xavier, go take your roadster for a ride. And don’t destroy it in the first month or you won’t get another car for at least a year.”

Xavier turned and left the room, The Nanny’s eyes following him the whole way. She then turned toward Gerald.

“Do you understand what you are doing to your children?”

Gerald looked puzzled by the question.

“Do you know why you weren’t supposed to have children? Do you know why, except for a brief moment in time, you have never been able to conceive with a woman? It is because of this, this way that you treat your children. You corrupt them, you addict them, and you let them think that nothing they do is wrong. That nothing is ever wrong. You can destroy people’s lives, steal their work and boil everything down to the profit margin, but you will never see anything you do as wrong. You are a corruptor and a destroyer, and that is all. You have no vision, no love and no hope. You have absolutely nothing of real value in your life except these children and this is what you do to them; you discard them, you corrupt them and you destroy them.”

“I gave him a car. What’s your problem?” asked Gerald.

“My problem is no longer your problem. Gerald, I will tell you this once and only once. You are going to die in three years. One of your sons will die this week. He will die because you are willing to run after foolishness. You will never experience joy again for there will be so much sadness in your life. You will lose everything. Your children will be at war with each other. Your daughter will return and she will not call you family. She will run from you and marry your enemy. Your enemy will eventually sit where you are and prosper one hundred times more than you.”

“Geraldine is going to marry Old Man Tompkins?” asked Gerald incredulously.

“The saddest part of it all,” continued The Nanny, “is that I have just told you your future and you are too dumb to understand a word that I said. You are too selfish, too self-possessed, to put what I have said into its true context. You could change the future but you have absolutely no imagination and therefore can’t do anything but live in the moment, like a mollusk. Even though you and your type cause most of the problems in the world, you are the ones to be most pitied, because you are nothing more than a bunch of neurons, ligaments and bone without a soul.”

“You’re fired,” said Gerald.

“Whatever,” replied The Nanny as she walked out the door, Hump-Pug trailing behind.

Three hours later, after running out of gas, Xavier returned home and talked with his father about destroying Bartholomew’s garden. His father liked the idea and added some twists and improvements to it. They both became excited about their plan. Somewhere deep in his soul, Gerald felt an all-consuming fire start to be honed and focused. He knew something exciting was coming his way and he was preparing for it. Old Man Tompkins wasn’t enough. Gerald needed to see someone squirm and beg for mercy. This is what he lived for, this was the rush that satisfied. And he was happy because this time he didn’t have to do it alone.
________________________________________ 
Written by Mark Granlund 
Illustrations by Meghan Murphy

Sunday, February 26, 2017

33 - Harvest Dinner



Claire, Bartholomew and Geraldine the pug brought the vegetables into the kitchen where Aunt Josephine stood at the counter. “Thanks,” she said, “this is just what the salad needs.”

Claire and Bartholomew walked into the living room, Geraldine right behind, to find Uncle Jeffrey conversing politely with Topping and Charlotte. Ned was sitting in a corner of the room seemingly afraid of Oliver who was rubbing up against his legs.

“Yes, well, there is certainly a need for Mayor Dick to be more representative of his constituents than his business partners,” said Uncle Jeffrey.

“Don’t you just find him disgusting?” complained Charlotte. “I mean he doesn’t even care about us. He always says one thing during the election and then does something completely different once in office.”

“I think he has a lot of pressures on him that we don’t understand,” said Topping.

“Yeah, like pressures not to be a complete idiot,” added Claire.

“Name calling isn’t going to do any good,” chided Uncle Jeffrey. “When it comes to having a different political opinion it never helps to name call. If you’re not happy with the results, vote for someone else.”

“But by the time the next election comes along there will have been too much damage to recover. It will be a lot of work to get back to where we were and, in the meantime, the environment is being destroyed,” Claire said as she hunkered down onto the sofa with Charlotte. Charlotte put her arm in Claire’s to welcome her to the sofa and show support for her point of view.

“The environment can take care of itself and the Depression was caused by large businesses and monopolies acting in their own self-interest,” added Uncle Jeffrey. “If we could fight through it one time, we can fight through it again.”

“Yeah, but in the meantime a lot of people are going to get hurt and have their lives thrown into disarray,” continued Charlotte.

Topping sat up and began, “Yes, but…”

Bartholomew returned to the kitchen – he didn’t want to hear any more of this argument. He knew how it was going to end. He helped Aunt Josephine chop more of the vegetables he and Claire had harvested from the garden. She was going to stir fry the broccoli, tomatoes and herbs and place it on a bed of rice. She didn’t quite have the instinctual way of putting together flavors that Bartholomew’s mom did, but Aunt Josephine did know just how long to cook things to bring out their best flavors. Bartholomew was happy. He was eating food he had grown and thought was tasty and he was with his family and friends.

Voices grew louder. Aunt Josephine and Bartholomew looked at each other wondering what was going on in the living room. Suddenly there was yelling. They went to see what was the cause of this.

Charlotte and Topping were yelling at each other. This seemed incomprehensible to Bartholomew. He was so shocked by this turn of events that he didn’t really hear what they were yelling about. Charlotte began to cry and ran out the front door. Claire followed Charlotte, hitting Topping in the shoulder as she passed. “Idiot!”

Bartholomew gawked at Topping, waiting for some kind of explanation. He didn’t get one. Bartholomew looked at Ned who just shrugged his shoulders.

“Is dinner ready?” asked Uncle Jeffrey.

“Yes…I guess so,” said Aunt Josephine, who retreated to the kitchen to bring out the food.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” said Bartholomew as he went outside to see what was up with Charlotte and Claire. He saw them in the garden at the end of his street huddled together on the logs in the gathering area. He walked over and put his hand on Charlotte’s shoulder. She was still crying.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Sometimes… he makes me… so mad,” Charlotte said between the sobs. “He just acts… like my opinion… doesn’t mean anything.”

“Guys can be like that,” assured Claire. Bartholomew thought this was an unhelpful statement. In his experience, both men and women can behave in lots of ways. And besides, he thought he was the kind of guy who cares and he knew that Topping loved Charlotte.

“It’s just makes me mad… that we have lived together…for over a year and he still can be so… dismissive of me,” sobbed Charlotte.

Bartholomew began carefully, “I didn’t hear what was said, but I do know Topping loves you. He just makes mistakes sometimes.”

“Mistakes?” began Claire, “He’s so focused on himself he doesn’t know what Charlotte is doing half the time. Just because he’s your friend doesn’t mean you have to defend him.”

Bartholomew thought Claire, again, made an unhelpful statement. Of course Bartholomew is going to defend his friends. He would defend both Charlotte and Claire as well as Topping and Ned. He also knew that Topping did care about what Charlotte was doing, although he tended to focus on what was in front of him at the moment.

“Mistakes are fine,” said Charlotte recovering from her sobs. “I’m just tired of him not learning from his mistakes. I don’t know how many times I have told him to call or to let me know where he is or that I want to spend time with him and he forgets or ends up doing something else.”

“Why don’t you come back in for dinner and you two can talk this out later?” asked Bartholomew.

“No!” replied Charlotte. “I don’t want to talk anymore. I’m not going back in there.”

“C’mon, you can stay at my place tonight,” offered Claire.

Bartholomew didn’t think this offer was very helpful. Charlotte and Topping should be together and try to work this out. Separating wasn’t going to help. A bit exasperated with Claire’s three unhelpful comments, Bartholomew added, “You mean Ned’s place.”

Claire got an angry look on her face and punched Bartholomew in the shoulder. “I’ve been living there seven months! It’s my place, too!” Claire and Charlotte got up and walked to Claire’s bicycle. Charlotte sat on the seat and Claire stood up and pedaled.

“Did you ask Ned if it’s okay?” yelled Bartholomew as they biked down the street.

“Like Ned cares about anything!” Claire yelled back and the bicycle disappeared into the night.

Bartholomew returned to the house to find everyone eating quietly.

“Are they coming in to eat?” asked Aunt Josephine.

“No, they went to Ned’s place.”

Ned slumped a little.

“What did you say to her?” Bartholomew asked Topping.

“I have no fucking idea,” replied Topping.

“You will watch your mouth at this table, young man,” said Uncle Jeffrey.

“What?” replied an astonished Topping. “Why? What are you going to do? Pull me by the ear? Hit me with a wet noodle? Spank me? Send me to my room? Never mind, I’ll go there my fucking self!” Topping stood up and walked to the front door.

“Topping, don’t go,” pleaded Bartholomew.

“Whatever, Dude,” and out the door went Topping.

Bartholomew sat down. After a moment, everyone’s eyes turned to Ned who had been eating this whole time and was just cleaning his plate.

“Thank you for the food,” Ned said. “That was really good. You’re a good cook, Aunt Josephine.”

“Thank you, Ned,” Aunt Josephine said.

Ned stood up, wiped his mouth and announced, “Bartholomew, it’s been fun – sort of. You’re a nice guy but I really don’t fit in here. When I am with you and your friends and Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey I feel out of place. I feel real awkward. I don’t even like gardening. I don’t like my job. I don’t even like my girlfriend. I need to grow up. Maybe I will catch you down the road. Later.” Ned, shaking his dreds, walked out the front door and into the night.

Bartholomew, completely perplexed by the evening’s events, turned on Uncle Jeffrey.

“Uncle Jeffrey, this is my table and it’s all right by me if Topping swears.”

“Well, I don’t know about that Claire friend of yours, either. She’s got quite a mouth on her, too – and what an attitude!” added Uncle Jeffrey. “If that’s the type of people you want to hang around that’s your business, but…”

“These are the people I want to hang around with, Uncle Jeffrey, and I would appreciate it if you could be supportive.”

Bartholomew turned and went to his room. Oliver and Geraldine followed him. Uncle Jeffrey left soon after and Aunt Josephine stayed long enough to clean the table and the kitchen. When Bartholomew finally came out of his room, his house looked as if no one had been there that night. He hoped it had all been a dream. Unfortunately, his heart knew it had been a nightmare.
__________________________________________ 
Written by Mark Granlund 
Illustrations by Mark Granlund

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

32 - Xavier Wants Something



Xavier wanted something, but what he wanted was unclear to him. Whatever it was he wanted he wanted it badly. Being a young man of action, this need drove him to scour his environment for opportunities to move him closer to his destination. But, not knowing what he truly wanted, he often took actions that brought him no joy, and only a short rush of excitement. Xavier was smart. If only he would have taken some time (maybe a day, maybe a year) to think about what he truly wanted, he might have figured it out. But his need for action and excitement always short-circuited his contemplation.

One sunny summer day, Xavier was walking along the railroad tracks, his hands in his pockets. The sound of a train engine arose behind him. It was a train loaded down with new automobiles on their way to dealers. The sides of the train cars were covered with a mesh so the automobiles would not get damaged by debris – or people like Xavier. Xavier fancied himself more athletic than he really was, and thought he could probably throw a rock right through some holes in the mesh and break a window of one of the new cars.

Xavier picked up one of the many rocks in the rail bed that seemed to him the right size. He waited a moment while judging the speed of the train and then let it fly. The rock ricocheted off the mesh and landed again in the rail bed. Xavier threw another rock. This time he threw it harder. Same result. The third rock he threw madder. Same result. His lack of positive results got him down. The fourth rock he threw sadder. Same result. Then a switch flipped inside Xavier and he threw rock after rock at the cars as he became enraged. Same result. The train passed and Xavier, feeling depressed, disgusted and disdainful continued to walk the rails with his hands in his pockets.

A rush of excitement was the usual tonic for Xavier’s bad moods. Destroying things always brought a rush. The bigger the thing, the bigger the rush. But again, if Xavier would have thought about what he really wanted at this point he might have realized that a rush of excitement paled in comparison to actual satisfaction.

Now Xavier was mad at the trains. He had a brilliant idea to break windows and the train had denied him. What if he could derail a train? That would be exciting and very satisfying – or so he thought. Xavier began to look around for debris he could place on the tracks to try to derail a train. There wasn’t much around, a lot of rocks, a few thick metal spikes, trees…what if he could put a car on the tracks? That would be cool. But he had seen enough movies to realize that trains just push cars off the tracks after crumpling them and making them explode. There was no way Xavier could move something big enough in to the path of the train to make it derail. This thought disappointed him.

He walked further along the tracks. Surely, Xavier had enough time to contemplate why he wanted to destroy a train. He had enough time to ponder many things about himself. Instead, he was distracted by a crow in a tree that wagged its head and sounded like it was saying “tsk, tsk.” He noticed bugs flying around his head. He felt the heat of the sun on his neck. He thought about how he would like to own half the town some day like his dad. That would be an achievement. People would look up to him and if they didn’t, he could fire them, or put them out of business, or have them arrested. Xavier heard another “tsk, tsk” from the crow that flapped its wings and disappeared into the blue sky.


Why did things seem so hard? Why did things never turn out the way he wanted? One big giant rush of excitement was just what he needed to help set him straight.

Xavier saw a figure coming down the rail toward him. The figure wore a robe with a hood and sandals and held a bowl in his hand. Xavier decided to take whatever this person had. Usually, Xavier had his brother Khua do the dirty work of roughing people up, but this time he would have to do it. He was becoming excited.

The robed figure was within a few feet of Xavier. It was a man who looked out from the hood and said, “Peace.” Xavier grabbed the man’s robe and held up a fist shining with brass knuckles and said “Give me everything you have.”

The man did not seem afraid. “All I have is this bowl and my robe and my sandals.” The man held out his bowl to give it to Xavier. Xavier slapped it away.

“I don’t want that stupid bowl!”

“Then here,” said the man as he took off his sandals that were obviously too small for Xavier.

“I don’t want those stupid sandals!” spat Xavier as he kicked them across the railroad tracks.

With that, the man disrobed and stood naked before Xavier. “Here, then,” he spoke and handed his robe to the confused young man.
Xavier became completely exasperated. This man had nothing he wanted! This was just his luck today.

“I may not have what you want, but I have what you need if you will let me give it to you,” said the man.

“What do you have that I could possibly need?” sneered Xavier.

“Peace,” said the man who held out his arms and moved toward Xavier to give him a hug.

Xavier stumbled backward as the man, genitals and all, moved too close to him. He lashed out and hit the naked man hard in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground. Xavier stood over him for a moment taking in a rush of excitement. Then he turned and walked away.

“What a freak!” thought Xavier.

“Peace be with you!” yelled the man who then gathered up his few possessions, rubbed his shoulder and went on his way.

Xavier traveled down the rail until the excitement wore off. He now had a little time to wonder why he felt so afraid of a smaller naked man who owned nothing and wouldn’t ever want to hurt him. He might have pondered why he felt so afraid that he had to lash out and punch the man. But Xavier’s brain did not approach these questions. He wondered if this naked man who wanted to hug him was a homosexual. He wondered if this man was homeless or mentally deranged. He also thought about how Khua had beaten up people much worse than this and had been injured himself during those fights. Xavier began to realize that it was nothing to beat up the robed man. There would be no push-back, no retaliation and no challenge to his actions. Now, where excitement had been, Xavier only felt disappointment. He was not at peace.

What would bring him satisfaction? What would make his day right?

Voices rang out in the still air of the hot summer day. Xavier became aware of the smell of creosote as it rose with the heat. There, over some kind of hedge, Xavier could see Bartholomew and Claire gathering food from a garden planted near the tracks. He snuck up to and hid behind the hedge and eavesdropped on Bartholomew’s and Claire’s conversation.

“How many of these peppers should I pick?” asked Claire.

“About five or six,” replied Bartholomew.
“This was the greatest idea, Bartholomew. It has been such fun making this garden with you. Everybody has enjoyed it! Ned even stops complaining about his accounting job when he’s here.”

“Thanks. When I said I wanted to do this at the New Year’s Eve party, I had no idea it would turn out like this. The food has been just what I’ve been wanting and it has been even better getting to know all of you and sharing…this,” said Bartholomew as he held up a giant tomato.

Claire laughed.

Xavier felt a twinge in his chest. The phrase “just what I've been wanting” rolled around in his head. There was no room for thoughts such as “I wonder if I can join them in their garden?” or “Bartholomew and his friends found something wonderful to do together, I wonder if I and my siblings could do something like that?” No, these thoughts did not go through his head. All Xavier could feel was that someone else had what they wanted, but he had nothing. Yes, he had a big home and lots of money, but he did not have that “thing” that he had been wanting. He determined right then and there that he would either take over the garden from Bartholomew or destroy it.

A low growl came from behind Xavier. He turned to see Hump-Pug baring her teeth at him. He chuckled to himself and
brought his hand down on the side of her head with a slap. Hump-Pug spun around but returned immediately with a threatening growl. Xavier reached back even further and slapped her even harder. He had a rush of excitement. He was about to hit her again when Bartholomew called out, “Geraldine!” The little dog looked at Xavier one more time and took off through the hedge and joined Bartholomew and Claire.


Xavier carefully peered over the hedge to watch the threesome leave the garden. “Geraldine? Why did that idiot call out my sister’s name?” wondered Xavier. He knew the girl with Bartholomew was named Claire. This made no sense to him. Did Bartholomew know he was behind the hedge? Xavier looked over the hedge down into the garden. A smile wriggled across his lips. He now knew how he was going to get this garden and ruin everything for Bartholomew. To make this work, he was going to have to sit down and contemplate awhile. Would he be contemplating his sense of jealousy, his need for revenge or the general misdirection of actions in his life? No, he wanted to make a plan that would destroy Bartholomew’s happiness.
___________________________________________________________  
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by Justin Terlecki

Sunday, February 12, 2017

31 - Tree of Want



Bartholomew went to see what all the noise was. Crows were cackling and cawing and making a terrible racket around the oak tree in his backyard. This particular tree was planted by Bartholomew’s great grandfather and was one hundred and fifty years old. There had been many stories over the years about this tree and the people who had lived with it. It is said that every member of Bartholomew’s family that lived in this house had seen many strange occurrences in this tree – sometimes even ghosts.


Bartholomew looked up into the tree to see what the crows were so scared of. There, on a branch about twenty feet off the ground was Oliver, Bartholomew’s cat.

“Oliver, you come down from there!’ cried Bartholomew.

Oliver peered down. His legs were shaking and his ears and tail were down.

“Oh, Oliver, are you stuck?”

Oliver let out a pleading meo-oooow.

Bartholomew grabbed onto a low stump of a branch and began to climb up the tree. The tree was easy to climb. Bartholomew had done it several times before as a kid. There are a few places where it is difficult to reach the next branch, but with a little effort one could climb almost to the top. Oliver quietly called out as Bartholomew got closer. As he came to the branch on which Oliver sat, Bartholomew realized that retrieving his cat might be more difficult than he expected. Oliver had chosen a branch hard to reach. Bartholomew wasn’t sure he could hold onto Oliver and climb back down at the same time.

“Oh, Oliver,” Bartholomew sighed as he surveyed the situation.

Oliver moved back and forth on the branch looking for an opportunity to jump onto Bartholomew’s head and get out of the tree. With his arms fully extended, Bartholomew pulled himself up onto the branch next to his cat.

“Welcome,” meowed Oliver. “Now get me outta here.”

“All right, just relax. I’ll figure out someway to get us down,” said Bartholomew.

He tucked his t-shirt into his pants and then picked up Oliver and tried to stuff him into his shirt through his collar. At first, Oliver resisted, but once his hind legs were in he got the idea. He tucked quietly in Bartholomew’s t-shirt with his head sticking out of the neck-hole underneath Bartholomew’s chin. Bartholomew was about to climb down when he heard the crows begin cackling and cawing again. He looked up into the tree. Another twenty feet above him, perched on a branch, was Henrietta, Claire’s chicken. Bartholomew had no time to wonder before Oliver said, “She’s stuck, too.”

“Oh, Henrietta,” sighed Bartholomew as he noticed her one wing hanging limp.

Bartholomew climbed down, let Oliver out of his shirt and ran to the garage to get a large burlap sack and some rope. He began to climb again. Henrietta was clucking nervously as Bartholomew came closer.

“I’m going to die. It’s all going to end,” said Henrietta.

Bartholomew straddled the branch on which Henrietta perched. She wanted to run away, but had nowhere to go. Bartholomew gently picked her up and examined her wing. It did not seem to be broken. Bartholomew hoped that it was just dislocated. He carefully placed Henrietta in the bag and tied the top closed with one end of the rope. The other end of the rope he tied to his belt. Bartholomew was about to climb down when he heard the crows begin cackling and cawing again. He looked up into the tree. Another twenty feet above him, lying on a branch, was Hump-Pug. Bartholomew had no time to wonder before Henrietta said, “She’s stuck, too.”


“Oh, Hump-Pug,” sighed Bartholomew.

Bartholomew climbed down and let Henrietta out of the sack. It seemed that her wing had popped back into place and she was now fine. She flapped and stomped on the ground yelling, “I survived, I survived! The end is still near!”

Bartholomew looked back up at Hump-Pug. If he put Hump-Pug into the sack and tied it to his belt, he thought his pants would probably fall down. She was just too heavy for the sack. How was he going to get her down? Bartholomew rubbed his chin as he thought. Then he ran into the house and came out with a backpack. “This should do it.”

Bartholomew began to climb again and was feeling very tired as he reached Hump-Pug. He had done a lot of climbing this afternoon. He rested for a moment on the branch next to the little dog.

“Hi, Hump-Pug,” said Bartholomew.

Hump-Pug did not answer. She lay down on the branch terrified. She knew that she could easily fall. She did not have claws like a cat. She did not have wings like a chicken. All she could do to prevent herself from falling was to lie as still as possible and let someone else help her down.

Bartholomew, after catching his breath, carefully picked up Hump-Pug and squeezed her into the backpack. Her head, with her ears down and her eyes large and terror-filled, stuck out of the top. Bartholomew thought she looked cute. He swung the bag around onto his back. Then, the shifting of the weight to his back was more than he expected and he lost his balance. He grabbed onto the branch with both hands and crossed his legs to stop from falling. Slowly, he pivoted and was hanging upside down from the branch. Hump-Pug wriggled in the bag.

“Stop! Don’t wriggle,” said Bartholomew as he tried to figure out what to do.

There was a branch below them. Perhaps Bartholomew could hold on with his hands while his feet could land on the branch below. But then he would have to balance on his feet with a wriggly Hump-Pug on his back. He did not like the odds of that being successful. He began to look around for another alternative when Hump-Pug wriggled again. Suddenly, Bartholomew heard the sound of a zipper. The dog’s weight was forcing the zipper to open. Falling from sixty feet would certainly kill Hump-Pug. Bartholomew’s brain flashed from one scenario to another, trying to think of a way out of this before his backpack gave way.

Zzzzziiiiiiiiipp!

Hump-Pug fell. The dog’s squeal filled the air. Bartholomew let go of the branch with his legs. His body swung backwards, his fingers barely holding onto the branch above. As his legs came down and back he crooked them. His only hope was to catch Hump-Pug with his feet. He didn’t have time to consider what would happen if this didn’t work.

Hump-Pug, as she left the backpack, became so filled with terror she had no control over her body; she urinated, she yelped out a sound she’d never made before, her hair stood on end and she had an overwhelming desire to perform her most basic instinct. She saw a leg and she latched onto it. She latched onto it with the strength of ten dogs three times her size. She closed her eyes, held on with all four legs and prayed to a dog-god she had never thought about before. To lose this leg would be to lose everything.

After a few moments, Hump-Pug realized nothing was changing. She slowly opened her eyes. She and Bartholomew were standing on a branch. Bartholomew was holding onto the trunk of the tree and slowly squatting to sit. With much effort, he pulled Hump-Pug off his leg and put her back in the backpack. This time he stuck her head all the way in and zipped the bag all the way closed. He climbed down to the ground. Hump-Pug did not wriggle one bit.

Oliver and Henrietta were waiting. Bartholomew placed the pack on the ground and sat with his back against the tree. He took a deep breath, not believing what had happened and how lucky he was to catch the falling dog with his feet. He unzipped the pack and out popped Hump-Pug.

Hump-Pug immediately ran up Bartholomew’s chest and licked his face: once, twice…a hundred times. She was wriggling her stumpy tail so hard she kept knocking her hind legs out from under her. She ran in circles and barked for joy at Henrietta and Oliver who squawked and hissed at her before running away. 



Hump-Pug ran back up Bartholomew’s chest and continued to lick him endlessly. Bartholomew held her back as best he could while laughing at seeing the little dog so grateful.

“Hump-Pug, all right, all right!” Bartholomew said as she licked his left eyeball.

He held the dog in his lap, her dark face looking up at his. Seeing her lolling tongue, her upturned nose and large yellow eyes made Bartholomew pause. Something seemed familiar. He rubbed her head and behind her ears. Exhausted from the ordeal and the celebration afterward, the pug lay in his lap and fell asleep to the gentle scratching and rubbing of Bartholomew’s fingers.

As she slept curled in his lap, Bartholomew wondered aloud, “Hump-Pug is no name for you.” He rubbed her head some more. “I think I’ll call you Geraldine.”
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Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrations by Mark Granlund