Sunday, June 11, 2017

40 - Ned the Accountant

Ned stared into the mirror. A dred hung limp and dirty over his forehead. He grimaced.

After breakfast, the young man lounged on the sofa scanning the want ads looking for a new life. He had called in sick yesterday to attend a couple of interviews for jobs he didn't really want. He sighed. He knew the jobs would not be offered to him. After so many interviews, Ned could tell when prospective employers were taking him seriously and when they were not. He rubbed his hands through his hair and couldn't help but think the interviewers hadn't liked his dreds.

“Really?” he said to the ceiling. “Is that why no one will give me a job? MY HAIR?!”

Ned lay on the couch for quite some time burning through excuses for his life like a chain smoker. Once he could no longer stand his own addiction, he groaned and rose up.

“Arrgggh!” he yelled as he stretched his torso, hands behind his head and elbows raised to the ceiling. “Fuck.”

Ned dragged himself back to the bathroom where he thought he was going to take a piss. Instead, he stood before the mirror. He stared at his own eyes – bloodshot. “That's what you get for playing computer games all night, you idiot,” he said to his reflection. Ned had indeed played several games until five o'clock in the morning. He slept for one hour and then woke to his alarm at six o'clock to get ready to go to the “Seventh Level of Doom.” That's what he called his job. Fortunately, Ned's skill-less job would not be affected by a lack of sleep.

The razor cut his thin skin here and there as it was hard to keep his head up while shaving. He fell asleep for a moment only to jerk awake with the sting of another, deeper cut. “Shit!” He grabbed toilet paper to stop the bleeding, but the thin white paper stuck to his wet fingertips instead of his face. A blur of flicking fingers tried to release the white patches from his skin. They would not come off. He flicked once more and caught his fingers on the edge of the mirror, scraping his knuckle and causing a trickle of blood. “Tsssss,” he breathed in pain and annoyance at himself. “Fuck.”

Ned decided that the bathroom was a dangerous place and went to his bedroom. He noticed a spot at the top of the door frame where he once hit his head. He went to his closet, and pulled out a dirty towel to wipe up the blood from his razor cut and on his knuckle. He then went back into the closet and pulled out a polo shirt and a pair of khaki pants. He slipped them on and surveyed himself in the mirror. His shirt was wrinkled in a couple of spots and his pants were stained and tattered at the bottom hem.

“Welcome, Mr.Ned. Please sit in the back of the room where you won't embarrass us,” he said to himself. He quickly pulled off his offending garments and went back to his closet. He surveyed the contents of his wardrobe – all polo shirts and cotton or denim pants. He did have one suit, nice shirt and a tie for special occasions. These were several years old and a little short in the leg and sleeve. “Fuck.”

He flopped on his unmade bed. How had he become such a loser, or was that who he had always been? He had the degree of an accountant but the wardrobe of an ultimate frisbee player. No wonder he couldn't get a better job.

“I don't want to dress differently! Suits and ties and dress shirts are uncomfortable. And dress shoes...ugh.” He twisted himself up in his bedspread and his sheets as he thrashed at his demons. Soon he found himself on the floor, arms pinned to his sides in his sheets. It was then that he realized he should have taken his “piss” earlier. Suddenly, his bladder was about to overflow. Ned tried to thrash his way out of what he thrashed himself into, with little effect. He rolled toward the door, but what good would that do if he couldn't get out of this straightjacket?

“Oh, what does it matter? I can't do anything right!”

Realizing it was too late to make it to the bathroom, he gave up. Ned felt the warm stream leave his penis and spread throughout his crotch. He felt his underwear cling to him. As he lay there, the warmth quickly dissipated and the urine-soaked clothes became cold He now gave up again and all of his muscles went slack. His head rolled on the floor and he lay there lifeless in a giant cocooning diaper of sheets and blanket. A long breath was forced out of his lungs with the collapsing weight of his chest. It was here that Ned should have given up one more time and cried. He should have let the frustration, the humiliation and embarrassment of the years flow out of him without concern. But he didn't. Being incontinent in his pants, though not ideal, was somehow more acceptable than being incontinent with his eyes.

After a bit, Ned finally removed himself from his prison. He balled up his sheets, blanket, underwear and pants and threw them in the laundry basket. He took a quick shower, put on dry clothes and then grabbed his basket and detergent and headed to the laundry room. He was going to be late for work, but he wanted to wash this bedding before it dried. He wouldn't be home when the washing machine was done, but if someone needed it, they would just pile his stuff on top. Like always.

Approaching the laundry room, Ned heard swearing and someone banging on the washing machines. As he entered, he saw Gerald trying to open the coin box on a dryer.

“Goddamn key!” Gerald hissed. He pulled violently at the coin box and then started beating on it. “Garrgh, flister mick, bick, fuhstung, blahhhh bak, fertimeigahugen.” Gerald had started swearing in non-sensical language – this was not a good sign.

“Hello Gerald,” said Ned. “Having trouble with the coin box?”

“Wha? Oh, yeah,” said Gerald who barely glanced at Ned. After spitting on the key and then inserting it again into the lock on the box, Gerald took a closer look at Ned. “Ted?”

“It's Ned.”

“Ned... Ned? Is Ned short for something?” puzzled Gerald.

“Yes,” responded Ned.

“Hey, you're the kid who... you done any growing up lately?” asked Gerald.

Ned was unsure what Gerald meant by this. Then he remembered Gerald was there that day he had a growth spurt of epic proportions. “Oh yeah, uhm, no. No, I haven't grown up lately.”

Gerald laughed. “I didn't mean you haven't grown up, like, I mean, like you haven't matured. I meant grown taller.”

Ned assured him again that he had not grown taller lately either.

Gerald laughed again. “I mean, I'm sure you’re an adult and you don't pee in your pants or anything like that anymore.”

Ned turned red as a beet and quietly put his laundry basket on the washing machine behind him. Gerald continued beating on the coin box. Ned put his wash, detergent and coins into his machine. He then watched Gerald for a few minutes as he continued swearing at the coin box.

Sure that he knew Ned from some other situation, Gerald stopped suddenly and turned on Ned. “You have friends, don't you?”

“Um, yeah,” replied Ned knowing full well that he had kicked his girlfriend out of the apartment and walked out on Bartholomew, Topping and Charlotte just a few days earlier.

“What do you do when you get together?” asked Gerald.

“Well, we eat, we talk, we do things, you know.”

“No, I mean, like, what kind of activities do you like to do? Like on the weekends,” continued Gerald getting closer to Ned.

“Oh, I don't know. Go to concerts, drink beer, work in a garden.” Gerald's eyes lit up on the word “garden.”

“Are you close to those friends you garden with?” asked Gerald who was now practically on top of Ned.

“Of course,” boasted Ned defiantly. “Bartholomew, who started the garden, is my best friend. Why?”

“Never mind,” replied Gerald who then went back to beating on the coin box. Though it looked as if Gerald was focused on the small black cube with a key stuck in it, he no longer was.

“What kinda job you got?” asked Gerald.

Ned hesitated. “A sucky one.”

Gerald laughed. Then he yelled “Goddamn it!” as he gave the small box one last slam with his fist and hurt himself.

“You okay?” inquired Ned with some concern.

“Yeah, I'll be okay. Had worse,” replied Gerald. “D'yah think you could try opening that box one time. It won't budge for me.”

“I'm sure you know more than me about these things,” said Ned.

“C'mon, just one try,” pleaded Gerald.

Ned approached the washing machine with the locked coin box. He eyed the key and the box cautiously. He surveyed all of its sides. Then he reached his hand out, grabbed the key, turned it clockwise and pulled. The coin box came right out, almost as if it was falling into Ned's hands.

“Shiiiiit,” said Gerald. “You’re pretty damn good with money.”

“No, it just came out. Really, I didn't do anything.”

“You're too modest,” said Gerald. “I'd say you're a near genius when it comes to getting money.”

“No, really, I didn't do anything. It just opened up.”

“Son, let me tell you,” continued Gerald, “I have learned that the genius to making money is not knowing where the money is. Hell, that's easy. The real key is accessing the money. And you just showed me you are one hell of an accessor.”

Ned handed the full coin box to Gerald. “Here, I gotta go,” he said as he headed for the door.

“Where you going so fast?” queried Gerald.

“I gotta get to my job, I'll be late.”

“But I thought you said it was 'sucky.' Why rush off to something you hate?”

“Uh...because it’s my only way to make money,” responded Ned.

“Listen, son, there are a million ways to make money. What do you want to do? How is it you want to make money?”

Ned stood in the door for a moment wondering why he was still here talking to Gerald. But talk to him he did. “I want to be an accountant.”

“Is that it?” laughed Gerald. “Shit, you're an accountant then. How does that feel?”

“What do you mean?”

“You are now my accountant. Or I should say one of my accountants. You can start tomorrow. If that's all you want to do in life, then that's what you can do for me. I've seen you extract money from something that was unextractable. Hell, you'll do just fine.”

“Wha...what do you mean? Are you saying you're hiring me?” asked Ned in disbelief.

“Isn't that what I just said?” asked Gerald as he poured the coins out of the box and into his pocket. “You can start tomorrow. Be at my office downtown at 8:00 am sharp. Maybe while you're accounting for me you'll figure out what you really want to do. But until then, I'll tell you what to do.”

“Okay,” Ned said happily. “I'll be there with bells on.”

“Bells are fine,” said Gerald while taking stock of Ned. “But no polo shirts and khakis. I run a professional joint.”

“No problem,” said Ned as clothing stores started scrolling through his mind.

“Yes, we will see,” said Gerald as he returned the coin box to its machine. Ned headed for his apartment and was halfway down the hall when Gerald closed the laundry room door. “And get rid of the dreds!” yelled Gerald. Ned stopped. When he turned to ask Gerald why he would have to cut his dreds, Gerald had already left the building.

“Fuck,” said Ned.

Gerald walked to his pick-up truck with a calculating smile on his face. “Yes, we will see. We will see.”
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by Matt Wells

Monday, May 22, 2017

39 - Get Out of Jail

Bartholomew was escorted to a room where Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine were waiting. Aunt Josephine rushed to Bartholomew and gave him a big hug.

“We're so sorry we didn't get home sooner. We just feel awful that you stayed in here for three days. If we had known we would have rushed down here immediately,” apologized Aunt Josephine.

“Yes, we heard your message as we were heading home this morning. We're sorry,” said Uncle Jeffrey. “We turn off our phones when we get to the cabin. I guess we should leave one on or check one regularly. We're very sorry.”

Bartholomew didn't care about their reasons, he was just thankful that they were there at last and could help straighten everything out.

“Will you explain to them that I wasn't growing the marijuana?!” pleaded Bartholomew.

“We already have,” said Uncle Jeffrey. “We told them that Mr. McBarden was growing it and that the rest of us had no idea. They said that you had just discovered the ma... marijuana just before they got there.”

“It’s true!” confirmed Bartholomew, “I had just gathered one stem and was going to wait until you got home to figure out what to do. I didn't know how to handle something like that.”

“I would have just called the police,” interjected Aunt Josephine.

“But Mr. McBarden is my neighbor,” said Bartholomew. “Perhaps we should have talked to him and asked him to get rid of it. If he didn't, then we could have called the cops.”

“I have to agree with Aunt Josephine,” responded Uncle Jeffrey. “When it comes to breaking the law, you should just call the police and let them deal with it. After all, what has Mr. McBarden done? Nothing! He is home all the time and he must have seen what happened. Has he come down here to help you out? No. Now we know why he was so protective of his plot.”

Bartholomew squirmed a little. He liked to give people a chance. “So you don't think confronting Mr. McBarden would do any good?” he asked.

“Bartholomew,” Uncle Jeffrey said very sternly, “did Mr. McBarden ever check out the property lines and get the okay from the railroad?”

“He said he did. He said everything was fine.”

“That's what he said, but you don't know if he actually did it, do you?”

Suddenly, Bartholomew felt sick in his stomach. When they were starting the garden, Uncle Jeffrey had reminded Bartholomew several times to check on the property lines and utilities. Bartholomew wasn't sure how to go about doing this, and he put it off. Then Mr. McBarden assured him that everything was okay. It was Bartholomew's fault that the garden was built on railroad property without permission. He felt like throwing up.

Bartholomew quickly changed the subject. “How are Geraldine and Oliver?” he asked.

“We stopped by your house and fed them. Poor Geraldine had been outside on the stoop waiting for you. She has become so sweet. Oliver was Oliver. He was glad someone was there to give him food. He lectured us for quite awhile. I'm sure he’ll do the same to you when you get home.”

“Well, thank you for taking care of them,” said Bartholomew with relief.

“And Bartholomew,” Uncle Jeffrey added, “you should know that the garden, at least the part on railroad property, has been, uh, removed.”

Bartholomew sat quiet. “You mean Mr. McBarden's marijuana was removed?”

“No, all of the garden on railroad property, more than half the entire garden, was cut down, dug up and sprayed by the railroad company. All the vegetation was left to rot. It looks awful,” Uncle Jeffrey said apologetically.

All that work destroyed? Bartholomew was stunned. He remembered the day he was told his parent's had died. This day was a small echo of that day, Bartholomew had lost something important.

“Can I get out of here?” asked Bartholomew.

“They said it would be a little bit longer, but you should be able to go home with us. They just had to look into a couple of things,” assured Uncle Jeffrey.

The three of them sat in the room together and talked about the garden. They talked about what a great idea it had been and how sad it was to have lost it. By the time the police officer had entered the room to let Bartholomew go home, he was feeling much better about all these unfortunate circumstances.

“Well, you're free to go,” said the officer. “We checked up on this Mr. McBarden character and found out that he had three previous citations for possession of marijuana. So your story checks out and, as I said, you're free to go.”

Bartholomew slumped in his chair with relief.

“Here are your possessions,” said the officer as he placed a tray with a wallet, keys and a comb in front of Bartholomew. “Please make sure everything is there. Here is some paperwork we need you to sign – it's just documentation of your arrest and release. When you are done with this, you can hand the paperwork to the man out front and then you can be on your way. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.” With that, the officer left the room.

Bartholomew scanned the tray and flipped through his wallet to see that everything was there. He signed the papers and he, Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine headed home.

It was dark when Bartholomew arrived at his house. Geraldine greeted him at the door with some jumps and licks and one slight little hump of the leg. Oliver cooly came running, not wanting to announce his excitement at seeing Bartholomew. The three of them huddled and petted and patted and were happy to be together again. Bartholomew flipped the light on in the kitchen to get them both a treat.

“I am so sorry to have left you alone for three long days. Especially you, Geraldine. I am so sorry you were stuck outside without food.”

“Actually,” purred Oliver, “with her palette she had a veritable smorgasbord at the neighbors garbage can. I, on the other hand, cannot operate a can opener.”

Oliver pounced on the treat Bartholomew offered.

“This was on your door,” said Uncle Jeffrey handing Bartholomew an envelope. It was from the mayor's office. Bartholomew opened the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of paper with the City logo and the name Mayor Dick underneath it and an address for the Office of Licensing and Inspections across the top.

It has come to the attention of the City that you have been practicing urban food production on City property without a license. Pursuant to City policy for Food Production and Vendors of Consumables, you must be in possession of a license to produce and sell food products within city limits. The fact that these products are also produced on City owned property without a variance is not in compliance of city code: statute 23, paragraph 16, section 4a.

In light of these infractions, it is requested that you cease and desist with activities listed above within two weeks of receiving this letter or the City shall pursue appropriate action to end said activities as stated in the City Licensing Response policy, page 142, paragraph 4.

If you have any questions, please go to the City website and print out form 4967-J, fill it out, and submit it to the Department of Licensing and Inspection, City Hall, room 426c+b.

Have a good day, Inspector Richardson

Bartholomew stared at Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine in bewilderment. Aunt Josephine took the letter from Bartholomew and read it out loud to Uncle Jeffrey. When finished she crinkled up the paper and threw it on the floor and muttered the word “darn.”

“They can't take that garden away from us,” she said defiantly.

“What can we do? We only have two weeks,” protested Bartholomew.

“I don't know what we can do, but we can think of something,” Uncle Jeffrey added a little uncertainly.

Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey began to discuss possibilities for saving the garden. Bartholomew's mind drifted away from the conversation. It was hopeless. The railroad doesn't want the garden on their property. The city doesn't want the garden on their property. How could they save it?

Bartholomew slid out the front door and walked down to the garden at the end of the block. Geraldine tagged behind. Even in the dark, the destruction looked horrifying. Black massive piles of vegetation, lit by a distant streetlight, lay across the ground. The garden that still remained revealed a trampled silhouette. He sat down on one of the chair-stumps and picked Geraldine up in his arms. Bartholomew stared at the twisted piles of blackness. Geraldine stared at Bartholomew's face.

“You know, Geraldine, this was the best thing I have ever done.” He picked up a tomato near his feet and tossed it into the void.

“I have no idea how to even make a complaint to the city, much less fight them on this. I couldn't even figure out stuff about the property lines. I feel so dumb.”

Geraldine wriggled a bit and then reached up and licked his face. It was kind of slimy, but it made Bartholomew feel better.

“Why am I even here looking at it; I can't see anything. I can't see in the dark. And it will probably look even worse in the light.”

Geraldine snuggled up against his chest and let out a quiet sympathetic whine.

Bartholomew remembered the first time he met his dog. Everyone called her Hump-Pug. It was just after they finished planting the garden. She had come right up to Bartholomew and humped his leg while he was studying Topping’s paint job on his Peugeot. He remembered the crazed look in her eyes as she humped from one person to the next. He remembered her coming around to his house and the garden often over the summer. He assumed she was living somewhere along the railroad tracks. He wondered how she had ended up in the tree in his back yard that one day a few weeks ago. He realized that tonight Geraldine was not trying to hump his leg, she was not crazed and desperate. She was comforting him. The garden would soon be gone, but Geraldine was still here. Despite the horrible few days he had had, oddly enough, Bartholomew was ending this day thankful.
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by Mark Granlund

Sunday, May 21, 2017

38 - Broken Dreams

The cute little pug was feeling much better after having recovered from eating marijuana. But it had been two days since she had seen Bartholomew. She was beginning to worry, especially since she had to go back to her old ways of scavenging food. Where could he be? He had never been gone this long before. She waited for him by his house and at the garden at the end of the road.

That afternoon, while she napped on the front steps of Bartholomew’s house, a van pulled up to the garden. It was big and had all kinds of letters on the side. Out came two men. Geraldine was hoping one of them was Bartholomew. Seeing that neither was him, she went back to napping. They opened the back of the van and pulled out tall tripods and a couple of cases. The men looked over a map and then placed the tripods in the garden. From the cases they took instruments for measuring distances. For the next twenty minutes they took measurements throughout the garden and all the way to the railroad tracks. At times they would spray paint on the ground.

Geraldine was not liking the look of this and decided to go tell the two men. She ran down the street and barked at them. They turned around quickly to see what ferocious beast was going to attack them, and then they laughed and continued working. Geraldine got within a couple of feet of one of them and barked as loud and a fast as she could. He paid no attention to her. She went to bark at the other man, but he just turned and walked farther away with his equipment. Geraldine was not happy that they were ignoring her. She went right up to one man and barked only inches from his shoe. He looked wary for a moment but then continued his work. Geraldine began to panic a little bit. Why weren’t they stopping what they were doing? She felt a little helpless and didn’t know what else to do, so she mounted the man’s leg and began to hump.

Now the man paid attention.

“Get off me,” the man said as he shook his leg. Geraldine did not let go. He reached down and grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and yanked her off his leg.

“What should we do with this, Charlie?” asked the man to the other.

“Put it in the van,” said Charlie.

The man threw Geraldine into the back of the van, slammed the door shut and went back to his work. Ten more minutes went by without a sound from the men. Geraldine was alert. She was alert and ready for anything. With her heightened senses she smelled something, something tunafish-like. She found a brown bag just behind one of the seats. It smelled like tunafish sandwiches, an apple and potato chips. She was about to dig in to it and eat it, but decided instead to pee on it instead.

Meanwhile, the men outside finished measuring the edge of the railroad property and marked it on the ground. They called another crew to tell them they were finished. Five minutes later, Geraldine heard another vehicle drive up. The men discussed some things about the markings on the ground that identified railroad property and then she heard loud noises. The new crew started up their weed whips and brush cutters. A couple of men removed all of the wire cages and solid objects and then the others started walking through the garden and mowing it down.

Mr. McBarden’s plot, which had already been cut down by the police because he had been growing marijuana, was trimmed even lower and his hedge removed. Bits of red tomato whipped through the air and splattered the men’s pants. Carrots and beets were sliced in half as the men dug them up. Lettuces, green onions, herbs and radishes were cut to a nub. And Bartholomew’s beautiful towering kale fell mangled and distorted like a broken body. What wasn’t completely cut to the ground was tromped on by the men’s boots – smashed back into the ground from which it came. If that weren’t enough, the men then sprayed the garden with an herbicide. Some of the liquid death drifted to the part of the garden not on railroad property. Their work was thorough and complete.

About two thirds of the garden was on railroad property. When the men were finished, that part of the garden looked like a pile of weeds. The part of the garden not on railroad property had been trampled by the workers and didn’t look much better than the rest. The railroad company left the pile of plants where it lay. It didn't matter if it was a mess, they just didn’t want someone growing a garden on their property. In reality, they didn’t really mind someone growing a garden on this piece property, but the owner of the railroad owed Gerald a favor.

The men put away their equipment and headed to their vehicles. The van door opened and Geraldine saw gloved hands come at her. The man didn’t grab the scruff of her neck quite right and it hurt when he picked her up. The little dog barked and winced as the man threw her into the garden. Geraldine landed hard and slammed into a log stump. The men laughed and drove away.

Geraldine lay still for a while. It hurt her ribs to breathe. Eventually, she stood up and wandered through what was the garden. Tomato plants lay bent and crumpled on top of each other. Pepper plants and eggplants were shredded almost beyond recognition. The rows of vegetables were no longer distinguishable as the vegetation lay as a thick mat of green on the ground. Geraldine thought about Bartholomew and how this was his food. She felt a deep sympathy at the thought that Bartholomew would no longer have the food he loved. She gave a short mournful howl that made her ribs seer with pain. Not sure what else to do, she ambled back to his front steps. She lay down against the door hurt.

Inside the house, Oliver had seen the whole event from a window. Not usually one to swear, Oliver had hurled a few cat expletives at the men as he witnessed the destruction. Having watched Geraldine get hurt and amble back to the house, Oliver lay against the inside of the front door. There the two friends talked to each other quietly through the wooden barrier, supporting each other and wondering what had happened to their best friend.
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustration by James O'Brien

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

37 - The Garden Exposed

The small dog moved in and out of the rows of vegetables. Bartholomew picked the produce and filled a bowl; red peppers, green peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, radishes, carrots and lettuce. He had finished all the rows as Geraldine frolicked and dug and sniffed and peed.

“Geraldine, no!” commanded Bartholomew.

The little dog cowered and then moved out of the garden to finish her business. Bartholomew and Geraldine, and even Oliver, have become quite good companions. Geraldine’s uncontrollable urge to hump objects had declined. She occasionally mounted something and started to hump, but this seemed to occur only as much as with a normal dog – well almost normal. Once in awhile Bartholomew would have to remind her not to hump something, or someone, and Geraldine obeyed.

For her part, Geraldine had become more content having a home with Bartholomew. With regular attention she has become less needy. It has been quite a remarkable change. Many of Bartholomew’s friends can’t believe the difference, and some of them still call her Hump-Pug. Bartholomew discourages this whenever he can.

For Bartholomew, having the little companion has been satisfying. The moment he saved her from falling out of the tree in his backyard, Bartholomew came to know a quiet and appreciative side of Geraldine. He also appreciates a pet that will spend time with him in the garden. Oliver is not interested in gardening.

For Oliver, this dog has been an adjustment. He does not like sharing his “animal space” with another. He also is not happy with Bartholomew’s affections going elsewhere. But Oliver’s concerns have been mitigated because Bartholomew still does whatever his cat tells him and Hump-Pug (that is what Oliver still calls Geraldine) has not been intrusive. Geraldine is happy to have her own space and not go near Oliver (who is bigger than her and has claws.) All in all, Oliver and Geraldine have worked out their differences. This has pleased Bartholomew greatly because, at the moment, all of his friends are mad at each other and he has been left alone to tend the garden. His Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine help at times, but they have been on a lot of weekend trips to their cabin.

The sun shone all summer and made the vegetables abundant. This really was the perfect spot to put a garden. Lots of sunshine, water from Mr. McBarden’s hose and near to Bartholomew’s home. The garden was his solace. His friends had come together over the garden, and the summer had been filled with many satisfying conversations while planting, weeding, harvesting and eating. Although the garden was now just his, Bartholomew was pleased with the outcome. His life was richer and healthier. What more could he ask for?

Geraldine, after running ahead of Bartholomew, would run back to him jump onto his leg with her front paws and then run away again; always taking off, always checking in. Sometimes she would chase away a snake or a squirrel. She liked to bark at birds and even the occasional large insect. When a large train would come by she would sometimes run away or sometimes defend her ground. But still, once in awhile, she would mount a log, a tree, a rake, a tomato cage, a telephone pole, etc.

“Oh, Geraldine,” said Bartholomew, “I’m so happy you’re here gardening with me. I miss my friends. I don’t know why they have to be so mad at each other.”

Normally, when Bartholomew talked to his cat Oliver, Oliver responded by sharing his wisdom and experience. Geraldine was different. When Bartholomew talked to her, she just looked at him with her tongue out and waited for him to say the word “food.” It quickly became apparent to Bartholomew that discussions with Geraldine are one way. He picked up a carrot and threw it. Geraldine gave chase. She took it in her mouth but, not liking the taste, very quickly dropped it and pranced back to Bartholomew. This time he picked up a stick and threw it. The stick landed near Mr. McBarden’s plot of vegetables. A brown blur of fur missed the stick and crashed through Mr. McBarden’s perimeter hedge. Bartholomew waited for the pug to return. She didn’t.

Bartholomew started this garden with the help of old Mr. McBarden, his neighbor. Although he was a bit cranky, Mr. McBarden had been helpful when dealing with property line issues and letting the gardeners use water from his house. When divvying up the plots, Mr. McBarden insisted on having the furthest plot and planting a hedge around it. He said the hedge would keep the vermin out. He seemed a little old and a little kooky so everyone let him have what he wanted. Bartholomew had seen his neighbor watering the garden and tending to his plot, but he had never peered over Mr. McBardon’s hedge to see what he was growing. And now Geraldine had disappeared behind the hedge.

“Geraldine, come!” commanded Bartholomew. No response.

“Geraldine! Come here, girl. C’mon!” Nothing.

Bartholomew began to worry a little bit, “Geraldine?”

Maybe she was just busy humping something in Mr. McBarden’s plot Bartholomew thought.

“Geraldine? C’mon. Come here.”

There was a little stirring in the hedge and then out popped Geraldine covered with plants and walking a little wobbly.

“There you are. C’mere Geraldine. C’mon,” said Bartholomew.

Geraldine stumbled over to Bartholomew. He pulled the plants off of her. He looked into her dilated eyes. He looked at the plants he pulled off her. He looked into her eyes again. The plants he pulled off of her were marijuana! Bartholomew put his head in his hands as a sick feeling grew in his stomach. He walked over to Mr. McBarden’s hedge, parted it and stepped inside. Mr. McBarden’s entire plot was pot.

“Oh, no,” sighed Bartholomew.

Geraldine bumped into Bartholomew’s leg.

“What am I going to do?” he asked the pug. “I guess I should pull one and show it to Uncle Jeffrey. He’ll know what to do about this. I just can’t believe this is what Mr. McBarden has been doing all summer.”

Bartholomew uprooted one of the marijuana plants and bent down to pick up Geraldine. Through the hedge he heard the screeching of tires, the slamming of doors and the sound of feet running into the garden. He burst out of the hedge to see what was going on.

“Freeze!” a policeman shouted aiming a gun at Bartholomew. Bartholomew froze with a stoned pug in one hand and a marijuana plant in the other. The police rushed at him and knocked him to the ground. Geraldine went flying but seemed unaware of what was going on around her. They cuffed Bartholomew and dragged him to their car.

“What are you doing?” asked Bartholomew.

“We are arresting you for growing and possessing an illegal substance. You have the right to remain silent…”

“But I wasn’t growing it! Mr. McBarden was,” protested Bartholomew.

“You have the right to remain silent…”

Bartholomew listened to the police officer and then answered questions in the back seat of the squad car. When he was done, another officer asked him questions, mostly the same questions, while the first officer confiscated some of the marijuana plants. Bartholomew answered all of the questions again and then another vehicle pulled up to the garden. The police officers conferred with each other, pointed the new officers to the plot and then got into the car with Bartholomew. As they pulled away from the garden, Bartholomew could see Mr. McBarden’s plot being destroyed with brush cutters.

He could see Geraldine meandering toward his house and wondered who would take care of her while he was detained. He thought he also saw a head peer out of the window of Mr. McBarden’s house and then disappear.

When they reached the police department, Bartholomew was asked another bunch of questions, many of them the same ones he already answered, and had his fingerprints taken. He was allowed to make one phone call. Upon hearing the answering machine at Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine’s house, he realized they were gone for the next three days at their cabin. He didn’t know any lawyers. Who could he call? Bartholomew had never felt so alone in his life. He worried about Oliver and Geraldine but then, after thinking it over, he worried about himself.
Written by Mark Granlund 
Illustrated by Jill Yankee

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.


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