Friday, December 26

[a work in progress] (Part III)

A story.

A sailor goes on a voyage and takes a monkey with him. Once out to sea, they encounter a violent storm that capsizes and sinks their ship, leaving the crew (and the monkey) with no recourse but to swim for shore. But the crew - weary from their journey - cannot make it all the way and drown, leaving the monkey to fend for himself. A dolphin, however, comes along and - mistaking the monkey for a man - offers to carry him to shore (because, as everyone knows, dolphins are natural friends of men). When the dolphin arrives at the shores of Athens with the monkey on his back, he asks the monkey if he is an Athenian. The monkey says that not only is he an Athenian, but the son of a rich shipbuilder. When the dolphin asks, however, if he knows of Piraeus (the famous harbor in Athens), the monkey boasts that he is actually best friends with Piraeus, thinking that the dolphin meant a man of that name. Seeing the monkey’s guise uncovered thusly, the dolphin then drowned him in the water.

For starters, Theo was always confused by the notion that dolphins were man’s best friend. He thought that was dogs. Maybe it just meant dolphins and men were on good terms. Either way, Theo’s never seen dolphins do anything but jump really high and make funny noises.

Also, why a monkey? As he recalls, sailors out of Messina only needed two things for a long voyage: wine and dice. Maybe it was a sex thing.

Under the deep shadow of the olive tree outside his family’s farm, Theodoros’ teacher said the story was a parable. With the stink of goat piss and manure wafting from the nearby pens, he said that dishonesty, sooner or later, lands you in deep water.

Fast forward several hundred years. Theo sees that the monkey, his only mistake, was not knowing when to shut up. A lie can keep you alive.

Ask Theo about his background and he’ll tell you the truth: how he was born in a small town, traveled a lot, and worked several odd jobs before he found the one he’s at now.

Ask him how old he is and he‘ll say “thirty-eight”.

Lie. Singular.

More than one and you’re just pushing it.

Right now, Theo is trying to remember any recent falsehoods he’s uttered. Something that would make the wrong people take notice. Something that might cause armed men in strange masks to point firearms at him.

There’s a loud pop and the driver’s side window spider-webs from the bullet’s impact. The angle it hits at sends it pinging up into the rearview mirror, shattering that as well and knocking it loose. Instinct makes Theo cover his head and dive sideways onto the passenger seat.

There’s a pause. No more shots. They must think he’s dead. Theo hears a car door open. He can’t stay here. Theo reaches for the passenger door’s handle.

An unholy choir of gunfire erupts. Windows shatter. Upholstery rends. Theo throws the passenger door open and heaves himself out of the car.

He’s nearly run over as the car in the right hand lane speeds off. Theo watches it barrel through the red light only to collide with another vehicle. Tires screech and metal squeals as two more instantly join the pile-up.

Theo huddles against the car, keeping below the windows for fear of any ricochets. The driver’s side tires blow out. The car shakes from the hail of bullets. For lack of anything else to do, a few people are screaming.

Theo wonders if anybody has bothered to call the cops. He also wonders how much longer his assailants will continue to shoot the now empty car.

The shooting stops again.



Oh shit.

“Excuse me?” A voice. From the other side of the car. Theo hears multiple car doors opening.

“Mmhy mhhre mhu mhr!” Muffled. One of the masked guys.

“I couldn’t help but notice the minor apocalypse you’re visiting upon that vehicle…” the voice continues.

“Mhm’t mhme mmy mhmmer!” a second assailant attempts to threaten.

“I just wanted to extend my compliments. It’s nice work, for amateurs.”

“Mhmt’s mn mhe mhg?” another asks.

“The bag? Oh, just… things.”

Theo peeks over the rear of the car. Three of the masked guys have gotten out of the car while a fourth one covers them from the open sunroof. Their attention and their guns are now fixated upon the newcomer standing in the middle of the street: a tall, lean, ethnic-looking young guy dressed in browns and greens. Slung casually over his shoulder is an olive-green duffel bag that’s almost as big as him.

Theo wonders if he’s some kind of terrorist. Or a starving artist.

Maybe a starving terrorist artist.

Whatever he is, the guy casually approaches the semi-circle of potential ballistic death now facing him. With three handguns and an automatic rifle leveled at this head, he asks: “So, what’s with the masks?”

No response.

“Used to be, we just wore lots of black and did everything at night.”

No response.

“No, uh, no drive-bys with ARs during rush hour. In broad daylight.”

No response. A couple gunmen fidget nervously.

“Do you guys still hire through CraigsList?”

One of them lifts his mask enough to speak, asks: “Who the hell are you?”

“Eben. I used to run with the Fort Myers crew a few years back. Recognized the Mark… ”

He points to the others’ masks.

“…and thought you could use a little help.”

“Does it look like we need help?” the speaker asks.

The new guy - Eben - looks over to see Theo crouching behind the bullet-riddled car. The group follows his gaze.

“It looks like you just spent four minutes not killing someone” Eben remarks.

The speaker mumbles something.

“Excuse me?”

“I said ‘Shock and Awe’. That’s the new direction they’re taking things. Gave up on covert stuff a while back, I guess.”

“You guess?”

The speaker shrugs. “We’ve only been doing this for about a month.”

“Mhmhpt mmr Mhrl,” One of the others says.

“Oh yeah, except for Carl,” the speaker says, pointing to the guy hanging out the sunroof. “He’s been here for three.”

The gunman in question waves.

Eben waves back. To the speaker, says: “Can I see your gun?”

Theo becomes aware of the sound of sirens drawing near. He quickly begins to formulate a plan to preserve his worthless butt for just a few more precious seconds. If he can squeeze under the car, make it look like he’s managed to escape-

He doesn’t even have time to react to the sound of approaching footsteps. The guy named Eben is just suddenly there, looming over him. Startled, Theo stumbles back from his half-crouched stance and falls on his ass. Up close, Theo notices the kid’s lanky, with no real muscle on him. he starts to rise, easing into the beginning of a lunge. If he can get this asshole in a headlock-

Something in the kid’s eyes turns Theo’s blood cold.

As in, Eben looks at him and Theo suddenly feels his body temperature actually drop almost a whole degree. He lets out a sigh and falls back slowly against the car.

The sirens fade along with everything else. Eben looks a lot bigger all of a sudden.

Also, he’s holding a gun.

“Don’t worry” Eben says, leveling the weapon at Theo. “This shouldn’t hurt.”

Theo tries to voice his opinion to the contrary.

White light envelops him.


So that was a struggle. After some paralytic writer's block, I'm pretty sure how this thing is going to play out; we'll just have to see if it makes for a good story in the end. Apologies nonetheless for the wait. Hopefully we'll see each other no later than this time next week.

Oh, and a belated Happy Annual Gift Exchange Day to one and all!

Thursday, December 11

Theo (Part II?)

The restaurant over by the interstate is one of those kitschy, family joints with a bunch of crap tacked to the walls. Move posters vie for space alongside antique garden tools and signed headshots of celebrities who have never even heard of the place. Under the watchful glass eye of a fake buffalo head, Eben sits by the window, thumbing through a menu with great intent. A large black duffel bag sits propped up in the seat next to him.

“What can I get for you?”

Eben looks up to see a skinny young waiter in an apron hovering near him, notepad and pencil in hand.

“Not quite sure” Eben says, returning to the menu. “How are your salads?”

“Oh, they’re great.” A pause. Honky-Tonk music warbles from the overhead speakers. Seeing Eben‘s hesitation, the waiter asks “Do you want some more time?”

“You know what? Give me the -… No, I shouldn’t.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, it’s about your steak. See, the last time I ordered it here I woke up sick the next morning. Normally, such things would keep me from coming back to a place. But since I like your fries, I returned about a week later and decided to give it another go. I ordered a burger – well done – and went home feeling fine. Next day? Sick again. Mild food poisoning. Naturally, I assumed your meat was funky or something, so I steered clear of here for awhile…”

“Do you… want to see a manager?” the waiter asks, fidgeting.

Eben waves his hand dismissively. “No no no. You misunderstand me. A few days later, I went to one of the other grills down the block and ordered their prime rib. I spent the rest of the evening and most of the night confined to the bathroom. So I decided to try a little experiment. I went to the grocery store and picked up a small sirloin, came home, and slapped it on the grill. This thing looked like a charcoal briquette when I was done. I only ate half of it to be safe and yet, like clockwork, I’m sick again for another day after. Finally, I go to the doctor to see what‘s wrong. I give him the story I’ve told you and ask what the deal is. He tells me that, basically, I’m allergic to meat. Meat. I didn’t even think that could happen, you know? How can someone be allergic to meat? You ever hear of that?”

“Uh, no can’t say I have.”

“It’s crazy. So, in short, I think I’ll have a salad.”

“No problem” the waiter says, chuckling. “What dressing do you want?”

“Ranch, if you have it”

“Any cheese on that?”

“Uh, what do you have?”

The waiter ticks them off on his fingers. “Parmesan, Cheddar, Provolone, Feta…”

“Provolone is fine.”

“You want croutons?”

“Boy, you’re just full of questions, aren’t you?” Eben says as he puts down the menu and begins to rummage through the bag at his side.

The waiter just laughs.

“Let me ask you a question” Eben says as he pulls out the Sack of Binding and sets it on the table. Despite the glaring afternoon sun, the temperature in the room drops ever so slightly.

Eben points to the sack, says: “What is this?”

“Um… a bag?”

Eben blinks. Undeterred, he tries another angle.

“Well… okay. Not quite. What else might you call a bag?”


“What’s another word for ‘bag’?”

The waiter just stares, confused.

“Look, never mind” Eben stuffs the item back in his duffel, muttering to himself. Stupid. Nobody says “sack” anymore.

“So… did you want croutons?”

Eben retrieves a small ornate wooden box covered in strange runes and sets it on the table. The lights inside dim a little. In the corners and other places you don’t normally look, the shadows deepen slightly. A faint whispering can be heard.

“What is this?” he asks again.

“A… box?”

“Get in it.”

Eben opens the lid.

A choir of screams accompanies a great rush of wind. The lights flicker briefly.

A moment passes.

Ambient diner noise and muted conversation continue unabated. The Honky-tonk shifts into Bluegrass. In this way, the disturbance goes unnoticed. These things happen.

Eben returns the box (now humming slightly) to the duffel bag. He picks up the menu again. The waiter is gone.

After a while, a young hostess approaches.

“Sir? Have you been helped yet?” she asks.

“Actually, my server seems to have disappeared,” he says, handing her the menu. “Could I just have an iced tea? I‘m waiting for someone.” Another lie.

She leaves. Eben turns to stare out the window. He is thinking. Of what, we are better off not knowing.

We all wear masks. Eben just takes it one step further and dons the whole outfit. The one he’s in at the moment is a personal favorite, taken after the fall of Ctesiphon in the second century. Olive skin, dark eyes, and wavy black hair - a former smith’s apprentice. A little lanky and not all that muscular, sure, but as Eben would tell you, it’s not the size of your muscles that counts, it’s the fact that you’re inhabited by a malevolent entity older than the very notion of linear time.

That this entity now contents itself with collecting the refuse of a spiritually-bereft species at the end of its evolutionary chain is a source of minor shame for him.

Staring at the line of rush hour traffic oozing by outside the restaurant’s front windows, Eben is trying to ignore the fact that he just collected a theme restaurant table jockey. Eight hundred years ago, it was Mongol horsemen and Byzantine patricians.

Last month it was a busboy at Olive Garden.

Eben sighs, annoyed. The trend is not encouraging.

He’s staring at the duffel bag beside him when he hears a loud pop. Then, a series of them. A woman at a nearby table stands up, exclaiming. She’s pointing outside.

The road that runs by the restaurant is a major route leading to the interstate. Most afternoons, one can look out the large front windows at the traffic light and the long line of rush-hour commuters waiting before it. Currently, there is a tiny war being waged.

Eben notices, along with everyone in the restaurant, that a number of men have climbed out of a car and are peppering the one in the next lane with a hail of small arms fire. Everyone also notices that the men are all wearing white, eyeless masks with crude, black crosses painted over the face.

Eben alone knows who they are.

“Oh, geez.”

He looks over, the hostess is standing beside him, clutching a glass of iced tea as she watches the spectacle unfold.

Eben gets up, grabbing the duffle bag and slinging it over his shoulder. He takes the drink from her and downs half of it, then hands back the glass. She doesn’t seem to notice. He starts toward the front door. Towards the gunfire.

“Somebody should call the police” she says.

“Don’t bother” he intones.


Sooooo.... yeah. Not sure where that all came from. I sat down planning to take up Theo's predicament and this guy jumped out in his place. Hope you're enjoying it because I have no idea where the hell this is going. As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 3

Theo (Part I)

The platform on which Theo stands commands a view of the whole East dock. Below him, package handlers unload the contents of the trailers before them; pulling and prodding the stacks of boxes and miscellaneous goods onto the conveyor belts that wind between them and out into the warehouse. Theo is accustomed to the job. He’s quite good at watching people work.

Theo checks his watch. Twenty minutes until the end of the half. After that, it will be another hour before the shift is over. Theo’s wondering what he’ll have for dinner tonight. Meals are easy to plan when you’re cooking for one. It’s been a long time since he’s done otherwise. Not since his last wife died.

Theo’s thinking steak.

He’s also thinking about religion. About updating his faith. No one really pays tribute to Jupiter anymore and most contemporary dwellings don’t include larariums in their floor plans. Besides, if Christianity was good enough for Constantine….

A buzzer sounds over the intercom and the belts grind to a halt. A jam. Theo frowns at the interruption. Of its own accord, his hand lowers; seeking the pommel of the non-existent whip belted at his side.

Two thousand years ago, someone would have been flogged.

Today, in a time where laws prohibit that sort of thing, his fingers come to rest only on a small radio that he raises to speak into.

“What is it?” he asks of the small, black device.

“Belt five again,” it squawks. “One of Kevin’s savants tried to send a tire through.”

“Just fix it,” he replies, massaging the space between his eyes. Used to be, mistakes were punished. Things which would have earned someone a lashing nowadays received only a slap on the wrist. He’s done his best to combat laxity in the workplace, but somewhere between the requests for shorter breaks and mandatory brandings, his superiors always smile and find some reason to walk away.


Snapped from his reverie, Theo looks down to see a young man in a stained, sleeve-less t-shirt and faded jeans standing below the viewing platform.

“Can we go on break until they fix the jam? Kevin said to ask you.”

Nullus quies, servi!” Theo shouts.


He checks himself, sighs. No one speaks Latin anymore. Not correctly, at least.

“Go down to pre-sort. See if Angie needs any help while they work on this.”

The kid makes a face and Theo waits for him to roll his eyes. He doesn’t though, and Theo stops just short of telling him to go home for the day. Not that it would do any good. They’d be short another package handler and the kid would see it as more of a reward than anything.

He watches the young malcontent shuffle back to the other part-timer handlers; a dozen or so college dropouts and Liberal Arts majors. Most scowl at the news, some glancing towards Theo in obvious annoyance. No one questions him, though. As one, they turn and make their way grudgingly towards the dock’s West end.

By the time Theo leaves, it’s early evening and the sun is hanging low in the sky like the airburst of a nuclear blast, bathing everything in a red-orange glow. Squinting, he pulls out from the main gate into a creeping line of traffic that stretches down to the freeway’s on ramp.

Theo’s thinking about how much longer this will last.

Used to be, you could only bank on ten, maybe fifteen years in the same place before people started to notice. With the rise of the average lifespan, he’s been able to eke out at least thirty since the turn of the century. Where he’s at now, it’ll be thirty-four next Tuesday. He’s considered just staying put.

No one seems to notice much anymore. Or care.

Somewhere between the supermarket and the iPod people stopped trying to make history and started finding different ways to just re-live it.

Traffic light. He comes to a stop behind a mini-van. A worn bumper sticker reads: sh/Ch ney ’04. Someone has peeled most of it off.

Theo’s had to adapt many times in his very long life, but these past two centuries have been especially trying. It’s been hard to sit by and watch while each new empire makes the same stupid mistakes as the last.

Like the idiots managing the warehouse. Never mind that an eighteen-hundred-year-old Sicilian with centuries of experience managing/overseeing/whipping others is continually flooding your suggestion box with ways to improve productivity. Just ignore those because he’s going bald. Listen to the jackass with the MBA who thinks employees work faster if there’s an HDTV in the break room.

No surprise. The aedile of Messina refused to listen when Theo came to him with concerns over the growing number of slaves in the work force – how the amount of unpaid labor might eventually cheapen wages for free men. Between wet, hacking coughs from the cancer which had yet to take his life, the old man laughed at a destitute slaver’s apparent attempts to influence the market. A few centuries later, there was no market, no wages, and every free man that hadn’t died in vain to defend the empire in Europe was gearing up for a lifetime of indentured servitude.

Welcome to the Dark Ages. We hope you like castles.

Theo’s window is down so he’s able to hear the tapping. He glances over to his left.

A beaten, primer-grey Ford waits in the lane next to him. What he notices first about the four occupants is that they’re all wearing the same mask; a simple white thing with a large black cross crudely splashed up, down and across the front. He wonders where the eye holes are.

Then he notices the gun. Well, guns. Each guy has one.

The passenger facing Theo is tapping on the window with his. Seeing that he’s got his attention, he points to Theo.

Then he points to the gun.

A pause. Theo points to himself.

The man nods.

Theo points to the gun.

The man nods again.

Theo frowns.

The man shrugs.

Chaos ensues.