Strike

Jerry Willford stood at the register counter staring blankly at the clerk.  He didn’t want to repeat himself though he was keenly aware of the other customers lined up impatiently behind him. 

“One hundreds or regular?” The boy asked, eyebrows raised rudely, unimpressed by the height of the large man in front of him. 

“Uh, regular.” The sixty-two year old man that none of his coworkers had ever pegged at being much older than forty-five replied.

It had been forever since the last time he had smoked a cigarette.  And he didn’t like to remember.  It was the day after Maude had died.  He swore never to remarry after his first wife left him and took their children.  A few weeks before Christmas when Maude was still alive she had handed the phone to him. 

“She’s askin’ for Jeremiah Willford.”  Maude had said, a look on her face that he didn’t think was too strange since she had started cancer treatments already and the once thin lines had deeply furrowed on her face. 

“Hello.” He said in a casually gruff voice.

“Yes, this is Sarah Kavans.  I… I’m your granddaughter.”

The girl knew his daughter and ex-wife’s detailed personal information. Things not even Jerry knew but had to guess were correct.  A few years earlier his ex-wife had been in an accident and died.  She, the girl, or woman, Sarah, didn’t want anything, no money, promises.  She seemed happy, with a new family, a respectable woman’s career.  She wanted to send cards, keep in touch, visit soon, over the summer, next, or the one after that. 

Jerry tried to keep the tone upbeat, but it was hard.  He still hadn’t accepted that Maude might not be around next Christmas, or possibly even by summer.  There was hope sure.  The pastor had told them there was always hope.  But that wasn’t exactly what the doctor had said. 

As the old tan truck approached the rally site he saw they were already huddled together near the wood burning canisters, holding various signs and Pete the leader, usually a thorn in everyone’s side until now, when all was thorns with the megaphone around his neck.  Jerry grabbed the bag of individually wrapped pastries from the passenger’s seat, stepped out and took the large, tall sign and folding chair from the back and with hand’s full ambled towards the early morning crowd that would be there all day before the real action would even begin, mostly when Pete’s nemesis and fellow loiterer at the water cooler during better times, Mike Arnold showed up. 

Cindy Cropsey handed him a steaming cup of coffee that he took graciously, without opening or handing her the bag of Swedish pastries baked the night earlier that he knew she was eying.  She was one of the few women that didn’t noticeably recoil on touching his ruined hands.  He could still just barely feel the punch level when lined up with the metal and ceramic plugs as they came off the line.  When it felt right he squeezed and the metal band punched through and around the bolt, always with an even number (the other side from where he worked always presumably with the odd).   The ones that were broken or misshapen made an audible plunk as they got to the next station down the line, that is unless Cindy or one of her alternates saw a problem or pushed the wrong button.  Occasionally on odd days when the ceramic had been painted over and he couldn’t tell if the connection was good he would let the bolts go, and undoubtedly the next day the line would be down for minutes and occasionally a lot longer while Mike and Andy Mitchum fidgeted around trying to look competent at repairing anything.  Sadistic grin hidden by looking straight down, without letting his now almost bottle rim thick glasses fall and wiping his brow repeatedly, he never took breaks anyway so the mandatory overtime didn’t ruffle him too much.  Pete on the other hand turned into a veritable litany of curses he had rarely heard since his Navy days.

They had been at it going on forty-three days, more than a few secretly beginning to collect unemployment.  Pete was the only other one who probably knew both how long they’d been gathering there to the day and who was likely to stop showing up first.  But Jerry thought he might have surprised him. 

“We know you can hear us in there, breaking the law yourselves, for factory owners that wouldn’t know a day’s real work if it slapped them with a multi-million dollar lawsuit.  Tell us, would you let a single mother with a sick child at home, work without bathroom breaks and with only a fifteen minute lunch break?”  Pete Arthur’s voice roared and then died out in a screech from the white megaphone, a box of batteries he would switch out twice before the end of the day on a stool next to him.   

An empty carton of eggshells sat on the stool as Jerry Willford started mixing the dough with his freshly washed hands, hard and gnarled by work and age.  An old canister of oxygen with tubes attached sat in the corner, long collecting dust, a single white holiday card with silver embossed lettering now stained with the same years of enclosed air and dust hung above.  Washing his hands again he walked back to the small living room and sat in a worn brown leather easy chair.  The television tuned to a sports channel with the volume nearly all the way low was on at the far end of the room.

“I said, do you want a cup of coffee.  It’ll be about thirty minutes before the next pot is ready.” Cindy nearly shouted against the chorusing crowds, now beginning to fill in both sides of the designated picketing areas.  They both looked over at a man yelling above both crowds and threatening to break through the line on the other side.  Jerry wasn’t sure if the things he was shouting at Pete Arthur were so foul because of the really vulgar expletives used or because of how backwards and wrong the propaganda fed to this man by their company after half his coworkers had walked off the job, had been.  Those who turn against their own before biting the hand that feeds; it was the same old story Jerry thought.  Connor Mitchum was a local boy and like so many who wanted a better life was an easy target for slick, shiny promises that never came true, like the college degree he had briefly left town to pursue over ten years ago now.  Soon there would be egged windows and maybe even slashed tires. Soon there would be the police and the media as more than an interest piece.  There were always police on Thursdays and Fridays, increasingly on the other days of the week now too.  The younger Mitchum was pulled back by one of the older men on the other side, the foaming at his mouth now mixing with angry tears. Jerry waved his calloused, nerveless hand that felt almost nothing after years of repetitive strain and shook his head dismissively at Cindy Cropsey, Swedish pastries still in the bag at his side. 

The alarm bell rang and it had been some years since Jerry had felt so excited to go, but he opened his eyes and smelled hot, fresh, sweet dough along with the buzzing ring of the timer instead, telling him it was time to take them out of the oven.  Ambling over to the kitchen, knees and joints not what they used to be, he removed the tray of hot buns and set them on the counter.  Immediately, before they had even a second to cool he squeezed the icing out in crossed strands, each one out of the bag exactly like the other, held over each pastry, checked meticulously so the pattern on each was just right.  Five, ten, fifteen, it was a marvel how quickly he covered the whole tray with the lines of melted, white sugary syrup.  Next was the filling, punched into the side by a metal tip, again before the dough had a chance to settle, a mere minute to cool.  The bag of custard was a monotonous flash and flurry of activity as Jerry filled one pastry after another, combining the bread and gooey dessert he had learned from his mother and aunts and then taught was only truly perfected when made by his father and uncles.

The lawn chair Jerry Willford had planted himself in for more unpaid days and weeks than he cared to remember now snuggly sank a few inches into the mud under Jerry’s tall and somewhat heavy frame.  For a moment Cindy thought Jerry wouldn’t mind if she rested her arms on the back of it, instead of leaving the crowd all together.  But sitting in the car wasn’t striking, protesting or picketing as Pete had reminded Wanda Ellseby and more than a few others when some of the group would officially take a break for lunch or one of the portable toilets they were paying for by the day.    

Jerry rarely ate the pastries he made.  Except for testing each batch to make sure they’d come out right the doctor had told him they were strictly off his diet and didn’t begin to understand that Jerry would go on making them in bulk quantities just the same anyway, especially during the holidays.  The eggs and bacon he had once or twice a week were harder to avoid and it had been a while since Pete or Mike had brought in and left extra breakfast sandwiches on the sink in the tiny break room with a single chair and refrigerator that took up most of the rest of the space. The inside of the ancient machine had long been frosted over and was always packed full of other people’s outdated food regardless. 

He didn’t usually park his chair up so close to the line, but if he didn’t go eat soon he would have to take a shot and Jerry liked avoiding that when he could.  That’s when he remembered the … at his side.  He pulled the bag over his fingers and stood up, quickly getting a panorama of the swelling afternoon crowd.  Cindy and Wanda were no where to  be seen and Pete was down to his last four batteries, that would be used in a closing shouting match he felt as usual.  The other side looked rather more riled up and Jerry wondered for a moment if some of the bosses hadn’t been in town, or maybe new hires had been on the job making those de facto loyalists who weren’t out vocally supporting the company paranoid for their jobs. 

Suddenly a man Jerry thought must be the elder Mitchum, and not necessarily the wiser broke through the line on the other side.  Jerry was about to turn around when he saw the man he was yelling at was actually Cindy Cropsey.  He couldn’t believe the things coming out of Andy’s mouth, towards this woman he had personally supervised for going on fifteen years.  Not even Cindy deserved that.  Why wasn’t anyone doing anything?  Where was Roger Altman or Barry Cordes.  There was some kind of ruckus, hands were raised and Cindy was really letting loose, almost screaming at the man. 

Jerry charged forward looking down at the smaller man, forcibly shoving him back with the force of his large body and severe demeanor.  Andy Mitchum was shocked to see the always humble and rather quiet form of Jeremiah Willford bearing down on him.  But that didn’t stop him; he mistook the situation and Jerry quite badly.  Reeling back Andy then swept forward with what looked like a lunging side swipe on Jerry’s jaw.  The result was almost comic in the otherwise heated tension and tragic drama unfolding.  Andy’s hand and wrist crumpled, likely broken.  Seemingly unphased Jerry dug his steel like fingers into the other’s upper chest and shoulder and pushed down.  Andy Mitchum screamed in sheer pain under the relentless pressure of Jerry Willford’s unfeeling hand as his knees buckled and he fell in a heap, both under force and in the only direction he could move to escape the other man’s talon like grasp.  Before Andy knew what was happening a beige plastic sack came down swiftly, smacking him hard across the face.  The contents of the bag swished and liquefied apart as they left a visible red imprint on his face. 

Those on both sides of their respective lines gaped in awe at the pathetic portrayal of madness, anguish and conflict playing out in real life between them.  Someone shouted for the police, but only hired security guards rushed from the building ironically as far as they could possibly be from the actual conflict that had broken out.  The torn beige grocery bag swept up and came down again on Andy Mitchum’s head.  Cake, custard and icing coated his face and spilled out on the ground where he slumped.  The third and fourth assault by the plastic bag of pastries hit his unhurt hand and arm that he had finally raised in some defense of his face and head. 

“JERRY!!!” He felt the arms on his back and shoulders.  Cindy and Pete were trying to drag him back before the guards got there, or worse, he did any real damage to Andy Mitchum.  Blots of custard and torn plastic interspersed with sticky chunks of cake and crumbs littered the ground around them.  Jerry stepped back, visibly shaken with tears in the corners of his eyes.  His head making small jerking movements in a temporary nervous palsy Jerry sat back down in the lawn chair, sinking even deeper into the ground.  He fumbled for the pack of cigarettes in his breast pocket, oblivious to those gathering near or the scarlet and cake faced elder Mitchum clutching his broken hand and being lead away. 

Jerry’s hands noticeably shook as he burnt out a match on fingers that would blister but feel no pain.  The next match made a clean dragging strike against the red line opposite his thumb.  Smoke billowed out from his face and nose as he held the match to the cigarette and then dropped the match into the wet mud.  He inhaled once, then twice, taking his time in acknowledging the small crowd standing around in awe asking a question here and there, attending to him while Wanda and Pete withheld anymore concern than they hoped was necessary and Cindy made a modest attempt at wiping his forehead with a damp cloth. 

And Then They Come Back

The Zombie Apocalypse isn’t ever how you think it’s going to be, or what it’s like in the movies.  The walking dead are not slow, mindless shamblers.  They’re your friends, your mother, your boyfriend, crying, screaming in agony and pain, begging, terrified that they don’t want to die. They don’t want to become their own nightmares.

First the infection starts, after a bomb hit, from nowhere, because no one admits to being the aggressor, or after the flash burn from another asteroid, which might as well be another bomb or missile for all the scientists safe in their underground bunkers admit to knowing about where they’re from either.  After the bang and screeching flash of light in the sky the screaming starts. 

“Why don’t they get to somewhere safe?!!  Why don’t they just duck and cover!?”  The frustrated, angry doctor yells rhetorically into the camera, on the twelfth broadcast in as many weeks since this round of infections started. 

Because they can’t.  Because people want to be people again, doing what people do, having picnics, sunbathing, swimming, outdoors, away from buildings, away from bomb and riot shelters.  Because they’re with family, children, who can’t run or just be corralled, like cattle into the nearest bunker.

Thousands, millions at a time in all the world’s major metropolitan centers now know what it’s like to slowing be burnt alive from the inside out.  The screaming at the beginning is probably the worst.  You know to get out of the way then if you weren’t hit.  You know what’s next.  Red and white pustules and full, spreading, seeping blisters on every exposed surface of skin erupt on the bodies of those caught completely outdoors. Those standing by open windows, under awnings or at bus stations often don’t fare much better. If they can’t make it inside to a building with a shelter in the ten to fifteen seconds it takes the security doors to come down, God help them.    

In suburbia things are a little different, but not much.  Supplies of over prescribed generic painkillers are plentiful, unlike the days when they were a constant threat around addicts.  Now they are desperately needed.  But the effects of addiction are ironically similar.  With almost every nerve and skin cell on fire the pain is almost unbearable.  Some can’t take it and will black out in spats while begging for anyone around to help them. 

“Please, please, give something to me and my daughter so she can make it to a bunker in time to get antirads and burn pads.  I don’t care about me, but please, I beg you, let her live!!!” But that’s just one voice among dozens and the others are your family, your pets, needing the same medicine and pain meds you already don’t have enough to divide among them.

Then the real terror starts, the blood and violence, the fighting and wretching.  Mobs break into store fronts posing as dupes for pharmacies, sometimes stocked with p-pills, kill pills to end it all quickly, for those with the courage.  The real pharmacies are in the back of armored buses now, never in the same place at the same time.  Buildings, houses, apartments ransacked regardless.   

‘No Zycs!’ In large red letters on the front of a college dormitory.  And it’s true. Blood spattered teenagers huddle in corners after their lives and dwellings have been torn apart and shattered by the doomed, skin boiling masses looking for zycodone the cheapest generic antibiotic and painkiller combination, that before the rations the busses would give out by the hand full. 

A few will survive the day, almost none still caught out in the open or behind less than brick, concrete and fortified dwellings will survive the night.  Those that do will live long enough to rapidly decline over the course of the following week, being mostly inadmissible to medlink shelters.  Those who make it to a stocked shelter with medlinks and the right meds have a fighting chance if the infection hasn’t spread to the brain.   But those who don’t make it, and you will know at least a few personally, you always do, will gather around you, and any other negs who weren’t hit by the flash and still have access into the shelters after a twenty minute quarantine, waiting for drone Zyc drops that will come within a few hours if you’re lucky. The infected can’t be trusted, right?  Just the pain makes them crazy, violent and unpredictable.   At least that’s the rationale for why the drop zones are only around shelters, and negs with tracking implants, because they’re the ‘safe’ designees of aid in a crisis. 

As you hold their hands pustules bursting and running down graying, ashen faces, spreading more contagion, adding to more pain and physical anguish, you feel both guilty and relieved that you are not them.  Your father caught washing the car or girlfriend on a jog apologizes, skin oozing and burning, lungs on fire with long standing regrets and missed opportunities coming fast and frightening.  They say they always thought it would be them getting the Zyc drop and risking their lives, camped outside the shelter with dying loved ones.  There is no shushing.  There is no telling them to save their energy, when you have only an hour or two, before the noise, racket, scrambling and violence start all over again.

If you’re lucky the worst of the more energized and enervated ones keep breathing, so the rest can pass gently and you can finish quarantine before they are on the move in the dark among the first night’s building and street fires. The ghost scent of warm flesh and blood must somehow linger on their burnt nostrils, confused with furious terror and anguish, like a base animal memory of what it was like to starve in agonizing pain or have unquenchable thirst. They sit or lie there silently as if the pain might be easing, as if they had just forgotten something important, unblinking, unthinking.  And then they come back. 

Banshee

The country market is new and buzzing, but there’s also a pervasive sorrow, so I think it must be me.  Because I don’t really know who or where I am.  I’m some gentleman, or some plain looking lady, or some young woman, or some single guy, not cruising, not small talking, not too confused, not too sober.  It’s proud, poor, rural people, but it could be Irish.  It’s not Dublin or Kansas, and I don’t see any black Stetsons, but I know there’s a raspy voiced, tired widowed white woman somewhere singing the blues.  The shop woman is a little younger, not much.  The weekend shopkeepers with rough hands from their day jobs are older, younger and many. 

She doesn’t care that maybe I recognize a few of her more expensive items.  And I’m afraid to remember.  It’s too random, it’s chance, but I almost recognize the empty, dusty, still unclean ones and know when or where I had them.  They’re not too similar, but what if they’re the same and I’ve just forgotten. I’m upset again by something I know could be mine.  And then there are several and someone has put up a small chintzy looking display.  Still something hurts, deep inside, but I don’t know where or what.  There are too many people walking by, each and any way, with bags or gifts or friends or lovers, or nothing in their arms.  Who are they?  Who am I?  Will I see someone I used to know and then have to run or leave?  Will they see me? Will they know how precious any or all of these things might have been to someone else? And the grass is too green, even if by the time the shops sell out, or shut up for the season, the grass will be brown and then gone all together. 

The big things are big and empty and will have to be carried away and filled again.  The little things are small and some of them were curated in various ways with molding, etching or little girl stickers, faded from decades or half a century ago.  Some of them are even set up to show they work.  Not so shabby to show they’re ready to be someone’s, someone else’s.  They shine with little lights, tiny dancers turning on tinkling boxes, newly dusted off and pretty like when the food smells fresh and hasn’t become thick in the air from being in the same place at the same times, days after days on end.  And then I remember, there’s something I need here, something I want desperately that I’ve forgotten, and never meant to leave behind. 

Does she weep when she sings? There’s isolation in the thick of a crowd that makes the market feel frightening and lonesome and the wailing old woman suddenly seem louder.  Her only love, her only light has gone away and she wails, begs and pleads for its heel, for its return.  How long has she been singing?  How long has she been grieving alone? She knows about never going back, and the things you can’t remember holding onto the things you’ll never forget.  She knows about all the things we lose and leave behind.  She knows what ‘gone’ is.  Maybe she even knows not to look.  And as the lights go dim she continues to sing, and as the crowds thin for the evening, my heart slowly begins to sing with her.

Once Upon Delilah

Once Upon Delilah

A fable for the mature

Once upon a time there was a tiny, pretty little girl named Dalida.  Well, she wasn’t very tiny.  She was about average for a baby, with pretty brown eyes, soft brown hair and light beige skin and peachy cheeks.  Whenever her parents would take her out in the stroller, her father would speak in low dulcet tones that Dalida would try to imagine in her own mind and gibber on in tandem or fair response.  Dalida’s mother would agree sometimes, laugh at other times and occasionally let out a sigh or even big guffaw before several strands of hair would slip out from under her hajib as a rapid and passionate discussion of utmost political or academic urgency would break out between her mother and father. 

Afterwards Dalida’s mother would tuck her hair back under, check with a mirror and makeup that her cheeks had not blushed too brightly and her father would straighten his tie for the umpteenth time and for the umpteenth and hundred tell her mother she didn’t have to wear the veil out on these leisurely walks if she didn’t want to, to which Dalida’s mother would immediately give him “the look” and silence him. 

So Dalida had learned quite a lot by the time she was almost a year old.  By the time she was three Dalida was walking hand in hand between her parents every day to nursery school where she would play with the blocks and learn how to paint, and dress up like Mexican people, or Chinese people or Brazilian people or even Australian people and sometimes Dalida would just sit down against the corner wall in a comfy bright white bean bag chair and listen to stories while she tried to read along in the little books with funny pictures.  These were the special times filled with fairy princesses, enchanted sorceresses, kindly dragons and warrior unicorns that Dalida liked best of all.  It was often around one of those times that Dalida’s parents would show up hand in hand ready to walk her home again, between them.

That was, until the day they didn’t.  Mrs. Morris woke Dalida up from the special cot in the corner where she had fallen asleep crying when the last of the parents and their children had gone home and her mother and father still hadn’t come. 

“Dalida, Sargeant Ames and Mrs. Lossker are going to take you to a house that some of the children we see on museum day live in.  It’s a nice place for you to stay while we find out where your mommy and daddy are. I’m going to come with you until you get settled in.”  Mrs. Morris explained as fresh tears began to roll down the little girl’s eyes. 

“She is a pretty little thing.” The woman police sergeant added as they started to gather Dalida’s things and walk her out of the building

When Dalida got to the house with the other children they gave her milk and cookies and let her watch tv as long as she wanted, which was longer than she had ever seen tv before.  The cartoon characters dancing on screen were even better than the books, but she missed her mother and was still very frightened.  That night after the other children were asleep a strange feeling made her stand up and look outside her window.  Under the lamp light an old man stood smiling up at her with a crooked grin, tilting his head one way and then the other.  Dalida gasped but was afraid she might wake the other children.  Trying to convince herself that she had only been dreaming, she got back into bed and tried to shut her eyes.  And then she did dream, horrible dreams, her mother and father yelling. 

“I’ll give you back the money, however much you want!” Her father pleaded. 

“You know it was never about the money.” A man grumbled in a cracked, low, barely audible voice, and the clicking sound of a gun or maybe a knife. 

In the blackness of Dalida’s visionless dream a scuffle broke out and then her mother screamed and screamed again, blood curdling screams and then more sobbing. 

“Write it!!  Just like you were told!”  The man with the low voice was now yelling. 

“I can’t!  I won’t!”  Dalida’s mother begged. 

And then more sobbing and screaming until Dalida felt herself wet, soaking in the middle of a deep, wet, green forest, with hot house type plants all around her, menacing, smelling strange and sweet and poisonous all at once.  She was in danger.  She had to run, escape, immediately.  They were closing in, all around her.  Any minute they would be upon her.  And then she bolted upright in bed, sweating, sobbing, tears running from her eyes, wanting to scream even if it woke the others.  She jumped out of bed and looked at the street below.  The man was gone and the lamp light blinked out as the sky quickly turned from black, to deep purple and then reddish grey as she stood there.  Finally she got back into bed.  

The next morning, a tired, weary eyed Dalida sat in a cold office sipping juice from a box as Sargeant Ames and Mrs. Lossker both made many phone calls.  They asked her so many questions about the previous morning when her mommy and daddy had dropped her off at the nursery that she wasn’t sure if she was remembering the same day anymore.  That’s when they stopped asking her questions all together and just started referring to what they had already written down on the yellow note pads. 

Eventually Dalida wandered off into the small living room with white and yellow bean bag chairs, a large sofa, a few other children and always television to be watched.  Dalida spent many hours there now, making new friends, doing her homework once she started school, and quite often looking at the tv people and missing her mother. 

Several weeks passed and no one heard from Dalida’s parents.  When the police stopped asking such strange questions the dreams stopped coming quite as often or terribly.  But it was when the dreams stopped all together that Dalida first noticed how some people treated her differently. 

“You know you’re a pretty girl?” Mrs. Lossker said one day, almost as a matter of fact. “Did anyone ever take you away from your mother, even for just a short while?” But Dalida didn’t fully understand the question. 

“I don’t.. think so.”  She said.

It wasn’t just that.  Often men and boys treated Dalida differently.  Men would sometimes stare and then just as suddenly look away and refuse to meet her gaze, even walk away from her.  As she was following the rest of the children in the orphanage one day into a theater a man continued to hold the door open in the cold winter for her a very long time as she and another girl ran to catch up and then when they got there, he wouldn’t look at her.  She didn’t understand and thought it was the strangest thing.  A few of the older boys in school avoided her all together and wouldn’t even say hello or talk to her. 

One day when Dalida was still small her class and all the children from the Phyllis Holstrom childrens’ home went to the museum.  There were big animals and little animals, all made from bones and what Dalida guessed was some kind of plastic.  Giant aquariums with sharks and stingrays lined an entire wall of the building and went on forever it seemed.

There were people in long dresses, short tunics and robes.  People with different hair styles and women with crowns in their hair and covered hair like her mother’s stood in front of giant white pillars, with smoke from burning herbs and what she guessed was their food in a large basin in front of them.  A strong man chained to a post turned a mill with the help of only a few others.  They were slaves, Dalida was told, though she had already made out most of the words on the plaque about ancient Sumeria. 

Upstairs the children played with different inventions, toys and mirrors that made them or they way they perceived things change and distort.  Dalida knew those feelings too well she thought.  Then she decided to go back downstairs and watch the fish. She picked up a large purple starfish from a tank where several other children were and looked at it closely until a woman hobbling by caught her attention.  The woman was short, and limping.  She looked mildly distressed as if she was lost.  And Dalida wanted to believe so much, the woman looked so much, like her mother. 

In a flash Dalida dropped the starfish and took off after the woman, before she could even be chided about dropping the animal or running by the touch tank attendant.  When Dalida got to the next room it looked like the woman was already gone.  She didn’t want to make a fuss.  But after all the questions they had asked, so many years ago now about grand parents she never knew and things her mother said or did about foreign places, Dalida was sure she had seen her mother. 

Besides the fact that Dalida had needed to use the restroom before having seen the woman or dropping the starfish, she oddly wondered if the woman had gone into the lady’s wash room at the opposite side of the big entry room.  Then a spark of light caught her eye.  A man and woman entered the door and the sun shone on the window as they walked in, but it was not her mother.  Where had the woman gone so quickly?

Mildly upset, by the time Dalida got to the wash room she had begun to convince herself that she must have been mistaken, and that she was probably going to get in trouble for running if not dropping the starfish.  As she sat there a strange sensation she had never felt before started coming over her, rising in waves from her seat to the top of her head.  The feeling was not altogether disturbing, but also not at all pleasant.  It was then she saw a single eye looking at her through the open slit in the stall’s door.  It was a short dirty looking old man, with beady dark eyes and a long dark beard in a plain brown overcoat. He leered in on her.

“Our Dalida, still such a sweet, pretty little thing.” The man croaked in a small, low voice as his hand came up to the latch at the stall door. 

Dalida closed her eyes and started to scream, but loud footsteps, those of a woman in heels startled her.

“What’s going on? Is everything ok in here?” It was Mrs. Lossker. 

“It was that man.  The one from under the lamp post.  The one…”  Now Mrs. Lossker looked truly alarmed. 

“… from my nightmares.”  Dalida continued, now unsure of herself and all that had just occurred.  “I thought I saw my mommy.” The little girl started crying. 

“Oh sweety, it’s been years.  I don’t think that’s possible.  Finish up and we’re all having ice cream down at the food court. But if you fall asleep in the wash room again.. well you really don’t want to be getting any demerits on the trip, this close to the holiday do you Dalida?”  The woman ended sternly.

“No, Mrs. Lossker.” Dalida replied, meekly.  

Dalida was too frightened to enjoy the rest of the field trip and convinced she had seen her mother she refused to join the other children on the tour or during the theater show.  She sat with an unfinished ice cream cone until it was time to leave and sulked back onto the bus where she sat in the very back and with her head hung low avoided speaking to anyone she didn’t have to.  Several years passed and Dalida didn’t have any more dreams about the dirty old man, and fewer and fewer about her mother and father until one day she snuck off school grounds during an extended recess to meet a small group from the other nearby school. 

Several years passed until Dalida was no longer so tiny, though still rather meek and missing her mother who she thought of often. 

“What if we get caught Jane?” A rather different, taller, thinner and yet curvier looking Dalida asked her best friend. 

“No sweat De.  We just say Mr. Whiskers was meowing to us from inside the parsons building again and who knows what would have happened to him if we waited until last bell to save his dumb ass.  Some delinquents probably would have found him.” Jane said, laughing. 

“I mean, what if we get caught all the way down on fifth street?” Dalida asked, a tight grimace across her face.  She could count the friends that would ever agree to do anything like this with them on one hand.  Even though they were a year or two past that most terrible age, a few boys still teased Dalida relentlessly.  The other girls were glad for the relief and Janie was her only solace.

“Well then we are in deep doo doo Dede, because I definitely plan on seeing what Andy Stoval’s chin stubble feels like at third base.  Those guys are some of the few that aren’t really freaked out by us, you know?” Jane smiled wickedly.  But Dalida couldn’t help but register the slight.  It wasn’t Janie so much.  All boys were weirded out by Dalida.  She was too tall, moved too rapidly, like a bird always about to fly away, too something… 

“Don’t be base now Janie.  We don’t want to be mistaken for those kinds of girls.” Dalida quipped, both girls laughing now.  Soon they had found the deserted alley and joined the group of boys sitting around telling dirty jokes. 

“Isn’t there some kind of rhyme you’re supposed to say?” Andy Stovie asked between puffs on a stale cigarette. Smoke rose up in the small urban alley where a group of young teenagers trying to act older than they were gathered around a small, empty, spinning glass soda bottle.

“Only if you’re a faggot.” Mike Walden a short stocky boy with a flat nose and crew cut taunted. 

Dalida flinched slightly at the word but not enough for any of the other boys to notice and she and Janie were the only two girls.  Suddenly the bottle stopped with the opening pointed squarely at Dalida.  She looked up to the small pack of boys jeering and then pounding several wallops on the back of Marky Coopley as he looked sheepishly up and into her face. 

“IN THE PIT! IN THE PIT!” They all started chanting, Janie placing her fingers in her teeth and whistling loudly. 

“Ten in the pit!” Mike shouted, paddling Mark Coopley with an audible thwack on his jean’s covered back side, herding him into the dark corner of a pile of boards, tires and metal sheeting, turned into a makeshift hiding spot, the crew had labeled “the pit.” For all the girls’ talk of when and where they wanted to lose their virginity, this sadly seemed as likely a place as any.  But it was Dalida who was the real hold out and she noticeably squirmed as Mike Walden held his hand and arm out graciously towards the opening in the dark dugout. 

Dalida had tried a few things… since learning about them in biology class.  She knew what they were from the other kids, but she wasn’t sure they were safe, or normal until they had to memorize different lists of sexual behaviors in men and women for their chapter on reproductive anatomy and behavior.  If it was so normal, why couldn’t she do them? It wasn’t for lack of trying.  All the other signs were there.  The feelings were definitely there, but every time she tried, something strange happened, like all the feeling was sucked out of her before she could even get started.  And then sometimes, something even worse happened.  There was a darkness and a fear… no, terror, inside her that kept her from going forward.  And that scared her most of all, even more when the nightmares came back.  At first she didn’t know why she couldn’t move, just that she was paralyzed as her mother sat on the bed next to her and hummed in a low voice.  Then she realized she was tied down, her hands, her wrists, her whole body.  One particularly bad nightmare ended with her mother sobbing as she was sure her throat was tied and she was about to be hung. 

“You be sweet to little Marky now.  It’s his first time and all.”  Mike taunted, the other  boys chuckling.

“Hi” Dalida whispered within the confines of the dark, dingy space. 

“Uh, Hi.” Mark Coopley answered, his voice cracking slightly. 

“This is so stupid.” Dalida said quickly, trying to laugh as she put her hand on Mark’s.

“I know.  I mean what are we supposed to do for ten minutes in this dirty little hobo cave?”  Mark asked, trying to laugh back and not sweat too profusely into the hand Dalida had grasped.  If they at least touched, Janie couldn’t challenge their turn and take Mark instead of whoever her bottle spin landed on, which everyone knew would be Andy, except for maybe Mark.  So Dalida decided to immediately save them all the trouble of any hurt feelings by going ahead and grabbing Mark’s hand, until she realized he might have just gotten the very wrong idea. 

“Hey do you want to get out of here?” Mark asked, sincerely.

“What do you mean?”  Dalida said, a little confused.  

“I mean on the other side of the sheeting, the other door back there leads down to Rodan’s Alley.” Mark replied, a real look of relief beginning to spread on Dalida’s face.

“Sure, but isn’t that where all those sleazy porn shops are.  Won’t they catch us?”  Dalida replied with mixed trepidation.

“No, not this time of day.  Hardly anyone is in there.” Mark said, pulling her along in the dark of the hut until they came back out into the open air of a much smaller alleyway.  Mark held his finger up to his mouth.  Dalida smiled playing along, listening to the other kids still jeering at them on the other side of the pit. 

They came out into a street lined with neon signs advertising video arcades and playbill posters of various strippers.  Without any warning a police officer stepped out into the street barely five feet in front of them.  Dalida’s eyes went wide as Mark pulled them into the nearest book store.  They ran quickly towards the back, the clerk absorbed in the unfolded newspaper’s local want ads.  Endless racks of magazines and old videos filled a huge back section of the store that went down into an even larger basement.  In the far corner were hundreds of old Japanese comics depicting all kinds of strange and odd sexual scenarios, some more disturbing than others.  Mark and Dalida leafed through several with Dalida eventually working her way into the more graphic and experimental section.  She lost track of the last time Mark had nudged her, laughed and made her look at some bizarre and disturbing sex act, drawn on black and white paper. 

On the cover of the next book was a small girl holding a lollipop, only it wasn’t just any girl.  It was Dalida.  But it couldn’t be.  Surely any number of twisted misogynists and pedophiles had thought of sexualized little girls walking to school holding their parents hands.  She opened the pages and kept turning them.  There she was in the museum with the starfish, except when she went to the bathroom several men raped her brutally as her mother stood there and watched.  Dalida dropped the book, traumatized and full of the deepest, most hideous repulsion. Where had Mark gone? 

She looked all around and then finally turned around to what remained of the corner shelves.  Standing there on the other side reading was the little man, now shorter than she was, his beard almost all the way down to the floor.  His face was dirty and his eyes bored into her as he looked up and began to speak. 

“Would you like to see your mother, dear?”  He croaked, what passed for a smile escaping his black mouth and grey lips. 

“Who are you?” Dalida asked full of loathing and frustration.

“I am the Patriarch.”  The old man replied, then somehow looking a little more full of himself and not quite as digusting as he had just a moment before.  But then Dalida wasn’t exactly sure she wasn’t imagining him again. 

“Yes.” She said, flatly and at once, not hesitating further. 

He walked out from behind the rack that was almost at his own eye level and proceeded into the dark of the video booths.  Several men looked up and came forward, but when they saw that Dalida was a girl and young and in company of the Patriarch they withered quite quickly and if she wasn’t mistaken, fearfully back into the darkness and shadows of their individual theaters and booths.  They reached a larger, dimly lit booth where the small old man shut and locked the door behind them.  This booth had neither holes in the walls or doors like the others.  The Patriarch deposited two quarters into the machine in front of them and the shutters went up. 

An aging woman sat on a dirty, rusted bed in a dark grey room with letters and pornographic cartoon images of young girls, yellowed, taped, pasted and pinned to the walls in every spot at every corner.  She was humming.  It was Dalida’s mother.  She was sure of it.  The woman brushed her long graying hair, but something more was the matter.  Thick strands of her hair were in clumps on her lap and were coming out in her hands as she brushed it.  Her face was haunted and had a dark bruised, red rash around the lips and right cheek going all the way up to one bright red eye.  Her hands shook as she put the brush down.

“MOMMIE!!!” Dalida yelled, running up to pound on the glass and demand her mother be set free.  But there was only a projection, no glass, no metal shutters.  She clawed at the plaster. 

 “I love you so much Dalida.  I have always loved you.  I would do anything for you.” The old woman said, smiling without any teeth and putting her hand up against the window in front of her and between them on the screen.  Dalida raised her much larger hand and placed it on the exact same spot.  She wept as her mother hummed and the bed she sat on creaked. 

“Will you take her place Delilah?”  The Patriarch jeered at her. 

But when she looked back only the attendant was standing there and the projector was completely off. 

“You’re going to have to find another place lady.  Right now, before I get seriously canned.  I don’t care how fake your ID is.”  The man said, holding a mop and pointing to the exit back across the end of the hall, past the racks of magazines and manga porn. 

Dalida ran, wiping tears from her eyes.  Was she mad?  Was she going crazy?  She stepped out of the book store and then immediately back into another.  Mark was at the end of the street being seated in the back of that police officer’s patrol car.  She didn’t get a clear look to see if his hands were in cuffs or not. 

“Hey kid.  You can’t be in here!  Beat it!” Another clerk admonished her as she ran out of that store and made a bee line for the alleyway that ran back to the fifth street alley.  She was late.  It was very late and she had already missed sixth and seventh period and after school roll call as she hadn’t signed out that day.  She was in big trouble and would have to make up something good.  Something better than… my mother’s still alive, trapped in another dimension with some kind of evil pedophile porn wizard who calls himself the Patriarch.  And after I find my mother I’m going to kill him.   

She never saw Mark Coopley again.  By some stroke of luck Andy Stoval dumped Jane first so the terrible things he told her about Dalida didn’t end up mattering much, but whatever they were, they were enough to not only keep the other boys away for good but get them transferred to another school, if not expelled.

“How do you think she found out?  I mean she’s like your house mom at the Phyllis House, right?” Janie asked one day as Dalida rubbed her shoulders, after staying away from the subject for almost six months. 

“Thank you for believing me, Jane.  No one does, really.” Dalida said, as Jane turned her head, looking her friend square in the eyes.  “I swear I didn’t tell old Lossker or anyone.  I don’t know how they found out.” But that was a lie.  It was the Patriarch and his minions.  It had always been the Patriarch.  She knew that better than anyone, even the police.

“It… it had something to do with my parents.” She went on.  “I can’t tell you.  Because it’s just an idea I have and might not be true. But the way, people treat me sometimes.  Men I’ve never even met.”  Dalida continued but Jane wasn’t having it.  At that, she openly guffawed. 

“De, you try to hide it.  You let your hair fall in your face constantly and never wear makeup like the rest of us.  But you’re drop dead gorgeous and everyone knows it.”  Jane replied with some umbrage in her voice. 

Dalida sighed, but Jane’s grimace was cold and genuine.  “I’m sorry.  I know losing your parents was horrible and everything that followed and not even being able to use your real name because of the family mafia, and wanting to find your family before they find you or whatever it is.  That has to be completely horrible.”  Jane offered some solace.  But it was much worse than that and Dalida couldn’t really tell Jane, to burden her after what had already happened, or worse endanger her, was unthinkable.  Besides she wasn’t exactly upset that Andy Stoval was out of the picture.

“What all.. did Andy say anyway?” Dalida asked with some trepidation.

“Just what you already told me, that some people were still really weirded out by whatever happened to your parents.  Not.. us.”  Jane said nervously, but again, it was much worse than that. Dalida sat there with her hand on the small of Jane’s back and her tongue tightly tied. 

Many years passed and for a time Dalida thought she might forget about the Patriarch all together if not for the occasional question about her parents and background.  Dalida graduated high school near the head of her class and went on to college.  She visited huge cities near her home, foreign cities with strange names, huge sprawling cities with strange foods and festivities, country towns with piquant languages and customs, desert cities with strange clothing, hot, rainy cities with almost no clothing and extra crowded cities, but when she got to an old continental city far from home one evening her nightmares returned. 

Dalida walked down a sloped, cobbled ancient continental street with one of the professors of her graduate program in architecture, and several other students, mostly girls vying to be the next paramour of their doctor, that or secure a solid A grade, in which case the accomplishment would be all or nothing.  Dalida was indifferent and thoroughly enjoying the experience of becoming more fluent in one of her favorite old languages, first hand.  In a shop window she saw a bright orange pastry that reminded her of something foreign and distant, something she couldn’t quite recall from her childhood.  She walked over to study it more closely and then entered the bakery.

“I’ll catch up!” She waved to one of her girlfriends, who casually waved back.

The entire sweet shop had an almost mesmerizing quality to it.  The red pastries popped out at her just as much as the orange had and when she was through picking, she had order two very full boxes. 

“Can you have the second one sent to the hotel..” And that was when she noticed the man outside, his suit the same tone and color of the door frame he stood in across the street.  How long had he been standing there.  He looked quite comfortable, leaning on the door frame, a small suitcase at his feet.  And then, like so many men before, she had never met, or gotten close to, he looked away and refused to meet her eyes.  She darted out of the bakery, leaving her pastries and credit card on the counter. 

“Hey!! Who are you?” She demanded in the city language from the far side of the street.  The man quickly picked up his suit case and overcoat brushing the concrete steps began to shuffle away.  “Stop, right now or I’ll scream!  I know who you are!  Why are you following me?!?”  She threatened, already yelling.  To her surprise, the man did stop.  He looked terrified. 

“Please, please.  They’ll kill me.  I just.. didn’t believe, couldn’t believe it was really you.  I had to know.. to find out.  And it is!  It is you!” The well dressed, somewhat older man pleaded in rapid fire of the continental language.  He continued to step back and walk away.  Then when he was sure she wouldn’t follow he turned and ran. 

Dalida stood, angrily holding her fist, wanting to run after, but knowing she wouldn’t as her eyes welled up and she began to cry the first tears she had felt in some time. 

Back at the quaint hotel with the tiny room that was actually a suite, the phone rang almost fifteen times, after catching voice mail the first five, before a scratchy voice answered, “Hello, who is this?” 

“It’s Dalida.  I’m sorry.  There isn’t anyone else I could talk to about this.  There was a man here, Jane, in fucking Lisbon.”  She cried, tears and too many days of more than light drinking clouding her mind and vision. 

“You can’t call me like this D.  I have a kid and a career now.  Didn’t you talk to your therapist about this?  You’re not drinking and having regular overnight company again are you.” The woman on the other end asked. 

Despite all that she had confided in Jane Wallstone, Jane had never quite believed her.  The men who she rarely had sex with and even more rarely had any kind of good sex with had always been admirers, as if somehow they already knew her.  That had really given her therapist pause and that’s when she stopped talking about strange men to anyone all together. 

“The last time I had an orgasm was with you Jane Wallstone, but thank you for caring.” Dalida hung up the phone and began to sob.  Hot rivers of salt poured more freely than they had in years.

But suddenly she caught herself and stopped.  How could she not have noticed.  Across the small separate room made into a living area, behind the sofa and next to the kitchenette the door adjoining the next suite over was wide open with the lights on from the other side.  That was highly unusual and for a moment Dalida looked around uncertain if she was safe.  Then it occurred to her, the cleaning staff must have accidentally left the door open.

Until crawling and oozing out of her worst childhood nightmares a rotund and very short dirty old man with a very long beard appeared in the shadows standing back from the doorway, Dalida almost screamed. 

“Come have a seat Dalida. We have much to discuss and not much time to discuss it.” The old man croaked.  “There’s hot cocoa like your father used to make you.” She was frozen with a repulsion worse than fear and wanted nothing from him. Nothing but answers she knew she wouldn’t get anyway. 

“What. What are you?” She asked, unflinching, venom dripping off her teeth and tongue. 

“An old worn hat, with slimy, rancid green veins, dug up off an unlucky corpse and best forgotten, but for some of the worst mistakes a man or anyone else can make in this life.” The little man replied holding his arm out, towards what must have been the identical style of matching furniture in the next suite over. 

She got up and slowly walked toward the door.  She was not prepared for the scene that met her.  The door had been bolted and locked from the inside.  She didn’t see a separate entrance but knew there had to be one.  What appeared to be yellow poorly stripped and stained wallpaper at first were hundreds and hundreds of old letters, drawings and pictures, taped, pinned and stuck to the walls.  At the barest, splintered wooden desk behind an antique push button type writer and stacks of paper in a hard backed chair sat an old woman with long stringy hair, matted at the top.  With vacant, cataract blue eyes, and sores all over her paper white face, arms, legs, feet and chained ankles she looked towards the girl who had just entered the room.  It couldn’t be the same woman.  But her face, her smile.  It looked like her mother after all these years. 

“Hello Dalida,” the old woman croaked, beaming madly, blind with crooked, rotten teeth. 

The walls crawled all around Dalida.  In different handwriting, many barely scrawled, some typed and a few cut out from letters and words in newspapers and magazines were letters, notes and drawings of her and to her. 

On yellow legal pad paper:

Dear Dalida,  The scene with the burning curling irons in your ass and cunt while you are about to be hung was the dirtiest yet.  I hope you came because you certainly deserved to be fucked bloody and burnt, screaming a real man’s name in pure agony before burning alive from the inside out.  You may look like her, but we all know what a gypsy whore you are like all the rest.  Some forty years old washed up whore, with a dirtier mind than any of the pervs who pay to pull her hair and smack her around a little.  When you want to know what real hate for a bitch like you feels like, I know you’ll write back. 

Cut and pasted from magazine letters and words:

Dear Dalida: The stories aren’t like they used to be when you were younger and still pretended like you didn’t really know what was going on.  Those were the best.  When you would cry and scream and kick and beg to stop it was so much like the real thing. 

Scrawled in large handwriting:

I want to feel your butt hole push out it is stretched so tightly around my cock while I choke you Dalida.  It is the best feeling.  You talk about it perfectly, like you know.  It clenches really really tight just when they stop fighting and screaming so much.  Though sometimes the screaming is the best part.  When it clenches tight like that after starting to push out you only have another minute or so before it completely relaxes.  That is the best time to cum when it gets loose outside her butt hole and her perty eyes are still open.  How did you know? 

Countless scraps of notes and letters, some very old, others nearly white filled the walls almost around the whole room.  Dalida began to cry again. 

“You’re not my mother.  I’m sorry.  Whatever happened to you.  Her. Us.  You’re not her.”  Dalida meant it and believed it, though the pain of doubt burned hot in her mind like one more deranged note stuck to the wall of the Patriarch’s tomb. 

“But we are your family Dalida.  The only family you have now.” Coaxed the Patriarch.

“Noo.” Dalida demanded, sobbing. 

“Will you take her place?  End her suffering?”  The little man asked, but Dalida was unsure of his rhetoric, or was it sarcasm. 

“I’m going to expose you and kill you.  All of you.” She swore, solemnly. 

The little man sighed.  “That might resolve a few things.  But I think you know better.  I think you know that’s not possible.  Our family is… special.  And the reasons we are here talking now and suffering these consequences are thankfully very rare, but also… special.” The Patriarch half explained without revealing anything. 

“I expected you to talk in riddles if we met again.  I’m not afraid of you.  You’re just another terrorist.  Your magic is no match for the good, healing kind.  It never will be.” Dalida swore. 

“Well then, join us and replace her.  By all means.  Since you have all the answers dear.” The old man said, irritation and impatience seeping through his cold exterior.

“You could replace her you know.  Then you would know who they are.  You could hunt them down personally, the very worst ghost for revenge out of their putrid fantasy turned nightmares.  And I think you know, they are the true nightmares.  Some of them have actually… indulged.  As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now.” The man who wafted of sour, inedible cheese and stale tobacco tried to convince her. 

“You’re not an ordinary girl, Dalida.  That name for instance…” He went on.

“It’s just a name.  There are lots of Dalida.” She argued. 

“No!” He retorted, somewhat sharply.  “That boy, after you fell from the roof without a scratch.  The pigeon.  Exactly how many times have you been sick dear, just that once.  And all those poor, poor men.  It’s a wonder you’ve never been… raped.”  At that the Patriarch’s eyebrows rose into points. 

Dalida was confused but intent on not letting him get the better of her.  “Poor nothings.  You get what you bargain for when you go home with a drunk girl from a bar that has Frank Miller posters on her wall.  Accidents happen.  Bobby’s fine now and it’s not like I don’t bleed when I’m cut.  And… and the pigeon had it coming, even if I did get the flu right after we did that.” Dalida looked down, unsure of herself now, but still adamant about ruining this man and everything he stood for.  

“Yes, that poor bird.  And why do you think they call me the Patriarch dear.  They will come for you if she stops.  They will come for all of us.  Especially the boys, always the small boys they cherish the most.  They ruin them.  You don’t know what true terror or magic is until you’ve seen it in the eyes of an animal with a hatred so sick of man that it can barely stand to be one.  There aren’t enough demons to wrest the violence from that sort.” The Patriarch said, speaking a mixture of ancient lies and wisdom, Dalida could neither discern nor judge any true value from. 

“My mother!  This woman, doesn’t deserve that!” Dalida almost shouted, choking back tears again. 

“Perhaps not.  But there are worse consequences.  Your father begged, you know.  Begged us to protect you.  I told him it was impossible.  Do you really want to prove me now, after all this time, so absolutely and irredeemably right?” The little man said, clutching the ring on his pinky finger hobbling over towards a black cane, leaning against the closet door. 

“That’s not for you to decide! We all have to struggle with life’s disappointments and betrayals of circumstance. We all have to find responsible ways to justify the violence in our hearts.” Dalida argued, her very soul boring into what had been made unnecessarily tragic and lost by the Patriarch.

“Maybe so.  But your father chose not to hide you.  He was warned.  How many thousands of good years of fortune, of the very Gods smiling down on our family?  The hidden may not exactly be free, but they are safe.  And don’t be so naïve as to think I am the only one.  In over a thousand years, that’s you my dear.  And was your mother, what’s left of her.” The old man said, looking not at the woman but the typewriter and stacks of blank paper on the desk. 

Dalida was infuriated beyond rational thought and still a little hung over from the previous few days.  She leapt towards the closet door with her hand out.  But somehow, lightning fast the Patriarch was quicker.  The closet door opened to reveal an impossible alleyway, with signs in ancient Arabic and women in sheer pajamas dancing inside a tavern mere feet away from the closet door.  The Patriarch’s fist clutched the cane moments before the door rushed at Dalida’s outstretched hand, stubbing her fingers.  Like a whirlwind the papers along the walls and all of the strange furnishings in the room, including the bolts on the door were sucked into the closet and into the tavern on the other side of the closet. There Dalida saw the Patriarch with her mother before him begin climbing a small set of wooden stairs.  Dalida tried to follow and for a moment thought the whirlwind would take her right along with it until the closet door smacked shut in front of her with a deafening silence behind it. 

The room was as normal as it could be, resembling the same suite as her own.  She wrenched the door handle open to reveal a bare closet with empty coat hangers, jangling just as likely from the force with which she had opened the door as anything else. 

Dalida tried to breathe in any air that would come.  But she choked on her own breath, sobs menacingly rising again from her throat.  Her legs crumpled beneath her and exhausted beyond shame or any awareness of self-pity Dalida truly balled.  She dug at the beige carpet with her fingers until they bled, grabbing the comforter from the bed in an attempt to muffle her screams.  She didn’t want to go on, but couldn’t stop herself.  Who could help her? If not a therapist, certainly no religious authority would believe her.  Maybe someone else, but she might as well take a stab in the dark.  There was no help for this sort of thing. 

Beginning to feel nauseous, Dalida finally wound down enough to get in bed and stay there for a good while, forcing herself to remember happy moments with her father and mother. If the visage of Ms. Lossker transforming into the Patriarch disturbed her rest more often than she liked, she just imagined stabbing it in the face, like she had been dared to do to the pigeon on the roof so many years ago.    

Dalida didn’t see a Portuguese beach again for nearly a decade, and then she saw them twice more before any of the Patriarch’s men knowingly disturbed her.  She wondered occasionally if the old woman was still alive, but not about what she wrote.  She knew the Patriarch was still alive as sure as her skin didn’t sag or wrinkle the same way as other women her age or how she had never needed even a minor surgery.  But her thick peppered hair and rimmed glasses began to tell a different story and Dalida’s few friends eventually got used to the idea that they would always be held at arm’s length and any sexual encounters were never really going to be sexual or more than temporary amusements for Dalida.  Still, she did not shy away from sex.  In her own way, she fought what the Patriarch represented, even if it did make her feel tired, her joints more achy and hair a little whiter each time she broke off a relationship with a sycophant turned admirer. 

“They fall hard for that one.” Was her long time editor’s taunt whenever the subject of Dalida’s asexuality came up.  It was a spring day during a period of political unrest she hadn’t remembered since her early youth that an unmarked lavender envelope arrived on her desk without an explanation.  Long since feeling the need for any concern over such a delivery she opened the package like she would any.  Inside was a neatly folded newspaper clipping.  Obituaries.  Ms. Lossker had died.  Instead of flowers, donations to the Phyllis house were being taken. 

But that wasn’t all.  The paper folded inward, with the back looking plain enough, Dalida unfolded the rest of the paper.  Out fell a small clipping from a separate paper.  Woman in Greydons Park Square stabbed and raped by gang of men.  Jane Wallstone an investment leaves behind two sons, and a reward for any information on the killers police suspect to be members of the South Street gang, possibly mistaking Mrs. Wallstone for a rival member’s mother. 

Dalida’s veins turned to ice.  She hadn’t kept up with Jane after… after her breakdown in Lisbon all those years ago.  She had stayed in bed for almost a week, raving, hallucinating.  The concierge said she had broken into the suite next door, tearing the knob right off the door, before they took her to the hospital and flew her home with a private nurse she later found out Jane had paid for.   But there was no response to the thank you note, or the Christmas card that year, or the one after that. 

Who would send this to her? 

The office manager could only remember a strange man, someone new from the mail room.  But he didn’t stick around, so they thought he must have been a day temp. 

Was it him?  It wasn’t them.  But one of them wanted her to know it had happened, just the same.  Exactly the thing he had warned, and sworn she was protected from, except of course someone who was possibly her very best friend.  Had he read the story too, entertained by it, aroused by it?  Her stomach turned. 

She was on the next flight to Chicago and introduced herself to the two boys  she had never met as an old school acquaintance.  Jane’s ex glanced at her quick enough to give her the idea that neither of them were really welcome at the funeral by anyone that remembered them.  It started raining before they left the cemetery and well into the night.  The beats against Dalida’s hotel window drowned out the sounds of screaming until she could no longer ignore them. 

Suddenly she was running.  Someone was chasing her and her side hurt terribly.  Then she stopped and someone caught her. She was inside some kind of enclosed box made from scraps and trash.  Outside, children were yelling something,

“Ten in the pit!  Ten in the pit!”

“Slow down D.  We’ve got all night.”  A woman with a ponytail wrapped tightly behind her head hugged Dalida affectionately.  When she stepped back Dalida saw Jane, her face, eyes and chin, scratched, muddy and a pale bluish gray.  She smiled revealing a deep cut from one side of her lip back into her mouth, and another wide gash at her throat.  The former dripped small black droplets as she spoke the latter gushed deep crimson down her chest staining the hospital gown over her front. 

“Relax.  I could only come to you this way once.  You won’t remember likely, from now on.” Jane said. 

“Did… did he do this to you?  Did they do this?” Dalida asked, terrified.  Another spot of blood grew and began staining the hospital gown and dripping down from around the body’s groin area. 

“Nnnoo.  Not directly.” The dead woman said, her cheek opening in a grotesque slit, her eyes milky.  “But he’s never going to stop as long as he has someone to tell the stories.  There are things he’s forbidden from doing, like killing you.  He thinks as long as he feeds his addiction solely off you, his kind and your kind will avoid the kind of endings that happened to me.”  Jane explained. 

“But he’s wrong.” Dalida guessed.

“But he’s wrong, or I wouldn’t now be a part of your story.  Not like this.”  Jane said, smiling, cheek gashing. 

“I can’t remember how many times I swore I would end him.” Dalida said, gritting her teeth. 

“W-why haven’t you D?” Jane asked, her voice low and sincere.  “I think you know where you can find him.” She added suddenly in her jogging outfit, slowly kneeling backwards onto the ground, hands around her throat, laying down, eyes staring up wide in terror, regaining the posture she had when they found her. 

Dalida jumped. 

“Hey lady, you can’t be here.” A fat, balding police man ran up to her, yelling. 

She was surrounded by yellow police tape and markers were around the spot on the ground where Jane had just been.  She stifled an urge to ask the police man how she got there in the middle of the night in her sleep clothes. 

“Ain’t you a little chilly, wearing that this time of night?” The police man. 

“I’m sorry.  My friend died and I just had to see for myself before going home.” She improvised, climbing under the police tape and backing away.  Turning around she continued walking, picking up her pace until she saw her parked rental car under a street lamp.  Had she been asleep the whole time?  Was that Jane’s doing? 

She decided not to go back to the hotel.  She would confront the Patriarch here and now, with Jane’s and her own resolve still fresh.  She would defeat him once and for all.  Pulling the small hand gun and holster from under the hidden compartment behind the dash, she strapped the gun to her side under her shirt.  She wasn’t familiar with the seedier parts of the town she was in.  But after following the likely foot traffic on the street and random single male in a car late at night she quickly picked up the usual trail. 

Women and likely a few men looked at her as though she must be lost, that or stalking an errant cheating husband or boyfriend on the wrong part of the tracks.  Was she too small, frail or even old, or just female to be making object investigation, or maybe even an actual customer?  Glares from strangely dressed denizens huddled in doorways and at street corners told her all those assumptions were mostly true.  She pulled up and parked in front of a row of neon magenta, and powder blue lights.  The two furthest were bookstores and simple peep shows.  The one she wanted was right beside her; gold columns at the front entrance revealed a chintzy appeal to class. 

Locking the car she tucked her shirt in and double checked her equipment before walking into the sound of blaring techno music.  It was late, but the weekend crowd had a vibrancy that would keep everyone there up at least until dawn.  The man at the counter waived her through.  Ladies didn’t pay covers in a place like this, though Dalida thought he could have mistaken her for someone that worked there.  She laughed then, unlikely.  The waitress came up to her almost as soon as she sat down.  She ordered her usual gin and soda.  The next act was a double.  The women were skilled dancers.  She hadn’t expected that.  But it was exactly the place he would come for her, exactly the kind of fare he couldn’t resist. 

After she threw back the third gin, he just managed to catch the corner of her eye.  It was a man in a gray suit, plain face, too plain, like he never smiled at anything decent in his whole life.  He was trying to avoid looking at her.  She didn’t play nice with them anymore and he had probably been warned.  But the way the rules worked he would have been there anyway.  He would have seen her anyway.  And when he was sure it was her, which now he was, he almost physically would not be able to resist staying near her, looking upon her, remembering her and all the stories.  After all, they were the very best he and the rest had ever read. 

“Better than the real thing.” Some even dared to say. 

The couple on stage swayed this way and that, grabbing the silver fixed pole in the center stage, buttocks flaring upwards as they dived.  Dalida was mesmerized or was it the seventh gin.  Slowly the stage began to quake and split apart.  Dalida smiled and remained still while the other patrons gasped, shouted out and ran back to the bar away from the stage.  The dancers continued dancing as if nothing had changed and the strange man also transfixed continued to stare at her and them from across the room as if nothing unusual were happening.  Fog lights and swirling vapor emanated from under the stage where a stair case lead down underneath the dancing duo. 

Dalida stood, clutching the table at first for support and then walked straight to where the stage had been and down the newly formed stair well. 

“Dalida, I knew you’d come.  After all this time, I knew it.” A woman’s scratchy voice greeted her in the dark.  On an old stained single bed with yellowed sheets against a black wall, a nearly bald woman with sores on her head and face and pale blind eyes grinned at her.  Scattered were more deranged letters in scrawled ink, newspapers and magazines with the faces of models cut out and drawings, some the woman had blindly through memory been recently working on. 

“I love you so much Delilah.  I have always loved you.” But the old womans’ words were distorted, tortured and somehow forced, the last few strands of her dish water gray hair barely covering the red scabs and rashes on her scalp and face. 

“Will you take her place Delilah?”  Another familiar voice whispered in the darkness.

Again tears poured out of the matriarch’s sunken, hollow, now both pale blue, blind eyes.  A faint smile scratched across her face, with the name ‘Dalida’ still faintly on her lips. She caressed the younger woman’s arm who had sat down on the filthy bed beside her, mouthing the word ‘Dalida’ over and over again, grinning a mouth full of black rotten sharp teeth.  Dalida wept for the evil creature this woman had become and been enslaved to and her soul screamed at the possibility it was truly her mother.  Somehow whatever the Patriarch had done to this living rot of demonic monstrosity, Dalida knew it was not her mother.  It may have never even been human, but Dalida’s mother had died a long time ago. 

“You cheated! That’s not how it works!” An even creakier old voice shouted from the darkness. 

“No.  They did.  Or someone did.  Someone not quite as evil as you or what you’ve made this woman into.” Dalida countered.   

“I don’t know why I came.  Why do you do this?  Why don’t you let us go?  Who is this woman and who are you?  WHERE IS MY MOTHER!!! WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY FATHER!!!”  Dalida shouted, finally enraged beyond her own control. 

“You know, I think I will take HER place, and YOURS.”  And with that Dalida pulled the weapon from her back and fired a single shot that registered with the woman’s forehead.  As blood splattered behind her hitting the wall she fell sideways onto the bed with deep crimson pooling over her newly finished lavender colored drawings.

The patriarch scrambled.  His hands went up.  He turned and cowered behind the very chair he had been sitting in.  The few men and phantom guards in the darkness around them were suddenly frightened and abandoned them entirely.  They were alone.  Dalida sat on the bed next to her mother and wiped the few silver corn silk strands of hair from her pinkish gray worn face and empty eyes and sobbed.

“Are you going to k-kill me?  Is it going to e-end?”  The patriarch looked terrified, maddened, confused. 

Dalida sat for a moment, silent.

“No, you’re going to keep hearing and telling others’ stories, forever.  They will never be hers or about me again, but you will always come back, unable to resist the idea that one day, one will be. You must leave this place and any like it and never come back or what I want to happen to you in the end will torment you more than anything you could possibly imagine.”  Dalida stopped sobbing and put her weapon down on the bed beside her. 

It was a long time before Dalida attempted any kind of intimate relations again, though she did make more than a few acquaintances who favored dealing in sex for a living, often lonely older and younger women who also had strange aversions to real relationships.  And despite her ability to make a mean whiskey sour behind the bar, she stopped drinking all together.  After some time Dalida didn’t think about the Patriarch as much, though she guessed their family’s history was older than any book or story could tell her.  That fact eased some of the loss she felt about not having any other family. 

On third Wednesdays, once a month without fail, an old man would show up for story time.  Months or now was it years past, the children’s collection specialist, Dr. Emerstein had been told he was kindly enough and something unfortunate had happened to his son and seven year old granddaughter.  Ms. Keating and her daughter, Laney had decided to go by the bakery and pick up a dozen oatmeal cookies for the group that day, as Laney proudly described to Dr. Emerstein, “with raisins.”

They would all sit, with good patience and quiet as Molly Emerstein would read, inflecting with little people voices when the animals would be talking and serious voices when the adults would talk, and concerned or inquisitive voices when the children would talk.  Occasionally Dr. Emerstein thought she might have caught him in a smile when one of the fictional story book children did or discovered something new, but then the same pout he always had would return and she never was quite sure. 

At the end of that Wednesday’s story, the Patriarch slowly stumbled over to the refreshment table with his cane, picked up and began nibbling on a single oatmeal cookie.  Laney Keating watched as a single tear formed and slid down the old man’s cheek.

“What’s wrong, you don’t like raisins?”  Asked Laney. 

The old man looked down, his beady black eyes boring into the air before the little girl, otherwise looking lost, otherworldly and nearly pathetic, “Oh, no, no.  It’s just the stories aren’t the same anymore.  Not since… not since…”  And then a small, weak and perturbed cry would escape his lips to the mild alarm of Dr. Emerstein, Ms. Keating and the desk librarian who would pass a quick look of moderate concern among them before returning to stamp each card from the books stacked beside her.

Wobbling out the door once more with cane haphazardly placed at his side, balancing each step, Ms, Keating raised her hand to speak and wave goodbye, but the old man was already gone. 

“What’s his name anyway,” Ms. Keating asked the desk librarian as Dr. Emerstein was engulfed in a serious conversation about next quarter’s additions to the children’s collection with a rather prim and proper parent.

“Sally knows,” the desk librarian replied, shuffling her glasses. 

Sally Gardner had been the main librarian since Ms. Keating was Laney’s age. 

Dalida continued to walk to the park on Sundays and in the spring time would occasionally stop for a coffee at the café she went to in college before walking by the single’s club later at night.  One of the female bouncers predictably laced up in a black leather corset would smile and wink at Dalida, before lighting a cigarette, to which Dalida would half-smile back before lowering her head and walking on. 

If it was a particularly warm and sweet spring night Dalida would come home to her small apartment, brush and stroke her whitening long gray hair, give her plants a late night watering, put on a new lipstick, think of any number of male or female friends who had been more kind than not to her over the past year or so and attempt to pleasure herself.  Except now when she stopped, it wasn’t because of exhaustion or soreness, and she almost never cried, but listened instead to the buzz of lights and conversation from the city below, the small sound of the tv in her retired neighbor’s apartment and the dripping sound of water from her ferns.  And on those nights Dalida did something she missed and liked even better than sex, Dalida dreamed. 

incomplete treatments are still treatments

honeybadger don’t care, somebody buy me, make me an offer…

Day of the Dead (remake 2024)

A doctor is on a flight back from Washington D.C. and a gruesome montage at the beginning of cattle cut in half still moving and other grotesque scenes shows that he is one of the doctors studying the sino-russian satellite debris that has given off tremendous amounts of radiation and made hundreds in a small border town near Maryland and Pennsylvania deathly ill within hours of exposure. 

Because the illness remains so mysterious it has been fast-tracked for the 24/7 news cycle, the press room for the Potus and Congressional hearings within 48 hours of the crash…. Almost as a spoof of our inflammatory, “Don’t Look Up”, media culture.   

(These are the scenes and footage shown on the television in Night of the Living Dead)

At the airport in LA the doctor cuts his hand getting his baggage.  It’s a small cut, so he doesn’t bother with it, but it has already been suggested that he is infected.  At an airport shop he browses among toys and souvenirs, and we are introduced to the family from NOTLD, catching a connecting flight and talking about driving into the country to see the woman’s mother.  The man berates her, while spoiling the daughter and talking bad to the girl about her mother.  The girl laughs as the doctor accidentally bumps into her and with mouth and eyes wide open it is suggested that she has just become infected. 

The man dozes off in traffic, takes a few pills and then plays video games in his messy house with friends until late into the night. His friends are apparently unphased by the news of the impending threat and strict lockdowns with curfews occurring in the DC area and along the northeast.  One man mentions he has to go pick up his roommate at the hospital who got in a bar fight, but three hours later, just before dawn when the doctor shambles to bed, his friend still has not signed back into the game. 

The next morning, several friends are still signed in, but a few characters are just standing around like they have been abandoned.  He forgets his phone sitting on the night stand that has several missing calls and texts. Next to it are a woman’s burgundy crumpled panties with little black hearts and a note on top written in red cursive, likely from many days ago.  Doc doesn’t notice, or care, he is late. 

The office is high tech and resembles a basic bio-medical building, but a second gate controlled parking level goes down to reveal a secure underground facility with additional parking and clearance. 

Doc makes his hellos and goes through several security stations, the last is a decontamination spray that tells him he has a cut on his hand. 

Inside this last station is a vast network of offices and corridors that with elevators we presume goes even further down. 

An Asian, young male, intern looks up from a microscope when he enters a lab area.  A woman, blonde with a pony tail and goggles comes in. 

Doc is not supposed to be there, but back in DC under quarantine.  People are infected in different ways.  Not everyone gets sick.  Not everyone that gets sick becomes a zombie.  But of course they find out the hard way. 

By the time Susan goes out for lunch, saying they will likely all be under lockdown for a while and it might be a while before they can get take out again, the lab is crowded. 

Everyone is disappointed to hear that there are full scale riots out east and in DC.  And the lockdowns have failed. 

Some of the security officers, which comprise most of the extra personnel now inside the lab are spreading rumors that something worse is going on.  And agencies in CA above and beyond the usual lockdown, quarantine routine have already been put on high alert. 

Doc confirms that this could potentially be much worse than what they’ve seen before, but they can’t do anything without samples to study, which are still classified and back east. 

Susan returns and says people are already panic buying and cleaning out the stores and the ‘crazies’ are coming out for the last hoorah.  Doc starts getting sick.  Several of the security guards start getting sick but say it just feels like COVID.  For safety the inner lab and lower levels are placed on the strongest lockdown.  Susan hides her sandwhich inside the lab fridge, where DJ (asian dude) also hides his old sushi. 

No one will be able to enter the lowest levels for twenty-four hours without overriding the system. 

No one will be able to leave the facility for twelve hours, or until the lockdown is released by one of less than twenty ranking doctors including Doc and Susan pony tail. 

When security and parking attendants start becoming zombies the others beg to be let into the inner and lower levels.  At first they are all refused.  But trying to help them and administer medical care Susan is attacked, has her hand crushed and is nearly scalped, before Doc and DJ save her and allow several others in. 

As personnel get sicker and weaker, staff and main characters watch on cameras, televisions and through their devices, local LA, the nation and the world descend into a violent, nightmarish and murderous chaos.  After twenty-four hours, most cell signals no longer work and the news, they decide, for riot control is somehow being uniformly produced on every channel. Fox is off the air and all major social media is inaccessible.  

It’s established that the zombies are super strong, because they feel no pain or muscle pressure.  They can exert five to ten times their normal muscle, bite or grip pressure (on average about 800lbs). They have some random robotic like memory from their previous lives, but they don’t recognize people or have emotions or any real sensory or perception.  A major key signature of this living dead movie is a return to the fear of the slow zombie.  Where fast zombies are more ‘fear of the beast’ some might say that’s inappropriate for zombies, they are dead.  They are not beasts, classically.  Slow zombies are more, fear of the darkness and fear of death itself.  Death most often is slow, but it is crushing, stalking, relentlessly strong and in a way, all powerful in its motive and intent.  It’s not safe at all to approach these zombies in hand to hand combat.  If they grab you they will inflict immediate pressure pain of an almost mechanical, robotic vice grip.  You are not getting away without a lot of help.  This is where we get the more gruesome, blood spurting bites.  When they bite, occasionally they can and will bite through softer parts of the skull and softer, smaller bones, like fingers.  They can break through almost any glass, cuts and their own flesh wounds obviously do not deter them.  They will beat down anything not made of concrete: wood, glass, steel, doors, walls, until their own arms, noses and faces have been worn down to limp, boneless, sacks and strings of flesh hanging at their sides.  They will beat at gates and steel structures until their hands and forearms are pulp rags.   And leave heavy dents and impressions in the hard wood and steal.  They can and do breach hard defenses, old, weak concrete, barbed wire, basements with weak, rusty small bars across the doors, after just a few hours, if there enough of them.  We hear this on the radio in the lab, as one after another, shelters fall and people who think they are safe inside bunkers, are not. 

The staff begins to divide into two conflicting groups.  Those who want to stay above ground and study the zombies and virus for a cure or vaccine, even though they have seen that the hoard is capable of breaching the main level’s security features, doors and glass and even the elevator shaft (which was amplifying and echoing human voices from below) and those who want to go as far and deep into the lab as they can, where they know they will be safe once they are in physical lockdown and wait possibly weeks or months for a rescue that may never come, with the living dead still all around them if they run out of resources and have to try and escape.   

This is midpoint to third act of the film… in NOTLD where we hear the radio and tv broadcast about the dead coming back to life and murdering the living and in some cases eating the flesh.  (all cases).  They have to be shot in the head, and that the bodies have to be burnt.  It is Doc giving an official CDC broadcast and monologue from within the infected and swarmed LA CDC underground lab, and one of his last scenes before turning. 

The lowest three levels of the lab are reminiscent of resident evil and were built to withstand nuclear warfare and biological warfare, and their aftermath and to securely house about 20 medical workers and doctors indefinitely (about ten years).  But no one can just leave the facility until and unless they are actually rescued, meaning from an engineering standpoint those within the vault are expected to eventually die in the vault.  But the few who know this do not share it with the rest until the majority decides to take shelter from the hoard above.  Maria a latino parking attendant says, “who knows, in ten years they will have machines that can come and dig them out”  naively, but hopefully.  Anything is better than being eaten alive. 

One scene involves the Asian dude making sushi out of his friend because they would often have and talk about sushi together and remembering to share or not share what was left in the fridge.  This is evidence of rote, performance memory in the zombies.  And a neat gag.  Those who want to study them argue that all variables are important for study as any one could lead to pathways for a vaccine, including behavioral variables… which is true (polio, rabies, etc). 

In the end with Susan not being symptomatic, but secretly pregnant, the survivors decide that Doc only turned after he was bitten trying to protect Susan and then DJ (asian dude).  So a motley crue of doctors, lab workers, interns, technicians, security officers and parking attendants decide to hold up in the underground bunker, leaving the hundred or so zombies still in the facility above them.  But it’s tricky because they have to break the system and then restart it to let them in before it purges and burns out everything inside and below them, which of course involves getting through other zombies and more danger. 

Seven months later, Susan dreams of being on a beach with Doc (probably the father), trying to fight off a zombie version of himself in a comedic spoof, to ‘win the girl’.    

She wakes up sweating next to a parking attendant who has become her girlfriend and notices her water has broke.  One of the other doctors in the group helps them walk down a long dimly lit corridor to the medical station, waking up others on the same floor.  At a workstation, 13 days are x’d off until their next check in with the CDC war time operations network.

On the monitors inside the room the hoard of zombies above has smashed and broken up everything above them and left deep dents in heavy, thick steel doors.  Baby George/Jorge his latino step-mom girlfriend argues, is born and cries as the group sing happy birthday and blow into kazoos, one of the technicians presses a button that unleashes multiple sprays of riot control foam all over the zombies, including Doc and DJ.    

The end.

Post Credits Montage: 

Security Camera Footage shows Susan, Maria and crew escaping the lab when Jorge is about three years old and Susan is obviously pregnant with another baby.  They get into a helicopter on the roof of the lab and fly away. 

The next footage is another birthday party inside a large botanical, biodome with trees and a waterfall in the distance.  Susan and Maria are singing over a lighted cake with a two or three year old girl standing next to a boy, Jorge, a few years older.  Skip to the children are running and playing.  Two large, strange figures in full body jump/burn suits with control devices on their heads are slowly walking around crushing large red balloons between their open palms.  Children are running around gathering candy and toys that have fallen out of the balloons onto the grass.  Still at the table is Jorge and a few of the older children with game controllers in hand, obviously controlling the direction and actions of the zombies inside the full body coverings (re Psycho Goreman). 

copyright May 2022 th0masc0rb3tt

all rights reserved

Shadows of Darkness and Light

Shadows of Darkness and Light

If my apprentices failed to understand the nature and often lengthy and uncomfortable processes of healing through the more evasive side of the Force, leading them to treachery and the self-absorption of wretchedness, I must take some real responsibility for that failing.  But there has been so much darkness concealing so many untruths.  Among the last of the old ones’ weapons of galactic genocide were great, finely tuned monstrosities, engineered to shift the very fabric of time and reality. Fueled at their core with two supremely powerful, highly select, fossilized and impenetrably deep Khyber shards, lie machines capable of projecting immense Force Shadows, twisting and distorting entire galaxies against the elegance of their original designs, lies and shadows that so many thousands of years later we have all but been buried with.  

And yet we are from a bright and warm place, a rich place of blue and green, reminiscent of my beloved Naboo, a place that can only now just be returning to an age of ice and thick caps of cold white, a place where the sol shined on good summer days, for up to twelve hours at a time and our civilization late took to the stars, millenia after others had annihilated themselves, unable to conquer their own wasteful vices.  We cannot return there now, if there are still registered or known colonies of imperial humans in those systems to return to.  Long lost among the star maps of the foreign regions, on the borders of the known galaxy where the Chlorian decay is among stillest, our people evolved to be Force weak among the mildest of Force sensitive systems and planets.  Even as the Sith legacy became more and more concentrated within our blood and bodies, such circumstances meant the feats of a Sith’s power were all but eclipsed. By the time we found ourselves in such large numbers again on a single planet, beneath the depths of Tython, the powerful and secretive among us were natural Force users. 

What is our true history?  And will it not die with me if Anakin will not accept the truth?  In the beginning it is all but certain that some compromises were made to protect sensitive concentrations of Force power that could be turned again to nightmare weapons, agreements made by both dark and light.  But after so many thousands of years of covert slavery, the ravages of war, secret long-standing royal dictatorships and dark criminal industries that have often lasted centuries, the falsehoods of ink are not only dry, but nearly as fossilized on the parchment pages as the rarest and most powerful Khyber. Those in the galaxy who believe themselves to be in places of power soon learn that fairy-tale dragons can be quite real, and are just as dangerous, evil and terrifying as they are charismatic, and they call themselves Jedi. 

Suffice it to say, we were never Jedi.  That word is anathema, when they are not their own hunters and murderers, they have been the genocide of billions, now lost among the stars, through the very magic their ancestors were taught to only use for good to save and preserve all life; their personal weapons and side arm, a perversion and abuse of the sacred, life giving Khyber mineral.  When the healing light is first bent and compelled to draw a straight, cutting laser with the heat and power of a thousand bolts of lightning, the sound of the crystal fracturing and breaking can be heard not only in agonizing pain through the force, but audibly as the crystal screams. 

Obeying their archaic orders of powers and robed council from the fortress and prison they kept for millennia on Coruscant, their path of conquering and annihilation only became more virulent when my would be descendent Anakin Skywalker was foremost deputized among them. The onset of war was the perfect distraction for the most hardened Jedi and other galactic criminals to be released upon the battlefields, the prison dissolved and abandoned to ‘cooler and more progressive’ senatorial heads, while the guards and whole families that lived within the complex were slaughtered by those satisfied or eager to forge the bloodiest path off Coruscant.  After they had annihilated each other, the Jedi finally came at last for me, through their dark imp and finally the apprentice we had sought to battle over and both dared pin our divergent goals upon.   

So many of my own memories and life history they have stolen from me, attempting to place it on that unfortunate desert urchin they wrested out of a Hut Mafia execution cell, for his reputed Force prowess.  They were right.  He was no prophet, at least not any more than I have been.  And I did fall for him, wooed by him as much as the Force was in his hands.  And I did try to save him from that dark imp, so filled with evil he had come to resemble the very wisened little green devil haunting countless cautionary tales and mythological hellscapes in every corner of the civilized cosmos.  But I was an arrogant fool to think I could beat the devil himself, especially at his own game. 

One morning when I was still a young child my mother took me by the hand and pulled me away from the other children. I was playing a game of dice and hot scratch on the clay pavement and winning.  I was confused and thought I was in trouble for using the heating elements to make scratches in the rock that occasionally burned the careless small finger.  She had always taught me to respect the different forms of intelligent humanoid life that were our neighbors, especially other elders and adults. 

“They are not like us Sheev.”  I looked at the girl with the orange skin, red eyes and cleft montrals and she smiled back as if nothing was amiss. My mother spoke as she continued to hang our weekly laundry between the cliffs where our rounded multi-level housing compartments and street path wound towards the palace compound.  And then I saw what she meant.  Tobias was wearing a tunic made from the fabrics allotted to the families of the royal palace guard.  He would never have to wash it.  The fabric was made from dungen seal, stain proof and naturally deodorizing, but it could probably burn.  The Queen used dungen seal ribbons in several of her formal hair braids.  I hadn’t noticed, or maybe I thought it was not real dungen seal and some kind of less expensive imitation fabric that Tobias wore. 

“We were going to go swimming.” I remember imploring, looking up at her face etched with concern and genuine care.  Only the pools inside the compound were free from barnacle wasps and spider crabs.  And my mother had warned me on more than one occasion that I was dangerously allergic. 

“With who, the princes and princess?” She asked, plainly, without deceit.

 “Come now Sheev, let’s not keep anyone waiting.”  My mother insisted, the smile slowly fading from my face as I looked back at Tobias and the other children who had already returned to the game without me.    

The next time I saw Tobias he was attempting to buy time and favors with a Togrutan girl who looked remarkably like our playmate that day, from a drey weed smoking Gungan bedecked head to foot in cheap sweat shop crafted Naboo gold. I couldn’t help but notice the Gungan had dark crimson red dungen seal ribbons woven through his filthy beard.  The girl was also not someone I would have imagined Tobias with and had bruises on one cheek while the tip of her left montral was no longer pointed and sharp, but sunken and drooping from so many piercings in the same cleft of cartilage. 

I was a third year patrol officer when Meban Amidala forfeited on more gambling debt than the whole Gungan Empire brought to the palace in their yearly tithe.  He was banished by his brother who would later be celebrated and awarded for offering great mercy to the House of Amidala by retaining the extended royal line.  Meban’s star cruiser was destroyed in a ‘docking incident’ above Coruscant, but his daughter was allowed to serve the people as Naboo’s youngest representative since the feuding times.  Her safety was immediately in grave jeopardy and naturally her childhood was over.  The first knight of her palace guard just happened to be my old friend, Tobias Dannoed.

Had I known then how strongly the eyes of the Jedi were already on the young princess and Naboo’s rare mineral technology, capable of fueling enormous starships and orbiting bases, along with my own personal technical designs, maybe we all might have had a chance, but the princess was swept away in a Jedi orchestrated, politically mechanized fate made for our people, the Gungans included, likely before the princess was even born.  It was only my wise master who saved me from rushing in and using what little knowledge of the force he had taught me against an impossibly monstrous adversary, before I could even save myself, much less the princess or any of her scions. 

To this day I have kept his true name out of the Jedi archives and if it is the last thing I do, his anonymity and that of his humble people will remain in secrecy.  He was the first to teach me the healing arts the Jedi take for granted or forsake training in all together, in favor of more warlike ‘battle’ skills.  He taught me to preserve the lives of small creatures that naturally only lived for weeks or even days, instead extending them for months or even whole years, rarely summoning the ability to resurrect small creatures from certain death all together.  It was my small fuzzy green, Felvarian leech he insisted I allow to come to its natural demise that incited our first conversation about the ancient Jedi Warlock and monster. 

The most reliable histories detailed reports that he had been alive in his current physical form for well over nine-hundred years, though there were stories and of course Jedi who boasted the real number was nine-thousand.  His appearance alone was enough to frighten the most seasoned, battle hardened warlords, and indeed some say that he had shrunk in stature with his more perverse uses of the Force and had once been among a tall and even elegant people.  That was no longer the case as his form now called to mind, the little green and red trident carrying imps and demons so often encountered in the tales of early humanoid civilizations with monsters, horned humanoids and scary devils abusing the Force in some manner.  Life in the galaxy is diverse, but not quite that diverse.  How strangely he must have learned to heed and cling to the darkness for the natural healing powers of the Force to evade one like him so severely; crooked perversions that would have usually corrected themselves by the most basic tenets of life that flows through us and the universe.  Instead his crooked manipulations had made him stunted and a frightening deviant of even the darkest Force powers among the Jedi and even among his own long-lived species.     

“His age, backwardness and fearsome power are not what should concern you dear apprentice.”  My master warned shortly before he died of a long unremitting disease. 

“Oh, I am not frightened.  I know very well that fear is the foremost Jedi weapon and mind trick.” I lied. 

“But you should be frightened.  Because when they come for us, when they finally perceive us as a real threat to their lengthy plans, we will be the exact monsters in their story.  We will be the tricksters of the force, the murderers of children and innocents.”  And at that my master dived uncontrollably into another coughing fit that had been effectively killing him the whole time I had known him, stretching our uses of Force healing to its limits. 

“It has inevitably already begun.  Many of the stronger signs say it is already much too late.”  He rasped, now eliciting the true fear in my visage he wished to effectively tease out of me, until there was only the unity of the two, the serenity and harmony of eternal hope in the duality of the Force that I had sworn and avowed to in my allegiance to the path of the Sith.    

“I will resist them master!  I will look that green Warlock directly in what living remains of his oily viscous dark eyes and say he has met the light hope of all peoples that day!  The very Force he has tortured and violated will have summoned its most valiant defender to face him, the Sith!” I said with perhaps the last of my youthful convictions, only days before my Master entered the soft light forever. 

“I know you will Sheev.  I know you will.”  My master choked and heaved.  The single light saber we shared, unused in battle for over five thousand years, its pale rose colored Khyber safe and quiet, resting between us. 

A more intellectual man may have enjoyed the life of a governor and politician, but my path was alongside the princess and then queen as her only true protector.  When I first met the Jedi and the young boy who would become our nemesis I can’t say my first reaction was one of revolt.  For the most part they resembled conventional orderlies or even elite home guards.  Were these in fact the betrayers of justice across the galaxy? It was their subtle shift in values from the traditional Naboo, the little details that revealed them to be under the control of a much more sinister construct than their uniform piety at first gave way.  The murder of the Dathomir palace guard, a proud race of natural mind and soul healers, who had been anonymously corresponding with my master; he was surely a novice force user and no threat to anyone, but where my studies had already brought me some masquerade, he was evidently a glaring presence of the light side of the force to them, at once a mortal enemy.  And then to butcher him grotesquely the way they did, in front of the child.  I see now how Anakin was a pawn already within the grasp of the evil green wizard from the very outset. 

The birth of his children and then immediate death of their mother and the belief planted in him by the Jedi that they were dead was the turning point for Anakin, before Luke had even found and was turned by the old grizzled Jedi lieutenant, Kenobi.  Anakin’s insistence on blood-thirsty Jedi tactics should have been obvious, but what is a Sith without hope?  I wanted to believe he loved his children and truly wanted to find them to save them from whatever elements of the Jedi remained in the galaxy, especially the fearsome lieutenant Kenobi that had sworn to kill me after Anakin used the Sith saber to dispatch the first Jedi who had already tried it.  I failed Anakin, Padme and their children, worse, I failed the path of peace, the rule of the unity and trust between the Two, that makes the vows and oaths of the Sith even possible.  

And then the loss of Sajja before we even learned Anakin’s daughter was being weaponized against us.  When the Mandalorian, one of several professionals we were increasingly compelled to keep in reserve returned Vendearess’ remains to Baron Doffin, it nearly broke him.  Naturally the Jedi would twist the fate of our undoing with Leia and her brother’s training through my most prideful creation, the Moon Stars.  What they did to Sajja Vendearess so many years before should have been an even more painful warning, if we’d had the luxury to heed it.  The secret apprentice of Dooku, a failed Jedi and colonial Baron Prince working against the rebels, Doffin had sought me out and steeled my side as sworn protector of the Queen.  His information proved the Jedi to be even more insidious than my master had suspected.  Long ago we spread fine delicate webs among ancient hidden temples of healing, faith and wisdom throughout the galaxy, making it possible for those that truly wish to learn about the Force and its healing powers capable of finding us.  Of course by then I was virtually the sole store of that knowledge; many Jedi do not know or even believe the Force is capable of such feats of healing and restoration.  That is at is should be as we are somewhat protected and defended from their aggression and will to hunt down and assimilate or kill other Force users.  But Sajja was our light, our resolution, when I could not take on Doffin as an apprentice because of so many shadows clouding his connection to the foundational Sith healing arts.  She did not argue when Doffin insisted it was once again time for the Sith to take up defensive and combat training.  When she lit the bright pink light of the Sith saber for the first time in so many millennia, the pain, anguish and tears in her eyes, flowing from the splintered core of the glowing crystal, were too real and would have real consequences.  And yet I must forgive the Jedi for what they did to her, as I have already forgiven Anakin.  As a student sometimes must teach the master, and Sajja reminded me herself, forgiveness is the Sith way, the only way. 

Did I still think I had any chance against Anakin, should he confront me like my own master warned me he would one day?  Did the force bring me premonitions against the Empire as a whole, after my overwhelming opposition in the senate was only too happy to use my face as the genius behind the schematics for their Moon Star Base?  I warned them of their potential folly and short-sightedness with venomous sarcasm, the imperial generals in their drab fatigues standing boldly beside us:

“Who needs a galactic senate when you have an entire star destroyer base at your command?”

It has been many years now, too many. Am I even still an imperial senator?  I cannot recall the last time I heard the commander called ‘Emperor’ by our subordinates even if I am certain to include it on all my official correspondence to his office.  There is no more prison on Coruscant, or prison industry for hunted war criminals, but I am no longer permitted to leave the Moon Star of my own accord and all of my interactions are highly regulated, naturally to protect such an ‘asset’ from wandering Jedi, bounty hunters or other terrorists, or so I am told by the General’s council. 

It is natural for a force user to create new technologies and I should have known the empire with only fleeting reticence from Anakin would construct a weapon of ultimate destruction, sealing a perpetual military presence on the peaceful co-habitants of the Moon Stars.  At once they were a military target for any number of factions, including the resurgence of any Jedi terrorists.  I had designed them to bring life to barren planets without gravitational seasons or ocean tides, not as weapons for the complete obliteration of entire planets.  It turned out the evil of the Jedi and the green Warlock in particular did not even have to be present to spread their poison among the galaxy.  Murder, though a favorite past time for beginner Jedi, is child’s play compared to the precise motives and objects of fear, hatred and enmity the Jedi Master are capable of projecting across the galaxy into the minds of Royals, Captains, Generals, Admirals and of course young apprentices to the Force in particular.  While I was attempting to heal and repair the damage the Jedi had done to Anakin and his connection with the Force, the evil warlock imp and Lieutenant Kenobi were holding his son and daughter captive unbeknownst to us and planning a demise more cruel and inhuman than I dared imagine.  My Moon Stars and I were sublime targets of the Jedi and a dangerous failure it seemed before I had even drawn out the schematics all those years ago on Naboo.

They say there are no storms on Naboo, that it is a paradise planet, but few oceans or reef systems have such small poisonous creatures that can kill with a single bite or sting and of course there are terrible lightning storms beneath and inside the planet, the match of any electrosphere with a more turbulent gravitational cycle.  Illirium dust can only be harvested from the deep underground rock walls of the Lirrum Cavity during the very worst of the subterranean storm season, when lightning has been known to bring down whole enormous lake sized pockets splitting off from the main caverns.  And without the hydro-therapy and herbal healing arts of the Gungans would be immediately fatal on contact and impossible to safely collect by hand. That is how the dust was first mined and collected, before much safer methods of extraction did not take a toll on so many born, raised and working their entire lives mining the caverns that were anything but a paradise.  And I ruled over and failed to reconcile that duality as much as I have failed the Sith and Anakin, the Queen, Padme and her children. 

I try to think kindly of the green wizard as the death shocks from the charged blackened fingertips of his last Jedi enervate every fiber in my body with wracking pain, as they have blinded and boiled my eyes in their sockets and caused my tongue and mouth to sputter and steam.  The small sorcerer of swamp serpents and bog creatures could not have always been a monster.  At some time he must have been a child like Tobias and I.  Perhaps Yoda had such a hidden and enslaved childhood like Anakin or Luke on Tatooine, or the poorest Gungans in the Lirrum mines. When his apprentice finally accosted me in my more studious apartment on the Moon Star, what had the wizard planned for him to see?  Another corrupt senator, a rich man, a slave driver who profited and gained from the blood off the very backs of his own countrymen, for some dust that was often found cheaper elsewhere?  Will they even know, will they even have been told that I am trained in the true art they purport to follow, the true and original path of the Force, of universal peace that is the Sith?  I don’t see it in them.  They only allow the force to enter and flow through them with pure hatred until there is a resistance where they can block and then begin to channel it back outwards.  The Force does not know anger. The Force does not know hate.  And their hate is powerful and it flows through them like a violent and unrelenting tempest. 

And yet they have no concept of the true immensity and power of the Force and all of its wonders.  They know only a fraction, as they know those parts they have fractured from it. They only know the Force as something to be used, manipulated, an end to justify some means.  As such they can only become the great death of the cosmos, foretold when all hope is lost.  And as their electric hate seers into my very heart and chest, as if like the Khyber crystals they violate, so too I will slowly turn to ash.  But I will not cry out like the famed seria sopranos of Coruscant. I will no longer beg for Anakin to embrace the true serenity and compassion of the Sith. I will not call out the name of my beloved Master in pain, anguish or vanity.  I will not think of my mother’s unfinished goals and wishes for me when she was still young, before the sickness, like my master, took her.  I will not think of my home, the lost paradise of Naboo, with the beginning and then center of our new Empire, the trappings and political machinations of so much death and war across the galaxy, the wrath of the Jedi.  I will surrender to the Force, I will feel it as it flows through me and everything at once in shining rainbow brilliance like the veins of Khyber beneath Tython, and I will only hope. 

All Rights Reserved – Lucas, Disney, etc. 

By Thomas Corbett  October 29, 2019.