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Autumn 2014

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Welcome to you!
Again we enter the shadowed realms of the soul, there to discover kings and knaves, gentlemen and gendarmes, murderers and mistresses, metanoia and melancholy.
In this issue of Beorh Quarterly we begin with a deeply disturbing tale from Rebecca Troy, ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ whose title is drawn from the erudite spiritual writings of St. John of the Cross.
P. J. Gannon then brings us ‘Caesar,’ a delightful look at timeless and idyllic childhood–the selfsame childhood we loathe while we are yet children, but long for the older we become.
We then step back to our own childhoods, perhaps, or maybe to a childhood we wish we could have had, and hear the beautiful story of Einar and his woodland in ‘Adventures in a Skinner Box’ by new-classic writer Harley Staggars.
Ken Schroeder then graces us with his warm and witty work ‘Against the Yellow, Painted Arrow,’ the story of two English-speaking travelers in a not-so-English environment.
The story of ‘The Clock’ is then told by storyteller Ramona Scarborough, and her work rounds out this issue of Beorh Quarterly, home of ‘The Very Best Stories Out There!’
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Rebecca Troy

Dark Night of the Soul

(an entry from the
Lizzie Andrew Borden Diary
dated August 3rd 1892)
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a story by

Rebecca Troy

Small cuts. That’s all it would take. I cannot fathom the thoughts that would have gone through his head whilst committing this act. Why should I understand him? Not all men can be understood. I am tired. Now I am left with nothing; he means for me to have nothing. These tiny creatures meant the world to me and now they are gone, their heads severed delicately as if they were never there at all. Why is this my father’s way? I see no way for us to reconcile now. He means for me to carry on. He keeps pushing. I’ll soon have less than nothing left. I wish another to be my father. All little girls want is a father who doesn’t chop the heads off her beloved birds when she is at church serving God. God is the only man that would not treat a woman in this manner. I am certain that he means for me to take these bodies and put them somewhere where he is not reminded of what he has done. Cleaning up after a man is woman’s work. I am not going to clean this murder.
I could call Bridget to clean, but I know she will not. She has no stomach for this. When I cut myself during dinner, I watched while the blood ran onto the white linens. Bridget was quite beside herself. Mrs. Borden was also distressed, but for another reason. I see no value in having linens if we are not to use them. Perhaps she was upset because it was our only set, and now it is covered in a blood that does not match her family line.
I lift up one of the lifeless bodies for just a moment. This morning they were full of life and if they had ever wished to be freed, they received their wish, but not quite as they would have imagined I am sure. I kiss where their heads once lay. The coldness of their neck hit my lips immediately. I now understand what death tastes like.
Father always says the prayer before we eat. I go to church the most, but he says the prayers. He tells me that he was afraid that the neighborhood boys would come to visit the birds, and burn down the shed, but that does not explain the need to kill. I have no real appetite. I find sitting opposite my father a task. My stomach churns in disregard. I try to reach as far down as I can to retrieve a memory that I can hold on to, to  preserve some respect for him, but instead my mind is numb, unable, and now all I have left is this fork and knife and the food I must eat, if I am not to enrage father. I wonder what he will kill tonight?
Tell me all that I can do, Lord, tell me, tell me. If I have strength then let me see it. Tell me what needs to be done. I have come here, in your house, your church, everyday for as long as I could walk and now I am asking you for help. I have never asked anything of you before. I know you will answer. You have to. I have no one. I can no longer live in this manner. I have no understanding of comfort. I have no understanding of the fashion of life. I live as he has requested I live, with very little. I hate my father. I have enough dedication for ten men, you cannot desert me. I am alone with no way forward.
I have these thoughts, unnatural, unrelenting. Please understand that I know the Devil can have his way at any time. I cannot let him in. Where are you, God? Is the need for freedom a sin? I know if I give into certain urges then I will never be able to find my way forward. Only people with good hearts enter Heaven. I am a good and pure soul, but I cannot hold my soul in place forever. God has given me Mrs. Borden and my father, as tests of faith. I know that if I can keep them from destroying me I will be stronger, more able to be the person that I want to become, one free of sinful thoughts. I have prayed constantly since the morning of the slain pigeons but I cannot free my mind of thoughts of revenge. I will never say or do anything that will hurt my Father in Heaven. I wish to be with Him. In Heaven.
Father believes the worst of me. He does not see me. He murdered my birds because of it. He finds me disgusting. I refuse to marry a man who is like him. I refuse to live another life the same, with a cruel fate. I will not do as he asks. I will not marry. He can kill a thousand birds but I will not do as he says.
There is no one. Why do you leave me here, Lord, in this basement, cold and hidden? I have ceased eating so that I can better hear you, but you never speak. I stay in this dark space, no candles. Father’s tools lay against these forgotten walls, and sing a song of freedom. Should I listen? I need not be in the light. If you will not be there to guide me then there is no point in being able to see through the night. I cannot continue to live like this. Nothing. The promise of a new life beckons, if it will not be with You, then I will find another way. If I cannot be free, You cannot expect me to wait for Heaven. I must find a way. Forgive me, Lord, but I can no longer wait for You to hear me. Please understand that I am still Yours right up until the end, if You will still have me. No matter what action I take, know that in my heart I do it for You.
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Rebecca Troy attended Chelsea College of Art and Design in London, and took a BA in Feminist Theory from State University of New York Empire. She has written two novels and one graphic novel. Her second novel is YA fiction set in the rural South during the Civil Rights Movement. She is also an avid writer of screenplays, and runs a small film production company called Sub Floor Seven Productions. Rebecca is a recent graduate of the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing at Goddard College.

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CAESAR

a story by

P. J. Gannon

One house on my route, a green cape, had a small side yard, where behind a cyclone fence the German Shepherd roamed. Each day, as I rolled up on my bike, a Schwinn Stingray with speckled banana seat and sissy-bar, he’d be out, chewing on his rubber ball. I’d try to be quiet. I never wanted him to know I was there. But one way or another, whether it was the squeak of my brakes or the lowering of my kickstand, I’d alert him. I’d approach cautiously, and, when his eyes, mean and penetrating, found me, his mouth would grow limp, the saliva-soaked ball dropping and bouncing aimlessly on the patio. He’d run at me as if there were no fence and for a moment I’d stop breathing, doubting whether there was one.
But it was real, as were his thick haunches, his foul breath that seemed to stretch the property’s length, and he’d collide with it and I’d be able to breathe again. On his hind legs, he was as tall as me and by his underbelly, whitish and lumpy, he looked twice my weight. His paws would grab hold of the horizontal pipe, right above the sign that read: BEWARE OF DOG.
One day, while I stood on the stoop waiting for the seventy cents that was owed me, I learned his name. Mr. Gianni, a muscular, loudmouthed man, was rummaging for coins in his tight Sassons but coming up short. The dog hadn’t stopped barking, and, finally having enough, he turned, his pocket linings hanging out, and yelled, “Shut up, Caesar!” Hearing that was like getting clobbered in the head with a baseball. I was dazed; my skin turned hot. Looking down at me, Mr. Gianni mumbled, “I can’t even think straight.” There was a menthol cigarette dangling from his lips and he released it and with his slipper squished it like my younger brother would the water bugs by our garage. “I’ll get you next week, okay?” I could hear the words but my mind had trouble shaping meaning; it was almost like listening to my grandmother speak Irish. “Next week. I’ll pay you. Don’t look so broken up.” I hurried to my bike and took a short cut across his lawn. “Off my grass, kid! I just put down a bag of seed!”
Caesar. One of the few names I heard once in my life and never forgot. According to my Children’s Bible, which I kept on my shelf above my bed, Caesar was the leader of the Romans, the men who had nailed Christ, my Savior, to the cross, the ones in the full page color pictures clad in armor and wearing helmets topped with what looked to be red brushes.  One of the Romans even threw dice for His possessions, while another with a sword pierced His side as He hung in agony. Those same men would later feed good Christians like me to lions. 
Caesar became the embodiment of evil in my neighborhood. I began terrorizing myself, wondering what awful things he’d done to lead Mr. Gianni to name him that. Before becoming domesticated had he ruled over a pack of killer dogs? Had he ripped the last paperboy to shreds? I’d come into the route rather suddenly when other kids who had applied at the same time, and some even before me, were still on a waiting list. Also, what kind of man would name his dog this? One I’d never seen in church. The entire house had lost its color. Everything about it, the asbestos shingles, the front door, the window boxes, the shutters, had been painted black by the brushstroke of the name. Caesar.
So, whenever I approached, I’d say the Lord’s Prayer. I also took to running to the stoop, sometimes with my eyes half-closed, or, when my courage faltered, throwing the paper from the driveway and getting the hell out of there.
Once, when I was getting set to throw the paper, Caesar hit the fence and the gate came ajar. I couldn’t breathe. A heart-stopping second later, he saw what had happened—he was no dummy—and sprung from the gate. I dropped the paper and took off. Running past my bike, I sensed him gaining on me. Oh, no. No!
In the street, next to Mr. Gianni’s Oldsmobile 98, I felt a stab on my right thigh, not unlike a bee sting, and then heard Mr. Gianni’s voice booming like an M80 detonating. “Caesar!” With tears in my eyes, I turned. The dog had begun making his way back. “He doesn’t bite!” Mr. Gianni was chuckling, an unlit cigarette in one hand, a lighter in the other. But my corduroys were torn and there was blood, right below the blue ink stain that had formed a few days before when my Bic pen exploded in Social Studies.
I grabbed hold of my leg; there were two small puncture wounds and wincing I limped back to my bike. Mr. Gianni, who was now heading down the walkway, had a look of disbelief on his face. “Oh shit! How about that?! I’m sorry, little guy!” He pulled out a handkerchief and crouched in front of me, his bald spot the size of Caesar’s rubber ball, and began blotting the wound. “Does it hurt?”
“A little.” And I started crying, not from the pain but from the whole ordeal.
“He’s got all his shots! Don’t you worry!” I nodded and wiped the tears with the back of my hand and when the bleeding stopped I got back on my bike. “Do you want a ride home?”
“No, I got more papers,” my voice trembling and I pointed to my bag.
“If your parents want to talk about this, they’re more than welcome.”
“Okay.”
“Here.” And he pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. It didn’t feel right but I took it anyway. “It won’t happen again. I promise you.”
The bill was crisp and fragrant and I folded it in half and slid it into my pocket. I could buy a ten-pack of Bubble Yum, Gobstoppers, Fun Dip, Reggie bars, catch Mr. Softee more than any other kid on my block.
Caesar was back behind the fence, the ball in his mouth. If that was all he had, and it appeared to be, I wasn’t afraid anymore and, with my spirits soaring, I pedaled off.
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Adventures in a Skinner Box

a story by

Harley Staggars

Kingdoms come in all sizes. The bigger ones – Sweden and Spain and England – have all been spoken for. But there are little kingdoms around that no one has claimed yet, and it doesn’t really matter how big they might be. A kingdom doesn’t necessarily have to occupy a physical space at all. There are kingdoms to be found in the clouds – in the fertile imaginations of children. Every boy, no matter how small or how many big brothers he may have, can be the king of someplace.
Einar ascended the throne during the Summer he was five years old – on the day he first turned his back on the sunlit field and ventured out into the shadowed world of the forest creatures. He did not go boldly, sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust, into this great unknown; he was truly terrified. He knew there were great gnarling bears out there, and prowling wolves and screaming lynxes, and an endless array of goblins and savages lay in ambush within the foreboding darkness – creatures that dwelt nowhere but in the fantasies of a five-year-old, and in the woods behind his house. But he was driven by a more imminent and certain danger. Knute was after him.
Knute was a year older than Einar, and he was, even then, a formidable adversary and a veteran of the First Grade. Einar, on the other hand, had never been to school or anywhere else, and had done nothing worth mentioning in his entire life. He had, by virtue of his presence alone, become an embarrassment to Knute, who felt honor-bound to make him pay dearly for the disgrace he had visited upon the family.
Knute’s favorite instrument of retribution, whenever their mother lay down for a nap with three year old Erik, was a stick freshly dipped down the hole in the privy – a horrifying implement sufficient to reform the renegade and bring the rebellious heretic home to Jesus. But the administration of justice, being among the most sacred ceremonies that a six-year-old may be called upon to perform, requires the most thorough preparation, and one does not quickly and easily scoop up a truly good gob of such viscous admonition. Even if he has the perfect stick, with a crotch just below the business end, it takes time and determination to dig up material of just the proper consistency, with just the proper degree of tackiness. And Knute would settle for nothing less than perfection.
Having seen him select his stick and march resolutely toward his own private armory, Einar had been forewarned and had managed to acquire a moderate head start. But Knute was considerably faster, and he rapidly gained on his younger brother. As you may well imagine, the very tangible menace coming up so quickly behind him worried Einar substantially more than the remote possibility of unknown dangers lying in ambush on the path before him. He had given no thought to the direction he had taken in his flight until he suddenly found himself in the shadows of the woods. By that time Knute was hard upon him, and his alternatives had narrowed significantly. He could entertain no thoughts of turning back.
Momentum, emotional as well as physical, carried him more deeply into the woods than any man had ever gone before, beyond the point at which he could have nurtured any hope of survival. But it wasn’t until he was certain that Knute hadn’t followed him into that twilight region that his natural cowardice returned to sustain him.
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A rat in a Skinner box, as is taught in Psych 101, when placed between two negative stimuli of sufficient authority, will vacillate between the two until he finds the point at which the ratio of the distance to each of the stimuli is exactly equal to the ratio of their perceived discomfort. Once he locates this point, he will be paralyzed, unable to move in either direction until one of the stimuli is removed or the equilibrium is otherwise disturbed.
But the woods behind his house bore no resemblance to a Skinner box, and, unlike the rat, Einar hadn’t yet mastered the concept of ratios. He vacillated, but he failed to find that point of which Doctor Skinner had been so justly proud. Fear, in contest with his cowardice, drove him first more deeply into the lair of unknown dangers; then escalating cowardice drove him back toward his brother the avenging angel, and fear, again advancing, forced him once more into the shadows. In his panic he lost all sense of direction, a sense with which he had been but poorly endowed in the first place, and he succeeded only in running around the concentric circles of an ever-diminishing radius. And when at last he fell, exhausted, it was in the approximate center of all those circles he had just described – the center that may have been, in retrospect, his Skinner’s point.
He lay there with his face pressed into the aromatic carpet of spruce and balsam needles in a vain attempt to stifle the sound of his labored breathing. He could hear Knute pace back and forth through the tall grass, brandishing his unholy weapon and shouting what he believed to be obscenities. And Einar was certain that Knute could hear him just as clearly as he could hear Knute. Or, if not his brother, then God knows what other creature might be listening and, even now, measuring him against its calibrated appetite. He knew all the fairytales, and he understood the fate that awaited the unfortunate child who strayed beyond the protection of sustaining sunlight.
“Who are you? And why do you intrude upon my woods?”
He had known that the Bogeyman was out there somewhere, but he hadn’t expected to be discovered so soon.
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It was the English, who for centuries have been far too civilized to quiescently endure the petty problems of raising children, who contrived the legend of the Bogeyman. Though it may be difficult for folks here on the less-cultured side of the Atlantic to believe, not all English families can afford the luxuries of nannies to nurture and public boarding schools to warehouse their progeny. Some of them are forced by financial circumstances to actually wipe their own children’s noses and change their soiled linen. These unfortunate folk would welcome any artifice that would ease the odious burdens of parenthood. So, if the Bogeyman hadn’t already existed, it would have been necessary to invent him to silence noisy children and to set them properly on the path to righteousness.
The Bogeyman is not, contrary to the general assumption, an English invention; it is merely a clever adaptation of an already existing phenomenon. The English have long had a penchant for ordering the world according to ethnic differences: the Englishman, at the summit of course, followed in descending order by the Scotsman, the Frenchman, the Irishman, the Chinaman, and so forth down through the diverse family of man – and, at the very bottom, the Bogeyman.
Early English sailors exploring Indonesian waters often encountered, with ample repugnance and considerable trepidation, an enterprising people called the Bugis – a nation of loosely organized warrior tribes. Many of these Bugis had been driven from their homes during the reign of a particularly brutal prince, and, being excellent sailors and ferocious fighters, they naturally gravitated to the comparatively lucrative profession of piracy. Moreover, they had flaunted their barbarity by siding with the Dutchmen over the English in their competition to divide the world between them.
Of course England, herself, has never been burdened with an unseemly absence of pirates among its citizenry; most of her oldest and noblest families owe their eminence to one or more of their forbears who flew the Jolly Roger. But, as civilized men, they have always had the good grace to decry the practice and to deny any taint of ancestral brigandry in their own blood lines.
In the mind of the civilized man, piracy has always been, by its very nature, among the most despicable of crimes. The size of the small wooden vessels in which they plied their trade necessarily limited the size and weight of the booty that could be seized, and this unfortunate limitation dictated the class of citizens upon whom they preyed. Although the bulk of the wealth of any nation consists of the corn and livestock and other commodities with which, by the sweat of its peasantry, it has been blessed, this wealth is thinly distributed across the breadth of the land. It requires an efficient and well organized societal structure to properly plunder such bootie. The crew of a small boat in the middle of an endless sea would find it difficult to sustain a decent livelihood pursuing the occasional pocketful of rye to be found among the common folk. They must, of necessity, seek more concentrated riches: the gold and jewels to be found only in the possession of the most worthy of citizens – the well-to-do. And this, dear friends, will always be most vigorously discouraged.
It has been, perhaps even more than his fear of hanging, his English sense of propriety that has led many an errant mariner to forego his evil ways and retire to the luxurious life of the landed gentleman, and, on an estate purchased with his ill-gotten riches and with the full blessing of his peers among the gentry, to legally, morally, and, above all, most courteously pick the pockets of the local peasantry.
The Bugis, being a savage and untutored race, have no such sense of decency. Not only did they remain unrepentant of their monstrous crimes, they seemed to take some perverted pride in the enterprise, and they encouraged their children to continue in the shameful family practice of piracy. It is certainly no wonder then, that in good English and American homes, it is the Bogeyman – and not the Scotsman – that parents invoke in order to inspire respect and piety in our offspring.
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But Einar had no knowledge of such arcane subjects as English moralism and Indonesian buccaneers. He feared the Bogeyman as any child would fear such a being vested with immeasurable powers and utterly devoid of compassion for the problems of little people like him – much as years later and with far more reason he would learn to fear teachers and military superiors.
And so it came as a complete surprise to the child to hear his own voice, hesitant and muffled, yet defiant, “This ain’t your woods. This is our prop-a-dee.”
“Everything in darkness belongs to me,” countered the Bogeyman. “I own these woods. I own the shadows. As long as it’s bright and sunny out, you think that field out there belongs to you, but tonight I’ll have that too. I’ll take everything that’s outside where the lamp light won’t reach. And under the bed, I’ll own that too.”
“Who says you can own it? My dad bought it. It’s our house, and it’s our prop-a-dee.” This disembodied voice was unmistakably his own; yet it operated independently of his control, overruling his sincere desire to melt into the earth on which he lay.
“I own it because no one can take it away from me.”
“My dad can take it away.”
“He can’t take it away because he isn’t here. You’re the only one here, and you aren’t big enough to take it from me.”
“Well, Knute is right over there. He’s big enough to take it away. He’s been to school. And he’s got poop on a stick. He can take anything he wants away from anybody.”
“Knute won’t take it from me because he doesn’t want it. He’s out there in the sunshine where he belongs. He doesn’t care about these woods; only you care. And you’re not big enough.”
Einar was losing this argument in case you haven’t been keeping score. He lay with his face pressed into the dirt to avoid seeing his tormenter. He was a spectator listening to his own voice – which seemed to emanate from five feet over his head – calmly engaged in reasoned debate over the fabled Nine Points of the Law, while he lay cowering in the dirt like the respectful five-year-old he was. He wouldn’t have talked back to Knute, let alone the Bogeyman. And yet it was unmistakably his voice raised in reluctant defiance against this spectral bully.
Although it had never occurred to him that he should have another voice – one he’d never heard before – he wasn’t greatly surprised to learn of it either. The discovery of that other voice didn’t contradict any belief that he held sacred. If people had voices they didn’t usually use, it might simply mean that a person is more than one person after all, and there was certainly nothing surprising in that. Knute was at least two people that he knew of: the well-behaved boy he became in the company of grown-ups, and this poop-wielding avenger who would deny a younger brother the only route of escape from his current torment.
So why shouldn’t Einar be different people too? Why shouldn’t he be, on the one hand, the boy who sometimes pays attention in Sunday School and, on the other, the one who only this morning had tried to pee over the top wire of Sigurd Opsahl’s barbed-wire fence; the one who watched over Erik while his mother made dinner and the one who sucked at his father’s discarded cigarette butts and blew make-believe smoke rings into the air; the one who cowered here in the dirt and the one up over his head arguing with the Bogeyman? He saw nothing strange in that.
“Well, I’m gonna be big someday…” Einar’s other voice hurled the ultimate – the most menacing – threat in his arsenal, “and then you’ll be sorry!”
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From the sunlit field Knute swore splendid vengeance in Einar’s general direction, and the wind blew a mournful melody through the evergreen boughs overhead. Einar waited, expecting a tirade of abuse for his back-talk, but no one disputed his last declaration. Maybe the Bogeyman wasn’t ferocious enough to intimidate his disembodied voice. Maybe he’d found no snappy answer to parry such a clever retort. Maybe he was considering the consequences of offending someone who would, indeed, be big someday.
It was only when the birds resumed singing that Einar realized they had been silent. A red squirrel, loathe to suppressing its eloquence longer, began scolding from the tangled branches of its lofty jurisdiction. But still there was no answer from his fearsome visitor. An errant bumble bee, blown astray on a wayward gust of wind, droned busily past in her futile search along the forest floor for the nectar bearing flora of the open field. Somewhere nearby, a redheaded woodpecker beat a staccato tattoo on an insect-infested tree. But the sounds of nature’s normal business only emphasized the unnatural silence centered in the thicket.
Einar was quite comfortable, thank you, lying there with his face in the dirt; so he was in no great hurry to raise his head and look around. And, although he began to suspect that his guest had taken his leave, he felt fully justified in ignoring his presence – or his absence – which ever applied. Good manners didn’t dictate that he be especially gracious to someone who either would leave without saying goodbye or wouldn’t respond to a perfectly friendly remark.
“I’m gonna be big someday,” he repeated less loudly and in his usual voice this time, “and then you’ll be sorry.”
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Life – during our passage from that first slap on the behind at birth, through the humiliation of adolescence and the discomforts and disappointments of maturity, to that final one-way Cadillac ride – will not suffer the dictates of a constant velocity. Time pursues its course in fits and starts, oblivious to the wants and needs of mortal intercourse. In seemingly deliberate recalcitrance, it hurtles quickly past life’s more cheerful moments, and it interminably prolongs the unpleasantness with which one is so frequently afflicted. The older one grows, and the more precious his remaining days, the more rapidly they desert him.
But the impatient hours of a five-year-old are frozen in amber.
And so the decades rolled forever by. Civilizations rose and lingered in the limelight, then crumbled and decayed. Glaciers carved new valleys and, retreating, spawned great river systems. The collision of tectonic plates thrust virgin mountain ranges high into the stratosphere, and the wind and rain wore them flat again. And, eventually, Einar sat up, rubbed his eyes and looked around.
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He was alone. His loathsome visitor, unaccustomed to defeat, had quit the Field of Honor. Even Knute had ceased his taunting and strutting, and had retired, weapon unbloodied. For the first time Einar enjoyed the luxury of a leisurely surveillance of his asylum.
He found himself in a grove of immature spruce and balsam trees. The peripheral boughs hung thick and low to the ground, screening him from searching eyes, yet not obscuring his vision of the world without. Though invisible to anyone in the field, he would have been able to see Knute, had he not given up by then and gone home. Beyond the sheltering branches of his grove, the hazel brush grew thick and intertwined, and it grasped at and held intruders. But no brush grew in the green and violet shadows at the center of his thicket, and the trees were bare of lower branches, permitting ease of movement without stooping or stumbling.
Magic governed this grove. The still air was rich with the perfume of balsam fir, an aroma that, for Einar, would ever after engender an aura of security – sweet sanctuary amid life’s turmoil. Einar felt thoroughly self-possessed in this enchanted refuge so deep in the woods that Knute would never find it – where even the Bogeyman was powerless to harm him. No fairytale potentate ever possessed so wondrous a kingdom. Nor had any dominion ever enjoyed so worthy a king.
Woodpeckers provided a drum roll to announce the ascension of a new monarch to the throne of his woodland kingdom, as King Einar sat back in his twilight realm and took census of his sundry subjects. A pair of chipmunks observed a curious protocol from the trunk of a fallen tree. A snowshoe hare, unseen but for an occasional flash of white tail, bounded away in a long looping course though the hazel brush and cottonwoods, and then shyly wound its way back, all the while keeping a wary eye on its newly-crowned sovereign. Butterflies and yellow jackets executed intricate aerial salutes in the humid evening air while ticks and crickets and woodland beetles paid more pedestrian homage. From deep in the forest, a solitary partridge drummed its resonant applause, and the red squirrel, though not without vociferous misgiving, relinquished its erstwhile interest and assumed a perch of more modest elevation.
Wearing his new responsibilities like royal robes, King Einar set out to explore his throne room, calmly and deliberately studying each tree trunk and low-hanging branch. At length, he approached the largest balsam tree and contemplated the blistered purple-grey bark. He poked at a large glutted blister, and when his nail pierced the soft bark, the sweet-smelling pitch oozed out and flowed down his finger.
Balsam bark, once seen, will not leave a boy alone; it must be prodded and picked at. The blisters, like overripe pustules, beg to be violated. Even tired old grown-ups, knowing full well that the pitch will weld their fingers fast together, and that soap and water will avail no relief, are yet compelled to pop the blisters with their thumbnails and allow the pitch to flow out onto their hands. And then whatever they happen to touch – leaf, grass, insect, or baby bird – sticks to them and becomes as much a part of them as their own noses. Later, of course, they will regret having popped balsam blisters. But then they will do it again at the next opportunity.
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By the time the sun began to set – by the time his mother had grown hoarse calling him, and Knute had repeatedly denied having seen him, Einar had managed to completely cover himself with pitch and moss and dirt and twigs. And by the time his clothing had been peeled off and thrown away – by the time water had been lugged from the well and he had been scoured with brown lye soap until his whole body smarted, it was well past his bedtime.
Going to bed without supper didn’t detract from his satisfaction; he was more tired than hungry anyway. He had endured a very busy day. He had escaped Knute’s terrible vengeance, and he had outwitted the Bogeyman. He had discovered an enchanted woodland. And he had declared himself king of his own private dominion, where he had ruled wisely and justly, and he had become beloved by his subjects.
Few five-year-olds could claim such achievements.
And when, in belated answer to his mother’s call, he had crossed beyond the frontiers of his kingdom, he was no less a king. When the King of Spain visits another country he remains a monarch. He brings along his chauffeur, his barber, and his cook. All the perquisites of his office attend him wherever he goes. Foreign dignitaries call him Your Highness and escort him to the head of the line. They know he’s a king, and they treat him like one. But, more importantly, he knows himself he is a king. Distance cannot diminish his dominion.
The lamp had been blown out and King Einar lay in the dark between his two brothers. The mattress stuck to him; so did the blankets and pillow. Knute stuck to him on one side, and Erik on the other. Wherever skin met skin he stuck to himself. And yet a satisfied smile played at the corners of his mouth, and, with the sweet scent of balsam following even into his dreams, he surrendered to warm and welcome sleep.
From its dark refuge in a shadowed thicket, night emerged from a long day’s sleep to advance across the meadows and clearings, wrapping its raven mantle around each object it encountered along the meandering pathways through the fields and yards. But as it approached Einar’s house it wrapped less tightly and less darkly, and, out of deference to the young king sleeping there within, trod more lightly and hastened on its way.

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Against the Yellow, Painted Arrow

a story by

Ken Schroeder

There has been rain, torrential at times, in Extremadura, and we have been holed up in Zafra, waiting. Today the rain has lightened up, and as we have stayed with our hosts for a few more days than expected, it is time to move on. Olivia and I trudge out of Zafra with our ponchos on over our backpacks, and at the edge of the city, at the train station, I am already lost.
We have been following the signs for the Via de la Plata, but in Spain there is only one way to take the Via de la Plata, and that is northward, in the direction of Santiago de Compostela. As we have been walking south, we’ve had to look for the painted yellow arrows that point the way from which we’ve already come. One of these arrows is pointing the way back into Zafra, and seems to be pointing from the direction of the train station, so we walk to the station, and there are no more arrows, and when I finally find someone who is willing to listen to my broken Spanish, and I ask him where the path is, he points the way back into Zafra.
“Well this is great,” I say to myself, but loud enough so that Olivia can hear. “First thing in the morning, in the rain, not even out of Zafra yet, and we’re already going the wrong way. I’d really like to be able to sit down with the people who only marked this path in one direction. ‘You ever think maybe someone might go the other way?’ I’d ask them. I wish they could be in our shoes, you know? They might do a better job of marking this camino if they were the ones walking in the rain with heavy backpacks.”
Olivia listens patiently as I vent– or perhaps it has nothing to do with patience; perhaps she simply tunes me out. In any case, she plods along with me in silence.
We find the last yellow arrow we’d seen, and now we take a muddy path off the road, leading past rubbish bins– the only other road to take besides the one we had come from–  and soon there is another yellow arrow pointing in the direction from which we’ve come, and also the official stone marker with the yellow seashell, and I am satisfied now despite the rain and the 20 minute detour, because we are back on track.
Then the rain stops and it becomes foggy, and as we are walking along the dirt road and into the fog I imagine that this is a reflection of my own mind– I am walking into the unknown, and I am doing it with determination rather than hesitancy. I am unafraid; and I am satisfied by this thought.
“Take a picture of me, Ollie, from behind, with me walking into the fog.”
She sighs, but takes the photo. I often ask her to take a picture of me, with me posing as if I were not posing, and perhaps she sighs because she thinks I am vain, or maybe because the rhythm of our walk is broken by these staged scenes. But the photo captures the spirit of the moment; or at least, as I see it.
At a crossroads there is an arrow spray-painted on a boulder, but it is on our side of the crossroads– it directs those heading north towards Zafra, but is of little help to us, the anti-pilgrims who are walking away from the city in Galicia that holds the relics of Saint James– so we continue straight on, unsure, and only several minutes later is our path confirmed by another yellow arrow. I am happy now, walking in the gravelly mud in the November fog in barren Extremadura, because I am on the right path and the rain has stopped, and I can see that Olivia is also determined and happy.
When our muddy road becomes a swamp, and then a brown, rushing river where there is a low dip in the road, I am still happy despite the challenge we are presented with, or even because of it; our way is blocked by the flooded road, and we will cross this barrier with our determination and our own wits.
And I am happy also at the thought that only a few weeks ago I would have stopped at such an obstacle as this, and returned home to the warm fire in our wood stove. I am happy that today there is no home to return to, no sanctuary but that we can find ahead of us, on the other side of this barrier. I am happy because I am rooted in the present; there is nothing else, and if there is a future it is very near; it is on the other side of the flooded road.
We discover that there is no short cut, no easy way across, and we decide to take our shoes and socks off, and to plunge right in, and we roll up our trousers as far as we can to wade across with our packs.
“You ready Ollie?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she says.
“Right, so I’ll go first. You ready?” I ask again, but maybe I’m asking myself.
Ollie shudders, and I shudder; we’re anticipating the cold water but we’re both smiling. When I wade in, the water is cold and the current surprisingly strong, and my feet sink into the mud at the bottom, and the water is up to my thighs, and I waver a bit, and pause, and stay focused because I don’t want to slip and fall. There are also some large stones that I feel with my feet, and I pause to sidestep them, and the twenty kilos on my back make me feel top heavy and unsteady, but in a minute I rise to the other side.
“Watch out for the stones at the bottom, Olivia, go slowly,” I say, but Olivia is already halfway across, and she doesn’t need to hear my instructions.
Then she is across, and we are both relieved and congratulating ourselves though shuddering from the cold, and we dry our feet with towels and put our shoes back on, and roll down our trousers, which are wet at the bottom, and we keep walking. Better to have challenges like this than the challenge of having to find yellow arrows pointing the wrong way, I’m thinking. It’s simple determination; go forward.
But after walking for another kilometer we find ourselves in the same situation, only now the river that was a rivulet before the rain is higher, and faster.
“Oh, no!” Olivia exclaims, but with a laugh, and I laugh with her, and we go through the same procedure, but this time I nearly fall into the water as it is deeper, and the current faster, and the bottom is very stony and my feet are tender.
“You really have to be careful Olivia, it’s pretty bad here, worse than before,” I tell her, and not so calmly, but I manage to reach the other side without falling, though I nearly fall again trying to get up the slippery bank. When I turn I can see she looks worried because of my own difficulty in getting across; but she crosses the flooded stream easily, and I feel a little embarrassed at my own clumsy crossing.
“You made it look a lot harder than it was,” she says.
We again put our shoes on after drying our feet, and roll down our trousers which are wet to the upper thigh, and march on, having had enough of this for the day, and wondering when we see the next arroyo if we’ll have to do it again.
Before long though, we are in Puebla de Sancho Pérez, and as we enter the puebla, there is the yellow arrow painted on a stone wall to confirm that we are still on our path, and then another on a sign post, and then we are in the town center, on its plaza. There are four or five streets to choose from to continue on our way, and one of those streets will have our arrow painted on the reverse side of another sign post, perhaps; but instead of trying the two or three streets heading south– instead of walking down each of them for a hundred meters to find our arrow by looking behind us, as the arrows are only painted for the true pilgrims heading north to Santiago de Compostela– instead, Olivia asks a woman the way, and she points down the street we’ve just come down, and then Olivia asks another– it is Olivia doing the asking as she speaks better Spanish than I do– but this one also points from where we’ve come. Then she asks at a shop, a bazaar, and the woman there has no idea, and is really not interested in helping us, and I am again feeling angry at the indifference that so many people with comfortable lives have for two pilgrims trying to find their way, and I am angry at the narrow-mindedness of the people who will only help the pilgrims heading north.
In the end we try the streets, and find our yellow arrow, and we leave the puebla and head back into the wet countryside, and I think of Puebla de Sancho Pérez as having been an inhospitable village.
Before long I am again happy though, again heading in the right direction with my daughter, who is filled with the same happiness that comes with the simple physical struggle of hauling our loads.
Late in the day there is another crossroads, and we continue straight on, but after half a kilometer we still haven’t seen our arrow, and I say, “To hell with it, let’s just keep going.”
We come to the highway, and there is our objective, Calzadilla de los Barros, to our right, but we see no way to get there directly, and we decide to cut across the fields. But the fields that look simple to navigate from a distance are always more difficult to do so in reality, and we stumble across the uneven terrain, and have to leap a ditch, and get through a barbed wire fence after throwing our packs over first.
There is a hill on our right, with woods, and I think about camping there for the night, but when I mention it to Ollie, she urges me on into the village where we had already decided to get a warm bed and a hot shower at the pilgrim’s albergue.
Just before dark we trudge into Calzadilla, and we’re looking forward to finding the albergue there, which will be our reward for having slogged through the rain and mud and two flooded streams. As we make our way into the village a car passes us, then slows, and the driver toots the horn. In the passenger seat is one of our hosts from Zafra, a young American woman who teaches there, and she waves, and then her boyfriend, who is driving the car, speeds down the road. Olivia and I laugh; we are both thinking the same thing: that it took them perhaps 20 minutes to travel the 17 kilometers between Zafra and Calzadilla, while it has taken us a full day. They are warm and dry while we are wet and muddy, and they must pity us a little, but I can’t help but feel a little contempt for the ease of their trip, and a little pity in return for the prosaic nature of their journey, while for us, it has been a challenge and an adventure, and these kinds of days will be our routine for a very long time, while theirs will perhaps be days of existential crisis and ennui.
In the center of town there is a monument for pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela, and I see this as a good sign; perhaps the villagers here will be friendlier. To get our six-euro room at the albergue, we have to pick up the key at the town hall, and there is a gathering of people there as it is election time, and people are voting. We have to wait, but Olivia finally gets the key, and informs me that we have another three kilometers to walk to get to the albergue, which is out in the countryside. We are both exasperated by this news as we are ready to quit for the day, but we trudge happily out of the village and up a slope to get to our sleeping place– happily because our beds are waiting for us. But when we reach the albergue the key gets us into the common room, but not into any of the bedrooms.
“Well, at least we’ve got a bathroom and we can have a hot shower, ” I say.
Olivia goes first, but then calls out, “Uh, Dad, bad news…”
“No water.”
“There’s water, but no hot water,” she says.
It is getting dark, and I don’t want to walk another six kilometers to the village and back to get the right key for a bed, and to have someone turn on the hot water– and even if I did, the town hall must be closed by now– so we put our camping mats and sleeping bags on the cold, tiled floor, and we are content enough to have a roof and four walls around us.
As we lie there, we talk about our day, and have a dinner of bread and cheese, and as I am looking at the map planning our route for the next day, there are sounds outside, like footsteps, and a jostling of the locked door leading into the common room.
“Maybe someone’s here from the village to give us our key and hot water,” I say.
But when I go to the door, there is no one, and I lie down again, on my sleeping bag on the floor.
“There was definitely someone there, Dad.”
“Maybe it was the wind,” I say.
A moment later the sounds are there again– someone is trying to get in the door, there can be no doubt– and this time I walk out and have a look all the way around the building, straining my eyes in the dark, but there is no one.
“Must be a ghost,” I say when I’m back inside with Ollie, and she laughs, but she is uneasy.
“Who would be way out here in the countryside trying to get in?” she asks, and I look at the window which reveals nothing but the darkness outside.
As we drift into sleep the unease dissipates, and I think about this being the anniversary of my mother’s death. I had sat beside her a year ago in the hospice in Florida, and I had held her hand and told her that I was there for her when she had fallen into unconsciousness and her breathing had become strained and difficult, and I had felt privileged to be the only one to see her go, and I remembered thinking then that she had seen me come into the world, and I would see her leave the world, and I had felt very close to her at her death, and now perhaps my mother was making her way around the albergue, trying to find a way in– she would have been very curious about this adventure that her son and grand-daughter were making together– yes, it is mom padding about outside the albergue and trying to find a way in– she wants to tell me to keep walking against the yellow arrow, just as she had told me not to follow the crowd when I was a teenager–but she can’t come in as we are in two different dimensions, and I tell her that I love her as I drift into sleep.
The next morning we’re up and in the bathrooms, which only have cold water, and we have a little breakfast of bread and cheese, and we hike back down the road to the town hall in the village. Though it’s chilly, by the time we’re in the village we’re sweating. I explain to the woman at the desk in the town hall about the key not being the right one to get into the bedrooms, and about the cold water shower, as I’m hoping for a discount, and instead she returns the full amount, and we leave Calzadilla feeling that they have a right to have their monument for pilgrims, as it is a hospitable village indeed.
We find our yellow painted arrow with help from a friendly local, and we head south on the country road, plodding along contentedly with our backpacks, and there is only the road, and the painted, yellow arrows pointing the wrong way to guide us.
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The Clock

 a story by

Ramona Scarborough

As a new French timepiece, I had stood proudly on the work bench. My interior workings had been made by a craftsman of the highest order. The marble, slate, and brass embellishment gracing my exterior had been cut, polished, and shaped to perfection. The rounded shape of my timepiece contrasted with the square pendulum housing. Accompanying me was a pair of brass flower holders mounted on matching pedestals. Monsieur La Dou, a near-sighted clockmaker, peering through his thick glasses, had pronounced me, “Magnifique!” You’re already sold. You’re being shipped to a couple in London, England,” he’d said.
Mr. La Dou packed me and my matching vases in wool batting and put us into the dark interior of a wooden crate. “Be especially careful with this box,” I heard Mr. La Dou say to someone. We were carried into a darker place. An engine started up and I felt the crate shaking. The brass vases huddled against me for protection. I worried about damage to my insides on the long ride.
I felt myself being lifted into another conveyance that made excessive noise. Again, we traveled a long way. Upon arriving, I was carried into a building with familiar smells and sounds. Brother and sister clocks chimed “En Francais.” I was reverently unwrapped on another work bench. An unfamiliar clockmaker adjusted and oiled my workings. I felt brand-new. The brass flower holders stood up straight and shining on their pedestals.
Mr. and Mrs. Claigh were our new owners, a quiet, retired couple who often looked up and smiled when the pleasant tinkle of the chimes sounded in the cavernous great room. The wide mantel where the flower holders and I resided was oak, ornately carved with leaves and berries. Occasionally, the Claigh’s would host a dinner party and they would point with pride to us, their stately acquisitions. Their grandchildren were a trial, loud and boisterous, covering my melodious marking of the hours, but they only came on holidays. Thirty-three years rolled over us, content, admired, and frequently dusted by maids.
One day, there was a commotion after breakfast; Mr. Claigh was hauled away, never to be seen again. Mrs. Claigh took to her bed. Now my bell-like tones echoed in the silence and bounced back from the high ceiling. Then Mrs. Claigh disappeared one night. Their son came a week later, speculatively touching objects in the room, including me, leaving smudgy fingerprints on the glass in front of my pendulum.
A few days later, some workmen came and loaded up practically everything in the house. This time there was no soft covering for me and my “daughters” as I now thought of the flower holders. We were jostled around with fireplace tools and silver candlesticks. We and the other occupants were unceremoniously dumped onto a dock.
A man came out from a door, wringing his hands and screaming. “You idiots, these are valuable. I will call your superiors.”
The first worker just shrugged. “Go ahead. They don’t pay us nearly enough money anyway.”
“Get out of here,” the large man with a mustache said, brandishing a poker he’d picked up.
It was obvious the man had an appreciation for high quality. He examined each piece for an extended time, nodding vigorously when he spotted us. However, we were taken to a dark back room and covered with cloth.
We waited there for a long time. My gears and springs wound down for the first time in my life. My hands stood still at half past midnight. I was humiliated not to be announcing the correct time. Our brass tarnished. The marble dulled.
Finally, the cloth was lifted, the light so bright, it flashed onto my glass face. We were dusted and polished. Happily, I was wound, and again kept time to the minute. We were carried to the platform of a hall filled with empty seats. People began to file in.
When the hall was filled, Mr. Mustache mounted the platform and began speaking so rapidly, the numbers fairly flew from his mouth. People in the audience raised paddles, up, down, up, down. Finally, a bellow, “Going, once, going twice, sold to the gentleman in the blue cravat or the lady with the flowered hat.” So it went, on and on. I was surprised to be lifted onto a table, facing the crowd.
“This handsome French Devillers drumhead mantle clock with matching flower pillars is signed by Mr. La Dou, the famous clock maker of Saint Nicola d’Aliermont. The garniture of slate and marble came from the Dinant region of France. It has a mercury pendulum and easy-to-read numbers. I’ll start the bidding at one hundred dollars.’
Only one hundred dollars? Why even by myself, I’m worth at least five hundred.
A paddle flashed up in the hand of man with unruly hair, mutton chop whiskers, and a wide belly straining against his vest.
If he doesn’t take care of himself, he likely won’t take care of me and my girls. I hope we don’t have to go home with him. Perhaps the elegant lady with the feathered hat will outbid him.
Alas, it was not to be. The rumpled man continued to bid and the lady stopped raising her paddle. Mr. Mustache banged down his gavel. “Sold! to Mr. Barnard Cox for three hundred dollars.”
The house we were taken to was as large as the one belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Claigh, but the contrast between the two homes could not have been greater. Animal heads with beady eyes stared down on us from every wall—rather intimidating. The rug was made of zebra skin. A gun cabinet filled with weapons of all sizes stood guard on one side of the massive stone fireplace. On the other side was a steel wine rack with shelves below for more potent brews. We perched timidly on the mantel above and, for a great many more years than I wish to remember, were witnesses to debate, debauchery, and dereliction.
Once, a drunken guest leaned up against the fireplace and told another equally inebriated man, “Barnard Cox is new money. I hear he got rich by blackmailing people and then he invested in the railroad. Doesn’t have a bit of class or good taste.”
In 1929, when the stock market crashed, so did Barnard Cox. He lost most of the money he hadn’t squandered yet. His liver refused to put up with any more drinking and stopped functioning. The house was locked up and stood empty for years. Again, I was silent as dust and cobwebs settled over us.
We were rediscovered the day workmen were brought in to restore the electric lights and do some much needed repairs. A realtor, Mr. Achen, and an antique dealer, Mr. Sloan, walked around writing notes on respective tablets.
Mr. Sloan brushed the spider’s masterpiece away from my face. ‘Well, now here’s something I’d be interested in.”
We were moved that day. We sat among other worthy objects d’art in Mr. Sloan’s warehouse. Mr. Sloan himself came the next morning, blew away the dust, and cleaned us with meticulous care. Then I was sent to a nearby watchmaker to be serviced. The watchmaker exclaimed, “Oh, what a marvelous clock! Are you going to keep it?”
“No, no, I’ve already found a buyer in the United States—San Francisco to be exact. The clock and its matching pedestals will be shipped out next week.”
Though we were carefully packed for the ocean voyage, the rolling and pitching of the ship concerned me. I feared my fragile mechanisms would suffer harm…. However, on arriving at Lady Cafferty’s home, I was wound by the butler and I chimed in joy and relief. Lady Cafferty made my girls useful and beautiful by placing red roses in their holders to match the bouquet on the dining table. Important citizens came and went and were served tea. Here, in this home overlooking the Bay, we were in our element. We wanted to stay there forever.
Our forever with Lady Cafferty turned out to be twenty-seven years long. In 1962, after a long illness, she passed away. Her niece, Isabella Norton, inherited us.
Right in front of us, she told her husband, James, “Oh, no, let’s get rid of this old clock. I only want modern furnishings for our home. I’ll sell it to an antiques dealer.”
Why, I wasn’t old. I was only eighty-two.
However, when we were taken to Gold Crown Antiques, I changed my mind. I found out being older makes you more valuable to collectors. Unfortunately, the owner of Gold Crown, Remy Pike, was greedy. He bought us for a ridiculously low price and then tried to sell us for four times that amount.
At first, we were displayed in the window. When we didn’t sell there, he put us on a table near the front door. As time went on, we kept being put farther back into the shop. Finally, we resided in a corner with a jukebox that nearly blocked us from view.
We were discovered by a beginning antiques collector, Fletcher McNeil. He was ecstatic over his find and wasn’t experienced enough to realize he was paying an exorbitant price. He took us to his home in Oregon where he had begun furnishing his mansion with priceless objects. His enthusiasm made us think we had landed in another clock and pillar paradise. We hadn’t met his wife Vivian yet.
Vivian hated us on sight. We were a chore to dust I’ll admit, but she had no appreciation for our beauty. After a while though, we weren’t even as highly esteemed by Fletcher. He kept acquiring antiques, clocks in particular.
His mansion became too small. Twelve rooms bulged with possessions. Tiffany lamps shone on Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century paintings. Mementos of his past travels crowded his den. On the hour, my delicate, musical tones were drowned out by discordant notes, bongs, and a chorus of cuckoos.
If an unsuspecting neighbor showed up at his door, Fletcher would drag him inside to show off his domain. He never failed to regale his captive about the origin, vintage, and price of each item. By the time he had finished being a tour guide, the poor soul had wasted his entire afternoon.
As Fletcher grew older, he was obliged to hire Ben Miller, a handyman and chauffeur. He never hired a housekeeper. He didn’t want some clumsy person breaking his valuables. Vivian made a career out of dusting, vacuuming the Persian rugs, and washing hundreds of cut glass chandelier crystals.
I heard her complain constantly. “You’ve just got to get rid of some this junk.”
“Junk? Junk?” Fletcher’s face turned red. “How dare you call this junk? Someone who appreciated fine things would never say that!”
“They wouldn’t seem so fine if you had to use a Q-tip to get dust out of tiny crevices. Why, I counted the clocks in this house last week. There’s over a hundred. Some of them are really heavy to move. Put some of them in the basement if you can’t part with them.”
Fletcher didn’t relegate us to the basement right away, but Vivian kept nagging. Over a period of time, the basement became an accumulation station for less expensive items. One day, Fletcher had Ben come downstairs and rearrange us and other pieces to make room for more.
“Mr. McNeil,” Ben said. “This clock is just beautiful.”
“Ah yes, the French Devillier, the first of my clock collection.”
“Why is it hiding down here?” Ben took out his pocket handkerchief and attempted to swipe off some of the dust.
“If you had a clock like this, what would you do with it?” Fletcher asked.
“Why, I’d put it on top of my entertainment center and show it to everyone.”
Finally, someone who valued us.
“Ben, Vivian’s always hated this clock. Why don’t you take it home and enjoy it?”
“Really? Isn’t it worth a lot of money?”
“The last time I had it evaluated, it was worth over a thousand dollars. I’d like to give it to someone who appreciates it.”
“Well, thank you, sir. I’ll take really good care of it.”
“I’m sure you will.”
Ben wrapped us like a treasure in soft towels and gently set us on the front seat of his pick-up. He chuckled as he started up the engine. “Ellie will sure be surprised.”
He lugged us into his house, a real disappointment. Ben lived in a dinky trailer in a senior mobile home court. Oh well, this was better than languishing in the basement of a Fletcher’s house.
Ben called to his wife. “Hey, Ellie, come look.” He whisked the towel off, “Ta-dah!
“What is this monstrosity?” Ellie crossed her arms over her apron.”
“You don’t like it? Mr. McNeil gave it to me. It’s very valuable.”
“Is he giving it to you in lieu of wages?”
“No, it’s a gift.”
“This ugly clock doesn’t match anything in our house. Where in the heck will we put it? There’s hardly any room in our trailer for what we have.”
I felt the mercury rising in my pendulum.
“We’ll put it on top of the entertainment center.”
“Where are you planning to put my plants? The knick-knacks are from my mother.”
“I guess we’ll have to distribute them around on the shelves we have.”
Ellie stomped into the kitchen to prepare dinner. She slammed cupboard doors and banged a soup pot onto the stove.
After a few months though, she softened up. I think she was just mad at us to begin with because nobody consulted her and Ben assumed her stuff wasn’t important. Now, she even bought some artificial carnations for my flower girls. Ben and Ellie Miller have lots of company, friends, relatives… and every Tuesday, Ellie’s fiction writers group. All the visitors say we are magnificent.
After Ben leaves in the mornings for his handyman jobs, Ellie disappears into the tiny computer room and writes stories for an hour or two. She sings while she prepares meals. They don’t argue a lot like the Fletchers. I guess she’s not so bad, just not very cultivated.
Last night, she looked up at me and said to Ben, “If this clock could talk, I bet it would have some great stories to tell. I think I’ll start writing about him.”
We have no idea how long we’ll stay here or where we’ll go next, but she’s right. We will always have stories to tell.

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Dark Literature For The Masses