The Scary Nary (A wicked rhyme)

Children never ventured into the Nary wood.

They knew all too well and understood

of the dangers that fell,

and tales that were told,

and retold again;

stories of now and then.

#

They were handed down

by infinite numbers

of older sisters

and older brothers,

of brood before

and since brood began.

You must pass this on in hand.

#

A thing that tricked with a joy, so fresh

it beguiled you, then riled you,

then wrenched your flesh.

Against its hide, it wrapped you up.

It sucked you dry to fill its cup.

#

You knew it was close if no bird flew by,

or no chipmunk popped his body outside.

You might see a snail

or worms at the bottom

where the air was stale

under leaves that smelled rotten.

The feet of the Nary could be seen in this dirt.

Beware if you step on its toes, be alert!

#

Where the wind did not blow,

it was too big to hide

but, you were too close to know

the Nary next to your side.

Once you were caught you were gone forever.

The Scary Nary was very clever

#

It would hold you then scold you with fingers of whips

like willow tree branches with needles as tips.

It had arms that were lengthy and wretched like rakes.

It had hands that were haunted and hanging with hooks.

Toes that were wicked and snarky like snakes,

and eyes that were void like the specs of a spook.

#

Grown-ups never ventured to the wood past the meadow.

It was misunderstood, not amused by its shadow.

They had forgotten and joked and jeered at the fable.

They worked and toiled, and no longer able.

#

But when boys weren’t boys

and not yet men,

they neglected their toys

for adventure, and when

their courage was built

and they longed to do

what their minds intended,

the Nary woods brought a challenge anew,

that could not be dispelled or amended.

#

And somewhere between

foal and mare,

not pup or dog,

not cub nor bear.

A boy was brazen

and forced to dare.

#

So, when a school year was ending and the air was still cool.

One gathered the hearty and not the fool.

A group of three decided to venture

to the forbidden wood to test their measure.

#

After one had gathered them up,

they three, all wrestled and riled and thumped.

“We’ll go to the forest and see if it’s true.”

The first said it was.

The second wasn’t sure.

The third said it wasn’t.

So, the challenge was pure.

#

Meticulously they planned with tact and tool.

They pilfered and packed what they could from their school,

from their father’s sheds,

and from under their beds.

They were ready for the worst kind of ghoul.

#

They spit and shook for now and forever.

They would not dampen their oath nor sever

the pact they had made or themselves from adventure.

#

Before the cows on the farm

they were a long way from harm.

Near the grouse in the meadow

they felt slightly unsettled.

Past the deer in the dell

they were halfway to hell.

#

Beyond the dells, the three stood

one by another,

They’d go if they could

but froze by the wood,

“It all looks too gruesome,”

they shuddered.

#

One said to his friend,

“go in and return and bring back the news.”

“You’re crazy my brother the Nary is true.”

And they could not agree on none or all three,

and all three was the best they could do.

#

So, as boys dare and dare as they do,

one dared another and another made two.

When one stood alone he rallied behind.

Now all three were stalking in line.

#

They crept through the thickets,

the vines and the nettles,

milk-thistles, pines, and peddles.

Until the vines became few

and the ground became gray

and worms squirmed about

in the rot and decay.

#

Still deeper they slunk

til’ they stood near a giant

that had a large trunk;

a tree that stood high and reliant.

#

It spread out like a dome

where no animals roamed

but the boys grew more bold and defiant.

#

The tree stood tall with arms outstretched;

hanging limbs with leaves like gnarled nets.

Draped with toys and forget-me-nots.

All made of wood and carved to a liking

that boys adored and girls found striking.

#

Nothing shined though objects shown,

no more than figures it had grown

of things that resembled fun and good.

All for the taking, if you could.

Oh what a dare, oh what a deed.

Their childish hearts were filled with greed.

#

And of all that was rotten,

if only they feared

what the fragile fear

of shriek and terror

and hold me, dear,

they might still be alive

and not forgotten.

#

They stepped on the roots

and the twigs that were buried

that crunched and alerted

the hives of the Nary.

They grabbed at the branches

like shelves of a store,

and tugged at the toys

that it carried.

#

There the wind did not blow

and this carnival show

was too much for the boys to ignore.

#

It awoke in a sudden

It wrapped them up tight.

They were coiled in a thicket,

of gossamer plight.

#

The one who was leader

became embroiled in thorns

that wove like a web,

and tightened its horns.

It squeezed and released

until his screams had ceased

and tossed him atop

where it finished the feast.

At the highest branches, he stopped.

#

Another was grabbed by the face and shook.

By the eyes and mouth, he was took.

Driving its shanks

down his throat to its length

and out through his head like a hook.

#

Out of his back

more branches emerged,

more leaves were sprouted

and his juices were purged.

He sagged there a carcass

to be siphoned and squeezed

as his skin became bark

and dry like the trees.

#

The last one was pulled

to the side of the trunk

as a mouth and eyes opened

it swallowed a chunk.

With teeth like daggers

and eyes deathly dark

the lad was halved

at the waist

as from a shark.

#

But nothing was wasted

and it took the last bite.

Of the last boy it tasted

he tasted of fright.

#

A prize for the Nary,

oh how he was good

and this one’s face

forever stood

in the crags

of the bark

on its trunk

in the wood.

#

The Nary wood, as time does tell.

Not a childish place of Jack and Jill.

Not on hill or dale,

but a forest of fear and fail.

#

So, remember,

when you see a face gnarled in wood

on a tree, in a forest,

beyond a meadow and dell

and you know that you shouldn’t

yet, you do just as well.

Just remember the childhood

stories they tell.

A lesson of will

so that you will grow merry…

No child escapes the Scary Nary.

Mascotte

The pitch and roll of the ship were magnified at the top-gallant of the mizzenmast where Allen Markum stood during the dogwatch. Aboard a schooner, the Ameritas, he proudly road the seas stargazed and stared beyond the foremast where the ship’s figurehead, a horrific sea monster named Mascotte, was sculpted into the prow.

With his feet upon the top cross member and a rope tied as a harness around his waist, the threat of falling was only fleeting even though a momentary lapse into slumber was life-threatening. Any lack of vigilance could result in injury and yet there was a freedom and a calmness at the top of the mast away from the stark contrast of flogging and harsh work aboard deck.

Sleep meant death yet death meant to sleep. A reprieve from a lifelong struggle aboard a ship.

Against the coarse surface of the mast, Allen carved the final touches of an image of Mascotte among the other carvings of names and doodles that riddled the surface.

He called out to the foremast watchman whose perch was above and nearest the prow, “Hey, Milton! Beware if ye piss on Mascotte. She’ll bite ya clean down to the gristle.”

“Pipe it, dog!” Milton called back.

Allen blew the wood bits from the carving and sighed in accomplishment as he dreamt of exotic ports and recited seafaring stories of hardy ho, of lost at sea and of wayward woe.

The greatest woe of all was a contagion known as “Consumptive Morbus,” or to many sailors as “Barnacle Madness.” Always spoken of with great revulsion and horror, any sign of the disease was met with intense fright that could easily spread panic throughout a ship.

Allen hugged the splintered mast with his face pressed against the image during a rough sway. The five-bell watch rang out and Allen began his downward climb as the ocean gave a sudden heave. He slipped at the cross-tree above the main yard and lacerated his leg below the knee on an iron fid that poked out from the mast. He struggled to descend amid the pain and gave way to the ache from his laceration when he reached the quarterdeck.

Ben, Allen’s most cherished mate aboard the ship was preparing to ascend, noticed Allen’s injury and paused, “Here my friend, this will help ease your discomfort.” Ben retrieved a coconut from his satchel, removed a cork, and drenched the gash with the liquid inside.

The liquid within the coconut was in question but Allen trusted his friend’s judgment. For, it was common to acquire a coconut and continue its use after the original contents were drunk, which infused a hint of the exotic flavor.

Allen winced as he dressed his wound and then laid his aching body in the woven cradle of his hammock. He fell asleep as he swung from side to side in a lullaby measured by the hum of the ocean and the moaning squelch of the hull. A few hours into his sleep, He was awakened by a vivid spike of pain that ran the length of his leg.

Through a porthole, a band of moonlight cascaded upon his lower half. In the gleam, Allen pulled back the bandage to expose a grotesque encrusted ulcer spreading beyond the lesion.

Deep breaths and nervous twitches overcame him as he wiped the sweat from his eyes, and sensed small barnacles that had erupted at his extremities, his joints and encircled every orifice of his body. The barnacles resembled hard conical spirals of tightly nestled fingernails that came to a point. He held back a childish whimper as he realized in horror he had the Barnacle Madness. An urge to run swept over him as shakes accompanied his state of panic that seized him with fear of not just the affliction but the cruel outcome of its revealing.

In the wee hours of the morning, Allen strained not to awaken the others who still slumbered in hammocks. Allen crept in between and under the suspended cradles that swayed against the yaw, heave, and surge of the ship in an unpredictable manner, tied in a maze throughout the berth deck.

He avoided detection until he reached the center of the upper deck near the mainmast. In the moonlight, Allen came face to face with the boatswain. The man’s eyes lit up with the realization of Allen’s condition. Fearfully, Allen grabbed him by the throat to prevent a scream. Easily, his jagged fingertips sliced through his tissue. He held him to the deck, choking him to death.

In a state of panic, Allen hid in a small enclosure at the bow, convinced that his condition necessitated the act. When cries alerted the captain that the Boatswain had been murdered, he feared the worst. He stayed hidden during intermittent calls of his name at daybreak and whispered stories of him falling overboard. His paranoia swirled, fearing a search that would expose his morbid secret. The box became his bed and smelled of rotted hemp rope. Allen crept out only to steal sips of water from a cask during the dogwatch. In his box, he wavered between paranoid fear and hysterical chuckles as he lost his mind and developed an intense hunger for flesh.

The following day Allen awoke to a ruckus.

“Keep him back boys he has the Morbus.” The First mate ordered.

“Kill the scurvy maggot.” One yelled.

“Mongrel whoreson.” Another called.

“He murdered the Boatswain.” Someone cried.

The words were venomous and wavered with fear. Allen peeked out to witness Ben’s croustade figure with barnacled hands and face drove across the upper deck. The mob corralled Ben with barge poles and heavy wood pegs waved like truncheons. He was pushed back and forced to stand upon the railing of the main deck while holding tightly to a rope extended from the foresail.

The barnacles caused Ben’s eyes to bulge out, and his encrusted hands curved inward like a dog’s paws. Balanced between drowning or beating, he clenched his torn clothing and squeamishly cried.

Someone launched a peg from the crowd that tumbled through the air and landed a pulverizing blow to Ben’s skull. Knocked dizzy, as if in a trance, Ben’s rigid, motionless body tipped backward like a falling timber and disappeared beyond the gangway. A faint splash announced the end of the ruckus.

Allen stayed curled up in his box morphing into something hideous and beyond imagination as he rummaged his hands across his body analyzing his encrusted tumorous form. He realized that anything still human in him had nearly perished. The affliction intensified as his body changed through some ghastly pupa stage in a wooden cocoon.

That night, Allen emerged once again for a drink. His barnacle riddled body was unrecognizable and his feverish hunger was voracious. At the bow, Milton climbed down from the foremast and stood in shock at the sight of a monster. Again, Allen seized his victim at the throat, but this time, he ate into his neck, down to the bone, and threw Milton’s corpse overboard before he crawled back into his box.

That morning, just before the seven-bells watch was rung, Allen awoke to distinctive shouts, squeaking pulleys, lapping ropes and the flapping release of sails. A panic he himself was familiar with; attack by a rival vessel.

He rehearsed the call to “man battle stations” in the exact moment it was being ordered. It revitalized him with a sense of duty as cannon blasts from the opposing ship grew nearer.

The absence of the boatswain proved critical, for the upper deck was not stocked and organized. The crewmen clamored over one another in a meager counter-attack. All seemed lost and Allen waited for the end, helplessly tasting death.

Cannon blasts crippled the mainmast, and an explosion blew the figurehead off, along with the shell of Allen’s hiding place. Wood shards and burning embers rained from the sky. Thick waves of smoke and desperate yells filled the air. Suddenly, Allen’s, monstrous figure arose from the cloud of smoke at the bow and screamed out in wretched horror, his pent-up insanity burst forth.

All action ceased as the shocked faces of the men watched the monster rise and acknowledge their struggle. A dismayed crew, awed by what appeared to be the sea monster of the Ameritas come-to-life.

Someone called out, “Mascotte!”

In unison, prayers, cries, and cheers filled the ranks.

The cannon fire mellowed as the attacking ship prepared to glide parallel to the Ameritas for its crew to board as a means of a decisive victory.

At that moment, the outer jib, attached to the foremast, swung in Allen’s direction, as if summoned. Allen took hold and in a swashbuckling manner, grabbed tightly to the rope hanging from the jib, leaped from the bow, and launched his hideous figure towards the attacking vessel. The monster seemed to fly to the amazement and horror of the other ship’s crew, as the mainmast gave way and crashed down upon the other ship’s one loaded cannon. The final blast from the cannon sent a projectile directly at Allen, and in midair, the two collided in an explosive cloud of blood and infected tissue that descended upon the aggressors in a red mist.

Disturbed by the vision of the monster and unable to board, the stunned vessel moved beyond as the Ameritas sailed comfortably behind. In the distance, the crew of the Ameritas could hear the cries of madness coming from the other ship as Consumptive Morbus overwhelmed the crew.

Follow My Frozen Heart

My face freezes as I peer out from my mountain cave overlooking the village. The cold seizes me with shivers as my breaths quiver from sadness and anger.

The village glows through the falling snow that ever thickens. I can’t tell if I am numb from cold or grief as I peek down below at the cozy cottages resembling the embers of my fire.

Where my home sits at the edge of the forest, there are no lights. I can picture my mother laying in her bed. 

If only I had said I loved her.

My small fire pops and crackles with white flames. I sit back and poke the wood that glows orange through charred patches.

My cave is only big enough for me, but there is only me. The sides are rough and the opening is narrow. I stare out through its mouth and into a starless black. Around it, the windswept shards of accumulating ice point horizontal like teeth. Bit by bit, they grow and threaten to close as hunger and loneliness gnaw at me.

They must be searching for me. 

They won’t look far. Only a fool would leave the safety of a home in this weather, but I did.

You can’t take it back.

He deserved it. I had to do it. Everyone owed him. They should thank me, but they’ll hang me.

The fire.

With my last stick, I push the glowing parts together and then throw it in. I pull my feet close, my knees to my chest, and hide my face beneath my collar. My fingers clench, hidden in my coat sleeves. I shiver and weep for my mother, who I will never see again.

Oh, mama, I miss you.

“It’s not fair!” I cry out, but nobody can hear me as I sit against the back of my hideaway and look into my small fire that shimmers. It wavers from the gusts of frigid air that carries ice crystals from the storm. 

Blackened lines and spots are etched into the burning sticks. They resemble archaic writing on ancient scrolls. Their stories unfold as the heat scorches and shrinks the branches, releasing their memories.

I stare into the fluttering flames that dance upon the shrinking pieces of wood and drift into my memory of what happened.

***

My father made a life for us, herding goats. My mother made cheese. Now, at fourteen, I tended the goats and milked them while my father only sat and watched us. 

As we prospered, he disappeared at night. My mother said nothing, but became distant and sulked. A coldness grew between them. I often awoke to angry shouts that ended with a slammed door, and my father’s steps disappearing outside. My heart ached with a pain I could not understand.

My mother loved me, I knew this above anything else and I was her little boy. Though I was becoming a man, I cherished her touch on my cheek and the love she cooked into every meal like I was still a child. 

I escaped on mountain strolls, tending the goats. With only a walking stick and a knife, I would visit my secret place and daydream. Here I could vanish from the pain.

Upon my last return home, a large man stood at the door. Gundersen, the fat financier, stood with a smile of sadistic pleasure in a large fur coat and boots. My mother crumbled to her knees as she wept. I stood speechless as he held out a note of promise in front of our faces. My father borrowed against the farm and lost it.

A stabbing pain struck my gut as my mother released a horrid unnatural cry. Distraught, her eyes stared wildly and she stumbled to her bedroom, holding her arms over her chest in pain. Gundersen left and promised to return the next day. 

I stood alone in our cottage, petrified. The fear of Gundersen’s return was a nightmare.

Where will we go? What will we do?

I fell asleep, waiting for my father, who never returned.

The next morning I awoke to the bitter cold. Snow set on the window sills as a frosty powder misted in under the front door. A fire had not been started and everything seemed frozen from the horrific news of the previous day.

I entered my mother’s room where she lay in bed.

“Mother,” I whispered and stepped near. She didn’t move but lay pristine and angelic. I hesitated to wake her, but we had to go on. 

I put my hand to her shoulder. It felt rigid and I pulled my hand back. I reached out again. Her body was stiff. A strange sensation quivered through me, a paralyzing fear, followed by nausea. I sank with weakness but wanted to run. The sole anchor to life, my mother, was dead.

My mind swirled and I stepped back out from the room. In a panic, I ran from the home and staggered into the nearby woods. The world spun around me. I grasped the trunk of a tree, the only thing that stood strong. My feet stung with a fringed bite as I hugged this unmovable thing. The world stopped spinning and it filled me with an impulse to return.

I crept into the icy cottage. It now appeared as a replica of the place I once lived. Everything was frozen in time. Above a dormant fire pit, a cold iron pot with the last meal my mother cooked hung from a blackened bar. An emptiness tugged at my stomach, but the thought of food sickened me. 

I could not eat and I could not enter my mother’s room but tinkered with the thought she would emerge. Again and again, my mind rehearsed the moment only to swirl downward in despair knowing that she died feeling unloved. This overwhelmed me until my agony gave way to pure and corporeal hatred. My heart froze, my life ceased. Then, as if reborn, I saw beyond this crippling sadness. Though my father was to blame, Gundersen was at the heart of my hatred. His repugnant smile begged for revenge.

The snow continued. The cottage became colder. My breath fogged with the wickedness of death. I paced the front room holding my knife as I filled with rage. Then, I wandered out into the blank slate of wintery white.

Snow crunched under my steps as I ventured through the village. The homes glowed with fireplaces while the windows flashed with signs of life, laughing, singing, and some silent shadows.

I was but a shadow now. A figment that lived through the one motivation that filled my body, revenge. All sense of fear left me. Revenge burned within me. It was a wicked warmth, burning with anger. There was nothing else.

I stopped at the home of Gundersen and stood upon the landing before his front door. With my knife in hand, I waited and stared forward. As I knocked, a baritone voice surprised me from behind.

“I am here, boy.”

I turned around to the sight of the rotund man who stirred from drunkenness. Like an involuntary reflex, my arm thrust forward. The knife slid into his belly. I had the sensation of watching it happen from outside my body. My hand retracted and he fell to his knees, facing me with a howling expression of surprise. Again, the knife lunged forward and slid upward through his throat. He gagged and swirled his arms as if catching his balance.

At that moment, the door squeaked opened behind me and I heard a voice gasp in shock. Gundersen’s body tipped backward as my hand remained where it held the knife. The hair stood on my neck as a women’s scream shrilled from behind me. Gundersen clomped onto his back. I ran from the landing and out into the cold twilight.

My snow-filled steps lead me back to my home. I stood and looked at it for the last time. Then, I turned and fled to my only place of safety, my secret cave.

***

Here, I sit inside this rocky crag. The wind howls as curious snowflakes enter and twinkle before dying in the faint orange glow that surrounds me.

My head droops as I cry between shivering breaths. The storm moans through the narrowing mouth of the cave. My hunger aches, as the fire dies, and my eyes struggle to stay open.

My mother’s image fades as the flames flicker. The last stick puffs and joins the other blackened figures. They crackle and finish burning their stories as the darkening cave closes its icy jaws, as I drift into a freezing slumber and follow my frozen heart.

#

Breaking The Chain

 

 

“Your uncle Tanner will be popping in,” Philip said to his sixteen-year-old daughter, Marlene, as he wheeled her to the front room. “His layover was longer than he thought; flights canceled to Europe and all.”

Her big brown eyes lit up, “Uncle Tanner? Oh!” She said as she sat in her wheelchair. He smiled in response; a smile that turned down on the ends. He looked down at the blanket stretched tightly over her legs, unwrinkled as if ironed to the chair.

“Daddy, tell me about his trip to Mongolia,” she said with excitement as her arms pushed to lift her body higher. 

Philip combed his fingers through his hair, “it’s not so great, he designs dams, that’s all,” then rolled his eyes. “Some of those places are dreadful. You’re safe and comfortable here.”

“Comfortable?” she snapped sarcastically. “You think not being able to walk for two years is comfortable?” She put her hands to her face, “I just want to get out… I… I want to travel the world like uncle Tanner.”

“No!” Philip shouted, then caught himself. “I’m sorry… I meant—”

“Since Mom died?” Marlene interrupted. 

Philip winced, Emily, he thought, “the accident, I meant,” his words drifted off as he looked around.

A familiar silence grew that amplified the squeaking wheels. He rolled her through the hall toward the front room, but paused to straighten a picture of his brother standing on the bank of a river. He stared for a moment, then moved forward again, now slower. 

“We’ll wait in the living room,” Philip said, “he’ll be here soon.” 

He scanned the floor for dust as they exited the hall. Outside, the air sang with children’s laughter and Marlene sighed while her father looked around. The shelves were adorned with exotic trinkets from around the world.

It’s just how mom liked it, Philip thought.

A taxi stopped in front of the house. Philip and Marlene waited as the lumbering steps of Tanner crossed the porch. There was a knock as Philip pulled open the door. 

In stepped Tanner, a wrinkle-suited unshaven man filled the entryway. He put out his hand to shake. Philip swallowed and reached out reluctantly, like a chameleon inching its body along a branch.

“Tanner… How’s it going?” He asked dry-throated.

“Hello, Phil,” his eyes shifted to Marlene.

A smile grew upon her face. She strained to sit tall, then reached into the air wide as if wanting to wrap her arms around the sun, “Uncle Tanner!”

“There’s my darling, Marli!” He bellowed, then pushed past Philip, who stepped back.

“Ooh, tell me about Mongolia,” she begged.

Philip interrupted, “He’s had a long trip, dear, let him relax.”

“No, no, Phil,” Tanner dropped his suitcase and knelt next to her, “Mongolia, oh, you wouldn’t believe it.”

Marlene smiled. Her mouth fell half-open with anticipation as she scanned her uncle’s face for every nuance. 

Tanner held Marlene’s hand next to her side, “for sport, those Mongolians ride a small horse whilst shooting arrows.”

“Really?” she questioned with a gaze somewhere beyond.

“Yes, yes, they’re expert riders, the best in the world,” he nodded with confidence then patted her on the hand, “and the children play a game called ‘breaking the chain’. Two lines of children stand apart, facing each other with their arms linked. A child’s name is called. Then, that child has to run at the other group and break through their arms. If she’s caught, she has to join that group.”

Marlene giggled, “Oh, wow.”

“Is this all we’re going to talk about?” Philip interrupted.

Tanner stood, “This isn’t about you, Phil, Marli’s who matters. She needs to feel alive to get better.”

“She can’t walk!” Philip answered sternly. His eyes widened as he quickly cupped his mouth. Marlene’s shoulders’ sunk.

Tanner looked at Marlene, “that’s not true!” He turned to Phil, “she needs to live. You’re holding her back. Don’t you see?”

Philip sneered, “just stop! You always come in here and be the one everyone loves most.”

“Loves?” Tanner questioned, “If it makes you feel better, Mother always loved you more.”

“More?” Philip answered. “It was you they sent to college while I stayed home.”

Tanner shook his head, “That’s not how it was. You were younger and I had to be responsible.”

“Ha! Responsible? You were never around when things got tough. I had to pick up the pieces after Dad died.”

“I’m sorry, Phil, but I was starting my own life and she was suffocating me… I just had to get out.”

 “You’re all Mom ever talked about. When will Tanner show up? What has Tanner sent? I hated hearing your name.” 

“Listen, Phil, Mother was afraid of the outside. Remember how Dad did everything?”

 Philip gazed to the side, “no, it’s… He was the father. It was his job.”

“She was agoraphobic! After Dad and I were gone, she needed you out of fear.”

Philip cupped his palms as if holding something of value, “After you left, mom begged me never to leave her, and I kept that promise.” 

Marlene sunk deeper into the chair. 

Tanner ran his fingers through his scalp, “we just don’t remember it the same. I had to get out and yes, my entire relationship with my family has been one big regret, but I can’t change that.”

Philip looked around at the trinkets, “that picture of you standing by the Yangtze River, I hate it.”

“The Volga,” Tanner corrected.

“Whatever, look at this house, the shelves, the walls all adorned with the greatness of Tanner. You’re a show-off.”

“You don’t understand!” Tanner curled his hands like claws near his gut. “I sent those things to remind you all that I was still alive. Do you know how many times I sat alone in hotel rooms and airports hoping to make it back for a holiday? Do you know how it felt not being here when mother died?… And, I’m sorry I wasn’t here for you when Emily passed… A life unchained is not without its pain.”

“I’d throw it all out, but mother liked it this way.”

“She liked it because it was her link to the outside. Why do you think she never left the house?”

Philip closed his eyes, shaking his head, “She didn’t need to… I was here and…” Philip held the sides of his head as if stopping the noise of a freight train, “why don’t you leave us alone? Just go to Tanzania or Siberia or wherever.”

Tanner picked up his case, preparing to march from the house.

“No! Uncle, no,” Marlene shouted, “I want to go with you.”

Philip stared wide-eyed at Marlene and then his brother. His lips quivered with unspoken words.

Tanner kneeled next to her and held her hand, “yes, oh yes, my dear, one day I’ll take you to see the pyramids and the Great Wall of China. It will be magnificent!”

Tears rolled down Marlene’s cheeks as she stared through her glassy eyes and out into the wild blue yonder of her imagination. A seemingly endless imagination of dreams poured from her crippled body and into a world of pure possibility.

“Get out!” Philip shouted as he pointed to the door, “She can’t walk! Don’t you get it?”

Tanner stood while still holding her hand, “It’s you who can’t, Phil. Don’t you get it? You’re the one who couldn’t walk out of here, the same house we grew up in, and now you want her to be trapped.”

Tanner turned to Marlene, “I’m sorry my dear, but I can’t stay if your father doesn’t want me. Don’t worry, you’ll walk again, I know you will!”

He turned toward the front door. Their hands broke apart as he leaned away. His shoulders drooped under the weight of Marlene’s pleas for him to stay as he walked out.

Philip burst out of the door behind him, red-faced, “See what you’ve done! She has to accept the reality of her circumstances.”

“No, what have YOU done, Phil?”

As they stood on the porch facing-off the door creaked open. In amazement, the men turned to see Marlene standing in the doorway; her atrophied legs straining with quivers. Tanner smiled and dropped his case. 

Philip put out his hands as if to stop a collision, “No! You can’t!”

“Yes, you can,” Tanner ordered with a raised fist.

Marlene stepped from the doorway with an expression of pain and astonishment, gasping with each step. Philip’s arms outstretched, motioning to halt as Tanner’s arms reached out to catch her. Marlene took stiff-legged steps like a baby walking for the first time and fell into the arms of her uncle.

Philip dropped to his knees weeping, “No, no, you can’t leave me.”

“Yes, my dear, I’ve got you,” Tanner whispered with tears, “now, there is nothing you can’t do.”

#

CAUGHT IN PIE TOWN

CHAPTER 1

NATE

Had you shaken a snow globe, then flash-froze it, the action, though unmoving, would still be expressed. This was the appearance of Nate Jackson. His eyes welled with a horrid vision, his hands clenched something that wasn’t there, and his mouth stretched open cupping a moan that never emerged as his motionless body lay near the entrance of a vacant lot. Something had shaken him, rattled his soul and then froze it…

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THE FLAVORIST

the-flavorist_sm

     “Mortem praeparare meum novum maximum cofectio!”Adolf Van De Groot bellows from the mezzanine above a gathering of chocolate makers in the grand hall of the Van De Groot Chocolaterie located in the heart of Brussels. 

     His commanding voice reverberates through the hallowed hall with the reverence of his great ancestors, “I have chosen you all to witness my greatest confection. Chocolate so creamy, so decadent, so perfect, it will be the joy of the world. A raging storm of flavor I have named Chocolate Thunder!”

 

 

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Mascotte

The pitch and roll of the ship were magnified at the top-gallant of the mizzenmast where Allen Markum stood during the dogwatch. Aboard a schooner, the Ameritas, he proudly road the seas stargazed and stared beyond the foremast where the ship’s figurehead, a horrific sea monster named Mascotte, was sculpted into the prow.

With his feet upon the top cross member and a rope tied as a harness around his waist, the threat of falling was only fleeting even though a momentary lapse into slumber was life-threatening. Any lack of vigilance could result in injury and yet there was a freedom and a calmness at the top of the mast away from the stark contrast of flogging and harsh work aboard deck.

Sleep meant death yet death meant to sleep. A reprieve from a lifelong struggle aboard a ship.

Against the coarse surface of the mast, Allen carved the final touches of an image of Mascotte among the other carvings of names and doodles that riddled the surface.

He called out to the foremast watchman whose perch was above and nearest the prow, “Hey, Milton! Beware if ye piss on Mascotte. She’ll bite ya clean down to the gristle.”

“Pipe it, dog!” Milton called back.

Allen blew the wood bits from the carving and sighed in accomplishment as he dreamt of exotic ports and recited seafaring stories of hardy ho, of lost at sea and of wayward woe.

The greatest woe of all was a contagion known as “Consumptive Morbus,” or to many sailors as “Barnacle Madness.” Always spoken of with great revulsion and horror, any sign of the disease was met with intense fright that could easily spread panic throughout a ship.

Allen hugged the splintered mast with his face pressed against the image during a rough sway. The five-bell watch rang out and Allen began his downward climb as the ocean gave a sudden heave. He slipped at the cross-tree above the main yard and lacerated his leg below the knee on an iron fid that poked out from the mast. He struggled to descend amid the pain and gave way to the ache from his laceration when he reached the quarterdeck.

Ben, Allen’s most cherished mate aboard the ship was preparing to ascend, noticed Allen’s injury and paused, “Here my friend, this will help ease your discomfort.” Ben retrieved a coconut from his satchel, removed a cork, and drenched the gash with the liquid inside.

The liquid within the coconut was in question but Allen trusted his friend’s judgment. For, it was common to acquire a coconut and continue its use after the original contents were drunk, which infused a hint of the exotic flavor.

Allen winced as he dressed his wound and then laid his aching body in the woven cradle of his hammock. He fell asleep as he swung from side to side in a lullaby measured by the hum of the ocean and the moaning squelch of the hull. A few hours into his sleep, He was awakened by a vivid spike of pain that ran the length of his leg.

Through a porthole, a band of moonlight cascaded upon his lower half. In the gleam, Allen pulled back the bandage to expose a grotesque encrusted ulcer spreading beyond the lesion.

Deep breaths and nervous twitches overcame him as he wiped the sweat from his eyes, and sensed small barnacles that had erupted at his extremities, his joints and encircled every orifice of his body. The barnacles resembled hard conical spirals of tightly nestled fingernails that came to a point. He held back a childish whimper as he realized in horror he had the Barnacle Madness. An urge to run swept over him as shakes accompanied his state of panic that seized him with fear of not just the affliction but the cruel outcome of its revealing.

In the wee hours of the morning, Allen strained not to awaken the others who still slumbered in hammocks. Allen crept in between and under the suspended cradles that swayed against the yaw, heave, and surge of the ship in an unpredictable manner, tied in a maze throughout the berth deck.

He avoided detection until he reached the center of the upper deck near the mainmast. In the moonlight, Allen came face to face with the boatswain. The man’s eyes lit up with the realization of Allen’s condition. Fearfully, Allen grabbed him by the throat to prevent a scream. Easily, his jagged fingertips sliced through his tissue. He held him to the deck, choking him to death.

In a state of panic, Allen hid in a small enclosure at the bow, convinced that his condition necessitated the act. When cries alerted the captain that the Boatswain had been murdered, he feared the worst. He stayed hidden during intermittent calls of his name at daybreak and whispered stories of him falling overboard. His paranoia swirled, fearing a search that would expose his morbid secret. The box became his bed and smelled of rotted hemp rope. Allen crept out only to steal sips of water from a cask during the dogwatch. In his box, he wavered between paranoid fear and hysterical chuckles as he lost his mind and developed an intense hunger for flesh.

The following day Allen awoke to a ruckus.

“Keep him back boys he has the Morbus.” The First mate ordered.

“Kill the scurvy maggot.” One yelled.

“Mongrel whoreson.” Another called.

“He murdered the Boatswain.” Someone cried.

The words were venomous and wavered with fear. Allen peeked out to witness Ben’s croustade figure with barnacled hands and face drove across the upper deck. The mob corralled Ben with barge poles and heavy wood pegs waved like truncheons. He was pushed back and forced to stand upon the railing of the main deck while holding tightly to a rope extended from the foresail.

The barnacles caused Ben’s eyes to bulge out, and his encrusted hands curved inward like a dog’s paws. Balanced between drowning or beating, he clenched his torn clothing and squeamishly cried.

Someone launched a peg from the crowd that tumbled through the air and landed a pulverizing blow to Ben’s skull. Knocked dizzy, as if in a trance, Ben’s rigid, motionless body tipped backward like a falling timber and disappeared beyond the gangway. A faint splash announced the end of the ruckus.

Allen stayed curled up in his box morphing into something hideous and beyond imagination as he rummaged his hands across his body analyzing his encrusted tumorous form. He realized that anything still human in him had nearly perished. The affliction intensified as his body changed through some ghastly pupa stage in a wooden cocoon.

That night, Allen emerged once again for a drink. His barnacle riddled body was unrecognizable and his feverish hunger was voracious. At the bow, Milton climbed down from the foremast and stood in shock at the sight of a monster. Again, Allen seized his victim at the throat, but this time, he ate into his neck, down to the bone, and threw Milton’s corpse overboard before he crawled back into his box.

That morning, just before the seven-bells watch was rung, Allen awoke to distinctive shouts, squeaking pulleys, lapping ropes and the flapping release of sails. A panic he himself was familiar with; attack by a rival vessel.

He rehearsed the call to “man battle stations” in the exact moment it was being ordered. It revitalized him with a sense of duty as cannon blasts from the opposing ship grew nearer.

The absence of the boatswain proved critical, for the upper deck was not stocked and organized. The crewmen clamored over one another in a meager counter-attack. All seemed lost and Allen waited for the end, helplessly tasting death.

Cannon blasts crippled the mainmast, and an explosion blew the figurehead off, along with the shell of Allen’s hiding place. Wood shards and burning embers rained from the sky. Thick waves of smoke and desperate yells filled the air. Suddenly, Allen’s, monstrous figure arose from the cloud of smoke at the bow and screamed out in wretched horror, his pent-up insanity burst forth.

All action ceased as the shocked faces of the men watched the monster rise and acknowledge their struggle. A dismayed crew, awed by what appeared to be the sea monster of the Ameritas come-to-life.

Someone called out, “Mascotte!”

In unison, prayers, cries, and cheers filled the ranks.

The cannon fire mellowed as the attacking ship prepared to glide parallel to the Ameritas for its crew to board as a means of a decisive victory.

At that moment, the outer jib, attached to the foremast, swung in Allen’s direction, as if summoned. Allen took hold and in a swashbuckling manner, grabbed tightly to the rope hanging from the jib, leaped from the bow, and launched his hideous figure towards the attacking vessel. The monster seemed to fly to the amazement and horror of the other ship’s crew, as the mainmast gave way and crashed down upon the other ship’s one loaded cannon. The final blast from the cannon sent a projectile directly at Allen, and in midair, the two collided in an explosive cloud of blood and infected tissue that descended upon the aggressors in a red mist.

Disturbed by the vision of the monster and unable to board, the stunned vessel moved beyond as the Ameritas sailed comfortably behind. In the distance, the crew of the Ameritas could hear the cries of madness coming from the other ship as Consumptive Morbus overwhelmed the crew.

The Scary Nary (A wicked rhyme)

Children never ventured into the Nary wood.

They knew all too well and understood

of the dangers that fell,

and stories that were told,

and retold again;

old stories of now and then.

#

They were handed down

by infinite numbers

of older sisters

and older brothers,

of brood before

and since brood began.

You must pass this on in hand.

#

A thing that tricked with a joy, so fresh

it beguiled you, then riled you,

then wrenched your flesh.

#

Against its hide, it wrapped you up.

It sucked you dry to fill its cup.

Once you were caught you were gone forever.

The Scary Nary was very clever.

#

You knew it was close if no bird flew by,

or no chipmunk popped his body outside.

You might see a snail

or worms at the bottom

when the air was stale

under leaves that smelled rotten.

#

The feet of the Nary

could be seen in this dirt.

Beware if you step on its toes.

Be alert!

#

Where the wind did not blow,

he was too big to hide

but, you were too close to know

the Nary next to your side.

#

It would hold you

then scold you

with fingers of whips

like willow tree branches

with needles as tips.

It had arms that were lengthy

and wretched like rakes.

It had hands that were haunted

and hanging with hooks.

Toes that were wicked

and snarky like snakes,

and eyes that were void

like the specs of a spook.

#

The grown-ups never ventured to the wood past the meadow.

It was misunderstood, not amused by its shadow.

They had forgotten and joked and jeered at the fable.

They worked and toiled, and no longer able.

#

But when boys weren’t boys

and not yet men,

they neglected their toys

for adventure, and when

their courage was built

and they longed to do

what their minds intended,

the Nary woods brought a challenge anew,

that could not be dispelled or amended.

#

And somewhere between

foal and mare,

not pup or dog,

not cub nor bear.

A boy was brazen

and forced to dare.

#

So, when a school year was ending and the air was still cool.

One gathered the hearty and not the fool.

A group of three decided to venture

to the forbidden wood to test their measure.

#

After one had gathered them up,

they three, all wrestled and riled and thumped.

“We’ll go to the forest and see if it’s true.”

The first said it was.

The second wasn’t sure.

The third said it wasn’t.

So, the challenge was pure.

#

Meticulously they planned with tact and tool.

They pilfered and packed what they could from their school,

from their father’s sheds,

and from under their beds.

They were ready for the worst kind of ghoul.

#

They spit and shook for now and forever.

They would not dampen their oath nor sever

the pact that they made or themselves from adventure.

#

Before the cows on the farm

they were a long way from harm.

Near the grouse in the meadow

they felt slightly unsettled.

Passed the deer in the dell

they were halfway to hell.

#

Past the dells the three stood

one by another,

They’d go if they could

but froze by the wood,

“It all looks too gruesome,”

They shuddered.

#

One said to his friend

“Go in and return and bring back the news.”

“You’re crazy my brother the Nary is true.”

And they could not agree on none or all three,

and all three was the best they could do.

#

So, as boys dare and dare as they do,

one dared another and another made two.

When one stood alone he rallied behind.

Now all three were stalking in line.

#

They crept through the thickets,

the vines and the nettles,

milk-thistles, pines and peddles.

Until the vines became few

and the ground became gray

and worms squirmed about

in the rot and decay.

#

Still deeper they slunk

til’ they stood by a giant

that had a large trunk;

a tree that stood high and reliant.

#

It spread out like a dome

where no animals roamed

but the boys grew more bold and defiant.

#

The tree stood tall with arms outstretched;

hanging limbs with leaves like gnarled nets.

Draped with toys and forget-me-nots.

All made of wood and carved to a liking

that boys adored and girls found striking.

#

Nothing shined though objects shown,

more than figures it had grown

of things that resembled fun and good.

All for the taking, if you could.

#

Oh what a dare, oh what a deed.

Their childish hearts were filled with greed.

#

And of all that was rotten,

if only they feared

what the fragile fear

of shriek and terror

and “hold me, dear,”

they might still be alive

and not forgotten.

#

They stepped on the roots

and the twigs that were buried

that crunched and alerted

the hives of the Nary.

They grabbed at the branches

like shelves of a store,

and tugged at the toys

that it carried.

#

There the wind did not blow

and this carnival show

was too much for the boys to ignore.

#

It awoke in a sudden

It wrapped them up tight.

They were coiled in a thicket,

of gossamer plight.

#

The one who was the leader

became embroiled in thorns

that wove like a web,

and tightened its horns.

It squeezed and released

until his screams had ceased

and tossed him atop

where it finished the feast.

At the highest branches, he stopped.

#

Another was grabbed

by the face and shook.

By the eyes and mouth, he was took.

Driving its shanks

down his throat to its length

and out through his head

like a hook.

#

Out of his back

more branches emerged,

more leaves were sprouted

and his juices were purged.

He sagged there a carcass

to be siphoned and squeezed

as his skin became bark

and dry like the trees.

#

The last one was pulled

to the side of the trunk

as a mouth and eyes opened

it swallowed a chunk.

With teeth like daggers

and eyes deathly dark

the lad was halved

at the waste

as from a shark.

#

But nothing was wasted

and it took the last bite.

Of the last boy it tasted,

he tasted of fright.

#

A prize for the Nary,

oh how he was good

and this one’s face

forever stood

in the crags

of the bark

on its trunk

in the wood.

#

The Nary wood, as time does tell.

Not a childish place of Jack and Jill.

Not on hill or dale,

but a forest of fear and fail.

#

So, remember,

when you see a face gnarled in wood

on a tree, in a forest,

beyond a meadow and dell

and you know that you shouldn’t.

Yet, you do just as well.

Just remember the childhood

stories they tell.

#

A lesson of will

so that you will grow merry…

No child escapes the Scary Nary.

#