Monday, October 25, 2010

A Tale for All Hallow's Eve


At nine every evening he walked the dog, an untrained black Lab that exploited the retractable leash like a teenager exploits an ambiguous curfew. He was forever having to unwind the leash from around his legs or lift the dog's paw and pass the handle under its belly. But the dog was nonetheless lovable so he would live with the aggravations of the evening walk for which he could blame only himself.

Midway down the block he passed the trailer trash home where a couple of beaters sat propped up on cinder blocks, their hoods perpetually raised like gaping mouths screaming fix me! But no matter how frequently he observed the dirty faced teens leaning over the cars poking around in their innards he had yet to hear an engine turn over or see one of the cars in motion. They were there now, squatting on the front steps in their backward ball caps, smoking and smirking and generally acting as though they had the world by the tail. Later there would undoubtedly be beer and girls with faces somewhat askew and a radio pumping out belligerent rap music that compelled passersby to give the house a wide berth, the odor of burning dope taunting them as they hurried past.

He reached the other end of the block where a man stood in the front yard of the corner house resting his crossed arms on the chain link. He might have been sixty or sixty-five. The Lab growled but kept his distance. The man nodded a greeting and turned to look back up the street. His face was the color of fresh ham but creased and gnarled as a crabapple. His expression was not kindly as he glared up toward where the teenagers lived so you knew that if he were a dog he too would be growling.

The Lab pulled his owner along and they soon reached the park where the dog sniffed around, peed excessively and finally dropped a load of soft feces that his owner winced to feel against his hand with only the thin layer of plastic bag in between. He dropped the bag in a trash barrel and headed back home, mission accomplished.

The old man was still in his yard when they came back along. Again the man nodded but this time imposed some commentary.

"Some neighbors, eh?" he said, tilting his head in a certain direction.

"Oh," the Lab's owner replied. "Yeah."

"You wonder what kind of people live like that," he added. "What kind of parents."

The Lab's owner nodded.

"They're an ugly stain on the block," he carped. "A damn shame."

The Lab's owner shrugged with sympathy as if to say what are you gonna do and continued on his way.

The older man lingered a few minutes and went inside. There were no witnesses to how disgusted he was except the Lab's owner and the teenagers themselves. The man lived alone, his wife dead now for just over six years. The teenagers openly mocked him whenever they passed because the man had repeatedly chided them for their loud music, unruly behavior and their yard's slovenly appearance. They had dubbed him Crabby and enjoyed much laughter at his expense. They’d even stomped on the flowers in the man's front yard, a garden he had diligently cultivated, though they’d done it in the man's absence and so he could of course prove nothing. He replanted the flowers and before long the garden had regained its former beauty while the man's hateful scowl grew only more red and puckered with enmity when the sound of raucous music came swaggering down the block.

The man with the Lab didn't know the teenagers or the man they called Crabby and they didn't know him. That, he felt, was as it should be. He had no interest in knowing any of them. He did know that there was a Neighborhood Watch program and that the so-called crabby man was one of its more active members. He had observed the man on more than one occasion delivering pamphlets on neighborhood safety to the houses on the block. But the man with the Lab preferred not to get involved. Live and let live was his philosophy. Let the teenagers rut like swine in their front yard and let the old man grow his flowers and if one should transgress against the other let the police come sort it out.

He walked his Lab through the coldest days of winter, through the warm spring and the hot summer and when the autumn leaves descended to enshroud the street in the dry dead stuff of obsolescence. He walked the Lab at six in the morning before leaving for work. He walked him when he arrived home at five and again at nine. As October began to peter out he began noticing the Halloween decorations going up on doors and windows, tiny white tissue ghosts hanging from a tree, the odd scarecrow or skeleton propped against a mailbox. There were not many small children on his block but there were teenagers who could be relied upon to commit the usual pranks: eggs splattered against a car windshield, toilet paper festooning a house or tree, the remnants of smashed pumpkins littering the street.

On Halloween night he walked the Lab as usual. He had seen not a single trick-or-treater but in front of the trailer trash house the teenagers were in fine form. Five or six of them sat in the middle of their lawn, encircled by no less than ten jack o'lanterns, each facing the street and each containing a candle flickering beneath its sinister grin. The kids themselves were seated in a circle and within that concentric ring of lotus-positioned bodies sat the largest pumpkin of all. Music was blaring, pot was burning and spirits were flowing. The owner of the Lab was careful not to stare but let his dog pull him along as always.

The man who lived in the corner house was out in his yard leaning on his fence, glowering. Lined up behind the chain link his flowers looked poorly but were still hanging onto life, the first frost not yet come. The man with the Lab nodded briefly as he strode past, not wishing to appear receptive to an airing of the man's thoughts. On his way back home he took an alternate route so as to avoid both the man and the teenagers. He just wanted to get home and to sleep before the local hobgoblins began howling at the moon.

When the man walked his Lab at six the next morning he had to sidestep pumpkin fragments just as he'd expected. There was no sign of life at the trashy house but the lawn was littered with beer cans and assorted garbage and the jack o'lanterns of the previous night were gone. The cars sat immobile on their cinder blocks as always, their opened maws gaping hopelessly as ever. Not a soul was to be seen at this time of the morning and the man himself was not quite awake as the Lab tugged him around the corner.

When the Lab did his business in the park the man tended to it and promptly set their course toward home. He was more alert on the walk back and thought to look toward the corner house, wondering if it had been the victim of pranks. He retracted his dog's leash, drawing him closer to his side, and walked quite near to the chain link. There were no eggs splattered against the house, no toilet paper trimming the trees or adhering in soggy clumps to the windows. In fact there seemed nothing amiss whatsoever until he noticed the row of flowers just behind the chain link. Or rather the absence of flowers. For the flowers had gone away and in their place sat a long row of smugly grinning jack o'lanterns.

He looked at the first one, nearest the corner, then regarded each one in turn counting as he went. In some the remnants of a candle was still flickering. He counted twelve but never made it to thirteen because the thirteenth which was the last in line was no jack o'lantern at all but rather the scowling head of the man the teenagers had called Crabby, the Neighborhood Watch man. It took a moment for the man with the Lab to react, for someone had crowned the severed head with the top section of a pumpkin, stem poking up like the lid of a kettle, and it blended in nicely with the other jack o'lanterns.

The facial expression on the head was not terribly different than it had always been but the owner of the Lab started just the same, lurching away from the fence. The Lab caught the scent and began barking fiercely. The man pulled and yanked on the leash as he strove to put distance between himself and the ghastly sight but the dog continued to prance and snarl and dance circles around him so that he had to turn pirouettes to unwind the leash from around his legs and then rein the dog in and lift his paws and pass the handle under his belly until the whole mess was untangled. It was terribly aggravating as usual but the dog was lovable so he patted him on the ribs and pulled him on up the block. After all, it was his own fault if he hadn't taken the time to train the dog properly.

by d.e. sievers

Happy Haunting, boys & ghouls!

From the heartland,

Your ever watchful neighbor

Monday, October 11, 2010

Excerpts from "The Climb"

My blogging has slumped lately, but only in favor of higher writing priorities. I've completed my novella, titled "The Climb," and have begun my first non-fiction book, about the artist Robert Craig. I don't have a great deal to blog about, beyond those things, so I'll post a couple of excerpts from "The Climb." Hope you enjoy them.

From "The Climb" ...

The increasingly milder climate worked its charm upon the landscape, bringing all of its disparate elements into a natural and exquisite harmony, the earth and all that grew and moved upon it becoming as one organic and indivisible whole. Likewise did the common experiences of those who navigated that world unite them in ways that transcended the purely physical. There were sympathies and sensibilities, felt but not spoken, that forged a bond of solidarity which engendered trust and understanding and tacit collaboration. Together, they formed a model of human ecology that eased the burdens of all and made it possible to thrive both as individuals and as a collective. They climbed across the landscape that rustled and hummed all around them, and of mutual accord, made that song of life their own.

Also from "The Climb" ...

She faced him now as they spoke, and he looked upon her without shrinking, and in so doing, both seemed to lose sight of any reason why they should not look upon one another in the naked light of day. His rich brown eyes told of the sorrows he'd known and the longings he'd felt and the delight he was taking in her presence. His long hair danced in the breeze over his muscled shoulders and beads of moisture ran down over his bare chest. He returned her gaze and was rewarded with two priceless gems of sparkling blue, suffusing the face in which they appeared with light and life and a beauty for which no distant glimpse could have prepared him. Her wet hair clung to her cheeks and trailed down her back while sunlight shimmered off her bare shoulders. Having gained the ability to look upon one another freely, without reserve, with boldness and complicity and ease, it seemed they would never stop.

OKAY ... Now that I've completed the novella, I need to begin writing another novel. What shall it be, I wonder. The non-fiction book will occupy some time, but I see no reason why I can't be working on a novel concurrently. They are two different sorts of animals, after all. There's a novel I began some years ago that may fill the bill. It will be a fun story to tell, and I already have a little bit of a head start into it. In case you're curious, I'll just say the book will be about everyone's favorite sailor man ... and the untold story behind the man.

But for now, bon voyage from the heartland,

D.E. Sievers