Monthly Archives: April 2016

Spilled Wine, a murder mystery, in short.

 

Spilled Wine

A murder mystery, in short – by Sha’Tara

The wine glass was tipped over on the soft white carpet and a dark red stain had spread away from it.  Beside the bed lay a man in later years, casually dressed, his shoes off, looking for all the world as if he’d just gone to sleep.  His face was towards the window and it had a slight smile.  Half closed blue eyes seemed to stare at something outside.  Despite the fact that he was very dead, in fact that he’d been dead for several hours, perhaps as long as a day, he seemed to be in a state of complete repose.  To the police investigator staring at his prone body he seemed to say, “Please don’t disturb me; this is the most peaceful I’ve been in my entire life.”

Police detective Josh Erwin took in the scene and after consulting his procedure manual and talking with Rose Whitecliff at the station, put on his gloves and stepped into the bedroom where the dead body of John Marshall lay in his unprepossessing and very quiet way.  Forensics medical examiner, Doctor Donald Signals was on his way from Bonnerville so Cpl. Erwin’s job was to look at the scene of the incident and write a preliminary report, take some pictures and secure the scene from prying eyes, meaning from Vicky Spears from “Good Morning Hamersley TV.”  She had managed to discover the “situation” even before the cops heard anything.  Cpl. Erwin thought she was creepy, the way she always seemed to ferret out a crime before the police did, and how accurately she could re-construct a scene on her i-pad. 

“C’mon Josh, let me have a look.  I can help you figure this out before Signals gets here with his paraphernalia and head-scratching propositions.  I bet I can tell you what happened, when it happened and maybe even why it happened.”

 “Sorry Vicky but this could be a real murder here and I’ve got to protect the integrity of the scene.  I can’t let you in here.”

 “Ok, but it’s your funeral.  I’m just going to go to my car, drive down to Starbucks, get a great cappuccino, come back here, park in the driveway and write my story while you wait for someone else to tell you the facts you should be able to put together yourself.  I’ll have the story ready to air before your expert gets his stuff together and comes up with his usual platitudes and long shots.  I know what happened here, Josh.” 

He tried to sound angry but it was all exasperation.  He knew she’d guess, and he knew with even greater certainty that she’d be right… again. “Not this time Vicky.  I’m serious.  Get lost, and I don’t care if you can guess the nature of what we’re looking at here because it will still be nothing but a guess.  Enjoy your cappuccino.”

She shrugged and went to her car.  The H-RV spun around with a slight squeal of angry tires and disappeared around the curve heading to Main Street.  Cpl. Erwin glanced at the scene once more and began to scratch his head so hard his cap went flying.  While he bent down to retrieve it, he saw something dark under the only dresser in the room.  Should he reach for it, or wait?  He was smarting from Vicky Spears’ mocking and he decided then and there to break a rule.  He reached under the dresser with his gloved hand and grasped the black item.  It was a very light, very strange looking handgun that looked like a Beretta.  He looked at it in the light from the window and realized it was a clever imitation.  It was in fact a water pistol. 

 If anything, one could not call Cpl. Erwin too intelligent, let alone bright.  He was a true cop; a by-the-book kind of cop who was actually quite out of his depth in temporary charge of Hamersley’s police department consisting of himself and two well-meaning deputies who also volunteered as Hamersley’s five volunteer fire department brigade.  The sheriff was away south and on holidays, and incommunicado.

Anyway, Cpl. Erwin was looking at the water pistol and wondering how that could tie in with the death of John Marshall.  Then he smiled to himself as he carefully put the toy back where he’d found it.  Kids.  Obviously Marshall’s grandson had been around recently and had been playing with the water pistol.  Not wanting to be punished for spraying water on the furniture or the carpet he’d quickly hid the gun under the dresser when John Marshall came into the room.  That made sense.  Let Vicky Spears come up with something better. 

True to her words, Vicky returned and parked in the Marshall driveway, far enough back so she wouldn’t be forced to move when the forensics team arrived, which it did a couple of minutes later.  Vicky sipped on her coffee and watched, all the while writing her story, “John Marshall was found dead in his home this morning.  Foul play is suspected although the only sign of anything out of the ordinary is a tipped over wine glass beside the body in the bedroom.”  Let’s see what the numbnuts from Bonnerville come up with this time.  Just for a laugh she continued, “…a UFO was seen rising from the roof of Marshall’s house by old Mrs. O’Connor.  “It was shaped like a button,” she said, “and it spun like crazy.  I sure wouldn’t want to be riding in that kind of contraption, it’d make you so dizzy you’d get sick for sure.  Seems kind of retarded technology to me.  But who can tell with aliens?  Now what was I saying?  Oh yes, young John Marshall, he was always going on about aliens and UFO’s, well I’m one up on him now, aren’t I?  And right up over his own house too.” 

There was a hard tap on her window and she looked up to see Josh Erwin motioning her to roll it down.  She did.  

“Sorry but you’re in the way.  We got an ambulance coming in and more people to check over the place.  You’ll have to move out onto the street.”  

“You’re going to give yourself a heart attack being so serious Josh.  I’ll move, don’t worry.  I’ve got my story anyway, no thanks to you.  What did your expert come up with: aliens with ray guns?  Drone attack with subsonic weapons?” 

“I shouldn’t be sayin’ but they suspect poison.  Murder.  No motive, no suspect yet, but we’re moving on that.  We’ve contacted the FBI.”

 “The FBI no less.  My, my, this is becoming absolutely fascinating.  Let me get my headline here:  Retired bird watcher and dog trainer, John Marshall was murdered in his house.  Police suspect poison was used.  They have no idea what kind of poison, how it was administered, who the suspect or suspects are, nor any motive whatsoever for killing him… The scuttlebutt is that he was involved in the drug trade.  The FBI is being brought in to look for more bodies buried about the place.”

“Come on Vicky, that’s not fair.  We’ve just started here.  In a day or two we’ll have some real evidence and then I’ll let you in on it.  Hold your story for 24 hours, OK?”

 “18 hours, Josh.  Just for you.  But I already know exactly what happened to John Marshall.  I know who killed him, or maybe I should say, what killed him.”

“I’m not buying it Vicky, this is serious stuff.  Move your car back onto the street or I’m having you towed.” 

“OK, but that’s not the way to go here Josh.  I was trying to give you a leg up the chain of command.”  Again the shiny black H-RV spun around with squealing tires and parked on the street overlooking the Marshall driveway.  Vicky spoke into her phone recorder, then continued typing on her i-pad.

To make a long story short, Dr. Donald Signals insisted that John Marshall’s death was not accidental; that some sort of subtle poison had been administered causing heart failure.  Preliminary analysis of the wine revealed no foreign substance.  No evidence was found that anyone other than Marshall had been in the house for at least a week before his death.  He was last seen walking to his truck and driving back in the direction of his house.  He had been carrying a shopping bag according to a witness who’d waved at him from Marie’s Emporium.  He hadn’t waved back.  The witness said he appeared preoccupied and had a “worried” look on his face.  A day later a couple of FBI agents came to the house to investigate.  Cpl. Erwin stated he was not at liberty to reveal what the agents discovered.  Investigations are on-going.

Meanwhile Vicky Spears had been unspooling her own story and version of events, much to the chagrin of the Hamersley police squad.  Here’s the gist of the last of her TV broadcasts on the John Marshall murder.

“Good morning folks.  It’s another lovely day in Hamersley today and I hope all of you get to enjoy it.  As you all know by now, we had a death in Hamersley a few days ago.  Our very quiet and reclusive Mr. John Marshall was found dead in his house and the police and apparently the FBI all insisted, without any evidence by the way, that Mr. Marshall was murdered.  Poisoned in fact, said Dr. Donald Signals, Bonnerville’s forensic expert and coroner on loan to our investigative team.  Was any poison found?  No.  Were there any signs of anyone but Mr. Marshall having been in the house at the time of his death, or previously, as far back as a week ago?  No.  Oh, they did find a hidden weapon in the house.  Are you ready for this?  They found John Marshall’s grandson’s water pistol hidden under the dresser in the same bedroom where Mr. Marshall’s body was found.  Did the water pistol, then, contain any liquid with poison in it?  No.  It was quite dry and quite empty and all it had ever had in it was tap water. 

 Oh, but wait, that’s not all.  There was a wine glass fallen over on the floor next to the body.  Red wine had spilled into the carpet leaving a bit of a mess.  OK, was there any residue of some exotic poison in the spilled wine?  No.  After much wrangling with our own very dedicated by-the-book Cpl Erwin I was finally allowed to have a look a the bedroom where the “murder” took place.  Except for the purple stain in the carpet there really was nothing to see.  Quite an ordinary room laid out in quite an ordinary way. 

Now folks, I don’t want to come across as some know-it-all and I don’t want to make our police look silly, or the boys from the Federal Bureau of Indiscretion either… but, really, murder?  So I did my usual woman’s intuition thing and you ladies are going to enjoy this, went about looking for the obvious.  You know, the kind of evidence which generally shakes the truth out of the tree after our professional investigators have climbed all over it and seen nothing but suspicious fruit dangling from it? 

I won’t deny it, I dated John a few times.  He was a really nice guy but a bit too reclusive for the likes of lil’ ol’ me, if you know what I mean, (“wink”) so I know that John had a very serious allergy to certain types of pectin.  Usually when we went out and had a drink, John would drink beer and I, red wine.  I love a good red wine, well, who wouldn’t?  But John was careful about his drinks.  He’d drink wine only when absolutely sure of what it contained. 

 Now you’ll remember that the police witness from Marie’s Emporium, no other than our beloved librarian, Josie Archambeau, said that John had appeared preoccupied and had a worried look on his face.  Also you will remember that she said he was carrying a shopping bag.

So, let’s just thread the needle and start sewing here.  John is “worried” about something, and I’d be willing to bet it’s about a dog he’d trained that had misbehaved and he felt terribly responsible.  I knew John and I can sense this.  He walks into Harvey’s Liquor Barn and grabs a bottle of wine.  It is red wine but as I said before, John knew his brands.  So he grabbed a bottle he “knew” to be safe without asking any questions, paid for it, and took it home.  He had a glass that evening just as he was getting ready for bed.  But that wine was from a batch produced by a different winery and it happened to contain a trace of the very pectin John was allergic to.  The murderer, folks, is that bottle of wine. 

 I’ve already told our great investigators this and indeed they found the pectin in the left over wine.  They also contacted our dear Dr. Wells and he confirmed that the pectin found in the wine could cause cardiac arrest in someone like John.  And that, folks, is a case closed.  And for you girls who were hoping that our esteemed FBI agents were going to be around through the weekend and maybe invite them to the dance or your wild midnight parties at the lake, well they’re heading back to the office.  Sorry about that.

Here’s to you, friend John.  For a quiet guy you sure chose a noisy departure.  What a way to go! 

 

Encounter at Selda’s – a short story

It’s entertainment time, and if you look in the following for anything deeper  than an indoor-outdoor piece of carpet, I guarantee you, you’re wasting precious minutes of your life.
Do you remember the detective genres of the 40’s and 50’s with the corny dialogue and scenes? Here’s an attempt at mimicking one of those… enjoy…   S’T

ENCOUNTER AT SELDA’S
            by Sha’Tara

I don’t know why I noticed her. You’d think I would have had enough on my mind. But the way she stepped across that street, shaking her head, looking up and down, I knew something was wrong. I thought she looked at me, but why should I care? I told myself it was her miniskirt and halter top, but you really got to want to fool yourself to do so, and I wasn’t trying. I’d been fooled enough. Here I was, everything the same as every other day, except, as of 5:00 P.M., I was out of a job. For twelve years, I’d built my position inside Extel, and just after they promised me a management job: re-structure. Replaced by a bank of robots with flashing lights. My good friend, Carlos Rivaldi gave me the boot, just like that. Not even a sorry, just a cold stare from his piggish little black eyes and an envelope from his fat fingers bulging between an assortment of rings. “See you around, Al.” I was torqued. Yeah, I’d see him around, all right, and when I did, he wouldn’t be the one saying good-bye…

It’s not the end of the world; the weather’s hot and I can still run, though it won’t be to the shop anymore. I can still get my dinner special at Selda’s. I’ve got $3000 dollars saved up and I intend to play that for all it’s worth. I force on my T-shirt and after wiping off some sweat, slip into Selda’s greasy spoon. Place is full now, near six. I don’t worry. They always make room for me at the staff table near the back. There’s Dino coming to usher me away from the rest of the crowd: he doesn’t care for my attire, never has, but my money’s good.

“Hi, Elaine!”

“Hi back!” she says between trays and deftly stashing some tips in her glass. Elaine’s OK. We’ve been out a couple of times, but we don’t quite hit it off. My exercising, especially the water sports, scare her, and I won’t be tied down to the land for any woman, so, it’s a stand-off.

I sit at the table and try to think. Damn that Carlos. I’ll see him in hell. “Regular please, only skip dessert this time, OK?”

“Ain’t we the last of the big spenders tonight!”

“We sure are. We got the boot today.”

“You too? But I thought you were getting a promotion? Susan told me…”

“Susan was right: we both got promoted… to the street. Look, I don’t want to talk about it Jody. Do you know that woman in the black skirt just came in, the one Dino is eating raw?”

“No. Ain’t from around. Why?”

“Don’t get testy. Just asking. She was eyeballing me outside. What the hell? Dino’s pointing her this way…”

“It’s your party, big spender. Gotta look after the rest of my customers before they starve…”

The skirt swivels to my table, stops. I motion to the empty chair. She slides into it in one incredibly fluid motion. I scan the menu: shoulder length dark-blonde hair, green eyes (could have been the lighting), short finger nails, pretty mouth, not too big, long neck, medium breasts, well-exposed by skimpy black halter, backless, tanned. A swimmer. My eyes quit roving and my other senses get their chance. She smells outdoor: sunshine, moonlight, salt water and eucalyptus—definitely exotic if not intoxicating.

Me: “Hi!” How’s that for an original?

She: “I was following you when you came in here…” How’s that for a repartee? We are definitely on to something.

“Oh?” A two year old could have figured my next line: “Why?” and hers: “It’s a long story.” Do tell!

“Really…” I’m pretending no interest but she’s gaining fast. My omelet arrives. She orders soup and salad—I should have known. Oh, well, the food’s as good as usual, or as bad. I play the salt and pepper over my plate. She’s watching me, and I get nervous. She sips some water from my glass and lowers her head.

“Can we talk here?”

I look around, focusing on the din and answer caustically, “If you can make yourself heard!” Why am I being so difficult with the lady? Because I haven’t seen her before and she’s tailing me? Because she’s interrupting my dinner? Because I’m in a bitch of a mood and don’t want to talk to anyone, least of all a total stranger, female, desirable and quite likely dangerous to be seen with? Because… Oh, hell…

She sighs. No, I didn’t hear, I saw, and she opens up.

“Rivaldi dumped you, hey?”

I feel a cold shiver up my spine. Suddenly, I am all ears. “What?”

“Carlos – he gave you the boot this afternoon.”

She says it so damn matter-of-factly I nearly jump up and flip the table. “What the hell are you talking about?” She puts her nicely tanned hand on my arm and grips so hard I wince. “Hey, watch it!”

“Relax. I don’t want a scene. I need to talk.”

I know when I am beat and my curiosity is now well beyond retrieval. “Shoot. Whatever it is, it can’t be worse than what’s already happened” and sardonically: “please DO fill me in on the details!”

She sips my water again, sloshing the ice. “Want a beer or something?” I ask, trying to sound casual about it. Didn’t even fool me.

“Thanks! A Caesar, please!”

Quick at accepting freebies; have to watch that.

“I’m Sylvia Rivaldi. Carlos is my brother-in-law. My husband, Bernardo, was the main power behind Extel. Carlos, the front man. He’s been after his brother to break up the company and sell it for parts for quite some time. Bernardo refused. He said he liked computers. Bernardo, being the eldest, always had the last word, until last week, that is…” She reaches for the drink that has materialized and takes a long swallow. I watch the muscles on her extended throat contract and expand and I hold my breath. Even that part is tanned. I imagine very little of that lithe, healthy-looking body is untouched by the sun… or a man’s hands. “…so that’s when he disappeared…” I crash from my lustful reverie to land in her husky voice and my cold toast and omelet. “Disappeared?”

She looks around apprehensively and I think, “Oh, boy, what a ham. Does she think I just got off the bus?”

“Aren’t you listening to me?”

This time I detect a touch of self-pity, perhaps even fear, in her voice. “It’s been a hell of a day and you’re not helping. Sorry but you’re the only person I can trust and you’ve got a stake in this too.”

“Oh, I do?” I drawl the sarcasm out. “Well, that explains everything, don’t it!” She starts to cry and that’s when I begin to take her as the genuine article. Yeah, I’d thought someone’d put her up to this, but it was getting too good. “OK, I’ll listen, if you let me eat.”

“Thank you.” She dabs her eyes with my paper napkin. “As I said, Bernardo disappeared and I became frantic, all alone in that big house. Carlos tried so many times to get me there alone. He calls me and says, “Hey, kid. Where’s big bro? Gotta talk to him pronto.” I told him he wasn’t home and I hadn’t seen him for two days. “That so? Getting lonely? Want company? I could come over and make you comfy until Bern shows up, whadya say?” Forget it Carlos, I say, and he continues, “Well, maybe I will and again, maybe I won’t. Listen, bitch. Don’t think you can order me around. I’m gonna get what I want and you’re part of the picture, get it? Expect me at eight, and have cocktails ready. You’n me gonna party tonight, baby. We sure are gonna party…” and he hung up, laughing like a hyena.

“I was so scared! Then I realized I didn’t know where he’d called from. Maybe he was waiting down the drive for me to make a dash from the house. He knew exactly where I was and I didn’t know where he was. All I knew for sure was his ‘eight’ could mean any minute now. There was only one way out. The house is on a point across the bay and I keep a kayak down in a shelter by the rocks. I packed a few things, then remembered the safe. I found the combination, opened it and took all the cash and important looking papers; stashed the works in my waterproof belt pack and took off. I paddled across the bay and hid my boat in a place I know. I booked into a small beach-front motel and I’ve been watching developments ever since. I have a contact inside Extel and I learned what Carlos was doing. I knew about the so-called restructuring several days ago. I sent messages to Bernardo, but I knew it was useless…”

I raise my hand to stop the avalanche. “So you figure he’s dead?”

“I’m sure Carlos killed him.”

I brush a finger over my lips. She reads it like a pro and becomes absorbed by her salad. I say zip during Jody’s ritual coffee re-fill. She has big ears and a mouth to match. Once she’s absolutely out of ear-shot, I say: “You positive?”

“Yes, damn it. None of what’s happened would have if Bernardo was alive.”

“Seems like your boys like to play rough. Do they have any connections with…”

“You naive? Of course they got connections: all the way to Sicily. Don’t you know you were on the payroll of the Family, for Chrissakes? That Extel was a front for a drug channel from Columbia via Mexico and here? Bernardo was the kingpin and, get this, Carlos doesn’t know anything about the drugs, that stupid oaf!”

“OK. Let’s fast forward to the present. Why were you following me, and what do you want from me: protection from the goddam mob? Are you crazy?” She laughs. Such a beautiful, if unexpected, sound to emanate from that luscious package! For a mourning widow of a recently murdered husband, she presents a bit of a puzzle. “What the hell’s so funny?”

“You! I don’t remember the last time I met anyone as naive as you. It’s so refreshing!” She lets off another peal of laughter, and worse, some of the male customers are mentally taking out their measuring tapes. Already, I feel defensive and jealous and think, “Here we go. I’ll pop someone and never see her again. Women don’t like jealous males, don’t I know it, but I can’t help myself. “Quit that laughing, will ya?” I’m as tense as a startled rattler.

“Sorry!” She looks anything but. “I don’t need protection; I need a partner…”

“A what???” Now I’m shouting!

“Shhh. Carlos did you in like he’s trying to do me. With Bernardo dead, I own that damn Extel. I’ve got the papers. That’s what the fat slob’s after, not to mention me. I want him dead and that’s where you come in, partner.”

She’s so cool, the ice-cubes in the glass are growing! I splutter: “Are you nuts? I don’t know you. I don’t know if what you’re telling me comes from the back of a three dollar bill. D’you realize what you sound like, for Chrissakes?”

“Sure!” She purses her lips and moves in for the kill, her fingers resting lightly on my thigh. “I’ve got something you’d like, and I think we can work together.”

“What you got, I can get any time. This is LA.! And whatever else you got is trouble. I don’t need either.”

She smiles angelically. “You are naive. I love that! I’m not offering sex…” Smiling: “not yet, and as for trouble, nothing ventured, nothing gained!” She unsnaps her belt pack and slides it over her knees. Such shape, even in dimmed lighting. She unzips, pulls out an envelope, pops the end open and reveals a stack of heavy-duty bills. Must’ve been a hundred thou in there. She puts it back, pulls out a folded paper and opening it, traces some faint lines with her index. “What are those?”

“This is the route. Bernardo kept it in his safe and now I’m the only one who has the picture. We’re talking quick, easy millions, but I need a trusty sailor who knows the channels like the back of his hand to man a boat tonight. Did I make a mistake, Roger?”

Impossible! How could she know my real name? I was snared and shrugged helplessly: “No. I’ll get the boat.” She slips me several bills which add up to five thousands. I stuff them under the insole of my sweaty runners and lace up again.

“You’re fabulous!” With a feline stretch, she plants a full-lipped kiss on my mouth. I grope for more of her kelp and palm oil and whatever else she makes available in such tight if public quarters. Too late now to pause and consider a minor question like: “Who really killed Bernardo?” Good-bye Carlos! And inspector Dinsdale you dirty snake in the grass, am I going to have a nice little surprise for you, and this time won’t be me serving time for Uncle Sam.

 

Beauties from the River and around the Neighbourhood, part Deux.

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Fleabanes

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Some kind of plantain? Colourful!

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Life doesn’t get any better than this; kayaking the River in summer – taking a tanning and reading break on a sand bar

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A mallard nest on one of the many little islands

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Young Pacific willow shoots on a sand bar

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Mount Cheam from East Chilliwack – February

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Peaceful channel off the River

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English hawthorn (more common here than Pacific or western hawthorn) in full bloom

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One of many swamps hidden from view of boaters; havens for ducks, kingfishers, flycatchers, small herons and warblers

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Wind spinners using “local” materials: a rusted hunting knife, some driftwood, fishline and hooks all dug from the sands

 

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Sun Reflection

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Eroding sand bar

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On the River in August

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Down another “narrow” channel; returning home and storm rising. (poor definition: using old flip phone camera in this shot)

Thoughts about Dying (an essay)

 

Thoughts about Dying – from   ~burning woman~  by Sha’Tara

           Yeah, I’ve thought about dying.  In fact, I’ve thought about dying lots of times.  Before I began to think about dying in English, I used to think about dying in French.  Somewhere in between, when I worked with Central American refugees escaping from the White House’s Assassin–in-Chief Ronald Reagan whose CIA contras specialized in capturing, torturing and murdering unarmed Guatemalan native campesinos, I learned a bit of useful Spanish, and then I thought about dying in Spanish.  I learned to sing Guantanamera in Spanish and sang it as close as I could to the original as sung by The Sandpipers, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jm1anurhbeg ) then I learned the English translation.  “My words are like a wounded fawn seeking refuge in the forest… Before I die I want to share these words of my soul…” 

          When I was little I thought about dying because I was afraid of it.  I knew, even then, that I was born to die.  I remembered a previous life in which I had died painfully and violently; when I had spent a lot of time in a cold, dank prison, thinking about dying; about how nice it would be to just go to sleep finally one night and never wake up.  When you are being tortured, you think about dying.  Dying is a gift the gods are very reticent to grant you because, I suppose, the gods invented suffering and death and they feel cheated if you arrive at the one without fully experiencing the other.  They get off on man’s pain and suffering, you see.

          I still think about death a lot.  I think of it as the bottomless, endless topic.  But I no longer think of death as an escape from reality.  I’m experienced now, and I remember that death was never an escape.  I learned that whatever I was; whatever I’d become; passed with me through those black doors.  Whatever I was, that was inescapable reality. 

          I cannot escape what I am. So when I think about dying now, I have to remember this simple lesson and prepare myself for death accordingly.  It’s no different than planning a very, very serious trip.  It could even be a journey if I beat the odds this time around and I don’t find myself right back here with only a few months, or years of interim fogginess of mind.  Death is funny that way; it likes you to go through its doors over and over.  Death has a magnificent set of ebony black matte revolving doors and he’s unduly proud of them.  

          How did Death design his doors?  I’ll try to make a long story short.  Think of all the doors of the world designed to keep something, or someone, from escaping.   Think prison doors, and how inventive, clever and imaginative man has been in designing prison doors to create a sense of utter hopelessness behind those doors.  Take every design of every prison door and put that into one set of massive doors.  Pretty impressive.  It’s psychological.  You’re supposed to think; to believe; that when you cross that threshold you’ll never get out again.  So you lose your mind; you go into a coma; you remember nothing when your time’s up and you are set “free” for another round at the wheel.  They wipe your memory so you won’t remember.  The reason is simple: they want you to die all over again as if it was the very first and only time. 

          They want you to live in an inescapable fear of death.  Those who fear death are easily manipulated into unthinkable anti-social acts against anyone they believe can rob them of life.  Fear of death is a belief in serious limitation: one life, then nothing.  Or for a dwindling number, one life then a judgment by a god of terror.  Some choice.  I remember that god of terror.  He was even more frightening than Death because he held those eternal chains that would keep you in a burning hell forever.  I remember doing the math on my chances at an eternity in heaven instead of hell: the odds weren’t good.   And I remember thinking also, how can I be sure that an eternity in heaven with a psychopathic god will be better than one in hell?  I thought, it probably compares to voting Republican or Democrat.  Liberal or Conservative.  The lesser of evils is still evil.

          Then I grew up some.  I learned some tricks on how to access deep memory; the part they can’t wipe out before they send you back.  The data wasn’t great and lots of it is corrupted, but there was enough to construct some memories; to remember.  From delving into those remains of past lives I re-constructed some of them and learned Death’s great secret; that it isn’t an end, nor is it a passage into a pre-determined eternity of bliss or the most terrible of eternal pain.  It was a revolving door and if I came to that door again I could hold some seriously powerful bargaining chips – if I did the work that is.

          So I’ve been thinking about death a whole lot more since the day I exposed its secret.  When I think about death now, I do it while looking at this world.  I think of all the death that accompanies what passes for life here and the termination of a body allowing me to push through those revolving doors in self-empowered mode isn’t an issue anymore.  The way I look at it now is, I’m living a free life in sudden death overtime.   

          Here’s how John Donne put it:

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones,
and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

 

Vassily — a short story

 

           Vassily

[a short story – by Sha’Tara] 

          As he requested, I met him in late afternoon on the Skaard boulevard. It was snowing lightly with a north-easterly gale that bit right through your clothes. The night was moving in fast and I thought, maybe even hoped, he wouldn’t show up. Then a taxi pulled up to the curb and he stepped out, hunched over and staggering slightly. I couldn’t believe how debilitated he looked, how frail. I walked over and helped him straighten up, holding his arm. Still the same Vassily, though, with a smile that could light up a room. And I could feel that same old feeling of adulation, and perhaps of love, for the man.

          “Oh, and how are you, Tom?” His voice still retained that resonating bass that had held audiences captive as it thundered from the stages of the world. And the lecterns.

          “Fine, fine, Vassily. And you?”

          “Oh, you know. As good as can be under the circumstances. That last fast left me somewhat weakened. But I’m recuperating now. It’s so much nicer here.”

          Nicer here? I thought sarcastically. Nicer than what? This was the armpit of the universe as far as I was concerned. But I remembered quite quickly that Vassily never saw the world the way other men did. He had eyes that saw, that really saw, and that’s the secret I’d hoped to get out of him.   How did he do that?  

          “Look at that, Tom. Look at those buildings, those rectangular mountains full of eyes that reach up into the darkening sky. Those endless vistas of eyes, some alight, some still dark, some never to see again.   Look at that hotel across the street.   No, look up, up. Yes, that’s it. Look. If you look into it, you can see right through to the other buildings behind it, and behind that, forever. That’s the city, Tom. The world is full of cities but there is really only one. The others, they’re illusions, reflections, doppelgangers.   They don’t really exist, you see, not until you are right there, inside one. Then it manifests to hold you prisoner – prisoner of your hopes, your dreams, your beliefs, your lusts, your desires, your possessions and your families.   Within that prison you are free to do whatever you want. And the world is full of identical prisons so no matter where you go, you are always free.   But when you are in-between the city, that’s when you must watch out because that’s the no-man’s land that can take you and alienate you. Do you understand me?”

          “Vassily, I’m freezing to death and no, as always, I don’t understand you at all. I don’t know what you are talking about. We need to get out of this snow and wind. I found a comfortable, clean, small hotel for us and reserved two rooms.   Come on, I’ll carry your bag.”

          “Ah, Tom. Always the practical one. I always liked you Tom. One of the best students I ever had. But you’re so American! I despair often for you, that you will never know, never see, never understand. How well you know the surface of things; how much of the material and the menial you can manipulate, and how much that attention to detail robs you of life. Yes, let us go then. You lead.”   And I heard a definite heavy sigh.

          How long had Vassily been a conscientious objector, I could only speculate.   As long as I had known him, some twenty years now, he’d been a vegetarian. “It’s completely wrong, a grave error, for anyone to harm any other for any reason other, perhaps, than self-defence, or in the protection of the weak. How terrible it is that on this world people who would be healthier without ingesting meat, accept the mistreatment and killing of innocent animals because they like the taste of their flesh. But there is so much more that is wrong here. People who know nothing of each other kill each other because they are taught or ordered to do so. Others die of famine and mistreatment because the few desire to get rich – to get rich!   And how can anyone be rich whose gains were made by shedding the blood of the innocent worldwide? Don’t you see how sociopathic that is? And you accept this as normal? You do nothing to distance yourselves from this horror?”  

          He thundered his thoughts at us as we sat through his lectures. He had been a well-known and respected actor until his public rejection of our ways turned agents, publicists and directors against him. When he could no longer act, he taught, wherever, and for however long, he was accepted. He must have been about fifty when I attended my first lecture and was literally assailed by his voice denouncing the status quo and our sheep-like acceptance. I was shocked, intrigued, then hooked. For the first time in my life, at twenty-five, I encountered something truly meaningful. But like my fellow-students and contemporaries, I completely failed to realize the costs involved in incarnating his views. It was nothing short of the rejection of everything I knew and understood. And what did he give us in exchange for giving up everything? Nothing! What did he promise us? Nothing.

          “I’m not here to hold your hands, people. I’m here to teach you to question your values, all of them. I’m here to destroy your lives as you’ve known them. I’m not here to build anything for you because if you do not build it yourself from the base rock of a life stripped of everything, it will not be yours and it will not hold you. The world you have lived in is all illusion; pain-filled, painful illusion. It wasn’t always so, but when it was high-jacked by the System, it became oxymoronic, then turned into a loud, dirty, soul-constricting angry, mean and hate-filled hobgoblin. Your cities, your systems, are mists parading as roadways and edifices; fog as backdrop for computer animations. The only thing real in your world are the cries of the oppressed and the dying. Those you must hear or you will never, ever, change anything. Can you hear? I know that when you listen to me, you hear them, but that’s not good enough. You must be able to hear them when you are dining in a restaurant; when you are at a hockey game, when you are partying on a beach; when you are making love; when you are at the opera; when you are at work; when you are flying over your world. If you cannot hear them, you are more deaf than the densest stone. Do you hear? If you do not hear, ask yourselves, is it because I am afraid?   Is it because I really don’t care?   Know that the oppressed of this world are talking to you in order to save you, not themselves. They are already beyond anything you could do. If you do anything in trying to help them, you will only make their conditions worse. Don’t entertain yourselves with childish illusions of heroic intervention within the workings of the Machine. Change yourselves, that’s all you can ever do. If you manage that, the rest will surely follow.”

          We arrived at the hotel and checked in. Then I took my old professor to the dining room and waited for him to order.   We had a very simple meal. I had a glass of white wine, he had water. Water!   For a brief moment there, I was angry at him. I felt as if he was showing off his superiority. He saw through me.

          “Tom, you know I love wine, but I can’t drink alcohol anymore. My body rejects it rather violently. So please don’t be offended if I have only water. I am enjoying this meal immensely.”

          “Can we talk about your latest fast, Vassily?”

          “Oh, Tom, if you want. You want to know why I did it? No particular reason. I needed to think, that’s all, and I wanted as few interruptions as possible. It did provide me with some interesting insights.   It felt as if I was a child and learning everything for the first time. Everything so bright, new and wonderful. It seemed to me I became whatever I touched. Whatever sang to me, or talked to me, wasn’t separate from me, but really it was all with me. It and me, different but inseparable. I touched the Other and we were no longer strangers. Ah, Tom, you thought I’d entered into that fast as a protest for something or other, didn’t you? Tom, Tom, did I teach you nothing at all? Protests are meaningless. They’re attention-getters, not fixers. If you have nothing to give; if you have no talent to fix whatever you would protest against, just hold the sorrow within yourself, like a slow-burning bog-fire under snow in winter and let that cleanse you. Then you will come to your real senses and begin the long journey up from your own ashes.”

          “What caused you to end your fast then? Learned enough, or seen enough for a time?”  

         There came a youthful sparkle in his eyes and he laughed, a loud, hearty laugh.

          “I didn’t want to die and embarrass my hosts, Tom! Besides, whether you jump off a forty-story building or starve yourself to death, it’s still suicide, don’t you see? No one has the right to do that, not unless driven to extremes of pain or despair. Then it’s understandable. But not just because. Not out of selfishness. I’ll die soon enough. Well, come, let’s go. I need to rest.”

          We returned to the rooms and talked a bit more. Then he went to sleep and never woke up. I was glad I was the one who had those last hours with him and who got to attend to him following his death. When I went through his belongings in his bag, there was precious little. A passport, a small box of chocolates labelled, “For someone who may need love” and a letter with my name on it. Basically, he reiterated his admonitions, berated me for being a die-hard materialist and closed with, “I still have some hope for you, that you will let yourself go far enough that you will see. Don’t give up. I know how difficult it is to become as nothing in your own eyes; how much more difficult it is to remain in that state. Of all people, you can do it Tom.”