Monthly Archives: February 2014

Storytime – What Happened?

(another writing exercise)

The scenario:

I stand, wearing handcuffs, facing the desk sergeant here at the police station, who is asking me questions, and I’m trying to focus so I can answer. It’s 2AM, no rain in the forecast, yet I’m drenched.  Now he’s talking again, “And how is it that we found this revolver in your pocket, yet you claim it’s not yours? And, about the bloody stains on your shirt sleeves?  There was no victim in the apartment, so who’s blood is it? I’m sure there’s a very good reason for the $28,000 in blood-soaked bills you were carrying, so tell me.  What is going on here?”
I wish I knew.

——————

My day started well enough – breakfast with Amy at the Pancake House, followed by a nice drive in the country.  I dropped her off over in Milbourn in time for her work, then I headed back to my place.  I hiked up the four flights of stairs and almost collapsed through the door.  I gotta quit smoking.
I had barely been on the couch for five minutes when somebody knocked on my door, very quietly.  That’s odd, why so soft? Are they afraid I’ll hear, and come to the door? I didn’t bother to check the peephole, because they didn’t sound too threatening – I mean, do the bad guys peck on your door, or do they bang on it?
I opened the door to find Annette, my down-the-hall neighbor standing there, twisting her hands and looking worried. I stepped aside so she could come on in.  I looked around in the hallway, didn’t see anyone lurking, so I closed the door and went to sit beside her on the couch.
“Annette, what’s the problem?”
She said, “Dave, I’m in a real jam.  Can you spare me an hour or two tonight to take me down to the docks?  I have to pick up a friend there, and I don’t have transportation, and cabs are so expensive….”
She said she’d be back around 9PM, and I said that would be fine, since I didn’t have to work tomorrow.
That evening we were driving slowly down dark, deserted streets, looking for an address.  It was cold and foggy, which didn’t help us much.  Again, she apologized, but I just replied, “Hey, now.  What are friends for?” I guess friends are to take advantage of.  Where in the hell were we, and what exactly were we doing here?
I pulled over to the curb and shut off the engine, then turned to her.  “Annette, something seems kinda fishy, as they say here on the docks.  What’s the deal?”
She broke into tears and began sobbing, squeezing out words between sobs, “They’ve got my little sister, and I had to come down here to bring the money.”
“Money, what money?”
“They called early this morning, told me that they had snatched Janie on her way to school, and that I had to bring $40,000 down here tonight or I’d never see her again.”  I knew Tony, Annette’s ex, had been into some shady dealings, and now she might have to suffer for his mistakes.
“How does Tony figure in to this?  Could he be behind it?”  I was really having second thoughts about this whole enterprise now.
Just then, someone yanked the door open behind me and I fell out onto the street.  Annette screamed, as someone else pulled her out the passenger door.  I jumped up as quick as I could and attempted to take a fighting pose, but I was a second or two late.  Whoever he was, he was quick – something slammed into the back of my head and I fell in a heap, losing consciousness on the way to the hard pavement.
I woke up, tied in a chair, soaking wet from the bucket of water that had just been thrown in my face.  Annette was in a nearby chair, tied just as I was.  Things didn’t look good.  There was a hulk of a guy leaning down, peering into my face. “Hey, are you awake now, Sleeping Beauty? We got questions!”  He slapped me, hard.  It felt like all my teeth had come loose at once by that blow from his beefy fist.
The other guy was standing right behind Annette.  He looked just like one of the gangsters who populated those black-and-white films from the 40’s, thin and twitchy.  He had greasy black hair, was dressed in a cheap dark suit, and was sucking on a toothpick.  The one who presently had most of my attention was wearing a mostly white suit, not counting the blood spatters that had presumably came from my recently-acquired bloody mouth.  I couldn’t make out his face very well because of his wide-brimmed Panama hat.
Mr. Question Man leaned in again and got right in my face as he hissed, “Where’s the rest of the money?  I looked in her purse, only found $28,000.  What did you do with the other $12,000?”
I pulled back as far as my bonds let me, but I couldn’t dodge the incoming slap to the face.  This guy really liked slapping people and, he was really good at it. I felt like my eyes were spinning in their sockets.
By this time I was bleeding all over myself as well as on his suit, and was not sure I could have spoken to him if I wanted to, with my lips swelling up so badly.  I tried.
“What money are you talking about?  I’m just the driver here. And, where’s the girl, Janie?”  I closed my eyes.  It didn’t keep him from hitting me again.
Just then the door burst open and four uniformed policemen came rushing into the room.  Both the bad guys were thrown up against the wall and held at gunpoint.  A man in a suit had just come in behind the officers and introduced himself as a detective, as he was freeing us from our ropes.  He had apparently found Janie in an adjoining room, and she stared at me, quivering with fright.
He was saying, “You two come with me – we’ve got questions, and we’re going to the station. You’re lucky we were watching this place, or you might be floating in the harbor right now.”
I thanked him profusely, because I wasn’t sure how I was going to end this story if they hadn’t arrived.
What a relief!

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Storytime – The Cat in the Museum

The Cat in the Museum

     Well, that was stupid.  All the signs in the museum tell you not to touch the displays, so of course I just had to do it.  Honest, all I did was reach through and touch the ivory cat. How could this happen to an average guy like me?  Tom Layton, you jerk!  One minute, here I am – the next minute, where am I?

I had been looking forward to seeing this Egyptian exhibit for many months.  I’m no scientist or anything, I just like seeing these old things, particularly if they’re from Egypt.  I’ve read my share of novels about Egypt, and maybe a little bit of the educational stuff, but a scholar?  I don’t think so!

My hand still tingled where I had caressed the beautiful white cat.  The jeweled eyes had drawn me across the room with their magnetic gaze – it wasn’t my fault, I promise!  I had been moving slowly from room to room, marveling at the objects that had been transported through the centuries to arrive on these little tables when I saw it sitting there.  I hurried over to see – I knew that my time was almost up because the visitors had thinned out and the lights had flickered once or twice already.

I stood there transfixed – this cold carved creature was so perfectly done I could almost see the individual hairs on its coat.  There was an amulet hanging from its neck, and I just had to touch it.  As I made contact I was thinking to myself how neat it would be to visit the time of the Pharaohs, to actually walk among these amazing people who lived four thousand years ago.

In an instant the walls of the museum vanished and I was standing beside a large river, my hand outstretched toward… where was the cat?  My mind reeled – my senses were being overloaded with the magnitude of this incredible displacement.  The blazing sun bathed me in a brilliant light.  There was a slight breeze rustling the palm fronds above me, and its coolness was wonderfully welcome.  I could see several wooden boats coming down the river in a line – they seemed to be transporting huge blocks of stone. I saw a cat curled up by the base of the tree.  What the heck was going on?

In another instant I was back inside the museum.  I looked around quickly – did anyone witness my disappearance, if indeed I did disappear?  I stepped back from the display, unconsciously rubbing my hand.  Again I looked around – was I going crazy, or did something really happen?  I glanced at the clock in the main hall, and couldn’t see that any appreciable amount of time had passed – my ‘transit’ was apparently brief.  The lights flickered again, so I headed for the exit door, lost in thought.

That night, safely back at home, I couldn’t quit thinking about it – I couldn’t watch tv, couldn’t read.  My wife noticed that I was different.  “So, Tom – what is it?  You’ve been in never-never land since you got home.”  I decided not to reveal my newly-realized insanity, “Oh, nothing.  I was just thinking about all those neat things I saw, wondering how those people really lived.”  She shrugged, then went into the den to watch tv.

My hand was itching again – I was idly scratching, and happened to look down at the back of my hand.  I lurched back in the chair, as if I was trying to get away from my hand.  There was an imprint of the amulet design on my skin!  I quickly slid a section of the newspaper over it, then peeked again.  Yes, it was still there, it was not my imagination!

I leaned forward to look – yes, she was still watching her program.  I removed my hand from its hiding place and examined the reddish pattern.  It was the likeness of a pharaoh or a queen – I couldn’t really tell which.  In the foreground was a cat – the same cat god, presumably.  Hmmm, did they have cat gods?  I’ll have to look that up on the internet.  I was thinking again about the ancient Egyptians, and their beliefs, as I absent-mindedly covered the pattern with my other hand.

Again I was transported – mentally, physically, both perhaps!  This time I was in a large room of a palace – it just had to be either a palace or a temple, and it looked too lavish to be a temple.  There were people standing around in small groups, and they were paying no attention to me.  One or two people passed nearby and detoured slightly to avoid bumping into me, so I knew I was visible.  I guess I was just one of the boys.

Just then the massive doors at the end of the room were pushed open by several men who had the look of slaves or servants.  Like magic, everyone in the room fell to the floor onto their knees, leaning forward with arms outstretched.  I figured it might be a swell idea if I followed suit.  I surreptitiously peeked under my arm to see what might happen.

Now coming down the main aisle was a superbly dressed man wearing a tall crown.  He was preceded by a small group of people, some making music with lyres or drums, others spreading flower petals.  The person in the very forefront was making some sort of continuous announcement, all about the power and glory of the well-dressed fellow, and I was actually able to understand the words.  This was SOME smart cat I had hooked up with.  Following the important personage were more people carrying various things on pillows or in baskets, most of which I could not identify.  Nearby I could see a cat watching me.

I heard a voice saying, “Who wants to be a millionaire?”  I was back on my couch in that instant, feeling like I had been for a ride in the washing machine on spin cycle.  I noticed that I was no longer covering my decorated hand – perhaps that was the key to this power.  Maybe all I had to do was cover the pattern with my other hand, then hold it there until I wished to return.  I was fairly new to spells and magic, so this was a guess, you understand.

Next day was a workday, so I didn’t feel like I had time to do any more experimenting tonight.  The foreman isn’t too happy when you come bouncing in late.  I’m supposed to be out there at 7:00 a.m., driving that big dozer, pushing dirt around – it’s a modern world we live in, but it still takes men to get construction done.  Timely men – men who don’t oversleep.  The boss had a saying, “There’s only two CAN’T’s on this job – if you CAN’T do ‘er, you CAN’T stay!”

All that week I was consumed with thoughts of Egypt; going to Egypt, Egyptian cats.  I rode that Caterpillar all day, then tossed and turned all night.  My wife was definitely getting worried about me now.  I had some time to get online with the computer, and I quickly found out that cats were revered in ancient Egypt, and yes, they did have a cat goddess, named Bastet, or simply Bast.  Sometimes the goddess was represented as a cat, like the one I saw, or sometimes as a human female figure with the head of a cat.  I had never been much of a cat person, and now I’m thinking I really, really like dogs better.

Saturday finally came around, and it happened that my wife was planning to be gone most of the day, helping with the church bake sale or something (who listens?).  I told her I was going to the library later to do some reading about Egypt – she said, “Yeah, right!”  I said, “Really, honey.  Just in case you don’t get an answer, I’ll likely be at the library.”  Again the skeptic, she responded, “Whatever.”  At least I had a small alibi in place in the event I got displaced and was late returning.  I was still trying to figure out the timetable for the Giza Express.

Just for luck, I sat in the same place on the couch where I had debarked on my last visit to the Valley of the Nile.  It wasn’t clear to me how I could ‘travel’ to another place and time, and still be here controlling whether I had one hand covering the other, but perhaps today was the day to learn.  I decided that perhaps one way to make sure I got back was to balance the ‘patterned’ hand on a stack of small throw pillows, then place the other hand over it.  This way, the stack would likely become unstable after awhile and my hands would naturally separate.

My thoughts drifted again to things Egyptian, and I positioned my hands to attempt a repeat visit.  Exactly as I hoped, I found myself in that distant time.  I thought smugly, “Hey, this isn’t so tough to learn.”

It was quite dark where I had wound up this time, and as my eyes started to adjust, I realized I was a prisoner in a cage!  Sharing my cage was another of those darned cats – the things were apparently everywhere!  Just then a torch flared into light, bringing the details of the room into view.  Now I could see that there were several people in the room.  The ones who really got my attention were the large slaves who were carrying swords.  The torch-bearer looked to be some kind of priest – lots of robes, oily skin, shaved head.  He approached the cage and intoned, “So, it is done!  He has come to us as our sacrifice!  Praise be to Bast!”

“Uh-oh”, I thought to myself – this would be a really good time to figure out how to get my hands apart, back in the world where I wasn’t about to become a sacrifice!  In the light of the torch I could see that my hand no longer bore the mark of the amulet.

I tried flailing my arms about, but that seemed to have no effect on the ‘other’ me.  The torch continued to flicker, reflected in the intense gaze of the priest.  I noticed that there was a scantily-clad woman back near the wall, arms crossed, eyes closed, holding the Crook and Flail of power – I remembered that from my limited reading.  A high priestess, maybe?  It looked like she was wearing the twin to the amulet I had encountered.

Unless something good happened soon, it wouldn’t matter much who she was!  I’d be dismembered or burned, possibly both – I’d read those books, too!  The priest spoke again, “We set forth the trap, the Amulet of Control, and from across time you come to us!  Now we can free great Bast from her curse!  Twice you have come, each time we sent the sacred cat to retrieve you – each time you escaped.  Now it is done!”  Perhaps the woman wearing only the little scarf was standing in for Bast.

I decided to do the unexpected – the cage didn’t seem to be very securely fastened, so maybe with the right distraction I could break free and live a little longer.  I reached through the cage bars and slammed the torch against the leering face of the priest.  He howled in pain and staggered back.  I gave the cage door a big kick – us construction guys have BIG kicks – and it ripped right off its mountings.  I picked up the surprised cat and tossed it toward the advancing guards, trying to keep them busy.

Then I quickly ran to the high priestess – Miss Modesty herself – and grabbed the amulet from her neck.  I did my best to picture my home (yes, I felt just like Dorothy Gayle), and placed both hands over the amulet.  I sensed someone behind me and wheeled to see a huge guard swinging his sword at me – it actually whistled as it came down, and I dropped the amulet!

The dark chamber melted away, and my living room and couch reappeared.  I was safe again.  Well, sorta safe – I was on the floor, looking up at my wife, and she was saying, “What the HELL are you doing?  And how did you get that big rip in your new shirt?”

I mumbled something about tearing my shirt in the garage, then coming in for a nap – she didn’t look totally satisfied with my story, but who knows how wives think?

Since the mark on my hand had disappeared, I had no proof of my adventures – who’d listen, anyway?  I was happy when I heard that the exhibit had left town. Hopefully, that was the Last of Bast.

Feasting on History – Tavern Fare, Feb 2014

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Our Bill of Fare

Kate and I were invited to attend another session of Feasting on History at the Corydon Capitol State Historic site.  The last one we attended was Feasting with the Presidents, where we were presented wtih delicious food that might have appeared on the table of some of our early presidents.  Last night, we had a delightful time renewing old acquaintances and making new ones as we enjoyed an evening in the atmosphere of a tavern in the Indiana territory, early 1800’s. Laura van Fossen, Nancy Snyder and their band of historians made a mighty effort to bring forth from the kitchen some marvelous dishes, piping hot and delicious. The names beside each dish on the Bill of Fare represent tavern owners of the time, and their recipes of the period.

Laura van Fossen was in fine voice, as usual, as she shared some period ballads with us, to guitar accompaniment (sorry, we didn’t get a photo of the musician by himself).

We had a historian/raconteur/good friend in attendance, Jamie Eiler (appearing in character as Billy Boone) who regaled us with tales of past doings within the walls of some of the taverns of the day. His ‘period clothing’, complete with a small pistol tucked into the top of his boot, made his stories quite believable, although he did toss in a few ‘groaner puns’.  Good ole Jamie! 🙂

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We learned that these taverns were not ‘places to go get drunk’, they were community dining places, meeting places, and yes, alcohol was served.  There were brawls, fights, and who knows, maybe some marital arrangements were made between a young swain and his maiden. Our early taverns were modeled after English taverns of the time, but one custom in our taverns caused some European visitors to look down their noses, namely, the practice of travelers sharing beds with complete strangers. Scandalous, wot?

Everything about the evening was just perfect – good food, good friends, a dash of history (salted with humor).  What larks! (as Dickens might say).  I’ve included some candid shots here at the bottom so you can get an idea of the venue, and of the folks who came to enjoy a night away from our frozen homes this cold February evening.

Jamie and Janice Eiler

Jamie and Janice Eiler

IMG_4316 IMG_4317 IMG_4318 IMG_4319 IMG_4320 IMG_4324 IMG_4329 IMG_4330 Laura sings Nancy - JimHistoric Table