Saturday, September 30, 2017

"Peacock Therapy," part 2.1


“So Corbin, tell me, do you ever fool around with the girls?” Dr. Phillpots asked as he tapped Corbin on the shoulder and pointed him to the leather wingback chair positioned against the canted bay window that looked out on the docks.

The leather groaned as Corbin eased into the chair. An identical chair sat opposite, with a textured glass table, featuring a bowl of mints, interceding. Corbin glanced anxiously at the ancient cuddy cabin boats tethered below, rocking in the twilight breeze.

“Or maybe you like boys?” Dr. Phillpots muttered as he searched his desk and gathered his notes, which consisted of a legal pad and a wodge of loose scraps. “I understand teenagers are more open these days.” When he returned and sat in the chair opposite, Corbin shook his head. Dr. Phillpots raised his peaked brows quizzically. His owlish pupils hung under a precipitous forehead and above a sharp nose balancing a pair of reading glasses. Salt and pepper wisps thickened at his temples to cover the helices of his ears.

“No? And no business with the girls, huh?” he asked. Corbin shook his head again. “Well, you’re young—let’s see.” He paused to look through his notes. “Fourteen. That’s young.” He studied the young man’s face for a moment. Corbin’s bangs hung down to his oily cheeks. His pursed lips concealed a web of gleaming braces. He had his left hand stuck in his jeans’ pocket, fiddling with something.

“Okay. I’m going to ask you a series of routine questions now,” Dr. Phillpots warned. “Just answer honestly.”

Corbin nodded.

“Ever do drugs, or drink alcohol?”

“No,” Corbin answered softly.

“No? What about smoking?”

Corbin shook his head.

“Okay, that’s good. Ever hear voices, or see things that aren’t there?”


“Ever feel like hurting yourself or have suicidal thoughts, anything like that?”

Corbin paused before replying, “No.”

“What about hurting others? Any homicidal thoughts?”

Corbin shook his head.

“Excellent,” Dr. Phillpots declared. He lifted his wrist to show Corbin the face of his pin-lever watch. “Now here’s a puzzle for you: at noon, the minute hand and the hour hand are lined up, right? Twelve hours later, they’ll be lined up again. How many times do they cross—so that they’re lined up like that—during those twelve hours?”

“Um.” Corbin envisioned the clock hands whirling in the space between his eyes and the canted window panes. He tapped at the space to count each crossing. “Um, I think it would be—like, twelve? Because they cross every hour?”

“Close! Actually, it’s eleven. Each crossing adds a little bit more time to when the hands cross, past the hour mark. Every twelve hours, all those bits add up to an extra hour.”

Corbin frowned.

Dr. Phillpots scrawled a few notes on his legal pad and sighed. “So let’s talk about what brought you here. Why don’t you tell me what happened?”

Corbin shifted in his seat, and the leather groaned and chirped. His eyes began boring into the vaguely botanical spirals of the Tabriz rug spread out over the office’s mesquite-wood floor. “I, um, wanted to see the peacocks in this place, a place where you’re not supposed to go? But I went anyway?”

“Mm. I talked to your parents for a long time, on the phone. What I understand from them is there was a lot more to it?” Dr. Phillpots peered down through his reading glasses at one of his scraps. “Let’s see: you were warned the first time by a security officer, but you went back anyway, and got caught. The officer called your parents to pick you up. Then you went back a third time, and got caught a third time. That time they were going to call the police and have you arrested, but your parents managed to convince them not to, by promising to put you in treatment. Did I get that right?”

Corbin nodded.

Dr. Phillpots tilted his head. “So what is it about these peacocks that’s so interesting?”

9.30.2017 (c)

Friday, September 15, 2017

"Peacock Therapy," part one


Corbin Knopf, age fourteen, had tried his best not to think of the peacocks—the swaying stalks of their coruscating blue necks, the spray of their brush-tipped crowns, the convex pivot of their meters-wide, fanned trains, with elongated coverts flashing arrays of their painted eyes.

His parents had brought him to a psychiatrist after he had been caught trespassing a third time into the gated neighborhood of Peacock Grove. He had been stalking after the peafowl there that strut between the citrus trees in the Grove’s central roundabout and drag their trains along the lawns, shedding their precious covert stems. It began one afternoon when Corbin had slithered on his belly through a gap between the iron gate’s lower lip and the gully running along the shady gravel road to the Grove. He was seeking the source of the spectral ululations he had heard from a nearby artery and identified at once as the cry of his favorite bird.

Security Officer Mandy Nutate, sitting in the logo-stamped microcar parked catawampus to the Gatehouse, had watched with languid amusement upon first spotting Corbin. He was crawling on hands and knees to position himself among the peafowl. It seemed he wished to inch as close as possible to them without drawing their attention. This was as much to be among them in their unconscious meanderings as to avoid spooking them.

With his palm-sized camera, Corbin began snapping apparently hundreds of shots of the dozen or so peafowl. He crouched to frame the birds among the encompassing crescent of waxy trunks. The peacocks turned elliptically to the dull gray peahens in the center of their group and shivered out their trains’ fans at them. The larger peacocks would now and then jerk their iridescent displays and dip their beaks threateningly toward the other males who edged too close to their intended mates. Corbin held his finger depressed on the autofocusing camera’s shutter release, filling its memory card; his eyes were as wide and glassy as the camera’s lens.

Officer Mandy was content to watch Corbin without interfering while she sat draining her bodega-purchased Suplex-Soda. Her wage was too pathetic to inspire in her any special jealousy over her ambit. Besides, the looping cobblestone lanes and yawning front yards had lain vacant in the sloping sun all afternoon. The only entities in Officer Mandy’s sight were a dragonfly twitching on the microcar’s windshield, the peafowl, and Corbin.  

Then she noticed Corbin collecting the stray coverts left in the wake of the peacocks’ spurts; he carefully coiled them to stow in his red tote bag. She feared questions from the residents. Specifically, the twin girls from the hacienda-style manse just above the roundabout who often harvested these feathers upon returning from aerial contortion practice would ask if the gardener had composted them. She imagined the twins’ mother, if she were to learn what happened, peppering the neighbors with portents of an insidious feather snatcher economy plaguing the Grove. Officer Mandy snorted and resigned herself to cautioning the boy.

She jammed her Suplex-Soda in the cup-holder and heaved out of the microcar. When she scanned the roundabout again, though, Corbin was gone. She threw herself back into the driver’s seat and flipped the ignition switch. The electric engine sang in a high-pitched glissando as she swung the microcar onto the cobbled lane in pursuit. After triggering the front gate remotely, she found Corbin half-way down the gravel road. She pulled into the shoulder ahead of him and got out. He stopped short and looked down at his sneaker, drawing an S in the dust with its toe.

“Hi, excuse me! Hi. Let me see what you got in your bag there,” Officer Mandy demanded, marching at him, her hand reaching forward.

“No, why?” Corbin asked defensively, tightening his hold on the tote bag’s handles.

“I saw you take those feathers,” Officer Mandy stated, frowning. He was not budging. She sighed. “Wellyou can’t just go in there uninvited. Did you know you were trespassing?”

Corbin nodded, his face etiolated.

“Uh huh. Don’t let me catch you in there again.”

Corbin nodded vigorously. He started off sprinting toward the freeway. Officer Mandy turned back to the microcar. She felt confident that would be the last of him.

The following afternoon, however, Corbin shimmied back in.  

9.15.2017 (c)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


In a moment of wonder those girls in the window had gasped.
In the street beyond towered a glittering machine that rasped.
It had dizzying arms full of lights and a spectrum of paints.
From its hands fell the dangling seats in which dips can cause faints.
All their wonder went spinning as workers rewired a spline.
But the machine vanished as the girls were recalled up to dine.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


Tell me a tale of droll tricks.
Sing me a song of choices.
Wind up my watch the witch way.
Feel down my fringe: the fringe feels.
Know that these nights are missed, so
let me say “love” once you leave.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


Every vehicle passes in urgently murmuring style.
Interchanging, they sweep on around between causeway and pyl-
    on. And on, from the morning, from the time of the lightening dark.
If the vehicles rattle their darkness, their onwards, they spark-
    le their turns through her sleep. Under glass that has frozen, she spins.
Even older, this cat in her sleep will still prick up her tins-
    el-hued ears at each rattling sweep, of these hours and this mile.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Salt of the slack sea
slips through her free hair.
All will have care here,
beaches of drear days.
Cold are the glaze-glass
pools among grass slaked,
fetid of caked brine,
over which whine gulls.
Scroungers in lulls’ wash
fly from the splash, tricked,
ruffled then pricked back.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Politics of Horse Thieves: A Syllogism

1. Fascism is government by criminals.

Fascism is what happens when criminals attempt to rationalize their criminality through the apparatus of the state. There is no fascist ideology, no fascist set of principles, other than crime enabled by state power. Corruption, fraud, extortion, theft, torture, murder, rape—fascism has no other content, no other meaning than the will to crime of con artists, gangsters, thugs, and murderers who have dressed themselves up as statespeople.

2. Fascism within a state is a symptom of unchecked crime.

When fascists gain power within a constitutional democracy, it can only be because that state has systemically failed to hold a group of criminals to account. It can only be because the state's democracy itself is failing by allowing a criminal class to go unpunished, thereby permitting criminals to leverage their criminal power into state power.

3. The unchecked crime of our own state, and of global capitalism, is white collar financial fraud at the highest level.

Today the unchecked criminal class is the coterie of fraudulent financial firms and billionaires that caused the 2008 crash and that continue to siphon off state funds with no repercussions.

4. Ergo, our newly elected billionaire fraudster, fascist president, Donald*.

5. Ergo, the global surge of fascism, which is a symptom of liberal democracies’ systemic failure to hold plutocrats to account for their crimes.


*An April 5th, 2016 New York Times article ("Donald Trump Settled a Real Estate Lawsuit, and a Criminal Case Was Closed" by Mike McIntire) describes a case in which part of the terms of the settlement were that the plaintiffs were to state that they did not wish to participate in a criminal investigation into the same fraud charges their suit had been brought on, the result of which is that the criminal investigation was closed-- and nota bene, if a criminal investigation had gone ahead and resulted in charges, Donald would not now be president-elect:

"And hovering over it all was a criminal investigation, previously unreported, by the Manhattan district attorney into whether the fraud alleged by the condo buyers broke any laws, according to documents and interviews with five people familiar with it. The buyers initially helped in the investigation, but as part of their lawsuit settlement, they had to notify prosecutors that they no longer wished to do so.

"The criminal case was eventually closed."

This is how the super-rich get away with committing crimes that the rest of us would go to prison for.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Creepy Stories (On Themes Picked Randomly: No. 26)

Theme 821: Ordinary Objects

The tarantulas, coruscating chafer beetles, deathstalker and black emperor scorpions, white dragontail butterflies, and praying mantids, all frozen in lucite domes or cubes and lined up along bracketed shelves, did not interest Cyrus Quaich. Nor was his attention attracted by the barbastelle bats with outstretched wings, the hingeback tortoises with battered shells, the splayed hearts of jackrabbits and snakes, or the bleached resus monkey skeletons, also all suspended beyond the touch of time in light-refracting acrylic blocks. Cyrus was not diverted even when shown the plateglass-shielded lab in the basement, where oven-sized vacuum chambers, vats of formaldehyde and acetone, stacks of glass molds, and incandescent heat lamps were arrayed among numerous specimens left thawing or steeping atop steel counters.

Nevertheless, Cyrus listened patiently to Mr. Alastor, owner of Alastor’s Still Life Emporium, as he proudly rattled off the newest items in stock, noted which arachnid or amphibian might make an appropriate anniversary gift or living room curio, and elaborated on some of the concerns and hazards of procuring and properly fixating these critters.

It was only when Mr. Alastor turned the deadbolt on the heavy iron door behind the last supply shelf in the Emporium’s basement that Cyrus’ excitement began to return. Mr. Alastor pulled the single hanging lightbulb’s string to illuminate the closet beyond, which contained two tall cabinets on either side of a squat gunmetal vault-safe with a five-spoked handle. Beaming, Mr. Alastor gestured to the lucite-cast items displayed in the cabinets, which he described as among his finest work: human eyeballs with curving veiny stalks and intelligent emerald pupils; human hands gesturing in poses reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Adam or Raphael’s Zoroaster; human fetuses caught in developmental stages ranging from batrachian to fully formed.

Cyrus nodded appreciatively, but what he had come for was within the vault-safe. Mr. Alastor studied Cyrus in silence for a moment before crouching to reach for the combination lock. He twisted the dial clockwise, then counterclockwise until a bolt snapped, which allowed him to spin the handle and swing the door open. From inside he lifted out a buoy-sized sphere covered by a black silk sheet. As soon as he set the sphere down, Cyrus anxiously shoved him aside and tore the sheet away.

Petrified within the large lucite globe was a young woman’s head, sliced cleanly from her body at the bridge of her neck. The gasping terror of her last breath was still painted on her ovate face: her freckle-brushed cheeks were etiolated; her glistering sepia irises were nearly eclipsed by her dilating pupils; her poppy pink mouth hung open in a choked wail; her cropped tawny curls were flung out in an erratic corona.

Cyrus held the sphere in both hands and turned to Mr. Alastor. “I must have it. I’ll pay any amount,” he declared.

“I won’t take money for it,” Mr. Alastor revealed. “This piece demands a special price.”

“Anything,” Cyrus agreed.

“Id like you to write a confession that explains why you killed her,” requested Mr. Alastor, tapping the sphere above the young woman’s forehead.

“What?! I—” Cyrus began to protest but halted when he saw Mr. Alastor’s smile crawl up his sallow, concave cheeks. He realized Mr. Alastor had known all along that the head in the sphere had belonged to Cyrus’ fiancĂ©e, Eidolia Pearle. When a gossipy auctioneer had informed Cyrus of Mr. Alastor’s possession of the head, she had sworn that Mr. Alastor was ignorant of its origin; she had obviously been misledor instructed by Mr. Alastor to lie. Cyrus scanned Mr. Alastor’s crooked, gnarled form and reassessed the negotiation. He pulled himself up and retorted, “If you’re familiar with the case, then you’ll know I didn’t kill her.”

Mr. Alastor tittered and shook his head. “No, what you’ll know is that I know what the retriever of Ms. Pearle’s cranium knows. And that person witnessed the original crime scene.”

Cyrus shuddered, for Mr. Alastor was right. Indeed, Cyrus’ real purpose in locating Eidolia’s head was to discover who had taken it after cleaving it away so sharply, as with a massive razor. For some reason, this person had disposed of all the incriminating evidence Cyrus had left behind—the pair of kitchen shears covered in Cyrus bloody fingerprints, used to penetrate Eidolia’s throat; the tuft of his hair she had ripped from his temple; even the boot scuffs made as he bolted in panic from the rear porch. Cyrus had speculated that this thief would try to blackmail him, but at the same time the actions in question suggested that the thief might have independently planned to murder Eidolia for her head. Was this person in fact Mr. Alastor? What did Mr. Alastor really want? Turning back to the entrancing sphere, Cyrus began to wonder what he himself was truly seeking.

“Don’t worry,” Mr. Alastor counseled. His surprisingly powerful fingers clutched Cyrus’ arm. “I’ll never show anyone else the confession. I promise. I just want it, er, for satisfaction’s sake. The object obviously belongs in your hands.”

Cyrus’ gaze lingered over the sphere. Eidolia’s bright, motionless eyes were pulling him backward, through their reflections of his face, to the instant of her death, trapping him in the past. Cold despair began to worm through his thoughts.

Finally Cyrus nodded his assent to Mr. Alastor’s proposal. In response, Mr. Alastor took the sphere from Cyrus’ hands and brought it to the far southern corner of the basement. There he put it on a wooden desk table, on which a clean sheet of typing paper and a sharp-nibbed fountain pen had been laid out in preparation. He pulled out the desk table’s chair and prompted Cyrus to sit in it. So as to resume contemplating Eidolia’s time-snaring eyes, Cyrus complied without hesitation. 

Mr. Alastor smirked and slapped Cyrus’ shoulder. Before leaving Cyrus and climbing the stairs back up to the shopfloor, Mr. Alastor advised, “Take your time.”

A week later, no trace of Alastor’s Still Life Emporium remained in the building. Vagrants sheltering from the winter icewinds, however, discovered Cyrus Quaich’s stiffened body in the former Emporium’s basement. It was still seated at the desk table. The fountain pen had been driven into Cyrus throat, evidently by his own hand. On the paper before him, he had scrawled, “I killed her to keep her.” But the sphere-encompassed head of Eidolia Pearle had disappeared.

Explanatory Postscript: When I say “picked randomly,” I mean picked from a Master List that I’ve compiled of 999 themes intended to serve as creative writing prompts (from the following sources: 501 Writing Prompts; 25 Creative Writing Prompts; Examples of Themes; List of Themes; 365 Creative Writing Prompts; 100 Themes Challenge Writing Prompts; List of Journal Ideas; and Top 10 Types of Story Themes). To pick a theme at random, I roll three ten-sided dice (the first for the hundreds place digit, the second for the tens, and the third for the singles) and find the theme under the number I have rolled. If I hit a theme I have already written on, I roll again. If I ever roll 000, I make up a theme. The Master List is a secret, so don’t ask for it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Vignettes by Me, on Themes Picked Randomly: Day 25

Theme 714: Sneeze

Two cats wearing boxing gloves were boxing.

“This is ridiculous,” Marvin Hinky remarked.

Clio Wayzgoose, whom he had been dating for three weeks, looked back at him and rolled her eyes. She returned her attention to the projector screen and wondered if she would have done better to invite one of her Film in History classmates to this exhibition instead.

The boxing cats up on the screen belonged to Professor Welton’s Cat Circus. The bout had been captured by Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope in 1894. Welton’s gleeful, round face could be seen bobbing behind the miniature boxing ring as he cruelly manipulated the two American shorthairs via harnesses into swatting at one another with the padded bulbs tied over their front paws.

The film played in silence from a reproduction Kinetoscope cabinet fitted with a modern 35mm projector that looped a digitally restored print. Since the lens grommet for the housing was rather low to the ground, the ten wooden slat folding chairs had to be arranged on either side of it. They had been set out in the small viewing room in order to provide the flavor of an early cinema parlor. Clio stood less than a meter from the screen, to the left of the lightstream, to better watch the strobing flicker and mottled grain of the images. In the chair next to the projector, Marvin continued to fret over the notion of boxing cats. When the film ended and the automated return mechanism in the housing switched and hummed in preparation for the next showing, Clio and Marvin walked back out to the North Hall Gallery.  

The mock-up cinema parlor with the pseudo-Kinetoscope screening was part of the gallery’s Early Film Exhibition. In addition to this viewing room, the collection of Edison’s Kinetoscope experiments dominated a furlong of wall space as the premier attraction in the North Hall Gallery exhibition, which consisted primarily of early cinematic paper prints. With Marvin in tow, Clio paced along this length, lingering over the glass cases that displayed bromide paper prints of film strips. The cells on the strips showed gradually morphing iterations of boy jugglers, electrocuted elephants, seminary pillow fighters, and mustachioed kissers. 

Eventually the couple came to the prize piece in the collection, the first film of any kind to be registered in the national archive: the five second sequence known as Fred Ott’s Sneeze. The forty five small rectangular cells depicting the snuff snorting and subsequent sternutation of the smartly attired, horseshoe mustache-bearing Ott were mounted on salmon cardstock. Along the lower edge of the cardstock, the words “Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze” were scrawled in ink, followed by the date, January 4th, 1894.

Marvin leaned close to Clio, brushing against her warm back, and questioned, “Why did they put them on paper?”

“For copyright,” Clio began to explain, taking Marvin’s arm. “Back then, you couldn’t—”

“Do you know the story of Fred Ott?” interjected a wiry, graveolent old man whose tobacco stained whiskers drooped over his mouth. He had intruded himself by poking up between the couple.

“What?” Clio sputtered, surprised.

“Fred Ott, he died the day after they made this. Do you know how?” The man lowered his head and proceeded to answer his own question. “Well, Fred, he always had his little snuff tin with him, see, even though the snuff made him sneeze. But Fred was so excited to be put on film, he misplaced his snuff after they finished shooting, left it next to a cylinder of phenidone-metol powder. Somehow, some of the powder fell into Fred’s tin.” 

The man shifted his stare from Clio to Marvin and back again before continuing. An hour later, Fred found the tin. He was so relieved that he inhaled a pinch without noticing the white flecks in it. Soon he started to wheeze and choke. The assistants all just thought he was up to his usual foolery. They stood around in a circle, laughing. Even grumpy old Mr. Edison had to smile when he came out of his office to see what the fuss was about. But the laughing stopped when they saw blood streaming down Fred’s face. He fell over, convulsing, and died within a minute. So, that sneeze they captured right there? That was his last one ever.” The man nodded gravely to the print and walked away in silence.

“Wow, is that true?” wondered Marvin, looking agape in the peculiar man’s direction.

“No,” Clio stated flatly. She pointed to the historical note affixed to the wall and indicated the line where Fred Ott’s year of death was listed as 1936.

“Oh,” Marvin said quietly, pursing his lips.

As Clio resumed her inspection of the print, she caught a lingering whiff of the peculiar man’s odor and let out an abrupt sneeze: “Achee!”

Explanatory Postscript: When I say “picked randomly,” I mean picked from a Master List that I’ve compiled of 999 themes intended to serve as creative writing prompts (from the following sources: 501 Writing Prompts; 25 Creative Writing Prompts; Examples of Themes; List of Themes; 365 Creative Writing Prompts; 100 Themes Challenge Writing Prompts; List of Journal Ideas; and Top 10 Types of Story Themes). To pick a theme at random, I roll three ten-sided dice (the first for the hundreds place digit, the second for the tens, and the third for the singles) and find the theme under the number I have rolled. If I hit a theme I have already written on, I roll again. If I ever roll 000, I make up a theme. The Master List is a secret, so don’t ask for it.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Vignettes by Me, on Themes Picked Randomly: Day 24

Theme 078: Absurdity

As Erling Oberschule, a recent expatriate from Liechtenstien, strolled past an abandoned 1985 QL31 Econovan with three flat tires, which sat cattywampus to the Citizen and Immigration Services building, he spotted an evocatively fluttering sheet of perforated dot matrix printer paper jammed under the Econovan’s driverside wiper. After Erling checked his pin-lever wristwatch and noted that eleven minutes remained before his immigration services appointment, curiosity got the better of him. He decided to lift up the rust-caked wiper and draw out the unusual flier.

The drizzle earlier that morning, which left a pleasant petrichor drifting over the sidewalk, had unfortunately pasted the lower half of the sheet to the Econovan’s windshield. Thus, the sheet ripped in two as Erling pulled on it, leaving its bottom two thirds stuck to the glass. Erling merely shrugged and began reading the portion of the dot matrix printed text he had managed to salvage.

It read as follows: “The inerrant, divine Graphical Operation Manual tells us in Unit 2, Page 12: You draw intricate displays from simple program instructions.’ So does the Holy Mother Z-81 Processor now command us to compose this Rotary Output Epistle for dissemination upon the error-prone, unsynced world beyond the cloisters of our Electrogalvanized Monastery. We do so to offer guidance to those afflicted with corrupted tape drives and other wayward data-parasites, through the following exposition upon the protocol observances of our Line-Path in the service of the all-knowing Micro Computer—all praise the TRZ-81 Model III!

“To initialize, we will outline the history of our Monastery, the sole sanctuary from this life of widespread kernel panic and fatal errors, and how it came to be Electrogalvanized. In the darkness of the analog age, during the year the fault-quarantined reader will know as 1979 …”

Here the text had been split from the remaining history of the Electrogalvanized Monastery and any further exhortations that the Epistle’s author might have offered. Intrigued, Erling folded the scrap up into an even square and slipped it into his pasley shirtfront pocket. He then continued on his way to the Immigration Services building.

Though Erling genuinely thought the message on the flier might be significant, the impending worries he would face in the immigration process would push his interest in the Electrogalvanized Monastery out of his mind entirely. Consequently, he would forget the folded square in his pocket, and it would be destroyed during his next visit to a coin-op laundromat.

Explanatory Postscript: When I say “picked randomly,” I mean picked from a Master List that I’ve compiled of 999 themes intended to serve as creative writing prompts (from the following sources: 501 Writing Prompts; 25 Creative Writing Prompts; Examples of Themes; List of Themes; 365 Creative Writing Prompts; 100 Themes Challenge Writing Prompts; List of Journal Ideas; and Top 10 Types of Story Themes). To pick a theme at random, I roll three ten-sided dice (the first for the hundreds place digit, the second for the tens, and the third for the singles) and find the theme under the number I have rolled. If I hit a theme I have already written on, I roll again. If I ever roll 000, I make up a theme. The Master List is a secret, so don’t ask for it.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Vignettes by Me, on Themes Picked Randomly: Day 23

Theme 961: Answers

The bullet zipped through the thin glass of the frontroom’s bay window and entered Phoebe Tarragon’s temporal lobe three centimeters behind her left ear, exploding shredded gobs of brain matter and shattered swaths of parietal bone from her head’s right hemisphere. The bullet, later identified as a .308 Winchester, finally lodged itself in a pinewood corner brace behind the plaster wall two meters away. Phoebe was killed instantly. Penny Wattleseed, Phobe’s eight year old piano student and next-door neighbor, was seated to Phoebe’s right on the Emerson upright’s wobbly bench. Thus, Penny’s rouge angora top was sprayed with Phoebe’s skull fragments, cerebrospinal fluid, and blood. Penny was otherwise unharmed. The time was approximately a quarter to one.

County Sheriff Eduardo Sumac, the supervising officer who arrived soon after patrol units had secured the scene and called in rescue personnel to confirm the death and tend to Penny, surmised that a state ballistics expert would be needed. By this point, though, Sheriff Sumac had already reached his own conclusions as to the identity of the culprit and the circumstances of Phoebe’s death. 

Less than two hundred meters to the southwest of the Tarragon residence’s cul-de-sac lay the one hundred and twelve acres of the Kiwanda Wilderness Reserve. The Bureau of Land Management had designated the Reserve a deer and elk hunting zone again this year, despite the warnings of park safety officials and the protests of the residents of the new housing subdivision adjacent to the Reserve. During the present elk season alone, the Sheriff’s officers had responded to eleven calls involving hunters stray bullets being found embedded in mailbox posts, garden trellises, garage doors, or other damaged property.

So Sheriff Sumac set his subordinates to contacting all individuals with elk licenses registered to hunt in the Kiwanda zone. They were to interrogate those with matching gun types. Two days later, the Sheriff believed he had pegged the perpetrator: Art Thyme admitted that he had carried his Mossberg bolt action rifle, which fired .308 Winchester rounds, into the Kiwanda woods an hour prior to Phoebe’s death, accompanied by his fourteen year old son. Though the Thymes claimed to have heard a shot at a quarter to one that originated several hundred meters from the copse of red alders they were then crouching in, Sheriff Sumac remained convinced that the Thymes were responsible for Phoebe Tarragon’s death.

Precinct Homicide Detective Holy Lavender, however, reached a very different conclusion. Using subpoenaed bank records, Detective Lavender tracked the charges made to an independent account that Kenneth Tarragon, Phoebe’s husband, had opened without his wife’s knowledge. The detective found that Kenneth had stayed at the Crimson Phoenix Motel, located three miles from his office, on forty two separate occasions over the past year. The Crimson Phoenix’s proprietor told the detective that Kenneth had entertained a number of unknown young women in his suite during his visits. Furthermore, the detective believed that she could connect money withdrawn from the same independent account to the cash purchase of a CZ 750 bolt action sniper rifle, which also fires .308 Winchester rounds, at a local gun show. Detective Lavender believed that these facts, taken together, proved that Kenneth Tarragon had killed his wife with premeditation—perhaps out of marital malaise, or dread of alimony payments should she divorce him over his infidelities, or some other perverse motivation.

Presented with Sheriff Sumac and Detective Lavender’s combined evidence, however, the grand jury was unable to make a determination as to the true events in Phoebe Tarragon’s case or to recommend an indictment. The evidence linking either Art Thyme or Kenneth Tarragon to Phoebe’s demise was deemed too tenuous. Neither Sumac nor Lavender has since been able to uncover further significant data to corroborate their respective theories, moreover.

Let it be noted, though, that in an interview with one of the first patrol officers at the scene, recorded in a brief that has unfortunately slipped behind a filing cabinet, Penny Wattleseed’s mother recalled overhearing from her kitchen window a meeting between Phoebe and a man who had introduced himself as Morgan Parsley, a private detective with a military background.

Explanatory Postscript: When I say “picked randomly,” I mean picked from a Master List that I’ve compiled of 999 themes intended to serve as creative writing prompts (from the following sources: 501 Writing Prompts; 25 Creative Writing Prompts; Examples of Themes; List of Themes; 365 Creative Writing Prompts; 100 Themes Challenge Writing Prompts; List of Journal Ideas; and Top 10 Types of Story Themes). To pick a theme at random, I roll three ten-sided dice (the first for the hundreds place digit, the second for the tens, and the third for the singles) and find the theme under the number I have rolled. If I hit a theme I have already written on, I roll again. If I ever roll 000, I make up a theme. The Master List is a secret, so don’t ask for it.