Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Play is the Thing

This is chapter 47 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK
Saturday Evening, October 31, 2020, Seattle

A small group of masked parents had gathered at Sean and Mary’s house to see the ‘play’ their children—Benny, Jack, Sara and Mareka—had created for Halloween. Since the local authorities had recommended against large parties or trick or treating, the home school group that met in Mareka’s garage had decided that they would do this as a way to allow the children to experience Halloween in a safe way. All the parents and the children who attended the home school had been regularly tested and the parents worked from home. As they were waiting outside the garage, social distancing, Malcolm Wallen, Sara’s grandfather, called for attention:
“I’d like to say a few words before we go in. First, I’d like to thank for Mary and Sean and Jo for taking the initiative in creating this learning experience for our children. If your children are anything like my grand-daughter, the enthusiasm for learning that this opportunity has created for these children in these difficult times is most rewarding. I’d also like to thank Sean and Mareka for putting up the familiar old Halloween decorations that Dorthy Langley would put up each year. It’s been three years since they have been up. That was the last time Dorothy held her annual Halloween party, I’m sure most of you will remember it.”
The side garage door opened and an eerie voice beckoned: “Enter… if you dare!” and the small group went in.

Sean had increased the ventilation of the garage/classroom to minimize the risk of a Covid infection. Despite added heaters, the garage was cold. There were folding chairs spread out and the far end of the garage had a small stage with curtains. When everyone had settled in, Jo came out from behind the curtain.
“Welcome to the first annual North 105th Street Home School Halloween Pageant. The children have worked hard on this all week, and they hope you will enjoy it. Sean, would you douse the lights?”
Sean turned off the lights and the garage was plunged into darkness. Jo was holding a small LED candle in one hand and a piece of paper in the other. She began to read:
“Each Halloween the spirits of those who have departed this vale of tears return to earth at the stroke of midnight. Throughout the night, on the hour, a different spirit will appear and tell their story. Please hold your applause until the stroke of four signals their return to the underworld.”
She turned off her light and a bell began to toll in the blackness. At the stroke of twelve Jack appeared,  wearing a Pirate’s costume, holding an LED candle, and with a gnarly set of teeth painted on his protective mask. Jo sat down next to Sean.
“Arr, I am Black Jack McGee, the scourge of the seven seas. I preyed on the weak, and was feared by the strong, but no man alive could cut me down. I came back to earth to smell once more the tang of the salt air and drink strong rum with my Pirate crew. Arr, no man alive could take me down, t’was a treacherous disease felled me in my prime. Beware the foul vapors of dismal swamps, and the loathsome diseases of scurvy knaves. Beware!”

In a homeless encampment alongside of I-5, John Stroud was trying to salvage a bad drug deal. One of his customers had accused him of cutting his heroin. Stroud knew it was probably true, his last batch had been on the  ‘lean’ side.

“Look Wally, I’m not out to bone ya,” said Stroud, “I’ll make it up to you. I’ve got some stuff here that is guaranteed top-notch. Just don’t go nuts on it.“

“It better be good. Fool me once, fuck me. Fool me twice, you’re fucked,” said ‘Wally’ as he paid Stroud and took the small packet into his tent.

Stroud moved on.

“You’ve been here a week and I have yet to show you the ballroom,” said Marcel Dupage to Barbara Merrit, “It’s a bit dusty, I’m afraid, of course, the last dance was eight months ago.”

“Lead on, Maestro,” said Barbara, “We’ll trip the light fantastic… ”

The couple went down the building’s back stairway, reaching the ‘stage door.’

“Just a second… I’ll get the lights,” said Marcel.

Barbara stood still in the darkened auditorium as she heard Marcel opening the breaker panel door and begin to flip the switches. The ballroom became bathed in light.

“Oops, too much,” said Marcel as he dimmed the lighting, “That’s better, more romantic, yes?”

Barbara was amused by his antics. When she had kissed him the night before he responded, but then made no further advances. “Savoring the process?” she thought, “Or still thinking of Emily?”  Then she spoke aloud: “We need some music.”

“Just a sec, ” he said, going into a control booth. In a short time the sound of big band music filled the air. “Shall we ‘Begin the Beguine’?”

Back at the garage Jack had finished his soliloquy and had turned off his light. In the darkness the bell tolled one.
“I am Benjamin Franklin, I am one of the founding fathers, and otherwise known for my portrait on the one hundred dollar bill.”
A smattering of laughter made its way through the garage as Benny continued with his oration—it was obvious that he idolized his namesake. He prattled on for several minutes, whimsically strutting back and forth as he listed his gifts to mankind.
“And now, my time on earth is over. Don’t forget me!”
Benny turned off the light. There was the sound of whispers in the dark before the bell rang twice. Mareka appeared from the darkness, all glammed up, wearing a shiny red dress and make-up, with bright red lips drawn on her protective mask. A stir went throughout the small audience.
"I am Emily Carroll, grandmother of Sean Carroll and great-grandmother of Mareka Robinson-Carroll.
“Oh God!” thought Mary and Sean, simultaneously, “The family secrets!” thought Sean. “You go, girl,” thought Mary.
“I have returned to earth from the mists of time and the land of the norns, returned to see that the plague that is upon this land banished. years ago I was imprisoned by a teufel, a devil in human form. Now that devil has returned, reincarnated, and I am here to see him finally banished.”
Mareka/Emily continued her speech, telling of her lost years spent in a limbo between life and death, and how she was finally freed by the love of her grandchildren. Mary was relieved that Mareka’s channeling of Emily didn’t include the exact way that Emily was freed. The audience was spellbound and when she turned off her light the only sound you could hear were the ventilating fans. The bell then chimed three and Sara, the final presenter, appeared.

In his tent in the homeless encampment Gerald Wallen, commonly called ‘Wally’, had just shot up the heroin John Stroud had sold him. The last batch from Stroud had been weak so Wally adjusted his dosage upward. In two minutes he knew that this was the ‘good stuff’. In three minutes, the fentanyl in the heroin had stopped his breathing. In eight minutes he was dead.

As Sara stood nervously before the small group, dressed in informal work clothes that Mareka had found in the house, Jo wondered if she might be on the verge of another meltdown. Sara had done well in the rehearsal and her choice of the person she wanted to portray was someone who she, Benny and Jack all remembered fondly. Jo gave a sigh of relief when Sara began to speak with a clear, calm voice:
“I am Dorothy Langley, recently departed. I have returned on this special night, a night when we had so many good times with the children in the neighborhood. A night when all the misunderstandings and troubles of the world could be forgotten by remembering and honoring those who have departed. We, the dead, will do you no harm, that is a truth that the children learn on Halloween. I gave parties for the neighborhood children and their parents. That companionship was one of the joys of my life. People working living together for the common good, to be able to touch each other, to smile at a baby and have that baby smile back. To see that baby grow up and have babies of their own, that is what is important, and that is the gift that those now dead have given to all of us.”
There were sniffles in the audience. The adults recognized Dorthy’s gardening outfit. Except for Sean, Mary and Mareka, the parents and their children had all known and loved Dorothy. Sean, Mary and Mareka—living in her house—had felt her presence every day.

The EMTs working on ‘Wally’ Wallen were too late. A crowd of people were milling around as the EMTs worked on the inert figure. The police had found an expired DL in his wallet and relayed the info to HQ to see if it could be used to notify his next-of-kin. The police usually didn’t get much cooperation from the people living in the camps but this time, when asked if anybody knew where Wally had gotten his fix, there were a couple of shouts from the back of the group: “Stroud.”

“And now my time on earth is almost over until next year. In time you may forget me, but if you do think of me remember that I love you all. Now listen!”
Sara turned off her light and then the bell struck four times. After the last chime faded away the four children reappeared on the stage, each holding their own LED-candle. They stood still, without expression, and then began to slowly wave. One by one, in the order that they had spoken, the first three children flicked off the lights and went behind the curtain. When only Sara was left she suddenly cried out “Father!” and crumpled to the stage. Sean turned on the lights as Sara’s mother and Jo rushed to the stage.

“Father… father is… dead.” Sara said, sobbing, as her mother held her in her arms.

A cell phone rang in the audience. Malcolm Wallen answered it. After he listened to the caller for a few seconds he said, “Yes, I am related. I’m his Father.”

Next Chapter: Resolutions

By Professor Batty

Friday, October 30, 2020

Halloween Spooks

This is chapter 46 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK
Friday Afternoon, October 30, 2020, Seattle

Mareka had been virtually invisible all day. Jo and her classmates had been over in the morning when they practised the Halloween show they were going to give for their parents Saturday night. It was a ‘closed’ rehearsal. After lunch, Mareka had gone into her room and shut the door. When she emerged for three hours later she had a twinkle in her eye.

“What have you been up to?” asked Mary, “I haven’t heard a peep out of you.”

“Stuff,” was Mareka’s replied with a smile.

“Speaking of stuff, Kiddo, there are some decorations in the things that Mrs. Langley left behind,” said Sean, “Would you like to help me put them up before supper?”

“That would be cool, Pops.”

In an apartment above a dance studio/ballroom, Barbara Merrit was sitting at a vanity in the guest bedroom, pondering the inevitable.

“Do I go or do I stay?” she said to herself. After her disastrous ‘date’ with the mysterious ‘John’ last week, she had taken up with Marcel DuPage, the dance instructor who had helped her on her conspiracy search efforts. Marcel had previously invited her to ‘come over’ and, while he may not of thought of it as an offer to move in, he seemed delighted at the prospect of having her with him. “The first few days were awkward,” Merrit mumbled to herself but, overall, she found Marcel was a pleasant, if a trifle fastidious, companion. “Better to have a neat-nik for a roomie than a slob. He’s the Felix to my Oscar, we make a genuine ‘odd couple’,” she thought, “… and my lease is up at the end of the month.” She heard the apartment door open.

“Honey, I’m home!” said Marcel, breezing into the living room. Barbara caught herself smiling.

I’d better not seem too enthusiastic,” she mused, “I’m in here in the bedroom, be right out!”

“I’ve brought Thai, I hope you don’t mind,” he said, “I’m not the best cook but I do great carry-out.”

Barbara came out and joined Marcel in the kitchen where he was setting the table.

“And you bought wine! Garnacha de Fuego, my favorite!” said Barbara, “What’s the occasion?”

“It’s the one-week anniversary of your coming here… ” said Marcel, “… let us rejoice in small blessings while we may.”

Sean and Mareka were decorating their house for Halloween using what the previous owner, Dorothy Langley, had left behind. It was all in a big box labeled SCARY STUFF.

“These are friendly jack-o-lanterns, they aren’t scary at all,” said Mareka as she emptied the box, “We aren’t going to have any trick-or-treaters, either.”

“Another Covid casualty, I’m sorry to say,” Sean said, ”Trick or Treating will have to wait for next year. I wonder if anyone will notice that these are the same decorations that Mrs. Langley had used?” he said, wrestling with a tangle of pumpkin-shaped lights, “We’ll get some new ones next year…

“Who’s Mrs. Langley?” asked the child.

“She’s the woman who owned this house before us,“ said Sean, “She used to hold neighborhood parties. Malcolm Wallen, Sara’s grandfather, was a close friend of hers. He will be here tomorrow night, so at least he’ll recognize these decorations.”

“Ooh! Dead people’s decorations. Spooky!” said Mareka, “Maybe Sara will remember them.”

“Speaking of Sara, how’s the preparation for the show going?”

“My lips are sealed.”

After Marcel and Barbara had finished eating they remained at the table, finishing the wine over conversation.

“That was wonderful, Marcel,” said Barbara. She became quiet for a moment. Her eyes began to glisten when she said: ”No one has ever been as kind to me as you have. All my life people have been cruel to me, or trying to take advantage of me, and you are just… just a nice guy.”

“Thank you.“ It was now Marcel’s turn to get misty-eyed. “I’m blessed by your presence.”

Barbara got up and went over to Marcel.

“Stand up.” she said.

When he did, she kissed him on the lips.

Next chapter: The Play is the Thing

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

More Iceland in Autumn

Some random views taken on a cloudy day in October, 2012:

Sæbraut and Esja:
Harpa, again:
Fríkirkjan and Tjörnin:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Creep Show

This is chapter 45 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Friday Evening, October 23, 2020, Seattle

After Barbara Merrit buzzed in her mysterious visitor she immediately had second thoughts.

“What if it’s one of those Russian assassins?” she thought, “I know I’m desperate for information but this is ridiculous.” She picked up her phone and entered 9-1. “I’ll see what he looks like first.”

When she heard the knock on her door she looked through the peep-hole. Instead of a burly Russian thug, she saw a nondescript, vaguely hipster-ish man wearing a baseball cap and a charming smile. She put her phone away and opened the door.

“Hi, I’m John.”

Barbara Merrit blushed. The man standing in the doorway was handsome, no doubt, and had a hint of dangerous excitement in his mien. She was glad she opened the door.

“I-I-I am, as you probably figured out, Barbara Merrit,“ she stammered, smiling sweetly, “Evidently we have somethings to discuss… with masks on, of course,” as she put on the mask that was hanging by the door.

“Yo, sure, I didn’t want to startle you,” said John Stroud, pulling up a kerchief that was draped around his neck, “I saw your tweets about Mary Robinson and Sean Carroll.”

Oh, yes… ,” she said as tiny beads of ‘dew’ began forming on her forehead. The handsome stranger had become even more intriguing behind a mask. She took a moment to compose herself and then continued, “I understand you have some information I might be interested in?”

“Well, it’s not about that Mary and Sean so much, although it does concern them. It’s Jo Sanford who I’m here about.”

“Well, yes, she’s certainly a part of this,“ said Barbara, “What is it about her that I should know about?”

“It will cost you… ”

Here it comes,” she thought, “I knew it was too good to be true…

“… an hour of your time… “ said Stroud, “… over dinner? There’s a nice place down the block, with social distancing seating… my treat.”

Barbara Merrit laughed. The idea of spending an extended period of time in her apartment with a handsome stranger was only asking for trouble—albeit a delicious kind of trouble—but not quite this quickly. A little ‘social distancing’ right now would be a good idea. And she was hungry.

“Great idea! Let me grab my iPad and purse.”

“Check. I’m at your command.”

Merrit got her things together and the two went out into the night. It was cool and blustery, the spitting showers of the afternoon had ceased for the time being; Barbara and John made it to the local bistro without getting wet. They went in and were promptly seated.

“So, Mr.— what was your last name?” began Barbara.

“Um, Sanford, John Sanford,” said Stroud.

“You are Jo’s husband?”

“Um, no, I’m her… brother,” said Stroud. He was an experienced liar. “I’m here to find Jo and bring her home, her mother’s been heartbroken ever since she hooked up with those phoneys—that Sean guy and his witchy wife.” Stroud had only the vaguest ideas about Jo’s relationship with Sean and Mary, and those ideas were entirely from Barbara’s Merritthetruth Twitter feed. John figured that if he could play up to Barbara Merrit’s expectations he could find out where Jo was living.

“Oh, I see,” said Merrit, “Of course, it all makes sense now.” The alarms on Barbara’s BS detector were ringing; she knew that Jo was an only child and that her mother had died a few months previously. Who exactly was this creep? And how would she get out of this predicament? John lifted his beer to his mouth and Barbara noticed a tattoo of the head of a snake peeking out from his shirt-cuff. “Real classy,” she thought. She would play it cool throughout dinner and see what she could find out what this charming liar knew.

As they ate, the couple talked quietly, John spinning more and more outlandish stories of how Jo had been made a prisoner of a cult, how her mother was wasting away due to Jo’s refusal to come home. John seemed to be getting nervous and he started to fidget.

“So, I guess all this boils down to the question: where can I find Jo?” John said, abruptly.

“Look, I don’t know where she is now. After the riot they moved out of that apartment building. The last I heard they were in Iceland, Mary is some kind of bigwig in a new-age church there.” Barbara noticed that John’s right leg had begun to vibrate. “Are you OK? Are you high?” she said, pointing to his knee.

”Bitch, you know where she is. Tell me where she is,” he hissed.

“Look I told you what I know. You can look it up your self, Mary Robinson—the Icelandic Spells app.” John’s charms were waning fast.

John Stroud stood up.

“Where are you going?” asked Barbara.

“I’m just going to take a piss, bitch,” said John as began to walk to the back of the restaurant.

After he had been gone a few minutes, Barbara Merrit signaled the server.

“Did you see the man I was with?”

“He left, a couple of minutes ago, through the kitchen, out the back door… Would you like your check now?”

“I need a check, all right,” said Merrit, through a rueful grin, “A reality check.”

She pulled her phone out of her purse and scrolled through her contacts until she found M. DuPage and then she hit ‘call’.

“Hello, Marcel? Yes, it’s me,” she said, “Is your sleep-over offer still good? I need to hideout for a while.”

Next chapter: Halloween Spooks

By Professor Batty

Friday, October 23, 2020

Storm Clouds

This is chapter 44 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Friday Afternoon, October 23, 2020, Seattle

John Stroud thumbed through the wallet that he had just pickpocketed in Pike Place Market. There was $45 in cash but no credit or debit cards—and nothing else that could be turned for cash. There was a library card, however. “This could be useful,” he thought, “And the sap wrote his PIN on it!

Stroud had come to Seattle from Spokane where his drug-dealing operations had been disrupted by a couple of overdoses suffered by his customers, one of whom had been the nephew of the police chief. He had run into more trouble in Seattle where he run afoul of some homeless punks who didn’t want him moving in on their turf. They didn’t live to regret tangling with him. The reason Stroud came to Seattle was that he had heard that his ex, Jo, had been in Spokane recently. The motel clerk at the Tiki Lodge (who knew them both from high school) had told him that she was living in Seattle under the name of Jo Stanford. She gave him the address that Jo had used when she checked in. Stroud thought that perhaps she would have forgiven him by now and he could crash at her place. When he got to Seattle he checked out the address: An upscale security-controlled apartment downtown. He had hung out around it for a few days but hadn’t seen her come or go. Her name wasn’t listed in the apartment directory, either. He was beginning to have doubts—she hardly seemed the type to have such a tony domicile. With the library card he could access the internet there to see if she really was in Seattle.

Jo and Mary were in Jo’s kitchen going over the lesson plans for Mareka’s home school. They could see Mareka in the backyard, dancing with a pair of crows.

“I always thought that she might be a different sort of child,” said Mary, “But I never imagined anything like this.”

“It could be worse, she could be eating carrion with them,” said Jo, laughing, “It reminds me of the final scene in The Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

Let Her Dance, in the supermarket, right?” said Mary, “How many times did we watch that?”

“It seemed like every day for a month, that winter when she turned four,“ said Jo, “That crow on the left can bust some serious moves.”

“What’s up for next week in school,” said Mary, “Besides the usual curriculum items?”

“The kids are planning the Halloween Show—they won’t tell me what it is—they’ve been talking to each other about it on the phone after school hours.“

“I had wondered what she was doing on the phone,” said Mary, “I knew she and Sara had  become friends. I guess I’ll have to wait and see what happens Saturday night. All the parents have said they are going to come, it will be a test of the garage’s ventilation system.”

“They all have costumes with masks so we can add regular masks under them,” said Jo, “I told them they can rehearse Saturday morning.”

“I love those kids,” said Mary.

John Stroud was sitting at one of the library’s workstations. He had used his stolen card to gain access to the internet and was searching for references to “Jo Stanford”, the name the motel clerk said she used when she had been in Spokane. He hadn’t any luck: neither a regular search nor an image search had turned up anything. He tried entering it again, using ‘Joe’ and ‘Joan’ several other similar names. He tried reentering her name again but this time he mis-typed and entered the name “Jo Sanford”. It came up with numerous hits.

And there she was: the news account of her killing of an intruder eight years ago, her involvement with the witch riot and, recently, the Twitter feed of Merritsthetruth. As he scrolled through the tweets, Stroud tried to make sense of them. He had never been really computer-literate. He did have some experience years ago, before his heavy drug-dealing days, but after he had seen other dealers and fugitives get busted with information the cops had obtained from it, Stroud made it a point to avoid on-line activity altogether. In his estimation the Merritsthetruth feed was nearly incoherent but: it did have pictures of Jo. What it didn’t have was an address. One of the pictures showed Jo and a guy named ‘Sean Carroll’ embracing in front of the building where she supposedly lived. He would have to get in touch with this Merrit woman.

Stroud typed ‘Barbara Merrit’ into the search box and then hit ‘return’.

Barbara Merrit had been thinking about her situation. Her efforts over the last four months to find information linking her brother’s death to Sean and Mary were suffering from diminishing returns. Her last tweet received no replies or re-tweets.  “This is it, the end of the line,” she thought. “I’m miserable, I’m hungry, my lease is up, and I miss my dog.

Her reverie was interrupted by the buzzer from her apartment intercom.

“Who is it?”

“Um, this is John, um, you don’t know me, but I have some information about the people you are looking for.”

She buzzed him in.

Next chapter: Creep Show

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Adventures with the Green Van — III

Road Trip
July of 1976 in a run-down motel near Bemidji, Minnesota.

The band had a week-end booking in a resort and a few of us had come along for the experience. The gigs went OK and afterwards there was plenty of time to kill. Poker was popular, at least with those who won:
Frankie had a special gleam in his eyes that night but it really was just the speed:
Mike was in good form too, not real drunk, but never quite sober either:
And Audie, owner of the green van, seemed a little more pensive than usual:
The band was in a state of turmoil, almost to the point of fisticuffs. It was obvious that things couldn’t remain the same. Within a month several of the members had either quit or were ‘fired’, although how you can fire the founder of a band is not easily explained. An early example of a hostile takeover, I guess. I wasn’t working with the band yet, but the seeds had been sown. The green van lived on, to service more gigs, although its life, too, was limited.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Dogs of Iceland

More musings reflecting how I miss Iceland in the fall.

What could be better than Iceland and dogs?

Outside of sheep-herding dogs, dog ownership in Iceland had been severely restricted, especially so in Reykjavík. In the last twenty years, however, this situation has changed and now it is common to see dogs in the city:
I attended this meeting of a dog owners club in 2012, the dogs were well behaved and social (or was that just their stoic Icelandic reserved personalities?):
Some of the dogs even wore club insignias (aww!):
The most famous Icelandic dog today is probably Polly, a Collie/Dachshund mix, who is the chief morale officer of The Reykjavík Grapevine. She has often been featured with her human, Valgur Grettison, in a series of news reports:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Better Times

This is chapter 43 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Saturday Morning, October 17, 2020, Seattle

Mary, Sean, Mareka and her friend Sara were in Carkeek Park, on the western edge of Seattle, adjacent to the Puget Sound. The steady rain of the previous week had let up for a few hours and Mary thought it would be a good idea to allow Mareka to burn off some nervous energy by running around the park and the shoreline. After Sara’s meltdown the previous week, the atmosphere in Jo’s little home school had been somewhat subdued and after talking with Sara’s mother they all thought it would be a good idea for her to join them.

“Com’on! Let’s go down to the water!” said Mareka to Sara, “I’ll race you!”

The girls took off, running onto the pedestrian bridge that was over the train tracks and led down to the shoreline. In the sound there were several cargo ships that majestically traversed the horizon. By the time Mary and Sean reached the top of the bridge the girls were already below, poking at things in the sand. Their chirps of discovery were, to Sean’s ears, like bird-song.

“This was a good idea,” said Sean, “The kids have been indoors too much.”

“It is different for them, ” said Mary, “I was always at the beach, or in the woods… until I was a teen… and my inner nerd emerged.”

“I was outside in the summer, at Aunt Tina’s, but not much when I was at school. When I got into computers I was lost to the natural world. Like a lot of people, now. Sara’s mother told me that the reason Sara’s father had been kicked out was his internet porn addiction.”

The couple stood quietly for a minute and then Mary took Sean’s hand.

“This is the spot where we last saw Emily,” she said, “Sometimes I feel her presence in me so strongly that it seems as if she is in the room.”

“The way she manifests herself in Mareka ia frightening at times,” said Sean, “I hope it doesn’t become too much for her.”

On the shore below the girls had been aping the gait of the seagulls on the shore, and were now performing little pirouettes before toppling to the sand in laughter.

“These are better times, aren’t they?” said Mary, “Let’s enjoy them… while we can. In five years they’ll be teen-agers.”

Saturday Afternoon, October 17, 2020, Reykjavík

Hilmar was looking at the stats for the Icelandic Spells app that he and Mary had established seven years earlier. The site was connected to their new video channel that featured Mary’s weekly addresses. He opened the link to the video stats and saw that it has been growing everyday since the first. The second one was now live and was also receiving hits. The app stats had been rising as well with better engagement with its users than it had seen in years.

“All we need now is publicity,” mused Hilmar, “It’s too bad that preacher fellow from Arizona died. Another one of his crackpot sermons would put us over the top.”

Saturday Afternoon, October 17, 2020, Seattle

Barbara Merrit was drunk.

She was in her apartment, writing the latest post for her website about Sean and Mary. She had run out of new material so she had rehashed some of her old ‘discoveries’ with a few previously unpublished images. Since the close call with the Russian agent she had been drunk most of the time. The money she inherited from her brother’s estate was almost gone, her book deal had fallen through, Marcel wasn’t returning her calls, and her dog was dead. In addition, all the things that Sean had said to her in the QSC parking lot a few weeks earlier had made her begin to doubt herself.

“Fuck it,” she said, clicking on the ‘post’ icon on her computer screen, “This is my last splash.”

Mareka and her friend Sara were finishing their picnic lunch. They had both found some sea glass and were showing it to Sean and Mary.

“You could make some jewelry from those,” said Mary, “That would be a good project for school. Could Benny and Jack have some of yours?”

“I guess so, if they want,” said Mareka.

“I have some extra ones, too,” Sara said as she looked shyly at Sean, ”Benny likes red.“

“If you’re all done, put the glass in your pockets and your trash in the bag,” said Mary as she picked up the tablecloth, “I’ll see what Jo has to say about making some jewelry.”

After they dropped Sara off and were back home, Mareka had put her ‘treasures’ on the kitchen table. As she was sorting them she said:

“Pops, I think Sara likes you.”

“That’s nice, I like her too,“ Sean said, “You two really had some fun today.”

“Why do you think her Dad doesn’t come home?”

Sean hesitated before replying.

“That’s something that is their business, something that you don’t have to think about, said Sean, “Things are different for different people. Family Secrets.”

Now Mareka was quiet for a while.

“O.K., Pops. Just wondering… Pops, I could feel Emily with me today, when I was down at the beach.”

“Yes, I could too,” said Sean, “That was the place were Emily left us. The last time we saw her she was walking across that bridge, with her Norn, her spirit guide.”

“Did she walk into the ocean?”

“No, she just faded away, into the mist,” said Sean, “Her time on earth was over.”

Next chapter: Storm Clouds

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Icelandic Memories

Fall is the season I most strongly associate with Iceland.

I've been there in October and November many times, sometimes for Iceland Airwaves as well as other musical events. I didn’t spend all that time comiserating with angsty bands and emo singers in dingy clubs, however. To prove it, here are a few shots I took in the span of about an hour one morning in 2018:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 5 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Adventures with the Green Van — II

Benson Wedding
The gig was January wedding in Benson, Minnesota, a small town three hours west of the Twin Cites.

Audie, the owner of the green van, and a bunch high school buddies, were in a band whose motto was “Cheap, on time, and sober”. Pick two. At that point in my life I had plenty of free time, so naturally I jumped in the van, offering my services as driver/roadie. The roads were OK, there was some blowing and drifting snow, but we managed to get the equipment there in one piece.

By the time we got there, the couple had been successfully wed and the band went on to gave it their all for the wedding dance. The bride and groom were pleased with the performance of the eight-piece orchestra. I had made a little nest in the back of the cloakroom and managed to get a little shut-eye for the long trip home. Some of the band members slept in the noisy van on the way back; youth has a great tolerance for discomfort.
This was, in a way, a trial for me. A few years later I ended up working with the group and spent many hours in other vans, going to and fro in this quest for musical nirvana.

By Professor Batty

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Friday, October 09, 2020

It’s Showtime!

This is chapter 42 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK
Friday Morning, October 9, 2020, Seattle
Greetings and salutations to seekers from all of you on the Mother Orb. I bring you only words—faint echoes of reality—but, like those echoes, they reflect realities that can be appreciated, if not directly apprehended. In these troubled times, always remember that the earth, air, fire and water that begat you remain, the universe is vast. The cosmic forges of creation are eternal; we are but echoes of those initial explosions. What you seek you may never find but the act of seeking will reveal other truths, truths that will illuminate the pathways of life and bring solace to those touched by death. Do not seek death. Death will find you. But do take a path where death is a fulfillment. For those burdened by sorrow, remember this: we were created from the elements so to the elements we shall return. As the epic of Gilgamesh said: Fill your belly, day and night make merry, let your days be filled with joy. Love the child that holds your hand and let your lover delight in your embrace, for these things alone are the concern of mortals.
“… and cut!”

Mary got up from the ‘throne’ that she was using for what she called her ‘sermonette’, the first of a series of videos that she was making for Hilmar and his pagan app/web site. Mary and Sean had built a little studio in the basement, painting one wall with a green-screen backdrop. The idea behind the videos was to increase interest in the loosely-organized pagan religion that Hilmar and Mary had established eight years ago. It had flourished then but after a few years interest in the app and its site had diminished. Its core was based on Old Norse beliefs that were supplemented by the book of spells that had been compiled by Sean’s grandmother Emily, as well as whatever else that meshed with the ethos. Since the onset of Covid-19 pandemic there had been a slow rise in the use of the app, Hilmar thought that these videos would bring a renewed interest in all of the things the app had to offer excepting, of course, the tours that Hilmar had relied on for a good share of the groups’ income. Sean and Mary would send the raw video to Hilmar in Iceland and he would augment it with music and suitable imagery laid upon the green screen background.

“I liked the death reference in there,“ said Sean, “Is that yours?”

“Dag Hammarskjöld… New Norse, I guess,” said Mary, “Close enough to the old beliefs.”

“That’s one of Emily’s dresses your wearing, isn’t it?”

“It’s the Schiaparelli, the one Emily wore the night she seduced Monsieur DuPage. Poor Marcel, he never recovered.”

“If he sees this video he’ll really be confused,” said Sean, “Did Hilmar say what he intended to add to the video?”

“The music would be from some of his Icelandic friends, there is a thereminist that he really likes. He said the backgrounds would be an olio of religious imagery,” said Mary, “Everything from cave paintings to Hindu deities to punk-rock icons.”

“Close enough to the old beliefs as well,” said Sean, “I’ll playback what you did today, you can see if you’d like to do any of it over.”

“No, it felt good, and that’s what this all about—goodness, not perfection.”

“I’ll send it to Hilmar then,” said Sean, “He can do his magic and we’ll see what happens.”

“Shall we have story time now?” said Jo, who was wrapping up the morning session of the home school, “These will be your own stories, you can make it up or it can be something that happened to you. Tell us the story and we can guess if it is true or made-up.”

She was encouraged by the progress in socialization of the children. Reading, math and art were all going well. The four-student class was a far cry from the chaos that Jo remembered from her days in first grade: thirty (or was it thirty-one?) children of wildly different backgrounds and temperament. Jo had came home crying more than once from the casual cruelty displayed by her peers. “If only it could be like this for all the children everywhere,” she thought, “But it can’t, I know it, there has to be some friction to generate new ideas.“

“Hey!” shouted Jack, “I want to be first.”

“You are always first,” said Benny, “I’m first today.”

Jo shook her head, amused that her lofty thoughts had been instantly negated by a pair of bickering 7-year-olds.

“I think we can take turns,” said Jo, picking up a piece of paper. “It doesn’t matter who is first. I’m writing down a number from one to ten. Who ever guesses it can be first.”

“Five!” “Two!” “Ten!” came the cries from Benny, Jack and Mareka.

“How about you, Sara?” asked Jo.

"Um, one?”

“One it is!” said Jo, holding the paper up, “Sara, can you tell us your story?“

Sara was petite, she looked more like a four-year old. She was the quietest of the group, but she was always aware of what was going on around her. Jo knew that she lived with her mother Jean and her grandfather Malcolm.

“My story is about my fifth birthday. I had a secret birthday wish. My mom asked me what it was, but I didn’t tell her. If I told her it wouldn’t come true. Benny was there, and Jack was too. And Mrs. Langley, my grandfather’s friend. We had ice cream, and cake, too. There were candles on the cake, and my mom said I should make a wish and then blow out the candles. I made the wish, and I blew out the candles. My mom asked me about the wish. I said it didn’t come true and I started to cry. And that’s the end of the story.”

“What was the wish?” said Jack.

“You can tell us,” said Mareka, “Maybe if you tell us, it will come true?”

“Um… ” said Sara as she started to tear up, “I don’t know if I should.”

“That’s alright Sara,” said Jo, “It can stay a se… ”

“I wished my dad would be there!“ blurted Sara, “But he didn’t come. He is away. He never comes home!”

Sara began to sob.

Next chapter: Better Times

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Babysitter to the Stars

Seth, Andrew, Jacob, 1980. Image: Tim Rummelhoff

When the boys were young I was chronically under-employed, thus I found myself doing a lot of childcare. There were a couple of boys in our group of friends that were about the same age as my first-born son so naturally they spent a lot of time together. One of my charges was named Jacob but by the time he started school (at age 6) he had changed it, without telling anybody beforehand, to Clint. Jacob/Clint was always an exuberant lad, rambunctious and full of high-jinx.

That was 40 years ago.

When Clint grew up he kicked around a bit and then moved to L.A. where he has had a successful career as a professional skateboarder. Here’s a good example of the life style he indulged in when he was active:

Despite some personal setbacks, Clint has a positive outlook on life and is also quite a charmer, as this interview hints at. He is also an accomplished artist and has even had some endorsement deals. But Clint’s most notable exploit to date is the commercial that he did for Stride Gum:

No stunt man—that was all Clint.

The child was the father of the man.

By Professor Batty

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Monday, October 05, 2020

Video Potpourri

Here’s a quintet of memorable videos I’ve “discovered” in the past few months. There isn’t any coherent theme to these other than they are all wonderful examples of music performed at its highest level.

First up is Jill Sobule from a 1996 live performance on Conan O’Brien. This is a song from the kid movie Harriet the Spy but it is anything but juvenile. Literate, witty, a nice arrangement and a really great band (with my old pal Paul Scher on Bari sax):

Next is the venerable John Sebastian redoing one of his Lovin’ Spoonful hits in this video with the MonaLisa Twins. In what might have otherwise been a creepshow, JB, obviously enjoying this musical collaboration, manages to turn back the hands of time as the song rolls to its finish. The Twins are talented and charming, of course, and that is their real dad in the cameo:

Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt made a series of recordings together in the 1970s. Here they are doing a Neil Young cover; especially notable is the presence of a glass armonica in the band:

The next video is some kind of career high point for all five of its main performers: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Neil Young and… and… wait for it… Tom Jones!

Finally, if there was any question as to the depth of Dusty Springfield’s talent, this pairing of her with Mel Torme should silence all doubters:

By Professor Batty

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Friday, October 02, 2020

You Are My Sunshine

This is chapter 41 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Sunday Afternoon, October 3, 2020, Seattle

Sean Carroll had just connected on Facetime with his Icelandic son Villí who lived in Reykjavík with his mother, Þora.

“Hæ, hæ, Villí!“ said Sean upon seeing the boy, “How is everything?”

“Hæ, Pabbi, I am OK,” said the boy, “I have a new jacket for winter.” Villí stood up and turned around for the camera.

“Ooh, that looks to be warm, has it been cold there yet?”

“Næ,næ, not cold, 7°, we went swimming today, it was nice.”

“Are you taking lessons in school now?”

“Já, I can swim two laps!”

“That’s good, you are becoming a real fish!” said Sean, “How is school going?”

“OK, but there is this stelpa, this girl, Didú, she makes fun of me, I don’t like that.”

“How does she act with the other children?”

“She’s nice to them. Only me is she mean to.”

“She might really like you a little and doesn’t know how to show it. Always be nice to her, you never know with girls. She might become your best friend.”

Villí was silent for a moment. “Did you have a girl best friend when you were young?” he said.

“Oh, yes, Suzy Johnson, we were best of friends, and I even saw her last summer and we are still good friends,” said Sean, “So be nice to Didú, you can use all the friends you can get.”

Once again Villí was quiet. Finally, he spoke: “Pabbi minn, when will you and Mareka come back to Ísland?”

“As soon as it is allowed. Maybe next summer. We don’t know yet.”

“OK,” said Villí, sadly, “Can I talk to Mareka?”

“Of course, she’s in the kitchen, I’ll get her,” Sean called for Villí’s half-sister Mareka and then went back to the web cam:

“Hæ, Villí, þú ert sólskinið mitt… ”

After Mareka came to the computer and began talking to her brother, Sean suddenly felt very sad.

He and Mary and Mareka had been living a wonderful dream up until seven months ago; a couple of trips to Iceland every year, Mary’s witchcraft app had been doing well, and Sean had kept busy promoting his grandmother’s art. All of that had ended abruptly with the Covid-19 lock-downs. While Sean had been thrown off balance by that turn of events, things had gotten a bit better recently. Mary had been working with Hilmar on a new twist for the app and Mareka was really enjoying her new home-school experience. She had been somewhat isolated when they lived in the apartment in downtown Seattle and having children of her own age coming over nearly every day had brightened her moods considerably. She was still bothered by visions at times and the use of her new-found powers were sometimes scary but when she did ‘kids stuff’, as she put it, it had brought her some real happiness—or so it seemed to Sean. The other member of their household, Jo, had gotten a mood boost as well from being the children’s de facto instructor. Jo had other problems though. Sean sensed that Jo had taken the death of her mother very hard and she had also alluded to problems with her ‘ex’. Sean couldn’t help but wonder if those issues had re-surfaced during her trip to Spokane.

And then Sean pondered the meaning of his own life. Where was he going? Promoting his grandmother’s art was rewarding, to be sure, but when it came down to it, it was her show, Sean was just the messenger, not the message. Even if the new book project did well it wouldn’t satisfy Sean’s feeling that his life outside of the family had become meaningless. After talking with Barbara Merrit in the grocery store, Sean could see that her baseless conspiracy theories were running out of steam. His life would have been simpler if he had stayed a coder in the first job he had out of college, but that scene was a truly a meaningless life. “My life would have been a lot simpler if I had been born to a different father,” he thought.

Jo was in her cottage/guesthouse in the backyard of Sean and Mary’s house. She had the radio on and was listening to the Seahawks/Dolphins football game while she went through the boxes of her childhood things that she had brought back from Spokane. She made three piles: one of things to keep, one of things to throw out, and one of things to deal with later. The discard pile was the biggest, and with the addition of every rejected item she felt as if she was erasing a bit her past. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? Was it the same as Peer Gynt peeling an onion? No, Peer found nothing, Jo was finding release, there would be no tears from her.

The game had reached half-time and the local station was running a news break:
“Seattle police have issued a warning concerning recent murders among the homeless population. They are looking for a white male, slim, about 5 foot ten, mid-thirties, with a distinctive snake tattoo around his right wrist. He is suspected of involvement in three drug-related recent homicides in the last two weeks…”

“Stroud,” said Jo, staring at her mother’s revolver in the discard pile.

She moved the weapon to the ‘keep’ pile.

Next chapter: It’s Showtime!

By Professor Batty

                                                                                     All original Flippism is the Key content copyright Stephen Charles Cowdery, 2004-2024