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Ladykiller

    “Why do I think I know you?”
     The girl was Asian too, but a regular human, not a spirit person.  She was young, thin with crew cut hair dyed red and wearing a leather jacket over a top designed to show her breasts, a short, short skirt and thick-soled boots.  Ladykiller had seen her earlier playing pool with a couple of guys.
     “From the VA,” Ladykiller said.  “We were in the same leisure management group.”
     “Yeah, that’s right.  I knew I knew you.  Got a smoke?”
     Ladykiller said, “Sure,” and pushed his pack over to her.  She saw that they were non-filtered and said, “Shit, hard core huh?”
     “I guess.  Need a drink?’
     “Sure, you don’t mind.”
     Ladykiller signaled the bartender and she ordered something called a Malibu Payday.  A tall, blue drink was delivered and Ladykiller paid.
     He looked over at the men she’d been playing pool with and said, “Your friends are missing you.”
     The girl looked over, then back and smiled at Ladykiller.
     “Those guys can’t make up their minds.  Guess I’ll have to go make it up for them.  You take it easy, all right?”
     “You bet.”

Ladykiller

     “Are you going to speak to me this time?”
     The woman with half a forehead looked at him, smiling slightly, her quiet brown eyes regarding him as enquiringly as a child’s entering the world.
     The hole in her head was strangely symmetrical, neater than you’d expect from an exit wound and formed a window from the center of her right eyebrow to her right ear through which you could see the wrinkles of her brain.
     He was, as always, shocked when she began lifting her hand, a process that was slow and sudden simultaneously, the hand with fingers missing, taken as trophies and he never could think of anything to say about it except, “I didn’t do that, that wasn’t me.”
     He turned away from her to the mirror behind the bar, drank, signaled for a refill and looked at himself, the thin face fractured, riven like a west Oklahoma creek in August when the water burns off and the mud bed splits under the sun.
     The lady cast no image in the mirror.  She could, spirit people can do about anything, but she chose to leave him alone there, a solitary student of his own caricature.  He drank, signaled for a refill and, turning back to her said, “Do you hear my prayers?”
 

Ladykiller

     The blood had settled, crusted around the gaping wound of her slit throat, but semen still gleamed in thick wetness on the inside of her thighs.  The little thatch of black hair between them sweated and twisted.  He could smell that ravaged triangle, the smell of her and her attackers just as he could just as he smell the blood of her death and the sweat of her panic.  He nodded to her and said, “All right.”
     In the hall they were shoulder to shoulder along the wall and talking to one another, mumbling, whispering in their musical language so quietly that, even if he had ever learned their tongue, he wouldn’t have been able to pick words out of the continuous, singing murmur; faceless man to disemboweled woman, a child fingering the bullet holes in his chest to one of those wide-eyed, crusted, red-centered logs the napalm left, each speaking gently to the others as Ladykiller edged past them to the stairs leading down to the street saying, “Excuse me, excuse me.”

One More Web Whipping In The Wind

     One of my tangled webs is my birdfeeder.  A nice example how such a simple thing can become rather complicated.
     I must admit that I had an ulterior motive when I first hanged the thing.  I have a dour, stolid and rather portly Schnauzer Poodle mix who, when we headed out to the backyard for his business, perked up and seemed to find his vigor when he spotted a bird or squirrel out there to run at.  He would freeze on the deck seeking prey.  When this was spotted there was the tense bit when he stared intently as if taking aim until his soul said ‘Now!’ and he would dash madly at the creature lusting for blood.  Our deck is so situated that he must circle some to come to ground and really get going so actually catching something was impossible, but he got a kick out of trying and I got a kick out of seeing it so, my first inspiration for the feeder was to attract game for him to chase.
     As I am a dour, stolid man, scrawny rather than portly, we don’t get out and adventure much.  He spends way too much time laying about while I spend way too much time seated at the computer.  A little excitement would do him good.  I also assumed that birdfeeder birds would be used to inept dog attacks and be in little danger.
     So things went for a while, both of us getting a tickle, but I found that when I let the bird feed run out and the cupboards bared until I made it to the store, my lifelong companion guilt would kick me around some more.  I had one more little responsibility to sweat over.
     This winter I went to fill it one day and discovered that the frigid weather had cracked the inner plastic sleeve severely.  Filled it anyway from the sack in the utility room and, as I carried it out to the tree, left a trail of seed from the utility room across the deck and then the yard to the tree.  About a quarter of the contents oozed out onto the yard as soon as it was hooked up and I knew I needed a new one.  Later, though, taking the dog out, I found the puddled of feed surrounded by little striated bird prints in the snow.  Amusing.  The next morning more tracks show that during the night rabbits had joined the feast and I was completely charmed. 
     Now I am committed to a wasteful enterprise mostly for the selfish pleasure I find in the patterns of spoor in the snow, the dog dancing a bloodthirsty circle snuffing up the scent of all the little killables and sneezing when he get snow up his nose.

The Orphans In the Paper Pile

     Just wonder if this happens to other writer types.  Something comes to mind, a scene or a situation, characters show up and they are doing something.  Some dialogue pops up and you put words in the characters’ mouth, but it is only passing notion and you never take it any farther.  Never flesh out a story to go with it. 
     These few sentences, too short to even call a sketch, lay about your desk, mental debris unused and forlorn.  Forgotten until you trip over it while looking for something else.  Maybe it gets a nod then, but you soon put it aside and get on with what you’re doing. 
     Very rarely, in my case anyway, do these lines go any farther.  This has happened, but so rarely it hardly bears mention.  Yet I keep them about, fear throwing them away ‘just in case’ and my already unwieldy and ad hoc files swell a bit more haunted by characters and speeches unfulfilled. 

Twas The Night After Christmas

Twas The Night After Christmas

     It’s the night after Christmas and we’re knickers deep in leftovers from the big dinner. Fem Minor is hungry and wants the noodles I fix with my homemade vinaigrette, but this outrages Fem Major who, with her hard edged third world thriftiness, finds cooking again with such a full fridge just wrong.  The Fems fuss and I do a little daddy dance amongst them managing to charm, cajole and bully my way into cooking the noodles.  This leaves Fem Minor happy but Fem Major sits muttering on the sofa so, despite not being hungry, I heap myself a plate full of leftovers and eat them in front of her hoping to mollify her sense of economy.
     Did it work?  Somewhat, sort of, maybe.  There are few clear victories in a relationship.  It’s more a matter of truces, attrition and tactical retreats.  There aren’t enough words in any four languages to explain it.  All that’s certain is that the evening makes me reconsider my decision to marry a younger woman and have late life children.  In the words of the ancient sage, I’m too old for this shit.

The Black Meo

I

I went hunting with Shoob, a man in his thirties who I much admired.  He had two wives and five children and the ability to love them all.

He was also a fine hunter with the grace to let me stumble along, queering his stalks and alarming the jungle with my pungent, farang smell.

At the end of eighteen months when I packed up my notes to leave he said to me in Thai, “Now you know all my secrets.”

In my western arrogance I believed him.

II

Consider this a confession.

I am a man responsible for the death of a people, the destruction of a culture.

This is frequently done by missionaries and still is (God’s Work), but I was an anthropologist, a student of culture and I should have known better.

Not that I meant to cause the diaspora of the Black Meo.  In the words of fools everywhere, it was an accident.

III

You must understand what a treasure the Black Meo were to me.  A new people.  To do the first major investigation of an ethnic group was to secure your career, make your fortune and by the nineteen sixties it was impossible.

Everyone was found.  Everyone had been examined.  Looking for unknown people was as rewarding as searching Loch Ness.

I was working on the Kuomontang, the Chinese army units that retreated south into the hills of Burma, Laos and Thailand when the communists took over China, and found mention of the Black Meo.   I looked further and found a reference there, a cite here but no real work.  The most information I could find in one place were a few sentences in a monograph published by the Burmese government on the involvement of ethnic groups in the opium trade.

It became apparent that there was no ethnic study of the Black Meo in the West.  It was like wandering through a salvage yard and stumbling over the one true cross.

IV

I went to the anthropology department for help in locating funding and it was forthcoming: a generous grant awarded by the Western Institute of Eastern Studies, a group I understood was loosely under the aegis of the State Department.  They wanted a monthly summary of my notes, a linguistic survey, complete ethnohistory and copies of all collected material.

V

The Black Meo were a hill tribe in that part of Asia now famous as the Golden Triangle.  Like most hill tribes, they came from somewhere else and ended up where more numerous peoples had pushed them.  A wasteland people in the rocky, jungled hills where rice wouldn’t grow.  They learned to grow yams for food and opium for profit and to love their mountains.

They grew tobacco and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes using leaves for paper.  They wore blue cotton shirts with ties rather than buttons and carried bush knives in basketry sheaves at their backs.

They grew opium and those who smoked it did so in long pipes of beaten silver.  These pipes, hung by brightly colored and tasseled cords from the left shoulder, were part of their formal dress whether they actually smoked opium or not.  Formal dress was of heavy black cotton with ornate appliques of red and yellow.

VI

Young men courting wore orchids and stuffed birds in their hair and played love songs on wooden flutes.

VII

Opium smoking was considered an activity for the elderly, generally men aged beyond work though some women took up the habit.  Opium use by the young or family men was considered dissipation.  For the most part, opium was a male activity, betel nut being used by women.  Both sexes were fond of beer. VIII

The Black Meo had been hunters and were hunters still for food and additional income and simply because they were hunters.  They hunted small game with tangle nets, figure four deadfalls, blowpipes and crossbows.  With muzzleloaders and the occasional breech-loading shotgun they hunted gaur and banteng.  They also hunted barking, hog-nosed and sambar deer, mountain goats (tahr) and wild boar for food.  They hunted tiger and leopard where these still occurred for their hides and the medicinal qualities given to parts of the cats’ bodies.  They hunted Asian black bear with spears for sport and as a test of courage.  They considered the bear the most savage beast in their forest.

They didn’t hunt the elephant or golden wildcat.  Both were considered creatures of good fortune.  The golden cat, fire tiger in their dialect, was often kept in captivity and its fur was a specific for burns.

The hamarydad or king cobra was captured alive and held to be slaughtered when needed for medicinal use.  Their folk medicine attributed great healing power to the snakes’ gall bladders.

There were shamans among the Black Meo and female shamans or witches.  And seers and mediums.  Ghosts were believed in and dealt with as part of daily life.  The Black Meo believed that their dead remained close around them.  They were animists, believers in nature spirits and though they personified some of these spirits, their animism was less a matter of worship than a simple respect for the essence of the mountains, trees, bests and those people who had lived before them.  Some adopted Buddhism, but only as an addition to their animism, not as a replacement.

   IX

The last information I ever gathered on the Black Meo was a copy of a MACV report given me by a man I met in Lucy’s Tiger Den in Bangkok.

It described the Black Meo as brave in battle, fierce as Gurkhas when the spirit was in them, but too whimsical and fey for good military discipline.  They made reasonable guerilla fighters, were poor and willing to fight for pay.  They were politically naive.

Linguistically the Black Meo were connected to the Yurgiff and other Mongol-Siberian peoples.  Physically they were a stout, round-headed, full-faced people reminiscent of northern Asian groups.

They loved the mountains and now they are gone. X

I don’t know if it was the CIA or the Army Intelligence Service or the Office of Navy Intelligence.  Or SOG or CISO or MACV.  Or the Australians wanting some influence in the area or the French wanting to get some back or any combination of these groups working together or any number of them working separately.

It doesn’t matter from whence they came, the agents with bribes and propaganda and cajolery to involve the Black Meo in the anticommunist crusade.  The intelligence they used was from me.

XI

It didn’t take long: there weren’t that many Black Meo to begin with. About the time it takes a man to finish a dissertation and defend it.  To receive a master’s and accept a position as a research associate.  To rework the dissertation into a proper preliminary ethno history and have it published by a university press.  To write a popular version and have that published as well.  About the time it takes a bookish man with no outside interests to do these things along with a good start on a Phd, say five years, and the Black Meo no longer existed.

A few individuals still lived, but as a cultural unit, the Black Meo had been destroyed.  Adult males of military age had been eliminated.  There were none left unmaimed and alive.  Within five years an uncrippled Black Meo male was either a grandfather or a child.  Their land, the rocky uplands no one else in history had wanted suddenly became valuable.  The communists wanted it and the anticommunists wanted it and the Black Meo fled under waves of bombers that did not consider indigenous populations.  While the men died in the war their dependents languished in camps outside the capital and later across the river in Thailand.
By the time I returned to Asia, shortly after the United States decided it had no further business there, they were gone.  The men were dead, the elderly dispersed among camps, the children adopted by barren Europeans and the young women serviceing tourists in Bangkok.

XII

The dust is what I remember most.

I’d heard a rumor that some of the tribal people’s survivors, loose family groups, were scuttling between free fire zones, squatting in hidden nooks and reverting as best they could to normal life until the war found them again.  Some of these could be Black Meo.

Chasing another story, one of those half-answers you get there with a shrug and a smile, I had gotten into the highlands in a Japanese jeep with a Thai driver using a variety of University IDs and a couple mail order press cards to manipulate the various police men and soldiers trying to turn me back.

A valley between jungled ridges.  About a mile wide, the floor remarkably flat and unfeatured except for a stream down its center.  Perhaps a canal.  It seemed too direct and unbending to be natural.  Dirt tracks paralleled the stream bed on either side.  Across from me a shambled sheet-tin shed, perhaps an abandoned shop, and a woman walking in the dust, the only person in the valley besides us in the jeep.

I wanted to talk to her, to ask my incessant questions, and walked toward her.  I had to cross the stream bed and was down there when the first bombs hit.

XIII

I’d never been bombed before and don’t know if this was typical or not.  The sky was solid cloud cover from ridgetop to ridgetop.  I saw no aircraft, heard no warning whistle.  The plain around me just began erupting, the earth throbbing beneath my feet.

A shrill crack, a basso roar, a rush of heated air.  Swellings of red dust and gray-black smoke with hearts of flame.  And then, insistent through the roaring, loud in my ringing ears, I heard whistles and whispers and whinings.  This was shrapnel, those jagged little bits of metal exploding bombs whip out.

For a moment I was overshadowed, something passing overhead.  At the time I had an impression or an aircraft or some great bird, but now I think it must have been some part of the abandoned shop.

I ran in the direction I was facing, away from the jeep, toward the shop.  Not a thought in my head, no ideas of finding cover or hiding, just running.

The hole was there and I fell into it.  Otherwise I would have kept running across the valley and either made it or not, but the hole was there and I fell into it and onto the woman.

XIV

The dust.

At each detonation the earth spewed clotted clouds of red dust like arterial bleeding.  In the hole I could barely see and only realized I atop the woman when I inadvertently grasped her breast, felt the nipple against my fingers with the heart’s flutter underneath.  My nose was choked shut and I gasped open-mouthed, mud caking my tongue.

I pulled away from her as far as I could (even in a bombardment an Asian woman would be offended by over-familiarity) and saw a woman in either late youth or early middle age looking at me with that expression which says nothing, but is just there, and a hole in her face.

A small hole (half a dime) beside her nose.  Little bleeding, nearly none and the hole was clean, by which I mean it was not ragged, but surgically neat.  Not a round hole, but rather a rounded triangle.

I didn’t know if I should try somehow to bandage the wound: she seemed to be breathing through it.  Moist whistles.

And you never know about head wounds.  A scalp wound, for example, always bleeds like hell and you must burrow down through the thick, black hair not knowing if you will find scratched skin or brain tissue.

XV

I wetted a handkerchief with spittle, the only moisture available besides sweat and urine, and dabbed at the dust around the wound, then used it to give her a mask against the dust, covering her face beneath the watching eyes.

The nearer explosions heaved the earth and tossed us like dice in a cup.  My one firm notion of first aid is that the injured should be kept still and, disregarding convention, I embraced the woman, wrapped my arms and legs around her trying to give her my body as an anchor, but it was no good.  The bombs were stronger than I and in a lover’s clasp we flew in our hole.

Sense left me and, though I was conscious, I knew nothing.   I don’t remember when the bombing ended.  I remember realizing that the woman seemed to have stopped blinking.  It was over then, I don’t know for how long.  I pulled the mask away and looked for respiration, but the hole was silent.  I tried to lick my fingertip, but could no longer produce saliva.  I spat dust and finally found some moisture inside my lower lip.  With my wetted fingertip I gently touched her fixed eye and knew I was alone.

XVI

I tried to close her eyes as I’d seen done in movies, but they wouldn’t stay shut.  In the end I laid the handkerchief over her face.

Out of the hole I started to walk away, then returned.  I couldn’t leave her lying in an open pit.  It was the notion of flies finding her that bothered me.  I have for some time had a horror of flies.  I once watched a man smoking a cigarette while flies walked on his brain.  So I kicked and pulled at the dry dirt and interred her.

Of the jeep I found one wheel with a piece of axle attached.  Of the driver, absolutely nothing.

 

 

 

From my book Dancing The Maze by Pretend Genius Press