Category Archives: Short Stories

The Open Road

Fresh air, open skies, freedom. One can lift up their head and howl at the moon and no one will care. Yes, this was the way to travel. Breathe deeply the pristine air. Well pristine if you disregard the diesel fumes, acid rain and manure mist. At least out here you can’t see the air in front of you. In the city not only can you see what you are breathing, it leaves a film on your nostril hairs. Breathe deeply in the city and you’re liable to cough up a lung. Out here in the wide-open spaces there’s a tang in the air. Of course, that tang is 10,000 years of rotting plants and animal excrement. Yum!

When you walk down the open sidewalks of a busy city you can hear the sounds of laughter from small children. You can smell the tantalizing aromas from diverse cultures; fresh bread, sizzling sausages, and a myriad of spices. It is the smell of success and of life. People live here and people work here. It is the smell of comfort and love, of laughter and tears. It is the city. But the city has another side.

The laughter of small children often comes from bodies full of nothing but hunger and loss. The tantalizing smells simply reinforce the feelings of desperation from those that need but do not have the monetary means to fulfill that need. There are those who have and will not share. The city was built on the backs of the poor for the comfort of the rich and they do not wish to share today. Perhaps tomorrow will be a day to share, perhaps. There is success here for a privileged few and there is life here for those who work hard enough to support the fragile infrastructure. There is also death here for those who aren’t smart enough, or strong enough, or rich enough to succeed. Life rewards those who have and disposes of those who have not.

Away from the city the sounds you hear are the birds flitting from tree to tree, cross pollinating and snacking on the nectar of the flower. The wind rustles the leaves of the trees, gently showering you with bugs and their teeny tiny excrement. The rustling of the leaves distracts you from the rustling at your feet which may just turn out to be an annoyed rattlesnake out for lunch. It never pays to get between a snake and his version of a tasty snack. Yes there is life here, lots of it and chances are it is not all that impressed by your big feet and your insatiable appetite for nature. You are in their home and you are most likely unwelcome.

Finding a spot where one can commune with nature, far from the lights and noise of a modern city is a challenge. Just finding a spot that is not already spoken for by realtors is one thing. One must have a permit to stop, raise a tent or build a fire pit. Heaven help anyone who builds an open fire without first obtaining a permit filled out in triplicate and filed with God.

The first night spent beneath the stars is magical. The wildlife that abounds in the forest is vast. From predatory birds to carnivorous canines and the most pervasive of pests: the mosquito and friends. Sounds are amplified and smells are close. The babbling of a brook can sound like a rushing river, but soothing. The stars are bright, almost surreal. There is life all around you, just out of sight.

The first night spent beneath the stars in the city is also magical, a different kind of magic. The light from the stars is obscured by the neon lights of the city night life. The life too is abundant and varied, from pest to predator. People are dressed in their version of finery, and often act accordingly. Beautiful swans can be seen walking gracefully outside fashionable restaurants with appropriately obsequious entourages.

Then there are the weasels who will try to sell you watches that don’t tell time or bad toothed ferrets hawking the latest in pirated DVDs. And of course there are always the ever present motor vehicles. There are the little ones that scoot too close to the sidewalks and splash you with questionable liquids or the mammoth conveyors of multiple personalities that meander ponderously. There are also the pimpmobiles and muscles cars that spew forth noxious fumes just for the fun of it.

Go down a darkened alley and you just might find a seller of a different kind of magic. It is the kind of magic that can be sniffed up your nose or injected into a vein. It is a magic that is ultimately costly and deadly, figuratively and literally.

Hidden close by is a malnourished, frightened child who has tried to escape from an abusive home and a cynical street walker who just wants to finish this night without getting her throat slit and take a long, hot bath to help to forget. Forgetting is necessary for some to stay alive in this unforgiving world. Also out this dark night is a tired nightshift worker who wants to go home and get some sleep so he can start this endless cycle all over again.

Even more strange are the tourists who flock to see the nightlife that abounds in the city in the hopes of seeing something dangerous and exotic. Pictures would be even better to take home to show the lads at the local ‘Weed and Feed’. Uncle Fester will be plumed amazed!

And the city is alive with sounds. There is the hum of the traffic and the unexpected screech of a car horn, the loud reverberations of the boom box that is supposed to be the latest in fashionable music. It is personal thing. People are shouting and occasionally laughing or screaming.   The life around you is as noisy as it is bright and don’t you dare stop for too long or you might just be relieved of that loaded wallet you carry in your left rear pocket or run down by a slightly inebriated youth.

Ah yes, the city is alive and it is in your face. Don’t wander down here unless you plan to play by their rules.

The woods are alive too but they are a little more reserved about it. The inhabitants are watching you, trying to decide if you are edible or just annoying. Communing with nature can be tricky since they would really rather you did your communing elsewhere. Unless of course you do turn out to taste good with a side of shoe leather.

Choices, choices, choices. Does one cavort within the perilous precincts of the city or meander through the beautiful byways of nature’s potentially hazardous haunts? It is a difficult decision to make. Where to go, what to do?

Ah yes, the open road . . .

 

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Alvin: Over Looking

 

“ALVIN, ALVIN WHERE ARE YOU? YOU ARE LATE FOR YOUR SUPPER! ALVIN YOU ARE IN SUCH TROUBLE YOUNG MAN! ALVIN!!!”

“I’m here mama, I’m here.” The quiet voice almost whispered the words he desperately wanted his mother to hear. But she could not. Alvin opened his eyes to a beautiful sunny day but could only feel the tear drenched pillow beneath his head and his very heavy heart. Alvin wanted to go home.

“Alvin are you awake? The sun is up and I found a really neat flower! Alvin are you awake?” The excited voice that Alvin could now truly hear belonged to a small chipmunk named Monty. They had met many weeks after Alvin had arrived in the New World from Ireland. They found in each other a kindred spirit: fun-loving and mischievous. Unfortunately Alvin wasn’t feeling particularly fun-loving this morning. He had had a dream about his mother and he was sad. He was a leprechaun trying to make his way in the New World without his family.

Alvin stayed tucked in his bed, his face hiding from the Sun. His friend Monty knew something was up but wasn’t quite sure what he should do. So he gently scampered over beside Alvin and sat down. He knew Alvin was sad and all he could offer was his friendship, so for the next several hours the displaced leprechaun and the wild young chipmunk kept each other company, the way friends do.

By the time Alvin was fully awake the sun was high in the sky. He still felt the remnants of his unsettling dream but things always look different in the full light of day. What was odd was the strange snuffling noise and occasional squeaks that Alvin could hear nearby. As he swung his legs over his bed they stop short of the floor. The squeaking became quite pronounced, more like a grunt.

“Alvin are you really awake now?” The voice and the grunting belonged to Monty. As he stretched and yawned, the young chipmunk picked up the conversation that he had started several hours earlier: “I found a really neat flower you need to come and see!”

Alvin smiled. He could always trust Monty to concentrate on the here and now. So he smiled and nodded his head. All he said was “show me.” And Monty took off like a shot with one quick glance over his shoulder to see if Alvin was following.

The unlikely pair made their way across the lawn of the big house to a large garden. It seemed that the strange flower was hidden amongst the hundreds of flowers planted by the owners of the big house. There were roses, and lilies, and daisies, and hundreds of other flowers that Alvin didn’t know the names of. He thought it amusing that somewhere in the midst of this beautiful flower garden was one strange flower. But Monty was convinced.

“Oh okay, it’s here, right around, ummmm, shucks, maybe it’s this way!”

Monty’s sense of direction was questionable but his passion was all-consuming. Alvin grinned and followed. He was still thinking about his dream. He missed his mother and his father and all the other leprechauns. Here in the New World he had not found another like himself. He was isolated. He didn’t know what was going to happen to him. There was no one to teach him how to be a good leprechaun. He had no one.

“It’s here! It’s here! See I told you!” Monty’s tiny body could barely contain his excitement!

As Alvin approached Monty’s find, he was sure he would see nothing more than an odd rose or two headed daisy. He was not prepared for what he did find.

There are no greater story tellers than those from Ireland. And there are no more strongly held legends than those of the leprechauns. Perhaps the strongest legend is that of the four-leaf clover. It is an uncommon variation of the common, three-leaved, clover. They say that such leaves bring good luck to their finders, especially if found accidentally. According to legend, each leaflet represents something: the first is for hope, the second is for faith, the third is for love, and the fourth is for luck. In a little patch all by itself stood a very singular four-leaf clover.

Alvin couldn’t move. He was overcome with sadness and with happiness. Monty stood slightly off to one side gripping his paws tightly. When Alvin did finally move he turned abruptly to Monty. The little chipmunk took fright and jumped back.

Alvin let out a laugh that caused the birds to fly off from the trees.

“This is a wonderful Monty! A little bit of Ireland is here with me! I am not alone. I just couldn’t see what was right in front of my eyes and you reminded me of that. I have everything I need right here! ”

Monty looked on wide eyed, he didn’t really understand what his friend was talking about but he knew his friend was happy. That was all that really mattered.

   A moment later Alan burst into song “I’m looking over a four leaf clover that I overlooked before . . . .” he danced around his precious clover and without any warning hugged little Monty.

Monty started to smile. The birds that moments ago had lifted off from the trees came back to watch what was happening. Other creatures from the forest were also starting to gather. Everybody liked a good party! When Alvin finally ran out of steam he lay down next to his clover and smiled at everyone.

“I may not be with my family in Ireland but I have my family here in the New World. Thank you Monty for reminding me of that,” and he continued to whistle:

I’m looking over a four-leaf clover
That I overlooked before.
One leaf is sunshine, the second is rain,
Third is the roses that grow in the lane.
No need explaining, the one remaining
Is somebody I adore.
I’m looking over a four-leaf clover
That I overlooked before

Monty looked a little bewildered, “I just thought it was a really neat flower.”

The End

 

 

Sweet Valentine

Madeline stood across the street for a moment thinking about what she was about to do. She had always considered herself an intelligent woman; she had a good career and a lovely new home. She believed that she was mildly attractive. And yet, she was lonely. Her divorce had come through a few weeks ago, just before a job offer here, in what for her was a new town. She had no family and no friends nearby. Essentially she was starting her life over. Alright, she thought. Change is in the air. Let’s do it! She squared her shoulders and crossed the street to the Pet Adoption Agency.

When Madeline entered, a young woman behind the desk immediately looked up and smiled. A huge, tabby, feline-like creature also looked up, yawned and promptly went back to sleep. Upon closer inspection, it was indeed just a very large cat. He sat, or more correctly sprawled across the top of the desk. It seemed to be a generous desktop, but underneath this huge feline it almost looked small.

“Hello,” said Madeline, “I’m looking to adopt a cat.”

The young woman’s smile became even more pronounced.

“Well we can certainly help you with that. Are you looking for any particular breed, sex, or colour?”

As the two women spoke, the huge cat raised its head, yawned once again and stretched out a paw to Madeline. Almost without thinking she scratched behind his ears, and smiled for the first time in days.

“He likes you, and he’s available for adoption.”

“What exactly is he? He’s so big. It’s a he, isn’t it?”

The young woman behind the desk chuckled. “Yes, he’s a cat. He’s a Maine Coon; they’re an extremely large breed. But they’re very gentle, curious and they like people a lot. He would make a great companion.”

Madeline thought about it for a moment. “Why is he here? He certainly seems well fed and content. Is there something wrong with him?” She wanted someone to share her new life with, but she wasn’t sure she was ready to take on any complications.

For the first time since Madeline had walked in the door the young woman lost her smile.

“It’s sad. He was abandoned, left alone in an empty apartment. Someone just packed up their belongings and left. It’s awful that anyone would do that to such a beautiful creature.”

The anger on this young woman’s face was obvious. Madeline shared it. Cruelty to animals was one of her pet peeves.

“Does he have a name?”

“He was found with a name tag: Valentine.”

Madeline’s heart missed a beat. Maybe she was too much of a romantic. Valentine’s Day was just a few weeks away, maybe it was a sign that she should take this abandoned cat into her heart. At least he wouldn’t steal her blankets in the middle of the night like her ex-husband used to, well, hopefully.

Several hours later, after filling out the paperwork and the cat having one final check-up, Madeline took her new roommate home. It wasn’t a long drive and Valentine was surprisingly calm throughout. She was curious to see what his first reaction would be to his new lodgings.

The condominium Madeline had recently purchased was quite comfortable but not overly large. She didn’t think a cat would take up that much room. Of course, that was before she met Valentine.

When she set the pet traveling case down on the floor,   Valentine refused to venture out. She peered inside but he didn’t look afraid, he was quite comfortably curled up at the back of the carrier. With a little coaxing he did amble out and for the next hour he investigated every corner, every nook and cranny in the apartment. Madeline made herself comfortable on the couch and watched. Of course, there were a few times she had to get up to go and open a door or cupboard because Valentine could be quite insistent. His meowing was surprisingly loud. He wanted to see it all. Fortunately in his wanderings he had found his water dish, his food dish and his kitty litter. Everything had, apparently, been deemed acceptable.

Eventually Valentine returned to where Madeline was sitting, jumped up onto her lap, turned around twice, curled up into a sizeable a ball and went to sleep. Madeline smiled and figured there was going to be a substantial part of her life that would now be spent not moving so as not to disturb her beautiful tabby roommate.

Valentine continued to explore over the next several days. He had to get used to his new home, and both of them had to get used to a new routine. When Madeline looked into the eyes of her newly-acquired companion, she saw intelligence and perhaps a little mischief. His eyes were liquid gold with flecks of amber. White and black whiskers stood out at a sharp angle from his all-white mouth. Evidently a trait of the Maine Coon cat was a long and full coat. Valentine had that in abundance. Curling up with him on a cold winter’s night was going to be like cuddling up with a warm blanket, one that purred.

It seemed that Valentine had behaviours more in common with a dog than with a cat. He liked to be a part of whatever Madeline was doing. He found it necessary to go through her clothes and the drawers they were in. He wanted access to all the cupboards and he was not shy about telling her so, loudly. He also liked to be fed at particular times. Madeline felt that she should have a sign made: “Humans Trained Here”. Valentine was a great coach.

There was something else that Valentine insisted on: physical contact. He would sit on her desk as she worked, just within reach. If Madeline didn’t pet him, then he would reach out a paw and touch her, repeatedly. He was by no means an aloof cat; he liked attention. And when he got it, he purred like a small outboard motor.

Valentine became her salvation. He needed her. She came home from work every night tired, and every night he was waiting for her at the door. He greeted her with bright eyes and a welcoming purr.

Over the next several weeks things went well for Madeline and Valentine. Then, early one evening, the phone rang and everything changed.

A deep, strong voice identified himself as Martin Gordon. “A mistake has been made and I believe you have my cat.”

Suddenly, Madeline’s world turned upside down. Valentine was a part of her now, an important part. She could not imagine having to give him up. He was her Sweet Valentine. She also knew that she had to listen to this man, to hear what he had to say. The Pet Adoption Agency would never have given him her number had he been a flake.

When Madeline opened the door an hour later, she was presented with a well-dressed gentleman, tall, and extremely attractive. His hair curled up just behind his ears like a little boy’s. His shoulders were wide. He obviously took care of himself. It was almost funny but he did have his hat in his hands. He also had a story to tell.

Madeline invited Martin in and he began to speak as he moved towards the couch and sat down.

“My mother is widowed and lives alone in England. I received a call stating that she was gravely ill. She wasn’t expected to live. I was the only one who could take care of her affairs, her estate.”

He paused for a breath and continued.

“I immediately made arrangements with my next-door neighbour to take care of Valentine while I was away. I thought I was only going to be gone for a few weeks. And while I didn’t know her well, I believed Valentine would be safe with her.”

Martin went on to explain how his mother had miraculously survived her illness. She didn’t want to come and live with him so he was forced to make arrangements for a live-in companion. He couldn’t leave her until he was certain she would be well cared for. As a result, he was out of the country for more than three months.

Madeline sat pensive and sombre on a chair across from Martin, waiting for him to continue.

“I made the mistake of trusting the wrong person.”

Madeline could see the pain on his face.

“She was a young woman and I had only known her for a few months but Valentine seemed to like her. While I was in England, final arrangements were made for a house I had recently purchased and since Valentine was going to be living in my neighbour’s apartment I felt it was a perfect opportunity for the movers to come in and pack up my apartment. Unfortunately the woman I trusted with Valentine proved to be irresponsible. She moved. She didn’t want to take Valentine so she just left him. She didn’t even try to contact me. According to a neighbour, the superintendent found a cat in her empty apartment and called animal control. I never thought an indoor cat needed an identity chip. Obviously I was very wrong. Now I regret that decision.”

It was starting to rain outside, Madeline noticed. Perhaps it was appropriate for the mood she was beginning to feel.

“I was devastated,” said Martin.

When he returned from overseas, Martin was in a state of panic. The young woman had not returned any of his calls for several weeks and he had imagined the worst. The superintendent didn’t know about his cat. Another neighbour told him about her move and about animal control picking up a cat. He spent the next few weeks trying to find Valentine. Unfortunately, there is no central database for animals and he was forced to go to each individual agency, veterinarian’s office, and pet store in his search. What he discovered was that animals were not kept for long. They are sometimes given to other agencies in the hopes of adoption and sometimes euthanized. It was several weeks before he happened on the right agency. They remembered Valentine.

Martin looked around the apartment. His eyes grew large. Valentine wasn’t here.

“Please tell me you actually have Valentine,” he said, a desperate tone in his voice.

“I have him.” Madeline’s voice was low. She had to accept that Valentine belonged to this man. But she didn’t want to believe it. She had grown to love her Sweet Valentine. The thought of giving him up brought tears to her eyes.   But as she looked at this man she could see that he also felt as she did. They both loved the same cat.

Madeline stood. A second later, so did Martin.

“I gave Valentine to a neighbour,” whispered Madeleine. , “I needed to be sure, I needed… I’m sorry. I’ll get… I’ll get Valentine.” With that she left the apartment.

Martin continued to stand, waiting, unsure what to do.

A moment later Madeline returned hugging the large cat tightly in her arms. When Valentine caught sight of the visitor he jumped down, raced across the room and leapt into Martin’s arms.

Madeline could only watch as the two companions became reacquainted. Martin had tears in his eyes. She could hear Valentine’s purr from across the room. They belonged together.

After a moment, Martin raised his head. “Thank you,” he whispered, but the message was loud and clear: she had lost Valentine. Unable to watch the two any longer, Madeline set about gathering Valentine’s belongings.

“I have… I have some food… and toys… and… and…”

She was trying very hard to maintain her dignity. She would not cry in front of this stranger. But he was taking her Sweet Valentine!

 

“Please, Ms. Bellamy—”

 

“My name is Madeline.”

“Please, Madeline, please sit for a moment.” Madeleine sat as requested, but she couldn’t look Martin in the eye.

The moment she was seated, Valentine left Martin’s embrace and jumped into her lap. He now wanted her attention. And his purr was as loud as it had been for Martin.

“It seems we have a dilemma.” She could hear the smile in Martin’s voice before she looked up to confirm it.

“We both love Valentine. And he obviously loves both of us. I think we need to have joint custody.”

Madeline could not believe her ears. She wasn’t going to lose her Sweet Valentine!

“As I mentioned, I have bought a house,” continued Martin. “It’s only two blocks from here. I’m often away on business and I am sure Valentine would love to spend any time he doesn’t spend with me, with you. We’re going to be neighbours, we could also be friends.”

Madeline hugged Valentine even closer. She didn’t want Martin to see her tears falling. Her Sweet Valentine was not leaving. She could share him, especially with this very attractive gentleman standing in her parlour.

“Thank you. I do love my Sweet Valentine and I’d love to share him with you.”

“It’s going to take me a few weeks to get settled in my new home. Would you be willing to keep Valentine here and let me visit him every day?”

Madeline didn’t trust herself to speak again; she just smiled and nodded.

On her lap the object of their mutual affection looked from Madeline to Martin and purred.

Ah yes, thought Valentine, washing his immaculate whiskers with his paw, humans are so easily manipulated.

 

 

The end

#writephoto Caretakers

 

They stood all in a row. Bowed with age. He was the last, the last of his kind. Those that had once stood proudly with him had slowly succumbed to time. It was their punishment: to watch the distance land flourish with the life they had tried to control.

Once they had walked the earth and then they ran with no thought of the destruction, the chaos, they left in their wake. They did not understand. They were caretakers and they failed, miserably.

They stood all in a row, the last of human kind encased in stone.

 

This is my submission for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo and her Thursday photo prompt. – Distant #writephoto. Usually I am content to enjoy the work of others but this time I was compelled to join in. You might want to look at her site, you won’t regret it.

The True Spirit

Hello everyone.  I wrote this story several years ago as a statement about the Christmas season.  It was my way of dealing with my issues.  I repost it now as my Christmas gift to you.  May this Season show you the wonders that are everywhere if we are just willing to look.

Mary was angry. Here it was two days before Christmas, she was in a town she didn’t know, a new job she didn’t like, she had no friends and no family close by, and some dirty bum had his hand out looking for money. And on top of all that, he had the unmitigated gall to be smiling as if he was happy.

Mary wasn’t smiling. In fact she was absolutely miserable. Christmas was just another day on the calendar, it had no real meaning. People went into stores and spent a ridiculous amount of money on gifts for other people that the other people really didn’t want. Christmas wasn’t even for the children. It was just another way to teach them about how money makes the world go round. If you had money it was a good life. If you did not then you starved and were miserable, and you should look like you were miserable.

Mary approached the man that she called a bum. She was frustrated, she was angry, and she needed this person to explain to her how he could be so damn happy. Maybe he was on drugs or maybe he was crazy, but Mary didn’t think so. Of course she did drop a twenty dollar bill into his tin can before she posed her question.

“Are you alright? You are sitting here on a cold sidewalk asking for money. All around you is obscene wealth. How can you sit there and smile when you have nothing and so many people around you are spending money like it is water and on frivolous things? You look like you need food and these people are buying toys for people who really don’t want them. How can you sit there and smile? I’ve seen you everyday for the last week and you smile everyday, you wish people a Merry Christmas, or Happy Hanukkah, or Happy Kwanza and I don’t understand how you can actually be happy.”

At this point Mary was almost in tears. She felt so alone and so unloved that she felt jealous of this destitute individual. She wanted to shake him to make him see what an awful place the world was but she didn’t. What she did do was pause for a breath and what she saw then took that breath away.

Just a moment before she had been looking at a dirty bum and now he had taken on a dignity that belied her original perception. He sat up straighter and his smile became wider. Even his eyes seemed to twinkle with a secret knowledge. There was a beauty to his face that she had not noticed before. His voice, when he spoke, was strong and melodic. The words he spoke were the truth.

“But I have everything. Someone gave me a coat to keep me warm. He gave me the gift of warmth. People stop and give me their spare change, a cup of coffee, or a sandwich. A small child gave me a penny. A penny to a small child is like a million dollars to a billionaire. A beautiful woman gave me her scarf to warm my neck. An old man gave me a warm pair of gloves. All I have to offer them in return is my smile and my best wishes. Some people are embarrassed and hurry on but others take it in the spirit in which it is given. Some people give of themselves, and that is what makes me the wealthiest of people.”

Mary thought about what this person had just said to her. It was starting to make sense. The importance of the season was not the gift; it was not the thought of the gift. That was all meaningless. What was important was the giving of one’s self, willingly.

The next day Mary went into work. She felt a little lighter, a little happier. She looked around her with a new perspective: people were giving of them selves; the gifts they were giving were simply an extension of their spirit. Sometimes the gifts were expensive, sometimes the gifts cost only pennies and sometimes it was only a word and a hug. But these people were giving, Mary saw that now. And Mary started giving as well.

It was Christmas Eve now and Mary wanted to share with the homeless man what she had learned. She stopped at the bank and took out one hundred dollars. She placed the money in an envelope and tucked that into the pocket of her coat. With a smile on her face she went looking for the homeless man.

But he wasn’t there. Mary walked up and down the street looking for him. She asked shop keepers if they had seen him but everyone was too busy and said they didn’t remember. So Mary continued on her walk home. She was sad now that she couldn’t share with the man who had taught her so much. She wondered where he had gone and what he was doing for Christmas.

Just two blocks before Mary reached her apartment building was a small church. Mary had seen the structure before but had never ventured in. Today her feet took her over the threshold and into the church. She sat quietly in one of the back pews and looked up into the beautiful stained-glass windows. She felt at peace. As her eyes wandered over the beautiful paintings, a figure seemed to stand out: it was of man who was seated on the ground and his hand was outstretched as if beckoning. Her eyes widened in recognition and then she shook her head, it was not possible.

As Mary turned over in bed that night, she replayed in her head what she had learned and she smiled. She had left the envelope with the money in the church; she knew it was the right thing to do. Never again would she forget just how valuable it is to interact with other people. Giving of one’s self is as simple as smiling. He had taught her that.

 

The end

 

   Merry Christmas 

Marvin: The Forgotten Elf

 

“Now you take care of your little brother and I’ll be right over there.”

Odelia was used to taking care of her brother for short periods. After all she was nine years old and quite mature for her age. Billy was only three and he needed a lot of taking care of. They were standing in line waiting for their turn. Actually Billy was strapped into a stroller and for the moment he was quite serene. However, Odelia knew it would probably be 15 or 20 minutes before it was their turn. A few moments later it began. Like most boys his age Billy didn’t like to wait so he started to squirm and then to whine.

“I don’t wanna wait!”

Odelia had been waiting for this moment and hoping it would take a little longer. She looked over at her mother but she was still deep in conversation with a sales clerk.

“Okay Billy, I’m going to tell you a secret.” That always got a child’s attention. “But you can’t tell anyone else, ever!”

As expected the young boy stopped squirming and looked at his sister with rapt anticipation.

“Okay.” He said quietly.

“This happened a very long time ago and nobody knows all the details but this much we know for sure.”

Odelia was a gifted storyteller and she knew her brother very well. His eyes were glued to her face and he hadn’t moved an inch. So she continued with her story. The tale she told was about an elf.

One of Santa’s elves was called Marvin. He was young and as it so often is with the young, he seemed forgetful. The other elves tried to instil in him the importance of what they were doing in Santa’s workshop but Marvin was too interested in playing with the reindeer and investigating how some of the toys worked. Unfortunately he also had a knack for breaking things. Soon the other elves pushed Marvin aside and tried to forget about him. When Santa heard about the troubles he spoke to Marvin but it didn’t seem to make any difference to the young elf. However, what we think isn’t always what is.

It seems that Marvin wasn’t trying to break things he was just trying to understand how they worked. He was only trying to help. When Santa heard this he decided to give Marvin another chance. He was told that if he broke one more toy he would be banned from the workshop.

Over the next few weeks everything went smoothly. The toys were being assembled and made ready to be shipped. Marvin did everything he was asked and nothing that he was not. Eventually everyone forgot about him. Now as it often happens, when you’re not watching, trouble will find you.

There was one particular toy that was new to the workshop. It had bells, and whistles and it had an engine. Usually that pretty much guaranteed that the children would fall in love with it. Unfortunately this toy kept breaking down. First the wheels were falling off when the Packers tried to wrap it up. Then the steering wheel wouldn’t work when it was tested prior to packaging. It even started falling apart on the line when nobody was looking. People started wondering if Marvin was the culprit but nobody could find him.

After a few days it was decided that the toy would be put aside until further investigation could be done. Obviously there was something wrong and there was no time to correct it. Everyone was working to a deadline that could not be shifted. And still no one could find Marvin.

The night before the deadline the last package was wrapped and put in place for shipment. Everyone congratulated themselves on the fine work they had done this year. There had only been one glitch and he seemed to have taken himself off the line. No one thought about him, no one worried about where he was or what he was doing. That was their mistake.

What the others did not understand was that Marvin was different. He wasn’t one to blindly follow the rules. He wanted to understand why the rules were in place. The only way something could be improved upon was to first know its nature. Marvin wasn’t trying to break things he was trying to understand how they worked. If you know how something works you can make sure it doesn’t break down.

When the others had taken the cars that kept breaking down and put them in another room Marvin had gone to see if he could fix them. In the days and weeks that no one missed him, Marvin had corrected every single issue in every single car. He had also wrapped them and prepared them for shipment. The others were very surprised when he presented them with what they thought were broken vehicles.

When Santa heard what Marvin had done he called him into his office and sat him down. What happened next is not known. But after a few minutes, Marvin exited with a smile on his face and a lift in his step. Obviously he had been vindicated. From that day forward Marvin had a new job. It was his responsibility to test each and every item that passed through the line to ensure that it was not easily broken. It was a task that Marvin took to easily. After all, if it could be broken he would find a way to break it.

“Are you next young fella?”

With everyone’s attention now on them Odelia quickly unstrapped her brother. An oversized man dressed as an elf lifted Billy on to the knee of Santa Claus and stepped back.

Billy looked into the face of the big fat man in the red suit and thought about what he had just learned.

“Ho ho ho! Little man what do you want for Christmas?”

Billy leaned close to Santa to whisper in his ear.

“You were naughty Santa. You should have been nicer to Marvin.”

With that Billy jumped off Santa’s knee and ran to his sister. He never looked back and he never forgot his lesson. Did you?

The End

 

 

“He’s Dead!”

In honour of the day, here’s a little something for your palette:

Two young men stared at each other, mouths open.  The erudite individuals in question were loitering outside the home of an elderly man who had recently died. Perhaps they were remembering the life so recently passed. Or perhaps . . .

“Cool! What the fu. ., .sh . Aw man, I promised my girlfriend I’d stop swearing!”

“Wait, Boondog, you got a girlfriend? When? You didn’t have none yesterday!”

“Yeah, man. We’re in looove. She just ain’t met me yet.”

The two erupted in gales of laughter.

Boondog was actually Alfonse. He was a high school drop out who fervently believed that he would one day be a multi millionaire. He just needed the rest of the world to recognize his genius.

His companion was Edgeley. No one knew his real name, probably not even Edgeley himself. He didn’t seem to live anywhere in particular. He just kept showing up.

The two young men gravitated to this spot most days. Each day they would spend time smoking a particular illegal substance. This was the perfect spot. They were hidden from the road but were still quite close to the house. Ah, yes, the house. It had been built in the early 1900’s. It was three stories tall and had a veranda that encircled the main floor. It was an imposing abode that had seen better days. More than a hundred years had wandered through the rooms of that house. What had been said and done on those solid wood floors?

Our intrepid adventurers were deep in a metaphysical discussion.

“This Burrito is the bomb!’

“Hey, you got burritos? I like Mexican food!”

“No, man, the Ganga is good!”

“Huh?”

“Dope, weed, pot, grass! Boondog, don’t you know noth’n?

“Aw.”

For the next few moments they said nothing. The smoke whirled above the heads as they inhaled the noxious weed. Oblivious to the medical consequences of the drug on their brains, they breathed in even deeper.

Time seemed to stop.

Edgeley was the first to speak.

“Do you think his cats ate him?”

“Did he have cats?” asked Boondog with something akin to excitement on his face.

“I dunno.”

Silence. Time barely seemed to pass.

“They said he was rich. I bet he’s got cash stashed all over.”

“Cool.”

Our two geniuses continued to stare at the once opulent house. After some time they both managed to stand (after a few mishaps). Then came the giggles. Two grown men trying to keep each other from falling and fumbling up the decrepit steps might have been funny to watch but no one saw them enter the house. Almost no one.

As Boondog reached for the front door knob, the door opened. He didn’t seem to notice.

“Hello . . “ He shouted, as if he had just returned from a long day at work.

Edgeley slapped the back of his head. “Shhh! You wanna wake the dead?”

“Is he here?” Boondog’s panic was very apparent.

“Nah, man. I’m just messing with ya.”

The front door opened into a huge foyer with an even larger room off to one side. They headed there. The two men started to wander around the room. Edgeley immediately started to open drawers in the cabinets, methodically working his way from one side of the room to the other. Boondog couldn’t take his eyes off a painting of an old woman. There was a name at the bottom, his lips moved as he read what was there: Daniela Winslow, died 1893.

As he stepped back, he looked directly into the eyes of Daniela Winslow . . . . . only to see Daniela looking back. Boondog gasped!

The front door closed, violently, the bolts thrown. The shutters on the windows slammed shut. Within seconds the air became cold, too cold. Edgeley stopped what he was doing and looked up. A mist started to rise from the floorboards. It seemed to caress Boondog, who seemed to be frozen in place. It then moved on. Gently, oh so gently it touched the furniture, stroking the wood of the cabinets.

Edgeley looked at Boondog. All the effects at the previously smoked marijuana were gone. Neither man was at all unaware of their predicament. Any thoughts of looking for stray cash had gone. All they wanted now was to leave, quickly.

Almost as if it was choreographed, both moved as one towards the front door. Grasping the handle Boondog tried desperately to open it. The door wouldn’t budge.

“Hello boys. . . “

The voice was low, soft and ominous. They couldn’t tell if it was a man’s voice or a woman’s. Or even where it had come from. The two boys turned back from the door, fear emanating from every pore. Boondog started towards the steps to the second floor. He just wanted to get away from the voice. Before he could reach them, the mist descended and formed a barrier. There was no going upstairs. He returned to stand beside his friend. This couldn’t be happening!

Edgeley hadn’t moved. Sweat started to soak through his clothes. The sweat of fear has an acrid, pungent smell, it smelled of death.

A fireplace they hadn’t noticed before, burst into flame. The cackling sound of the flames seemed to break the spell and they moved.

They huddled next to the fireplace as if for comfort. There was no warmth from the flames. They seem to mock them, rising and dancing as if to music. There was no music, then, no sounds. It became oppressive, the silence. The men, so brave and bold mere minutes ago, reverted to their childhood fears. They were terrified. And then . . . she screamed.

“I am hungry!”

Edgley started to whimper. “I’m sorry . . . I’m so sorry . . .

Alfonse started to mutter unintelligibly. He raised his head. His eyes had changed. He grew larger. Then he smiled. “No one will miss you Edgley. And we will all feed!”

The end

(image via Pinterest)

Modus Operandi

 

The Rocket watched carefully. His target was near. Once again his skill and his daring would be their undoing. A young man who went by the moniker The Rocket was feeling a need: a need to take. He watched as a slightly older than middle-aged woman stopped to root in her purse for something. With a quick glance around him he darted out from his hiding place between the buildings. He stopped only for a smile, to tip his hat and to say “thank you” as he relieved the shocked individual of her purse.

As The Rocket darted away down the street he was laughing at his daring. It never failed to amuse him that it was so easy to swipe a purse in broad daylight. His feet had carried him a mere 10 feet before they betrayed him. Without time to understand what was happening to him The Rocket watched as the pavement rose up to meet his face. He dropped the purse he had just liberated in an attempt to protect himself. Just before he reached the ground, he heard a voice.

“Once you’ve finished your fall I would suggest you stay there.” An ominous voice instructed.

“What the . . . !”

“Watch your language young man. There are ladies present.”

The Rocket tried to sit up but realized that there were something sticking in the middle of his back keeping him down and it hurt. As a matter of fact most of him hurt. Someone had tripped him!

A moment went by as The Rocket collected his thoughts.

“That’s better Richard. You might want to get up off the pavement. It is a little undignified.” That voice again!

“That’s not my name!” As he stood up, the boy known as The Rocket looked at the man who seemed to be the cause of his most recent fiasco.

“Your name is Richard Dunston. You are 14 years old and have been in and out of juvenile hall for two years. Your mother is so worried that she asked me to take you under my wing. So why don’t you sit down here and we can get to know each other a little better.”

The newly identified Richard stood staring at this old man with a cane and dog. He couldn’t think of anything to say. So he said nothing. He also wanted desperately to run away but he realized now who exactly was sitting on the park bench. This man probably had Richard’s future in his hands. So Richard, formerly known as The Rocket, sat down.

If anyone had bothered to look they would have seen an elderly gentleman of some distinction sitting quietly beside a young boy. At the feet of the gentleman was an obviously excited dog. It seemed as if everyone was waiting for something to happen.

Not a moment later the woman who had previously been relieved of her purse approach the park bench. She was smiling. She retrieved her purse from where it had fallen on the sidewalk and nodded her head at the two men.

“Good job done Superintendent, you were right. Shall I leave him in your hands?”

“Yes thank you Constable. I’ll call in my report later.”

“Good luck kid. You’ll need it.”

The now identified policewoman took her purse, straightened her back and walked purposefully away. Richard a.k.a. The Rocket stared at her retreating back with something akin to horror. He had been set up! By an old man and a girl! He would never live this down.

“How? How did you know?” He just kept repeating one word: how?

“Well son, do you know what a modus operandi is?” Richard just looked blank.

“I’ll take that as a no. I guess I should introduce myself.” So for the next few minutes Brett did just that. As Richard listened he felt more and more at a loss. His life was changing drastically.

Brett Bramwell Kirkland was a retired Police Superintendent. He had worked for 37 years with a near spotless record. The only complaint ever made against him simply reinforced his image of impartiality and of doing the right thing regardless of cost. Four years ago his wife of fifty two years had died. He kept in touch with his four children and their families but he lived alone except for Ten-four: a small West Highland Terrier. His name Ten-four, in police language means everything is fine. The dog was given to Brett by his grandson.

Nowadays Brett could be found walking his dog in this neighbourhood almost every day or lounging on this particular park bench. Which is how Richard’s mother knew where to go when she needed help.

Richard was on a path of destruction. He fought, he drank and he stole. He had been in trouble with the police and his next step would probably land him in a penitentiary. So Brett had been prevailed upon to help.

“You make a lousy criminal kid.” Brett spoke quietly. Richard balled his hands and looked as if he wanted to start a fight.

“I can keep you from jail and alive, but you have to do something for me.”

“I don’t gotta do nuthin you say!” Richard was definitely spoiling for a fight. He jumped up from the park bench and turned to face his accuser.

“Oh sit down. You give me a hard time, I call the cops, you go to jail. How long you go to jail will depend on what my mood is. So it is in your best interest to do as I say.” The quiet authority with which this man spoke caused the young criminal to re-think his situation.

Richard was starting to understand that he was stuck between a rock and hard place. So he sat down, he figured it wouldn’t hurt to listen.

First of all, you are going to return all the items still in your possession that belong to other people. Next, you are going to meet the principal of the high school and make arrangements to get back in school. Then you are going to write letters to all the people whose names I will give you, that you have stolen from. The police keep very good records. And finally, you’re going to get a job. That job is to be my assistant. Ten-four needs to be walked regularly and I’m sure I can think of a great many other activities to keep you out of trouble. I’ll pay you what you’re worth so you had better do a good job.

Poor Richard looked as if he were ready to cry. All the fight had gone out of him. He had met his match. He reached down to scratch the silly white dog’s head. Maybe things weren’t that bad. The old man had a cute dog.

“Hey mister, how’d you know I’d be here today?”

“Modus operandi. It is a Latin phrase that means method of operating. People do the same thing out of habit. It’s those habits that make criminals easy to catch. People do the same things the same way almost every time.”

Richard thought for a moment and then realized he’d just been taught a life lesson. People were predictable. It’s what made understanding them a possibility.

“So what’s your modus operandi?” Richard asked of the older man.

The retired superintendent smiled, “I catch thugs for breakfast.”

The two men sat beside each other on the park bench. Each set in their ways but ready to face the changes the world would force upon them. At their feet quietly sat a small white dog, he too was waiting for a change.

“How about a walk in the park?”

 

the end

 

 

 

 

I have a problem . . .

I have a problem. You might call it an ‘abundance of riches’. You see I have all these great ideas roaming around in my head angling to be at the front of my consciousness. As a result, it is chaos.

A few of those ideas? Natural disasters and just how unnatural they really are. We are in many ways culpable for the extreme weather we’ve been experiencing. We have been raping this planet for far too long and these are the ramifications.    The concept of free will: just how ‘free’ is it and how much of the ‘will’ is ours?      The concept of communication: even people that speak the same language have difficulty communicating.

So you see my difficulty? Too much at the same time. I’m trying to come up with a series of paintings for a show next year and while I have the basics down I am disheartened by all the incredible paintings I see by other people. I have to find a way to make them my own.

I am also having a wee bit of a teething problem with my program that types for me. It thinks it knows better. Perhaps I should publish an entire Post without correcting the errors it makes.

Because my mind is in such chaos I thought I would just publish a short story for you. In this time of upheaval I think we all need a good laugh. And this one still makes me chuckle. I hope you enjoy . . .

 

The Bus Stop

It was a beautiful mid-summer’s day. It was early enough that most people had not gotten into their cars to start the day. But one lady was slowly approaching a local bus stop. Marcella was starting her day the way she did most every day: walking to the bus. And like every day before this one she was complaining.

“I am getting too old for this nonsense.” She mumbled to herself. “Every day I hurry to get to the bus stop just so I can wait. The bus is always late. Always! And I know if I come late then that damn bus will come early!”

Marcella wasn’t a young woman but she didn’t consider herself old just yet. Yes, she did have sore knees and her feet would swell if the day was hot, but she was not ready to be put out to pasture. There would be time enough to be old. For now she just liked to take advantage of the fact that everyone else thought she was old. She could complain all she wanted. People were so polite and considerate.

As she approached her destination she became suspicious. Something had changed. A new bench had been deposited beside the bus shelter. Marcella was uncomfortable with change so she looked at this new piece of outdoor furniture with distrust.

“Now why would someone put a pretty new bench out here where it can get all wet?” She queried, “ kids will be playing on it before you know it and it will get damaged. Now why would they do something so silly?”

“So that you can be more comfortable while you wait for your bus, you silly old woman!”

Marcella was startled! She let out a sharp cry and turned around.

“Land sakes! Beatrice you scared five years off my life! And you are late!”

Beatrice didn’t respond immediately. She simply nodded at the first woman and then proceeded to make herself comfortable on the new bench. After a moment’s hesitation Marcella followed suit. And then the conversation continued.

“I think it’s very nice of them to want us to be comfortable while we wait for their bus.” Beatrice always seemed to find the good in any situation. She was exactly the same age as Marcella but she looked 10 years younger. People thought the two of them had a strange friendship. One always saw the good and one always saw the bad.

“Well I think it’s a terrible waste of money. They should spend that money on buses so that we aren’t always waiting!” True to form Marcella saw the bad. “And think of the trees that died so that our bums could be comfortable. It is a terrible shame!”

“Oh I bet this is a green bench. No trees would have been killed. People are getting smart about that.”

“Beatrice you are going blind, this is not a green bench. It’s brown. And an ugly brown too.”

“No, no I am not referring to the colour I’m talking about the bench itself. Nowadays these things are made green.”

Marcella shifted in her seat and stared at her friend. She knew that both of them were getting older and that sooner or later their mental capacities would begin to alter. She hadn’t thought that Beatrice had gotten that old. But now she looked at her very carefully.

“Beatrice what colour is the sky?”

“Well that’s a silly question, its blue.” She turned towards her friend. “Is this a trick question?”

“What colour is the road?”

“Now I know you’re up to something. The road is grey, just like your hair. And before you ask, the grass is green. Now what’s up?”

“Last question. What colour is the bench were sitting on?”

“Well, it’s brown. What is going on?”

“Hah! You admit it! This bench is brown!”

“Well of course it’s brown woman. Are you blind?”

“A minute ago you said it was green.”

Beatrice looked at her friend dumbfounded for just a moment. And then she burst out laughing. Poor Marcella just looked on, confused.

“Marcella, when some one refers to an item as being green they are talking about how it was made. Green items are made by recycling other items. They are not necessarily referring to the colour.”

The woman in question sat without moving for just a moment. Then she turned away from her friend and sat up straight facing the road. She was processing what she had just heard and trying to understand it.

“Are you telling me that this bench my bum is residing on could have been somebody’s deck? How do you know where this wood has been? And who has been doing what on it? It could be filthy!” No sooner were the words out of her mouth then Marcella jumped up and turned around to face the offending bench.

“Oh you silly old woman! Sit down! I don’t care what this bench was in a previous life, now it is comfortable and I can get a load off my feet. That’s all I care about.”

Begrudgingly Marcella did as instructed, but gingerly. As she was settling back down on the bench she started to think.

“Do you think there’s any way we could recycle a few people I know? I can think of something useful I like to make them into: how about two gorgeous 40-year-olds for one wrinkle 80-year-old?”

As both women started to laugh they saw the bus coming.

 

 

the end

Fool’s Gold

 

“Mama, mama, it’s okay! I gots summtin mama! It’s okay! You don’t got to cry no more! I’s found gold Mama!” Ell heard the screen door slam behind him and knew that he would probably be in trouble for it. His mother hated it when the screen door slammed. But he also knew that he had found the answer to all their troubles.

“Mama, Mama I found gold! We is rich! We can move Mama! Mama!”

The little boy was in such a hurry to find his mother that he rushed into their trailer without looking where he was stepping. Within a few feet he became aware of the broken glass. He noticed the blood on his unshod feet before he felt the pain. All he could do was stand and stare. He stared at the overturned table, the broken glass, and his mama flat on her back, snoring.

Repeating something he had done many, many times in the past the little boy set about straightening the room and cleaning up the broken glass. He cleaned up the blood and he cleaned up his mama. Eventually she would awake and not remember anything. Sometime she didn’t even remember him.

The next morning the young boy stood excitedly in front of his mother. In a very soft voice he said, “It’s gold Mama, it’s gonna be alright.” He stretched his little arms as far as he could and opened his fingers to present his mother with this precious find.

The woman in question slouched over their very tiny kitchen table. She squinted at the newspaper front of her through the smoke from the cigarette . She had a pen in one hand and a chipped glass filled with a questionable liquid in the other. Her cigarette was firmly clenched between her teeth.  When young boy spoke she closed one eye and looked up.

For a long moment the woman stared at the item her son held out for her perusal. When she finally spoke the fatigue in her voice told her story of hardship and sacrifice.

“Elliott that’s fool’s gold, it has no value, it ain’t real. It’s just a pretty stone. Why don’t you go outside and play. I need to find a new job.”

The little boy everyone called Ell put his prized possession in his pocket and backed out of the trailer he shared with his mother. But’s gold mama, it’s gold. He thought to himself. Everything is going to be all right now, you’ll see.

*****************

“Mr. Bellamy sir it is a great pleasure to see you, will you be dining at your usual table?”

“Yes Andrews I will thank you.”

Very posh restaurants understand the hierarchy involved in their clientele. There are those patrons who come in once or perhaps twice and are seated according to availability. There are those patrons who while regulars, only dine there occasionally. And then there are those clients who are favoured. They frequent the establishment and have developed a rapport with the staff. As these patrons are usually wealthy, the wait staff is attentive and accommodating. After all favoured patrons are worth their weight in gold. They may spend money but they also advertise a place that they like.

When Mr. Bellamy had been seated in his usual table and had been given his usual pre-dinner glass of wine it seemed as if the evening was going to progress in its usual manner. He would dine alone as was his habit on Thursday nights. He would have one glass before dinner of Cabernet Sauvignon and one with his meal. Dinner would consist of steak medium rare, golden brown fried mushrooms, asparagus lightly sautéed, baked potato with all the trimmings and a small dish of vanilla ice cream for dessert. It wasn’t a terribly high class meal but Mr. Bellamy tipped well.

When he had finished his repast, Mr. Bellamy carefully blotted his lips with his napkin. He signed for the meal, complemented the chef and the waiters and prepared to take his leave.

“Excuse me sir, Mr. Bellamy.”

A young man had materialized out of the restaurant and had his hand on the chair opposite Mr. Bellamy.

“I am just leaving young man, you are welcome to the table.”

“Actually sir, I need to take a few moments of your time. It is rather important.”

The gentleman in question motioned for the young man to take the seat opposite him and signalled to the waiter for another glass of wine.

“Would you join me young man? It is a delightful wine.”

As the stranger seated himself at the table he nodded his assent.

Once the wine had been poured and both gentlemen had savoured the flavour Mr. Bellamy spoke.

“I am assuming that you are here to tell me you have discovered my sordid past.”

The young man sat with a stunned look on his face, his glass of wine frozen between the table and his mouth.

“Sir I, I just thought…”

“You thought that you were the first to discover my background and that it would make juicy reading for a public that relishes bad news. You thought that I would be ashamed of my past. I’m guessing for a modest sum you would be willing to withhold that information. Am I right young man?”

“Sir, information like this can be quite damaging…”

“Really? To whom?”

“Well sir you have a reputation, a position. I hardly think this information…”

Mr. Bellamy smiled, he even chuckled a little at the perplexed young man sitting across from him.

“My poor disillusioned young man. You judge everything based on a standard that does not exist. I was not born into wealth, I did not win any money, I earned my wealth based on an ideal. Unlike you who is looking for a ‘get rich quick’ scheme and thought I was fair game.”

Now the young man was starting to squirm in his seat. This was not going according to plan at all. He realized that his ploy to extort money from this wealthy man had failed miserably. He wanted desperately to leave the table and hide but was afraid to even attempt it.

“Yes I had humble beginnings: I lived in a trailer park with my mother. We were poor but we had one thing that money cannot buy: we had love. I know it sounds trite but we supported each other even during the bad times.”

At this point Mr. Bellamy’s eyes seemed to glaze over as he took a little jaunt down memory lane. He remembered his mother and her drinking. He remembered how she always tried to stay positive around him. He also remembered the very first time he saw fool’s gold. It was that shiny substance that was beginning of his journey. And this poor young man thought he was ashamed of his past. His mother had overcome her demons and was now a successful designer. He had built a large corporation that was varied and worth millions. It just goes to show you what someone can do with a little hard work and sacrifice.

“By the way young man, did you catch the name of this restaurant? It’s called FOOL’S GOLD. Now do you understand?”

 

The end