Visions at a Job Interview

The Farmer’s Wife
Forest Muran

There was no one Thomas hated more in town than Bartholomew.

Often, when carrying the fresh corn and carrots to the market, Thomas would pass Bartholomew’s farm, and would see his large, arrogant figure, hacking away at the land, or squeezing away at his groaning cattle. Bartholomew was always a little late to the market, and was always accompanied by his young wife. The couple rarely spoke any friendly words to the people of the town, and kept their conversation nearly exclusively to business. And yet, for some reason, everyone seemed to love the laconic farmer and his beautiful young wife. Thomas saw no sense in it at all, and sometimes it made him feel like he was going crazy.

There was definitely something suspicious about Bartholomew, and more than a few times Thomas considered that he might be a criminal from the city, trying to keep ahead of the law. It would explain why the couple rarely spoke to anyone, and Bartholomew’s strange style of speaking. Thomas had discussed this with his sisters on many occasions, but they could see no fault in the mysterious farmer. Instead, they criticized his wife, claiming that she had been sleeping around with men in the town, and that blessed Bartholomew was too pure of a soul to be wedded to her wicked self. That was too much for Thomas. There had never been any evidence to suggest what his sisters said were true, and he was sure they were just making things up because they favoured Bartholomew. It was enough to make Thomas want to kick a cow.

“He doesn’t say much, but my, what a soothing, deep voice he has!” exclaimed one of his sisters around the table one evening, in reference, naturally, to that obnoxious Bartholomew.

His other sister lit up. “And he speaks with such elegance! Truly, it would be Heaven to be married to that kind of man. Imagine having that wonderfully warm voice order you around, telling you to get to your housework, and to stop nibbling on the butter!” The second sister let out of a wistful sigh.

Thomas shook his head. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you two! There’s nothing great about that Bartholomew fellow.” He took a big bite out of a cob of corn, slimy butter running down his cheek. “He’s just another arrogant farmer who thinks he’s someone special because he owns a big chunk of land. Doesn’t mean anything! What matters is what’s in the heart, what God sees in you. That farmer is a mean fake, is what he is.”

“That’s not true! A lot of people could learn from how gentle and kind Bartholomew is,” protested the first sister. “Just looking into his big brown eyes is enough to make you want to fall in love!”

“Girls, stop your bothering and eat your corn,” called out their father, who was sitting around the corner on the front porch, watching the chickens copulate.

The second sister turned to Thomas and leered. “You’re just jealous of Bartholomew’s pretty wife, that’s all. Just like a man, just looking at a person’s beauty, never considering the amount of corn they pick, or how much land they own.”

“I am not jealous of Bartholomew’s wife!” said Thomas, his face burning red.

“You are! Yes you are!” jeered the first sister, sticking out her tongue.

“I’m not!” yelled Thomas, his face now the colour of a cock’s comb. “I’m not, I’m not! I don’t give a dang about her! I swear it on mother’s grave!”

“Boy!” came a loud exclamation from the front porch, “don’t you swear on your mother’s grave! Only a wicked child would say that. When you swear on your mother’s grave, you better be telling the truth! Otherwise Jesus is gonna whoop you!”

Thomas frowned. “I’m not in love with Bartholomew’s wife,” Thomas mumbled meekly, stabbing into a lonely corn kernel with his fork.

“Yeah, you are, too! You wish you could have a nice, slender, fair-haired wife like that, to stick your children into!” said the second sister. “Maybe you still have a chance too, knowing what folks are saying about the hussy.”

“You stop talking like that!” said Thomas, glaring up at his sister, hate in his eyes. “That Bartholomew’s wife – whatever her name is – is a celestial creature. She would never do nothing like that!”

As much as he may have tried to deny it with his sisters, there was no denying to himself that Thomas indeed had an attraction to Bartholomew’s pretty wife. He knew the rumours about her were unfounded, made up by ugly old wives hoping to discourage their husbands from lusting after her. Thomas knew, just from looking into those pure eyes of hers, crystal clear like no evil had ever passed beneath them, that this woman was a real one. Loyal, faithful, always by your side. Someone to watch over you. She was a creature of the Lord and, Thomas hoped, would one day be his.

What this wonderful woman saw in Bartholomew, Thomas could not imagine. Like most women, Thomas thought, this beautiful being most likely married out of desperation. Perhaps pressured by her family, she was coaxed into making the wrong choice, before she had a chance to breath a bit and fall into a natural encounter wither her true, God-given love – which was, of course, Thomas. Luckily, God always gives a person a second chance, and Thomas felt confident that he would be able to win the lady over, if he could only get to talk with her alone!

So Thomas devised a plan. He would stay up all night, and then around an hour before sunrise, sneak onto that old, unbearable Bartholomew’s property and steal his bride away, and bring her back to his house. There, she would recognize how they were truly meant to be together, or so Thomas had hoped.

As planned, Thomas didn’t sleep a wink that night. He stayed up all night, staring up at the ceiling in his room, turning around his plans in his mind, flipping them left and right, backward and forward, like a cow patty on the stove top. He believed he had a foolproof plan worked out. First of all, Thomas knew that Bartholomew had dog. He had heard it multiple times, walking past the farm at night. In order to deal with that ordeal, Thomas would bring a chunk of cheese to feed it. Moreover, Thomas always knew that farmhouses usually croak and groan when you creep around them at night, so he made sure to wear his fluffy, rabbit-skin slippers so that he made as little noise as possible.

Taking these provisions, Thomas crawled out of his family’s farmhouse at some point he assumed was close to sunrise, before Bartholomew and his wife would wake up. Just in case, Thomas grabbed a knife from his family’s kitchen, and stuck it in the side of his pants. It made him feel manly.

Amongst the still chirping of crickets, Thomas crept through the road’s darkness, darting his way this way and that toward Bartholomew’s house. He saw a few frightening shadows, and drew his knife thinking they were street robbers, but they were just cows staring idly from behind a fence. Thomas never liked cows, but he sure liked their milk, and it would have been a shame to puncture one.

Eventually Thomas got to the property of big old Bartholomew. He started walking toward the field, when he heard a bark, and saw something start running forward at him from behind. Thomas turned around to see a big, black dog rushing at him. Quickly, Thomas grabbed his satchel and pulled out a chunk of cheese, throwing it at the dog. Smelling the food, the dog immediately stopped to sniff it more carefully. The dog then began to lick, and then cautiously taste the meal, completely forgetting about Thomas, who had then proceeded to keep running toward the farmhouse. He took one last look at the dog while running away. There was something familiar about the beast, but he couldn’t quite place his finger on what it was.

The front door was locked to him, as it usually was, but Thomas knew that the back door was probably open. Naturally, it was. Thomas quietly slipped through the back entrance and into the farmhouse, always careful to avoiding making too loud of steps as he edged himself forward in his fluffy slippers toward his bright goal in the shrouded night.

The house was two storeys high, and Thomas suspected that Big Bartholomew and his wife probably slept together, and did God knows what else, on the second floor. Thomas turned a hot red, imagining that arrogant buffoon next to that woman, his large, greasy hands wrapped around her body. He frowned, and continued forward, motivated by the promise that perhaps it would soon be his own greasy hands wrapped around his beloved.

Thomas found the stairs and began to ascend, taking care not to produce any creaks. Whenever a creak did inevitably ring out, he paused to wait for a few moments before continuing, lest a sequence of noises awakened the slumbering giant and his sleeping beauty.

Thomas finally came to the master bedroom. The door was slightly opened, allowing Thomas to just barely see the couple’s bed in the sparkling of the moonlight. Thomas persisted, and stepped into the room.

As soon as he entered, Thomas heard a voice.

“Stay where you are. Don’t move, boy.”

Thomas stood still, his face suddenly becoming very cold. It was Bartholomew himself.

“I heard the bitch making a fuss out there. I’m reckoning you threw some kind of meat out there to keep her distracted. Good thinking. But one thing you couldn’t guess was that old Bartholomew here has ears like a bat.”

Bartholomew snapped his fingers, and a bright flame appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, filling the room with a faint, shadowed illumination. Thomas saw that there was a candle sitting at a table nearby. It didn’t look like the wife was anywhere to be seen.

“Please, take a seat,” said Bartholomew, who Thomas now saw was holding a knife in one hand. Thomas began to panic.

“Don’t kill me sir! Please!” said Thomas, who then got on his knees and was begging. “I didn’t mean no harm! I was just lusting after your wife, is all! I didn’t mean to do you no harm!”

Bartholomew laughed. “Lusting after my wife? That dumb old bitch? Why, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard in a long time!” He then held his hand out. “Now, boy, hand over that knife.”

Thomas took a deep breath, reached into pocket, and grabbed the handle of his father’s knife that he had brought. He hesitated a moment before handing it over. Should he fight? No, Bartholomew was much larger than him, and, besides, they were in his house, and he had the advantage.

With a cautious reluctance, Thomas handed the knife over.

“Please, sir, don’t kill me. I’ll work on your farm, I’ll give you all my money! Just don’t kill me! I’m too young to die!”

“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll kill you, boy,“ said Bartholomew, grabbing the knife and sitting down on the side of the bed. “But you certainly need to explain yourself. Tell me again why you came here? You wanted to put a knife in my back and steal my woman?”

Thomas shook his head. “It’s not like that at all! I wasn’t going to lay a finger on you. I just wanted to take your wife away, and convince her that I was her true love.”

“You really thought that dumb idea was going to work?” asked Bartholomew, starting to chew on a handful of tobacco.

“I don’t know,” said Thomas, tears starting to stream down his eyes.

Bartholomew stuck his fingers in his mouth and gave a shrill whistle, and suddenly Thomas could hear eager footsteps begin to scurry their way into the farmhouse and up the stairs.

“Here’s the bitch right here,” said Bartholomew as the big, black dog entered his bedroom. She jumped up on the bed, and stood there, panting happily, looking up to her master wither her big, brown eyes.

“Sir, that’s not what I was talking about,” said Thomas. “I was talking about stealing your beautiful wife, not this here dog.”

With an ironic grin, Bartholomew patted the dog on her head. “Just wait a few moments, boy. Sunrise is almost here, then you’ll see more clearly in the light of the Lord.”

Just as Bartholomew said it, Thomas saw the first rays of the sun start to enter the farmhouse, snuffing out the power of the candle on the bedside table. Just as soon as the light hit the dog, Thomas was amazed to sees its shape morph into that of a young woman.

“This here is my dog,” said Bartholomew, spitting a wad of wet tobacco onto the floor. “But during the daytime she becomes my wife. It’s a simple bit of magic, boy.”

Thomas, still on his knees, stood, staring at the woman who just appeared before him, a woman who had just a few minutes before been a dog.

“I’m a wizard, boy,” said Bartholomew. “Don’t let anyone know it, or I’ll turn you into a toad. It gets mighty lonely out in these fields, and so I decided to make me a woman out of a dog.”

“I see,” said Thomas, a wild look in his eye.

“But I have plenty of dogs. If you want her, she’s yours,” said Bartholomew. “Just let that be a covenant between us, that you don’t go running your mouth about your friend Bartholomew the magician. Do you hear me?”

“I hear you sir.”

“You’re not going to tell anyone you pal Bartholomew is a magician?”

“I swear on my mother’s grave I won’t, sir. I won’t tell a single soul that my pal Bartholomew is a magician.”

Bartholomew pat the woman beside him on the head. “Very well. Alright, Molly, back to being a regular old doggy.”

Bartholomew snapped his fingers, and the woman turned back into the black dog. She started to lick the farmers hands.

Thomas went back home that morning, his new dog Molly following him close behind. She was very well behaved, and didn’t get distracted along the road, even when they were heckled by bothered cows and sheep.

When Thomas got back to the farm, his father was waiting for him on the front deck, his arms crossed and his eyebrows furrowed.

“What have you been doing all morning?” asked his father, sounding upset. “And where in Heaven did you get that dog?”

“Bartholomew the magician gave it to me,” said Thomas.

“You dumb boy, Bartholomew isn’t no magician, he’s just a good-for-nothing, two-bit wannabe landowner. Now, you go chase that dog away, or I’m going to whoop you, boy.”

Reluctantly, Thomas took the dog back to the country road. He sat down with it for a moment.

“I’m not sure if you can understand me or not,” said Thomas as he stroked the dog’s hairy head, “but you need to go back to your master now. Your true master, Bartholomew. You can’t stay with me anymore.” Thomas began to cry. “I just wanted you to know how much I loved you. Back when you were a human being, of course, not as an animal. Lord, were you purdy. But I guess all that beauty was just from the magic wasn’t it? It was just Bartholomew’s magic after all, huh boy?”

The dog enthusiastically licked Thomas’s face. He lurched back, disgusted.

“Yuck! I don’t need no dog slobber on my face. Get out of her, fella! Get!”

With tears in his eyes, Thomas pretended to attack the dog, trying to scare it off down the road. “Get out of here! I don’t want to see you no more!”

Whimpering, the dog ran back down the country road, occasionally looking back, its ears drooping down in confusion and shame.

Wiping a mixture of snot and tears onto his sleeve, Thomas returned to the farm to start his work for the day. He was extremely tired, and the entire world appeared to be vibrating with energy.

Back to the Writing Page

The Farmer’s Wife

The Farmer’s Wife
Forest Muran

There was no one Thomas hated more in town than Bartholomew.

Often, when carrying the fresh corn and carrots to the market, Thomas would pass Bartholomew’s farm, and would see his large, arrogant figure, hacking away at the land, or squeezing away at his groaning cattle. Bartholomew was always a little late to the market, and was always accompanied by his young wife. The couple rarely spoke any friendly words to the people of the town, and kept their conversation nearly exclusively to business. And yet, for some reason, everyone seemed to love the laconic farmer and his beautiful young wife. Thomas saw no sense in it at all, and sometimes it made him feel like he was going crazy.

There was definitely something suspicious about Bartholomew, and more than a few times Thomas considered that he might be a criminal from the city, trying to keep ahead of the law. It would explain why the couple rarely spoke to anyone, and Bartholomew’s strange style of speaking. Thomas had discussed this with his sisters on many occasions, but they could see no fault in the mysterious farmer. Instead, they criticized his wife, claiming that she had been sleeping around with men in the town, and that blessed Bartholomew was too pure of a soul to be wedded to her wicked self. That was too much for Thomas. There had never been any evidence to suggest what his sisters said were true, and he was sure they were just making things up because they favoured Bartholomew. It was enough to make Thomas want to kick a cow.

“He doesn’t say much, but my, what a soothing, deep voice he has!” exclaimed one of his sisters around the table one evening, in reference, naturally, to that obnoxious Bartholomew.

His other sister lit up. “And he speaks with such elegance! Truly, it would be Heaven to be married to that kind of man. Imagine having that wonderfully warm voice order you around, telling you to get to your housework, and to stop nibbling on the butter!” The second sister let out of a wistful sigh.

Thomas shook his head. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you two! There’s nothing great about that Bartholomew fellow.” He took a big bite out of a cob of corn, slimy butter running down his cheek. “He’s just another arrogant farmer who thinks he’s someone special because he owns a big chunk of land. Doesn’t mean anything! What matters is what’s in the heart, what God sees in you. That farmer is a mean fake, is what he is.”

“That’s not true! A lot of people could learn from how gentle and kind Bartholomew is,” protested the first sister. “Just looking into his big brown eyes is enough to make you want to fall in love!”

“Girls, stop your bothering and eat your corn,” called out their father, who was sitting around the corner on the front porch, watching the chickens copulate.

The second sister turned to Thomas and leered. “You’re just jealous of Bartholomew’s pretty wife, that’s all. Just like a man, just looking at a person’s beauty, never considering the amount of corn they pick, or how much land they own.”

“I am not jealous of Bartholomew’s wife!” said Thomas, his face burning red.

“You are! Yes you are!” jeered the first sister, sticking out her tongue.

“I’m not!” yelled Thomas, his face now the colour of a cock’s comb. “I’m not, I’m not! I don’t give a dang about her! I swear it on mother’s grave!”

“Boy!” came a loud exclamation from the front porch, “don’t you swear on your mother’s grave! Only a wicked child would say that. When you swear on your mother’s grave, you better be telling the truth! Otherwise Jesus is gonna whoop you!”

Thomas frowned. “I’m not in love with Bartholomew’s wife,” Thomas mumbled meekly, stabbing into a lonely corn kernel with his fork.

“Yeah, you are, too! You wish you could have a nice, slender, fair-haired wife like that, to stick your children into!” said the second sister. “Maybe you still have a chance too, knowing what folks are saying about the hussy.”

“You stop talking like that!” said Thomas, glaring up at his sister, hate in his eyes. “That Bartholomew’s wife – whatever her name is – is a celestial creature. She would never do nothing like that!”

As much as he may have tried to deny it with his sisters, there was no denying to himself that Thomas indeed had an attraction to Bartholomew’s pretty wife. He knew the rumours about her were unfounded, made up by ugly old wives hoping to discourage their husbands from lusting after her. Thomas knew, just from looking into those pure eyes of hers, crystal clear like no evil had ever passed beneath them, that this woman was a real one. Loyal, faithful, always by your side. Someone to watch over you. She was a creature of the Lord and, Thomas hoped, would one day be his.

What this wonderful woman saw in Bartholomew, Thomas could not imagine. Like most women, Thomas thought, this beautiful being most likely married out of desperation. Perhaps pressured by her family, she was coaxed into making the wrong choice, before she had a chance to breath a bit and fall into a natural encounter wither her true, God-given love – which was, of course, Thomas. Luckily, God always gives a person a second chance, and Thomas felt confident that he would be able to win the lady over, if he could only get to talk with her alone!

So Thomas devised a plan. He would stay up all night, and then around an hour before sunrise, sneak onto that old, unbearable Bartholomew’s property and steal his bride away, and bring her back to his house. There, she would recognize how they were truly meant to be together, or so Thomas had hoped.

As planned, Thomas didn’t sleep a wink that night. He stayed up all night, staring up at the ceiling in his room, turning around his plans in his mind, flipping them left and right, backward and forward, like a cow patty on the stove top. He believed he had a foolproof plan worked out. First of all, Thomas knew that Bartholomew had dog. He had heard it multiple times, walking past the farm at night. In order to deal with that ordeal, Thomas would bring a chunk of cheese to feed it. Moreover, Thomas always knew that farmhouses usually croak and groan when you creep around them at night, so he made sure to wear his fluffy, rabbit-skin slippers so that he made as little noise as possible.

Taking these provisions, Thomas crawled out of his family’s farmhouse at some point he assumed was close to sunrise, before Bartholomew and his wife would wake up. Just in case, Thomas grabbed a knife from his family’s kitchen, and stuck it in the side of his pants. It made him feel manly.

Amongst the still chirping of crickets, Thomas crept through the road’s darkness, darting his way this way and that toward Bartholomew’s house. He saw a few frightening shadows, and drew his knife thinking they were street robbers, but they were just cows staring idly from behind a fence. Thomas never liked cows, but he sure liked their milk, and it would have been a shame to puncture one.

Eventually Thomas got to the property of big old Bartholomew. He started walking toward the field, when he heard a bark, and saw something start running forward at him from behind. Thomas turned around to see a big, black dog rushing at him. Quickly, Thomas grabbed his satchel and pulled out a chunk of cheese, throwing it at the dog. Smelling the food, the dog immediately stopped to sniff it more carefully. The dog then began to lick, and then cautiously taste the meal, completely forgetting about Thomas, who had then proceeded to keep running toward the farmhouse. He took one last look at the dog while running away. There was something familiar about the beast, but he couldn’t quite place his finger on what it was.

The front door was locked to him, as it usually was, but Thomas knew that the back door was probably open. Naturally, it was. Thomas quietly slipped through the back entrance and into the farmhouse, always careful to avoiding making too loud of steps as he edged himself forward in his fluffy slippers toward his bright goal in the shrouded night.

The house was two storeys high, and Thomas suspected that Big Bartholomew and his wife probably slept together, and did God knows what else, on the second floor. Thomas turned a hot red, imagining that arrogant buffoon next to that woman, his large, greasy hands wrapped around her body. He frowned, and continued forward, motivated by the promise that perhaps it would soon be his own greasy hands wrapped around his beloved.

Thomas found the stairs and began to ascend, taking care not to produce any creaks. Whenever a creak did inevitably ring out, he paused to wait for a few moments before continuing, lest a sequence of noises awakened the slumbering giant and his sleeping beauty.

Thomas finally came to the master bedroom. The door was slightly opened, allowing Thomas to just barely see the couple’s bed in the sparkling of the moonlight. Thomas persisted, and stepped into the room.

As soon as he entered, Thomas heard a voice.

“Stay where you are. Don’t move, boy.”

Thomas stood still, his face suddenly becoming very cold. It was Bartholomew himself.

“I heard the bitch making a fuss out there. I’m reckoning you threw some kind of meat out there to keep her distracted. Good thinking. But one thing you couldn’t guess was that old Bartholomew here has ears like a bat.”

Bartholomew snapped his fingers, and a bright flame appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, filling the room with a faint, shadowed illumination. Thomas saw that there was a candle sitting at a table nearby. It didn’t look like the wife was anywhere to be seen.

“Please, take a seat,” said Bartholomew, who Thomas now saw was holding a knife in one hand. Thomas began to panic.

“Don’t kill me sir! Please!” said Thomas, who then got on his knees and was begging. “I didn’t mean no harm! I was just lusting after your wife, is all! I didn’t mean to do you no harm!”

Bartholomew laughed. “Lusting after my wife? That dumb old bitch? Why, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard in a long time!” He then held his hand out. “Now, boy, hand over that knife.”

Thomas took a deep breath, reached into pocket, and grabbed the handle of his father’s knife that he had brought. He hesitated a moment before handing it over. Should he fight? No, Bartholomew was much larger than him, and, besides, they were in his house, and he had the advantage.

With a cautious reluctance, Thomas handed the knife over.

“Please, sir, don’t kill me. I’ll work on your farm, I’ll give you all my money! Just don’t kill me! I’m too young to die!”

“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll kill you, boy,“ said Bartholomew, grabbing the knife and sitting down on the side of the bed. “But you certainly need to explain yourself. Tell me again why you came here? You wanted to put a knife in my back and steal my woman?”

Thomas shook his head. “It’s not like that at all! I wasn’t going to lay a finger on you. I just wanted to take your wife away, and convince her that I was her true love.”

“You really thought that dumb idea was going to work?” asked Bartholomew, starting to chew on a handful of tobacco.

“I don’t know,” said Thomas, tears starting to stream down his eyes.

Bartholomew stuck his fingers in his mouth and gave a shrill whistle, and suddenly Thomas could hear eager footsteps begin to scurry their way into the farmhouse and up the stairs.

“Here’s the bitch right here,” said Bartholomew as the big, black dog entered his bedroom. She jumped up on the bed, and stood there, panting happily, looking up to her master wither her big, brown eyes.

“Sir, that’s not what I was talking about,” said Thomas. “I was talking about stealing your beautiful wife, not this here dog.”

With an ironic grin, Bartholomew patted the dog on her head. “Just wait a few moments, boy. Sunrise is almost here, then you’ll see more clearly in the light of the Lord.”

Just as Bartholomew said it, Thomas saw the first rays of the sun start to enter the farmhouse, snuffing out the power of the candle on the bedside table. Just as soon as the light hit the dog, Thomas was amazed to sees its shape morph into that of a young woman.

“This here is my dog,” said Bartholomew, spitting a wad of wet tobacco onto the floor. “But during the daytime she becomes my wife. It’s a simple bit of magic, boy.”

Thomas, still on his knees, stood, staring at the woman who just appeared before him, a woman who had just a few minutes before been a dog.

“I’m a wizard, boy,” said Bartholomew. “Don’t let anyone know it, or I’ll turn you into a toad. It gets mighty lonely out in these fields, and so I decided to make me a woman out of a dog.”

“I see,” said Thomas, a wild look in his eye.

“But I have plenty of dogs. If you want her, she’s yours,” said Bartholomew. “Just let that be a covenant between us, that you don’t go running your mouth about your friend Bartholomew the magician. Do you hear me?”

“I hear you sir.”

“You’re not going to tell anyone you pal Bartholomew is a magician?”

“I swear on my mother’s grave I won’t, sir. I won’t tell a single soul that my pal Bartholomew is a magician.”

Bartholomew pat the woman beside him on the head. “Very well. Alright, Molly, back to being a regular old doggy.”

Bartholomew snapped his fingers, and the woman turned back into the black dog. She started to lick the farmers hands.

Thomas went back home that morning, his new dog Molly following him close behind. She was very well behaved, and didn’t get distracted along the road, even when they were heckled by bothered cows and sheep.

When Thomas got back to the farm, his father was waiting for him on the front deck, his arms crossed and his eyebrows furrowed.

“What have you been doing all morning?” asked his father, sounding upset. “And where in Heaven did you get that dog?”

“Bartholomew the magician gave it to me,” said Thomas.

“You dumb boy, Bartholomew isn’t no magician, he’s just a good-for-nothing, two-bit wannabe landowner. Now, you go chase that dog away, or I’m going to whoop you, boy.”

Reluctantly, Thomas took the dog back to the country road. He sat down with it for a moment.

“I’m not sure if you can understand me or not,” said Thomas as he stroked the dog’s hairy head, “but you need to go back to your master now. Your true master, Bartholomew. You can’t stay with me anymore.” Thomas began to cry. “I just wanted you to know how much I loved you. Back when you were a human being, of course, not as an animal. Lord, were you purdy. But I guess all that beauty was just from the magic wasn’t it? It was just Bartholomew’s magic after all, huh boy?”

The dog enthusiastically licked Thomas’s face. He lurched back, disgusted.

“Yuck! I don’t need no dog slobber on my face. Get out of her, fella! Get!”

With tears in his eyes, Thomas pretended to attack the dog, trying to scare it off down the road. “Get out of here! I don’t want to see you no more!”

Whimpering, the dog ran back down the country road, occasionally looking back, its ears drooping down in confusion and shame.

Wiping a mixture of snot and tears onto his sleeve, Thomas returned to the farm to start his work for the day. He was extremely tired, and the entire world appeared to be vibrating with energy.

Back to the Writing Page

Tie Noose Noose Tie

Tie Noose Noose Tie
Forest Muran

He jumped out of bed, still dressed in his wrinkled, black blazer. No time to change before sleep. Quickly, he rushed to the bathroom and examined his moustache in the mirror. It got slightly bent in the night, and bristles were sharply pointing out here and there, but that was OK. Nothing a little moustache wax couldn’t fix. He lightly wet his hands, and then spread his fingers through his jet black hair.

Stern stood still in front of the foggy, fractured mirror, examining himself. Wonderful – that will do. Looking like a prince.

Everyday before work, Stern sat down at his coffee table and read the newspaper. Today there was something in the paper about a nun who rushed into a burning church to save a child. Stern nodded his head in approval. It was a pleasant story, and made his heart feel warm, like a bowl of tomato soup. There was something else, too, some propaganda piece about the inefficacy of the Minister. Not worth Stern’s time, not worth looking at. Furrowing his brows, Stern took a long, consternated sip of his morning orange juice.

“Heya Stern,” said Brunu, taking a seat next to his friend and stretching in the morning light. “You’re up bright and early this morning!”

Stern gave a curt jerk of his head. “Yes. Of course, Brunu. I am up early every morning. I need to be up early to do my job. The Minister is disappointed when I am late.”

Brunu smiled warmly, nodding his head. “Yes, you’re right. It’s good that you’re always up so early.” Brunu got up and started to make some breakfast toast. “What’s up in the paper today?”

Stern grunted. “Lots of news, Brunu. First, a nun has saved a child from fire at church. Fantastic. All else is mere propaganda garbage. I hate the news, Brunu.”

Plopping two slices of slick bread into the silver toaster, Brunu nodded sympathetically. “You don’t need to read all those negative articles. If people knew the Minister like you knew him, they wouldn’t be saying such mean things.”

Stern snorted. “You’re telling me. Brunu.” He shrugged his shoulders and continued to read.

As Brunu was starting to spread jam across his now toasted bread, he suddenly turned his wide, wet eyes to look at his friend. “Oh! I almost forgot. I need to do some grocery shopping this morning. I’m preparing something special for dinner. Do you mind if I borrow the car for a second? I’ll bring it back in a minute.”

Stern cast a curious look at Brunu from the corner of his dark eyes. “Something special. Brunu, what are you planning.”

Brunu sat down at his seat, placing a white plate with two slices of bread down in front of him. He turned his head and smiled mischievously. “That’s a secret, Stern. So what about me borrowing the car? Huh?”

“I have work today. You know that.”

Brunu let out a deep, discontented sigh. “I know that, but I really need to go a long distance today into the city! Come on, Stern. Please?” He leaned his head in closer to Stern, opening a gaping grin, white like a keyboard. “Please?”

Sighing, Stern plopped the paper down on the dinning room table. “OK. OK. You may take the car. Looks like I’ll just have to crack out the old bicycle.”

A bright, beaming smile broke out across Brunu’s face, and he leaned in to gave Stern a big hug. “Oh, thank you so much! Thank you, thank you!”

“It is no problem at all,” said Stern, pushing his friend away. “The hug is, after all, unnecessary. You are buying something special for dinner, no?”

“Yes, Stern,” said Brunu, a rapturous twinkle dancing around the centre of his dilated, black pupil. “Yes I am.”

Stern rose from the table, brushing a few drops of orange juice from his well-waxed moustache.

“Well, I can’t keep the Minister waiting,” said Stern. He gave a polite nod of the head to his friend. “I’ll see you this evening. Here are the car keys.”

At that, Stern threw the car keys in Brunu’s direction, and went to exit straight through the front door of the house to go find his old bicycle.

***

The bicycle ride was pleasant enough. Stern hadn’t ridden this kind of device in years, so getting the bike working in the first place took a few clumsy stumbles and scratches, but eventually he got it going. It felt wonderful to feel the wind in his face again, an experience you don’t quite get when driving the car, or at least not in the same way. Stern felt so free, and he even took the liberty to ring his joyful bicycle bell a few times when passing by tardy pedestrians.

“Beep beep, Stern coming through,” he said as he rang the bicycle bell. “Beep beep.”

***

Finally, after a half hour’s leisurely ride through suburban greens and sunny parks, Stern arrived at the city’s marvellous parliament building. He left his bicycle by the side of the front steps, and proudly ascended toward that profound edifice. The parliament building was massive, and always filled Stern with a sense of awe, like he was staring into the face of some great, ultimately incomprehensible mythological monster.

The Minister was standing in the middle of the courtyard, holding his hands formally before his groin. He had a profoundly grim expression on his face, which contrasted with his colourful makeup and round bowler hat which made him look like a polite Pierrot. When the Minister caught sight of Stern, he raised his hand in courteous acknowledgement.

“Ah, Stern. I was waiting for you,” said the Minister. “You’re late.”

“Yes,” said Stern, bowing gracefully. “Forgive me, Minister. For I was late today. I know you were waiting for me.”

“That’s OK,” said the Minister, waving his black glove. “You’re a good man and a good employee. I just want you to arrive on time.”

“I’m sorry sir, it won’t happen again.”

The Minister raised one of his gloved hands, revealing that he was clasping a golden tie, not yet knotted. “So. I have a job for you.”

Stern nodded his head, and then approached the Minister. He raised both his expert hands, retrieving the tie from the Minister, and with great focus wrapped it around his subject’s neck. With his eyes narrowing like a master bowman, Stern honed in on the fine details of the knot and its relation to the delicate skin of the Minister. Employing every element of his expertise, Stern’s nimble hands worked delicately, and fast, and finally managed to fasten a perfect, proud, bulbous knot around the Minister’s thick, regal neck.

Stern stepped back to assess his job. He stroked his pointed beard and narrowed his expert eyes.

The Minister also looked down, and caressed the new knot in his hand. “As expected, absolutely perfect. That’s great.”

Stern nodded. “Well, that’s what I do best. I tie nooses around the criminals, and I tie ties around the -”

Stern paused for a moment, as though her forgot what he was going to say. He held an unsteady hand to his forehead. Then, just like he had been hurled back into reality, Stern came back to his senses and managed to finish his sentence – “around the Minister.”

“Excellent,” said the Minister, clasping his gloved hands together, producing a dull patting sound. “Coming along very nicely. So, I have another job for you.”

Stern let out a deep chuckle. “So. How many criminals do we have today?”

“Well, I’ve counted around 600 criminals out there in the warehouse, just waiting for you to tie some nooses.”

“Well, I better get to work,” said Stern, furrowing his serious brows sternly.

The Minister smiled, and gave Stern an encouraging pat on the back, as he sent him off toward the Criminal Warehouse to take care of the second phase of his job. The Minister’s touch was strong and confident, and reassured Stern, as it always did, that things were all taken care of. There was nothing to worry about, so long as Stern did his job, and he did it well.

***

“I’m here to tie the nooses,” said Stern as he approached the guard at the front of the warehouse.

The guard, a young woman with dark glasses, was chewing bubble gum brashly. Sceptically, she looked the suspicious man over. There was something about this excessively formal man and his unplaceable foreign accent that she just couldn’t trust. She went through these motions every work day with him.

“Name?” she asked, leering at his from under her thick eyelids.

“Stern,” said Stern. He shrugged his shoulders. “What more do you want.”

The woman also shrugged her shoulders. “You can go in. I guess.” She pressed a big, blue button on the board in front of her, causing a great wall to open up, giving Stern access to the Criminal Warehouse.

“Thanks,” said Stern, nodding to the woman. She just continued to glare at him, popping pink bubble gum, as he entered the warehouse.

Inside, Stern took in a breath of that familiar scent. It was the smell of justice, and organization. Like the smell of a well curated legal library. He saw 600 young men lined up in a single file, each one chained to the other, starting at one end of the warehouse and ending at the other. Each of them had a look on their face of almost comical misery, like someone had just shot their dog and was forcing them to smell its dead body. Stern chuckled to himself. It was a lot of people to get through in a single day, but, after all, it was what Stern did best. He tied nooses around the criminals.

Stern clapped his hands together. He would start from the very beginning. Grabbing a handful of dry rope from a nearby crate, Stern approached the first criminal.

“Hello, fellow,” said Stern, looking up at the first criminal, a tall, muscular man with intensely despondent eyes. “I am the noose tier. I will tie your noose. Are there any questions?”

“Yes,” said the tall man in shrill, nervous tone. “Why are you doing this? I haven’t done anything. Let me speak with my dad, he’ll be able to tell you what happened! He’ll defend me!”

Stern laughed. “Everyone is nervous when they go to the gallows for the first time! Relax. Piece of cake, fellow!”

The criminal looked around nervously. Like all the criminals, he appeared uncomfortable, his face dripping with acidic sweat. Both his legs and hands were already tightly chained, restricting movement, and the criminal itched all over. “Why am I first? Out of all the hundreds behind me? Why are they making me do it first?”

As Stern skillfully threw the noose around the criminal’s neck, he just shook his head. “Someone must be first, always. Every day it is the same. One man is first. He always asks ‘why am I first’? Same thing, no change. You are today’s man. Life continues on.” Stern let out an ironic snort. “Maybe not for you!”

Just like with the tie knotted around the Minister’s neck, Stern expert touch transformed the formation of a noose formed from rough rope into a work of technical art. No one could loop rope so skillfully as Stern, and anyone watching his current work would gasp at the intricacies of his movements, the thousands of little loops he made which culminated in the final, grand, graceful, foreboding noose. A perfectly tight, inextricable sphere.

The criminal grimaced in pain as Stern tightened the firm rope.

“No need to overreact,” said Stern. “This is not the big moment. I am just testing the rope’s durability. It is durable. You are ready for next step.”

Stern gave the criminal a hardy slap on the back, and making a brisk snap with his fingers, called out to a guard standing nearby. “OK,” Stern yelled. “Let’s get this show on the road!”

Just like that, Stern worked through each of the criminals one by one, repeating his same artful process with each of the accused, and then sending them with the stand-by guard to seal their fate at the outside gallows. Sometimes spectators gathered watched these performances, but usually the parliamentary court in which they took place was entirely empty, save for a few wandering butterflies seeking after voluptuous flowers. Stern of course never got to experience the pleasure of a midsummer’s execution. He was always the one behind the scenes, breaking a sweat, sacrificing his own pleasure so that the wheel of society might continue turning in an organized manner. So that those dangerous criminals could be eradicated from the city’s encompassing mind quickly, elegantly, and permanently.

At lunch Stern took a brief break to eat a hot dog, and then carried on tying nooses around the necks of the remaining criminals .

At the end of the day, 600 criminals later, Stern brushed his hands off each other, and faint trace of rope dust puffing off of them into the stuffy warehouse atmosphere.

“Job well done. Another day done. After all, I am a professional.”

Now it was time to return home, like always. And this time, Brunu would surely have a special treat waiting for him. Remembering Brunu’s promise that he would be cooking a special dinner, Stern hopped on his bicycle and sped home as fast as he could.

***

When Stern arrived, Brunu wasn’t even there. What’s more, Brunu never showed up at the house at all that night. When Stern arrived back home on his old bicycle, he noticed with a puzzled look that the car was still missing from their driveway. As a result, Stern spent much of the evening sitting at his dinning table, newspaper in hand, waiting for his friend to return. Stern believed that at any moment, Brunu would surely come bursting through the front door, holding a plate full of lobster, or borscht, or salmon, or whatever kind of delicacy he was planning, and enthusiastically place it on the table in front of him. But as the sun began to set beneath the dark city skyline, Stern started to doubt whether his friend would ever return.

“It looks like Brunu will not be showing up tonight,” said Stern, looking over to his wife. There was no response.

Stern sat alone in the dark kitchen, growing frustrated as the sun dimmed and he struggled to read the print in the paper. “My God. Will someone please turn on those damn lights?” Stern’s request was met with an eery silence, like the silence one hears in a graveyard. “Honey? Will you turn on those stupid lights?” Silence, silence again. Stern shrugged his shoulders. It looked like like everyone was abandoning him that night.

Later, Stern took his newspaper into the living room, where he was able to capture some orange light shining from a streetlamp outside the window. Straining his eyes just enough, Stern was able to make out a very interesting article about a nun who saved a child from a burning church. Stern nodded his head in approval. “Very good.”

Eventually, Stern thought he heard his wife call out to him in the darkness of the house. “What’s that, honey? Did you ask me to play with the kids? Sorry, I’m busy. I’m busy reading the paper. I’ll play with the kids later.” Under the buzzing electrical light, Stern continued reading in silence, though secretly hoping he would catch a wisp of his wife asking another impossible request, if only so he wouldn’t feel so strangely lonely. But that strange silence persisted, and Stern got that lonely feeling of being haunted by ghosts.

Eventually it came time for Stern to go to bed. He could tell by the way his eyes began to water, and force themselves to fall shut. Brunu still hadn’t returned home, and this greatly upset Stern, as he was used to Brunu making him some sleepy time tea before he headed to bed. It was very difficult for Stern to get to sleep properly without the aid of his sleepy time tea. In great frustration, he laid himself back down on his bed, still fully dressed in his tattered blazer, which was full of all kinds of rips and rents. Stern turned over in bed one last time to lay his eyes on his beautiful wife. Unfortunately, because no one in the damned house had bothered to turn the lights on, he was unable to see her, and could only feel the vague presence of her body beside him in bed.

“Goodnight honey,” said Stern languidly. She must have been upset with him, since she still didn’t respond. There was still only that haunting silence.

Stern tried his best to get to sleep. But no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t. Suddenly, now in bed, he didn’t feel tired at all. His eyes wouldn’t even close properly. Stern kept rolling around in bed, with images of the Minister’s gloves and the sunken, forlorn faces of criminals looping around in his head. He thought about Brunu, and how he wanted to borrow the car, and how he had so gently spread jam on his toast that morning. Stern was filled with admiration for how efficient Brunu usually was when it came to spreading jam, and how he rarely spilled any on the kitchen counter. Where had the damned fool gone? Where was Stern’s sweet Brunu with his sleepy time tea?

“Stern,” came a whispering voice in the darkness of the night.

Stern tried to ignore it, turning back around in bed.

“Stern,” came the voice again. It was long, drawn out. Ghostly. Stern sighed, placing a frustrated hand over his exposed ear to block out the sound.

“Stern?”

Stern got up straight in bed, and looked angrily around the dark room. “OK. Who is there. Can’t you see that my honey is trying to get some rest?”

Then, out of the corner of his eye, Stern saw a pale, round, face poking up from behind the glass in his window. The face had a wide smile, with white teeth like an angel’s wings, and was staring intensely at Stern with bright, glowing eyes.

It was Brunu!

“Stern,” started the voice again, “It is I, the ghost of Brunu.”

“Brunu! Can’t you see my wife is trying to get some rest?” Stern fell back down into bed, shutting his eyes tightly, hoping the distraction would go away.

But it didn’t.

Brunu persisted. “I got into a car accident earlier today. That’s why I never came home from shopping with our special meal. I was about to leave this mortal world forever, but then I realized that I wanted to say goodbye to you. So here I am, Stern. My final words to you.”

Stern pretended to be asleep and exaggerated the sound of snoring, blowing gusts of hot air through his flapping moustache.

“I know you’re still awake,” said Brunu. “I can tell when you’re fake sleeping. You still haven’t had your sleepy time tea, have you?”

Stern grunted. “I am sleeping, Brunu. Please. Goodnight.”

“Stern, I have something I wanted to say to you.”

Stern said nothing, and continued to pretend to snore.

Brunu cast his eyes down, sheepishly. “The truth is, I’m not actually a ghost. I just said that because – well, to be honest, I just wanted to see if you would miss me. It’s selfish, I know, and I’m beginning to regret it. But I wanted to know, for a fact, if you appreciated all the things that I do for you.”

Stern groaned, then rolled over onto his stomach, and held his white pillow over his head.

“I missed you. I really missed you, Stern,” said Brunu. “That’s why I had to come back. I realized something. You’re my best friend in the whole world, you know that, Stern?”

Stern got back up out of bed, and turned his head sharply to look at the spectral, hovering digital letters on a nearby clock. It was almost three in the morning.

“Brunu. Look what time it is. Please, leave me alone. I work in an hour.”

***

Utterly exhausted, Stern was not feeling himself that morning. Looking at himself in the mirror during his daily ritual, he could tell that much. His had immense dark circles under his eyes, his hair was a mess, and his moustache was sticking out in all sorts of unexpected directions. He looked like a corpse resurrected from the dead. Stern wet his fingers and stroked his hands through his jet black hair. Despite this, his hair still resembled a dusty tumbleweed, and he decided it was time to move on. After all, he still had a job to do.

In the kitchen, Stern picked up the paper. He opened up the first page, saw something about a nun saving a child from a burning church, but he couldn’t be sure. Stern was finding it to be incredibly difficult to concentrate, and the words kept jumbling themselves up in his brain. He didn’t sleep at all last night, and it felt like his brain was on fire.

Stern quickly put the newspaper down, and tested his orange juice. He smacked his lips together. There was something strange about it. Stern looked in the mug to see a sickly, black molasses-like substance.

“Disgusting!” said Stern, knocking the cup over, onto the floor. In his tired stupor, Stern had accidentally brewed a cup of coffee, instead of pouring his regular orange juice. He started rubbing his tongue with his hand, trying to get rid of the unpleasant, coffee bean taste.

“Looks like you’re having a rough morning,” said Brunu, who sat down next Stern with a smile on his face. “What’s up in the paper today?”

Stern just glared at Brunu. “I must get to work. I don’t want to be late and disappoint the Minister.”

Stern got up walked straight for the front door, not bothering about the cup of coffee he just knocked over.

“Wait, Stern!” called out Brunu. “You forgot the keys to the car!”

But it was too late. Stern had already grabbed hold of the sturdy frame of his old bicycle, and hopped on, ringing the bell all the way down the neighbourhood road.

***

This time, the bicycle ride was incredibly unpleasant. Hardly remembering how he managed to operate the thing the day before, Stern kept felling over as he rode his bike, and even crashed into a child who was walking his dog. Across some of the rougher terrain, Stern had to dismount his bike and roll it along beside him, cursing all the way. Stern felt trapped and frustrated by his inability to operate the bicycle, and furrowed his eyebrows in consternation for the entirety of the trip, ringing the bike bell aggressively at passive passerby.

“Beep beep,” said Stern, a scowl on his face. “Beep beep. It’s the noose tier coming through. Get out of my way!”

Seeing the wild look in his eye, no one dared to get anywhere near Stern.

***

Finally, after an hour of bumping along the paved suburban roads, Stern finally arrived back at the parliamentary building. He dropped his bicycle, kicking it onto the grass, and stomped his way forward, toward the lusty, looming structure. Today, as Stern walked into the parliament building, he had a distinct impression of behind swallowed up by a great, ominous mouth.

Like usual, the Minister was standing in the middle of the courtyard. This time, Stern’s both seemed somewhat disturbed. He kept impatiently tapping a large brown shoe against the courtyard grass. He raised a gloved hand to check his watch. When the Minister caught sight of Stern, hobbling down the stone stairway into the courtyard, he set his arms akimbo and shook his head.

“Stern,” said the Minister. “You’re late.”

Stern froze. He wasn’t entirely sure what to do next. For some reason, he had forgotten the order in which he usually did his job. Did he tie ties around the criminals, or ties around the Minister? What’s more, did he tie nooses around the Minister, or nooses around the criminals? How could he forget? This was his expertise, something he did every day, day in and day out. But now, for some inexplicable reason, after a rough night’s rest, Stern was finding it very difficult to concentrate.

But he needed to make a decision, fast. He couldn’t just leave the Minister waiting.

After failing to receive a response, the Minister just shook his head again, and glared disapprovingly at Stern. “It’s alright. You don’t need to say a thing. You’re a good man and a good employee. I just want you to arrive on time.”

What was he supposed to tie around the Minister’s neck? A noose or a tie? The answer was on the tip of his tongue.

“I’m sorry sir. It will not happen again.”

“So, I have a job for you,” said the Minister, now raising a gloved hand. In it he revealed a golden tie, not yet knotted.

Stern took a deep breath. Not wanting to embarrass himself in front of his employer, he decided to trust his intuition and do what felt right. Stern took the Minister’s golden tie in his hand, and began wrapping it around the Minister’s thick neck.

Although Stern was usually known for his intense focus and technical precision when it came to tying knots, this time he was finding it difficult to focus. Stern’s eyes were heavy, and his brain felt like it was spinning around in his head, trying to find a solid place to rest. With his eyes narrowing like a drunk trying to convince everyone of his sobriety, Stern began to tie a tight noose knot around the Minister’s neck. His hands, however, felt clumsy, like they were recovering from being immobilized by the freezing cold. Nevertheless, Stern tried his best, and after a minute had managed to tie a reasonably sturdy noose knot.

Stern pulled the noose tight, and then took a step back to appraise his work.

The Minister began to cough, and pulled at the asphyxiating tie with his black gloves. “Ack – Stern! That’s a little too tight for this guy!”

Stern nodded. “Well, that’s what I do best. I tie ties around the criminals, and I tie nooses around the Minister.”

The Minister winced in suffocating pain and shook his head. “No! Stern, come back here. That’s not right!”

Stern let out a deep chuckle. “That is how it is here. We tie nooses around the Minister. Some say it is not right. I say, ‘it is just a job’. Please, do not think too hard about it. Just enjoy the show and feel happy.”

The Minister could no longer project his voice beyond a thin hiss of air, and each time he tried to extricate himself, the knot became tighter and tighter. Finally, Minister collapsed to the ground, his face quickly turning a bloated purple.

Stern wiped his hands together, proudly. “Job well done. After all, I am a professional.” Stern adjusted his tie, feeling like he was getting back into the swing of things. “Next, time to find some criminals to tie some ties around.”

Stern left the courtyard and headed toward where he remembered the Criminal Warehouse was located. He stopped for a minute, and then reversed his path, realizing the warehouse was actually in the completely opposite direction. How could he keep making mistakes like that? As he made his was back, Stern walked by the Minister, who was spasming around on the ground, for a second time. Stern smiled as he passed by his employer, who was wheezing, his eyes bulging out like white eggs. The Minister clawed helplessly with his black gloves toward Stern.

Stern just laughed, knitting his heavy eyebrows. “OK! Let’s get this show on the road!”

***

“I’m here to tie the ties,” said Stern as he approached the guard at the front of the warehouse.

The guard was the same bubble gum gnashing girl in dark glasses as before. This time she was reading a comic book, and barely even looked up at Stern.

“Name?” she asked as she popped a bothersome bubble.

“Stern,” said Stern. He shrugged his shoulders. “What more do you want.”

The woman also shrugged her shoulders, and flipped a page in her book. “You can go in. I suppose.” She pressed a big, blue button on the board in front of her, causing a great wall to open up. Looking into the opened warehouse, Stern could see what looked to be around 800 criminals standing around, stretching from one end of the warehouse to the other.

“Thanks,” said Stern, giving the woman a formal nod, although she couldn’t see it. She just continued to peruse her comic book and chew bubble gum.

Inside, Stern tried to take in the familiar scent of justice, but instead he was just met with the putrid stench of concentrated, unwashed male bodies. There was no doubt about it. It was the smell of a Criminal Warehouse. He saw what looked to be 800 young men lined up in a single file. It was quite a larger number from what he had handled the day before, but Stern was ready for anything, even if he was forced to work overtime. After all, that’s what he did best. He tied ties around the criminals. Right? Wasn’t that what he tied around the criminals?

Stern clapped his hands together. He would start from the very beginning. Grabbing a handful of rope from a nearby crate, Stern approached the first criminal.

“Hello, fellow,” said Stern, looking up at the first criminal of the day, a thin man with a big mouth. “I am the tie tier. I will tie your tie, and make you look beautiful. Perfect for your big date, huh?”

The young man stared at Stern, hatred burning in his dark, damaged eyes. “You people are scum. Everyone knows it. You have the nerve to condemn innocent people without trial, and then go around making jokes about their death. I swear on my dear mother’s grave, I have done absolutely nothing to deserve any of this. Someday you’ll all pay, mark my words.”

Stern laughed, and patted the criminal on the back. “Don’t be so modest, fellow! You have done plenty to deserve your big moment. Don’t worry, my friend. I will make you look beautiful for your first date. You know, that’s how I met my wife.”

The criminal began to breath heavily, like a wounded animal. He gushed out stinging sweat under the tension of his bound legs and hands. “I just want you to know, I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of what you and the Minister will end up doing to this city if things don’t change. I’m afraid for the suffering that you are going to cause thousands upon thousands of innocent people.” The young man paused, looking over Stern’s slumped, haggard body. “How can you even sleep at night?”

Stern laughed, and then wrapped the rough rope around the criminal’s head. “We do what we can. We are all a valuable part of society. The Minister makes the laws, the guards catch the criminals, and I tie the ties around the criminal’s necks and make them look beautiful. Trust me, my friend. I am a professional. I know what I am doing. You will be looking like a prince out there.”

Just like with the noose he had tied around the Minister earlier, Stern was finding it difficult to concentrate. It’s a funny thing, being tired. You can perform the exact same actions day in and day out, but as soon as you have one rough night, everything seems like it gets thrown out of order. Still, Stern was starting to feel a bit more confident in himself, and when he had finished tying the tie, he took a step back to assess it. Not Stern’s best work by any means, but certainly still of a highly professional quality.

The criminal breathed a sigh of relief as Stern released his hands and stepped away.

“That’s it? This noose doesn’t feel too tight at all!”

Stern simply raised a hand. “No, no. An ideal tie should not be too tight, nor too loose. A perfect tie knot balances on threshold between two discomforts. It transcends both. A perfect tie knot exists in a realm of perfect equanimity. Perfect balance. This, I do for you. After all, am I not a professional.”

The criminal let out a brief chuckle. Then a louder laugh. Then he burst out in an explosive uproar. “Fantastic! Yes, you truly are a professional! I’ve never been so happy with a noose tied around my neck in my life! You are certainly representative of the profound competence of the Minister’s regime! With nooses tied this well, how could the empire ever fall?”

Stern held his hands together, humbled, and gave the criminal a warm smile. “That is very kind of you to say. I do my best.”

Stern then patted the grinning criminal on the back, who was gladly led by the guard toward the entrance to the gallows. Already, the other 799 criminals behind him were growing increasingly excited, and a hushed murmur started to spread amongst them, like the sound of rats scuttling across the floor. If this noose tier tied each of their ties as loosely as that first one, then there was a chance they could all escape execution, and rush back into the city to see their friends and families. Of course, Stern was oblivious to their plotting, and simply carried on with work as usual.

Cooped up in the Criminal Warehouse, Stern was unable to witness the mass panic that was unfolding outside, as criminals slipped out of their nooses, broke their leg bindings, and ran free into the open courtyard. All the parliamentary guards were called to rush around and try and catch the criminals. Unfortunately, because security breaches were unheard of in the parliament building, none of the building’s guards were actually armed. As a result, almost all of the criminals managed to escape back into the city’s maze of alleys, parks, and forests. Almost all 800 of them.

At lunch Stern took a brief break to eat a hot dog bun, and then carried forward with the second half of the warehouse. The criminals could hardly contain their enthusiasm when Stern would walk up to the, and began wrapping the dry rope around their neck.

At the end of the day, and 800 criminals later, Stern brushed his hands off each other.

“Job well done. Another day done. After all, I am a professional.”

Now it was time to return home, like always. Stern was pleased with himself, since, even though he felt exhausted and could hardly think straight, he had proved that a determined work ethic and a sense of professional responsibility can carry you through even the most difficult of times. Surely, the Minister would be very pleased with him.

***

When Stern returned home that evening, he felt a deep delight upon seeing Brunu sitting at the kitchen table, sucking on a spoonful of tomato soup. After the panic of the night before, Stern felt immensely touched by the familiar face of his friend. Besides that, he could rest assured that tonight he would sleep soundly after a warm cup of sleepy time tea, prepared by the eternally protective Brunu.

Brunu looked up from the table when he saw Stern enter. Surrounding Brunu, Stern could see plates of all kinds of hot, delicious foods, from salmon to shrimp to potato salads. Stern’s mouth began to water, and so did his eyes as he thought about how thankful he was to have a full, hardy meal after such a long day.

“Ah, Stern! You’re back!Welcome back home!”

Stern nodded sternly, and sat down at the table, stretching out his weary limbs. “Good to be back, Brunu.” Stern then yelled out into the empty house, “hi honey! I’m home!”

Brunu spread his hands to present the warm plates surrounding him. “I cooked you dinner.”

Stern was silent for a moment. He couldn’t help but break a smile. “Oh,” he said.

“Did you read about the criminal leak at the parliament building?” asked Brunu. “Lots of trouble brewing in the city it looks like.”

Stern shook his head, his heavy features now overcome by a sudden air of frustration. “I always tell you Brunu, do not pay attention to that negative propaganda. Those people do not know the Minister like I do. He is a good man. An honest man..”

Brunu nodded his head, and cast his eyes down. “Yes, a very good man,” he said, his voice trailing off, and though the sentence had no real meaning.

Soon after, Stern and Brunu began to dig into their meals, enjoying every second of this rare treat. After a regular diet consisting mostly of tea and hot dogs, the taste of sumptuous salmon and puffy potato salad brought a tears to Stern’s eyes. Brunu too seemed to be enjoying himself, and hardly spoke a word throughout the entire meal.

As the sun began to set, the kitchen grew dark.

“Damn,” said Stern. “It’s getting dark. Soon I will no longer be able to see my fork.”

Brunu got up from the kitchen table, a knowing smile lighting his round features. “No problem at all, Stern.” Brunu walked to the wall, stuck out a confident finger, and flipped on the light switch. Suddenly, the room was filled with the warm glow of electricity, and the meal could be viewed in its entire beauty once again.

Stern breathed a sigh of relief. “Wonderful. Wonderful. You know, not even my wife can do this thing!”

Brunu smiled, looking amicably at his splendid being, this eternal presence in his everyday life. “Well, after all, what are friends for?”

Still smiling, Brunu sat back down at his chair, and continued to enjoy the warm meal.

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No Right Answer

No Right Answer
Forest Muran

There are no right answers. You answered incorrectly. Dig deep into the well. The year the earth dies, the ants will remain, crawling gingerly like black little quavers, the Lord’s last great dirge.
Humans will always find a way to survive, it’s our salvation. 別段恐とも思わない。
Shaking, I’m really shaking. Doomsday. Buildings crumble under seismic quakes of a red-eyed Republican’s speech. Give the self-righteous devil a residence in Auschwitz already! I can’t tolerate the intolerant. But peace and love, in any scenerio. Inimigo intimo. Always try to be a little conservative. Modest girls in a modern world. Hell naw, I didn’t campaign for Lincoln. I only do democrat. Padre Peter and his possy of promiscuous little puppies says that “commitalism killed my career, and now it’s time to pay.” One wonders if the supreme price is the commodification of virtue. I was visciously shaped by my shapeshifting lover, a being of dark shadows, a beautiful ghost. She only wanted social dominion, that obtuse, bellicose man. A ghost who hung from a withered rope, seeming dim in the moon’s pale april light.
Next, the subject is: Beautiful women. To women, women are not beautiful. To men, women are not beautiful. Women are not beautiful. For women are only men. Larger men with masks, who have morphed into strange wives, worshippers of the suffering self. Add a 女 and you’re good to go. Sri Krishna, reveal yourself. He routinely slurps fat noodles. He never eats. He never reads. He always needs, needs, needs. He’s so fat you could cram him into a carousel and his gravitational force would cause the gears to turn. That’s science. She’s so fat that if she ate the earth her fleshy insides would warm up the ice caps and then we’d all be out of a job in this bog of a portentious world. Fine art has no practical purpose, no possibility for owning the lactating liberals. But a r t is how we breath. Art will inevitably suffocate us.
The Buddha will come and wash over this dying world. The Buddha will sit and do nothing. The Buddha is ourselves. He smokes pot on top of the stove, cross-legged, starving. A true medicated mendicant. She needs it to survive her daily, self-imposed anxiety. It’s not her fault. Just avoid drugs, said Bodhisattva Jim Jones. Don’t drink the Kool Aid. Why is it that only the cool kids ever got aids? Laid down to rest in his cavernous tomb, the Lord rose after three days and three nights. Jesus in the tomb. Jonah in the fat woman. Bright red night かな.

そ 謎 謎
れ の の
は 世 世
だ な は
け が
よ ら

– 森

You are welcome here. You are not welcome here. You are not welcome here. You are welcome here.
Welcome, welcome.

 

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Chasing Clouds

Chasing Clouds
Forest Muran

Rushing out to reach with outstretched arms,
this clearly super-preternatural, pale form
that emerged one day from some elemental,
though essentially unremembered horizon
from a distance,
seeing it merge as one with sunlight,
and readily vanishing here and there
between scandalizing blue,
basically beautiful,
like seeing something pure for once, levitating,
but lost within an obscure sky.

As though floating up from some great, forgotten mouth,
equipped with a coquettish cigarette from which it quickly, and quietly, puffs,
like a cruel, amorous machine dug out of some deep, dangerous dream,
releasing a vague, ashen kiss of mist,
sent up straight to the sky-blue ceiling, white puffs of puerile stuff,
reflective organisms bound to the dark throat of origins,
the forgotten stratus formed within silver fogs of possessive peaks
from which they know they cannot return.

And then this nauseating horizon gives importance to wispy questions,
the white nebulae now released on cloud six,
now floating in a seemingly forever sky,
always aware of that limping inevitability,
that hypothesis in haze that touches all things,
the understanding that those first puffed
must invariably all be snuffed,
and reach their own sparkling end.
–                                    (Now it’s the end), was it good?

And we all know that the looming sun’s shadow
shall spread across the surface like a little, pouting lip,
will one day unfold itself upon our great, frantic forests and cities,
diverting all memory of sensation toward one, singular point of solace.

But we will rush, arms outstretched,
keeping up with our drifting dreams.

 

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Boiling Water

Boiling Water
Forest Muran

Inside, it’s getting close to dinner time.
Tonight it will be rice and onions
Which will warm this soul,
While outside flakes of soundless, white snow
Fall like cold light reflected upon cave walls.
In the time it takes for the slow tempo
Of a snowflake to fall into consolidation,
The hot water releases its blisters,
And desires to melt with the white rice
And to boil for an eternity.

Eventually all dreams will come to an end,
As busy time never takes a moment
From its eager journey toward the kingdom of becoming.

The present hangs like a living painting,
Like a crystalized scene viewed from a frosted window.

Before a moment can be claimed,
The onions are done,
the rice is cooked.

In sixty years, will this snow remain?
Is sixty years, what will the window observe?

 

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The Wisdom of King Solomon: A Collection of Slippery Verses

The Wisdom of King Solomon: A Collection of Slippery Verses
Forest Muran

1

Who shall find a flower, and forget the whole world in its fragrant groves? Who shall smell the sweet scent of perfection which blooms forth from the ideal lotus, that explosion of focused awareness? Who will experience that explosion of pure sense which follows the consumption of a salmon pearl, and will wrap themselves up within the wondrous wisdom of King Solomon? Who will merge magic with the material, mix spirit with sulphur, and season the salamander with salt? Whosoever does this, I will call wise.

2

The moment is a blade which cuts through time; it cuts through the illusion of time.

The sharp petals of the material bloom go boom boom and break down the plaster wall, in no time at all.

3

The moment is a blade which cuts through water; it cuts through the illusion of water.

The sharp petals of the material bloom go boom boom and break down the liquidy wall. What never was can never fall. There was never any time at all.

4

All the kin of Adam and Even are sick. They were made to ail by that infected apple of the timeless realm. But the gates of good Eden extend even to the ends of this earth, and the bacteria of fruit have their own lofty religion within which they worship consumption so that their beautiful truths might be spread, disseminating into the minds of man. Consequently, leaving man for dead, the devout bacteria build new churches for their microbial souls. If true, then Adam’s cough is the very prayer of the cosmos. The King of death has certainly studied medicine.

5

A word from Adam. “Verily, verily O creator, bounteous and benign, thy Will hath brought upon me a sufficiency of happiness and a tolerability of spirit. Yet besides, O bounteous God, I have still an odious grumble which works upon me, across these dark, celestial nights. Wherefore hast Thou created within us a pleasure for divine transgression? Understandeth me well, Lord, I grumble not for the wonders of Thy creation, which are fine, but nevertheless I still find it strange that I should feel such lightness in heart when, for example, Eve sayeth something so stupid and I seize upon the opportunity to mock her ignorance, say when she confuseth Thy creation dubbed Pig with Thy creation dubbed Bee. Verily, at Eve I do laugh, and at Eve I do kick, and therebye derive great joy. But even so, Gabriel scoldeth me, and sayeth ‘Adam, ’tis cruel to kick at Eve, even when she remembereth not the names of Creation.’ Why thus, O Lord my God, do I find such pleasure in these things? Why hast Thy Will commanded I feel pleasure in these cruel jokes and destructive jests? Why must I laugh at the dumb and blind alike?”

6

The wise man wears his heart on his sleeve, and is aware when the wares of awakening are awaiting him within the awesome answers of the awkward Lord. Be gentle with the Lord, your God, who gave you life! For the bounteous Lord is bashful, like a modest demoiselle. Verily, when thou knock, the Lord hideth.

7

The fool, however, wears his brain on his pants, and is only aware of his body when he feels the creeping, prodding legs of black ants. Worried about insects infecting his sensitive areas, the fool continually keeps his downward vigil, never to look to heaven. This woeful fool is forever ignorant of the Dharma, which is the law of men (and women) and ants alike, and forgets that ants, when awakened to the song of the universe, will naturally know which areas on a man are a no-go.

8

The rose of the sensuous world has its stem firmly planted in the spirit. The flower spreads its roots into the depths of the earth so as to suck at the spiritual nourishment of the earth. Thereby its material being is manifest. Like the trees of the forest, though man may emerge as singular in body, the roots of the spirit will always unite on a more subtle plane of existence, and thereby man transcends death.

9

And woman can transcend death as well, but only if she wants to.

10

And if you don’t think death can be transcended, that’s OK too. Far better to embody the salamander, and not fear the flames of an afterlife. Eve once saw Adam fall from a tree (not the famous one), and she laughed late into the evening. Later, she would always remind Adam of it. “You looked so dumb, that time you fell from the tree, with your arms flailing about like a mole (she meant monkey)! Truly, was that not what we could call the original fall of man?”

11

Solomon’s demon friend slash slave slash lover Asmodeus once summoned a horrific freak of creation, an odious two-headed man lifted straight from the depths of hell. Wow, when Solomon saw that, he placed his holy hands together and prayed, “thanks Lord, Thou maketh me feel glad to be in such a better state than this wretched, monstrous creature.” Asmodeus expected congratulations, or at least a pat on the head, but the King spurned him, disgusted by this diabolical demonstration. “Thou hast displeased me,” said King Solomon to his obsequious demon. “I care not for a man with two heads. Bring me a bottle with two mouths! Bring me a horse with four legs! Bring me a woman with eight lips! I have no use for a man with two heads, and a fairly unattractive one at that.” With that, the man with two heads bowed both of them down in deep despair, and presently departed from the castle. He later found a fulfilling job as a scribe, married a strong, competent woman, and fathered a handful of healthy, normal children. Only one of them had two heads, and this child was considered to be the most vexing of them all. That was the last time the demon Asmodeus tried anything like that.

12

Let not a man be distracted by that which has no use to him, as the bee avoids the superfluous flowers of the field which cannot be used for producing their honey. For the dirt may be useful to such creatures as worms and beetles, but what helps the bee produce its sweet goods lies closer to the heavens.

13

Let not a man born of illness believe that he is destined for illness, as the sobbing lily who reluctantly oozes from a sickly, trypic pod, only to later be reborn as the peaceful flower of the amphibian’s kingdom. The ways of divine beauty are a mystery to all, and the destination of all beings remains uncertain. The awakening seed cannot yet be seen through the heavy dirt which surrounds it.

14

That said, just because the future is uncertain, that doesn’t mean it’s going to get any better.

15

It doesn’t mean it’s going to get any worse, either. Only the rose knows. And the nose knows, too. Follow the scent of the salamander!

16

Let a man not assume what is good for his master, like the doctor who attempts to assuage syphilis with mercury. Tradition may have its own cures and remedies, but rarely did quicksilver, nor quick reactions, ever help heal a worldly woe.

17

Pray that someday a poem might give you peace. And if your parents don’t let you pray, just say “I wish that someday a poem might give me peace.”

18

King Solomon was once visited by G-d in a dream. In this dream, Solomon was told that he could have any wish he wanted. For a long time, Solomon considered his options (though this was of course dream-time, where time is illusory). King Solomon could have wished for a reversal of climate catastrophe, calling all the ancient kingdoms to a green initiative to recycle cow hyde and corn husks. He could have wished for the liberation of women from their woeful domestic duties, giving them the time and privilege to pursue the higher pleasures of mitzvot. He could have wished for freedom from the oppressive bourgeois religion that ravaged the kingdom, but considering who he was speaking with, Solomon avoided mentioning it. Instead, King Solomon decided upon a simple wish: For wisdom. “A fair wish,” said G-d. “But would you not perhaps prefer something more interesting? Say, superintelligence, or the ability to walk through fire?” King Solomon stroked his sagely beard. “That does sound quite tempting.” “Well, it’s too late now,” said G-d. “You made your wish. Now you will need to stomach wisdom.” Just as he was about to get pissed, King Solomon felt a flash of illumination, and he experienced his entire being quivering with Buddhahood. “OK,” he said. “Everything is OK.” A moment later, King Solomon slowly opened his liquid eyes to reveal the familiar palace chamber. As he let in the morning light, a sparkling feeling of peace spread from his heart to his whole body. He rolled his naked flesh over in bed, and gazed into the eyes of his 700 wives, showing them each his new, sublime smile. “Well, don’t you look wise today,” said one of the 700 wives. Solomon nodded his head. “I just had the most wonderful dream.” One of King Solomon’s wives started complaining about how she couldn’t get any sleep with the King’s constant snoring throughout the night. The King just laughed. “My snore is the very prayer of G-d!” With that, he never felt upset at anything again. And if he did, he knew that whatever problem he faced would not last. Like an evanescent dream in the night, all experiences shall soon pass into the great, grey shade of dim memory, and then eventually fall into deep, dark nothingness.

19

And as the years went by, King Solomon witnessed the beauty of his favourite concubines, with names like Rita and Ruth and Rosie, pass into that state non-being, as their smooth faces melted into a mesh of rubbery flesh, as withering flowers lose their once pleasing pigments. Even in the mirror, the powerful King saw his own strong muscles sag, and his noble features, once compared to the primordial majesty of Adam, now grown old and bloated. Truly, King Solomon was wise to place his faith not in things such as the taste of potato latkes or the face of a well-formed woman, but into the glory of G-d. In any case, it didn’t really take that much faith, since King Solomon had actually encountered G-d directly in a dream. When you experience the divine directly, spiritual life becomes a cinch.

20

Mere salamander traps, these fleeting dreams under the summer moon. Before you can catch them, the slippery creatures will surely slide between your fingers, and slime their way across the sticky ground back into their muddy, murky retreat. They love living in ponds and swamps, where they can search for beetles, bees, and roses to eat. If only all people could see the sacred dreams which Solomon saw, then that slippery salamander could finally be captured, and the flames of perplexing passions extinguished with the help of that aquatic friend. Surely, the slithering salamander, with its texture of quicksilver, could slide from Solomon’s deep sleep into our own, blessing us with a vision of sacred veracity. The person who knows the sacred salamander, and feeds its eager mouth the fragrant rose – whosoever does this, I will call wise.

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