Monday, August 29, 2016

the visitor

by nick nelson

illustrations by konrad kraus

martin had a few days with nothing much to do, so he decided to look up people he had once known but not heard from in a while.

a methodical person by nature, he looked them up as best he could on the internet and wrote the names and addresses of those he was able to discover in a little brown notebook he had purchased from cvs.

he was a bit surprised to find how difficult it was to find people, and especially people’s addresses, in the so-called information age. surely, he thought, it must have been easier in the days of phone books and information please from live telephone operators.

it was martin’s intention to visit - drop in on - people at their houses or apartments - their offices if necessary - without prior warning.

after a good morning’s assiduous investigation he had filled several pages in the notebook.

after eating lunch at a subway’s he paid his first call.

on johnathon adams, a fellow he had been an intern with at the infrastructure analysis consulting firm martin had entered after being laid off from his first job.

johnathon lived on the first floor of a large apartment building, and came to the door himself as soon as martin rang. an auspicious beginning, thought martin.

johnathon looked at martin curiously. “amazon?” he asked.

“no, i am afraid not,” martin answered.

“i’m expecting a package from amazon,” johnathon explained unnecessarily. he looked past martin down the street. “who are you, then?”

“don’t you remember me? martin johnson, from p d v? we were interns together.”

“if you say so. what can i do for you?” johnathon looked both ways down the street, apparently for the amazon delivery person.

“i just thought i would pay you a visit,” martin answered brightly.

“a visit? you selling something?’

“no, i thought i would pay some visits to people i had not seen in a while.” martin showed johnathon the notebook, as if that would explain everything. “may i come in?” he added.

johnathon blinked a couple of times. “sure, why not?” he turned and martin followed close at his heels.

jonathon’s one room apartment was small and did not look “lived in”. there were no pictures on the walls and no television in sight.

martin sat down on the small couch without being invited.

“i’m afraid i can’t offer you much,” johnathon said.

“ a pepsi would do nicely,” martin told him. “with ice, if it’s not too much trouble.”

“i don’t have pepsi. i have orange fanta.”

“that will be fine, thank you.”

johnathon went into the kitchen alcove and brought martin a can of orange fanta - no glass - and a small bag of lay’s potato chips, the kind given out with sandwiches in a sub shop. at least the fanta was cold.

he put them on the coffee table in front of martin. “here you go, chief. go wild.” then he sat down on a small uncomfortable looking chair across from martin.

“well,” said martin, as he tore open the pack of lay’s potato chips, “ what shall we talk about?” without waiting for an answer, he asked johnathon, “are you still married?”

“uh - no. thanks for asking, though.”

“i remember you were engaged to a girl named - what was it, jennifer? a wonderful, charming girl.”

“it was megan. it didn’t work out. i did get married later, though, for a little while.”

“i remember you were a big washington redskins fan,” said martin.

“not me. you must be thinking of tony hobbs.”

“oh. but you were a big grand theft auto player.”

johnathon laughed. “that was a while ago. i’m not into games now. i’m into movies. i make my own.”

“that must be interesting, “ said martin. “are you interested in politics?”

“not much.”

“i think this election season is fascinating,” martin announced, after a taste of his orange fanta.

“you mean hillary and trump?"

“yes. i know people think trump is satan, but i think some of his ideas are quite interesting -“

“what! what did you just say?”

“why, i didn’t finish saying anything, but i was about to say that i thought that, once you peel away the bluster, there might be something to be said for mister trump - “

johnathon stood up. “get the fuck out of here! get the fuck out of here, you sick motherfucker!”

“well, if that’s the way you feel - “

“yes, that’s the way i feel, asshole! “ johnathin stood over martin, “who the fuck are you, coming in here out of nowhere with that bullshit - ?“

“um - do you mind if i finish my fanta - ?”

“yes, i do mind, dickhead! just get your sorry fat ass out of here! now!, before i start beating on it!”

martin put the fanta down on the coffee table, and after a moment’s hesitation decided to leave the potato chips behind too.

martin got up and headed for the door, slowly. slowly, not to taunt johnathon or to play the macho man, but because he was incapable of rapid movement.

johnathon followed martin out to the front door.

martin turned as he went out and started down the short steps. “i am sorry things didn’t work out - “

"burn in hell, you piece of shit!” johnathin slammed the front door shut.

goodness, thought martin as he stood on the sidewalk and took his notebook out, i hope my next visit goes a little better than that.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

laughter in the wind

by nick nelson

illustrations by roy dismas

marvin simmons was the most distinguished literary critic of his time.

his approval of a book might induce some people to pick it up.

one night he was driving back to new york from a weekend in vermont when his car was overtaken by a violent storm.

marvin took shelter in the hide-away inn, a motel which dd not look like part of a chain.

when he was safely ensconced in his room with the wind and rain howling outside, he was about to turn on the television, when he noticed a book on the table beside the bed.

the title of the book was “laughter in the wind” and the author’s name on the jacket was amelia cartwright. there was no author photo or information about the author on the dust jacket. the publisher was unknown to marvin.

thinking that a few pages of the book night be unintentionally amusing, marvin opened it.

and was immediately entranced.

it was easily the best book he had ever read.

he turned the pages with increasing speed, riveted by the mesmerizing plot and flowing prose.

he laughed, he cried, he was illuminated on every page by the author’s incisive yet compassionate insights.

he wanted to bond with the book’s hero, and go camping with him or sail around the world with him.

he was in love with the heroine, and wanted to live with her forever, and escort her to the parties of famous and beautiful and enlightened people.

the machinations of the villain gave him fresh insights into the injustices in the world, and made him want to saddle up and go to war against them.

marvin was emotionally drained by the time he finished the book, with its stunning but perfectly logical surprise ending.

where had the time gone? marvin put the book back on the table beside the bed and went to sleep.

when he woke up in the morning, he thought he might have dreamed the book and its contents, but the book was right there beside him on the table.

he had a couple of hours before checkout, so he set up his laptop and began searching for information about the book and, more importantly, its author.

he found nothing about “amelia cartwright” or about the publisher, which if it had had any existence apart from the one book, had left no trace of itself that google could find.

“laughter in the wind” had two reviews on amazon. “a reader” from charlotte north carolina gave it five stars and a one-word review - “superb”. another “a reader” from lincoln nebraska gave it two stars because “i just didn’t like the characters”.

marvin was disappointed. he wanted to share his find with the world, but hesitated to do so without more information. he decided to do more investigating when he got back to new york.

“amelia cartwright” sounded like a pseudonym, but of who or what?

the female name was a good start, because he could not be accused of being an old boy, but…

how did he know “amelia cartwright” was even a woman?

how did he know the author was not a serial killer or serial rapist serving a life sentence in alabama?

or even worse, an accused rapist or child molester who had bought his way off and was a university president or ceo of a fortune 500 company?

or some kind of racist or homophobic or right wing demagogue, male or female?

or - this really gave marvin pause - the disgraced perpetrator of some previously exposed hoax?

“amelia cartwright” might be a pseudonym for anybody - anne coulter or roger ailes, ayn rand or margaret thatcher or josef goebbels.

none of this seemed likely to marvin, given the brilliant and compassionate nature of the book, but people had been fooled before, and you couldn’t be too careful.

marvin took the book with him when he went to check out.

he showed the book to the desk clerk. “i would like to buy this book from you, if you please?”

the desk clerk, a teen aged girl wearing a tank top, looked at marvin strangely. “you want to buy it?”

“yes, if that is all right.”

“sir, you can just take it. people take them all the time. my mom buys them from the library for twenty-five cents and has a big pile of them to put in the rooms.”

“oh. well, here is a dollar, you can buy four of them.”

“uh, thank you, sir. you have a nice day now.”

outside the sun was shining. the roads were not too clogged and marvin made it back to new york in good time.

but he was never, despite cautious but persistent researches, including attempts to contact the two “readers” on amazon, able to discover anything more about either “amelia cartwright” or the book.

he reread the book several times, and found it as compelling and inspiring as before.

he took the secret of it to his grave.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

randolph and his diaries

by nick nelson

illustrations by eddie el greco

randolph led an uneventful life.

he had no friends, and after his mother died, no relatives that he knew of.

his mother, when inebriated, had sometimes mentioned a sister, or half-sister, but randolph was not sure the sister had ever really existed, or if she were still alive if she had.

randolph had a job at a large financial services company. he considered himself lucky to have a nine-to-five job, as he realized such jobs were disappearing.

randolph had few interests.

he never cooked anything in his life, and lived on pizza and burgers and fries and krispy kreme doughnuts and pepsi-cola.

sports bored him, and he did not understand politics.

his mother had not introduced him to any religious group, and he felt no inclination to join one.

tv shows all seemed the same to him, especially the news.

music all sounded the same to him.

nor he have any interest in any of the other arts.

a building was just a building (although some were bigger than others) and a picture was just a picture (as long it was “of” something).

he did not like going to movie theaters, because they were too loud.

he had no interest in sex, and thought it sounded confusing, messy, and gross.

he tried taking a few trips, but hated the hassle of the airports and quickly gave it up.

he liked comic books, but had given them up when his mother made fun of him for reading them.

when his mother died, he subscribed to a couple of d c comics , but one day he saw the mailman out on the street talking to another mailman and laughing, and he thought they must be laughing at him for getting the comic books. after that, he gave them up again.

he did like crossword puzzles, and did several every day.

the one thing that really interested him was famous people.

he did not care why they were famous, or if they were “good” or “bad”, just that they were famous.

his favorites were cleopatra, alexander the great, winston churchill, marilyn monroe, hitler, and einstein, because they seemed to be the most famous people of all.

he watched tv shows about them and other not quite so famous people, when he knew they were on.

and he read books about them from the library. there was no shortage of books, especially about his favorites.

one day randolph was at a discount store and he noticed some blank diaries on sale and he bought one for 79 cents.

he began keeping a diary, then a set of separate diaries.

he made at least one entry in one of the diaries every night .

he ended up with seven diaries, one for each day of the week.

he did not record the events, such as they were, of his life in the diaries, but only his thoughts on different matters.

in each of the seven diaries he recorded a different set of thoughts.

on mondays - on life.

tuesdays - on love.

wednesdays - on death.

thursdays - on fame.

fridays - on reality and illusion

saturdays - on history

sundays - on children and animals

randolph kept the diaries for many years and they began to take up space.

then he suddenly died.


how do you think randolph’s story should end?

a) the diaries were discovered by the cleaning people hired by his landlord, and they threw them out and they were never read by anybody.

b) the diaries were all destroyed, except one of the ones on fame, which was kept and taken home by jerri smith, one of the cleaning people, who found it quite amusing and posted some of it on facebook.

c) his half-sister, a mrs elena mcgreevy, turned out to exist and she came and took the diaries. she read them assiduously, and often read them aloud to her five children and nine grandchildren, who tolerated this curious behavior with much eye-rolling.

d) jerri smith took all the diaries, began posting portions of them on facebook and on her blog, and they developed a small cult following.

e) elena mcgreevy, after winning ten million dollars in a state lottery, published all the diaries in book form at her own expense, and after a slow start, randolph’s fame began to spread over the world, especially in south america and parts of africa.

f) randolph becomes the most famous prophet of the age, with “centers” as well as places openly calling themselves “churches” promulgating his wisdom all over the world. as caretakers of his teachings, jerri smith and/or elena mcgreevy become the richest persons on earth.

g) differences arise between jerri smith and elena mcgreevy as to the correct interpretations of randolph's words. they denounce each other as false prophets, and religious wars break out all over earth.

h) with the long-awaited space age finally taking shape, randolph’s teachings overshadow all others - of christianity, islam, buddha, confucius, marx, etc - in spreading from earth to other worlds.

i) religious wars break out through the universe. randolphism, with canny alliances formed by elena mcgreevy's great granddaughter randi jo mcgreevy, hold their own against the other militant faiths.

j) in a final armageddon, the followers of randolph battle the followers of the nameless god of the betelgeusians for control of the soul of the ever expanding universe…