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    Monday
    Jan142013

    The Terrorist OR Afghanistan Is Like My Cat

    Muhammad Saleh was fifteen years old when the small Afghan village of his residence and the surrounding valley became the targets of American airstrikes and military occupation.  The Americans were looking for Osama Bin Laden, whom Muhammad had never heard of prior to the September eleventh attacks, which had occurred two weeks before the airstrikes began. 

    “Who is Osama Bin Laden?” Muhammad asked his mother.

    “He is the person who destroyed the Twin Towers.”

    “He flew the planes?”

    “No, but he organized the plot.”

    “And where is he from?”

    “Saudi Arabia.”

    “But he is here now, in Hazara Qala?”

    “No.”

    “Then what are the Americans doing here?”

    “They are wasting money.  Americans love to waste money.”

                Muhammad’s ordinary life was gradually encroached upon by the presence of the Americans.  The bombings of the mountain valleys at night would disturb his sleep so that he dozed off in class and for this his teacher would beat him.  In response to the overhead jets and daytime bombings, the teacher and students would seek cover in a storage closet until the shaking and roaring subsided.  One day, during the first week of the bombings, the teacher and students were huddled in the dark closet and Muhammad asked, “Teacher, who are they bombing?”

    “They are bombing the people in the mountains,” replied the teacher.

    “Why?”

    “Because they are terrorists.”

    “And what is a terrorist?”

    “It is a person who brings terror upon others.”

    More bombs were falling and the closet shook.  Once the rattling stopped and it was quiet again, Muhammad said, “Teacher?”

    “Yes?”

    “Which ones are the terrorists?”

    “What?”

    “Which ones are the terrorists – the Americans or the people in the mountains?”

    “Muhammad,” the teacher replied, “for asking such a stupid question, you shall be beat.”

                In peacetime Muhammad would often play soccer with his friends, but due to the close proximity of the airstrikes and firefights, Muhammad’s parents required that he stay home when he was not at school.  At home, Muhammad would help his father refine and package opium that was harvested from farms in the foothills. 

    “Do you think the Americans will leave soon?”  Muhammad asked his father.

    “No.”

    “But what if they find Bin Laden?”

    “They don’t care about Bin Laden, he is worth less than a goat.”

    “Then what do they want?”

    “They want to take our land and resources.  It’s the same thing every conqueror has wanted for the past two thousand years.”

    “Will they take our land and resources, father?”

    “Of course not.  The conquerors always fail.  Haven’t you been learning anything in school?”

    “We always have to go into the closet at school,” said Muhammad. “When will I be able to play soccer again?”

    “Shut up and focus on what you’re doing, you’re getting the resin everywhere.”

    Muhammad went back to his work for a few minutes and then he said, “Father?”

    “Yes?”

    “Can you buy me a bicycle?”

    “No.”

    School and home life grew more difficult as power outages occurred with increasing frequency.  The bombs fell closer and one night, when everyone was away, the school was bombed.  As the firefights moved down from the valley and into the foothills, some opium farmers began to shoot at the approaching Americans whom fired back, killing the farmers who had shot at them as well as some farmers who hadn’t.  The opium fields were then razed or burned by the Americans, and many farmers and opium dealers, including Muhammad’s father, were put out of work.

    “What will you do now?” asked Muhammad’s mother.

    “The Americans are building a large military base in Kandahar, perhaps I can find work there.”

    “My husband will not work on a base for the occupiers!”

    “What does it matter?  It’s not like they’re ever going to conquer us.”

    “It matters because you will be aiding the enemy!”

    “But they probably have well-paying positions that offer very good benefits.”

    “You should see if you can find a job with Al-Quadea, to fight the infidels!”

    “Al-Quadea does not offer good employment packages.  Plus, their staff are getting killed quite often nowadays.”

    “I refuse to be married to a man who is traitor.”

    “What will you do? Divorce me?  This is not America, baby.” 

                The next day Muhammad’s father boarded a bus to Kandahar.  It was a cold, sunny day and the bus was full of people who were leaving Hazara Qala for good, their luggage piled high on the roof.  The solitaire bus was rolling along on a desolate and rocky road that stretched across a vast wasteland surrounded by distant mountains.  It did not go unnoticed, for a satellite had spotted it and a fighter jet that had been dispatched to investigate had locked-in on the bus.   From very high up in the air it is difficult to determine the nature and intentions of people inside of a bus, but the United States Air Force had come to the conclusion that all forty-five passengers were terrorists, and launched a missile which obliterated the bus and killed all of the passengers.

    A neighbor informed Muhammad’s mom that the bus carrying her husband had been bombed and that all of the passengers had been killed.  As his mother wept amongst the baskets of opium on the floor of their dim abode, Muhammad tried to console her, saying, “It’s going to be okay, Mom, it’s going to be okay.”  But he was not sure what he was talking about, and as his bravery subsided he too began to cry. 

    The following morning Muhammad helped his mother build a stone memorial for his father in a field.  He then went with his mother to the bus office located in the village center.  Nearly thirty other relatives of the deceased passengers from the obliterated bus had crowded the office.  His mother filled out some paperwork and consulted with a bus company official regarding any recourse she could pursue to avenge wrongful killing of her husband.

    “What can you do to find the men who have done this and bring them to justice?” she asked, pounding her fist on the table.

    “We are trying, but this is a highly difficult task.  We are merely a small bus company in Hazara Qala, our annual budget is fifty thousand afghanis, and half our fleet was destroyed yesterday.  The men who killed your husband have traveled in aircraft carriers and war planes from thousands of miles away for the purpose of killing innocent Muslims with impunity.  They belong to the military of the most powerful Empire on earth, backed by the most powerful corporations in the world.  These people have Google and Universal Studios and the Daytona Five Hundred, so their technology and weapons are very good.”

    “We must bring them to justice!  They have killed innocent people – people who have done nothing wrong, they have killed little children!”

    “I understand, and we shall do our best avenge the murder of our passengers.  We have telegraphed a letter to the American Embassy in Kabul demanding the extradition of the fighter pilot who fired the missile at the bus, along with those officials higher up in command who gave him permission to do so.  The letter states that the culprits are to be turned over to the village magistrate and security forces at once so that they may be tried for their crimes.  You should have seen how much paperwork we had to fill out, it was all very puzzling.”

    “And if they do not respect our grievances and commands?”

    “We must wait and see.”

    “I refuse to wait while my husband’s blood dries, while my people are slaughtered by barbarians -- I demand retribution!”

    The bus official was mute and stared intently into the woman’s eyes, her face shrouded by a veil. 

    “So I see,” said the official.  “I have something that you may be interested in.”

    The bus official stood up and walked over to a large metal cabinet.  He opened it up and took out one of the many machine guns therein.  He walked back to the table placed the gun on it.

    “This is a Kalashnikov.   Have you ever fired one of these?”

    “Yes,” the woman replied, “Many times, at weddings.”

    “In light of your loss, you may have it.”

    The woman picked up the gun and checked the safety.

    “Be careful,” said the man, “It is loaded.”

    The woman stood up, put the gun under her burqa and held it pointing down against her leg.  She bowed her head to the bus official and then left the room. 

    Muhammad was waiting for his mom outside of the bus station.  When she came out, she hobbled past her son and was holding her thigh.  Muhammad caught up with his mom in the street.

    “What happened, mother, are you hurt?” he asked.

    “Yes,” she replied. 

                As Muhammad and his mother made their way through the village center, a unit of American marines was heading toward the market.  There were about a dozen foot soldiers, some of whom were tossing candy out to the children.  Muhammad saw this and began scurrying toward them.  His mother grabbed him.

    “What are you doing?” she said.

    “I was going to get a candy.”

    “You fool, never take anything from these men.  Do you hear me?”

    “Yes.”

    “Now go home immediately.”

    “Aren’t you coming?”

    “I will be there. Leave now and go straight home.”

    “But what about you?”

    “I’m going to the market.  Do as I say and go home.”

    Muhammad turned and walked away from the market and out of the village center.  He intentionally took a circuitous route which led past the village bike shop.   A man was sitting outside the bike shop and smoking a cigarette as Muhammad slowed down to admire the bikes on display.    

    “Do you like bicycles?” the man asked Muhammad.

    “Oh yes, very much so.”

    “Which one among these do you like best?”

    “I like this one, because it is sliver.”

    “Ahh, the Wheel Warrior, a fine choice.”

    “How much is this bike?” asked Muhammad, holding the handlebars.

    “It is seven hundred afghani.”

    “Oh.”  Muhammad took his hands off the bike.

    The man exhaled a puff of smoke and snuffed-out his cigarette.  He said, “I see that you like that bike very much.”

    “Yes, I  do.” 

    “You may have it if you correctly answer this riddle.”

    “You will let me have it?”

    “Yes, but you must first answer a riddle.”

    “What is it?”

    The man told the riddle: “’I care not how to learn how to start off and end.  I wish only to turn and go full speed ahead. Who am I?’  You get one chance.” 

    Muhammad thought hard and said, “Ummm…a terrorist flying an airplane?”

    “What?” The man furrowed his brow and his eyes darted up in consideration, he then said, “No.  The answer is a child riding a tricycle.  You do not get the bike.”

                Muhammad was about to protest when he heard a volley of gunshots followed by yelling and screaming originating from the market.  Muhammad rushed back to the market, through and against the fleeing crowd.  In the disheveled market bodies lay scattered in pools of blood and blood was splattered on many of the stalls.  Frantic villagers were pulling the wounded away and the unit of the American solders was stepping back in a guarded retreat, dragging one of their dead comrades along.  Muhammad saw the body of his mother on the ground and he collapsed beside his her.  She had been shot in the heart and was dead.

                For days Muhammad drifted around in mourning.  He had buried his mother in the fields, beside a small memorial that he had built for his dead father.  He did not eat anything nor speak with anyone until his teacher came to his house one afternoon.  Muhammad was in the dark sitting at the table and was staring down.  The teacher pushed the door open and the sunlight cast upon Muhammad.

    “Muhammad, by God, you are wasting away,” the teacher said.

    “I am sorry.”

    “You must eat.”

    “I am not hungry.”

    “That doesn’t matter, you’re going to die if you don’t eat.  Do you think you are respecting the memory of your parents like this?  Do you think you would make them happy if you were to die?”

    Muhammad said nothing.

    “Don’t go anywhere.  I will return immediately with some soup and bread.”

    When the teacher returned with a bag a soup and a loaf of bread, Muhammad was gone.  The teacher looked around the house and then went to the backyard.  He wandered through the yard, looking for the teenager and calling out his name.  Still holding the bread and soup, the teacher walked across the field and went to gravesite of Muhammad’s mother, which lay beside the memorial to his father.  There, the teacher called out loudly, “Muhammad! Muhammad!”  His voice echoed though the valley where a covert unit of special operations troops was on patrol.  The troops took cover and looked at the teacher through their binoculars. 

    “What’s he saying?” asked one solider.

    “I think he’s yelling, ‘Bin Laden,’” said another. 

    From such a far distance, even through their binoculars and scopes, the soldiers misconstrued the loaf of bread to be a rocket launcher, and a sniper shot and killed the teacher who dropped to ground beside Muhammad’s parent’s gravesite.  

                Though he had heard the shot ring out in the distance, Muhammad disregarded it as he wandered toward through the village in a daze.  He crossed paths with another youth, whom seemed equally distraught, and the fact that this young man was walking along with the silver bicycle did not interest him.  It was not before long that Muhammad, unintentionally (though perhaps subconsciously) found himself alongside the bike shop.  Outside the shop the same man was sitting and smoking a cigarette.

    “Hello,” said the man.

    Muhammad said nothing and kept walking by.  The man stood up and walked after him.

    “Hey, my friend.  Are you okay?”

    “No.”

    “What is wrong?”

    “My parents have died.”

    The man closed his eyes and shook his head solemnly.  “I am deeply sorry.  How did they die?”

    “They were killed by the Americans.”

    “Come with me.  I know someone who may be able to help you.”

    Muhammad did not protest and the man brought him into the bike shop.

    “Wait here,” said the man, “I will be right back.”

    The man pushed aside a rug hanging over a doorway and walked down a passageway.  Muhammad stared at the bikes and bike parts hanging on the walls of the shop and the man returned. 

    “Come down here,” said the man.

    Muhammad followed the man down the passageway to a basement room.  The room was dimly lit and there was another man with a grey beard sitting on a cushion in the corner. 

    “Have a seat,” said the bearded man.  “Ahmed, thank you, you may leave us.”

    The first man walked back upstairs and Muhammad sat down on a cushion opposite the bearded man.  They were separated by a low-lying table.  In the room were stacks of books, a few partially-dismantled bikes, and several flags hanging on the walls.  

    “I am sorry for you loss,” the man said, “Here, have some milk.”  He poured a glass of milk. 

    “So, your parents were killed by the Americans.”

    Muhammad nodded.

    “There are too many stories like yours across this country.  Those fucking Americans have killed so many people.  And they have only begun their crusade.”

    Muhammad sipped the milk.

    “Do you like the milk?”

    “Yes,” said Muhammad.

    “It is from my cat.”

    Muhammad stopped drinking and looked up curiously.

    The man said, “Do you know that my cat is a very nice and private cat.  She does not pick fights, she does not shit on my floor, she does not kill the other cats.”

    Muhammad looked around for the cat but couldn’t find one.

    “My cat,” the man continued, “she has seven little kittens now – meow meow meow – that is why we have the milk.  She cares for her kittens and is generous with her milk to those who love her.  But do you know something?  Kitty will not allow me to hurt her kittens.  For instance, say I came up to her to kill one,” the man squeezed his hand into a fist, “She would attack me.  She knows she may not win, but still she will try to scratch the shit out of me, because she loves her kittens.  And if I kill her kittens she will try to kill me – this is the cat that was so loving and peaceful.”

    The man stood up.

    “Afghanistan,” he said, pointing to a flag, “Is like my cat.  We are rich with milk, we love our kittens, and we minded our own fucking business.”

    “I see,” said Muhammad.

    “We have done nothing wrong and we are being killed by these fucking Americans bitches!  And will fight for the lives of our kittens!  Do you see what I say?”

    “Yes,” said Muhammad.

    “Your parents…Habaab’s parents…” the man pointed to a Polaroid photograph of a young man on the wall.  It was the same young man who had walked past Muhammad with the sliver bike.  “They are the kittens that have been killed!  And we are the cats that will avenge them!”  The man turned toward Muhammad and hissed like an angry cat, his hands gripping the air in front of him with his fingers curled taut like claws.  

    “Tell me, do you want revenge, Habaab?” the man asked.

    “My name is Muhammad.”

    “Yes, sorry.  Do you want revenge, Muhammad?”

    “Yes.”

    “Are you prepared to kill the infidels in the name of God?”

    “Yes.”

    “Are you prepared to die?”

    Muhammad stared into the man’s eyes, “Yes.”

    “This is what I like to hear.”  The man spoke louder and said, “He who dies in an attack against the infidels is rewarded greatly by God.”

    “Wait,” said Muhammad, “Is it possible for me to just attack, so I do not die?”

    “Ahh, but this is not effective, and will significantly reduce your chances of being admitted into heaven to receive the bonus.”

    “The bonus?”

    “Yes, you get a lovely bonus in heaven if you suicide bomb yourself.”

    “Suicide bomb???”

    “Come to think of it, you probably get the bonus even if you don’t want it.

    “What do you mean, ‘the bonus?’”

    The man grinned at Muhammad and said, “Let me ask you something special, have you ever had the sex?”

    “Sex?”

    “Yes, you know, sex.  Boom-boom, bang-bang, come on baby light my fire?”  The man was thrusting his hips back and forth.

    “Well, not really.”

    “Not really? Tell me, how does one not really have sex?”

    “No.  I have not have sex.”

    “Well, do you want to?”

    “I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”

    Enunciating each word, the man said, “Do…you…want…to…have...the…sex?”

    Muhammad was still confused, “With you?”

    “Good God no!  Where the fuck do you...Who the fuck --- are you fucking queer?!”

    “No!” exclaimed Muhammad.

    “If you are a fucking fairy I will slit your fucking throat where you sit!”

    “I am not a fairy!”

    The man sat back down and was clam again.   

    “Good, so your bonus is like this – once you kill the infields…”

    “Yes…”

    “And avenge your country…”

    “Yes…”

    “And you die…”

    “Okay…”

    “You get into heaven and you will have seventy-two beautiful virgins all to yourself. And you may do all that you wish with these seventy-two young and soft women.”

    “Wow,” said Muhammad.

    “Now,” said the man, “you have two choices by way of death.”

    The man walked over to the work bench and picked up a heavy vest then walked back over to the table.  “This is choice number one.  It is a dynamite vest.  You can wear it under your shirt.”  Muhammad watched as the man was fumbling with the vest, trying to figure out which way was which.  “This fucking thing…okay, so you put the vest on like this,” the man put on the dynamite vest, “and to make it explode you take this,” the man lifted and held out a cord and yelled “and-then-you-pull-this-and-you-BOMB!!!”

    Muhammad jumped back in fear.

    “Haha,” the man laughed, “I got you, you fucking shit!  You thought I was going to suicide bomb us to death!  Hahaha, you fucking guy!  Ohhhh shit...”

    The man wiped his tears and then took off the vest.  He went back to the work station and put the vest back on the bench.  He then picked up and bicycle frame and carried it over. 

    “This is option number two.  This bicycle will become a bomb.  We will fill the tires, frame, seat, and handlebars with explosives, and the same principal from before applies, except instead of pulling a cord your ring a bell.”

    The man made a little bell ringing motion with his index finger.

    “How big is the explosion?”

    “It is huge.  It will take out everyone at a checkpoint.”

    “But the bike is not ready?”

    “Not yet.  We must first wire it with bombs.  If you want to go with the bike then you must return tomorrow at noon and it will be ready.”

    “Then I will go with the bicycle,” said Muhammad. 

    “Excellent.”

    Muhammad stood up and the man put the bike frame back.  The man then picked up a Polaroid camera from the desk and pointed it at Muhammad’s face. 

    “Say su-i-cideee,” said the man.

    “Suicideee,” Muhammad said. 

    The photograph emerged from the camera and the man pinned it up on the wall next to Habaab’s.

    “One day we will have cameras and microphones to make proper suicide video recordings.” 

    “May I ask,” Muhammad said, “Perhaps you can let me borrow a bike, just for a day, to practice riding.  It has been a while and I am not very good.”

    “I see,” the man said skeptically, “You want me to give you a bike to practice.”

    “Yes, yes, that would be very nice.”

    “But sometimes it is not so good to practice.  You may not want to stop practicing.  You know you will have plenty of time to ride bikes in heaven.”

    “There are bikes in heaven?”

    “Oh yes, many.  And there are no hills that go up.”

    “Only down?”

    “Or sometimes flat.”

    “But maybe I can just borrow one bike for today, perhaps just --- ”

    “Silence!  You are about to sacrifice your life for a noble cause.  I respect this, but I cannot allow you to simply ride away with one of my bikes for nothing.  So, I will give you a bike if you are able to do one thing.”

    “Yes?”

    “If you can answer a riddle correctly.”

    “I see, and what is the riddle?”

    The man said, “Okay, I don’t care about how to…I care about…wait, hold on, I have to remember how it goes.”  The man murmured to himself and then said, “’I care not how to learn how to start off and end.  I wish only to turn and go full speed ahead?  Who am I?’”

    Muhammad smiled confidently and said, “You are a child riding a tricycle.”

    The man was quiet for a moment and then said, “Muhammad, that is by far the stupidest answer I have ever heard.  If I were your teacher I would beat you.  The answer is a terrorist flying a plane.  You will not receive the bike.  Come back tomorrow at noon and we will be ready.”

    Muhammad left the basement and walked out of the bike shop.  The other man was once again sitting outside and smoking a cigarette. 

    “How did it go, my friend?” the man asked.

    “I will return tomorrow at noon.”

    “I see.”

    Muhammad turned away and the man called out, “Did you drink the milk?”

    “Yes.”

    “It is from his cat.”

    Leaving the bike shop reminded Muhammad of the day of his mother’s death and he fell back into a detached state of grief.  He started home and heard a loud blast which was the sound of an explosion at a checkpoint.  He kept walking, and on the wall in the basement of the bike shop his face came into focus in the photo pinned-up beside Habaab’s.  That night, Muhammad tossed and turned in his sleep, his nightmares revolving around his parents and random felines.   

    When Muhammad arrived at the bike shop at noon the next day there were no bikes outside and the door was locked.  He looked through the windows and inside all the bikes and bike parts were gone.  He knocked on the door and soon the cigarette-smoking man opened it.

    “Hello, come in,” said the man.

    Muhammad walked inside and the man closed and locked the door.

    “The Americans are raiding shops, so we are trying not to draw attention.”

    The man then called down to the basement and the bearded man soon emerged from the passageway carrying the suicide bike.  It had been fixed-up and painted black and Muhammad was transfixed by it.  He walked up to it and placed his hand across the handlebars and the bearded man brushed his hand away.

    “Don’t ring the bell until you reach the checkpoint.” 

    He handed the bike to Muhammad and said, “You are not to ride the bike, simply walk it to the checkpoint, and when you are beside an infidel, ring the bell.  You will feel nothing.”

    “I’m not to ride the bike?”

    “No! You must not ride the bike.  It is not stable.  You are do to as instructed and walk with the bike as close as you can get to an American, then ring the bell.  Do you understand me?”

    “Yes.”

    “May God be with you.”

    Muhammad walked outside with the bike and the man said, “Muhammad, if you fail to complete this mission, if you try to run away, we will hunt you down and kill you.”

    Muhammad walked the bike through the village streets toward the market.  He held the handlebars firmly and watched the shiny spokes spinning as he pushed the bike along.  He was very tempted to mount the bike just to see how it rode.  It was the right size for him, and if it were not filled with explosives it would have been a bike that he would have loved to call his own.  He made his way down the familiar streets, and for the first time since his father’s death – gripping the bike proudly in his hands, imagining all the wonderful places he could ride it – Muhammad smiled.  He kept going toward the market where the Americans had set up their checkpoints.  He could see the soldiers on guard and the villagers crossing through the streets on that cold and sunny day. 

    The road that led toward the market and checkpoint was on a slight decline, and Muhammad came to a halt with the bike.  He stretched his right leg over the frame and sat down on the seat.  He put more weight on the bike as he lifted his left leg off the ground.  The bike began to inch forward and Muhammad placed his feet on the pedals.  Gaining momentum, he slowly swerved side to side, saying, “Whoa, Whoa,” each time he turned too far.  The bike picked-up speed and he was stable, going down toward the checkpoint.  He passed shops and villagers on the sidewalk, and as he caught a glimpse of himself on the bike in the reflection of a big window sorrow and joy filled his heart.  Tears streamed down his face as he rolled toward the checkpoint, where he could see soldiers already watching him approach.

                He tried to slow down but the brakes were not functioning properly and were squeaking loudly each time he squeezed them.  He was going quite fast and began yelling, “Excuse me, Excuse me!” to those villagers scuttling out of his way.  As he neared the market, he could see the bloodstain on the ground from where his mother had died, and he caught a glimpse of the soldiers aiming their weapons at him, yelling at him to stop.  It was then that he felt a sharp pain through his shoulder and chest and he fell off the bike before the checkpoint.  He had been shot through his lungs which were collapsing and he could not breathe.  As he writhed dying in pain he thought about the bonus – how the arrangement in heaven was dependent on his suicide-murder of the infidels, who had instead killed him. 

                When he was conscious of his presence once more Muhammad stood breathing at the end of a fluorescent hallway that went on indefinitely.   He touched his chest and was not wounded.  At the beginning of the hallway where he stood, a glass window looked out to a bright sky and white clouds were floating slowly by.   He peered out of the window and looked down and there was no ground in sight, only the endless sky.   He turned back to the hallway that had a row of closed doors stretching down each side.  He stepped forward and looked at the first door to his right.  Scrawled on it was the name of someone he did not know, and he tried to open it but it was locked.  He stepped down the hall, occasionally trying a random door – each with a different name, each one locked.  He walked for a long time, until the window at the end of the hallway was barely visible.  He was turning his head from side to side as he walked, and with one turn to the left he saw the door with his name on it.  This time, instead of trying to turn the knob, he first put his ear to the door.  He heard nothing and then knocked on the door.  As he was doing this, Muhammad heard a raucous coming from the room across the hall.  He turned and examined the door opposite his, and the name on it read Habaab Amin.  Muhammad hear a man screaming and women laughing from inside, and just as he was about to step closer to listen, Habaab’s door burst open.  Habaab appeared with a bloodied face and tattered clothes.  He looked at Muhammad and yelled, “God help me!”  He then sprinted down the hall toward the direction of the window.

    “Wait!” cried Muhammad, “What’s wrong?”

    But just as he began to dash after Habaab, his door opened up and he was yanked inside.  The room was pink and white and Muhammad had been pulled to the floor.  He lay on his back and the plump face of an enormously fat woman came into view. 

    “Looks like we got ourselves a fresh one,” said the woman.

    Her remark was followed by laughter and the sound of the door closing.  Muhammad rolled over and looked up.  A diverse array of obese women dominated the room.  They were sprawled out on cushions and couches, some lay naked on the floor, their torsos and thighs made indistinguishable by giant rolls of fat.  Muhammad stood up in shock. 

    A woman, fat and black, stepped toward him.  With her mouth full of food she said, “Don’t be scared baby, we gonna take good care of you.”

    Muhammad took slow backward steps toward the door.

    “But you…” he said, “I though you were supposed to be virgins...”

    “Oh, that’s if you in the premium Kasbah, honey, and you ain’t in it.”

    “Oh my God,” said Muhammad.

    “You want to be a suicide bomber, baby?” a woman called out, “You can jump on this grenade.” 

    As Muhammad made for the door a woman lurched forward and grabbed his ankle.  She started licking and nibbling it, saying, “I’m gonna eat you up, baby doll!”

    Muhammad fell to the ground and the whole room was roaring with laughter.  Before he could get to his feet a chunky, white woman began lowering her sagging belly on his face and was smothering him.  He was screaming into her blubber, waving his arms around wildly and suffocating.  She let up on him and another woman came forth, shaking the floor as she stepped. 

    “Welcome to paradise, sweetheart.”  She stood over him and turned around.   The woman then lowered her gigantic ass onto poor Muhammad’s face.  Muhammad closed his eyes and cried out for her to stop, but he then shut his mouth so as to avoid tasting any contents of her ass.  She lifted her ass up and Muhammad had squinched his face, he was spitting in disgust and the woman said, “That’s right baby, give me some of that nasty.”  She once again lowered herself upon him.  As this was happening the woman holding him down was tearing off his pants.

    “Okay!” Muhammad cried out, “Okay! I will give you the nasty!  Please just let me take my own clothes off.”

    The woman lowered her ass onto his face again and he screamed into it.

    “Please!” he begged as she lifted her ass off him, “Just give me one moment to catch my breath.”

    The ass lady moved away but the woman holding him didn’t let go.  He squirmed out of her grip and she held his pant legs as he scrambled up to his feet in his underwear.  Once again, the women erupted in laughter and Muhammad looked down at his underwear that had pictures of Pinocchio on it.  He then leapt back toward the door and the women yelled and stomped after him.  He opened the door and looked back at the angry mob of obese blobs that seemed to be molding together into a single gelatinous mass undulating toward him like a mudslide.  Muhammad launched out of the door and ran for his afterlife down the hallway, the same way Habaab did, toward the window.  The women chasing after him were moving surprisingly fast, and would probably have caught up with him had they not kept jamming together in the narrow width of the hallway. 

    Muhammad sprinted toward the window and he could see the endless sky and soft clouds outside.  The window was perfectly intact and he wondered if and how Habaab escaped through.  Muhammad frantically tried to push the window open put there was no latch or handle.  He then tried to break it with his elbow but it would not crack.  He pounded on the window as the hollering stampede of angry gluttons fast approached.   Muhammad then took a few steps back and faced the window.  He took a deep breath and with all his might he ran, jumped, and hurled himself shoulder first into the window. 

    The glass shattered and Muhammad could feel the cool air outside.  He opened his eyes and saw the blue sky that went on forever.  He was falling away from the steel blue structure and he saw the pieces of glass suspending in air and then re-form into the window.  He turned around and spread his arms, the air rushing past him.  He could see no bottom to his drop, only a skyblue atmosphere that faded into darkness like the ocean.  For hours Muhammad fell through the ethereal void.  He called out for help but no one answered.  He looked for others but no one was there.  He closed his eyes and when he opened them he saw a distant island breaking through the clouds.  It was the top of a mountain and it grew larger as he fell.  More mountaintops appeared from other directions as well.  The blueness below gave way to a green expanse.  He fell through the clouds and the bottom was fast approaching.  He could see valleys and rivers and verdant hills.  He realized that the impact was near and began screaming and his shut eyes before he slammed into the soft earth. 

    When he awoke he was lying on his back on the ground.  There was a faint giggling and something was licking his face.  Muhammad stretched his sore body and opened his eyes.  Giant stalks of golden wheatgrass surrounded him in a sunny field. 

    “Hello,” said a female voice, “How are you?”

    Muhammad looked around, “Who’s there?”

    The voice giggled again and wind passed through the grass.

    “My name’s Gabriela.  I’m your friend.” 

    From out of a thicket of wheat stepped a little cat.  It was all white and had diaphanous fur that radiated with light.  The cat purred and brushed itself against Muhammad’s arm and he watched her disappear back into the wheat.

    Muhammad was overwhelmed with a fearful sensation of being lost and alone.  He held back some tears and said, “I don’t have any friends.  I don’t know where I am.”

    A gentle wind rattled the wheat stalks and the cat did not respond.

    Muhammad let the tears flow and said, “I’m lost and my mom and father have died.  I have failed them.  I have done terrible things, I tried to kill people.  I have no one anymore and I deserve to go to Hell.”

    “You’re not the judge of that,” said Gabriela, who came back and pressed her head against Muhammad’s hand.   “Come with me,” she said.

    She stepped through the wheat and Muhammad wiped away his tears, stood up, and followed her.  The wheat was taller than him and beyond the golden stalks all that he could see was the blue and infinite sky above.  He followed the cat through the blades of wheat and saw that they were nearing the edge of the field.  He stepped out onto a path and beheld green valleys and hills.  On the end of the gravel path was a silver bike and Gabriela brushed her body against the wheel. 

    “This is for you,” she said.

    Muhammad was speechless as he approached the bike.  It was sparkling new and tears of joy rolled down his face as he got on it. 

    “Just keep following the path,” said Gabriela, “Everything is okay.”

    Muhammad pushed forward on the bike.  He rang the bell and it produced a wonderful ring.

    “Goodbye, Muhammad.”

    “Thank you, Gabriela.  Goodbye!”

    Muhammad began to pedal along the path.  He tested the brakes and they worked fine and did not squeak.  He looked around as he rode and saw birds flying over hills and streams of clear water.  He passed a vast field where kids were playing soccer.  They waved to him and he waved back.  He kept going along the path, pedaling hard.  There was a colorful field of opium, and standing in the middle holding hands were his mother and father.  They were smiling and waving to him.

    “Mother!” cried Muhammad.

    “Keep going!” his mother cheered.

    “Father!” exclaimed Muhammad.

    “We love you!” his father called out, “Just keep going!”

    He kept pedaling.  The path stretched out to the horizon, toward two shimmering towers that awaited him in the distance.   Muhammad smiled as he rode his bike along the path, which was only downhill – or sometimes flat. 

    Tuesday
    Dec042012

    Grace

    My monkey wrote this with my typewriter:

     

    It was Thanksgiving and the plated turkey was placed on the table.  The family members and guests wooed and ahhed as they sat down.  There were five people in all. The grandmother sat beside her four year-old granddaughter, Rachael, whose father, Dan, was there with his girlfriend (not the baby’s mamma), Donna.  Dan’s younger brother Robert popped a bottle of sparkling wine and poured a glass for everyone except for the little girl.

    “I want some,” she said.

    Everyone smiled or laughed except for her.

    “No, Rachael,” said her Uncle Robert, “This is yucky juice, you don’t want this.  We got you something special.”

    Robert went the fridge and retrieved a bottle of sparkling apple cider which he poured for his niece.

    “Cheers,” he said.

    “Cheers,” she replied happily.

    Her father Dan was cutting and serving the turkey and people piled steaming portions of food on their plates.

    “Rachael,” said Dan, “do you want to say grace?”

    “No,” said the little girl, looking around at everyone.

    “Please?” said her grandma, “won’t you be a good girl and say grace?”

    The girl moped, “Aww, no!  You do it Uncle Rob.”

    “I did it last year.  You do it,” he said. 

    “It’s not a big deal, Rachael” said Donna, “you can say whatever you want to say.”

    “Fine,” said the little girl. 

    The girl put her hands together and closed her eyes.  Everyone else did the same.

    “Dead God, I mean dear God,” said little Rachel, “Umm, thank you for everything and thank you for grandma and daddy.”  She paused and thought for a moment, then said, “Thank you, and fuck!”

    Jaws dropped in shock. Rachael was afraid. 

    “Excuse me!” yelled the grandma.

    “Oh my God,” said Uncle Robert.

    Before the woman could reach over and slap the child her father swung in and scooped her up.  Rachael cried as her father whisked her down the hall into the bedroom and slammed the door.

    “Don’t ever say that!” he scolded her.

    She was crying in fear of being spanked.  Her father understood that his daughter did not know the meaning of what she had said, and because in all likelihood she had heard it from him or one of his friends, he felt that he could not justifiably spank her. 

    “What?” she pleaded and she wiped away her tears.

    “Rachael,” said her father, “you can never say that word, do you hear me?”

    “Yes,” she said, breathing in her sobs.  “I’m sorry, Daddy.”

    Her father soon picked her up and hugged her and she hugged him back.

    “You shouldn’t say, ‘dead God,’ either,” he said, smiling at her.

    She giggled a little and said, “Yeah, I didn’t want to because I wanted to say dear God, not dead God.”

    “Alright,” he said, “let’s go back out there.”

    “Wait,” said his daughter.

    “What’s wrong?”

    “Is grandma gonna spank me?”

    “No, you’re gonna say sorry to her.  She won’t spank you.”

    “Yes, she tried to hit me.”

    “She won’t hit you either.”

    “Can I sit with you and Auntie Donna?”

    “Sure.”

    “Thank you, Daddy”

    “You’re welcome, sweetheart.  I love you.”

    “I love you, too,” she said. 

    The man opened the door and walked down the hall with his daughter in his arms.

     

    Friday
    Nov302012

    Poems VI

    Hit or miss (mostly miss).

     

     

    Earth loved man and saw him through
    The burning sands and forever blue
    And as a boy he loved her too
    Just as your mum once loved you 

    She fed and raised the hopeless child
    The prodigy then razed the wild
    Forests, clouds, oceans, life
    Her everything she sacrificed 

    From her he took all that he could
    He ate her flesh, he drank her blood
    And as he grew he wanted more
    The rolling hills, the endless shores 

    The more she died, the more he lived
    Yet in truth her death was also his
    Like he who dies for all man’s sins
    She never once stopped loving him

    Her corpse he carved into his throne
    He gained the world, but lost his soul
    He wept for her, for in the end
    He loved her just as she loved him

     

     

    There was once a bright poet
    With a razor sharp mind
    He would write poems that rhymed
    He would write all the time

    As he aged he grew lazy
    He let filth fill his mind
    He poetry suffered
    He kept repeating his rhymes

    His brain drowned in sludge
    And when the sewage receded
    His mind was but rust
    And his poems didn’t rhyme anymore

     

     

    The weather is nice in Nice
    The beaches are white in Greece
    Black forests are green in Germany
    And there isn’t Thanksgiving in Turkey 

    Parisian poets perish in Paris
    Romans roam through the past in Rome
    Shanghaied sailors are shipped to Shanghai
    And sinners sin soulless in Seoul 

    Fools run with the bulls in Madrid
    Lovers parade naked around in Berlin
    Saints die in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead
    And the blessed rise from their graves in Jerusalem 

    Muslims write checks in Kula Lumpur
    Mongols ride horses in Ulaanbaatar
    Sherpas scale mountains in Katmandu
    Nomads sell livestock in Timbuktu 

    Boys are armed to the teeth in Kampala
    Children sleep on the streets in Kinshasa
    In brothels girls slave in Calcutta
    In prisons kids play in Gaza 

    The mourning Afghani mourns
    The deforming Iraqi deforms
    The starving Ethiopian starves
    The warring American wars 

    A Tanzanian albino was killed for his meat
    In L.A a black man was shot by the police
    In Harare an infant died of disease
    But the weather is nice in Nice.

     

    Outside different, inside same
    Varying diets, similar waste
    Strip us bare and slice us up
    Bones, blood, muscles, guts 

    All cry clear tears
    All bleed red blood
    Men eat pink pussy
    Women swallow white cum 

    We live on Earth
    As one species
    And when the bombs start falling
    As one we’ll leave

    Tuesday
    Nov062012

    The Snail

    For those that may find parts of this story offensive:  I assure you, no one is more offended by my writing than me.

    The Snail

     

    I

     

    A young lady, two boys, and a Jack Russell terrier were hunched down at the bank of a stream.  Under the shade of the willow trees, they quietly stared at a frog half-buried in the mud.  The boys were both armed with nets and the young lady held a pail by the handle.  The dog was lying on its belly, primed and ready to pounce.  One of the little boy’s nets came swooshing down and the second boy was just as soon on top of it, probing the mud for the frog while the dog ran about yapping.  The boy got hold of the frog, removed it from the net, and tossed it into the pail with the other frogs.

    “C’est bein,” said the young lady, “I think we have enough frogs.”

    They made their way out from the shadows of the bank and walked across a summer meadow flanked by a vineyard in the countryside.   The Jack Russell followed close behind. 

    “Are we seriously going to eat them, Cecelia?” asked one of the boys.

    “Yes, we do this all the time in France.”

    “But it’s going to be gross!” said the other boy.

    “No, you will see, frogs taste good.”

    “But they’re frogs!”

    “So?”

    “Our parents won’t let you cook frogs.”

    “Your parents have instructed me to teach you about French culture.  You are lucky to have such a nice au pair.”  

    “Maybe Toby likes to eat frogs,” the little boy said.

    “No.  Toby is a dog.  Dogs are not allowed to eat cooked frogs,” said Cecelia.

    They continued across the meadow and walked back home.  Remotely located in wine country, the lone house was painted white and was surround by trees and grass.  From the terrace of the house the town of Napa, about two miles away, could be seen basking in the afternoon sun.

    That afternoon the boys watched television in the air-conditioned living room while Cecelia prepared the frogs in the kitchen.  After killing and cleaning the frogs, she cooked their legs with garlic and parsley.  Cecelia served the boys, and with reluctance, they bit in.  They loved the taste and were thankful.  When their father and mother returned home from dining out, the kids told them all about the frogs.

    “I have saved you each one leg,” said Cecelia from the living room, “they are on the counter.”

    The parents went to the kitchen and made chewing noises, pretending to be eating the frog legs when in reality the man and his wife were burying them in the trash can. 

    “Thank you, Cecelia.  They were delicious,” said the husband.

    “You’re welcome.  I’m glad you like it,” Cecelia said to her host parents. 

    The transpiring day consummated with the sun sinking below the oceanic horizon.  Night came and the moon was glowing in the sky as Cecelia tucked the boys into their respective twin-beds in the same room.  They thanked her once again for the frogs.

     “Can we get more frogs tomorrow?” asked the older brother.

    “Tomorrow is Sunday, you must go to church.”

    “What about after church?  Please?”

    “Ahh, but it will be too late,” said Cecelia.

    “Please, can we still go?” said the smaller one. 

    “Non.”

    “I thought we we’re supposed to learn what it was like to be French.”

    “Oui.   Perhaps tomorrow we will catch other animals to eat.”

    “Really? Like what?”

    “Snails.  Now go to bed.  Bonne nuit.”

    “Snails…”  The brothers were astonished. 

    Cecilia turned off the lights and left the boys in a state of imagination and excitement for tomorrow’s glorious snail hunt. 

     

     

    II

     

     

    The next day, the boys – both well-groomed and fancily dressed by Cecelia – got in the family SUV with their parents and drove off to church.  Cecelia stood on the terrace and watched the car drive away, she then went back inside and began to clean the house.  She washed the breakfast plates in the sink and gazed out the window to the hillside vineyards.  A small crop dusting plane swooped down over the vineyards and emitted a long, wispy cloud of pesticide.   Cecelia stopped washing the dishes and went around the house closing every open window.  The plane crossed back and forth over the hills, as though swinging from a string, blanketing the vineyards in pesticide.

                When the children and the parents returned home, the children walked past Cecilia without saying a word.  They were visibly angry with her.

    “Qu'est-ce…?” said Cecelia. 

    The kids walked to the end of the hall and turned around.

    The older brother cried out, “Why didn’t you tell us that Saint Francis of Assisi loved animals?!”

    “Who?” said Cecelia.

    “Saint Francis, the Saint!  He loved Jesus and animals, and the animals loved him!”

    “Stop yelling.  I know about Saint François, why are you so upset?”

    “Because you made us kill frogs!”

    Cecelia smiled and said, “Oh please, don’t be silly.  Jesus and Saint Francis won’t be upset if you kill animals for eating.”

    “You’re wrong!”

    “Jesus ate fish and lamb.”

    “He didn’t eat frogs!”

    Cecelia thought for a moment and then said, “So you don’t want to eat snails either?”

    “No!” they yelled. 

    The parents walked in at this point and the brothers stormed up the stairs.

    “Don’t worry Cecelia,” said the mother, “they’ll get over it.”

    Cecelia sat down at the table.

    The father said, “They’re all wound up because today’s homily was about the importance of nature, and the priest went on and on about St. Francis and the animals.   So then they got upset about the frogs.”

    “But they loved the frog legs,” said Cecelia.

    “Yes, but that was before they knew about St. Francis, my dear.”  The mother left the kitchen and went upstairs.

    “Give them some time,” the father said to Cecelia.

    Cecelia felt somewhat hurt.  She asked, “You enjoyed the legs, did you not?”

    “Oh yes, very much so,” said the father, “I love French legs.”

    He went upstairs to rest and Cecelia resumed cleaning the kitchen.  She pulled the trash out from the cupboard and carried the trash bag outside.  She walked to the end of the driveway and then hand-picked the recyclable items out of the trash bag, placing them in the recycle bin.  As she picked through the trash, something caught her eye.  It was one of the cooked frog legs that her host parents had discarded.  She dug around some more and found the second frog leg.  Her face turned red, a bitter hostility brewed within her as she stared at the frog legs in her hand.  She chucked them back into the trash bag, put the bag in the bin, and embarked down the gravel road to walk-off her anger. 

    Cecelia walked down the country road and thought about how she should treat the incident.  She very much wanted to take the dirty frog legs out of the trash and put them onto a plate in the kitchen for the parents to find, but she knew that this would be vindictive and that nothing fruitful would come from such an act.  On her walk, Cecelia stopped now and then to watch the birds and to pick and eat blackberries that grew in the bushes along the roadside. She soon formulated a plan which she intended to carry out that night.

     

     

    III

     

     

                Cecelia spent the rest of the afternoon alone in the shade of an oak tree on the meadow.  She read books and wrote letters to her family and friends who were in France.  At dusk she went back home and prepared dinner for the children.  When they came down to eat, the two brothers were still upset with Cecelia.  They sat at the table and looked at the food on their plates. 

    “Don’t worry,” said Cecelia “there is no frog.  It’s tomato pasta.”

    The boys spoke little during dinner and Cecelia didn’t bother trying to get them to talk, although she was quite certain that they wanted her to present an opening to discuss and revive the prospect of a snail hunt. 

    The boys got ready for bed and the little one walked downstairs while Cecelia was cleaning.

    “Are you at least going to tuck us in?” he asked.

    “No, not tonight, I am going out.  You must ask your mommy to do so.

    That night, as the boys prayed to God and Jesus and to Saint Francis of Assisi, Cecelia slipped out of the house with her pail.  She roamed the property, starting on the driveway, gathering snails one by one.  Droves of snails inched across the moonlit soil and over the grass in a nocturnal pilgrimage.  She plucked some snails from off the oak tree in the meadow and found a few more on her way down to the neighboring vineyard.  She found one on a grapevine and held the snail against the light of the full moon – its clammy neck and elongated eyestalks shimmered in the night.

    “Dieu est un comédien…” she said, and then she placed the snail in the bucket.

    Cecelia admired the stars as she walked back to the house.  She stepped inside and all was quiet save the barking Jack Russell that greeted her. 

    Cecelia said, “Shhhh,” and the dog went sniffing after the pail of snails that she carried into the kitchen. 

    “These are not for you to eat,” she said to the dog.

    Cecelia placed the pail on the counter and then transferred the snails – about twenty in all – into a wooden box.  She then chopped up a head of lettuce and scattered the pieces into the box.  The lettuce was there for the snails to eat and digest, thus facilitating the expunging of toxins from their bodies.  Cecelia closed the box and put it in the refrigerator.  She said goodnight to the Jack Russell and went to bed. 

    In the middle of the night, Cecelia awoke to what she thought sounded like the little dog yelping downstairs.  In her slumber, she listened for a moment and heard nothing more.  She went back to sleep.

     

     

    IV

     

     

                The sun crept over the mountains and the orange sunlight washed over the country like paint.  Cecelia lay in bed as the warm light cast through the window and kissed her face.  She opened her eyes, got out of bed, and changed out of her nightgown, putting on sweatpants and a sweater.  After going to the bathroom, Cecelia walked downstairs.  She heard some shuffling around in the kitchen, which was strange because she was the usually the first person up in the house each morning.  She stepped into the kitchen and screamed in horror.  A gigantic snail, the size of a person, hollered back.

    “Jesus!” cried the snail, pulling his eyes out of a food cabinet. 

    “Sacrebleu!” exclaimed Cecelia.

    “Stop screaming!” yelled the snail.

    “You cannot be!”

    The snail said, “Oh I be, baby, I be.”

    “But you are a snail, you’re talking!”

    “Rub a dub dub, sweetheart” said the snail. 

    The snail had made a mess of the kitchen.  The cupboards had been ransacked, the open refrigerator was trashed, leftover pasta and dry goods lay scattered over the countertops, and tracks of slime were covering the floor and cabinets. 

    “Do you guys have any Vegemite?” the snail asked.

    Someone was rushing down the stairs.

    “Cecelia!” cried her host mom, rounding the corner, “Are you okay?”

    The woman entered the kitchen and was shocked, “Oh my God!!”

    “What’s wrong, lady?” said the snail, “You look like shit.”

    The woman yelled for her husband, “Harry!  Harry, get down here!  And bring the camera, there’s a giant slug in the kitchen!!” 

    “I’m a snail, dummy.”

    The snail was rummaging through the cabinet with his tentacles, knocking over containers and jars, things were falling out onto the counter and floor.  Cecelia and her host mom were stunned.  They stood beside each other on one side of the kitchen, separated from the snail by a rectangular island.    

    “Do you guys have any couscous?” the snail said. 

    “This is impossible, this is like Kafka,” said Cecelia.

    Footsteps could be heard coming down the stairs.  The woman held Cecelia’s arm as the snail slid to the corner of the kitchen, leaving a film of slime in his wake. 

     “You’re ruining my floor!” cried the woman.

    The snail looked down at the floor, he then looked up at the woman.  “Oh shut up,” he said.

    The woman’s jaws dropped.  Her husband entered the kitchen and stumbled back, “Holy shit!”

    “Harry!” said his wife, surprised by her husband’s profanity. 

    “How do you do, Mr. Turtlehead?” said the snail.

    With his arm, the man swept his wife and Cecelia behind him and said, “Get back.”

    “Did you bring the camera?” asked his wife.

    The snail said, “I called you Mr. Turtlehead because you looked like you just about shat your pants when you saw me.”

    “How did you get in here?” demanded Harry. 

    “She carried me here in a bucket,” the snail motioned to Cecelia with his eyestalk.  He then opened a pantry and poked his eyes around in there. 

    “No, he was not like this!” said Cecelia, “I found little snails last night, but this one was not so big!”

    “I ate those other snails,” said the snail – one eye in the pantry, one eye on the conversation. 

    “Get out of my house!” yelled Harry.

    The snail’s was digging around the pantry and he cheered, “That’s what I’m talking about!”  He pulled out his tentacle and several bottles of wine came crashing down onto the floor.  The snail had wrapped his eyestalk around a bottle of wine and held it to his other eye as he read the label aloud, pacing his words: “’Bear and Lion.  Old Vine Zinfandel.’  That’s what I’m talking about!” he said again. 

    The snail slid toward the kitchen island, he slid right over the broken glass and over the puddle of wine.  He placed the bottle on the marble island.

    “Stay right there!” yelled Harry.

    “Hey, do you guys have any Lambrusco?” asked the snail. 

    More footsteps could be heard coming down the stairs.  The children scampered into the kitchen and they froze upon seeing the snail.

    “Look at the little Turtleheads,” the snail said.

    “Wow!” exclaimed the older brother.

    “What’s your name, fatty?” said the snail.

    “It’s talking!” said the kid.   

    “Damn straight, you little porker.  I can sing and dance too,” said the snail.

    “Really?”

    “No, dumdum.   Who do I look like, Jiminy Cricket?”

    “Don’t get close it,” the father warned his kids.

    The younger boy, who had remained silent as he took all this in, looked around the kitchen and began to whine.

    “Here comes the waterworks,” said the snail.

    The boy cried out, “He ate all our food!”

    Cecelia knelt down and comforted the crying child.  As she did this, she looked around the kitchen and living room and asked, “Where’s Toby?”  No one heard the question above the boy’s cries.

    “Cheer up, tubby,” said the snail, “you want your food back?”

    They watched as the snail contracted his body.  A thick rod of translucent excrement began to emerge from the bottom lip of his shell and it pressed forth along the side of his body. 

    “Here’s your food back,” said the snail.

    The shit flowed brown and green and white across the kitchen floor, and the family recoiled in disgust.  In the center of the steaming turd, soaked in white ooze, was the dead Jack Russell terrier.

    “Toby!” cried the older brother.

    The younger boy was now wailing, he began to pee his pants.

    “Oh, wow, he’s really going for it,” said the snail.

    “You killed our dog!” yelled the man.

    “He was a bad boy,” said the snail.

    “Harry!” screamed his wife, “call the police!”

    “Yeah Harry, call the police,” mocked the snail, “Call the police and tell them that there’s a giant talking snail in your kitchen, and that it ate your stupid dog.  Is your whole family retarded, Harry, or just your wife and kids?”

    “Are you gonna let him talk about your family like that?” complained the woman to her husband.

    “Yeah Harry, are you gonna let me talk about your family like that?”

    The snail picked up the bottle of wine with his tentacle, he inserted the neck of the bottle under his spongy foot and somehow managed to pop the cork.

    Harry tried to take control of the situation.  “Cecelia, take Tyler to the bathroom to get him cleaned up.  Patrick, bring me the phone.”

    Cecelia took the little boy to the bathroom and the older brother ran off to get the phone.

    “You know, I think you’re a coward Harry,” the snail said, “You’re obviously not the man of the house, or else you wouldn’t be taking orders from your wife like a bitch.”

    “That’s enough out of you!” yelled the woman.

    “I’m not talking to you,” replied the snail, “I’m talking to Mr. Turtlehead here.”

    The woman seethed, “You are the most insolent, vulgar, and inappropriate creature I have ever seen!” 

    The snail took a swig of wine and said, “There’re about eight and a half words in that last sentence that I didn’t understand.” 

    The kid came running back with the phone and handed it to his father.

    Harry held the phone out, threatening the snail, “You’ve come into our house uninvited, you’ve killed our dog, you’ve disrespected my family, you ate all our food and broke hundreds of dollars worth of wine, and you’re a snail! I gave you a chance to leave, now I’m calling the police.”  He started to dial.

    “You can do it,” said his wife.

    “Yeah, you can do it, Harry,” said the snail, “you can do it, Mr. Turtlehead.”

    Harry called the police and was explaining the situation over the phone as the snail chugged the bottle of wine.  He had one eye on Harry and one eye on the closed door of the bathroom, which was about fifteen feet away.  The snail put the wine down and started across the kitchen floor, heading for the bathroom.

    “Stay right there!” demanded Harry, still on the phone.

    The snail kept going, sliding across the carpet, past the woman who was screaming unintelligibly.  He was about five feet away from the bathroom door when Harry jumped on him and grabbed his enormous shell and slippery neck.  The snail shook him off as he neared the door.  The bathroom door opened, and as Cecelia and the boy were about to step out, the snail barged in.  Cecelia screamed as the snail forced her and the boy back into the bathroom.  Once inside, the snail quickly closed the door and locked it behind him.

     

     

    V

     

     

                The snail caught his breath beside the door.   The boy, wearing a towel around his hips, clung to Cecelia.  They stood speechless on one end of the bathroom, near the toilet and a window.  Harry was banging on the other side of the door, trying to force the knob.

    “Open up this door!” yelled Harry.

    “Who’s there?” asked the snail, he winked at Cecelia and the boy.

    “Harry!”

    “Harry who?”

    “Harry, the man of this house!”

    “Ohhh,” said the snail, “Mr. Harry Turtlehead.”

    “The police are on their way!”

    “That’s nice, Harry.”  The snail was looking at himself in the mirror.

    “If you hurt them, I’m going to kill you!”

    “I don’t want to hurt them, Harry, I really don’t, but that’s up to you.  You’re gonna have to work with me here okay?  The first thing I’m going to need to you do is stop banging on the door like a lunatic.  Can you do that for me, Harry?”

    Harry stopped pounding on the door.  The snail had pulled back the mirror and was going through the medicine cabinet, inspecting the pill bottles.

    “The next thing I’m going to need you to do is bring me a bottle of red wine – Merlot or Zinfandel if you have it.  Bring two actually, and place them by the door.  Let me know when that’s done.”

    The woman could be heard yelling, “Do something, Harry!”

    “Oh yeah,” said the snail, “If I have to hear your wife again, if she tries to talk to me, I’m going to rip your son’s arm off and beat this French bitch senseless with it.”

    The snail winked again at Cecelia and the boy, but the boy started to cry nonetheless.   

    “Okay, okay,” Harry said, “please don’t hurt them.  I’ll go get the wine, I’ll keep her quiet, just please don’t hurt them.”

    “That’s good, Harry, you do that.  You do what I say and no one gets hurt.”

    The snail turned and slid toward Cecelia and the cowering boy.  Cecelia trembled against the wall as the snail extended his eyestalk out within inches of her body, running the curving tentacle close to her breasts and staring into her face.  She could see her reflection in his giant eye.

    Cecelia looked away and said, “What do you want?”

    “Get in the tub,” said the snail.

    “What?” said Cecelia.

    “You and the kid get in the bathtub.  You move from that tub and we’re gonna have problems, got it?”  The snail pressed his wet tentacle against her.  Cecelia shuddered and then took the boy by his hand.  With their backs to the wall, they shuffled toward the tub and got in. 

    “Now sit down,” said the snail.

    They sat down.  The boy was whimpering. 

    There was a knock at the bathroom door.  “It’s Harry.  I brought the wine, we only had one bottle left.  I’m leaving it here by the door.  What’s going on in there?”

    “We’re having a little ménage à trois,” said the snail.

    Cecelia gasped.

    “You said you wouldn’t hurt them.”  Harry called out to his son, “Tyler, are you okay?”

    “Daddy!” said Tyler. 

    The snail interjected, “He’s fine Harry, he’s just a crybaby.  Now get away from the door.  I don’t want anyone hanging around next to the door.”

    “Let me trade spots with my son, take me instead of him, please!”

    “What? No,” said the snail.  “Who do you think you are, Atticus Finch?  Now get the hell away from the door.”

    “Alright, I’m going to step away, remember what we agreed on.”

    “You’re the man, Harry.”  The snail put one eye to the floor and looked under the door.  He opened the door and scooped up the bottle of wine.  Harry, his wife, and the older brother were standing together in the living room.  The police sirens could be heard coming up the road. 

    “Listen,” the snail said, “We’re all gonna get through this just fine.  Harry, I don’t want the cops involved.  Tell them that it was a prank call.  Tell them that there is no giant snail in your house, that it was all a hoax that your boy played, and then send them on their way.  If I have to deal with the cops, then there’s gonna be hell to pay.”  The snail slammed the bathroom door and locked it.

     

     

    VI

     

     

                Cecelia sat in the tub with the boy, who had buried his face into her arms and was crying gently.  The snail set the bottle of wine on the floor and approached them. 

    “Hey, kid, be quiet,” said the snail.

    The boy kept whimpering.

    “Hey, kid,” said the snail, “Stop acting like a child you infidel.”

    The police cars and sirens were getting closer to the house.  Cecelia was trying to hush and comfort Tyler. 

    “He’s gonna blow our cover.  Make him stop crying.”

    “I can’t,” said Cecelia.

    The snail slid up against the tub and moved his eyes close to the boy’s face.

    “Excuse me,” the snail tapped the boy on the back with his eyestalk.

    “Go away,” said the boy.

    “Hey, I got a joke,” said the snail, “what do you call a snail from outer space?”

    The boy didn’t respond.

    “It’s a joke, look at me.  What do you call a snail from outer space?”

    The boy ignored him.

    “Give up?”  The snail paused.  “A snail-lien.”

    There was still no reaction from the boy.

    “Get it?  From outer space?  A snail-lien.”  

    The boy kept crying.  The police cars pulled up to the driveway, car doors could be heard opening and closing.

    “What the hell is wrong with him?” asked the snail. 

    “He’s hungry, and you’re scaring him,” said Cecelia. 

    “Hungry?  Listen kid, once the police leave, we’ll eat all sorts of yummy stuff.  You just have to shut the fuck up right now.”

    “You ate all our food!” yelled the boy.

    The police were knocking on the front door.

    “We’ll get more soon, I promise.  Just be quiet, okay fatty?”

    “You’re a fatty!” yelled the boy.

    “No, you’re fatty,” said the snail.

    “No, you’re a fatty!”

    The police were in the house.

    “Listen, if you call me fatty again, I’m gonna wash your mouth out with soap.  Now be quiet.”

    The boy looked up at the snail and screamed, “Fatty! Fatty! Fatty!”

    The snail scooped up the boy with one of his tentacles, wrapping it around the boy’s waist.  The boy was screaming and flailing as the snail carried him over to the sink. 

    Outside the bathroom, the woman yelled, “He’s in there, he’s in there!” 

    Inside the bathroom, Cecelia was yelling, “Stop it, stop it, he’s only a child!”

    The snail held the screaming boy over the sink.  With his free eyestalk, he picked up a bar of soap and shoved it into the boy’s mouth.  The snail shouted out, “What did I tell you, Harry?!”  The boy was bawling as the bar of soap was thrust into this mouth, the soap being shaved up by his teeth.   The snail yelled, “I don’t like playing pattycake, Harry!”

    The cops and Harry were now right outside the bathroom door. 

    “Open up the door!” demanded an officer, banging on the door.

    “Oh, fuck you!” yelled the snail, “Harry, get those clowns out of here or else your little boy gets it!”  The snail passed the boy to Cecelia and put his shell to the door.

    There was some scuffling around outside the door and the police were arguing with Harry.  They soon backed off and through the door Harry cried, “Are you okay Tyler?  What did you do to him?!  Cecelia?  Are you okay?”

    “Tell him you’re okay!” yelled the snail.

    The boy was crying out for his father in Cecelia’s arms.  Cecelia called out, “He’s okay, we are not harmed!”

    “Goddamnit, Harry,” the snail said, “Your shit is weak!”

    “Is my boy okay?” said Harry.  “The police aren’t here anymore.”

    “He’s fine.  Where the hell did the cops go?” asked the snail, breathing hard.

    “They’re in the living room,” said Harry.

    The snail shook his head, “You fucked this up, Turtlehead.  I told you to keep the cops out of this.”

    “I know, but --”

    “Now here are the new rules,” said the snail, “I only negotiate with you.  If I smell a pig by the door, then your son here is gonna end up like your dog.  Same things goes if I see any cops out back – make sure they’re not crawling around out back.  Also, we’re gonna make some demands.  Hold on.”

    The snail turned toward Cecelia and the boy in the tub.  The faucet was running and between his muffled cries the boy was rinsing the soap out of his mouth with water. 

    “Alright,” said the snail, “what do you guys want?”

    “What?” asked Cecelia.

    “We’re gonna make some demands here, what do you want?”

    “We want to leave!” yelled Cecelia.

    “Listen, don’t try to be a hero,” replied the snail.  “We’re gonna be here all day long, so tell me what you want, baby.”

    Offended and dismayed, Cecelia shook her head at the snail and turned back to help Tyler.

    “Come on,” urged the snail, “We’ve got the upper hand here, let’s make some fucking demands.”

    Cecelia disregarded the snail.

    “I know tubby here wants some Ding Dongs, how about you, Joan of Arc?”

     Cecelia didn’t say anything.  The snail picked up the bottle of wine and popped the cork with his foot as he had done before.  He took a swig from the bottle and watched with curiosity as Cecelia instructed the boy to gurgle and spit out the water in his mouth.  The snail then turned toward the door and called out, “Harry, come back in ten minutes.  And bring a pen and paper.  We’re gonna talk about what we want to demand.”

     

     

    VII

     

     

    The snail slid over to the tub with the bottle of wine.  He held the bottle out to the boy.

    “Here kid, rinse your mouth out with this,” said the snail.

    Cecelia said, “Ça alors!  No, he’s not allowed.”

    “It’s okay, we can get more,” the snail said.

    “No,” affirmed Cecelia, “he is too young.”

    “Too young?  How old are you, kid?” the snail asked.

    The boy wiped away his tears and look at the snail with resentment.

    The snail took a guess, “Three?”

    “I’m five!” yelled the boy.

    “Heyyyy, I have son who’s five! Isn’t that funny?” said the snail. 

    “Oh yeah, where is he?” asked the boy.

    “I ate him.  That’s funny, huh?”

    “You’re mean!” said the boy.

    “Look kid, I’m sorry I washed your mouth out with soap.  It’s not so bad though, right?  It’s not like I gave you pink eye.”

    “What’s pink eye?”

    “Pink eye happens when you get shit in your eye,” said the snail. 

    Cecelia exclaimed, “You are so rude!”

    I’m rude?  You were the one who was going to eat me.  Remember that? Hellooooo, anybody home?”  The snail rapped his eye on Cecelia’s head.

    “Eww, don’t touch me!” exclaimed Cecelia.

    “By the time this thing’s over you’re both gonna have Stockholm syndrome.”  The snail gulped down some more wine and said, “Boy, it’s getting hot in here.”

    The morning sun was bearing down on the house and the heat was permeating through the window, the view of which was of the backyard, the neighboring vineyards, and the sunny hills.  The snail slid over to the window and moved the curtain aside.  He unlocked with window with his tentacle, pressed his eye against the glass, and pushed it open.  He then extended his eyestalk out like a periscope and looked around outside. 

    “So far so good,” said the snail.

    The snail pulled his eye back inside and then slid the curtain over the open window. 

    “So, what’ll it be?” he asked, “Ice cream?  Popsicles?  Waffles? Or crepes, if you prefer?”  The snail looked to Cecelia, “Do you eat anything besides frogs and snails?”

    “We want nothing from you,” said Cecelia.

    “Oh come on, you gotta want something, sweetheart.  You want a book?  I know you like to read.”

    “No,” insisted Cecelia. 

    “Well then,” the snail looked to the boy, “what about you, big boy?  You want some Ding Dongs?”

    Cecelia gave the boy a stern look.  He hesitated and then shook his head no.

    The snail drank some more wine and stared at Cecelia and the boy.  For over a minute no words were exchanged.  Throughout this period of silence Cecelia and the boy would steal glances at the enormous snail.  The patterns on his damp skin would expand as he breathed, and the slow movements of his mucosal body and tentacles would make squishing and sucking noises. 

    “Well,” said the snail, “suit yourself.” 

    The snail called out for Harry who soon came to the door.

    “Are you ready with the pen and paper, Mr. Turtleman?” asked the snail.

    Harry sighed and said, “Yes.”

    “Alright, here’s what we’re gonna need…  Let’s start with breakfast.  I’m gonna want an order of waffles, some whipped cream, and a big tiramisu cake.  And also some Lambrusco.  Do you know what Lambrusco is?”

    “Yes.”

    “Great, bring me about four bottles of Lambrusco, alright?  We’re also gonna want some blue cheese, a few cans of sardines, a box of ginger snaps, , some chimichangas and snickerdoodles, and, let’s see…how about some Big League chewing gum?”

    “Okay, got it.”         

     “Bitchin’,” said the snail, “That should be enough food for now.  But we’re gonna need some music, so bring us a radio and your music collection.   Oh, and get me a pack of Sherman’s cigarettes and a lighter.”

    “Gotcha,” said Harry, “Anything else?”

    “Yeah, two more things.  These last two things are very important.  I’m going to need you to get me a bulletproof vest, and a lot of cocaine.”  The snail paused for a moment and Harry didn’t say anything.  “Are you getting all this?” asked the snail.

    “Yes, I’ve got it,” said Harry.

    “Read those last two things back to me.”

    “A bulletproof vest and a line of cocaine.”

    “No, a lot of cocaine,” said the snail. 

    “Oh, okay, a lot of cocaine.  Is that it?”

    The snail looked to Cecelia and the boy.

    “Almost,” said the snail, “Go ahead and throw in a box of liquor-filled chocolate bottles and some Ding Dongs.”  The snail winked at the boy and then said, “Also, bring some crayons and some paper so the kid can color, and bring a book for Princess Harry here to read.”

    “Alright,” said Harry, “I’m gonna do what I can to get this stuff.”

    “That’s my boy.”

    “But one thing,” said Harry, “the police and I want to know what your intentions are.”

    “Well, I intend to eat all that good stuff you’re gonna bring me.”

    “Yeah, I know that, but afterwards, what do you intend to do?”

    “Well, after you get me what I’ve asked for, I intend to leave.”

    “When?”

    “Tonight.”

    “But what if they want to arrest you?”

    “I’m a fucking snail, Harry.”

    “Alright,” said Harry, “I understand.  But please, promise me something.”

    “What?” asked the snail.

    “That you won’t hurt my boy.”

    The snail said, “I promise I won’t hurt your boy.”

    “Or Cecelia,” said Harry.

    “Or Cecelia,” said the snail. 

    “You swear?”

    The snail rolled his eyes at Cecelia and the boy, and he said, “I swear, I swear on their lives that I won’t hurt him.”

     

     

    VIII

     

     

                The morning sun rose higher into the sky and the bathroom was heating up.  The snail was slumped down next to the window and he drank the last of the wine.  He was breathing heavily.

    “I should have asked Mr. Turtlehead for a fan,” he said.  “This would be a horrible place to estivate.”

    Beads of sweat had formed on Cecelia’s forehead.  She turned the faucet on and splashed some water onto her face.  Tyler splashed some water on his face, too.

    “Hey,” said the snail, “that’s a good idea.”

    The snail moved toward the sink.  He turned the faucet on and watched the stream of water flowing down the drain.  There was no way he would be able to fit his enormous head into the sink, so he turned the water off.  The snail slid over to the toilet and opened the lid.  He looked into the toilet bowl, slid backwards, and then tried to put his head in the toilet, but only a portion of his face got wet.

    “Goddamnit,” said the snail, “My head’s too big.”

    He looked over to Cecelia and the boy.

    “Watch out,” said the snail, “I’m gonna try to wet my face in the tub.”

    The snail slid over to the tub.  Cecilia and the boy scooted over to the far end.  The snail turned the faucet on and was able to fit most of his face into the stream of running water.

    “Oh Mamma,” he said, “That’s the stuff.”  As he was splashing his face in the water he sang, “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream!  Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream!”

    The water was filling the bottom of the tub and the boy said, “Hey, you’re getting us wet.”

    The snail pulled back his dripping head and turned the water off.  He looked around, and with his tentacles, he grabbed a few towels off a towel rack.  He tossed the towels into the tub and they soaked up the water.

    “Say,” the snail said, “Can you do me a favor?”

    “What favor?” asked Cecelia.

    “Can you put those wet towels over my shell?  I can’t reach back there.”

    Cecelia and the boy looked at each other, they hesitated.

    “Listen, I’m gonna get all dried up here.  I just need to be wet down.”

    “This is not a trick?” asked Cecelia.

    “No, it’s not a trick.”

    Cecelia stood up in the tub.  The snail turned his shell toward her as she picked up the wet towels.  She began to drape them over the snail’s giant shell.

    “That’s great,” said the snail, “Can you put one across my neck?”

    Cecelia placed a towel across the snail’s neck and head.  The snail turned around.  Except for his eyestalks he was covered in towels.

    “Look at me,” he said, “I’m a Muslim snail.”  He turned his head toward the window.  “Which way’s the sun?” he asked.  The snail closed his eyes and lowered his head and tentacles, pretending to pray.  He said, “Allahhhhhh, Allahhhhh, Allahhhhh.”

    He lifted his head and looked outside, something was amiss.  There were officers in blue uniforms with binoculars walking around the neighboring vineyard.  The snail ducked and said, “Shit!”  He called out, “Harry!  Harry, we got a problem!” 

    Harry came to the door.  “What?  What happened?” he asked.

    “The fucking cops are patrolling around outside!”

    “What?  I told them to stay out of the backyard.”

    “Tell if I see them out there again then I’m going to light your house on fire.  You got that?  I’ll burn this whole fucking house down and salt the earth.  You think I’m afraid to die?  I’m a snail for Christ’s sake.  Go tell them that.”

    “Jesus, I’ll let them know.”  Harry ran off.

    The snail slid up next to the wall, keeping his body and tentacles out of view from the window.  Staying low, he tried to straighten out the towels over him, but most had slipped off his shell.  Hanging on the wall across from him was a framed copy of the Lord’s Prayer.  He read over it and shook his head.  The snail then slowly maneuvered one eyestalk up to the window and peeked out.   He saw that Harry was out back pleading with the police to leave the vineyard.  The snail slumped back down and sighed.

    “You know,” said the snail, “I hate people.” 

    The little boy looked up and said, “Why?”

    “What?” asked the snail.

    “Why do you hate people?” asked the boy.

    “Because, they’ve killed hundreds of my snail family and friends.”

    “How did they kill them?”

    “They crushed them to death, with tires or by stepping on them with their shoes.  They killed them.”

    “But doesn’t your shell protect you?”

    “No, not always.”

     The boy scrutinized the snail’s shell.

    “Were you born with your shell?”

    “Yes.”

    “And it grows when you grow?”

    “That’s right,” said the snail.

    “But what happens to it when you die?”

    “Nothing, it just sticks around.”

    “Can I touch it?”

    Cecelia interjected, “Tyler –” she said admonishingly.

    “No, it’s okay,” said the snail, “He can touch it.”  The snail slid over to the tub and turned his shell to the boy.  The boy passed his hand across the shell. 

    “It’s really hard,” said the boy. 

    “Calcium carbonate.”

    “It’s swirly.”

    “It’s sinistral,” said the snail.

    “You’re a really big snail,” said the boy.

    The snail looked at himself.

    “Yeah, I guess I am a little fat,” he said.  He started to shake his body and his skin undulated like blubber.  Cecelia covered her eyes and the boy laughed. 

    The boy said, “You’re jiggley” 

    “Look at me!” said the snail, shaking his body, “I’m a big fatty!”

    “You’re funny,” laughed the boy.

    “Thanks, kid,” said the snail, “You’re alright.”

     

     

    IV

     

     

    The morning rolled along and the hot sun lingered overhead. The snail occasionally poked his eyes out of the window to confirm that the police weren’t out back.  Cecelia and Tyler sat dozing off in the tub.  There was a knock at the door.

    “Hello?” said Harry. 

    The snail said, “Mr. Turtlehead?”

    Reluctantly, Harry said, “Yes.”

    “Talk to me,” said the snail

    “Well, I most of have the things you wanted.”

    “Most?”

    “We couldn’t find any cocaine, and the police said that even if we found some I wouldn’t be allowed to give it to you.”

    “Fucking Crackers,” said the snail.

    “They did loan us a bulletproof vest, though.”

    Boxes and bags were being shuffled around outside the bathroom door. 

    “I’m leaving all these things right here,” said Harry.

    “Alright, do that and get away from the door.”

    The snail turned to the tub.

    “Hey kid, I need you to do something for me.”

    “What?” said the boy.

    “It’s easy.  I just want you to let me hold your hand while you go get the stuff outside.”

    Cecelia said, “He cannot.”

    “I’m not gonna hurt him, I just need him to get the stuff.”

    “Do it yourself,” said Cecelia.

    “I don’t trust the police.  Whatddya say, kid?  Will you take one for the team?  Team Turtlehead.”

    The boy was staring down at the tub.

    The snail said, “There’s a whole box of Ding Dongs with your name on it out there.”

    The boy looked up and said, “You just want me to get the Ding Dongs?”   

    “I want you to get all the stuff outside the door.  If I get the stuff, the bad men may hurt me.  You don’t want the bad men to hurt me, do you?”

    The boy shook his head no.  He got out of the tub.

    “Tyler!” Cecelia scolded him.

    The boy glanced at Cecelia, he then walked toward the snail. 

    “That’a boy,” said the snail, “Now, I’m gonna hold your hand while your bringing the stuff in here.  I’ll be right behind the door.”

    The snail lowered his eyestalk and the boy grabbed a hold of it.  With his other eyestalk, the snail opened the door.  The food and other items had been placed in front of the door, and down the hall the family was standing with a few police officers.  Though they couldn’t see the body of the snail, the officers gasped upon seeing his eye and the slimy tentacle wrapped around the boy’s wrist.  Tyler made a few trips in and out of the bathroom, and soon all the items were inside.  The snail closed the door and looked down at the goods.  There were bags filled with cartons of hot food, cake and ice cream, bottles of wine, a bulletproof vest, a stereo, and much more. 

    The snail said, “Big Money Harry, bringing home the bacon!”  He picked up a bottle of Lambrusco and exclaimed, “Holllahhhhh!”  He dug around and found the box of Ding Dongs.  The snail handed the Ding Dongs to the boy and said, “Good job, kid.”

    “Wow, thank you,” said the boy.  He climbed back into the tub with the Ding Dongs. 

    “You are not allowed to eat all those,” said Cecelia.

    “He said I could have them,” said the boy, protecting his Ding Dongs. 

    “Here you go, Frenchy,” the snail said, handing Cecelia a package of blue cheese.  “And look,” he said, “there’s a book here for you, too.  Let’s see what they got you.”  He read the cover, “’The Holy Bible.’ Jesus, you humans are all the same.  Here’s your stupid book.”  He tossed the Bible in the tub.  “Wooo, look, here’s the colors,” said the snail.  He picked up a box of crayons and a notebook, “These are for you, kid.”

    The boy had his mouth filled with Dings Dongs and expressed thanks as the snail handed him the crayons and notebook.

    The snail plugged in the stereo and perused the discs that were in a CD wallet.   He chose a CD and put it in the CD player which began to play the first song from the album ‘Breakfast in America,” by Supertramp.  The snail popped a bottle of Lambrusco with one tentacle and pulled out a whipped cream canister with the other.  He opened the cap of the canister and inhaled the nitrous oxide, wobbling and singing as he applied the whipped cream to some waffles.   The snail and the boy ate waffles, and Cecelia cut them each a piece of tiramisu.  The second song on the album had begun to play and the snail was singing enthusiastically.  He wrapped his tentacle around a toilet brush and held it to his mouth as though it were a microphone, singing:

    “…But then they sent me away, to teach me how to be sensible, logical, ohhh responsible, practical.

    And then they showed me a world, where I could be so dependable, oh clinical, oh intellectual, cynical.”

    The snail was swaying from side to side dramatically, wiggling his tail as he danced.  He sang:

    “…There are times when all the world’s asleep, the questions run too deep, for such a simple man.

    Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learn, I know it sounds absurd, please tell me who I am…”

    “Everybody now!” said the snail as he turned up the volume.  He held the toilet brush out to the boy who was bobbing his head. 

    “…I said now, watch what you say, they’ll be calling you a radical, a liberal, ohh fanatical, criminal...”

    The snail slid across the bathroom, shoving the to-go boxes and bags over on the floor, he slid right through the tiramisu cake.  He rocked his head back and forth, singing and pretending the toilet brush was a saxophone.  Cecelia was shouting something at him but he couldn’t hear her.  The snail turned down the music.

    “What?” he asked.

    “I have to use the toilet,” said Cecelia.

    “Well, go ahead,” said the snail.  He turned the music back up a little.

    Cecelia stood up and stepped out of the tub.  She walked over to the toilet.  The snail slid toward the door and he was watching Cecelia.  She stared him down.

    “What?” asked the snail.

    “Turn around,” she said.

    “Why?”

    “Don’t look.”

    “Why not?”

    “You are not allowed to watch me!”

    “I’m a hermaphrodite.”

    “It doesn’t matter!”

    “I bet you’d let that little dog watch.”

    The boy was watching them go back and forth.

    “Tyler,” said Cecelia, “turn around and close your eyes.”

    Tyler turned around in the tub and closed his eyes.

    “You too!” Cecelia demanded of the snail.

    “Alright, alright, I don’t want to see your hairy bush anyway,” said the snail. 

    The snail twisted his eyestalks around and closed his eyes.  Cecelia turned up the music and then started to pee.  The snail sang along with the chorus of the third track:

    “…Goodbye stranger, it's been nice, hope you find your paradise.
    Tried to see your point of view, hope your dreams will all come true…”

     

     

    V

     

     

                By early afternoon the bathroom was trashed.  The floor was littered with take-out containers, plastic bags, wine bottles, whipped cream canisters, slime, and melted Ding Dongs.  The roomed smelled of cigarette smoke and dead fish.  In the tub, Cecelia sat reading the Bible and the boy was coloring in his notebook.  The snail flicked the cigarette he was smoking out the window, polished off his second bottle of Lambrusco, and then slid over to the boy. 

    “What’cha coloring?” asked the snail, slurring slightly.

    “This is Saint Francis,” said the boy, “And this is a big snail.”   

    “Oh, I see.  Are they friends?”

    “No,” said the boy.

    “No?”  The snail blinked hard. 

    “No.  Because the big snail hates people.” 

    “Oh.  That’s not nice,” said the snail.

    The snail was drunk and struggling to hold his eyestalks up straight.  He slipped backwards, toward the sink, and contracted his eyes into his head.  He was mumbling to himself, saying, “How much snail could a snail shell shell if a snail shell could shell snail?”  His eyes came out a little.  “Shell snail?” he asked himself, “Snail shell?  Snail shell sale?  She’ll sell snail shells.”  He paused and then said, “I’m a biological genius...”  He chuckled and exclaimed, “Diabolical!”  The snail rested his eyestalks over the sink as he laughed. 

    Confused, the boy looked to Cecelia.  She shook her head and the boy returned to his coloring.   When he regained his composure, the snail slid back to the tub.

    “What’cha reading?” the snail asked Cecelia.

    “La Bible,” said Cecelia.

    “Woooo, La Bible,” said the snail, “Fancy.”  He then asked, “Would you fancy reading it to me?”

    Cecelia looked at him as he slid back toward the wall.

    “Come on, sweetheart,” he said, “Be fancy.”

    Cecelia started to read aloud, “’Do you indeed pronounce justice, O gods, do you judge mortals fairly?  No, you freely engage in crime, your hands dispense violence to the Earth.’”

    “Amen!” said the snail, popping another bottle of Lambrusco.

    Cecelia continued, “The wicked have been corrupt since birth, liars from the womb, they have gone astray.  Their poison is like the poison of a snake, like that of a serpent stopping its ears’”

    The snail made hissing noises and waved his tentacles around in such a way that they mimicked snakes.

    “’So as not to hear the voice of the charmer who casts such cunning spells.  O God, smash the teeth in their mouths, break the jaw teeth of these lions, Lord.’”

    “Hallelujah!” praised the snail, shaking his eyestalks fervently above him. 

    Cecelia went on, “’Make them vanish like water flowing away, trodden down, let them wither like grass.  Let them dissolve like a snail that oozes away, like an untimely birth that never sees the – ‘”

    “What!?” exclaimed the snail, “Let me see that!”

    The snail slid over and snatched the Bible out of Cecelia’s hands.  He put the book on the floor and after struggling to focus, he found and read the passage.  “Well, I’ll be damned,” he said.  The snail continued reading for a few minutes.

    In the tub, the boy was resting on Cecelia’s lap.  She sang softly to him:

    “Alouette, gentille aloutette,

    Alouette, je te plumerai.”

    She repeated the lullaby.  The snail watched with one eye as the boy fell asleep in Cecelia’s lap.  Cecelia then leaned back in the tub, placed a towel behind her head, and closed her eyes. 

    The snail said, “You know, I’ve seen you guys before.”

    With her eyes still shut, Cecelia said, “Yes?  Where?”

    “Down by the creek, catching those frogs.”

    “Oh?”

    “You guys looked happy, it was like a children’s book painting.”

    “Hmm,” said Cecelia.

    The snail went back to reading the Bible.

    “Hey, here’s a good one,” he said, “’Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers, from the snares they have laid for me.  Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by in safety.’  He looked over the passage again and then said, “That’s a good one.”

    The snail looked up to Cecelia, but she was already asleep.

     

     

    VI

     

     

    The sun crossed over the house and crept west.  The clouds were glowing orange and the glare of the sun reflected like fire in the windows of the houses on the hillsides.  Inside the bathroom, Cecelia woke up and the boy was asleep on her lap.  The stereo was buzzing and the snail was snoring.  He slept beside the sink and his eyes were contracted into his head.  He was far enough from the door that it would be possible for one to open it without it touching him. 

    Cecelia woke the boy up gently.  He opened his eyes to find Cecelia with her finger over her lips, instructing him to remain silent.  The boy sat up and watched as Cecelia made walking motions with her fingers through the air and toward the door.  The boy nodded, acknowledging the plan to sneak out.

    Cecelia stood up and slowly stepped out of the tub.  She looked over to the snail to confirm he was still asleep.  The boy stood up in the tub and Cecelia leaned down and picked him up.  Carrying the boy, she carefully stepped across the disheveled floor.  She was halfway to the door when there was a loud knock on the other side.  Cecelia froze and the snail was startled awake.

     “What?!  Who wants some!?” yelled the snail.  He looked at Cecelia and the boy and said, “What are you doing?”

    Before she could answer, Harry said, “It’s me again.”

    The snail said, “Get back in the tub.”

    “Tyler has to use the toilet,” said Cecelia.

    Harry called out, “What?”

    “Shut up, Harry,” shouted the snail.  He lurched up and spoke to Cecelia, “You were taking him to the toilet?”

    “Yes.”

    The snail moved his bloodshot eyes closer to Cecelia and the boy.

    “Do you have to wee wee?” he asked the boy.

    Tyler shook his head no.

    “No?  You don’t have to wee wee?” said the snail.  “Well, do you have to take a shit?”

    The boy said, “No.” 

    Cecelia pinched the boy and he said, “I mean, yes.”

    “Well, go ahead then – shit,” said the snail, motioning toward the toilet with his eyestalk.  “You,” he said to Cecelia, “get back in the tub.”

    Cecelia looked at the boy and said, “Go on, use the toilet.”  She stepped back into the tub as Tyler went over to the toilet and sat down. 

     “Mr. Snail,” said Harry, “there’s a news crew here from Channel Seven.  They want to know if they can interview you.”

    “Who?” said the snail.

    “The news station, Channel Seven.”

    The snail was using his eyestalks to search through the trash on the floor, he located the last bottle of Lambrusco and popped the cork.  He then looked at the boy sitting on the toilet and said, “Well, did you shit?”

    The boy shook his head no.

    “Do you have to shit?”

    Again, he shook his head no.

    “Then get back in the tub.”

    The boy got back in the tub.

    “He didn’t have to shit,” the snail said to Cecelia.

    Through the door Harry said, “I can’t hear you.  What did you say?”

    “I said people full of shit, Harry,” the snail called out.

    “I don’t understand,” Harry said.

    “People,” said the snail, “are the shittiest creatures on the planet.  They produce more shit than any other species on Earth.  They are lying, stinking, breathing, pieces of shit.”

    There was a moment of silence and then Harry said, “So you don’t want to do the interview?”

     

     

    VII

     

     

                Few words were spoken in the bathroom at sundown.  A Fats Domino album was playing on the stereo.  The snail sulked by the window with the bottle of Lambrusco and a lit cigarette.  He watched the fiery dusk envelope the sky. Pink clouds floated over then golden hills and crepuscular insects began to stir.  The music faded out as the dusk gave way to an electric twilight, and one by one the stars began to shine.  The snail turned to Cecelia and the boy.

    “You hear them?” said the snail.

    “Hear what?” Cecelia asked. 

    “Shhh…listen.”

    They listened carefully, hearing nothing but the songs of frogs and crickets.

    “The crickets?” said the boy.

    “The crickets!” cheered the snail.

    “Come here and look, both of you!”

    Cecelia and the boy got out of the tub, they walked over to the snail and looked out of the window.  The enormous moon, shining bright yellow, was rising over the mountains.

    The snail began to sing:

                “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore!

    When the world seems to shine like you’ve had too much wine, that’s amore!”

    The snail placed his tentacles around Cecelia’s and the boy’s shoulders, forcing them to sway with him, the wine was splashing as he sang:

                “When you dance down the street with a cloud at your feet, you’re in love!

                When you walk in a dream, but you know you’re not dreaming, signore!”  

    The boy was laughing and the snail turned to Cecelia.  He asked her, “Shall we kiss?”

    “No!” she said, smiling.

    “I may turn into a prince,” said the Snail.

    The moon cleared the mountains and pushed higher – the glowing, white rock heaving up through the sky, the pale light illuminating the darkness.

    The snail finished the bottle of Lambrusco and tossed the bottle into the tub where it shattered. He sifted through the trash on the floor and found the bulletproof vest.  He slid each of his eyestalks through the sleeves and tightened the vest around his giant neck. 

    “Alright.  It’s showtime,” said the snail. 

    He turned to Cecelia and said, “Are you ready to get out of here?”

    “Yes.”
    “Then this is the plan, you’re going to go out first, and then the kid and I will follow you.”

    “But why?” asked Cecelia.  “Let me take him.”

    “No, I’m taking him.”

    “Will you let him go?” asked Cecelia.

    “When we’re outside, I’ll let him go.”

    Cecelia stepped toward the door while the snail and the boy stayed back.  The snail wrapped one of his eyestalks around the boy’s arms.  The boy was frightened and he began to cry.

    “Don’t worry, kid.  Everything’s going to be okay,” said the snail.

    Cecelia turned the doorknob.

    “Hey,” the snail said.

    “Yes?”  replied Cecelia, turning around. 

    “Au revior.”

    Cecelia smiled and said, “Goodbye.” 

    She opened the door and stepped out.

     

     

    VII

     

     

                From the bathroom, the snail watched Cecelia walk down the hall and toward the crowd of people gathered in the living room.  Harry was standing there alongside a dozen police officers and a small news crew.  They could see the snail speaking to the boy in the bathroom.

    “Are you ready, kid?” asked the snail.

    “Yes,” replied the boy.

    “I’m sorry I have to do this to you, but it will all be over soon.” 

    The snail unraveled his tentacle from around the boy’s arm.  He then reached into the tub and picked up the neck of the broken Lambrusco bottle.  The snail then wrapped his tentacle around the boy’s neck like a leash, pressing the sharp glass against his throat.

    “Let’s go,” said the snail.

    The snail forced the boy to walk in front of him as they left the bathroom.  They moved slowly down the hall, the snail keeping the boy close.  They entered the living room and people gasped in awe of the snail.  Flashing cameras were followed by reporters shouting questions and the police drawing their guns.

    “Freeze!” said a policeman.

    “Put the guns down!” demanded the snail.  “If anyone comes near me, the kid gets it!”

    “Tyler!” cried the boy’s mom, who was clutching a jar of salt. 

    “Get out of my way, evildoers!” yelled the snail.

    The people in the living room watched as the snail, holding the boy hostage, turned and slid backwards toward the door.   Facing the crowd, the boy was crying as the snail jerked him along the foyer.  The snail pushed the front door open with his shell and pulled the boy outside into the dark, summer air. 

    The snail and the boy passed under the yellow porch light and scrambled down a few steps onto the driveway.  The police stepped out of the house and some were shining flashlights onto the snail as he pulled the boy across the lawn.  The snail slid around the side of the house, moving surprisingly fast toward the backyard.  He threw down the broken glass bottleneck in the backyard and repositioned his grip on the boy, dragging him by his arm across the grass, toward the meadow and vineyard. 

    The police rounded the corner of the house in pursuit of the snail and boy.  Flashlight beams were sweeping through the night.  The snail passed the oak tree on the meadow and reached the edge of the vineyard. He let go of the boy who fell to the ground in tears.  The police came hurtling across the meadow with their flashlights.

    “Here they come,” said the snail.   “If I die, you can have my shell.”

    The boy wiped away his tears and nodded at the snail. 

    “See you around, kid,” said the snail, winking at the boy.

    The snail turned and slid away into the vineyard.  Keeping his head and eyes low, he rushed along a row of grapevines and headed toward the stream.  He could hear the running water and croaking frogs, he could see the dark shadows of the trees cast beneath the seablue moonlight.  Following the trail of slime, the police chased the snail through the vineyard.  The snail moved fast over the soil, and the pounding footsteps of the hollering police were close behind.  If he could only make to the stream, he could lose them there.  The police lights flickered through the leaves and the men called out for the snail to stop.  The snail neared the bank of the glistening stream at the edge of vineyard and shots were fired.  The bullets ripped through his neck.  The vest was not bulletproof and the snail slowed down.  More shots rang out and bullets pierced the snail’s shell, tearing apart his internal organs.  He came to a full stop, groaning as he contracted his wounded and bleeding neck.  The snail’s head dropped to the soft earth and he turned one fantastic eye up toward the sky, gazing at the myriad stars that were so far away.

    “How fucking beautiful,” said the snail before he died. 

     

     

    VIII

     

     

                In the morning Tyler sat up in his bed and looked around his room.  His brother’s bed was empty and he could hear voices downstairs.  The boy walked downstairs and he heard his family and Cecelia talking.  Things appeared quite normal.  Cecelia was in the kitchen cooking breakfast, his mother and father were at the dining table reading the newspaper, and his brother was watching T.V in the living room.

    “Boujour, Tyler,” said Cecelia.

    “What happened?”

    “Well, you would not wake up, so I let you sleep.”

    “Where’s the snail?” he asked.

    “We will catch snails later.  You must first go to church, remember?”

    The boy realized it was all a dream.  He turned away from Cecelia and walked out of the kitchen.  The boy pushed the sliding glass door open and stepped outside onto the backyard terrace.  Contemplating the dream, he sat down on the steps and gazed upon the vineyards and hills under the bright, blue sky. 

    The boy then looked down at a flower pot that was beside his feet, and something caught his eye.  A little snail was inching along the rim of the pot.  The boy leaned down to take a closer look.   As it moved, the snail had its eyestalks extended and it blinked one eye, as though it were winking at the boy.

     

     

     

    THE END

     

     

     

    Acknowledgment:

     

    I’d like to thank myself, Aaron Alexander Dames, for writing this story.  I couldn’t have done it without me. 

    Monday
    Oct012012

    Poems V

    They're getting worse.  It's pretty much downhill from here...

    This first one goes out to my brothers in Asia:

    Two Asian nations
    That bordered each other at sea
    Both laid claim to an island
    That had appeared mysteriously.

    The nations sent ships to the island,
    Their navies were ready for war.
    They’d fight to the death for this island
    That they had never heard of before.

    The media in both countries
    Failing to check the facts
    Sent their viewers into a frenzy
    Over an island not on the map.

    The masses of both nations
    Sang island ballads and anthems.
    They identified enemy immigrants
    And then they ethnically cleansed them.

    When a country owns an island
    It owns the waters around it, you see.
    So that’s why these Asian nations
    Vied for this territory.

    So the warships soon collided
    At the invisible border at sea
    And though there wasn’t an island
    They started World War Three.

    The nations destroyed each other
    Over an island that didn’t exist.
    Imaginary islands abound in the world
    And people everywhere believe in the myths

     

    What are politicians made of?
    What are politicians made of?
                    Pork and lies
                    And lobbyists bribes
    That’s what politicians are made of.

    What are big bankers made of?
    What are big bankers made of?
                    Snakes and disease  
                    And dirty laundry
    That’s what big bankers are made of.

    What are freedom fighters made of?
    What are freedom fighters made of?
                    Love and fire
                    And sexual desire
    That’s what freedom fighters are made of. 

     

    We are the Eaters of the Earth
    The world is our buffet
    This epic feast won’t last forever
    So come ye gluttons, grab a plate!

    We gorge upon the wetlands
    And devour the forests and trees
    We swallow coasts and deserts whole
    Then wash the sand down with the seas

    Our appetites are insatiable
    Our stomachs are bottomless pits
    Our lust for nature’s bounty grows
    As we ravage each and every niche

    We’ve roasted the animal kingdom
    We gnaw on bedrock in our sleep
    We’ve poisoned the skies with our flatulence
    We defecate plastic and concrete

    As this feeding frenzy grows
    More of Earth is gouged and carved
    We’ve bitten off the hand that feeds
    We’ll commit matricide before we starve

    Her luscious flesh we relish raw
    Her spewing blood we drink
    Nature bleeds out in a backstabbing
    Betrayed by her imbecile son, Humanity

    The bowels of the earth are eviscerated
    The continents are drawn and quartered
    Headless mountains burn at the stakes
    And from gallows hang beastly corpses

    So come ye sadists and cannibals!
    The Earth has been read her last rites
    This communion we’ve granted the planet
    Shall be our final chance to dine. 

     

    In The Beginning
    God created Heaven and Earth.
    In The End
    Man destroyed the Universe.


    Money, Money, Money
         Makes the world go round
    Gravity, Gravity, Gravity
         That's what keeps us down
    People, People, People
         Always fuck shit up
    Nature, Nature, Nature
         Will take care of us.

     

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