"I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with the nonhuman world and somehow survives...Paradox and bedrock."-Edward Abbey

29 September 2011

The Speed of Suicide

Tarot’s head was spinning. He wasn’t sure if it was the second glass of wine or what Lankin had just told him. Maybe it was a combination of both.

He could remember his dad taking him camping once, when he was six. It was in the forests just below tree-line on a clear day during High Summer. They were not too far from the Death’s Head and Hell’s Watchtower. Tarot remembered staring quite intently at the two features as his dad set up the tent.

“Can we go up one of those, Dad?” He asked.

“This is the closest I’ll ever take you to either of them,” Donavan replied, upon recollection, there was bitterness in that answer.

“Why not?” The younger Tarot was hurt his dad didn’t want to take him on such a grand adventure. “Doesn’t Lankin go up there all the time?”

“He does,” Donovan said coldly. “But Lankin has nine lives. You and I don’t.”


“That’s the end of it,” Donavan stated firmly.


“I said the end, James!!”

They never went hiking or camping again. Although he didn’t know the details, he knew his father’s problems with the Death’s Head and Hell’s Watchtower had to do with his mom. Lankin was tangled in there too. In the years to come, Tarot would watch his dad drink more and more, slowly committing suicide with every sip.

“It’s not fair,” Tarot muttered, sipping his wine.

“Fair?!?” Lankin snorted. “Fair?!? I’ve recovered the bodies of hikers that make me look like an amateur because of a simple misstep or because that day their heart decided to just stop working. Once, I came across a man from New York coming down off the Death’s Head in shorts, a tank-top, and flip-flops, acting like it was a stroll through Central Park and looking at all the other trekkers like they were stupid for having their gear.” He poured himself another glass and slowly brought it to his mouth. “Fair…there’s no such thing.”

“When I saw Grizz, he said my dad had been drowning,” Tarot mused. “Ira said something like that too.”

“Pretty much,” Lankin said absently. “Grizz would talk about throwing Donnie a rope, and I think anybody who cared about him did once or twice.”

“Obviously, he didn’t take them,” Tarot muttered.

“Oh, he might dry out on occasion for a month or two. You probably saw that.” Lankin replied. “But he was pretty bent on being in that bottle.”

“Well, he finally did it. He finally killed himself.”

“Maybe not.”

Tarot’s eyes widened. Lankin leaned forward, his eyes narrowed. A slight scowl formed on his lips.

“I was going to come and find you if you hadn’t come over,” he started. “It would appear there was antifreeze in your dad’s system when he died.”


“Yes, antifreeze,” Lankin repeated. “Neither a pleasant or particularly quick way to die, and it wouldn’t have fit your dad anyway; he was pacing himself on his suicide.”

“You think my dad was murdered?”

“It seems pretty likely.”

“Who do you think would do that?”

“It hardly matters,” Lankin replied in an almost off-handed manner. “Almost everyone in this county has wanted him dead at one time or another. That includes the distinguished Ira Milligan and even myself.”

“Well, I want to know who did it!” Tarot exclaimed.

“I’ll help you, Jimmy,” Lankin said calmly.

“I thought you said it doesn’t matter who did it,” Tarot’s voice carried sarcasm and desperation.

“It doesn’t” Lankin said as he sat back and sipped his wine. Then, his gaze hardened into an expression of predatory concentration. “But why matters quite a bit. And that’s what I want to know.”

26 September 2011

Forever Lost

They decided to treat it as their second honeymoon. It was the first time in three years either of them had been up on the Death’s Head. There were other camping and hiking trips, but this part of the Back Country had been neglected. Lankin harassed them about it, saying becoming parents made them soft. He didn’t believe either of them when they said their excursion had nothing to do with spiting him.

Jimmy was with Bethany’s mom for a week, so they had plenty of time. Aside from the Death’s Head, they wanted to climb Hell’s Watchtower as well. The original plan was to conquer both in the same day, but the dark clouds began to build early that day. Despite that, they were filled with a feeling of accomplishment.

“You think we’ll beat the rain down?” Bethany asked.

“I hope so,” Donovan said. “And I guess we’ll do the Watchtower tomorrow.”

“It’s a date, Mister!” Bethany said excitedly, giving a kiss that tasted of accomplishment and uncounted adventures waiting to be had and forever.

Between the Death’s Head and Hell’s Watchtower is a saddle of rock with a seven-hundred foot drop on one side down to jagged scree, known as the Abyss. It was here, still above tree-line, that the sky opened up on them; one of those storms with very little warning and a great deal of savagery. There was no choice but to press on.

“There’s that little cut in the rock on the other side,” Donavan yelled over the wind and rain. “We’ll hole up in there.”

“Not the way I imagined snuggling with you in the rain, Donnie,” Bethany called back.

I imagined us snuggling on top of Hell’s Watchtower and it not raining.”

They inched along. The wind and rain seemed to intensify with each step, making their movement across the wet rock slow and precarious. Donavan took a small amount comfort in the fact he could see the cut they were going to shelter in. It wasn’t that much further.

There was a blinding flash and its accompanying roar, which echoed through saddle between the Death’s Head and Hell’s Watchtower. Donovan heard a loud pop and something that sounded like either a yelp or a scream. As he turned in its direction a scent filled his nose that reminded him of overdone meat that had been forgotten on a hot grill.

Bethany was staring at him in smoldering disorientation. Her skin was burned black in several places and blistering in others. The clothing that wasn’t melting onto her was slowly burning even as the rain put out the last fires across her small frame. She took one drunken step toward him before pitching sideways.


And she toppled over the edge, taking every dream, every hope, every promise of forever with her. At first all he could do was stare in disbelief. Her body plummeted, the last remnants of embers winking out as she raced to the bottom.

He didn’t remember how he got to the edge and not fall off himself. His screams were muffled by the wind and rain. He searched along the bottom desperately, trying to see where she landed, but the rain obscured his vision.

Another flash and another roar brought him back to the situation at hand; he was above tree-line, out in the open, in the middle of a rather brutal thunderstorm. The next bolt of lightning might very well get him. There was still little Jimmy to think of. His young son was all Donovan had left of Bethany now. With that resolve, he pushed toward the cut in the rock on his hands and knees, blinded by the wind and the rain and his own tears.


Lankin stood looking at the scree-field that marked the belly of the Abyss. Perhaps at another time he might have found the differing perspective at least a little interesting. As it stood, he found the scene in front of him quite repellant. The hurried footsteps and labored breathing was authored by someone he was not looking forward to talking to. With a deep breath, he turned around.

Donovan Tabor was not a small man. Some of the old-timers likened him to a bear; slow to anger, but of incredible strength. He could be a fierce protector and could survive a good long time in the Back Country by knowing when to forage and when to hunker down.

Lankin, by contrast, was the cat; enigmatic. Aloof glances and sphinx-like smiles. He was solitary, often disappearing for long stretches of time, only coming back right before anyone really considered worrying about him. Down at Magpie Jack’s, Grizz would tell stories, with perhaps a little whiskey-lanced embellishment, but the moral of the stories were all the same; Lankin was an odd one that no one in their right mind would want to tangle with.

Bethany had been the glue between the two men; this willowy, almost sprite-like girl with ash-blond hair, whose three year old son was almost her mirror image. Lankin loved her like a sister and Donavan as his wife and mother of their son. Bethany, as with a great many things between the two of them, was the reason they stood facing one another in the belly of the Abyss.

“Did you find her?” Donavan wheezed. Lankin slowly nodded. “Well?!?”

“I’ll take care of it, Donnie.”

“Don’t I get to see her?” He felt himself tensing. There was a look in Lankin’s eyes he did not like.

“You don’t want to.”

With a roar, Donavan pushed his way past, although, it was not as if Lankin offered up much resistance, which might have seemed out of character if any rational thought was given in the heat of the moment. Blindly, he was running to the scree. It was only at the edge did he catch sight. In that moment, Donovan’s legs gave out from under him. Something low and primal that tasted of bile and lament clawed its way out of his throat.

Her charred body was carelessly splayed across the rock like a ragdoll. He had two days from when he got down and got help to prepare himself for the sight, and had reconciled himself to the burns and broken bones. It was the fact her eyes were now empty sockets and some of the unburned flesh had been picked at by something, most likely a raven, that brought him to his knees. There was still the disoriented look on her face he remembered from right before she fell. A look that seemed to beg questions;

Why? What about forever?

He was crying. For what felt like days, he laid, curled into a ball on the tundra, being wracked by long sobs. Finally, he shakily brought himself back up and turned to see Lankin watching, his head cocked almost inquisitively to the side.

“I tried to warn you,” he said with as much warmth as seemed possible for Lazarus Lankin.

Donovan lashed out, his fist connecting firmly with Lankin’s jaw. His head spun around and returned to its original position in a flash. Single trickles of blood began to ooze from his left nostril and the corner of his mouth. His eyes narrowed, but did not waver.

“Do you feel better now, Donnie?” Lankin growled.  

Once more, he pushed past. Tears again began to flow. He found himself blindly running away from the scene letting out a bellow of lament that caused the mountains themselves to shudder.


“They both died up there,” Lankin muttered as he took a hearty swig from his wine glass. “The difference being your mom may have been the lucky one.”

“How can you say that?” Tarot inquired in shock.

“Because, relatively speaking, with your mother it was quick,” Lankin replied. He paused briefly to drain the rest of his wine in a single gulp. “It took your dad fifteen years to catch up.”    

24 September 2011

Bad Belly Dance

One night, years and years ago, a tribe of belly dancers were moving all succubus-like across the floor in the room of portraits. The movements of serpents and ferrets under a Lennon Moon. There was something about it that almost bordered upon obscene, and not that happy sort of obscenity, which one finds amusing to watch.

No, this was a bit vulgar...

It's a sad thing to say. Generally, I enjoy the sight of a good belly dancer. Even a few bad ones. Women I know lust after rockstars and film actors, I appreciate belly dancers. It's like that.

It wasn't the case that go around. I was queerly offended, even a little traumatized, but I was not sure why. For some reason, it seemed cheap and dirty. That was how I felt watching it.

I hid myself in alcove, with decent lighting, to transcribe what I saw on to bamboo paper. An artifact from an exotic land, wrapped in a leaf, which I'd gotten from some random shop along the way, so I could purge just that much more, when the muse grabbed me.

The first thing I spewed out was about the belly dancers, and how they seemed rather unlady-like. I had to get the words out. Try to make sense of it, though that moment of understanding has not yet come. I was offended by a tribe of belly dancers.

I don't think I've ever quite recovered...

22 September 2011

An Eventful Wedesday

It was a painfully slow day at the Gas n’ Grub. Of course, in Marrakech, Wednesdays were never known as particularly exciting. It was worse in the winter. Tourists rarely stopped in, even to use the bathrooms of whichever of the few businesses of town until the weekends. Locals made their plans for recreation during the week, when out-of-towners didn’t clog the trails and waterways. Business happened on the weekends. But Wednesdays in Marrakech were a day of rest.

Tarot normally worked the swing shift, but Orin had some sort of business all the way down in Denver, which required him to be occupied until much later in the day. It worked out, after his shift, he was going to go with Whisper over to Petra to look at a potential place, and then they were going to head back to Melbourne, to a mutual friend’s, to get a little stoned and play some video games.

After staying the one night with Lankin, Tarot had been crashing at Ira’s house. She went as far as to offer him a permanent place to stay once he and Whisper got hand-fasted. It was a sweet offer, but Tarot wanted his own space, not just a rented room in someone’s house. Ira smiled sweetly at this, saying perhaps he was a little more grown up than the almost nineteen he actually was. 

With it being a Wednesday in Marrakech, and an hour before the end of shift, Tarot was a little shocked when he looked up from the magazine he probably shouldn’t have been reading to see Bill, Orin’s partner with Gas n’ Grub, standing over him. The older man was dressed for work, and didn’t seem offended at the fact Tarot was looking at a magazine when he could have been cleaning or stocking. The confusion he felt must have been obvious on his face.

“You got a visitor outside, James,” Bill said. “In fact, you’ve got the rest of your day off, with pay.”

“Th…thanks, Bill. I owe you.”

“No, you don’t. Trust me on that, kid.”

Tarot walked out to the lot to see Lankin waiting pensively for him. Next to him was Whisper, her big dark eyes were walls of liquid as she tried restrain tears. Despite his curiosity, Tarot could feel the bottom of his stomach dissolving.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“They found your dad, Jimmy,” Lankin said gravely. A few tears ran down Whisper’s cheeks.

“Found my dad doing what?”

Lankin’s gaze hardened. There was something even more predatory about it than normal. It was as if Tarot’s ignorance was somehow brutally offensive.

“Your dad was found behind Magpie Jack’s, slathered in vomit and not breathing,” Lankin hissed. Then, his features softened into something disturbingly human as he reached out. “Jimmy, I’m sorry, your dad is dead.”

Tarot pulled away. He took a deep breath, his fist clenching and unclenching. Without even thinking, he began to draw back. He noticed how Lankin merely stiffened, preparing to receive the blow.

“Go ahead,” he said so softly it could barely be heard. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”

That’s when Whisper wrapped her arms around Tarot. She was weeping softly. He found his own tears coming free. Within her embrace, he collapsed like dried pine needles against flame. He gripped onto her tightly and began to sob.

“Take your time,” Lankin said gently, walking toward the end of the lot. “I’ll be here once you’re ready.”

Tarot really had no idea how long he had been there, sobbing like a five year old with a skinned knee, in the lot of the Gas n’ Grub on a Wednesday Afternoon in Marrakech. He supposed he should’ve been grateful it was a Wednesday. Any other day of the week, there may have been far more witnesses. Not that anything else really mattered at the time; not the potential place over in Petra or getting a little stoned with friends in Melbourne. Good to his word, Lankin was standing at the end of the lot, waiting impassively.

They went to go see the body. There was no doubt about it; that was Donavan Tabor. Although, there was something cartoonish and grotesque about the corpse. Tarot found it odd how uneasy Lankin seemed. The official in the room seemed to notice it too.

“I know this must be difficult.”

“I help find and bring down a body from up high at least once a year,” Lankin said. “This isn’t my first rodeo.”

“This time’s a little different, Lazarus,” the official said. “And I think you know that.”


A few weeks later, Tarot found himself visiting the last house on Lovecraft Lane. Lankin had just opened a bottle of tempranillo to let it breathe. His dad was cremated and Tarot wanted to find out a few places that might be good to scatter the ashes.

“Anywhere. There was a time your parents were the only ones around here who’d been over these mountains more than me,” Lankin said. “That was before your mom died and your dad started drinking so much.”

”I ran into Grizz the other day,” Tarot mused. “He told me my dad was a good man.”

“He was.”

“Well, I didn’t know that!” Tarot snapped. “He was drowning in the bottle as long as I can remember!”

 Lankin cast Tarot a look, but didn’t say anything. The boy had lost his father, and getting after him for lashing out so soon after the fact would’ve been incorrect. Instead, he sniffed the open wine bottle, trying to decide if it was ready to pour.

“Did you ever hear why your dad started drinking?”

“It has to do with my mom, I know that much,” Tarot said.

“Do you know how your mother died?” Lankin asked.

“I only know it happened up around the Death’s Head and Hell’s Watchtower,” Tarot replied. He looked Lankin dead in the eye and his gaze hardened. “Didn’t you find her body?”

“What was left of it.”

Lankin reached over his wine rack and pulled out another bottle. Courtesy dictated he showed Tarot the vintage. Silently, he opened the bottle and set it on the counter. In the same fluid motion, he retrieved another glass from the cabinet and filled them both.

“Better get that other bottle breathing away,” Lankin said as handed Tarot a glass, his gaze predatory in its intensity. “It would seem I have a lot to tell you.”

20 September 2011

Darktime Drive

They traveled across the badlands in the deep darkness of the small hours between late night and early morning. Father and son. The father drove and the son watched the dark and quiet world go by. The stars were bright, allowing one to see where the universe began. There was no moon. Not a word passed between them. It wasn't necessary.

The ancient vehicle was loaded with cargo and contraband. Old songs played from an even older radio. There was the smell of motor oil, diesel fuel, cigarette smoke, and whiskey. Rust and metal rattled as they moved down rickety roads, on their way to their final destination.

On occasion, they would see lights of other vehicles. The father would reach for a gun he kept by the seat, mindful of bandits along the way. Sometimes, when they saw more than one set, and they didn't worry about marauders, they were given to illusion of being near some manner of settlement. This mirage was shown for the phantasm it was by the next curve or hill.

The roads were composed of dirt and cobble stone. Broken pavement and ruts through sand. There were times, when it seemed there was no road at all, and the father was driving by memory alone.

As the darkness deepened, getting closer to dawn, mist began to rise. An impression of wandering spirits or passing through the territories of angels. Fog and dust shrouded the headlights. The son found himself wondering if since there was haze, if the sun would ever rise again.

"Think we'll make it?" He asked his father. His voice was scratchy. Those were the first words he had spoken in hours, perhaps days.

"It's fine, son," the father said, his voice was clear and warm. "Everything is okay."

The son leaned against the passenger side window and shut his eyes. Sleep was coming for him. He lost himself in the old song playing on the older radio. His father said everything was okay, and in that, he took great comfort.

19 September 2011

Autumn Rust

We sat in the kitchen after the walkabout, with scents of a roasting chicken and root vegetables perfuming the air. It was cocktail hour. Outside, it was raining. At higher elevations, we'd seen the first heavy, wet snowflakes of the season. By the time we had reached our destination, the upslope storm, which was backed up against the eastern face of the Roof of the World, began to spill over. The fog reduced visibility on the tundra to maybe twenty feet, and that was with a wrinkle, a squint, and giving a benefit of the doubt.

Our companion was telling us about deals and steals he'd gotten at his local farmer's market. He spoke of making pestos and freezing peaches for cobblers later, in the deep winter. Ways of preparing for the coming season. As he spoke, my glance tracked across the valley in the pouring rain. The clouds hung just over the Bull's Head, just a few hundred feet above Rue Main. It was in those moments I found myself coming to grips with the realization that summer was over and done with.

For the next four days it was close-toed shoes and socks. Jackets and layers. Thankfully, the dusting we saw upon the high peaks never came any further down than a little lower than ten-thousand, but there was still the nip in the air, letting everyone and everything know autumn had come to the pointy lands.

A popular question amongst the tourists this time of year is when will the aspens change. Whilst I agree the changing of foliage can be quite striking-we even have a festival about it in these parts, but us kooky mountain folk will use just about any old excuse to throw a party-there's something about traveling distances just to watch the trees rust that seems a little silly. It seems a little later this year than others, but over the last few days I've seen more and more omens of the season, the autumn rust.

"I'd like it a lot better if it didn't mean winter was so close," Sabina lamented when I pointed out some fading green.

Normally, I rather enjoy autumn. I accept the coming of winter, because that's part of the cycle. Besides, living in the mountains, one has to deal with it for at least half a year.

This year I find myself not as thrilled at the sight of autumn rust. It was a hot summer, and that was quite enjoyable up here. Of course, given it snowed pretty well through spring, making it winter, the sequel, there was a consensus among a good many of us that we should get an extended summer. Of course, as the old song says, you can't always get what you want. Mei fei tsu.

I watch the trees rust, figuring in the next few days the mountainsides will turn the colors of spun gold, flames, and emerald. My layers are ready, but, in the High Country, you never really put away your cold-weather clothes. You just fetch your raiment from another section of the wardrobe. I hope for an indian summer, but work on accepting the fact autumn is here, and the first snows are not far behind.

14 September 2011


A shot taken from Brown's gulch, about five miles and three-thousand vertical feet above home across the valley at the outback of our Sahel; there's Guanella pass, Waldorf, Mount Bierstadt, and the Sawtooth Ridge. Waldorf is where my mother's ashes are scattered... 

You would have told the world you were sixty, but I would've argued the fact. You were well over four-thousand years old. That fact was established when your eldest grandchild, the only one you ever got to meet, was two. Some parents tell their children lies about Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy. I told mine her grandmother was over four-thousand years old. I have a hard time seeing anything wrong with that.

It is a year to the day since we scattered your ashes. Since I read your requiem over your immolated bones. Dad, the man who taught me boys don't cry, wept, and I got some of your ashes on my hiking boots when it was my turn to do some scattering. I left Tibetan prayer flags strung in that tree we'd all picnic under. I didn't think you'd mind, but perhaps it is idiocy or hubris to second-guess the dead.

You didn't get another birthday after the one two years ago, shortly after you found out your only daughter was to be expecting your second grandchild. Whether it's tragedy or mercy you did not live to see your grandson be born is conjecture. The family marked your proceeding birthday upon that mountain spot. I mark it now by spewing words across a spider's web made of cyber, and I don't know if it makes any difference.

From the back of my house, I can see one of the ridge lines that frames Waldorf. Often, I whisper unspoken hellos to you. I am going on walkabout, because that's something I do. I'll be making Moroccan-style chicken for dinner. It'll be a good day.

But, I know at some point, I'll wander out back, whether alone or with companionship, bipedal or quadrupedal, I neither know or care. I'll have a tumbler of whiskey. It's then I'll toast your memory in barely audible words;

Happy non-birthday, Mother...

11 September 2011

Burning Napkins

He sat in a smokey gin joint, drinking, as one is wont to do in such establishments, and writing on napkins. The words were poems and love letters he burned in the ashtray before ink dried on the paper. In his head, he recited a single name over and over. Someone he could not forget, no matter how hard he tried. No matter how much he drank.

Then he looked up and saw her standing in front of him. At first, he was sure he was dreaming, or at the very least, hallucinating. All he could do was stare, looking into her soul whilst she read him like a book.

He was afraid to speak. He'd been drinking and writing on napkins. There were so many things he wanted so desperately to say, but feared any words would be muddled by the accent of intoxication. It was embarrassing enough she had to see him like that.

But she knew him well and smiled. Gave him one of those looks he so loved her for. She took his hand and squeezed.

"I'll never leave you again," she whispered. "Let's get out of here."

Then she kissed him. He realized he was very wide awake, sobriety coming back in a flash. They walked out, leaving a half finished drink and a napkin smoldering in the ashtray.

08 September 2011

The Last House on Lovecraft Lane

The afternoon thunderstorms can come quickly and without much warning in Colorado’s High Country. Tarot was reminded of this fact when the sun disappeared behind the clouds. There was a quick, bright, flash followed by a roar of thunder, which seemed to echo forever across the peaks, and then the sky opened up. Just like that. He wasn’t even halfway to his destination when he was soaked to the bone by wind-lashing rain, his Misfits hoodie becoming a cold weight around his slight frame. His teeth were chattering, but he pressed defiantly on.

Ever since he was sixteen, he found it funny that Marrakech had a Poe Street and Lovecraft Lane. Someone, from way-back-when, really loved horror writers. There were no Poes or Lovecrafts in the town cemetery. As he passed the intersection between the two roads, Tarot breathed a chilled sigh of relief. His destination was the last house on Lovecraft Lane, and it wasn’t all that far, even if the driving rain seemed to be slowing everything down.

The house itself seemed to sit on something of an island. There was the footbridge and driving bridge over the river. The back of the property ended abruptly at cliff, which overlooked Marrakech Gulch and the remains of the old silver mine on the other side. The other side of the property butted against the aspens, pines, and shear rocky southern face of Mount Marrakech.

Like many places in the rural mountains, there was something ramshackle about the house. At first glance, it looked like a strong breeze might just blow it over. Only after looking closer did one notice the sturdy construction that had withstood several blizzards, wind, and thunderstorms. Tarot smiled, noticing a few lights were on against the dark of the storm. It made the house at the end of Lovecraft Lane feel that much more inviting.

He knocked on the door out of courtesy. There was a vehicle out front and the lights were on. Someone was home. It was only in the bigger towns in the county, like Petra or Leeds, that people actually locked there doors, just like the big cities. The front door swung open almost immediately. At first, Tarot didn’t see anyone as he pulled his rain-soaked and chattering frame inside.

“You look like a drowned rat, Jimmy.”

Lankin was standing off to the side and slightly in shadow with his arms folded across his chest. Despite himself, Tarot jumped. Often, he would tell people, that if a big cat decided to dress up like a human being, that cat would be Lazarus Lankin, because there seemed to be so very little that was human about him. His mannerisms were decidedly feline, and his gray eyes, which burned with such feral intensity, did not seem to belong in the skull of a person. A set of chin-length rust colored dreadlocks framed his angular face and his skin was the color of polished bronze.

It was said he could be dropped into the Back Country in a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, sneakers, with only his pocket knife, and, a week later, he would show up in a bar, none the worse for wear, for a burger and a glass of red wine, before taking the long way home, that being at least a two week excursion through the tundra. The fact he drank wine didn’t phase anyone. Old timers, who would make fun of any other man who drank anything less than beer or hard liquor, were known to buy him glasses. Tarot would say it was because he was Lazarus Lankin. The men respected him and the women loved him, even if, or perhaps because, he carried himself like a big cat endlessly stalking its prey.

“My name’s Tarot now.”

“Sure it is,” Lankin seemed unconcerned. “Are you trying to give yourself hypothermia?”

“I thought I’d get here before the storm,” Tarot muttered.

“Take that off and stop trying to be fashionable,” Lankin ordered. “Remember, cotton kills.”

Reluctantly, Tarot did as he was told. The hoodie was almost a security blanket for him, even if he wasn’t even born when the Misfits first came out. Upon the removal of his saturated hoodie, he felt a blanket being placed over his shoulders. It didn’t even register that the front door was open until he heard it being closed gently behind him.

“I hear you want to get married,” Lankin said.

“Ira Milligan already tried to tell me I’m too young,” Tarot snapped.

“Is your wanting to get married the reason you’ve been kicked out of your house?” Lankin asked. “Or did you steal your dad’s cheap rotgut?”

Tarot was shocked. Lankin had been up in the tundra for almost a month. When he turned to look at his host, there was an expression Tarot imagined a mountain lion might have right before it eviscerated a deer.

“You’ve been couch-surfing all around Melbourne’s trailer park,” Lankin continued. “By the way, do you want some tea?”

“How the fuck did you fucking hear that?!?” Tarot exclaimed.

“Why, Jimmy, you silver-tongued devil, we live in a very small place and secrets are very hard to keep,” Lankin chuckled. “Ira Milligan’s really worried about you, but thinks you’re too busy being rebellious to even think of asking for help, and, by the way, when were you going to tell your beloved?”

Tarot hung his head, feeling defeated. He should have known; of course Lankin would know what happened. He was Lazarus Lankin, after all. All of the cool lines Tarot rehearsed in his head for days faded away like the mist clouds along the peaks after a storm. He was in the last house on Lovecraft Lane in the presence of Lankin, any attempt at a front would be ripped apart for the façade it was.

“You never answered me about the tea,” Lankin said. There was a slight softness to his voice.

“Please,” Tarot replied, knowing he couldn’t even joke about getting something stronger. Not with his dad’s reputation. That man wasn’t allowed in any place that served alcohol within a hundred miles until he learned how to pay a bar tab and not get into fights. “And is it okay if I stay here? At least for tonight?”

“I was going to extend the invitation,” Lankin said, his smile was eerily warm. “And I wasn’t going to accept a refusal.”

06 September 2011

Lunar Memories

When I look at the moon, I catch myself thinking of you. During the course of our acquaintance, there were so many times our phones would ring, our voicemails would be full of excited messages of having seen the moon. Sometimes, after a night out, we'd gaze up at that bit of celestial magnificence and just smile. We didn't always agree, sometimes we hardly got along, but we always had the moon.

You were always so desperate for attention. Poor me trips that could move me to obvious disdain and subtle nausea. One of those who loved to play soap opera and Machiavelli whilst protesting too loudly how you hated drama.

When it all came down, you tried oh so hard to drag me into your soap opera, and I moved to rise above, as opposed to rising to the bait. Harpy screeches and murderous glares. The gypsy would feed your dragons, which I found vexing. I still maintain if you two hadn't constantly antagonized one another so much, using me as the excuse, the situation would've resolved itself much sooner. 

I know why you hated me so then; blood. Blood is a funny fucking thing. If it had been one of my siblings, I'd have probably wanted to eat your liver. If it had been my daughter, I would have.

Madam Lung asked your sister to put a leash on you whilst she promised to try and control the gypsy. That's when things started to stabilize. Not long after, I started seeking my entertainments elsewhere. The last time any of us saw one another was at that one funeral. We were all civil. I was sincerely concerned when you mentioned you'd been diagnosed with malignancy, the same type that ate my  mother alive. I envy you your survival, and I know what a terrible thing to even just think, let alone put into language. But there it is, and I can't take it back.

There are a great many things that cannot be taken back...

I sometimes wondered how much shit you talked after seeing me. I wonder if you still harbor that murderous hate, despite the fact your sister gave as good as she got, and it wasn't all my fault. I wonder why I wonder.

But when I see the moon, I think of you. I remember all the times, all the calls, all the messages. That excitement we shared of seeing different viewpoints of the same object of celestial magnificence. For a time, no matter the state of our acquaintance, we always had the moon. When I look up and take it in, there are times I almost call you. Then I take a deep breath, step away from my phone, knowing it's for the best, and just gaze into the silver eye of the moon.

01 September 2011

Prologue; After Lunch Coffee

Ira Milligan knew she was old. One of her customers would joke she was a millennia if she was a day. Not missing a beat, she would say Methuselah was quite heartbroken when she turned him down for a date to a dance back when they were both teenagers. No matter how many times she repeated the joke, no matter how familiar the audience, she got a round of hearty guffaws.

Her long, wavy hair was the color of the first snow of the season and her eyes the deepest green of High Summer in the tundra meadows. Her skin was as smooth as silk, and strangely devoid of wrinkles, making her the envy of women half her age. Though she dressed in the manner of a bygone age, told in whiskey-soaked stories by some of the old-timers, she carried herself with a sense of elegance that had many convinced she was descended from royalty. There were those who called her the Queen of Marrakech with nothing but reverence.

She was humming an ancient tune to herself as she finished the lunchtime dishes. Hummingbirds trilling around the feeders kept time with her own music-making. It was a lovely High Summer day, though a little too hot for her liking. The building clouds to the west promised to change that. It was the way of things this time of year; beautiful clear and cool mornings, a warm early afternoon, and then the rain. Almost like clockwork. She would tell tourists who happened upon her café that the storms started promptly at two and it was up to the whims of the weather as to whether or not they ended at four or stayed on for the six o’clock encore.

The sound of a coffee cup being set upon a saucer reminded her she was not alone. He was small and pale with ash-blond hair, though he attempted to look tougher in his all black clothes and fledgling goatee. Although he wasn’t old enough to legally buy beer, he somehow landed a job down at the Gas n’ Grub. Probably because Orin really had no sense of ethics. Especially when it came to money.

“You seem a little jumpy today, Jimmy,” Ira said softly, grandmotherly. “Is there something you want to talk about?”

He winced at the use of his childhood name. That wasn’t him. His name was Tarot, and had been since he was sixteen. Well, at least with strangers and his peers. The older people still called him by his given name. Although, he took a little less offense to James than Jimmy.

“Not really, Miss Milligan,” he replied in a small voice. “Thank you.”

“Someone told me you asked Mari to marry you,” Ira remarked.

Again, Tarot gritted his teeth over the use of incorrect names. It was Whisper, and they were going to get hand-fasted, which, depending on who you asked, was not exactly liked being married. Well, not unless they chose that.

“So?” He tried to temper the youthful defiance in his voice with respect for whom he was talking to. “She’s twenty and I’ll be nineteen next month. We’ve got jobs and I’m moving out of my dad’s.”

“You’re still awfully young, Jimmy.”

“I thought you had your first kid right after you turned eighteen.”

“That was a very long time ago,” Ira said. “Lazarus Lankin would say at least a thousand years back.”

“Lankin says a lot of things,” Tarot muttered, maintaining the defiant, yet respectful tone.

“And a great many of those things are true, Jimmy,” Ira added.

He said nothing, but sipped his coffee. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the building clouds outside. It would rain soon. In some ways, he found comfort in that, the rhythm of the season.

“What has your dad said about you wanting to get married?” Ira asked.

“I don’t want to talk about my dad,” Tarot said, the tone in his voice sounded almost defeated. He then looked up at his host. “Is he back?”

“Is who back?”


Ira smiled softly. Finding out about Lankin was the whole reason for Tarot’s visit. In some ways, this saddened her, remembering when he would come and spend hours keeping her company. That was before he stopped calling himself Jimmy and started wearing black and reading books about the occult.

“He was in earlier for breakfast,” she replied. “After that rescue on the Death’s Head, he decided to spend some time up high.”

Tarot sipped his coffee and shook his head. The Death’s Head and Hell’s Watchtower were up high in the tundra. He wondered if the cartographers that named those pieces of geography were issuing a challenge to hikers and climbers the world over to test their mettle. There had not been a season without at least one rescue, and, most often, one of the party was brought out with a blanket over their lifeless face. This did nothing to deter another season’s batch of foolhardy from making the ascent.

“Just curious,” Tarot said, finishing his coffee and fishing his pockets for money.

“He asked about you,” Ira said. “Probably knows you’re looking for him.”

“Lankin knows a lot of things.”

“And he’d tell you doesn’t know anything.”

Tarot put his meager coins down on the counter. He felt bad that he didn’t have any more than for his coffee. Ira smiled kindly at him, her unspoken way of letting him know a tip couldn’t be less important. She always enjoyed his company. He still looked forward to hanging around her, even if he didn’t show it.

“I guess I’ll get going. Got to walk, you know,” Tarot said. As if on cue, the first peel of thunder for the day sounded off in the distance.

“Better get to walking then, Jimmy,” Ira said. “There’s a storm coming.”