Once Upon a Time…

.. and so the king and queen (and of course the princess) forged ahead with plans for the Royal Wedding, and yet there was sadness in the eyes of Prince Adam.

“What bothers you so, my son?” asked the king.

“The wolf who was my advisor, who guided me to you, has disappeared, and I want him at our marriage.”

“Then you must find him,” the king replied. “I’ll tell my daughter she must wait for your return. Come back with your wolf, and then you two shall be wed.”

So the next morning, the determined prince mounted his horse and set out in search of his friend the wolf. Finally, three days later, at the farthest extreme of the forest, he found the beast, sitting in a clearing and looking forlorn. “Ah, my leige, greetings to you.”

“Oh dearest wolf,” Prince Adam cried out joyously, “you must return with me to the castle, for I am to be wed, and I want you by my side. If it was because of you that I found the silver bird and the golden horse and freed the princess with the heart of diamonds!”

“I cannot,” replied the wolf.

“But why?” asked the prince. “You have been the only one true and faithful to me throughout this entire journey!”

“And you as well,” replied the wolf sadly. “But you are to be married, and I doubt your future in-laws, let alone your wife, would approve of my being at the castle.”

“I dont care!,” shouted the prince, as great tears fell from his eyes. “You are my friend!”

“My prince,” the wolf asked slowly, “do you even want to be married?”

The prince sat on the grass and sighed. “I dont know. The princess is lovely and gracious, and her parents are good and noble, but — “

“But?”

“But… perhaps we should not talk about it.”

“Of course. But before you leave, I must ask you to honour your promise.”

Prince Adam stared at the wolf in sudden horror. “No! Please do not ask me to do this!”

“You must, my liege. You agreed that, in exchange for my wisdom and knowledge in helping yu save the princess, you would cut off my head and release me from the witch’s spell. And now the time has come for you to do this.”

The prince tried every argument he could think of, but none would change the wolf’s mind. So, sadly, Prince Adam took out his sword and, with a mighty whack, separated the wolf’s head from its body…

… when suddenly there was a flash of light and a crack of thunder that made the prince look away. When he turned back, he saw that the lifeless body of the wolf was gone, and in its stead stood a handsome prince, one so handsome he took Prince Adam’s very breath away. “Thank you, Prince Adam,” said the prince with a dazzling smile of joy. “I am Prince Stephen, brother of Princess Eva whom you rescued. You have freed me, and I mmmppphh!” Prince Stephen was unable to continue because Prince Adam had rushed to embrace him and kiss him soundly on the lips.

“I dont want to marry any princess, not even your sister,” Prince Adam shouted happily. “I have found my love in my dearest friend, and it is you and I who shall wed!”

So the two princes returned to the castle, where the king and queen were ecstatic to see their son’s return after so many years. The king happily gave his blessing to their union, and — with the exception of the princess, who returned to her rooms in a snit — they lived happily ever after…

The Blind Leading.

I know he’s here somewhere.

… if only I could see him…

“Come,” the Father had said, “It might do you good to get out of the house. Let’s go for a walk in the woods.” And so we did, since what the Father wants, the Father gets. If he says we do things a certain way, we do it that way, lest we want to risk his wrath and punishment. Everything from what we eat to how we dress… he makes sure it’s done his way.

Or else.

So we went into the woods. I get nervous around new places like this; he knows it. With nothing I can use for bearings, I have to depend on the Father to lead me where I need to go. “Leave your stick. Just give me your hand,” he said. “I’ll guide you through.” At first, it was nice: I could feel the warm sunshine and hear the birds as our feet shuffled through the underbrush. We talked about things: why it was so important we do things his way, mostly. But other things as well — he wanted to assure me that my blindness didnt come as any sort of punishment. I just was as I had been created, that there was a reason for everything… even this. He also assured me that he loved us all, despite our physical failings: me, the deaf girl down the hall, the mute that had the room next to mine… he did indeed love every single one of us and only wanted what was best.

The day was getting hot, and the sun was merciless, so he led me deeper into the woods. Under the trees it was cooler, but it was also harder to walk. There were rocks and roots everywhere, but he was careful to guide me around them. And there were sounds… quiet, unrecognizable, just on the edge of hearing. “Dont listen to them,” the Father said. “Just stay focused on me. You’ll be fine.”

Then — I dont know — suddenly he let go of my hand, and a moment later I heard a slight, soft crash! somewhere behind me.

Then nothing.

I didnt know what to do, so I stood still, patiently, waiting.

“Father?”

He didnt answer.

I called out again. “Father??”

But there was only silence.

Dont panic, I told myself. Just stay calm and focus on him. He wouldnt abandon you, not in the woods. But he was… gone. And I… didnt know how to get out of the woods, not without him. He guided me into this. Only he knew how to guide me out. There wasnt anyone else…

I know he’s here somewhere. I know it. I know it. I’ve been searching for him for hours, but I know he has to be here somewhere. He has to be. He has to be. He wouldnt just leave me, not in the woods, not when it’s getting close to the end of the day and I’m suddenly lost without him. He has to be here somewhere. He has to be…

“… Father?”

Finding One’s Voice

Remember, it’s not about time! It’s about durability!

:: sigh ::

That was my first, now a decade ago. I did that line for a radio spot in Indianapolis. Some producer heard it, I got a trip to LA to audition, and the rest… well, here, listen: It’s history, y’know?

I’ve been doing voice work for ten, eleven years. Mostly cartoons, sure, but the occasional foreign film, even a smattering of porn (Most of those porn actors have the worst voices). I’m known mostly for the cartoon work, like Fred Frankenstein. My wife! My wife! — that was a good one, even though it took me about three months to really find his voice. Oh, and six seasons of “Squiddles Under the Sea” means that kids everywhere know Ooooooo… that whale!

Like I said, I also do filmwork. The porn’s the best, because it’s easy money. And the fancons are amazing. All I have to do is open my mouth and say Pizza guy!, and half the women in the audience go into meltdown. Then I freak the guys out with Gee, sure is hot in here; I mean, that’s from a big time girl-on-girl flick that’s been a regular seller for years, and never once did they know a guy did the voice of the star.

The foreign films? Way cool stuff. The French — man, they slam so many words in per second that it’s almost impossible to keep up, while the Germans… well, you have to talk way down here for it to be a good representation. And the Chinese — dont ask. Very tough work.

All these boxes? Notes to myself about all the characters I’ve played over the years. Thousands of characters, thousands of voices, everything from a neurotic spider — The web! The web! — to a comatose elderly woman — Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Every single one is honed to perfection before I commit to film.

Even now, this voice you hear? This is Captain Larry Jackson, squad leader from Flamebirds 3000. Notice the deep, sonorous tones? Nothing like my real voice, which sounds like… uhm… let’s see…

This? No, that’s Georgette, transexual prom queen.

Hmm… Uh, this? Damn. No, that’s Paul the Panther from Jungle Sagas.

Uhm… maybe… this.

No. That’s… well, no matter.

Give me a minute. I’ll figure it out.

Journey’s End

Once upon a time, I liked to travel.

See strange lands, strange peoples, strange customs. When I was young, I was always been somewhat curious about what lies just over the horizon, and since then I’ve never let roots grow deep enough that I cant pull them out and see what’s just around the bend.

I could stop, you know, anytime I wanted.

But there’s always the tantalizing mystery just ahead. Where does this road go? What is this town like? How do people say “Good morning” in this country?

As I said, I used to like it.

But now… after thirty years of a thousand strange beds in a thousand strange towns, I started to wonder what my own village was like. Perhaps, I thought, it was time to settle down. I was still young, I lied to myself, I could still create a life.

So I traveled home.

And somewhere along the way, there was a sign. “Scenic Route”. I was in no hurry, I told myself: after thirty years, what’s a few more hours? So I followed the sign and soon found myself in the middle of a majestic valley, magnificently clothed in firs and maples and lush green meadows. As I stood admiring the sheer beauty of the place, storm clouds rolled over me, and soon enough, rain fell, thick as sheets.

I begged cover in a nearby cabin, its occupant an old man. “Like to travel, do you?” he asked once I had warmed by the fire.

“I did, once.”

“Not so much now?”

I shook my head. “Now, all I wish to do is go home.”

“I see.” He looked out the window as a blaze of lightning briefly illuminated the valley. “Well, it’s late. Time for sleep.” And with that, he disappeared, leaving me to make my own bed by the fire.

I woke in a grassy knoll. The cabin, the old man, all gone. Thinking perhaps I had simply dreamed them both, I got up and headed on my way. The detour had now cost me dearly, and I was anxious even more to return home.

But the valley seemed to stretch ever more. I would see a range of mountains ahead and, thinking them to border this place, I would find myself surprised that, hours later, they were no closer than before. That night, frustrated, I sat under a tree and watched as clouds rolled in yet again and the rain started anew. I ran for shelter…

… and found myself in the same cabin. The same gently smiling old man. “Like to travel, do you?”

War in Uncertain Times

That last day, he’d lost two of his buddies. Day before that, three. He just couldnt take it any more, so he left, to walk across the desert and find his way home. He dropped his rifle somewhere on the second day out. On the third, he drank the last precious bits of water in his canteen. On the fourth, when he fell face first into the sand, he knew he was going to die.

He woke what must have been hours later: the sun was long down. There was a slight chill in the air. And before him, a small camp- fire, where something that smelled incomprehensibly delicious was cooking. And just beyond that, another soldier, one like himself: “You okay? Want some water?” All he could do is nod, and the soldier — a corporal — gently raised his head and poured the clear, cold ambrosia between his cracked lips. It stung at first, then he swallowed greedily. “Hey, slow down, mac. We got plenty,” the corporal grinned.

Sensation finally returned, and he could weakly raise himself to a sitting position. “Where am I?”

The corporal grinned again. “In the desert, right around the base slopes of the mountains. About ten clicks from my unit’s forward base camp. I found you pretty much by accident, while I was on patrol. I figure we’ll wait till you’re able to make the walk.”

The soldier shook his head. ‘No… Not going back…”

“Cant say I blame you, but for right now that’s about your only option. It’s us or the enemy’s camp about thirty clicks away. And I doubt they’d be as generous with their water, right?” he added with a laugh.

“Cant… take any more of this…”

“Where you from?”

“Cedar Rapids.”

“Damn! Really? Me, I”m from Des Moines! Small world, huh. Think you can handle some food? Dinner’s almost ready.”
They talked more over the thick stew. Neither had gone to college, but enlisted right after the first terrorist attack. Both couldnt wait to stomp some enemy head. They compared notes on the long air ride over here, how the plane just seemed to fly forever until it touched down in the middle of the night in this godforsaken desert, disgorged its passengers and the massive load of weaponry that accompanied them, then left to get the next shipment. Both had seen enough death and dying, all victims of an enemy they could never see, one that hid well within the neverending dunes and craggy mountains. Every time their units got close to an enemy position, it was empty, abandoned only a few hours earlier. They were chasing shadows.

Finally the corporal stood. “You think you can walk?” The soldier nodded, gamely standing. The corporal poured sand on the fire, then hoisted the soldier’s arm across his shoulders and pointed them west. “Okay, let’s go.”

The soldier balked. “That’s not right. We’re this way,” he said, pointing to the east.

“Mac, you been in the desert too long. We’re this way, towards the mountains.”

“The mountains? We havent had a base camp in the mountains in months. That’s all…”

The two stopped and looked at each other. Finally, the corporal spoke. “Okay. My unit’s in the mountains. We’ve been holding those for as long as I can remember.” He paused, then added cautiously. “You. Where are you from?”

The soldier pointed at the wide expanse of desert behind them. “Out there. We were chasing the enemy all over those damn mountains before giving up and going after them with air power. We had more planes flying up there than I’d ever seen before.”

“We havent used a plane since… I dont know when. We’ve been firing tons of mortars and rockets into the desert… Mac, this doesnt make any sense. Look…” He fished in his pants pocket and took out a tat- tered driver’s licence. “Look: Des Moines, Illinois.”

The soldier reached into his own pants and took out an equally frail library card. “Cedar Rapids.”

“How do I know that’s for real?”

“How do I know yours is?… Are we fighting each other?” The corporal shook his head. “This is like some sick… game. When you got here, what was your interim camp?”

“They called it Wallis AFB. Kept all of us on the south end before sending us out. Told us to stay put because everything on the north side was classified.”

The corporal nodded grimly. “We were on the north. They told us the south side was all classified…” He looked up at the sky. “What a load. What a goddam load… It almost makes you wonder…”

“What?”

“… where are we, anyway? Over there? Or back home, like some big ass desert in Nevada?”

“Why would they — ”

“Got me. But then it seems kinda stupid to send two complete armies the other side of the world to use all this weaponry to fight each other, doesnt it?… Alright, here’s what we’re gonna do. You trust me?”

The soldier looked at the corporal guardedly. “I dont have a whole lot of choice, do I.”

“Me neither, mac. Okay, the mountains, where my buddies are, are to the west. The desert where yours are is to the east. Something tells me that no matter which way we go, someone’s not gonna like what we discovered here. So we’re gonna go north.”

“What’re we gonna find there?”

The corporal grinned. “I got no goddam idea. But it’s all we got. You ready?”

Go-See

Walk out into the light. Purposely, not aggressively. Stare straight ahead at the photographers. Walk fifteen paces and stop.

When I was in high school, my buddies and I were at the mall, where they were having one of those national model searches. I wanted to blow it off, but one of the organizers asked if I’d ever done any modeling. My buds all sat there, giggling like idiots, but I figured what the hell. And I beat out 359 girls and seventeen guys to win a shot at a contract with Ford Modeling Agency.

Turn your head 90 degrees to the right and pause.

Hey, it was a free trip to NY, right? As soon as I could, I ducked out on the thing at Ford’s and instead wandered around the Fashion District, looking at all these huge, kick-ass buildings. I was standing outside one of them when this security guard walks up to me. “You lost? You here for the go-see?”

I had no clue what a go-see was, but I nodded anyway.

“Which agency you from?”

“Ford.” I showed him the messenger bag they’d given me not half an hour ago.

He looked at me suspiciously. “Ford doesnt handle runway models.” Then his cel phone went off. “Oh hell, go on in.” Guy at the elevator looks at me. “You here for the go-see?” I nod again. He takes me up to the sixteenth floor, where this guy meets me in the hall.

Turn your head back and walk to the end of the runway. Even, measured steps. Determined, but not forceful. Do not smile. Do not look at anything but the end of the runway. Ease to the right to allow the model before you to pass. Do not acknowledge him; keep your eyes forward.

“Here, put this on, and walk for me.” I do. “No! Not like that. Sweet Jesus on a stick, this is why I never hire from Ford! Look, walk like this.” He demonstrates. I nail it, and before you know it, I have a six thou a week contract walking up and down wearing someone else’s clothes. I get flown all over the world. I live in hotels, with maids who take care of everything. I havent cooked a meal in years. The studio handles my finances, but since the clients pick up the tab for just about everything, my salary is pretty much all gravy money.

At the end of the runway, pause. Wait two seconds, then turn to show them the back of the garment. Wait five seconds, then turn once again to give the photographers one last opportunity.

I live at the studio. I mean, an apartment would be a waste of time, right? Not to mention money. My mail catches up to me every four or five months; for a long time, my buddies back home and I wrote, but then they settled down into jobs and families and never left Texas. The letters just sorta stopped, and I guess I stopped caring.

Turn 180 degrees and walk back. Ease to the right to allow the model behind you to pass. Do not acknowledge him; keep your eyes forward. When you reach the end of the runway, leave and return to your station offstage.

I dont have many friends, just guys in the business, mostly. Some nights we sit around and talk about what we’re gonna do when we get too old for this. Leo’s freaking out because he’s losing muscle tone. Paul’s freaking out because he’s losing his hair. Some nights it gets so depressing I think I’ll go in the next morning and just quit. Then I head in, and my agent greets me with, “Hey, we’re doing a shoot for Versace down in St. Thomas. They asked specifically for you. One week, thirty grand. I might get more if you want it. You in?” And I nod.

Do not leave until you are authorized to do so.

The Puppy


“Dont you just adore small animals?” the Woman with the Shaved Head asked.

The Listener shrugged. “Of course.”

They’d been married for less than a year when it was clear there were… problems. He drank too much and he lied about where he went at night. But she stayed with him.

She started work on the garden the morning after their worst fight. At first it wasnt much, just a few flowers and some new grass sod. But those simple gestures made her feel she’d accomplished something. As time went on, and the arguments escalated, she took more and more solace in her garden. She added flowers and bushes with near wild abandon, even as he derided and belittled it as childish and silly.

When she discovered she was pregnant, she thought it might correct the problems. But it didnt. At first he claimed it wasnt his; then, when they discovered it was to be a son, he claimed it fully, so much so that she worried. And during it all, she added to the garden.

The boy grew to be the true image of his father: a cheat and a liar. But she stayed, because of her flowers. If she left, no one would tend them, and the thought despaired her.

The years passed, and the garden grew gloriously, huge in colour and scent. Her husband and her son both insulted it on a daily basis, but she persevered, despite their taunts.

Then one night, on her way home from work, she found the puppy.

It was small and wet from the rain, but one look and she knew she had to care for it. In fear, she hid it in the potting shed and prayed that neither her husband nor son would find it. It seemed to understand, because it remained quiet at night and greeted her with no more sound than its happily whooshing tail. She poured as much love into it as she did her flowers, and both thrived under her tender care.

But she knew it was only a matter of time. Not a week later, she returned home to find her husband and son happily at work, one riding a John Deere tractor, the other with a push mower, both reducing her beloved flowers to… nothing. She tried to stop them, but her son — her own son — pushed her aside as he broke open the potting shed, intent on destroying it with just as much abandon. The puppy, thinking it was her, rushed forward with a happy wag, then suddenly cowered at the sight of this brutish ogre. The first kick cracked two of its ribs, but he never got a chance to deliver a second one, because she rushed in, threw him aside, and snatched up the animal and rushed it into the night.

She left it with an understanding vet, who assured her the puppy would be fine. She returned home and walked in, past the wreckage of her beloved garden, to find her husband and son passed out in a drunken stupor, both coated with sweat and grass stains and flower petals.

The explosion was almost as magnificent as her gardens had been.

“She got away, I trust,” the Woman with the Shaved Head said finally.

The Listener shrugged. “For a while. They caught her a few weeks later, in a motel three states away. She’s in prison. I doubt she’ll get out.”

“… What about the puppy?”

“Sent to an animal rescue. No one adopted it. It was put to sleep.”