Something Snapped

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She seemed to have little in the way of personality, but actually she was simply hiding most of it beneath a thin veneer of bland niceness. Her lack of opinions hid a plethora of scorn, rage and shame. Her sweet smile had the power and delicacy of a blowtorch.

Fortunately for them, most people who could have become ensnared realized this at some gut level and steered away from entanglements. Only the sickest dove right in, but they were quickly consumed.

In the 1950’s she had been a member of a missionary order of nuns, the Maryknolls, who ran an orphanage and school in the part of China that borders Tibet. The Communist Chinese usually left them alone, but one day they arrived in force and it just happened to be the day a copy of Life magazine arrived, with a picture of Phil Silvers playing the role of Sargent Bilko on the cover. The Chinese assumed it was a picture of the Dali Lama, and arrested everyone. The school was closed, the nuns imprisoned and eventually sent back to the States, and the orphans were never heard of again.

After that, something in her snapped. She became a party girl, once sleeping with Peter Lawford and Robert Kennedy at the same time. She was with Jim Morrison the night he overdosed in Paris. And now, fate had brought her to Storm Lake, Iowa, where she was the children’s librarian. The parents assumed she was a kindly grandmother. The children were afraid of her.

True, her colorful past had left her with many stories, though she couldn’t share most of them. How could she use story-time to tell of her role in getting Che Guevara’s hands delivered to the FBI after his ambush and execution in Bolivia? Would she use her role as reference librarian to inform students writing term papers about the time she did acid with Tim Leary and Baba Ram Dass?

No, her life was a cipher, a closed book at best. After work, she went back to her furnished room at the senior center subsidized housing in the former Post Office and browsed social media until sleep overtook her.

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Hidden Kingdom of Lamphun

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Well, it’s not really hidden, it’s just been overshadowed by the more dramatic mountains to the west. Usually I go down 108 to Chom Ton, then to either Doi Inthanon or Hot, on my way to do the four-day ride called the Mae Hong Son loop. This time I took my new “big bike” 500 cc Honda, straight south, down 106, through Lamphun city and then on my way to Tak.

 

I never made it to Tak. It’s too far. But the scenery down 106 is a delight. Spent the night in Li, then headed back up a smaller road, 1184, reconnecting with 106 just south of Pa Song. No traffic at all! Lumyai farms mostly, and rice. Some corn, but not as much as up north.

 

Actually, it’s more fun to ride a motorcycle on Lamphun’s winding two-lane blacktop roads in good repair than torturous hairpin turns up and down steep mountains. Reminds me of the Gold Country of Northern California where I first learned to ride 38 years ago.

 

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Acrid Smoke

 

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Nobody needs to know the truth about what happened here. They wouldn’t believe it even if we told them. Dead people were walking and talking and now they’re gone. That’s all we have to admit. Why they came back from the dead and what they were trying to accomplish is anybody’s guess. We don’t have to get all caught up in making sense of it, or explaining it to people who want to be argumentative. Lots of people get off on being contrary. That doesn’t mean we have a problem. It means they enjoy being difficult and pretending to be more intelligent than us. They aren’t.

The dead people smelled bad. It wasn’t that rotting flesh dead animal by the side of the road dumpster behind a fast food restaurant smell. It was an acrid, smoky odor that surrounded them even if the wind were blowing.

They also whined a lot. You found yourself just wanting to slap them, except you were afraid their head might fly off if you did, so you just tried to change the subject and hopefully they would forget their griping. They all seemed to want someone to fix them, to give them justice, to make them alive once more. Nobody could. They knew that, and knowing it just made them whine all the more.

A lot of us became unnerved by their sudden appearance. Now that they’re gone, we’re doing our best to get back to business as usual. Some people claim the smell hasn’t really vanished. On a humid day, you can still detect that acrid, smoky scent.

My brother is a scientist, and works at the nearby observatory the FBI closed last week. He says he can’t disclose what he knows, but insists that the dead being resurrected is somehow linked to solar flares. Beyond that he won’t say any more. He sold all his stocks and put the house on the market, even though he has no plans to move away. Even though he didn’t say so directly, I got the impression that no place is safe. Nowhere is better than here.

He’s not upset at all about the resurgence of the dead. He’s more worried about bubbles bursting, the stock market, housing prices, the value of the dollar itself. In fact, most people aren’t really that concerned about what happened. “Shit happens,” they say and move on with their lives. The thing most people found irritating was the condescending attitude the walking corpses had when they spoke to us.

It was like they were school teachers or snotty professors. Their leader was a very short woman, probably under four feet tall, who spoke as if we were all not very bright school children.

Around them we became dull and inattentive. In some ways they seemed to have more life in them than we had in us.

Fable

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We never spoke, not even once, but we had the best communication I’ve ever had with a woman. She could talk, I’ve seen her do it with other people, but she and I only conversed with touch. Her touch spoke volumes. That first year together we couldn’t keep our hands off each other.

Then we stopped all physical contact, and merely communicated with our eyes. We gazed and understood what the other was thinking. Sight told us everything we needed to know, and with absolute certainty.

When she became blind, I still had my vision, although with her out of the picture it didn’t take long for me to join her in perpetual darkness. We were both surprised to find that we knew the other’s whereabouts, and what the other was thinking. By now, we seldom ventured from the house, so it was only a matter of keeping track of which room we were in.

When she died, I knew it within a few minutes. The air grew cold, there was a strange mechanical sound that seemed to come from everywhere at once. I stumbled across her body at the bottom of the stairs. It was then that I began to tell her everything I hadn’t told her, and it took me days until I felt I could stop talking. Then my sight returned.

She appeared younger than I remembered her. Rigor mortis had come and gone, but her complexion had always been pale, so that wasn’t what I found shocking. It was her expression. Her face was frozen into a horrible scowl. The lips were drawn back, exposing her sharp incisors, which made her seem more like a vampire or a predatory cat than the sweet person I once knew so well.