Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Great Hites # 53


Congratulations to Norval Joe who won this week's voting.

Ashley Redden
WinnerNorval Joe
Mick Bordet
And Jeff Hite

By: Ashley Redden
1. Interview

Sheriff Davis recognized them right off, FBI agents. The dark off-the-rack suits, sunglasses and everyday all American hero type looks nailed them to a tee. But, hell, anyone could have guessed who these two were. They looked as if someone had dropped two young men into a couple of FBI molds and out stepped two iconic special agents, it was almost comical.
He watched as they stopped the first deputy they met, that would be Strauss, a good man if a bit slow on the uptake sometimes. The sheriff watched as both agents flashed their IDs, and asked a question of the deputy. He saw both agents dark glasses follow Strauss’ outstretched finger as it pointed unerringly at Sheriff Davis.
Sheriff Davis sighed and slightly shook his head as he watched both agents stride purposefully across the room leaving Deputy Strauss with his mouth open, finger still at point. He very seriously doubted that any good whatsoever would come of these two getting involved, but his people had hit a dead end. At this point in the investigation, he really had no choice.
The two agents stopped directly in front of the sheriff and went to pull out their brass. Sheriff Davis waved an age spotted hand and said, “Don’t bother.”
Both agents stopped, frozen with their respective right hands half inside their suit top, like something off a bad TV drama. The sheriff’s lip twitched but he held himself in check. Laughing, whether meaning well or not, would certainly not be appreciated by these two. Not that he cared much what they thought, but a little innocent giggle here might cause him problems he didn’t need later. He squinted his eyes instead and wondered where the hell the agent’s task force was. Two more guys weren’t going to help much in finding those lost scientists. Out loud he said, “I’m sheriff Hank Davis, but I guess my deputy already told you that much, you here for the missing scientists?” Both agents nodded and Davis continued saying simply, “How can I help you?”
The agents removed their hands and the lead agent said,” We’re from the FBI. I’m special agent Briggs and this is special agent Stratton.”
This time the sheriff did laugh, but Briggs and Stratton didn’t miss a beat.
“We need to have a word with the survivor of the attack. We would also appreciate access the crime scene as well. Please make available any evidence that you might have acquired during the investigation so far. Also, we expect any evidence gathered from now on, no matter how small, to be made available to our organization at the quickest convenience.”
The sheriff noticed that they didn’t say that any evidence they obtained would be made available to his people, but hell, these guys were the pros. Davis said, “You two mind if I have a look at those ID badges?” He waited a beat and added, “because of the names and all.”
Both agents withdrew their IDs and held them out for inspection. As the sheriff peered at one, then the other, Stratton said, “due to the sensitive nature of our work and the personnel with which we sometimes meet, the given names of our branch operatives are confidential.”
“Well, we did call you guys, but I was expecting a little better turn out. No offense, but just two agents to help find these guys seems a bit thin to me,” answered Davis leaning back after inspecting the proffered identification. Sure enough they read special agent Briggs and special agent Stratton. Sheriff Davis shook his head and wondered to himself, you’d think they could think up something better than a lawnmower engine for names. Out loud he said, “Branch of the FBI? What branch would that be?”
“Classified,” said the agent called Briggs wearing a thin smile. “We’re here to aid in the investigation not run a search party. If and when more help to look for the PhD’s is needed, we’ll call them in on our discretion.”
“Okay,” said Davis and sighed anew. He continued, “We called Jake back this morning; he’s over in the waiting room on the right.” All three law enforcement officers began walking to a closed nondescript wooden door.
When they stopped at the door, agent Briggs said, “We would like to speak with the witness, Mr. Martin or rather Jake you say, if that would be acceptable?”
“Sure,” answered the sheriff. “But let me introduce you so he knows what’s going on. Jake’s been through a lot these past couple of days.” The sheriff turned to the agents and said, “I would appreciate it if you guys weren’t too hard on him, Jake’s a mess. He hasn’t been the same since the accident. I think his mind keeps going back to that pit in the tunnel, but I’ll be surprised if he ever sets foot down there again.”
The sheriff looked from one to the other, “do you two need to be briefed or have you read the report?”
“We’re up to speed,” said Stratton. “One question though.”
Stratton glanced at his partner then looked hard at the sheriff. He said, “do you believe the story that’s in the report? Suffice it to say that the details border on the fantastic.”
When the sheriff didn’t answer immediately but stood looking uncomfortably between the two agents, Briggs prompted, “off the record.”
Sheriff Davis nodded slowly and added, “yeah, I’m not saying that I buy everything or that I understand any of it, but I’m sure that Jake believes what he’s saying without a doubt.” The two agents exchanged a furtive glance, the demeanors of both remaining poker faced and unreadable behind the matching sunglasses.
“Okay,” said the sheriff opening the door and standing aside for the two agents to enter. After both had crossed the doorway, Davis followed and shut the door behind him.
The room was small, stodgy, and not overly lit, decorated simply with a solitary long table running almost the entire length of the room. The sheriff opened a hand indicating for the agents to have a seat across from Jake.
On the other side sat Jake, a small disheveled man that looked as though he hadn’t slept in a week. An overfilled ashtray sat in front of the man, stuffed with ashes and butts. Davis wondered if another cigarette would even fit.
Jake sat with his head down, both hands on the table, one over the other. He looked up and acknowledged their presence with a hesitant nod. Jake had been rubbing the back of his right hand with the index finger from his left when they entered. He did not stop. Looking at the nervous fidget and the overall demeanor of the man gave Sheriff Davis a sick feeling in his stomach for the poor guy. He really did look like warmed over crap.
Sheriff Davis introduced the agents and explained their agenda. Jake again answered with a silent nod. Agent’s Briggs and Stratton took turns drilling Jake with a battery of questions while Davis sat by silently, worrying about his friend. The agents tried again and again to lead Jake and get him talking about the incident. The most they were able to get out of him was essentially affirmation to the questioning, which strictly followed the report.
Finally, both agents seemed to have had enough. It had become pretty obvious to even Sheriff Davis from Podunk America that they were getting nowhere fast. Davis cleared his throat. Both agents looked his way. One of them, Briggs he thought, nodded to go ahead.
Davis said, “Jake?” After waiting for Jake to look up, he continued, “can I ask you just one question more?”
Jake nodded hesitantly still rubbing his hand. He had not stopped since the three had entered the room. “Jake, just what was this thing that you said you saw down in the pit?”
“Well, um, see,” said Jake actively rolling his hands now looking directly at the Sheriff. “I think, well, you see, I really think that maybe it was a troll.” The last of the sentence he finished with a wilt, barely mumbling.
“I’m sorry Jake, but what was that last part?” asked Sheriff Davis.
Jake looked the sheriff directly in the eyes, took a deep breath and said, “I think maybe it was a troll.”
Davis sat back and blew slightly ruffling the hair cropped just above his eyes. Jake said gaining force as he spoke, “yeah, if it wasn’t a troll, it had to be something else I’ve never seen before except maybe in some crazy movie or something.”
“You sure Jake, I mean…a troll?”
“Yeah, a troll, I mean dammit sheriff I got a really, really good look at that thing, whatever it was. We heard this swooshing sound, like somebody opened a big trash bag, you know, with air. Then I saw something moving underneath the ledge on the other side of that hole from where those two science guys were trying to climb out. First a clawed arm came out from under the ledge and got a hold of the rock. Then, this long neck poked out, just like that.” Jake shot his arm out rigid, hand in a closed fist. “The end turns up see,” and he rotated his fist up towards the ceiling without moving his arm. “Then this face just pops out of the end, with two big wet eyes looking right at me. Two more arms came out and one flipped something up towards me, caught my leg. I looked down and saw some kind of claw or hook. It was stuck through my pants. That’s when the thing gave a yank and snatched me off my feet. I would’ve gone on over, quick as a wink, but my other leg got caught on some of the crap sticking up from when the hole collapsed trapping those science guys.”
Jake swallowed hard, looking now from the agents to Davis and back again as he continued, “that thing gave another couple of snatches and nearly pulled my leg outta the socket, hurt like hell. Finally the claw tore through my pants and the thing began hissing and pulling the claw back to it, I guess it was on a line or something.”
Jake stopped and tried to light another cigarette. He managed to get the cig in his hand and after some difficulty to light a match, but had begun shaking so bad that he couldn’t make the business end of the two meet. Finally, he put both the unlighted cigarette and spent match back down on the table. Davis noticed that there were several more blackened matches in a pile behind the ashtray in front of Jake. Boy, Jake sure was a mess.
One of the agents asked, “What happened then?”
Jake looked up, in his eyes beyond the fatigue was sadness and shock. He said, “I ran for my damned life that’s what. The whole way out of the main dig tunnel I could hear those science guys just screaming and screaming. I’m not sure when they stopped. When I got outside, I realized that I was screaming too. Had maybe screamed the whole time I was running, maybe, I don’t know. I was almost drug down in that damn hole with the science guys.” He paused and added with a shudder, “and that thing.”
No one spoke. After several moments of awkward silence, Jake stood and said aloud, “One things for damn sure. There is no power on Earth that could drag me back into one of those tunnels. No way, “he shook his head hard. Looking at the sheriff he asked, “Can I go now?”
The sheriff nodded and rose opening the door. Jake made his way around the table and out the door. As he walked out, he paused, turned partially back and said, “You three had best not go back down into those dig tunnels. They should be sealed tight, keep whatever’s down there from getting out.”
One of the agents responded, “Sir, we can’t do that. We have to find the two missing PhD’s.”
“Well, you three just be careful. I suspect that if and when you do find those two guys, you’re not going to like what you find very much.” And with that Jake was gone.
The two agents rose, gathered their paperwork and left with a nod to the sheriff. Davis lingered by the door, gathered his hat with a sigh and said to no one in particular, “no, I suspect they won’t.” The sheriff left the way he had entered, hit the light switch and pulled the nondescript wooden door closed behind him leaving the stark waiting room dark and foreboding. Just like a cave.

The Traveler
By: Norval Joe

The walls of his cubicle were a tribute to his travels. Post cards of Big Ben, The Pyramids, Taj Mahal, and Mt. Fuji shared space with hotel stationary in French, German, Malaysian, and Chinese. Exotic memories on the plain grey back ground of a mundane life.
"Jerry", he heard from over the partition, "Are you there?" That was Mark on the other side. "Yeah, man. I'm here, just deep in thought."
What a joke, he mused 'No thought involved in this mindless job, deep or otherwise.
"The weather was cooperating and they would be ready for their final ascent the next day. The sherpa had spread all their gear on a nylon sheet, outside the tent. They inspected each piece for damage or excessive wear. They checked the gates of the carabiners, that they opened and closed freely, and looked for frayed areas of their harnesses. They flaked the climbing rope out onto the tarp, and then inspected every inch, running it between their fingers while examining it with their eyes. They felt the continuous core of nylon fibers through the woven mantle that sheathed them. Like blind men reading brail, they felt for inconsistencies in the dynamic, semi-elastic fibers that might cause the rope to fail, in the event of a hard fall.
"Jerry," Mark said again, "I don't think I can take this job anymore. Day after day, the same thing. How do you stand it?" There was no reply from Jerry's side of the temporary wall. "Jerry, are you over there?"
"Yeah Mark, What do you need?" Jerry asked as he resurfaced.
"I was just wondering how you do it. You've been here longer than anyone else, how can you stand it, day after day?"
"I don't know, Mark. I just try to stay focused."
Focus. He should be relaxing his mind and getting some rest, not focussing on the climb tomorrow. The route was well known and the Sherpa well trained, there would be no worries. What he needed was his strength, and for that, he needed sleep. They would be starting their ascent at 2 am to be able to summit by mid-day. He rolled over in his sleeping bag and squeezed his eyes shut; he could never sleep when it was light outside.
They had returned to Camp 4 the day before and spent the day resting, to improve their chances of summiting. They had set up the camp previously on one of their preparatory climbs. He didn't feel well rested; just moving around at this elevation was fatiguing.
Camp 4 was just above 26,000 feet at the edge of Everest 'Death Zone'; from here to the top the temperature could drop so low as to cause frost bite to any body part exposed to the air. The snow above would be so well frozen in some places that death could be caused by simply slipping from the trail. And worse, the oxygen level is so low that climbing, even breathing becomes extremely difficult and the mind dull; and thus, reactions fatally slow.
Hours still before dawn, they roped up as they prepared to leave the campsite for their final approach. He pulled the gators over his boots and up to his knees, to keep snow out of his pants and boots, and stepped into his bindings. He stamped each foot into the snow several times at different angles, ensuring that they had properly attached to his boots, and would remain in place, under any circumstance. He clipped onto the rope and spun the lock on the carabiner, binding his harness to the life line. He checked to make sure that he had his glacier glasses in the most accessible pocket of his goretex jacket; he would need them when the sun came up. He adjusted his halogen head lamp and swung its beam back and forth across the snow in front of him. Each climber inspected one another's harness before picking up their ices axes and headed toward the summit.
"Jerry, I'm quitting, just as soon as I can find something to pay my rent. I don't care if its less than what I'm making now. Heck, I don't care if it's flipping burgers. I just need a change; some time away from this grind. I need some time to be creative again; maybe write that novel I've been thinking about. Time to extend myself; to climb to my potential. The potential that has been stifled by this job.
He watched the Sherpa climbing the trail in front of him, the rope between them pulling taught as he slowed and stumbled. The native climber stopped and turned to look back at his charge. Swaying slightly, he leaned on his ice axe, resting against the against the glacier where it rose to his right. On his left, only eighteen inches from his foot, the mountain dropped away, one thousand feet to a junkyard of broken rock and ice. There were the bodies of climbers down there as well. One was added just last week, as a climber lost his focus, lost his step, and lost his life. They say that for every four climber that makes the top of Everest, one dies coming back down.
'The Traveler'
He could see the summit. The glacier distorted his perspective and though it looked close, he knew that he still had another 1000 feet to climb.
"Jerry? Have you really gone all those places you have the post cards from. I mean, that would be tons of traveling. China, Japan, and Malaysia? A trip like that would take weeks. Jerry? Are you there?" "Yeah, Mark, now what?" All those places you've been, when do you go? In my five years here, you have never taken any vacation." There was a long silence, " Jerry? Are you ok?" "Yeah, Mark, I'm just feeling a little dizzy."
He concentrated on the sound of his crampons as the sharp spikes bit into the ice. Each crunch told him he had taken another step forward. Each step was more difficult, the time between each step increasing. He began to verbally command his body, to keep himself moving forward, "Lift the leg. Thrust the foot forward. Plant the foot. Now the next leg."
He was weary. The next leg wouldn't move, though he strained to drag it forward. He opened his eyes and found that he was leaning on his ice axe, that he hadn't moved again for some time. The Sherpa was standing in front of him. "Mr. Caldwell," he was pleading. "You must go back, you won't make it now. If you don't turn back, you will die!"
'How pathetic,' he thought, 'the man wants to cheat me out of my payment.' "I can make it," he argued with the Sherpa, "With or without you."
He fumbled at the lock on the carabeener, eventually opening it. He unhooked his harness from the rope and pushed past the Sherpa, his indignation giving him renewed strength. He heard the Nepalese man shouting warnings but, then, eventually following behind him.
"I'm calling it a day, Jerry. Hope you have a good night. I'll probably call in sick tomorrow; give me a chance to check out some job leads that I have been looking up over the last couple hours. Come on, Jerry, walk down with me."
Mark walked around the partition. The partition crowded with postcards collected from garage sales and torn from travel magazines. Hotel stationary written in exotic languages, not by Jerry, but, to Jerry in reply to his requests for hotel information.
Jerry stared blankly at his computer terminal. His bloodshot eyes, and a small trickle of blood coming from one nostril, was the only color on his otherwise, pale and lifeless face.

Don't Mind Me
By: Mick Bordet

I blame it on the theremin. I started playing it about a year ago, after finally getting fed up asking myself "what is that weird sound?" in the Beach Boys' song 'Good Vibrations'. It didn't matter that the sound they used wasn't actually produced by a theremin, because, by the time I had found that out, I was already hooked. This strange, otherworldly sound, played without even touching the instrument, but by careful manipulation of the body's own capacitance, had mesmerised me. Once I had one in my grasp, I practiced at every opportunity until the swoops and wails of the beginner were replaced by recognisable tunes. About three months ago I was told that I had picked up "thereminist's stare"; that distant, slightly glazed espression that comes with trying to keep one's body as still as possible to avoid affecting the tuning, whilst concentrating on finding the correct pitch and playing with true feeling.

A short time after that I was on the regular bus to work and it broke down at the side of the motorway. The passengers, myself included, were transferring onto another bus that ran the same route half an hour later, but as we walked from one to the other past the open engine compartment, something caught my attention. I bent down, stuck my hand into the hatch and twisted a pipe which led into the main engine block.

"Try that now," I said to the driver, "your fuel pipe was twisted and blocked. That should be it sorted."

He gave me a rather sceptical look, but returned to the driver's seat and tried the ignition. It started straight away. He nodded and gave me the thumbs-up sign, surprised and impressed. Not as surprised as me, though. My knowledge of motor maintenance extends as far as filling my car up with petrol and topping up the windscreen washers once in a while. How did I know to fiddle with that particular pipe? Why was it such an instinctive reaction? It puzzled me at the time, but I forgot about it until one night, some weeks later, when my wife and I sat down to watch a film.

By the time we had reached an hour into the film, I had to switch it off, so annoyed was I with inaccuracy of several of the theories being put forth. I hadn't even heard of Dan Brown until the week before and thought I knew next to nothing of Da Vinci's greatest works, yet here I was, picking apart the film with comments about the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar as though I was an expert in grail-lore. That happened the day after a long session of theremin practice and it was only the beginning. My memory is starting to fill with some of the greatest works of literature, I know the princples of aeronautics and thermodynamics, I can recite many of Shakespeare's sonnets and have found myself watching French films without reading the subtitles.

It seems my mind has rebelled against my sedantary twenty-first century lifestyle and has taken to going to the library without me. Why that should have happened is beyond me; I can only guess that it thinks I'm holding it back. Perhaps some day my mind will read up on psychological phenomena and I will be able to explain it all, but until then I'm enjoying kicking back and letting the knowledge flow in like the tide.

I must go now; the big match is on in half an hour and I need to dig out the beers. By the time the final whistle blows I should be familiar with everything Dostoyevsky

Rob and The Apple
By Jeff Hite

Rob opened his eyes to the new smell, and realized that he didn't know where he was. There was a great meadow in front of him, that he knew he had never seen before. And he was standing waste deep in wild flowers. Scattered around the meadow were a number of fruit trees, all covered it ripe fruit. He was hungry, so he walked slowly through the grass toward the nearest of them. It was an apple and they were all beautiful looking. But as he reached up to pick one, he hesitated. There was another person in history that picked the wrong apple, and paid the price for it. So, he decided not to. He walked slowly to the next tree. This was a peach, it was also laden with fruit, but he noticed something else odd about it. Not only was it covered in ripe fruit, but it also was covered in blossoms.
"What a great idea," he thought out loud. "I wonder how many times a year it will produce fruit."
"Nearly continuously." Said a voice from behind the tree.
"I said it produces fruit nearly continusly." a small boy stepped from behind the tree then with a big grin on his face. "That is how we keep Zuse happy."
"I see." He stood in amazement waiting for the other shoe to drop. "This has to be a dream."
"Oh this is no dream, this is real. We have to tend the this orchard to all year round."
"It doesn't look that much like an orchard, more like a meadow with a few trees."
"Well since they produce year round they need extra nutrients, so they are spread pretty far apart."
"Well that makes sense, as much sense as the rest of this I guess. Where are we."
"Foolish man, I told you we are in the orchard of Zues."
"Alright, but where is that?" The young boy looked at him quizzically, and suddenly looked much older to him.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean where is the the orchard located?"
"You are strange to me. The Orchard is on the western slope, it boarders the mortals realm That is why we ocationaly loose tress as the two realms bump into each other. I have told Zues this before. You are a spy for him aren't you? You are down here to make sure that we are not stealing any of the fruit. Who are you?" His face contored into an angry mask."
"I don't know what you are talking about, I just wanted to know where I was. I don't know anything about Zeus or any other god for that matter."
"I don't believe you. You go and tell your master that we are producing the fruit, and that we have never stolen from the trees."
"I believe you," He said stammering as the little man pulled a wicked looking pruning knife from his belt.
"Be gone, get out of the orcard before I change my mind." Rob truned and ran. He was not sure which way he should run, but he ran.
"Rob, did you not hear your phone ringing? I have been trying to call you for the last fifteen minutes." Monica's voice as a pleasant relief even if she was annoyed with him.
"No, I'm sorry I got distracted, my mind wandered. What did you need?"