Thomm Quackenbush, author

02.22.04 3:00 p.m.

We must not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.  

-T. S. Eliot

 



Previously in Xenology: Sarah had a propensity for breaking Xen's car with voodoo.

The Place We Have Known
I will be with Sarah soon. I can't really fully process this and am honestly ebbing from the panic this has inspired in me. I solicited Zack to join us, as he is artistic and musical. He, however, is going to spend time with Kelly, the costumer of his last play. Last night, returning from ice cream and Wal-Marting with Melissa, I explained how much I wish I could have him accompany me. He responded by noting in a lusty tone that he wishes he could as well.
"No, Zack, I expressly forbid you to get with Sarah. Expressly. Forbid."
"Honestly, if she wanted to start a band with me, I would," he smiled. Emily had said something similar when I informed her I was trying to get his company and protection, but I think she was just trying to get out of being in their band Slowpoke and Pumpkinhead.
"Have you ever, even once, heard her sing?" I tried to reason.
"No, but she is hot."
I shook my head, "Expressly forbid. You are welcome and encouraged to couple with every other woman on this planet, except for Sarah. And Kate. And Emily, obviously. And my mom. And my grandmother. And your mom. But, the other two billion are perfectly acceptable. Please."
"She is really attractive. And she sings," he smirked.
"But... no. Expressly forbid. What about Kelly? You could couple with her!" I eagerly suggested.
"No, I probably can't, though that would be nice," he sighed. "She just got dumped by her boyfriend, lining me up to be Rebound Guy. I hate being Rebound Guy. I want to be Real Guy. I'd be a good boyfriend."
I placed my hand just above his knee and cooed, "I've always thought so..."
"Yeah, until you found that Emily slut and broke my heart," he faux moped.
Returning from my digression, Sarah has been paying periodic visits to the area to see her sister in spirit, Kristin, and her sister in blood, who has recently given birth. I would like to say I was able to sense her proximity to me, but my senses have been depressed since the beginning of this semester.
Tonight I will see her and I am terrified. I have called Conor and Kei, hoping for some reinforcement to my own will. I would have loved for Emily to meet Sarah (and provide me with a safety blanket), but she is in the city at a martial arts seminar for her school. I wouldn't and won't do anything untoward, but Sarah and I are a force of nature that does not often occur... like one of those volcanic eruptions that destroy everything in their path.
I have only spoken to Kristin in this planning. We are meeting outside of the Moonlight Café at six, after I get out of work. Kristin, as well as my parents, worry about the safety of Shadowfax/Elvis, my new used car. Sarah, it is noted, kills my cars in order to not have to see me. It is not a conscious thing, of course. She just cannot always handle me. Kristin informed me that, one of the times my car broke down fairly close to Sarah's, she asked if Sarah was going to wait with me while I got help. She reports that Sarah responded that it was too psychologically traumatic to do so.
I arrived at New Paltz far too early because I was nervous. I had not eaten much all day and my stomach was not encouraging that to change.
To kill some time, I wandered around the shops in proximity to The Moonlight Café. New Paltz seemed so alive with students enjoying a slight respite from bitterly cold temperatures. I was almost envious until I remembered that New Paltz didn't want me. I lacked the proper channels to be seen as anything but an outsider to them. A pang of the old loneliness returned, so I hid in a shop before more could find me.
The store was one of those incense reeking buildings with pictures of Bob Marley on Jamaican flags and "tobacco" pipes that would put Wonderland's Caterpillar to shame. I wandered next to a display of various stones and crystals. I picked up a small, ovoid quartz lingham and asked how much it was. The clerk, three degrees separated from earthly matters and looking as though he stumbled from a Hari Krishna shrine to an Army surplus store, stammered, "That's not really... usually it's $3? Let's say two? $2."
Fishing a couple of dollars from my pocket, I said, "Deal... Do you have any moldavite, by any chance?"
"I see you are rocking the old school pouch action." I was, indeed, wearing a leather pouch over my denim shirt. "I just lost mine, but I think... maybe it was supposed to happen. Or maybe I'll find it. I just don't know."
"They are tricky. The moldavite," I reminded him. I knew there was moldavite somewhere in this shop.
"Not to sell, no. But I have this chunk here," he said, handing me a fist-sized hunk of this tektite. "It cost me sixty dollars a gram but... wow. This stuff is straight from space. Scientists have tested it."
I nodded. "I once saw a singing bowl made of moldavite. It was $5000, but..."
"Oh wow," he interrupted, "I bet that would bring the UFOs to your backyard!" To detail his point, he made UFO noises until I apprehensively left.
I nervously paced in front of the restaurant, fearing that they were sitting inside and thinking that I had ditched them or broken down. A summary visual inspection confirmed that I was paranoid.
To calm myself with distraction, I leaned against a signpost, rolling the lingham in one hand and trying to read various short masterpieces of fiction in the eponymous book. I couldn't concentrate on a single story, instead flipping through connecting disjointed paragraphs. The clock struck six, then six ten, in this fashion. I doubted myself, thinking they had said six thirty and remembering that the night was getting colder.
Kristin  
Kristin
They appeared at quarter after the hour, clad darkly and smoking cigarettes. Contrary to the apparently widespread belief, I did not immediately run to Sarah, dramatic violin chords twanging from the rooftops, gathering her in a tight embrace and enveloping her with kisses. Seeing her for the first time since I had this layer of skin was revelatory, but only because I remembered that she is a person I love and not a collection of lyrics, photos, and psychic chaos. She is sarah, not SARAH.
Kristin was the smaller of the two. She was not as I imagined, though it was not as though I have a concrete visualization of her. As she was tied up with the Sarah akashic energy, part of me expected that she would be some anorexic poet angel with Cleopatra eyes. Instead she was much better, much more. Very sweet looking with brown hair that reached past her shoulders and patient eyes.
I gave Sarah a firm hug, the embrace of friends who have missed one another and nothing more, and asked what the plans were. "If I may be so bold, I suggest we consider eating." I had been pacing in front of fragrant eateries and it had whetted my reemerging appetite.
Sarah slipped her hand into her pocket. "We will flip a coin to decide. What will mean that we get something to eat?"
I raised my eyebrows. "Heads, obviously."
It was tails and my stomach lost the battle.
"What is there to do in New Paltz?" Sarah asked.
I looked up and down the block on which we were standing, appraising their wares. "There are the shops, specializing in marijuana smoking and places to eat... did I mention the marijuana smoking?"
"What do you usually do?" asked Kristin.
"Usually... I get something take out from The Moonlight Café, then I wander around the old houses - they have ghosts, you see - and... that's really it. But if we did that now, our hands might fall off. Or the Axe Ghost will chop them off. I advise against it."
"What do you advise?" Kristin asked.
"That we ignore the advice of currency and get something to eat at the Moonlight Café. It will give us a chance to talk and I can take pictures of Sarah that aren't perfect - Emily insists that none of the pictures I have of you actually look like you so Keilaina insists that I should take bad pictures of you."
"Impossible, I don't take bad pictures," Sarah demurred.
"So you think. Every picture I seem to take of someone turns out bad, so our mojos should counteract."
We got a table and placed our order as I tried to take bad pictures of Sarah from various angles. Despite my best attempts, the pictures were still toothsome.
Xen & Sarah  
Look! We are together and I still have a car!
As I bit into my chicken sandwich, Kristin burst, "I have so many questions for you."
I swallowed hard. "Ask me one."
"I can't think of any," she realized.
"Oh, well then. Ask me one when you think of one. Until then, tell me about yourself."
"I live in an old whorehouse," she began promisingly, "and it is haunted. Well, it was a crackhouse too, so I have crack whore ghosts. Often they steal my boots and move them around."
I looked under the table at her boots. "Your crack whore ghosts have good taste. Anything else of note?"
"My boyfriend is Captain Jack Sparrow. You'll meet him. You'll agree. Ah, I thought of a question... do you know any French?"
"Le sange est sur la branche?" I asked.
Kristin's eyes widened. "Is that... why did you say that?"
"Ma grand-mère est flambé?" I offered.
"Eddie Izzard?" she confirmed.
My lips broke into a broad grin and our shared bit of cultural literacy. "Oh, Kristin, I like you so very much."
After similar bonding and a few homosocial flirtations between Sarah and Kristin, I paid our bill. Returning to the table, they both handed me ten-dollar bills. "This is far too much," I insisted.
"Then we will leave the other ten at a tip," Sarah conceded, "Waitresses love 50% tips." She is, of course, a waitress in her normal life and thus has great sympathy for their noble plight.
We drove to Kristin's haunted apartment, but in separate cars. I followed nervously, making sure they took no turns I could not retrace in the dark of night.
Our final destination was the back alley behind a bar.
"You'll have to be careful," Sarah informed me, "the asshole owner of that bar said we aren't allowed to pass through 'his property' anymore because some drunken hick patron of the 'establishment' swore he saw Jake trying to break into cars. What actually happened was that Jake, wasted and only having vision in one eye, couldn't figure out which car belonged to his friend so he was stumbling around and opened the wrong door. Very different from breaking into a bunch of different cars, as reported by that fuck."
We cut through the parking lot nonetheless, it being the most logical path between us and Kristin's motley painted front door, asshole pub owners be damned.
The apartment, at first glance, seemed like build as the set for a seventies sitcom before being co-opted by poor college students. I could easily transpose crackheads and harlots leaning against the rough wood paneling.
We entered the living room and I got my first look of Kristin's boyfriend, who I shall lovingly henceforth call Captain Andy. He was wearing a black ski cap and a gray bathrobe and was tapping at the side of the fish tank.
"There is a crayfish inside named Andy, which is clearly a good name. He's a clever bastard. Fast, like a ninja. I will catch him with guile and stealth," he explained in a fashion that could be described as drunkenly, save that he seemed to be on his first beer of the evening. Nonetheless, words flowed together with the waves of a calm sea.
I fell upon their sofa when Kristin said I should make myself comfortable. Kristin followed suit, leaving Sarah puttering around the small kitchen seven feet away. Captain Andy remained in front of us, watchfully.
"What's this?" she asked of the black plastic case on my belt.
"That is Flea. He keeps my organized and happy, containing the poetry of ee cummings and the music of Jill Sobule."
She opened the case and looked at the handheld computer. "Show us," Sarah insisted as she sat next to me. I pushed various buttons, showing them my schedule and memos... "And these are the goals I have to complete."
"What's this about an abuse seminar?" Kristin asked.
Captain Andy  
"But why is the rum gone?"
"It's something I have to do to be teacherly in a certifiable fashion."
"I had to take one of those. Deadly boring. You'd think abuse would be more entertaining..." She flipped through my goals more and grinned. "You have a fear of public speaking? Well, whip us out a poem and read. That'll cure you."
"Yes," taunted Sarah, "we would so like you to do that for us."
I narrowed my eyes at them in mock scorn. "Really, speaking in front of people I even halfway like - for example, you - isn't a problem." They were smiling at me raptly, indicating that there was no way short of teleportation or death that I was going to get out of this. "Fine then. A poem." I stood up in front of the couch, replacing the space Captain Andy had occupied. I flipped through Flea's files and locked my eyes onto Sarah. "'I listen as the way they talk they walk they mock me like strange creatures the feature movie at the multiplex..."
Sarah squirmed on the couch. "Oh no, I was, like, sixteen when I wrote that. It won't hold up in court," she protested.
I interrupted my reading of her poem "Delirious" to note, "It's actually quite good, Sarah dear, some bits better than others, but this isn't the work of a teenager... at least not a terribly clever one," I tried to soothe, but it was unnecessary. Sarah and Kristin had left the sofa and were now preparing to engage in interpretive dance of the poem.
Captain Andy, on the other hand, was tugging at my fingers to check out my various rings. "Very nice dragons," he noted absently.
When I finished the poem without sufficiently embarrassing Sarah, Kristin asked, "Do you feel anything?" As I was now slowly spinning around her apartment taking it all in so that I may have a better handle on seeing Sarah, I understood instantly how this question was geared.
"No... I don't feel a thing," I admitted when I stopped spinning. This isn't to say an incorporeal prostitute wasn't lifting her ectoplasmic skirt to get my attention; I just wasn't exactly looking.
Andy suggested we play video games. "Specifically you," he muttered at me, "and more specifically, this game." The game seemed to be some mix between Defend Your Castle and Tetris, therefore I was not terribly adept at it. Also, Sarah was sitting behind my right ear, singing with Kristin, so my attention was clearly divided.
Xen  
If you watch carefully, you can see me sucking.
I wish beyond wish that my camera could somehow also record sound because there is absolutely no way I can possibly accurately convey what it is to hear Sarah sing. She has the irreverent wit of Tom Waits or Tom Robbins with the voice of a young Joni Mitchell. In song, she is SARAH and it is honestly stunning. Obviously, Kristin and her crew are very used to Sarah's singing as they play host to her several times a month. I, on the other hand, have had to make due with a steadily dying audiocassette that only plays two songs now. Therefore and clearly, the live, lyrics-forgetting version trounces Memorex seventeen-year-old.
After belting out The Ballad of Kristin and Andy, There's a Cow in the Kitchen, and I'm In Love with a Man in a Dress, Sarah decided that she was in great need of a cigarette break.
"But... your voice..." I protested.
"Is too... callow. I want to sound throaty like Janis Joplin," she maintained.
I frowned, "But I like how you sound now, which is better that Janis and Scott Joplin rolled together."
"Speaking of which," Kristin changing the subject because she thought of a question, "who are your favorite musicians?"
"Sarah, obviously. Slowpoke and Pumpkinhead, when I get around to hearing them, which is never. Eliot Smith was groundbreaking before that whole seppuku thing. I would very happily and willingly be Jill Sobule's groupie/sexpuppy. Joni Mitchell, of course."
At my mention of Joni, Kristin walked down the steps to Sarah and gave her a warm embrace. "I could drink a case of you, Sarah," she huskily whispered.
Sarah  
Sarah being SARAH
Taking a deep drag off of her cigarette, she cooed, "You are damn right you could, I don't come in a six pack."
Sarah's chain-smoking soon parlayed into a necessary cigarette run. "Oh, but it will not merely be a cigarette run," she assured me, "We will also be having an adventure."
"What sort of adventure?" I asked.
Her eyes on the road, she answered simple, "Whatever adventure finds us." This is to say that we were directionless, after the cigarettes were procured.
"So, Sarah tells me you don't take drugs?" mused Kristin.
"This is true."
"Why not? I'm not pushing you to, just curious."
"I have just never wanted to. I am fiercely protective of my brain and shy away from those things that could possibly unpredictably alter how I function. Plus, I cannot really fiscally or psychically afford any sort of addiction at this point in my life... not that I am saying that drugs are necessarily addictive," I added, anticipating the next argument, "and I certainly don't fault people who can responsibly use them. It's just not for me." To be completely honest, not doing drugs has been ingrained as an aspect of my persona to the extent that I really cannot place in me the slightest desire to do most drugs. I will admit curiosity about taking LSD, but that is more to be able to understand a different level of perception and not, per se, to trip.
She thought this over for a moment. "So, would you take prescription drugs?"
"Yes. I do right now. They are prescribed for me. I would be quite the sneezy mess otherwise."
Sarah grinned at me. "I really think, one of these days, you should smoke pot with Kristin and me. I think you'd like it. We're not going to make you, though."
"I don't think you could make me smoke," I teased her, alluding to her belief that she has undeniable control over boys.
Sarah  
She moves too quickly for light
She raised her eyebrows skeptically. "You go on thinking that. Kristin and I have ways. We are goddesses."
"And I am humbled in your presences..." I lightheartedly conceded, "but I think I'll still be avoiding rocking the ganj for now." The last time I tried to smoke, I was happily dating Katie. She was smoking a clove and I wanted to taste it. However, I physically could not inhale. My brain would not be tricked, so I just handed it back to her with slight apology.
Somehow, this devolved into Sarah and me discussing Summer Scholars, where we first met. I will spare you the name-dropping and in jokes, because I am a kind Narrator.
"Hey, Sarah, let's keep talking about people Kristin cannot possibly know so she is excluded."
"I don't feel excluded," she called from the back seat.
"Yeah, she would pipe in anyway," Sarah promised.
I lowered my head in a mope. "Then my plan has failed."
Sarah brightened suddenly. "We should visit Jake!"
"Or we could keep driving aimlessly," I meekly suggested.
Sarah took her eyes for the midnight road. "You don't want to meet Jake?" This was more a statement of awareness than an actual question.
"No. Not as such."
"Why not?" asked Kristin.
"Because..." and I realized I did not know. "Because... at one point, years ago... in some crevice of my brain... he was a rival. I don't think I ever bothered to reevaluate how I should feel about him. Given that I am not particularly attracted to Sarah - sorry - and am much in love with the M, I suppose I have no reasonable excuse for not wanting to meet him."
"Then to Jake's we shall go!" Sarah declared.
Jake was not as I had been led to imagine him. In my mind's eye, he had always been a slightly short, punk-poet with closely cropped hair. Instead, he more rocked the "geek casual" look. More surprisingly, I immediately knew that he and I had met. It wasn't one of those vague "you remind me of someone..." No, this was most certainly a "It's YOU!" but I couldn't place the context in the least.
"Maybe you recognize him from the pictures you've seen?" Sarah suggested.
"No, that's definitely not the case. Whenever I actually do look at the pictures of him, this is not how he looks. We've met. Somewhere."
okay, exactly Jake  
Less Than Jake
Later, as I sat on a sofa in Jake's basement listening to his friend Matt and him play improv electric guitar (which is precisely as agonizing as it sounds), Sarah pulled at me. "He says he knows you too."
I sat up. "From where?" I demanded.
She looked away, back to Jake jamming. "He said he doesn't remember."
Sarah's friend Alexis soon dropped by. I vaguely recall having spoken in some length and depth with her many years ago and the picture in my head was of a smaller, darker Sarah. Possibly she would wear a hat. While she was shorter than Sarah, she clashed with my mental picture. She was wearing a red blouse with designer holes in the sleeve and came off as being slightly drunk. This effect was in no way lessened when she solicited Jake to forfeit one of his codeines (Jake was recovering from recently pulled wisdom teeth and was apparently not in enough pain to protest).
Though she knew who I was, Sarah formally introduced me.
"You're a witch, right?" Alexis asked.
I looked over at Sarah. "Am I? I guess I am. I am of the witchy persuasion."
"Would you do a spell for me? Like, make me seem cooler or something?"
I tried to sink into the couch, but did not match its color. "Not tonight, Lexi. I am tired right now." I was also completely off put and confused. It had been a long time since somebody asked me a question like that. While I would think it fun if Emily asked me in that window of time between when I have detoxed from work/school and when I want to be writerly, Lexi was mostly a stranger to me. Moreover, she was a medicated stranger in an odd red top.
I leaned over to Kristin. "She scares me ever so slightly."
"That wears off."
"I really am sleepy," I whispershouted in her ear, for the improvisational guitars had only lessened in quantity by half.
"Me too. We should offer a united front against Sarah, because she never wants to leave Jake's."
We soon found ourselves back in the kitchen and my hopes were up that this would soon lead to a graceful evacuation of the premises. And we would have gotten away with it too if Sarah hadn't mentioned that she was looking forward to the following nights last episode of Sex in the City.
Matt quickly made one of those comments meant to snidely insinuate the recipient is a total bourgeoisie jackass. In this case, for bothering to watch trashy TV when somewhere someone might be dancing ballet. Given that the prior hour had focused on listening to Matt play guitar in a loud and shapeless fashion, I found his argument inherently weak. Furthermore, as I was steadily reaching the level of exhaustion wherein I become a psychotic pixydemon that will be decidedly irked to have to drive for an hour to get home, I had very little interest in entertaining reactionary and poorly formed opinions. Sarah, on the other hand, had looked down and saw the metaphorical blood that had been draw impugning her cultural and intellectual savoir-faire.
"Listen Matt," she challenged, "there are some excellent programs on television. Just because most are trash, there is no reason to decide all of it is worthless. A lot of poetry and painting is garbage, but people can see through that to the art, can't they?"
He knew that he had provoked a reaction that made him feel focal and Sarah was now committed to proving him wrong. I searched Kristin's face for confirmation, which I found just below her eyes. I walked causally over to Sarah, buried my face in her hair. It was nearly intoxicatingly warm and familiar, but I would not be swayed by pheromones and herbal essence. "Kristin and I would very much like you to drive us home now-ish."
Nonetheless, I did not get results until my pixydemon suggested I mime pulling her away from an argument not worth winning. Everyone rightly fears the mime.
Sarah argued against Matt in absentia for part of the way to Kristin's apartment, phrasing her arguments against the windshield. I just watched the scenery blur.


Soon in Xenology: Awesomeball. Brooke. Apartments. Tutoring. Protests.

last watched: Frida
reading: Transmetropolitan
listening: Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
wanting: To see her again.
interesting thought: Shadowfax/Elvis is spell-resistant.
moment of zen: Hearing her live.
someday I must: Introduce Sarah to the rest of my life.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

Anthologies

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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