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08.30.04 1:43 a.m.

Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night  

-Alan Ginsberg


Previously in Xenology: Xen couldn't manage to find the Center for Symbolic Studies. Sarah and Kristin lived together.

In The Shadow of a Playground
Zack and I sat next to what was once a swing set. All of the swings are long gone, likely removed in the cause of safety. Swings have to be steel and hard rubber to be effective; it would not do to give the job to Fisher Price. So they are gone, leaving behind chipped yellow ribs. Zack and I grabbed the bars above us to make an effort to swing with only our arms, but were only rewarded with rust and paint chips on our hands.
Instead, we sat on the end of the playground, where the rotting woodchips meet the grass and discussed high school girls. More exactly, we discussed those girls who we wished we had been with when we were younger. The ones that got away, if you will.
"You would have regretted cheating on Kate," he says matter-of-factly as he pushes around the rotting wood chips with his foot. "I know that Veronica would have left me anyway, no matter what I did. But I can never stop thinking that, if I hadn't cheated on her... If I hadn't, then maybe she wouldn't have left me. There is just that doubt."
"I understand totally, but I am not talking about having cheated on Katie. There was an eight month period where I was single between Kate and Emily. There really are only a few girls that I regret not kissing. K.C. Congedo for one." I look at his face in the darkness and, off his look of confusion at this name, realized she does not really qualify for this particular game of competitive navel gazing as she did not go to our high school.
"I met her when I was still with Katie. I was on break from the Children's Museum and went into a music store for some reason. I spotted her looking through the classical section. I had seen her in a few high school plays and she had always stuck in my mind, obviously. She had a very distinct look to her. I decided I was feeling socially courageous, so I walked up to her and say in my best confident voice that I had seen her in a few plays and that she was immensely good. She smiled broadly - she had a great smile - and informed me that she like the plays that I had been in, and managed to rattle off a few. We exchanged numbers, which was likely improper, but what did I care at the time? I felt I was being on the up and up. We talked well, if not as often as I would have liked. There really seemed to be a bond and I was undoubtedly attracted to her. She was then and very likely still is my type, both geeky and elegant. The last time I had any significant contact with her, Katie and I went to go see her in Big. Katie was jealous and suspicious of K.C., I remember. I tried contacting K.C. a few more times, during school breaks and whatnot. We never really connected again. When I tried to find her on the internet, all I could find was a quote from her in an article about bars in Boston and her signature on the bottom of a bulletin board posting. She is one of those 'what could have been' girls. It's a small group."
Zack and M  
Nit picking
As I looked off into the darkness to punctuate my rambling, we both saw a pair of glowing green eyes staring back. As Zack continued to concentrate on woodchips as a means of divining past loves, I took it upon myself to charm the owner of the glowing eyes so that I could get a picture of it.
"H-hello, Mr. Deer," I half sighed in a humming, high pitched English accent. This, as I anticipated, lulled and confused the deer. "I don't mean you harm, Hubert Cumberdale. I just want to take a picture of you with my salad fingers." I approached on my knees, the deer not moving much or taking much notice of me, even when the flash fired.
My creeping deer hunting went on for ten minutes and, despite many attempts at cajolery, no picture came out as anything but a black screen with intermittent green blurs.
"Whitley Strieber said people are seeing aliens when they remember having seen owls or deer," I noted to Zack was I returned to him. He did not seem to have moved much, but thoughtful men can do quite a lot in one sitting.
"In that case," he asked, "what about the actual owls and deer?"
"Yes, that was always my problem with the theory. After all, there really are owl and deer, unless I dissected an alien pellet in my sixth grade science class. That being a case, why did my alien eat a vole?"
Zack thought for a moment. "Maybe aliens wear bracelets that say 'what would a deer do?' The decision is invariably stand, eat a bit of grass, run a few dozen yards."
"I'm a deer!"
This seemed as credible an answer to the alien dilemma as I imagined we were going to get without an easily dissectible pellet.
We sat a bit longer, looking at the sky as situation demanded, and Zack told me that Dezi offered to draw a comic book of a story Zack will write. As you may know, Dezi goes to art school in the city and is frankly an exceptional artist when it comes to comic design. I am not merely saying this because he is my friend and ergo must be above average; Dezi has worked with animators on episodes of the newer incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Granted, this doesn't exactly paint his as an old master (the names of which I can no longer use in this entry, as I have referenced ninja turtles) but it should at least give some indication of is burgeoning talent.
"What are you going to write?" I asked. While he can point out at least ten reasons why the Green Lantern is a superior hero, muscle bound telepaths and teal toned teleporters do not generally occupy a space in Zack's mind.
"I think I am going to write about my family, particularly my brother," he answered, disappointing me not in the least. Zack lacks the curmudgeonly worldview that infused and informed Harvey Pekar's work, obviously. Nevertheless, I can easily imagine Zack maintaining that real life is pretty complex stuff. It may not be mass marketable, but this collaboration could produce a story that needs to be told. "Dezi and I are going to pass it out at a comic convention somewhere down the road. And you can probably put it on Xenex."
I smiled, enjoying that the site has become a bulletin board on which my friends tack their inspired works. "I'd like that very much."
A cricket chirped questioningly as us. "A few night ago, Emily was fairly groggy-headed because she had taken her medication and was half asleep. She asked me if the Leonid meteor shower would be postponed because of the rain like the fireworks were in Lake George."
Zack laughed. "I would have died of cuteness if my girlfriend ever said that to me."
Death from cuteness had never occurred to me. I had simply told Emily, like a father telling his daughter that the tooth fairy would be coming, that this wasn't quite the way space rocks operated. I felt oddly guilty that I had been so unappreciatively placating to Emily's drug induced confusion.
"So, I have a crush on one of Dezi's friends," Zack stated after the cricket chirped thrice, signaling the necessity for a sudden change in topic. His tone was pensive and introspective, but he walks a fine line in his speech. He can be contemplating the nature of mortality as seen through the blade of grass betwixt his teeth or he can just have a bit of gas.
I gave a smile that fairly gleamed in the low reflected light from the schools security system. "Good. Woo her! Bend her to your will with your Zackonian ways."
"No, that's the problem. I mean, I probably could woo her and all that but I'm not going to because of The Betsy."
"Wow," I answered helpfully, "you are dumb. With all due tenderness, reverence, and respect, The Betsy is not exactly extending the same honor your way."
"But I won't pursue this girl because... well, because I really believe that things between The Betsy and me could be amazing and once-in-a-lifetime. That's not the stuff of everyday. So, any girl who isn't The Betsy is going to get compared against her."
I could understand his reservation, having treaded a similar path a time or two. However, as I wandered my version of that dusty road, I found my metaphorical clothes tangled with nettles, miles from where I wanted to be, and realizing that I had ignored some quite attractive forks because my eyes were on an uncertain horizon. Though the situation is dissimilar than my experiences, I desire his happiness and hurt when he does. I would not that he experience any unnecessary aching, especially as I cannot know that The Betsy and he will every make the sort of permanent connection for which he longs. Just because I did not, though, it does not mean he won't find a perfect sunset into which they will ride.

Symbolic Studies
Marina contacted me days ago, saying that she would again be in New York with Wayfinder Experience and wouldn't I like to join Conor, Flynn, and her in a Bardic Circle? Despite my Pagan leanings, I was apprehensive about the idea of a bardic circle, whatever that would entail. I tend to regard my spirituality as largely a private aspect of my life. I will acknowledge generally that I am heterosexual; if I am comfortable and in a small group, I may mention my slight proclivity toward storybook girls and discuss sexuality with others; only a very select group with whom I am already intimate will actually experience proof that I am any of the above. I don't per se think anything is wrong with practicing the intimacies of one's religion with strangers; it just is not my cup of tea. It would be like a Catholic confessing to a random passerby.
Open circles are very much in vogue in the Pagan community, but it just rubs me the wrong way. If I had my way and was obligated to attend, I would rather sit on the periphery and watch others. This, to follow my sex as spirit analogy, might be voyeurism. However, such passive resistance would allow me to get a feel for the participants without mixing my energy with lechers and miscreants.
While I doubted that this Bardic Circle would be anything more than unreligious fire-dancing, I was far more concerned about being ditched again. Marina sought to circumvent this worry by providing directions to the Center so that I very likely would not get lost. This is not to say that I didn't get lost anyway, because the directions were from a website known to have sketchy directions in general.
Nonetheless, I got to the center with Emily's help and, despite the darkness and labyrinthine roads, eventually found the Center. It had been many years since last I had been here, just days before having met Emily. Threads of memory wove and unwove in front of me, familiarity on the edges. Where booths and hostile, proselytizing Pagans stood year ago, there was only the night. I walked toward the stone circle, thinking that this landscape looked a bit too much like the prelude to a fantasy movie. The waxing moon provided more than enough light by which to see, but not nearly enough that my limbless corpse would be found before dawn. I noted silently that I was unarmed, as is usually my state outside the occasional Leatherman. On the other hand, I am not ordinarily walking toward a midget Stonehenge on a dim summer night.
I saw no indicative flickers of activity around me that would denote that was anything but alone, a fact which was both relieving and annoying. True, I was not moments away from fending off a lymph-starved mugwump from a dark corner of Fantasia, but I was also not even slightly in the company of any of Conor's potentially foam sword wielding cohorts. This boded poorly overall.
A woman from the adjoining holistic health center wandered a few feet into the field and started yelling the words "Bardic circle?"
I walked over to her. "I am looking for the bardic circle, ma'am." In the moonlight, I saw that she was a very organic woman a hand shorter than me. Emily would have called her "crunchy granola," but in the more pejorative usage of that term. I would wager that she had a crystal on her body somewhere and that it smelled of fermenting herbs. I wasn't about to get close enough to find out. I did not know her intent.
"It's not here," she informed. "Usually it would be, not this time. They are at the Ashokan Reservoir."
"And where is that?" In my getting lost, I had traveled deep into a thick forest on an unpaved road, yet I had not seen enough water to require damming up. Though, when I was traveling said road, I was more concerned about mountain people playing dueling banjos.
"It's about a thirty or forty minute drive from here. It's hard to give directions. See, you take the road out and..." she began.
"You don't have to give me directions; I am not going to drive there. I understand that my friends obviously hate me and don't really want to go that far to be ditched again. But thank you." My explanation did not stop her tongue; she was still trying to explain how I would get to this place, involving police stations and hypothetical hitchhikers in her directions. I decided to continue to nod until she returned to the holistic center.
I pushed redial on my phone and connected to Emily, to whom I explained the situation. "I just don't understand how they can keep doing this to you and expect you to stick around. How are you feeling?"
"I am furious with them," I answered automatically, but realized that I did not feel furious, or even angry. True, I had a better offer from Zack, who wanted me to go to the city with him and watch a classical concert. I had told Zack that I couldn't, because I had promised Flynn and Marina that I would see them first. I just felt resigned and disappointed, which manifested as a certain manic numbness.
I sought to salvage my night by calling friends until I hit upon someone who was actually home.
*BEEP* "Hey Lauren, it's me. I was wondering if you wanted to do something tonight, but I can't imagine why I pretty girl like yourself would be in on a Friday night. We'll get together soon." *CLICK*
*RING* "Hello," came a distant, groggy voice.
"Yeah," answered the voice. "Sarah."
"What's wrong?" I asked, deeply concerned. I know Sarah's voice. For a long time, her voice was all I knew of her, but more than enough to string me along on a platonic love affair. Her voice, her lilting, teasing voice, was deep and dark as the night around me.
"Some stuff went down tonight. Between Kristin's boyfriend and me. And I am homeless now. I'm moving out of my apartment tomorrow. Ben is driving me crazy. Tonight, just driving around Red Hook. It's a long story." After a pause, she added lightly, "But, on the up side, I like my job."
I suddenly had time to hear a long story in person. My schedule had opened up. Red Hook was not so far away, though farther than where Flynn and Marina were. The situations were different, I reflected, and Sarah had always been where she said she would be, even when I couldn't be there with her. "Do you want to hang out?"
"It you had asked me three days ago... Things were good then. But I can't right now," she breathed into the phone, the sort of voice one uses if one it hiding in an empty bedroom during a party to get a respite from the noise.
"All right. If you ever need a place to crash, my sofa is open to you. It's very comfy."
"Thanks, but I'll work it out," she assured.
I leaned against my car in a way that would have seemed pretentiously dramatic had I any audience. As I was alone, it just felt as though my body were reacting to the situation with interpretive flouncing. "I know," I assured in return.
"I love you." I hadn't heard this in months and the night felt a little brighter with being reminded.
"I love you too, Sarah."
After the line went dead, I got in my car and drove back to the village of New Paltz. I didn't want to go home yet, that seemed too much like admitting defeat. Instead, I drove on back roads until I found myself in front of Jacki's house. I do not actually know how to get there, I just happen to have an excellent instinct about finding it.
I called her up and tried to entice her to hang out with me.
"Where are you?" she asked after a moment of demurring.
"Sitting in front of your house," I stated.
"You dope," she laughed. "Get in here."
She was inside with her friend and, now, roommate Laura. I stopped for a moment and noticed that Jacki was not wearing make-up and that she is softly alluring without it. This isn't to say that Jacki plus a bit of lipstick isn't also attractive, however this is how I usually see her. It's really all Zack's fault, as he said after meeting her that she would be much more attractive without make-up. She has the sort of face made for talking long into the night about poetry, which is useful given how often I expect this is her night's fare.
I sat with them in the living room as Jacki vacuumed up the bees that were walking on her carpet and Laura watched a science fiction show on TV. Laura was seriously interested in the action of the show and did not take kindly to our color commentary about the threadbareness of the plot or the low production values. Her disbelief was suspended from the rafter in what some might call a lynching. She could not hold with our drawing attention to the dead.
Not the night I had anticipated, but so few can be.

Soon in Xenology: A warm night of moth eating. Keilaina and her beau. Hunting Virginian dogs.

last watched: The Stuff
reading: Dracula
listening: Elza
wanting: to one day meet Marina or, for that matter, Conor.
moment of zen: reevaluating the Leonids.
someday I must: suss out this Sarah mystery.

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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