Archive for: December, 2012

THE RELUCTANT SOUL By Tala Bar

Dec 23 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

Hassida the Stork felt frustrated. The man lying on the bed was almost dead – but almost, since his Soul refused to leave the inanimated body. That Soul was destined to go to a newborn baby, and it was the Stork’s task to take it there, but Hassida had no power over the Soul as long as it was still attached to the body, and what was she to do?

The man, who had been fatally wounded by a hit-and-run car, was lying on a bed in the Emergency room of the Hospital, enclosed behind curtains that secluded him from the outside world; beside the Messenger Stork that was invisible to most human eyes, there was no one there. The medical crew had given up on him, and no family was called to say their good byes. Was he all alone in the world? Hassida asked herself when she saw that unusual sight. A middle-aged man who was bound to have family and friends, but did not; how sad!

Time passed, and Hassida knew she must hurry. The potential newborn, though still in its mother’s womb, was ready to venture on its way out; but what if the Stork was not on time with its Soul? It will never live to see daylight! She must do something, and in a hurry. In this town on Earth, she thought, there was only one person she could appeal to. Quickly she left the hospital and flew away.

***

Ofara the Witch, black eyes and black hair shining in the morning sun, stood on her balcony overlooking the street below, looking absently at some vague distance. She noticed a speck on the background of the lightly cloudy sky, and before she had time to move aside as she saw it growing and advancing hastily toward her, the flying creature it became shot at her, passed and entered the living room behind the woman. As Ofara turned, she saw the stork standing erect on the plain floor, glowing in its white, red and black colors, in great contrast to the Witch’s dark clothes. Ofara knew the bird immediately.

“Well! Hassida! What is the great rush?” she asked complacently, when the Stork was still gasping for breath. She formed a strange, exotic picture on the background of the plainly furnished room.

“Oh, Ofara! Something awful is happening and I don’t know what to do about it,” Hassida clacked. “You must help me!”

“All right, all right. Come on, I’ll give you some water and then you’ll tell me all about it,” the witch said. She brought a deep bowl of water and put it before her the stork, who dipped her red beak in it, raised and threw her head back to swallow the liquid. Only after she had done it a few more times did Hassida managed to calm down and resumed her story.

“You see, it’s this man who is about to die, almost dead, in fact, and I was going to get his Soul and carry it across town to where a new child is waiting to be born. That Soul belongs to the new baby, and if it does not get it, it will not live! How can I coax it to leave its old, dying body and come with me? This has never happened to me before, you know.” She was really agitated now, and the Witch felt she must do anything in her power to save the day.

“I’ll come with you, but if I don’t know the man, it would be very difficult to speak to his Soul, I’m afraid.”

“I have an idea he’s some kind of artist that you may well know,” the Stork said; “but I know very little about your human affairs.”

“An artist?” Ofara repeated. “That should be easy, then.” Not being an artist herself, Ofara at one time studied Art at College, just to be in on other spiritual subjects besides her own, and she got to know the artist community in Town quite well. She thought, now, who was it that was going to die; but she was unable to come out with a name.

“What is he dying of, do you know?” she asked as they prepared to leave her flat.

“I heard the staff at the hospital saying that he’d had a fatal accident; he was crossing the street where he shouldn’t, walking deep in his thoughts, and was run over by a careless driver.”

“He’s not old and infirm, then?”

“Not at all. He’s about fifty and seemed in the best of health. Only absentminded and not caring much for the world around him, I thought.”

“Ah!” said the Witch, “I think I know who it must be…” and she sunk in her reflections for a moment. “Come on, then, let’s go. You fly over, and I’ll… You know…” She concentrated, taking care to wrap herself in her invisible form. In no time she found herself in front of the curtained cubicle at the Hospital, Hassida flying in a few seconds after her.

“Just as I thought,” said the Witch; “Baylore!”

“Is that his name?” wondered Hassida; “I couldn’t get anything from his Soul, nothing reasonable, at least.”

“No, I shouldn’t think so…” Ofara reflected.

“You know, then, what is the matter with him? You know why his Soul is so reluctant to leave that body which is virtually dead?”

“I know the whole story,” confirmed the Witch, “and it’s not a very good one. You see, Baylore was really a promising artist at first, and his teachers predicted he should make a good name for himself.”

“What happened, then?” asked Hassida.

“He met me, for one,” Ofara gave a short laugh, with sounding like something between bitterness and mockery.

“You?” the Stork wondered.

“Yes, it’s an unfortunate story. You see, he thought he’d be able to use my powers to advance his ability as an artist, instead of working at it as he should have. Looking for a short cut to glory, in fact.” She paused to reflect, her face clouding.

“And it did not work?”

“Of course not, I’d have none of it, as much as I loved him; so we separated. Then I heard he met someone else, who would allow him to take advantage of her powers, and it came to a bitter end because glory was very short and then the great fall, as he lost his own creative power to his laziness…”

“And then?” asked the Stork when Ofara stopped talking again.

“Then his mind was lost to drink, which possibly led to him being carelessly run over. But it seems that his Soul, still talented and creative as it used to be, feels there is still some living in this wasted body… I’ll have to talk to it, to convince it that this life of creativity is waiting for it in the new-born’s body.”

“I hope you can succeed,” Hassida whispered, full of hope. With these words Ofara pulled away the curtain and the two of them entered the sick man’s cubicle.

The man, his thin body lying still under the covers, his face drawn and yellow and his eyes closed, showed very faint signs of life. The life giving tubes had been drawn away as useless, only the monitor was beeping sluggishly to the final heartbeats.

“Baylore,” Ofara whispered; “Baylore, can I talk to you for a minute?”

The sick man’s eyelids fluttered, then slowly opened. At first his gaze roamed the room, unfocused, then it lay on Ofara.

“Off – wha –” he mumbled.

“Let go, Baylore,” she continued to whisper, “let someone else have the chance.”

“Chance? I had a chance; it went away –”

“I’m afraid so – but now your Soul has another chance. A new artist is being born, waiting for you, for your talented Soul. Let it be –”

“I – I –” and again he closed his eyes.

All was quiet; only from afar the usual sounds of an active place were faintly heard, and the faint beeping of the monitoring machine. Then, the witch and the stork became witnesses to the struggle that was taking place inside the dying man. His body started to twitch, gripped by a violent spasm that grew stronger and stronger. His back arched back and forth, his eyelids fluttered violently, his arms flailed about.

‘How was it,’ Hassida the Stork reflected, ‘that this Soul was strong enough to five such a fight to stay in the body that had failed it, but was not strong enough to fight against its faults?’

But it was Ofara the witch who had the last word and the last action. By her own invisible powers of persuation, she manages to calm the Soul down; gradually, the man’s wild movements assuaged, his agitation softened. Suddenly, his eyes opened, and a final look of begging desperation peeped out from them. Then, at once, the beeping stopped and the artist’s eyes lost all expression.

Into the  silence that fell, Ofara said, “Here you are, Hassida, that Soul is yours and you can take it to the newborn.”

No one, not even the witch, saw how the invisible bird attached the freed Soul to herself and was gone from the sickroom. “Rest in peace, Baylore,” Ofara said quietly, sadly, and left the room just as the attending nurse appeared to check on the patient.

END

 

 

 

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Blind Curve by R. Christophe Ryber

Dec 16 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

“Daddy!”

 

Jennifer joined Matthew at the bay window and looked down the driveway.

 

“No, Matthew, it’s just a snowplow.” She bit her lip and held her breath until the snowplow’s flashing amber lights vanished into the darkness. “Just a snowplow,” she whispered to herself.

 

The nor’easter continued to bury the driveway in snow. Jennifer shivered at the cold radiating from the frosted window and shuffled back into the living room. She glared at the smiling weatherman as he pointed out the progress of the menacing green blob swirling over Greenfield. The blue bar at the bottom of the screen flashed the time and temperature – 5:35 pm. The boy’s father was over a half-hour late.

I should have said no. I should have told her I was full.

    

By now she should have been well into the bottle of vodka tucked away in the pantry behind her stash of “sanity chocolate”. It had started out as a Friday night thing, on a snowy night like this one, then it had become Thursday and Friday, and soon it was a nightly ritual. She would plop herself down in the play room with her bottle and glass to sort through the mess the children had left behind. She would toss the shiny blue hippos and green alligators into their bins for the thousandth time, where they lay smiling, as serene as the weatherman standing in the nor’easter.

The ringing phone had found her that morning lying on the floor of the playroom, her empty glass in her hand. She couldn’t bring herself to sleep in the bedroom, any more than she could bring herself to go through John’s bureau.

“Do you have an opening?”

Jennifer blinked and scooped up the bottle of vodka. She rolled her eyes as she looked at her wristwatch. She didn’t have time for this. Drop offs would start any second.

    

“For what age?”

“Matthew’s three. I’m sorry this is such short notice, but I’m in a bind and it would just be for the one day.”

“I do have daily rates,” Jennifer heard herself saying. She padded down the linoleum hallway to the bathroom. She held the phone between her shoulder and chin as she pulled her hair back and slipped an elastic over the ponytail. The doorbell rang.

Here we go.

“Can you stop by in about an hour? I have drop-offs right now.”

#

The coffee pot had just stopped gurgling when the tall redhead showed up at her door, crying. Jennifer ignored the pounding in her head and forced a smile at the boy that clung to the redhead.

She didn’t say he was special needs.

    

The almond shaped amber eyes looking up at her were set too close together, and there was no hiding the misshapen skull under the thatch of unruly red hair. The boy smiled back and waved with his one good, long fingered hand. The other snuggled up like a fetus in the folds of his jacket. His mother dabbed at the corner of her red, blotchy eye with a crumpled tissue.

“Are you Jennifer Howland? I’m Stephanie Coleman.”

They stopped off at the playroom first. Jennifer glared a warning at the questioning looks that Amber, Trevor and Zoe cast toward Matthew’s shriveled hand.

“This is Matthew. He’ll be playing with us today.”

“What happened to your arm?“

Jennifer smiled at the horrified looking five year old girl through clenched teeth.

“Later, Zoe.”

Jennifer placed two steaming mugs of coffee on the table and sat down across from Stephanie, who shuffled through the papers on the table with trembling fingers. Jennifer took a cautious sip, then placed a hand over her mouth as she struggled with her rising gorge. The pounding in her head was deafening. Stephanie scribbled on the forms with a chewed on pen, then paused.

“I’m afraid I don’t have any background information for Matthew’s father.”

“You only need the one day?”

Stephanie took a deep, ragged breath and nodded.

“Matthew’s father will be picking him up. It- it’s for the best.”

Jennifer groaned inwardly and swallowed back the bile rising in her throat. She hated getting in the middle of custody disputes. The last thing the couple was ever concerned about was paying. Her stomach churned and gurgled again, and this time Stephanie raised an eyebrow. Jennifer pushed her chair back and stood up.

“Please excuse me for a moment. You’ll find my rates on the next page. I accept cash.”

Jennifer scurried to the bathroom and slammed the door. She paused to turn on the faucet full blast before falling to her knees. The running water drowned out her groans as last night’s binge splashed into the bleach-blue toilet water. Finally, the spasms passed and she was left lying empty on the cold tile floor. She gargled some mouthwash and staggered back to the kitchen.

Stephanie’s chair was empty. The chewed pen sat on the kitchen table next to the pile of half filled out paperwork. Jennifer glared out the bay window at the dim red taillights and grabbed the phone out of its cradle on the wall. She squinted at the cell phone number scribbled on the paperwork as her thumb mashed the buttons. She sighed, unsurprised at the three toned disconnect signal.

Every time she had been stiffed, it was over a custody dispute.

“Where’s Mommy?”

Matthew scurried over to the window and stared at the thickening curtain of snow. Jennifer sighed and scruffed Matthew’s red hair.

“I don’t know, but I hope Daddy has cash, kid.”

#

“Well, happy birthday, Matthew.”

Jennifer turned away from the window that looked out onto the playground, where Amber, Zoe and Trevor struggled to roll a giant ball of snow across the playground. The snow kept falling, thick and heavy out of the dark gray sky. Jennifer swallowed back the coffee and day old vodka creeping up the back of her throat as Amber dug deep into the snow in the middle of the playground.

Please don’t find it. Not today.

    

Jennifer crossed her arms and walked over to the kitchen table where Rachael sat with Matthew. Her sister-in-law shook her dirty blonde tresses as she looked over the large white blanks on Matthew’s paperwork.

“According to one of the few sections his mother bothered to fill out, Matthew turns three today. Jennifer, you’ve got to get yourself together. If the Family Center audits you, you’re screwed.”

Jennifer sat down next to Matthew and watched him stack another wooden block onto the tower with his good hand. The boy smiled, and then frowned as the tower leaned forward. The blocks collapsed, clattering over the kitchen table and linoleum floor. Matthew slipped out of the chair and disappeared under the table after the blocks.

“So what’s up with him? Is he Asperger’s or something?”

Rachael shrugged. “We don’t have anybody quite like him at the school. He’s not very social. Has he played with the other kids?”

Jennifer shook her head. “He just looks out the window and watches the snow fall out of the sky. He asks for Daddy every now and then, but most of what he says isn’t English.”

Rachael flipped through the papers. “Maybe his father’s Bosnian. We had a bunch of them relocate here. Apparently, Greenfield is a lot like Eastern Europe, weather-wise.”

Jennifer glanced over her shoulder out the bay window. She bit her lip as Zoe and Trevor rolled the giant snow ball across the spot where Amber had been digging. Rachael’s fingertips rested lightly on her hand, but Jennifer did not look up.

“I can have Frank come over and dig. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about the kids finding it, or it being there when the snow melts.”

Jennifer pulled her hand away and turned her blank stare to the muted television. The tall blonde wrapped her manicured hands around the glowing green blob on the radar as it swirled out of the Atlantic.

“It wasn’t your fault, Rachael. You don’t have to keep coming over every day.”

“You’re not making it, Jen. You need to talk to somebody. It was an accident. Accidents happen.”

Is that what it’s called? Would you be so philosophical, Rach, if life plowed your family into oblivion?

    

“Daddy!”

Matthew scrambled out from under the kitchen table and ran to the bay window. The amber light from the passing snowplow flickered across his grinning face. Rachael frowned at the back of Matthew’s oblong head.

“What’s that about?”

Jennifer shrugged.

“I’ve got to get the kids inside. It’ll be pickup time soon.”

#

 

Pickup time had come and gone, along with Zoe, Amber and Trevor. Matthew curled up in the bay window, nose glued to the frosted glass. The green blob behind him on the muted television swallowed up the Northeast.

Amber’s mother had complained about the driveway, but there was nothing Jennifer could do until Frank got home. Jennifer had spotted the new pickup in her neighbor’s driveway and had pestered Frank until he had agreed to plow the driveway. Frank charged her twenty dollars a storm, but he tended to plow when it was convenient for him. Since it was Friday, Jennifer knew he wouldn’t even be home until after midnight. The snow would sit in the driveway until his hangover had subsided late Saturday morning.

The familiar, ominous rumble grew louder and Jennifer turned back to the window. She shivered as the flashing amber lights roared past, then cursed as the plow sprayed a fountain of snow into the end of the driveway.

Now even if Matthew’s father did show up, he would never get up to the house past the snow plug. Jennifer glared at the time and temp on the television screen – 6:05 pm. This was getting ridiculous. She glanced down at Matthew as he continued to gaze into the snow filled sky.

Sorry, kid. The police can deal with your father. I’m done.

    

As Jennifer reached for the phone, the house plunged into darkness. The vacant blonde and the green blob disappeared from the widescreen in the now darkened living room.

You have got to be kidding.

    

Jennifer listened in the sudden silence for the click and whir of the power surging back to life. She was in a good spot on the grid, and storms like this usually only knocked things out for a minute or so.

Okay, that’s way over a minute.

    

Jennifer grabbed the magnetic flashlight that perched on the door of the refrigerator and flicked the switch on. The feeble yellow circle of light splashed on the wall clock.

6:11 pm.

Jennifer scooped up Matthew and headed for the entryway.

“Come on, Matthew. Let’s get you bundled up in case Daddy decides to show up. We’ll be walking out to the car.”

The flashlight beam whipped about in crazy arcs as Jennifer struggled with Matthew’s boots. The snow tracked in by the other parents had melted, leaving icy puddles in the dark for her to find with her stocking feet.

Jennifer plopped Matthew down by the door and hunted about for her boots. Amber and white lights flashed through the window in the front door again as Jennifer slid her soaked foot into the first boot.

Matthew yanked on the door handle, and the heavy storm door swung open. A frigid gust of snow blew into the entryway. The low rumbling grew louder, vibrating in Jennifer’s chest.

What the hell, are they coming up the driveway?

    

“Close the door, Matthew.”

Jennifer groped for her other boot.

“Daddy!”

Matthew was out the door, his beaming face bright in the white light. Then he scooted down the steps and was gone.

“Matthew!”

Jennifer dropped the last boot along with the flashlight and dashed out into the snow. The boy’s small form stood directly in the path of the pulsing amber lights. A scream tore past her lips.

Not again.

    

Jennifer plunged into the snow filled driveway. She wrapped her arms around Matthew. She pulled him away from the rumbling light, falling on top of him in the thick snow. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she shielded the boy with her body.

“No, Ethan!”

She knelt there, in the snow, rocking the boy back and forth in the light.  A tall, dark shadow eclipsed her. Ethan became Matthew again, and Jennifer looked up.

Pull yourself together.

A tall, slender silhouette stood there in the whirling snow. Matthew squirmed out of Jennifer’s numb arms.

“Daddy!”

The figure stepped forward, eclipsing the flickering amber lights.

Jennifer rose to her feet and brushed the snow off her pants. She wriggled the dead toes on her bootless foot, more like a numb brick now. She opened her mouth and launched a scathing lecture at the late father, but the frigid wind carried it away, unheard.

 

The father took another step closer, and Jen craned her neck to look up. Her heart skipped a beat as the unblinking, almond eyes sparkled down at her. Jennifer’s panicked glance flickered from the figure towering over her to the other shapes moving about in the rumbling white light.

Oh, no. Oh, hell no. This isn’t happening.

    

Jennifer stumbled back a step as Matthew wrapped his one good arm around his father’s leg. She didn’t know whether to scream or run or faint.

“Daddy, the lady is very sad.”

Jennifer moved to recoil as the long multi-jointed fingers stretched toward her, but she might as well have been cocooned in cement. The cold gray fingertips touched her forehead and Jennifer whimpered.

“No, don’t –”

#

 

John had insisted that they go that night. He had said the Christmas concert would be a good start to the holiday season, and since Rachael’s kids we’re singing, it would give Ethan a chance to see his cousins. Since Jennifer’s brother had left Rachael, they hadn’t been around much.

Had she known somehow? Jennifer remembered the clenched feeling in her gut as John scooped Ethan out of the snow-covered playground and carried him kicking over to the idling Subaru. Ethan had put up such a fuss about losing the bear outside earlier, but they had been running late. John had promised to look for the stuffed animal in the morning.

The snowstorm, the blind curve, and bad luck had conspired to put the Subaru in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, when the snowplow had roared out of nowhere, lights flashing like something out of Close Encounters, there had been nowhere to go. John and Ethan had been on the plow side.

Jennifer had taken one look into the backseat, and then had glanced over at John. Her numb fingers hit the seatbelt release, found the door latch. She slipped around the airbag and into the snow. It smelled like gasoline. She listened, detached, to the cursing of the plow driver. He looked into the car, and his tirade changed to alarm, then to blind panic. Jennifer stumbled over to the snow bank, the amber flashes marking the moments until more lights appeared, red and blue this time, to take what was left of John and Ethan away.

#

A gust of cold snow scratched her face, bringing her back to the driveway and the tall silhouette standing before her in the bright light. Jennifer glared up through her tears into the unblinking amber eyes.

“You bastard.”

The cold gray fingers wrapped around hers and drew her hand closer to the large domed head. Jennifer squealed in the back of her throat, but her invisible cement cocoon held firm. Her fingertips brushed the smooth, dry scalp.

 

A small gray body lay before her on a table of soft white light. It had the same nose and chin as Matthew. The amber eyes were glazed over, and the tiny lips were blue.

Her hand dropped to her side and the cement cocoon was gone. Jennifer glanced down at Matthew, watched as the long fingers wrapped protectively around the boy’s shoulders.

“I’m sorry. I guess it’s been a shitty winter for everyone.”

Jennifer recoiled as the impossibly large head leaned closer. Something twinged behind her eyes, and the flashing amber lights spiraled into blackness.

#

The soft white light of morning greeted Jennifer. She blinked her eyes open. She lay on the couch in the warm living room under a woolen blanket. The weather channel was back on, and the vacant blonde had been replaced by a business-like brunette. She pointed elegantly at the green blob on the radar, now spinning away to the south.

Jennifer’s stomach felt odd. She realized that she had woken up without the usual urge to vomit. She stumbled into the kitchen and opened the pantry. The bottle of vodka sat there, untouched. She grabbed the long glass neck and unscrewed the cap. She shuffled across the linoleum to the sink and watched the clear liquid splash and swirl down the drain.

The phone rang. Jennifer fumbled for the receiver and hit the TALK button, then collapsed into the chair at the head of the kitchen table.

“Jen, how’d you make out last night? I tried calling to check on you but the phone just rang and rang.”

Jennifer stared blankly at the gleaming golden coins scattered about the table and reached for one. It flashed in the morning sun as she twirled it in her fingers.

“Yeah, Rach, I’m ok.”

“Jen – I’m just going to say it. I know an AA group –“

Jennifer bit the thin smile on her lip as her thumb traced the bold letters above the profile stamped on the heavy coin.

“It’s okay, Rach. I think I’m going to be okay.”

“Jen, it’s not that easy –“

“Bye, Rach.”

Jennifer hit the END button and set the phone down amidst the coins. She went to the entryway and slipped her boots on. She fought the two feet of snow the nor’easter had dumped on the porch and managed to crack the door open. Jennifer slipped out into the snow and slid down the steps into the sunny driveway.

Her chest tightened as she trudged toward the end of the house and turned toward the playground. She inhaled sharply. The mounds of fresh snow gave way to bright tulips, red and yellow, gracing the outer edge of the circle, while clumps of earthy brown mushrooms dotted the vibrant green grass.

Jennifer stepped onto the lawn and crept toward the center of the circle. She knelt on the thick grass. She didn’t fight the tears welling in her eyes as she picked up the stuffed bear. Its dry, scratchy fur was warm on her cheek.

END

 

 

Bio:

R. Christophe Ryber lives in Hardwick, VT where in addition to writing he runs a small business with his wife, homeschools his children, and studies literature at a local college.

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A Funeral in Jerusalem By Mark L. Glosser

Dec 09 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

On November 4, 1995, Israeli security personnel foiled an attempt by Yigal Amir, a religious zealot, to assassinate the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin.  Public revulsion at assassination attempt enabled Rabin to negotiate a land for peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Orthodox Israelis vehemently opposed the peace agreement because, in their view, it committed a sacrilege by giving land to the Palestinians (the West Bank) that God gave the Jews some 3000 years earlier.

It is now 2033 and the radical, ultra-religious Haredi controls one of the political parties comprising the far right, coalition government ruling Israel. The Haredi, like the I.R.A. and Hezbollah before them, consists of two arms, a political arm operating in public view and a semi-independent terrorist arm operating in the shadows.

When the religious parties gained control of the government in 2030, they declared Jewish religious law (Halachic law) to be the supreme law of the land.  The economic downturn and societal upheavals Israel underwent, as it moved from a western democracy to a theocracy masquerading as a democracy, has been rapid and dramatic.

1.   An Explosive Meeting

 

The nondescript panel truck parked near the Qnai safe house in the Mea Shearim section of Jerusalem was easy to overlook.  This was intentional; it was one of the mobile command units used by the Investigation and Command Division of the Israeli National Police.  Inspector Ari Rosen, a thick slab of a man, monitored the audio and video feeds in the truck while the rest of his men were concealed in the evening darkness. They were waiting for another conspirator to arrive.

So were the men inside the rundown, stone house. Hidden cameras showed three, bearded Haredi in dark suits and hats seated at a round wooden table. These men were the anonymous leaders of the Qnai, a notorious Haredi terrorist organization.  The tallest conspirator looked at his watch, shrugged, stood up, as did the others, and headed toward the door.

Ari’s earphone buzzed. A voice rasped in his ear.  “Now what?   Should we cancel the raid and follow them?”

“They’d spot us.  We’ll grab them now, learn their identities and shove them into a class four interrogation cycle.”

Silent shadows positioned themselves in strategic positions around the house.   Ari gave the “go” order, climbed out of the command vehicle and lumbered up the porch steps, as the armored SWAT team crashed through the door.

An explosion reverberated down the narrow street. A tongue of orange flame flickered out the open door followed by a shock wave.  As in his dreams, Ari sensed himself floating in the air.  After an indeterminable period of time, the back of his head slammed into the sidewalk; there was nothing dreamlike about the pain, it hurt like hell.

The fire extinguished, Ari and his soot-blackened men sifted through the smoldering rubble inside the stone house.  Puffs of acrid smoke stung their eyes; the sizzle and pop of the wet debris reminded Ari of the sound of popcorn.   Outside, floodlights cast a harsh, blue-white circle of light around the house and the crowd of curious onlookers congregated behind the yellow, crime-scene tape.

As he searched through the rubble, Ari tried to make sense out of the terrorists’ self-destruction.  It was unlikely they were concerned about prison. It was common knowledge the Israeli government quietly released those few ultra-orthodox terrorists it accidently managed to capture after a short term of imprisonment.

Ari considered other reasons for their deaths, such as an accident or a bomb hidden by a third party, but rejected them.  No, the most plausible explanation for their suicide was the simplest; these men possessed a secret, a secret so important they were willing to die to protect it.

A shout interrupted Ari’s musings.  “This man is still alive!”  Ari navigated around the jagged hole blasted in the wooden floor, and knelt beside the surviving terrorist.   One thing was obvious; the charred piece of human flesh would soon be dead.

The gentle twitch of blackened lips caught Ari’s attention.  Motioning with his arm Ari yelled, “Quiet,” and lowered his ear to the man’s mouth.

The charred right eye socket and the odor of burnt meat nauseated Ari.

Ari whispered, “Don’t worry everything will go off as planned.”

There was a definite nod of the head.

“Do you remember everything?“

Another nod.

“Tell me.  I forgot.”

“The… night of…”

“What?”

Silence, then more gasping whispers.

“…traitor…killed.”

Ari tried again. “Who will be killed?”

“God willing, take back the promise….”

The man stopped talking.

Forever.

2.  The Detective

Ari spent the night at the crime scene; he was tired and irritable. On the way to headquarters Ari encountered an ugly event typical of life under the rule of Israel’s strident, orthodox government.  One of Jerusalem’s self-appointed, modesty patrols was beating a teenage girl for wearing a skirt that exposed the calves of her legs.

Ari yanked the three young Haredi thugs off the bloody girl. There was no point in arresting them; they’d be back on the street before Ari finished preparing his arrest report.  One of them spit on the girl and smirked at Ari.  Ari paused for a moment, decided the hell with it, and slammed the Haredi’s face into a telephone pole; two teeth fell to the ground.  The others started to protest, but fell silent at the look on Ari’s face.

“Assholes,” muttered Ari.

The girl lay unconscious and by the looks of her pupils she had a concussion at the very least. Ari called an ambulance.

Ari ‘s foul mood didn’t improve when he arrived at police headquarters.  The elevators and air conditioning weren’t working again.  Ari wasn’t surprised; the department’s steadily shrinking budget could barely pay salaries, never mind paying for major repairs.

The morning news was more depressing than usual.  The only remaining Reform Synagogue in Jerusalem had been bombed.  A prominent Israeli who publically criticized Haredi excesses had died in a suspicious car accident.  A Haredi rabbi instructed the faithful to seek out and to correct the protestor who burned a Torah scroll as part of a demonstration against the government’s religious policies.  Ari suspected the correction would leave the protester dead or crippled.

Ari gave a derisive snort, took four aspirins, and spent the rest of the morning setting police investigative machinery in motion.  He had a theory about the events of the preceding evening, but needed more information before he kicked his idea up the chain of command.  Shortly before lunch Ari’s computer beeped.  The information he’d been waiting for appeared on the screen.

As he finished preparing his report Ari’s assistant, David, walked into the office.  Underarm sweat stains blemished David’s white shirt. The shirt, along with a dark suit and hat, were mandatory items of dress for all on duty male officers. There was no dress code for female police officers because Israel had none, just as it had no woman’s Olympic team since the founding of the State in 1948.

“Can I help?” asked David as he eyed the stacks of papers on Ari’s battered metal desk.

Ari shrugged and pushed back his sweat soaked hair and asked, “What happened yesterday at the trial of the woman who refused to ride in the back of the bus?”

David looked at his feet.

“The Judge said her refusal to sit in the back of the bus was an incitement to riot.  She was sentenced to three months in prison. The charges of assault and battery against the Haredi who spit on her when she refused to move to the back were dropped.”

Ari slammed his fist down on his desk. “Damn it.  She owns a software design company in Tel Aviv.  After she gets out of prison, I bet she emigrates like so many other of our best and brightest have already done.  No wonder the economy’s going down the tubes.  If those idiot’s hadn’t imposed Halachic Law the country wouldn’t be going bankrupt.”

Pausing, Ari pulled out one of the washcloths he always carried with him out of his pocket and wiped his sweat-drenched face.  “Who’d want to live in this theocratic hellhole if they could live in a democracy abroad?”

David slammed the door close. “Shut up. If the wrong person overhears, you’ll be neck deep in shit.”

Ari glared at David, took the four steps needed to reach the door and bellowed into the hall, “The idiots in charge wonder why morale is low, why our major crimes arrest statistics keep declining and why so many experienced officers have resigned.”

David unsuccessfully tried to yank the bigger man back into the office.  It was like a minnow trying to land a whale.

“I’ll tell you why.  The Haredi are ruining the country.”  Ari stomped back to his desk.

“Can I ask you a personal question?”

Ari looked at David in surprise and nodded. “Go ahead.”

“If you hate it here so much, why don’t you emigrate?”

Ari pointed at a picture yellowed with age; it showed a couple cutting their wedding cake.  Both were dressed in old-fashioned clothing; the raised dental pattern on their wedding rings was eye catching.

“That’s a picture of my grandparents.  A guard at Auschwitz ordered my grandfather to kill another inmate or be shot on the spot.  He chose to die.”

Ari motioned toward another picture. “That’s my father, an Auschwitz survivor.  He spent his life on the police force right here in Israel.  And he was happy to serve.  He

believed Israel was the greatest country in the world.  He died rescuing hostages held by Palestinian terrorists.”

Leaning forward Ari put his heavy arms on the desk. “I guess what I’m saying is I’m not going to give up on my country.  Not as long as there is anything left to save.”

 

3.  A Theory of the Case

David cleared off the stack of papers piled on the one chair in Ari’s office and sat down.  “Do you have any ideas about last night?”

“I do.  Listen.  The first thing I asked the dying terrorist was if he remembered the plan. He began to tell me, but died before he could finish.”

Ari grabbed a grease pencil and scribbled a few words on the battered white board.  “These are the eleven words the terrorist spoke before dying: ‘God willing…the…night of…traitor… killed… take back the promise….’”

David nodded and waited for Ari to continue.

Ari gave David a questioning look. “Do the words, taken as whole, make any sense to you?”

David shrugged.  “No. “

Ari held his arm out in a gesture inviting a response. “Think about it.  What’s the one big fat political thing virtually all the orthodox Israelis agree on?”

Like a student who hadn’t done his homework, David hesitantly answered, “They all opposed the 1996 Land for Peace Treaty with the Palestinians.”

“Right.  And why did they oppose it?” Without waiting for an answer, Ari bulldozed on. “I’ll tell you why.  In the eyes of the orthodox, when God gave the West Bank to the Jews some 3000 years ago, he inserted a restrictive covenant in the deed prohibiting us Jews from ever transferring any portion of the West Bank third parties.

David cocked his head to the side.  “Where are you going with this?”

Ari pointed at the grease board.  “I can’t prove it yet, but I think he was saying that ‘God willing, next week someone the Haredi view as a traitor will be murdered on one of the eight nights of Passover.’  Then, after the, traitor, is dead, Israel will attack the Palestinian State and ‘take back the Promised Land.’  I think the target is the Prime Minister.”

“The Prime Minister?   Why him?” asked David in a disbelieving tone of voice.

“We know the Haredi would love to start a war with the Palestinians and re-conquer the West Bank.  But, this Prime Minister will never go along with that.  So, they’re going to assassinate him and push someone into office who’s willing to pull the trigger.”

David gasped, “If you send this fantasy upstairs, it’ll be the end of your career. Hell, it might be the end of your freedom.”

Ari ignored David’s comment.  “I suspect the Designated Acting Prime Minister is in on the conspiracy.  He’s backed by every ultra-orthodox with a soapbox, and he’s next in the line of succession should the Prime Minister die.  He’d be more than willing to order the attack.”

Then Ari leaned forward and shook his head. “But he doesn’t have the balls to assassinate one of the most closely guarded politicians in the world.  I expect he’s more the type to let some one else do the wet work.”

David looked over his shoulder, as if he were afraid of being seen. “You’re serious aren’t you?”

“I’m dead serious and, if I’m right, an enormous number of Israelis may die in a pointless war with the Palestinians.  Even worse, if we attack Palestine our semi-hostile Muslim neighbors may well come to the aid of Palestine. Hell, Israel might even be destroyed.”

David fidgeted in his chair and looked over his shoulder again. “How can you say that?”

“Because the Haredi think that since they’re backed by the hand of God; the Israelis, all seven million of us, have nothing to fear from a billion, well armed and hostile Moslems.”

By now Ari was striding back and forth in his office.  Gesturing at the cars and pedestrian traffic filling the street below Ari continued, “Our history is filled with zealots provoking powerful nations, usually with disastrous consequences for us Jews. Zealots provoked the Assyrians.  We put up a good fight; but the Assyrians won the war, and ten of the twelve tribes of Israel disappeared.

He waived his hands, almost like an orchestra conductor, as he got into his historical recap.  “Zealots provoked the Babylonians.  The Babylonians showed how happy they were by destroying the First Temple and exiling the surviving Jews. When we rebelled against Rome, Rome sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Second Temple and murdered 600,000 civilians.

“Now, zealots plot to provoke the entire Muslim world, all billion plus of them, by attacking the Palestine. If the idiots’ plan succeeds, the Muslim response may well devastate Israel.”

Ari paused and wiped a hand across his sweaty face. “There’s another minor detail to consider. The Haredi have no intention of asking the Israelis who’ll do the fighting and dying, if they’re willing to sacrifice their lives to support the Haredi’s religious quest.  As far as the Haredi are concerned this detail is irrelevant.  All that matters is the sacred nature of their mission.  Besides which it won’t be the Haredi who do the fighting and dying, since they don’t serve in the armed forces.”

“That’s enough.” David held up a hand as he jumped to his feet.  “You’re insane.” He stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him.

David’s reaction confirmed Ari’s private opinion of his assistant. David wasn’t the brightest candle in the menorah.

Ari leaned back in his threadbare chair and wondered if David’s attitude would be different had he stayed to learn the most recent developments. The wives of the dead terrorists were nowhere to be found. Someone didn’t want us talking to them.  Even more telling, the Designated P.M. had left his office during the critical time period without his usual security detail. The only reason he didn’t make it to the meeting was because his car got stuck in a massive traffic jam.

 

4.  Three Days Later

Ari picked up the phone on his secure line.  The voice on the other end was a long time friend, now assigned to the counter terrorism unit.

“Ari, what’s happening on your end of the assassination investigation?”

“Nothing,” growled Ari.  “As ordered by the idiots upstairs I gave everything I had to your director, and kept my nose out of your investigation.  Why?”

“Something’s not right.”

“Meaning what?” asked Ari leaning forward.

“Orders have been given to use all resources available to crack the case.  But, if you look under the surface you’ll see just the opposite. People are running in circles.  Inconsequential matters are being investigated.  No investigative team knows what information the other teams have developed.  Our least competent people have the most difficult assignments.  We both know the signs.  This investigation isn’t meant to succeed.”

Ari slammed down the receiver; chunks of plastic flew off the now demolished phone. He threw the pieces on the floor and stomped out of the building nearly tripping on a glass bottle lying on the sidewalk. Muttering angrily under his breath Ari kicked the bottle, sending it clattering down the litter filled street.

An hour later Ari stood inside the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial.  Pictures of thousands of the murdered lined the walls of the multi-story, tapered, cylindrical hall. The names of and the available information about those who died were available from computers in the Hall.  Ari once again read the information on the life and death of his grandfather.

So what, if the Prime Minister was murdered, thought Ari.  He’s the glue that holds his coalition together.  Without him the government would collapse.  Maybe new elections will be held before the Haredi can start their war.

It was a rhetorical question.

His father and grandfather had chose death so others might live.

Ari could do no less.

He would disobey orders and continue the investigation on his own.

 

5.  Bad News

The buzz of Ari’s new, guaranteed indestructible, phone jarred him awake. Three rings later Ari found it hidden under an almost empty bag of bagels sitting on the corner of his desk.  He grabbed a stale bagel and answered the phone.  It was Rueben from Intelligence.

After social niceties were concluded, Rueben asked, “Ari, do you want the bad news or the good news first?”

Like a man preparing to absorb a punch, Ari hunched his shoulders and lowered his head. “The bad news.  I’m not sure I’d know what to do with good news.”

“For a couple of years we’ve been trying to locate and eavesdrop on a disposable phone.  Data mining algorithms suggest it belongs to a domestic terrorist. Today we got lucky and intercepted a conversation.  Your name came up.”

Ari’s appetite disappeared; he put the bagel back in the bag. “Exactly, how did it come up?  I don’t think they were discussing my birthday?”

“In a way they were. It’s the terrorist’s job to ensure you don’t live to celebrate your next birthday.”

Snorting, Ari said, “What’s the good news?  They’re going to pay for my funeral?”

“We learned who the triggerman is, someone named Jonah Geller.“

“I need to take care of this myself.  Please keep it quiet.”

“Not a problem.  One other thing.  You know the website some ultra-orthodox wacko runs, something called the Apostate’s List?   The one that lists people who God abhors; people like atheists, homosexuals and assorted free thinkers?  A funny thing about that list; some of the people whose names appear on it end up being murdered.”

“What about it?”

“Your name just appeared on it.”

“Shit.”

Ari hung up, and punched Geller’s name into his computer. A moment later the printer spit out a Geller’s police record, a blank piece of paper.  A search of public databases yielded the same result.  Geller didn’t exist.  There were no credit cards, no telephones and no driver’s license listed in his name.

Ari had more luck with a search of government and military databases. Geller’s personal history helped explain the man.  Palestinians murdered Geller’s parents shortly after his birth.  Geller’s grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor, raised him.  After his military service, Geller met a charismatic rabbi and joined the fringe political party for which he was the spiritual advisor.

Like many other settlement-based rabbis of the time, the message of Geller’s rabbi was one of violence.  He preached the Second Commandment’s prohibition against murder did not apply to the murder of Arab men women and children.  Nor, did it apply to the murder of any Jew who advocated the surrender of the West Bank to the Palestinians.  Geller’s rabbi was among those who publically called for the assassination Prime Minister Rabin back in 1995.

Ari examined the picture of his would be assassin and chuckled at a random thought flashing through his mind; at least he wouldn’t be murdered by a total stranger. He was not comforted by this realization.

The rest of Geller’s file was uninformative.  With a grunt of disgust Ari tossed the unbound pages in the air and watched them flutter to the floor.

Jonah Geller, Ari realized, was that most dangerous of men, a killer doing God’s work.

 

6. A Trip to the Cemetery

That afternoon found Ari slouched at a corner table in a coffee shop trying to scratch a mental itch.  He felt he was missing something important.  Ari hoped a cup of  fresh brewed coffee, and the scent of cinnamon rolls taken straight from the oven would help him scratch the itch.  So far, it hadn’t.

Ari was reaching for his fourth cinnamon roll when he noticed the paper place mat.  Emblazoned on it was an advertisement for a photo exhibit at a local gallery.  One of the exhibit pictures, a close-up shot of the odds and ends a man might carry in his pants pocket, was part of the advertisement.  Ari squelched a burp and charged out of the coffee shop.

Five minutes later Ari was on his hands and knees fumbling through the papers on his office floor.  With a grunt of triumph, Ari grabbed the picture of the personal items Geller surrendered for safe keeping when he entered the army.

Shown in the picture were Geller’s keys, his wallet, a ring with a raised pattern hanging on a chain, a cheap watch with a cracked crown, a wallet, loose change and a worn pocket bible.  Ari hung it on the wall next to the pictures of his parents and grandparents. He was satisfied he now possessed the information needed to neutralize Geller.

Ari’s thoughts were interrupted by the insistent beep of his computer.  It was a news flash announcing the death of former Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The current Prime Minister, Netanyahu’s protégé and personal friend, would deliver a eulogy at the funeral.

The Prime Minister had also volunteered; in accordance with the Jewish custom requiring the deceased not be left alone prior to burial, to maintain a vigil beside the casket the night before the funeral.  An unwelcome thought crossed Ari’s mind; the funeral of another Prime Minister might soon be announced.

Ari’s attention returned to the problem facing him. In order to neutralize Geller, Ari had to meet him face-to-face.  The real question was how to prevent Geller from killing him before he could open his mouth. Somehow, Geller’s curiosity had to be sufficiently aroused to allow Ari to talk first and, hopefully, not shoot later.

That evening found Ari at the Yeusefiya Cemetery, an ancient cemetery located at the foot of the Mount of Olives.  He was leaning against the tombstone of Geller’s grandfather.  The yellow light of the full moon hanging low on the horizon illuminated the graveyard.  Thousands of closely packed tombstones cast irregular shadows in its light.  A gentle breeze cooled the night air. Ari was at peace with himself.  Strangely the fact that he might die within the hour only added to his feeling of serenity.

After the moon set, a slightly built man in Hassidic dress materialized from the darkness.  His right hand was in his suit pocket.  In a gentle voice, almost a whisper, he asked,  “How did you learn about me?”

This morning Intelligence intercepted your phone conversation with your controller.”

The bearded man ruefully shook his head and moved closer to Ari. “What do you want?”

Ari locked eyes with Geller. “I’m here to collect a debt you owe me.”

Geller’s voice roughened. “I owe you nothing.”

Ari moved away from the tombstone and pointed at Geller. “You’re wrong. You owe me three lives.”

A puzzled look crept into Geller’s emotionless eyes. “Stop talking in riddles. Say what you have to say.”

Moving slowly, Ari reached into his brief case, removed the wedding picture of his grandparents and placed it on the tombstone.  “These are my grandparents.  They died at Auschwitz.  My grandfather’s brother and my father survived.”

“So what.  Millions died there.”

“Some lived.  One of them was the man who raised you, your grandfather.”

Ari pointed at the gold chain and ring hanging from Geller’s neck.  “Take it off and put it by the picture.”

Geller did so.

The raised dental pattern stamped into Geller’s ring matched the pattern on the wedding rings worn in the picture by Ari’s grandparents.

Ari took a washcloth out of his pocket and wiped the sweat from his face.  “I’m sure your grandfather told you how he came to own the ring.  My grandfather’s brother gave it to him.  He gave it to him after his brother, my grandfather, was murdered by a Nazi guard because he refused to kill your grandfather.”

“The picture could be a forgery.”

“It isn’t.”

Ari pulled a crumpled piece of scrap paper from his pocket and smoothed it out on the tombstone.  Several words written in the Cyrillic alphabet were printed on it.  Ari pointed at the paper.  “These are the names of my grandparents written in Russian.  If you check, you’ll see they match the inscription engraved on the inside of your ring.  You owe me your grandfather’s life, your father’s existence and your birth and life.”

Geller bowed his head in acknowledgement of the debt.

7.  The Funeral Home

The assassination plan was simple and stood every chance of succeeding.   To penetrate the Prime Minister’s security cordon, the conspirators chose a weapon from the past…poison.

The morning of the Passover Seder the Prime Minister’s cook would fall ill, having been administered a non-fatal poison with his morning coffee.  His replacement would poison the Prime Minister at the Seder.  False evidence suggesting the Palestinian government was behind the poison plot would be planted. The Designated Acting P.M. would take office and instigate the attack against Palestine.

The problem confronting Ari was the same one he faced in dealing with Geller.  He had to arrange a face-to-face meeting with the Prime Minister without being shot in the process. A task he had to accomplish in forty-eight hours or not at all.

Ari decided to pay his last respects to the late Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He showered, shaved and changed into a clean suit; he felt reborn. In accordance with Jewish custom, the casket at the front of the room was closed; mourners silently filed by it.

Once he paid his respects, Ari sought out the funeral director and explained his problem.  At first Ari thought the funeral director would respond much the same way Ari’s assistant had—slamming a door on his face, but Ari kept his explanation calm and professional.  The funeral director agreed to help.

Security swept through the building searching for unauthorized persons or explosives.  None were found.  The Prime Minister entered the private room, closed the door behind him and sat beside Netanyahu’s coffin.

By this time, Ari had been stuffed in the coffin for three hours.  He was in agony.  He could barely breath, his extremities were numb and his back ached. The heat inside the coffin was intolerable. During the security sweep Ari had worried that a puddle of sweat might have formed under the coffin, giving away his hiding place.

Ari hadn’t decided whether to open the coffin, step out and say “hello” or yell, “let me out.”  Both approaches had the inherent risk security forces might be called, an outcome that might well shorten Ari’s life expectancy.  Ari decided to wait before making a decision.  He had all night.

The sound of the Prime Minister’s voice woke Ari from a dreamless nap.

“Well my friend, what would you do?  I know you were disappointed in me, Benjamin, but I had to appoint some of the Haredi partners to key posts in my cabinet.  I couldn’t risk the collapse of my government.  But you were right, Benjamin, one cannot trust people such as them.  Now, I suspect they plot against me. I fear for my life, and more importantly, I fear for our country.”

From inside the coffin, Ari spoke in a firm, commanding voice.  “You have every reason to worry Mr. Prime Minister.  My name is Ari Rosen and I’m an inspector in the Investigation Division of the National Police.  I’m here to warn you about a pending assassination attempt against you; an attempt that will be made tomorrow.”

The Prime Minister stopped talking.  Ari heard the clang of a chair falling over; then silence.  An infinite period time passed.  The coffin lid opened and light flooded in momentarily blinding Ari.  When his vision cleared Ari saw the bearded face of the Prime Minister looking down at him; his gaze expressed wary curiosity.

“If you help me out of the coffin, I’ll explain.”

The Prime Minister helped Ari climb out of the coffin.

Ari told his story.

 

Epilogue

In the days that followed, several members of the Prime Minster’s Cabinet died in a tragic plane crash.

A number of high-ranking police and security officials disappeared.

As time passed, repeated and untraceable administrative efforts were made to fire, demote or transfer Ari. All failed.

Ari’s name is still on the Apostate’s List.

Israel remains a theocracy.

But the Prime Minister lives, and during the steaming nights when Ari cannot sleep, he tries to pretend this is enough.

The End

Mark L. Glosser is a retired attorney.  He recently began a second career as a writer of children’s stories and as an author of science fiction tales. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wife Caryle, their two Labrador Retrievers and a cat. He has two grown children and two young grandsons both of whom he is exposing to the world of science fiction.  His work has appeared in Beyond Centauri, Spaceports & Spidersilk, Static Movement, Candlelight Stories and in volumes 1 and 2 of the anthology entitled Yarns for our Youth.

 

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Kodiak by Walter Campbell

Dec 02 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

If it weren’t for the Kodiak brown bear, Max would have complained about his boss long ago. The bear had been hired as head receptionist for HR just two months earlier, landing him an extra large desk and an extra large chair behind normal-sized glass doors on the third floor, just off the elevator.

Max had heard the rumors, and it had long kept him from complaining. It had long kept everyone from complaining. Yet one day after witnessing his boss upgrade from sexual innuendo to a full-on ass grabbing of an assistant, Max decided see the Ursus arctos middendorffi for himself.

As soon as he stepped off the elevator and saw fur, his heart dropped. He’d been desperately hoping for skin even if it were an unrealistic hope. He took a tentative step further, and behind an all-window door, behind a six-foot high cubicle, chest hidden by a desktop, was a full-grown male Kodiak brown bear.

Max turned around immediately.

#

Max’s boss’s behavior continued, quickly escalating from a second-rate sexual harasser to a first rate one, all set to advance into sexual predator territory by the end of the month. It was the logical next step for such an asshole. Assistants were quitting left, right, front, and back, and he just kept on going, harassing all the new ones no later than their first hour on the job. As head of admissions, he’d even begun to act inappropriately with interviewing students, preying upon helpless ladies seeking admission into dental school.

Yet, when Max felt outraged and motivated to fight back, he remembered that his options were either to remain silent along with everyone else or be the first to face a brown bear. Not just a brown bear, but a Kodiak brown bear, which is far larger than any other brown bear. Kodiak’s are tied with polar bears for the title of world’s largest living land carnivore.

And yet Max’s boss just kept getting worse. Max often caught him leaning into one of the secretaries, grabbing her ass, and whispering into her ear while she appeared to be suppressing vomit.

But on the other end of things was a 1,000-pound bear that could easily fit a human head in his jaws, so Max remained silent.

The very next day, Max’s boss asked an intern to touch it. “It” being his junk. He approached her at the copier and said, “Go ahead, touch it. I know you want to.” Max overheard because the copier was near the coffee pot, and Max was so tired he had almost passed out at his desk.

He wasn’t able to sleep that might, tormented by his inaction. In fact he hadn’t been able to sleep for many nights. Yet there was still the matter of the bear, a matter which continued to keep him inactive.

Then the next day in the coed bathroom right next to the admissions office Max played a game he rarely attempted: aimed urination. He played it that morning because he was worried if he didn’t, he’d fall asleep in the stall. Max was shooting for a spot at the far end, a sharp 75 degrees from where he stood, and while he was so carefully aiming, looking intently at the rim of the toilet, he noticed a small, black plastic camera.

#

At an elevator’s distance, through the dirty window doors, all Max could make out was a mass of brown, but as he got closer, the imposing details came into very vivid view. The dark brown fur still wet from a morning shower; the small, black eyes; the 1,000 pounds of hunched up muscle; the mammoth claws that crudely banged away at an oversized keyboard; the big, floppy black lips barely covering gigantic, white teeth.

He knew he shouldn’t have, but over the past few weeks head read up on brown bear attacks. The good news was that they rarely attacked. The bad news was that when they attacked, it was devastating. One bear killed a man with a single bite to the head; another raided a tent, killed the inhabitants, and when rafters discovered the site of the massacre, the bear chased them a half-mile downriver.

With trembling hands, Max knocked on the glass.

“What can I help you with?” the bear asked, his huge lips sloppily slapping as he wrapped them around the sentence. He’d clearly just learned English, but in spite of that, he didn’t have much of an accent. Maybe something resembling a Boston accent, but nothing foreign.

“I…I…I…I…” Max stuttered uncontrollably.

“Are you normally a stutterer?” the bear asked. Max shook his head. “Okay, I know how I look. I know that I’m a massive bear and that normally such a sight would induce stuttering, but you have no reason to worry. I am first and foremost an HR employee, so please treat me as such.”

“But…but…but…”

“But I’m a bear. A Kodiak brown bear from the islands of the Kodiak Archipelago in Southwestern Alaska. But that’s no reason to be scared of me. My diet consists mainly of salmon and berries, and while I can be territorial, I’m perfectly capable of assessing my surroundings to know when such defensive behavior would be inappropriate, such as now, within a professional work environment. So please, don’t be scared. I left my wild nature in Alaska.

“To be perfectly honest with you, it hurts my feelings to see my coworkers scared of me, so please, don’t be. I’m here to help. I left Alaska for Los Angeles because of global warming, hunters, and bear viewing tours, but I stayed in Los Angeles for the kind and caring collegial environment I found right here at our esteemed institution. Do not doubt for a second that I will treat your request with the utmost respect and sincerity, taking an active interest in solving your problems in a way that best benefits all parties involved, none of which will be altered in any manner by my quadrupedal nature, overpowering sense of smell, or hunger for salmon.”

Max had never met a bear who spoke so beautifully. This ursine eloquence boosted his confidence just enough to force his own speech.

“I work in admissions, and my boss there is sexually harassing the women in our office as well as the interviewing applicants.”

The bear narrowed his already small eyes.

“What kind of sexual harassment?”

Max described it, detailing every incident he’d seen in the last month (there were too many for him to go back any further than that). By the end, the bear’s eyes had widened to their fullest. He leapt from his chair, shaking the whole office. Plants in plastic vases fell over, spilling dirt on spots that already had dirt from previous spills; books toppled off shelves on top of books that had already toppled; the water cooler tipped over, flooding the damp carpet which reeked of mold; and somebody two rooms away fell out of their chair and yelled, “Not my elbow again!”

“That’s disgusting. That man’s a danger. We have to do something now.” On all fours, the bear galloped into the office with the fallen man. As he did someone in another office fell out of their chair and yelled about their knee. Max remained behind until the bear stopped running because the floor was too shaky for him to follow. One thousand pounds was a lot for even the best-constructed buildings in earthquake-ready Los Angeles to withstand.

“Sir,” the bear bellowed. A small, middle-aged man with a substantial bald spot was picking himself up and shaking out his elbow as Max stepped in.

“Yes, Kodiak brown bear?”

“Sir, we have a very serious sexual harassment incident on our hands. One that must be dealt with immediately. The employee involved should be instantly fired so that he is no longer a danger to others, and his victims should be informed of their options to file suit against the perpetrator.”

The bald man leapt up.

“Are you serious? A sexual harassment issue? And one of such magnitude?”

“I am, sir,” the bear said proudly as though he were brining his cubs a fresh deer carcass.

“Well then, who is this disgusting piece of human sewage?” the bear’s boss said, leaning eagerly and angrily over his desk.

“The head of admissions, sir.”

The bald man collapsed into his chair, oozing into it like a melting crayon.

“What is it, sir?” the Kodiak brown bear asked.

“The head of admissions is the dean’s little brother,” the bald man said. “There’s nothing we can do.”

“But?” The bear tried. His boss shook his head.

“Nothing, brown bear. He’s the dean’s baby brother. We can’t do a goddamn thing.”

Dejected, Max and the bear left the bald man’s office.

“Dude,” the bear said as they reached his cozy cubicle. Max took it as an apologetic “dude” variation, which he’d found was the second most common type of “dude” after the enthusiastic “dude.”

“Dude, I understand. Some things are insurmountable,” Max said, using the sympathetic “dude” variation.

“No, that’s not what I meant. I meant, ‘Dude, we need to take this into our own hands.’ Or paws, as it were.” The bear bashfully buried his paws behind his behind as though ashamed that they didn’t match Max’s forelimb extremities.

Max leaned in, arms resting precariously on particleboard, glancing nervously about. “What?” he asked. The rebellious “dude” variation was one of the most rare, so he wasn’t positive he’d heard the bear correctly.

“This man, your boss, he’s dangerous. We can’t just let him do what he does because he’s the dean’s brother. There’s no excuse for sexual harassment, not even being related to a faculty member who’s administratively-inclined enough to be elected dean.”

“But how do we stop him? You hold no HR authority over him. You can’t reprimand him here at work.”

“Exactly,” the bear said, a grin spreading over his sloppy lips. “Here, at work, there’s nothing I can do.”

#

Max had never been much of a jogger. He was ill-equipped for the sport. His legs were short and fat, his lungs small and weak, and his willpower shriveled and elusive. Yet the following morning, he donned short-shorts, sneakers, and a slick long-sleeved shirt before driving to the trails just above the city where his boss ran each morning. He knew about the runs because his boss came to work in short shorts and a sweaty shirt, and any woman unfortunate enough to be near his office when he arrived was harassed into feeling his muscles or his pulse. Always his femoral pulse, never his radial.

“Been running up in the hills. The San Gabriels. Working out my quads and my glutes, pumping up those mountains, putting in work, you know?” he often said, answered only by uncomfortable nods.

Max’s boss wasn’t a very fast runner. He greatly exaggerated his aerobic fitness to impress unimpressed women. But Max was even slower. He exerted everything he had just to keep within four hundred yards of his boss. Halfway through, he vomited, and by the end of the run, he would have vomited again if he’d had anything left in his stomach. But, he thought while dry heaving into a prickly poppy bush, he’d done it. He’d followed his Boss. He’d learned the route even if it felt like it were killing him.

As soon as his boss’s car was well out of sight, Max went to his own car, grabbed a bag of cookies and a bottle of water, and lazily walked the entire five miles he’d just run, carefully studying the trial throughout.

He was nervous. Their plan wasn’t something to be taken lightly. It was frightening on all levels and Max found his stomach doing back flips just at the thought. He wasn’t sure he could go through with it.

That night their boss took them all out to a happy hour as he often did, using it, as always, as an opportunity to make repulsive sexual advances on the women. At the end of the night, when a small, blonde girl named Katie appeared far too drunk to drive, Max’s boss offered to take her home. He threw an arm around her, and something clicked in Max’s head.

“She lives just down the block from me. I can take her,” Max said. Katie, in fact, lived miles away, but once Max had extricated her from his furiously frustrated boss, he didn’t mind driving her across the city.

As he’d expected, when he asked her how much she’d had to drink the next morning, she reported only one beer. One beer had given a weekend’s worth of headaches. One beer that their boss had gotten for her. One beer that their boss had made sure to get for her. One beer that none of them had watched their boss get for her. One beer that had to be more than one beer.

Max’s resolve solidified. His stomach back flips ceased and were replaced by an anxious anger. That afternoon he hopped off the elevator on the third floor and gave a quick thumbs-up.

The next morning Max once again followed his boss over toughly-packed dirt and bunches of rocks, around child-sized shrubs and early-morning lizards, under low-lying branches and rarely-used bridges, deeper and deeper into the mountains around Los Angeles, until at the pinnacle of their depth, Max, who had been slowly gaining on his boss, sprinted forward. He’d intended to remain silent, but he couldn’t help himself.

“You’re gonna pay, you asshole!” he yelled just before he tackled his boss. His yell tipped off his boss, allowing him time to grab onto Max as Max pushed him down a small, steep hill into a small, circular ravine.

Max caught a branch just a few feet below the roof of the ravine. His boss rolled all the way down.

When Max’s boss opened his eyes after brushing them free of dirt, as he stood up on bruised legs, he found himself less than ten feet from a Kodiak brown bear. Max stared down from his perch, not yet wanting to scramble the four feet to the top of ravine. He wanted to see the fear first.

And the fear was there in full. Max’s boss was shivering, sweating, and crying quietly. Then the bear roared, and the mountains ached with his bellow. With one lumbering foot after another—feet that shook dust up from the ground—the bear approached Max’s cowering boss who had now pressed himself tightly into the wall of the hill behind. He continued to shiver, sweat, and cry, and by the time the bear’s massive, hanging lips were just a few inches from his face, he was shaking so intensely that clumps of dirt were falling off the hill around him, and a fear that had already been full was made unimaginably fuller.

But suddenly his boss stopped shaking.

“You’re the bear from HR, right? The Kodiak brown bear?” He said it as confidently as a man inches from a Kodiak brown bear could.

“Indeed, I am,” the bear growled, hot breath wafting over Max’s boss, forcing him to close his eyes and shut his mouth. “And I know what you’ve done. I know the HR policies you’ve broken, not to mention the laws you’ve broken.”

When Max’s boss reopened his eyes, they were still tight and centered.

“It doesn’t matter. I’m the dean’s brother. You can’t do anything to me.” The arrogance in his voice was so thick it almost smelled.

The bear’s lips widened into what looked like a grin, stretching thin over colossal canines.

“You might think so. My boss certainly does. But you’re both wrong. While I can’t do anything as an HR staff member, as a Kodiak brown bear there is so very much that I can do…” The bear let is gravelly voice trail off, leaving more suspense than a Hitchcock movie hanging between the two of them. Max’s boss may have been an asshole, but he wasn’t an idiot, so he instantly picked up on where this was headed, and he started to shiver again.

The Kodiak brown bear reared onto his hind legs and lifted his right paw.

Max scrambled upwards. He’d wanted to see the fear, but the attack was different. He wasn’t a sadist. An advocate for the punishment of jackasses, yes, but not a sadist. Even knowing the punishment would be minimal, he still didn’t want to see it. The Kodiak brown bear had said the day before that not all bear attacks were fatal, but fatal or not, all bear attacks were horrendously violent, and Max didn’t want to see that.

So he shot upward, scrambling over two branches, and then, just before the top, grabbing onto a lip of dirt that quickly crumbled away. His feet were on two small, unstable rocks, so as soon as he lost his handhold, he lost himself. He rolled down the hill rapidly.

The Kodiak brown bear was still drawing back his swing, letting the fear fully set in, and as the bear swung, Max fell right in front of his boss. The swing should have landed on Max’s boss’s femur. Instead it landed on Max’s face.

#

If Max had been conscious in his hospital bed, he would have thought something along the lines of assholes always winning, nice guys finishing last, or the best laid plans of bears and men. But he wasn’t conscious, so he thought no such thing.

The Kodiak brown bear would have been glad to know that instead of cycling through regret and depression as the bear was, Max was cycling through images of Max romping on top of a brown bear’s back through fields of dandelion.

The bear had called the attack in from his cell phone, reporting it as black bear attack just after noticing that Max’s boss had scrambled to safety while he wasn’t paying attention. He’d lost in every way. He’d hurt Max, he’d lied to police, and Max’s boss had escaped unscathed. The bear wished there were seasons in LA. It would have been a good time to hibernate.

At least, he thought, they’d taught Max’s boss a lesson. For the past week, he’d been on impeccable behavior.

#

The bear was aiming for a spot on the far side of the toilet when Max’s boss burst through the bathroom door. The bear knew it was he by his voice, but Max’s boss didn’t know the bear was there since the bear was forced to use the stalls; the urinals were too small for him. Even the stalls weren’t a comfortable fit.

“Get in there,” Max’s boss yelled. A woman screamed, and a second later, smashed against the wall of the stall next to the bear. The stall door closed, Max’s boss’s belt unbuckled, his pants fell, and he reached down and lifted the dazed girl with the heavy head wound.

The bear was too shocked to move. Too caught off guard. So he roared. He roared like he’d roared in the mountains, and Max’s boss jumped back.

“Shit!” Max’s boss yelled, opening the stall door, and a second later, the bathroom door.

As the bear called an EMT for the unconscious girl Max’s boss had left behind, he thought of the unconscious Max. Not only was Max unconscious, but he was unconscious without reason. His boss was still a horrendous creep. They had now truly lost in every way. The bear felt like the worst HR employee in the whole of California.

#

The instantaneous disappearance of his grin as he exited the strip club and saw the bear would have been enough to make Max happy if he’d been there to see it. The way he dropped his cell phone and ran would have pushed Max well beyond happiness. But the weak, shrill scream that Max’s boss let out as he ran would have made Max happy for a lifetime.

But the Kodiak brown bear couldn’t stop there. He’d seen how far scare tactics got him with this criminal. The Kodiak brown bear had once told Max that not all bear attacks were fatal. Max, still hospitalized, knew that firsthand. But implied in that statement was the idea that sometimes they were fatal, and this was going to be one of those times. It might even be, the bear thought as he galloped after Max’s boss, the first time it was deserved.

 

 

 

 

Bio: Walter Campbell lives and works in Philadelphia, went to school in New England, and grew up in LA, but he’ll write pretty much anywhere. Recently, his work has appeared in Jersey Devil, KZine, MicroHorror, Eclectic Flash, Toasted Cheese, Horror Bound, amphibi.us, Static Movement, The Journal of Microliterature, and Glossolalia.

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