Friday, April 27, 2012

R.I.P. Mrs. Brown

I got an email a couple of days ago from my first wife, Linda. She told me that our teacher, Mrs. Irlene Brown had passed away. Visitation is tonight in Georgetown at 6 p.m. I'm going, since I won't be able to make the funeral tomorrow in Liberty Hill.

The picture above is of Mrs. Brown and myself at my Junior High graduation. She was one of my two favorite teachers in all twelve years of school. She taught me English from grade 5 thru 12. (Liberty Hill had all 12 grades in one building back then.) It was Mrs. Brown who encouraged me to take part in theater and to write.

I admit that I was a mediocre student. I was a bit lazy. I did read a lot, and was able to slide along making C's or so most of the time. I like to tell people I graduated in the top 13. (My graduating class was exactly 13, so perhaps I was even in the top 10 out of that.) Mrs. Brown saw something in me and encouraged me to use the talents I had. She graded my papers with encouragement. She may not have approved of my subject choice at times, it tended toward science fiction, but she always found something positive to say to me. 

We had no drama department or drama classes in our high school. We did, however, do a Junior and a Senior play as well as participating in UIL One Act Play competition. It fell to the English teacher, Mrs. Brown, to ramrod those endeavors. Since our classes were so small, the Junior and Senior plays usually used almost the whole Junior or Senior class, sometimes some of both. She always made me feel that my efforts were appreciated, whatever I did on or back stage.

In later years I had my own plays produced, and I let Mrs. Brown know about it. She seemed proud of the fact that I was writing and acting. I don't think she ever had a chance to see one of my plays, but I enjoyed the knowledge that she knew about them.

Whatever faults you find with my writing now, they are my own faults and are in spite of the excellent teaching of Mrs. Brown. Rest in Peace, lovely lady!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Greyhound Across the Wasteland -Dreaming

I tend to dream epic, multi-part dreams. I dream in both color and black and white. My dreams also tend to be cinematic, like I'm watching a movie, but they also have a literary element. I remember one dream that had a very nice segue from the live-action story to the printed page at the end. I was watching the final scenes, the two main characters (Sherlock  Holmes and Watson) became black silhouettes on the page, then I was reading the last couple of sentences. Then, "The End" and I woke up. Other times the dream switches back and forth, like I'm reading a novel and seeing the scenes acted out. Much like when I read awake, but more actually visual. Of course, I am a constant and omnivorous reader, as well as loving movies and the mechanics of the art. So it all enters in, no doubt.

For a very long time I've marveled at dreams and all they entail. My own curiosity gets the better of me. I've been keeping a dream journal off and on for awhile. Most mornings I get up and barely remember what I dreamed. Some are so interesting that I get up at 2 a.m. or whatever and write them down.

A couple of nights ago I was dreaming a period piece. It was all in black and white, and at one point I even knew the date. April 14, 1943. (I Googled the date later. It means nothing personally to me. It was in the middle of World War II. In history the Allies were about to attack Tunis. That had nothing to do with the dream.) 
Actually, I don't remember the subject matter of the dream, only that date. One other thing struck me, though. I was aware I was dreaming. Even though I drifted out of it now and again, even a restroom break here and there, I still was able to continue the same dream. Much of the time I was aware that I was in bed next to Cat. Still the dream was going on. It was like having an old movie on the t.v. while drifting in and out of sleep. Interesting. All in black and white, period clothing, all that. I've made attempts at lucid dreaming, but this was as close as I've ever gotten.

Another time, after watching a foreign movie in Italian (I think), I found myself dreaming with English subtitles. A bit bizarre, really. 

I've been interested for awhile in the internal structure of dreams. They have their own logic. I observed awhile back that they also often come with their own back story. There are layers there. I dream about a dog, but also it has a history with me. I "remember" buying the dog, house training it, sleepless nights when it was a lonely puppy, and so on. It all makes so much sense in the moment. However, on waking, I realize I never had a dog like this. 

I just realized this morning how the "back story" effect enters into another part of dreaming I often notice. Many times I wake from one of those epic dreams "knowing" that this was only the most recent of a series of dreams on the same subject. At the same time, I realize I previously had no memory or knowledge of this supposed series of dreams. On thinking about this morning's dream I realized that the "series" feeling comes from that very same "back story" nature. Today's dream includes the back story of previous happenings, so it "feels" like it has happened several times. 

The time dilation effect makes it even more interesting. Sleep research has told us that, in real time, our dreams only take a split second before waking. Yet, subjectively, the dream seems to consume hours or even days of time. That is awesome enough, but if you factor in the "back story" effect I was talking about, then it is not only the dream story that is happening in that instant of time, but also all of that "back story". 

I'm sure there is some physical, chemical, or psychological cause for all of this. Perhaps, sometimes, we make several tiny "false starts" at waking.  Each one of these having an element of the dream that replays again the next interval. Spikes of almost wakefulness like the teeth on a hand saw. So, there really was a series of dreams, but all in the same few moments. That's one theory I've come up with anyway.

I've also had flash daydreams at times. What's odd is that I have no memory of what they were about. I blank out for a split second (admittedly when bored at work or something) and go somewhere and experience something. I come back to the present with no memory of where I've been, other than the distinct feeling that I was in a different landscape, in another life that has no relationship to this one. I used to refer to it as having "someone else's deja vu". That literally describes it. 

I've had friends tell me that I was having flash memories of other lifetimes. I can't discount it, but I wish I could remember the experience.

This morning's dream? I've titled it "Greyhound Across the Wasteland". There is no explanation for it. The premise seemed to be that some job I was doing required me to travel by bus to other cities. Invariably each of these trips encountered some sort of "adventure". Something along the lines of zombies, dinosaurs, or crazies. Think of taking a Greyhound across the landscapes of "Mad Max", "Resident Evil',  or Stephen King's "Wasteland". At any rate, each of these trips runs into trouble and I am one of several survivors. I keep needing to take the trips, each time with different people. So, the survivors become an extended family of sorts. 
All of these previous trips made up the aforementioned "back story".

No one, other than the survivors, seems to know that any of this has been happening. In the story of the final dream I am making yet another trip with a bit of foreboding. One of the other male passengers is one of my fellow survivors from a previous trip. We overhear one of the many first time passengers complaining that the trip will probably be boring. I look at my friend and we are both amused by this. As we travel we take a rest stop at some bus stop that is, I suppose, near the border of the wasteland. As we pull up we see other buses parked, some in very poor repair or wrecked. When we go inside, we find other passengers assembled, including a few others of our fellow survivors. One is a woman I had apparently become close to, and hadn't seen in some time. (No, not Alice.) We embrace and stand together watching the entertainment, or whatever else is happening in the room. That is the end of what I remember about the dream.

Where do you go in your dreams?

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Azure Shade of the Bluebottle Tree - Chapter Four

Chapter Four

The Sheriff hadn't liked it a bit that Pen was looking into Charlie's death. He liked it even less that Pen was looking at Dub Holt's murder as well. He tried to say the two weren't connected, but he couldn't even sell that idea to himself. They'd managed to find the bullet that killed Charlie. It had gone straight through, back to front. It had been found in a cedar fence post across the road. Ballistics revealed another .222 caliber slug, no rifling. What had seemed pretty likely now seemed definite. Bits of some sort of plastic had also been found in Charlie's wound.
Red threatened bodily harm if Pen didn't share everything he found out. He then assigned Elena Delgado to be Pen's liason with the department. Pen was surprised. He would have expected to be saddled with someone like Bud. He tried hard not to show his elation. 
Since Pen was part of the investigation now, he could go back and make his "official" survey of the crime scenes with Elena. They walked the Dub Holt scene first. They spiraled out from the bottle tree, foot by foot without finding anything till they reached a point roughly halfway to the stock tank dam. Pen hadn't told Elena what he suspected, but she was the one who found it. She waved him over, and Pen looked down. A white plastic cylinder, opened a bit on one end like a flower. Elena pushed it into an evidence bag with her pen.
"A sabot. Looks like .30 caliber, there's our rifling, the other end looks like it could fit a .222 slug."
"Well, that explains it. How many .30 calibers of different kinds are there around here?"
Elena looked thoughtful. "Probably a bolt action with a clip feed, though. Not a Winchester 30-30, for instance."
"Yeah. it wouldn't feed through a tubular magazine. Definitely a clip."
"30-06 or .308 maybe."
"Maybe. We'll see what the lab says."
Sometimes varmint hunters will use a sabot load to shoot a smaller caliber slug in a larger rifle. It was a way to use one rifle for both large and small game and retain reasonable accuracy. It also meant that, for evidence purposes, there were no rifling marks on the bullet. An added complication for a jury to consider. At least now they had the plastic sabot to help.
Now that the general direction of the shot was established, Pen and Elena continued their search toward the dam.
Closer inspection of the top of the dam revealed two circular depressions where the shooter's elbows may have rested and some scuff marks a short distance away. Pen carefully assumed a prone position near the marks. The shooter would have been close to Pen's height, six feet tall.
There was nothing else at the dam. They drove over to County Road 210.

     Pen pulled over on the shoulder of  210 where he'd parked before. Elena parked behind him. They walked to the spot Charlie's body had been found and stopped. Neither felt a need to break the silence as they stood and looked around.
It was Pen who finally spoke.
"What was he doing here on foot?"
"Nobody seems to know. No driveways anywhere close. His car is still at his house."
They could see the tag a deputy had put on the fence post where the slug was found. They turned and looked in the other direction. The line made by the fence post and the body's position continued to a grove of oak and cedar just over the fence about fifty yards beyond. Elena said, "they found a spot by that oak where the shooter probably stood."
"Pretty good shot in the dark. Low light scope, maybe. No moon last night, clear, starlight."
Elena thought a moment. "And the white road gravel behind Charlie, too. That would help."
Pen looked at his notebook. "Preliminary report from the coroner shows restraint marks on Charlie's wrists. Somebody had him tied up somewhere. A few bruises too. Maybe he was beaten, maybe bruised while escaping."
"Who'd do that to Charlie Adams? And why?"
Pen put his notebook away. "That's what we have to find out. It is no coincidence that two officers of First Fidelity State Bank would be shot by a similar weapon and just a few days apart."
El checked her watch. "The bank is closed by now if it wasn't already."
"Tandy McAlister is the senior vice-president there now. We'll see when we can talk to him. I think we've done all we can today."
When they returned to their units the seats were already blistering hot. They started the engines and waited for the interiors to become bearable again. Elena returned to the sheriff's office and Pen continued to town.

    Pen thought about the bank as he followed County Road 210 through Shin Oak. The streets were quiet, not much activity except for the guys on the spit 'n whittle bench by the domino parlor. He drove on to State Highway 411. First Federal State Bank was located on the north side of the intersection. From the highway he could see the large black wreath fluttering on the door. He drove into the tastefully landscaped parking lot and saw Patricia Belmont's blue Mustang convertible parked next to Morgan Culver's red Porsche. The two women were standing by the cars and finished their conversation as he stepped out of the car.
Patricia had obviously been crying. "This is so awful, Pen. How's Sara Beth holding up?"
"She's  holding up pretty well. I haven't heard from her this afternoon."
Patricia Belmont was a puzzle. She'd been Parr Culver's first wife. She'd been secretary to Principal Ted Stokely at the high school five years ago when they had both been fired from the school district for mishandling funds. She and Parr had gotten divorced about the same time. Patricia had taken back her maiden name and somehow had gotten a responsible position at First Federal.
Morgan Culver was married to Parr's cousin, Bobby Lee. She was a good ten years older than her husband, and the subject of more than her share of talk. Her straightforward attitude had won many supporters, including Pen. He wondered what the two had been talking about. Other than the family connection they didn't seem to have much in common. He let it pass, though, that wasn't why he was here. He turned to Patricia.
"Is Tandy around?"
Patricia looked at the bank, then back to Pen as she wiped her eyes and got into her car. "No, the bank was closed today because of Charlie. I just came in to do some paperwork. Tandy came by for a few minutes earlier, though. You could probably catch him at home."
"Will the bank be open tomorrow?"
"I'm sure it will. I'm sure we'll close for the funeral. Any word when it will be?"
"I haven't heard anything. I'm sure Jo Ellen will put up the notice at the post office when it's set."
Patricia lifted her left hand in goodby as she drove away. Morgan had stood by quietly as they were talking.
"You two never went out, did you?"
"We never really hit it off. Why?"
"I don't know. You're both single, close in age." Morgan laughed. "That seems to matter a lot in Shin Oak."
"Age isn't everything, Morgan. I think I've heard you say that a few times."
She chuckled again. She was a lovely, intelligent woman, and one of Pen's best friends.
"Will we see you at the ritual, Morgan?"
"I wouldn't miss it. Steve coming?"
Since my brother Sam had died twelve years ago I'd been keeping a close relationship with my nephew Steve. He was now sixteen and thinking about driving and girls. He'd always liked coming to the pagan circle and often volunteered to handle some of the supporting functions.
"Sure. He'll be tending fire, if we have one!"
Morgan smiled. "We'll see you then."

     The ritual was a bit subdued. Lammas is one of the eight traditional sabbats but it is sometimes skipped, at least in Central Texas. Seasonally, it was a bit out of place. Back in Celtic times and places, the first of August was indeed a time for harvest of grains and all that, but here in Texas it was just darn hot. Sometimes the festivals that were designed for places with one growing season were an odd fit for a place with two, or sometimes three. It's also a "fire" festival. There was no fire this time, for the sake of the temperature and the county-wide fire ban that was in its sixty-third day.
Pen thought it was wishful thinking to celebrate the "end" of summer when they wouldn't be seeing cooler days for several months. He looked forward to the Fall equinox, Mabon, and then October's Samhain, the witch's new year, and the really kick-ass ritual. That aside, Owl and Lisa Garrison had done a great job on Lammas. Owl was the name Oso's wife Teresa used for magickal work. Some pagans used their own names, as Pen and Lisa Garrison did. Others chose names that suited them or represented a totem animal or interest.
As always the fellowship after the ritual was fun. Sharing bread, fruit, and wine with the others was always a treat. Pen looked around at this, his community of friends, his family of choice. Lisa was there, and Elena. Oso and Owl brought kolaches. Esme had brought pan dulce. Morgan's ice-cold sangria was fruity and refreshing.
It was a good turn out considering the heat. For the past several years the circle had met here on Lisa Garrison's property. She had a perfect oak grove, open in the center, shady with a good breeze even now. A spring fed creek ran nearby with a small pool to cool off in. The circle took turns keeping it neat for meetings. It was one of Pen's favorite places. There were a couple of permanent altars near, one to Diana, another to Green Man.
Even better, there was a view of Cedar Knob. On a moonlit night it was a magical sight. The hill loomed in the distance, the highest feature around, the top flattened as if a mesa had been transplanted from Anasazi country. Something about it made the viewer feel adrift in space and time.
For ritual purposes the sight was almost as mystical as Stonehenge.

As things wound down, everyone hugged, kissed, and made their various ways home. Pen and his nephew Steve helped Owl and Lisa clean up the last few things and they started home themselves. Pen dropped Steve off at the house Steve shared with his mom, Renee. Steve barely remembered his dad. Pen's brother Sam had died when Steve was four. He was now sixteen and growing up fast. Renee had been living with Darnell Culver for several years now. Steve never talked about him. Pen was uncomfortable about Darnell. He really had no good reason for it.
Now Steve took Pen around and showed him Sam's old '55 Chevy BelAir he was restoring. The work was coming along. It even looked as if the car might be finished by the time Steve got his driver's license.
Pen admired the car and left for home. He didn't see Renee or Darnell around.
Steve was a cool kid and it was great sharing the ritual, but Pen felt a bit down going home alone after dropping him off. It would have been good to have someone to come home with. Esme had been in one of her distant moods, friendly, but not encouraging. Pen sorely felt the lack of a loving partner.
Nothing seemed amiss on the back roads from Renee's place. Pen reached his yard, fed Mau and Odin and unloaded the truck. He thought about the ritual and the conversations. No one had much to say about Dub Holt or Charlie. The murders were still too close in time.
The classical radio station was playing Albinoni's Adagio for strings. A favorite, but a bit blue, Pen turned it off and popped "Hondo" into the VHS. Bed claimed him before the credits rolled.