My Spirit Animal

Until recently, I didn’t know I had a spirit animal. In fact, I had no idea what a spirit animal was. I’ve known a few spirited animals, yes, but I’d always attributed it to their simply being obnoxious.

Anyhow, a National Forest guru (whom we’ll call Doris here to protect her true identity—i.e., former Hell’s Angel) I’d become acquainted with a number of years ago, currently living in Taos, New Mexico, broached the question recently. That is, my spirit animal. I immediately replied, “My spirit animal? Oh, that would be the Taos Hum.”

Her eyes widened. “The Taos Hum?”

Bear with me a moment for a little background information.

Aside from a nearby National Forest where Doris works, Taos, it should be noted, is a city rich in history, art, pop culture, recreation, popular film and TV locationmyspiritanimaltaoshum sites, home of American Explorer and frontiersman Kit Carson and English novelist D.H. Lawrence, among many other notables, and, of course, nearby Native American Taos Pueblo and Picuris Pueblo. It is also the home of what is referred to by locals as the “Taos Hum“. Wikipedia describes the Taos Hum as “an ongoing low-frequency noise, audible only to some, is thought to originate somewhere near this town and is consequently sometimes known as the Taos Hum. …The Taos Hum was featured on the TV show Unsolved Mysteries, and it was also briefly mentioned in an episode of The X-Files. It was the basis for the TV series Criminal Minds episode ‘Mixed Signals'”.

The Wiki also reports that “The Hum is a phenomenon, or collection of phenomena, involving widespread reports of a persistent and invasive low-frequency humming, rumbling, or droning noise not audible to all people. Hums have been widely reported by national media in the UK and the United States. The Hum is sometimes prefixed with the name of a locality where the problem has been particularly publicized: e.g., the ‘Bristol Hum’ or the ‘Taos Hum’. It is unclear whether it is a single phenomenon; different causes have been attributed. In some cases, it may be a manifestation of tinnitus.”

Furthermore, elsewhere on Wikipedia there is also speculation that “the West Seattle Hum … was related to the midshipman fish, also known as a toadfish. A previous hum in Sausalito, California, also on the west coast of the United States, was determined to be the mating call of the male midshipman….”

“My spirit animal, Doris,” I pronounced, “is indubitably the Taos Hum.”

She gave me that typical withering look of a U.S. Forest Service administrative officer confronted with a city dufus.

“The Taos Hum isn’t a spirit animal, you…you… Never mind.”

“Could be,” I insisted. “Both in West Seattle and in Sausalito the Hum has been ascribed to the mating call of the male midshipman fish. Fish are animals.”

myspiritanimal

Doris rolled her eyes. “Midshipman fish are marine animals. We’ve only got the Rio Grande and Pueblo de Taos Rivers in this neck of our wilderness, both, as it happens, fresh water rivers. The nearest body of sea water is the Gulf of California, five hundred miles away!”

“Listen,” I reasoned, “It just so happens that I live in California, not that far from the coast. And Sausalito is also located in California, only a few feet from sea water.”

“I see. And where in California do you live?”

I told her. There was a short pause.

“Uh-huh. Did you by chance know that the distance between your town and the Sausalito Hum is a little over 400 miles?”

“What are you trying to tell me, Doris?”

“No way in hell can the Sausalito Hum, or any Hum, for that matter, be your spirit animal.”

“Well,” I countered petulantly, “I don’t want either an owl or a whale to be my spirit animal.”

Her eyes bulged. “What on earth are you talking about?”

I whined and stamped my foot. “I mean I took spirit animal tests on two different websites, and one proclaimed that the owl was my spirit animal while the other claimed it was the whale!”

“Listen, my friend,” she said, “I can tell you exactly what your spirit animal is, and I don’t need any absurd Internet test to back me up.”

“Really? What’s that?” I asked excitedly.

“It’s the SoCal Yo-Yo!”

Steve Pulley
9/3/2018

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Ghost Call

ghostcallA ghost called me in my sleep. Of course, it had to be at 4:00 in the morning, a horrendous hour for anybody to be rousted by a ghost, yet well-within the margins of anticipated supernatural visitations, if we are to believe self-ordained psychics. And, it’s only natural that she had to bestir me smack in the middle of a sensational dream, which, also of course, floated off forever to the world of forget the instant I realized I was being summoned by a specter, she a chain-dragging revenant, no less, replete with shrieks, groans, and falling down stairs.

Thus performed the requisite grand ingress, turning poetic she then whispered most softly sweet nothings in my ear, hand gentle as a zephyr lain lightly ‘pon my breast, o’er beating heart, as though perchance a leaf spun round within a mini-tornado.

Bonjour, ma boulette. Devine qui? C’est moi.”

It was, to my stupefaction, my long-dead next-door-neighbor and former high school French teacher, the frowsy Mademoiselle Chérie Chaussée, ostensibly come to haunt me.

At the age of twenty-nine, Miss Chérie died abruptly and most dramatically of a brain aneurysm in the middle of a third-period French class. Twelve years later, and now an apparition, she materialized at my bedside, same age as before, and still just as frowsy. So I recognized her instantly. When she moved in next door so many years before, she had initially been a neatly dressed, well-coiffed, vivacious young woman. But it soon became apparent that she wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. Not that she was incompetent, just that she did not possess the ruling character of a field marshal to control a classroom of what were for the most part indentured francophobic hooligans. Little by little they wore her down until she lost her glow and became in the end a hollow-eyed, slovenly shadow of her former self. I often wondered afterward if it were not some of my fellow classmates who precipitated her death by purposely mangling the French language whilst in her class.

“Mademoiselle Chérie!” I gasped. Flesh tingling, heart in my throat, I raised myself on my elbows. “My God! You’re supposed to be dead! What are you doing here?”

Though reflecting to a lesser degree the unkempt side that I remembered of yore — hair somewhat askew, a few strands hanging in front of one eye, lipstick just a bit uneven, clothes a little ruffled — nevertheless she now glowed, diaphanous, a delicious beam of an uncharacteristic impish smile on her mouth.

“Why, of course come to visit with you awhile, mon cher. Oh, and apologies over the arrival fanfare, but there seems no less dramatic way to raise you up otherwise.”

“Visit?”

Oui. Ne t’inquiète pas. It’s only for a while, alors je dois retourner à mon chalet dans le monde des esprits.”

I blinked without comprehension. “Miss Chérie, remember that you gave me a ‘D’ in French class.”

She cracked a wide smile. “Oui! C’est vrai, it is true! You were dreadful at French, but still always such a nice, well-mannered boy in class and kind to me always. So, I am here to thank you for that, have a little tête-à-tête, and then be on my way back to the spirit world. Et voici! Now you’re all grown up! Such a handsome young man. Et, mon Dieu, maintenant avec une barbe!

She reached out then and ran a hand across the stubble on my chin. I felt it light, but warm. I sat up then in bed.

“Scoot over a bit,” she said. I made room for her and she plopped down beside me. She then planted a kiss on my forehead.

“Miss Chérie!”

Oui, mon petite?” she asked with faux innocence.

“Ghosts aren’t supposed to be stealing kisses from the living, are they?”

Fantômes?” She asked, grinning. “Et pourquoi pas? You looked like you might need a friendly gesture of reassurance from your old ghostly neighbor.”

“But Miss Chérie…”

Qu’est-ce que c’est, mon petit étudiant?”

I gulped. “Please forgive me, but I-I don’t believe in ghosts.”

Ah non?” She at first looked shocked, then laughed. “Très bien! Nor do I!”

“You don’t?”

“Not a bit. Bien sûr que non! Les fantômes sont de la superstition pure!”

I blinked. “You mean you’re not a ghost?”

“Of course not, mon cher.”

“But I don’t understand. You’re, uh, dead, are you not?”

“As a door nail.”

“Then?”

“You’re just sound asleep having a fascinating dream with a friend who died long ago, but who still remembers you from the spiritual kingdom with great affection. That’s all. Ghosts in the physical world don’t exist except in the naive minds of the superstitious, the ill, the hoaxed, and those who would lead us astray with lies and humbug.”

“But what about all that shrieking, groaning, stomping about, and chain-rattling when you first appeared?”

“Oh, that? I was just rattling your chain, silly.” And she burst into sweet laughter.

It was dogs barking deep in the night that woke me up.

“Merci beaucoup chère mademoiselle Cherie,” I whispered, then added, more loudly, “And damn you miserable curs for ruining my dream!”

Steve Pulley
9/8/2018

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Aubade

aubadeThere will be a time in the future when topsy-turvy finds an end at long last and mankind will once again rediscover its soul. Aubade* already knew this. Her creators had programmed her thusly, so she had no doubts that it would happen. But the same as with most flesh-and-blood humans, she did not know with any precision when that day might arrive, whether it would be quite sudden or gradually over a short or prolonged period of time. She could not fret about it, because the same as with most flesh-and-blood humans, she could not predict the future with any more exactitude than her creators had programmed her.

Aubade, after all, was a robot.

Although a highly advanced and innovative model, she was not a super-sophisticated robot. Nor was she intended to be such. She was a housekeeper, a housekeeper designed by a robotics company that owned exclusive rights to Aubade, and which rented her out to clean and care for people’s homes on a limited contractual basis. People who either could not, or would not bother to clean their own.

Aubade was a superlative housekeeper. Not only could she perform a programmed routine of house-cleaning, she could also learn to do additional tasks and chores, such as awaken her user(s) in the morning, prepare meals, launder clothes, mow the lawn, deposit trash in a dumpster or barrel, drive a vehicle, call 911 or a designated human in case of emergencies, administer CPR, dispense over-the-counter and approved prescription remedies, lull a child to sleep, calm or comfort a distraught human, all these and more taught to her by her user within the scope of her designed capacities. She also possessed a determined range of self-decision-making abilities.

There were specific rules, however, that she could not override. In the prosecution of her functions, Aubade could protect, for example, a person from harm, but she could not knowingly harm one. In short, she was designed to follow Isaac Asimov’s classic “Three Rules of Robotics”, plus a few subsequent fine-tunes to those rules that further extended, or in some cases, restricted a robot’s role.

But in the main, Aubade was a housekeeper. And this was to be her very first gig. She had been rigorously tested out at Phrigofax Hogantwanger Bionics, the company of her manufacture, and was certified in optimum working order. She arrived bright and early on her own in a taxi, eschewing Uber and Lyft, at the home of Mr. Freddie Bartholomew Pangborne, tipping the cabbie lavishly.

“Have a nice day,” she said with a glowing smile as she exited the vehicle.

“I will now, thanks to you, Miss,” he replied goggle-eyed at the one-hundred dollar bill she’d handed him.

Phrigofax Bionics, still somewhat wet behind the ears, had neglected to incorporate thriftiness into the programs of its robots.

Aubade noted that the two-story American contemporary house that stood before her was of recent construction… She stepped up to the front door and pressed the bell, sounding chimes from within. Moments later, standing before her was her first client, Freddie Pangborne. She flashed him a resplendent smile. Eyes widening, Pangborne seemed momentarily confused, pausing to peer up and down the street. All he saw were a few parked cars and a slowly retreating taxi cab. He frowned, then returned his view to the dazzling woman before him.

“Excuse me! Good morning! I beg your pardon. I was expecting, uh…uh, somebody else.”

“Good morning, sir,” she said. “I believe I’m the one you are expecting. From Phrigofax Hogantwanger Bionics? I’m Aubade, Aubade Golem,* your new housekeeper.”

He looked dazed. “Y-you? But I thought…”

She inclined her head slightly, fluttering her eyelids. “…that you were expecting a robot? Well, sir, I am delighted to report that I am precisely that robot, at your service.”

“I-I…well, I’m… Are you sure you’re not pulling my leg, Miss?”

Aubade glanced down at his trousers, then back at him. “Not that I’m aware of, sir. Should I be?”

“No-no…” Pangborne shook his head, the dazed look on his face now approaching a state of stupor.

Aubade observed him with a gentle smile, then said, “Perhaps before I start work you would like to consult first with one of our Customer Service personnel?”

“I, uh…”

Aubade slipped a phone from her purse and began to speak, not taking her eyes off the man. “Hello, Ms Conklin? This is Aubade at the Pangborne residence? Yes. My client currently appears somewhat discombobulated. It seems that Mr. Pangborne was perhaps not fully informed about my habitus. That’s correct. I may be projecting, but it could be that he was expecting a model along the lines of R2-D2 or C-3PO. Yes. Of course. Mr. Pangborne? Ms Bonnie Conklin at Customer Service would like a word with you.”

Aubade extended her phone to him. He mumbled something, then listened, mumbled some more, listened, at last said “thank you”, and returned the phone to Aubade. He stared at her dumbly for a long moment before he spoke.

“She apologized on behalf of the company for the oversight, would duly chastise the guilty party in Rentals for the unforgivable lapse. She solemnly averred under oath that you are a full-fledged, top-of-the-line humanoid automaton, and not to be confused by outward appearances.”

Aubade beamed. Pangborne raised a hand.

“Uh, there’s more. She also warned me not to fall in love with you under any circumstances whatever, manifested that you are a soulless piece of carbon steel, nanoelectronics, vinyl polymers and a bunch of other stuff I can’t possibly remember, utterly incapable of affection or sympathy except artificially simulated, that you would break my heart, and that if I did fall in love with you, it would automatically void our service contract and you would be summarily removed from the premises, reprogrammed or possibly be melted down. Also, I would more than likely end up in either a psychiatric ward or some weirdo cloistered monastery as my reward. The lady reminded me as well that when I signed the company’s twelve-page binding agreement, which included all that and plenty more, there was no arbitration clause included to attempt to skirt around, and absolutely no money-back guarantees.”

Aubade nodded, shrugged philosophically, then flashed him a tiny grin. “In truth, Mr. Pangborne, my product line of robots originally started out as an expensive line of sexy alarm clocks, but our nerdy, yet still avaricious inventors kind of got carried away when they found that it was also possible to make us walk and talk as well.”

Pangborne blinked at her, then saw she was, in fact, pulling his leg, and laughed.

“Now, then, Mr. Pangborne, shall we go inside and see what’s to be done to put your house in order?”

Steve Pulley
8/10/2018

_________________________
* “Aubade” is pronounced oh-BAHD (o bäd´). n. music or poetry suitable to greeting, evoking, or lamenting the dawn or morning; a morning love song; a song of lovers parting in the morning. In this story, Aubade’s surname, Golem, comes from Jewish folklore, an artificially created human endowed with life by supernatural means.

“0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm (this rule was added later on by Asimov to precede the other three). 1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.”

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Dear Agony Aunt Agatha

agonyauntagathaLady Esmeralda Hamish-Fergusson had decided to make an early start on spring cleaning of another kind than that of her home, Ogaokawghiqs Manor. Namely, she intended to dispose of her otiose, uncouth husband, Lord Grahame Sharp-Fergusson IV, an idle git whose titled Peerage of the Realm reflected on his part little, if any, socially redeeming qualities. She’d had quite enough of his perennial sloth and perfidy. True, an improbable pairing of dichotomous iniquities, but Lord Grahame shined in both. Whatever the case, Lady Esmeralda had had a hatful of all three — the third being also an insufferable prig — and she determined to bring this abominable trifecta to a lethal conclusion. A simple divorce seemed far too benign.

Being a practical woman bent on self-survival, she knew that her husband’s demise had to be planned carefully so as not to end for her in a life of confinement at Bronzefield Prison. Not that it would be any worse than her current existence, and more likely an improvement. Were she consequently to be pinched for her mariticidal “impropriety”, she surmised that it would not all together be a total tragedy. At least with a prolonged stretch at Bronzefied there’d be women of her ilk with whom to commiserate, plus three squares a day, guaranteed by the Crown. And sans Lord Grahame maundering about making her life miserable. Either way things turned out, then, it would still be a win-win for the misfortunate woman.

That said, Lady Esmeralda was a pragmatic woman, and as such she thought it prudent to consult first with an expert in domestic issues in order to enhance the possibilities of success in her plans to terminate her marriage (albeit with “extreme prejudice”, as American Intelligence euphemistically called it back in the day), as well as to carry on with life at Ogaokawghiqs Manor normally as though nothing at all untoward could conceivably lead back to her. And what better way than to pen a “Dear Agony Aunt Agatha” letter to “The North Yorkshire Afternoon Schmooze” advice columnist, Dame Agatha Prudence-Armstrong, and petition her wise counsels?

Dame Agatha, known to her many enraptured readers as Agony Aunt Agatha — a former “Dame” of the UK in the sense of a woman with the rank of Knight Commander — was currently doing time herself at Askham Grange Women’s Prison for art theft, forgery, fraud and smuggling…and, as a consequence, had been stripped of her knightly honors. Informally, however, she was still regarded, referred to, and loved as “Dame” Agatha by her stalwarts. During her tenure in prison, she decided to put her time to good use, and proposed a newspaper advice column, “Dear Agony Aunt Agatha”, which The Schmooze leaped for immediately. It became an overnight hit.

Dame Agatha, no shrinking violet when asked for counseling, guidance, and words to the wise, proved to be sagacious, sharp, no nonsense, and witty. Both the newspaper and its readers hoped she’d remain in prison forever…if this meant that she’d continue posting her column. Rest assured, she’d promised, that once free from her shackles (although at Askham Grange, there were no such things, it being an “open prison”, in which inmates were trusted to be able to move freely around the prison without risk) she would continue to regale her readers with her column as long as the newspaper would allow it. And in any case, she was due to be released in just two more years.

Lady Esmeralda Hamish-Fergusson, under the pseudonym of “François les fille de chambre“,* dashed off a letter outlining her quandary and requesting advice, in veiled but still decipherable language, of how to finish off her husband without being tripped up. Two days later there appeared in The Schmooze’s “Dear Agony Aunt Agatha” column the following reply:

“Dear Frenchy, ‘mettre le chien à dormir‘,† as you so charmingly put it, is not exactly the kind of advice one requests from a prison inmate trying to redeem herself. May I suggest instead that you either consult your local dog pound or simply ‘déposer un divorce‘. Meilleurs vœux,‡ Aunt Agatha.”

Lady Esmeralda found herself momentarily at a loss over Agony Aunt Agatha’s choices of advice, having set her hopes on a more exotic solution. But she finally settled for divorce, which did not menace prison time, though sighing her disappointment that there was to be no blood-letting involved, except perhaps in a metaphorical sense if she won.

Steve Pulley
8/6/2018

*François the chamber maid
†putting the dog to sleep
‡Yours sincerely

 

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The Barber of Seoul

barberofseoulOver the years, here and abroad, many a barber has rendered wonders as well as abominations to my lustrous crop of hair. But my very favorite barber of all time was an immigrant Korean woman named Miyongsa Kim (pronounced “me-yong-sah kim”). Nearly everybody who visited her shop simply called her by her family name, Kim, instead of Miyongsa, since most Americans for some peculiar reason have a hard time remembering the names of foreign (or, for that matter, domestic) service providers longer than two syllables.

Kim was recommended to me by a friend who’d begun to wonder with a degree of unrest whether I’d decided to go all flaky and wear my hair half-way down to my shoulders and become a potential breeding ground for skeevy vermin. The reason behind this unsightly growth, however, was primarily because my old and much beloved barber had died without warning just a couple of months before, and I was loath to look for a new one, partly out of respect for the deceased, but mostly in fear I would unwarily select some butcher as his replacement, which I’d been wont to do on a number of occasions in the past. At my friend’s urging, however, I decided to bite the bullet and at least try out the Korean woman.

“Hair, after all, does grow back,” he reminded me. “And Kim is a kick. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.”

And so I was not. Miyongsa Kim, ebullient in her welcome, though no great beauty, possessed a vivacious charm and wit that more than compensated for her plain-jane looks. Her shop, a long, narrow, on-the-slide-downhill affair, had three barber chairs, two of them perpetually empty, all of a former era, I guessed from their faded red and white cracked-leather 1950s tone. She was the sole barber of the establishment, making two of the chairs superfluous and thus all the more forlorn-looking, which initially gave me misgivings that I’d listened to my friend. But these quickly evaporated.

When I entered her shop, she was working away on one elderly man’s locks, he chuckling over something evidently droll she’d remarked. She flashed me a toothy smile and bade me welcome. One other fellow besides myself awaited her shears, both of us seated in a cramped cubicle next to the entrance, replete with long-outdated fish-and-game magazines piled on a table.

I soon observed that Kim laughed a good deal and loved to tease her customers. Her English was by no means faultless, but still passable, I noted, from her banter with the old man now under her loudly buzzing clippers. She retained a strong Korean accent that initially strained my ears until I became more attuned to it over repeated visits.

Once my turn came to sit in her barber chair, I knew that I’d found my next barber. It was one of those rare ‘Eureka!’ moments that fall upon one serendipitously perhaps only once in a lifetime. I saw in Kim Miyongsa the paradigm of a tonsorial angel. She performed nothing less than a miracle between my ears. She slowly swiveled me about to view my image in the large mirror at my back. I gasped, I gaped in awe. It was a new me! I felt like Narcissus, fallen in love with his own reflection. And later, after I’d left transported, I perceived (though more likely imagined) that passers-by nodded in what seemed to be their unanimous fawning approval, whereas before, during my shaggy-haired days, they’d cross over to the other side of the street when they saw me approaching, then quickly scurry along their way with sidelong glances, prepared to bolt if I made any false moves toward their direction.

Sometime afterwards, I spoke so highly of Kim to a curly-haired chum of mine who lived in Los Angeles that he decided on his next visit to my neck of the woods to give her a shot. He was delighted with both the result and Kim’s bubbling affability, but deplored the fact that because of the 15-mile distance between his home and my town, he couldn’t practically come all the way out here for a 15-minute haircut from my barber. Instead, he conjured up in his Kim-fevered brain the queer notion that perhaps female Asian barbers in general must be more qualified than unisex gringo barbers for coiffing hair properly. And so when it was well-nigh time for another haircut, he trundled on over to a Vietnamese-run barber shop right around the corner from his home, expecting the Kimian treatment. Not to defame by any means an entire Southeast Asian ethnic group, but the female hairdresser in question was no Miyongsa Kim, nor for that matter a barber, which she proceeded to prove with alacrity by massacring my hapless friend’s beloved nappy curls…and, consequently, his ill-conceived hypothesis. He remained hidden away at home behind drawn shades afterwards until his hair grew back. I’m told that his dog no longer recognized him and had to be kept outside on a leash, and police were alerted by nervous neighbors the minute he stepped out on his own front porch. His wife later divorced him (I think she said something like irreconcilable differences being the prime motive, though incompatible hair styles might also have played a role). I believe he may somehow have faulted me for the incident and its wake, because for months afterwards he treated me with unaccustomed reserve whenever we ran into one another, which was no longer often.

In spite of Kim’s genius, I found it odd that she didn’t have a steady stream of customers at all hours. At one point I even ventured to ask her. She shook her head frowning, then pointed first to the north wall, then the south.

“Lady want to take away barber shop, be part of her two gift shops,” she explained. “She say things to people, make me look like bad barber lady so they no come here. She try push me out. But I good barber … plus tough Korean cookie. Not ready yet to leave.”

Miyongsa Kim was a gem, good-natured, alert, gutsy, and with an effusive sense of humor. Who knows why, but I could not help but become immediately smitten with this remarkable woman, and over time even entertained the idea of eventually asking for her hand, right along with her scissors. However, in response to my curiosity about how she ended up in California, the story she revealed of her travels and travails to our country (these hilarious, harrowing, and heart-breaking), I also learned, much to my own grief, that she was already married.

“I born in Seoul, South Korea,” she began. “My family poor, but not in rags. I only child. My mother she work at laundromat, my father a laborer. He die early on in work accident when I was teenager. I find job in beauty salon to help my mom pay off debts and daily expenses, but she make me stay in school same time. Later she remarry, and later things get better.

“Then, when I in late twenties, I meet this guy, fall in love, just like in Korean drama. Ha-ha! He say he go to Los Angeles, yeah? I want to go with him, but he say first he settle and get job, then I come. I keep working, save money for trip to United States. We write each other for time, but his letters less and less, and then they stop altogether. I finally decide I better go look for that rascal. I save up as much money as I can, say good-bye to my mother, then make move.”

Kim first went to the American Consulate in Seoul to apply for a visa to the United States, but she made the mistake of saying that her intention was to emigrate and marry her boyfriend. They turned her down.

“But I one crazy stubborn girl. I think about it, talk to people. So next I apply for visa to Japan as tourist. No problem. Once in Tokyo, I go to American Consulate for visa to United States. They turn me down there, too, but that don’t stop me. You think I crazy, don’t you? Well, I guess yes! Ha-ha! So, next I go to Hong Kong as tourist. I did! American Consulate there turn me down. Sure they do. I got suspicious face, you think? But I don’t never give up. So then I fly to Manila in Philippines. US Consulate there says ‘no go’ to America. Really? Well, I have other ideas. I fly to Bahamas. When I go to American Consulate, official there asks me why I want to go to United States. He busy looking through my passport, see it filled with visas and entry stamps from many countries. I guess maybe he think I world traveler, so I tell him I do round-the-world trip, and want to visit America for couple of weeks on way back home to South Korea. He look again at my passport, look at me, maybe figure this crazy Korean girl telling truth, then he say, ‘okay, Miss Kim, you good to go’, and he stamp my passport for entry into United States! Ha-ha! I win finally!”

Miyongsa, however, was by then low on money, but she still managed to make her way across the United States by land until she reached Los Angeles.

“I have address my boyfriend, and I look and look, finally find him. I so happy! But what happen? He change. He now mean. No good. He no marry me, beat me, get me pregnant, then he take off. Can you imagine! I sacrifice everything to come to him, and he treat me like trash. I stay in apartment, but landlady she tell me I have to pay. So I go work. Sure, I no have green card, so I find job in restaurant, boss look other way, but pay me less than minimum wage. I work in basement kitchen, but too hot. Work hard. I get sick, lose my poor baby.”

She told me these and other things about the appalling conditions under which she worked, all the while clipping away at my hair, and by then she had me weeping. She patted me on the head.

“You good guy,” she said. “I get you drink.”

“You no worry,” she exclaimed after I’d downed a glass of water and she’d brushed away my tears with a tissue. “Story have happy ending.”

“A happy ending?”

“Yes. ‘Cause I now too weak to work in kitchen, boss he scared maybe I die, cause problem, I no got green card, he send me upstairs, clear tables, wait on customers. He see I good at job, customers like me, he let me stay. One day nice guy who eat there every day start talking to me, ask me ’bout Korea, what I doing in America. I trust him, so little by little I tell him my story, how I come to United States, lose baby, all rest, whole nine yards. Ha-ha! We be good friends. He finally ask me out on date. Why not? In end, he propose we marry. I see he good guy, have stable job, so I say okay. He treat me good.”

I shook my head in awe. “Kim, you are amazing.”

“Yeah, I am!” she said, laughing. “See? Happy ending!”

Steve Pulley
7/31/2018

Posted in Stories | 4 Comments

Flight

flight“Captain, exotic humanoid bogie continues to trail us at three point one four one five nine two tart, and closing. Request orders.”

“Any sign of weapons?”

“Ambiguous, Captain. Object holds over head hooded object on the end of a synthetic stick. However, it appears to be unreliable protection against precipitation, not necessarily a weapon, though potentially so at close quarters.”

“Sheesh! Alright, then. We’ll provisionally regard hooded object as non-threatening. Proceed with caution to apprehend bogie. And be especially careful. Since target is organic and not robotic, android, or cyborg, it must therefore be treated as ultra-fragile.”

“Aye-aye, Captain. All hands, stand by for TLC bogie retrieval.”

Bells rang, beepers beeped, electromagnetic fields revved, coordinates locked in, and finally buttons pressed.

Thus, breathless on that cold, wet night in June, Harriet Ballentine was captured by aliens, umbrella and all — whisked by tractor beam aboard their starship, a top-of-the-line Pangbornean Mark V Warp Drive Phrigofax Hogantwanger.

At some point it was almost inevitable. Alien abduction, that is. The moment the young woman was sighted hovering on high by astonished Pangborneans — they, who had at long last been investigating the possibility of life on Earth for a change instead of wasting time poking about for life on Mars; meanwhile she, she being Harriet Ballentine, shivering and soaked to the skin, only yards away from their virtually but not totally invisible low-flying starship; and also she, without the aid of any discernible mechanical device — they quickly contrived to collar her for further study. Who knew, they pondered with bated excitement over her ability to fly without wings or mechanical device, what possible scientific breakthroughs in planetary, interplanetary, or even perhaps interstellar space travel might be at hand far beyond such current mundane crowd-pleasers as high-flying comic-book super heroes and cgi illusions?

Harriet had been doing this for years, flying, that is…what some purists might prefer to describe as hovering or levitating, though her first flights, when she was still a child, presumably began only in dreams, the wonderful floating, effortless rising off the ground or floor, and soaring as though carried away by a soft breeze. She amused her parents at first, telling them of her escapades in the sky while she slept, but after a time they grew mildly concerned that because she was an only child she might have invented this fantasy to compensate — something like other kids with imaginary friends. A visit to a therapist, however, persuaded them to not worry so much about it, other than gently explain to the youngster that these were only dreams and that other people had them as well from time to time, and she would probably outgrow hers at some point.

Years later, as a teenager, Harriet’s floating dreams continued unabated, but she now kept these to herself, knowing that such behavior still tended to unsettle her acrophobic mother and father, an earthbound couple who preferred land-driven vehicles over airplanes for transport. She also refrained from mentioning anything to even her closest school friends. Other kinds of teenage weirdness were currently all the vogue.

But then Harriet — now a college student studying ornithology and bird migration, and living in an off-campus apartment — one morning awoke floating no more than six inches beneath her bedroom ceiling. Another dream, she thought, and rolled over, glanced down at the clock next to her bed, and saw that it read 7:36 AM. Time to wake up and get ready for school. Only she was already awake!

Egad! Forget classes! It took her the rest of the day of tentative trial take-offs and landings and finally full-blown aerial somersaults to accept the fact that it wasn’t just her imagination run amok. She really could fly!

“Holy Moly!” she cried. Well, her expressed surprise was a little more flowery.

Long story short, she wouldn’t have to take the bus to classes anymore. A pipe dream, of course, upon reflection. You simply don’t go sailing across trees, houses, streets and freeways during daylight hours and not cause a sensation and possibly a multi-vehicle pileup, or perhaps shot down by a zealous former Army sniper or a hunter mistaking you for an oversized game bird.

“Maybe if I take night classes instead,” she mused later with a chuckle.

But she more wisely scrapped the night course idea and instead devoted her evenings to flight exercises, which demanded: moonless evenings; black camouflaged dress; and riding a broom, this last one a bit of a half tongue-in-cheek, half serious salute to witchery, just in case somebody did in fact sight her sailing across their housetop and was crazy enough to report it.

Her aerial outings elated her, and once understood through trial and error her capabilities and limitations (like diving suddenly, or going too high, or heading for an unyielding wall, all of which suggested potentially disastrous implications), she flew with relative ease and safety. “Jonathan Livingston Seagull, eat my tail-feathers!” she cried. All the same, she guarded her secret better than Diana Prince did as Wonder Woman.

And then came that cold, wet June evening when the Pangborneans happened to chart a flyby through her neighborhood. That Harriet had gone out on a rainy night in the first place was a tad less from need than inclination. Her mother had phoned asking her to pick up a prescription at a local pharmacy for her dad, who was down with the flu, telling her to take the bus or call an Uber. Harriet did not yet have a car of her own, nor, if truth be known, was she inclined to own one, now blessed with the gift of flight. Of course, keen to save time and money, not to mention taste the thrill of the sky, she decided instead to fly over since it was by then dark and inclement enough where she felt reasonably safe not to be sighted. She wrapped herself against the drizzle and took along an umbrella. Once mission accomplished, medication delivered, and an hour spent in passing some quality time with her parents, she headed home the same way she came…by air. Holding aloft an umbrella à la Mary Poppins. All she lacked now was an accompanying carpet bag to complete the picture.

Halfway back to her apartment she saw the Pangbornean starship. It seemed a shadowy apparition floating but a few yards in front of her.

“What on earth…” were the only words she was able to expel before feeling an odd tingle inside her. And then, in a twinkling, she was sucked into the object and there delicately deposited, standing upon a small dais, surrounded by a reception committee, six exobiologic creatures, seemingly anxious and about to bolt, looking like and dressed in a manner akin to characters out of some Deep Space Nine Star Trek episode.

“Oh!” she cried, adding a couple of earthy ecphonesises, both meaningless to the welcoming party.

Her captors reared back, startled. One of the beings, however, quickly recovered, bowed slighty, and said, “Uliui ujuseon-e osin geos-eul hwan-yeonghabnida,”

Harriet, who just so happened to be an addict of English-subtitled Asian dramas, gawked at the speaker wide-eyed. “You speak Korean!” she cried.

The aliens widened their own eyes, then conferred quickly in a tongue she had never before heard.

The one who had first spoken turned back to Harriet, repeated the bow, then said, this time in English, with a slight Warwickshire accent, “My profound apologies for the language error. Uhm, welcome to our humble spacecraft.”

Heart pounding, Harriet breathed, “You’re aliens, aren’t you?” although she already knew what the answer would be.

In fact, she had long suspected the possibility that she herself was also an alien, her parents hiding the fact from her. After all, she was an abandoned infant whom they’d adopted. She’d also often asked herself why she’d always dreamt of flying, and then later on began to fly in truth. Still, she could not help but be taken aback by this sudden, mind-boggling encounter with extraterrestrials.

The apparent leader, evidently female by her build, assented. “Yes. I guess we are from your perspective, aren’t we? To be sure, you are the first Earthling we have had the pleasure to meet in the flesh. Please forgive us for this unexpected encounter. Our, uh, flight patterns coincided, well, quite serendipitously, it would seem. And to be frank, we were also exceedingly interested in your, uh, most peculiar mode of travel. You see, we are exploring the different planets around your star. Not as tourists, mind you. We are sentiency scouts…that is, we are seeking worlds beyond our own inhabited by sentient beings. And there are an enormous number nearly everywhere we go. In this system, however, only your planet seems to be predominant with organisms similar to our own, though we’ve observed…” Her voice trailed off, seeing Harriet’s glazed expression. “And, uh…oh, yes… Please do not be alarmed. We come in peace.”

Harriet closed her eyes, then reopened them. “I must be dreaming.”

“No-no. We are real. Truly. We come from the planet Pangbornea. It’s…” She paused, momentarily confused, pointed up, frowned, then down. “…well, that way, sort of. It’s about thirty-six light years from your world.”

“Okay, I don’t know much about astrophysics or astronomy — not sure which is which, even — but more curiously, how is it that you speak English and Korean?”

“We can speak over one hundred of your languages.”

“You can? But how?”

The alien seemed surprised. “You don’t know?”

“Not at all. How?”

“Google Translate.”

Harriet, at first open-mouthed, burst out laughing, which startled her captors. “Sorry, sorry! But of course! I never thought of that. Absolutely awesome.”

Confused heads nodded. Followed by an awkward pause. Harriet waited for a response, while the Pangborneans, at a loss what to say next, held their breath. One muttered something to the captain.

Finally, Harriet said, “Seeing as how you brought me here, I, uh, I take it you wanted to see me for something?”

The captain shook her head vigorously. “Yes! Yes, indeed we do. We are most curious about something. Even perplexed. You fly in the air. And yet without the aid of wings or some other mechanical or electromagnetic device. It is we who must be dreaming. How is it possible that you can do that? Do all Earthlings fly? Though we have been here only a few days, we have never seen this occur until now, except, of course in your bird life.”

Harriet let her breath out slowly, then said, “I wish I could tell you how, but not even I know how I do it. Nobody, or at least nobody I know, flies like I do…except what you might see in movies, television, or comic books. It’s a total mystery to me. When I was very, very young, I used to often dream that I was flying, and then one day I actually was able to fly. Why or how, I have no idea. I should also mention that nobody here knows that I fly. Not my parents, not my friends. I don’t show or tell anybody that I do. It wouldn’t be a good idea at all. While I consider it a gift, it could also become a curse.”

“Yes, I can understand that.”

The Pangbornean captain stared at Harriet for a moment in thought, then turned to her crew, the members of which some were either scratching their head or shaking it or rolling their eyes. She said a few words in their own language, received some nods, several replies, then turned back to Harriet, a tentative smile on her lips.

“Please forgive my lack of manners. I haven’t introduced myself. I am Krossbowdonhue Hark’enzia, captain of this vessel, and these are officers of our crew.” She named them off, each one after another, bowing slightly.

Harriet acknowledged all in turn with a nod. “My name is Harriet Ballentine, and I live down there…somewhere,” and pointed vaguely earthward. She then looked back up at Captain Krossbodonue. “You’ve got something on your mind, haven’t you?”

She nodded. “Yes, as a matter of fact we do. How shall I put this? We, uh, we would like to pick your brain.”

Harriet’s eyes widened. “I hope you mean that figuratively.”

Captain Krossbowdonhue smiled. “Well, yes and no. First, it’s purely voluntary. We don’t intend to harm you in any way, merely do a brain and body scan that we hope might give us a clue as to your unique ability to fly. Whether you accept or reject our request, you are free to return home at your pleasure. Once we complete our investigation, we invite you to remain with us as long as you like, if you are able to do so. The decision is entirely yours.”

Harriet thought about it for all of two seconds and gestured yes. “I’d be crazy not to accept. This is a chance of a lifetime. I want to know the answer myself, that is, if there is an answer. Yes, I’ll do it.”

And so they did. But like all sweet-talking Pangbornean technofreak space pirates, they reneged on their deal once they failed to discover Harriet Ballentine’s secret of flight, high-tailed it back to their home planet together with their trophy alien and, with their instant fame, cashed in on late-night TV appearances, product promotions, and planet-wide circus tours.

Pangborneans were no different than Earthlings when it came to making an easy buck.

Steve Pulley
27 June 2018

Addendum: As for Harriet, she met and subsequently married Captain Krossbowdonhue’s charming younger brother Kreadence. After Harriet’s popularity subsided, as it will anywhere in the Galaxy given the fickleness of sentient beings, the two settled down and raised three lovely children, all who turned out to possess her gift of flying, though for the first few years until they had enough good sense of self-discipline, they had to be tethered to a tree so they wouldn’t float off and be lost.

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Kale

kaleWhile kale
for some tastes like shale,
and for the frail
they’d rather go to jail,
or the bite of a rabid Airedale,
than assail their palates with kale.

Steve Pulley
5/24/2018

This irreverent doggerel at the expense of kale is, of course, in jest. I practically wallow in the stuff . . . in salads, soups, sandwiches, stews . . . and if crunchy fresh, it’s even effective as a backscratcher in a pinch.

Note: That said, according to the unimpeachable Babylon Bee:
CDC Warns Consumers That Kale Is Still Disgusting

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