Saturday, June 18, 2016

Sampler: Whoville

The WhoVille stories began on a whim when I lived in Chicago. There are two volumes at the moment: the rather hefty Wicca in WhoVille, which began its life as a National Novel Writing Month project and the much smaller Wickedness in WhoVille, which contains the first WhoVille story I wrote (a novella, actually) and another story from my Chicago days that I adapted slightly to fit it into the WhoVille universe. A third book, Wacky in WhoVille, is still in the works.

The WhoVille stories are totally unlike my Carmelite books. They are whimsical, silly, light. The protagonist, one Damien F. Malachy, is a professor in the Queer Studies Department at a university for misfits, located outside the Windy City. His husband (partner in the early versions) is a retired lawyer and like, another couple we could mention, they share an apartment with two cats.

I offer for your perusal passages from the published works. First a bit from the original novella, "A Hot Time in WhoVille Tonight;" then a section of "The Honorian Patriarch," a short story published with the novella in Wickedness in WhoVille; and finally a bit from Wicca in WhoVille.

That's another of Tom's cover designs. Sorry, folks! That good-looking guy is as unreal as the stories.
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from "A Hot Time"

Every morning I walk to work along the tree-lined boulevard of University Road.  It is in many ways part of a typical Midwestern college town, but there are differences.  Instead of University Park or College Park or some variation on an overused theme, the neighborhood is known as WhoVille.  Our metropolitan area is notorious for these little neighborhood names – Boystown, Girlstown, Millville, Lakeside. WhoVille fits right in. And instead of Greek Row, the two-block stretch of fraternity houses is called Geek Row.  Nothing is quite usual.
The university where I teach is officially Philip Peabody Horton University, a private institution of higher learning established by an enormous bequest from Philip Peabody Horton himself.  Except for his name, there was nothing particularly impressive about Mr. Horton as far as I know.  He had made an unseemly amount of money in the early nineteenth century by selling cemetery plots door to door.  Having no social life -- no private life, for that matter – he had put his takings away into a small family-owned bank where a genius of investments, with the aid supposedly of the slave and rum trades, made sure that the interest accumulated and accumulated, until one day Philip Peabody woke up a very rich man through no fault of his own.  Having dealt in death most of his life, he realized that there was no point in trying to take it with him, and he had made no headway in generating friends or family to inherit when he passed on to one of the finest cemetery plots in the neighboring large city.  He set up a trust, therefore, for the establishment of a college, which would bear his name and educate misfits.  All its students were given a full scholarship, but they first must have been refused admittance everywhere else they applied and had to be certifiably antisocial. There was an AntiSocial Certification Process, overseen by the Dean of AntiSocial Studies. You can imagine the sort of campus life this engendered.
Still, antisocial types often include some fairly bright people, and a number of the Horton alumni went on to make unmentionable fortunes of their own.  Since they, like the original Founder, had no friends or families, they tended to bestow money on the PP pot, as it was sometimes called.  The school was rolling in cash by the beginning of the third millennium in fair Verona, Illinois where we set our scene.
The over-endowed college eventually begat enough programs and fellowships to become a university.  Philip Peabody Horton University by now was known just as Horton University.  In 1956, at an otherwise forgettable rugby match, the visiting team began to shout and jeer, “Horton U, P-H-U, Pee-you, Who are You?”   As luck would have it, some of the Horton students in an elementary teachers reading class had been examining the Dr. Seuss book, Horton Hears a Who.  Their perverse little minds took up the challenge: “We’re H-U Whos, That’s Who” and the Who soon was the unofficial mascot of the school.  Prior to this the school sports mascot had been a Ho-Chunk chief with an appropriately antisocial scowl highlighted by war paint. Although this predated concerns about political correctness by decades, the mascot’s feathered headdress and war paint were officially retired in 1960, and an elephant costume replaced them. Of course, Horton was an elephant, not a Who, but a foolish consistency and all that.
With the arrival of How the Grinch Stole Christmas a few years later and further popularization of the Whos down in WhoVille, the University leaped aboard the Grinch-wagon and in 1963 created a combination Winter-Festival-cum-Mardi-Gras-cum Mummers event called “A Hot Time in WhoVille Tonight”.  There is a Cindy Lou Who beauty contest, a roast-beast chili cook off and nonstop fraternity keggers. For reasons known to God alone, the event was a big financial success and got many a young Who U student through the cold dark days of midwinter that year and thereafter.  It also contributed to the Scrooge McDuck-like coffers of Horton.  I personally did not believe the rumors that three-hundred-and-fifty pound President St. John St. Clare Samiam begins each day with a skinny-dip in the money bins, but then that is an image I do not want in my head anyway.
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from "The Honorian Patriarch"

George King woke with a hangover and the phone buzzing in his ear like an angry rattlesnake. He kicked at Jackson to get the phone, which was on that side of the bed, but Jackson was not there.  He was out jogging as usual in the early morning.  George belched, tasted sour mango and grimaced. 

“Okay, George. No more fruity drinks, no matter how cute the fruit mixing them.” 

By the time he groped his way through tangled sheets to the phone, it had stopped buzzing and the flashing blue light alerted him to a message. “1 missed call 9:03 AM”  He pushed the call-back button. 

Who the hell is calling at 9:03 AM on Sunday, for God’s sake?”

“Mr. George Basilarion?” a hesitant voice asked. 

It had been five years since anyone had called him that. George’s mumble was apparently affirmative enough.

The voice continued, “Your Holiness, it is with profound sorrow that I tell you that His Holiness, Patriarch Honorius, Twenty-third of the blessed name, Episkopos Apostolicos of the One Church of the One God, One Son and One Will, has passed into the glory of the One Kingdom he has so long desired, ahead of all human expectation, but in accord with the One All-Knowing and All-Merciful Will of God.  The Patriarch is dead.  Long live the Patriarch, Your Holiness.” 

Silence.

George’s mind blurred even more.

No,” he thought, “ that can’t be right.”  

Images flashed through his vodka-fogged mind: plumes of incense, dots of candlelight reflecting off black satin robes, tall veiled hats, chains dangling jeweled crosses and enameled images of the Virgin, gold staff. 

“Now that’s drag!” he had once announced to his aunt.  The Patriarcha was famously not amused. 

George King, 23 and gay, was called Peach by his friends because he had been born in Buford, Georgia, when his mother unexpectedly went into labor while on the way to Florida to visit Epcot Center. He competed in drag contests as Miss Peachy Keene, twirling the fire baton, which he considered a lost art.  In the real world he was a clerk at a vintage/used clothing store called “Been There, Worn That” on Clark Street on the border of Boystown and Girlstown.  The store had originally been called “OUT-Worn”, but that soon described how people felt about the place, so the owners, vegetarian Orthodox  lesbians, changed it.

George’s real family name was Basilarion, but he anglicized it when he hit 18. His slender build, olive skin, hazel eyes, full lips, lean face and scruffy beard got him attention in the bars.  He had a nervous tic of running his fingers through his short, thick, curls.  He smoked constantly, his fingers stained from the tobacco.

He was also the unlikely nephew of the Honorian Patriarch, an anomaly he either hid or used as a pickup line.  No one even knew what he meant, most of the time – “Hi, I’m George.  My uncle is the Honorian Patriarch.   It didn’t matter that they didn’t understand. For a couple of years before he met Jackson, it usually got him at least a second look, sometimes a drink and a chance to hook up.

The last time George had attended the Sacred Liturgy was at Easter, and he did so only because he chanced to stagger by the tiny Cathedral on his way home from a champagne brunch in Boystown.  Brunch was perhaps the wrong word – it was actually an exceptionally late Saturday supper.  His uncle-the-Honorian-Patriarch, surrounded by lesser luminaries adorned as seraphim or cherubim, had calmly ignored him, although the Patriarcha had glared.  She had been saddled with the disturbing name of Livia by her own bishop-father, and she cultivated that deadly empress’s least charming characteristics.  Jackson adored and fawned over her because he knew it drove both George and Livia mad.

After another moment of silence, the voice on the phone explained what had happened, but George couldn’t make sense of it.  Patiently the messenger repeated the story.  His version sounded like a press release. 

What had actually happened, as George was to learn later, was this: The Patriarch (Honorius  XXIII) and his son, Athanasius, who should have succeeded him, had died in an automobile explosion.  At first it was reported as an assassination, and this was the version that George received on the initial call.  Careful polices investigation,  however, indicated that Athanasius had flipped a lit Havana cigar – a gift from the mayor –  out of the window,  and it rolled into a drain filled with sewer gas, setting off the blast.  This was at the corner of Michigan and Van Buren.  The Patriarch’s gold chain flew through the air and landed on the outstretched arm of one of the horse-mounted-Indian statues that  faced one another across the street.  The sirens were whining before the chain stopped spinning. 

Two blocks away, crowds of children playing in the fountain at Millennium Park looked up to see the fire reflected in the giant jellybean sculpture (which the creator insisted  on calling “Cloud Gate,” a name no one else used), bursting into cheers and applause at the spectacle, thinking it was a movie or a fireworks exhibition.  Parents scurried into the fountain, ignoring for once their fine shoes and slacks, scooping up their babies and heading for shelter under the aluminum waves of the Frank Gehry-designed performance space.  The car had passed the Park moments before, the stout chauffeur hidden behind his sunglasses, the enormous Patriarch munching on a square of pastry layers filled with honey, nuts and soaked in orange liqueur.  It was the Patriarch’s  complaints that his son’s cigar smoke was spoiling the taste of the sweet that led to the disaster.

“Oh. Thank you, ” George said, reflexively polite and completely inappropriate. He hung up and fell back onto the pillows. 

What a weird dream!” 

The phone rang again in two minutes, but this time he buried his head under the covers and ignored it.  He wasn’t falling for that again.
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 from  Wicca in WhoVille

Overture



The tall, white-haired man stepped out of the shadow of a yew tree and strode to the center of a clearing. He wore a purple tunic, speckled with gold, which ended slightly above his ankles, over a white linen under-tunic that reached to the ground.  A simple gold band encircled his head, and a crescent hung from it over his brow.

The grass in the clearing was beaten down in a circle. Faint smudges of white chalk marked out four points around its circumference. Crossing his hands over his chest, the man bowed to each point of the circle, turning clockwise as he did so. Then he lifted his hands and eyes to the partially clouded sky and began to sing softly:

A Bhrid, ar goroi, an-gheal Bheanrion;

Lo de thoil e beannachta sinn.

Is sinn bhur leanai, is tu ar mamai

Bi ag isteacht duinn mar sin.

Is tu an coire, anois inar doire;

A Bhean-domhan tinfim orainn.
A thine ghra, a thine bheatha;
Lo de thoil e ag teacht Bhrid duinn!


In the darkness of the trees behind him, a woman in a dark robe pulled her hood closer around her face and peered out at him. Flicking open her cell phone, she tapped a recording app and held the phone towards the chanting voice. Later back in her office, she would try to decide what language he was using. Meanwhile the important thing was to capture as much of it as she could. A cool wind sprang up, and more thick clouds slid across the sky to hide the stars. She pulled the robe tighter and shivered. Rain had been in the forecast. She hoped she was safely back home before it began.



+



“Dang it all to heck!” he shouted, the heavy Bible slipping from his hands to the floor. He bent over to pick it up. “I have to learn how to hold this thing in one hand and not drop it when I point with the other!”

Rusty Piper got a firmer grasp on the Corinthian leather cover, opened the book to the passage he had marked and let the sides flop back and down over his strong left hand. His eyes ran down the column until he found the verses he wanted. Planting his feet firmly on the ground, he jabbed at the book with his right forefinger and kept it there, preventing the book from sliding away again.

“Brothers and sisters, it says right here, right here in God’s holy word, I tell you! It says right here in Exodus chapter 22 verse three that a man has a right to defend his property even if it means killing someone. The Lord’s own words to Moses, ‘If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed.’ No, wait, that’s verse 2. Verse three says … ‘but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed.’ Well, I don’t need to read verse 3, it would just confuse people. That verse two, that’s the verse. That’s clear as can be.”

His eyes scanned the rest of the page to see if there was anything else he might want to talk about. “Something about sorcerers, something about bestiality, something about not charging interest on a loan… What, no interest on a loan? Well, that sure ain’t true any longer! Thank God we don’t keep the foolish parts of the Old Testament any more. Just the parts that make good Christian sense.”

Rusty sat down and reached for the beer on his desk, his damp t-shirt molding to strong chest muscles. The Bible sure was easy to misunderstand, he thought. He was glad he was helping people find the truth and not get confused by side issues. He took a sip from the beer, clicked on the television and picked up a five-pound hand weight from the floor. With one hand he surfed through the channels while he lifted the weight to his shoulder over and over.

Outside the wind had picked up and a few drops of rain struck the windows.



+



There was not enough light in the kitchen to see what she was doing, but the Lady preferred to do things by candlelight anyway. She lit a rose-colored taper and put it into a small holder made of topaz. Walking across the flagstone floor, she reached up to open a cabinet door. Inside the shelves were lined with bottles, each bearing a neat label in beautiful calligraphy script. Unerringly she reached for the two she needed. Uncorking the bottles, she scooped out first a small handful of coarse salt and then a bit of minced garlic. She replaced the corks and put the bottles back in place before closing the door. She closed her eyes for a moment and held her hands over the salt and garlic.

She reached for the basalt metate she used for grinding herbs, spices and other things she needed. Some of her friends thought the metate an affectation, suggesting that a mortar and pestle were more appropriate. But she liked the idea that the metate was a New World artifact, and since she was now in the New World, she would use the metate.

She put the salt and garlic into a small pile in the center of the metate and rolled the ball-shaped grinding stone back and forth, blending them together.

As she worked, she sang softly under her breath,

“Salt and garlic, garlic and salt,

With your strength all evil halt.

Strong and powerful, guard this hall,

Keep safe within it one and all.”

She stopped blending and set the mixture aside to dry near the hearth. She would have preferred to let it dry in the sun, but the sun had disappeared hours ago and rain was beating down on the roof. The warmth from the small fire burning on the kitchen hearth was sufficient for the task.

Later she would walk through the old house and sprinkle a pinch on every window sill, doorway, hearth and any other openings she could find.

Smiling to herself, she said aloud, “So I ask and make my plea, All you gods, So mote it be.”
 

2 comments:

Mitchell is Moving said...

So, I had planned to immediately download some more of your books on Kindle only to find my Kindle had died. I'm assuming it's out of juice, but I can't find my charger! Soon...

Michael Dodd said...

How nice of you!