Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Fixer

London 1894
Herbert, or ‘Bertie’ as he was known to his friends and numerous mistresses, had just received another rejection letter from a publisher. Well, that really pops my pudding he thought to himself as he sat tapping his fingers on the desk. Having one’s work rejected was one thing, but to be constantly referred to as ‘the poor man’s Jules Verne’ well, that was just the last straw. He looked across the room at the machine which he had sworn never to operate again. He bit his lip, grabbed his coat and pen, and headed off to the French West Indies to settle the Verne matter once and for all.

Haiti 1869
On a break from his writing, Monsieur Verne had decided to take a long walk on the beach and had thus developed a nagging thirst in addition to a slight case of heat stroke. He had nearly made it back to the hotel, when he noticed a small edifice built just inside the trees lining the perimeter of the beach. Upon further scrutiny, he discovered that the structure was in fact a bar, furnished with a few tables and chairs set out on a lovely shaded verandah. Verne stood for a moment and squinted at the building when he noticed a young gentleman sitting at one of the tables. The man looked quite comfortable, despite the heat. In fact upon closer inspection, Verne noticed the man’s hair gently blowing despite no discernible breeze from the ocean. Odd he thought to himself as he approached the bar. He felt the breeze as soon as he mounted the steps, and looking up to find its source, was surprised to discover an object hanging from the ceiling. The machine appeared to have been constructed of paddles and seemed to rotate slowly of their own accord.

Unbeknownst to Monsieur Verne, upon his arrival in the Greater Antilles, not only had Bertie managed to rig up a spot of electricity (courtesy of an earlier, terrifying machine-powered excursion involving a gentleman named Edison) but he had also quickly assembled a ceiling fan (design borrowed from Phillip Diehl during a vacation to New Jersey in 1882). Aware that his opportunity had arrived and eager to knock the fondant from the Frenchman’s cupcake, Bertie introduced himself as an inventor of mechanical things, invited him into his beach side establishment, and offered him a very large Rum Swizzle (Bermuda, 1914 - delightful, but capable of delivering the most potent of hangovers), and the comfort of his cool surroundings.

In a short time Bertie had managed to impress the author considerably, gaining both his trust and admiration, and the two spent a delightful afternoon together on the Tiki bar’s porch – Bertie gaining a good deal of valuable information. After a few hours, Bertie stood up and excused himself, explaining that he had letters to write before dinner that evening. As he stepped off of the porch, he nodded to the young boy manning the levers which made the paddles go round and round.

“More air Monsieur?” the boy asked.

“Oui Marcel” responded Verne as he closed his eyes and enjoyed the breeze blowing down upon his head.

Bertie quickly ran through the trees along the beach and slipped into the hotel. Once inside Verne’s room, he found the manuscript and read through the critical passages absorbing as much as he could. He returned to his own room and began to write at a speedy pace. He smiled as the words poured forth from his pen and onto the paper. Imitating Verne’s handwriting had been a simple matter as Verne had been taught penmanship by the same nun who had instructed Maria Montessori, who had also been Bertie’s father’s cricket coach back in the days he spent at the convent school.

The next afternoon, he slipped the pages into his jacket and headed off to the bar to wait for his chance. Sure enough, the Frenchman sauntered up the beach at 2:00, climbed the steps and sat himself down at a table in the bar. He smiled at the Englishman with whom he had spent such a wonderful afternoon the day before, sitting at one of the small wicker tables.

Marcel, he of the magic levers, was nowhere in sight. This caused Verne a moment of concern, but was quickly remedied by another gentleman who appeared to be in charge of the levers in addition to the libations. The author was about to open his mouth and order a drink, when the gentleman behind the bar placed a large Rum Swizzle before him.

Verne smiled broadly at his new acquaintance and said “Ah Monsieur Wells, do join me for another afternoon discussion.” Bertie smiled, picked up his glass and joined the man at his table. Six more Rum Swizzle’s followed, and a short time later found Monsieur Verne sleeping happily below the cooling breeze of the rotating paddles.

Bertie laughed quietly, and headed off to the hotel where he managed to replace the pages of Verne’s work, with his own. He exited the hotel and after having a quick pee (the machine had operated flawlessly so far, but one just never knew with these things) made his way into the trees where he had stashed the vehicle. As he closed the door and turned the key, he felt a great sense of satisfaction, knowing that his books would never again be compared to any of those written by Monsieur Verne.

London, 2012
The tall man with the wavy hair and gray beard approached the slatted blinds and peered through them. He shook his head as the guide called out to him “Sir please if you will, the museum asks that you not touch the displays.”

The man nodded and stepped off of the podium, passing the sign which said “A replica of Jules Verne’s submarine ‘The Nautilus.’ The author, believed to have been suffering from the effects of rum poisoning during his stay in the Caribbean, ignored the advice of his literary agent and insisted on creating an underwater vessel fashioned in the shape of a shell and made entirely from teak blinds.”

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


School had ended for the day, and sister’s Lottie and Eva Shtupenhausen were finally free of their academic confines. The two had been hard pressed to sit still throughout the course of the day, requiring their teacher Miss Rhody to separate them on three different occasions. The first time had been when Eva had leaned out of her chair and smacked Lottie across the ankle with her ruler. Eva was a brilliant tactician and knew that Lottie had a spectacular blister fussing inside of her boot. One hard, well aimed smack delivered to the outside of Lottie’s boot would slow her down just as effectively as a glass of prune juice consumed prior to a trip across state lines.

Upon receipt of the ruler’s smack, Lottie had quickly shoved her fist into her mouth in an effort to stifle the scream which had forced its way up her throat and into the dark caverns of her maw. She looked at her sister from the corner of her eye and made it clear that retribution would be swift and painful.

Eva didn’t care in the least. She was determined to do whatever it took to disrupt the long effortless strides of her older sister. Lottie’s legs were six months in to a gargantuan growth spurt and were capable of out running her even while suffering the effects of an angry blister being rubbed raw by poorly tanned leather.

The girls had jogged home, keeping pace with one another until the moment their house came into view, at which point they broke into an all out sprint. Lottie, having been forced to a slower pace by the aggravated blister, sought to level the playing field by reaching out and grabbing Eva’s shoulder, twisting her dress as she pulled her backwards, gaining the lead. Undeterred, Eva grabbed a hold of Lottie’s wrist and twisted as she worked to break free of her sister’s grasp.

The two were neck and neck as they stormed up the front steps of their house. Lottie grabbed a hold of the door and yanked it with all of her mite. Fearing her sister’s victory, Eva reached forward and pulled on Lottie’s braid, causing her to lose her grip on the door’s handle, but not before pulling it free from two of its three hinges. Unable to fight the momentum created by her own strength, Eva found herself falling backward off of the porch, while bringing Lottie along with her.

Lottie, who had landed on top of Eva, was the first to get up and on the way, managed to grab a handful of dirt which she threw into Eva’s eyes. She made her way confidently up the front steps, but forgetting that her younger sister was made of extremely stern stuff, had slowed her pace considerably. Wiping dirt from her stinging eyes, Eva ran blindly past her sister where she collapsed on the floor, just inside the door. She felt around the floor frantically in her blind state until she found that which she was looking for. Dirty tears streamed down her cheeks as she grabbed the book and began to pull it into her chest.

Eva sat on the floor desperately trying to wipe the dirt from her eyes with one hand, all the while hanging onto the book with the other. Lottie pretended to have given up and began to turn her back on her sister. Feeling that success was finally within her grasp, Eva relaxed her grip on the book for a moment which was just enough time for Lottie to continue her rotation and tear the book from her sister’s hand.

“I had it first” screamed Eva kicking her feet against the wooden floor.”

“Too bad” laughed Lottie as she balanced the book on her arm and began rifling quickly through the pages, looking intently at each one before turning to the next.

By now Eva had recovered her vision and stood over her sister’s shoulder watching the pages fly by.

A grin of excitement began to form on Lottie’s face as she got closer to the page she sought. The corners of her mouth had started to curve upward, and small beads of perspiration had begun to form over her upper lip. Her hand slapped at the pages as she turned them faster and faster. Suddenly her smile disappeared completely as she looked down at the spot where the sheet should have been. Instead, all that remained was the tattered edges of a page that was no longer attached to the book’s spine. The girls stared at the book in complete horror.

Suddenly their anguish was interrupted by the sound of a quiet snickering. The two sisters looked up to discover their mother standing in the door way to the kitchen. She stood before them, her hair pulled back in a tight bun, sleeves rolled up neatly and her apron tied firmly around her waist. She smiled at the girls, while in her hand she held up a sheet of paper which had until recently been attached to the very book that Lottie held clasped to her chest.

Eva’s hands flew to her ears as if she were in the throes of an excruciating headache, while next to her, a solitary cry issued slowly from her sister’s mouth. Their mother raised her eyebrows as she held before them a page torn from the latest Sears, Roebuck and Company catalogue.

Displayed in the picture, standing for all to see was the Prince of Prairie Town, none other than local male model Jesse Taylor, decked out in the store’s latest frontier apparel. The caption below read “No girl can resist the supple leather wrist lets and elegant chaps made from Alpine goat fur worn by a rough and tumble snake hunter.”

The girls sighed as they watched their mother fold up the picture and stuff it into her linen chemise, forced to wait an entire year for their next opportunity.