Saturday, September 15, 2018

Lonely Roads

Lonely Roads
By Michael Cannata

The hum of the tires was like a low whisper that gave voice to the lonely road he drove. The radio stations faded in and out over these long stretches between cities and civilization. Music was always welcome, but he didn't mind the silence. Alone with his thoughts, he preferred listening to the song of the road.

The highway was the path he followed as he crossed the country delivering the loads he carried. His home was a cramped space behind the cab of his rig. He had a family once, and a house that gave him a place to call home, but that was years ago. The long stretches of time between his visits had made them strangers. The last time he made it home it was empty. All he found was a note from his wife explaining why they were gone. He never did learn where they went. Eventually, he stopped even trying to find them.

Long hauls were his livelihood.  He drove coast to coast as easily as people drove across town. Loneliness wasn't something he experienced anymore. After twenty-five years he learned how to cope with the solitude. He grew to relish the isolation and silence that he lived in. Tonight the miles seemed to fly by. His truck moved easily without the drag of a container and he was making good time. He would have some time to kill at this rate.

Truck stops provided comfort and the occasional chance to interact with other drivers. Weather and road conditions made up most of his conversations. The stops were places filled with friendly strangers. The stops gave him a place to shower and shave. He loved the smell of the engine exhaust and the dust of the road, but he hated smelling his own sweat. Once groomed, he would stock up on the meager supplies he needed and start driving again.

The constant crackle of the chatter over the CB radio had grown silent. There were two more waysides where he could pull over for a quick rest before he reached his next destination. He slowed down as he approached the one he liked best and pulled into the darkest corner. It overlooked a deep chasm where a small river ran past. It was a beautiful spot that he knew well. The troopers that patrolled the highways never bothered the truckers that stopped during the night to rest 

He parked his truck and went into the back of his rig; He stood looking at the girl hanging limply from the chains holding her. She'd stopped talking about 300 miles back. She didn't even scream when he approached her naked, bruised body. He considered just tossing her into the ravine now.

Still, it would be days before he could find a new companion. He preferred women that would fight and beg him to stop. But quiet company was better than no company at all.

           Besides, he had some time to kill.

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Perfect Day

The Perfect Day
By Michael Cannata

The sky was a shimmering, crystal blue from horizon to horizon. There wasn't a cloud to be seen. The sun hung above him as he walked in a daydream at a slow summers pace. He meandered aimlessly, the way he did as a boy on the sands of the Florida beach he grew up on.

He loved the ocean weather. Standing alone by the surf as the perfect sun set over the gulf waters, he savored the sensation of slight breezes washing over his skin. He reveled in the rain and power of nature's fury during hurricanes. He knew perfect weather when he experienced it. There was no doubt about it; his entire experience had been one endless perfect day!

Exotic and alien flora and fauna dotted the flat landscape. Clusters of vegetation spread out forever into the distance. Their roots reached depths that seemed endless. Wherever it was that they found the water, if it even was water, that kept them alive, it was too far for him to reach. Familiar looking rocks lay sprinkled across the sand in every direction. The faint line of an ancient high tide mark ran erratically off into an arid landscape.

This planet had all the beautiful features of his beach… except for an ocean.

He peered off into the brilliant daylight, searching for shapes or shadows that would suggest a destination, somewhere or something worth walking towards. The surface was an endless dusty shore. Small, inch high ripples of dry sand, formed by the slightest of breezes stretched in every direction. No mountain silhouettes that would suggest a change in the landscape appeared on the horizon. No uphill slant that might lead to high ground. No trees… just the short thick clusters of hard skinned shrubbery that indicated that life existed at all. The planet had no changing weather. He never saw clouds or felt wind on his dry chapped face. No mist or fog or hint of rain. The temperature never changed more than a degree or two. Even stranger was the sun. It was yellow and was larger than the sun on earth but it hadn't moved at all. It registered an eternal high noon for the 150 earth days he had been stranded.

He lost the three other members of his crew along with everything that was crucial for any chance at long term survival when his ship crashed. Despite his best efforts his rations were dwindling. All the technology he had still couldn't keep him alive without food. There was no way to get to the water deep below him. He'd dug twice his height deep into nothing but dry, powdery sand.

Consigned to an inevitable, thirst-filled fate, he wandered aimlessly deep in thought.

The agonizing beauty of the perfect daylight overwhelmed him again. He stared into the sun, almost blinded now by its sheer brilliance. It was a "Perfect Day." It was always the SAME Perfect Day! An endless Perfect Day. There was a time, when he was young he believed he would be happy to live forever, surrounded by such a day, by such beautiful weather. He would have been glad to never see a rainy day.

The very idea terrified him now.

He had prayed for rain every day after he arrived. He knew that he needed it if he was to live. Now, as he realized that he would never see a rainy day again, He just prayed for an end to this Perfect Day. Dying wasn't unwelcome any more. The thought of living without weather was inconceivable. He'd decided he missed the rain too much to live without it any longer and he hated the sun too much to live with it.

It was a perfect day to die.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Reality Star

The Reality Star
By Michael Cannata

            They called him, "The Survivor." He was the latest and greatest reality TV star in America. As he was driven through the crowd into the spotlights, his fans had to be restrained in their rush to be near him. The hugely vocal crowd roared in support and acclimation. Their thunderous ovation washed over him. Approval! Applause! He lived for it. He soaked in the crowd's unfettered expression of admiration.

            The monster had become a celebrity. His legacy of murderous insanity was a wildly popular headline story that wouldn’t die… so to speak. Anyone with a semblance of sanity would recognize him for what he was; a madman that murdered for delusional causes. .The mass murderer had an adoring public. Fervent fans with a penchant for worshiping evil.

            To a small but passionate organization of lunatics that had tracked his rise to infamy, obsessed fans of his reputation for carnage, he was a freedom fighter. A survivalist who declared war against a government he believed was set on taking away his rights and liberties. He had considered himself a soldier ready to fight for his cause. Yet, to inspire the army he needed to fight with him, the battle had to start somewhere. He had decided it would start with him.

            On a beautiful spring day he walked into a post office and killed everyone inside. He lined them up and shot each one while declaring them enemies of the union.  He killed them in a demented effort to interrupt government communications and disrupt troop deployment. He considered the innocent civilian victims collateral casualties in a war he had personally declared.

            He slaughtered over two hundred people in government offices in a cross country spree of senseless hate and violence. He waged a personal war that lasted almost two years. He managed to avoid capture by using the survival skills he learned as a soldier. Living in the mountains and wilderness was something he did all his life. Using those skills he managed to avoid capture by the authorities desperately trying to apprehend him. His close calls and daring escapes gained national attention.

            Soon he became a prominent figure on the evening news broadcasts. As the media attention grew, the public couldn’t get enough. Debating whether he was a martyr or murderer was a media theme played out in every detail and from every point of view on the daily talk shows.

            His reign of carnage spawned several major news series and late night news specials devoted to the search to capture him. Local officers, sheriffs, state police, federal and military officials and government spokesman became recognized faces as they appeared in the nightly news wrap-ups. The nationwide effort by law enforcement to apprehend him was subjected to daily scrutiny on every news program on the air and in print. The manhunt was going nowhere.  Something that was bad for the general public, but great for ratings.

            A number of news anchors, rally organizers, fund raisers and promoters owed their living to him. He was a freedom fighter set against preventing the government from destroying his country from the inside.

            In the end, he never did get caught. Rather, in a last ditch attempt to become the hero he longed to be, he surrendered. He had grown tired of having others tell his story. It was time he spoke directly to the people about the dangers that the deep state posed.

            Once he had the chance to talk with the people, to warn them with his own words, he would be able to bask in their praise and take solace in their judgment. They would revere him as a true hero. But reality often changes in ways we never fantasize  

            Rather than have his name immortalized, once he was a prisoner, no longer the outlaw that made him the focus of the media, people quickly forgot his name. There were plenty of other madmen willing to keep killing for their entertainment. All the public had to do was change the channel.

            On the day he was executed only a handful of his followers' were there to send him off to hell. His crimes would be revisited on crime shows regularly. He would live on as an infamous celebrity serial killer in TV specials that are run in an almost annual rewrite of his bloody trail.

             On the occasion of these media specials the murderer’s devotees would gather to sing his praises. They held rallies and sold trinkets, bumper stickers, T-shirts and such. The insanity of his actions helped his followers profit from his notoriety while waiting for the next madman to call to them.

            In the beginning, he was an unreal American reality figure. In the end, he was as real as any American hero ever got to be.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Crimes and Punishments

Crimes and Punishments
By Michael Cannata

            She sat in the dark cell and whispered once again into the silence, "Why?" What had she done to deserve such punishment? When did loving someone become a crime?

            She worshipped her husband. She loved him from the day they met. And she believed he loved her just as much. He worked hard to provide the home and family she dreamed of as a girl. He made her happier than she had ever felt in her life. She felt he deserved a wife that worked just as hard at making him happy.  In their fifteen year marriage, she believed her job was pleasing him.

            The violence came from out of nowhere. She didn't know what sparked it but she took the blame. The first time he beat her he was so drunk that he swore he couldn't remember doing it. He begged her to forgive him, and she did. She worked even harder after that at loving him.

            Four years passed before it happened again. And again, she forgave him. The stress of working so hard and the drinking made him crazy. At least that was what she told herself. She just needed to do more to keep the love and passion they had known when they were young lovers alive. But she couldn't satisfy him anymore.

            His demands for sex became more perverse and twisted. She began to question his love for her. When she refused to do what he wanted and asked him why he needed her that way? The questions enraged him even more and the beatings got worse. She knew when their 10 year old daughter came to her and told her what he'd done to her she had no choice.  Finally, she found the strength she needed to leave him.

            She stayed at shelters and at the home of friends as long as she could but he was never far from her. He persisted in reaching out and never stopped begging for her forgiveness. Finally, despite her better judgment, she forgave him. After a year of counseling she decided to give their marriage one more chance.

            The last night they spent together she made him his favorite dinner and had everything waiting for him when he got home. When he came through the door she could smell the liquor on him. She knew what would happen and she became frightened. When he couldn't find the salt on the table he began to get angry. By the time she found the shaker it was too late.

            The first blow broke her nose, knocking her to the floor. The kick broke a rib as she struggled to get up.  It was when he struck their daughter who had run to help her that she knew what she had to do. She didn't wait for him to hit her again. She turned and ran up the stairs to the bedroom and got his gun from the nightstand.

            She didn't recall pulling the trigger. The only sound she heard when the gun fired was her daughter screaming. When she saw him dead, she cried with her own pain and rushed to his side, trying her best to stem the bleeding. As he died, her life, her family, everything that made her who she was also ended.

            As her daughter hugged her tightly, she put the gun to her own head and pulled the trigger. She cried even harder when all she heard was an empty click. She could still remember the look of anguish on her daughter's face as they took her away. She has never seen her since. That moment was when the punishment for the crime of loving someone truly started.

            No one believed her story about defending herself. She had never reported any of his violence to authorities. She had no evidence to prove her claims. They felt that her daughter would just say anything her mother wanted her to say and couldn't be of use as a witness. Her public defender didn't object to anything the prosecutor claimed in court. It only took the jury four hours to find her guilty of murder.

            As the door to her cell slammed behind her, in a voice of utter despair and confusion, she screamed out the same question she has screamed every day since.

             "Why?! All I did was love him!"

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Mailman

The Mailman
By Michael Cannata

           The mailman neared the end of his long daily route feeling completely drained. He sat at a table in his favorite cafĂ©, sipping a late cup of coffee, hoping for a boost that would get him back to the post office and then home where he could finally relax.

            For over 40 years he'd worked the same route, the same neighborhood, delivering the daily mail to the same people. He used to know virtually all of them by name. They weren't just names on a mailbox, they were friends that welcomed him and greeted him by his first name.

            During Christmas week he would often end his day carrying more packages than he delivered; Gifts from his regular customers. A lifelong bachelor, he considered the people on his route his family. He'd had more than his share of daily trysts with lonely housewives over the years. Even the dogs seemed to like him. He'd loved his job when he started and looked forward to going to work.

            But the world of 40 years ago was long gone. The homes along his route had slowly slipped into disrepair and strangers began to replace the familiar faces. The close knit feeling he felt as he walked the streets had disappeared to the point where the term "neighborhood" was a misnomer. People today shared the homes on the streets, but they were far from neighbors.  Now he was impressed if he found two tenants in the same four unit building that knew each other.

            His doctors had been telling him to retire for years and now the postal service was forcing the issue. His health was affecting his ability to complete his work in his usual timely manner.  Most of the people he knew the best, the ones that always had a smile and the time for a chat or to share a glass of lemonade on a hot summer morning, had passed away or moved to safer places.

            Still, spread among the surly and poor people that took over once friendly and prosperous area, there were a lot of old friends along his route that he cared for. They had grown old together as he watched their children grow and move on to lives far away from their parents. Now, alone in their empty nests, they stayed inside and rarely opened the door when he came past. He hated to see them barricaded in their apartments living in fear of a world that had turned against them.

            He spent his lifetime delivering their mail. Now he would deliver their souls. He couldn't leave them behind to waste away slowly. He came up with a plan to take them to a place where they could all be together and happy again.

            Today he would deliver the letters laced with the poison, Ricin, to all his favorite tenants. They would be the last letters they ever receive and tomorrow would be his last day on the job. If he was lucky, it would be his last day on earth as well. It was the first time in a decade that he could recall being excited about tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness
By Michael Cannata
           Sister Agnes looked at the hardened faces of the men staring back at her in the group meeting. Each one of them had a heart of darkness. They displayed looks of anger and threat at the world around them. But, after years of working with them, counseling them and caring for them. she knew in her own heart, they weren't as hard as they looked. Many of them were behind bars more because of their circumstances than their character.

            Their stories would leave anyone with shivers of terror. They were among the most violent and dangerous men in the penitentiary, rapists and killers one and all. She knew that almost all of them had suffered more pain as children than they ever inflicted as adults. They were the lucky ones. They survived. Most of them did not kill accidentally; they had killed with brutal anger, savage cruelty and deliberate violence.

            Despite their horrible acts, inside, they were still children of God. Her job as counselor was to reach into those dark hearts and cast out the darkness so that the light of the lord might replace it.

            She was always amazed by the conflicting personalities that so many of the prisoners exhibited. Despite the fact that their crimes were vicious and heinous, many of the men displayed outwardly gentle and caring demeanors. Some were new arrivals and they were the ones that would be the hardest to reach; most however, had spent the greater part of their life behind bars and sincerely sought forgiveness.

            Sister Agnes was hard in her own right. She had grown up with fiercely strict and abusive parents. When the chance came to escape from her parents and join the church as a nun she leapt at the opportunity. She would get on her knees every night and give thanks to the Lord for giving her the chance to serve him. She wore a cross under her vestments that weighed at least five pounds. It was a burden that strained her back and cut into her neck. But she felt it weighed far less than the pain the Lord had saved her from.

            After years of ministering and study she got the chance to work with prisoners at the state penitentiary. She never feared any of them and the respect they showed her was better mannered than her average Sunday school class.

            Every week she led the group in therapy sessions. Hoping to get them to open their hearts; to honestly repent and beg for the Lord's forgiveness. That was all it took if they wanted to make their way into the Lord's kingdom. God forgave everyone who asked it of him. It was her job to identify with their anger so she could save their souls. To help them learn from her in the same way she had learned from them.

            Instead of lingering to talk quietly with those that had questions that were too personal to share with the group, she excused herself and hurried home after the session. Tonight she would be doing God's work and that was what she lived for. The homeless plumber she'd met at the church shelter would be at her house soon and she didn't want to be late. He needed the work and she needed his service. He arrived at the back door exactly as she instructed and she led him to the basement entrance.

            "The leak started out small, but I'm afraid it will get a lot worse if I don't deal with it now," she explained. "Thank you so much for offering to help."

            She showed him to the door that led down to the basement. As the man peered down the dark stairs, she smashed the sharp edge of the heavy crucifix against the back of his skull. She smiled as he tumbled down to the bottom and landed in a heap.

            She smiled in an almost radiant manner as she walked down the stairs and hit him again... and again. She believed that in order to truly understand the men she wanted to save, she had to experience the same emotions they held in their hearts of darkness. As she continued to strike him repeatedly, she thanked the Lord again for the chance to save and for the forgiveness he promised.

            The homeless man would now have a home in heaven with God. She could hardly wait until she joined them. But she had much work to do before that day. She knew that God was happy with her work and would look favorably on her when her time came.

            No heart was so dark that the lord wouldn't forgive it… even hers.

The Patriot

The Patriot
By Michael Cannata

            He was raised in a family that considered military service the proudest tradition they had. So, like his father and his grandfather before him, he passed on going to college and enlisted in the Marines.  He became one of the top recruits in his class.

            When he volunteered to go to Afghanistan his family, despite their tremendous pride in their son, did their best to dissuade him. He was still so young and they feared for his life a lot more than he did. He was an excellent soldier and felt, having lived in the greatest country on the planet and knowing the value of freedom, it wasn't just his duty, it was a moral obligation to do his part.

            The freedom of the people in the war torn country had been destroyed by the Taliban; Zealots who served God by imposing their extreme religious tenets on those who didn't share their absurd devotion through violence, persecution and death.

            He wasn't a believer in God. He believed that people were responsible for their fate. He wasn't content to wait for God to change things. He believed that all people, given the chance, would simply want to live their lives in peace. But those zealots and dictators that claimed to be servants of God or politics carried war into the lives of the innocent as well as the enemy.

            When he saw the condition the people were forced to live in, the hunger and the fear in their eyes, especially the eyes of the children, it just furthered his resolve to help... to fight in any way he could.

            He had made many friends on his tour, both in his unit and among the local people. One young boy in particular became one of the friendly faces that would bring a little light into the dark days. The boy's commitment to caring for his family, and his willingness to brave dangers that even soldiers would shrink from, inspired him. If a young boy was willing to fight and die for his people, he could do no less.

            For eighteen long, deadly months he fought alongside his fellow soldiers and many of the local militia against the horrors that the war inflicted on the country. He fought in many battles but experienced few victories. His hopes of making a difference in the lives of the people had faded. All the people he saw die, all the people he killed, none of it had made any difference. In the beginning He believed that America was there to help. In the end all he felt was helpless. The only people that he felt he had been any help to was the boy and his family.

            He got the welcome news that his tour was finished and he would be heading home. His family was thrilled and told him to be prepared for a hero's welcome. He made a point to find the boy and say goodbye. When he told him when he was leaving along with the other members of his unit the boy cried and promised he would be by the road to say goodbye.

            The last face he saw was that of the young boy, waving and smiling as his unit drove towards the air strip to board the flight home.  The boy ran towards him until they were almost close enough to touch hands. The boy smiled right up to the moment he detonated the suicide vest he was wearing under his clothing.

            Four of the members of his unit were killed instantly, several others were injured.

            He lay resting on the flight home where his family waited anxiously to welcome their hero… and say their goodbyes. He was buried with little ceremony and his service to his country faded in memory from his people. For all his efforts, he was still just another soldier.

            In Afghanistan, the family of the young boy was showered with praise, gifts and money. Their son had done his service to Allah and his family could live free from fear and attack from the Taliban. He was declared, Hewaad Paala, a Patriot and honored as a martyr.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle
By Michael Cannata

            Carol sat alone in the corner of the damp basement playing with the length of string entwined between her fingers. "Cat's Cradle," was her favorite game. It was a game her mother had taught her a long time ago.  The fear wasn't as great during the day when she was playing it waiting for her mother, free to dream about the home she once had.

            She never knew her father. He'd left them both just after she was born. All she knew of him came from the stories her mother had told her. Some of the stories were nice and when she was telling them her mother seemed to wish he would come back someday. But most of them weren't nice at all and the way her mother would curse and cry made Carol almost happy he had gone away.

            Her mother was the center of her world as a child. Unfortunately, she was far from the best thing in her mother's world. Her mother lived for her "medicine" as she called it. Most afternoons, she went with her mother to the place where she got her medicine. Once back home, her mother would go into the bathroom. After a long while her mother would come out and they would play together for hours into the night. It was those special times that she remembered the most that helped make her life bearable.

            Men were always coming to their house during the day. Most of them paid no attention to her while others made her afraid. Others would bring her candy or other treats. She would sit quietly, eating the sweets, while her mother took the men into her room.

            One day her mother went to a different house to meet a man Carol had never seen before. She introduced the man as, "Fred," and told her that he would be babysitting her until she could get back. Carol saw Fred hand her mother an envelope. As they talked in low voices, her mother seemed nervous. She came and hugged Carol closely and promised she would be back soon.

            She cried uncontrollably as her mother kissed her good-bye. She prayed fiercely all day, but Carol's mother never came back. After her mother left and she had eaten all the pizza Fred had given her she knew things were never going to be the same. After dark, just about the time she should have gone to bed, Fred asked Carol if she wanted to play. He took her down some stairs into the damp basement.

            "This is where you'll be staying," he explained. There was only one mattress on the floor. As he started to take off his shirt he smiled in a way that made her start shaking. "Now, let's have some fun, OK? I know a game you're going to like. It's one your mother and I play a lot."  She started to cry and said "No." Fred hit her hard enough that she fell back on the mattress with her mouth bleeding. That was the last time she had ever said no to Fred. After that they played the game almost every night.

            She heard the front door open and close with a loud slam the way it did every night. The heavy footsteps thudded above her as Fred staggered around the house from room to room, doing whatever it was he did before he came down to her.

            Sometimes she could smell the dinner he made for himself. It always made her stomach rumble and her mouth water. Just once she wished he would share the hot, delicious smelling meal with her.

            As she heard him coming down the stairs she knew her playtime was over.  Nighttime was when she had to play Fred's games. She began to cry quietly and wished again for her mom.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Librarian

The Librarian
By Michael Cannata

          Once upon a time in a land that never aged, where legends and lore ruled the minds and beliefs of the people, there lived a man that didn't want to "Believe"… he wanted to know.

His real name is unknown but the town's people called him, "Cat," because of his insatiable curiosity. He was a simple man whose only passion was seeking out and writing the truth whenever and wherever he discovered it.

Cat knew the only way to find the truth was to ask questions. However, questions were considered dangerous and a threat to the way of life in his country. Asking questions was against the Old King's law.

People couldn't explain why they never saw a dragon or a wizard in all the years they lived, yet they lived in fear of them. While they absolutely believed that every demon and specter of doom known in the legends truly existed, they were always at a loss for proof or evidence to explain where they could be found. And although he spoke to them constantly, his stately voice filling the air around them, no one had ever seen the Old King in real life.

The truth was no one could answer a simple question, simply because they had no answers.

No matter what he was told growing up, Cat never believed in wizards, celebrity idols or the magic powers they embodied. He doubted most of the legends that people told their children religiously. He didn't believe the Old King had been the mightiest warrior or the wisest king in his country's history. He didn't believe there even was an "Old King.” He didn't believe there was any such thing as a question that didn’t have an answer. And most of all, he didn't believe there were no such things as books.

Long ago, when he was too young to even know what a book was, the Old King had outlawed books. Legend had it that he preferred to make up his own stories about his kingdoms history and his place in it. Every story, every legend, every tale told about his country was told by elders in oral sermons. The fables his people knew as history were taught faithfully without deviation, or so the elders claimed.

Gradually, the traditional stories changed after generations of retellings. It came to the point where no one was sure what was true. The elders simply kept repeating the version they had been taught. When they found themselves unable to remember a detail, they would make it up. Ancient interpretations and revised opinions made each story different depending on who told it.  "The Truth" was what the Old King declared it to be at any given time. Writing anything that questioned the Old King could lead to death for anyone who dared.

There was one legend Cat knew in his heart to be true. The legend about a place known only to those that believed in the Free Thinkers world. It was whispered to be a place where such things as dragons and warlocks really could exist, in a place called a "Library." Desperately, more than anything else, Cat wished to become a "Librarian."

There was a time when people were free to travel and roam the other countries that surrounded his own. However, when people started to return with stories that belied the tales of the elders, especially those about the Old King, laws were passed that forbade people from traveling. If anyone dared leave his land they would be subject to exile forever, never allowed to return.

One day, as he sat in the sun, dreaming of lands he would never see, Cat was shocked to see a stranger coming down the road leading to the village. Strangers were rare in his country. Adventurous people occasionally left his country, but no one ever returned. Those that tried were immediately arrested by the Old King's guard and never seen again.

"Good day sir," Cat called out to the stranger. "You look lost… like a stranger in a strange land!" He said jovially, quoting from one of his favorite legends. At the sound of Cat's words the stranger stopped and glared with such a look of suspicion that Cat suddenly feared for his very life.

"I seek a man known as, Cat. I'm told he is a man of great words and wisdom. I am a Librarian," the stranger declared. "I've come to seek help from this man in building a library."

Cat looked at the man with fear and quickly bade him sit. Deciding the stranger was telling the truth, he quietly told him of the laws in his land and how, just by coming there, he was subject to death.

"Why would a man of such wisdom as you stay in a country that had no want of him!?" the stranger asked incredulously!

Cat took the stranger into his home and showed him his most secret and precious possessions. A hidden room filled with the most dangerous objects a man could possess… books. Books his father and his father before him had collected in secret; Hiding them from the Old King's eyes to prevent both the books and themselves from being burned into oblivion.

"I would come to your land in a heartbeat," Cat explained," I would abandon all my worldly belongings, leave the life I have lived willingly, but I could never leave my books. I am their guardian. They belong to the world, not just me.  If I could take my books I would leave this minute."

"Your people need a library," declared the stranger. "If they will not build one, they need a champion who will come to my land and build one in their name. A devoted librarian that will fill the shelves with books recording the legends they cherish and the truths they discovered during their history.

"I cannot ask you to come back to my world. People are not asked to become librarians. They must ask for the honor… and ask properly!"

Cat looked at the stranger and asked with all the enthusiasm he could express, "Can I be a…" yet, as soon as started the question, Cat knew by the look on the strangers face he it was the wrong question. After some consideration, in a way his mother would have been proud of, the way a gentleman asks for something. Cat looked the stranger in the eye and, with the most earnest countenance possible asked, "May I be a Librarian?"

He never did learn how the stranger did it, in fact he never saw the stranger again. Incredibly, as soon as he asked, Cat, along with his all of his precious books,was instantly transported to a different world. A world where questions were not only allowed, they were encouraged. A land where he could finally learn everything he wanted to know.

            Cat gazed with wonder at the shelves stretching from floor to ceiling in the enormous room filled with books of all sizes and shapes. One wall had a section with shelves that were empty. Those were the shelves that would hold the books Cat would write. The books that would tell the stories Cat had brought to the Free Thinkers world. Above all, they would be filled with books that told "The Truth."

On that sunny day when Cat disappeared from his village, a new legend was born; a legend that told of the “man who asked too many questions.” To this day, whenever children ask a question, they are warned by the elders to remember that curiosity killed the man called Cat.

As he sat down at his librarian's station to begin writing the first book about the history of his country, Cat knew that he’d found the world he belonged to. He spent the rest of his days writing down the legends he had been told by the elders in his land. While there were times he wondered what became of his country and the Old King he never even considered returning. He was where he belonged and, as in any good tale, he lived happily ever after.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Dinner for Who?

Dinner for Who?
By Michael Cannata

The dinner crowd was finally settling at their tables, drinks in hand, preparing for the evening's entertainment. As the staff started serving, I couldn't help getting anxious. Tonight's dinner show was going to be something completely different.

My wife and our close friends loved going to the trendy, "Murder Mystery Dinners," where the dinner guests tried to solve a crime that would be played out by actors over the course of the meal. I found them childish and less than interesting. Most were held to raise money for charities and, knowing the money was going toward a good cause, made it hard to get out of going. My wife and I were considered pillars of our little community. Even after twenty-five years of marriage, I loved my wife more than life itself. If attending these parties made her happy I was more than willing to do it for her.

I tried my best to take part in the fun but rarely found the "mystery" challenging. The closest thing to a murder weapon was often the food on the menu. Frequently, the identity of the "killer" became pretty obvious far too early to make the mystery last. On the rare occasion where it was cleverly done, the various guests at the tables could get caught up in the game to the point where emotions got involved. The more serious amateur detectives would go so far as to start demanding that real detectives be called in to verify their solution. When their suspects were found to be the wrong man, shouts of cheating and fraud would ring out from the biggest donors with the worst guesses.

At the last event we attended, the reality that I could be bored to death occurred to me along with an idea that I found oddly appealing.  What would happen if an amateur murderer committed a real murder in front of all those amateur detectives?  As a doctor I knew lots of ways to kill people. It was always something I wanted to try. When I got home I started to give it serious thought. Once my most devious plan was complete I knew I had to put it into action.  I'd decided that making a few changes to the script would make the game a lot more interesting.

The dinner guests at tonight's party would have to guess the identity of the fantasy killer as always. Unbeknownst to tonight's guests this game would have an additional twist.  If things went as planned, somewhere between the main course and desert someone at one of the tables would suffer an agonizing, painful death. Unfortunately, and much to the shock of the audience, they wouldn't be acting. Some unlucky soul would enjoy the last meal of their life.

The suspense was excruciating. I couldn't be sure the guest would even eat their meal. And the possibility of someone I liked becoming the victim was something else to consider. However,  to make the game fair, everyone had to be a player. Fortunately, my wife and I would be safe. The menu tonight featured two main dishes, stuffed chicken breast and stuffed lobster tail. My wife and I would be having the chicken.

Once we got a tour of the large kitchen, one of the potential crimes scenes, the rest was easy. It had been a simple effort to put the poison into one of the large stuffed lobster tails that sat waiting to be prepared. The stuffing at this particular restaurant was always a favorite of the guests. I counted on at least that part of the meal being consumed.

Once things were in place, all that remained was to sit back and watch the scene play out. I already knew who the killer was. Who would die was the real mystery. Who was I going to kill? Even I had no idea. Finally, I was going to experience a new thrill, watching a show that featured a real murder.

I could hardly contain my excitement as they started serving the main course. For once this really was going to be a true, "Mystery Murder." I hoped the guests would enjoy this as much as I was going to. My wife couldn't help but take notice of my obvious interest in the evening's festivities.

            "Well, finally!" she remarked with a smile. "We seem to have found a show that interests this stuffed shirt of a husband I have here!" Her joke elicited hearty laughter from the table at large. I kissed her hand lovingly.

            "Why shouldn't I be interested?" I said, going along with the joke. "This crime takes place in a hospital setting. Solving this one should be easy. Obviously, if my guess is right, the doctor will have done it."

            As the waiter was serving the guest next to me he accidentally spilled some gravy on my dinner jacket. Too excited to be angry, I excused myself to wash up in the men's room. I chatted with a friend for a few minutes before explaining that I didn't want my dinner to get too cold or my wife to get too hot over my absence.

            It was when I took my seat that I discovered how horribly wrong my plans had gone. While I was away from the table, my wife had swapped her chicken with her friend's lobster. I tried to hide my rising panic. I kept telling myself that the odds were 100 to 1 that she would get the tainted plate. She was finishing the last of the stuffing and lobster as she marveled over the flavor. It was her first time trying lobster. As she started to cough during desert and suddenly excused herself, I knew it would be her last as well.

            When the screams started coming from the ladies room, along with shouts to "Call 911," I knew the show was over. I rushed to her side giving what aid I could but I knew better than anyone, there was nothing to be done.

            Fortunately for me, they never had to figure out who killed her. Her death was ruled a severe allergic reaction, just as I had planned. When it came to medicine I was a renowned specialist. As I quietly mourn my loss, unable to ever reveal my part in her death, I often remind myself of the lesson learned that night.

            I discovered in a cruel but well deserved way that I'd never imagined while losing the one person in the world that mattered…

…murder is not for amateurs.