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The Songster

Joseph Ross and Carmen Fernandez are making a movie together with the working title Funny Love Story. Joseph is seventy-five, a movie director emerging from several years of creative dormancy. Carmen is thirty-four, a wedding photographer and aspiring filmmaker who lives in Santa Rosa, California, a two-hour drive from Melody, the small coastal town where Joseph lives and where they are planning to shoot their movie.

They met a year ago on the town beach and discovered they were soul mates. They are not sexually or romantically involved, but they enjoy each other immensely and have had a great time getting to know each other while figuring out how to make a feature-length film for fifty thousand dollars.

Their current task is finding two actors—a woman in her sixties and a man in his thirties—to round out the five-actor cast of the movie. Joseph and Carmen will write and direct and act in the movie, and Murray Steinberg who is sixty-three and owns Murray’s Seafood will be in the movie, too.

Carmen has made a dozen short films and is a big fan of movie directors who write scripts resulting from ensembles of actors improvising together and discovering characters and relationships that make for compelling drama. The current plan is for Carmen and Joseph to write the script after they have assembled the cast and improvised scenes for a few days to find out who their characters might be and what the movie might be about. Joseph thinks this is a crazy way to write a script, but he defers to Carmen because he cares more about her being happy than he cares about how they make their movie.

And so in early June, Carmen comes to stay with Joseph for a few days while they meet with the four actors Carmen culled from several dozen applicants she interviewed online, these in-person meetings to be held at a table in Murray’s Seafood.

*

Carmen and Joseph enter Murray’s fish shop at ten o’clock on a sunny Saturday morning and seat themselves at a table in the far corner of the dining area. The shop is not large and most of Murray’s customers come to buy fresh fish or get fish & chips to go.

Carmen is wearing a white short-sleeved blouse and black corduroy trousers, her dark brown hair in a ponytail, turquoise earrings dangling from her ears.

Joseph is looking dapper in a turquoise dress shirt and brown slacks, his white hair neither long nor plentiful.

Murray, a burly fellow with rambunctious gray hair, is wearing his usual outfit of faded blue jeans, a red Murray’s Seafood T-shirt, and a large white apron.

“Today’s the big day, we hope,” says Murray, bringing two mugs of coffee to the table. “The field narrowed to four. Yes?”

“We are hopeful,” says Joseph, nodding his thanks for the coffee. “How’s business?”

“Booming,” says Murray, smiling at Carmen. “I’ve got Jessica coming in for the lunch rush and Pepe in the kitchen. The blessed hordeshave arrived for the summer and apparently they all want my fish & chips.”

“And well they should,” says Carmen, checking her phone. “That’s what we’re having for lunch.”

Now the bell on the door jingles and here is Daphne, one of the two female finalists. A petite woman in her early sixties with short reddish brown hair, Daphne recognizes Carmen from their online meeting and hams it up a little by sashaying across the room.

Joseph rises and offers Daphne his hand. “Welcome Daphne. I’m Joe.”

“Hi Daphne,” says Carmen, giving Daphne a wave. “We knew you were beautiful, but in-person you’re stunning.”

“You should look in the mirror if you want to see stunning,” says Daphne, sitting across from Carmen. “I’d love some coffee.”

“Coming right up,” says Murray, grinning at Daphne.

“This is Murray,” says Joseph, sitting in the chair next to Daphne. “We’ll be shooting some scenes here in his shop.”

“My ex-husband’s father was a lobsterman,” says Daphne, looking at Murray. “In Maine.”

“I love Maine,” says Murray, going to get her coffee. “I grew up in New Jersey. We went to Maine every summer.”

“So…” says Daphne, looking from Carmen to Joseph and back to Carmen, “are you two father daughter? Grandfather granddaughter?”

“No,” says Carmen, glancing at Joseph. “Soul mates.”

Daphne stiffens. “You’re a couple?”

“No,” says Joseph, shaking his head. “Friends. Fellow movie makers.”

“Because I can’t do this if you’re a couple,” says Daphne, shifting uneasily in her chair. “That kind of thing makes me sick.”

Murray serves Daphne a mug of coffee. “Cream? Sugar? Milk?”

“Nothing,” says Daphne, bowing her head. “I screwed this up, didn’t I?” She glances forlornly at Joseph. “Maybe I should just go. Not waste any more of your time.”

And before Joseph can say No, don’t go, Carmen says, “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”

“Okay,” says Daphne, rising to go. “Good luck with your movie.”

Joseph wants to ask her, “How would you characterize that kind of thing? An elderly person sexually involved with a much younger person? An elderly man sexually involved with a much younger female? How about an elderly gay man with a much younger man? Or an elderly woman with a much younger partner?” But instead he says, “Good luck to you, too.”

When Daphne is gone, Murray clears away her mug and says, “Too bad. I liked her.”

“I did, too,” says Joseph, frowning at Carmen. “What if…”

“Patricia,” says Carmen, naming the next actor they’ll be interviewing.

“What if Patricia is also sickened by the thought of us being a couple?” says Joseph, feeling awful about their swift dismissal of Daphne. “Even though we’re not?”

“It wasn’t that,” says Carmen, checking her phone again. “It was that the first thing she asked about was that.”

Joseph shrugs. “And so might Patricia. It’s a question many people might ask.”

“Then we’ll keep looking,” says Carmen, putting down her phone. “We’ve got an hour to kill. Stroll around town?”

“I’ll reserve your table,” says Murray, bowing to them, “and await your return.”

*

Forty-five minutes later, Carmen and Joseph return to Murray’s Seafood and find Murray at the audition table talking to Patricia, a tall woman with big brown eyes and graying brown hair in a bun. She’s wearing black trousers and a purple sweater over a white dress shirt with a purple bow tie, no makeup.

“Ah here they are,” says Murray, giving Carmen and Joseph a look to say I think you’re gonna like her.

Patricia turns in her chair to watch Joseph and Carmen approach, but she doesn’t get up, which is disappointing to Joseph and a relief to Carmen.

When Joseph and Carmen are seated, Patricia looks at Joseph and says with a slight Danish accent, “I did a double-take when I googled you and saw The Songster in your filmography because I’ve never known anyone besides me who ever saw it, and here you are the person who directed it.”

“Ran for three days at the Belvedere in West Hollywood and a week at the Crest in Brooklyn,” says Joseph, who hasn’t thought about The Songster in forty years. “As far as I know, no copies of the opus still exist, which is a good thing. Where did you see it?”

“At the Belvedere in West Hollywood,” says Patricia, her eyes sparkling. “And do you know why I saw it?”

“Why?” asks Carmen, enchanted.

“Because I read for the part of the girl the hero of the movie writes the song for. And I was sure I was going to get the part, so of course I had to see who got the part instead of me.”   

“Anne Frederick,” says Joseph, remembering the long hot days of shooting that lousy movie in Bakersfield. “She was dreadful.”

“But so beautiful,” says Patricia, looking at Carmen. “She was seventeen and reminded everyone of Marilyn Monroe.”

“Except she sounded like a duck,” says Joseph, laughing. “And every character in the movie was a stereotype and every line a tired cliché. But they paid me seventy-five thousand to direct and it was my first film with a budget over a million dollars, so…” He frowns at Patricia. “You didn’t sit through the whole movie, did you?”

“Probably,” she says, nodding. “I rarely walked out of movies in those days.”

A silence falls.

“And now we’re here,” says Carmen, smiling at Patricia. “You don’t look sixty-seven. I would have guessed fifty-four.”

“When I’m happy I feel fifty-four,” says Patricia, laughing. “When I’m sad I’m definitely sixty-seven.”

“So you’re happy today,” says Joseph, liking her very much.

“A beautiful drive from Petaluma,” says Patricia, relaxing, “and thinking I might be in a movie made by the person who wrote and directed The Unerring Heart? What’s not to be happy about?”

*

When Patricia leaves, Carmen says excitedly, “I love her. I love her voice and the way she talks and everything about her. Yes?”

“Yes, she’s wonderful,” says Joseph, yawning. “And I’m running out of gas. Shall we have some of Murray’s finest?”

“Grilled or breaded?” asks Murray, who is hovering nearby. “And by the way, I love her, too.”

“Grilled,” says Joseph, who rarely goes more than a few days without getting an order of Murray’s fish & chips.

“Grilled,” says Carmen, beaming at Murray. “And a lemonade, please.”

Murray calls into the kitchen, “Two extra-large fish and chips! On the grill!”

“And now for the men,” says Joseph, yawning again. “Who will it be? Leonard or Justin?”

“Well it won’t be Justin,” says Carmen, looking at her phone. “Shall I read you his eloquent text?”

“Please,” says Joseph, wishing he could take a nap.

Carmen. After two hour drive realize have two more, can’t do this for what offering. If 8000 and motel Yes. 4 and sofa crash No.

“A man of few words,” says Joseph, glad not to be meeting Justin.

“No,” says Carmen, texting Justin that solitary word. “Said the woman of even fewer words.”

“Let’s hope we like Leonard,” says Joseph, smiling as Murray’s lunch waitress sets their table for the impending fish & chips.

*

They don’t like Leonard.

*

When Leonard departs, Murray joins Joseph and Carmen at the table and says, “Hey what about Stephen Ornofsky?”

“What about him?” says Joseph, glaring at Murray.

“For the movie,” says Murray, holding out his hands as if offering a gift. “He’s handsome, he’s charming, he’s a great performer, he’s thirty-four, he’s funny, he’s local.”

“You mean loco,” says Joseph, angrily. “He lives in a van with who-knows-how-many dogs and cats. He sings stupid songs in front of the post office and people throw pennies at him. He’s the last person in the world I’d want in our movie.”

“What are you talking about?” says Murray, shocked by Joseph’s response. “Stephen’s been Maya Johansen’s live-in caretaker for eight or nine years now and before that he rented a house with Jerry Atkins and Tommy Cosca. And he hasn’t played at the post office since he was a teenager. He’s the star attraction at McCarthy’s on Thursday nights and does standup between songs. And he’s really funny. Where have you been for the last fifteen years?”

“Today is Thursday,” says Carmen, smiling hopefully at Joseph. “Shall we go see him?” 

“No!” says Joseph, furious. “He’s a disaster.”

“Joe, that’s not true,” says Murray, pained to see Joseph acting this way. “He’s a wonderful person.”

“No,” says Joseph, looking at the ground and shaking his head. “I’ve known him since he was a kid. He was Lisa’s friend. Irene’s daughter. Irene was my third wife. When Stephen dropped out of high school and his parents kicked him out, we let him park his van in our driveway. I paid him to do chores and I even paid for him to get some therapy, not that it did any good.”

“Oh Joe, don’t say that,” says Murray, grimacing. “You saved his life.”

“Some life,” says Joseph, slapping a fifty-dollar-bill on the table and getting up to go. “We’ll see you.”

*

To celebrate Patricia agreeing to be in their movie, Joseph takes Carmen out for Mexican food at Dos Hermanas, the place packed, the mood festive.

At meal’s end, Carmen says, “I would love to take a peek at this Stephen Ornofsky character. You game?”

“I’d rather not,” says Joseph, making a sour face, “but if you want to… okay.”

“You’re not curious to see how he’s changed?”

“Not even a little bit. Crazy people don’t interest me.”

“Why do you keep saying he’s crazy? He was homeless and now he’s not. Murray says he’s doing really well. This so unlike you.”

When he hears her say This is so unlike you, Joseph is struck dumb.

“Joe? You okay?”

“Yeah,” he says quietly.

“What’s going on?”

“I just admitted to myself why I don’t want him in our movie.”

“Why?”          

“Because he’s sweet and kind and gifted,” says Joe, remembering Stephen’s battered old Volkswagen van parked by the woodshed. “And I always felt like a selfish talentless fool compared to him.”

“But you helped him.”

“We had an empty guest room and a big sofa in the living room,” says Joseph, recalling the countless times he wanted to go out to Stephen and say Come in and get warm but never did. “He was barely surviving and I made him sleep in his freezing van. And when Lisa left for college and Irene moved out, I told Stephen to go away. And he thanked me for my help and moved his van into town, and though he had almost nothing he took in stray dogs and cats and fed them and cared for them. And no one threw pennies at him. People gave him money because he was a beautiful singer. And then he got a house and gave guitar lessons and worked as a gardener, and every month…”

Joseph stops talking and closes his eyes.

“Every month, he’d send me a check for fifty dollars. For three years. And I never thanked him and never apologized for being so horrible to him. And I’ve avoided him like the plague ever since I kicked him out. And that’s why I don’t want him in our movie, because I’m ashamed of myself and because I think you would love him more than you could ever love me.”

“Then we won’t have him in our movie,” says Carmen, offering Joseph her hand. “We won’t give him another thought.”

“Yes, we will,” says Joseph, taking her hand. “We will go see him now. And who knows? Maybe he’ll turn out to be the one we’ve been looking for.”

“That’s the Joe I know,” says Carmen, smiling sublimely. “That’s my soul mate.”

Complicated Feelings

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Funny Love Story

A longtime resident of Melody, a small coastal town in northern California, Joseph Ross is seventy-four, healthy, friendly, attractive to women, and thrice divorced. A few months ago, after three years of marriage, his fourth wife asked for a divorce and went to live with her daughter in Los Angeles.

Joseph has no children of his own, but he helped raise the son of his second wife and the daughter of his third wife, and both children grew up loving Joseph and thinking of him as their father, and now their children think of Joseph as Grandpa Joe, which makes Joseph very happy.

As Joseph sees things, the main reason his marriages didn’t last was that he never stopped being on the lookout for a soul mate, even when he was married. He was never adulterous, but his wives and girlfriends, none of whom was his soul mate, sensed his desire for a soul connection with someone else and they felt betrayed.

*

One warm afternoon in early summer, Joseph goes to the town beach with his dog Lucille, a seven-year-old Golden Retriever, and after Joseph tires himself and Lucille out by throwing a tennis ball into the ocean thirty-eight times for Lucille to retrieve, they sit on the sand and look out to sea and think about life.

Joseph thinks about what to buy at the grocery store for supper, and he thinks about a woman he was madly in love with forty-five years ago and how he believed she was his soul mate, though she apparently did not share this belief because she married someone else and broke Joseph’s heart. Which brings up for Joseph the questions: what is a soul mate and can we have more than one in the course of our lives?

As he ponders these questions, his ideas about supper shift to getting take-out instead of cooking tonight, possibly fish & chips.

Now someone says to him, “Excuse me, would you mind if I shot some pictures of you and your dog? You’re so wonderful together and the light is perfect right now.”

Joseph turns to see who is speaking to him and beholds a beautiful woman with shoulder-length dark brown hair wearing a green T-shirt and red shorts, her feet bare, an expensive camera in hand.

“No, we don’t mind,” says Joseph, guessing the woman to be in her late twenties and therefore not a potential girlfriend. At seventy-four, Joseph knows better than to pursue anyone younger than mid-sixties. “We will try not to pose.”

“I was just going to say that,” says the woman, firing away with her camera. “I’m Carmen. Who are you?”

“This is Lucille,” says Joseph, gazing at Lucille who gazes at him. “And I’m Joe. Nice to meet you, Carmen.”

“Likewise.” Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. “Oh God. Perfect.”

Now Carmen comes closer, kneels in the sand a few feet from Joseph and Lucille, and continues firing away.

“I should be taking your picture,” says Joseph in his easy-going way. “You’re the gorgeous one and the light is exquisite.”

“Great,” she says, handing him her camera. “Fire away.”

So Joseph, who has a camera exactly like Carmen’s, fires away, and Carmen, as far as Joseph is concerned, makes loves to the camera with her eyes and face and body, though she isn’t posing.

The more he looks at her, the more he realizes she is not making love to the camera, but rather showing him her soul, and he forgets he is seventy-four and says, “I’ve dreamt my whole life about something like this happening to me.”

“What do you mean?” she asks tenderly. “A woman kneeling before you and baring her soul?”

He lowers the camera. “Is that what you’re doing? Baring your soul to me?”

“Feels that way,” she says, returning his gaze. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”

“Nor to me,” he says, raising the camera to his eye. “Though I doubt my feelings because I just remembered I’m seventy-four and you are twenty-seven.”

“Thirty-three,” she says quietly. “I don’t think soul connections have anything to do with age, so don’t doubt your feelings, Joe, and I won’t doubt mine.”

*

Picture taking over, Joseph and Carmen sit on either side of Lucille and watch the waves breaking on the shore.

Carmen tells Joseph her last name is Fernandez and she lives in Santa Rosa and is a photographer and videographer. “I pay my bills shooting weddings. The rest of the time I write and direct and shoot and edit short films. My ultimate goal is to make feature-length movies, but for now I’m happy making shorts.”

“What are your movies about?” he asks, remembering when he was thirty-three and driven by similar ambitions.

“What all my favorite movies are about,” she says, smiling at him expectantly.

“Which is?” he asks, arching his eyebrow.

“You tell me,” she says, closing her eyes. “I’ll think my answer and we’ll see how close you come.”

So Joseph closes his eyes and hears Carmen’s thoughts as if she is speaking aloud.

“The quest for a meaningful life,” he says quietly. “And on our quest we meet soul mates who help us discover who we really are.”

“Word for word,” says Carmen, opening her eyes.

“I suppose we do learn who we are through our relationships with others,” says Joseph, opening his eyes. “If we’re lucky.”

“If we’re ready,” she says, nodding.

“Do your movies have happy endings?” he asks, no longer believing in happy endings.

“My movies have hopeful endings,” she says solemnly. “I want to give people hope.”

“Hope of what?” he asks, hearing bitterness in his voice.

“Hope of finding meaningful ways to relate to each other and maybe meeting a soul mate or two along the way.”

“As we have met today,” he marvels.

“As we have met today,” she echoes.

*

On the way home from the beach in his old pickup truck, Joseph and Lucille stop at Murray’s Seafood and Joseph gets two orders of fish & chips because one order is never quite enough and he likes scrambling eggs with the leftovers for breakfast the next day.

Murray, a jovial fellow in his sixties, having heard about Joseph’s wife moving away, asks with some concern, “How you doin’ Joe?”

“Great,” says Joseph, still exhilarated from his time on the beach with Carmen. “Just great, Murray. How are you?”

“Good. I’m good,” says Murray, relieved to hear Joseph is handling the demise of his marriage so well. “You still taking pictures? Making movies?”

“I took a little break,” says Joseph, stretching the truth—he hadn’t held a camera in seven years until he held Carmen’s camera today. “But I’m getting back into it.”

“Hey why not make a movie here,” says Murray, gesturing magnanimously to the interior of his shop and surprising himself with the suggestion. “A funny love story set in a fish shop.”

“If you’ll be in it,” says Joseph, imagining the movie beginning with Murray arriving at his shop in the morning and unlocking the front door, “we’ll make it.”

“I’ve been waiting my whole life to be in a movie,” says Murray, beaming at Joseph. “My dream come true.”

*

Driving up the hill from town, the divine smell of fish & chips making Lucille whimper in anticipation of a treat, Joseph wonders if Carmen will contact him.

She tried to give him her card but he said, “No. I’ll give you my card and you can contact me if you want to. Okay?”

“I get it,” she said, looking him in the eye. “And I want you to get that I’m calling you tonight and we’re going to be friends. Who knows, maybe we’ll make a movie together. What do you think about that?”

“I will try not to think about it,” he said, his heart aching. “If you call me, you call me. If not, se la vie.”

*

Sitting at his kitchen table eating fish & chips and drinking red wine and listening to a baseball game on the radio, Joseph hears the phone in his office ringing, but he doesn’t go to answer.

“The machine will get it,” he says to Lucille, who is sitting on the floor hoping for a few more treats.

Joseph sips his wine and imagines the opening scene of the funny love story set in Murray’s Seafood; a faraway shot of the front of the shop, morning sunlight reflecting off the glass door, a woman walking by with her dog on a leash, Murray arriving in his van with a load of fresh fish — the day just beginning.

Dream Of You

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About Chimpanzees

Mom and Dad

I was on a date with a woman twenty years ago and there came a moment when she asked me a question and I replied, “I don’t know. That’s a subject I know nothing about.”

“Really?” she said, frowning at me. “Aren’t you going to at least pretend you know the answer?”

“No,” I said, laughing. “My father would do that, but not me.”

“Not just your father,” she said, with a touch of bitterness in her voice. “Most men would make up an answer so they wouldn’t look stupid, even though it would be obvious they were making something up, which really makes them look stupid, but they don’t care because they have to pretend they know.”

“I wonder why that is?”

“Because men think not knowing something is a sign of weakness, and they can’t allow themselves to appear weak, especially when they’re relating to a woman.”

My father was an extreme example of a man who pretended he knew everything, and this was especially true when he was in the presence of women. This trait did not endear him to my mother or to me or to my siblings or to anyone, but he didn’t care, because as my long-ago date succinctly put it, he had to pretend he knew.

I only know a small part of why my father was this way, but here is a true story about when his need to pretend he knew more about something than the woman he was with beats anything of the kind I have ever heard.

My father was a psychiatrist. One of his colleagues was a woman psychiatrist who was married to Meyer Fortes, a very famous anthropologist. I majored in Anthropology during my two years of college and was an avid reader of ethnographies after leaving college. I had read and admired several works by Meyer Fortes about the Tallensi and Ashanti of Ghana. He was a particular hero of mine.

I was also an admirer of Jane Goodall, the world’s foremost authority on chimpanzees. I had read many articles by her and about her, as well as her books My Friends the Wild Chimpanzees and In the Shadow of Man.

So you can imagine my excitement circa 1973 when my mother called me at the commune in Santa Cruz where I was living to tell me that she and my father were hosting an intimate dinner party, the guests to be Meyer Fortes and his wife, and Jane Goodall and her husband.

“I wanted to have you to join us for dinner,” said my mother, “but your father thinks… well, he said if you wanted to come after supper during dessert and meet everyone, you could do that and then spend the night.”

“Yes!” I said. “I’ll be there.”

This was such a big deal for me that I borrowed a car rather than risk unlucky hitchhiking from Santa Cruz to Atherton, and on the appointed evening I arrived at my parents’ house, quietly entered the kitchen through the garage, and looked into the dining room that was separated from the kitchen by a counter.

I will never forget that scene. Jane and her husband were sitting on one side of the dining table facing me. Meyer Fortes and his wife were opposite them with their backs to me. My father was at one end of the table, my mother at the other. My father, as I had feared, was very drunk and slurring his words and pontificating inanely as he always did when he was drunk. He was the only one speaking.

Jane and her husband both sat unmoving, their faces showing distress at being trapped at a table with someone like my father. Meyer Fortes and his wife were also unmoving, and my mother, poor dear, was bowing her head and praying, I imagined, for my father to drop dead.

When my father paused briefly in his babbling, Meyer Fortes turned around in his chair to look at me and I said hello, introduced myself, spoke of my admiration for his and Jane’s work, told them I had come from Santa Cruz to meet them, and for a brief time Jane and her husband became animated and chatted with me, and Meyer and his wife were animated and friendly, too.

And then came the crowning moment. My father, having had enough of my interrupting him, finished his wine, refilled his glass, and said loudly, “Now what you have to understand about chimpanzees is…”

I heard no more because I fled the house and drove home to Santa Cruz, my heart aching for days after.

Broke My Heart

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Raven Mystic Part 5

Obidiah the Cummings Lane raven mystic was perched on the edge of his new roost high in a giant gnarly old redwood named Tree. Obidiah had just eaten two delicious morsels of perfectly cooked chicken given to him by a human named Isadora.

There were twelve more chicken morsels left in the bag, and Obidiah was about to eat them when he saw a sight that took his breath away. Gliding through the forest fifty feet below him was the beautiful Jack Peters Creek raven gal Magdalena, she of the four snowy white tail feathers.

“Wow, talk about wishes coming true,” said Obidiah, who had just moments before wished he could share the chicken morsels with Magdalena.

Obidiah had only met Magdalena once before and very briefly, but that meeting was a life-changing event for both of them because neither had ever met another full-blown mystic, which they both were, and neither had ever been so profoundly attracted to a raven of the opposite sex.

“If you’d like to talk about wishes coming true,” said Tree, with whom Obidiah frequently conversed, “I’d be happy to.”

“Hold that thought,” said Obidiah, flying off in pursuit of Magdalena.

“Wishes coming true,” mused Tree. “Do thousand-year-old trees make wishes? I don’t recall ever wishing for anything. But if I did wish for something, what might it be? Perhaps I’d wish for rain to end a long drought, though I never have wished for that because I know droughts always eventually end whether I wish they would or not. So… I don’t know.”

While Tree pondered the concept of wishes, Obidiah caught up to Magdalena and cawed, “Well if it isn’t Magdalena. Fancy meeting you here.”

Magdalena alighted on the first convenient branch and Obidiah landed on a branch not far from her.

“Hi,” she said shyly. “You made a wish involving me and I’ve been wanting to see you again, so here I am.”

“You heard my wish?” he replied, overjoyed. “All the way from Jack Peters Creek?”

Magdalena nodded. “Is your roost nearby?”

“Yeah, its…”

“Don’t tell me,” she said, interrupting. “I only asked because though you’re not technically in Jack Peters Creek raven territory, you are still very much in danger of being attacked by Jack Peters Creek ravens. As I mentioned to you when we first met, they are all brutal dunces and not to be reasoned with.”

“You don’t want to see my roost?” he asked, disappointed.

“I do and I don’t,” she said, sighing in frustration. “I do want to see your roost because I’m super curious, of course, and I don’t want to see your roost because if I love your roost, which I probably will, then…”

“Then what?” he asked, holding his breath.

“Then it will be even harder for me to stop thinking about you,” she said matter-of-factly. “Ever since we met and conversed clairvoyantly and… by the way, do you read minds? Of other ravens and birds and mammals?”

“I do,” he said, nodding. “But your mind is closed to me.”

“That is so weird,” she said, squinting at him. “Because I can read minds, too, but not yours. How about future glimpsing?”

“Yes,” he said, frowning. “Only not my own future or yours.”

“Ditto,” she said, enraptured by him. “I’ve never met another raven like me. Have you ever met another raven like you?”

“Still haven’t,” he said, jauntily bobbing his head. “You’re a gal raven and I’m male.”

“I meant the other stuff,” she said, blushing.

“Speaking of other stuff,” he said, making a clucking sound. “You hungry? One of my human clients just paid me in scrumptious chicken morsels, and my wish, the one you heard from an impressive three miles away, was to have you join me in feasting on said scrumptious chicken morsels.”

“You have human clients?” she asked, amazed.

“Well… one,” he said, shrugging. “Hungry?”

“Actually I am,” she said, torn between staying and going. “But the thing is… by the way, what’s your name?”

“Obidiah,” he said, smitten beyond smitten.

“Nice name,” she said quietly. “The thing is, Obidiah, I’m three-years old and soon to be four, and I long ago resigned myself to never marrying because all the raven males I’ve ever met are brutal dunces.”

“I’m not,” he said simply.

“No, I can sense that,” she said, her voice full of tenderness. “But you’re an outsider and the brutal dunces will kill you if you ever come to our territory again.”

“I never will come to their territory again,” he said, shaking his head. “We would live here and socialize with my raven and non-raven friends in Cummings Lane raven territory and at Big River Beach.”

“Your friends would accept me?” she asked incredulously.

“Absolutely,” he assured her. “I’m held in high esteem by the Cummings Lane ravens because of the many useful repercussions of my mystical proclivities, and you would be held in high esteem, too, because you would be my wife.”

“Seriously?” she said, flabbergasted. “Most Jack Peters Creek ravens think I’m a total nut case, though that doesn’t stop the males from trying to impregnate me against my will.”

“I would never do that,” he said gently. “I would always wait until you invited me.”

“Gosh,” she said, her heart melting, “this puts things in a whole new light, a lovely new light, though I still think our roost… your roost is vulnerable to attacks from Jack Peters Creek ravens.”

“Speaking of vulnerable,” he said, turning in the direction of Tree, “I don’t think we should leave those scrumptious morsels unattended much longer.”

“No we shouldn’t,” she said, surrendering to his charms. “Lead me to your roost.”

*

Had either Obidiah or Magdalena been able to see the future they might have been spared a few terrifying weeks of trying to make the hollow in Tree a lasting home for themselves and their future progeny.

But they could not see their futures, and despite their valiant efforts they could not withstand the constant harassment and predations by gangs of Jack Peters Creek ravens who were furious that a Cummings Lane raven had successfully wooed and wed a beautiful Jack Peters Creek raven gal.

Nor could Obidiah and Magdalena have known that even marginal land for roosting in Cummings Lane raven territory would be in such short supply, and that after giving up their roost in Tree they would spend a long wet winter in a temporary nest in a small redwood on Obidiah’s parents’ land, which was fine with Obidiah’s father Tarkanda but did not sit well with Obidiah’s mother Doris who felt intimidated by Magdalena’s formidable mystical proclivities and her beautiful white tail feathers.

*

Then one Thursday morning, as winter was giving way to spring, Obidiah went to meet the human Isadora at the big driftwood log on Big River Beach. With food scarce, Obidiah and Magdalena had come to depend on the weekly bag of succulent morsels Isadora brought Obidiah in thanks for his counseling.

Obidiah alighted on the big driftwood log a few feet from Isadora and sent “You look lovelier than ever. Those pearl earrings are to die for. How are things going with you and Thomas?”

“Things are going wonderfully well for us,” sent Isadora, gazing fondly at Obidiah. “How are things going for you? You sound sad, Obidiah. Are you?”

Now in all the many Thursday mornings that Obidiah met Isadora on the big driftwood log, Isadora had never once inquired about Obidiah’s life, nor had Obidiah ever shared anything about his life with her. But when she asked how things were going for him, and especially when she said he sounded sad, he told her everything that had happened to him since he helped her end her terrible marriage to Jeff and find true love with Thomas.

When he finished telling his tale, Obidiah looked at Isadora and saw she was crying.

“I’m sorry,” he sent. “I shouldn’t have burdened you with my…”

“No, Obidiah,” she sent passionately. “I should have asked how you were doing long ago when I first sensed your sorrow.”

“But our relationship has always been about me helping you,” sent Obidiah, tearfully. “And in thanks for my help you’ve given me food glorious food. So…”

“I can do more than give you food,” said Isadora, gesturing magnanimously to the sparkling sea. “I own ten acres a mile south of here and I’m certain no ravens are currently living on my land. Come live there with your wife. You would be most welcome.”

*

And that is how Obidiah and Magdalena, the raven mystics, came to live on Isadora’s land.

They built a big comfy nest in a gnarly old giant redwood named Cassiopeia and raised many children on Isadora’s fruitful acres. Their female progeny were all witty and wise and gifted with snowy white tail feathers, and their male progeny were all strong and adventurous and fond of double entendre. And many of their offspring were full-blown mystics, too.

*

Obidiah and Magdalena are quite old now and spend most of their time hanging around Isadora and Thomas’s house enjoying the marvelous smells emanating from the kitchen and listening to Isadora and Thomas make music together.

And, as you might expect, Obidiah and Magdalena are totally addicted to the scrumptious morsels Isadora gives them every day.

fin

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Raven Mystic Part 4

On a drizzly morning in late October, Obidiah the raven mystic and his seagull pal Marcus and ten of Marcus’s gull buddies flew north from Big River to a little rocky beach at the mouth of Jack Peters Creek. The tide was way out when they reached the beach where the creek was little more than a trickle for lack of rain.

They landed in a group at the south end of the beach and one of Marcus’s cronies opined, “Why was it again we left the easy living and soft sands of Big River Beach to come all the way to this sad excuse for a beach?”

“You lack imagination, Stefan,” retorted Marcus, turning over a baseball-sized stone and exposing a scrumptious little crab. “Not only do crustaceans abound here, but yonder is a shallow pool wherein are trapped several dozen delectable smelt who neither went far enough out with the tide nor far enough up the creek while the going was good. Hence they are sitting ducks, so to speak, for gulls such as we.”

Inspired by Marcus’s preface, the gulls flew en masse to the little pool to dine on the many fish trapped therein. Obidiah followed the gulls, and being less aquatic than they, did not take part in the fishing. 

Standing apart from the feasting gulls, Obidiah heard the unmistakable creaking of fast-flapping raven wings and looked upstream as a trio of glossy black Jack Peters Creek raven gals emerged from the forest and landed a short distance from Obidiah.

“You’re no Jack Peters Creek raven,” said the largest of the three. “You migrating? Well you better migrate yourself down the coast pronto before our big boys get here and kick your butt.”

Obidiah read the mind of this largest of the three as well as the mind of the next largest, and was disappointed to find both raven gals were profoundly afraid of him, emotionally unreceptive, and not the brightest of passerines. But when he tried to read the mind of the third, a comely gal with four snowy white tail feathers, he found her mind closed to him.

“I’m Obidah,” he said, mesmerized by the raven gal with the white tail feathers. “Who are you?”

“Watch out, Magdalena,” cackled the largest gal raven. “He’s got the hots for you.”

“Better tell him to shove off before he gets hurt,” said the mid-sized gal. “The big boys will show him no mercy.”

But Magdalena spoke not a word as she gazed steadfastly at Obidiah.

“Say,” said the second largest of the gal ravens, squinting suspiciously at Obidiah. “You wouldn’t happen to be a Cummings Lane raven, would you? Because if you are, our big boys will do more than kick your butt, they’ll tear your eyes out.”

Obidiah was about to say he was hoping for a more peaceful outcome to his visit, when Magdalena spoke to him clairvoyantly, her voice sweet music to his psyche.

“Why have you come here?” she asked, her tone suggesting concern for his safety. “My sisters speak the truth about what the big boys will try to do to you. They are all brutal dunces and cannot be reasoned with.”

“I came here,” said Obidiah, replying clairvoyantly, “because I’m in search of a mate. I’m claiming some land between Cummings Lane raven territory and Jack Peters Creek raven territory and hoping to meet a gal raven who will love the roost I’ve found and love me, too, once she gets to know me and finds out what a thoughtful, capable, loyal partner I’ll be.”

“But why did you come here?” sent Magdalena, glancing furtively up the creek. “Why not seek a mate among your own kind?”

“Because the gal ravens where I come from are ruled by fear,” sent Obidiah, taking a few steps toward her. “And I’m hoping to meet someone ruled by love.”

Before Magdalena could reply, four large male Jack Peters Creek ravens flew swiftly out of the forest and attacked Obidiah.

Obidiah took wing, flying for his life, and just as those four brutal dunces were about to overtake Obidiah, Marcus and his ten pals rose into the air, a cloud of gulls, and battered those four ravens with their powerful wings until the brutal dunces fled back into the forest and Obidiah was able to escape unharmed.

*

Back on Big River Beach, Marcus and his buddies regaled the large gathering of gulls with wildly exaggerated reports of their triumph over the Jack Peters Creek ravens, while Obidiah sat on a nearby driftwood log recovering from his close call and reviewing his clairvoyant conversation with the enchanting Magdalena, she of the four white tail feathers.

Seeing Obidiah in the throes of emotional turmoil, Marcus excused himself from the hubbub on the sand bar and joined Obidiah on the driftwood log.

“Thinking about that beautiful Jack Peters Creek raven gal, aren’t you?” said Marcus, winking at his non-gull buddy.

“You thought she was beautiful, too?” said Obidiah, smiling dreamily at Marcus. “I didn’t know gulls found individuals of other species anything other than individuals of other species.”

“On rare occasions,” said Marcus, thinking back over his life, “individuals of other species have struck me as beautiful or ugly or strange or funny or cute. Certain puppy dogs, for instance, are undeniably cute. And that raven gal with the snow-white tail feathers reminiscent of snow-white gull feathers was an amalgam of beautiful and cute and mysterious, too. Ergo, I can see why you’re in a tizzy.”

“And she can communicate clairvoyantly,” said Obidiah, excitedly. “She’s the only raven I’ve ever met who can. Other than yours truly.”

“I could only guess her thoughts,” said Marcus, bouncing his eyes, “but the way she was looking at you… ay caramba.”

“But how will I ever get to see her again?” asked Obidiah, mournfully. “Those Jack Peters Creek big boys will kill me if I ever venture into their territory.”

“You want my advice?” asked Marcus, still high from battering those Jack Peters Creek ravens and saving his friend. “Go secure the far flung roost you love. Take the road less travelled. Cut the seemingly irresolvable knot of doubt. Gather a trove of sticks for a nest you’ll build one day with your sweetheart and trust in the power of love.”

“You’re a romantic,” said Obidiah, chuckling. “Who knew?”

“I’m a sea gull living at the mouth of a bountiful river in paradise,” said Marcus, admiring the eternal collision of river and ocean. “Of course I’m a romantic.”

*

So Obidiah began spending a few hours every day in his new roost in the giant gnarly old redwood named Tree, exploring his new domain, and gathering excellent sticks for making a big comfy nest.

*

Then it was Thursday again. Had it only been a week since Obidiah communed clairvoyantly with Isadora the red-haired human at Big River Beach and saw into her future and helped her escape her terrible marriage? Yes. Only a week.

So Obidiah began his Thursday by flying down to Big River Beach and meeting Isadora and her dog Groucho at the usual big driftwood log. And while Groucho wandered about, sniffing and pissing, Obidiah alighted on the log a few feet from Isadora and sent, “You’re looking radiant today. Love the purple coat. What news?”

“Oh Obidiah, I am so glad Jeff is gone,” she sent, smiling at him. “So glad. And you were right. He took almost everything in the house and the garage. So now I’m slowly replacing the things I need. Kitchen table, bed, bedding, things to cook with, plates, silverware, mugs. He never cooked, but he took everything in the kitchen. He even took the food from the refrigerator and emptied the wine cellar. But he couldn’t get my guitar and violin and a few other precious things I moved to my friend’s house before he came.”

“Excellent,” sent Obidiah, proud of Isadora. “Now tell me, who is Thomas?”

Isadora blushed. “A dear old friend. We played music together before I married Jeff and before Thomas married Andrea. Why do you ask?”

“Thomas will cut down a tree for you,” said Obidiah, seeing Isadora’s future as if he was watching a well-made movie. “The big pine that’s threatening to fall on your house. After the tree is down and you learn Thomas is no longer married, you will invite him for supper.”

“Really?” sent Isadora, gaping at Obidiah. “And then what happens?”

“That’s as far into your future as I can see today,” said Obidiah, though he could actually see a little further. “Now remember, that pine tree might fall any day now, so call Thomas soon. Today would be a fine day to call him.”

“I will,” she sent, beaming at Obidiah. “I brought you more chicken morsels cooked just the way you like them.”

“Wonderful,” sent Obidiah, his eyes growing wide as Isadora took a bulging plastic bag out of her pocket. “Would you mind leaving them in the bag so I can more easily transport them to my new digs?”

“Certainly,” sent Isadora, placing the bag on the log between them. “I’m so grateful to you.”

“As I am grateful to you,” sent Obidiah, nodding graciously.

“Next week?” sent Isadora, getting up from the log. “Same time, same log?”

“Yes,” sent Obidiah, grasping the bulging bag with his talons and flying away into the wild blue yonder.

*

His heart pounding from the exertion of flying all those miles with the heavy bag of delicious chicken morsels, Obidiah landed in the hollow high up in the trunk of Tree, opened the bag, and ate one of Isadora’s morsels.

“Oh yum,” said Obidiah, relishing the perfectly cooked chicken and thinking I wish I could share this feast with Magdalena.

At which moment, a few miles away in a roost on the banks of Jack Peters Creek, Magdalena heard Obidiah’s wish and set out to find him.

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Raven Mystic Part 3

On the day after Madge the beautiful Cummings Lane gal raven turned down his marriage proposal, Obidiah the raven mystic decided to seek out his two non-raven bird friends, a gull named Marcus and a Red-tailed hawk named Harold, to get their opinions about how he might proceed with his life. In Obidiah’s experience, other species’ viewpoints were often helpful in resolving seemingly intractable raven dilemmas.

*

Harold the hawk oversaw a couple square miles of fields and orchards and wooded land between Cummings Lane and the coast. Harold and his mate Rose had a big nest at the top of a half-dead bull pine on the edge of a wooded ravine carved by a seasonal creek.

Obidiah and Harold became friends two years ago when Harold and Rose were establishing their territory and the local ravens would daily mob the hawks and chase them all over hell and gone. The ravens did this because the hawk couple who previously presided over Harold and Rose’s territory were notorious raven nest raiders, which Harold and Rose were not.

One day Obidiah happened to join a group of ravens mobbing Harold, and because Obidiah spoke fluent Hawk, he understood Harold when Harold cried plaintively, “Leave us alone. Please. We are not raven nest raiders. We are gopher, squirrel, snake, rabbit, vole hunters. We really don’t want to have to resort to killing some of you, but we will if you persist in mobbing us.”

So Obidiah brokered a peace between Harold and Rose and the Cummings Lane ravens, and thereafter Harold and Obidiah were friends.

Obidiah found Harold perched on a power line overlooking Harold and Rose’s Rodent Field 7, a level acre of land that the human owners left fallow, though this acre would have made an ideal apple orchard or vegetable farm.

Harold greeted Obidiah with his perpetual steely gaze, which Obidiah knew not to misconstrue.

“Obidiah,” said Harold, his voice fantastically high. “What brings you… excuse me.”

Harold then plummeted to the ground and snagged with his talons a big fat gopher he promptly tore to pieces with his beak.

“No matter how many times I see you do that,” said Obidiah, admiringly, “I’m amazed. Will you be taking that meat back to your nest?”

“No,” said Harold, devouring the shredded gopher flesh. “George and Naomi left the nest a couple months ago, and Rose is working Rodent Field 4 this morning. This is all mine. Want some?”

“Sure,” said Obidiah, alighting near Harold and waiting politely for the raptor to fling him a few bloody pieces.

When the gopher was no more, Harold and Obidiah flapped across the field and perched on another power line from where Harold could scan the field.

“As I started to ask,” said Harold, blinking at Obidiah, “before that delicious gopher emerged from his hole unawares… what brings you here today?”

“I’m seeking guidance,” said Obidiah, humbly. “I’ve found a marvelous roost in some fine unclaimed territory several miles north of here, but I don’t yet have a mate and I despair of any Cumming Lane raven gal wanting to settle so far afield. I’m not getting any younger and… well, I’m at a loss how to proceed.”

“Hawks, you know,” said Harold, his eyes fixed on the field, “do not live communally or even semi-communally, and we’re fortunate if we live half as long as your average raven. I got booted out of the nest and driven out of my parents’ territory when I was five-months-old and had to migrate to the far fringes of hawk civilization before I could stake my first claim on extremely marginal hunting grounds. For some months I survived on scrawny lizards and throat-tickling caterpillars and the occasional snake, but I persevered, met Rose, and together we claimed this paradise after the previous pair of hawks were electrocuted by a power surge. Then we had to fight off several other hawks who wanted this land, and then we had to survive months of mobbing by ravens until you came to the rescue. Since then things have been relatively marvelous. Which is all to say, if you were a hawk, you’d claim that territory you’re enamored of, get to know the lay of your land, and hope for good things to follow.”

“Even if one of the things to follow was a raven gal from another society?” asked Obidiah, his fear of Jack Peters Creek ravens inherited from hundreds of previous generations of Cummings Lane ravens.

“Heck yeah,” said Harold, seeming to glare at Obidiah, though he was merely being a hawk. “Love doesn’t care where we come from. Love only cares who we are and if we have that ineffable je ne sais quoi.”

*

Inspired by Harold’s thought-provoking ideas about love, Obidiah flew down to Big River Beach and found his gull pal Marcus standing on the outskirts of a sizeable congregation of other gulls gathered at the edge of a sand bar pecking in the wet sand for sand dabs.

A large gull, his feathers extra white from a recent bath in the river, Marcus was one of the few local gulls who enjoyed the company of ravens. Gulls and ravens compete for similar edibles and are frequently at odds, but Marcus was a most successful food getter and felt no threat from ravens. He was also a deep thinker and enjoyed discussing philosophical matters with Obidiah.

Marcus and Obidiah became acquainted when they were both young and learning how to forage for themselves. They kept bumping into each other while scoping out human picnickers at the beach, and on one such occasion Obidiah read the minds of the picnickers and learned they were going to leave their half-finished banquet unattended while they went for a walk. Being a generous sort, Obidiah shared this information with young Marcus, and when Obidiah and Marcus got away with an entire ham and cheese sandwich and a large bag of potato chips, which they shared, they became fast friends.

After a bit of chitchat about the weather and the fortuitous abundance of sand dabs, Obidiah described his marital territorial dilemma to Marcus.

“Regarding the far flung nesting option,” opined Marcus, “we would not be wrong in conflating that remote roost with the parable of the road less travelled. Ipso facto, this is a classic example of the artist’s dilemma.”

“Why do you say artist’s dilemma?” asked Obidiah, who didn’t consider himself an artist.

“By artist I mean an original thinker,” said Marcus, gazing at the horizon. “One who conceives of things and perceives reality in a wholly original way. A bird who finds little satisfaction in recapitulating the redundant patterns of the status quo. One who, and this is the key point, goes his or her own way in most matters. You may fail, Obidiah, but at least you will have tried and won’t regret not trying, if you will pardon my use of a double negative.”

“And what’s your take on marrying an outsider?” asked Obidiah, who enjoyed Marcus’s verbosity.

“Gulls are not ravens,” said Marcus, looking around at his numerous cohorts. “If you will excuse my stating the obvious. Every year we roam up and down the coast for hundreds of miles in either direction, gathering with our kind in great numbers hither and yon. Thus marrying outsiders is as common among gulls as not marrying outsiders. Keeps the gene pool jumping. Breaks the monotony of sameness.” He smiles. “I met my first wife Deb in Coos Bay. Talk about a tough gull. She relished barnacles and found icy weather tropical. When she choked on an enormous chicken bone and died, I mourned her for hours before marrying Conchita from La Paz. Ay caramba!”

“Okay then,” said Obidiah, feeling emboldened by the sum total of Harold and Marcus’s input. “One last question. The little beach where Jack Peters Creek meets the sea? Ever seen any ravens there?”

“Are humans omnivorous?” said Marcus, cackling. “The mouth of Jack Peters Creek is raven central. Especially at low tide.”

“Would you do me the honor of accompanying me to that little beach some upcoming low tide?” asked Obidiah, nodding hopefully. “I’d make it worth your while.”

“I’m sure you would,” said Marcus, grinning. “As it happens there’s a grandiloquent low tide on the morrow in the morning. I’ll talk some pals into coming with us so we can give you a little gull cover while you check out the Jack Peters Creek raven gals.”

“Thank you, Marcus,” said Obidiah, raising his wings to signify his gratitude. “I’ll meet you here tomorrow morning.”

“No problema mi amigo,” said Marcus, raising his wings in reply. “Tu mundo es mi mundo.”

Mystery Pastiche

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Raven Mystic Part 2

A few days after Obidiah the raven used his mystical proclivities to help Isadora the human move on from her unhappy marriage, and having impressed a gal raven named Madge with some succulent chicken morsels given to him by Isadora, Obidiah and Madge went to check out some territory Obidiah hoped would convince Madge to become his mate for life.

Madge was four, a year younger than Obidiah, and one of the most attractive unmarried gal ravens on that stretch of the northern California coast. She had been on the verge of committing to Halunga, the biggest raven for many miles around, when Isadora’s chicken morsels swayed her to give Obidiah a chance to make his marital case.

*

The sun was shining brightly on that cold October morning as Obidiah and Madge flew north from the end of Cummings Lane where Obidiah’s parents Doris and Tarkanda lived high in a giant redwood and Obidiah nested on a branch far below them. For this outing with Madge, Obidiah brought a picnic of an apple and the hindquarters of a car-struck squirrel to further enhance his credibility as a breadwinner. He also brought along a gold ring originally meant to reside on a human finger. He found the ring on the beach and wanted to have the beautiful bauble handy should Madge say Yes.

Having left the last road and house far behind, Obidiah and Madge alighted on a lower branch in a huge gnarly old redwood and Madge said, “It’s nice here, Obidiah, but we are so far from the nearest road or garbage can or house or familiar raven. In fact, we’re so far north we’re almost to…” She lowered her voice. “Jack Peters Creek and those psycho Jack Peters Creek ravens.”

“Wait until you see the place I found to make a nest,” said Obidiah, gazing at Madge and imagining the fun they would have procreating. “Fifty feet higher in this very tree.”

“I don’t know, Obidiah,” said Madge, trembling with trepidation. “We’re practically on another planet. Hard enough being a raven, let alone a wilderness pioneer raven.”

“Come see where we can build the most comfortable nest in the world,” said Obidiah, gently coaxing her. “Then we’ll dine on squirrel and if you’re still not convinced, I’ll fly with you back to Cummings Lane.”

So up they went, hopping from branch to branch until they came to a large hollow in the trunk of the old redwood, with spectacular views of the forest to the south and east, and a glimpse of the ocean to the west.

They devoured the squirrel, pecked at the juicy apple, and then Madge shook her head and said, “I’m sorry, Obidiah, but I can’t do this. Much as I like you and your delicious vittles, and much as I like this nesting spot, we’re too far from the creature comforts I’ve come to depend on. Halunga has promised me a pine tree penthouse on downtown Cummings Lane and nobody messes with him when he shows up at a road kill or a garbage spill, so…”

“I hear you,” said Obidiah, nodding. “Halunga will be a fine husband for you. I’ll fly you home now.”

“No need,” said Madge, eager to wing her way to Halunga and be done once and for all with courtship. “I’ll see you around the hood.”

And with that, she flew away.

*

Watching Madge grow small in the distance, Obidiah felt sad, but also relieved.

“She wasn’t really my type,” he sighed. “Not in a comprehensive way.”

“You can say that again,” said the spirit of the gnarly old giant redwood. “That gal operates entirely from a fear-based notion of reality, which is not your way at all.”

“Oh hey,” said Obidiah, happy to have his feelings confirmed by such a wise elder. “Nice to meet you. I’m Obidiah.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” said the tree. “I’m Tree. So when are you moving in? I’d love to have a mystic living in my trunk.”

“Well, first I have to win a mate,” said Obidiah, nodding to affirm this. “And if she likes this location, then we…”

“Says who?” asked Tree.

“That’s raven law,” said Obidiah, surprised Tree didn’t know that. “First the gal, then the roost, and then we build the nest together.”

“Seems counter-intuitive,” said Tree. “I mean… suit yourself, but if you love it here and you make this your home, you’ll attract gals who love this place, too.”

“Except no gal raven may love it here,” said Obidiah, anxiously. “And I certainly don’t want to isolate myself out of the running for a mate.”

“Maybe no gal ravens where you come from would want to live here,” said Tree. “But I know several Jack Peters Creek raven gals who would dig this pad and dig you, too. Totally.”

“What a concept,” said Obidiah, never having imagined marrying an outsider. “The mind boggles.”

“You can see into the future, right?” asked Tree.

“Not my own,” said Obidiah, shaking his head. “Only the futures of others.”

“Ah,” said Tree. “Of course.”

“How would I even go about meeting a Jack Peters Creek raven gal?” asked Obidiah, bewildered. “Wouldn’t I get attacked if I ventured into their territory?”

“Possibly,” said Tree. “But where you are now is nobody’s territory. Cummings Lane ravens venture here sometimes, as you did, and Jack Peters Creek ravens sometimes make scavenging trips to this neck of the woods. But no ravens live here. Not yet. And remember, you’re all the same species. Same sub-species, too. You have a few different customs and you speak different dialects of the same language. Cummings Lane ravens are symbiotic with humans, whereas Jack Peters Creek ravens rarely even see people. But I’m here to tell you, Obidiah, in the grand sweep of evolution, your differences are less than miniscule.”

“I appreciate your input,” said Obidiah, preparing for takeoff. “I shall ponder what you’ve told me.”

*

When he got back to familiar territory, Obidiah swung by his older brother Polyganda’s nest and found Polyganda’s wife Jan and her fledglings Sue and Romanulo eating mussels Jan brought home from the tide pools.

“Uncle Obidiah!” croaked Sue. “Did you bring us some food?”

“Don’t be rude, Sue,” said Jan, scolding her daughter. “Hi Obidiah. Your brother went to check out a fresh road kill. He should be back any minute. I’d offer you something to eat, but with these two growing so fast, well, you know.”

“Here comes Papa now,” said Romanulo, flapping his wings and accidentally whacking his sister in the face. “With gooey things in his talons. Whoopee!”

A moment later, Polyganda dropped the liver and heart of a small deer into the nest, and while Jan and the kids fed on the organs, Polyganda and Obidiah retired to a higher branch in the tree.

“Long time no see, my brother,” said Polyganda, who’d had his fill of deer meat before bringing home the innards. “What news? Other than Madge choosing Halunga over you. Or so the gossips say.”

“No news,” said Obidiah, who appreciated his brother’s penchant for cutting to the chase. “Just a question or two.”

You asking me questions?” said Polyganda, chuckling. “You’re the mystic, not me.”

“These are not questions of a mystical nature,” said Obidiah, smiling at his brother. “At least not overtly.”

“I see,” said Polyganda, knowing of Obidiah’s tendency to converse at length. “Would it be okay if we scavenge while we talk? I’d like to snag a bit more of that yearling deer before the vultures find the carcass. It’s a very fresh kill.”

“Fine with me,” said Obidiah, who was feeling a bit peckish. “Let’s go.”

So they flew swiftly to the east and ere long came to a dead deer lying by the roadside. Five ravens were feeding on the carcass, while drifting in the sky above them were two vultures awaiting the arrival of a few more vultures to help them drive away the ravens.

Polyganda grabbed a foot-long chunk of deer intestine, Obidiah ate a few bites of kidney, and they headed back to Polyganda’s nest.

“So,” said Obidiah, flying along beside his brother, “what would you think if I staked out my territory before I found a mate, and… what if I married a raven from outside our community?”

Polyganda alighted on the first convenient branch and set down the intestine. “If you weren’t a mystic, Obidiah, I’d say you were crazy. But you are a mystic and you’re a big help to the folks and your sibs and the community, so if you do things a little differently than the rest of us, I have no problem with that.”

“Good to know,” said Obidiah, cheered by his brother’s response. “And lastly, have you ever in your wanderings ventured into Jack Peters Creek territory?”

“Once,” said Polyganda, nodding solemnly. “Only once. And I’m lucky to be alive to tell the tale.”

“What happened?” asked Obidiah, gazing raptly at his brother.

“Read my mind,” said Polyganda, picking up the intestine and resuming the homeward journey.

Flying close together, Obidiah accessed his brother’s memory archives and saw Polyganda four years ago at the age of three following a gorgeous Jack Peters Creek raven gal through the forest and alighting with her on a rocky beach beside burbling Jack Peters Creek. Obidiah could see how greatly Polyganda loved the gal raven and how greatly the gal raven loved Polyganda. And as the gal raven and Polyganda began to nuzzle and chortle in the way of lovers, a gang of seven Jack Peters Creek ravens came swarming down upon them and Polyganda barely escaped with his life.

“You never told me,” said Obidiah as they came in sight of Polyganda’s nest. “Thank the spirits you survived.”

Polyganda delivered the intestine to Jan and the kids, and then he and Obidiah retired once more to a higher branch.

“Yes,” said Polyganda, quietly. “Thank the spirits I survived. But just between you and me, I left my heart on that rocky Jack Peters Creek beach. And I tell you, my brother, rarely a night goes by that I don’t dream of the life I might have had with Esmeralda.”

Incongroovity

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Raven Mystic Part 1

There once was a raven named Obidiah. He was five-years-old and belonged to a small community of ravens who roosted in the redwoods around Cummings Lane, a mile inland from the Pacific Ocean near the town of Melody.

Obidiah’s mother was Doris and his father was most likely Tarkanda. We say most likely because Doris was occasionally promiscuous and Tarkanda was often away from the marital nest, so…

In any case, Obidiah was of an age when he was expected to find his mate for life, secure a good roost and surrounding acreage, and settle into full-fledged adulthood. He was not averse to this, but had yet to convince a female raven to commit to nesting with him for the next ten to twenty years, the average lifespan of a Cummings Lane raven being around twenty years.

*

One cold October morning, Doris and Tarkanda were breakfasting on apples in their big nest of sticks tucked into a fortuitous indentation in the trunk of a giant redwood about seventy-feet above the forest floor.

“I’m concerned about Obidiah,” said Doris, giving Tarkanda a worried look. “He’s five, still hanging out with juveniles, and roosting way too close to us for a raven his age. He’s an excellent scavenger, does superb imitations and sound effects, and he’s great with fledglings. But for some reason the gals aren’t interested in him for the long haul. Would you talk to him? Encourage him? See if you can find out what the problem is?”

Tarkanda mused for a moment and said, “I know what the problem is.”

“You do?” said Doris, taken aback. “And you didn’t tell me? What is it?”

“He’s a mystic,” said Tarkanda, sighing heavily. “I didn’t tell you because I thought it would upset you, but since you asked.”

“You mean mystical?” said Doris, squinting at her husband. “All ravens are a little bit mystical, don’t you think?”

“Of course,” said Tarkanda, gazing out over his domain and reminding himself to gather the last of the huckleberries before the foxes and bears got to them. “But Obidiah is more than a little bit mystical. He’s a full-blown clairvoyant future-glimpsing spirit-channeling mystic.”

“How do you know?” asked Doris, blushing as she recalls her hanky-panky with Zalamagundi the medicine raven around the time she conceived the batch of eggs that produced Obidiah.

“I know he’s a mystic,” said Tarkanda, smiling at his wife, “because I’ve availed myself of his services on numerous occasions. For instance, these delectable apples came to us courtesy of Obidiah because he read the minds of the humans who protect these particular apple trees and then alerted me that those humans would be away for the day the apples attained optimal ripeness. Thus we were able to harvest several dozen of these delectable orbs unmolested.”

“He can read the minds of humans?” said Doris, aghast.

Tarkanda nodded. “Human minds, dog minds, cat minds, hawk minds, and raven minds, too. If it has a mind, Obidiah can read it.”

“Heavens,” said Doris, recalling the many times Obidiah gave her the very things and information she wanted before she asked for them. “Our son is a polymath.”

“Yet he seems to be largely unaware of his powers,” said Tarkanda, thinking ahead to meeting up with his pal Jolanga for a few hours of scavenging. “Gal ravens pick up on that sort of thing even if they aren’t exactly sure what they’re picking up on. You know what I mean? An ineffable otherness in his vibe.”

“I do know what you mean,” said Doris, nodding. “He seems not entirely of this world.”

“Because he’s not,” said Tarkanda, pecking his apple. “So I figure if he lives nearby as a bachelor for the rest of his life, so be it. He’s a fount of useful information, entirely self-sustaining, and he’s a good beak to have on our side in a fight.”

*

Obidiah, mystical talents notwithstanding, was a large good-natured raven who very much wanted to find a wonderful lifemate and secure some territory and build a commodious nest in which he and his wife would produce several generations of fledglings to protect and feed and educate.

And contrary to what Tarkanda surmised, Obidiah was well aware of his ability to communicate clairvoyantly and see into the future. As for spirit channeling, Obidiah didn’t channel anything. Nature spirits talked to him and he talked to them, just as he would converse with other ravens. In other words, Obidiah was multi-dimensionally multi-lingual.

As for reading the minds of humans, Obidiah could do much more than that. He had the uncanny ability to discern what was troubling a person and see solutions for their troubles. The problem was, and this was hugely frustrating to Obidiah, most humans neither spoke the language of ravens, nor were they able to communicate clairvoyantly. Thus Obidiah was unable to help many people for whom he had solutions to what vexed them.

*

On that same fall morning when Doris learned Obidiah was, in the words of Tarkanda, a full-blown mystic, Obidiah glided away from the little single-raven nest he’d constructed on a lower branch in his parents’ redwood tree, and made his way through a stiff breeze to the beach parking lot where every morning humans and dogs came to walk on the beach at the mouth of Big River.

Obidiah visited this beach several times a week in search of food and shiny gewgaws, and he always went there on Thursday mornings because on Thursday mornings a particular human always went there, too, a woman with whom Obidiah could converse clairvoyantly. Her name was Isadora. She had a large brown dog named Groucho, an ironic name given that Groucho was quite good-natured. Sometimes Obidiah would converse with Groucho, too, but he was most interested in Isadora who was forty-seven, wore her reddish brown hair in a pony tail, had jade green eyes, and Obidiah thought she was beautiful and moved with unusual grace for a human.

Isadora and Groucho would walk from the beach parking lot to the north end of the beach, a distance of a mile, and on their way back Isadora would sit on the same big driftwood log and gaze out to sea. Groucho would wander around nearby, sniffing and pissing, and Obidiah would alight on the log a few feet from Isadora.

*

On this particular Thursday morning, just as the sun was breaking through the coastal fog, Obidiah arrived at the beach parking lot and perched atop a scraggly pine tree overlooking the parade of humans and dogs coming and going from the beach, their emotional conundrums as obvious to Obidiah as the need for food and water.

He sent messages to the humans as they went by, messages such as, “Stop doubting yourself, Arnold. Give Beth a call. You know she likes you,” and “You’ve been drinking way too much coffee lately, Sara. That’s the source of at least half your anxiety,” and “Procrastination is your biggest enemy, Larry. Clean your desk. At the bottom of the clutter you will find a story you started writing months ago. When you realize how good this story is, your writer’s block will vanish.”

Alas, no one paid any attention to Obidiah, so he flew off to meet Isadora and Groucho.

*

When Obidiah came in sight of the big driftwood log, Isadora was already sitting in her customary place and Groucho was nearby sniffing the news at a popular pissing spot.

Obidiah alighted on the log a few feet from Isadora and sent, “Love those silver earrings. My kind of gewgaws. So… did you get up the nerve to confront Jeff?”

Isadora beamed at Obidiah and said, “I did. I finally did. And everything you said would happen happened. I’m still kind of in shock.”

Then Obidiah accessed Isadora’s memory archives and watched her say to her husband of seventeen years, “If you ever treat me cruelly again or lie to me or demean me or expect me to keep cleaning up your messes, this marriage is over.”

“Bravo,” sent Obidiah.

“And as you predicted,” said Isadora, gazing into Obidiah’s eyes, “he tried to appease me with the same old promises. But he was obviously lying, so I told him to get out and he collapsed on the sofa and blubbered, ‘But where will I go?’ And also as you predicted, I knew he expected me to relent and comfort him, and I could feel how much I wanted to because it’s my lifelong pattern to accommodate my abusers when they cry and act helpless. But I stayed strong and said, ‘I don’t care where you go. Just get out. Now.’ And then he turned nasty and said he wasn’t going anywhere. I reminded him the house was mine, that I owned the place before we got married, and he snarled at me and got a beer out of the refrigerator and sprawled on the sofa and turned on the television. So I did what you told me to do. I called the sheriff. And when Jeff heard me talking to the dispatcher, he turned off the television and said, ‘Okay, I’m going.’ Then he packed some things, took our new car, and left. That was five days ago. And every day I don’t see him, the better I feel.”

“Fantastic,” sent Obidiah, lifting his wings in a gesture of praise. “Now listen carefully. When you get home from the beach today, remove everything you value from your house and give those things into the care of a trusted friend. Jeff will return to your house tomorrow morning with a big truck and two accomplices. He will not forewarn you. It is imperative, Isadora, that you not be there when he comes, nor should you do anything to prevent him from taking what he wants. He will take many things, but don’t worry. Anything he takes is of no real value to you. Return to your home tomorrow afternoon. He will never come back again.”

Isadora opened her eyes and said, “Thank you.”

Then she reached into her jacket pocket and brought forth a small plastic bag containing seven juicy nuggets of chicken, which she arrayed on the log between them.

“Oh you shouldn’t have,” sent Obidiah, the smell of the succulent meat causing him to do a little jig of gratitude.

“It’s the least I could do,” said Isadora, rising to go. “I’ll see you next week. Same time, same log.”

“Yes you will,” sent Obidiah, gulping down one of the morsels. “Oh I love what you’ve done here. Freshly slaughtered fowl lightly sautéed in coconut oil with a hint of salt and a whisper of red wine. Divine.”

“I’ll bring more next week,” said Isadora, waving to him as she walked away.

*

Well-fed, and overjoyed he was able to help Isadora get rid of Jeff, Obidiah decided to take the last two succulent morsels of chicken to his current crush Madge, who might not have been the brainiest of ravens, but what a silhouette!

 If You Will

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The Dog Who Wanted A Person Part 8

An hour before dawn, a sharp chill in the air telling of the nearness of winter, Huleekalabulee and Toshiro ate the last of Cassius’s kibble and walked through the gravestones to a big iron gate at the downhill edge of the graveyard. They crawled under the gate and found themselves in a neighborhood of two and three-story apartment buildings, some old and stately, some more recently built and resembling stacked boxes, the wide streets framed with sidewalks.

“The land of no trees,” said Huleekalabulee, sorrowfully. “Maybe I don’t want to live at the beach. I dearly love trees. The more the merrier.

“I, too, love trees and open country,” said Toshiro, wary of this treeless place. “I wouldn’t mind living where Cassius lives. But first we will walk on the beach and then we’ll see what the fates have in store for us.”

The streets of apartment buildings gave way to a commercial district of two-story buildings with shops on the ground floors, apartments on the second floors. Huleekalabulee and Toshiro saw a young woman unlocking the front door of a bakery. She turned to watch the two handsome hounds go by and she called out to them, her voice full of music and kindness, and both Huleekalabulee and Toshiro felt sure she would not call Animal Control.

“I like her voice,” said Huleekalabulee, looking back at the woman. “Maybe she would like to be my person.”

“Go to her and see,” said Toshiro, resolutely. “But I’m going to the beach, with or without you.”

“No,” said Huleekalabulee, nudging Toshiro. “I’m with you.”

Beyond the streets of shops, Huleekalabulee and Toshiro found themselves in a neighborhood of all sorts of houses on wide streets without sidewalks, the ocean roaring faintly in the distance. Some of these houses were large, some small, some old, some new. Some of the houses had yards with trees and gardens, and some of the houses were so large they filled their lots entirely.

“Fascinating mix of abodes,” said Toshiro, looking every which way. “Speaks of all kinds of different kinds of people living around here. And the air is rich with the scents of myriad dogs and cats. Thus we may deduce that animal people abound here.”

They stopped in front of an old two-story house with red trim around the windows and a turquoise front door, a big cypress tree in the backyard, the large grassy lot surrounded by a low fence.

“Now wouldn’t this be a nice place to settle down,” said Huleekalabulee, imagining living there.

“Fat chance,” said a medium-sized black and tan mutt with pointy ears. “I got this turf covered. Move along now or I’ll start yapping.”

“Yap not, brother,” said Toshiro, speaking quietly to quell the dog’s impulse to bark. “We were merely admiring your good fortune.”

“If you like cats,” said the dog, grimly. “Mimi, that’s my person, has seven of those slinky felines. Can you imagine? Seven. Large. I’m seriously outnumbered and always the last one fed, the last one petted. You hounds going to the beach? Better hurry. Once the sun comes up, Animal Control starts cruising the coast road looking for dogs without people.”

“Might we hide in your yard after we’ve seen the sea?” asked Huleekalabulee, hopefully. “We’d be as still as stones and quiet as mice.”

“Sorry,” said the mutt, shaking his head. “Mimi hates stray dogs. Years ago she lost a favorite kitty to a vagabond hound. Only reason she keeps me is she inherited me from her daughter Katrina when Katrina went off to college. I’d give you the long version but you better get going. Sun will be up in an hour.”

So Huleekalabulee and Toshiro hurried away, their progress punctuated by barks and growls from sequestered dogs responding to the scents of strangers.

*

At last they came to the beach, a wide expanse of sand stretching far to the south and even farther to the north. Huleekalabulee recognized the glorious vistas and oceanic odors from his visits here with Mom and Jurgen and Venus, and he raised his snout to the lingering half-moon and moaned in memory of those halcyon days.

For Toshiro’s part, when he felt the sand beneath his paws, he burst into song.

I’ve dreamt of you most every night

Through thick and thin and countless plights

But nothing that I ever dreamed

Could match the real you

Then Huleekalabulee and Toshiro ran together to the edge of the sea and gamboled in the welcoming waves before they trotted north for a mile or so, chasing gulls, racing each other, running for the pure joy of running.

Happily winded, they reversed direction and walked south for a while, finally sitting down side-by-side to watch in wonder as the sun brought color to the world and the ocean changed from gray to blue.

“This takes the cake of all cakes,” said Huleekalabulee, gazing at the endless waves spending themselves on the shore. “No wonder I want to live here.”

“I am fulfilled,” said Toshiro, sighing profoundly. “It matters not what happens now, for my dreams have become reality.”

Toshiro then walked a few paces toward the water, turned to face Huleekalabulee, and performed a ceremonial dance full of graceful turns.

When his dance was done, Toshiro said, “You, dear Huleekalabulee, judging me worthy of your friendship, guided me here, for which I will be forever thankful.”

Moved by Toshiro’s words and dance, Huleekalabulee walked a few paces away from Toshiro, turned to face him, rose up on his hind legs, spun around in a circle, and then bowed low to his valiant friend.

And as the hounds performed these rituals of thanksgiving, a man was watching them with binoculars from the deck of his house overlooking the beach.

“Honey,” said the man, calling through the open door to his wife who was in the kitchen making coffee. “You must come see these two remarkable dogs.”

His wife came out to him and together they watched Huleekalabulee bow to Toshiro, and Toshiro bow to Huleekalabulee.

“If they don’t have tags,” said the man, his eyes full of tears, “I want them.”

“Me, too,” said his wife. “You call them while I find some enticing comestibles.”

*

And that is how Huleekalabulee and Toshiro came to live with Edward and Fiona in the wooden house overlooking the beach. Those two dogs, let me tell you, were as happy as two dogs could ever be and had so many adventures together it would take a very fat book to recount them all, for both Huleekalabulee and Toshiro lived to ripe old ages.

Not that Edward and Fiona didn’t have other animals. They certainly did. Their old dachshund Desdemona slept under their bed, their enormous black cat Juneau was queen of the living room sofa, their tortoise Warp 5 spent his daytime hours patrolling the backyard dune grass, and their sassy red and green parrot Buckminster Fuller lived in a gigantic cage in the sunniest corner of the kitchen.

But in the grand scheme of things, Huleekalabulee and Toshiro were definitely the apples, so to speak, of Edward and Fiona’s eyes.

fin

one of the times Rex came to visit

Todd and Marcia perform Beautiful

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The Dog Who Wanted A Person Part 7

Their tummies and saddlebags full of Cassius’s kibble, Huleekalabulee and Toshiro bade the gracious old hound adieu and skedaddled from the stables before the horse people arrived for the day.

Encountering no traffic, they raced along the road to the pullover and made their way down a slender trail through brittle brush to a narrow creek bed, the creek barely a trickle as Cassius had foretold.

“I’m always enormously relieved to get off a road, aren’t you?” said Toshiro, stopping to have a drink from a pool of water.

“Roads are death to dogs and cats and all living things,” said Huleekalabulee, quoting his mother. “Not to mention being hard on the paws.”

“Roads are somebody else’s idea of how to go,” said Toshiro, listening to the leaves of the maple trees clatter in a sudden breeze. “I prefer finding my own way.”

“I appreciate the suggestion of a trail,” said Huleekalabulee, watching sunlight touch the tops of the trees. “Rather than something set in stone.”

“So tell me, friend,” said Toshiro, as they made their way downstream. “Why are you going to the beach?”

“Well,” said Huleekalabulee, taking a deep breath. “I just turned one and my mom booted me out of her place, so now I’m seeking a home and the requisite person to provide me with that home. From Mom’s house I went to the top of Bullwinkle Butte and looked out over the town and the mountains to the north and south and east of the town, and then I looked to the west and thought if I could live anywhere I’d like to live at the beach. Why? Because Mom’s people used to take my mom and my brother Jurgen and my sister Venus and me to the beach, and we always had a fantastic time chasing balls into the surf and swimming, so… why are you going to the beach?”

“Where to begin?” said Toshiro, looking up at the brightening sky. “I am two. When I was one, the people who got me when I was a wee pup took me way out into the mountains of Colorado and left me there. At first I thought they’d forgotten me and would soon come back, but they didn’t come back, and thus began my wandering.”

“How terrible,” said Huleekalabulee, his heart going out to Toshiro.

“No worse than what happened to you,” said Toshiro, shaking his head. “Abandoned by your own mother. I tell you, my friend, the world is full of abandoned dogs, abandoned cats, even abandoned people. But what can we do? We must try to live.”

“True,” said Huleekalabulee, nodding. “But why the beach?”

“To be continued,” said Toshiro, stopping abruptly. “I think we have come to where Cassius said we would find hiding places galore. And since the sun is now shining brightly, I suggest we find our hiding place for the day.”

Indeed, they had come to where the creek bed widened dramatically and there were willow trees and thickets of shrubs and brambles. After a quick search, they found a commodious space beneath a tangle of blackberry vines, and there they hunkered down for the remaining daylight hours.

*

“So,” said Huleekalabulee when he and Toshiro were sprawled comfortably in their lair. “You were about to tell me why you want to go to the beach.”

“Yes,” said Toshiro, collecting his thoughts. “Unlike you, I have never been to the beach. In fact, I have never even seen the ocean except…” He paused portentously. “In my dreams.”

“You’ve never been to the beach or seen the ocean?’ said Huleekalabulee, dumfounded. “You’ve been wandering for a year and never been to a beach?”

“I have been traveling west since the day I was abandoned,” said Toshiro, nodding gravely. “I have traversed mighty mountain ranges, swam across countless rivers, crossed vast plains and prairies and deserts, my journey guided by my dreams.”

“Wow,” said Huleekalabulee, shaking his head in wonder. “What you’ve done makes my quest seem like a miniscule insignificant itsy bitsy barely anything.”

“Every day is a lifetime,” said Toshiro, solemnly. “Every moment holds a universe of possibilities. Your quest is as grand as mine. You’re just nearer the beginning of yours.”

“But why do you want to go to the ocean?” asked Huleekalabulee, in awe of Toshiro.

“I want to go to the ocean,” said Toshiro, smiling, “to fulfill the imperative of my dreams. Beyond getting to the beach and walking on the sand, I have no plans.”

“You’re not seeking a person?” asked Huleekalabulee, perplexed. “A home? A bed? Food? Affection?”

“First I will walk on the sand and listen to the roaring waves,” said Toshiro, closing his eyes and imagining strolling on the beach. “Then I’ll consider my options.”

“I shall attempt to emulate you,” said Huleekalabulee, pondering Toshiro’s words. “First the beach, then the person.”

*

As dusk descends, Huleekalabulee and Toshiro emerge from the blackberry tangle and continue their journey down the creek bed for another hour until they encounter a tall wall of stone blocking their way, the wall pierced by a large ceramic drain pipe clogged with branches.

“Here we must ascend,” said Toshiro, giving Huleekalabulee a questioning look. “Do we go up the right embankment or the left embankment?”

“Right,” said Huleekalabulee, remembering the wall of stone he and Rex encountered two days ago.

“Why right?” asked Toshiro, squinting curiously at Huleekalabulee.

“Because I hear traffic sounds to the left,” said Huleekalabulee, “and my instinct is to avoid traffic whenever possible.”

“A dog after my own heart,” said Toshiro, leading the way up the embankment. “Right it is.”

And their choice proved propitious for they found themselves inside the graveyard Rex told Huleekalabulee to seek.

“Ah,” said Toshiro, surveying the vast sloping field dotted with crosses and gravestones. “A burial ground. I wonder why Rex told you to come here.”

“He said this was the last place on our way to the beach where he was certain we could find a safe place to sleep until the hour before dawn. From here, he said, we must try to reach the beach before sunrise.”

“Ooh I love the idea of being on the beach at sunrise,” said Toshiro, excitedly. “Let’s find a good place to while away the hours swapping stories.”

They found a nice spot in a grove of Japanese maples overlooking the town below, lights going on in myriad houses as the sun went down.

“So,” said Toshiro, lying on his back as the first stars of the evening came into the sky, “what’s the most exciting thing that ever happened to you, Huleekalabulee?”

“Until a couple days ago,” said Huleekalabulee, thinking back over his life, “I would have said going to the beach with my mom and sibs was by far the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. But now I’d say it was when I practiced animal husbandry with a beautiful hound named Mona.”

“Ooo la la,” said Toshiro, bouncing his eyebrows. “You lucky hound, you.”

“How about you?” asked Huleekalabulee, sighing at memories of Mona. “What’s the most exciting thing that ever happened to you?”

“Oh heavens,” said Toshiro, pondering the question. “So many exciting moments to choose from. But I suppose nothing can quite compare to the time I slid down a snow-covered mountainside, landed in a raging river and was swept downstream for several miles to a rocky beach where I was pursued by a huge brown bear. I outran the raging beast to the top of a ridge, raced down a dirt road and came to a cabin where a man chopping wood stopped chopping and picked up his rifle to shoot at me, the bullets missing me by inches.”

“It’s a miracle you’re alive,” said Huleekalabulee, gazing in wonder at Toshiro.

“It’s a miracle any of us are alive,” said Toshiro, nodding sagely. “Every day a gift, every moment a universe of possibilities.”

“Hey maybe we’ll find a person who wants both of us,” said Huleekalabulee, smiling at the thought of sharing the rest of his life with Toshiro.

“Maybe so,” said Toshiro, yawning. “But also maybe not. Only time will tell.”

Mystery Jump