Tag Archives: #nathanielcerf

Pen World: Defining Vintage Part 2

The sequel to my story in Pen World Magazine is now on news stands. Click each photo to read each page of the story. We have permission to reprint it here from Pen World editor Nicky Pessaroff. Be sure to subscribe to Pen World to read this and many other great stories about pens.

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Front Page News

News about ThePenMarket.com is spreading. I was lucky enough to be honored by a front-page feature in The Norwich Times! We’ve been featured before in “Pen World” magazine. However, I think this is our first time in a newspaper. Check it out: https://www.theday.com/local-news/20220406/norwich-resident-specializes-in-modern-vintage-pens

ThePenMarket.com makes good front page news in The Norwich Times. It is such an honor to get a nice write-up in the local paper.

Pen World: Defining Vintage Part 1

Just what is it that makes a pen vintage? Many people are asking that question these days. As time advances, are the old definitions of “vintage” and “modern” really holding up? My article in Pen World Magazine is the first of a two part series. In Part 1, I put the question to 4 legendary experts who helped to build the pen collecting hobby into what it is today. In part 2, I will put the same questions to a new generation of collectors and users. Yet, for now, here is Part 1, reprinted here with permission from Nicky Pessaroff, editor of Pen World Magazine.

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Decameron 2020: The Headsman

EDITOR’S NOTE: I wrote this story in 1995, at the age of 19, for my creative writing class in college. At the time, the term ‘fan fiction’ hadn’t been coined. And, you couldn’t turn on the TV or go to the movies without a serial killer somewhere in the story. I’ve been downsizing my life a lot lately, as I settle into a new house with my fiancée. Yet, when I found this old story, it made me laugh, and I thought you might get a kick out of it, too. I’ve always been a little off kilter.

This moonrise over the Rhode Island shoreline has nothing to do with this story, but it is a pretty photo.

Ted’s muscular six-two frame hovered over an unconscious, naked brunette who was lying on a floor covered in newspapers. After taking a minute to appreciate the shine on his new hacksaw blade, he knelt down beside the woman’s neck.

Leveling the blade on the center of her throat, he began to cut, squirting blood into his graying hair. As he hit her spinal chord, his mother walked into the room—interrupting his insidious laughter.

“Theodore J. Greelak!” she yelled. “What in tarnation do you think you are doing?!”

Ted looked dumbfounded at her with his puppy-dog brown eyes.

“How many times do I have to tell you? No decapitating women in the living room! Hell! I bet you’ve only got one or two layers of newspapers to soak up the blood, too.”

“But, Ma, I thought it would be enough. Besides, I’m thirty-nine years old. Don’t you think I know what I’m doing by now?”

“Don’t, ‘But, Ma,’ me. Who’s going to clean up that wall with all that spattered blood?!”

“I’ll clean it up like always, Mothhhhher,” Ted hissed, trying to keep his temper.

The pudgy, short woman in her sixties just stood there in her fuzzy pink bathrobe, with her white-gray hair up in soup-can curlers, looking very indignantly at her son.

“Okay, okay,” Ted relented. “I’m sorry, Ma. I won’t behead anymore women in the living room. But won’t this one make a great addition to our collection of heads in the ‘fridge? You know, right next to the pickle jar.”

“Apology accepted,” she said, and then with tears of pride, “Oh, Teddy, you make your mother so proud. If only your father could be here to see this. Bless his soul. Yes, she’d be perfect next to the pickle jar.”

Ted smiled. He always wished his father, The Zodiac Killer, could have seen his great accomplishments before he died. He hoped his father was watching from wherever he was.

“This time, don’t hide the body so close to your work,” Ted’s mother advised. “The cops might be suspecting you. In fact, I think I heard on TV that they had a new suspect in ‘The Headsman’ case.”

“Okay, Ma. I’ll start watching my back a little more closely.”

•••

Sunset at Uncas Falls is pretty, but it also has nothing to do with this story. Just wanted to share some photographic art with you.

Ted lit up another Marlboro and took a swig from his beer. As he looked up at his friend Ron, he asked, “Do you ever have doubts about the integrity of what we’re doin’?”

“What do ya mean?” his younger friend inquired.

“Well, I mean, in all of your years of strangling, disemboweling and necrophilia, do you ever stop to wonder why? Why bother?”

“Naww, man. This is the ’80s, and we’re alpha predators at the top of the food chain. This is the life,” Ron declared. “You know what your problem is? You never have sex with the women you behead. That’s half the fun of it.”

“Yuck, man, they’re dead,” Ted stated in disgust before asking, “What’s it like, anyhow?”

“Haven’t had any complaints,” Ron dryly quipped.

They had a long, hard laugh, and Ted ordered another round.

Ted then turned somber. “Ya know, I’m thinkin’ of turning in the ol’ hacksaw and movin’ on.”

Ron looked at his friend with concern. “You’re serious, aren’t you? You really think you could give it up?”

“It’s just losing its spark. I mean, picking up a woman at a bar, clubbing her unconscious, ripping off her clothes and cutting off her head just doesn’t do it for me any more,” admitted the disgruntled serial killer.

“Yeah, but, you’ve held this town under a 20-year reign of terror. EVERYONE fears ‘THE HEADSMAN.’ No one can utter your name without somebody shuddering. You can give all that up, just like that?” Ron snapped his fingers to emphasize his point.

Downing half his beer, Ted tried explaining the situation further, “It’s like this, Ron. I’m about to turn forty, still live at home, have a go-nowhere job at the train station and have killed 125 women with no positive recognition. No dinner at the mayor’s. No parades in my honor. No accolades. The only respect I get is from the killer community. Hell. I’m not even the FBI’s most wanted.”

“I hear ya, but what about the integrity of your art form?” Ron lamented. “No one can saw off a human head the way you can.”

With a determined look on his slowly aging face, The Headsman knocked off the rest of his beer and made a decision. “That’s it. Tomorrow, I’m packing my trusty hacksaw in mothballs, quitting my job and moving tooooo…Baltimore.

“You are my best and only friend in this town, Ron, and I will miss you a lot, but this is something that I just have to explore.”

“Okay, but why on earth would you want to go to Baltimore?” Ron asked, with a befuddled look on this face.

“I’ve been pondering this one, myself,” Ted settled into a story. “I’m beginning to believe that fate sometimes just steps in and takes your hand. You see, this whole retirement from killing has been playing on my mind for quite some time, and then Mary-Kate, my last victim, helped me decide.”

“Why,” Ron asked. “Was it before she realized you’d kill her?”

“Oh no. She was already dead when she helped me,” Ted explained. “I was picking up her headless body, about to carry it into the bathroom to let her drain into the tub, when I noticed a peculiar ring of blood around a job listing for a sales job in Baltimore.

“Since I studied sales and marketing in college, I gave them a call. After a couple interviews over the phone, they gave me the job!”

“Congrats,” Ron offered. “But I wish you would stay. Death, murder and mayhem in this town won’t be the same anymore without you.”

“I’m sorry,” Ted said. “A serial killer has got to do what a serial killer has got to do. In my case, that is to grow up.”

ONE YEAR LATER AT A POWER LUNCH WITH HIS BOSS

The site of the former Mohegan Campgrounds on the Yantic River. This, too, has nothing to do with the story.

“You know, Ted, it looks as though you are going to be the salesman of the month for the third time in a row,” congratulated Ted’s boss, a polished young man in an expensive suit. “You’re a real cut above the rest, Mr. Greelak. You have a killer instinct that I have never encountered in our other salesmen. We are considering making you a junior partner, if you keep up this good work.”

“Thank you, Mr. Morrison,” Ted said, a little awestruck. “That would be very generous of you and the company. I would appreciate that very much.”

“Just keep it up, and you will have earned it,” Mr. Morrison explained. “May I ask you personal question?”

“Sure.”

“Why did such a cut-throat salesman, such as yourself, wait so long to get into this business?” Mr. Morrison asked, taking a sip of his scotch. “If you had started fifteen years ago, at your rate, you would be running the company by now.”

“You really think so?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Although I am ashamed to admit it,” Ted confessed, “I was sort of obsessed with women.”

His boss gave him a knowing smile and leaned back in his chair. With admiration in his voice he said, “Ahhh. A sales shark and a lady killer.”

“I guess you could say that,” Ted smiled before changing the conversation. “I’m also a little embarrassed to ask, but, does our insurance cover any psychological assistance?”

“Yes, why? Is everything all right?”

“Oh, its nothing really,” Ted half lied. “It is just that I’ve met this really special girl, and I am concerned  about juggling the stress of an important career and a relationship.”

“No problem,” Mr. Morrison said with a devilish grin. “I will see to it personally that you get the best psychiatrist in town. Can’t let my best salesman get avalanched with stress. I’ll have the number on your desk by morning.”

“Thank you, sir.”

ONE WEEK LATER

“Ya know, Doc,” Ted explained while lying on a psychiatrist’s couch. “For a while there, I thought I had it licked.”

“Please tell me more about it,” instructed the doctor in his late 50s.

“Let’s see. I guess I didn’t start killing for about seven months. I was and still am rising through the corporate ranks, in spite of my late start and cross-country move. Then one day it just happened.”

“Go on,” encouraged the doctor. “What, ‘just happened’?”

“I met this fox of a woman named Joanne in a bar,” Ted relived the moment of attraction. “She had thick red hair in one of those chic short haircuts and brilliant blue eyes. Her lips were bright red contrasting perfectly against her pale white skin. I would have killed for her.”

“And you did.”

“Yes,” Ted enthused. “I started telling her I was a serial killer and about my deranged obsessions like it was a strange pick-up line. She fell for it. Pretty soon I got her back to my place and began a new head collection in my fridge. She’s still there in my most honored greens and vegetables drawer.”

“But don’t you think you are regressing back to the way your life was when you were originally killing?” the doctor asked.

“No, no. It’s different now,” Ted elaborated. “Then I felt as though I had to continue my father’s legacy. Now I’m at one with myself. I’m living on my own and am becoming an important business man. I’ve established my own person. My murdering is now for my own personal pleasure.”

“You’re a very fascinating man, Theodore,” the psychiatrist acknowledged. “I would be interested in getting to know you more personally. Why don’t join me this Friday night for dinner? We would be having liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

“Yummm. Dr. Lecter, that sounds delicious. I’d love to join you.”

The End?

Another Fine Story in ‘Pen World’

October has another sizzling story by your’s truly in Pen World. In it, I delve into the undersung history of the humble inkfeed. Click on the images to see larger versions and enjoy a free sneak peek courtesy of editor in chief Nicky Pessaroff and Pen World Magazine. To read the whole incredible issue, be sure to pick up a subscription!

Click this image to read my latest story in Pen World Magazine. It is all about inkfeeds.

Here’s the cover of the October 2021 issue of Pen World Magazine.

 

 

 

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Decameron 2020: God of Carnage

Peanut

Scurrying into the town of Mouseville, a little grey traveler named Erasmus visited in hopes of seeking shelter from the rain.

Yet, on the streets Mouseville, between the basement and first floor of a century-old Sears Craftsman home, all was not well. Oh sure, there were the happy signs of chewed on wood debris and droppings everywhere, but the residents of Mouseville were in a nervous panic.

“What is wrong?” asked Erasmus, when he encountered a larger brown-and-white field mouse named Esther. “Why is everyone so upset.”

“It is the God of Carnage,” the trembling mouse replied. “He killed Aloysius early this morning.”

“Forgive me,” Erasmus said. “I just came to town. I have never heard of a God of Carnage before.”

“What?! How can that be?” asked Esther. “His savagery is epic. He is huge and vicious. He has large white fangs and razor-sharp claws. He is so terrifying that he doesn’t even camouflage. He wears a coat of tan fur, and his pale green eyes look right through you as he tears you to pieces.”

“Does this God of Carnage have a furry tail?” Erasmus asked.

“Yes,” replied Esther.

“Does your God of Carnage make an ear-shattering cry of death that sounds like this, ‘Meow’?” Erasmus asked.

“Yes,” Esther said. “You do know our God of Carnage.”

“I think it is just a cat,” Erasmus explained, confident his big city mouse experiences were more than these simple country mice were used to. “It is not a god, though they do think highly of themselves. Cats are just predators who happen to feed on mice and birds. They are pretty predictable, really.”

God of Carnage

“Mark my words, Stranger,” stated Atticus, who was a sleek black mouse that overheard their conversation. “The God of Carnage is no mere cat. He has never eaten a mouse. He is fed by his gargantuan servants, whom he himself has trained, something called Fancy Feast. It is a vile meat purée whose sickening stench alerts us to when he is near.”

“BUT,” nervously squeaked Wilhelmina, “Once he has consumed the Fancy Feast, he is sleepy and less apt to torment us.”

“Guys,” Erasmus laughed. “I’m even more convinced now that this is just a cat and not a god at all. They are pretty common. Trust me, I’ve encountered many in my travels.”

“Would a cat hold you down by the tail and slowly stick his claws in you, just to listen to you squeal before you die?” asked Esther, trying to trip up Erasmus.

“Yes,” he replied.

“But then he wouldn’t eat you…just leave your corpse in the shoe of one of his servants who must have displeased him,” Esther probed further.

“Yep. That’s pretty catlike,” Erasmus said, rolling his eyes at their simplistic nature.

“Would a cat play catch with your limp body?” Wilhelmina asked. “Tossing you into the air with his mouth only to catch you and grind you with his teeth until you ceased to try escaping and withered away in his jaws, only to leave you on his servants’ bed to reprimand them?”

“Uh-huh,” Erasmus nonchalantly affirmed.

“What about drowning?” inquired Atticus. “Aloysius did nothing to disturb or offend the God of Carnage. He simply saw a sunflower seed on the floor and raced to get it and return to Mouseville to eat it. Yet, the God of Carnage pounced from thin air and captured Aloysius. As Aloysius begged for his life, the God of Carnage didn’t even bite him. He held Aloysius down in a bowl of water until he ceased to struggle and fight for air. Then he plopped poor bloated Aloysius into the bowl usually left for Fancy Feast and walked away.”

“That does sound unnecessarily cruel,” Erasmus said, “But, I wouldn’t put such behavior beyond a mortal cat.”

“Have you slain such a creature, as you call, a cat?” Atticus asked.

“Oh, God, no,” Erasmus said, losing his patience with these country mice. “They are too big and deadly. I just try to steer clear of them. Haven’t you simpletons ever been taught to practice S.L.R.?”

“We have not heard of your magic,” answered Wilhelmina. “All we can do is pray to the great God of Carnage not to sacrifice us for his amusement.”

“Sniff. Look. Run,” Erasmus explained. “It isn’t magic. I’ll show you. Is that sunflower seed still out there?”

“No, Stranger,” Esther said. “Do not throw away your life. Do not tempt the Great God of Carnage.”

“Look,” Erasmus said. “Cats aren’t that bright. Let me show you how it is done.”

The mice led Erasmus to the hole under the oven in the kitchen. “There lie the bowls of this morning’s tragedy,” said one of the mice.

Erasmus crawled to the edge of the stove’s protection. “First you sniff the air for any sign of cat. Then you look to the left and the right for any sign of cats. When it is all clear, you run as fast as you can.”

Erasmus scurried quickly for the seed he saw on the floor.

Then…BAM!

He felt the weight of the cat flatten him to the floor.

Recovering from his leap off the counters, which his owners would have been angry about if they knew he was on the counters, the cat briefly let the mouse go.

Yet, Erasmus was too stunned to move. The other mice under the stove shrieked and began praying fervently for Erasmus’ release.

The cat held the recovering mouse with one of his back paws, as he used a front paw to lick and groom himself. He didn’t want to appear slovenly for his new playmate.

“Would you like to play with me?” the wheat-colored mini panther asked.

“Play?” Erasmus questioned.

“I’m bored,” the God of Carnage said. “My humans go to this thing called ‘work’ and leave me with nothing to do.”

“I thought you were the merciless great God of Carnage,” Erasmus said, then looked to the other mice as if to say, “Ya see, I told you so.”

“My name is Peanut. What is your’s?”

Erasmus began laughing as he’d never laughed before. It was a deep, uncontrolled laughter.

“What is so funny, new playmate?” the cat asked.

“P. P. Pea-nut!” The little mouse couldn’t stop laughing. “Ya-ya you are.”

The mouse laughed some more.

“Why am I so funny?” Peanut asked, perturbed by this mouse’s laughter.

“Don’t you know what a peanut is, you idiot,” the haughty mouse kept laughing. “It is a diminutive little legume that people eat at baseball games.”

More gales of mouse laughter.

“Why, you nincompoop!” Erasmus kept laughing. “You’re no God of Carnage. You’re a peanut.”

With that, Peanut bit off the impudent little mouse’s head and tossed it toward the cowering rodents under the stove.

The mice began to pray, “Oh, Great God of Carnage, be merciful!”

“That’s better,” Peanut said, strutting toward the sunny couch in the next room. “I’m going to take a nap. Try not to disturb me, or you’ll suffer a worse fate.”

Once Peanut had left the room, Esther said, “Is it just me, or do you think that Erasmus character talked way too much.”

“I thought he’d never shut-up,” Wilhelmina agreed.

“Good riddance,” Esther said. “Two newcomers in one day ought to keep Peanut satisfied for some time. I’m tired of this Kabuki theater. We’ve got some real work to do without him meddling.”

A New Dream for MLK Day: Reuniting America

We need more serenity in our lives. Enjoy this sunset over the Thames River in Connecticut.

Teetering on the brink of a new civil war, perhaps it is time to use the Dr. Martin Luther King jr. holiday to reflect on fulfilling his dream in a whole new way.

In his quest for equality, fairness and justice for all, Dr. King advocated for peace at every juncture of policy and protest.

I fix, restore and sell fountain pens for a living. I write stories to entertain people. I’m no politician. I intentionally avoid politics at all cost with regard to my business and this blog. BUT, I am heartbroken to see the nation I love falling apart. It is terrifying to see our capitol under siege. It is alien to have anything less than a peaceful transfer of power in Washington D.C. It is awful watching people whom I call friends so politically divided and letting their politics spoil their friendships.

As a guy who loves vintage pens, it should come as no surprise that I love reading about history. Among other projects, I’m working on a book about the original American Civil War. Plus, with a master’s degree in journalism, I have a fairly strong understanding about the machinations of modern media.

There is one common factor that I have observed in recent years that conservatives and liberals can agree on: the media is biased. How many times have you heard conservatives blame the liberal media…or liberals blame the conservative media? How many of our friends who are 50+ bemoan the fact we no longer have an Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite that every American can trust to tell us the facts and only the facts in a news broadcast?

Why do we have so much media bias in our current time?

In 1949, the United States enacted a law known as “The Fairness Doctrine.” After having watched the rise of fascism in Europe and communism in Russia, American lawmakers wisely foresaw the new invention of television (and the older medium of radio) being used in horrible ways to subvert our democracy. As such, they enacted “The Fairness Doctrine.” Under this law, nobody who owned a broadcast license could promote one political ideology or party over another. If a channel or network wanted to feature a certain political opinion, it had to balance it out with the opposing view to give viewers a fair opportunity to consider both points of view and come up with their own opinions. Any channel or network that violated that balance would be punished by the Federal Communications Commission, which was nonpartisan and watched networks closely—enforcing the policy with vigor.

The policy remained in force until it was eliminated by Congress in 1987. Not surprisingly, we saw a sharp spike in opinion-based and biased broadcasting in the 1990s through today.

I propose that if we really want to heal our nation, then liberals and conservatives must come together to demand their lawmakers reinstate “The Fairness Doctrine.” No more liberal media. No more conservative media. No more lopsided political coverage. No more ideological brainwashing. News shows go back to broadcasting facts and only facts.

News shows might become more boring, but after watching violent insurrection on our streets, maybe boring would be a good change of pace on TV. 

This week marks the start of a new presidency and the start of a new cast of senators and representatives. Call or write your representatives and president this week and demand the restoration of “The Fairness Doctrine.” It won’t solve all of our nation’s problems, but it will go a long way to help lower the national temperature and restore bias-free broadcasting to our airwaves.

Decameron 2020: Where did Janey Go?

There are so many beautiful scenes to photograph in Connecticut in the fall…especially a stone wall leading to oblivion.

“Wheee!,” cheered Jane, clapping her hands for encouragement. “Look at that little girl run.”

Vick looked up from the papers he was grading and smiled at his mother-in-law. “She’s adorable.”

There was nobody else in the living room.

Since before they moved into this fully restored, 3-story Queen Anne home in New Haven, Jane had been seeing people who just weren’t there.

Jane had early onset Alzheimer’s and was nearing the end of the line. This little girl she had been seeing since they moved into the house likely was a series of happy memories about Vick’s wife when she was a little girl.

Jane was happy and comfortable, and that was all that mattered to Vick.

Getting this tenured professorship at an Ivy League school was a dream come true for Vick. His wife Sue was an architect who was in high demand, and she could usually work from home, traveling when she needed to. She was 100% supportive of this move, and they both agreed their newly renovated home was the best home in which either had ever lived.

They took great care with the interior design. Each room was unique, creating its own ambiance. The living room was tastefully elegant in a rich 1890s Victorian motif to restore the home to some of its original state. Dark woods, red cushions and wall coverings. House plants helped fill the room with life. Ferns and vines threatened to overtake the windows and furniture. The walls had paintings or bookshelves tastefully arranged. It was Vick’s favorite room.

Sue came in and asked, “You didn’t happen to take a bath and forget to empty the tub, did you? There are watery footprints all over the floor.”

Vick gave a subtle head shake no, and they both looked to Jane, who was bare-footed, and playing patty cake by herself and giggling.

Sue sighed, “I’ll go drain the tub and clean up the floor.”

“That’s alright. I can do it,” Vick offered.

“No, you’re busy. I got it.”

Keeping tabs on Jane was easily a 2-person job. Jane always meant well, but she had virtually no short-term memory. Frequently, she’d wander off and do household chores or yard work. It sounded great on the surface…until they discovered she never used dish soap and stacked wet, dirty dishes in the cabinets, without any regard for the contents of the cabinets and drawers in which she placed them. The pantry was forever being reorganized.

It was easier when their kids were home, but their two girls were off at college. For now, Vick and Sue tag-teamed watching Jane or cleaning up after her. The hardest part was that Jane preferred to be busy. You couldn’t just plunk her in front of a T.V. Jane preferred mowing, raking or pruning to watching T.V. Yet, to set her loose on her own would be trouble. When they gave her a trowel to weed the garden and left her alone, she forgot to weed and dug a 4-foot deep hole instead.

Neither Vick nor Sue blamed Jane. It was the disease.

During the week, a caretaker came to look after Jane. On the weekends, it was just Vick and Sue. They didn’t mind. They had set some boundaries for defining the moment they would need to find a nursing home, but they enjoyed Jane’s company and knew how much she’d hate a nursing home in her present state of mind.

They were content to give Jane as many good years, months or days as they could in their happy home.

•••

Imagine being buried in red and orange leaves.

The advantage to having kids off at college was sleeping in on Sundays and rediscovering each other.

Sue and Vick were as flirty as teenagers while making pancakes and bacon in the kitchen. Vick was nibbling Sue’s ear when Jane rushed in, out of breath and wearing nothing but a bathrobe.

“Have you seen that little girl?” she asked. “I tried to chase her, but she’s faster than me.”

“No,” Sue said, putting down the mixing bowl full of batter that she was stirring. “You want some breakfast? I’ve got some strawberries and whip cream for your pancakes. I know you like that.”

Jane looked confused. “Not right now. I really need to find that little girl.”

Jane left the kitchen on her quest, and Sue sighed and shrugged. “I guess playtime is over, now that she’s up.”

Vick gave her a kiss. “To be continued.”

She gave him her naughtiest smile, then Jane came running back into the kitchen.

Jane was pale and trembling. Panic was in her eyes.

“There’s a man in the house,” she said.

“What?” Vick asked. “Where?”

“I don’t like him,” Jane’s voice was a tremor. “Make him go away.”

“It’s okay,” Sue soothed, as she embraced her mother.

“What did he look like? Where is he?” Vick questioned, grabbing a long, sharp kitchen knife.

Vick was a pudgy college professor, not a knife fighter, but he figured something was better than nothing.

Jane was at a loss for words  and just pointed out the kitchen entrance she came in.

“Be careful,” Sue cautioned.

Searching the first floor, Vick saw no trace of anybody. No broken windows. No disturbed furniture. No stolen items.

He was surprised to find the front door unlocked. Opening the front door, a package was waiting for his wife on the porch.

Snorting a small laugh, he put together the pieces of the puzzle.

He took the package back to Sue and asked Jane, “Did you see the delivery man? Is that who scared you?”

“What man?” Jane asked, confused.

Sue exhaled in relief.

“I’ll check the rest of the house,” Vick said. “But, I think we found our culprit.”

“Thanks,” Sue agreed, as she took the package.

Nothing was amiss as Vick explored from low to high. The only thing out of place was that the 2nd floor bath tub was full, again. Muttering to himself, Vick drained the tub and sopped up the mess on the floor with a towel.

•••

Not sure there is anything more beautiful than maple leaves at peak color.

Raking the last of the front yard leaves into a huge three-foot pile, Sue and Jane were dressed in gloves and heavy sweaters.

It was a crisp, late-October day.

“Watch that little girl play in the leaves,” Jane said, resting on her rake.

“I don’t know about any little girl,” Sue smiled mischievously. “I think you want to play in the leaves.”

“Noooo,” Jane protested. “I’m too old. What will the neighbors say?”

“They’ll say, ‘Look at the old lady having fun. Maybe she’ll let me play, too.’ Go on. Have fun.”

Jane jumped into the leaves with reckless abandon. Sue picked up a pile of leaves and dropped them on her. Then she fell into the leaves next to her mother.

They both laughed like they did when Sue was a little girl.

When they tired of laughing and throwing leaves at one another, they lay quietly staring at the cold, grey sky through the nearly naked branches of an old oak tree.

“I don’t think I’ve got another winter left in me, Sue.”

Sue was shocked by the sudden return of dementia-free clarity.

“Of course you do, Mom. You’re a skiier.”

“Not any more.” Jane was silent a moment before continuing. “I really want to thank you and Vick for how well you are taking care of me, but I want you to know that it is okay…whatever it is you need to do to take care of me.”

Tears welled in Sue’s eyes, as she took in the full permission of what her mother was granting her.

“I love you, Susie.”

“I love you, too, Mama,” Sue said, hugging her tightly and crying. “I miss you so much.”

They cried and hugged some more, and before either of them was ready, the dementia returned.

“Why are you crying?” Jane innocently asked, oblivious to her own cheeks wet with tears.

Sue tried hard to compose herself quickly. “Nothing. Nothing, Mama. How about some hot cocoa?”

“Only if my little friend here can have a cup, too,” she said, climbing out of the leaves and on to her feet.

“Of course,” she agreed, absently wiping her nose on her sleeve.

•••

Later  that night, just down the hall from her loving daughter and son-in-law, comfy and warm in her bed, Jane passed away peacefully.

On October 30th, a small grave-side service was held for Jane. Her granddaughters came in from their respective colleges. Nobody in New Haven knew Jane, but a couple of Sue and Vick’s colleagues came to offer their support. The girls were upset. Sue and Vick had far more complex feelings. They were sorrowful for Jane’s passing. She died too young from a disease that deprived her of her memories and personality. Yet, being her constant caretakers had taken a toll on them, too, and they felt guilty for feeling some relief.

At midnight Vick was awakened by a small hand gently patting his shoulder. He groggily thought it was one of his daughters, momentarily forgetting they were now grown women.

Through his bleary eyes he saw a 9-year-old girl patiently standing next to his bed. She had curly hair like Shirley Temple and was wearing a 1940s’ dungaree jumper.

Coming to his senses, he gasped and sat up in bed—scooting backward until his back was against the headboard.

“Who are you?”

Sensing his fear, the little girl took a step backward and asked,  “Where did Janey go? I haven’t seen her for a couple of days.”

Sue started to stir next to him.

“What?” Vick asked. “How did you get in here?”

The girl smiled like he was being silly.

“You know me,” she explained. “I’m Janey’s friend. You called me adorable once when we were playing in the drawing room.”

Sue was coming to her senses and trying to understand what a little girl was doing in their bedroom.

Vick tried to explain gently to someone whom he wasn’t sure existed, “Umm. Jane died several days ago.”

She looked at him quizzically, as if she didn’t quite understand.

Then a soft familiar voice playfully called from down the hall.

“Evvvvelynnnn. Come out, come out wherever you are.”

“Mama?” Sue whispered, confused.

“Oh! There she is,” said the little girl, perking up. Then her eyes widened and fear shown on her face. “I forgot to warn her about the man with the bloody arms in the bathtub!”

The girl faded away as she looked like she was going to run out of the room.

Seconds later Jane screamed from the middle of the hallway.

“Mama!” Sue shouted, as she and Vick ran down the hall to the bathroom. Moments later they were joined by their daughters.

They stood silently watching the lit bathroom. Nobody else was in the hall or bathroom, but the tub was full and wet footprints led to the hallway and vanished.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN

Decameron 2020: The Pickerel Witch

Here’s a Fowler’s toad lurking in the grass…or is it? Enjoy our modern fairytale.

Ilke and Streusel were walking through Germany’s dark, primeval Black Forest. They had been lost and wandering for days.

“Ilke,” her little brother called. “I’m hungry. Why did our evil step-mother send us on this horrible quest to find dingleberries in the forest?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “But even if we find this dingleberry bush, I do not think we can find our way back to our loving-but-easily-duped father and have a dingleberry pie.”

They trudged on, weak and trembling.

“Remember our friends, Hansel and Gretel?” Streusel asked.

“Of course.”

“Well, just last week I heard that they found a cabin made of candy,” he said. “Maybe it is still here somewhere close to us.”

“I hope not,” Ilke shivered. “I heard they met a witch who tried to eat them.”

“Yeah, but they pushed her into an oven and killed her. That means there should be plenty of fresh candy waiting for us.”

“I think we’d be better off avoiding witches.”

Eventually they came to a swampy clearing. They rested their weary little bottoms on a log.

“I’m so hungry,” Streusel exclaimed. “I could eat a frog.”

Here’s a real Pickerel frog?

Just like that a splotchy, warty Pickerel frog hopped up between them on the log.

With the last of his strength, Streusel caught the frog and held it gently in his hands as he contemplated eating it raw.

“Don’t hurt it,” Ilke commanded. “It never did anything to you. You have no right to take its life.”

Streusel cried with guilt for ever thinking of killing a living creature, and he cried because he was hungry. He carefully set the plump little amphibian down.

It looked at him and ribbeted, “Thanks.” Next there was a flash and poof.

The children screamed as a beautiful woman with thick, shoulder-length blonde hair appeared wearing a long, black dress, black hobnail boots and a wide-brimmed black pointy hat.

She produced a compact from her black-satin dress and powdered her nose. Then she gave a toss of her golden locks, just for effect before closing her compact.

“Hi there,” she greeted the children. “My name is Madison, but you can call me Maddie.”

The children looked at her and trembled in terror.

“Oh, you little lambs must be starving,” she said and handed each child a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off, just they way they liked.

“Our step-mother says never to take food from strangers,” Ilke declared.

In a sweet and sardonic voice, Maddie asked, “The same step-mother who intentionally left you in the forest to die so she could have lots of sex with your dim-witted father and raise her spawn in your place?”

“Ohhhh,” the kids sighed, thought about it and devoured their sandwiches.

Feeling better, Streusel asked, “Are you going to eat us now?”

Madison laughed with impish delight.

“No, Sweetie. That was Hildegarde, who Hansel and Gretel did in so nicely. She was old skool. Very conservative and traditional,” Maddie explained. “I’m with the more progressive Witchs’ Welfare League. We love good little girls and boys and think it is unfair to prey on them when they are already such easy and undeserving targets.”

The siblings nodded appreciatively.

“So what are you going to do with us?” Ilke asked apprehensively.

“Nothing, dear child,” Madison said. “The real question is, ‘What are you going to do to help me?’”

“What do you mean?” Ilke asked.

Madison pinched Ilke’s ribs and said, “Well, it feels to me as if you haven’t had any meat in ages.”

“No, we haven’t,” Streusel told her.

“How about you guys help me chop up your step-mother and eat her for dinner, and then you can live happily ever after with your loving father.”

“Yay!” cheered the kids, as they clasped Maddie’s hands, hopped off the log and skipped all the way back home to cannibalize their most-deserving, wicked step-mother.

T
H
END

Decameron 2020: Halloween Movie Night

Autumn is our favorite time of year. Even if you can’t party or trick ‘r treat this Halloween, you can still curl up with some good horror movies.

Pandemic Halloween totally sucks! Halloween is easily one of my favorite holidays. It captures all of the romance of autumn, along with all of the primal frights of life and death. Plus, there’s candy!

Worse, yet, for me is that this is my very first Halloween in New England…the primeval home of All Hallow’s Eve with its lore filled with witches, warlocks, devils and other medieval horrors imported from Europe.

So what do we do now that most reasonable people have called off trick ‘r treating to help protect the lives of our little ghouls and gobblins?

My top choice is turning out all of the lights, lighting a bajillion candles and reading Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” (Doing this around a fire pit is a good alternative.)

Yet, my second choice is diving into great horror movies. Pop some corn, grab a couple bags of your favorite candies and dive into spooky cinema. Everybody has their favorite, of course. And I firmly believe all kids should be exposed to the joys of the early Universal monster movies, such as “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “The Mummy” and “The Wolf-Man.” You can never go wrong with “The Shining,” but, my goal with these movie nights is to avoid the usual go-to films. It is time to delve into great movies you might not be as familiar with.

Horror movies fall into two groups for me. There are the genuinely scary horror films, and then there are the campy horror films. I grew up in a horror movie household. My mom loves campy horror, and my dad loves the movies that will keep you up all night for a week. I got to see them all. And it is funny to me how much movies changed for me as I got older. I was genuinely terrified of the campy horror films as a little kid, but now I laugh at them as an adult.

The key to really enjoying any horror movie is to suspend all disbelief and fall into its world for about 90 minutes. With that said, let’s dive in.

THE BLOB (1958): In Steve McQueen’s first movie role, a meteor crashes to earth near a small town. Teenagers discover the space rock with an old guy. The rock splits open to reveal a small gooey blob that begins eating the old man alive! Rushing him to the doctor, the blob goes on a ravenous rampage, oozing under doors, through vents and anywhere it wants. Is there no way for these good-hearted teens to “extinguish” its hunger? True story: I watched this for the first time when I was about 9 and lived in terror of the film for another 15 years or so. When it came on TV in my 20s, while I was visiting my folks, I tried to get out of watching it with them. “We think it might be a little different than you remembered it at age 9.” Okay, I watched it again, and I laughed at myself and the movie for the rest of the night.

THE  TINGLER (1959): Vincent Price plays a scientist who discovers that each of us has a little creature living on our spines called a tingler. It feeds on fear and can kill you by crushing your spine if you don’t scream to release your fear. When he successfully captures a living tingler and it gets loose…well, all hell breaks loose. This was director William Castles’ classic B-movie where he rigged seats in movie theaters with buzzers to randomly scare the audience members. I don’t think this one ever scared me, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t loved it for all of my life.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956): Mysterious, human-sized pea pods start showing up at people’s homes. And as people try to make sense of them, the pods create a human clone of the person it was delivered to. Not sure what to make of these clones, the humans are reluctant to do anything about them, but the clones have no compunction about killing their humans and taking over their lives. A fun psychological thriller that is undoubtedly campy at times, but it can give you the creeps if you really let yourself become one with the film.

WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953): H.G. Wells’ classic sci-fi horror story comes to life in amazing Technicolor with this blockbuster. The world’s best special effects were employed for this movie when it first came out. Sure, they look a little hokey now, but I still love the terror imposed by the seemingly unstoppable aliens. The biggest laughs come not from the effects but the blatant sexism and condescending patriarchal nature of the leading men and scientists.

THE CHANGELING (1980): George C. Scott plays a man struggling with the loss of his wife and daughter in a tragic car wreck. Moving to a new town for a change of scene, he rents an old mansion that is already inhabited. To this day, I will contend that this is the most frightening ghost story ever filmed. I love it! I’ve seen it a dozen times, and it still raises the hairs on the back of my neck.