Qualified Entry: Fiction Category
By: Bruce Teifer
it’s a small part of the Great Forest. it is a place of little importance except to my people. a Rich Man built a Resort over our Sacred Hot Springs. at first i did not know what a
Rich Man was. i never knew much else but what was of The Wood, the Forest. i visited Far Town once. it is a frightening place, full of noise and bustle and not looking in the eye. i
never left the Forest again. Far Town is a place where the Blessed are Not Welcomed. the Resort’s footprint was larger than all our scattered villages combined. the Resort Owner’s name was Jinn Wunnerford but they called him ‘Skip’. they called him Skip because he skipped over his older brother and got control of Daddy’s holdings. the brothers were only a couple of years apart in age. Jinn frog-leaped his oddly sensitive brother, Seth, at a very early age. Seth was shunted to the side to make room for the Rightful Heir. they knew Jinn was the Skipper before he was a schoolboy. Skip let big brother hang around on a miser’s salary plus all he could drink. he was called an Adviser, but that was nothing but mockery. an Adviser who was never Consulted and any advice he was dumb enough to offer got ignored and scorned at the same time, which when i think about it, is sort of like being handsome and invisible at the same time, which is also what Seth was. he closed the Hotel Bar every night. Seth drank on a tab that never got paid, and played the gigolo but never got laid. he could have too. those ladies with the rich&old&frail husbands were like Beltane dancers around the Bonfire that was Seth. Women trusted Seth. he called them, “Vestals” and their spouses he called “Hushmens.” he was very good-looking and even when drunk was quite Engaging. Seth Enthralled the female guests. “my Niche in this Empire,” he would tell them, “is maintaining a well stocked Wine Cellar, ample Spirits for the Barman’s Delightful Enchantments, and the coldest of Beer to chase away the Harsh Awakening of the Morning Sun.” he often Bragged on the Barman’s Mercies, “all praise to the Barman, sprightly bow-tied and sleeve gartered. a Wonder as ever Tried On Shoes!” Skip often shamed Seth by sending an Underling to ambush Seth’s gaggles. the Underling would tell the Vestals, “too bad we don’t give over useless brothers to the Church like in the olden days.” Seth always Retreated, but the Underling shouted after him, “you’d make a good Priest… on your knees, with a loaf in your mouth. Pass a Collection Plate and get paid for it.“ Seth knew the Underling was there at Skip’s request. Seth pitied Skip. Seth no longer cared about being skipped over. his niche was inside those dark bottles laid out on cellar shelves like skeletons covered in catacomb dust; and the backlit bottles perched on mirrored steps behind the bar like Brightly Colored Doorways; and the brown lager bottles stored in the deep frig cold as morgue breath. Skip was ascendant, the Sun at Dawn, and Seth, the Night, was hard under better times.
Skip’s Dream was to Extract the Veins of Wealth from his Daddy’s companies, and then Legally Abandon them to Bankruptcy and Ruin. a Pilloried company was like an
Exhausted Mine, just another Open Pit to walk away from, leaving a damning legacy behind. he Desired to be a Grand Hotel maker. he hired Underlings. Skip liked to be seen as the Detached Owner but never the Proprietor. the claim was that the Underlings were gangsters. Skip knew they were skimming’ off the cream but there was plenty left over for
him. by the time the gangsters stripped the companies and hung them like Belt Scalps, Skip would be so wealthy it wouldn’t matter. he would thrive from the dissolution of his Daddy’s assets. the only thing he really wanted was the Resort, his prized possession. he had fought the Tribes to gain control of our Sacred Springs. a Court i never heard of awarded him everything. now it was his. Skip figured to go far beyond his father’s enormous riches, and overtake his family’s Baron status, possibly, rise to be über king. even before the Resort opened, the springs were rumored to Possess Miraculous Healing Power. Skip loved to watch the very rich, terminally ill clientele carried into the near boiling baths by lock jawed Menservants. the Powerful and Wealthy shrivel up and die just like Poor Foresters. i expect that’s also True of that Supreme Court that gave away our Sacred Land. Skip planned on being a Power Unto Himself. he intended to step up to a higher level of society, where wealth and political power are so ubiquitous they go unnoticed. it’s kiss up and kick down within that group. you’re in or you’re out to them. Jinn-Skip felt that his father had not bothered to better himself through wealth. Skip scorned ‘Big Rusty’ Wunnerford, his Coal Baron Father, as a crude, Provincial Clod his entire life. Skip never mentioned his Daddy; at least he never raised his Daddy in a conversation. Skip felt more advanced than his Father. he now believed is was he,
himself, who was the Source Of His Own Great Wealth. according to Skip, his brother, Seth, the handsome drunk, was only slightly less an oaf than the father: his father would
scoop an entire bowl of nuts into a gnarled collier’s hand, its cuticles forever pitch-stained from the mines; his brother Absently Ate the whole bowl one peanut at a time, delicately
picked-up by manicured fingers, and so nibble you to death. the Hot Springs Resort was nicknamed, Pine Baron. Baron von Pine is the name Skip called himself. he also signed
himself as, ‘Lord of the Wood’. Our Home. our Wood. a Mexican Hombre showed up one day and became the Resort’s Main Dishwasher. he was the only worker not a Forester and nobody knew how he got there, and nobody asked. Hombresimo was accepted. he told us that Pine was Pino in Spanitch. we all giggled. among Foresters afterwards, Skip was know as, ‘Pinomore Wood’. you had to be filthy rich to book rooms at Pine Baron Resort and Healing Springs. there was no one from the Forest could afford to be a guest. of course we went there all the time to work. i saw people Eat Poisonous Blowfish and Monkey Brain Stew washed down by Liver and Whey Shakes. the resort tore itself into being from a hardy piece of Forest where we had Lived for Ages as a few extended families. not clans, you shouldn’t think that. it takes a hundred years of Inbred Bitterness to get a good stock of clan people. we were tribes of many Blood Lines. we intermixed with the other tribes. we lived far enough apart to keep from fighting, except for Festival Time. at festival time loving and fighting bled into one another. young men might quarrel for No Reason. our fights never amounted to much. most times we’d settle differences playing the Stick and Ball Game. there was a lot more loving than fighting. the Tribes feasted for the three days enclosing the Cardinal Points of the Annual Sun. the children stayed behind in the villages, storytelling with the elders. Festival loving was a day and night non-stop anything goes storm of pleasure. clothes got all mixed up. if shirt or pants or dress fit, it was yours. when my oldest brother became Fully Grown he attended festival while i head the Stories of the Stars, told by memory by the Grey Hairs.. at the end of his First Festival, he found the only piece of clothing left unclaimed was a calico dress. it fit! he wore it home, and then to the next Festival. he was happy to find it again at the end of Lammas, and every Festival afterward. no one ever claimed my Brother’s Calico Dress: we are a Kind people. Festivals were the time for mating among the tribes. New Unions Formed and Old Unions Rearranged, Added To, or Ended. after every Festival some member of most families had changed. they often reappeared after later Festivals, and on and on. we gathered in an area of the forest that we called, Celebration Springs, right where Skip Wunnerford built his Dream. they shot my brother for Trespass when he tried to Disrupt Construction. he didn’t die. we had to cut off his leg. later, the only job he could get at the Resort was polishing the Silver. his Hand Carved Peg Leg was not very useful. our people lost the Center of Their World. the Hub of the Great Festival Wheel that marked our year was cut away. the ground quaked the day they put up a 20 foot , sTocKaDefence around the Property. the Hirelings told Skip, “don’t worry, it’s a once in a Millennium seismic event.” we Knew Better. Gaia had cursed Jinn ‘Skippy’ Wunnerford, who’s Daddy was Brewster Wunnerford the Sixth, called, Big Rusty. Daddy wanted to be the last so named, so he named his son’s Seth and Jinn. as a Coal Baron, Brewster was a Lord of the Underground. Now the old Man was Under the Ground with his precious coal. in time he might become a piece of coal himself .
we all knew something bad was coming to Skip. we never had heard the Earth shout like that. Sky is often loud what with Thunner and Lightking and Wynd. the Forest Swallows
Wynd and Stores Water. Lightking can make a tree into Fire and if it’s dry can do the worst. we get plenty of Rain in our Forest so Fire from Lightking is not a big threat. Wynd
screams and circles around the perimeter of the trees, maybe knocks some old ones down, or takes a limb now and again like My Brother Lost His Limb. but Wynd’s Power cannot penetrate deeply into our Realm. Earth remains mostly still except for River, which is the Mating Dance of Water with Earth. River flows over and in Earth, like Lovers on a Skin Rug. River tugs off Earth’s garments as detritus. River is a Shape Shifter. we knew Earth was angry because Celebration Springs was closed off to the Blessed. Skip and his Underlings could laugh all they cared to. i’ve seen people Choke To Death On Laughter. we have a saying among My People. the closest translation is, “Don’t Play With Your Knife When You’re Hanging By A Thread.” as the Resort became a Miracle Shrine for the sickly rich. mostly they were old white skinned men with the younger wives whom Seth entertained so well. Seth somehow heard the story of my brother wearing a dress and he asked him if he had any pictures. he meant photographs but my brother thought he meant pictures like in the Cave. my brother said no, there were no pictures. Seth said, “I have a camera,” which made no sense to my brother. they became great friends. Seth didn’t earn a lot of money, but he had no expenses so it added up. he also made a Pretty Penny from
tips. he had no idea why the sick bastards would tip him. they probably thought he was the maitre d. Seth made a plaster mold of my brother’s left leg and sent away for a Replacement Right Leg that had a foot and toes and everything, and Even Wore a Shoe. my brother Walked and Danced on his new leg. Seth made a plaster mold of my brother’s Prick too and had several copies made. Seth and my brother were Not Shy. Foresters know how to be grateful, and my brother was very thankful for his new limb. in Seth’s Honor my brother started wearing a dress to his Job Polishing Silver. Seth made photographs. Seth was happy. and so was my Brother. with his new leg-up my brother
replaced the Barman, who had owed something to an Underling. the Underling beat him senseless and sent him away forever. with my brother as the Barman, Seth was the
happiest person in the Forest.
Skip kept mostly to the Upper Rooms. sometimes he would come forth and greet a Cancer-Ridden Potentate. “feeling better Count So and So,” he asked as if he cared. “much better, yes, Wunnerford, these are Magick Waters.” the Gangster Underlings took to the baths late at night after the Clients were asleep. after the Clients’ Wives figured out that Seth didn’t care for their dresses, they often left their White Collar Criminal Hush-men in the charge of a Manservant, and took to the baths with the Gangsters. they sought out the companionship of Honest Gangsters, who tore off their dresses, Grunted like animals and Sweated Profusely. the Gangster Underlings took the women three or more at a time and passed them around like a Pipe. it was Glory Be to all. Skip had no interest in the Wives of Rich Men. cars with black windows came late at night with a young girl or young boy Stolen from the Tribes. Skip had his own private Hot Spring where he took the child to bathe. i was a Child of the Bath. i learned not to feel.
soon, Guests came to Bathe in The Springs before they Were Terminally Ill, and eventually, they came before they were even sick. the Springs were said to be not only Curative but also Restorative. Younger Rich Men and Women, Power Couples, Movie Stars, Politicians, Hedge Fund Operators, Notorious Criminals, Foreign Leaders, Military Field Officers, CEOs, News Anchors, everyone on Earth who had Money and Connections came to bathe themselves in Magick Water. in Skip’s Dream he had discovered a Fountain of Youth.
it was the terminally ill, the earliest bathers, who died first. but they didn’t die of whatever had brought them to the Springs. they fell apart when their entire skeletal structure instantaneously disintegrated. they became a skin bag full of jumbled Organs. one second a Titan was berating someone and the next second he wasn’t. it took over a decade to connect the Mystery Disease to the Springs. younger bathers dying this way set off the Alarm Bell and Triggered United Nations Epidemiologists. the Younger and Healthier too were rudely interrupted as they went about their Daily Routine of giving Speeches, Passing Laws, Stealing, Murdering, Raping, Pillaging the Stock Market,laughing on their Way to the Bank, Making Money Making War, Governing, Sermonizing, Beautifying, Acting in Films, Counting Money, playing Professional Sports, in fact, the Ruling Classes of the Entire Earth began to fall apart. it didn’t hit everyone the same. some went early, some hung on for Years. many thought they had been Spared but that was an Illusion. what was left of Government determined that an Organism of Unknown Origin, possibly an Alien Species of microbial life, contaminated the Hot Springs. it was assumed that it was released from the UnderGround the day the Earth Quaked. Government Contractors would not go near the Source of Hideous Death. they forced Skip himself to bury the Hot Springs under lead and concrete domes that already leaked from the Pressure Below. in the Fetid Pool of Human Hosts, the Organism Adapted and Evolved quickly. the Government released a series of ominous Communiqués. the first warned, “in its Latter Stages, this Organism is Contagious.” in other words, the Dying Can’t Be Cared For any longer. shortly after a second Communiqué issued from the dwindling Beauracracy. it said, “Repent and Turn to God.” A third and Final statement was sent, “the Mystery Disease has been identified as, ‘Osseous Matrix Dragon Disorder Acute Heirophantessis’ or, ‘OMDDAH’.” anyone who still had a Sense of Humor (or had gone Insane), claimed OMDDAH really stood for, ‘Oh My Dear, Death’-A-Here’. many believed that because of the Vast Death Toll, several Government Agencies had to be combined, and so contributed to the diagnosis. the Center for Disease Control was also functioning as the Smithsonian Institute’s Department of Religion, Magic, and Mythological Speculation.
Harsh Measures gradually Contained the spread of disease, but not before the Most Influential Persons in the World became skin buckets of Gelatinous Slop. Luckily the Organism died along with its Host. Lawsuits rained on Skip. the Gangster Underlings, in search of Real Miracles, Cut Their Losses and ran back to their Churches. one by one
Everyone Exposed Succumbed Horribly to the Mystery Disease. people who witnessed these moments of Death reported a cracking sound and eyes that betrayed the
Realization that they had Mere Seconds of Life on Earth Remaining. Military Chiefs fell to the deck at Command and Control. Orating Statesmen fizzled like punctured Blow
Up Dolls. it took another decade before the disease receded. there were no new cases after four billion deaths. of all who contracted the Mystery Disease, only Skip Wunnerford and i were still alive. we Live in the Lodge, isolated behind an electrified fence and Armed Guards who i Believe would love to Kill Us Both. the Lodge is a shell now, inexorably returning to the Forest. Skip still keeps to the Upper Rooms as much as he can, but with his fortune gone he has No One to help him. he survives eating the remaining Canned Goods and drinking from the Dusty Bottles of Wine. critters eye his every move.
My Brother brought Seth to live with Our People. Seth is no longer a drunk. Hombresimo was also accepted into our Tribe. the People hold Festivals at the Cave and the
Meadows, but the Hearts of these current Generations will never be light. too much was lost. it is my hope this Disease Ends With Me. The Tribes bring Food, Drink and Prayer
Flags. i see them and i wave to them, but i am alone with Skip. Skip is in Constant Dread. Seeing Me Alive gives him Hope for his own survival. I AM his only connection to Life Outside Himself. some days i Hope to Outlast Him; other days i’d rather leave him to Face the Terror Alone. i witness to him each night. i sing of his deeds. he does Not Stir After Dark. he is Silent. Tonight and Each Night i Wonder If Perhaps He Is Dead. i’ll Know In The Morning if i live Past the Night.