Tales of the Bearded Toad

Short stories and the occasional true tidbit devised in the life and times of the Bearded Toad

Friday, October 27, 2006

Old Magazines

Slipping his finger through the small brass loop, he tugged open the door, but only partially. Something stopped it, a shoe. He stepped back out of the closet and began to snatch and throw everything out into the room. All the hanging clothes, even his nicely pressed shirts and slacks, were heaved into a pile on the floor. He wanted to see what was inside. Again he pulled at the loop, this time it stopped again after only a few inches more. “Damnit!” He could find nothing blocking the way, but it wasn’t opened far enough to even fit his head behind it to see. He put both hands on the outer edge so that he could pull harder than one digit would allow. As he did so, the door began to slide sideways toward the hinges, into a pocket in the wall. It did so easily.

He poked his frazzled head into the opening, which was about half the size of a regular doorway, but the light of his bedroom would not penetrate the darkness. The mildewed stale air wafted from the opening and up his nostrils. He sneezed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. The beam of the flashlight cut into the dark air, splitting open the mystery to reveal the contents of the hidden room. Hunched over he waddled his way through the short hallway. Three steps down, and he was able to stand up straight.

The space was not that large, but it seemed to be. The back wall was eight feet across, but it was only four feet deep from the steps. There was a small table against the short wall to the right with a lamp set in the middle. He switched it on, surprised to see that it worked. A small, three-legged stool was hiding underneath the table. To the right side of the table lay a stack of magazines. And that was all. Nothing else was in the room.

He pulled out the stool and sat down. The lamp was old. It had a metal shade that oddly was not covered in dust as he thought it would be; it was clean and shiny enough for him to see his reflection. His hair was frazzled and he had a little dirt on his face, which he again wiped on his sleeve. He took a deep breath and began to calm down. “It’s too bad I don’t have anyone to hide from,” he said to himself. He laughed when he realized the stupidity of the statement; he did hate living alone, though.

The magazines were neatly stacked with the spines all aligned perfectly. They were all the same kind, porn. The date on the first one surprised him, October 1967. He didn’t expect it to be as good as the stuff he was used to seeing on the internet, but he had to check. Opening to the middle, he was surprised to get that stirring in his groin. He turned the pages, marveling at the lush bodies of the models. He opened the fly of his pants and began to stroke. As he turned the page again he felt a shiver rush up his spine. The hairs on his neck and arms stood as erect as his dick. Something with the lamp caught his eye. As clearly as he could see himself, he could see the man standing behind him. He spun around on the stool leaving his breath behind.

He awoke on the floor of the small room, curled on his side and drooling in a pool. The lamp was still on and the room was mostly as he remembered. He looked back at the magazine, but it was turned to a different page than the last one he’d seen. The advertisement showed the man whose reflection had appeared behind him. Shirtless, the man sat on the bed with a magazine on the nightstand; he was holding a bottle of lube with a big smile on his face.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Maintenance Man

Fat, bald, and wheezing. That’s how she imagined him to be. She lived on the third floor of her apartment building, and the man was going to have to walk up the stairs to get there. There was no elevator; this wasn’t a high-rise. Nonetheless, three flights is a lot of climbing for an overweight, middle-aged smoker. It’s especially taxing if he’s carrying tools.

He’ll knock on the door, but not until he leans on his knees in an attempt to catch his breath. She will have heard him coming, and she’ll look through the peep hole to see the reflection of the door in his shiny dome. She’ll think that’s a funny occurrence, to look through the glass only to see the other side from the other direction. He’ll lean up to reveal big, rounded glasses with a metal rim, the kind no one has purchased in fifteen years.

His round face will be flushed still when he finally knocks. She’ll wait a few seconds to make it seem as though she wasn’t standing there watching. Smiling, she’ll open the door and greet him, remembering suddenly that it smells bad in there from when the toilet overflowed. His face will scrunch up suddenly, and his wheezing will get worse. “I have allergies,” he’ll say. “I bet smoking doesn’t help,” she’ll say tasting the cigarettes almost as he coughs up the remnants of his last. His blue shirt will say Hal on the white oval stitched to the chest.

She’ll introduce herself and ask if she can get him anything to eat or drink. He’ll decline, and she’ll think about how no maintenance people ever accept the offer. The bathroom will be open, and he’ll walk up to it, stopping when he squishes brown water from the carpet in front of the door.

She jumped when she heard him banging on the door. She peered through the hole, but she couldn’t see anything. She opened the door to reveal the man was putting out his cigarette beside the stairwell. He was young, late-twenties probably, but he had hard creases in the skin around his eyes, which she noticed as he brushed his hair to the side.

“Whew! I can smell what happened in here.” She reddened a little; no man had ever smelled the remnants of her trip to the toilet. To deflect the topic, she offered him something to eat. He looked at her in near disbelief with his hand to his nose. “Uh, no thanks, I just had a couple twinkies.” She looked down at the floor. Slowly a smile crept its way across her face. She looked up to see his shirt, which made her laugh. “What?” he asked. “Oh, it’s nothing. Sometimes, Hal, I just think I can see the future.”

Monday, October 16, 2006

To Let Life Happen: Non-Fiction

Recently I’ve had a couple of friends who have struggled with where life is taking them. They see themselves on a path that is either not what they envisioned, or at the very least, not what they enjoy. I see in all forms of media stories of those who had goals set out and plans for their lives, and they’ve followed those plans to accomplish their goals. I think that for the mainstream view of success, this is at least a part of it. But how do you measure success if your only real goal is to enjoy life as it happens? The philosophy here is that life is not about the pursuit of ends, but rather it is a singly ended string of experiences. It’s not about accomplishing tasks, or getting to a certain position, or having so many things. It’s about enjoying the moments that life gives. But what I’ve seen happen to these two, is life pushes them into a rhythm of income and consumption that lulls them into a situation that makes them unhappy. For both, something has happened that caused them to realize abruptly that the life that is happening to them is causing unhappiness, and now they feel stuck in it. Largely, that’s because of money.

I asked the question above, “How do you measure success…”. The answer, I think, is that you don’t. If you truly just want to enjoy life, that mindset is a success. However, because these people find themselves in the situation described, some action must be taken on their part. Right? Do they now have to be decisive?

Even if someone has the philosophy of passive participation, it is still necessary to decide how to exist. Will it be an existence of increasing consumption fed by an occupation that oppressive? Will it be modest in material fed by an occupation that the participant enjoys? This is the conundrum in which these two find themselves.

We all have to decide, whether overtly or not, what makes us happy, and then we have to decide whether we experience it or not.
I’m curious to see what philosophies of life and money that others maintain. At least one of these friends is a regular reader, although not a commenter (neither is me). If you would like to share yours, or even some advice, please post a comment. Or, if it is longer, send it to me at bhorne2x at yahoo, and I’ll post it. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Wandering Author's Gift: A Contest

The Wandering Author has committed himself to a gift to someone. He has initiated a contest that will reward the winner with personal editing service for their submission, which he will then help develop into a book, including artwork to be sold on Lulu.com. To all those entering, this is a great motivator, because such a service is very valuable. To read more, please check out the Unending Journey of the Wandering Author and show your appreciation by leaving comments on his postings.

Comforting Touch

Everything’s going to be just fine. The phrase had become a mantra to him. It was how he coped with things going on in front of him. This time, it was death. He wasn’t so sure that his chant was going to provide solace for the uncertainties in this instance. Her face reminded him of a puppet he’d seen once, a marionette actually. It was hanging in a shop window in Prague amongst several others with similarly accentuated features. Bright lips and strong noses brought the expressions of the limp arms and legs to life in his mind. He stood in front of the window for nearly an hour imagining the miniature characters bounce around and converse jovially in his mind. He was doing it again now. He was imagining his mother dancing in the kitchen like she had done so regularly. The smell of pot roast and potatoes lingering in the nearly stagnant air, she would disrupt it in a burst from the sink full of clanking plates. Her rump would start to bounce, one side then the other. She’d swing around while gyrating her hips, lifting, almost involuntarily, each bare foot off the linoleum. She’d bounce toward him with a grin on her face that said he was going to dance too.

None of that motion and happiness was there now. She laid still, eyes closed and painted, her lips drawn tightly. Someone put a hand on his shoulder and told him that she was in a better place. He didn’t believe it. She led a good life here. She never complained and was one of the happiest people he’d ever met. The idea of heaven seemed like a bore actually, sitting and praising some mysterious form all day, always wearing the same thing, and nothing ever happening. Here, there were adventures.

She had introduced him to the excitement of the world. That’s why he’d adopted the phrase; it calmed his nerves. Not that he wanted to be completely calm. “What’s the fun if it doesn’t scare you a little?” She’d told him that when he was trying to decide whether to ride the rope swing into the river. Brown and cold, the water didn’t seem very inviting, but she was right. It was fun, and mostly because it made his heart race. He placed his hand on top of hers even though they were as uninviting as the water had been. He didn’t put it there for the same reason. He hoped it would be comforting, because his mantra wasn’t.