OCTOBER 2010 (FALL)

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In January 2010 on December 31, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Photo by Lisa Guidarini

Bridge Trolls

by Claire Beck

He forgot about the possibility of ice on the bridges, and only remembered as he lost control of the bike and went into a long skid. Mark quickly found himself almost perpendicular to the wood planks as his bike skated out from under him. He hit the wooden planking and slid several feet. One cleat came free from the pedal, but the other held fast. The bike rose up above him and then fell. The free pedal nailed him hard mid-calf and the pain was excruciating. Mark’s slide ended. The bike rested half on top of him, the front wheel actually dangling over the edge of the bridge, still spinning. His left cleat finally popped out of the clamp on the pedal.

It took a moment for Mark to assess the damage. His right leg was in agony. He craned his neck to look and saw a rapidly growing pool of blood coming from his torn racing tights. White bone protruded wetly through the spandex. There wouldn’t be any walking out of this accident; he’d have to call for help.

Then he remembered that he didn’t have his cell phone with him. He’d decided not to take his Camelback, since he was only planning a short ride, opting instead for a small bottle of water. That meant everything he normally carried in his Camelback was also at home, including the phone.

Mark shivered with the cold of shock and realized he was in a lot of trouble. Hopefully someone would ride by soon, but he wasn’t too hopeful; it was nearly dusk and the cold would deter most casual cyclists. There was snow earlier in the week. The snow was largely gone, but as most people would know (and Mark had forgotten), the many bridges of the Prairie Path had a fair coating of ice this late in the season.

He was on the bridge just north of the Prairie Path Bike Shop and just South of IL-31 – far enough from both that shouting wouldn’t do much good. Autumn woods spanned the left side of the path, and an abandoned warehouse loomed hauntingly on the right. Mark recalled that this bridge was about twenty feet above a large brook. No help from below, then.

“Who’s that trip-trapping on my bridge!” A voice boomed out from below, accompanied by several giggles.

Mark was startled by the voice, but his fear quickly changed to relief. He called back, “Thank God! Hey, I had a really bad accident – wiped out on my bike. My leg is broken. Can you run for help?”

The sound of hurried movement below. Some whispering. Then, even louder than before, “Who’s that trip-trapping on my BRIDGE!”

That didn’t sound like a child’s voice. Okay, teen-agers, maybe. Perhaps this is a hangout where the local kids go to drink beer and smoke pot. Mark shivered again. He felt very cold and his teeth chattered.

“Listen, this is serious. I’m bleeding all over the place up here, and I can’t move. Can you help me?”

More laughter from below. More movement. It sounded like someone was climbing the trestle. Okay, maybe his saviors were a little stoned, maybe a little mean, but they were coming to help him. Thank God, Mark thought again. This could have been so much worse.

Then a large hand reached out from under the bridge and grasped the front wheel of the bike. The hand looked pale and bloated, as if it had been in water for a long time. There were bruises and puncture marks. One fingernail was missing, and the others were crusted with dirt. The hand yanked the bike with such force that Mark was pulled toward the edge of the bridge along with it. The dragging pulled the wound open further. Mark screamed in agony and fear.

More titters from below. The sound of heavy breathing. A high buzzing in Mark’s ears made it difficult to tell what else was going on. His vision tunneled and faded as the blood loss stole his consciousness. Amidst the buzzing he heard a babble of conversation – yelling, more laughter, more whispering. He felt himself tugged closer to the edge. His leg screamed again, jolting him back to consciousness briefly. The hand of his captor grasped the knee of his broken leg fondly, possessively.

A WINTER TAIL

by Lydia Lacina Hartsig

One dawnlit morning, about three weeks into the frostbite cold of December, I opened the drapes on the back window to enjoy the brightening woods beyond my yard.  Under a cedar tree near the woods, I noticed two rather large brown rocks which I had not placed there.  I stared intently through the swelling light.  One of the rocks moved.  It rose with royal grace, becoming the antlered head of a young buck.  Young, I guessed, since he was blessed with just one rack.  I saw then, that from my perspective at the window, the ‘rocks’ were his bent down head and his rump.  He was lying on the scant, needle strewn snow under the cedar, huddled as though to drain what little heat his shivering body could siphon from the patch.

At first, I joyed in the sight of this majestic animal, even though in any other season I would have chased after it with at least a hefty five-foot long dead branch screaming, “venison!” Soon I realized he might be dying.  What then?  I thought of the sparrows that do not fall without God’s knowledge and prayed earnestly for God’s attention to the buck.  Yes, well.  There would still be a carcass.  Under MY cedar tree.

While I considered this, he gently stirred his furry body upright.  Surveying the sparse breakfast possibilities, he seemed to focus upon some dead-dry weeds protruding from the foot deep snow a few feet away.  He limped towards the weeds.  Limped!  One limb was lame.  What misfortune had he survived?  Compassion pricked my conscience, but of course there was nothing I could do.

My attention turned to some disturbance a little way off in the woods.  It was a lovely doe trailed by a small deer, no longer a fawn, yet still quite small.  They ambled towards the buck and seemed to communicate.  Then the little one, white tail raised starch high, spurted down the prairie path a few feet beyond the strip of woods followed leisurely by the doe and the buck.  I wondered what their story was – I will never know.  But I took comfort knowing that at least the injured buck was not alone with his lameness.

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In January 2010 on December 31, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Pasquale and La Strega Befana

by Nile Tallman

Crack! A swift painful rap on the head from the witch’s broom handle awakened Pasquale.

“Get up you naughty, naughty little boy! Get up!” La Strega Befana squawked.

Pasquale rubbed his curly black hair and rose from the straw bed on the cold cell floor.  Strega Befana smiled; her soot stained face folded into long deep creases and the bridge of her large hook nose bunched up into a hundred crinkles.   She wrapped a boney arm around the recoiling Pasquale, pressed her ancient cheek against his and swung them both around.   He noticed that her dirty babushka smelled like an odd mixture of burnt firewood, peppermint and herbs.

“You come to steal from La Strega, no?  You think you can just walk in and take from me?  Are you not afraid of my magic?” She quickly questioned with sugary glee.

Pasquale only managed a grunt as he struggled to free himself from her surprisingly iron grip.  La Strega mocked his grunt then kicked the cell door all the way open.  With Pasquale safely tucked under her arm, she skipped down the dim stone hallway, away from the dungeon.   Resigned to his continued captivity, Pasquale allowed the toes of his boots to drag across the floor as he was carried down the hall.

An arched, heavy wooden door blocked the way.  Strega Befana lifted her broom and defiantly waved it at the door.  It flew open of its own accord and crisp winter air blew through the passageway.   She stopped just short of the edge of the open portal.  Pasquale let out a weak yelp as he looked down at the ground far below.  His knees buckled and he tasted bile at the back of his throat.  As his stomach churned, Pasquale imagined how it would feel to splatter on the rocks below.

Strega Befana motioned with her broom to the village in the valley beyond the hill.  It was festively decorated; candles burned in every window, evergreen garland was strung from building to building over the streets and brightly painted wooden statues of gods and saints stood proudly on the cobblestones.  The whole village glowed and twinkled, a reflection of the stars in the heavens above that clear night.  Despite his situation, Pasquale couldn’t help but find it beautiful, warm and lovely.

“Look you naughty little boy.   You should be with your family for the holiday, no?  Instead you come here to steal from me… on the eve of my holiday.  Tell Befana: Why did you do such a stupid thing?”

Pasquale swallowed then spoke without looking at the witch, “You always give me coal and  I never do anything wrong!  All the other children get candy and presents.  It’s not fair!”

“Naughty boys do not receive gifts on Befana Day.”

“I am not a naughty boy!”

“Oh, but you are little Pasquale.  You are.”

“Nicolo and Valentina are much worse than me.  You give them candy and toy swords! They are mean old bullies!”

Strega Befana stared at Pasquale; her smile faded.  She reached over and grabbed the nape of the boy’s neck.

“Who is worse?  What is worse?  Tell me, what good do you do?  All you do is: want, want, want.  You are always thinking, ‘What can I get?’ not, ‘What can I give?'”

She grunted and shook her head.

“Come little Pasquale, La Strega has something to teach you.”

She pushed Pasquale off the precipice.  He tried to force out a scream as he fell towards the ground, but no sound would escape.  The entire world rushed away as he plunged towards the sharp rocks.  Suddenly he was caught and placed roughly on a flying broom.  Strega Befana cackled in delight.  Pasquale grabbed a hold of the tattered witch’s dress and held on tight as they accelerated at an impossible speed through the night towards his village.

Tears streamed across Pasquale’s cheeks as they rocketed over the Temple of Juno, the baths and towards his neighborhood.  He recognized the home of his rival, Nicolo, as they slowed near the window.  He could see the hearth inside and Nicolo’s father lying on his side on a couch.   He held a cup of wine in his hand.   Nicolo was playing with toy soldiers on the floor; banging them together angrily.

“His mother is dead, you know,” whispered the witch.

“I know.”

Suddenly Nicolo’s father stood up and dropped his cup.  It shattered on the floor with red wine splattering all over Nicolo.  His father cursed, stumbled a few steps and fell to the ground.  Nicolo dutifully walked over to his father, helped him up and lead him to his room.   He saw the tears in Nicolo’s father’s eyes.  A few moments later Nicolo was scrubbing the floors and cleaning up the broken glass.

They rushed off again.  This time they sped past the streets of the village to a small farm in the outskirts.  It was Valentina’s house.  They landed gracefully and Strega Befana pulled Pasquale roughly to a low window.  Inside the Contadinos were ravenously scarfing down a very meager meal that must have been their holiday feast.   Pasquale noticed that Valentina was just pushing her food around on her plate.  She sat next to her poor crippled sister who was run over by an ox cart as a baby.  Carefully she slid her food onto her little sister’s plate so her parents could not see.

The boy and the witch were in the air again.  Pasquale watched the village speed past underneath him.   His heart was heavy as they slowed and landed on the roof of his family’s villa.  Strega Befana lifted her straw broom up and leaned on it like a walking stick.  Pasquale looked up at the witch with a frown.

“I see now, La Strega, why they deserve your gifts.  But… I still do not know why I received coal last year.”

“Oh little Pasquale, you only do good for the prize.  This is your problem.   You only care who is looking or what you will get, not about being really good deep down inside.”

“What is the difference, La Strega?”

“It is all the difference in the world, little Pasquale.   Quit being so selfish!  Help your mamma even if she’s not paying attention.  La Strega can forgive a lot.  But, selfishness makes for a very naughty boy.”

“Yes, La Strega.”

“I must go now.  The candy, toys…  and coal still must be packed in my sack for the children.  Go.  Your mamma and pappa are looking for you.”

Pasqualle heard his mamma sobbing then.  She must have been worried sick since he was gone.  He had not even thought about his parents all day; he had only thought of his own hide.  La Strega was right, he was selfish.  He began walking over to the edge of the roof to climb down when…  Crack! The witch’s broomstick smacked him across the back of his head.

“You quit being so naughty, Pasquale!”

He watched as Strega Befana launched off the clay roof and up into the air.   She paused in front of the moon; her silhouette stood out against its cool glow and she cackled happily.   She looked at Pasquale for a moment then sped off into the darkness.  Pasquale knew he was getting coal this year (he did try to rob La Strega after all) but all he cared about was getting to his family, the warmth of the holiday, and to the life he now realized he was so lucky to have.

In January 2010 on December 31, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Photo by Lisa Guidarini

Book Review: The Hidden by Tobias Hill

Lisa Damian Kidder

The HiddenThe Hidden is a haunting mystery novel written by award-winning writer Tobias Hill. Seamlessly shifting back and forth between research notes on ancient Sparta and a present day archeological dig in Greece, the story’s main character, Ben Mercer, flees his failed marriage and his academic life at Oxford. He first finds himself in Athens, taking a job at the Metamorphosis meat grill, where he hopes to lose himself amidst the hard work and anonymity at this local dive far off the beaten path. However, tensions at the restaurant appear to possess an undercurrent of chaos that seems on the verge of erupting into potential violence. As the name implies, Metamorphosis is merely a place of transition for Ben, before he eventually seeks out a job at an archeological dig site taking place at the location where the former Sparta once existed.

With themes reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, the Spartan dig and the group of archeologists are not all that they would appear on the surface. Struggling between feeling like an outsider and wanting to belong to something greater than himself, Ben is forced to weigh his morals and his sense of self against his desire to be a part of this elite group. As his academic notes on Spartan history begin to descend into less research and more of a labyrinth of his own self reflections, Ben learns that some secrets may be better left hidden.

Hill does a fine job of escalating the story to its inevitable sinister ending. The characters are both representations of the old Spartan legends as well as friends and foes. They’re fearful, alluring, unattainable, flawed, stark, and dark all at once. Though the story itself is a bit circuitous at times, the pleasure of reading this book is in the writing style itself. It comes as no surprise that Tobias Hill is also a poet. His lyrical prose and observations about the most simple or the most grand of settings make the reader feel a part of the dusty behind-the-tours Greece, as if you could not only visualize it but reach out and touch it.

Olive trees silver in the last sun. Olive trunks full of lumps and rumps, love handles, sumo thighs, double chins, breasts and warts and genitals, whittled slits, murder holes, clefts and crevices, wingbones and filigrees. Olive groves full of secret things: car wrecks, gypsies and horses, shoulders of ruin.


Be an Eagle

Jen Yeakey

It was a cold morning and I was snug and warm in my bed hitting the snooze button again and again, not wanting to get out from under my blankets.  I only succeeded in getting a late start, which would not have been a start at all, were it not for the anticipation of a piping hot shower. But before I had even worked up a lather, the hot water ran out.

Okay, so no more hot water, at least I was clean and ready for the next step to my morning. While making my way to the kitchen, I stubbed my toe on a dog chew bone and said sarcastically to myself, this is going to be a great day.  Seeing how nothing else was working in my favor, I thought fresh-brewed coffee should do the trick and wouldn’t you know it; I was out of coffee. No biggie, I thought, I can swing through McDonalds- they have good coffee and it’s on the way.  I was trying to stay positive, but I couldn’t help thinking in my head that this was going to be a bad day. As it turned out, my snooze button-induced delay, coupled with abnormally bad traffic, cancelled out any time I had to swing in for a coffee without being late to work. Wonderful!

I repeated the old adage “you can start your day over at any time” like a mantra, trying to make myself believe it was true. Then I remembered an email that a friend sent to me just the day before. It was perfect for what I was going through:  “If you get up in the morning expecting to have a bad day, you’ll rarely disappoint yourself.” The email went on to quote a radio personality, “Stop complaining! Differentiate yourself from your competition. Don’t be a duck. Be an eagle. Ducks quack and complain. Eagles soar above the crowd.”  And it was in that moment I remembered all that I have going for me and all that I have accomplished so far in life. I don’t want to be a duck. I want to be an eagle!

Complaining takes too much energy; it accomplishes nothing, yet still leaves you exhausted at the end of the day. Soaring above the crowd trying to be a bright spot to yourself and someone else, on the other hand, gives you a high like no other drug can or ever will. Not to mention at the end of the day when you lay your head on the pillow, thanking God for giving you one more day, and drift off to sleep, your rest is so much more peaceful.

I try to remember that no matter how bad of a day I may think I am having, there is always someone who has it so much worse than I. And that whatever it is that has my feathers in a ruffle will soon pass. It certainly won’t matter at the end of my life. It may not even matter enough to worry about by the end of the day.

Life is a precious gift and if we spend all our time acting like a duck, quacking and complaining, then what we are essentially doing is pooping all over the day. After all, that is what ducks do while walking, is it not? When I choose to soar like an eagle, I am more apt to find the positive in all that went wrong. Such as: I probably needed that extra few minutes in bed this morning, the majority of my shower was warm, not ice cold, I could stand to cut back on my caffeine intake, my toe was not broken from the dog bone  and I still made it to work on time.

Start doing little things everyday to soar like an eagle. Tell someone to have a GREAT day as you exit the elevator. Tell yourself you’re going to have a great day and don’t let minor calamities deter you. It is little things like this that will set you apart from the rest and have you up and flying high above the crowd before you even realize you are not pooping on the day anymore.