The Blue-Black Dragon

 

 

tar pit

 

A piercing whistle shrieked. Pounding hobnails clacked against the cobbles warning Moocher Waage of imminent arrest. In desperation, he dove beneath the fence, bled among the green briars, and rolled down slope toward the stench.

“I hate this place, but they’ll not follow.” Waage surmised, the Gritville Constabulary would triage at the curb, deciding not soil their expensive uniforms in pursuit. Moocher knew they’d avoid the sulfurous and nitrogenous fumes, so he bowed, resting hands upon his knees to catch his breath.

He gagged as he inhaled the vileness of the pit, although it brought him some measure of safety.

One last precaution, he’d climb the maple’s long dead arm above the pit. That branch could crack and drop Waage into the putrid, blue-black bile. He’d trust his luck once more, confident that the constables would never reach him. They’d soon find another vagrant to badger.

The pit seemed more active this night and his bleached perch more brittle. “Was this the best hideout?” Waage wondered as he hugged the long dead branch. The moon rose in all its fullness, reflecting sunlight across the oily surface, smooth as a black, marble slab, but then a busy gaggle of bubbles popped and hissed releasing their ghastly pungence. While their frequency and foulness prompted reconsideration, a shadow flicked in the woods and Moocher distinctly heard the snap of a dried stick. Waage shifted to scan his surroundings. The moonlit trees reached toward him like specters, but no human threat.

The branch cracked and bent a centimeter closer to the tarry abyss. Waage shimmied back toward the maple’s main trunk but the branch dipped another centimeter and then cleft almost in half dropping Waage so that his face dangled a meter above the blue-black ooze. The limb-tip split the tar, prompting a fizzle of increasingly larger packets of stench to mar the mirror’s surface.

Waage’s hands now soaked with sweat slipped along the sagging branch toward the shining tar. Larger bubbles jarred Waage out of his terror-trance with their pungent sulfur and ammonia mix.

“Ploop! Haloop! Halp! Help me!” They spoke.

Waage squelched a scream. “It must be the monster, long imprisoned below.” He breathed, “What do you want?”

“Free me.”

Waage, not one to help his fellow man seemed in no position to refuse this putrid gasp. “What’s in it for me?” he whispered.

The slime growled back at him, “I’ll give you a home. You’ll never feel hunger nor fear, nor will the constabulary find you, just help me flee.”

Waage snorted, “I can’t help myself. I don’t know what you are or how to help you. Maybe you will eat me for my troubles. Maybe you belong in the pit and should stay there.”

It spoke more clearly, “Go to Phlegm Dredger in the capitol. He’ll know your smell and you his. Tell him there is a rich deposit of hydrocarbons and gold as yet unclaimed. Ask for a substantial finder’s fee. Bring him. I’ll see he pays.”

Waage felt the branch rise and he began to slip back toward the trunk. He dismounted as a melon-sized bubble burst, releasing words. “See, I have saved you, now do as I ask and bring me help.”

Waage scampered up the slope, scanned the cobbles and made for the train yard. He climbed aboard a northbound flat-car and squeezed beneath a tarp-covered tractor to rest and wonder. “What’s this about? Will I be safe or sorry? It’s all too strange.”

Hours later, the sun rose behind the capitol. Phlegm Dredger needed little convincing and trucked Waage back to the tar-pit. Waage waited in the shadows just inside the wood. Soon enough, Dredger emerged, drove to an ATM, handing Moocher more money than he’d ever seen. Dredger dropped Waage at the bus terminal, advising that “A sea-side vacation would benefit your health.”

Dredger departed sending Moocher toward the terminal’s gift shop, where he bought a one-way ticket and a change of clothes. He washed and dressed in the bathroom, and zipped his money into his new jacket. He found a place to sleep aboard the bus. When he woke, through the window he noticed the boats, bridges and finally the sandy beaches. The bus lurched to a stop, hissed and disgorged its load.

Moocher rented a sleeping cubicle at the sea-side terminal, his new home.

Between the sea and the showers Moocher had never been so clean. He even bought a toothbrush and a bar of soap, nonetheless he felt dirty. His suspicions of evil fleshed out when he heard of riots and violence back in Gritville. Meanwhile, Phlegm Dredger had come into a fortune of hydrocarbons and gold. Dredger surmised that the pit-monster had escaped.

“What have I done?” he asked. I’ve caused more misery in Gritville and increased Dredger’s wealth. How soon will the constabulary find me and bring me back? Perhaps they’ll throw me in the pit.” Crestfallen, he walked to the ocean.

“Sharks! Sharks!” the lifeguard called. Moocher shaded his eyes to see small boy atop a surfboard unaware of the fins about him. Moocher waved, jumped and yelled to no effect. He ran into the surf to warn the child and awkwardly paddled towards him. A shark bumped into Moocher’s leg and then another nudged his ribs. He knew that the next shark would bite him and the frenzy would shred him and maybe the boy.

A shadow blocked the sun. A swooping darkness snatched Moocher and the surfer, pinching them in the clutches of an immense blue talon. It smelled familiar.

It set its load upon the beach, allowing the boy to run-off screaming, but the beast wrapped Moocher gently with a thirty kilogram chain of gold. It belched, “Thank you. This gift once bound me, sinking me in my own greed. See that you own and use this gold to help your neighbors. It shouldn’t own nor use you.” Stunned, Moocher watched the blue-black dragon vault into the sky leaving him a wealthy, wiser and better man.

 

The Blue-Black Dragon (© 2014, Donald J. Mulcare)

Tar-Pit drawing (© 2014, Nancy Ann Mulcare) Top of page.

Branch over Dark Water drawing (© 2014, Nancy Ann Mulcare) bottom of page.

branch over dark water

The Pope Just Released A List of 10 Tips for Becoming a Happier Person and They Are Spot On

Higher Learning

In a recent interview with the Argentine publication Viva, Pope Francis issued a list of 10 tips to be a happier person, based on his own life experiences.

The Pope encouraged people to be more positive and generous, to turn off the TV and find healthier forms of leisure, and even to stop trying to convert people to one’s own religion.

But his number one piece of advice came in the form of a somewhat cliche Italian phrase that means, “move forward and let others do the same.” It’s basically the Italian equivalent of, “live and let live.” You can check out the full list below.

The Pope gives a thumbs up to an audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (Photo: CSV)

The Pope’s 10 Tips for a Happier Life

1. “Live and let live.” Everyone should be guided by this principle, he said, which has a similar expression in…

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The Newton Maniac

keyboard

At summer camp— away from the smog-shrouded city—the Milky-Way glistened as diamonds flung upon their midnight-velvet backdrop. Each August, constellations fragmented as the Perseid Meteor Shower dropping stars to earth as fireflies, lightning-bugs and glow-worms. Camp’s where I learned to swim, ride horses, mangle crafts, scratch poison ivy, and engrave memories and friendships that endure even now.

PJ and I renewed our bond each June as if the school months between the summers hadn’t existed. We neither wrote nor called. In fact, I had no idea where he lived, but the unspoken link remained.

The camp director assigned us to the same cabin, named after the Lenape, a tribe that had once dominated these forests. PJ and I did everything together—meals, swimming, crafts and team sports. After supper, we shared the mess hall piano to play Heart and Soul. My left hand moved like a spider to key the bumba-dumba, bumba-dumba, bumba-dumba, bumba-dumba. PJ’s right hand added the, tink, tink, tink, datink, datink. We brooked no variation, because this was our song.

Between supper, the piano and the bugler’s mournful taps, our nighttime entertainment occasionally included ghost stories, none more frightening than those told by a Monsignor who visited from a nearby parish. He strolled about as the sun set—wearing his cassock decorated with purple buttons, piping and sash—greeting the boys from his town, but he smiled at all as we gathered under the stars in the middle of the baseball diamond.

The counselors brought him a wooden chair and we campers sat cross-legged before him, swatting mosquitoes until the Monsignor redirected the voice that had preached thousands of sermons, to utter tales of horror.

“Boys,” he’d intoned and looked about, “don’t ever go into the woods after dark. I’m telling you for your own good because there is a maniac running among the trees; it’s stronger than a thousand bulls, and has killed many over the years. I wouldn’t want you to join that number. I’d grieve, even if they ever found your body, to vest in black for your funeral.”

The Monsignor snatched our attention as he detailed the mangled corpses flung by the merciless, Newton Maniac. A shiver rattled my ribs as the goose bumps popped where sweat had just glistened on my arms. The whites of PJ’s eyes grew brighter as he bit his lower lip.

The Monsignor cupped his hand to his ear. “Can you hear the scream? Is that wailing in the forest, the Maniac, his most recent victim or a victim’s ghost?” He turned his head following the piercing shriek as it traveled from west to east.

We could trace the inhuman moan, rising in pitch, crossing the woods beyond our cabins. My grandpa often described the banshee’s screech. My dad said it was an old-country myth, but this scream was real and rushing at us. My knees knocked until I hugged them still. The night air retained enough heat to comfort us, so why my chill, I asked as the unearthly screaming tracked among the darkened hardwood groves. My lips moved in desperate prayers, but as the sound faded to the east, my heart-beat slowed back to normal.

Lest we grow complacent, the Monsignor reminded us, “The Newton Maniac had killed an entire family just a few days ago. The children were about your age.”

I glanced about at nodding heads and quivering lips. Even Jack, our counselor seemed deeply concerned. Later, as we prepared for bed, Jack confirmed the existence of the Newton Maniac, the horror of the recent deaths and our need to stay clear of the woods. He warned we’d best behave or the Maniac would come for us. PJ and I agreed we’d never hike through the woods even in broad daylight lest the Maniac count us among its victims. Nightly visits to the latrines required the company of PJ, our flashlight and our baseball bats should the Maniac leap from the dark.

On one of the last nights of that summer season, campers assigned to the Iroquois, banged on the walls of the Lenape’s cabin screaming, “The Newton Maniac’s coming through the woods. You’d better run.”

We of the Lenape cabin raised our baseball bats, rushed into the dark woods shouting our war cry, to engage the Maniac in battle.

The Iroquois campers stopped and laughed, “You Lenape are suckers!”

It was a foolish thing to say to a tribe, armed and ready to shed blood. Again, the scream of the Newton Maniac pierced the night, breaking the stalemate. The Iroquois campers scampered for safety. We of the Lenape ran to engage the Maniac, now approaching at a tremendous speed. We of the Lenape raised our bats, only to see the Maniac whiz by us into the night. We had prevailed, not over the Maniac, but over our fears and the taunts of the Iroquois. We marched back singing our victory chant, ignoring the Iroquois.

The Monsignor told no lie. A Newton Maniac sped, screaming among the trees. It had killed, usually at railway crossings. The Monsignor for dramatic effect never identified the Maniac as a train in the service of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, nor mention that the deceased had neglected crossing signals and the Maniac’s warning call before the engine’s impact launched them and their shattered vehicles into the waiting branches.

History has consumed The Newton Maniac, the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, the Monsignor, the camp and our final season before high school.

In our last minutes together, PJ and I warmed the piano bench for one more Heart and Soul. We left in silence so that final chord would always vibrate within us. I wonder now, how PJ, the Lenape and other campers fared over the decades. As I recalled those times and friends, I wished them well, especially, PJ, wherever he is.

If you’re out there PJ, I hope you remember Heart and Soul. Do you still feel the vibration?

 

Try this link for a musical accompaniment: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibfJsyx6N_U

Drawing by Nancy Ann Mulcare (© 2014 Nancy Ann Mulcare)

The Newton Maniac (© 2014 Donald J. Mulcare)