Friday, December 13, 2019

Friday Night Frights Presents: Subtext

Good evening. Mr Arthur Deco is one of those pesky masters of the unspoken word. His opponents have a sense that something isn't right, but they just can't put their finger on it. It's quite infuriating, you know, as one is unable to devise a snappy comeback, not knowing the question. Fortunately for our harried shop owner, he's not averse to resorting to violence.

The curio shop's bell jangled as Arthur Deco swept in, clutching an ancient tome of Greek philosophy--or at least a modern English translation. Such dry subject matter couldn't compete with Harry Potter. The publisher therefore released it as rare, signed copies that commanded high prices from academics. It was all a fraud, in Deco's opinion. His job as an art critic was to have that fact published in his newspaper column.


The shop's owner, Trent Harker, emerged from a side room. His face fell upon sight of his nemesis. "What now, Deco?"

"I suppose you haven't read my column today. It's a critique of this piece of trash."

Harker looked chilled at seeing the book's title. A buyer had offered the shop four thousand for it. "You can't be serious. That book is a window in time. It gives us insight to how men thought three eons ago, before the golden age of Greece."

"Maybe as originally written. But the publisher has taken liberties." Deco consulted a small note pad. "On page 156 he has 'appeal to'--epikalesasthai--instead of the original 'call out to'--epikaloumenon. That makes the speaker subservient--not at all the bombastic type he actually was." Deco could practically read Harker's mind via the man's expression: Storm clouds ahead.

"Do you speak Greek?" Harker spluttered.

"No, I never had interest in studying and mastering the  tongue." But easily could have.

"Then you're hardly an authority, Deco."

"Isn't that what scholars are for? Your thesis is that I can't look at Greek text on a screen, and read the plain English that appears beneath it." This is the captain, folks. We're experiencing turbulence.

"Still. . . .it's not like being a native speaker."

Strapping on parachute. "I know grammar, Harker, such as when the prepositive article is abused." Sound of birds chirping in Harker's brain. "To clarify that for you, it's the word 'of''. The translator moves it from the genitive cast, making it a simple inclusive."

"Well. . . .I'm not convinced."

Jump out, pull the ripcord. "The question is who made the error--translator or publisher. My money is on the biased translator." Well, THAT ship has sailed. Moving right along. . . .

Harker seemed suddenly resolved. "Suppose I can show you an original voyager through time--one who will settle that matter once and for all."

"That I'd like to see."

The shop owner navigated glass cases, arriving at a small safe. He spun the combination and removed the lock. Stepping behind the safe, he prepared to open the door. "Stare into the eyes of--Medusa!"

Deco's face registered the same horror as the would-be robber a week ago. His movements grew sluggish as he grayed over and solidified.

Days later, one of the shop's more reliable buyers marveled at Harker's latest acquisition. "Amazing--that's the art critic Arthur Deco! Why would he commission such an unflattering likeness? He looks positively scared to death."

Harker beamed at the praise. "That's what the sculptor is calling it: Scared To Death."

"I can't understand why the artist wants to stay anonymous. How much is he asking for it?"

"Oh. . . .four thousand ought to do it."

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Deed To The Country

Empires turn on a coin, goes the old saying. Enter a pair of entrepreneurs named Scrum and Chalmers. They've absconded with the collateral of a high-stakes card game, hoping to cash in on a life of ease. They're about to discover the truth of another old saying--easy come, easy go--as they sail with a singular lack of imagination into the murky waters of. . . .The Twilight Zone.

A rowboat emerged out of bright morning mist, bearing three survivors of the Lolligag. Captain Squee roused himself from the fugue of having taken a falling timber to the noggin.

"Hoist the Roger! Haul that lanyard!" So saying, he slumped forward once again.

At the bow, Scrum raised placating palms. "Let's keep it quiet, Cap'm--somebody on yon beach might be hearin' us."

"Besides," Chalmers added, "flyin' the Roger is the last thing we wanna do at this point. It's what got us proper gunned by that Frenchie man-o-war."

Scrum drew up on a reedy shore of white sand. "Nothin' for it now but to hide the chest. That bluff makes a right landmark."

The pair splashed ashore, grounding the boat and its dazed skipper. They lugged a small chest behind some scree at the cliff base, since the mist was burning off and might expose them to any eyes out at sea. There wasn't much chance of discovery by the colonials, whose tenuous foothold on this coast faced all manner of challenge: Indians, raiders, the king's grasping tax men, unpredictable storms and the  like.

Chalmers leaned on his shovel, wiped a sweaty palm on his striped tunic. He stole a glance at the captain's bowed head. The plumed black hat obscured the man's vision, even if he was just shamming. The red coat was a liability, though, for blokes not wanting to draw attention. Suddenly emboldened, Chalmers hatched a plan.

"The cap'm don't know what we're about. I say we move on, and tell 'im the chest got stole." His craggy face leered. "Then there's the bounty on 'is head. Can't say as how it's easy takin' serious a man with a name like Squee!" He started to chuckle, checked himself with another fearful glance at the boat.

"Stow that, barnacle brain!" Scrum secured his tri-corner hat against a grit-laden gust. "I'm not sure he ain't watchin' us right now, clear through 'is hat, or listenin' to every word!"

These ruminations were cut short by distant thunder rolling ashore. Flashes of light fired the mist farther out. The Frenchie was back, and this time her opponent flew a union jack. Scrum shouted for the spy glass, and Chalmers lumbered down to carefully ease it out of the captain's hand. On his way back, another blast startled him, and he juggled the glass, almost dropping it into the foaming surf.

Scrum focused on the newcomer. "Limeys!" he spat. "Now all we need is the Spanish and the Portuguese!" The combatants moved farther off, the contest undecided.

"And the Dutch," Chalmers added. "There was five kings at that card game."

Scrum rested a foot on the chest, grinning. "A noble idea it was, gamblin' all this territory on a game--no war, no killin'. Too bad they didn't keep a closer eye on the deed to it all!"

Both men laughed at that, carelessly letting down their guard.

A girl of maybe fourteen or sixteen stood on the lower slope. It was the second thing Scrum noted, the first being the pistol in her belt. He shook Chalmers, whose giggling abruptly ceased.

"Good morning to you, gents," she began. "Leave off the chest, and be away with you."

Scrum drew up with swelled chest. "Keep in mind, lass, you only got one shot."

"Then it will be for you, even if you send your man after me."

"I ain't nobody's man!" Chalmers blustered.

"Shush!" Scrum warned. "The cap'm. . . ." He confronted the girl again. "Nothin' but a piece o' paper in here, missy." He took out a scroll as proof. "It's just the dregs after we lost all the gold."

"Then it must be mighty important. It'll be the scroll for your life."

Scrum was liking the bounty idea more and more, risky though it was. "Fair enough--the scroll is yours." Over Chalmers objections, he led the way back to the boat. "How is it you're called?" he shot back to the girl. "Who is it what got the best o' Cap'm Squee?"

"Don't laugh," she said. "I have one aunt named Erica, and another named Amelie. My da put both together to name me: Am-Erica. America."

"Bah!" Scrum risked some parting sarcasm to save face. As he and Chalmers rowed south along the coast, his confidence in betraying the captain faltered, and the captain didn't disappoint.

From somewhere in his coat, Squee came up with a pistol and pointed it at Scrum's head. "Where be the chest, Mister Scrum?"

Scrum's eyes crossed at the nearness of the gun to his nose. "We was beset by superior forces, sir!"

"Aye," Chalmers echoed. "Superior forces, it was!"

Squee slumped forward again.

As Scrum exhaled relief, Chalmers fetched a jug from under his bench. "There's some rum left. I say we keep 'im sozzled, then throw in with a new crew at the next town."

"It's just like you to have no imagination," Scrum scolded. "Here's what we do. . . ."

Their bickering trailed behind them as the boat journeyed on, passing the future home of the Norfolk Naval Air Station.