See what (made-up) people are saying about Watching the End of the World!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00014]“This book is the greatest thing since sliced bread! Literally. I will now never eat sliced bread again.” – Tom Fool

Watching the End of the World saved my cat’s life! Really, Fluffy was lying on the couch bored nearly to death and I read it to her and now she’s all better!” – Totally Not-Crazy Cat Lady

“If my plane crashed in the Andes and I was the only survivor I’d want to have Watching the End of the World with me. I could use it to fight off bears.” – Grizzly Steve

“Because of this book I now think I will survive the winter. The pages burn really well in my fireplace.” – Steven “Brrr” Wildman

“And it came to pass that on the nine-millionth day I did read Watching the End of the World and yea, it was good.” – God (Author’s note: I’m especially proud of this one. God’s very busy and doesn’t have much time to read.)

Continue reading “See what (made-up) people are saying about Watching the End of the World!”

Rental Child

fall-651020_960_720“Finish up Johnny.  The men are here.  They don’t like to wait.”

“What men?” asked five-year-old Johnny.

“The men from the child rental place.  They’ve come to take you back.”

“They’re going to take me away?” Johnny asked, his eyes growing wide.

“Of course!  Goodness, you didn’t think we were going to keep you, did you?  Silly boy.”  Joan grinned at him.  “Now hurry up.  They’re very busy men and they don’t like to be kept waiting.”

Continue reading “Rental Child”

It’s the Great Pumpkin Conspiracy, Charlie Brown!

Have you ever noticed how every year about early October tons of pumpkin-flavored crap suddenly sprouts up everywhere? Pumpkin coffee, pumpkin bread, pumpkin beer, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin gasoline—the list goes on and on. And that stuff hangs around and hangs around—like that nasty carbuncle on your lip you just can’t get rid of—until after Christmas. (Tip: do not click on that carbuncle link if you’re eating. Unless your computer/tablet/phone/whatever is barf-proof.)

Do you like any of that stuff? Do you know anyone who actually does?

The answer to both of those, unless you’re a freak, is no. No freaking way. No one does.

So why is there so much of it?

Two words. Pumpkin cartel.

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(random pumpkin picture, in case you already drifted off)

Yeah, and now you’re thinking, That’s silly. There’s no such thing as a pumpkin cartel. What kind of idiot does this guy take me for?

Well, first of all, I don’t take idiots. I have one and that’s quite enough, thank you. Second of all, the fact that you don’t know anything about the pumpkin cartel (PC) is proof of how powerful and dastardly they really are.

You see, they’re making a lot, I mean, a lot, of cheddar off pumpkins. And they won’t tolerate any threats to that sweet, sweet cash. So if they get wind of anyone getting wise to them, well, they just up and take ‘em out, Ichabod Crane-style (more on this in a moment).

First, we will disprove the lies the PC has spread about “pumpkins being a Halloween tradition.” We will do this by examining the origin of Halloween.

The Halloween we celebrate today is based mostly on the old Gaelic holiday Samhain. It was believed that on this day spirits could more easily come into the realm of the living. To make sure the people and their livestock would survive the winter, the spirits had to be appeased using food, drink, or crops.

That’s it. Nothing to do with pumpkins. What would spirits want with a pumpkin anyway? If you were dead, would you want a pumpkin at your party? No. You wouldn’t.

The reason pumpkins are part of Halloween is because of John Jacob Astor, one of America’s first truly rich people. In 1815 Astor inherited a massive pumpkin farm from his uncle. That farm annually produced approximately half a million pumpkins, or about one for each sixteen Americans at that time. Why his uncle grew so many pumpkins no one knows. He was doubtless deranged.

astor_iv_john_jacob_capitalist_inventor_stickers-r73f1f50e5d4d48a29acd69a4ab28a5ce_v9waf_8byvr_512

(picture of JJ himself. back when a steak dinner

and forty acres cost one cent he was worth millions of pumpkins)

So here’s John Jacob, got a half million pumpkins on his hands and more on the way and no idea what to do with them. A less-determined man would have just built a bunch of catapults and chucked (chunked?) those things right in the ocean, but JJ wasn’t one to give up. He was determined to find some way to get people to buy all those darned pumpkins.

It wasn’t an easy task. Just like today, no one liked the taste of pumpkins. He needed to find another use for them besides food. He tried turning them into furniture but that was no good. Too sticky. He tried turning them into shoes but they were too clunky.

Then, one day JJ was sitting at his desk with his whittling knife, trimming his fingernails (as he liked to do), a pumpkin in front of him, pondering his situation. Day turned to night and he still had no good ideas. In a sudden fit of rage, he went berserk on the pumpkin with his whittling knife, stabbing and gouging it again and again. When his fit of rage was spent, he noticed something that would forever change our nation for the worse.

There was a crude face carved into the pumpkin. A scary face.

A light bulb went on over his head. Scratch that. Too early for light bulbs. A torch went on over his head.

Scary face. Halloween. A marriage made in hell.

Halloween wasn’t much of a holiday back then, since most people couldn’t afford sugar and face it, what’s the point of Halloween without candy? But that meant he could easily break into the racket, push out the few chumps running it, and take it over for his pumpkins. Within a few short years you literally couldn’t call yourself a Halloweener (Halloweiner?) without having a couple carved pumpkins on your front porch. (Literally. He trademarked Halloween and if you said the word and weren’t within an arm’s reach of a pumpkin, a team of lawyers would swoop down on you out of nowhere and just litigate your ass from here to Kingdom Come.)

Fortunately, by 1820 at least one patriotic American realized what was happening and tried to warn the nation.

You’ve heard of Ichabod Crane, haven’t you? In the supposedly fictional story called “The Headless Horseman,” by Washington Irving, the hero is chased by a headless horseman. Ichabod flees across a river and thinks he’s safe, but the headless horseman throws his head at Ichabod and knocks him off his horse. In the morning, Ichabod has disappeared and all that is ever found of him is his hat lying by a shattered pumpkin!

Clearly, Irving knew about Astor’s evil plans even then, but was smart enough to know that if he came out publicly to warn people about them, something bad would happen to him.

That’s why he hid the warning in a harmless story!

Astor died a few years later under mysterious circumstances (most likely a pumpkin coup staged by his oldest son) and out of the ensuing power struggle the dreaded Pumpkin Cartel (PC) was born.

Not much interesting happened in the pumpkin world for the next 100 years or so. The PC consolidated its control of Halloween but didn’t do much expanding until its new leader took over in the 1920s. The new guy was a chap named Al Capone. Al got his start bootlegging during Prohibition and, while the money was sweet, he figured out early on that the real cash was to be made in pumpkins, not booze.

20110930_173049_Homebrew_Pumpkin

(warning: don’t try this at home! or anywhere, for that matter. pumpkins and beer are highly explosive!)

What he needed was to take over another holiday.

Before Capone came along, it was traditional to have a few nice zucchinis on your Thanksgiving table, or maybe some especially large turnips (turnips were very big in early 20th century America, before people realized how awful they tasted). Under Capone’s ruthless leadership, the PC made short work of the zucchini and turnip people who, let’s face it, were extremely poorly organized and also malnourished, especially the turnip people, who had to sit down and breathe hard every few steps and tended to burn easily in the sun.

With the zucchini and turnip people out of the way, things seemed like smooth sailing for Capone and his gang. Nothing to do but sit back and rake in the profits.

There was just one little problem: Bugs Moran and the Potato Syndicate. Bugs was an Irish mobster and he’d gotten the idea that the potato should be the official tuber of Thanksgiving.

All-out war ensued, culminating in the Valentine’s Day Massacre, where Bugs and his top lackeys were wiped out. When the dust settled, pumpkins ruled Thanksgiving.

Over the next fifty years the PC grew into a secret society on par with the Illuminati, complete with the crazy wigs and silly rituals involving members wearing live chickens on their heads while dancing the Charleston. But, as powerful and wealthy as they were, they were clearly a decaying, moribund society destined for the toilet bowl of history.

Until the 1980s when a little-known, mild-mannered fellow known as Bill Gates took the reins of power in a violent revolution against then-leader Kim Yong Il (also known for running North Korea for some time; I told you this was a vast secret organization) that ended with Kim saying “uncle” (in Korean, of course) and taking his henchmen and going home.

bill-gates-funny-grin-face

(behold, my newest invention: invisible pumpkins!)

Gates, you see, had a wider vision for the future. No longer happy with just forcing people to buy a couple pumpkins and choke down a pumpkin pie or two (something no one, absolutely no one, would eat until whipped cream was invented), he saw a future where pumpkins dominated all the holidays. Not only would they be used as decorations, but people would eat them.

Everyone, even his own evil and quite nerdish henchmen, thought Gates was crazy. But he had recently come up with an idea for a product that no one knew they wanted or needed, called a computer. He knew that he could get these things into the homes and businesses of millions of people and through them he could introduce viruses directly into human brains. These viruses would have only one function: to suppress people’s natural gag reflex to eating pumpkin-flavored things. (Notice how the computers we use are called PCs? As in Pumpkin Cartel? Coincidence?)

And that is why pumpkin-flavored crap inundates our society in the last quarter of every year. Most people, addicted to their computers and tablets and smartphones, aren’t even aware of it. They just mindlessly accept it. Gates’ plan has worked even better than he expected, to the point that he had to quit his computer company a few years ago so he could dedicate himself full time to his true passion.

It’s time to fight back. What should we do? you ask. Honestly, I have no idea. I’m just a conspiracy theorist. I don’t have actual, useful ideas. I just know you need to do something.

Otherwise, don’t be surprised to see Santa wearing an orange suit one of these days.

(Borrowed from The Mad Mustache Conspiracy, written by me and my sons, Daniel and Dylan.)

The Swiss Cheese Conspiracy

Surely you’ve noticed how Swiss cheese is full of all those little holes. But have you ever really thought about it? Have you ever wondered what happened to the cheese that was in those holes?

Probably, like most “normal” people, you haven’t wondered about this. Probably, you’ve just gone on buying and eating Swiss cheese without a care in the world, never thinking about the massive conspiracy behind that innocent little block of dairy goodness.

Picture this. You’re just some happy-go-lucky schmuck going to the store to buy some cheese. There’s two blocks of cheese on the shelf. One is good, old-fashioned, patriotic American cheese and the other is Swiss cheese. They’re both the same size. They cost about the same. In a moment of unpatriotic whimsy you decide to buy the Swiss. Why not try something new?

Because you are being robbed blind. And you are aiding an international conspiracy.

That block of Swiss cheese is riddled with holes. By our scientific estimates (which included looking at a block of Swiss cheese for a while and arguing about it) about 25% of that cheese you just bought is nothing but air.

You, sir, (or madam; we’re not sexists here) have just been cheated. You thought you were buying a block of a cheese of certain dimensions but actually you only got 75% of that amount. The rest goes right into the pockets of one of the biggest conspiracies in the history of the world:

The Swiss Cheese Conspiracy (SCC).

Here’s what happens. Through nefarious means known only to them, but that probably include lots of people with tiny little hands and miniature ice cream scoops in a sweatshop, the Conspiracy scoops out 25% of all newly-made Swiss cheese. They sell what’s left to the unwitting public at, of course, a huge profit (since they only have to supply 75% of the product at 100% of the price).

What they do with the tiny balls of Swiss cheese is unknown to us at this time, though we can, and will, speculate wildly. One theory, the boring one, is that they take all those tiny balls of cheese and smash them into new blocks of cheese which they again scoop out and sell, over and over until there is nothing left.

One theory is that the tiny balls of cheese are sold to the Chinese as aphrodisiacs for panda bears, but we have not been able to substantiate that.

Maybe the Swiss just sit around tossing the little balls of cheese into each other’s mouths and laughing at what stooges we are.

No one knows for sure.

Now you are asking yourself, “Who is behind this dastardly conspiracy and should we be frightened?” (Or perhaps you’re just asking yourself why you’re still reading this silly column.)

The answers to those questions are: the Swiss and yes. Very, very afraid.

Let us clarify. It started as just a Swiss conspiracy, but it has naturally grown beyond their tiny borders. They have established footholds in every major country in the world, co-opting ordinary citizens, purchasing politicians, and in some places, even taking over large tracts of land.

Oh no, you say. You’re all crazy, you say. That can’t be. Show me some proof.

  1. How about this? How about the state of Wisconsin? That’s where most of the Swiss cheese in the US is made and it is totally controlled by the SCC. Just look at the name of the state for cheddar’s sake! Wisconsin. That is only one letter off from Swissconsin. Can you really claim that is just a coincidence? The clues are there, right before your eyes, but you just refuse to see.

If you still need further proof that Wisconsin is controlled by the SCC, then how else do you explain those funny (though admittedly adorably cute) accents they have? Listen to the Swiss talk sometime. Then mix that with English. What you get is what Wisconsonians speak. Case closed.

Finally, I ask you one simple question: Have you ever bought grated Swiss cheese? No. You haven’t. Because it doesn’t exist. Because if it was grated, people would suddenly wake up to the truth of what is happening. They would see how little cheese they were actually getting.

If anyone was to ever attempt to package and sell grated Swiss cheese they would immediately come to the attention of the SCC and be shut down. We’re not saying the shutdown would be violent, but we are saying it would probably involve taking a nice, long nap in a vat of liquid Swiss cheese. Shoot, you can’t even post a recipe online using grated Swiss cheese. The web crawlers the SCC uses are super powerful, like way powerful, and they would find your recipe in minutes. Then the SCC secret yellow-ops team would come rappelling down your chimney and it would get ugly.

How dangerous and powerful is the SCC? Well, we did some exhaustive research to discover how much Swiss cheese is made worldwide (we Googled it) and you know what we found? Nothing. We don’t know how much Swiss cheese is made every year. Which is proof that they are hiding it from us. After all, if they had nothing to hide, then Google would know and tell us when we asked. So we went to our auxiliary sources (we argued about it and made up numbers) and we came up with the following total: Eleventy-billion pounds.

What? That’s crazy, you say. But it’s not. It’s true. Because we said so.

If you take our number, and you multiply it by how much the cheese sells for and factor in the fact that they only sell 75% of the actual product and do God-knows-what with the rest, you’ll see that the SCC makes about 102 bazillion dollars a year. That’s bazillion with a “B”!

Now you’re getting some idea how powerful the SCC really is. And how dangerous this information is.

What happens from here is up to you. It’s up to all of us. Do we allow this madness to continue, or do we stand up and say Enough!

The future of your children may depend on your answer.

(Near) Death in the Daintree

There’s this rain forest in Australia called the Daintree and I nearly died there at the hands of a madman.

Perhaps I should explain.

Twenty years ago or so I quit a teaching job and took off to see Australia. I flew to Cairns (pronounced “cans”) in northeastern Australia with a few grand in the bank and plans to hopefully spend six months there through a combination of scrounging whatever (illegal) work I could and absolutely pinching every penny I had to death. I was traveling alone because all my friends were either busy being responsible, hardworking adults, or were broke-ass deadbeats.

I spent a couple days in Cairns and decided it would be fun to go north to Cooktown. I could have hitched but I was still a little freaked out at being that far away all alone so I opted for the next cheapest option, ride sharing. Gas (or petrol, as they call it for some odd reason) is bloody expensive in Oz, so people do a lot of ride sharing when they have a long trip to go on. It works like this: Tom wants to go to Cooktown and he has a car. But the petrol is going to cost him an arm and a leg. So he puts up a note on the board in one of the local backpackers (they’re like hostels; you share a room with a bunch of other people and save a lot of money) offering a ride in exchange for sharing the gas expense. Eric wants to go to Cooktown but is too cheap for a bus, so he calls Tom. Tom picks him up. They drive to Cairns. End of story.

Unless Tom is a madman.

I knew the day was going to be interesting when we’d been driving for a few minutes and he casually said, “I think we’ll take the short cut through the rain forest, eh mate?” (Try to imagine all dialog in this post with an Australian accent. It will make the experience more immersive.)

Now, what I should have said was, “There’s no such thing as a short cut through a freakin’ rain forest, you damned idiot! The words ‘short cut’ and ‘rain forest’ don’t even go together!”

Instead I double checked our ride. Maybe I just imagined we were riding in a Toyota station wagon. Maybe we were really in a Landcruiser. No, it was a station wagon. Maybe Tom was pulling my leg. The Australians have been known to “wind up” Americans for fun. No, he seemed serious. I should have gotten out of the car right then. But for some dumb reason I stayed cool and offered a noncommittal response.

The Daintree Rain Forest is, as the name implies, a rain forest. Complete with lots of rain, mud and general jungle conditions. It is also home to numerous salt water crocodiles, which are generally considered to be the most vicious predator on the face of the planet. You see, your friendly neighborhood shark isn’t a huge fan of human meat, being filled with preservatives and such, and is only interested in hunting when he’s hungry. Crocs, on the other hand, can’t eat you fresh. They want to eat you after you’ve been rotting for a week or so, because you’re lots more tender then. So he hunts when he’s not hungry, whenever the opportunity presents itself.  And salt water crocs, of all the members of the croc family, seem to consider humans as great entrees.

But wait, you’re thinking. Eric called them salt water crocs. He’s going through the rain forest. That’s fresh water. Good. You’re paying attention. The problem with your reasoning is Mr. Salt Water Croc has no problems with swimming miles and miles up fresh water rivers, finding a nice little pond in the middle of nowhere and waiting for some fool to come along and, I don’t know, wash the mud off him in the pond. He can run 35 miles per hour in short bursts and leap clean out of the water if he wants.

Enough about the crocs. I’m setting you up. For the record, I did not almost get eaten by one. I just find them truly terrifying creatures and wanted to spread my fear to you, in case you ever think about getting one at the pet store.

So there I was in a Corolla station wagon, driving into the rain forest with a madman. It was, of course, muddy, and raining. Because it’s a rain forest. Every mile or so we passed another sign saying something like: Danger! Four wheel drives only! This means you, you idiot!

I pointed out the first couple signs but Tom just laughed them off in true Australian madman style. “That’s just to scare the tourists. We’ll be right, mate!”

We did see other vehicles, all of them looking like something you’d see on a National Geographic expedition. Their occupants all pointed and stared. My uneasiness grew.

Tom’s approach to the bad stretches of road, of which there were many, was to wind the little motor up and charge headlong into the morass. While laughing wildly, perhaps even maniacally. We slid sideways as often as forward. There was much crashing through rivers and flying up steep hills. There were many opportunities to consider fiery death while we were sliding towards a wicked drop off on the side of the road. I remember eyeing my backpack in the back seat and thinking, If he slows down enough, I’m grabbing that and jumping out. I’ll walk back to town.

Finally came the hill he just couldn’t make it up. Ruefully, he said, “I reckon we’ll have to turn back.”

Best thing I heard all day. I started thinking I was going to live after all.

Then it happened. We came to a stretch with deep ruts carved into it. Somehow, we’d made it across the first time, but now our luck ran out. The wheels dropped down into the ruts and we were going nowhere. Tom suggested I push and when I got out, the mud was so slick I immediately fell down. It was like someone spread oil over ice. I’m not kidding.

I skidded around back to push and then forgot everything I ever knew about getting a vehicle out of mud. (Growing up on a ranch, I know a bit about this subject.) I positioned myself behind the drive wheel. Which meant that when Tom stomped the gas, mud sprayed me head to toe. Literally.

Tom laughed so hard I thought he’d have a stroke. He suggested I clean off if I wanted to ride in his car anymore. There was a river nearby – big surprise, in a rain forest – and a decent-sized pool. However, due to the aforementioned crocs, I was a little apprehensive so I pretty much cleaned off by the following method: Dash up to the water’s edge. Splash on a couple handfuls. Dash back. Watch for crocs. Repeat. All of which Tom found equally funny.

I got back in the car. It rained some more. I was feeling pretty glum. Tom was downright chipper. I concluded he was insane.

“How the hell are we getting out of here?”

“Something will come up.”

Lunatic.

Finally this giant expedition vehicle came along. Eight wheels. Gear lashed all over the top. About ten tourists sitting in it. It stops. The driver rolls down his window. I’m thinking, Great. This guy can pull us out no problem. We’re saved.

“You boys have food?” Sort of. “Because you’re going to need it. Looks like you’re going to be here for a while.” (All the while the tourists are snapping pictures of us like crazy. Look, Martha. Here’s our pictures of those dumbasses in a Corolla stuck in the rain forest! Wonder if they’re dead.)

Then the rat bastard rolled up his window and drove away. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to feed his smug ass to the crocs.

Well, to cut this all short, someone finally did tow us out. By the time we got back on the highway the car was completely covered in mud. There was no visibility through any of the windows, except for the windshield where Tom’s one working wiper worked only poorly. Freed of the restraints of bad roads and mud, Tom proceeded to drive at approximately the speed of sound through mountain roads, careening into the opposite lane half the time, practically blind because of the mud. I only thought we were going to die in the rain forest. On the highway I was sure of it.

Long after dark we rolled into Cooktown. Sitting in a pub, Eric guzzling beers in an attempt to soothe his nerves, and Tom says, “My car before this was also a Corolla wagon.”

“Oh, yeah?” I reply. “What happened to it?”

“I rolled it.”

Big surprise there.

Rental Child

“Finish up Johnny.  The men are here.  They don’t like to wait.”

“What men?” asked five-year-old Johnny.

“The men from the child rental place.  They’ve come to take you back.”

“They’re going to take me away?” Johnny asked, his eyes growing wide.

“Of course!  Goodness, you didn’t think we were going to keep you, did you?  Silly boy.”  Joan grinned at him.  “Now hurry up.  They’re very busy men and they don’t like to be kept waiting.”

“But I thought … ”  His voice quavered and the brown eyes filled with tears.

Joan sighed a little.  “So did I — once.  But that was before Bill and I realized how much work you really were.  New clothes, school, food, doctors when you’re sick.  My word.  Who would have ever thought one little boy could be so expensive.  And the time you take up!”  She rolled her eyes.  “We’re not as young as we once were you know — and you’re really not a very good child.”  She shook her head in wonderment.  “It’s a good thing we went for the option-to-own agreement.  Otherwise we might have been stuck with you the way the Smiths are stuck with little Joey.”

“But you’re my parents!” Johnny shrieked.  “You can’t send me away.  You borned me!”

“Borned you?  Whoever gave you that silly idea?  Probably that Joey kid.”  She shuddered.

“But I came out of your stomach.  Miss Jones said so at school!”

She laughed and ruffled his hair.  “You are a funny child!  That’s one of the things I might miss about you.  But children coming out of women’s stomachs…!  Well, that’s simply ridiculous.  As foolish as believing in a stork.  No, we picked you out at the child rental store like everyone else.  Now hurry up and finish your soup and try to be calm about it.  You don’t want them to have to put you in a sack do you?”  She waved out the window.  “You can come in now!  He’s almost ready.”

When she finally had him settled down and asleep, Johnny’s mother stood over him smiling.  She really thought she made a wonderful mother.  Children were so much fun, she thought.  The way they believed the most outlandish things.

And to think her friends had warned her that she’d find staying at home boring.

Ain’t A Soul Around (Or Too Many)

“This is a hell of a way to make a living,” Tom muttered to himself as he hauled back the steel grate he’d made and set it aside.  The irony of his words escaped him as he lowered himself once again into hell.  But then, irony wasn’t one of Tom’s strong points.

The heat and familiar stench – he guessed it was brimstone – hit him as he paused on the top step of the aluminum ladder to put the surgical mask on and adjust his sunglasses.  Hell could be damn bright and the smell wasn’t to be believed.

Tom wasn’t a thinking man, but if he had been, he might have thought back then, to the day not so long ago when he’d first discovered hell in his backyard …

*          *          *

Tom lived out on the edge of Tucson, in a place known as Three Points that was less a town and more a highway intersection, the desert dotted with cholla cactus and sagging mobile homes that wouldn’t go anywhere ever again.  On this day he’d gone into his back yard and there, beside his rusted barbecue, was a hole.  It sure wasn’t a rabbit hole, he saw right away.  It was big enough for a man to crawl down into for one thing, and no rabbit hole he knew smoked.  Tom went closer, not jumping to conclusions or getting excited, but strolling over to see what was what.  The smell was bad, but that wasn’t what fixed him.  Sounds came out of the hole, what sounded like screams and moans and such, drifting out with that little bit of smoke and the big smell.

A puzzled look came over his face as Tom lowered his lanky form to the ground.  He listened and thought for a long while and then he did start to get a little bit excited.  Not afraid mind you, but excited.  Tom didn’t excite easily but then, it isn’t every day a man finds hell in his backyard.

Because that’s what he was thinking he had here.  It all sort of fit, and he couldn’t think what else it might be.  A hole into hell had opened in his backyard, right next to his rusted barbecue.  He stood and carefully moved the barbecue a few feet further away.

After awhile he began to wonder what he should do.  Birds hopped around in the dust and the ants went about their business like nothing, but he felt he ought to do something.  This seemed to him like something pretty big and he figured that someone should know about it.  I mean, who knew what kind of troubles could come out of having a hole into hell.  He didn’t, but still…

So he tried telling old Karl who had the trailer next door and sat on his front porch all day spitting globs of brown tobacco juice at everything that moved.  He barely got through the gate when Karl spit almost on his shoe.

“I just want to tell you something Karl,” he said, hoping he’d stop.  He didn’t like being spit on.

“You get back over to your place and do something about that sulfur smell!” Karl yelled through yellow teeth.  “Smells like hell.  A man can’t breathe.”  He took out his plug of tobacco and recharged.  “You moron,” he added.

Now that wasn’t too nice.  Tom didn’t think he was a moron; he just didn’t see things quite like other people.  But he tried to explain.  “That’s what I came for, Karl.  There’s this hole in my backyard.  That’s where the smell is coming from.  I think it might be hell.  Maybe someone should do something about it.”

Karl cackled and spit on Tom’s right shoe.  “Yeah, something should be done all right.  About you, you half-wit.  Get out of my yard and get rid of that smell before I call the police!”

Tom left just ahead of another glob of spit.  He knew Karl wouldn’t call the police –old Karl didn’t have a phone any more than he did and he knew as well as Tom that the police didn’t like to be bothered by the trailer people unless one of them shot another.  But it did start him thinking.  Karl was a mean old cuss, but he knew a lot of things and he had the right idea.  He probably should call the police.

That didn’t work out too good either.

He walked to the general store/gas station down at the highway that was the only thing there really was in Three Points besides cars whizzing by on the highway to Ajo or turning off to Sasabe, and used the phone there.  Before the lady at the police station would even talk to him she wanted to know his name and address and once she knew where he was she got that sound in his voice.  He’d heard it before; it meant she wasn’t going to believe him, whatever he said.  Only once did she show any interest, and that was when he said it smelled like sulfur.

“You want to report a drug lab then.  A methamphetamine lab?”

“No ma’am.  It’s not a drug lab at all, least not one I ever heard of and I’ve seen COPS a lot.  It’s just a hole in the ground and – ”

“Right.  Thank you Mr. Holman.  We’ll send someone out as soon as we get a chance.”

He could hear her laughing and talking to someone else before she hung up and he knew nobody’d come.  Then there was nothing to do but go home but first he went into the store and bought a paper because he remembered that it was Wednesday and the new papers always came out on Wednesday.  He thought about telling Jim, the owner of the store, about hell, but he didn’t.  Jim was pretty nice to him, always smiling and yelling HELLO! and he wasn’t feeling like having anyone else treat him like a fool right then.

But when he got home it seemed his problem might be solved because there, right on the cover of his favorite newspaper was a story and a picture just like his.  Now Tom loved his paper, even better than the TV.  He liked the big headlines and the pictures and some of the stories were really incredible.  They were always about two-headed babies and airplanes found on the moon and talking cows and he liked to read these stories, then just sit back and think that this must be a pretty marvelous world where things like this can happen.  Anyway, the headline today said:  MAN FINDS DOORWAY TO HELL IN HIS BASEMENT!  And then it went on about some guy finding a smoking hole in his basement and how the firemen and police in his hometown in Iowa were amazed and it had quotes from them and a picture of the man standing beside the hole looking pleased and holding a Bible.

Tom put the paper down then and sat back to think.  He thought for a long time and then he went into his backyard and looked at the hole and then came back in and read the story again and thought some more.  And what came out of it was that the next day when he got off work from his job at the wrecking yard down the road he went to Jim’s store and used the payphone again.

The story didn’t tell the man’s phone number, but he thought if he called the paper they’d give it to him and he could call the guy and find out what he was doing about the hole and maybe he could do the same thing.

“We just did that story pal.  Sorry, we’re not interested.  Come up with something better and call us back.”

“Does this happen a lot?” Tom asked.  Who knows?  Maybe having hell in your backyard wasn’t so unusual.

“Only when they open the doors son, only when they open the doors.”

But Tom could be stubborn too and he kept talking to the man and finally he said,  “Okay, look, we’ve got a man in Phoenix right now.  That’s pretty close isn’t it?  I’ll send him down.  I guess we could call it an epidemic.”

The man showed up the next day in a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a tie.  He gave Tom a big smile and a business card and he talked fast.  Tom thought he must be awfully important to have so much to say all at once.

“There we are, Steve Jones, Eye on the World on-the-spot reporter, nice place you have here my man, nice place.  Very quaint, out of the hurly burly of the city, now let’s see, you say you found hell in your backyard.”  He winked and gave Tom a little jab in the ribs.  “Sure, this is the sticks, but it can’t be all that bad eh?”  He seemed to pause for something so Tom smiled and the man continued.  “Let’s see it then, just take me right to it, we don’t want it to freeze over now do we?”  He had a big camera and a tiny tape recorder and he snapped a couple pictures of Tom and his trailer then.

Tom took him around back and showed him.  He figured it was a good thing old Karl didn’t hear too well and the next two lots were empty because the moaning and screaming and such had gotten louder in the past few days.  The hole looked a little bigger too, with flickers of red light down at the bottom.

When they got to the hole the reporter’s words died on his lips and his face went pale.  “Holy shi – What the – ” was all he could manage.  His hands were shaking so bad Tom didn’t think he got any pictures of the hole.  “I think this hick really has…” he mumbled.  “It can’t be.”  He seemed to have forgotten Tom.  Then there was one scream, a little louder than the others and the reporter sank to his knees.

“Mo – mom?” he quavered.  “Is that you?”

He left fast and Tom didn’t get a chance to say anything so a couple days later he called the paper again and got the same guy he’d talked to the first time.

“It’s you again, is it?  I don’t know what you did, but Jones doesn’t work here anymore.  Quit his job, the damnfool.  Said he didn’t give a shit about my deadline.  Can you get that!  He didn’t give a shit about my deadline!  The namby-pamby has the gall to go and have a nervous breakdown on my deadline.”  Then he hung up.

Some things happened after that, to make Tom think having hell in his backyard wasn’t such a good thing.  Oh, nothing with the hole itself.  That didn’t really change, though Tom made a big grate for it with his cutting torch and welder because it seemed to him hell probably had some pretty bad things living in it and he didn’t want them coming out unannounced.

But other things did change.  Word got around Three Points that he was on drugs or something and claimed to have seen the devil in his backyard.  People started avoiding him, even Jim down at the store, and kids threw stuff at him sometimes and laughed.  His boss found out and fired him and now he had lots more time with nothing to do and not sure why.  He went out and looked in the hole sometimes but that got kind of old after awhile.

LeAnn, one of his other neighbors, came over one day.  She’d heard about it too.  He’d known LeAnn for a long time but he didn’t really talk to her much.  She said she was a witch – a good witch, mind you – and dressed in old baggy dresses and black eyeshadow all the time.  She was always saying weird stuff about the spirit world and she made him uncomfortable, though he wasn’t sure why.  She got real strange when she saw the hole.

“Oh, wow!  Wow!  I think…”  She stopped and rolled her eyes back in her head, holding her hands out before her.  “I sense the spirit world is very close to us right now.”

Tom shifted to his other foot and squeezed his hands.  She was doing it again.

“Yes.  They are heeeere.”  Her voice had gotten all distant and dreamy.  She shivered.  “I sense pain.  Much suffering.”

Tom shifted back to his other foot.  Anyone could tell that, he thought.  Couldn’t she hear all the screaming?

She rolled her eyes back and stared at him.  “We must hold a seance.  We must find a way to communicate with the souls of the dead and discover the reason for their pain.”

Tom shifted again.  “Why?”  He shrugged.  “They’re right there.  Why not just ask them?”

So he did.

Then she fainted and he had to catch her and take her inside and rub her forehead with a wet cloth.  When she woke up she could hardly speak.

“They…answered you,” she whispered.  “The spirit world is strong in you.  They have chosen you as their messenger.  You are blessed.”

“No, it’s not like that LeAnn.  You could do the same thing.  All I did was yell into the hole.”

But of course she didn’t believe him.  She refused to even try and Tom gave up trying to convince her.  Right then Tom had another one of those times when he wondered.  He wondered if maybe it wasn’t that he was dumb or even slow, but that he just didn’t understand people.  They refused to see things that seemed plain as the nose on your face to Tom.  They didn’t make any sense to him.

He found out a little while later that even dead people didn’t make much sense.

LeAnn came by one day and asked him if he’d be willing to talk to the spirits again.  She had this wispy little woman with gray hair and big mouse eyes with her who nodded a lot but didn’t say anything.  Tom just shrugged.

“Marian here wants to talk to her dead husband.”

“Why don’t we just let Marian talk to him – ”

LeAnn pulled him aside and explained to him that Marian had come to her for help, she was a client and she was paying.  Furthermore, she would give Tom ten dollars if he would just do this.  Well, Tom did know that he needed money and so he said sure and went out into the backyard.  The women followed but they didn’t come very close to the hole.

LeAnn told him the name and Tom just leaned over the hole and shouted into it.  The moans got a little louder and then one voice spoke up and yelled back.

Well, Mouse-eyes just about fainted dead away but she managed to stumble closer to the hole and quaver into it.  Tom listened to them for awhile but they didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, what with her crying and all the moaning and such coming out of the hole making it hard to hear and suddenly it all seemed kind of silly and sad to Tom that this woman couldn’t talk to her dead husband so he walked over to the back of the house, grabbed the extension ladder leaning there and dropped it into the hole.  Saying, “Excuse me, ma’am,” he stepped around the woman and went down into the hole.

About this time Tom was feeling a little surprised at himself – the smell and the heat were a lot worse in here – but he went ahead anyway.  The red light was pretty strong down at the bottom of the ladder and in it he could see all these people milling around like sheep in a pen.  At least, they looked like people, but they were kind of wavery and ghostlike.  They came up to him and around him but they didn’t seem to be able to touch him so after the first bit of nervousness Tom ignored them, remembering why he came down here, and hollered, “Walter!” real loud.  They got pretty quiet then and one ghost came forward.  Tom could tell this was him; he just looked like he would be married to Mouse-eyes.  He tried to tell him that his wife wanted him up top to talk to him and if he’d just follow…but Walter interrupted and said,

“No.  I can’t leave.  I am damned here for eternity.”

Well, that made Tom a little mad somehow – maybe it was just the heat getting to him – and without thinking he grabbed Walter and dragged him right up the ladder with him.

Now LeAnn fainted and Mouse-eyes and Walter crowded together and she was howling about missing him and Walter was yelling that he’d been redeemed and looking at Tom like he’d done something special and it was all getting pretty embarrassing to Tom when Walter just sort of faded away like a puff of smoke.

*          *          *

And that’s how he got where he was now, going into hell again for someone else’s dead loved one.  As Tom disappeared into the hole the crowd of people gathered in his backyard sent up a cheer that made his face turn red.  Darn, he thought, I still can’t get any of them to listen.  He’d tried too.  He didn’t want this job, even if it did pay better than his old.  Give him the peace of the wrecking yard any day.  But his old boss still wouldn’t talk to him, no one in Three Points would – they were all still sure he was on drugs – except for LeAnn and she always sounded out of breath when she did talk to him.  A good thing was that old Karl had stopped spitting on him but that was never so bad anyway.

So he did this nearly every day now, going down and getting someone for someone else who paid him.  All the dead people waited for him now and he could already see them gathered around the bottom of the ladder, same as the crowd up top.  He sighed.  There was no getting away from it anymore.

“Why don’t you all just go on and get out of here,” he said, waving them up the ladder.  “You want to be free, then go.  Then everyone’ll leave me alone.”

But they answered as they always did, crying and begging, saying how they were damned and only he could save them.  It was no use arguing.  They were no better than the people up top.

Tom took hold of the woman he came for and pulled her up the ladder.  As the little crowd of people broke into another cheer Tom shook his head.  This was too much.  He decided something then, something he guessed he should have seen a while before.  The hole had to go.  It was just too much trouble.  He did wonder if he should feel bad about all those dead people who were still down there, but then, he wasn’t sure he was doing the right thing anyway.  He wasn’t any priest or anything and he didn’t have the training for this kind of stuff.  After all, he wouldn’t go and try getting a job as a mechanic when he was just a junkyard hand, would he?  The more he thought this way, the more sense it made.

That night he took his shovel and his digging bar and knocked in the sides of the hole.  The hole was quiet while he did it and he wondered if maybe even the dead slept sometimes.  Anyway, it didn’t take too long and then it was done and no more thinking about it.

The next day the same crowd of people showed up at his front door all crying and hollering for him but Tom was ready for them.  He had the door locked and a sign on it saying:  THE HOLE’S GONE.  GO AWAY.  He didn’t think it would work right away and it didn’t.  They kept hanging around but he knew if he waited sooner or later they’d leave and he could get back to regular life like he was meant to.

In the afternoon he got tired of sitting inside and he snuck out the back door and climbed over the fence to Karl’s place.

“Hi, Karl,” he said.  “It’s Tom.  I quit the drugs everyone’s been worrying about.  I feel better now.  It’s just me again.”

“You’re a damnfool kid, that’s what you are!” Karl yelled at him.  “I always said you’d be a worthless neighbor!”  He peeled his brown-stained lips back and spit on Tom’s right shoe.

Tom smiled.  Some people he understood.