Archive for the ‘Prose’ Category


Is that a trail of blood leading down a hall in the haunted Royal Hotel ruins in Nakagusuku, Okinawa? Nah, it’s just a moldy old carpet. But spirits are said to still slink around the complex, which was left unfinished when workers mysteriously died during construction and the developer went insane.

Unfinished, abandoned buildings attest to island’s haunted nature

Published: October 30, 2005

The island of Okinawa is one scary place.

Okinawa is haunted. All you have to do is drive around and see buildings left unfinished because some spirit has made its presence known, or a house abandoned because some ghost scared its occupants. There are so many such spooky sights on Okinawa that both Kadena Air Base’s 18th Services Squadron and Marine Corps Community Services have special Halloween tours that sell out weeks in advance.

Want a good fright on Halloween night? There’s plenty to choose from.

Kadena Air Base has two creepy haunts. There’s a small house, number 2283, behind the Kadena USO that is now used for storage because few people could stand to live there. It is said it was built over an ancient burial ground and the souls of those once buried there can never find rest.

The house is smaller than the others in the area because one room was so cold that no one could sleep there and it was torn down. And, to add to the horror, an officer beat his wife to death inside the house sometime in the early 1970s.

Or was it a teenage girl stabbed to death by her stepfather? No one is sure anymore, and the tour guides like to tell both stories — and the one about the Samurai warrior who rides his steed through the living room.

One of the best guides to Okinawa’s haunted sites is “The Ghosts of Okinawa,” a book by Jayne A. Hitchcock, who lived on Okinawa from 1992 to 1995. It’s a Halloween bestseller at base bookstores.

Hitchcock was so taken with the stories of the spooky Kadena house that she held a séance there on Oct. 31, 1994. She claims she saw the ghosts of two children who talked about being afraid of a man on a horse.

The other chief haunted site on the air base is the golf course, where legend has it that 17 high school girls pressed into the service of the Japanese Imperial Army committed suicide when the Americans landed on nearby beaches on April 1, 1945. Some people have reported hearing wailing coming from the area late at night.

And don’t count the Marine bases out. Hitchcock’s book mentions her own personal spook, a sailor in a peacoat she called Mike who lounged around her Camp Foster home, playfully pitching pennies and guitar picks at unsuspecting guests and her husband. She never did find out why he was there.

Then there’s the samurai warrior who is said to trudge uphill toward Futenma Housing on Camp Foster from Stillwell Drive. He looks mean, but seemingly never pays attention to the cars that pass by.

Perhaps the best-known Okinawa haunt, though, is the skeletal remains of the Royal Hotel on the ruins of Nakagusuku Castle, near Camp Foster.

The story says a Naha businessman convinced villagers that he could attract tourists to the castle ruins by building a zoo next door. Admission fees were to go toward restoration of the 13th-century castle. Then came the 1975 Okinawa Memorial Exposition, and the greedy promoter expanded the plans to include a luxury hotel on the hillside.

Villagers warned him that the grounds were sacred, but he ignored them. Soon, the project, designed as an elaborate resort village with a casino and water park, began to take shape. The man poured millions of dollars into the project, but work was hampered when monks at the nearby Buddhist temple told him he was building too close to a cave inhabited by restless spirits.

Some of his workmen left when they heard the warnings, others abandoned the site only after several workmen died in mysterious construction accidents.

Setsuko Inafuku, a tour guide from Kadena Air Base, notes that the businessman went bankrupt, fell ill and later went insane. The haunting at the hotel was so severe that one of the monks decided to live for a while in one of the hotel’s unfinished rooms and built a small altar to appease the spirits.

Some people say the businessman went insane long before construction halted. The hotel is a maze of stairs that go nowhere and dead-end, graffiti-filled corridors leading to rooms where old mattresses, moldy tatami mats and broken pieces of furniture lie scattered about.

Today the site is a popular spot for teens playing “dare me” games on moonless nights and urban warriors stalking each other with pellet guns.

Small shrines set up to appease the spirits can be found throughout Okinawa. For example, near Kadena Air Base, there is an altar built alongside the Okinawa Expressway where it goes through a hill in the Chibana district of Okinawa City. When the national government designed the toll road that stretches from Naha to Nago, no one paid much attention to the “fairy” tales told about the hill, which had been used since ancient days as a place of prayer.

However, after several construction workers died after dynamiting a pass through the hill, the shrine was set up. According to a local historian, the accidents stopped soon thereafter.

There are many tales of ghosts hailing cabs to take them on their ghostly journeys. Shoji Endo, a former professor of Japanese literature at Okinawa International University, collected thousands of such tales before he retired recently.

One of his favorite stories was the tale of a woman holding a small baby who hailed a rickshaw one night in 1931 in Naha, the prefecture’s capital. The rickshaw man took her across the city. He dropped her off at a new home and waited patiently while she went inside, promising to return with his fee. After a few minutes he knocked on the door of the home and a man answered.

When the rickshaw driver explained what had happened, the man sighed deeply and handed him his fare, explaining that the woman and baby were his wife and son, who had died some years before. Every now and then, he said, they caught a rickshaw from their old home to the man’s new abode.

Islands of Thieves

Posted: March 16, 2018 in Prose
Tags: ,

Okay, my prolific poet/novelist friend, Jenny, makes me ashamed that I never finished my novel about newspapering and searching for answers in the Far East. So, I am going try to kick this thing into gear again. Below is my first chapter. tell me what you think.

No matter what happens, newspapers will always break your fucking heart –
                                                Paul Sann, former executive editor, New York Post


“I quit!” Jacob Riley shouted as he stormed into his editor’s office. Hank Christian was hunched over a cup of black coffee and an illicit cigarette, reading the competing morning paper. He made no motion to acknowledge Jake’s presence.

“Goddammit, I said I quit!”

“You know what I’d like?”  Christian asked, still not turning to Jake or taking his attention from the paper. “I’d like an office with a door. A real office where people would have to knock first, with maybe a window so I could look up and see who’s coming at me before they barge in and disturb my morning. That’s what I’d like.”

Jake took three steps to the far corner of Christian’s cubicle and poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot, which always seemed half full. He sat at the edge of the small table.

“I mean it, Hank. This business is just too depressing.” He took a sip of Christian’s special blend of Cafe Noisette and Colombian Supremo and launched into the morning’s diatribe.

“Shit, I can deal with the murder of the month, child molesters, mother rapists, random and not-so-random drive-by shootings, disasters and diseases, scandals and scams, fires, floods, and famine. But I can’t watch newspapers die,” he said.

“You alliterate too much,” Christian mumbled, slashing at a column in the paper in front of him with a red felt tip pen.

Jake didn’t listen to him; he was on a roll.

“I can’t stand this kind of slow, painful death,” he said. “I can’t stand fucking story quotas, bullshit editors paying more attention to bullshit readership surveys than what’s news and what’s fluff. Man, they’re taking all the fun out of newspapers!”

Jake took another sip of coffee and, without looking to see if Christian was paying any attention, continued. “And now, damn it, the suits are downsizing Metro. Cut three FTE’s, they say. Full-time Employees, shit, they can’t even call them people. Did you see the memo, Hank? It’s hitting everyone — slash manpower by 25 percent, consolidate beats, bonuses for early retirement.

“Downsizing, shit!” he yelled. “They’re gutting the goddamn paper!”

Christian looked up from his paper and turned to Riley. “You kiss your mother with that mouth, son?”

The stocky metro editor was only seven years older, but the father-son relationship fit. Jacob Riley, a short, wiry redheaded Yankee from New York had never grown up. At 44, in faded blue jeans, a blue chambray work shirt, and a wide, wild, flower print tie, he easily passed for someone in his early 30s.  Hank Christian, conversely, had grown old fast in a business that had more than its share of alcoholics, failed marriages, ulcers and hair loss — all problems Christian embraced as small price to pay for the privilege of being a newspaperman. A native of the South, he was a paunchy newspaper gypsy in brown corduroy baggy pants, blue shirt, striped tie and a brown cardigan sweater.

“Calm down, Jake,” Christian said. “You’re not involved in this. Your job’s safe.”

“Sure it is,” Jake said. “It just means getting more shit assignments the cubs should be doing. After 18 years you’d think I’d seen the last of obits.”

“You can do it in your sleep,” Christian said, still giving more attention to the newspaper in hand than the cranky writer. “What’s the big deal?”

“The big deal is the better you are around here the more you have to do because of the incompetent deadwood we’re getting from the J-schools. Goddammit, Hank, they force out the veterans and then hire some J-school pukes who couldn’t find a lead if it was biting them in the ass — and at half the salary. Everything’s bottom-line, nobody gives a good goddamn about news anymore.”

“That’s why we hold on to people like you,” Christian said.

“Yeah, bleed me dry until they find some reason to can me so they can divide my salary between two J-school kids.” Jake, who had started working on weeklies when still in high school and majored in history in college, made slashing motions with his hands, holding an invisible knife that cut his wrists. He held his arms out in a Christ-like pose and looked down at his right wrist as if he was watching the blood drip to the floor.

“They’re killing me! J-School pukes! Damn it, Hank, Evans has been here two years and still can’t write a simple city council story.”

“That’s why he’s on the cultural affairs beat,” Christian said.

“You mean the suck-ass beat,” Jake said. “And most of what he covers is the Heritage of the Month, mostly African-American and Hispanic community news. Couldn’t have anything to do the fact he’s black, does it?”

“Naw,” Christian shrugged. “It has to do with the fact he can’t write a simple city council story and no one’s going to criticize his stories about Black Heritage Month because he’s black,” Christian said. “Jesus, Jake, lighten up a little, will you? I’ve got to finish going over the morning rag to see what we missed.”

Christian turned back to the paper, the Morning Advertiser-Proponent. He had slashed in red at columns of stories the afternoon Dispatcher-Press had the day before. Broad red exclamation marks marred two of the stories.

“How the hell did Franco miss the farm truck accident on the interstate yesterday?” he asked. “A pickup full of chickens, feathers flying and cars careening all over the place, cops chasing after squawking hens. You could’ve written the hell out of that — a real slice of life piece.”

“Franco said she heard the report on the police scanner and passed on it,” Jake said, watching Christian’s Camel burn its way toward the editor’s nicotine-stained fingers. There was a new rule banning smoking in the building, but Christian claimed his cubicle was a ban-free zone.

“She said there wasn’t anybody injured, so didn’t think there was a story.  The only photog on duty was too busy taking a picture of some new French chef at the Hilton for Lifestyles.”

“No story, Jesus!” Christian snuffed the Camel out in an overflowing ashtray and rooted around his desk, looking for something. “Where’s my Maalox?”

Jake watched his editor slam desk drawers and move piles of paper from one place on his desk to another in a vain search for the blue bottle Jake had seen sitting next to the coffee pot a moment ago. He liked it when Christian’s Buddha-like demeanor dissolved in an ulceric rage.

“I know I had a bottle here somewhere,” Christian said, looking in the bottom drawer for the third time.  “You know, if I had a decent sized office — something with a door to keep interlopers out — I’d know where everything was.”

Jake snatched the bottle and threw it on Christian’s desk. “Here you go,” he said.

“Thanks.” Christian quickly twisted the cap off and drank half the bottle in a single gulp. He made the kind of face a four-year-old makes when given a spoon of cough medicine.

“Hits the spot,” he said.

“You ever think of getting that treated?”  Jake asked, smiling at the chalky mustache the Maalox made on Christian’s upper lip. “You gotta have a hole the size of a quarter in your stomach.”

“Why?  The doctor would only tell me to give up coffee and cigarettes and booze. There’d be nothing left to live for.”

“What about sex?”  Jake asked.

“You forgot I’m married,” his boss answered. “Gave that up a long time ago. ”

Their laughter was cut short by a timid knock on the plastic wall of the cubicle.

“Yes?” Christian asked.

“Uh, Mac wants to know if you’re going to the morning editorial meeting,” a frail woman in her early 20s said. “It started about five minutes ago.”

“Tell Mac to go, he wants my job anyway,” Christian said. “Hell, those meetings are too depressing anyway.”

“You want me to tell him all that?” the woman asked.

“No, just tell him I’m busy chewing out one of the reporters. He’ll love that.”

“But he won’t believe it, Hank,” Jake said. “You’d better go. If the suits come up with one of their stupid story ideas, Mac will come back to us with it. At least you try to deflect them.”

“Guess you’re right,” Christian said, standing. He moved with a grace that belied his weight and turned his attention to the woman.

“Too bad about the chickens, but you learned something about what makes a good story, right Franco?”

The woman stared at him dumbly. “You mean I should write up all traffic accidents?”

“No, just ones where if you don’t you wind up with egg all over your face,” Christian said.

Franco continued her blank look.

“I don’t think she got it,” Jake said, chuckling.

“Neither did we,” Christian said as he left the cubicle. He stopped and turned to Jake. “Hey, didn’t you say something about quitting?”

“I’m always saying something about quitting,” Jake answered.

“Okay, well let’s talk about quitting over a few beers tonight at Gentry’s. Let’s see if I can talk you out of it — again.”


I am the featured author for the February 2017 issue of SETU:

Setu: A Bilingual Journal of Literature, Arts, and Culture (Pittsburgh, USA)


Introducing Setu

Edited by an international board of talented Hindi and English authors, poets, journalists and critics from across the globe, Setu is a monthly artistic journal. Setu focuses on diasporic writings and features most happening, cutting-edge works in Hindi and English.

Setu means a bridge in Sanskrit and many other Indic languages. Becoming a cross-cultural bridge for the world literature is one of the main objectives of Setu.

Setu English Edition :: Setu Hindi Edition

(Here’s the February issue webpage:

David Allen is a freelance writer and poet now living in Central Indiana. He is the poetry editor of the online Indiana Voice Journal and vicer president of the Poetry Society of Indiana . A native of Long Island, he is retired journalist, reporting for papers in Virginia, Indiana and the Far East, where he was a bureau chief for Stars and Stripes for 19 years on Guam and Okinawa, Japan. He was part of the “Eat Write Café and Traveling Poets Society” on Okinawa, doing open mic readings and publishing an E-zine. His poems and short stories have been published in several journals and he has two books of poetry, "The Story So Far," and "(more)," both available from and by e-mailing him at He has a blog, “Type Dancing,” at, and is an active member of the Last Stanza Poetry Association in Elwood, Indiana.

Poetry: David Allen

 by David Allen
David Allen

A Lie

once upon a time,
i found the secret
to the truth
to protect my sanity,
i smashed it
with a rock
and destroyed all trace
of the liar.

Taking the Trouble

I walked to your
back door last night
and saw two legs standing
where mine might have been.

I panicked, stepped backwards
down the stoop steps,
retreated to the side of the house
and plotted.

Then I knocked on your door.

“Are you coming?” I asked.
You were confused, drunk,
shaken by his visit —
but smiling.

“How are you?” I asked his beard.
“I’m coming from behind my mask,”
he said. “My ass,” I thought.

You said you’d be along

I waited through the long night
for your scream
or a slamming door.

Checking Out

And then the door slammed
and he stood there
in the middle of the room
looking toward the finality,
as if he could see the tracers
of her striding angry,
furiously from him.

“F**k this!”
she had said,
and the shock
of those two ugly words
echoed inside his foggy brain,
already confused
and struggling
to make sense
of what had happened.
The coins and the change bowl
and paperbacks and pens
she had swept with an angry arm
off the top of the bookshelf
lay scattered on the floor.

In his hand he clutched
the orange she’d thrown
at his head.

“Is this it?” he wondered.

“Is it finally over?
Or is this some new torture,
the start of some new
chapter in this confusing mystery?”

Outside, an engine started and revved
and the peel of rubber
told him
another non-supporting
character had just exited
stage left.

Letter to Legolas – Fiction

“I am just a stranger here
I come from down the road
And I did come to ask you all
To help me with this load
But I came to sing this song for you
And tell you where I’ve been
And maybe share a glass of wine
Before I’m gone again.”
                        Rabbit McKay
            It’s happening all around you. Listen to the strange and you’re sure to bear witness to the truth. I have been wrong all along. All along I’ve been wrong. There are no many truths. The Buddhists are confused. Baba Rum Dum sure does drone out a nice neat message, packages it beautifully. It goes well with our American cultured minds, so tired of our parents’ Protestantism. We need something simple. We need to find some excuse to protect us from the dark. We believe religion will protect us from the shadows. But our parents are being murdered in our sleep while Christ laughs and dances a nifty cha-cha with his brother Satan. And so we turn to the East and bow to the truths of the enlightened ones. Yet, we still die messy little deaths in the mire of man’s hate and chanting doesn’t chase away the dark.
            What are we going to do? Can’t you see how much easier it is to accept the dark, to no longer be afraid? Turn off your mystic night lite and walk boldly into the shadows. There is more than one world. We are all worlds unto ourselves. I am the only world I know. There is only one world. There is only one truth I can accept. There is no truth. There are only extensions of myself. See what I am getting at? Force yourself to try to understand. Put down that comic book. There is no law of the universe. We are all reflections of the universe.
            The universe is flawed and the flaw is beautiful. I look into her eyes and chant hymns to the beauty mark on her thigh. Beauty marks are flaws. Understand? My god challenges your god to a duel. Loaded theologies at dawn. Their seconds are shrouded in black cheesecloth. In the cemetery they mark their steps and turn to fire. The bullets pass right through them, killing a small lamb, scarring a proud tree. I take her hand in mine, she guides it to her breast. My other hand stabs deep within the fountain of her life. The knife blade finds no milk. I stifle her moans with a holy candle and try to crawl into her womb. The earth opens and in her primeval cave I find solitude at last as the laughing astrologer falls from his pyramid of air.
            All that matters is that love is the key to understanding. I love you. All of you. But I have failed. I can’t love those I don’t know. I hate them for their distance. I see the blood on their hands. I smell the pestilence that feeds on their souls. I love the boulder in the woods where I go to think. I love the stream that soothes my mind. They are real, always here for me. I am not confused, you know. Just worried. There has to be someone who can help me unravel these thoughts, help me find meaning in this madness. Someone who can ease my mind and explain this terrible longing. Why do I have to wrestle alone with these tireless demons?
            Ever so gently I wrapped her body in a long silk sheet, carefully pinning the ends. She looked so pure until the blood soaked through.
             Changes, we all go through them. Right now I am pissed that my “Pearls Before Swine” album is scratched. It seems to mock my life. Changes, we are always changing. You think you know something, then find it’s a lie. She is really not dead. Not that way. My only murder is in my head. At times I am so pure I am invisible. My only sins are in my mind. Don’t believe me, it’s still true. Ask those who did not see me. I was there. I’ll point them out to you. “God is seeing.” Kenneth Patchen said that and I believe it. I can clearly see you. Man, am I glad you are there to listen and know how to laugh. Too few people really know how to laugh these days.
            I lifted her gently over my shoulder, careful not to let the blood drip to the ground. She was much heavier than on nights of love. Dead weight. I carried her down to the cemetery where the gods were feasting on barbecued lamb over a wood fire. They could not see me. I was invisible. Their seconds plotted murder behind a rich man’s mausoleum. They wanted to be gods. Her body strained my back and I stopped to rest beside a shady tree. It was a weeping willow and cried huge tears.
            “Why do you cry, friend?” I asked
            “I always cry for the dead,” the tree answered.
            “But that’s wrong,” I said. “Your tears should be for the living.”
            The tree did not answer, but allowed the tears to fall unchecked into a little stream. The water was warm, salty and harbored no life.
            “See what I mean?” I asked. “If you cried for the living, I’d have a cool stream in which to wash off this blood.”
            “But how can I cry for the living, when the living have not learned how to cry?” the tree wondered.
            “I don’t have all the answers,” I said, fording the stream and climbing to the top of a nearby hill.
            I dug her grave. She who refused me life had died by my hand. It was my duty, my penance. She who had been my mother, sister, lover, friend, enemy and just another face in the crowd. The grave was as shallow as her life. She never did understand her murder, or why I am so influenced by authors and poets of questionable literary talents.
            Before I lowered her into the grave, I unwrapped her head and held her shattered face in my hands.
            I wiped the blood from her lips and chin with the torn tail of my shirt. I undid her bun and allowed her hair to fall straight down her back and over her pale shoulders and breasts. I kissed her and felt my tongue bitten by the broken remains of expensive teeth. Blood trickled from my mouth as she sucked the life from me. There was no struggle as I undressed us both and joined our bodies. As one we were always strong. As the air was sucked from my lungs, she possessed enough life to talk.
            “Why did you kill me?” she rasped.
            “Don’t you like being dead?” I asked.
            “It’s not fair to answer a question with a question,” she said.
            “It’s not fair to question my motives. Besides, I gave you no answer.”
            “But, I loved you.”
            “I loved you, too. That’s why you are dead.”
            “So you would learn to enjoy life.”
            There was no more breath to talk. She slept and I, who could not die, wrapped her again and gently nudged her body into the grave with the toe of my boot. A dog did the honors of covering her bones.
            On my way back through the cemetery, I noticed that the gods had finished their feast and had fallen asleep. Their seconds had stolen their clothing, leaving them naked upon the grass. Not a pretty sight. I guess the seconds preferred freedom to the enslaving weight of godhood.
            I am secure in the insecurity of my beliefs. Don’t think for a moment I write just because I like the sound of my words, even though I do like to hear myself think. I am not trying to be cute.
            Don’t worry, she will not bother you. She is my own ghost. Personal ghosts are strange people. She never forgave me for not going to her wake. I never forgave her for going to sleep. She really doesn’t bother me much. The only thing that annoys me is she takes great delight in making me whimper her name when I hold some strange woman in my arms.
            I walked back to the top of the hill to dig on a Walt Disney sunset. They drive me to wilder and wilder thoughts. It’s getting more difficult to haul one down. They run into each other, bleeding into incoherency. What do they mean. What do we mean?
            This is long enough for anyone. I mean, there has to be a time when we can embrace nothingness as our own private truth and admit that mankind was some kind of fluke. He is the one that doesn’t make any sense.
Peace and love, brother,
“Well your roads in life are many
So be careful how you choose
Be sure that what you’re gaining
Will be worth what you will lose
“Cause you’ll only come to find
That every man must stand alone
And that every hand will have to reap
Exactly what he’s sown.”

Rabbit McKay

Book Review: ‘The Story So Far’ by David Allen

– Review by David Axelrod

Poets are allowed to make lists to tell us their “Story So Far,” as long as it’s an interesting list. David Allen’s is and thus, so are his poems—a good life that makes a good read. American poets, in other countries, are sometimes chided for taking even little details from their lives and turning them into poetry. That’s a large part of the art that David Allen has mastered—solidly, happily in the American tradition.

Allen is not averse to autobiography, not needing that mask of fiction behind which so many artists hide. Of course that is true in his title poem which catalogs his personal journey. It is most poignant in poems such as “Requiem for My Father,” which recites a litany of pain and in so doing purges the past, leaving a “demon-less Dad.” He writes to atone for the fact that “I Never Wrote a Poem About My Mother,” creating a poem even more powerful because it celebrates a life that was so often bullied into a position of  powerlessness.

Allen’s poems are a often a plain song in performance of a homey philosophy. For those who search for god, “In the Country” asks “if god/ is afraid of the dark.” In “No Sense,” we contemplate a god who “is either/ absent minded,/ a practical joker,/ or a sadist.” His “Meaning” is something you can “put…in your pocket…go off whistling/ down the street.”

“Anticipation,” delights us with music “like a cool chill on a steaming/ day of city summer stranger streets.” “Nightmares,” turns philosophy into a song, something Allen may have learned from his father who “plays the mandolin/ when life begins to close him in.” Allen even has moments one could liken to Emily Dickinson, as in “Underneath.”

The Pulitzer-prize-winning poet Louis Simpson, himself inclined to cataloging the oddities of “American Poetry,” has also noted that many poets seem to want to be novelists. Allen himself, in “The Final Chapter,” promises “No more novel, play or poem similes.” Luckily, he contradicts this pronouncement many times in this book. His relaxed lines and narrative tendencies might remind you of “novel.” In truth, he has a professional journalist’s talent for writing good lead lines, a poet’s ear for music and the strong endings of a story writer. Blending forms, he is a poet who more than gives us—he gifts us his life in poetry!

He explains his modus operandi in “Running” noting how writing has been his refuge and salvation even as “book walls crumbled/ and, crippled, I learned to crawl.” Indeed, he’s gone much further than that humble admission in the Story So Far.  He puts a well-earned, positive slant on his accomplishments in “Seesaw Sensations,” exclaiming “Ah, so this is living.” Hooray for David Allen’s courage, creativity and poetry!


By David Allen

          So, this guy came up to me the other day and said, “Say, fella, your face looks familiar. Aren’t you…?”  Whereupon I stepped up to him in his mid-sentence, he being a good two or three yards away and still making his approach, and said, “Sure am! Great to see you! Got any spare change?”

            He looked at me for a moment, puzzled, and reached into his pants pocket and pulled out four quarters. I grabbed them before he could change his mind.

            “For a dollar I’ll be anybody you want,” I told him. “Who do you want me to be?” He tried to answer, but the words got all confused on the way from his brain to his mouth and he sounded like he had a fit coming on. Finally, after a few garbled goos and gaas, he said he must be mistaken. I told him that I must be mistaken, too, on account of how much I really wanted to be who he thought I was.

            He ran away before I could ask him to try me out for a while and see how well I would do until the real thing came along. He seemed disappointed and scared. I guess I came on too intense. No wonder I had been standing at the bus stop by myself.

            I had enough money to escape from the city, anyway, so I was relieved I didn’t have to be someone else for awhile. It’s tiring to be someone else all the time. Taking on false identities doesn’t really help me sort out in my mind all the characters I had been in the past, or all the parts I had yet to play. 

          Strange things are happening. It’s as if my spirit is dancing to a jazz existentialist revival. Few people seem real to me. I have a hard time relating to people in any kind of rational way. I react much more favorably to trees. My mind races faster than I can orally express my thoughts and I usually stand alone and speechless. The city has become a movie set. Ah, if only I could sneak around the cardboard façade and drink T-bird wine with the stage crew. This lighting is all wrong. I forgot my lines and I am afraid this character will never develop. I left the script in a knapsack in the country months ago and I haven’t been able to return. I don’t even know why I try anymore.  

            I boarded the next bus for Seven Corners, giving a cheery “good morning” to the driver and watching myself in the rearview mirror as the change clinked and fed his fare machine.

          The bus was sparsely occupied, but in a middle seat my gaze fastened on an old lady sitting by herself. She seemed attached to a huge alligator handbag on her broad lap. The bag had a baby alligator head attached to it and, to look at the thing, he had more life in him than the fossil holding the bag.  

          I was so drawn to the gator head, which looked just like the one I wore around my neck during my stretch in the Navy’s Gator Fleet, that I sat down next to him. It must’ve freaked the old lady out, seeing as there were plenty of empty seats. But she didn’t say anything. She stared ahead and didn’t let on a bit. Occasionally she turned her head slightly to peek at me, but I just smiled. Then she’d turn away and stare into space, frowning. I stared at the head, smiling and desperately trying to communicate with the gator crouched on her lap.

           It seemed alive, beckoning me. I couldn’t look away. You see, I knew he had a lot of answers to the endless questions that plagued me. That is, if he wanted to. He continued to draw my attention and the old lady, who was cadaverously pale, kept catching me staring at her lap. Did she think I was going to steal her purse? Or were her thoughts more Freudian?

          The gator wasn’t talking. And as I stared at him, careful now not to be caught by the woman’s death-grey eyes, he started to smile. The damn gator was smiling at me. He was laughing because he knew I didn’t know and knew he knew that I didn’t know. Shades of sailor knots and R.D. Laing.

          My stop was many miles back and I began to worry that the gator would not talk to me until it was too late – until the bus had circled back to where it picked me up. He continued to smile. I grew furious. Why should he know and not tell me? My hand, of its own volition started to stalk the head. I couldn’t stop it. The hand was going to choke the alligator to death and there was nothing I could do. I watched in mute horror.

         The hand crept. My face froze in a smile of terror. The corpse frowned. The gator knew.

         The bus droned down the highway. At any moment I knew the hand would strangle the gator, the woman would scream and I would be held responsible. At any moment I would murder a dead baby alligator head and would be caught (at least I knew that part). There seemed to be nothing I could do to prevent it.

          Then, like a faint wind nipping at the nape of my neck, someone whispered, “Say, fella, aren’t you…?” I hadn’t seen anyone else near me on the bus and I wasn’t going to confront whoever it was. I quickly got up from the seat and, without checking to see who spoke or whether he had some spare change, I yelled, “I was, but ain’t no more! The alligator and the dead old lady took him away!” I ran off the bus, barely noticing the collection box continued to churn quarters.

         I gave up trying to make it to my friend’s farm. You can’t be too careful about going to the country, you know.