Tag Archives: Russ Bickerstaff

Spoken By the Woman Who Works There

by Russ Bickerstaff

People know what they’re getting, but we don’t know what we’re selling. People see the ads for Blubbery Steel Kisses™. They know that they want them. Maybe it’s the way those ads make them feel. Maybe it’s the fact that the actor who was in that movie everyone liked is associated with them. It’s really none of our business to bother with knowing what we’re selling. We’re only here to give people what they want. People know what they’re getting, but they don’t know exactly what it is that we’re going to give them.

There’s a steady stream of people walking in the door coming in to buy. There’s a steady stream of people going out the back of the store who have bought. It’s part of the image. It’s also really practical.

When we opened on the first day we were offering Blubbery Steel Kisses™, there was a line straight out the front that coiled its way out of the mall. We never run out, so it’s okay. People come in. People pay. People walk through the curtain and around the corner. They walk out with little bags. We have no idea what’s happened to them, and we really don’t care.

People think we’re feigning ignorance. We’re not getting paid enough to do that. Really. I figure the company that launched Blubbery Steel Kisses™ probably has people who come around to re-stock. We’re just there to look attractive and keep people from being uncomfortable in a long line.

People scoff at us as they walk by. I sometimes wonder if they’re former customers. It’ll pass. They’ll move on. This week it’s Blubbery Steel Kisses™, last week it was Sinewy Silk Embraces™. The week before that it was Fluffy Cotton Hugs. There’s always something new.

This is not Russ Bickerstaff‘s first garden gnome rodeo.

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The Albino Man on Mystic Drive

by Russ Bickerstaff

albino kidIt was the dawn of the last century, a cold night in the middle of the woods. No idea why a kid would be wandering around beyond the cornfield. This kid was lost out there.

An albino kid. Didn’t know any better. He just ran off, exploring the woods. No telling why. Some kids get it in their heads to go. They hear the call of the wild or some goddamned thing.

The boy’s parents didn’t help matters. The father of some weak albino boy in the early 20th century might’ve been particularly hard on him. Maybe he preferred the wilderness to home. Truth be told, the old man that little boy turned into doesn’t know why he left. He only remembers being cold. It was late fall in Southern Wisconsin.

The boy followed sounds he’d been hearing for some time and was getting hungry. He didn’t know how to hunt or fish, or anything like that. He wandered around in the woods in Muskego, hearing whispers that melted into his thoughts. Kid must’ve been half-dead when he felt little hands drawing him in. Half sick and on the edge of death from the cold when all those little hands and arms and backs took him into a cozy, civilized warmth deep within the woods.

They later told the albino kid they’d served him bowl after bowl of gruel for days straight before he finally started to move around in a hazy daze. The people who had taken him in were different from the adults who looked down at his frail albino form. They could all look him straight in the eye. They all seemed to have a cautious respect for him. Sure, they had argued about whether or not they were going to take the kid in to begin with, and their reluctance nearly cost him his life, but they were under no obligation to help him.

The group were all as tall as the little albino kid. Every single last one of them. And they were all adults, too. Hard to believe now, but back then there wasn’t any TV or Internet and you didn’t ever go to the movies unless you had the kind of money the little albino boy’s family didn’t have. So he’d never seen full-grown adults that were as tall as him. They didn’t look down on him. They didn’t pity him because of his frailty. They didn’t hate him because of his weakness either. The little albino boy had met a group of adults who looked him in the eye and respected him as some kind of equal. The little albino boy had found this magical place where everyone was more or less equal. He knew he had parents. He knew he could find them. But he didn’t want to.

The people of the village deep in the woods in Muskego were very reclusive. The nearest major road is a tiny, little forgotten thing called Mystic Drive which ends in a gravel path. Back then Mystic Drive went from nowhere to nowhere. The people of the little village loved it that way. They were reluctant to bring the little boy back and they were sure as hell reluctant to let him stay once he’d been brought back to health. There was a pretty large minority of the village who wanted to simply escort the little albino boy back to Mystic Drive and let him find his way back home. A minority is a minority, however. The decision was to let the kid stay for as long as he liked as long as he pulled his weight and as long as he kept respectful of the villager’s decision to keep away from the outside world.

The little albino boy would come to know the villagers as dwarves. They taught him about them. He kept thinking of himself as a dwarf. His teacher kept telling him that he was an albino, but he was no albino dwarf. One day he had come back from chopping firewood and he asked his teacher what it meant to be an albino and not be a dwarf. The teacher got a far away look in his eye and he told him that it meant that he would grow to be taller than the rest of them but that his skin would always be the color of fresh snow in the dead of winter. By this time the boy was old enough to see that he was getting taller than everyone else in the village.

His teacher was a wise, old dwarf who told him that the time would come when the albino boy would have to decide if he truly fit in with a group of people who were every bit as different from him as those in the world outside. The teacher told him about a group of circus dwarves who had come to inhabit this section of the woods on account of mistreatment by a wicked ring leader. They’d killed him and hung him in the same clearing that the albino boy had always gone to for firewood. It was a dark time in their past. Like so many communities, their village had been built on blood. They didn’t want to face more of it, but they would if they had to. The world was getting smaller out beyond the village. There would come a time he would have to choose if he was a villager or someone from outside.

The boy had come to see a dozen summers in the village. He had come to be full height. He was at least twice as tall as any of the dwarves in the community. Some of them had started to mistrust him. He felt uneasy. He knew that he couldn’t go back to the world outside. He’d found his home and it was where he wanted to stay for the rest of his life. Why did some of them have to mar it by mistrusting him because of his height?

Fate had given the albino boy a rite of passage one deer hunting season. A couple of drunken hunters of the lowest caliber happened into the village and started shooting up the place. Lucky they were blind drunk and couldn’t hit worth a damned. Didn’t make it any easier rushing them and clobbering the hell out of them, but the albino did it. In so doing, somewhere in the process of that confrontation, he had become an albino man. There was no mistrust of him in the village anymore. The albino had proven his loyalty. More than that, he had proven his worth. The villagers unanimously decided to make the albino their protector.

The albino man picked up the shotguns and rifles of the fallen hunters and built himself a shack on the edge of Mystic Drive to scare off any unwanted visitors. They all come around here looking for what all the outsiders call “Hanunchyville”. Most ridiculous name I’ve ever heard. Around here we all just call it “the village”.

Russ Bickerstaff is a professional theatre critic and author living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his wife and two daughters. His short fictions have appeared in Hypertext Magazine, Pulp Metal Magazine, Sein und Werden, and Beyond Imagination, among other places. He is the commander of The Internarrational Where Port.

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Testimony At A Military Tribunal

by Russ Bickerstaff

testimony at a military tribunal“The first time the little guy came to me, I was kind of busy. And to be honest, I wasn’t paying all that much attention to him. So I let him have what he was asking for. It’s not like it was very much, or anything. And though I didn’t exactly check his paperwork, I figured there wasn’t really any reason why I should.

“Oddly enough, my logic had a lot to do with the fact that he knew exactly what he was asking for. I figured if he knew enough to know names and numbers and ordering protocol, he didn’t have any business not having it. That was my thinking, anyway.

“I realize it was a breach in protocol. I know that. How often does someone come in to requisition equipment who isn’t authorized for it? It’s not like there’s a huge precedent for unauthorized personnel coming in for harmless equipment. Everyone was way too busy with the war to ask for anything they didn’t need. If people needed to blow off steam, or whatever, they weren’t going to do it by requisitioning quantum agricultural equipment. That much is for certain. There was plenty of alcohol and recreational equipment for that. The entertainment value of a bunch of fruit seems marginal at best.

“And, in retrospect, I know that was faulty logic, but I figured it wasn’t really all that bad because, honestly, what he took could not have been all that dangerous. That’s what I was thinking. Although, strictly speaking, there’s really no reason why he would have been able to get any of that stuff without full credentials. And I understand that now. And I have learned my lesson. I should point out, however, that doing what I did was not in any way out of the ordinary.

“People processed requisitions like that all the time. My only mistake was not actually making visual recognition of the little guy in question. That was the big mistake. Had I, y’know, actually looked up, I would have seen what was going on and alerted somebody. Had I seen that he was only a couple of inches tall, I would never have agreed to give him the equipment. Of course, I would have notified the commanding officers, but I would hardly call one little organism like this an ‘infestation.’ I understand how others might see it, but I prefer to think of it as a casual trespass by a very short anomaly. It clearly meant no harm.

“Everyone here has worked the desk at the stockhouse. It’s basic duty. Everyone gets put there at one point or another. Your Honor, you’ve been there yourself, I’m sure.

“Honestly, you have to admit that when a requisition form is handed to you, you generally don’t pay that much attention to the person you’re filling out that requisition form for. I had been busy. I was reading over reports and things and I just hadn’t looked up when I was handed the requisition. That’s all I’m saying. And that much–not really paying attention is not at all out of the ordinary–is what I’m saying. I mean, I don’t know how much plainer I can make myself than that, under the circumstances.

“And it’s not like I didn’t actually see him the second time he came by. Understand that. It’s not like I wasn’t paying close enough attention to have seen that. I cannot stress that enough.

“At first, it came as something of a surprise to me. Imagine sitting there and watching the game and here comes this guy who is just a couple of inches tall, looking like a little plush toy lime with two eyes and a beard and little bumps for arms and legs. Yes, I believe that could be described as a Lime Gnome. I don’t see what that has to do with anything. I know that probably should have been something that I thought to question the second time it came around, but he had shown me the number and it had checked out, and I had already processed one requisition for him. So where’s the harm in that?

“Well, obviously, there was harm in it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here now answering for my actions.

“At the risk of sounding unsympathetic, I can’t imagine what it might have been. I mean, it’s not like there were any lives lost because of the little guy’s actions. Quite the contrary. Our forces were unable to strike, and I understand that put us at a disadvantage. But what is far too easy to overlook in the utter strangeness of the incident is the fact that, while the incident itself put us at a distinct disadvantage, it’s not like it put the enemy units in any kind of corresponding advantage. It is easy to overlook the fact that both ourselves and the hostile units were equally disadvantaged by the activity on the part of the little plush lime with the beard. A sudden massive and inexplicable overabundance of fruit on the battlefield really aids no one.

“Was it a waste of the equipment in question? Sure it was. That massive explosion of vegetation could have been better used elsewhere. But, again, I feel the need to point out that no one was harmed and our supply lines are  more than sufficient to maintain our stock, which was already, I might add, at a surplus.

“I guess my question here is, why is this even an issue given the fact that the war is coming to an end? If you look at the total scope of things, I think this was a decisive battle that was inadvertently won. I mean, isn’t that what we wanted? We’re at peace now. A sudden appearance of massive amounts of fruit for no explainable reason was just weird. And it was just weird enough to stop the battle altogether once everyone realized it would be too impractical to continue the combat. So everyone sat down and ate the vegetation. I like to think that something as whimsical as what that little green guy did might have sparked an end to the war.

“Yes. I’m perfectly capable of explaining the laughter coming from the lime-shaped bulge in my coat, but I’d prefer to remain silent on the matter while you arrive at a verdict.”

Russ Bickerstaff is a theatre critic and aspiring author living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his wife and two lovely daughters. For more information about his short fiction, visit his Internarrational Where Port.

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