Yellow Mama Archives II

Fred Zackel

Acuff, Gale
Ahern, Edward
Allen, R. A.
Alleyne, Chris
Andes, Tom
Arnold, Sandra
Aronoff, Mikki
Ayers, Tony
Baber, Bill
Baird, Meg
Baker, J. D.
Balaz, Joe
Barker, Adelaide
Barker, Tom
Barnett, Brian
Barry, Tina
Bartlett, Daniel C.
Bates, Greta T.
Bayly, Karen
Beckman, Paul
Bellani, Arnaav
Berriozabal, Luis Cuauhtemoc
Beveridge, Robert
Blakey, James
Booth, Brenton
Bracken, Michael
Burke, Wayne F.
Burnwell, Otto
Campbell, J. J.
Cancel, Charlie
Capshaw, Ron
Carr, Steve
Carrabis, Joseph
Cartwright, Steve
Centorbi, David Calogero
Cherches, Peter
Christensen, Jan
Clifton, Gary
Cody, Bethany
Costello, Bruce
Coverly, Harris
Crist, Kenneth James
Cumming, Scott
Davie, Andrew
Davis, Michael D.
Degani, Gay
De Neve, M. A.
Dillon, John J.
Dinsmoor, Robert
Dominguez, Diana
Dorman, Roy
Doughty, Brandon
Doyle, John
Dunham, T. Fox
Ebel, Pamela
Fagan, Brian Peter
Fillion, Tom
Fortier, M. L.
Fowler, Michael
Galef, David
Garnet, George
Garrett, Jack
Graysol, Jacob
Grech, Amy
Greenberg, KJ Hannah
Grey, John
Hagerty, David
Hardin, Scott
Held, Shari
Hicks, Darryl
Hivner, Christopher
Hoerner, Keith
Hohmann, Kurt
Holt, M. J.
Holtzman, Bernard
Holtzman, Bernice
Holtzman, Rebecca
Hopson, Kevin
Hubbs, Damon
Irwin, Daniel S.
Jabaut, Mark
Jermin, Wayne
Jeschonek, Robert
Johns. Roger
Kanner, Mike
Karl, Frank S.
Kempe, Lucinda
Kennedy, Cecilia
Keshigian, Michael
Kirchner, Craig
Kitcher, William
Kompany, James
Kondek, Charlie
Koperwas, Tom
Kreuiter, Victor
Larsen, Ted R.
Le Due, Richard
Leotta, Joan
Lester, Louella
Lubaczewski, Paul
Lucas, Gregory E.
Luer, Ken
Lukas, Anthony
Lyon, Hillary
Mannone, John C.
Margel, Abe
Martinez, Richard
McConnell, Logan
McQuiston, Rick
Middleton, Bradford
Milam, Chris
Miller, Dawn L. C.
Mladinic, Peter
Mobili, Juan
Mullins, Ian
Myers, Beverle Graves
Myers, Jen
Newell, Ben
Nielsen, Ayaz Daryl
Nielsen, Judith
Onken, Bernard
Owen, Deidre J.
Park, Jon
Parker, Becky
Pettus, Robert
Plath, Rob
Potter, John R. C.
Prusky, Steve
Radcliffe, Paul
Reddick, Niles M.
Reedman, Maree
Reutter, G. Emil
Riekki, Ron
Robson, Merrilee
Rockwood, KM
Rollins, Janna
Rose, Brad
Rosmus, Cindy
Ross, Gary Earl
Rowland, C. A.
Saier, Monique
Sarkar, Partha
Scharhag, Lauren
Schauber, Karen
Schildgen, Bob
Schmitt, Di
Sesling, Zvi E.
Short, John
Simpson, Henry
Slota, Richelle Lee
Smith, Elena E.
Snell, Cheryl
Snethen, Daniel G.
Steven, Michael
Stoler, Cathi
Stoll, Don
Surkiewicz, Joe
Swartz, Justin
Taylor, J. M.
Temples. Phillip
Tobin, Tim
Traverso Jr., Dionisio "Don"
Turner, Lamont A.
Tustin, John
Tyrer, DJ
Varghese, Davis
Verlaine, Rp
Viola, Saira
Waldman, Dr. Mel
Al Wassif, Amirah
Weibezahl, Robert
Weil, Lester L.
Weisfeld, Victoria
Weld, Charles
White, Robb
Wilhide, Zachary
Williams, E. E.
Williams, K. A.
Wilsky, Jim
Wiseman-Rose, Sophia
Woods, Jonathan
Young, Mark
Zackel, Fred
Zelvin, Elizabeth
Zeigler, Martin
Zimmerman, Thomas
Zumpe, Lee Clark

Sheriff Holmes and the 65-Inch Big-Screen TV


Fred Zackel



Sheriff Felicia Holmes was too slim and too tall for a woman, almost gaunt in others’ eyes. She had steady gray eyes amid a long, lean, and chiseled face with a hawkish nose. She was so tall, but so lean that she looked taller. Her whole being looked weathered more than an old sailor.

The Sheriff looked around the windblown farmland surrounding the house. The corn was in, and the first snow was expected. The sky had clouded over. Overcast was common in the Midwest winters. A winter wonderland? Not yet. A wintry wasteland, she decided.

The homeowner and his missus came out.

“Sheriff Felicia Holmes,” she said.

“Mick Cleaver.” The homeowner shook hands with Sheriff Holmes. He had a hard face and short gray wavy hair. Grimed fingernails. He was puffy-eyed and weary. He wore an old T-shirt covered with sweat stains, blue jeans, and mud-caked boots.

 “Pleased to meet with you,” the Sheriff said.

“This is my wife, Tessie.”

“Theresa,” she corrected him.

She was in her sixties, a curly bleached blonde with dark roots showing. A pink sweater with red ducks on it. Smoking, huddled against the rain, she wore her shirt sleeves rolled up to her elbows.

“I want to report a burglar,” the homeowner said.

“And a break-in,” his missus said in a quiet, lifeless voice.

Their ranch-style house was green clapboard, tucked in a quiet, wooded area on the outskirts of the county seat. A driveway of bleached white gravel was slashed on the left side of the yard. A two-car garage was attached to the house and a Dodge truck was parked inside. A workbench in his garage stood out, too, alongside the old refrigerator that now just held beer. Just beyond, trucks roared past on the highway, even though the road was riddled with potholes.

The Cleavers were retired. They stayed up late, woke up at ten in the morning, maybe eleven, sometimes not until noon. But they were retired.

Mick Cleaver liked sitting with a beer in his lawn chair in his garage in good weather. “Just watching the world go by.”

The Sheriff smiled. “It’s good to be retired.”

“If I had known…” Theresa Cleaver said.

But she stopped. Her brows knit. She had pulled back.

The Sheriff played dumb. “Tell us how you were targeted.”

The Sheriff and her deputy followed the homeowner and his missus inside.

“I didn’t think you’d come by yourself, Sheriff,” the homeowner said.

“Just checking up on my deputies.”

“Making sure they stay on the straight and narrow?” the homeowner’s missus said. She was still digesting something sour.

The Sheriff said, “The first thing you saw when you came home from the supermarket was your drapes were closed. Do you always keep your drapes open?”

The homeowner said, “Well, when you live in the country… I grew up—you too probably, Sheriff—we grew up without ever locking our front door.”

“You do lock your doors now?”

“What? Oh yes, I do!”

“And you pulled your truck into your garage.”

The Sheriff reconnoitered inside the garage.

“Here’s where he kicked the door in,” Mick Cleaver said.

They went through a blue door.

Then the strong smell of furniture polish hit them.

“You almost have the door fixed and back on its hinges.”

“You can’t just have people walking in on you,” the missus said.

The Sheriff played a finger across the new crack in the door.

 “You only have that red truck, right? The one in the garage, right?”

“That’s right, Sheriff,” the missus said.

The Sheriff examined the door from the garage inside the house.

“Is that his boot print?” the Sheriff said.

“Uh-huh. And his kick broke the lock…”

“And you always keep this door to your garage locked, right?”

“I always keep it locked, yes, I do.”

“But you always keep your garage door open.”

“Well, except in snowstorms…”

“Because the snow builds up inside, right?”

“Otherwise, I always keep it open.”

“There’s only this door between the garage and the inside of your house, right?”

“I always keep that door locked and closed.”

“And the burglar kicked the lock in.”

“That’s right, Sheriff.”

“Photograph the boot print, deputy,” the Sheriff said.

The missus said, “So you can match him with it when you catch him?”

The Sheriff stayed attentive to her deputies’ work.

Inside the living room a ketchup-red sofa was against one wall. Two green leather recliners flanked the sofa on both sides. The wall opposite was where the big-screen TV had been. A coffee table sat in the center.

The Sheriff summarized the scene of the crime.

“Your burglar came in this way from the garage by kicking down the door to your garage and then he took your big-screen TV…”

“He took all the wires and the DVR. He took the wall frame, too, for the TV.”

“He did it fast, too,” the Sheriff said. “While you were at the store.”

“We came home, and it was gone.”

“And your house was broken into.”

The family dog wandered into the room. He was very happy with all the visitors and was hysterically wagging his tail.

The Sheriff stood in the twilight, in the Cleavers’ living room, her voice taking on a deferential and overly polite tone.

“And that’s your dog, right?” A dog person herself, the Sheriff bent and played with the big, friendly dog. “Hello, puppy, how are you? Oh, what a good dog you are!” She roughhoused with it, ruffled its fur, and rubbed its butt. “Part of the family, right?”

“He always goes where we go.”

“Part of the family,” the Sheriff said. She scratched hard the dog’s butt and the dog’s tail was frantically wagging, almost hysterically wagging. “Never knew a dog that didn’t love a good scratch here, eh, pup?”

The dog loved the Sheriff.

She straightened. “When you went to church, you took your dog with you because you always do.”

“He always goes where we go.”

“Not a very good watchdog for when you’re gone,” the Sheriff said.

“I guess not,” the homeowner said.

“Your burglar saw you leave, drove across the highway, parked his truck in your garage, so no one could see it from the road, and kicked your door in. Then he stole your TV.”

In the kitchen, red chairs were spaced around an ancient stainless-steel table. Some dishes were drying in a plastic rack. The tabletop was clear of all objects.

Theresa Cleaver did not hesitate to speak her mind.

 “Do you think he had an accomplice?”

“No, I don’t think so. One man alone could carry that TV, they make them so light these days, but it was big and bulky for one man to carry, and you could see where he nicked the corner of the garage door frame when he was leaving.”

“Oh! You sussed that out, Sheriff!”

“I hope he didn’t damage your TV when he nicked the frame.”

Theresa Cleaver was glum. “It’s his TV, now.”

“Oh, maybe we’ll get it back,” the Sheriff said.

The homeowner was surprised. “You think so?”

His wife was unbowed. “Do you think you’ll catch him, Sheriff?”

The Sheriff couldn’t answer that. “Parked in your garage,” she did say, “no, no one could see him from the highway.”

Theresa Cleaver said, “Any idea who did this, Sheriff?”

“No idea at all.” She reconsidered. “Anybody driving by more than once.”

“Why would you say that?”

The Sheriff pointed at the empty space in the living room. “When did you get this TV?”

Mick was proud of his purchase. “Brand new. Just got it. Last weekend.”

“How big was it?”

“Sixty-five inches. Bought it at Costco.”

The Sheriff approved.

“Good place to get one. But they’re a little expensive.”

“But you get all those extra features, Sheriff.”

“And you set it up right there in front of your front window, across from your recliner, the sofa in-between, and your missus’ recliner.”

“That’s right, Sheriff.”

The Sheriff pressed her fingertips together and closed her eyes to almost a squint. The deputy wondered if she was holding back a laugh or was thinking too hard.

“Do you have the serial number on the TV?”

Theresa Cleaver said, “Do you really think you can get it back?”

“We won’t know we get it back until the numbers jibe.”

The homeowner returned with the extended warranty documents.

The deputy took note of the numbers.

The homeowner groaned. “We made it so easy for him.”

“And you will never do it that way ever again,” the Sheriff observed.

The Cleavers left the room together. The wife had a bone to pick with him.

The Sheriff and the deputy were left alone for a moment.

They looked out the big front window.

The deputy said, “Always they left their front drapes open.”

She mused. “As they always left their garage door open.”

“Could it be a homeowner’s insurance scam?”

“File a claim for theft just after they bought it?”

“Probably not,” the deputy said. “Right, Sheriff?”

“People in the country don’t expect crime to strike them.”

“They made the burglar’s work easy enough,” the deputy argued. “Anybody driving by their house could see into their living room. Bad enough in the daytime, but at night that 65-inch big screen television glowed in the dark like a flying saucer.”

“Easy peasy,” the Sheriff agreed. “And they never close their drapes, do they?”

“They live in the country,” the deputy said.

“When they went to the store, he closed the drapes but left the garage door up?” The Sheriff shrugged over the logic. “He never closes the garage door. That’s how the burglar always knew he was home.”

When the Cleavers returned, Theresa Cleaver wore wool socks but no shoes. She was even unhappier, and her husband looked freshly chewed out.

The Sheriff had a plan of action for the homeowner. “I want you to stay up all night, as long as you can, Mick, and you can fall asleep in your recliner, with the living room light on and your dog in your lap.”

“How about my shotgun in my lap?”

“I want you to stay home tonight,” the Sheriff said. “Just sit in your living room with the lights on.”

“Should I move my truck?”

“Just leave it as it is in the garage.”

“Should I sit in my living room with my shotgun?”

“That’s a good idea. Might want to keep it unloaded.”

The missus was argumentative. “If the burglar returns to the scene of the crime, why can’t Mick shoot him?”

“I would have to arrest you both for premeditated murder,” the Sheriff said.

“But my home is my castle,” the missus said. “He’d be defending what’s mine, right?”

“I will still arrest you both.”

Theresa Cleaver said, “Well, he got my TV…”

“Ma’am, I cannot defend your right to shoot him, no.”

“What am I supposed to do, Sheriff, if he shows?”

The Sheriff said. “Just open your drapes and leave the lights on.”

 Mick Cleaver said, “Thank you, Sheriff.”

“Just sit in that chair with your gun in your lap and the lights on,” the missus said. She thought the plan was lousy.

“Make sure the living room light is on,” the Sheriff said.

“With the drapes open,” the missus said.

“He can see I’m waiting up for him,” the homeowner said.

Theresa Cleaver gave an impatient eyeroll over her husband.

The Sheriff added, “And some of us will stop by tomorrow morning before you go to church.”



Outside, the sheriff and her deputy walked to their vehicle, autumn leaves crunching underfoot.

The deputy said, “I’ll get back to the station and start running files to see previous burglars and MOs.”

The Sheriff said no. “Probably a virgin thief.”

“Isn’t he a career criminal?”

“Probably not. Probably he stole it just out of temptation. Stealing it looked easy peasy.”

For one last time they scoped out the crime scene.

“Our burglar sat over there in his truck at the auto dealership across the highway and waited and watched until he saw our victim’s truck leaving his garage.”

“Do you think he’s watching us now?”

The Sheriff didn’t care. “I hope so.”

The deputy asked, “Isn’t that dangerous?”

“What is?”

“Leaving him all night with a shotgun?”

“Not with the lights on all night,” the Sheriff said, “and the drapes open.”

“But somebody took his TV already.”

“Nobody can steal it again, right?”



Sheriff Holmes came by the next morning.

“How was your night?”

“Quiet,” Mick Cleaver said. “Nobody came by.”

The Sheriff looked long and hard out the living room window.

“Anybody slowing down when passing your house?”

“All of my neighbors did. They knew I got robbed.”

“From now on you’ll keep your drapes closed, okay?”

“Oh, now I should keep the drapes closed?”

“When you go to church today, close the drapes, but leave the garage door up.”

“We never close the garage door.”

 “That reminds me. Are you going to replace the TV?”

“How do you live without a TV?”

“Well, it is hard, Mick. We’ve made them so much a part of our lives.”

“I feel like waiting a while,” Mick said.

The Sheriff said, “I think you and the missus should go price one today.”

“You do? Right after church?”

“At Costco, right? That’s where you got the one that got burgled.”

“I did. Costco costs more, but you get more features…”

“The two of you.”

“You want us to pick out a new TV today?”

“Shop for one, least ways. As soon as it’s dark.”

“The Costco is out by the Interstate.”

“You should check it out. See what they have. Maybe they have one just like yours in stock.”

The missus was there. “We know what TVs they have.” She wore a fancy citrus yellow dress. A Sunday go-to-church dress.

“Close your drapes and go out after church.”

“I’ll never leave my drapes open again.”

“This time close the drapes and go out together. Take the dog, too.”

The missus was skeptical. “How come you want us gone, Sheriff?”

“And give me a spare set of your house keys,” the Sheriff added.



When the Cleavers returned from church, the deputies were bringing out a beefy, angry man from their garage. He wasn’t resisting arrest, but he was pissed that he’d been caught. He struggled, too, but was easily tamped down.

The Sheriff interrogated them.

“Have you ever seen this man before?”

“No. Is he our burglar?”

“His name is Brian Tolliver. Lives down the pike about two or three miles that way.” Then Sheriff Felicia Holmes turned and pointed in the opposite direction up the highway. “He works at Brimstone about five miles that way. And he drives past your house at least twice daily.”

“Who is he?” Theresa Cleaver asked the Sheriff.

“The bearded mechanic from the motorcycle shop.”

“The biker shop guy?” Mick asked.

“Twice daily?” the missus said.

“That’s how he always knew you were home,” the Sheriff said.

“He could see the TV every time,” the homeowner said.

“And whether your truck was in the garage,” the Sheriff added.

“We made it so easy for him,” the missus said.

The Sheriff said, “Last night he drove past your house, saw the drapes open, the lights on, your truck’s in its garage, and he figured you were waiting for him.”

“Well, I was!”

“That’s what we wanted him to think,” the Sheriff said. “This morning the truck was gone, the drapes were closed, and he figured you didn’t want people to know you were gone. He stopped, parked in your garage so your neighbors wouldn’t see him, and then he kicked in the door, figuring he would be in and out in a flash.”

“While we were in church!” the missus said.

“And you were waiting for him,” the homeowner said.

“Why did he come back?” the missus said.

A deputy came and parked in the gravel drive.

“Just like you said, Sheriff. There it was, in his utility room.”

“The serial numbers matched? That’s good,” The Sheriff faced the Cleavers. “We have your big-screen TV.”

The homeowners were both so grateful.

“Why did you want me staying up all night with my shotgun?”

“The dog stayed up, too, right?”

“Well, he slept on the sofa.”

“But he was with you all night.”


“Why did you want me staying up all night with my shotgun?”

“I didn’t want him coming back until I was ready.”

“How did you know he was coming back?”

“And I didn’t want you, or the missus, or the dog getting hurt. Let him drive by your house, see that you’re home and leave you both alone.”

“But you knew he’d come by today?”

“After he drove by your house and see the empty garage, yes.”



The weather was changing. The wind was howling.

“Maybe snow tonight,” the Sheriff said.

They went inside the house. One of the deputies held up a camera.

“His boot will match both boot prints on the door,” he said. “Evidence of two break-ins.”

The Sheriff played a finger on the new crack in the door from the garage into the house. “That’s from the second kick.”

Mick Cleaver said, “Were you lying in wait for him now?”

The Sheriff said yes. “My deputy and I waited for him to kick down the door again. He thought no one was home. No car in the garage. When he kicked down the door, the deputies were waiting, and I took photographs of him to use in the trial, and the deputies arrested him.”

“You got him dead to rights?”

“Two counts of felony burglary,” the deputy said.

Theresa Cleaver now had a look of annoyance.

“How did you know he’d return to the scene of the crime?” she asked.

“The other night when he burgled, stealing the TV, he left this behind.”

The Sheriff pointed to the coffee table in between the TV and the fake leather recliners.

The remote control sat on the coffee table.

Chuck Cody


by Fred Zackel



I bought him brandy at Enrico’s in San Francisco, and so he talked: 



My name is Chuck Cody, I’m a fisherman, and I’m 59 years old, but I look ten years younger with all my black, wavy hair. I have spent three years growing my beard and I like drinking brandy. 

I have epilepsy because I drink. My hair hides the scars from epilepsy. My hands have large scars, too. The scars there come from stingrays. I got eight stitches here, five here, one there.  

That stingray, he slapped me, so I slapped him back with my other hand. He got me again. 

That sound—that paddy wagon sound makes me nervous. You know how Indians gets treated. 

I am a Sioux Indian. I was born in Texoma. Grew up on the Delta in Louisiana. Grew up fishing for catfish. 

Before I came here to San Francisco, I was in the Florida Keys. The sand fleas left me scarred on the knees. See? 

When I fish for white bass, I make $45 a day. 

I still fish for shrimp. Fat shrimp, that is. I won’t tell you my bait. But I go out to the mudflats. Two hours later I got boxes. I caught 180 pounds yesterday. 

I know how to cadge a meal. I know where to get loaves of bread free or free steaks, too. A hundred years ago I would have been a pioneer. Instead, I was a saddle tramp and a bum. 

I drove taxicab in Chicago. Yellow Cab. 




I was driving along Lake Shore Drive, got two little old ladies in the back seat. I seen this jetty sticking out. Hell, I did it. I drove off the jetty into eight feet of water. 

I didn’t get fired. My boss, he couldn’t fire me. I owed him a hundred bucks. Boss ain’t gonna fire you if you owe him money. 

My wife—I was married for thirty-seven years. We worked the cotton fields together. She’s dead now. She was riding her horse and my dog ran between the horse’s legs. She fell off and started spitting blood. 

She and my dog— When she steps on his tail, she would cuss him in Indian and then in Italian. I don’t know where the Italian came from. 

She likes drinking brandy, too. She’d come on to you, then say, Can you give me a ride to the bus terminal? Then she’d borrow five bucks, but then she would buy you a drink. 

My dog was part wolf. Lemme tell you, you treat women like your dog. Not as some souvenir, not as a pet. You treat her as a companion. 

I get misty. I’m still repeating myself. I reach out in bed. Aw, forget it. She was gone. I went out and looked at the full moon instead. Yeah, I get lonesome. 

I went to a funeral in Diego. Indian funeral. Real rare Indian he was. He was going bald. Going bald for an Indian’s like losing your manhood. 

He sliced his own throat just for going bald. 

No guts to do that. 

Bury me standing up and facing east. I want the largest processional of Caddys they can find.

 I want an Indian burial. It’s in my will that I’ll be facing east. It’s insured. Eight feet down and two feet from the bottom. 

Can you give me a ride to the East Bay Terminal? 


(He borrowed five bucks, then he bought me a drink.) 


 I gotta get home. I’m supposed to show up at Al’s Liquors in Oakland at 5 AM. I’ll be on the boat by 6 AM

Want to know my secret? 

Come by the Lorraine by DiMaggio’s at Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s the third boat, the one with LA plates. LA is Louisiana. 

My bait is a sardine can slightly opened up. Sardine oil, that’s what brings the shrimp. 

Come by and I’ll buy you a brandy. 


The Charcoal Man


  by Fred Zackel



     She was trembling, wide-eyed, and she needed him to hold her close.

        He came to her in a dream.

     “The rough man,” she called him. “The rumpled man. The raggedy man. No, none of those are right.”

     “But it’s an r sound.”

      “And he’s gray and charcoal and smudged and blurry, like a charcoal drawing. Like seen through a telescope at night. Blurry figure of a man. All wrapped in heavy winter clothes. A muffler around his neck covers the bottom part of his mouth. But I know he’s grinning. He’s got his eyes on me and there’s no one else in this world he is looking at. I am the only thing he sees and the only thing he wants. His mouth is all teeth, and he is grinning, and it’s covered by this woolly muffler and sweeps up behind his head and covers like, like a hood or a shawl. And it’s all one piece, his coat and his baggy pants and his muffler and the dirty charcoal and gray shadowy. . . .”

    “What does he want?”

     “He wants to touch my skin. My creamy skin. That’s what he is thinking. The very words he is thinking. He wants to touch my sides, not even an embrace, or a hug, and just rub his dark charcoal hand along my waist on either side of me. He wants to touch my skin. I can hear his thoughts. He wants to touch my skin, and I want to let him.”

     “He doesn’t repulse you?”

     “No, no. He should. But I am mesmerized. I would let him.”

      “What happens then? When he touches you?”

     “I go away with him. I go willingly because he touched my skin.”

     “And where does he take you?”

     “Into the shadows. Into his shadows. Into the dark and I never come back.”

     “Is he death?”

     She puzzled over that.

     “What is he wearing?”

     “Like two thick overcoats, one atop the other. A pair of heavy overcoats. They make him look squat, bulkier than he might be. They make him look wider than he really is. I think. I hope. I can’t see them distinctly, clearly, but he has them buttoned almost to the top button. He might be wearing an old-fashioned hat, or it might be the peak of a hood flattened out, I can’t tell.”

     “Where does he come from?”

     “Nowhere good. Nowhere people should be. Nowhere people can live and breathe. . . .”

     “How does he get through from there to here?”

     “He comes when we’re dreaming. Or almost awake. When we sit sidesaddle between waking and dreaming.”

     “But he is a nightmare?”

     “Oh, yes!”

     “How old is he?”

     “He is old. In his fifties, his sixties. Or maybe that’s just how he wants me to see him. Maybe he is so much older than that. Maybe he is camouflaged, and he is younger, in his thirties.”

     “But you can’t see him clearly, distinctly.”

     “He’s like in a dark gray mist, a grungy charcoal gray mist. He is part of the mist, and the mist is part of him. It oozes all around him.”

     “Emanates from him?”

     “He is the source of it, yes.”

     “Is he a phantom?”

     “He has . . . texture. Like cloth. Fabric. Ashes piled together, smashed together, like a book you find afterwards in a fire. Sometimes parts of him are white as old cigar smoke. But mostly? The color of the grave . . . that’s what he is!”

     “Where does he come from?”

     “The charcoal man?” She shrugged, confused, still disturbed. “The charcoal man. And he is swirling, or the world around him, behind him is swirling. Not fast, but very slowly, gently even, corkscrewing behind him, and he is at the center, and he is stirring the cloud, the mist himself, so I don’t get spooked.”

     “And he wants you.”

     “If he gets me, he kills us both.”

     “Us . . . both?”

     She grinned. A very wicked grin. All teeth. Glittering and gleaming like the carving knife she rammed up under his ribs.

The Last Man on Earth – 22 Oct 2023

The Unforgettable Sermon

Fred Zackel


The last man on earth was wretched, and every other human being alive was doing better that he ever had or ever would. Only the pity of others kept him alive.

Well, the empathy of those who saw him kept him hopeful. Most of us just stepped around him, keeping a clear space between us. He was, to say bluntly, yucky. And eww!

 When the red-eyed reptilian alien landlords landed, they conquered the Earth with minimal problems, all our weapons proved useless, and chose him as the official representative of Earth.

Send forth and bring him to us.

Even as we found him, well, selected him, culled him out of the herd, the entire Earth protested. Hey, wait just a minute! Why him? The authorities on Earth all universally complained, loudly, of course, too. Why him? Why, he has never registered on any of our charts or our radar.

We have scions; they are our genetic off-shoots. They deserve all and everything because we raised them so well. Not just smart, but good-looking, too!

The aliens said, the worst of you is good enough for us to judge whether this Earth should be made extinct.

What? Extinct?

Extinct? Are you serious? You’re being unfair.

Why, if for some reason we had to evacuate the planet, say, a giant meteor would collide with us, we wouldn’t even think of evacuating him.

Or your species will die as one person, our red-eyed reptilian overlords said.

The human race had to search for him, the last man on earth. He was that forgettable. Our searchers walked past him a hundred times (at least) until someone literally stumbled over his wretched, supine body and broke an arm falling over him.

No one said, Why him? Does he deserve it?

We all said instead, who? Him?

But he was eminently forgettable. He has no friends, we told them. Just people like him, identical to him, indistinguishable from him, clustered, cluttered, littering the dark corners of cheap, shabby rooms. Clustered like kittens, or rats. Quivering and miserable. Dry, they looked sopping wet.

He had never held a woman, let alone had a woman to call his own. He could barely feed himself. He even failed as a beggar. We shunned him and his kind.

He was shunned by the diseased and addicted. Not welcomed by the homeless. No religion thought about his salvation.

He was the last man on earth. Doctors wouldn’t treat him. They wash their hands and say, no, he is somebody else’s problem. Who cares? Let’s leave him behind.

Once he was located and detained (and interned under protective custody,) the official human report and the UN forgot to find out his name. Well, no one remembered to write his name down. No one was surprised that he was unsure of his name, just as we might be unsure of our birthday.

He was unworthy of having a full name, pickle-faced folks mumbled.

The researchers just said he was “Him.” They were guessing.

The Last Man on Earth. Or so we all decided without debate.

We would leave him behind, right?

Sure. No contest.

He was forgettable. He was wretched.

Who else would we forget and leave behind if we had to leave this beautiful planet?

There was no sympathy for the last man once he was uncovered. There was no outpouring of bon homie from the rest of the world’s majorities. Hey, we paid our taxes. Somebody should have taken care of him. Somebody should have done something.

And none of the rest of us felt guilty about that mutually unsaid decision.

Mostly, he had escaped official notice most of his life. He simply was unnoticeable. Insistently forgettable. Not a cipher in the eye of Man.

His own mother had jettisoned him once she realized, eh, I can never love him. His father never beat him; he just wasn’t worth the trouble. Back to the bottle, eh, Papa?

As for his siblings, all possible candidates for the position denied him, even after the DNA tests failed to unlink them from him. No way he’s my brother. No, no way, no how. Not my brother. I am not taking him on as my burden.

He is your chosen one. Bring him to us.

But… Extinct? You can’t be that cruel.

Your species will die as one person.

When we fought back pleasantly—our weapons already proven worthless--disagreeing with an insurmountable force over our heads, the alien overlords took pleasure in quoting Jesus Christ and several dozen other religious figureheads. The meek of the earth? Well, that’s just mass graves. Or unmarked graves. Or—

Social workers couldn’t seem to find him.

In solitary confinement, the man went unnamed. His crime or crimes unlisted in any judicial record. His sentence was open-ended. Sooner or later we might let him free. Maybe. If someone remembers. He was forgettable even within prisons.

He was not even the sole choice, either, of our reptilian landlords. There were other candidates for being the last man on earth. Can’t we find any of these?

Name them, the alien overlords said. Claim them.

List what’s wrong with them.

List what they need.

The ones who fell by the wayside.

The world’s population was eight billion.

Do the math, we told them. If .1% of the world’s population was the elite… Then there were eight million who were eligible to share his unenviable title. If .01%, then that was still eight hundred thousand people.

The last man on earth? Who knew there were so many losers on earth?

If we had to evacuate, we would leave eight million behind?

And what about the women?

Half of that eight million last men were the last women.

Four million women were each the last woman on earth?

That doesn’t sound right. Did I do the math right?

Who knew how many wretches are there here on earth?

Your species will die as one person, the aliens reminded us.

Extinct. Shit, what cruel bastards they were! They’re unreasonable!

Those were unanswerable questions!

How do these last men and women get by day-to-day?

What are they dying from?

You do bury them when they die, right?

What have you personally done for any of them, the least of your brethren?

How do you humans recognize them? Do you step around them, or over them, or just kick them to the curb? Do you even see them?

They should talk like that to us. They shouldn’t use that tone of voice. We don’t deserve it. Why, do you know how many mouths those people have maybe to feed? Give us time, we told them.

We took a long time. We dawdled. We went back and forth. Well, you see…

They were curious. Why are you so much better than them?

Can you count your blessings for us?

They just didn’t get it.

He failed as a beggar, we pointed out. We walked around him. And her. The Lord helps those that help themselves. Why didn’t they help themselves? They had time, didn’t they? They had their whole lives, didn’t they?

Our new red-eyed reptilian alien overlords just didn’t get it.

Hey, walk a mile in our shoes. We did the least we could do.

We always do the least we can do.

Can we reach out and touch him? What? But why would we? He has cooties.

Lay our hand on his shoulder? No. What for? What’s to be gained?

We flinched then and we will do it again.

Does he have cooties? What do you mean? Of couse!

Of course we cringed from his touch. And doesn’t that action describe him? We are better than him. Or her. Or all of them in humanity’s basement. We show us all off in such a good light.

Do you see what he looks like? He is disgusting. Forgettable. He needs to take better care of himself. He makes us cringe to see him.

As long as he doesn’t get uppity, he is one of us.

We asked our alien landlords:

What if he looked at your spouse for too long? What if she lingered looking over your children? Can you call the police on her just for looking you or yours in the eye? Wouldn’t the gorge rise in your throat?

They asked: If the police killed him or her for looking, how clear is your conscience? How easy would it be to kill him or her just for looking at you or yours?

Well, who in their right mind would have him even looking at you?

Would you open your heart to her? Would you open up your home?

He is one of those. The least of our brethren.

How could our red-eyed reptilian alien landlords be more open-hearted than us?

The last man on earth was wretched.

Let’s walk around his corpse.

You can have him. Have all of them, in fact.

Princess of the Silent Kingdom


By Fred Zackel


There were many sleeping beauties in the olden days. They had many different names, even their very own fairy tales, but, no, they were as common as fleas, which many of the beauties knew from those days all too well. Their stories shared much in common, too. And many shared the same fate. For them, there was no happily ever after. After all, a villain can’t resist a chance to be cruel.


        Sleeping Beauty is a work in progress, like Schrödinger's cat.

Is she alive or dead?

Well, let’s crack open the box.

Oops, only Prince Charming can.


       Well, others can pop the box, too, in theory, but only he can kiss her awake, right? As easy for him as is for another pulling a sword from a stone. All he has to do is kiss a little kiss. Pucker up. The easiest deed any hero ever had. But is it really noble? How much courage does a man need to kiss a woman in a coma?


       She cannot resist him. She dares not resist him.

       He will kiss her and she will awake!

       Oh, how humane is the curse!

But what witch could be humane?

       What good is a witch’s curse without real suffering?

       Who ever heard of a curse you could sleep through?

       Sleeping Beauty is truly imprisoned.


       A coffin is a wooden cage. What do you call a glass one?   How is it not a cage? How is it not a coffin? Who could cause that perfidy to such a beautiful girl?

       A witch’s hands look much like gnarly claws, much like the branches of an apple orchard in deep winter.

       The stepmother’s hands held a secret close between her breasts. Her life of wicked deeds had discovered the fate worse than death and so she layered it into and onto the curse against her stepdaughter for eternity. Remerged and reweaved, that evil trick was the one last secret she kept from the world.


       Sleeping Beauty is in her glass cage, screaming.

If we could see her heart— it has no mouth.

She screams in pantomime.


       At first the breeze in the trees is peaceful. Relaxing.  Exposed in the woods. Under the trees and in front of the wind.       

       Pine needles scattered all around.

       Someday my prince will come…

       Forgetting that hope is fate’s way of lying and posterity is worn worse than hope.

I can do this standing on my head, she jokes.

He will be here soon. Just you wait! And we will see…

        Until she is startled by a pine cone falling, bouncing off the glass canopy. She jumped. But being paralyzed, not even a twitch in her eyelash.

How long have I been here?  How long has this been?


Thunder rumbling in the cold grim sky.

Pine torches later that night.

They were up with the cock crows.

The funeral watch for the girl who couldn’t die.


       At first the white-bearded old men who sat watching were alone. Then there were torches after sundown and even night watchmen.

        She was left alone in the darkness every night. Unguarded and alone with her wild thoughts and the sounds of the forest when man is gone for the night.

And her seven little dwarves huddled closer, as their campfire was burning low. Smoke rose in thin ribbons. They talked about the good old days, having Beauty always around. Always waiting for them. Waiting on them hand and foot.

Being men—and miners, almost hermits in the dark mountains—the dwarves were oblivious to any woman’s needs or wants. Not their fault, really, that her feelings and desires and wishes and hopes were always alien to them. She was their housekeeper. She cleaned their house. She cleaned their toilet. Seven dwarves and one toilet. Yeah. Whistle while you work? How cruel was that song?

The dopey one or the sleepy one? Or the grumpy one?

As they died off, one by one…

Who was left the caretaker?


A solitary fly buzzing, scouting opportunities.

The priest watches like a crocodile.

She comes to know each creature by its stealth.


       Trolls entered the world after Cain killed Abel. We didn't give them any credence until the computer was invented. Then their iniquitousness became apparent. Since then, they have conspired to end the world as we know it.

These trolls lived under the bridge upriver. The old-fashioned ones.

They came out most nights and jumped on the canopy and tried breaking it with their gnarly feet. They tromped on the glass for hours and sang troll drinking songs.

(Not so much has changed, I suppose.)

       Did the dawning light calm her fears? Or was the day just a different set of terrors she endured?

Then someone killed all the trolls. Or they died off. Or they moved away, into the sewers or suburbs of large cities. And she found more moments of peace in the night.


       But the years pass and nothing happens.

The prince never came. But he will.


The Princess of a Silent Kingdom…

       She’s heard the talk said around her cage by folks who don’t know she is always listening. She has no choice; she has to listen.

Blind, she is. Not deaf.

The witch’s vilest curse…

Sleeping Beauty still thinks.


Sleeping Beauty had the face of an angel, but inside she was howling like a rabid dog wanting to die. She was awake and she couldn’t budge. Even lifting her eyelids was impossible.

Was she breathing?

How does she breathe?

Look at her chest. She is breathing.

I don’t see it. Oh wait. Yes, she is breathing. I think.

She is an odd reminder of our mortality.

We can live … as she can’t.

But when we die, she will still be in waiting.


       She is desirable to so many people for so many reasons. A beckoning target for the vain and vile, mostly, because she is paralyzed, her eyes closed. A fate worse than death awaits her awakening if they have their say.

She survived the buffoons who tried smashing rocks against the glass, quivering within, what if they can break it. What will they do to me?

Some louts were crude about what they could do to her—if only they could break the glass canopy. The braggadocio of pimply buffoons, of course. To a virgin with her eyes closed, listening, paralyzed…

Her stomach stayed clenched like a fist.

Poor kid never, ever deserved it!


       She knew, yet couldn’t stop hearing…

Every depravity of men denied real access to her flesh whispered through the glass. Whispered obscenities from drunken men whose fantasies…

       Well, she heard them all.

       She listened with quiet grace.

       They whispered their favorite fetish, maybe more than one.

Some barbs festered like the poisonous hooks of fishermen.

She lay silent and still a very long time. Silenced, she couldn’t even cry.


One lonesome man after another came and crooned and caressed the glass canopy. She called each of them Harry Knuckles. A joke that she would have laughed at if only she could. But then, as time went by, each of them gave up caressing and crooning, too, and left her alone.

She dreamed an animal clasped her ankle and ripped it off!


       She is a prize, a trophy. Loot. She is plunder.

Every soldier’s fantasy. Every woman’s nightmare.

He will take me, she thinks. Inside, she cringes.

That part of the prophecy is still part of the curse.

She has no say in this matter.

Strike when the canopy is opened!


 “Lift it up and shake it,” some wit always says.

“If we lift this one end, she’ll be down on her knees.”

“If we lift this end, she’ll be on her head.”


One night a heavy creature with a coat of shaggy hair and long curving fangs jumped atop the glass and tried breaking in. She couldn’t see what kind of creature it was, but her allergies clicked in and the shaggy hair would have made her sneeze, if only she could.

She listened to the attack on the glass and waited to sneeze.

If she sneezed, the creature would redouble its efforts.

After what seemed forever the creature jumped off and vanished.


       Nobody thought she would last this long. The dead never do.

So, at first she was a miracle for our times. Like the blood of a saint that has reversed congealing. Like the tears from a marble Mary statue, or Mary weeping blood.

Like the relic from a martyr dead and quartered for his or her faith.

Brought out on display for religiosity and sanctity and pious worship.

But Sleeping Beauty was not like them at all.

She is profane and they are sacred.

Just a roadside attraction is all she is.

The bishop and his acolytes came to bless her. They sermonized her plight and prayed for her restoration. Then they stopped saying she was good at heart, an innocent child, and soon they cursed her as something hellish and obscene. Something left behind by the Devil when he ruled over all of us sinners.

She is the work of the Devil!--No, the Spawn of the Devil!--placed here to disrupt our lives and our salvation!

No, don’t take her away. Don’t put her in the basement or the attic or some storage space in a cave. Let all souls look upon her and remember their own mortality.


Still some old people came and prayed for her.

She would have wept. They were a blessing. Still part of the curse.


The years go by and the stories have changed.

Can we turn the tables? The Beauty was wicked, let’s say, and her stepmother squelched the villain before the villain could squelch her.

Who is left to remember which side evil was on?

So we said she was innocent. How could it hurt? And who really remembers? Being as how she has been caged all of these years.

And who remembers even if she must have deserved it, for no one left alive remembers why she was buried alive in plain sight?

Boy, was she hated! Is that right? Is that true?

Is she a guardian? Against what? Oh, how could we know?

Did she die like this to protect us forever...?

Did she ask for this? Was this what she wanted?

Who knows? Who cares? Never matters whether a story is true or false.  Rather, only … why it is needed?


Questions floated around, set adrift and afloat by other scenarios. Was she the mother? Was she the daughter? What the Madonna did to her child was so evil! The witch was the stepmother. And her the stepdaughter. Or was it the other way around? Whatever happened to the husband? To the father? What was he like? Where is he now? Why hasn’t he been here? Oh, he must be dead. But how did he die? Was he poisoned, too?

Did he fall or was he pushed?


The jokes, too, build up like fallen leaves.

“How does she pee?”

“She’s got a very good bladder.”


Once alive, she had a shrewd eye and a serene smile. She was both the smartest and the fairest in the land. Although she never saw the evil coming.

She was known for her mind and not just her beauty.

Oh, she would have been a great queen, if only she lied.

Lied? Why did you saying lying?

Lie about what?

Or: if only she lived?

Is she still alive, or is she still dying?


So young, so ripe, so near and yet so safe from pawing hands.


Once she got past the cage fright…

Which she never did. Her eyes were always closed, remember?

She plotted escape.

The duty of every prisoner is to try escaping.

Good luck when you can’t see and can’t move.

She found no egress from a glass tomb.

Being paralyzed by an apple…


She’s an object from antiquity.

Without her body in the glass box, we’d have forgotten her.

Relic’ed her into the past. An anomaly from some long ago…

With a lack of reverence only the undead can still feel.

Is she outmoded? Was she the future?


We were waiting for her to die, if she never woke, never kissed by a strange man she never knew or wanted.

Oh, we knew her death was coming.

As soon as finally … she never awoke.


Some of us grew suspicious. What was the real story, the one we were never told? What was the real reason she was a prisoner?


In her sleep she heard our thoughts, yes, they were that loud.

She resented us for it.

But she had a plan. Hatched in her sleep. With a brilliant mind that could never sleep. A mind tossing and turning.

Who would ever kiss a woman asleep for so long?


She was always on display. The voyeur’s dream, the voyeur’s fantasy.

Who will be the first to wake her? Oh, lucky man, or…

A blind date from hell and a fate worse than death?

We knew that part of the story.

Prince Charming is coming and he sets her free.


She heard burglars some nights wanting to break the glass for any goodies inside. None mentioned her by name. No one saw her as a person.

Oh, but she is alive and making lists of who she will kill quickly and slowly. And plotting mayhem like Agatha Christie.


How long have I waited?

The rain pelting down. The sun baking her head.

Sleeping Beauty was furious that the wicked witch had lived to an old age and died of natural causes, that she died with a smile on her face, comfortable in the knowledge that her curse against Beauty outlived her.

Sleeping Beauty was furious that she had outlived her own mother.


“We can make some money off her. We won’t be greedy. Or abuse her. Just enough to pay for her maintenance. Just enough to pay for window cleaner. Windshield wiper fluid. Rain-Ex for the years ahead. And maybe a de-fogger or two in abeyance.”


Sleeping Beauty has her own Festival. All the goodies, of course. Makeshift tents and oil lamps. A man shaking a tambourine with a dancing bear. And she is the main attraction. And the peasants flock from miles around. Word of mouth feeds those desperate for distraction.

They guess her weight. They guess her height.

They guess what she did to deserve this plight.

What people say isn’t pretty.

Sleeping Beauty was a little past her shelf life.

“She wasn’t such a Beauty.”

“Oh, her morning breath will be a killer.”

“Let’s roll her off a cliff and crack her like an egg!”

“Throw her in the river and see if she floats!”

“I can see up her dress.”

But main attractions lost their charm. The magic wears off and dissipates. (Well, some of it does.) Charm wrinkles like an old woman’s heart.


And Sleeping Beauty knows all this from listening to everything said. Horrified by everyday people being everyday people. And everyday people get careless and casually cruel. But that’s our right. Not paying attention, we get to be idjits.


Good that her eyes are closed and she is so pretty, well, so beautiful. The fairest in the land. What she went through, her stepmother planned so fiendishly.

There are poisons still swirling in her closed eyes.

The curse had folds within folds. The wrinkles are still unfolding, revealing what lies within. The origami bird splayed out is just a piece of paper.


She was a roadside attraction for years. Helping sell apples from a fruit stand by the side of the road. Children staring at her chest, staring to see it rise, rise or fall, or fall.


The fruit stand became a larger market.

She heard peasants and their children visiting.

What if there’s a fire? Can she get out?

Many talked about her. About her plight. Many got it right. Well, a few did.

The life she was trapped in was such a burden to her that she could only toss it into a grave to ease it.


The sound of little children laughing and giggling, of oohing and ahhing, was a sword slicing upward from below her heart. If she could have moved, she would have doubled over in pain and sorrow. She could have no children while she was in her glass coffin.

Her stepmother had thought of everything.


She listened to the rain and the soggy mud beneath her visitors’ boots.

She would have thanked them, if she could.

As long as you come, I still have hope.


A porridge seller loudly said she was just someone who’s pretending to be asleep. Trade places with me, she begged.

Maybe God listened. No one else did.

Somewhere in the distance, a braying donkey…

Maybe God was laughing.


And then it became an annual fair.

Knife-jugglers joined with the sandal-maker.

Mules laden with saddlebags.

The story tellers came with the animals bleating.

Strongmen and tightrope walkers. The travelling knife sharpener was here.

How good did we do this season?

Did we make enough for this winter?

And all the thoughts that she has had through all these generations bode ill for the rest of the world. She festered.


Is she …? Was she still decomposing?

Well, of course not. Look!

Why wasn’t she rotted? Why hasn’t she gone the color of gangrene? Why not the hue of the dead? Why isn’t she inflated, bloated by death’s gases?

No one believed any more that she was still alive.

No, she is just preserved like Lenin.

Something for the kids to see and marvel at.

When school was out and gas was dear.

She is alive all right in that box, that glass cage, that glass coffin, alive and screaming, horrified, behind those closed eyes. She was buried alive and everybody gawks.

Someday her prince will come and set her free with a stolen kiss, an unwanted kiss from some male stranger with a can opener who thinks he deserves more from giving her a kiss.

And then he will be hoisting her skirts, hoisting them like she is some galleon he is sailing forever on, because he is her Captain and she is his Vessel.

She is just a Vessel awaiting her Captain.

And any Captain will do.

That’s what the Curse says…

Any port in a storm, aye, Captain?

She hates her madness when she finds it begging.

Please, any man, anyone please, release me!


Sleeping Beauty buried alive above ground in a glass cage. A glass coffin built so all of us could see her. Watch her paralyzed hands so chaste on her belly. Are they stapled? Nailed? Do you see the iron cuffs? The sleeves are long.

She is not a lump of lard.

She is awake and listening. That’s the point of the cruelty.

She would bust out of prison if she could.

She would plug her ears if she could.

If she had a pistol… Or a blade. Or more and better poison.

Of course, she begs for death.  Her despair was deeper than the deepest cave. It threaded downward and touched the bowels of hell and the core of the earth. She couldn’t even cry, couldn’t even sob.

Hope withers like an apple over time.


Alone in the falling snows.

Alone with all of the silence of winter.

Winters after winters alone and she cannot see for the mounds of snow she lies beneath. Is she cold? Can she feel the snow in her heart?

Why does her flesh not turn blue?

Wildflowers amid the rocks and patches of snow.

The snow melts… Why is she not free yet?

Where is he? When is he coming, Lord? How much longer?


Forest animals check her out. Climbing onto the cage and snuffling around.

Glittering claws scrambling atop the unbreakable glass.

Predators trying harder to smash the glass for the ever-fresh flesh inside.

Can she hear them in her sleep?

Beauty is never Sleeping. No witch was ever merciful.

Inside she is tossing about, turning, screaming, hearing but not seeing, suffering… Not moving a muscle.

Will they break through to the inside? Will they eat her flesh while she still keeps her eyes closed, her hands chaste on her belly?

Or will Prince Opportunity rescue her in time?

Will he carry out his own agendas?

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

Sleeping Beauty knows. Man is in the forest … remember?

Sometimes she thinks, better the beasts of the woods gulping down her paralyzed flesh. Oh, yes, the pain will be excruciating, and she cannot turn away, or even flinch from the suffering, cannot even tense up, as they masticate her belly.

She still cries for: Mother!

Don’t fuck with me, said the witch. I have the Power!

Love the eagle for her claws!


A tent was erected above her coffin. Then other tents arounds that. Tents made of animal skins stretched atop and over wooden poles.

Something is happening, she thinks. Waits. Until… But nothing.


She was moved to the crossroads where more could see her. An entire pavilion was erected around her. And other events like the seasons came and went.

For a while, the crossroads gallows was built beside her.

Gives folks more of what they want to see.

Hey, let’s charge admission! We don’t have to share the cash with anyone.

A gallows that creaked loudly in the wind swinging the corpse.

She felt his pain. She felt his death.

She screamed and begged… For what?

Tomorrow his head would then be severed and hung from a tree, to be stoned by passersby and pecked at by birds.

The hanged man was as motionless as the air.

So was Sleeping Beauty, except for not being out in the elements.

Inside her mind is screeching like a victim in the night.

All day tomorrow the gallows creaks like a ship in a storm.

The corpse is left out to dry, to bake, to swell, to peel off…

The birds come and feed and scree.

His flesh dries and blows off like dried grass.

She felt his pain and then she lost him.


Then she was the centerpiece of a farmer’s market.

One recurring sound terrorized her. The sound of feet approaching, but one foot is dragging the ground, scraping with one side of the shoe.

She was embarrassed with herself. I need a kiss. A limping foot shouldn’t dissuade the kiss. Have pity on me, she pleaded.

She felt bad for having wronged a man she couldn’t even see.

But then, after a few visits, he stopped coming altogether and that pain settled into her soul and hurt worse. So she cursed him for giving her hope.


Then she was the anchor for a local fair.

She was an advertisement.

A dance pavilion was added! Skeletal beggars were pushed aside. The goldsmith, the silver smith, the blacksmith, the butchers and the wooliers all made money. While soldiers were fighting over a female, there was a cockfight in the shadows of an alley. Donkey carts and a scraggy dog that whined.

She became a destination.

Bar wench, more ale!


When the royals heard, they came, too, and marveled. Then she was brought to the palace by mule and cart and by barge along the river.

At the palace they tried ripping her free. Whipping a horse chained on either end couldn’t pull her casket apart. Wrestlers and strongmen failed.

She was a centerpiece of the throne room.

A king’s trophy! Just like the Queen! Only worse.

They debated her royal blood. Some said yes, she is one of ours, and others said, no, just a village girl confused and made important by circumstance.

She was a princess. Then her line died out. The usurpers came and fought. She was forgotten because she had no children who would fight for their throne.

Do be fecund, lady, and don’t be coy. When your line dies out, your blood is no longer royal or blue.

Over time the royals yawned and ran out of words. Because everyone runs out of words for a virgin who never rots. The royals resented anything that diminished their glory. An heir and a spare is de rigueur.

In her tomb she was a threat, the queen and the king both decided.

She is a threat to our primogeniture.

No one should see her, it was decreed.

Even if some Prince jump-starts her batteries, she is no longer a princess.


For a while she was stored in the dark stables. Getting dusty, her glass coffin kicked by horses, the glass scratched by squirrels. The stable boys drooled and leered at her and made filthy comments, and yet she remained vivid, beautiful and eminently desirable.

The one no one could have.

If no one can have you, then no one cares.


“She’ll never have a child.”

“Not unless he does more than kiss her.”

“If he ever comes.”

“What’s keeping him?”

Men were not alone in their sexual cruelty.

“Let her be a lesson to you, my darling daughter. Hold back longer than you think you can. But know when to give your love. You don’t want to become barren like this woman. Barren, unfulfilled. Her casket here is an empty, hollowed-out hope chest.”


She heard the jealousy of village women, the envy of women, who believed in hope, although she had given up. What did all that beauty ever get her?

“She has a beautiful nose. How much magic did it cost her?”

She could feel the bowels of hell in their envy. Their jealousy.

Some want her gone. Or would use her story for their own devices.

The village women who should have empathized, but didn’t / couldn’t / wouldn’t over time were replaced by citified women who didn’t / couldn’t / wouldn’t empathize.


Some younger women could still confide in her:

I was tied to him, but I was tired of him.

Our marriage had gone on too long.

Some days brought one lovesick puppy after another…

The world, she thought, is adrift from these sick puppies.

You take me for granted, she thinks grimly, and you’ve never even met me.


She heard the world slowly change its petitions.

She needed a place. He was moving out.

What shall I do? Must I?

The Princess of a Silent Kingdom stayed silent.


Dawn had its own unbearable anxiety and its innocence.

The morning quickened with liberty and flowed, intoxicated, inward.

She could tell time by the warmth inside her eyelids.

The sun raised itself and swam ashore. The sun grilled the sky. The noon threatened to crack the world.

The sun was beating against her like waves for hours and hours, roaring at her, scorching her. Open your eyes and you are blinded. Keep your eyes forever closed and you’re not.

Think Schrödinger's cat.


Autumn and a hint of frost. Unmoving under snow…

Men confided, too.

Those thick sensual lips…

Blah, blah, blah…


Sleeping Beauty could only listen when one ordinary girl after another came and compared herself to her sisters and bemoaned her fate.

Another needy man after another came, too, each one pleading his case, even begging, promising and promising the sun and the moon, until each one became furious and ferocious. Fisting the glass in their rage against women.


She misses her friends. She misses her family. Laughing. Talking. Joking. Teasing. Giggling. Back and forthing, she didn’t know what else to call it.

When someone dies, an empty space is left behind. A hollow where they once stood.

You look up, they should be walking in right now.

But anticipation is an evil monster. And silence fills that hollow. Silence that swirls like a shadow in the darkness. Sorrow that always lingers.


Dogs came and lifted their legs…

Pray for rain!

As some nights hardened…

More than she could bear!


The sun traveled from distant countries, crossed Sleeping Beauty's path, overtook her, skimmed ahead of her at top speed, hurled itself onward, linking in a single day all the aspirations and sins of the world, devouring all, obstinate, and fixed.

The sun spread out. Thinned out. Then waded out beyond the mountains and plunged headfirst into darkness. The day crumbling into dust motes lit by the coursing sun.

A sunset, so calm and sweet, this would help her die. The sun's red rays flooded over her, lifted her soul, and could help her die without hatred.

But the day turned exhausted before it could fade into the distance, and the night came, sudden and decisive.

When day was accomplished, then comes the charming evening.

The evening when it quivered and cooled.

The great shadows again loomed up.

And she stilled lingered, gnawing her thoughts.


Lifetimes and lifetimes of calumny came. Rancid whisperings and bold declamations. Oh, what I would do to you if only I could pry open this canopy!


The night laughed and gibbered and cried. Night brought dreams of bloodshed and orgies. (Those people needed her, too.) And hallucinations.

She was most often alone at midnight with the stars.

Alone inside the barbarous coffin.


Sleeping Beauty was becalmed by night.

The birds had disappeared. The night washed her, satiated her.

All sounds were hushed.

A strange silence. More peaceful still.

If I die here surrounded and ignored at the end of my rope, all strength gone… She has become part of the great harbor of night and beyond.

Her heart was still illuminated by a single thought.

She will rip the heart from your chest. Your heart red as an apple.


But night has a beyond.

She felt the drum-like rhythm of the fists.

She felt the axe blows on her coffin, each one ringing through her cage, vibrating her living bones, throbbing inside her skull. Each one she couldn’t see.

She could never cry out…

Her mind winces. Her body never trembles.


The days when no one came had their own cruelty, too.

Interminable days. Not even songbirds. Not even insects.


Who will ever know the truth about Sleeping Beauty? The Sleeping Beauty back story?

The Wicked Witch, her wicked stepmother, died generations ago of unnatural, but natural causes, serene with her final secrets in her deathbed smiles. A last wicked chortle.

That the Witch died first is her finest, truest victory.

"One may smile, and smile, and be a villain."

William Shakespeare said that.

The Witch died celebrating, chortling, as pleased as any villain can be.

When you wish upon a star…

My wish came true, she says.

She survives me!


As the years pass by Sleeping Beauty still sleeps, still wide awake.

At times her dreams were like swimming to the surface of a very deep pond. At times eyes were watching her. Bright yellow and luminous eyes.

Sleeping Beauty bides her time, awaiting Prince Charming, ready to burst forth in an insane frenzy. As all that is around her fades and blooms and fades…


The girl made of silk came…

She whispered and she understood…

Don’t go! Please come back!

But the girl made of silk sailed on. Caught on a breeze…

And left her behind.

According to the myths of the mountains, the night hags visit when one sleeps on one’s back, with the hands on one’s chest, a position in the Old Country called "sleeping with the dead.”

The night hag was the shadow that visited Sleeping Beauty.

Not the witch. Not even a cousin. Just a beast from another thread and so she looked like a shadow.

What a vengeful spirit, the night hag was heard thinking. A woman buried alive inside? Above ground? She was meant to be found. She was meant to be seen. She is a message. Sleeping Beauty? Ah, she was the fairest in the land!

In a horrible screechy voice, she clawed the glass canopy.

She shook it like a baby. Or a cocktail.

She humped the glass lasciviously.

A violent cat fight with a coffin.

She smelled of moss and grave dirt.

She wanted the living dead inside the coffin.

The coffin rocked and forth.

The hag was as vulgar as blood.


Sleeping Beauty was moved once again and was placed inside a local provincial historical museum on a back road off the bypass to the super highway on the margins of the old county line. There she stayed languishing and bitter for what seemed eons. Still there were visitors.

She was still the victim of great cruelties, of course, almost all of which were not just slanderous, but illogical.

“Sleeping Beauty, the biggest whore in the kingdom!”

“She slept with more men than the seven dwarves did!”

These new trolls lived on the internet and in apartments and their mothers’ basements. They stayed long enough to befoul her.

“Nice knockers!”

Women of all eras from all over the globe thought of them only as jerks. The worst of the trolls were called creeps.


Prince Charming is Schrödinger's cat.

Will he come? And if he doesn’t?

If he were the only surgeon in the world who could save her…

What is he obliged to do?


Sleeping Beauty went insane years ago decades ago generations ago.

A mind festers and rots and atrophies from a poisoned apple.

Vile thoughts bring forth new poisons.

There are poisons waiting in her kiss. On the edge of her lips, at the tip of her tongue, like the kiss of a snake…

Don’t be the first!


Sleeping Beauty growls …

Listen to me; I’m the one in the cage.

Get me out and stand aside.

Don’t read anything into that kiss.

Charming, stay out of my way.

I owe you nothing for that kiss I have coming.

Don’t add to the curse, or you’ll get a knife in the bowels.

This curse is between me and my mother.

Yes, I said, mother. Just unlock the cage.


Undoing the curse is the only right thing to do.

Thinking you deserve something in addition just makes you evil.


If you are an obstacle before me, I will go around you and then you will be behind me, half-forgotten already. If you block me, if you stand in my way, if you think you deserve anything, I will go through you with all of the ferocity of those long-caged.

No, I won’t forget you. But how do you want to be remembered? As somebody who stood in my path, or someone who aided my escape?


Free me if you are the one who can. If you can and you don’t, then you are the witch’s accomplice and you deserve whatever the fate that you get.


I am not a wild bird in a cage. I am a person.

Respect me. I have dignity.

I am a wild woman seething with rage.


Her eyes are closed and she's waiting for the worms. And when they come, not if they come anymore, she will not be able to stop any of that, because the curse kept her paralyzed.

Now she thinks, when I am dead, I will have no pain.

She is thinking about the agony in her heart.

She has lived too long without living.

This canopy cannot last forever!

Let me die!

Let me die!

Let me die!

Time passes. As it does. As it must.

Her heart is illuminated by a single thought: Revenge.

She will rip the heart from his chest. His heart is as red as her apple.


We can talk later. First comes revenge.


Forever young, but growing old inside, now gone ancient and wizened, she has a witch’s heart. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

She waits to strike like a snake. To strike like a curse.


What? You want her awake?


Fred Zackel has published more than a hundred stories, poems & essays and a dozen or so novels. Most all of his writings are on Kindle or the web.


Enter supporting content here

Site Maintained by Fossil Publications