Esowista 5

5.

At the end of the road, and across a short ferry, is the Esowista Market Barge.

 

Sam stood at the plate-glass wall of The Muse gallery, looking down at the busy vendor stalls in the courtyard below.

Sam’s attention was focused on one stall, in particular. “She’s at it again.”

“Of course she’s at it, that’s her job,” said Sally Austin, who was at The Muse eating lunch with her friend, and who was used to Sam’s muttering.

“Her job is costing me money! Ever since she moved in,” Sam insisted.

Sally rolled her eyes, and hid her grin with a sandwich.

“What was that?” Sam asked.

“Nothing,” said Sally.

Sam said nothing, but tapped twice on the window abruptly.

“She’s drawing caricatures for eight bucks each. Her customers and yours will never overlap,” said Sally. “What’s the cheapest thing you’ve even got in here? I bet it’s four hundred dollars,” she exaggerated.

“Not the point,” Sam grumbled.

“You know what your problem really is,” said Sally, gesturing with her sandwich. “You like her.”

Sam made a sort of surprised cough.

“Every day I come up here it’s ‘New Girl this’ and ‘New Girl that’,” Sally continued.

Sam walked purposely to the other side of the shop, and looked out the opposite window toward the water.

“Silence is not a denial,” said Sally. “Just go talk to her. Who knows, maybe you’ll even enjoy it. And maybe she’ll capture your lips, just so.”

Esowista 3 and 4

3.

At the end of the road, and across a short ferry, is the Esowista Market Barge.

 

The Osprey’s first sailing was at eight every morning. As always, she was full of visitors to the Esowista. Her sister, the Raven, carried staff, and began much earlier.

This morning, the Osprey’s twin pontoons cut slowly through the morning fog still lifting off of the water. Her captain, Mike Bowman, knew most of the passengers by name. It was usually the regulars that made the morning runs. The tourists would come later in the afternoon.

One group, however, was new.

“Morning,” Bowman greeted them. “I’m Mike.”

The group said a subdued hello. Mike suspected their morning coffees had not kicked in yet.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen you before. Have you ever been on the Esowista?” Bowman asked.

“No,” said a woman that Bowman had the feeling was the leader. “We got up early, because we heard about the bakery.”

Bowman smiled. “Great donuts,” he said. “Also, muffins. My favorite thing to do is take a coffee and a pastry upstairs to Sunshine Coast, that’s the plant shop. If you ask nicely, Sue will let you through the back. She has a ladder up to the roof. There’s a secret garden up there.”

All the regulars nodded in agreement. The garden wasn’t terribly secret. It covered most of the roof, and there was plenty of room to find a quiet space for breakfast.

The trip was short. Before there were any more questions, the Osprey was pulling alongside the floating dock at the base of the Esowista’s port-side.

“Look!” said someone in the new group. “Otters!”

Indeed, two otters were floating beside the dock. They were used to the ferry traffic and blatantly ignored their Instagram fame.

“Be careful on your way up the stairs,” Bowman warned the new group. “This mist will make them slippery.”

His passengers thanked him as they disembarked. Almost all of them headed to the bakery, except for the few that were keen to discover today’s new inventory at Beachcombers thrift shop. Since no one on board was heading back yet, Bowman turned around to return to the mainland dock. The next sailing was scheduled for eight-thirty.

 

4.

At the end of the road, and across a short ferry, is the Esowista Market Barge.

 

The rat was running for its life through Eldorado Antique Shop. Pegleg, the barge cat, was in hot pursuit. The rat ducked under a Mid-Century Modern couch, and then raced up the side of an Art Nouveau desk. The cat cut around the chair and tried to cut the rat off at the corner of the desk. Pegleg couldn’t keep his footing in the turn, and slid into the desk’s leg, instead.

“Dang it, Pegleg,” shouted Eldorado’s owner. He started to get up from behind the counter to try halt the chase before the animals ruined any merchandise. “Captain’s got to get some exterminators in here,” he muttered under his breath.

Of course, he was too late to intervene and the action had moved on to the hallway outside of the shop. Since most of the vendors were closed for the evening, there were no screams of startled visitors.

The rat ran past Sunshine Coast and then dodged right, toward the conduit passageway grate that led down to the first floor. If it could make it to the grate, Pegleg wouldn’t have time to go down the stairs at the far end of the hallway and cut back across Beachcombers’ storefront.

Pegleg had anticipated this strategy, and was close behind, despite losing sight of the rat past the hanging curtains at the entrance of Eldorado.

However, the rat was too fast, disappearing down the grate just before Pegleg caught up to it.

Pegleg meowed forlornly at his missed opportunity, but then retraced his steps to track down the French fry from Motor Launch that the rat had dropped near the beginning of the hunt.

Esowista 1 and 2

At the end of the road, and across a short ferry, is the Esowista Market Barge. The Esowista contains in its superstructure, eighty-eight meters long by fifteen meters wide and two stories tall, nine shops of various sizes, and twenty-four vendors’ booths. The largest shop, taking up two units upstairs and one down at the bow of the hull, is Athens’ Books. The smallest, just inside of the port-side boarding stairs and floating dock, is Sage Flower Bakery.

Deck One of the Esowista makes a complete circle around the circumference of the hull, leaving a narrow central courtyard in the middle of the barge. Deck Two is reached by stairs on the bow-starboard side, and stern-port side. It is horseshoe-shaped, with Athens’ Books taking up the entire bow portion. Motor Launch Fish and Chips is in the stern-port side of the shoe, with an open patio between it and The Muse gallery. There is an elevated walkway at the midway-span of Deck Two that crosses over the courtyard.

 

1.

At the end of the road, and across a short ferry, is the Esowista Market Barge.

 

Joe Parker stepped through the low door into the main entrance to Athens’ Books. The proprietor, Sally Austin, looked up from her cluttered desk. “Good morning, is there anything I can help you with today?” she asked her customer.

Parker surveyed the shelves. Books were stacked without a discernable pattern from floor to ceiling. The old book smell was mixed with the next-door bakery, and just a hint of salt water. It was pleasant.

“There are plenty more upstairs,” said Austin, recognizing his confusion. “Just up the ladder, or the stairs right behind you. The ladder is more fun, though.”

Parker shook his head. “Do you have notebooks? Something fancy?” he asked.

“Journals or planners?” Austin replied. “I might have some of each.”

“I think like a sketchbook? Real thick.” said Parker. “It’s sort of for an apology.”

Austin nodded. “This apology, it doesn’t happen to be to a Sophia, does it?”

Parker’s eyes narrowed. “How did you know?”

“I know all of my regulars. I keep those in stock for her.” said Austin with a smile. “You must be Joe. What you’re looking for is upstairs, on the third shelf from the port window. Down at the bottom.”

“How much is it going to cost me?” Parker asked. “I know they’re not cheap.”

“Leather cover, archival paper. Limited edition. I would imagine you’re very sorry. But since you’re new, I’m going to give you something better than a deal,” said Austin, with a mischievous grin. “You don’t want the sketchbook. Go to the other end, Deck Two, The Muse gallery. I know Sophia’s had her eye on the little sculpture in the corner, the one by Grant.”

“But you’re not making a sale,” Parker protested.

Austin winked at him. “You’ll make up for it. Once you’ve visited, you won’t stay away from the Esowista for long. Come with Sophia!”

“Thank you,” said Parker. “I’m sure I will.”

“Oh,” Austin sweetly interrupted. “And, next time, bring me a lemon scone from Sage Flower.”

Now it was Parker’s turn to smile. “Done.”

 

2.

At the end of the road, and across a short ferry, is the Esowista Market Barge.

 

Alison Granger sat on the small patio outside of Motor Launch Fish and Chips. The wind picked up, catching her napkin and blowing it towards the edge of the table. She caught it beneath her beer glass just before she lost it.

Her friend, Jess Pond, laughed. “That almost made it into The Muse,” she said. “They’d probably put a price tag on it straight away. Probably call it something like ‘Nature’s Triumph over Mankind No. 611’.”

Granger laughed, too. “Worst part is, I almost spilled my beer.”

Pond considered her glass in the sunlight. “That would be a pity,” she confirmed. “This is good stuff.”

“Good old Motor Launch Amber,” Granger agreed. She leaned forward conspiratorially. “You know how they say they brew it themselves?”

“Yeah,” said Pond. “So?”

“Where?” Granger asked.

“What?” said Pond.

“They don’t do it on board. There’s no room!” said Granger.

Pond nodded in dawning agreement. “You may be right. I always assumed there was a basement. What’s behind that hatch beside Beachcombers?”

“I think that’s just pumps or something,” said Granger.

Pond sipped her drink, gaining just a slight foam moustache. “Does it matter?”

“No,” said Granger with a grin. “Not really.” She leaned back in her chair. “I love this place.”

“Cheers,” Pond agreed.

No. 611

Lynn Lightman was either alive or dead. Kurt Lightman had no way to know.

He had been milliseconds too late activating the device. The bullet had frozen in time, halfway through his sister’s chest.

Everything else was frozen as well, but so long as Kurt wore the pack and kept the batteries charged, he was isolated in the exact instant he’d pressed the button.

By his own calculations, Kurt had been active for six years while the rest of the world hadn’t even had a chance to blink.

Kurt had already used his Moment, as he had come to think of it, to exact revenge on the man who’d pulled the trigger, although the home invader would never be alive long enough to experience the pain that Kurt had inflicted on the immobilized body.

He had also taught himself medicine, trying desperately to save her. He presumed that the surgery had ended positively. The bullet, still hypothetically kinetically-charged, was locked away where it would expend itself against a steel wall if Kurt re-started time.

Lynn lay on the cot in his laboratory, but Kurt could not check her heartbeat or brain activity without unlocking the Moment. If he pressed the button again, and she didn’t wake up, there would be nothing more that he could do.

So he waited.

And waited.

No. 610

The world record for a fall without a parachute is 33,333 feet. That’s an oddly specific number, I know. That’s why I remember it. I don’t remember the woman’s name. I think she was Russian, or Ukrainian, or something. Eastern European, anyway. I’m pretty sure that she has since died. That seems unfair, somehow.

I’m procrastinating, so I take out my phone to check the facts. Her name was Vesna, and she was twenty-two when it happened. She was Serbian.

I’m thinking about falling because it feels like I am. Like Vesna, I don’t have a parachute. I, for lack of a better description, sold mine. Then, I turned the proceeds into a flaming disaster. It’s 2017, and yesterday I bought a travelling circus. Exotic animals. A train, which I think runs. A tent. And a name that means very little to millennials.

You could say I did it on a whim, or that I’m a thrill-seeker. Perhaps those things are true. I was certainly more confident in my choices twenty-four hours ago. Now, I’m waiting to give my keys to the lady who bought my car, and she’s late. It’s given me time to think about Vesna, and my stomach doesn’t like it. After Car-lady arrives, I’ll have my two suitcases, my “investment”, and 279,069 miles of railroad track in North America to ride around on.

You may wonder how I know that particular number, also, but I’ve just Googled it. I’m starting to wonder if Car-lady will show up. Oh man, I wonder if she wants to buy a Toyota and a big top?

No. I’ve got this. Vesna lived. I like road trips. Tigers are cool. I’ve got this.

I might barf, but I’ve got this.

 

No. 609

How many times did it bite you?

Seven.

Ah, rub some dirt on it. You’re ok.

Aren’t these poisonous?

The word you’re looking for is ‘venomous’, but no. You’ll be just fine.

Are you going to do something about it?

What do you mean?

Like, since it attacked me.

Ha! These things are endangered! We’re more concerned about whatever filth you had on your arm making him sick!

You told me to rub dirt on it.

I didn’t want the rest of the dirt there to be lonely.

Give me a refund.

Do you know how much vet bills will cost? No.

So you aren’t going to do anything.

I’m starting to think about asking you to leave the property.

I’m never coming here again, anyway.

Look, do you want me to let him bite you an eighth time?

Rory and the Kitty Cat

 

“I’m going to snuggle you,” said Rory to the cat.

“Absolutely not,” said the cat.

Rory didn’t speak Cat, so she snuggled the cat anyway.

 

“I’m going to snuggle you,” said Rory to the cat.

“No,” said the cat.

Rory didn’t speak Cat, so she snuggled the cat anyway.

 

“I’m going to snuggle you,” said Rory to the cat.

“You may scratch my chin, only,” said the cat.

Rory didn’t speak Cat, so she snuggled the cat anyway.

 

“I’m going to snuggle you,” said Rory to the cat.

“You may scratch my back and chin, only,” said the cat.

Rory didn’t speak Cat, so she snuggled the cat anyway.

 

“I’m going to snuggle you,” said Rory to the cat.

“You may scratch my back, chin, and sometimes belly, only,” said the cat.

Rory didn’t speak Cat, so she snuggled the cat anyway.

 

“I’m going to snuggle you,” said Rory to the cat.

“For three minutes, and then I’ll bite you,” said the cat.

Rory didn’t speak Cat, so she snuggled the cat anyway.

 

“I’m going to snuggle you,” said Rory to the cat.

“Ok,” said the cat.

Rory didn’t speak Cat, so she snuggled the cat anyway.

The cat snuggled Rory back.

No. 608

The moment after Mike realized that his boss was a snake-man, he felt like kicking himself for not realizing it sooner. The forked tongue. The beady, lidless eyes. It was all so obvious, in retrospect.

Now, Mike had to figure out a way to kill the monster without getting charged with murder.

 

If Mike goes to the library to research the perfect crime, choose number 1.

If Mike tries to goad his boss into attacking him so that he can claim self-defence, choose number 2.

 

1. Mike chose not to confront his boss that evening. Surely the library would have ways to fight snakes. What Mike should have done was use Google, because he was hit by a car and killed just across the street from the library, where, curiously, all the books about killing snakes had already been checked out, anyway.

 

2. Mike crept up behind his boss with a broken-ruler stake held just behind his back. “Hey, you giant, ugly reptile, I know your secret!” he shouted from just outside his boss’ office door.

Mike’s boss slithered out to meeting him. “Well, that’s too bad, Mike. I had you on the short-list for promotion. Now, I guess I’ll have to eat you.”

Mike turned his head to make sure the security camera caught what happened next, so that he would be acquitted of any crime. The hesitation was his greatest mistake. His boss lashed forward with surprising speed for a man, but relatively slow reflexes for a snake. Mike was first bitten by venomous fangs, then devoured whole, but still conscious. According to the official account, Mike had left to go backpacking in Europe.

 

No. 607

“So, let me get this straight,” said the chicken to the pig. “Your name is ‘Ham’, but you don’t have any idea what’s going to happen to you?”

“I still don’t understand what you mean,” said Ham. “I like my name.”

The chicken shook his head. “They’re going to eat you. ‘Ham’ is a kind of meat!”

Ham laughed. “That’s not true. It’s short for ‘Hammond’. Ham is a good name.”

“I feel like you’re grasping at straws here,” the chicken sighed.

A horse wandered in from the field. “What are you guys talking about?” it asked.

“Ham, over here, he doesn’t think he’s going to end up as, well, ham,” explained the chicken.

“Yeah,” said the horse. “That’s a strong possibility. And bacon. He’ll end up as ham and bacon.”

Ham was upset. “Why are you saying this to me? Why are you being so cruel?”

The horse pointed his nose at the chicken. “Nugget just learned what his name means, and he’s sort of taking it out on everybody.”

“Shut up,” said Nugget.

“I’ve seen this a couple of times,” said the horse.

“Really?” asked Ham.

“Mmhm,” confirmed the horse.

“How come you’re not concerned?” asked Ham.

The horse rolled his eyes. “What’s my name?”

“Beauty,” said Nugget, with some resentment.

“That’s right,” said Beauty. “Nobody eats a ‘Beauty’.”

“Well, this is just unfair,” declared Ham. “Why aren’t we doing anything about it?”

“It’s not really my problem,” said Beauty.

“I don’t have teeth,” said Nugget.

Ham stomped his foot on the ground. “We’re just going to give up and be dinner?”

“Not my problem,” said Beauty.

“You just said that,” said Ham. “You’re not helping.”

“I can’t fly,” said Nugget.

Ham couldn’t believe it. “You guys are the worst.”

“I bet you’re delicious,” said Beauty.

Ham ignored him. “I have too much to live for. And I have teeth. And I can dig. Nugget, you’re useless, but you can follow me out of here, if you want.”

Nugget perked up. “I do want.”

Ham looked around. “Ok. Give me fifteen minutes, then meet me by in the far-corner of the yard.”

 

Beauty watched from a distance as the others wriggled under the fence and disappeared into the woods. He leaned down to take a bite of grass. “I bet a fox gets them,” he said, to nobody in particular.

“What was that?” said Angus, the bull.

“Nothing,” said Beauty. “Don’t worry about it.”

 

No. 606

The sun baked down on the nearly deserted beach. Two men were sheltered beneath a small, improvised lean-to.

“You’re attracting ants,” said the man on the left.

“Classic ‘man versus nature’ conflict,” was the reply he got.

“That’s not helpful,” the first man insisted.

“Oh, I’m sorry we’ve been stuck here for two weeks eating bread and Cheese Whiz you found in the cooler, but sure, ants are our biggest problem. You know what? I don’t even think this is real Cheese Whiz. I think it’s a knock-off brand, like your ridiculous ‘Somy’ GPS that stranded us here. Now we’re lost on a totally charted island, but we don’t know which one. Those ants, though.”

“If they’re leaf-eating ants, they could wreck our shelter.”

“The shelter? Have you tried burning it down? That will get them.”

“I’ve considered clubbing you with driftwood. Many times.”

“’Man versus man’. Now the conflict is getting intense! Are you scared to do it? Could we add ‘man versus himself’ to this heady mix of drama?”

“Just shut up. Maybe you never made it to shore after the wreck. Missing, out to sea. It’s the perfect crime. I didn’t want to have to kill you.”

“How noble.”

“What did I just say about shutting up? And what about these ants?”

The other man said nothing.

“Good,” said the man on the left.

He stopped talking to himself while the body beside him continued to rot.