Image

Deal 162: Drunk memories

“There goes another one now.”

“Uh huh.”

“Really. I just saw the caped and cowled bastard over there.”

“Nothing there but empty tables.”

“But—”

“Listen old man. You are drunk, you are imagining things.”

“But—”

“You know the rules.”

“But—”

“You didn’t see anything real. You can’t go around scaring people in my bar. Try it again, and I’ll cut you off.”

At that I bit my tongue. Sam must be serious to make that threat where a customer might hear him. But I was sure I’d spotted one of those mysterious society members, the ones that everyone knows are actually running the place even though everyone knows they don’t exist. But Sam was right to be concerned. If they were real, and there was one here, he would be within his rights by their rules to just make me disappear. Or take me to their facility, and make me forget.

There was a germ of a memory behind that idea. As if perhaps I’d already been taken once or twice, and the treatments hadn’t been completely effective.

“Sam. I know the rules. But—”

At that, he shook his head sadly, and nodded to someone behind me.

“He’s remembering better times again, when he was one of us. Maybe he’s jealous, maybe it’s just the beer bringing it out. Do a better job this time.”

And the world went dark.

I opened my eyes, and the bar was spinning around me. Damn. Sam is pouring heavy tonight, I’m already drunk. I saw someone moving away from me suddenly, a little like they had just picked my pocket. I looked around.

“There goes another one now.”

“Nope. Not here.”

“But my purse—”

“Not here. But that beer is on the house.”

Image

Deal 161: It Isn’t Easy Being Green

I stood at the rail, smoking, deep in thought. Recent events were becoming complicated. I really needed to take stock and find a way to simplify. Some quality time with a fine tobacco seemed like one way to proceed. Below me, the city lights flickered in their usual evening dance, as various neighborhoods noticed nightfall in their own time. Beyond the city was the usual fog bank. If it had been quiet, the play of foghorns might have been audible. But of late, the neighborhood had become noisier enough to render them rather indistinct.

My memories of the past few days were fragmented. I had escaped intact, but had no recollection of where I had been held or how I had returned to my usual haunts. Nor did I precisely recall how or why I had been taken.

I remembered a swamp, full of the usual complement of sticky flora and fauna. But those fragments were all too clear somehow. Too perfect, too crisp, and too pat. Furthermore, there aren’t any swamps nearby and I’d only been missing for a few days judging from the number of newspapers waiting at my door. But most of my memories had to do with the swamp. And the frog. Those were the stranger ones. The frog kept singing. And trying to order people around in a well-meaning but completely ineffectual way. Even stranger, the frog was somehow loved by a pig?

Strange memories indeed. Clearly not trustworthy.

On the other hand, the faded memories of a few days in a beige padded cell in a beige straight jacket, and escaping into a maze of beige corridors. They were all cloudy and indistinct, but somehow felt true. Missing lots of pieces, but clearly true.

The frog can’t have been real.

The owl that rescued me, he is somehow more real than real. An archetype of all owls.

So I stood at the rail, smoking, deep in thought. Admiring the view. And trying to get the song the frog kept singing out of my head.

Image

Deal 160: Sideshow

The midway was all a bustle with the usual frenzy of the sideshow in full swing. There were jugglers, clowns, and distractions everywhere. And anywhere a mark was distracted, a pickpocket was likely to be close at hand to lift what was possible, and sometimes to even lift the impossible. But there was something about the woman that had all the crews stepping aside.

Tina strode through the bedlam with her owl circling above, keeping watch.

She was accosted by the strongman who clearly lacked the finely tuned sense of self-preservation that kept the pickpockets at bay. Though wearing a slight build today, Tina easily rebuffed him. She even seemed more amused than anything when he tried to pick her up and carry her off, but utterly failed. The crowds assumed this attempted abduction was actually a show, and they swiftly had a throng circling them. She decided to have a little fun, and adjusted her heels a touch higher and her body a touch shorter as she grabbed a broom and took a stance.

She taunted him then. Just a little. Just enough to keep him from thinking clearly. “Come and get me big boy. Grab the handle. Push me over if you can.”

He leaned into her. She didn’t budge. The broom handle bent under the load. She seemingly relaxed. Picked a toe up. Turned and flirted with the crowd. “Who’s next? Who thinks they can do better? Who thinks they can pick me up?”

Strongman growled at that, but had to admit things weren’t exactly going his way. He growled at the crowd. “You heard the lady. Someone here want to show me up?”

The crowd almost had second thoughts at that, but Tina winked at a likely sucker in the front row and his buddies pushed him forwards. She grabbed his wrists and put his hands on her waist. “Hold me here. Lift. Hands that wander loose fingers, so no funny business, right?” He nodded. “So lift.”

He tried. He swore to his buddies later that he really did try. He nearly had a hernia trying to lift her, but is was as if gravity was on her side. There was nothing he could do. By this time, the strongman had calmed down a bit, and realized what he was seeing, and knew it was good for business, the size of the tip she had gathered with his unwitting help. So he stepped back in, after signalling a talker to come pick up the tick and move them along to somewhere they could be honestly fleeced. “Here now, you don’t want to hurt yourself trying to lift the little lady. Let’s work together and try to push her over again. Perhaps a little side bet to keep it interesting…” He caught Tina’s eye and winked. She nodded. The mark couldn’t budge her either. Nor could the next ten who tried, at a fin a try, that was adding up.

Tina decided she’d had enough fun after the next dozen, and allowed the broomstick to break. A talker stepped in and extolled the chance to come see a strange thing for just a dollar, and the crowd dispersed.

She stepped up to the strongman as the crowd moved away. “Thanks for that.”

“No problem. Sorry I didn’t realize sooner.”

“I could have said something, but it was more fun to let you get worked up. Drew a good crowd.”

“About that. I’m up a couple hundred… I owe you…”

“Keep it. I wasn’t here for money. I just needed a change of pace, exercise something other than wisdom for a change, blow off some steam. You were handy, I used you, and I pay my debts. So consider us even.”

“Management will want to know more—”

“But they won’t learn it, will they?”

“Not from me, that was a week’s take for my usual act, and in just fifteen minutes.”

“You could have run it longer, worked the crowd for a couple of hours. There was that girl from, um Georgia, I think. Think about it, you’re smarter than you let on, you can work out what I did and train up a nice wispy-looking girl to get the credit.”

He mulled the idea, and nodded. “I need to clean out the flea circus, would you mind tagging along and filling me in?”

Tina nodded. “Sure. I’ve always wanted to take a close look at a flea circus.”

He smiled. “I’ll pick up a magnifying glass on the way.”

“The secret, my friend,” she began.

“Atlas” he said. “They call me Atlas.”

“How the mighty have fallen.”

“What?”

“Nothing…. The secret, I was going to say, is fortitude. The girl has to have the fortitude to face the brute and know that if she does her part, it cannot fail. She can be pushed by ten men. She can only be lifted if she wants to. She can rescue a flea from being squished by a pole with a touch. She can paralyze a man with a word. All with nothing more than fortitude. And a little foresight.”

The owl continued his lazy circles overhead, wondering what his mistress wanted in this dump of a circus. But at least she was having fun, he thought. It was nice to see her smile occasionally.

New Spread: Real or Not

Inspired by my friend Scott Grossberg’s work with his Deck of Shadows, our next block of stories is based on his What’s Real — What’s Not spread. Mechanically, his spread is very simple. Two cards drawn or chosen represent a Great Truth and a Great Lie.

The first card (the one on your left) tells you the Great Truth about the situation or question; in other words, what is “real.” The second card (the one on your right) tells you the Great Lie or what is not to be believed.

For our work as a creativity prompt using the Creativity Oracle cards which lack as many layers of meaning as are usually present in a divination deck, we will modify the spread a little from Scott’s prescription.

Shuffle the concrete and abstract decks separately. Deal two concrete cards to the table. Deal an abstract card on each. Or vice versa. The goal is to have an abstract and concrete pair for each side. Providing both an abstract and concrete card for each side allows some room for interpretation, some layers of meaning. Don’t forget that each card comes with an image as well, which can be used to focus the word on to a particular meaning, or away from a particular meaning. One pair of cards is a Great Truth to convey. The other pair is a Great Lie. The story lies somewhere in between. It either tells the truth in the face of the lie, or it tells the lie in spite of the truth. Neither need be explicitly present in the tale as told, the important bit is to use them to break a creative logjam by providing a framework for an idea to grow.

Example

Purity puppet Humility cat

The Great Truth is a pure puppet. The Great Lie is a humble cat. This leads into the Pinocchio story, with the puppet representing childhood innocence, and the cat representing the trickster or temptation.

But the puppet could as easily be the villain and the cat the hero.