Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Below - Elster

Editor's Note: After my last Storytellers submission, I was challenged to write something that didn't involve criminals, cops, thieves, hitmen or detectives. Well it took me forever and a day to come up with something that didn't involve criminals, cops, thieves, hitmen or detectives, but at last I did. And boy did I ever.

The Below is something completely different than anything I've ever written before. It was born from a line I thought of while in the shower - that Jesus was nothing more than a born-too-early hippie.

The results of this thought became the short story below. And, quite possibly (if I can frame it out) my next book project. I hope you enjoy:

Far, far down in what he would come to know as the Below, it was like nothing he had ever seen. The vast chamber was of some form of hewn stone that many thousands (millions?) of years ago might have been molten lava, or perhaps even some other stone not found at the surface. The only light provided by flickering torches, which gave off a sulpher smell.

“What are you?” he asked the silent watchers. “And why was I brought here?”

And “what” was indeed the correct question. For even in the dim light from the distant torches, it was clear that these were no men. They were inhumanly tall, all shaped differently. Some stood on two legs like men, others crouched on all fours. None of them looked like people. He looked away.

For a long minute there was no sound, save for the wind and the crackle of the torches. Then, the leader spoke. “We were among the first, we walked here in the Below far before your Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden for putting their grubby hands on the Master’s private stock. We are the Master’s servants, just as you are David.

“And as for why you are here, all that in good time.”

David looked around the cavern. It seemed endless in the shadowy light. Beasts (for if they were not beasts or demons, what then could you call these monsters?) hovered in the fringes, just outside the licks of light. “What are you going to do to me?”

The leader laughed. Surprisingly, it was not an altogether unpleasant sound. “Do to you? We will talk to you, as we have been talking to you. Then it will be you who decides what is to be done. The will of the Master most likely.”

“The master? Who is your master?”

The leader smiled. Even with its fangs bared, David recognized condescending when he saw it. “We all serve the same master David. He is the creator of all. All come through him and all must do his bidding. Despite your storybooks David, there has always been only one.”

“But his son…”

This time the laugh was ugly. “Is it to Jesus Christ you refer? The Master has no child. The Master needs no child.

“Christ was a hippy, two thousand years too early. His message was peace and love and all that good stuff. The son of Mary and Joseph was fucking Jerry Garcia without the heroin.” He trailed off lost in thought. “Though if the poor bugger knew what the Church would do in his name, he probably would have crucified HIMSELF right there in the manger. Besides, you’re Jewish, what do you care about the one they called Christ?”

David shook his head. “You’re lying. You’re just trying to deceive me. What are you?” he asked again. “Are you Satan?”

“No David, I am not Satan.” He swept his arms all around in a grand gesture. “We are merely Satan’s foot soldiers, as Satan is the Master’s foot soldier. We do the bidding the great ones. We do the filthy jobs that the Upper Servants won’t do. Think of us, David, as the great janitors of humanity.”

Davids head reeled. He thought he would be sick. In the last forty-eight hours it has all come apart. His most normal, most perfect life had come undone in the grandest of manners. He has lost the woman he loved in a fiery car accident when her Saab had been crushed by an out of control oil tanker. And then in a moment of pure hatred against the world, right during his eulogy of the only person he had ever loved, he had cursed G-d right there at Linda’s funeral – in front of his shocked parents, the rabbi - in front of everyone. Then he’d gone on the world’s biggest bender and woken up here. In Hell.

“So what’s the deal? G-d is pissed I cursed him so he had the demon janitors of humanity, no offense, take me to Hell and punish me for a thousand years?”

The leader laughed. “No offense taken Davey. But you aint in Hell. Believe me, the Below is the Ritz Carlton compared to the fires that burn in the pits of the place your people call Hell. And no, the Master, the one you call G-d, has no idea you are down here. At least we hope not. Cause if he did, he’d be pissed as, well, Hell.

“But seriously Dave, it really doesn’t do for the Chosen One to be cursing the Master.”

“So I’m not in hell and I’m not being punished. Why am I here then? Not that I’m not enjoying my time in the, the Below is it? And what do you mean by chosen one?”

The leader looked at David, as though trying to make a decision. Finally he spoke. “Your world is coming apart at the seams David. Your people are being born rotting on the insides. The Upper Servants believe that your world needs to be cleansed by the fires. And boy, do we agree. You people really fucked up his gift to you.

“But here’s the rub Danny Boy. Your prophets speak of the final battle between good and evil – and Davey, it’s gonna be a beauty, let me tell you. I already got my front row seats reserved for that one.

“And that battle can go one of two ways. If humanity is deserving then from the ashes will come final salvation, good will triumph over evil, and it will truly be paradise on Earth.

“However, if the people are judged to be unworthy of being saved, well, the Master will ring in the final apocalypse. He will wipe this world, and everything on, in or under it, utterly clean. Sadly, that would include us poor innocents in the Below. And frankly Davey, this place may seem kinda drab to you, but we like it here. And that, my little bewildered friend, is where you come in.”

David was shaking his head. “What do you mean ‘where I come in?’ What do I have to do with any of this? I’m an architect for Chrissakes.”

The leader stared at him some more. “Your name is your very first clue David. No one is named by accident and your name is no exception. David, as in King David, father of the messianic dynasty. You are a direct descendant to King David – a link back to the start of the end. And it is on you to fix this mess your people have made before it’s too late.”

David laughed incredulously. What choice did he have? “You’re joking, right? Let me get this straight. I’m the messiah and G-d wants me to save the world. But he doesn’t know I’m here even though he’s omniscient. Yes, not it all makes perfect fucking sense. Am I dreaming? Is that it? Am I passed out in an alleyway somewhere?”

The leader sighed. It was a strange noise to hear from such a creature. “For starters, you are not the messiah. But that is a theological explanation you are not going to get. Suffice it to say, you are a harbinger.

“More to the point. The Master doesn’t WANT you to necessarily save the world. But he has bestowed upon you the ability to do so. Every generation has one such link in the chain with such a gift, the ability to change the direction of the world so to speak. It is incumbent on that person to realize that gift and use it for its purpose – in your case, saving the world from apocalypse.

“The problem is, as the generations move farther and farther from good, as they become more jaded and internally rotted, they no longer even get a sniff of the spark that’s inside of them. So, we are sorta cheating. We are letting you know about the spark and hoping that you use it the right way.”

David looked at the leader. He looked all around the cavern. He spoke more to himself than to those around him. “This can’t be real. This is a dream or some sort of hoax.”

‘That’d be one helluva elaborate hoax don’t you think D? And seriously you’re just an architect. If this wasn’t real, who would go through all this trouble just for you? You don’t smoke do you Dave?” David shook his head. “Of course you don’t. Man, I haven’t had a fag in like twenty years. We need to roam the Earth more boys.”

“Ok,” David finally said. “Let’s assume this is all true. Let’s assume I am who you say I am and you are who you say you are.”

“Good assumption D.”

“What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to fix the world? I’m a nobody, a nothing.”

The leader barked out a laugh. “The fuck am I supposed to know Davey? I’m a demon, not your fairy godmother. And that endeth our little meeting Dave. But, I am quite sure you and I will meet again.” The leader stuck out his hand and touched David’s shoulder. And David was falling to the ground, caught in the leader’s arms and gently laid on the cold stone floor. He turned towards to of his followers. “Beiri, Toiri, take him back up. Oh, and give him some guidance. This boy wouldn’t be able to find his ass if it was taped to his hands.”

Nine hours later David Kolter woke up in his apartment, hung over and exhausted, and, the only evidence that his trip to the Below was real, a slip of paper in his hand. The little crumpled note, damp from his sweaty palm, contained a name and the words “Googel it” written underneath. Apparently demons didn’t spell all that well.

David stumbled out of his bed, past the answering machine showing forty-three new messages, and booted up his computer.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Mourning After - Lana

Lana's (since Lana last posted, she did put up a blog, but since she refuses to post anything there, I refuse to link it - all's fair in blogs and writing) second effort and, once again, she's off the beaten track. Thus one is more Frum Jewish Woman-centric but we don't discriminate here. Enjoy:

The Mourning After

I sat down in a chair in the salon, in a little corner that had been curtained off for me so no male passers-by would see my hair. The stylist was very accommodating, though no doubt she thought the practices of orthodox Judaism odd.

I removed the scarf that covered my head and my hair tumbled out, gasping for breath, forgetful of the freedom it had enjoyed just last night.

It was thick and long, and smelled of all the chemicals the stylist had used yesterday afternoon to get my normally straight hair into tight and twisted curls. I had wanted to look stunning on my wedding night, and I had. David was speechless and I was beautiful, my ebony tresses twirling with every slight movement of my head, caressing my face and flying behind me as I danced and celebrated the occasion with friends and family.

But that was last night, and this was today. It was time. Long hair is impractical when it has to be covered completely. I’ve seen women who try it, pulling their hair into a bun at the back of their heads and pinning it down with all their might, but it never helps. A big, telltale bump always ends up protruding from the back of their heads, hairs poking out from underneath the scarves in a frumpy mess. And I was not going to be a frumpy mess.

The stylist washed my hair twice, digging her nails into my scalp to rid my hair of all its gooey residue. She could tell that I was nervous. She asked if I wanted to go through with it and I said I do.

Snip, snip. Snip, snip. I felt, more than saw my hair falling to the floor. My mind drifted back to the time of my first haircut. I was seven. My mother had let my hair grow long because she thought little girls ought to look like girls. But a family vacation in Israel had resulted in a family of lice taking up residence on my scalp. A haircut was the only solution. It was only supposed to be a few inches, just to make it manageable. But a few inches did not translate well into Hebrew, and I emerged from the salon with a devastating bob. My crying didn’t stop until my mother made it up to me with two new Barbie dolls.

Snip, snip. Snip, snip. The sound of the machete-like scissors chop-chopping away brought me back to the present. Another strand fell to the floor. I bit my lip. My thoughts turned to David. I was so lucky to have him. I remembered the first compliment he ever gave me. It was our third date and he had smiled shyly and said, “I like your hair.”

Would he smile at me that same way when I returned?

Snip, snip. Snip, snip. Shorn of my womanhood, eight inches of hair upon the floor. It looked surreal, lying lifeless against the cold white tiles, the same way it had lain against my white wedding dress, so vibrant and alive.

The ordeal had taken about ten minutes, but it seemed an eternity. I told the stylist that there was no need to blow dry, it would be covered right way. Tears welled in my eyes as I said this, and I was seven again.

But I couldn’t act like a child. I was an adult, a woman, a wife. I set my jaw and avoided looking in the mirror. I tossed the scarf over my head and tied the knot tightly. My fingers reached to the back of my head and there was no bump. As I left the salon to return to my eagerly awaiting husband, I couldn’t help but feel a terrible ingrate for the tears I shed mourning my lost, luscious hair.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Untitled - David on the Lake

David on the Lake graces us with an unsolicited (I love unsolicited stories) ode to Mark Twain. Hius words, not mine. Enjoy:

A short story by me..inspired by Mark Twain

I slowly squeezed a slice of lemon over my piece of salmon taking in the sharp citric scent as the Guest of Honor of the evening was dramatically introduced. Though new to this community I was well acquainted with tonight's honoree, David Greenstein. His reputation was stellar, his credentials impeccable, an accomplished man in every sense of the word. As the packed hall stood to honor this man he slowly approached the stage to accept his award and deliver a short speech.

"Lucky son of a bitch."

"Excuse me?" I exclaimed turning toward the distinguished looking older man to my right.

He looked at me with wise and knowing eyes and repeated "David Greenstein is a lucky son of a bitch".

"How can you say that?", I interjected before he lifted his hand leaned back glass of wine in his hand smiling and continued in a low tone.

"The ways of the world are strange, the paths are many, but none more important than the path called luck. "When David was 19 and in college a beautiful girl inexplicably fell in love with him. When her wealthy father saw that there was no dissuading her in her love struck state he decided to try to remake this unbecoming man. He hired a tutor a week before finals to administer a crash test prep. Faced with such a tall order the flabbergasted tutor just hammered into his head questions and answers from a previous test hoping that enough of those questions will be on this years test. Unbelievably, every single one of those questions was on that years test as well and old David", he said with a chuckle, "got the highest score in the class.

"Armed with this as well as well positioned connections of his now father in law David moved onto the most prestigious ivy league colleges and was hired by a well known law firm right out of college despite his mediocre marks. There he deftly moved from one debacle to another all neatly covered up until the legendary Bernstein Case when as prosecuting lawyer he incredibly misplaced the main piece of evidence just before it was to be presented. Of course no one could've possibly known that the defense's entire case was based upon debunking that piece of evidence thus displaying to the jury the prosecutions incompetence. So to everyone outside the law firm David was an absolute genius."

He paused to sip his drink. After wiping his lips he leaned closer and said "ahh but it was too close for comfort and Davids father in law once again mercifully took him into his own successful stock trading firm. And so began many years of wheeling and dealing but actually sitting around running Daddys errands and playing solitaire until one fateful day in August 1996."

Suddenly more animated he continued. "Rumors were circulating that Nemco pharmaceuticals was about to declare terrible earnings and the market was panicking. Daddy in law ordered David to sell all their thousands of shares of Nemco as soon as possible but he inexplicably attended to something else first and by the time he got back to his desk it was too late, the market was closed. Imagine how livid his father in law was! Needless to say he slept on the couch that night".

Here my gesticulating narrator burst out in quiet laughter and continued with some difficulty. "So the next morning the wires are buzzing with activity, the FAA has just announced that they're approving a new powerful cholesterol reducing drug manufactured by Nemco! The stock almost tripled at the news and they were the only big players still holding onto large numbers of the new gold! And yes once again David Greenstein was a genius! And so I repeat what I told you before and add that with a bit of luck the world is yours for the taking. And yes David Greenstein is a lucky son of a bitch!" he spit out as he rose with the audience to applaud his beaming son in law.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Laugh Rabbi, Laugh - The Maggid of Bergenfield

At long last we get a new Storyteller's submission, this one from the great Maggid of Bergenfield. At least it was worth the wait:

Laugh Rabbi, Laugh

By Larry Stiefel (The Maggid of Bergenfield)

He always knew he was funny. As early as he could remember, Shimmy made people laugh. Was it because his father was a very funny accountant? Or perhaps it was because his mother was a stern school teacher who didn't laugh often, but when she did it was uproariously, and well worth the wait. Or was it because he was the youngest of six and used humor to stand out-- survival of the fittest by banana peel? Whatever had planted the seed in his brain, he was a natural born comedian.

In grade school that made you the class clown. In high school you would write humorous feature pieces in the school newspaper, and your pranks necessitated occasional visits to the principal's office when they went a bit too far. The whoopee cushion on the teacher's chair. The dribble glass for the math substitute. Anything that involved shaving cream or red food dye. Rabbi Cammerman would sit behind his enormous desk, struggling to look concerned and not to chuckle, and he would say, "Shimon, what are we going to do with you?"

The impulse to make people laugh was suppressed when he reached Yeshiva Gedola. Learning Gemara all day didn't leave much room for levity, although of course the Talmud has lots of humor in it, if you knew where to look. Hafoch bah vehafoch bah, ki koolah bah. Go through it closely, for everything is in it. Still, the Babylonian scholars were not big on knock knock jokes. Writing the Purim schpiel for the Yeshiva once a year was the most he could hope for, and of course any dvar Torah he gave would start with a one-liner. It wasn't much, but it was all he had.

Then one time when he was at his parents' house for Shabbat, he found an old Bob Newhart comedy album. It was vinyl, but his parents still had a working turntable, being the technologically advanced cavepeople that they were, and he put it on and flipped the switch. The album was in bad condition and the sound had a grainy quality like a jazz recording from the nineteen-twenties, but that only added to its mystique. Bob Newhart was funny. Really funny. His routine was as dry as a hot desert breeze. Shimmy laughed so hard, a tear rolled down his cheek. He was hooked.

He started thinking back to the comedians he had seen at the Grossingers nightclub in the Catskills when he was a child. The less well known served as the opening act for some musician or a cantor who would perform Israeli folk songs or excerpts from The Rothchilds or Fiddler on the Roof. But they were often quite good, and the crowd ate them up. Some were headliners, like Freddy Roman, who always gave a good show. Shimmy had even seen Milton Berle once. He was past his prime. But people started laughing before he reached the stage. He just stood there, puffing on a cigar and throwing out moldy one-liners. But then he would give you that patented Uncle Milty look, and the crowd roared. He was an American icon.

Soon he was sneaking in comedy albums every time he came home to visit his parents. Bill Cosby. Shecky Green. Steve Martin. Paul Reiser. Jerry Seinfeld. He had even tried Lenny Bruce once, but thought he would go straight to hell if he didn't shut it off immediately. And Richard Pryor was out of the question. Still, from every comedian he learned something new. Timing, emphasis, material. It was all there.

Shimmy started writing his own standup routine, never once dreaming he would perform it. He practiced in front of the mirror in the bathroom, behind a closed door, pausing at the appropriate places for laughter and applause. He could even hear the snare drum roll when he said a particularly corny line.

Shimmy auditioned at an open mike night at Catch a Rising Comic in Hoboken one motzaei shabbat. He tucked in his tzitzit as best he could, pushed back his yarmulke on his head, and stepped out into the lights. He thought the audience response had been tepid, but the owner called him over after the show and offered him a shot. It wasn't so much that he was funny as the sheer novelty of a yeshiva bochur in white dress shirt and black pants doing standup that got him the spot.

Every other Saturday night Shimmy would do two sets at Catch a Rising Comic. He made excuses to his chevrusah, his learning partner, and rushed out of yeshiva after havdalah, sometimes still in his Shabbat suit. Then he would race down Route 3 from Passaic to Hoboken like a man possessed. He never missed his time slot. To Shimmy, the laughter was exhilarating, as fine as any perfectly darshaned Tosefot.

When Shimmy heard about the Funniest Rabbi in New York competition at Standup New York, he knew he had to go. It was bashert. He was meant to win; he could feel it in his bones. The club was on the Upper West Side, oddly enough directly adjacent to the West Side Mikvah. The contest was scheduled for a Saturday night in November. Shabbat ended early that time of year, and that would give him more than enough time to get there from yeshiva. He wanted to tell his friends, but he dared not. He kept it to himself.

The night of the contest came, and Shimmy bolted out of the yeshiva as quickly as he could. He told his rebbe he had a shiva visit to make in Queens, then went back to his dorm room and changed into his most casual pair of slacks. He left his tie on. This was, after all, a funniest rabbi competition; there was no need to pretend.

Shimmy made it to the City from Passaic with an hour to spare and had enough time to catch a few of the acts going on before him. They were terrible. Real clunkers. Shimmy pictured the students of these Jewish educators in Yeshiva day schools all over the metropolitan area saying to their teachers, "You're really funny, rabbi. You should be on stage," but he doubted they really meant it. If these weren't Jewish religious leaders in front of a friendly audience, there would be some serious heckling going on. Shimmy had an urge to do it himself. But the paucity of talent on the stage gave Shimmy an amazing sense of confidence. He was going to go out there and kick some serious tuches.

Finally his turn came. "Ladies and gentleman. Please welcome, all the way from Passaic New Jersey, let's give a big Stand up New York welcome to Simon Weissblatt."

Shimmy stepped out into the lights and grabbed the microphone. "When I was a kid, I was so religious, I put a mezuzuah on my Doors album."

Polite teetering.

He started to tell the joke about the rabbi who told his congregant it was permitted to ride on an airplane on Shabbat as long as she kept her seatbelt fastened because "then it's as if you're wearing the airplane," when he saw someone in the audience that drained all the color from his face.

Sitting in the second row of small tables near the back of the club, off to the right, but still clearly visible was, could it be?, his Rosh Yeshiva. And sitting next to him was the Rosh Yeshiva's aged father, the Alter Rebbe.

Shimmy couldn't be sure. The bright stage lights were in his face, so it was hard to see the audience.Was it possible? Or was it just his conscience playing tricks on him? What made it even more improbable was that he knew the Alter rebbe didn't speak a word of English. Whoever they were at table 17, they weren't laughing. They sat stone faced in their chairs with no drinks, despite the two drink minimum. If they weren't his rebbeim, they were hating his routine nonetheless.

Suddenly Shimmy began to question his material. The Madonna Kabbalah bit was out of the question. And the Conservative conversion routine seemed a bit dicey. He started to feel his timing was off and he was tanking big time. He decided to go with the old Jewish skiing routine he had stolen from Buddy Hackett ("Jew ski, Jew no ski"), follow it with the bit about how every joke in the Catskills ended in incomprehensible Yiddish, and then close with his Shavuot cheese cake sketch.

As an afterthought, he threw in a story he thought his Rosh Yeshiva might like. It was an oldey but goody. Shimmy knew that jokes were taboo in standup nowadays, but he couldn't help himself.

"So anyway, they asked a priest, a minister, and a rabbi what they would most like to hear someone say about them at their own funerals as the mourners were staring down at the casket.

"The priest said, 'They should look down and say, "He was a devoted leader who gave faith to many."'

"The minister said, "I would like to hear, 'He was a devoted family man and an inspiration to us all."'

"The rabbi said, "I'd like to hear them say, 'Oh look, I think he's moving!"'
"Thank you and good night."

Shimmy shuffled off the stage dejected. He had bombed. To be funny, he had to be cutting edge, and having your rebbe in the audience didn't help on that front. But had his Rosh Yeshiva actually been there?

Shimmy grabbed his coat and made for the side exit. Outside in the cold, halfway between the club and the Mikvah, stood his Rosh Yeshiva and the Alter Rebbe. Shimmy walked over to face the music.

The Rosh Yeshiva smiled at Shimmy and patted him on the back. "Shimon, we all have to serve Hashem in our own way. For me it is teaching sacred texts. If for you it is making people laugh, then Ivdu et Hashem besimcha, Serve G-d with joy. Just be sure to do it in a respectful and appropriate manner, and maybe do it in a way that brings others closer to their Creator. And of course it goes without saying that we still hope you'll be back in Yeshiva tomorrow."

Shimmy nodded respectfully. He turned to the Alter rebbe.

"Varf noch nisht dine leibin," said the Alter Rebbe.

"What does that mean?" Shimmy asked the Rosh Yeshiva.

The Rosh Yeshiva smiled. "Loosely translated, it means, 'Don't quit your day job.'"

Monday, October 16, 2006

Hemingway's Bride - Lana

Ed's Note: Round II of Storytellers stars off with something completely different. It's fictional poetry from Lana. Lana doesn't have a blog of her own or I would link to it, but she will be checking here so leave some love. There is even a follow up to this, or so I am told. if we behave, maaybe she'll let us have it.

On a side note, Lana is my very first unsolicited contributor - something I have been shooting for since I started this project. And THAT is why she gets to lead off Round II:

I met him that long-ago day in Alsace. Handsome
face, much to my taste, he swaggered up to me,
cigar in place, projecting an aura of masculine
grace, boasting a case of beer and a powder keg;

preparing for war, front lines, he said.
He was hit in the leg. But that was better than dead.
Beside the hospital bed, I patted his back
as he retched and he bled, incoherently begged,

that when he was all better, we would move on
together, together as one, and of course
I said yes, why I would feel truly blessed to be your wife,
your lover, dutiful mother of the children we’ll have.

And so it was done. We married in France, my heart
set on romance, he turned off the light, took off
his pants, I said, it’s okay Hem, you’re not fully well.
He said, go to hell, and left in a huff.

Next morning he cried, apologized for
the stuff he had said, last night in bed, it was just
words, words, just nerves, nerves, but enough was enough.
Never opened up again after that, said talking of feelings

was feminine crap. He preferred to chat about bullfights,
boxing and gore. What a bore. He went out to parties
discussing the war. Drinking martinis he damned Mussolini
with Sherwood and Pound, then he’d quiet down

and go to his favorite café in the square,
and write about war as if he was still there, heroic
and bloody all over again, drowning in gin,
and cognac and wine. He was out all the time,

with Gertrude Stein, imposing and stoic, I thought they were
brothers. Gerty taught Hem and the others to write,
but they couldn’t write like you, or fight like you,
F. Scott Fitzgerald had nothing on you. He made sure I knew

that Fitz was a sniveling, brown-nosing Jew. And a faggot,
too. Homophobic nut. When he heard that Gatsby was topping
the charts, he coughed up a gut, stayed in bed for a month.
I lived life as normal, he called me a slut,
so I went to Fitzgerald and took him to bed. I’ll never forget
the precise hue of red that Hem turned when I said
that Fitz did it better than he ever did. Priceless!
Livid, he came after me with his fists,

ticklish, I laughed. Breathing fire, incensed, he swung
and he missed. I collapsed into fits
at his stark impotence, and when he hauled me
out of the house by my hair, threw me on my ass,

I bounced and I laughed. Then I left France,
and never looked back. Till thirty years later came news
of his death, I had to return to see what was left
of the man who had hated that feminine crap,

who claimed he was brimming with life
and with vigor. I wasn’t surprised one bit when I heard,
that he was the one who pulled on the trigger
that blasted the bullet deep into his brain.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Eliyahu's Secret - Jameel

Ed's Note: Moshiach is on the way! How else can we possibly explain Jameel actually submitting his story for Storytellers? All joking aside (actually, I'm not even joking), below is Jameel's story - or should I say Part I of it. Shockingly enough, he's gone the whole unfinished story route like many other of our fine (lazy ) contributors. He's also got his Dan Brown Da Vinci Code hat on. We here at Storytellers approve.

This post concludes Round 1 of Storytellers. We will be starting Round 2 in a week or so. Of course, I have only 2 volunteers so far (and, shock of shocks, one of them is Scraps) because everything here has been just pulling teeth from you (lazy) people. Please, anyone interested in submitting a work of fiction - JUST DO IT. Don't be shy. Seriously. Just write it. It's even *gasp* fun.

Ok, enough ranting. Enjoy the show:

There wasn't a single kid in Jerusaelm's Mea-Shearim neighborhood who didn't know the legend.

It was a rite of passage.

At the age of 9 or 10, you found out. Late at night, in the darkness of your room, your older brother or sister used their most adult, most serious-sounding voice possible, to pass on the story of the underground secret…that lay deep beneath the Jerusalem shtetl of Mea Shearim.

Mea-Shearim's location wasn't a coincidence -- the students of the Vilna Gaon who founded the neighborhood in 1897 understood the significance of where they were building. They too knew the story which reverberated throughout the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. Even though the legend was almost common knowledge among the tightly-knit Jewish community -- it was kept to themselves and they never discussed with outsiders. Even the old-time Christians and Arabs living in the old city, who thought they knew what their Jewish neighbors discussed deep in the dark of night...had no clue.

It was a baking hot, Jerusalem summer afternoon, and Eliyahu wiped the sweat off his forehead as he walked to the local makolet to buy groceries for his family. With 13 brothers and sisters, it seemed that someone was always paying a visit to the small family-run grocery to buy the household basics; bread, flour, eggs, sugar, oil, diapers, and Materna infant formula. More often than not, Eliyahu was the one chosen for the job. Still, it was better than taking out the garbage, cleaning up the house…or changing diapers…and walking to the makolet was always a better option than household chores in his cramped apartment.

Yet even in the summertime's sharav; the late afternoon's hot sun rays bouncing off the yellowed limestone walls of Mea Shearim did little to curb Eliyahu's enthusiasm and jittery excitement in his walk. He was almost skipping…for late last night, his older brother had told him…the legend.

Could it really be true, he wondered. Could such a fantastic story of historic proportions really exist underneath the cobblestones and shtetl of his neighborhood? He shook his head as if to clear his mind; it couldn't possibly be real. It must be "just a story"…for if it were really true, the implications were staggering.

As he entered the local grocery, Zundel the eldertly makolet owner greeted Eliyahu with his customary, "Shulem Aliechem" -- and right away noticed the gleam in his young friend's eyes.

"Ah…was someone up late last night, perhaps reviewing his summertime studies?", Zundel playfully asked.

Quickly trying to put on a solemn face, Eliyahu carefully replied, "No, everything's fine…I didn't go to bed that late at all…" But before he could control himself, he blurted out what was preoccupying him, "Zundel, the legend can't possibly be real…of what's underneath Mea Shearim…can it, can it?"

As Eliyahu continued with a string of questions, they faded away from Zundel's ears, as he was transported back in time, back through the decades to when he had first heard the story. He was only a youngster of 8 when the legend was told to him…on the 3rd night of sukkot in 1953. He would never forget the date…how could he? He was so enthralled by the legend that he too, needed to find out more. He wondered if every youngster in Mea Shearim harbored the same feelings when they found out… "They must" he decided…you couldn't hear the story and remain apathetic. The mystery…the very possibility of the legend as a reality, ignited the imagination of his soul…

"Zundel, Zundel, do you hear ANYHING I'm saying to you?" Eliyahu's words brought Zundel out of his daydream.

"Eliyahu, my young friend", Zundel replied, "Not only am I convinced the story is true, but I have a feeling that very soon, maybe even in the coming weeks, events will be put into place that will show the world that the legend is true."

If hearing the story last night thrilled Eliyahu; Zundel's dramatic pronouncement positively gave him goosebumps!

Knowing that his mother was waiting for him, Eliyahu gathered up the groceries as Zundel wrote down the amount of the purchases on the family's index card. In this makolet, no one paid cash for groceries on the spot; everything was on credit, and Zundel would get paid at the end of the month or the following one.

Quickly walking past the posters plastered on the walls of his neighborhood, Eliyahu ignored the pashkevilim and their messages of gloom and doom for those who relied on certain rabbis and not the pashkevil-approved ones. He even ignored Elka, the fair-haired girl who was walking on the other side of the street. While relationships of any sort between boys and girls was unthinkable in his neighborhood, he had run into Elka a few times lately when dropping off envelopes from his father to Elka's father. Their fathers both raised money for the same yeshiva…and he and Elka had shyly exchanged a few words over the summer. Had they lived in a different neighborhood in Jerusalem, their friendship may have bloomed, but not now, not here, and definitely not today. Eliyahu had much more important things on his mind.

Pretending to be overly helpful, so as not to get scolded for being late, Eliyahu quickly and quietly unpacked the groceries, and then went off to his bedroom room to ponder his next steps. Though everyone he knew believed the legend in their heart of hearts, no one actually knew where the entrance was; almost every kid in Mea Shearim had tried to find the secret entrance at some point in time over the past hundred years…so why should he be any different? Yet even with his doubts, something stirred inside him that gave him hope that he would be the one to prove the legend…

The evening sun majestically cast its final rays on the walls of the old city. A refreshing breeze from the east, from the mountains of Jordan started to cool the city. Lying on the top bunk bed in his room, Eliyahu drifted off to sleep as his thoughts of exciting secrets beneath his home merged with dreams of the approaching Jewish redemption. Would he hear the majestic shofar blasts that heralded the coming of the Mashiach?

Not the shofar sounds of wailing and sadness which bring one's heart to return to G-d during Rosh HaShana…this shofar sound would be completely different. The baritone, deep and powerful shofar calls would resonate around the globe, announcing to the world that the Jewish world would finally have a leader…to unify them, leading them in defending themselves from their many enemies, and to answer crucial questions that fracture and radicalize the Jewish world today.

It was already dark out, when the noise came.

Author's note: Unsure which story line to continue with, I decided to tentatively end the story here… I could just make this the end of part one if there's enough interest, and continue again in a future installment. The choice is yours!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Not Quite Perfect - Bellany

Ed's Note: Our tenth (and probably second to last submission of the "first round" of submissions) comes from New York Yankee lover Bellany. And despite of this affiliation with the Yanks we are putting up her story anyway. It's a tale of greed, lust, power and ....ok I'm lying, just read it and see for yourselves.

We are waiting for just one more submission (JAMEEL!!!!) and then we will start taking submissions for round two. Scraps and I have already committed - anyone else?:

Once upon a time there was a blond haired, blue eyed girl. Many might even call her spoiled, but they knew little, if anything, of what really went on behind the walls of the castle she called home. She lived with her parents and younger siblings in suburbia. They were a normal upper middle class American family. Every winter they would even go on vacation to exotic locations. Everything looked picture perfect.

But appearances can be deceiving.

It was another family outing. She and her siblings were once again being posed for an endless session of pictures. The girls were all in matching dresses with headbands that had a cute little bow. The youngest boy, the baby, was in his little young man outfit. Her Dad was standing next to her Mom with the video camera while her Mom kept making funny faces to try to get them to look at the camera and smile. But then there were the moments when she got frustrated when there was always someone who was not cooperating. People would walk by and most of them stopped to watch, for it was always a whole production. Most of them would stay and watch for a minute or two and say, "Oh how cute". After all they looked like the picture perfect family. They even have the pictures to prove it. Albums and albums full of them.

But the reality of her life was very different from what it appeared to be. Her whole life she was always told what to do. Everything was manipulated. Every aspect was controlled by her parents. They had to consent to every detail. There were so many rules. She could not even decide what to wear in public because only they could form the appearance. Her life was not her own. She grew up to constant criticism with some love thrown in for affect. When her parents were not yelling at her they were yelling at each other. Her parents were always fighting about something. Their voices would resonate throughout the house. There was no escaping it. She had no where to run and no white horse to escape on. There was rarely peace.

It was only when the family was out in public that they would act like loving parents. She almost resented that because she knew it was fake, that it was an all an act, that they were just putting on a show. Although there were times when she wanted their love so badly and wanted her parents to love each other that she started to believe it. And then her world would come crashing down again. Vacations sometimes turned into disasters with the family packed into one hotel room for the week. The fact that it was a four star hotel meant nothing to her. When they walked around on the beautiful grounds she would often walk some distance away and watch from afar. If she sat in a secluded group of palm trees she could try to snatch a few moments of silence to just enjoy life. In an attempt to escape reality she pretended she was not part of the family and dream of a time when her life would be her own. She waited for the day when she would no longer be so alone. She longed for the day when she would no longer have to have most of her conversation in her head.

Then there were those times when they were out in public when the masks dropped. But that only happened when they knew there was no one around to hear that they cared about, no one who could spread the truth back home. So they would go right back to their routine. They would fight and snap at each other and her siblings when people's backs were turned. She hated the embarrassment they made her feel and she hated the looks people gave her out of the corner of their prying eyes. She felt like the adult as her parents acted like children. Parents were not supposed to throw tantrums and act like selfish children, but no one ever told her parents that and she never dared try to impart that lesson.

She was supposed to be the treasured princess, but it never turned out quite that way.
Everyone always saying to her, "Oh they waited a long time for you I hope you are making it worth the wait. You guys are everything they've always wanted". So she just smiled on cue and nodded. They certainly fooled everyone else. Yet at home they never acted like these were the moments for which they waited fifteen years. Hhmmm, then of course there was the story her parents always repeated about how she had been such a hard baby, as if she could knowingly control her actions, and if she had been born to anyone but them she would have been thrown out. Wow how generous. That just makes everything all better. If anything the generation gap only made things much worse. Communication was impossible. Sitting down to talk out problems was impossible because they were irreproachable. Yet everything they always did was for her own good even if she did not know it. Never mind what she wanted. She was not old enough to know what she needed. They had the wisdom that only comes with age. They had all the answers that mattered.

As the oldest she had no one to look up to, no one to talk to, no one to turn to for help. Behind the walls of the castle she was all alone in her misery. To try and protect herself from further damage she began to build a protective wall. It was a defensive measure, a last ditch effort to try and preserve what was left of her shattered self-esteem. Because when she did lash out and fight back the criticism just got worse and lasted longer. If she really said what she thought then the gloves came off and the hitting began. So there were times she just stood there and took the criticism. But it got to her. It hurt. The pain keeps building up inside with no where to go. It is a big burden to carry. Even when she answered back and defended herself, there was only a small release. Everything was her fault, her responsibility. She had to be perfect. She had to set the example. Not her parents, but her. She knew the situation was not about to change anytime soon and there was nowhere to go. Running away was never far from her mind, but she had nowhere to go so she never really went through with it.

By that point she had already learned a lot of the hard lessons in life. Too many to count. She already knew that money was not happiness. She knew what she did not want in life, but she did not really know who she was. She did not yet know her plans, her goals, her passions. All she knew is that she had to get out from under their control. So she continued to dream about the future, finding true love, being independent, and making her own choices.

One day she got up and said, "I have to fight for what I want because no one is going to do it for me." The fight for her independence was underway. And this was one fight she planned to win.