“Orare est Laborare.” —Benedictine motto

If it had not been for the integrated axiotromic calendar, Brother Leon would not have known which decade he was living in, let alone the day or the time.  Not that time mattered much out here.  Each day on this world, with its three suns and four oddly orbiting moons, provided only fleeting hours of nightfall, and those hours were sporadic at best.  Over the years, he and the other Brothers had adapted to the lack of sleep that so much daylight induced, which suited them well, since their regimen imposed seven periods of prayer and contemplation throughout the day—twelve during Lent and the Holy Week. 

Even so, Brother Leon found his mind a little foggy this morning as he performed the scheduled system maintenance on the hydromatic oxygenator vents.  It was a grungy job that left his hands and face blackened for weeks.  With water being in such short supply on the station, his bi-monthly showers would not begin to remove the greasy build-up, especially the five minute showers he and the novice Brothers were allotted.  It was times like that he felt his old worldly ambitions creep into his soul once again, with their urges to rise in the corporate ranks and enjoy the privileges that men of status and power enjoyed.  Certainly the Abbot was not limited to a five minute shower!  But even as these thoughts began to surface, Brother Leon pushed them back down and refocused his mind on the task at hand and the prayer for this day, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner…Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner…”  Besides, the Abbot had so many more responsibilities than he did, and a man in his position had to make all those reports to the Colonial Exploration Board over the TeleTron;  he had to look presentable.

Brother Leon finished screwing in the panels for duct 14-A and was about to carry his tools across the hall to the adjacent panel when an announcement came over the HumanaVox system.  “Thirty minutes until Matins.  Repeat, thirty minutes until Matins.”  Aside from the recitations and prayers the Brothers heard each day in the chapel, these announcements were the only time they experienced a voice other than the one resonating in their own minds.  For Brother Leon, this was still something he was getting used to.  He had grown up in a family with four younger sisters, and their perpetual babbling had nearly driven him mad as a boy.  It seemed that whenever he had tried to read or watch a DigiFlick, his sisters would be sitting around him, quarreling among themselves or interrupting him with their constant barrage of questions.  The only time he could get away from the chatter was when he was using the Excrovac, and even then they would likely barge in to fetch something from the counter drawer. 

Well, he certainly did not have to worry about female interruptions here.  Although some of the newer congregations had gone co-gender, the Bishop of his order would have none of that, especially for deep-space assignments such as this.  This, of course, suited Brother Leon just fine, and that is why he had requested to serve his first term on New Haven-12.  The sense of order and discipline appealed to him in a way that nothing on Terra Prime offered.  Not only was he serving his God, he was also helping to provide a vital service to his people.  Perhaps if his inner life progressed the way he hoped, he may even be chosen for a long term journey aboard one of the Interplanetary Probes.  Their order’s founder, Bishop Thomas, had been traveling alone now for over seven years on his way to the proposed site for Harmony 7 in the Gamma system.  He is now so far out on his journey that the base only communicates with him once every eighteen months;  soon it will be once every twenty months.  But who could possibly perform this mission better than one of the Brothers?  These men crave quiet and solitude in order to hear the voice of the Lord more clearly—away from all the noisy ambitious squabblings of the world.  Yes, that’s what Brother Leon wanted to be.  It was his life’s true mission, but first he had to finish cleaning these vents before Matins.


This is a ‘one-pager’ that we do alot for exercises in my writing group. As mentioned in the Short and Sweet post it’s just a sketch. The idea was to write a piece using only one syllable words.

He sat back in his chair and played at calm. He clenched the stem of the pipe in his teeth and puffed but the pipe had gone out. He stared at the ash in the bowl and looked at the clock. He reached for a match but the bell rang. She was here. Not yet time but she was here. He jumped up, went for the door but he still had the pipe. He went back and set it down, swept a hand through his hair, sighed.

She came through the door one step at a time, like a shy deer at a pool. Her hair was still long, still dark but now there was a thin streak of white. She saw him look and brushed it back but he shook his head. It’s not what you think.

“I’m glad you came,” was all he said, took her coat. “Thank you.”

She just gave a nod and looked around. Yet, she walked in. The smell of pipe smoke still hung in the air. Her head came up to sniff. He thought once more of the deer. He hung the coat on the rack and placed a hand on the small of her back walked her all the way in. She saw all the food and stopped.

“What’s all this?”

“I cooked,” he rushed forth, pulled back a chair, but she just crossed her arms. “Please, sit.”

“You said a drink. This is too much.”

“It’s no big deal.”

“No,” she said, arms still crossed, “I mean it is too much. I just ate.”

“Oh, I see,” he said. “Well we can still sit. We can talk.”

“Talk? What’s left to say.”

“Who knows?” he said and held out his hand to the chair. “I thought I had said it all but I was a fool. That much is clear at last. At least to me.”

She shrugged and sat and he joined her. He looked at all the food but there was no way he could eat. He looked at her, her set jaw, and sighed.

“There are things you have to hear…no,” he stopped. “That’s not quite right. Things I have to say, I think. If you’ll let me.” He stopped, and now leaned back. Can she know how hard this is? He thought.
And then he heard his voice in his head clear as a bell. Why don’t you tell her?

“Ah…this is hard,” he said, his chest tight, voice soft and now she was the one to sigh.

“Why don’t we start with the drinks?” she said.

“Of course,” he said, “how could it slip my mind?”

He stood and went to the board and there was the clink of glass on glass. Her eyes slipped from his stooped back to the door. Why was she here? Much of her knew she should go but more of her thought she should stay, at least for a while. When she turned he was there.

“I think you’ll like this,” he said. “How does port sound?”

She stared, eyes wide, the glass was dark as coal and the ink could not be read for it was quite old. Still she knew what it said.

“Is this…from his stock?” her voice held doubt though it was right there to see. “I thought…”

“It was all gone? So did I. There’s more. So much I should have seen. I’d like to share it with you. Please.”

Tears filled her eyes and one spilled, gleamed on her cheek, her chin. Then she smiled and the tear fell. “Just pour,” she said.

He did as she bid and they both drank. It was strong and danced on their tongues, full of notes. The port went down smooth. It was a good year. It had stood the test of time.

“Though this be madness…” (Hamlet II.ii.206)

What is madness?  Who are the people that occupy the lunatic fringes of society—those we refer to as crazy, insane, nuts, addled, bonkers, unsound, disturbed, unbalanced, raving, demented, unstable, schizo, nutty, unhinged, loopy, batty, daft, or “non compos mentis”?  What is the difference between someone who is euphemistically deemed “touched” or “eccentric” versus an individual who is labeled “deranged” or “psychotic”?  What leads a person to forsake the sensible, orderly psychological realms we attempt to build for ourselves and embark on a journey into those disjointed mental hinterlands outsiders often find so intriguing and yet so terrifying?

Whether it is in legend or literature, on stage or on screen, in the sphere of the imagination or in the “real” world of daily life, human beings have always been fascinated by the thin line separating the rational self from the irrational.  Some of literature’s most fascinating characters spend time venturing in and out of lunacy.  Hamlet and King David feign madness for a while, whereas Ophelia, King Lear, King and Lady Macbeth, and Holden Caulfield all go wildly loony. What about all the suicidal artists who have opened up new and creative possibilities for the rest of us, such as Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and Ernest Hemmingway?  Would they have ventured into art’s uncharted waters without their demons driving them on?  What separates the crazy cat lady living alone in her apartment with her brood of felines from the babbling alcoholic begging for change on the freeway off-ramps?  What separates a prophet or a shaman from a cult leader or a maniac?  How is the man who washes his hands until they are cracked and bleeding different from the kid who straps explosives onto his body and threatens to blow up a busload of school kids?

My own experience in dealing with the mentally unbalanced has come in two forms:  family and work.  My ex-wife’s brother, sisters, and niece are all certifiably nuts to one degree or another.  Although she is not entirely crazy, her niece is the most neurotic person I’ve ever met.  She is afraid of practically everything (i.e., bugs, the dark, reptiles, bridges, close spaces, various foods, someone reading her newspaper before she does, just to name a few).  My ex’s brother and one of her sisters have both been diagnosed as schizophrenic, and their mother was so paranoid that she believed local drug lords were spying on her through her television screen.  When my ex’s brother or sister go off their meds, they experience wild hallucinations.  Her brother sees giant insects crawling up through the floor, and many of his visions come in the form of religious iconography.  The Virgin Mary statue in his living room talks to him, and once when he was in the hospital recovering from a particularly bad episode of lunacy, he thought I was Jesus, and he would only take a bite of his lunch if I commanded him to eat.  Her sister still sends long, rambling letters to my house (usually six or seven at a time) where she describes being followed around by “Edgar J. Hoover’s men” and agents from the KGB because she has secret knowledge these governments don’t want revealed to the world. 

When I worked at a grocery store, we had some regular customers who were total wackos.  One fellow was convinced that the Russians were seeding the clouds with radioactive chemicals.  Therefore, he always wore a face mask, and he would only buy chicken that was raised and processed in Arizona.  We even had to bring the box of chickens out to the counter to prove to him we were not switching the chicken he wanted with an out-of-state bird from a company like Foster Farms.  In the classes I teach, I could point out at least a half dozen students who, given the right set of circumstances, would likely be up on the roof gunning down their teachers and classmates with a high powered rifle.  (I try to stay on these students’ good sides.)  Yet none of these kids pose an immediate threat, and even my wacky ex-in-laws are relatively harmless.  Perhaps it all comes down to degree;  that’s the way mental health experts deal with all the subtle nuances of human behavior, and if we are honest, it’s these odd-ball folks on the fringes who often make life so interesting.


Pancake Eric Bahle May 16, 2009 

“How about it, Bob?”
“What’s that?” Bob Grady looked around, called from his reverie. It was Handsome Jack who had spoken.
“How about them flapjacks,” Handsome Jack said. “We’re hungry.”
The whole gang, crowded around the rude plank table, nodded agreement. Bob Grady turned back and held his hand over the black-iron griddle. It felt hot enough so he wet his fingers in a bowl of water and sprinkled it on the griddle. The droplets danced and sizzled on the hot iron. It was ready. Bob gave a heavy sigh and stirred the big bowl one last time before ladling out batter for four cakes. He dropped the ladle back and picked up the spatula.
“You feeling alright, Bob?” said Ozark Dave. “You seem a bit out of sorts.”
“Well, I been thinking,” said Bob. “And I think…”
“You think what?” Ozark Dave prompted.
“I think…I just think I ought to have a nickname.” Bob moved his spatula edge under the cakes but didn’t flip them yet. He was watching for the bubbles to rise up and burst first.
“A nickname?” Handsome Jack said. “I don’t get what you’re driving at. Just hurry up with them flapjacks”
“You’ve all got nicknames,” Bob said. “I should have one too.”
“We don’t all have nicknames,” One-Eye Gonzalez said.
“They call you One-Eye,” Bob said, flipping his pancakes.
“That’s because I only have one eye,” One-Eye Gonzalez said. “It’s not much of a nickname.”
“Well, what about Stabby Pete?” Bob said. Stabby Pete Gunderson looked up from where he sat, stropping the edge of his knife on the leather of his tall boots.
“What kind of nickname did you have in mind?” Stabby Pete asked.
“I don’t know,” Bob said. He transferred the cooked pancakes to a wooden platter and poured out more batter. “Something that sounds tough. Like Mad Dog Grady.”
“They already call me Mad Dog,” said Mad Dog Murphy. “I don’t think we should have two Mad Dogs.”
“What do you need a nickname for?” said Handsome Jack. “You’re not in the gang.”
Bob Grady started and his flip was ruined. The pancake landed edge first and started to crumble and spatter apart. He ignored it and turned to face Handsome Jack.
“What did you say?” asked Bob.
“I said you’re not in the gang,” Handsome Jack said. “You’re just a cook and right now you should be cooking flapjacks.”
“I am so a member of the gang,” Bob said.
“You don’t ride with us on jobs,” said Handsome Jack. “You stay here at the hideout and cook.”
“Take it back,” Bob said, growing angrier. “I am a member of this gang and I should have a nickname.”
Handsome Jack stood and squarely faced Bob Grady. “What are you going to do about it Bob? You don’t even have a six-gun.”
“I am an important member of this gang,” Bob said again. The cakes behind him were burning and the smoke rose around Bob’s head.
“You know what’s important?” Handsome Jack said. “My breakfast. And you’re burning it. You want a nickname? I’ll give you one. Flapjack Grady! Now gimme some breakfast, Flapjack!”
“Don’t call me that,” said Bob. “I don’t like it.”
“Too bad, Flapjack,” Handsome Jack crowed. “You’re burning them, Flapjack!”
“Shut up!”
“Better flip them, Flapjack, before they catch on fire!”
“Shut up!” Bob was screaming now and he threw his spatula at Handsome Jack. Handsome Jack sidestepped it and drew his pistol. He was a fast hand with the gun but he didn’t want to kill Bob Grady, just put him in his place. He held the revolver level with Bob’s belly and his thumb rested on the hammer, ready to cock the piece.
“Alright, take it easy,” said Handsome Jack. “We don’t want no trouble here. How about I just go sit down and you finish making breakfast. We got a deal….Flapjack?”
Bob reached behind him without looking. Handsome Jack saw the look in Bob Grady’s eyes and dropped the hammer on his gun. He snapped off a shot that should have hit Bob in the liver and put him on the ground. Instead it clanged like a church bell on the black-iron griddle that Bob now held before him. Bob swung and Handsome Jack’s pistol went flying out of his burned and smashed hand. Bob swung again at Handsome Jack’s head and Handsome Jack went down like a sack of crap. He tried to scuttle backwards but Bob was on him in a flash.
Bob grunted and growled as the griddle rose and fell. The last bits of burned flapjack flew in wild arcs. At first the griddle clanged but the sound turned dull and flat, like somebody packing fresh turned dirt with a spade. Eventually the sounds grew wet and a little squishy and Bob Grady stood up. He turned to the rest of the gang and wiped sweat off his brow with his forearm.
“I think I should have a nickname,” Bob Grady said.
“Sure,” said Stabby Pete, “sure thing, Flapja…um, I mean…”
“How about Griddle?” One-Eye said. “Griddle Grady?”
Bob didn’t look thrilled.
“Black-Iron Bob!” said Ozark Dave eyeing the black-iron griddle that was now black with burnt flapjacks and bits of Handsome Dave.
“Yeah, Black-Iron Bob,” said Black-Iron Bob. “That sounds tough. Old Black-Iron Bob Grady!” A feeble groan came from the heap at Black-Iron Bob’s feet.
“While we’re at it,” said One-Eye Gonzalez, “we better come up with a new nickname for Handsome Jack.”


Falsified                                                       Eric M. Bahle December 20, 2008


The gates swung shut with a sonorous clang and St. Peter turned to the line.

“Next.” A man stepped forth from the head of the milling throng and approached.

“Wow,” the man said gazing at the tall gates, “I’m finally here. It’s a long wait on line.”

“Name?” said St. Peter.

“Those gates sure are pearly,” the man said. “I expected bars so you could see through. Like in the movies I guess. But these are pretty. Imposing but tasteful, you know?”

“What is your name?”

“Oh sorry,” the man said. “You know I kind of expected you to have wings.”

“I’m not an angel,” Peter said. “I’m a saint and I need your name.”

“Right a saint. Saint Peter,” the man said, nodding. “No wings but that’s a nice halo. Beatific.” The man and the saint stared at each other for a few moments.

“Your name?”

“Oh right,” the man said, nodding again. “Hamilton. Michael Alexander Hamilton.”

St. Peter ran his finger down the page of the book in front of him. The book was huge, a vast tome. It was bound in gold chased leather with parchment leaves crawling with calligraphy and illuminations. St. Peter turned a few pages looking for the man’s entry.

“Paper records, huh?” the man said. “I’d think you guys would move to a computer system. That’s quite a line to process.”

“Yeah, well when we started it was all on papyrus scrolls,” said Peter. “So this is actually an improvement. Here you are.” Peter’s finger moved up and down the page and he muttered as he read.

“No murder, no rape, not much blasphemy…stole a candy bar when you were seven.”

“Yeah, sorry about that.”

“Church going man…” Peter’s finger stopped and he looked up. “A little more lust than we care for.”

“Yeah you got me there,” the man said, “but I never cheated on my wife. Not in thirty-five years of marriage.”

“It says here you were married for thirty-six years.”

“Uh, yeah…I’m counting the engagement.”

“Everything looks alright here,” Peter said. “Michael Alexander Hamilton, you may pass.” The pearly gates opened and the man walked through into a golden light filled with harp music. The gates swung to with a sonorous clang and St. Peter turned to the line.

“Next.” A man stepped forth from the head of the milling throng and approached.

“Name?” said St. Peter.

“Hamilton,” the man said. “Michael Alexander Hamilton.”