OCTOBER 18, 2015
ANNUAL DRAWING OF STRAWS
So anyway, the wind kicked up and a proper dockwasher slushed through for a brief time, chasing all the seagulls in from the sea over the parkinglots. Saturday morning was greeted by jeweled bedewed leaves and spangled car windows. The wind continued to knock crabapples from the gnarled limbs of the twisted tree out back and web-beetle contraptions beaded up with moisture.
Beneath the Estuary surface the El Chadoor paused in its persistent quest for information as an Iranian Spy sub keeping tabs upon the Port of Oaktown. Silent and deep all was asleep and at peace.
It is the mysterious time of changlings and changes. The Ban-Sé wail about the chimney at the Old Same Place and the veil between the worlds stretches thinner and thinner, allowing passage between this world and the next. Now is the time when tiny monsters breed in the doorways and the windowsills of the Island. Now is the time when the errant breeze tosses leaves skittering across the pathways and revenants walk the land, spectral and translucent. Now is the time when the Old Ones return to greet us. Soon come Los Dias de Los Muertos -- The Days of the Dead.
In the Offices of the Island-life organization the Editor made ready for the annual ritual of the Drawing. This was a terrible and awesome tradition that could not be denied, for the loser of this drawing must needs pass unto that bourne from which no traveler may return. Save for the occasional Medieval Poet from Italy and wayward ancient Greek looking for Eurydice. Somebody always has to be different. Also, save each year one selected Island-Lifer. Only one is allowed to go to the Other Side and report on what has transpired there and bring back news and fortune of things to come and things and people which have passed. The unlucky one who draws the shortest straw must pass to the regions of the Dead and suffer the agony of loss all over and once again.
All of the staffers from all around the world, wherever they may be, need to appear for this night of the Drawing of Straws. At the end, they all go back to their offices, each to each, to await the final days of Los Dias de los Muertos.
The previous night the Editor had walked down the silent aisles of the newsroom, all the desks with their lamps and their monitors silent and dark. He, alone, had never drawn from the cup passed by Rachel, the statuesque AA. He already had seen death in his various forms as a soldier in distant Vietnam long ago. This annual visit was always given to someone else. During the witching hours.
Lately, a ghost had been visiting him at night, in this time when the veil between the worlds grows thin. A tall black man who bent to his ear to say, "Da islands be danger and lost. Bin long tyme sin ah spik dat Gullah."...
And the Editor would start awake with wild eyes. Memories packing in with a rush. The Carolina Islands far to the east, settled by Gullah freemen and women escaped from the Black Ships to dwell where where no man and no woman had been a slave. And there also inhabited the Daughters of the Dust. The Islands were being sold out by the children who did not want to live the old ways, keep the old customs. More money was to be had on the mainland. But those Islands remained with their old history. To them must the annual visitor go and visit and return, bearing witness.
On the desks the cups with their straws had stood silent and glowing by faint LEDs, those constant and ephemeral symbols of our time.
The world waits the witching hour as the veil between the two worlds becomes thinner and thinner, allowing phantasms, dreams, revenants to pass easily back and forth. Then come the Days of the Dead.
Now was the Time for the Drawing.
As per custom, all staffers were called into the offices to sit around nervously as Rachel, the AA, moved with a dancer's poise between the aisles with the cup of straws held high and each drew from the fated cup in the form of a battered derby. As each drew in turn, they nervously palmed their straw before comparing it to that of their neighbor and then sighing with relief.
Rachel came to the Messenger Desk where Festus stood next to the computer keyboard anxiously wiping his face with his paws.
"Draw," commanded the Editor.
"But boss, I am an hamster! Nobody is going to talk to me?"
"Finally a proper use of 'an'!" the Editor said.
"Excuse me?" Anne Riffleton, the Dispatcher, said.
"I mean the article," said the Editor. "Draw, Festus."
"O for pete's sake!" Festus said before diving into the hat and emerging with a straw, clearly not the short one. "There! Thank my nuts I am free and clear!"
Someone began mumbling about possible cheating.
"Never mind your privates; we have mixed company here. Next!" said the Editor.
Rachel finally came to Denby who hung down his head.
"You know how this goes," Rachel said. "C'mon and get it over with."
"Wait!" Denby said. "Sharon, the Social Events Coordinator, is not here! She's in the hospital!"
"Someone will draw as proxy," said the Editor.
"She is already pretty close to Death's door," Denby said. "It would be logical for her . . . ".
"Denby, you are a fine writer and a mediocre musician, but as a gentleman, you suck donkey doo." The Editor said.
"O for pete's sake . . . ".
"Draw!" Commanded the Editor.
Denby shrugged his shoulders in despair and reached up to draw from the hat Rachel held high. He palmed his straw and Rachel sashayed away.
The others drew from the hat and Denby opened his palm. Once again, per tradition, he had drawn the short straw for the 15th time in a row.
The staff all gathered around him and patted him on the back with congratulations as Denby began silently weeping. "Way to go old pal," they said before walking away to mutter each to him and herself under the breath, "Gosh darn, sure glad it aint me! Poor sod. . .".
What a team was the newsroom staff.
"You got two weeks to get ready this time," the Editor said. "Leave your Last Wishes and papers with Anne."
Denby just looked at him.
"In case you don't come back," the Editor said. "You are not getting any younger my boy."
As Denby sat with his head in his hands, Festus tried to console him.
"Don't take it so hard, buddy. It's just one night in the year. You go down there, schmooze a bit with the devils -- maybe meet the Big Guy, Old Nick himself -- and come right back. Just like that Eye-talian poet with his Beatrice."
"Beatrice? My friend Beatrice?" Denby said, thinking of the lanky, dark-haired woman he knew. "She's too dotty to be a guiding muse. And I do not think she wants to be put on no damn pedestal either. Besides, I think that was Virgil." He looked at the Editor who shifted his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other.
"I aint no damn Virgil." The Editor said. "You go by yourself, as usual. We need the scoop on who wins the Presidential election."
"I went with him the time he was in the wheelchair," Jose said.
"O really," Anne said. "What was it like?" She was hoping for lurid tales of devils with pitchforks and flames and Helen of Troy with Faustus.
"It really really sucked," Jose said simply. And then he was silent.
"O well," Festus said. "So long SOHO and give my regards to Broadway. I am taking off for the night."
After all the drama, each of the staffers returned to their desks to shut down their computers and check the tasks for the next day before leaving. Denby stared into space for a while before he, too, departed for his room he rented underneath the Walnut Street Psychiatric Facility for Pathological Narcissism. As he came in the door Ms. Whale was coming out and she spoke to him. "By the way could you do something for me? Please don't look so sad; it brings me down."
Underneath the estuary waters, the First Mate and Captain observed all of these things with wonder. "What is this thing Halloween?" Asked the First Mate.
"It is like Boujloud in Morocco," said the Captain.
"What happens to the Traveler on that night? Have we ever followed him?"
The Captain shook his head. "He disappears at the seawall. The water is too shallow for us to come close on the Bay side, so we cannot follow him."
The First Mate paused, thinking about these things.
"When he comes back he looks . . . affected by whatever he sees there," The Captain said.
"I think it is good we do not follow him," the First Mate said.
"I agree," Said the Captain. "Dive!"
And with that the El Chadoor passed from the estuary out into the Bay and across the expanse under the Golden Gate to the sea-monster populated ocean beyond, running silent, running deep.
Back in the offices the Editor sat at his desk, which was lit only by the pool of light spilled from the solitary desklamp, while Irene came along with her broom to gather up the littered straws and dust. Eventually, the Editor also turned out this light, leaving the aisles in the keeping of the one who was sweeping up the ghosts of Sunday night.
Then came the ululation of the train from far across the water as it trundled from beneath the gantries of the Port of Oaktown with their 1000 watt lamps, letting its cry keen across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline, through the cracked brick of the former Cannery with its leaf-scattered loading dock and its weedy railbed and interstices of its chainlink fence, dropping slowly over the motionless basketball hoops of Littlejohn Park until the locomotive click-clacked in front of the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, trundling out of shadows on the edge of town past the Ohlone shellmounds to parts unknown.
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