OCTOBER 16, 2016
THE 18TH DRAWING OF STRAWS
So anyway now is the time of creeping mists over the hills and morning streets latticed with strange elongated shadows. Creatures scuttle into corners and leaves skitter across the road although no wind is blowing. Colors of the world shift to reds, browns, auburns. Winds kick up after dusk and the Ban Sé roam around the trees, stirring the leaves with their long hair as they glide invisibly between the branches. They come moaning around the chimney and cause all sorts of mischief. At dusk the shadows extend long across the road and the air is full of whispers, faint muttering. Dark doorways breed tiny monsters that scuttle from one place to another. Now is the time when the veil between the worlds gets thinner, allowing some souls to pass back and forth, and so conduct strange enterprise. Revenants appear and Shades speak from beyond, and the Dead walk among us once more.
Now is also the time when the Editor hosts the annual Drawing of Straws that will determine who among the Island-Lifers will be chosen to descend to that land from which no man is known to return. Save for the occasional Medieval Poet from Italy and wayward ancient Greek looking for Eurydice. Somebody always has to be different.
As per tradition, 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 finally came to Denby who hung down his head.
"You know how this goes," Rachel said. "C'mon and get it over with."
Again, as per Tradition, Denby drew again the shortest straw. It has been so for 18 years running, that this man would always draw the shortest straw. Those of you who know the Way of the World, know that this has been ever so for some people. Strive as they might, the rules of Law dictate that some folks lives shall roll easy. Others, not at all. And the shortest straw always seems to come to the same people, time after time. That is just the way it is. It is tradition and who can dare gainsay Tradition?
"Again? Me? Again?"
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."
After a while, no one else was left in the newsroom, save for the Editor and Denby.
"I expect this time you shall get some idea of how the elections are going to do," said the Editor. "Assuming you return alive of course.
"I don't think so," Denby said. "The Dead are not so concerned about elections."
"Well," said the Editor, puffing on his cigar. "See what you can get. Los Dias de Los Muertos, the Days of the Dead, are soon upon us."
"Sure boss," Denby said, with resignation."Sure."
As per Tradition, the Crossing would take place on October 31st. And all wondered just how it would be this time. The 18th time that Denby has crossed over to the Other Side, the Land of the Dead.
Just then the howl of the throughpassing train ululated from across the water where the gantries of the Port of Oaktown stood glowing with their multi-kilowatt sentry lights, quavered across the starlit waves of the estuary, over the riprap embankments, over the moon-silvered grasses of the Buena Vista flats and over the open spaces of the former Beltline railway; it moaned through the cracked brick of the defunct Cannery with its ghosts and weedy railbed and chainlink fences as the locomotive click-clacked past the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its journey to parts unknown.