The Tree House

Twinkles lived in the West Hills of Portland on Vista Ridge. It was a nice neighborhood in that the houses were expensive and large. Families could live in them without running into each other for days, which was good because many of the families’ members didn’t play well together. Divorce rates were high, affairs a given, and out-of-touch children, who expected life to be sprinkled in front of them like rose petals, were rampant. Twinkles lived in a tree house in the backyard of the Johnsons’ house. It belonged to their children, but they had grown up and moved south to California. It was a good tree house, built by craftsmen and made to last. It needed some paint and caulk because the Johnsons were now elderly and without grandchildren visiting it was neglected. Twinkles wanted to paint it and protect its flaking wood, but he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. Nobody knew he lived there. He was a tree house squatter and he doubted squatter rights would apply to tree houses.

Twinkles liked squatting. It seemed more natural than ownership. You can’t take your house with you, so ownership was really no more than squatting. But people’s laws said otherwise and men with guns enforced them, so Twinkles kept quiet in his tree house and only fixed things that wouldn’t be noticed, like leaks in the roof and squeaky hinges, and these he did in the early hours of the morning when no one was about except for the drunks arriving home after last call. To them he would appear as nothing more than an apparition of an oversized gnome. He even wore a red hat he’d found last Christmas. It was knitted wool, and it may not have kept his head dry, but it did keep his thoughts warm, and it was important to keep his thoughts warm because it was his thoughts that controlled where he traveled at night in his dreams.

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The Hydrant

When Arthur arrived at the cafe, the hostess seated him outside on the sidewalk patio at his favorite table right in the midst of the diners where the people watching was best. He ordered a glass of wine, not because he liked it but because he didn’t. It would last a long time and he didn’t want to get drunk, not tonight, not with what he’d learned this morning.

The middle-aged couple on his right were discussing current events. He eavesdropped for a bit but they were just boringly parroting talking points they’d picked up from television news like something they’d tracked in on their shoes. Besides, Arthur knew all that was just lies fed to the public to keep them engaged enough to be complacent but not so engaged that they started digging for the truth and got mad. You see, Arthur had found the perfect source for news, one that never lied and was honest to a fault.

A month or so ago at the beginning of spring, he had been weeding around the fire hydrant in his front yard by the curb when he was struck by an odd smell. As he sniffed the air trying to identify it, he started to hear voices in his head and see images in his mind’s eye, as if he was watching other people’s memories, but then he started hearing even stranger voices commenting on what he was hearing and seeing. There he was on all fours, sniffing the air next to the fire hydrant, and he felt like he was watching a show next to someone who was giving a running commentary on what they were watching.

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Portland Towers

“I was getting headaches until I got the second one,” Dinty said, an earphone in each ear with wires leading to the cell phone in his shirtfront pocket. “Now all my calls come in stereo. Like a voice inside my head, right here.” He tapped his forehead with his index finger. “If it’s my boss, it sounds like the voice of God.” Mimicking his boss’s deep baritone, he said, “Dinty, public toilet five on the ninth floor has crap smears in it. Get up there with your brush.” He scratched the bald spot on the head of the Chihuahua in his lap. “Mr. Orly is like any boss, he’s obsessed with smears.”

Taking the earphones from his ears, he offered them to the dog. “Here, do you want to listen? I’ll call you and I can be the voice of God. ‘Stanley, stop shedding on the man’s uniform.’” Then the phone rang. The caller ID said it was Mr. Orly. “Oops, speak of the devil. I better take this.”

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You Can Be Anything You Want to Be

I was napping underneath Tina’s dangling feet—she was the smallest of my two-legger family—while she sat on the old red leather couch between her dad and granddad. Every now and then she brushed her toes against the fur on the top of my head. It woke me with a tickle, but I didn’t mind. Tina was my favorite being in the whole world and could do nothing that would bother me. I just lay there dozing and listening to what the old men had to say. When Tina’s dad took her to the park to play with the other two-leggers her size, he was always the oldest dad there, but the other dads seemed to look up to him as if he’d been through this many times before and was full of wisdom, as if he was the dad they’d always wanted. But he’d just gotten a late start and was in the same boat as they were, though he never mentioned this. He did look more like a granddad than a dad, and with Tina sitting between him and her mother’s father, the two men looked like brothers. She sat there and giggled at the silly things they said while her feet rubbed the top of my head.

“What do you want to be when you grow up, Tina?” Granddad asked.

She pointed at me, lying on the floor. “I wanna be Charlie.”

Her dad smiled at her. He was a lawyer who had wanted to be a doctor when he was young, but the chemistry classes that first year in college didn’t quite take. “You want to be the dog? But you can be anything you want to be when you grow up, a doctor, a lawyer.”

She shook her head. “No, Charlie.”

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