Category Archives: Novellas

the California musketeers – double trouble

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Your present fears are less than your horrible imaginings.  What you see now is what you get with, deal with, and live with. It’s no way around, and if you run away from it for an instant reprieve, you know it will come to you again sooner or later. This is it, thinks Judy. I must take it and bear it with grin. These men, the trio looking like characters from a western movie, appearing from the wild high noon haze, she does not fear, but their impending intents of coming to her with mysterious questions she doubts. Surely, doubts are healthier than fears because fears can crush your strength, and the weakness emanating from within can double the strength of the foes. Judy is secretly asking God to come to aid her and make haste to help her as the images of the trio are entering her trembling irises of the big beautiful brown eyes and fill her eyes in entirety.

‘Howdy! Lass!’ Raphael, the talker, begins the talking. The two other men on the stead behind Raphael display the look of curiosity and amusement. They are pleased to see a pretty woman with a matching cute little dog in the middle of the wild. Quite exotic kind of a bird, Rufus and Ben think in harmony. But the exoticness comes not from a demarcation of race but from a uniqueness of beauty: innocence and sensuality are delicately concocted in her big brown expressive eyes decorated with long, thick Persian black eyelashes like black silk curtains. And the crown of her beauty seems to be bestowed on her tall slim figure that renders her graceful and respectful. There’s something about her, which sets her apart from the women they have seen in saloons, music halls, ballrooms, and any place where flowers of society gather and mingle to be wooed and wed. ‘The lucky bastard’, think Rufus and Ben, both of whom envy Raphael with admiration for his way with ladies. In terms of looks, Raphael is an epitome of your ordinary amigo: slightly chubby in frame, a round smiley face that looks impossible to grimace decorated with a neatly trimmed mustache, all amicability personified that will save him from malicious gossips and wrongful accusations. Hence, Raphael is the talker of the trio and a sort of mother and father to Rufus and Ben with his practical sense of reality and survival skills.

‘We are headed west toward Doritos. Do you know where it is?’ Raphael asks the lass as friendly as possible. Judy incredulously looks up the mounted man with a mustache and a sombrero and thinks that he looks very convincingly like Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s faithful servant. There’s something about the man, thinks Judy. The diction, the ambiance, and the deportment are rather anachronistic or incongruous even to the social media era where people flag their selfies on the internet as if they were on a popularity contest and compete for likes and comments as emotional security and collateral for their forged so-called self-confidence. My Dear Reader, don’t misunderstand that it’s immoral of you to hang your beautiful pictures on a digital platform for popular admiration. It’s just that this act of self-promotion serves as a springboard for testing your marketability and your mobility as a result of winning the competition for likability based upon looks and frivolous comments that do not mean much, much at all. Amid this train of thought, Judy warms to this amiable man and decides to answer him. ‘This is Wildwood Park, sir. And I am sorry that I have never heard that there’s a place called Doritos, except for a brand of chips.’ Upon answering, Judy could not but burst into a pearl of laughter. It is a sight to behold – the face of Raphael grimaced partly and bewildered partly, all in a dazzling chemistry of emotions that is hard to describe. So much so that this display of indescribable human emotions on Raphael mollifies Nena’s agitation and puts the tempestuous waves of her emotions at ease. Now Judy feels refreshed and happy.

Rufus and Ben are within an earshot of this dialogue between the pretty lass and Raphael and cannot but be disappointed by the fact that they are once again on the wrong track, which seems to be forever chasing after a phantom of the dead Union soldier obfuscating them lest they should find where the buried treasure is. Where’s the Aztec gold? When can they find it? Maybe the miasma of frustration and agitation that hovered over Judy must have been transmitted to Rufus and Ben on the stead because now their faces mirror the symptoms of malady of broken hearts. Then suddenly, Nena now recovered from the plague of uneasiness, springs forward and wags its chubby tail and bark toward the firmament as if it were looking at a thing invisible to your and my human eyes. Nena keeps barking and looking at the puzzled crowd behind as though it were trying to explain them that there is something in the air that only Nena can see but we can’t see. ‘What is it, Nena? What you do you see?’ Judy knows that dogs and cats can see supernatural things because their eyes can look through the souls of the living and ghosts of the dead. Judy tries to follow the direction where Nena is looking and barking and sees a gossamer trace of haze vanishing into the air like the vestige of a propeller plane soon to be effaced across the skies. The more Judy tries to scrutinize it, the faster it disappears. And Nena keeps barking, looking in front of the curious crowd. What is it that the dog is seeing? They all look at the barking dog and become curiouser and curiouser.

150 miles to El Dorado

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Judy begins to feel like a whimsical paramour leaving for a new object of love at sight. What was pleasingly solitary in the nature seems to be a prolonged isolation from the world that Judy so wanted to escape, and her coquettish dalliance with the wild rugged nature is no longer wanted as the Sun is slowly moving westerly to cave in to the Evening Star and the Moon. It might be still early for calling it a day to you with your weekend frolics still left to re-calibrate your kicks for another week, but it’s late for Judy, who would rather mourn for a passing of the last day of a weekend at home than rebel against it in a frenzy of nocturnal bacchanalian orgy elsewhere outside the comforts of her den. Now the anxiety holds a grip on her, and she begins to fret, and the miasma of the ill-feelings begins to effuse the uneasiness to Nena who begins to whimper and to the accidental trio of strangers observing every move that this girl makes as they are nearing to her, part perplexed, part bewildered. What a curious mixture of emotions she puts on her face! Rufus, Ben, and Raphael become curiouser and curiouser as they get nearer to the porcelain doll in their eyes.

‘Howdy! Lass! What are you doing here?’ Raphael, the talker, begins the talking. ‘We are headed west toward Los Adios Mountain. Do you know where it is?’ Judy incredulously looks up the mounted man with a mustache and a sombrero and thinks that he looks very convincingly like Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s faithful servant. There’s something about the man, thinks Judy. The diction, the ambiance, and the deportment are rather anachronistic or incongruous even to the social media era where people flag their selfies on the internet as if they were on a popularity contest and compete for likes and comments as emotional security and collateral for their forged so-called self-confidence. My Dear Reader, don’t misunderstand that it’s immoral for you to hang your beautiful pictures on a digital platform for popular admiration. It’s just that this act of self-promotion serves as a springboard for testing your marketability and your mobility as a result of winning the competition for likability based upon looks and frivolous comments that do not mean much, much at all. Amid this train of thought, Judy despite being agitated by the lateness of the time warms to this amiable man and decides to answer him. ‘This is Wildwood Park, sir. Los Adios Mountain is 150 miles away from here. And you should go northward. You are far off from your destination.’ It is a sight to behold – the face of Raphael grimaced partly and bewildered partly, all in a dazzling chemistry of emotions that is hard to describe. So much so that this display of indescribable human emotions on Raphael mollifies Nena’s agitation and puts the tempestuous waves of her emotions at ease. Now Judy feels refreshed and happy.

Rufus and Ben are within an earshot of this dialogue between the pretty lass and Raphael and cannot but be disappointed by the fact that they are once again on the wrong track, which seems to be forever chasing after a phantom of the dead Union soldier obfuscating them lest they should find where the buried treasure is. Where’s the Aztec gold? When can they find it? Maybe the miasma of frustration and agitation that hovered over Judy must have been transmitted to Rufus and Ben on the stead because now their faces mirror the symptoms of malady of broken hearts. Then suddenly, Nena now recovered from the plague of uneasiness, springs forward and wags its chubby tail and bark toward the firmament as if it were looking at a thing invisible to your and my human eyes. Nena keeps barking and looking at the puzzled crowd behind as though it were trying to explain them that there is something in the air that only Nena can see but we can’t see. ‘What is it, Nena? What you do you see?’ Judy knows that dogs and cats can see supernatural things because their eyes can look through the souls of the living and ghosts of the dead. Judy tries to follow the direction where Nena is looking and barking and sees a gossamer trace of haze vanishing into the air like the vestige of a propeller plane soon to be effaced across the skies. The more Judy tries to scrutinize it, the faster it disappears. And Nena keeps barking, looking in front of the curious crowd. What is it that the dog is seeing?

Musketeers to the Rescue

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The view from Santa Teresa Loop is pleasantness itself; a small village down below looks never more affable when seen from high above the bustling daily activities of everyday busybodies, a continual fugue of discordant voices, lies, schadenfreude, vitriolic criticisms, empty promises, false valuations, vain hopes, resident disappointments, and crushed dreams orchestrated by competing grand subjective narratives, all fragmented and adrift. Judy looks at the world below her feet as if she were one of the Olympian gods who used to get a kick out of looking at mortals and making fun of their lives as though to be seen in a great amphitheater. That’s how Judy is entertaining herself now, alone with her faithful canine companion Nena that is also entertaining itself now, for none other dogs than itself has a privilege to enjoy the view, as it were, because it’s the only dog in sight at the moment. The eyes have a feast of the spectacular world to themselves, and the bodies are imbibed with the fresh breath of unsullied beauty of rugged nature, which welcomes the divine duo with iridescent rays of sunshine and refreshing cool air from the West Wind. Readers, it’s a sight to behold, for they are gripped in a paroxysm of ecstasy. Thereby sit Judy and Nena on a rock like statues of Artemis and her wolf, smiling at the world below them.

Judy changes an object of her optical pleasure to a new stimulus from a different direction where the images of men suddenly materialize. She takes her antique binoculars belonging to her father, grandfather, and great grandfather, kept in her family’s cabinet of curiosities for two centuries. There are three men on horseback from the afternoon haze of the wild plains yonder approaching to the trail that leads to the loop, where the earthly Artemis and her canine companion are. Looking through the lens, the threesome look like they are doing a periodical reenactment of the Wild West Frontier; the one in Clint Eastwood-like western outfit with a cowboy hat, a long-haired hippy dressed in a ballroom attire, and a Sombrero-wearing avuncular man with a mustache. They look rather out-of-time, but nonetheless affable, attractive even because of the piquant charm emanating from this oddly quaint trio suddenly materializing before the very eyes of ever inquisitive Judy. It’s like a movie, thinks Judy, while still wrestling with her Reason to figure out this mirage out of nowhere, trying to grip a sense of reality, which she is not good at. For Judy lives in air, her mind forever flitting on the arc of imagination with a belief in magic, legends, faeries, and ghosts… She dwells in beauty of nature, drinks the sweet nectar of forgotten gods and goddess to protect herself from the weight of time that constantly threatens to stale her infinite variety and wither her beautiful spirit. Amid the tug-of-war between the Senses and Reason, Judy now sees the men in her iris coming real and decides to climb down the top of the world. Nena looks at Judy, but it isn’t as willing as her master. Don’t worry, Nena. They won’t hurt you. I am with you, and that’s all that matters. So off they go.

When Judy and Nena almost reach the entrance rail to the loop, however, Judy begins to doubt whether her decision to approach the trio is wise. What if they turn out to be bandits or serial killers in friendly hides? After all, people sometimes take false shadows for true substances. You know, sort of a killer’s instincts in my good neighbor Mr. Roger’s hide? Anyway, it’s too late now, and they also see her with her dog beside. A tall, slim girl looking like a salt pillar at the outskirts of burning Gomorrah is watching them, and the men think she’s either a mad girl deserted by her rich family ashamed of having a lunatic in the household or a dell, a young beggar girl, wandering anywhere for bed and bread, and thus oftentimes becoming a doxy of a highwayman who in turn exploits her beauty and gender for his own desire and avarice. We can’t let her stay alone here, said Ben, who prides himself of being something of a gentleman of society. Rufus thinks she is pretty and therefore wants to woo her. Raphael thinks she doesn’t look menacing, only lost, and takes a pity on her. So, they are all for one, and one for all, like the Three Musketeers in Western Style. They are going to rescue her, and then they will continue their journey to find the Aztec gold buried in California. Once more unto the breach, once more! With this motto of esprit de corps, Rufus, Ben, and Raphael dismount their well-spent Californian mustangs and walk toward the curious Judy – and even more curious Nena.

The Legend – Aces High

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They come from the beyond over the hazy horizon endless in length and boundless in time. They are back from the halcyon days of gunslingers roaming the boundless plain in the unclaimed territory, swashbuckling the dusty streets of a nascent frontier town in California. It was when the Pony Express was busy delivering urgent documents on horseback from the West to the East. It was before the Irish and the Chinese made the transcontinental railways. It was before the sons of the North and the South ceased fire and embraced once again for better America. From the glory of the Wild West comes this unlikely trio: Rufus, Ben, and Raphael. They are partners of a joint venture in finding the gold that a Union soldier buried somewhere in the mountain in California. No, the gold wasn’t hard-won by years of toiling in the mine but stolen from a benevolent Mexican baron who kindly attended the wounded deserter. The ungrateful soldier killed his saintly host and appropriated trunks of the ancient Aztec gold kept in the cabinet. So, it was this gold, this tainted gold that the posse is trying to find, El Dorado of their dreams.

Rufus is a handsome drifter who used to delight in cigars, but now is a cold turkey thanks to his learning of the virtue-extolling slogan of Mans Sana In corporore Sano, meaning ‘a sound mind dwells in a healthy body.’ Although he doesn’t particularly subscribe to the ancient Greek motto, he wants to reinvent himself as a clean-cut, dashing young man fused with youthful bravado and adventurous romanticism alluring to fair ladies and even plain-looking woman with money. He never knows who his parents are, but he does not want to know about it either. For Rufus, a foundling found on the doorstep of a missionary church run by Spanish Conventual Franciscans, a family inherent by means of blood relation seems so tribalistic and primitive. He’s always alone, and in this aloneness, he finds freedom and solace. So when he first heard of the legend of the buried gold from Friar Pedro at the monastery, that was awesome, I will find it myself and set up this dilapidated monastery and my new business thought little Rufus. That was 25 years ago, or so it seemed. Rufus since then has embarked on a journey for El Dorado by being a professional drifter, an occasional cowherd and sometimes a bounty hunter for local lords and town judges. It was during one of his stints as a cowherd that he came across two other men asking for a direction to Santa Rosa and wanted to be part of this joint venture of the ecstasy of gold. And off they went together on horseback. 

Ben is a former banquet pianist whose passionate and tempestuous streak laced with virtuoso piano playing gives him a status which fuses the caprice power of Greek gods with the sensual charge of modern-day celebrity. Versed in the musical pieces of Beethoven, Bach, and Chopin, Ben used to make ladies swoon over the melliferous melodies he wove from the intricate courtships of the keyboards and faint at the apotheosis of the ecstatic sensation of the music, throwing their handkerchiefs at the pianist. Ben entertained such deliriously sensuous reaction from the belles of society and often likened himself to be a musical Byron. But after the curtain call, that was it, and nothing more except for the maddening silence and dreadful darkness hovering over the stage. Ben wanted more, desired much more, and demanded ever more the insatiable hunger for fame and adoration that ensued scandalous dangerous liaisons with the ladies of high society and rewarding golden opportunities to elevate his status of wandering entertainer to that of an accomplished courtier of the music of his time. Forget the agents who only engage him in the venues dissimilar to his sophisticated classical tastes with forfeiting more than half of the money from his performance. Forget the patronizing sponsors whose only merits are wealth and haughtiness. He wants to be of his own employer who can play the music he likes in front of a select beautiful few. He wants freedom, and he wants it badly. Hence, his hands are now up for grabs for the golden opportunity of reaching El Dorado with no qualms, for the buried treasure is already tainted, and it won’t make him any more immoral than the soldier killing his kindly host.

Raphael sees life as one big game in which you either make it big or bear it as it is just like his father, his grandfather and his great grandfather were good at it. The family-honored stoic attitudes toward life never appealed to Raphael, who believes all-or-nothing strategy should be his credo, and he is proud of being forward-thinking and enterprising with his signature go-aheaditiveness. My dear reader, you might liken him to something of a Don Quixote because of his Spanish cultural link infused with the image of a reckless but likable wanderer with a mustache, but don’t let the shadow take our substance. For Raphael was a cunning fox wrapt in a player’s hide. His round, avuncular appearance belies fierce shrewdness and undaunted selfishness. Call him names, and he will strike you with blows with smiles. How more sinister and menacing can it be? This feistiness, resourcefulness, and go-aheaditiveness packaged in wicked humor and que sera sera approach to life give him kicks to survive life. So one day when Ben came by his small, dilapidated stable to change his spent mustang, Raphael was hooked on the story of the buried gold in Californian El Dorado. And the rest is history. 

That is the beginning of their phantasmal chase against the ecstasy of gold in the mountain, which has been continued for over three centuries. For many moons and suns, Rufus, Ben, and Raphael have been marching with the hope that even beat the shadow of death, 

the beginning – 'Curiouser, curiouser!'

The wind was blowing eastward in the field, and the sun was stopping in the sky amid the moving herd of clouds. The susurrus of the trees was softly caressing her ears harassed by the cacophony of reality in which she could not help but endure under the pretext of fulfilling her existential duties to earn her sustenance. A nature’s medicinal touch of her malady of heart seemed to work for the moment, and she felt cared and loved in the arms of Mother Nature whom she likened to Mother Mary. Judy was sitting like a resting Artemis, the goddess of hunting, with her loyal canine company Nena on the crest alongside San Marcello Path in the Santa Maria Mountains. Judy and Nena were different species united in the polyphony of nature’s orchestral music and the panoply of the scenes that nature’s cinema was presenting before their very big brown beautiful eyes that seemed to look into the depths of souls and to find wonders in them no matter how diminutive they might be. It’s the moment of retreat from the world that constantly threatened Judy’s faith in humanity against the strife of existential life. Every Sunday was the time to bathe herself in the Spring of Nature, and she loved every minute of it.

A noonday haze was springing over the hill with iridescent beams of sunshine, which were a feast to the eye. Nena was yawning as a gossamer of the eastward wind becoming a sweet breeze was pleasingly teasing a tip of its nose. Smiling at the playful scene, Judy was thinking about the legend of restless ghosts of nineteenth century outlaws still roaming in the deep region of the mountain, not knowing they were dead in search of a great escape from a forest maze to their El Dorado. Reader, you may think it’s only a fiction imbued with Hollywood-generated machismo of lawless gunslingers in the Wild West, but to Judy the legend became factoid that couldn’t be abruptly dismissed as a preposterous ballyhoo fit for a campfire story to scare kids and gullible puerile adults. Call it superstitious or benighted, but then do people not believe in the power of the greatest man above even though they have not seen him? The difference between religion and belief is a matter of hierarchy, a structural form of rite and indoctrination. Anything else is quintessentially same as we human beings are spiritual by nature. Thus, even the wickedest, the vilest, the cruelest convict has the tainted and perverted soul warped in a wrong modus vivendi that it chose by the will or by the play of Goddess Fortuna. In that regard, the souls of the escaped convicts, drifting gunslingers, highwaymen, or luckless lost travelers might still be roaming the paths of the mountain day and night, doing their penance on earth without awareness of it, till a sympathetic living soul hears their sorrows and angers to purge them out to escape to the beyond.

As Judy was wending her way to the mountain, the images of the wild west ghosts sprang in her vista as though to be screened in a phantasmagorical display of the swashbuckling bravado of their once proud prime days. What’s more, she wanted to validate her belief in life after death by witnessing the souls of the dead, which would quell her vexing doubts on the existence of God and ultimately, the meaning of life. Nena also seemed to give a nod to Judy’s determination to figure it all out by walking beside her into the mountain. The leaves of the trees were rustling in the wind, and the eagles were flying high above as if they were welcoming the curious duo. The rustling sound now became phantasmal susurrus of trees, reciting “Curiouser, curiouser!”