I’m proud to have my story “The Language of Monsters” in Douglas Lain‘s anthology Deserts of Fire: Speculative Fiction and the Modern War.
See the Elephant #2 is out now. It includes my short story “Summon Up the Blood”, as well as other stories by many fine authors. You can get it at places.
Thanks for coming. Wow—the big four-oh. I mean, right? Who’d have thought. So here we are: H. and H. It’s been too long, man. There’s hardly anyone cool around here to hang with. What are you looking at?
Every year I write down my goals and put them up in an envelope—yes, this envelope—seal with wax, and stamp the seal with my princely signet. The following year I pour out a goblet of the best red, open up the envelope, and see how well I’ve done. Then, before retiring, I write a new list for the coming year. It’s my birthday tradition.
What’s that? Open it? Well of course I’m going to open it—though not yet. Are you in so large a hurry? Have you got another best friend’s birthday party to go to?
Oh, all right, all right, don’t apologize, I’m only kidding. Christ, it’s good to see you, Horatio. You look good. You look as good as a skull can look, I mean. Who’d have thought I would outlive you! I always supposed you’d be standing over me one day, bidding flights of angels sing me to my rest!
Hey, you know what this reminds me of? The time you and I found old Yorick’s skull in the graveyard, alas. You remember poor Yorick, the king, my father’s, jester? He’d borne me on his back a hundred—Oh, I’ve told you this one? All right, all right, I do tend to soliloquize; what is this, like my seventh? No, my seventh glass of wine, not my seventh soliloquy, smarty, and if I am going on a bit, cut me some slack, you’re not holding up your end of the conversation.
Soft! What was that! Listen, Horatio! That thumping! There it goes again!
Never mind. I know what it is: merely a knock within. Relax Horry; there hasn’t been a ghost around here in a decade. My Mom is pounding at this chamber door. She is throwing me a birthday supper, and I’m late. The meat is probably cold, but they can serve it for brunch tomorrow. We like leftovers, here. It’ll be fine. Let’s have another drop.
This vintage well-suits me.
So what’s up with you, Horatio? Seeing anyone?
No, I guess the dead don’t date. Well, it’s not much better being alive, I tell you. It’s impossible to divine what women want. I mean, am I the crazy one? I suppose it’s relative, as they say at university.
What? Who? Of course I haven’t seen gentle Guildenstern; no, nor gentle Rosencrantz neither; have you forgotten Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead? Surely, you remember the letter and the pirates and sailing to England and so forth? These ring no bell? Well it did get a little complicated there for awhile and much occurred offstage—so to speak.
No, what I mean is all the world’s a kind of stage …
Oh? Too far off book for your taste, Horry? As you like it; let us turn to my envelope now, while the room still but lightly spins.
I’ll just shove you closer to the candle so you can read along. All right, here we go. Break the wax, remove the paper, unfold, and reveal what lies ….
Ah, right. Six goals. We will take them in reverse order.
Lose twenty pounds.
I think I gained twenty. I’m so fat, Horatio. I hate it. You get to a point where wearing black doesn’t fool anybody and just becomes sad.
Start fencing again.
Well, that would have helped with the waistline, but I never got ‘round to it, either. Though if one’s too fat to fence, no one can prick you with a toison pip—a poison tip, I mean— try saying that five times fast after your seventh goblet. Okay, naught for two.
Four. Return to Wittenberg, finish degree. Shit.
Well, I mean, what is a degree but a piece of wood pulp?
They’re made of lambskin, you say? Nevertheless, the principle is the same. I do a lot of reading on my own; I don’t need a skin to prove anything.
Three. Write, produce, and direct new play. And not another didactic little playlet aimed at an audience of one, but the full five acts this time. You know what my “Murder of Gonzago” adaptation lacked? Sympathetic characters ensuring broad appeal. Ah well, but what’s the point? You know what it’s like trying to capture an audience these days, with so many other distractions? Why even try to create? Naught for four. Next?
Fresh flowers for her grave.
Okay, on this, I started well. Never missed a day, for at least the first two months. Things happen; life gets in the way; but I made the effort. Horatio, I tried. I’ll do better this year. I’ll do better. She deserved better from me.
Okay, that’s the list.
What’s that you say? I skipped one? I don’t think so.
Avenge murder of noble father, parenthesis, kill Claudius, close parenthesis.
Well. What can I say? Work in progress.
Why are you looking at me like that?
You could be more supportive, Horatio. You used to be so good at validation. Would it hurt you to rattle off a bit of verse “we have heard the chimes and midnight, master —”? Nothing like that in the hollow of your cranium?
No, I suppose it isn’t.
We can’t change our natures friend. We can’t.
Tell you what I’m gonna do. Seeing as the bottle’s dry ….
No, not the wine bottle, though it does seem to be so as well; I am referring to the ink bottle. Rather than procure more ink and write out a new list, I am going to carry this list over. It’s a perfectly fine list of goals. I’m going to fold it right back up, and to economize further, stuff it right back in the same envelope. Okay … a little candle wax … and there. Done and done; good as new. If I get through half this by birthday next, that will be a hell of an accomplishment, a hell of job of work.
What do you mean, “Hell is another name for Hades”? I know that.
I have a good feeling Horatio; forty will be my year.
I think I’ll wander over to another part of the castle now; see if there’s any birthday cake left. Mom works hard at throwing me swell parties, and I should at least make an appearance before it gets too late; she and Step-Dad bed early this time of year. It’s been fun catching up. We should do this more often.
No, I am not just saying that.
We should make the time.
However, if I’m to be honest, chum of my youth … well, you know what they say: tempus fugit.
Time flees, Horatio. Isn’t it a tragedy?
* * * * *
Copyright © 2011 Michael Canfield