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The naive King

This is Part III. Part I of Humpty Dumpty is here. A slightly different version of this story was going to be the original pilot of the TV show I was working on in 2006. You can read about that story here.

Opium Tales The good King and his men ride their horses outside the castle and visit the peasantry. The peasants cheer him on, throwing confetti and smiling as he passes. As he turns his head in their directions, they smile and bow.

He waves in a matter most appreciative, sitting tall on his horse. A lovely young lady runs in front of his horse and throws flowers in front. He smiles directly at her and she bows meekly and blushes.

The good King tries to tour the Kingdom at least once a year. He genuinely loves his people.

He comes to the Humpty Dumpty’s fief and gets off his horse, walking his horse so he can be more on the same level as the peasants.

“Fine day young man,” the good King says to a random peasant.

“Fine day Your Majesty,” the peasant retorts, without making eye contact.

“How are you?”

“Couldn’t be better, Your Majesty?,” the frightened peasant replies.

“Couldn’t be better,” the King says under his breath, oblivious to the peasant’s nervousness. “What a fine Lord Humpty Dumpty must be.”

“I have heard the same, Your Majesty,” says one of the King’s men, with the same naivety as the King.

Pleased with himself, the good King remounts his horse. The King’s men do the same. Once more, he takes one more look around the village. The villagers all feign their best faces. The King and his men couldn’t possibly be more oblivious.

His Majesty rides off back to his castle with a pride and swagger about him. He regards Humpty Dumpty as one of his best Lords, as he’s yet to hear a complaint about him.

Part IV of Humpty Dumpty is here

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A most brutal tax collector

This is Part II. Part I of Humpty Dumpty is here.

opium tales t3he peasants have already finished their labor for the day and gather in the town square. Tired after a long day’s work, they make the best of their miserable lives until the steel reinforced carriage arrives with the deservedly hated tax collector.

Humpty Dumpty, a rather large and brutish bald man, drags out of the carriage. “Don’t you ever look me in the eye!,” he shouts at one peasant as he slaps him across the face with his leather gloved hand. The peasant’s face turns red as his eyes water, but he dares not say a word in protest.

Humpty Dumpty, the tax collector, walks up to another peasant. “Do you have my taxes?”

Without speaking, the other peasant hands over Humpty Dumpty some coins.

“What do you call this? Do you want to insult his Royal Majesty?”

“No my Lord.”

“Then pay what you owe.”

“This is all we have Sir.”

Humpty Dumpty’s face turns into a grin then a wicked smirk. “Your daughter.”

“But she is just a child!”

“She is ready.”

The peasant who got slapped earlier screams “No!” and runs forward to take a swipe with a rake at the tax collector. Humpty Dumpty’s driver moves forward to intercept the peasant, but Humpty Dumpty pushes his driver aside with one hand and grabs the rake with his other hand.

Then Humpty Dumpty whips out his sword and cuts off both of the peasants hands. Without pause, Humpty Dumpty grabs the torch from his driver and chartreuses the wounds.

He takes a few steps back and makes eye contact with everyone in the square. Loudly, he boasts “let this be a lesson to anyone who wants a piece of me.”

No one dares to confront him. No one dares to make eye contact. They all look defeated in his general direction.

Humpty Dumpty storms into a peasant’s home and pulls out a frightened teenage girl. The girl’s father wets his pants, but dares not step forward. He will cry profusely later on that night.

The driver picks up the torch from the ground with a disgusted look and puts it back on the carriage. He waits for his Lord to step inside with the girl, grabs the reins, and drives off.

Continue to part III – The Naive King

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Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty

This is Part I of Humpty Dumpty. If you’re interested in the background, you can read about it here.

opium tales a little peasant girl sits with her legs crossed in the dirt, playing with an egg. She extends her index finger and rubs it into the damp dirt, then paints a smiley face on the egg.

“Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall,” she says with her little child voice. “Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.”

She breaks the egg in the dirt and the yellow yolk spills out, spreading amongst a gooey clear liquid.

“All the King’s horses and all the King’s men. Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

An ancient man with one gray eye interrupts the little girl. “Humpty Dumpty wasn’t an egg!” She frighteningly looks up. “He was a monster!”

Continue to Part II – A Most Brutal Tax Collector

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Lizzy’s Hero

Opium Tales Tall and handsome with blue eyes that stare longingly into her soul, he kisses her deeply. One last embrace and he’s off. He has dragons to slay.

She clutches the letter tightly to her breasts as he rides off first to get the blessings of the priest. With any luck, her valiant crusader will return to her sooner than later. Sooner than last time.

Of all the lovely ladies, he only has eyes for her. Which makes her smile even more as she knows Jane has more beauty, Rose has more courage, and none of them can match the prose of Lilian. Yet, it is she who he values, she who he longs for. She who he visits late in the night.

Days pass. There’s lots of work to be done. Those pass by easy. It’s the nights that seem to take forever. She rolls around in her bed without sleeping, thinking of him, her brave hero.

He must be off in some faraway land where they speak a language she’s never heard and never will hear. He wears leather under steel and over that, drapes a red cross on his white robe. His allegiance will always be to God.

And of course, Lizzy. This time, he swears he will make an honest woman out of her. He swears he will return with riches enough to make the other Gentlemen envious. He’s so bold and daring, and strong. And can swing a sword with the best of them.

When he returns, they will live happily ever after in their medieval world of heroes and damsels in distress.

But it’s not a medieval world. It hasn’t been for centuries. Her hero only exists in her opium dreams.

Her sheets have turned gray and smell of death. She lies motionless, one step closer to the end. The doctors enter the room and immediately cover their mouths and noses. Both of their stomachs churn. They do their best to contain what’s in them.

They quickly try to nurse her back to help. They’re not sure if she’s going to make it or not. Neither of them think Lizzy cares one way or another.

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OK, I’ll do it

This is Part V of my latest short story. Part I of Until You’ve Bled is here.

opium tales of course Ned didn’t have set office hours. “Whenever you need me, I’ll make time to see you.” That is what’s on his placard. And a phone number.

No other Professor is like that. Weird. But not weird if you knew Ned.

Jess whips out her cell phone and texts him. “Hey, this is Jess, the Biology major. Want to setup an office hour.”

She sends it. Then starts walking around the Art Department, looking at some of the art.

Most of it is pretentious bullshit. She looks for something she likes. And gets a text back.

“Can you wait five minutes?”

“Yes”

“brt”

She smiles, puts her phone in her bra, and goes back to looking the pretentious bullshit.

Don’t worry. I know you’re thinking you’re not supposed to keep your phone by your boobs. She doesn’t do this often. Only when she doesn’t have a purse. Like right now.

He’s wearing corduroy pants, a flannel shirt covered with different color paint spills, and his hair looks like it’s been in a hat.

“Hi Jess.”

“Hi Ned.”

Ned whips out his keys. Most professors fumble with their keys when they have a cute girl half their age with them. Ned doesn’t. He gets straight to the point, finds the right key, and turns the lock.

Jess follows him inside.

Ned sits behind his desk and gives her a look like she could sit. So she does.

He waits for her to start talking. And throws in a smile. That was a cue, Jess.

“Oh.”

“Yes?”

“OK, I’ll do it.”

“Great,” implying he knew exactly what she meant. “I thought you’d come to your senses.”

She nervously chuckled.

“Look, I could tell you’re not even passionate about Biology. Life is short. We all die. And…and you got what it takes to make it.”

He continues. “Most of my students bore me. Occasionally I get someone with life. Most people who get into art do it because they think they’re rebels. But they’re not.”

He waits for her to say something. She doesn’t. So he continues again. “But you, you’re not in it to prove anything to anyone else. You’re in it because you’re in the right place, your heart’s in the right place. You’re the real deal. You’re…you’re an artist.”

“I just…”

“Yes?”

“I just, I guess never saw myself as one. I always liked animals.”

“You can still like animals. Hell, there’s not a professional artist I know who doesn’t like animals.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Well, you might be thinking where to go next. Changing your major is easy. You just need the Dean’s approval and some other paperwork. I can help you with both. I know the Dean. He’s a decent guy. Not someone I’d hang with, but a decent guy.”

He cues her to say something. She doesn’t.

“Do you know your primary medium?”

“Painting.”

“Oils?”

“Yes.”

“Thought so.” He said that without his expression changing. Which made Jess feel like she made the right decision. “You’re going to be good. I think…I think you should get enough done in your four years here to have something ready to sell before you get out. I can set you up in a gallery as soon as you graduate.”

“Really?” Her face finally springs up.

He smiles. Finally, he thinks. She’s easing up.

“I wanted to ask you something else, Jess.”

“What?”

“I’m an empath. Do you know what that is?”

“I think so.”

“You’ve been crying. I can feel it. Are you ok?”

Suddenly, Jess’s heart lifted a little. It’s true she had tons of acquaintances in school and no true friend, but suddenly, she felt like she forgot to count one.

“My father died not that long ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to…”

“My mother died when I was in high school. I guess I’ve been floating ever since.”

“Really sorry, Jess. I had no idea. You, you fake it pretty well.”

She knew what he meant and took no offense. He always tells the truth. Tells it like it is. “Yeah. I learned to because I have no choice.”

To be continued at a later date

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Ned

This is Part IV of Until You’ve Bled. Part I is here.

“Don’t call me Mr. Westmore. Call me Ned. Mr. Westmore’s my dad.”

He’s probably in his 40s. Doesn’t act like it though. Acts like a cross between a really old man and a kid. Or not a really old man as in some guy in his 90s. More like someone from a long time ago, like the 1700s or 1800s. Definitely not from this time. But combine that with a kid.

“Do you really want to major in Biology, Jess?”

“Um.”

“You hesitated.”

She says nothing.

“Look. Art gets a bad rap for no reason. People think you can’t make money doing art. I’ve already proved everyone wrong.”

He continues. “I got that same lecture from my parents. ‘What the hell do you think you’re going to do with an Art degree, teach?’ Not that there’s anything wrong with teaching. But I’m teaching because it’s fun. I could have retired years ago.”

Again, she says nothing.

“You’re by far the best I’ve seen in years. Definitely better than any of these pathetically spoiled kids who only think they’re artists. You’re the real deal.”

She smiles, looks up in his eyes, then looks back down at her hands.

“Consider it. If you need me to guide you on the business side, you know where to find me.”

Ned’s cool, she thinks. No, really cool. That’s not one of those “yeah, he’s cool.” She really believes he’s cool.

He has a coolness to him where if she were some rich old lady who wanted to buy paintings, she’d totally buy out his collection. He’s just that cool.

It’s weird having nobody to answer to, except yourself. Most 19-year-olds these days are still under their parents’ wings. Or at least somewhat.

Biology’s cool. But the kids. And the Professors. None of them are like Ned. Nobody’s really full of life like Ned. Nobody has any passion like Ned.

He’s the real deal. He gets it. He is who he is and doesn’t have to change that for other people.

Jess is like that too. She’s always been like that, even when she was little. Her parents encouraged her to stand her ground and be herself. To have her own voice.

She had good parents. Really good parents. Talking to the other kids, yeah, really good parents.

Fuck! Just, fuck!

Jess is almost at her dorm. She really doesn’t want to talk to anyone right now. But she’s carrying her books.

There are bars open. And a few coffee shops. She’ll definitely see someone she knows there too.

Instead, she walks over to the creek. She’s still carrying her books and it’s too dark to look for rocks.

Jess looks around. She can still see some people. So she keeps walking until everyone is out of sight.

She puts her books down on the damp ground. Sits down, Indian style, buries her face in her palms, and cries. For the first time in a very long time, she cries. A lot.

She hasn’t felt this alone since her grandmother and great aunt helped her bury her father.

Continue to Part V of Until You’ve Bled

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Does she really want to major in Biology?

This is Part III of Until You’ve Bled. Part I is here.

opium tales sophomore year. Dad lived long enough for her to declare her major. Biology. Something she excels at. Something Jess leads her entire class at.

Yet, she finds solace in sitting at the coffee shop drawing random people. Or things.

Her friends experiment with pot, politics, and pretty much everything else you’re supposed to experiment with in college. Sex, binge drinking, tattoos.

Jess? Not so much.

Not that she’s square. More like she’s an empty shell.

Of course boys like her. She’s not that pretty. But she’s far from ugly. A good height, a good weight, decent curves, definitely good enough to get asked out often.

But it’s not that she’s not that kind of girl. Rather, she buries herself in schoolwork. Deep down inside, Dad and Mom both smiled when she brought home those good grades.

No, not that type of smile where they smile for a few seconds before going back to what they were doing before. A deep, genuine smile where they’re genuinely proud of their little girl.

Did I mention they’re both dead now? Of course I did. You already knew that. But I’m just reminding you that she doesn’t go a day without thinking about both of them.

So the way to cope? Study hard. When things get bad? Study harder.

Her friends talk about their families. Nobody has yet to ask about hers though. Jess never says anything. And to be honest, despite being liked, despite having plenty of friends, none of them are really friends. More like acquaintances. More like people she occasionally talks to.

Not intimately though. She’s friendly to most, but kind of indifferent. Almost as if her smiles are forced.

But she’s good at it. They don’t notice.

Nobody notices. Most people are self-absorbed.

No, I’m not picking on college kids. I’m saying most people are self-absorbed. Period.

So she spends her extra time in coffee shops. Drawing random people. And sometimes things.

She’s getting mostly A’s in her GED. And of the beginning Biology classes, she’s totally killing it. Biology though? Why?

There’s a man who also thinks the same way.

Continue to Part IV of Until You’ve Bled

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The curse of the smart kid

This is Part II of Until You’ve Bled. Part I is here.

“Teacher’s pet”.

“Kiss ass”.

“Brown noser”.

Yeah, she’s heard it all. Maybe if the others actually focused on doing their work instead of trying to be popular, they’d get decent grades.

They didn’t like Jessica. An otherwise good kid, Jessica didn’t have that many friends.

It hurts worse as a teenage girl though. When it actually matters.

Regardless, Jessica kept doing her thing. Kept to her books.

Sadly, they didn’t realize she had it worse than any of them. But alas, we all know that teenage girls are the last people you’ll ever get any empathy from.

First Mom died in a freak car accident. Lost control of her steering wheel. Crashed into a tree. Took her almost an hour to die.

People would have stopped if they had known. But of course, it happened off the beaten path. By the time they found her, it was too late. When the ambulance arrived, she was already dead.

Then, in her senior year of high school, Dad got cancer. He stood strong. Lied to Jessica that he’d beat it, and would always be there for her. Who knows? Maybe Dad even believed that nonsense. You never know with grief. Grief does funny things to you, especially when you haven’t even gotten over the last one.

So she had her reasons to be buried in her books. They were her only safe haven. In her freshmen year of college, her books were all she had.

Continue to Part III of Until You’ve Bled

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You can’t sleep

This is part III. The first part of Siren’s Song is here.

Opium Tales yellow it’s one thing trying not to get sick while you’re awake. But now you’re really feeling it, in a crowded bunk with dozens of people snoring, farting, or making other weird noises. Plus, you got all the noises in your head going on. And the sea’s making her noises.

All this is enough to drive you crazy. On top of that, Eliza and Biddy, the two most important people in your life, are hundreds of miles away and you’re not going to see them for at least a few years.

And it gets worse

Considerably worse. The Captain died. They’re not sure how, but they think it’s a heart attack.

Everyone’s now awake and you hear the grumbling. You overhear someone who seems like they know what they’re talking about saying that the Captain was very smart and the First Mate is a complete idiot.

Great. What a way to start your voyage to America.

On top of that, you hear there’s a storm coming. And the new Captain wants to go through it.

The grumblers are talking about making him turn around. Your life savings went into this trip. You left Eliza and Biddy enough money to buy food until you can get paid by McGraw and send them some money from Boston.

This is really getting bad.

You liked the Captain. Sure, it was only a brief moment. But you know people, and you had a really good read when you met him.

How can someone deteriorate so fast? Was he already sick? Unhealthy?

It’s been a week and you’re in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with a hundred people you only knew for a week and a replacement Captain who’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. And now they’re saying he’ll be taking an alternate route to avoid the storm instead of turning around.

You’d feel so much better if the original Captain said it. Everyone said he was smart. And you know he had years and years of experience. You imagine he’s seen and done everything. The new guy is very young.

It can’t get worse, can it?

Siren’s Song concludes here

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And the ship sails…

This is Part II of Siren’s Song. Part I of Siren’s Song is here.

opium tales what do you think they’re thinking? You’re off to Boston and you’re not going to see them in several years. You’ll miss your daughter learning how to walk. At least you got to hear her first words. But what’s more important, first words or learning how to walk?

Will Eliza be faithful? Of course she will! Why did that ever enter into your head? She’s good people, hard-working, honest woman. And loyal and caring. You bite down on your lip for even uttering that thought in your head.

You’ll be sending her money in your letters. And she’ll be shipping out to Boston once you get enough saved up.

What about little Biddy’s friends? She’ll meet some wonderful kids, then suddenly she’s off on a ship to America and will never see them again. Once again, you bite your lip because you couldn’t make it work. You’re a failure. Can’t feed your family so you have to go overseas. Can’t do anything right now, can you?

You’ll make it right

No. Shut up! Why the bloody hell are you on the ship in the first place? You’re about to make things right. You’re about to make a better life for Eliza and Biddy. After all, you’re fairing better than most of your brothers and sisters.

Irishmen are supposed to have good luck. Apparently, that luck never reached your family.

Come on, lad. Don’t beat yourself up so much. You’re on a ship to America and you’re not throwing up overboard. Wait. You’re on a ship to America and you’re not throwing up overboard!

A smile comes back on your face. You thought for sure you’d spend the entire trip leaning over the rail. You’re stronger than you thought.

The sun had been down for several hours and you should be in bed but you’re on deck. Is that the Captain? Is he going to get mad you’re out here?

“Good evening.”

“Good evening, Captain.”

“Feeling alright?”

“Yes, Sir. Just got a lot on my mind.”

“First time on a ship?”

“Yes, Sir. First time even a few leagues from me home.”

The Captain paused and didn’t say anything else. Instead, he put his forearms on the rails and stared out into the sea.

“When I’m on my ship, all I can think of is being at home. When I’m at home, all I can think of is being back on my ship. It’s not an easy life, but the pay is good. You learn to love the sea and fear her at the same time. You better get down below. We’re expecting some real waves tonight.”

“Yes, Sir.”

The Captain turned his back and walked to the bow. Or the front. Or whatever it’s called. Port. Bow. Starboard. All those words. You don’t know what any of them mean.

However, you do what he says and head down. You tried to clear your head but instead, you got even more going on in there. On top of that, you wonder what he means by real waves.

Part III of Siren’s Song is here