Smoke in the Volcano (Excerpt)


I’m not crazy. Never have been and don’t plan on being. Some people say every crazy person that ever was says they’re not crazy. I say that’s a crock. Craziness doesn’t even run in my family…at least as far back as can be traced through medical records, newspapers, journals, etc…But when my father, a pillar of stability, came to me and said I had to be sacrificed by way of Kilauea volcano in the name of God almighty…Well, I had to wonder about the whole craziness business. Scratch that. I didn’t just wonder about his sanity, I questioned it. I would go so far as to say I doubted the very fabric his sanity was woven from not to mention the stitches that held it together. I guess to understand the entirety of the story, we would have to start on the day of my birth and work our way to my 29th birthday, but, since time is of the essence, you will have to settle for the abridged version of my youth.

I grew up always on the move. Home was a fictionalized, dramatized, reproduction only seen in Saturday morning cartoons and family matinee movies. That’s not to say I didn’t have a good family. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I refer to a home, I simply mean roots. For as many times as I was transplanted from place to place, school to school, room to room, it’s no wonder my soul hadn’t withered up and died. I guess that’s where having a good family helped. I came to abide by the saying, “Where I lay my head is home.” It made the most sense under the circumstances. We weren’t a family of fugitives, circus midgets, or gypsies, so don’t get the wrong idea. My father was a military man, my mother a homemaker, and my big brother an antagonistic bastard like all big brothers tend to be sometimes. All that was missing was the white picket fence, loyal family dog, and a house to call our own. From the time air filled my lungs until the time I was 16, I had lived in over 26 states. That works out to moving, approximately, every six to eight months. With those statistics, we may as well have been fugitives; although circus midgets and gypsies probably have it worse. Don’t ask me to name all the states I’ve lived in. Most of them I was too young to remember and others I think I’m better off forgetting. Suffice it to say I’ve seen the Pacific, Atlantic, and nearly everything in between. Now, don’t let me give the wrong impressions to the would-be heroes of America. A six to eight month stretch on any military base is considered unusual and atypical even by military standards. My father was a spook. A spy, not the derogatory reference to a black person and for that matter my father wasn’t black either. He was practically a vampire he was so white. He never openly admitted this to anyone of course…being a spook or vampirically white that is. We knew what he did because we didn’t know what he did. Many arguments between my mother and father were endured through a glass drinking cup to the wall. I guess spying was in my blood. The subject of the arguments was always the same: “Why don’t you ever talk about what you do? All the other wives around the neighborhood know what their husbands do,” my mother would plead to which my father—in his standard issue unwavering, matter-of-fact, swaggering tone—would reply, “If I told you, then I’d have to kill you and if I kill you, then I’d go to jail. Who then would make the most amazing blueberry muffins known to man? Even if I didn’t kill you, which I most certainly wouldn’t, I would still go to jail.” Then he would laugh that deep, lolling belly laugh which always made me think of Santa Claus being tickled to death. It was my father’s trademark laugh. If you heard it once, you would never forget it. One time, when I was eight, I even got up the cajones to ask him what he did for good ol’ Uncle Sam. He just winked at me and said, “One day, you’ll know. Until then, try not to listen so much with that glass against the wall when your mother and I are talking.” Eight years later, two things ended: My mother and father’s arguments about what my father did for the military and my father’s military career. One hand washes the other, as they say. That is also where the real story begins. My name is Cidonis Othello Smoke, Cid to most, and I was 16 when my father was put into the ground after allegedly dying in a plane crash. Confused? You have every right to be. I know I was for years; doubly so when he showed back up 12 years later. When the accident happened, we were living on a military base on Oahu…Hawaii to anyone who has never lived there. “Tragedy in Paradise” read the front page heading of the Honolulu Star Advertiser while featuring a grainy photo of a wrecked, fiery fuselage of a 747 jetliner scattered across the runway. Needless to say, it was a closed casket funeral. The official story by the FAA was the cabin had mysteriously depressurized at 7,000 feet and about 20 miles from the runway. The pilot was able to guide the plane in so far, and then it literally fell like a rock from the sky. Good old Newton. What goes up must come crashing down. The crash was in June of 1998. The black box on the plane was lost in the wreckage, so the FAA could only piece together a fuzzy picture, at best, of what happened based on the pilot’s last transmissions. Aside from my father, 489 other passengers perished in that crash.

My brother Cillian (who was eight years older than myself), my mother Cecilia (who most people called CiCi), and myself packed up our belongings—with an enthusiastic and funded nudge from the military—American flag covered casket and all, and transplanted back to a one stoplight town called Mucksville, Ohio; the birthplace and not too final resting place of my father. Moving every six to eight months wasn’t as stressful as one might think. You might even say it was stress-less; less attachments, less goodbyes, less heartache, less stress. That’s not to say I didn’t make friends, I just didn’t keep them. The stress came when we moved back to Mucksville and realized we were there to stay. From paradise to purgatory…Hell comes later. People speak of culture shock when travelling to third world, aids infested countries that can’t even afford the basic of luxury commodities like toilet paper and toothpaste. Coming from Oahu to Mucksville, Ohio gleaned me a glimpse of what those people speak of. It’s like this: We went from beautiful beaches and a diverse melding pot of races, religions, and restaurants to nothing but white people, riding lawnmowers, and McDonalds. I think I saw one riding lawnmower while on Oahu whereas almost every front yard in Mucksville seemed to come pre-packaged with either a John Deere or Cub Cadet. Ah, to be 16 again. Most people reflect kindly on that statement, especially ones from a town where the population is equivalent to the combined maximum capacities of the four in town McDonalds. 1492. That was both the censured population of Mucksville, Ohio and the combined maximum capacities of the four in town McDonalds in September of 1998. Sadly, the population fluctuated on a regular basis from so many people dying of myocardial infarctions; better known as heart attacks if you’re trying to sound fancy.

I was an observant, pissed off 16 year old who had no interest in making friends with any of the muckety-mucks from Mucksville. That’s not a clever, condescending whip-crack at the people of Mucksville on my part. That was a Frankenstein’s Monster of their making. I was transplanted into Mucksville High School two weeks after the start of my junior year. Mucksville High: home of the fighting Muckety-Mucks. Muckety-Muck: an important and often arrogant person (as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary). Now, in a high school of 220 kids—221 if you count me, but I never did because I never felt like part of the ‘team’—you would think one among them would have concocted a formidable mascot for the school, but you would be wrong. Furthermore, how does one personify a Muckety-Muck. According to the class of 1957, you do so in the form of Frank Sinatra. Yes ladies and gentleman, for 41 years Mucksville High’s mascot has been none other than old blue eyes himself, the head Muckety-Muck, Mr. Sinatra if you please. I can’t make stuff like this up and besides, I’m a horrible liar. Let’s just say the Mucksville High talent show was a grisly equivalent to Sinatra Karaoke night at the local watering hole except without the liquor to help you swallow all the honking, missed notes from guys just emerging into puberty at 17.

It wasn’t all bad though. I met two people that would change my life forever at Mucksville High: My best friend and a witch who almost stole my soul. I know, I know…I said I had no interest in making friends, but then again, I also had no interest in almost having my soul stolen either and that still happened. That’s one lesson I learned without my father: Just because you are not interested in having something happen, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. My father’s life lessons were more along the lines of: Police records are like herpes. They are for life and always flare up at the most inconvenient of times. It was a double entendre. Needless to say, I always practiced safe sex and never got involved with the law. Back to the best friend and witch though. Oddly enough, they were both transplants as well. My best friend’s name was J. No, his birth certificate did not reflect the fact he only used one letter to identify himself and yes, the movie Men in Black caused him a lot of grief even though he looked nothing like Will Smith. Comparatively speaking, J looked more like a red-headed Errol Flynn and had the swagger to match. Our friendship began under nefarious circumstances to say the least and even though I hate to admit it, it was the witch that was responsible for our friendship. A backfired plan on her part. The best friendships are often forged in the fires of adversity. J grew up in Indiana and moved to Mucksville at age 12. When J—whose full name was Jaysukh McTavish O’Brien due to his mother’s obsession with Hindu culture and his father’s Irish and Scottish descent—and I first met, the conversation was both of little mutterings and consequence.

“Hey,” I said to J.

“Hello there,” J replied as he slid down the hallway like a slinky.

J wore what he considered to be the modern day samurai look: Extra wide, extra baggy jeans and a hooded sweatshirt…also extra baggy. I can’t say I would have disagreed with his sentiment although at the time any sentiment I had was pretty disagreeable with J. See, the witch—whose name was Eliza Radcliffe and for all intents and purposes was in fact a conjurer of cheap tricks, spells, charms, curses, and terrible music—thought it would be good sport to turn the only two redheaded guys at Mucksville High against each other. Her ploy was to have another girl, whom she thought both J and I were interested in, tell each of us that the other was out to get the other. Little did Eliza the witch know that men of Irish descent, even if there is only inklings, are impervious to both psychoanalysis and witches. What neither of us knew at the time is that the unnamed girl was under some clunky spell that Eliza had found in a DIY grimoire for beginners. J and I mistook the curious ramblings of the girl as hashed up gossip and left it at that. Essentially, he thought I was trying to be the new kid on the cellblock and I thought he had some sort of repressed crush on the unnamed girl until one day in Geometry class when him and I were paired up for a project and held a conversation that extended beyond monosyllabic mush. It was there, in the middle of Geometry class, that the mystery of the unnamed girl unraveled and our friendship began. On that day, we also discussed becoming witch hunters, but agreed we were both too poor to afford the proper pilgrim hats. So, when someone asks me how J and I became friends, my standard response is:

“Through a witch, an unnamed girl, and Geometry class.”


Please bear in mind, I am not crazy. Never have been and don’t plan on being. I thought I was for a stent after I moved to Mucksville; what, with the revelation that I was going to high school with a witch, but I soon found out I was not the only one who knew about Eliza’s tricky little secret. The one positive aspect of my father dying as he did—in the line of duty as the military called it—was the money that his life insurance plan left my mother Cecelia. $700,000.00 to be exact. Be that as it may, my mother was known to pinch pennies so hard it would “leave a bruise on the bronze,” as the song goes. She bought a modest house (big enough for the three of us and a guest or two), sent Cillian to the local college branch where he would later be recruited by the F.B.I., and put enough money back to send me to whatever college I wanted to go to after I graduated…which left $526,529.11… Not that I was keeping track or anything. So where did all that money go? Well, my mother always joked that she buried the remaining $526,529.11 in an undisclosed location that would be revealed when the time was right. At least, I thought she was joking. Then I remembered my mother couldn’t tell a joke without laughing through most of it. She wasn’t laughing when she said she buried the money. In point of fact, she was quite agitated by the fact that I knew the exact remaining amount even though I wasn’t keeping track. We’ll chalk it up to a good guess and leave it at that. Again, craziness does not run in my family nor does Alzheimer’s, but I was questioning whether my mother had went crazy and praying she wouldn’t forget where the money was buried.

“Dude, you’re crazy,” J said to me as I stuffed incalculable amounts of Camel cigarettes—menthols, 100’s, lights, ultra-lights, full flavor, and filterless alike—into both the hood of his hooded sweatshirt and the elastic waist of my pants.

“No,” I replied. “I am an ambitious young businessman in the process of a hostile takeover…on a non-corporate level of course. WATCH OUT! Never mind. False alarm. Thought it was security. Carry on.”

After our little pow-wow in geometry class, J and I had ended up in his basement—through a series of coincidental events—and discovered we had more than a few commonalities between us: 1) we were both obsessed with Han Solo and Indiana Jones. At the time, being obsessed with such things was not the cool thing all the other kids were doing, but we took that as a sign that we were carved from a rarer stone than the rest. 2) we carried strange and ancient virtues that two-bit street thugs and cheating husbands emptily promised they had: loyalty and honor. And, 3) when life hands you lemons, squirt lemon juice in life’s eyes, head butt it, steal its wallet, and buy lemonade for the less fortunate. “Why not just make lemonade for the less fortunate with the lemons life handed you?” one might ask. “Where’s the adventure in that?” J and I would respond.

We had a racket in high school which went something like this: The lifestyles of the under-aged and heinously rich of Mucksville High included the impression that Camel cigarettes were exotic and thus, made the person smoking them appear equally exotic. How’s the old saying go? Appearances can be cancer inducing? Nonetheless, J and I would ride our bikes—or on lucky days hitch a ride with one of the heinously rich and under-aged—to the local grocer known as Squawkins Market and execute what we dubbed the ‘screwy chewy shuffle.’ Bear in mind, this was before the technological tsunami that swept across the world shortly after the turn of the 21st century. So although security cameras were in use, they were rarely monitored and the tapes inside the VCRs that were supposed to be recording hardly ever were except on holidays and weekends. We had an inconsequential inside man at Squawkins Market who provided us with the details to pull our great heists and in return we gave him a little cut of the profit. By little, I mean enough to buy a fifth of Jack Daniels once a week. Through our inside man, J and I learned that the loading dock and stock room were camera free which allowed us to pull the screwy chewy shuffle, if need be, without exposing ourselves too much.

To properly execute the screwy chewy shuffle, you first need two smooth operators and a designated mark. For ease of explanation, the smooth operators will herein be represented by the letters (A) and (B). (A) and (B) first play a best of three game of rock, paper, scissors to determine who will be the screwy chewy and who will do the shuffling. (A) will be the screwy chewy and (B) will do the shuffling. (A) will casually stroll through the marketplace and do a little non-committal, light shopping while (B) waits by the loading dock. Once (A) has determined where the security guards are and what their general sweep pattern is, (A) then slips to the back and lets (B) in through the loading dock. From there, it is a simple snatch and grab unless a security guard happens to wander into the back…In which case smooth operator (A) would start acting screwy while making Chewbacca noises and (B) would shuffle (A) out of the through the stock room; apologizing that his autistic brother had mistakenly wandered into the stock room looking for the bathroom. Luckily for J and I, the turnover rate for security guards at Squawkins Market was unbelievably high. Apparently, they always got caught stealing from the stock room. It’s not what you think though. The screwy chewy shuffle was not a direct or indirect result of the security guards getting canned. They actually WERE stealing from the market and more so than J and I ever did. Our inside man gave us the skinny on that fat bit of grisly gossip. Irony at its finest. An interesting side note: The screwy chewy shuffle was inspired by the movie Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Once J and I had the cancer sticks, we would then sell them for $6.00 per pack. Some people laughed, some people cried, some people remained silent with their mouths open as though waiting for a fly to buzz in and land, but they always paid. The heinously rich and under-aged had a weekly allowance that was at least ten times that much so it was not like they couldn’t afford it. Besides, $6.00 for a pack of smokes in current times is a forgiving price to say the least.

Skip ahead to graduation: May 28th, 2000. I had the prestigious honor of graduating at the age of 17. Admittedly, I turned 18 the very next day, but who’s counting? J and I walked the graduation walk with mixed emotions. On the one hand, no more screwy chewy shuffle, hanging out, or writing our names in the snow with our urine. On the other hand, no more high school, Frank Sinatra, or Muckety-Mucks. When the summer of 2000 ended, two things would happen: I would be going to Akron University more than 70 miles away and J would find out he was to be a father. Not to fret though, Mucksville was kind of like joining the mob: every time you thought you were out, it would always pull you right back in. J, of course, remained in Mucksville and did the respectably responsible thing and married the mother of his child while providing food, clothes, and shelter for both of them. As for me? Well, as I said, I went to Akron University, but what I did was less than respectable and sure as hell wasn’t responsible…by no fault of my own.

At the time I had no idea Eliza Radcliffe, the witch of Mucksville High, was planning on attending Akron University as well. Not only did that spell trouble, it brought about a trouble of spells all aimed at me. It wasn’t until my second semester at Akron U that I ran into Eliza. Turned out we had an art class together. Witches change their appearance so much; sometimes it’s hard to identify them. The art school was the red-headed step child of the university and sat alone nearly half a mile from the main campus. It was a one story building with a labyrinth of hallways lined with showcases that showcased pet projects of particular professors or projects of particular students also known as professors pets.  I had taken a major in photography with a minor in computer graphics. Had I known that the computer graphics revolution was on a Napoleonic rampage that would grow to Caesar sized proportions within the next ten years, I would have switched my major to my minor and vice versa. C’est la vie. As for Eliza Radcliffe, even after I realized who she was, I didn’t say much to her beyond hello and goodbye. As the semester progressed, I found myself becoming chattier with the witch, which was a double double toil and trouble brew waiting to happen and soon enough I was in her bed naked as the day I was born…That will teach me for letting a witch borrow one of my pencils.

Allow me to reiterate that I am not crazy. I know it seems like all the evidence points to the contrary at the moment, but all the pieces to the puzzle have yet to show up on the board. I assure you all of this is truth…paraphrased in some spots, sure, but not exaggerated by any means. Everything I speak of can be traced through school and financial records so, anyone willing to take up the gauntlet, it has been thrown. Back on topic, all the trouble did indeed start with the borrowing of a pencil during class. At the time I was unaware that in order for a witch to cast a spell on a potential target, the witch needed a personal possession of the potential target. The more emotion that was tied to the possession, the better the spell would work. In my case, it was a KOH-I-NOOR Technigraph drafting pencil; bright red shaft, green finger plunger on the top to release the 2B lead, a stainless steel grip to tie the package together, and made in Italy to boot. This pencil was also the last gift my father gave to me before he took his fateful flight. So to say there were strong emotions tied to it was a bit of an understatement. Now, a curious and attentive reader might ask, “Didn’t you say men of Irish descent, even if only an inkling, were impervious to witches?” True, I did say that and yes we are, however I never said we were impervious to spells. I simply meant their witchly woman wiles and conjuring charm. When Eliza got ahold of my pencil, she neither realized the significance nor the power of what she held. Double Entendre. The spell she cast using the pencil was what was referred to as a master and slave spell; me being the slave. What was it like? It was like being trapped in a murky dream where every decision does not feel as though it were your own. But there was a bright side. Since Eliza was not aware of the adulated emotions I had toward my pencil, she mistook the success of the spell as a testament to her skill as a witch. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

At first, she had me doing simple tasks like her homework, laundry, cooking, etc…For all intents and purposes you could have said we were dating which is what most people thought anyway. Only, the road was one way. I was incapable of thinking at that point. I honestly wish I could tell you more about the three years I was under Eliza’s spell, but it was all an insignificant blur. At least, up until the very end. In those three years, I managed to drop out of college, get a part-time job at an amusement park selling silly light up trinkets, nearly lost my best friend, and came within a hair’s width of permanently being in the clutches of Eliza by almost signing over my soul. In order to break a master/slave spell, the item of the slave must be given back to the slave by the master. What happened was a stroke of dumb luck. During our three years together, Eliza had squandered many spells on people that either backfired or were weak at best. In her flimsy research, she found a grimoire that stated if a witch took the soul of another, her spell casting effectiveness would increase ten-fold…When I reflect back on it, it sounds like something she read out of a video game manual and for all I know, that could have been the case. Taking the soul of another seems like it should be an arduous process, but after doing my own research I discovered it is nothing more than a few incantations and signing on a line drawn with the blood of baby albatross. Nothing to it. I remember when Eliza said sign on the line of baby albatross blood, looking for something to write with and seeing my drafting pencil blazing through the murkiness in my brain as it sat perched in a dusty cup; bathed in the golden shoestring rays of the early morning sun on the window sill of her dorm room.

“Hey,” I said as I walked over and snatched my pencil out of the dusty cup. “I’ve been looking for this. Are you done with it?”

“Yeah. Sure. Fine. Whatever,” Eliza replied impatiently as she continued refused to look up from the grimoire she read from.

The best way I can describe the jolt I felt when I regained ownership of my beloved pencil and was consequently released from the grip of the spell I had been under for three dark years is like this: imagine having a rubber band that was stretched the distance travelled in three years being released and snapping against the back of your neck within seconds. In two words: unpleasantly shocking. After all the realizations hit, I did the only thing that made sense at the time and moved back to Mucksville; jobless, penniless, and on the border of becoming the next poster child for mental health month. But as I said, I’m not crazy. Never have been and don’t plan on being. My mother, bless her soul, forgave her prodigal son and allowed me to live at home again. And with all the damage Eliza did to my once promising life, you would think she would have the common decency to move on, but unfortunately evil has a way of turning up again and again. Aside from my mother, there was one other who was there to help pick up the pieces of this poached humpty dumpty.

“Sooooo,” J said dramatically, “you were under the spell of a witch for the past three years because of a graphing pencil—which by the way is a really nice pencil—your father gave you before he died?”

“I know how it sounds,” I said automatically on the defensive. “But I’m not crazy.”

J was the only one I could confide in about this whole witch business without worrying about whether or not I was going to get the men in white called on me.

“Never said you were. The crazy part is you and I went to high school with a witch and I didn’t know about it.”

“Eliza Radcliffe?” I offered.

“She really was a witch?” J’s eyes sparked with recognition and a sprinkle of thoughtfulness. “I thought people were just being mean when they said that.”

“For all we know, they probably thought they were just being mean too, but she is a bona fide witch. Not a very good one either.”

J rolled the last statement around in his head then asked, “not very good in the sense of moral alignment or skill?”


“Ah. Hm. Well, stranger things I guess.”

That was J for you. He took everything with simplicity. I was never much for religion but if J were a Rabbi, I wouldn’t mind attending his synagogue. In a way, J was a substitute for the wisdom my father would have bestowed on me had my father been around.


            Jesus. I nearly forgot to talk about the sinkhole. The sinkhole comes nine years after Eliza the witch. Nine years of odd jobs, odd people, odd lots, and lots of odd. The house my mother bought when we moved back to Mucksville had a couple of acre of woods that J and I duly dubbed the couple acre wood. The name had a bit of a double meaning because the acronym for couple acre wood is CAW which was all that could be heard when walking through the woods due to the overpopulation of crows. It was also in the couple acre wood that J and I stumbled on an out of place sinkhole that lit the fuse to this Roman candle fairytale.

After I had fully recovered from the curse of the witch, J and I made a habit of traversing the couple acre wood—and sometimes ending up a couple of acres into someone else’s woods—which was comprised of dead or dying congregations of trees with arthritic joints. One day, after a few drinks, we stumbled through the woods and found a hole in the ground where it appeared a tree had been inexplicably uprooted and taken from the woods. Most of the trees surrounding the sinkhole were anywhere from 10-15 feet tall, so it only stood to reason that the tree which once occupied the hole was of similar stature. Yet, there were no tell-tale signs of the tree being removed; no broken branches, drag marks, or remnants of any roots. It reminded me of…well…me. J and I came to the conclusion that the tree was not uprooted, but, rather, swallowed whole by the earth itself thus, the sinkhole.

To test this theory, we took a 40 pound dumbbell weight, tied a 200 foot nylon rope to it, and threw it in the sinkhole. Every five feet I had tied a knot so we could gauge just how deep the rabbity sinkhole went. Slowly and most assuredly the dumbbell was swallowed up by the earth and the rope tugged along with it. Luckily, I had brought plenty of booze so; J and I sat and drained the stout bottle of rye. Each time a knot disappeared into the sinkhole, one of us would notch the tree we were leaning against to keep visual track of the depth. Four eyes are better than two, but with as much as we had to drink, we had the sight of about one and a half near-sighted eyes. I was at least 85% sure we had put the correct number of notches in the tree. Although, I’m also fairly certain J put a couple of extra notches just so he could turn up the blarney when he got to re-tell the story later. Either way, the train of rope had seemed to pull into its station after 13 knots or 65 feet deep…give or take. Neither J nor myself were sure if the dumbbell had reached the bottom of the sinkhole or if the weight was not heavy enough to carry it past a potential layer of sediment. The end result was not as satisfying as I had hoped so with wobbly legs and a singsong “whoa oh ho,” I hauled the weight back out of the sinkhole…only, what came up was most certainly not what I had put down. Even Issac Newton would have been baffled by this conundrum.

Instead of pulling out the 40 pound dumbbell, a glass drinking cup slurped out of the flabby stomach of loose mud; the rope coiled around it like the tongue of a chameleon. The glass wasn’t any run of the mill drinking glass either. Somehow, some way, it was the exact same glass I used many a times against a wall in order to listen to my parents arguing. How did I know it was the same one? Because I had carved my initial into the bottom of the glass with a diamond-tipped drill bit when I was nine and those same shaky initials stared me down like a gunslinger: C.O.S.

I must have had a look on my face that was somewhere between shitting my pants and already having defecated in them, because J was quick on the draw with the quip, “you look like you need to wipe.”

I snapped out of my daze momentarily mutter, “This is my cup.”

“I wasn’t going to fight you for it,” J replied quizzically.

“No,” I said shakily. “You don’t understand. This is MY cup.”

“Well, yeah, I think I do understand. You found the cup. It is yours. Plant your flag, sir, and pillage thy booty. I’d wash it before you drink out of it though. No telling what could be swarming around in that mud.”

I tried to recompose myself, but was too awe struck by the inconceivability of a cup that had supposedly disappeared 12 years ago, reappearing in a sinkhole of all places.

“J,” I said after a few more moments of reflective silence, “this cup shouldn’t be here.”

“That’s obvious. It should be in a cupboard somewhere with all of its brother and sister cups…You think cups can be categorized into sexes and relations?”

“Well,” I replied in thoughtful earnest as I momentarily considered the notion then re-railed my train of thought and blurted out, “NO!”

“Take it easy. No need to get excited. It was just a theoretical question. And a bad theory at that.”

“No,” I said shaking the dingleberry thought from my brain and flipping the bottom of the cup around so J could see the C.O.S. “Listen, this cup disappeared almost 12 years ago. Shortly before I moved here actually. I thought it had been lost in the move, but here it is and there is no plausible or possible reason why it is here.”

“That would make a pretty sweet story idea,” J snorted. “Are you writing a story? Arranged all this, did ya? That way when you write the ‘true’ account you can use me as a corroborating witness thus, making the story more believable? Clever. I like it.”

“What?” I said confusedly. “No, I’m not writing a story. I’m saying…well, I already said it.”

The dead or dying trees of the couple acre wood all seemed to turn and twist their gnarled and arthritic limbs toward J and I as though listening intently to our conversation. Even the CAWS of the crows quieted down. I’d like to say it was a trick of the light mixed with a fleeting breeze mixed with the booze, but it was an overcast day with no wind and after seeing that glass, I was as sober as my mother who affirms she has never had a drop of alcohol in her life. Poor woman.

“That is strange,” J said after a moment.

I could only think one thing. “The witch,” I replied quietly.

“Which witch?”

THE witch.”

“Oh,” J replied with an elongated O sound that resembled the shifting tone of a slide whistle, “THAT witch. You think she had something to do with this?”

I took a moment to consider the timeline of events and the fact that she never knew about the glass then concluded, “No. But she might know something about how or why it would be here.”

“You think that is wise? I mean, she did try to steal your soul.”

“When you’re right,” I shrugged, “you’re right. But do you have any better or safer options or know another witch?”

J receded into his thoughts as did I then we looked at each other as though someone had simultaneously flipped on both our idea bulbs.

“Where’s the adventure in that?” We harmonized.