The Gibbon Rose, or the Legend of the Intergalatic Spider

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The Gibbon Rose, by Anthony Watkins

Please forgive me if I have already posted this story. It is an old story and I thought I had posted it, but I cannot find it, so here it is again, or for the first time.

 

A chapter for a forthcoming novelogue,

 

Argon, or a walking tour of the Ironlands

 

Gibbon Island, a Land of Spiders: A People and Their Intergalactic Spider

 

By Anthony Watkins

As the Argon flows south, it broadens into a relatively shallow delta. Here the dredgers fight a constant battle with heavy, ore laden waters. Here, too, is the strange and beautiful island of Gibbon. Gibbon is inhabited by the Gibbon Rose, the Gibbon Spider and the Manalak.

In the small village on the riverbank, across from the island of Gibbon, I met an old gentleman, named Papitukan. Papitukan runs a small shop that is a cross between a 7-11 and a general store. He also has a tiny storage room with an old Swiss Army cot. He agreed to rent me the room and the cot, but he refused to take me over to Gibbon. He did, however, tell me everything he knew about the island.

Some of what I learned, I was able to verify with my own eyes. He did lend me a row boat which allowed me to drift out to within a few hundred yards of the island. I was forced to turn and row for the mainland as fast as I could when a band of the natives greeted my approach with a rain of what I was to learn were surely poison arrows. The Manalak are short in stature, averaging a little over four feet in height, they are pale skinned with blue or green eyes and red or blonde hair. They tend towards plump, in a cute sort of way, but not to the typical American obesity. They never cut their hair and they do not wear clothing of any kind, making them look like troll figurines who have come to life. But whatever their appearance, they are not cute and cuddly little people.

 

Almost everything known about Manalaks has been observed from a distance. They fiercely defend their island from intruders with poison arrows and blow darts. The current Argon government, like its predecessors, does not keep a census of the Manalaks, does not offer any government services or try to enforce any law on the island.

Custom has been for as long as anyone can remember, to leave them alone. There was one somewhat successful expedition by a team of British explorers in the mid 1850s. In fact, nearly all the first hand information that we know came from the effort. Its leader, an Oxford anthropologist, Gerald Worthington, had the good fortune to be a very short man with wild red hair and green eyes. The Manalaks gave him the benefit of the doubt when his party braved the river and beached their dugout on the island’s north side.

I found a volume of his notes at the Montgomery Public Library in Alabama. It was titled simply, A Trip to Gibbon, or My Time Among the Manalaks. The copy that I found was printed in 1866 by a London publisher. How or why it ended up in the basement of the reference department of a county library system in Alabama, I’ll never know.

I will say this for the public library in my childhood home of Montgomery, it stands well against most others I have visited. I have been in a little less than a hundred library branches in my lifetime, from New Orleans to Cincinnati, from West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce, Florida to Brewton, Alabama to McRae, Georgia, from Earle, Arkansas to Barboursville, West Virginia, and most failed to live up to my early experiences in that funny modern 1960s brick and glass repository of all things interesting.

 

There were four main rooms, a lobby with a winding staircase to the Museum of Fine Arts that was located above the world of books. The stair case was made of slabs suspended from the ceiling by iron rods. When I heard the story of Martin Luther climbing on his knees and kissing each step, this is the staircase I imagined him receiving his enlightenment which led the Reformation. This is the staircase where my brother and I would sneak up and wait on our parents when we went to the library in the evening. The museum closed at five pm. When it was closed, the curator would draw a folding iron gate, like one might see in an old manned elevator.

The gate was at the top, so we could play on the spiral as long as we were quiet and generally stealthy. Below, the library had one room each for children, fiction, non-fiction and periodicals. The reference desk was in the non-fiction room. As a child, I knew this to be the “serious” room.

I loved to wander into the periodicals room and watch the old men reading out of town papers which were mounted on split rods and racked on a large wooden stand. But my favorite place was the archives. It was located between the Childrens and Non-Fiction Rooms and was three stories high. It had very low ceilings as it had to fit in the same space as the tall single story of the main library. Actually the top two floors were in the library space. The third level was a low, dimly lit basement.

This third level was filled with old and odd bits and pieces. The daily papers of Montgomery were stored there, going back to before the US Civil War, also known as the War of Northern Aggression. It was here, in this dark, musty magical place I found and read A Trip to Gibbon.

Sadly, the good people of Montgomery decided to relocate the library to a new facility in the 1990s, the museum expanded to cover both floors of the old library, the dark basement is gone. I am sure most of the stuff there is either on film or destroyed after the circulation manager determined if any of it had enough worth to justify moving it. Worthington’s book was the spark that sent me on the trip to Argon, so you can imagine my disappointment to find that one hundred and fifty years later, I still could not wander the island of Gibbon, or even set foot on it.

Among other tidbits, the Oxford anthropologist, believed he uncovered origin of the Manalak’s distrust of outsiders. According to island legend, soldiers of Philip II, the last Hapsburg king of Germany’s Holy Roman Empire, landed on the northern shore of Gibbon around 1600. The Manalaks were gracious enough until the Germans decided to see if the islanders would taste as good as the plump little sausages they seemed to resemble in the soldiers’ minds. After seeing more than a few of their brethren roasted over a fire, the Manalaks called on their sacred spiders.

The Gibbon spider is a large hairy spider. Its body color is bright red, while the hairs are glossy black. It measures over a foot across, from toe tip to toe tip when mature. Its bite is full of neurotoxin. Death is swift and certain. The spider is not easily provoked and the Manalaks allow them to thrive all over the island. The relationship between the pygmies and the arachnid appears to be symbiotic.

Of course, the possibility exists that the Germans made the mistake of killing one or more spiders, as well as the plump little humans. In any case, the spiders attacked the Germans and killed several. The remaining soldiers retreated and never returned, but the Manalaks still mistrust tall white people.

The other truly remarkable discoveries that Worthington reported, according to my host, involved the rose, poison arrows, the spider and the religious beliefs of the Manalaks. Apparently the Gibbon spider has no natural toxin, but the Gibbon rose is so poisonous that to touch it or to sniff its beautiful bloom can give its admirer a paralyzing or fatal dose of chemical very similar to the toxin found in coral reefs that gives the puffer fish its deadly defense. The spiders eat the petals of the rose and in the process pollinate the plants.

This is a good thing, because the local bees of Argon cannot tolerate the toxic flower. The toxin does not harm the spider, but the spider incorporates it into its saliva, giving its bite a powerful punch. The rose petals also give the spider its color. When the Gibbon spider leaves the egg case, it is about the size of a pin head and translucent. If it survives the attacks of its elders and from dozens of other creatures that prey on immature spiders, it will ingest the rose petals and become too poisonous to be eaten. As the spider reddens and grows, it adds a host of insects to its diet.

Nature has timed the hatching of the spiders with the maturing of the rose blooms. The spiders do not eat the blooms until they are beginning to drop their petals.

Papitukan says that the local mainlanders used to believe the Manalaks used spider toxin to dip their poison arrows, but now it is understood that the arrows are rubbed across the blooms of the Gibbon rose. The pollen is sticky and attaches firmly to the tips.

Manalaks are not immune to the poison of the spider, but they have learned to eat the stem of the rose. The woody parts of the plant seems to have an agent that neutralizes the rose toxin. By eating the stems, they can handle the flowers without ill effect, and can withstand an occasional bite of the spider. Of course, the Gibbon spider is known for its swarming attack when threatened. No amount of neutralizing agent has been found to prevent death when one is bitten several hundred times.

 

Papitukan claims to have watched an errant fisherman fall victim to just such an attack. He shivers even today twenty years later in the retelling of giant shiny red spiders swarming over the body, face and hands of the screaming fisherman. Only the quickness with which death came to the fisherman spared Papitukan from going out of his mind.

He was in another fishing boat when a friend drifted too close to the island and when an overhanging limb from a great Gibbon rose bush brushed his hat, he knocked a spider into the boat. In fright, he used his oar to bash the hairy monster. Within seconds, the spiders that were feeding all over the bush, landed in his boat and attacked him. Papitukan was only a few yards away, but could do nothing but watch.

The Manalaks avoid killing the spider at all cost. According to old Papitukan, they believe in something I can only call the Inter-Galactic Spider. They think this spider, a creature so big that it walks from one planet to another, from one star to another in just one step, lives to avenge the unnatural death of any spider.

 

Of course, the Manalaks only know of one kind of spider, the Gibbon. Papitukan says they believe if one harms a spider, the Slakanath, or great spider will send its foot crashing down on the killer in a blow so swift that no one can see it coming. The only proof is the killer is dead. In fact, one who is found dead of unknown causes on the island is assumed to have been a spider killer. Their death is sufficient proof. Their bodies are dumped in the Argon River.

When I protested that this was the silliest basis for a religion I had ever heard, my host challenged me. “Are you Christian?” I answered that by tradition and birth I was indeed Christian, though I practiced no religion in any organized fashion.

“You mean you think Slakanath, the great spider is unbelievable, but you follow a religion centered on a homeless brown man who was born to an unwed mother and spent most of his adult life wondering with a dozen other men, in the company of only one woman, and she was a prostitute?”

I said I thought that was a crude way to describe the life of Jesus. He replied, “But that is not the unbelievable part!”

When I asked him his point, he explained. “The followers of this homeless brown bastard who hung out with a dozen men and one prostitute, hate few things more than unwed mothers, homeless people, prostitutes, people of color, and homosexuals.”

As I have stated, I am what might call a nominal Christian, one who is classified as such by birth and culture, but I do carry a Rosary in my left pants pocket. Instinctively, I reached into my pocket and rubbed the comforting beads. The old man noticed the motion in my pocket and gave me a funny look. I sheepishly pulled out the Crucifix and string of beads.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Just hoping to improve my odds of not getting struck by lightning from standing so close to you while you say such outrageous things,” I replied.

“And how is your God’s bolt of lightning different from their great spider’s avenging foot fall?” Papitukan queried.

I thought for a moment. “Well, everyone has seen lightning, no one has ever seen the foot of an inter-galactic spider,” I replied, pretty pleased with my unassailable logic.

“How do you know lightning is not the flash and thunder of the great spider?” he answered. I walked off perplexed. I thought my reasoning was correct. Some people refuse to see logic, even when it is clearly presented to them. But who was refusing to see the truth, me or Papitukan?

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Kinda a Book Review, (or more than one), and a bonus mention of collective silliness

Just finished Lawrence Block’s Girl with the Long Green Heart. LB is one of those writers I have a personal connection with (Tim Dorsey, Rick Bragg, and Ace Atkins, being the others I am on a first name basis with), and like the others, with the exception of Rick, it is a complicated relationship. I met LB when I interviewed him for a feature in my long defunct newspaper, Abundance. In advance, I had read his latest Bernie novel, I hated it. but in the course of the interview he suggested I might like his more hard boiled series. The first such book of his I read was When the Old Ginmill Closes. he was right, I liked it much better. I did not find him a very interesting interviewee, but have enjoyed a few of his books along the way. Girl with the Long Green Heart is a fun Grift with a Twist from the 1960s (by the way, I think he and Dick Francis both did some of their best work back then).

The Girl with the Long Green Heart

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/girl-with-the-long-green-heart-lawrence-block/1100054160?ean=9780857683656

Now I am on to another book with two strikes against it. Robert B Parker was one of my favorite non literary writers, He passed away recently and I was sad to think I would never have the pleasure of a romp down Boylston Street. Another writer that I interviewed for his debut novel, Ace Atkins (Cross Road Blues was a kinda fun, set in the Delta and New Orleans, think Carl Hiaasen meets James Lee Burke), Sadly, I tried to read more of his work and found it to be too much Hiaasen and not enough Burke. I gave up on him after Leaving Trunk Blue and Dark End of the Street. Someone here mentioned that Ace was now doing those horrible continuation novels for Parker, and he wasn’t bad. As it turns out, I like Ace better as Parker than himself! Maybe not better than Parker, but Parker being dead isn’t much of a writer anymore. Halfway thru Wonderland and enjoying it! have another Ace on the floor of my car, waiting to finish Wonderland.

 

wonderland 

 

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0399161570/?tag=mh0b-20&hvadid=3483649868&ref=pd_sl_3fbvnenrw4_ee

I am thinking Iraq may have completely fallen into the hands of Iraqis by the time I finish.

 

Now, for a little silliness. A few years ago, our wonderful group, Batter than Starbucks composed a faux novel, a thriller about coffee, believe it or not!

lulu brazilin quest

 

http://www.lulu.com/shop/anthony-watkins/the-brazilian-quest/ebook/product-21688005.html

So You Dont Hate TV, Anymore? Neither Do I

 

Okay, I still hate 99 percent of TV, but then,
I should, with 500 channels playing something 24 hours per day, if I liked all of it, I’d go nuts.

But we keep finding more shows, we like, and most especially shows I like.
Suzanne will watch Survivor, or one of the several Housewives or Game of Thrones, or Married to Medicine, as well as Blackbox,
and we both tried Orange is the New Black for a season and then got REALLY tired of it. We tried Alpha House, but lost interest after of two episodes.

We are waiting on the return of our favorites, Newsroom, Scandal, House of Cards (American, we couldn’t get into the Brit version),
she loves Downton Abbey and I can usually bear it. Sherlock Holmes can be good or tiresome, but its always worth a try,
and there is so little of it, you at least cant be tired of it too much.
True Detective is high on our list, too. We are really wondering what the next season will bring.

We watch Leverage and White Collar with Christopher, they are cute and sweet and a bit silly, but pretty clever.

And now we have discovered The Bridge, which we are both liking, a lot! and Murder in the First,
the Stephen Bochco show which we are kinda iffy on, but will probably watch some more.
We are really liking Last Week Tonight! It is the only news show we watch:)

And no, we do not watch Sports, except the Alabama-Auburn Game, and the Triple Crown, unless we have something else to do,
like go to the beach, or the park, or paint, or play Monopoly or Spades.

For over 15 years I considered TV a “wasteland”, but these days, I see it more as a deep dark hole in the ground,
with some nice veins of gold running through it, just waiting to be mined!

Happy Viewing! And feel free to leave a recommendation or two, but no Sit-Coms! Suzanne and I were discussing last night.
The cute but annoying aspects of I Love Lucy have only gotten less cute and more annoying over the past 60 years….

….. and with her we all perish.

or to paraphrase one of my favorite musicians: Why Do I Care About Anything?

 

http://www.nytimes.com/movies/movie/202838/Cheryl-Wheeler-What-Do-I-Care-I-Don-t-Have-Any-Kids-Construction-Company-Inc-/overview

Cheryl Wheeler 

When I see comments on Facebook, or hear in real life, people of one minority or another (including women, even though in numbers they are the majority) talk about how they need to stand against the bigoted creeps who oppose equality for “fill-in-the-blank”, I wanna say, it aint about you!

 

We all should stand for gay rights, a woman’s right to control her body, equality in access to education, job opportunity and housing for people of color, we all should care about the state of our public schools, even if our children are grown, in private school or don’t exist. We should all fight for the most open borders we can reasonably maintain. We should all make sure no child goes to bed hungry or poorly fed, that no one is homeless because of lack of good mental health care, that no one dies due to gun violence, that no one suffers or dies due to lack of access to medical care, that the air and land and water as clean as they can be!

 

I understand the idea that member of a minority group might feel a special responsibility to work for justice related to their category, and might be especially frustrated with those in that group who care more about fashion, which celebrity is having sex with which other celebrity or whatever, but even those of us who fall loosely into the category of Christian middleclass white males (though the Christian part is ethnic and cultural, not a matter of faith for me) have a duty to make sure no one is left behind by our great society (by the way, we are failing miserably at this). Not only because it is the right thing to do, and generally makes our country, and our world a better place to encourage a richness of diversity, not only because it helps ensure the viability of our nation, over time, of our shared cultural values, but because it might mean the very survival of ourselves, our extended family, or even the preservation of the republic.

How is that you say?

Individuals matter.

Think for a minute about every great moment in both the history of man and of our nation. There tends to be one person who figures out how to do something amazing, blood transfusion, harnessing radioactive material, open heart surgery, creates a vaccine for polio, harnessing electricity, creating a modern economical form of personal transportation for the masses, the personal computer, writing a great song or book or play that inspires a generation.

Of course in many of the more complex and important events required a team or many teams of talented individuals, often working with funding from taxpayers, but somewhere, sometimes at several points along the chain of events that allows us to live better, or in some cases, allows to live at all, one person makes a difference, one person connects the chain of what came before with what comes next to make the world a better, a safer place, for all.

If I fight to save the position of dominance the white male middleclass, and in the process, some girl doesn’t become a scientist, some Mexican kid never gets to come across the border and go to college because of his status, if a gay person is not employed at a business where he would have made a difference for all of us, and so on, who suffers? The individual who is denied, of course, but in the course of the life of the universe, that is a sad but small thing. There are many small sad events every day, but this lack of access, this lack of opportunity might someday cost me or my lily white family its very existence, because the one person who could have saved us the gun violence, the fatal disease, the death by climate change, or whatever, the great mind, the beautiful dreamer who would turn a dream into a vision of a better future and then led the way to that future was denied the opportunity to be in the position in that chain of events because they weren’t the “right kind of person.”

So, next time you think, well, it’s a black thing, it’s a gay agenda, it’s just a_____________ thing, remember, the tag line from the silly old TV show had it right: Save the cheerleader save the world! That is to say it’s a human thing, and your existence and the existence of the whole human race may hinge on that dirty faced little lesbian Mexican girl who is going to die or be murdered because she wasn’t important enough to save, and with her we all perish.

VOTE FOR ME!!!!!! Oh wait, you can’t, not yet.

 

If I am lucky enough to make the cut, i will be back to beg, plead, cajole, and demand your vote:)

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1847576-please-post-your-poem-for-the-july-2014-goodreads-newsletter-contest

Well a year ago I was lucky enough to be nominated and then extremely lucky enough to win the vote for the monthly Goodreads Newsletter Poetry Contest. The Contest rules require a winner to sit out for a year. This is my first month of eligibility, so I have entered a recent poem called: In the One Unbroken Chair.

The funny thing is, every month somewhere between 400-500 poets submit a poem, then a panel of judges pick 6 for us to vote on. Most months I read most of the 400 or so poems and think, “I write better than any of these!” Of course my vanity is reinforced by my winning a year ago. but as luck and karma would have it, this, my first month back, i already see several poems that i am not at all sure my poem will best, and there are hundreds more submissions yet to come. Funny how life can teach you a lesson about humility, in spite of our best efforts….