OCTOBER 25, 2020




So anyway. She made arrangements down the hall with Carol to have Henry cared for and then packed her overnight bag and set her travelling hat upon her head and stepped out into the hallway of the St. Charles Home for Wayward Souls and Demented Managers and locked her door, knowing that locked doors in that place had no special significance among the nest of thieves and lockpickers that inhabited the building. Nevertheless, one must put on a show of defiance.

From the front doors of the St. Charles Infirmary, Rachel walked down in the early afternoon to the bus stop on Central to catch the last bus heading out to the Ferry Landing. There, she waited an half hour until the ferry came to deliver her to San Francisco's Ferry Terminal. There she wended her way to the landing that allowed her to board the ferry to Larkspur after some 45 minutes playing Hero Wars on her iPad.

Rachel took the bus from Larkspur that dropped her at the Red Hill Hub and from there took the Point Reyes bus that brought her all the way to Silvan Acres in the San Geronimo Valley

She strolled in to the Offices, dropped her bag and the Annual Drawing of Straws began. By the rules, anyone who draws the shortest straw is commissioned to cross over to the Other Side on the last day of El Dias de los Muertos, the days when the veil between the worlds is thinnest.

That Rachel is appointed as the Straw-bearer is a matter of Tradition. That the Drawing of Straws occurs in mid-October had been a matter of Tradition these past 20 years. That the end result is always the same, is also a matter of Tradition, but nevertheless, Rachel must make this long journey, leaving behind dear Henry the cat to be cared for by apartment hallmate Carol so as to preserve Tradition.

In the new Island-life offices that were created in the space of a former barn by the labor of Pahrump, Denby, Mancini, and others, the surviving staff gather for the annual ritual.

As in the 20 past years, Rachel walked around with the hat filled with straws and each member of the staff drew so as to determine who shall be the one to cross over to The Other Side, their charge being to inquire about the possible future.

As Rachel walked down the aisles, each staffer drew a straw with great hesitation, sweat beading out on the brow, nervously clutching the straw until it was revealed to be longer yet than any other to that person's great relief. Even Festus was made to draw -- nothing is uglier than an anxious, sweating hamster -- but it had to be done for the sake of Tradition.

Finally it came around to the reluctant Denby, who, as Tradition dictated each year, drew the shortest straw.

"Why must it be me each year," Denby lamented.

"Because you are Chosen," Marlene said. "It's just it is not always to advantage to be Chosen. Okay everybody, tea and coffee and cakes on the verandah!"

And so they all filed out, clapping Denby on the back congratulating him on his good fortune while muttering under breath as they exited the door, "Thank god it is not me, poor sod!"

Mancini put up Rachel for the night with a space heater in one of the better quarantine cabins.

Finally Denby was left alone with the Editor.

"So I guess the infernal train shall arrive on schedule to take me there as usual," Denby said.

"Right you are." the Editor said, huffing on his cigar. "You can see that the way the Election is going we need to know what is going to happen."

"This organization is entirely too much like health care," Denby said.

The Editor removed his cigar for the first time in a long time. "What the heck do you mean by that?"

"If you are not a licensed professional with the Board you can just Go To Hell," Denby said.

The Editor lit up his stogie. "You have your charge. I expect thorough professionalism and the utmost order of quality response in all efforts."

"Just like health care: you can have all you want, just so long as you pay for it." Denby said.