Author, Photographer, Researcher, Artist, Adventurer and Buccaneer Extraordinaire

“Or at least that’s the plan each morning after coffee.”

DL Tolleson.com

THIS UNNAMED GEOLOGICAL formation is the likely result of wind, rain and time eroading away surface material to expose what at one time would have lava (magma) that had cooled and solidified. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
COMING INTO OR out of the Chisos Mountains, this is the northwest view and is several miles south of Panther Junction and the headquarters for Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
THE CLARET CUP is covered in barbed spines and blooms a reddish, cup-shaped flower from about April to June or July in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
THIS VIEW FROM a formation called, “The Window,” looks out from the westside of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
INDIAN HEAD MOUNTAIN and its southern region offers this “leaning” wall of geology at the western boundary of Big Bend National Park. The rocks of the foreground are boulders ranging from man-sized on up. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
MASSIVE AND TOWERING, this wall of the geology is at least a couple of hundrend feet high and situated in the Indian Head area of Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
WIDE-OPEN PANORAMAS and mountainous terrain such as this are routine along roadside in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
THE SOUTHWEST SIDE of the Chisos Mountains, also known as the Chisos Mountain Basin and home to the lodge in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2011 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
A FALLEN TREE is an impassable barrier in an otherwise debris-free dry riverbed in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
INDIGENOUS TO TEXAS, New Mexico and Arizona, Javelinas in Big Bend National Park genetically differ from swine. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
LOST MINE TRAIL in Big Bend National Park, looking southward over Juniper Canyon, the Chisos Mountain’s Northeast Rim and into Mexico. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
A TREE SILHOUETTED against the night sky as seen from Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
THIS VIEW EAST of a volcano is an illusion of the setting sun streaming through the Chisos Basin area behind Casa Grande Peak in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
WRIGHT MOUNTAIN in background at Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
A VIEW WESTWARD after sundown from the Indian Head area of Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
A CAMERA COMPENSATION for the limited light after sundown provides this view westward from the Indian Head area of Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson/Camera One. All Rights Reserved.
SANTA ELENA CANYON after sunset, as seen from the Chimneys in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson/Camera One. All Rights Reserved.

Publication History: The Symbol Monger. Copyright © 1980, 1986, 2009 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved. Excerpts from this work are permissible if author attribution is included. However, beyond this no part of this material may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

Tolleson, DL. “The Symbol Monger.”
R.L. Paschal, 1980.
The Vignette.

Tolleson, DL. “The Symbol Monger.”
Tarrant County College, 1986.
South Campus Script.

Tolleson, DL. “The Symbol Monger.”
DLTolleson.com, 2009.
http://www.dltolleson.com/fiction/symbolmonger.php.

Tolleson, DL. “The Symbol Monger.”
TheLighthousePress.com, 2016.
http://www.thelighthousepress.com/dltolleson.com/fiction/symbolmonger.php.

Description: Short Fiction—2,181 words.

Commentary: The Symbol Monger was one of my first forays into emotion. Teenage angst was something with which I was unfamiliar—even when a teenager—so I did the only thing any decent writer would do: I drew upon personal history and then attempted to project that into an emotional characterization with which I did not have experience. It helped that at one time I was acquainted with someone who had learned of her adoption entirely by chance and well beyond her juvenile years. While her issues (and reaction) differed from that of the story, she provided the basis from which to consider what a character like Nisonic Marthen (in the story below) might think and feel. As for the unusual character names… Well, within context of the story it was important to establish that there was little chance that these names might coincidentally appear in a work of fiction. The need for this should be apparent by the end of the story.

—DL Tolleson

THE SYMBOL MONGER
DL Tolleson

The dark waters lapped up against the wrecked ship, creating a sound of restful slumber. The night sky seemed to cast down an eerie shade of blue as the mist covered the beached ship. Dull and shapeless trees appeared to lean out in an effort to grasp the battered hull. Suddenly, through the darkness of the miserable night, came a haunting voice.

“I don’t mean to interrupt, Ni, but where are you going?”

Nisonic Marthen snapped the book shut and slowed his pace as he looked over at his sister. “Every time I get into a book, you butt in!”

Nacelle Marthen, a lean and well-built young woman of 23, looked at the book her brother held in his hand. The cover pictured a rotting ship’s hull capsized on a beach.

“I read the book,” she remarked. “The author puts way too much symbolism into the story.”

“Symbolism!” snorted Nisonic. “There isn’t an ounce of proof that he meant to symbolize anything.”

“I’m not going to argue with you again,” she cut him short. “Come on, you were wandering away from our path.”

For the first time since leaving the town thirty minutes ago, Nisonic noticed the path. This was undoubtedly due to his deep involvement with the book. He and his sister had slightly wandered away from the well-beaten trail that led from their house to the town book center. They quickly corrected for their lack of direction and were back on the path. The house was just visible ahead through the grove of trees to the far right.

Nisonic wasn’t a young man to give up easily: “I still say you’re wrong about the symbolism. Most people believe that the ship symbolizes humanity and the sea, time. Still others see the ship as—”

“I know the theories,” Nacelle cut in again.

“Well then, don’t you see?” he questioned. “So many different theories must mean that he didn’t actually mean to symbolize anything.”

Nacelle stopped and looked at her 17 year-old brother. He was gangly and with dark hair brushed back he looked like the teen-age version of a mad scientist. He was calmly awaiting her rebuttal.

“Look,” she said at last, “I don’t know why you hate to look at things and see—or admit seeing—a representation of something else. I don’t know why and frankly, I don’t care. So let’s drop it.”

She turned sharply and began walking somewhat faster than before.

Nisonic remained motionless. He called out, “Okay, I know what it is.”

Nacelle stopped and turned. She sighed. “Then what is it?”

“I’m just your dumb adopted brother,” he snapped. “Okay, I don’t see things the way you do. And I know I’m different. That’s about what it all boils down to, isn’t it?”

“What?” she gasped.. “What has symbo—”

“It’s like this in everything. You hate me. You hate my guts. You see a ship, it represents humanity. I see the same ship and all I see is a ship. So, I’m dumb. Just a dumb adopted brother. And you HATE me!”

She moved back to him, all the time holding her eyes level with his. “Ni, I didn’t know you felt that way. I don’t—I’ve never—”

“Don’t lie to me!” he all but yelled at her.

“I love you, Ni,” she heard herself saying. It was something she wouldn’t have ever said. “I’ve never thought—”

“You don’t think I see,” he broke in again, his voice on the edge of hysterics. “But—but I do. I what you think! I know—”

“Stop it,” she ordered.

“—I know you—”

“Stop it!”

“—and would—”

“I said stop it!” she raised her voice, reaching out to shake him.

“Hit me,” he yelled back, mistaking her reaching for an impending blow. “Go ahead, you hate me!”

“Shut up,” she ordered, now angry and grabbing him by the shoulders. “Just shut your fat mouth!”

Just as quickly as her temper had flared she now realized what she had said and was doing. She broke her hold as he bowed his head. She ran her hand through her long brown hair—it was a nervous habit of which she was unaware even while her whole body tremble with conflicting emotion. She was angry—more with herself for being so easily provoked than for anything her brother had actually said. But more than that, she was sorry for what she had said. She did love him, after all.

“I’m uh, I’m sorry, Ni,” she mumbled.

He scuffed his shoe in the dirt, his head and eyes downcast.

“But really,” she added,” “I don’t know what’s gotten into you.”

Nisonic looked up at her.

For a moment Nacelle found herself gawking. In all the years she had never seen him cry, but now his eyes were streaming.

“I—I’m sorry, Ni. I didn’t mean…” Her words trailed off unfinished and not knowing what to do she tentatively reached out.

He turned away and stumbled over to a fall tree.

After he sat, Nacelle move over and eased into a position to his left. For a moment she listened to his small choked sobs.

“I’m sorry, Ni,” she kept saying. She wanted to say more—to convey how she felt: To find some better way to say, I understand. He had bottled up so much for so long and she wanted to reach out—to touch him—to help. But she couldn’t. She knew he never touched anyone and expected to be treated the same. He had always remained calm and set apart from the rest of the family. She couldn’t just reach out because—

She looked down to see his hand on her leg and she looked up to see his face turning to her.

“I—just... I just want to—belong...”

Nacelle reached out and embraced him within her arms. “You do, Ni. You’ll always belong.”

She didn’t know how long they sat there. She didn’t remember and didn’t care. All she cared about was Ni. Time had finally caught up with him. Her mother had once said that it would happen and the one time that Nacelle expected it was when their parents had died. But he had taken the ordeal calmly and coldly, never once going to pieces as she had. She had begun to think that Mom had been wrong and that Ni would never break. But time had proven Mom right.

Nacelle walked out onto the porch of the home she shared with her brother and sat on the steps. The starlight dimly displayed the wide-open range for miles. She could see the Westmizer house and its lighted windows. They lived a good mile or more away. She looked up at the stars.

Strange, she thought. Each one seems to be slightly laughing. But at what? Or at whom? What does Ni see them as?

There was a scuffle behind her and she turned to see her brother coming out onto the porch.

He walked across the creaking planks and sat beside her. In his hand was another book—one that didn’t come from the book center. From the dust on the cover she surmised that it had been in the basement where a lot of old books were stored. Ni spent a lot of time down there.

“It’s nice out here,” he said.

She nodded. “What’s the book?”

He held it up, showing her the title.

“What’s it about?”

“A guy like me,” he answered.

“Oh?”

“Yeah. He lives in a world of facts. Then one day he sort of goes off the deep end. Before you know it he’s looking for symbols in everything. He wants to find a meaning to—well, to himself. Life. Everything, I guess.”

“Are you like that?”

He contemplated his answer before speaking, and then said: “I think so. Everything has got to have a meaning, I guess. I just don’t know what I’m supposed to represent—not yet, anyway.”

“That’s really just in literature,” she responded. “What’s that old saying? ‘Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.’”

“You think so?”

She shrugged. “I mean, we read stories but life is rarely like that.”

“I think everything has a meaning,” he commented, handing her the book. “I think that once I finish that book I may know what I symbolize.

She smiled. “That’s a big reverse for you.”

“Not really,” he said. “It was meant to be like that.

She opened the book and allowed her eyes to the faint light that was cast from the front door and just barely reaching them. Printed in large bold letter was: The Symbol Monger: A Short Story Collection. Just beneath that: All the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

She turned the page and began reading but stopped after the first sentence. “This first story starts the same as the book you got in town this morning. Listen to this: ‘The dark waters lapped up against the wrecked ship, creating a sound of restful slumber.’”

She looked over at Nisonic, who was idly staring off into space.

“Did you hear me?” she asked.

“Yeah. You said it was the same as the book I got this morning.”

“It is.”

“Try skipping down to about the eighth line and start there,” he suggested.

She looked back down at the book and began reading at the eighth line: “‘I don’t mean to interrupt, Ni but where are you going?’

“Nisonic Marthen snapped the book shut and slowed his pace as he looked over at his sister. ‘Every time I get into a book, you butt in!’”