‘Tell Me A Story’ Writing Challenge 9/19/18

Anybody got a story about this lonely gate to . . . somewhere? . . . anywhere? . . . nowhere? . . . Wherever your imagination takes you.

GATE WITH WEEDSIf you’re in the mood for a writing challenge, create a new story from this photo by Terry Valley. Try to keep it around 500-800 words, and when you’ve posted it on your blog, hop over here and leave the link to the story in the “Comments” section below.

I’m not sure if I’ll have time this week to write a story for this picture or not, but whether I do or don’t, I hope several of you will. I’ll enjoy reading them, and I know others will too. Let’s say you can post your story anytime between today and next Wednesday, September 26.

And if you do write a story, be sure to put the link to this post on your site with your story so that your own followers will know about the challenge and can participate too.

Happy Writing.

 

 


 

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‘The Decision’ — Short Story by Ted Pavloff

I promised a second story by my dad concerning the WWII years. Unfortunately, lots of other work got in the way of blogging, so I’m behind — well even behinder than usual. But it’s still September, and that means we can still celebrate V-J Day and the end of the war.  So here’s the second story of his that I love.


THE DECISION

It should have been another ordinary day at the Cole farm, but the conventional pattern of activity was abruptly altered when the letter arrived. In effect, a new day was born and Cynthia was making the most of it with an explosive brand of excitement that seemed especially reserved for such an occasion.

Ben, her husband, suddenly found himself being recklessly danced around the simple but spacious kitchen. He did not resist.

“Just think,” Cynthia gleefully exclaimed. “Just think!” Isn’t it wonderful? It’s … it’s unbelievable!’

She released her encircling grasp from around Ben’s waist, raised to tiptoe, and kissed his tanned cheek. Any exhilaration he might have possessed was not outwardly conspicuous and his distant, empty gaze momentarily puzzled Cynthia.

“Honey, cheer up. Don’t you understand what this means? Our problems are over. The farm! … imagine! … the farm! We can’t lose it now! We’ll have enough to pay it off. And you can buy the new tractor and put up the white fence, even round the whole front pasture. And I can have the new refrigerator, and the sewing machine, and…”

She stopped in mid-sentence; she was bewildered, for Ben seemed strangely unimpressed. Cautiously, as if afraid she had possibly made a mistake, Cynthia hurried to the kitchen table, retrieved the letter and began to read quietly, almost inaudibly:

“I regret deeply that I must inform you of this tragedy, for I am sure Charles Romano was a special type of friend. As the court-appointed attorney to carry out the provisions of his will, it gives me a certain amount of pleasure, however, to advise that you have been named heir to all personal cash and securities in the estate. This will amount to approximately fifty-thousand dollars. I would like to set up an appointed with you to fill out the paperwork as soon as possible. I am suggesting that we meet March 22, at 10:00 a. m. here at my office in Chicago (see letterhead for street address and phone number). If those arrangements are convenient for you, please let me know as soon as possible, and we can close this matter with a minimum of delay. Respectfully, James P. Axtell, Attorney-at-law.”

She looked back at Ben, and her voice carried an accent of victory. “I was right; that’s what it says. That’s exactly what it says!”

He had been silent since reading the letter and there was no comment, even now. She moved closer. “Honey, what’s wrong? Is it a sin for a service buddy to will you some money? Why … why I think it’s fine, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. And he probably didn’t have anyone else. That’s it; he probably doesn’t have a family. Honey, you did know this Charles Romano, didn’t you?”

Ben seemed frustrated. He snapped his dusty, dilapidated hat from a chair and nervously fingered the brim. “Yeah, I knew him. That’s why I ain’t gonna take the money. Now I got work to do.” He moved toward the door but Cynthia was suddenly ahead of him and backed solidly against the latch.

“Now I don’t want to hear no more about it!” he said angrily. “I ain’t takin’ the money and I ain’t goin’ to Chicago! And don’t go askin’ me any questions because you won’t understand anyhow. Now lemme out.”

“Honey, listen to me. This is a gift from Heaven. It’s our only chance to have everything we’ve worked for. Nine years we’ve done nothin’ but dream — dream and work. What we gained, we lost during the bad season, and now they’re going to take the farm. Don’t you want to at least save that?’

Her argument seemed futile and she stepped aside. “You can go if you want to, I just thought if you insisted on throwing away our last chance to hold on, I ought to know why.”

Ben was clearly disarmed. He sauntered back to the table, a picture of defeat, replaced his hat on the back rung and dropped his long frame into the crackling wicker chair. He did not want to talk about it, but he realized now that he had made a seemingly foolish decision, and Cynthia was entitled to an explanation.

The few minutes following seemed endless.

“Do you know why this Romano fella is givin’ me this money? I’ll tell you why. Because once, back on Okinawa, I saved his life. Anyway, he thought I did. I wanted him to think that. I wanted all of ‘em to think it. But I didn’t save anybody. I lied. He ain’t givin’ me the money for nothin’ – just because I’m a friend. He thinks I saved his life. Savin’ a life is worth money, but a lie ain’t worth nothin’.

He paused, grappling with his own thoughts, and Cynthia waited.

“They made me do it!” His fists were clenched so tightly the knuckles grew pale. “They made me lie, because they wouldn’t leave me alone. I wasn’t very smart and I didn’t talk very good like most of the other fellas did. From the first day they teased me about it. I didn’t drink liquor, cuss or use dirty words like most of ‘em did, and they teased me about that too. Then they even commenced teasin’ me about readin’ my Bible every night; callin’ me ‘preacher’ and pokin’ fun like that.

“I didn’t want no part of their bad habits but they wouldn’t let me in on any of the good things either because they said I was an awkward farmer and would just mess up things. I used to lay awake nights tryin’ to think up something I could do to make ‘em treat me different, but they kept right on.”

The recollection was obviously painful, and Ben became so agitated he couldn’t sit still. Slowly he paced the width of the room, hands in pockets; then paused before the window and peered intently over the west pasture, now a sickening brown from the drought.

“What about the lie?” Cynthia inquired softly. “Tell me about it, Ben. Tell me everything. It’ll help.”

“It ain’t a good story,” he continued. “It ain’t good at all, but there ain’t no use tryin’ to hide it from you anymore.

“We were on Okinawa, just behind the front line. One day I was just sittin’ there readin’ my Bible. I read it an awful lot over there, more than I ever did before. Every spare minute I got, I read some out of that Bible. Then, all of a sudden, without sayin’ anything, someone grabs it out of my hands. It was Romano. He was a sergeant then and he always liked to bull around some, especially at me.

“He said I was readin’ that stuff too much and he believed that he would keep that Book awhile so I could keep my mind on the war we was tryin’ to win. And besides, right then he said I was supposed to take a ride with him to deliver an important message to the next division post down the line.

“It aggravated me but I didn’t say much except to tell him that I didn’t care, because if he kept the Bible long enough it might do him some good. I don’t reckon it ever did though; he wasn’t the type that the Bible could get to so easy. He tucked it inside his fatigue jacket and I never saw it again.

“We were about a mile or so from where we were goin’ when all of a sudden our jeep just flew out from under us. We’d hit a land mine. I was just scratched and bruised up a little, but the jeep was tore up bad and Romano was layin’ out to the side of the road, knocked out cold.

“Then’s when I got the idea. I was going to be a hero right then. I didn’t want to be the kind of hero that was wrote about in the papers and got medals, but just enough hero to make the fellas think different about me and treat me right.

“I wanted to make it look real good so I exploded all of my grenades and shot up most of my ammunition. I made an awful racket so they could hear me up the line.

“Then I carried Romano in to the post and reported how we were attacked by a Jap patrol, and how Romano was knocked out right off, and how I fought them off and got him back to safety. I didn’t figure Romano knew what happened anyway, so I wasn’t worried about that.

“It worked real good. The post sent a message back to my outfit and they were waitin’ for me … all of ‘em wantin’ to pat me on the back. They sure started treatin’ me different, and for the first time I began to feel real good. I knew I had sinned, but I never did feel too bad about it because all I wanted was to be treated right. Just the same, I asked the Lord to forgive me, and I thought He did, but now I don’t know.

He buried his face in his hands as if completely exhausted. Regaining his composure, he turned to Cynthia. She was silent, but her eyes were warm with pity and understanding, and he began to feel relieved.

In an instant her arms were tight around his neck and he knew she understood.

Foreclosure proceedings were to commence within a week, and Cynthia had finally resigned herself to that fact. She had been holding on for months to her usual, unfaltering faith that something would come along to save the farm. But nothing could happen now, she decided. The miracle had come and gone.

She began the arduous task of convincing Ben that losing the farm would not be so difficult after all, but inwardly she grew increasingly afraid. He was not the same man she had always known. He seemed to dwell in a form of solitary confinement, oblivious to the usual activities that had always drawn his daily attention. His every action became laboriously mechanical, without heart and clearly without hope. Nothing seemed to matter now — nothing but sheer existence alone.

More frightening was Ben’s sudden rebellion against his characteristic faith in God. Quietly — in his usual manner — but openly, as a gesture of defiance, he began to criticize the wisdom of his Creator.

“ ‘The Lord works in wondrous ways, His miracles to perform;’ that’s Scripture,” he told Cynthia, “but I don’t hardly believe it anymore. He gave me a miracle alright, but I also got a conscience that won’t let me use it. It ain’t a just miracle, that’s what. He ain’t got no reason to torture me like He’s doin.”

Three weeks later, a long black sedan had rolled up the drive and nearly reached the circular turn in the front yard before Ben or Cynthia realized a visitor was on the premises.

Ben eased open the screen door and walked onto the porch, Cynthia following. They noticed it simultaneously: “foreign” license plates. Out-of-state people were not usually seen around the farm – except for a few years ago, when an occasional “city farmer” would drive up to deal for Ben’s prize Black Angus cattle. The promising cattle program had been terminated two years ago when the sale of all breeding stock became necessary to meet payments on the farm.

Now, Ben and Cynthia stood there, surveying the stranger as he approached the porch, lugging a briefcase that seemed far out of proportion to his size. He was a small elderly man, dignified in appearance, yet his face reflected a friendly glow.

“Hi folks,” he greeted. “Just had the most wonderful drive of my life. My, what country! Beautiful I call it, beautiful!”

“Not bad,” Ben retorted, “we always liked it.”

The stranger squinted up at the softly swaying trees shading the yard, then scanned the valley sprawling below to his left.

“Beautiful country,” he repeated, “beautiful.”

“I’m wonderin’ if I could help you,” Ben interrupted.

“If you are Mr. Ben Cole, you certainly may. I was assuming you were since a fellow down the road told me this was the house.”

“I am Ben Cole, but if you’re lookin’ for Black Angus I ain’t had any for two years, and —”

“Whatever Black Angus is,” the stranger chuckled, “I’m sure I would enjoy it, but I’m interested in you particularly. My name is Axtell, by the way, John Axtell. I’m a lawyer.”

He spread the opened briefcase on the edge of the porch and withdrew a bulging manila folder.

“I have something here that I believe might be of interest. I mailed a letter to you about three weeks ago but I don’t suppose you received it, so I decided that I had better handle the matter personally.”

Ben moved closer.

“What did you say your name was?”

“John Axtell, A-X-T-E-L-L”

“Well, you might as well go, Mr. Axtell; I ain’t takin’ the money.”

The lawyer was stunned, but he cleverly withheld any expression of surprise.

“So you did receive the letter?” he asked simply.

“I got it.”

“Why didn’t you at least answer?”

“Because I didn’t aim to take the money three weeks ago, just like I ain’t aimin’ to take it now.”

“May I ask, why not?”

“That ain’t none of your business mister, but mainly on account of I didn’t earn it.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. Here is a service buddy grateful to you because you once were responsible for saving his life. I know of quite a few people who have been willed fortunes who did a lot less to earn them. I would say giving a man his life is quite an accomplishment.”

“I didn’t save nobody’s life, but that ain’t none of your business either. If you don’t mind, go and leave me alone.”

Cynthia tugged at his arm.

“Honey don’t be rude,” she pleaded. “You don’t have to do nothin’ you don’t want to do, but talk to him nice.”

Axtell thumbed through the folder then removed the check.

“Here is a Cashier’s Check for fifty thousand dollars, made to your order, Mr. Cole. It’s yours without strings.”

“I ain’t takin’ it,” Ben repeated vigorously, “I don’t want it.”

“Alright, if you insist, let’s get technical. You didn’t save the man’s life. So let’s say that it just happened the Bible was inside the jacket, and it just happened the Bible belonged to you.”

“The Bible?”

“The one you were always reading. Mr. Romano told me all about you and your Bible the day I drew up his will. Now let’s get on with the technicalities, and you correct me if I happen to go astray.

“According to Mr. Romano, one day on Okinawa you and he were scheduled to make a dispatch run, and when he finally located you, there you were reading the Bible again. Jokingly, he snapped the Book from you and placed it inside his jacket. Is that right?”

Ben grew apprehensive with the fear that his hoax was not the secret he had thought it to be.

He nodded. “That’s right – so far.”

“Well, just before you reached your destination, your jeep ran over a land mine. Romano didn’t remember anything after that until he regained consciousness aboard a hospital ship where he had been rushed because of a concussion. That’s where a doctor brought in the Bible. It wasn’t in a very readable condition then; a huge, jagged chunk of shrapnel had … well, damaged it. The shrapnel was from the land mine; it had cut through the entire width of the Book and was lodged tight.

“It was the doctor’s opinion that Romano would have died instantly if the Book had not been inside his jacket. I guess you could say it was one case where a Bible literally saved a man’s life.

“Now, Mr. Cole, let’s put two and two together and try to imagine how that jeep ride would have turned out if you and that Bible hadn’t been around.”

Ben stood transfixed, hardly believing what he had heard. Tears were streaming down his cheeks unabated. Although somewhat confused by the strange behavior, Axtell suddenly realized that Ben had reached a new decision.

“Just sign this receipt,” he said, offering a pen.

Ben was barely conscious of Axtell shaking his hand as he departed.

He was barely conscious of standing arm in arm with Cynthia, watching the sedan disappear behind a distant hill.

“He sure does,” Ben finally mumbled, letting out a quiet sigh.

“What?” Cynthia asked in a whisper.

“Work in wondrous ways, His miracles to perform. … He sure does.”

 


Copyright © 1950 Ted Pavloff

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The Day I Forgot To Hate – by guest author Ted Pavloff

Sunday was V-J Day in the United States, celebrating the end of World War II. In honor of that wonderful time of relief from the trauma and sorrow of war, I’m sharing two short stories set in that time period. The stories are by my father, Ted Pavloff, who is now with the Lord. He may not be here with us any longer, but his stories are still with us, just as alive and as powerful and encouraging as they were when first written. Today, I’m posting the first story, and tomorrow, I’ll post the second.

THE DAY I FORGOT TO HATE

(“Even though the characters and events in this story are fictitious, it was born out of my experiences during combat in the South Pacific Theater during WWII.” —Ted Pavloff)

The gray light of dawn was filtering through the dense leafage when we finally pushed our way out of the heavy undergrowth into the small clearing; Corporal Willmet, PFC Conte, and myself. We three made up one of the frequent patrols to probe the eerie stillness of no-mans-land during the bleak hours of night and early morning.

We had sought out this particular clearing many times before (a queer, growth-free patch, isolated in the midst of solid jungle) to comfortably relax with a cigarette and sort out the results of the current trek.

We were a confident trio, and perhaps our gutsy attitude was justified to a certain degree. Encounters with Japanese patrols and snipers were anything but strange adventure, and the fingers of our hands were not ample to count the number of enemy soldiers we had personally annihilated.

The venomous hatred we shared for the Japanese forged us into a natural combination, and we relished every opportunity to satisfy that bitterness by destroying the enemy. We had come to consider the killing of Japs as a sort of game … a release that made the discomforts of war worthwhile.

The usual mixed sounds of the jungle surrounded us this humid morning as we stretched out on the damp turf. There was little reason to suspect approaching danger, and, carelessly, we dismissed the possibility.

Then it happened. They swept out of the jungle from every side and bayonets were pressing against our stomachs before we could touch our weapons. At first I thought it was a nightmare, and it seemed minutes passed before my mind cleared to the realization that I lay at the mercy of the enemy. I should have been terribly frightened, but whatever measure of fear I might have possessed was totally eclipsed by hate, and I could not detect it.

Desperately I wanted to fight back, but there was small profit in inviting certain death. I ordered my companions to lie motionless and hoped the next few moments would bring the break we would need.

I surveyed the Jap soldiers coldly. They were a poorly clad, hungry looking group and, to my eyes, ripe for the sword. The officer in command was extremely youthful looking and clearly the smallest in stature, but his appearance was deceiving.

His orders poured forth with powerful authority, every word emphasized with vigorous motions of his head and arms. The soldiers reacted instantly, and while three bayonets pinned us in a prone position, the remaining troopers hurriedly appropriated the K-rations in our packs.

Then, with a gesture I considered a mocking insult, the young officer tossed several pieces of Japanese currency at my feet, and turned to rejoin his men. It was at this instant he spotted one of his soldiers who had backed off a few paces, raised his rifle, and carefully aimed at my head. With the agility and speed characteristic of the Japs, the officer threw himself at the would-be killer and dropped him heavily to the ground. The hapless offender suffered several solid lashes across his face before he was finally permitted to join his comrades in a hasty retreat from the clearing.

Obviously pleased over the successful display of his prowess, the officer bowed courteously and smiled, then saluted a farewell.

I did not share his satisfaction. The knowledge that my life had been spared for some inconceivable reason was lost in a hatred that made my stomach ache. Vengefully, I hoped for a future meeting … over the sights of my rifle.

During the week that followed we were spared the relentless torture of night patrol, and the day treks were relatively uneventful. Frequently, and often at unexpected moments, I found myself stabbed by spasms of anger that stemmed from the humiliation of having been successfully snared by the enemy. Even though I had not been harmed physically, I stubbornly refused to be grateful. I was furious that I had been captured at all and vowed revenge upon every Jap I could maneuver into firing range.

Revenge was uppermost in my mind that bright afternoon as we trudged through the jungle on a routine patrol. We were advancing in a widely dispersed position, intent upon sweeping as much terrain as possible with a minimum of commotion.

I was advancing slowly in an oblique path toward a peculiar rise of solid rock, when the figure appeared unexpectedly …. I froze. It was a Jap …. Momentarily, I was mystified over his apparent lack of concern about concealing himself, and also the fact that he was unarmed. He was stripped to the waist and the beads of perspiration on his bronze flesh glistened in the bright streaks of sunlight leaking through the heavy foliage. I crouched low as he stepped to a narrow ledge of the rock and looked about him.

Then it hit me like a blockbuster – it was the youthful officer who had captured and humiliated me in the clearing! Ahhh … finally, I thought, we meet again. I gloated silently and promptly began mental preparations to repay a debt I thought to be long overdue. I studied the situation carefully …. I wanted a clean aim. So with unconscious movements of my body, I urged him toward the near edge of the rock.

As if responding to a spoken command, he leaped from the perch and approached a mound of rock directly in my line of vision, then hastily removed a cluster of loose branches and brush from a small hollow in the base of the mound.

I lined up for the kill. I held my breath. Then just as my finger was closing securely around the trigger, my eyes suddenly spotted the crude wooden cross that had been secured in that hollowed out area.

I peered down the long rifle barrel in confused amazement as he dropped to his knees. His right hand raised to his forehead, moved down to his chest, then to his left shoulder, and across to his right – the Sign of The Cross! My hands grew numb and my arms trembled uncontrollably.

I’m not sure exactly how long the moment lasted. But slowly … surely … as surely as I had taken aim at what would have been a sure target, I felt myself lowering that same rifle and letting it slip from my grip. Without any conscious thought, I bowed my head.

I couldn’t account for my reaction. But a miracle had taken place. My fervent, persistent, burning desire to kill the enemy had melted away.

Within a few seconds I relived every detail of the incident in the clearing, when he and his men had captured us, and suddenly the realization hit me: The Jap officer’s actions in preventing my murder and leaving the money were not prompted by secondary motives. This man was a Christian. Painfully, I contrasted these truths with the hatred that fed my incessant drive to destroy the enemy anywhere I found him, and under any circumstances. Tearfully, I surrendered to my shame.

I cannot be certain of the length of time I remained in a state of remorseful meditation, but when I finally raised my eyes, the Cross was again carefully camouflaged, and the officer had vanished. I lingered only a short while. Then I set out to join Willmet and Conte … strangely happy and refreshed … having been set free from the terrible, unbearable burden of hate.

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The End


© 1950, 2012 Ted Pavloff

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Weekend Coffee Share 8/18/18

If we were having coffee together today, I’d tell you that I need about 3 more cups, along with a huge piece of chocolate cake and a handful of potato chips — you know — for that ‘sweet & salty’ touch. It could be that I’m just hungry because I’m writing this at suppertime. But I’m not fixing supper right now because I’m waiting for my nephew to come and move a very heavy appliance for me. So I’m probably just really, really hungry period. But boy, the coffee and chocolate cake would make a great supper, if you ask me.

I’ve had a very busy week, but it’s not the kind of stuff I really want to spend time going back over, so instead of telling you about my week, I’m going to do something different this time around. I’m going to give you one of my stories from what will soon be an anthology of short stories from the Elixir of Life Coffeehouse. So put your feet up and have another cup on me while you read.

 

COFFEE & LAPTOP -- Gilliw 1864 -- PX

AS THE PLOT UNRAVELS

“I don’t know what to do,” Neville groaned, rubbing his hands roughly over his face. Then he pushed his laptop out of the way and leaned both elbows onto the coffeehouse table, propping his chin in his hands.

“What’s wrong?” Clarence, the waiter bussing the table next to Neville’s, turned to question him.

Neville looked up, startled. “Oh … blast … I didn’t realize I had said that out loud. Sorry,” he added looking sheepishly around the room to see if other customers had heard. He was relieved to see that Elixir of Life Coffeehouse was having one of its quieter days.

“No problem,” Clarence answered and walked over to Neville’s table. “Can I get you a refill?”

“Yeah, that would be great,” Neville answered, handing the boy his cup. “It’s been a rough writing day.”

The young man returned in record time with Neville’s refill and stayed to talk a moment. “Do you have what they call writer’s block?”

“No.” Neville shook his head and continued. “No, Clarence. This isn’t writer’s block. In fact, I almost wish I did have that dreaded condition. My problem isn’t that I can’t get the story to move along. This story is moving along at an incredible pace. The problem is that it’s writing itself, and my original plot is unraveling as fast as I can put my fingers to the keys.”

“You mean you’re not in control of your own story?” Clarence looked at Neville as if he had lost his mind — just a little. And that made Neville laugh.

“Don’t worry, my boy,” he said. “I’ve not gone bonkers yet. And … thanks for making me laugh. It helps. But to answer your question, no, I’m not in control of my own story.”

“Wow … how does that happen?” Clarence asked, really into this new information he was being exposed to.

“Well it’s not too unusual for a writer to get into a novel and find that one of his characters seems to gravitate in a direction other than what he had originally planned — or that the story seems to be flowing toward an ending that’s different from what he jotted down in his outline. But what’s happening in my story is different.”

“How?”

Neville shook his head and sighed. “I’m not sure how it’s happened, but every character seems to be taking on a brand new identity and making his own decisions. The guy I had pegged as the hero has suddenly become the villain, and the woman he loves is rapidly developing feelings for his best friend — which means he will probably end up killing his best friend — he’s already entertained the idea — and maybe even offing the woman as well.”

“But does it matter who ends up being the villain and the hero — I mean — as long as you have one of each, it’ll come out even, right?”

Neville chuckled. “Well, it’s not quite that easy. My publisher assigned me a contract to do a specific kind of story. One that will be a believable sequel to my last three novels. They were moneymakers, and I’d hate to mess up a record like that. I spent the money I made on them, and now I need more.” He rubbed his face agitatedly again. “Besides that, I’d be breaking my contract if I didn’t give them what I guaranteed.”

“MmMmm, you do have a problem,” Clarence said, so engulfed in the conversation now that he just sat right down at the table beside Neville.  They both sat in silence for a moment, Neville stirring his coffee and staring at it as if he could somehow find an answer in the dark liquid. Finally Clarence asked, “Why don’t you just delete all that part that changed and go back to your first chapter and start over on the story you intended to write. That would take care of it wouldn’t it?”

“Unfortunately, I’m not able to do that.”

“Why not?” Clarence asked, his face showing his obvious confusion.

“Well, Clarence … as strange as I’m sure it sounds to you … the truth is that I’ve totally lost track of the story I intended to write … and besides ….” He paused and glanced off to the side, lost in thought for a long moment. Clarence waited, figuring Neville was trying to work out a plan.

Suddenly Neville looked back at Clarence with a smile on his face. He looked serene  now, rather than agitated, and Clarence leaned toward him across the table to ask, “You figure something out? How to stop this runaway story?”

“Nope,” Neville said, grinning wider. “I’m not going to stop this story, Clarence.”

“Huh?”

Neville reached over and rested his hand on Clarence’s shoulder. “Clarence, my boy, I’ve made a decision. I’m going to give this story my whole heart and soul and let it lead me wherever it wants to go.”

“But what about your contract and all?”

“Blast the contract,” Neville said, beginning to close up his laptop and slip his notes into his briefcase. “If that publisher can’t see the truth about the value of this story, then he can sue me.”

“But –”

“No more ‘but’s‘ my boy,” Neville answered, rising from his chair, laptop under his arm. “This is the best damn story I’ve ever written in my life, and I’ve just decided I’m free enough to give my creativity its own head and let it take me to my destiny.”

He slapped down his last five dollar bill as a tip for Clarence and headed out the door, whistling.

 


If you’d like to take part in the “Weekend Coffee Share” posts, hop over to Eclectic Ali’s site and get the details about how to join the group.

 

 

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From My Short Story Archives – ‘Mitzi’

I haven’t had much time to write new stories this past month, but I have a lot of new followers on this site, so I decided I’d dig back through my archives and give a few of the old stories some fresh air. They will be new for many readers, and, hopefully, enjoyable the second time around for a few others.


KENT'S DOG - EXTRA - creditsMITZI

As Mitzi sat on the bus, she enjoyed the rhythmic movement. And she enjoyed the respite from the heat she’d been walking in for the past hour. She leaned just slightly against Pete’s leg, both for the comfort of knowing he was there and the reassurance that he was all right. He was her responsibility, after all, and she never forgot that for one moment.

Her nostrils flared slightly as she gradually identified and responded to all the various scents that wafted through the air of the full vehicle. There was the expected scent of human sweat, and that was a natural part of Mitzi’s life, so even though one or two of the passengers had probably failed to bathe that day, Mitzi’s sense of smell was not insulted by it. Then there was the unmistakeable scent of cigarettes that clung to the clothing and hair of half the people on the bus – a scent that just couldn’t seem to be erased or camouflaged effectively by any order eliminators. There were pleasant scents too, of course, as various degrees of perfumes filtered through the air, surrounding Mitzi as well. She couldn’t have told anyone which flowers, which wood essences, or which spices had been used, but she most certainly recognized the scents as natural and non-threatening.

However, dearest to Mitzi’s heart during most of her bus rides were all the delicious scents that emanated from the grocery bags and baskets carried by some of the passengers. Many days Mitzi found this trip on the bus thoroughly enjoyable because she could sit and sniff the tantalizing aromas of pork, or fish, or – her favorite – salami from the Italian market at the end of Jasper Street. Her nose was hard at work now, sorting through all the variety of groceries, trying to determine exactly who it was who had that salami. There! Mitzi’s gaze zeroed in on a lady in a green coat, sitting just three rows up from Mitzi and Pete. Delicious! Mitzi was hungry.

But right after identifying the owner of the salami, Mitzi turned her head to the side just slightly and sniffed harder. There was something else in the air. Something new. Something unusual for the interior of this bus. Something … not right somehow. She wriggled in place a time or two, turned her head the other direction, but then brought it right back to where she’d been focusing. Some sixth sense stirred a warning so deep inside that it put every sense on high alert. Even the hair in her coat bristled. She whimpered and moved again, restlessly. Pete reached a hand over and patted her head, then scratched her ear slightly. “You getting’ restless, old girl?” he asked tenderly.

The young man sitting in the seat that faced Pete spoke now. “That’s a beautiful dog you have there, Sir. A guide dog, if I’m not mistaken?”

Pete turned unseeing eyes toward the young man, his hand still resting on Mitzi’s head. “Yes. Yes, she is … and the best in the world. Been with me for ten years now.” He chuckled and ruffed Mitzi’s fur affectionately. “We’re both getting pretty old, but we keep sojourning on together.”

“She seems very affectionate,” the young man replied. “I noticed how she leans against your leg constantly.”

“Yes, that’s her habit. Feels responsible for me, I think.” He turned his head as if to look down at Mitzi, who had glanced up at him. “Good girl, Mitzi,” he said. His voice had grown gravely with age, but there was still a tone of kindness that over-road everything else when he spoke. His eyes didn’t see the look in Mitzi’s. It was a look of concentration … wariness. She was puzzled by what she smelled – by what every nerve in her body was beginning to pick up on – and she wanted her master to know.

Aware, by training, that he would not see her face or her movements, she understood that she would need to convey her concern by sounds and movements he could feel. So she wriggled agitatedly and leaned harder on his leg, still sniffing the air, her head turning several directions, trying to get a reading on exactly what and where the problem came from.

All of her senses eventually focused on a passenger across the aisle and two rows up from Pete. He was reading a newspaper, his black briefcase on the floor, held snugly between his feet. Her eyes focused and a low growl sounded in her throat.

Pete was concerned. Mitzi never behaved in such a manner on this bus. She was used to riding it, and she never had negative responses to people. But she whimpered now, pressing Pete’s leg even harder. He leaned down, wrapping one arm around the dog’s neck. “What is it, Mitzi? What’s wrong, girl?”

Mitzi whimpered again, then whined openly. “Shhhh,” Pete whispered. “Quiet, girl. We’ll be home soon.”

There were two more stops before the corner where Pete and Mitzi got off the bus. That meant at least 20 more minutes, and Pete was a little worried that some of the other passengers might become frightened if Mitzi continued growling – even though it was low.

But Mitzi growled again, and then immediately emitted a sharp bark.

“Mister, you’d better keep a tight hold on that dog of yours. She sounds mean to me,” said an overweight guy sitting behind Pete.

Pete turned in his seat to address the man face-to-face, even though he couldn’t see him. “Oh, Mitzi would never hurt you, sir. She’s as gentle as a lamb.” Just then, though, Mitzi’s growl and tug at her leash indicated things could be otherwise.

“Hey, shut that mutt up!” another man yelled from several rows up.

“Hey, Pete,” the driver called back. “What’s going on back there? Your dog never gave us any trouble before.”

“I know, Randal. I don’t understand it myself.” At that moment, Mitzi barked sharply again and pulled on her leash so hard that Pete only barely held her in check. By this time, she was up on her feet and pulling harder on the leash, whining, and giving Pete every signal she could give to say he needed to follow her lead. She looked toward the man holding the briefcase between his feet. Her eyes were focused on the briefcase, though none of the passengers realized that fact. They thought she focused on the man himself.

“Sir, you need to get that dog off this bus,” came from a middle-aged woman. She didn’t want to insult a blind man, but she was starting to become frightened herself. Pete stood to his feet to try to handle Mitzi better.

At that moment, the bus slowed to make it’s next stop, and there was still one more to go before Pete’s stop came along. But by this time, Mitzi was almost beside herself, pulling on her leash with all her strength, whimpering now, more than growling. It was as if she’d traded her natural instinct to attack the “enemy” for her well-trained instinct to protect her master.

Once the bus was stopped, the driver stood and called back to Pete. “I’m sorry, Pete, but I think you’re going to have to get Mitzi off of here now.”

Pete nodded. “Yes … yes, you’re right Randal. He turned his head in an effort to address the other passengers, just hoping they could see his face enough to recognize his sincerity. “I’m sorry, folks. Mitzi’s such a good dog —”

Before he could finish his sentence, Mitzi had emitted another sharp bark and jerked the leash so hard that Pete nearly lost his hold completely. “All right, girl. I’m coming!” he said and began to move down the aisle behind his dog.

The driver took the time to help Pete down the steps. He knew the old man could get down just fine under normal circumstances, but for some reason, today was anything but normal. “I’m sorry, Pete,” he said again. “You take it easy walking from here.”

“Pete reached out toward the voice to touch Randal’s arm. He made contact and patted the arm. “It’s all right, Randal. I’ll figure out what’s wrong, and we’ll be back to ride tomorrow with no problems, I’m sure.”

The door slid closed; Randal changed gear, and the bus moved on down the road. Pete knelt down to talk to Mitzi. How strange, he thought. The dog was completely calm now. No more growls, no more whimpers. She wagged her tail and licked his cheek. Sorely puzzled, he rubbed her back and spoke reassuringly. “Good girl, Mitzi. You’re a good, good girl.”

As he knelt there beside her on the sidewalk, the bus moved on to the end of the block, and then on to the end of the next block, where it exploded and burst into flames.

 

 


 

Wendell’s Angel Needs a Raise

Several years ago, I took part in a 100-word story challenge based on the photo below. The photo had no copyright identification, so I can’t give any either, and I’m sorry about that because it’s a great shot. But over the years, my imagination kept going back to that story and enlarging on it. In the updated and enlarged version of the story, I’ve taken a good deal of license with what scripture actually says about angels, but, hopefully, God being the good sport that He is, I can plead journalistic license for this particular piece and get away with it.

WENDELL IN MUSEUM

 

WENDELL’S ANGEL NEEDS A RAISE

Angel #47,000,000 smiled at Wendell, lumbering through the museum, camera in hand. Wendell Avery loved coming here on his day off work. One of those people who couldn’t seem to create art himself, he had an amazing appreciation of other people’s talent.

Number 47,000,000, whose nickname was Swoop, had been Wendell’s guardian since birth – about twenty-seven years. And what a ride it had been! In fact, it was working with Wendell that had earned #47,000,000 this nickname, because on any given day, he had to literally swoop in and out of awkward situations in order to defray one kind of catastrophe or another.

Wendell loved life! Though heavy and awkward – right at 300 pounds — he liked doing everything and seemed totally unaware that his large frame could be dangerous when he wasn’t careful. And he had a big, compassionate heart. Swoop was proud to see how generous Wendell was, especially to little kids and elderly people. The angel heaved a sigh now as he expressed his thoughts aloud: “If Wendell could just learn to be more careful how he moves!”

Even today, just visiting the museum for two hours had totaled up a pretty impressive list of incidents that added significantly to the stress of Swoop’s job. So far, he had rescued a $100,000 sculpture Wendell had accidentally jabbed with his elbow, a $60,000 clock that had skidded to the edge of the table it sat on – when Wendell had stepped aside to let an elderly lady pass him – and a glass case holding $200,000 worth of rare jewels which Wendell had bumped with his rump.

All three times, the alarm had blared, and the museum doors had locked down. People froze in position, some of them with fear in their eyes as they looked around wildly trying to figure out what was going on. Each time, the museum curator had made his way to Wendell as quickly as possible, fairly certain that the source of trouble lay in that direction. After all, the security cameras had recorded a number of such incidents almost every time Wendell visited.

But the museum directors – so far – had not seen fit to bar Wendell from the premises. It was a public museum, after all, and Wendell’s taxes helped pay for the expositions. If truth were known, the curator had a soft spot in his heart for Wendell, but he was facing a board of directors who were becoming more and more worried. In fact, Number 47,000,000 had been called into the main office in Heaven and encouraged to keep a tighter rein on his charge for everyone’s peace of mind.

But, at least, things would be settling down for today. Wendell wanted just one more picture – a hand-painted vase that had just been put on display this morning. So Number 47,000,000 took a deep breath and finally started to relax.

Wendell found the vase, prepared his camera, and then bent for a close-up.

Bump.

Wendell’s rump had made contact with the pedestal behind him, and one Ming vase was going down!

“Heaven help us!” cried Number 47,000,000, and he did indeed mean it as a prayer.

Swooooooop!

“Whew! Nice catch, even if I do say so myself,” Number 47,000,000 whispered. He gingerly set the vase back in place and looked over at Wendell, who was checking his watch. Wendell nodded to himself. “Yep, time to go.”

Number 47,000,000 sighed with relief and fell in step beside his charge as they exited the museum. As they walked down the sidewalk, Wendell started checking the pictures in his camera. He got excited about the great shots he’d gotten and didn’t notice when he walked right off the curb into the path of an oncoming semi.

Swooooooop!

“Heavens, that was a close one!” Number 47,000,000 whispered. He’d actually felt the heat of the exhaust as the truck brushed by within an inch of him. Wendell, unconcerned since he hadn’t realized he’d been in such danger, kept walking and concentrating on his camera.

Number 47,000,000 lovingly spread his right wing around Wendell, took a deep breath, and smiled. The truth was that he really did like his job. He wouldn’t want any other angel to have responsibility for Wendell. However, all things considered, he decided that as soon as he got Wendell safely home, he was going up to the head office and have a talk with God about a raise.


During the Lecture

WINE BOTTLE AND GLASS - WolfBlur -- PX

The lecture finally came to an end about 9:20 p.m.  That was almost an hour longer than it should have lasted. I hadn’t realized that there would be so much time in which to carry out my plan, or I would have gone about things much more leisurely.

Professor Thomas Crenshaw was known for being windy, of course, but I didn’t want to count on that fact, so after I’d slipped unobtrusively from my seat on the last row and exited the lecture hall, I literally ran to my car and changed into my disguise.

Black is so non-committal, isn’t it? Especially at night. One can sneak between parked cars and through alleys and even private yards without being noticed.

I didn’t have to drive, since Smith lived just a block off campus. I slipped into the alley that ran behind his house, making my way silently. I guess I wasn’t completely silent — or else my human scent caused an alarm — because a dog sent up some noisy yapping as I passed one residence, but as soon as I was twenty feet way, he want back to his normal nightly business.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself for executing this little maneuver so well. I’d even played the good neighbor and offered to bring over my WD40 and oil his back gate that squeaked. When I’d been there for the staff barbecue last week and realized how it squeaked, I knew I’d have to take care of that little problem before I could carry out my plan successfully. But a few little squirts, and problem solved. I have to laugh now when I think how profusely Smith thanked me for being so thoughtful.

And, of course, he thanked me profusely again when I presented him with that expensive bottle of burgundy today as a birthday gift. That’s the thing about old Smith. He did everything rather profusely — even his drinking. And that’s what I was counting on. The old sot! How anyone could believe he was fit to be made the Chair of our department was beyond me. The choices had come down to him and me, and I was positive I’d be their pick. But when the university President told me that the board was swinging heavily toward Smith instead, it was all I could do not to unload a torrent of curses right there in the hallway of the administration building.

No matter. My little maneuver tonight took care of everything. As I approached the back door, I was fully confident that the bottle of burgundy was empty and Smith snoring like the pig that he is — well — that he was. I’d been right, of course. I’m surprised his own snoring didn’t wake him up. The man was a disgrace to our university, and it was past time someone did something about it. One little jab of a needle, and the quick-acting poison I’d chosen took care of old Smith for good. And I quietly and sedately slipped back into my seat in the lecture hall in plenty of time to hear the last thirty minutes of Thomas’ mind-numbing lecture.

Now, as I sit here at my own desk, listening to the digital recorder I had left in my lecture seat — along with the reserved sign so no one else would sit there — I’m diligently making notes on the lecture. When the authorities question me — as they undoubtedly will — I’ll have my name on the sign-in sheet and the sign-out sheet for the lecture. And I’ll have the notes I’ve taken, proving that I heard every single word Professor Crenshaw spoke from 7:30 to 9:20 p.m.

THE END

 


Daily Post Prompt: Lecture

 

 

~~~

Belated Goodbye

Copyright Sandra Crook

 

“This was your family’s restaurant?” Erica asked.

I nodded, silent, reliving that horrible night: My fiance Haydn’s pushing me into the cellar and commanding me to keep silent, no matter what.”

Erica understood. “You never saw him again?”

I shook my head. “Two survivors said he’d been captured. But I never could find out.”

“Look!” Erica grabbed my arm. “Someone’s in the upstairs window — looking at us.”

“Some scavenger,” I said, brushing away tears. But then I looked more closely, catching my breath.  “It can’t be,” I whispered.

“What?”

“It’s him!”  I waved frantically: “Haydn!”

He waved, smiled, and in the same moment, vanished. I looked at Erica. Her shocked face assured me I hadn’t imagined  him.

“Finally … after all these painful years … we’ve said goodbye.”

 


Friday Fictioneers writing challenge

 

 

~~~

Don’t Blink

KENT - RED SHIRT - EYES ONLY

 

“Remember, Ronnie. Don’t blink. If you blink, it’s all over.”

Those words pounded through my brain right before I took a seat in front of the webcam, preparing to look into the eyes of the most evil scientific mind on the planet. But I knew I had to cleanse those words from my brain. My expertise in the field of mind control and the organic manipulation that can emanate from it kept me from allowing those words to have power in my psyche. What I had to do instead was forget about the suggestion of blinking all together and focus on my opponent instead.

Liam Sigurdsson was well-known for his advanced studies and experimentation in mind control. But he hadn’t been heard from for three years. News media speculated about him, but the only thing anyone knew for sure was that he was holed up in a home he’d built for himself and his staff in Iceland.

Four days ago, all of that secrecy came to an end — a dramatic and terrorizing end. Sigurdsson suddenly came out of hibernation with the news that he had managed to plant powerful bombs in the capitals of six major western nations. He further stated that they were set to go off at exactly the same time unless he got complete cooperation from the UN, and each of those individual nations in making him supreme dictator over their entire geographic areas.

The President of the United States, as well as the leaders of the other five nations — Canada, England, France, Germany, and Italy —  had all tried to reason with him. But to no avail. That’s when the President called me in.

I’m Ronald Bridgeport, American scientist and mind control expert. I’ve made some amazing discoveries concerning mind control and using the mind to manipulate the body.  Those subjects used to be considered part of the paranormal fringes of science, but my work has proven that they may have some very genuine, solid scientific foundations. I’ve won my share of awards for my research and for being able to prove a good many of my theories over the years. I’m well known internationally, of course, but not held in the kind of scientific esteem that Sigurdsson has acquired over the past couple decades.

Two days after Sigurdsson’s brutal announcement, I found myself sitting at a conference table across from several leading congressmen and two of the most celebrated scientists of our day, with the President just to my right at the end of the table. The heaviness in the atmosphere of the room when I’d entered had caused me to take a seat without saying a word. There was a bottle of water in front of me, and I reached for it because my nerves were so stressed that my  mouth was already dry. As I swallowed a couple mouthfuls of water, the President cleared his throat and spoke.

“Ronnie, I’ve known you for years now, and I can say without reservation that you’re one of the coolest men in a crisis that I’ve ever met. We need that cool head today.”

I looked at him as he spoke, and I could see the tension in every fiber of his body. “What can I do for you, Mr. President,” I asked.

“You’re aware of the world-wide threat coming from Liam Sigurdsson,” he said in a half question.

“Yes, sir. I’ve been following the news coverage of the whole thing. Is there more to it?”

“Well, for the most part, the news media have let it all out of the bag, but the one thing we know that the news boys don’t seem to is that you and Liam Sigurdsson have a long history.”

I nodded. I wasn’t sure how much the President knew, but I was willing to bet he had all the data at his fingertips. Such was the nature of our government surveillance and investigative forces.

He continued: “I understand that the two of you competed in a number of scientific projects during graduate school and then competed for two prestigious international awards in later years.” He looked at me with a question in his eyes.

“That’s correct. He won exactly half of those competitions in our school years, and he won one of the awards after we were both in our professional careers.”

“But you won the other award, which he coveted very badly, and you went on to be selected for the position as head of the Bon Homme Mind Manipulation Project that got world-wide acclaim.”

“Yes, sir, but I don’t see what that has to do with this situation,” I said, honestly confused.

“We know from dealing with the man that Sigurdsson — although a genius in his field — is also mentally deranged. And he has the largest ego the world has ever known. He doesn’t believe he can be defeated — well — let’s say he’s evidently convinced himself that he cannot be defeated — ever again. The only competition he’s ever had that brought him defeat has been with you.”

The President looked me in the eye, and I did the same to him, but I didn’t speak. He continued:  “So, playing on that theme, we’ve managed to infiltrate Sigurdsson’s privacy enough to suggest to him that if he wants the whole word to believe that he’s worthy to rule the six major nations in the world that have been the bastions of freedom and democracy until now, he needs to be able to defeat his greatest peer once and for all.”

My mouth fell open slightly, and I’m sure my eyes must have bugged out, because the congressmen and scientists across from me — who had remained totally silent up to that point — began to shift in their seats. I could literally feel them holding their breaths.

Finally, I found my voice. “I still don’t understand. You want me to do some kind of combat with Sigurdsson? Something physical or scientific or what?”

“We’ve offered him a challenge in his field of expertise,” the President answered. “We’ve challenged him to pit his mind-control and biokinetic abilities that he’s so proud of against yours. And whoever wins that battle will determine what happens with the bombs.”

I just looked at him. Looked him in the eye. I couldn’t look away. Inside my head, I could hear myself screaming “What! Are you crazy!” But I couldn’t speak a word out loud. I just looked at him. And the other people in the room held themselves so rigid waiting for my answer that I could feel the tension from the other side of the table.

I finally spoke — in a surprisingly quiet voice: “And what did he say to your challenge?”

“He agreed.”

Again, I could hear shocked questions pounding through my head, but I didn’t speak them out. As I sat there silent for a few moments, I realized that I wasn’t really surprised at all. Liam Sigurdsson was deranged. It’s true he was a genius. So was I for that matter. In fact, we had exactly the same IQ. But the man could not live with a challenge to his ego. He felt compelled to rise to such a challenge, and he wouldn’t even think beyond that feat to what the possible repercussions might me. Of course, he was not even entertaining the idea of failure on his part.

“And you think you can actually believe a man who is so deranged, Mr. President?”

He nodded his head. “We’ve secured a mediator that is acceptable to both Sigurdsson and to us. Sigurdsson will give him the details concerning the bombs, and the mediator will be locked away in a secure place until the contest is over. When he’s notified of the winner, he’ll either turn the information over to us … or … in the event … ”  He stopped and took a deep breath. “In the event that Sigurdsson wins, the mediator will simply hand the information back to him.”

I took a deep breath as well. And the men and women on the other side of the table finally took one too. A few of them leaned back in their chairs, obviously glad the worst of the story had been related. I glanced at them and then back to the President.

“And when is this challenge supposed to take place?”

“Tomorrow at noon.”

“And how long does it last?”

“Until one of you blinks.”

“What?” I shook my head to clear it, certain I’d heard wrong. I glanced at the people across the table, saw shock on their faces as well, and realized they hadn’t been told the details yet either. So I looked back at the President. “What did you say?”

“The contest will last until one of you blinks. That’s the challenge. Both you and Sigurdsson have developed a large following for your research and proven theories in the areas of mind control and organic manipulation. That’s the arena he wants to defeat you in. To prove that he has developed in those areas to a much higher degree than you have. So that’s the challenge he has chosen to accept. You’ll sit and stare at each other via webcam, and whoever blinks first … loses.”

As wild and off-the-wall as the whole strategy sounded, I couldn’t refuse my commander-in-chief. Besides, what other option did we have? We could send in military power and annihilate Sigurdsson, but we couldn’t shut off the bombs.  So I went home to “get some rest” — the President’s words — not mine. That was about 7:00 last night.

As I prepared for bed, I found myself going over in my mind the Bible story I’d known from childhood about David and Goliath. I picked up my Bible and began reading the story again. It was inspiring, to say the least: a young, apparently defenseless, youth standing up to the biggest bully of his day — and winning. To be sure, there had to have been some supernatural help involved.

So as I lay my head on my pillow, I whispered, with all the vulnerability of a child, “Lord, it seems the fate of the whole free world is resting on my shoulders — or rather on my eyelids — tomorrow. Sir … I’d just like to say … I could sure use some of the same kind of help that You gave that shepherd boy.”

That brings us to this morning, 11:50 eastern time, when I took a seat in front of the webcam set up at the White House. I had requested that I be left in the room alone once the camera came on. So everyone else began filing out, and that’s when the President leaned over to me, gripped me by the shoulder and whispered, “Remember, Ronnie. Don’t blink. If you blink, it’s all over.”

 


Daily Post Prompt: Blink

~~~

Leonard Takes Life by the Antlers

 

ARNOLD HEARING BIRDS - WHITE SPOTLIGHT
“Nicholas, is something troubling you this evening?” asked Lydia Claus, pausing in her embroidery work.

“Hmmmm?” Nick made the sound without shifting his gaze from the flames in the fireplace.

“I asked what’s wrong, Dear. You haven’t been your jolly self for almost two days.”

Nick sighed, finally looking across at his wife in her chair. “It’s Leonard, Mama.”

“Leonard? Leonard, the elder deer?”

“Yes.” Nick sighed again, but didn’t continue. He seemed lost in his own thoughts again.

“Nick,” Lydia said, putting down her embroidery and sitting up straighter in her chair. “Is Leonard sick?”

“Hmm? Oh … oh, no, he’s not sick … not exactly.”

“Well, what on earth does that mean?”

Nick reached to a little table beside his chair and picked up his pipe. He lit it, and the sweet-scented smoke curled off into the air. “Leonard isn’t sick, Mama. He’s just old … very old. And I’m afraid he can’t do any real work around here any longer. He just sort of stands around watching the younger deer – or worse – sometimes he just lies in his stall and doesn’t even get out for exercise. He feels useless I think.”

“But his son Rudolph is still your lead reindeer, and I know that’s always made Leonard so proud. He’s the one who trained Rudolph to fly and to maneuver so beautifully. In fact, he trained almost all of your teams, didn’t he?”

“Oh, yes. He’s been more valuable to me than almost any other deer in our herd, but he doesn’t feel up to training the younger deer any longer. I’ve had to turn that job over to his younger cousin Archibald.”

“Oh, dear. I wish there were something I could do.”

“Me too,” Nick said, rising and heading toward the kitchen. “But perhaps I’ll think of something soon.”

(Next day. In the stable.)

“Leonard,” said Gladys Reindeer, “I wish you wouldn’t feel so sad. After all, look at all the teams of reindeer you’ve trained for Santa over the years. You should feel proud and just enjoy your time of rest.”

“Rest! Bah! I have to sit by and watch that whippersnapper Archy take my place as Santa’s right-hand. It’s degrading … humiliating … and worse … it’s terribly depressing.”

“But you can still give the elves rides and help with hauling the smaller toys from the toyshop to the warehouse for storage. It’s not as if you don’t do anything.”

“It’s not the same, Gladys. There are scores of other reindeer on the place who can do all that. And they do. In fact, they can do it all faster, and most days they’re already on the job before I can get my old bones and muscles moving. I just wish there were something I could do again that was special.”

“Well, my dear” – Gladys nuzzled his nose – “you will always be very special to me – and to Rudolph. And just think of our son. He’s become so famous, and he’s so good at what he does … and he gives you all the credit – rightly so, I might add.”

“Oh, he’s a source of pride, all right. It’s gratifying to see how well he’s done. But it doesn’t change my feeling of uselessness now.” Leonard plodded out of the stable, his head hanging low.

“Where are you going, dear?”

He sighed. “I don’t know. I think I’ll go for a walk in the forest. I do always feel a little better when I listen to the Redbirds sing for a while.”

Leonard walked slowly through the forest, stopping now and then to rest and listen to the sounds of all the other creatures he’d come to know and love. He hadn’t heard any Redbirds in song today, but as he moved farther into the woods, he heard a cacophony of bird voices that troubled him.

He followed the sounds to a huge Spruce tree where one of his favorite Redbird friends had her home. But something strange was happening today. Several men in hard hats were surrounding the tree, examining it. Off to the side sat a huge truck with a long flatbed on the back. Suddenly, one of the men pulled a lever on the machine he held in his hands, and the machine started groaning loudly enough to hear it on the other side of the forest.

At that moment, Leonard’s Redbird friend swooped down toward the man, screeching and acting as though she would attack him. A couple of her friends did the same. One of the other men picked up a large stick and started swinging at the birds.

Leonard couldn’t believe his eyes. He hurried over to the scene and called out to his friend. “What’s wrong?” He asked. “Can I help?”

“Oh, Leonard,” the Redbird cried, flying over to him, “I don’t know what to do! These men are going to cut down my tree and use it for the Christmas tree in the center of town. But my nest is there, and my little babies are just about to hatch. I can’t let them cut down my home and kill my babies. But I can’t get them moved to a safe place without building another nest, and that will take too long. What can I do? What can I do?’

The chainsaw had stopped momentarily, while the men talked together, but now it started up again. Leonard thought quickly. “I know!” he said. “I will come and lift your nest onto my antlers and carry it away safely.”

“That’s very kind of you, and it would get my babies out of the tree, but where can I put them? It will take me at least three days to build a new nest anywhere – and that’s if I can find the materials. Wild animals will find my babies and eat them before I can get it done.”

“No they won’t. I will keep the nest in my antlers until you build another nest. You can sit on your eggs in your nest, and when your babies are hatched, you can feed them and take care of them just the way you always do. I have nothing else I have to do these days, and I will enjoy being useful.

“Oh my, what a great friend you are. How can I ever thank you?”

“There’s no need. In fact, I’m the one who’s grateful. I was feeling rather useless lately, and it’s a wonderful thing to know that I am not useless after all. I can be a help to my friends. And, in fact, when you have your new nest built and have moved into it, I think I’ll go walking through the forest every day looking for other friends to help. There must be many things I can do for them if I just set my mind to it.” He grinned at Redbird. “You’ve helped me see that I have a future with unlimited possibilities.”

The chainsaw had stopped again, and the men were measuring something. “Come on,” said Leonard, “let’s hurry and go around to the other side where your nest is. I’ll burrow my way between the branches and lift off the nest, and you can make sure it’s settled safely. Then we’ll go back to Santa’s stable, and you and your babies can enjoy Christmas with Gladys and me. She will be so pleased to have guests for Christmas Day.”


If you enjoyed this story, think about checking out my Christmas anthology: Stocking Full Of Stories.  It includes this story as well as 10 other stories for the season. It’s available from Amazon in digital or paperback.

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‘Stocking Full Of Stories’ – now in Paperback! Yay!!!

STOCKING AMAZON COVER - front

IT’S FINALLY HERE in PAPERBACK!

Why not buy yourself an early Christmas present this year? My Christmas anthology, Stocking Full Of Stories, is just what you need to add that extra little sparkle to this year’s celebration.  Stories about love, challenge, hope, faith, and ridiculously funny stuff as well.  There’s 11 stories in all.

It’s also a great stocking-stuffer (no pun intended).

$5.50 at Amazon. Just follow this link:

 

 

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How About a Glass of Wine?

photo copyright: Sarah Ann Hall

 

“What the heck are they?”
“They look like candle holders to me.”
“Hmmm, I don’t see any candles. Hey this one is open down to the bottom … and so is this one. Maybe they’re fancy vases.”
“Well, they sure wouldn’t hold many flowers. Wonder why Aunt Enid left them to us.”
“Honey, you know Aunt Enid. When she’d had her daily wine quota, she was liable to do almost anything.”
“That’s it!  That’s what we’ll use them for.”
“Huh?”
“At our next dinner party, we’ll use them as wine glasses.”
“Well, that’s one way to start conversation. Let’s get ’em washed.”

 


Friday Fictioneers Fun.

 

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The Journey – Friday Fictioneers 9/8/17

FF - DANNY BOWMAN LANDSCAPE
Copyright: Danny Bowman

 

Created by feet of Shoshone buffalo hunters, the trail had eventually become a stage coach road. But today, Hiram Baker plodded it alone – hungry, thirsty, bone-weary. His horse had given out two days ago, and all that kept him going was the love of a blue-eyed woman waiting for him beyond that mountain range. Cecilia had promised to marry him as soon as he was released from prison. Eight years could change a woman’s heart … but he knew Cecilia. Her heart could feel his, and those blue eyes would see him as he crossed over the summit.


 

Follow this link to participate in this week’s Friday Fictioneers and share your own 100-word story.

Weekly Smile 85

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make our life happy. Each time I look at this picture of the donkey, I find myself smiling. I wrote this story some time back in response to a flash fiction challenge, but I found myself thinking about this picture as I pondered my “smile” this week, so I decided to share Clover’s story here.

DONKEY

Clover nuzzled the sweet-smelling ground cover that had inspired her name. She lived here now, on Old Jake’s homestead, having stumbled onto it by accident – or by Divine intervention – after being beaten by her previous owner and barely escaping. Limping through the stormy night, she’d eventually collapsed  in this sweet-smelling field.

Next morning, Jake had found her, huddled in pain and traumatized by her injuries. He’d bathed her wounds, fed her, petted her, and made her his own. She had the run of the farm, but her favorite spot was this field of sweet clover where she spent quiet days being grateful to Old Jake for his love.


 

To participate in ‘Weekly Smile’ visit “Trent’s World.”

 

 

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Friday Fictioneers 7.28.17: “Love On The Line # 2”

This week’s Friday Fictioneers picture prompt reminded me of a delightful and heart-melting true story that I read about several years ago. It took place during WWII, and involved a real U. S. serviceman, the woman who was the love of his life, and a tender-hearted, romantic telephone operator. I was so touched by the story that I told it (changing names, etc.) in a poem on this site about four years ago. That poem, however, in order to tell the whole story properly, took much more than 100 words.

But when I saw the picture today, I just couldn’t get away from that love story, so I’ve tried my best to squeeze it into the requirements for our FF challenge. I’m still 14 words over the limit, but if your romance outweighs your legalism, you might enjoy it anyway.

Today’s thought-provoking prompt comes to us from J. Hardy Carroll.

 

LOVE ON THE LINE

“Operator, I’m calling Susan Wheeler, St. Louis.”
“This blizzard may interfere with connection, sir.”
“Please try, my 2-day leave is almost gone.”

“Hello.”
“I have a call for Susan Wheeler from Bill Meadows in Boston.”
“This is Susan.”
“Hold please. Go ahead sir.”
“Susan! Sweetheart!”
“Oh, Bill, I was getting worried.”
“Honey, the blizzard’s too bad for me to get there, but I must ask you something important.”
ZZZZmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
“Sorry sir, we’ve lost your connection.”
“NO! Please. I’m trying to propose!”
“It’s no use sir.”
“Noooooooooo!”
“But she can hear me. Shall I relay your question?”
“Yes, please; I have to know! Ask her if she’ll marry me.”

“Great news, Sir. She says yes!”


If you’re interested enough to get the more complete version, here’s a link to the poem.

 

 

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