Kindergarten was a lot of fun. I made several friends there. I can’t say that I learned a whole lot because my parents had taught me to read books far beyond my age level and to add, subtract, and count by 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s long before I walked into the classroom at Harvard elementary school. But the joy of that initial year of getting together five days a week with twenty-five other kids my own age and sharing our thoughts and imaginations — not to mention our lunches — was an experience I still treasure.
That’s why, when Sabrina McKluckey called me last Monday evening and told me she had searched for me on Google and tracked me down because she wanted to reconnect after all these years, I was more than happy to arrange a meeting. Sabrina had been my best friend in kindergarten – from day one – but she and I actually had more in common that that. We had gone through all six grades of elementary together in the same classrooms. By junior high, though, my family had moved to a new town, and I lost track of Sabrina.
In fact, I lost track of all my early classmates. My family moved again before I had finished high school, and that broke some more relationships for me, not to mention affecting my grades during my junior year. When I got to college, I finally stayed in one place four whole years, so I did manage to make a couple close friends who are still close today. But when I picked up the phone and found Sabrina on the other end of the line, she started talking about things that we had done in school together, and, suddenly, years just sort of slipped away, and I was transported to a happier time and place.
Now, it’s not that I don’t have a good life. I guess I’d call it a basically “happy” life — depending on how one defines happiness. But once we get to the age of responsibility — college days are gone, and we’re struggling to make good on that first job so that the landlord won’t kick us out of our first apartment, and so relatives who come to visit will find more than a carton of milk and a can of sardines in the frig — things just aren’t as much fun. And for me, now well past the first job and four years into my alternate vocation (having nixed the nine-to-five high finance job I’d landed right out of grad school), life was a passel of everyday bills and aggravations, occasionally relieved by an evening with friends or a week-end holiday.
So, back to Sabrina: She said she now lived about three hours from me, so we arranged to meet at a restaurant about half way between our homes and catch up on each other’s lives over a long lunch. When I arrived, she was already at the table. I figured I wouldn’t recognize her, but to my surprise, she really did look the same: Long dark brown hair, perky nose with a sprinkling of freckles, and a sunny smile. She was slender and prettier in a mature sort of way, but definitely still looked like the Sabrina of my memory.
My hair was still the ebony color it had always been, but I had worn it quite long in those school years, and now I had a slick, short cut that lay close to my head. My blue eyes were still the same, of course, and I was moderate weight for my size, so I was pretty sure she’d consider that I was still recognizable.
And sure enough, when I was within six feet of the table, she turned her head and saw me, and jumped up to greet me, calling out my nickname. “Tessy!” She held out her arms and hugged me as I got to the table. I was glad there weren’t a lot of other people close to our table, but I did hug her back very briefly and dropped into a chair as soon as I could. “Oh, you look good!” she said. “And you really haven’t changed much except for your hairstyle.”
“I recognized you right away too,” I answered, and at that moment our waitress approached to give us menus.
Over lunch, we reminisced, but during the conversation, I felt Sabrina was a nervous and unsure of herself somehow. I couldn’t think why she should be, so I didn’t ask right away. But by the time we were to dessert and coffee, I was sure there must be something troubling on her mind, so I decided to just be honest.
“Sabrina, correct me if I’m out of line, but I keep getting the feeling that you’re agitated or nervous about something, and I’m just wondering if you wanted to talk to me about something besides our past. Is there anything else on your mind that you’re hesitant to bring up?”
She looked at me earnestly, nibbled on her lip, looked away, took a sip of water, and then heaved a sigh and looked me right in the eye. “Yes there is, Tess. I wasn’t sure if I would bring it up or not, and after we sat down together, I thought that I’d been foolish to even think about involving you in this … situation, I guess you’d call it … but since I’ve gotten you here and you can obviously see that there’s a problem, I might as well go ahead.”
“If something’s going on that I can help with, please tell me,” I said, not really sure I was all that eager to get involved in someone else’s problems, but feeling more or less obligated to at least act as if I were willing.
She picked up her fork and sort of rolled it around in her fingers as she concentrated on her thoughts and then started to talk. “When I said I had Googled you, it was actually for a little more than just wanting to reconnect and talk over old times. I had heard from some of the other people in town who had kept in touch with your parents that you are a private detective now. And … well —” She paused and looked me right in the eye again.
“Yes, that’s correct,” I said. “Are you saying you need a private detective?”
She glanced down at the fork she was still twisting in her hands and then back up at me. “Yes,” she said in a rush of breath. “Yes. I want to hire you.” Then she leaned closer and whispered. “I need to find out who’s ……………..”
Please go down to the “Comments” section and tell me how YOU think this last sentence should end. I’ve thought about going two or three different directions with this story, but I cant make up my mind. I’d like to know what readers think. What direction would you like this story to go? In your own imagination, what is Sabrina’s problem? Maybe your suggestion will give me the next paragraph — and the next chapter.
`I’ve thought about you countless times this past year. I sometimes wish I hadn’t been so hasty to make the decision. There are days when I wake up thinking how good it would be to still have you beside me for a few hours. And, of course, every time I make the curried chicken casserole I think about you. It’s downright lonely in the kitchen these days. And I don’t even cook most of the time. I do carry-out.
I don’t order from our favorite Chinese place, though, and I don’t go in there anymore because they almost always ask me, with sadness in their eyes, how I’m doing now that you’re gone. That gentle couple who own the place really got to like you. I think you were probably their favorite customer during the three years we ate there. I miss the Chinese place, and some of the other haunts we made our own. But I’m finding new interests and new friends, and things will work out.
But — sometimes — on a summer evening — when the windows are open to the gentle night air and someone’s laughter floats across the breeze, it reminds me of your laugh. I think that’s one of the things I miss most about you. You were so abandoned when you thought something was funny. You never held back.
But then, as well as I can remember, you never held back on any emotion. And that fact, of course, is what finally led me to make my decision. You just couldn’t seem to hold back on your feelings for all the other men in your life — even my best friend — a man who I’d thought would have my back through thick and thin — especially after all we’d been through together in the war. But you were just too much for him. He fell just like all the others. And so I made the decision.
Yeah — as I consider it all again now — I know it was the right thing to do. It put a stop to the hurting for me and for all the rest of ’em too.
The only thing is that — on nights like tonight — with the fragrance of the roses you planted drifting in from the garden — and the radio playing an old song we used to dance to — well — I have to admit to myself at least — I do feel just a little sorry that I poisoned you.
The sun was low in the sky and to my back. I lay on the ground, looking up at the clouds and turning them into all sorts of things. One looked very much like a turtle. One like a smiley face, since it had two holes where the blue peaked through, giving it eyes, and another opening that really did look surprisingly like a grin on a child’s face. One of the clouds looked a little like an old school teacher I’d had who wore her hair piled high on her head in a beehive style. Boy, did that thought give way to pondering where time has gone.
Suddenly, I heard a branch crack behind me. Now, I’m not normally skittish, but this cracking sound was loud enough that I knew it must have been more than just the normal activity of birds or squirrels in the bushes. And, since I was in my own back yard, with a fence around the perimeter, there shouldn’t have been any other creatures – human or otherwise – setting foot beyond that fence uninvited. I didn’t welcome that sound.
I didn’t sit up immediately, but sort of rolled my head to look toward my left first – and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Then I rolled my head toward the right side, and on the ground beside me I saw the shadow of a huge head – not human – but obviously belonging to a beast of a different sort. My heartbeat went into double time, but I just lay there sort of frozen. As I watched, fighting down panic as well as I could, the shadow moved, coming forward and revealing the shoulder area, two legs, and an enormous frame.
I thought about praying, but the words stuck in my throat. I suppose I did manage a silent cry for help, but my primary thought was how to manage rising from my vulnerable position without seeming a threat to said beast and prompting a vicious attack on my person. I contemplated what I had available as a weapon. Well, there was a broken branch or two close by that had blown from a few surrounding trees during a recent windstorm. I glanced again to my left to see if I might be able to reach out for one without actually moving the rest of my body.
As I did so, I felt rather than saw the beast move closer to me. Frantically, I scanned the area to my left, but found no branches big enough to provide weaponry. Just small twigs and several old leaves. Not even a big rock. Finally, I decided that I couldn’t just lie there any longer. If I did so, I was obviously going to be dead meat, and just maybe my jumping up quickly would be enough to throw off the beast’s attention and give me time to start running.
Okay. I squeezed my eyes shut and psyched myself to do it, but just as I opened my eyes, the huge shadow suddenly loomed right over my head, and I knew it was hopeless to try to escape. I could hear it breathing in my ear. Then I really did decide to pray, because if this were to be my home-going, I wanted to be ready. I squeezed my eyes shut again, bracing myself for the impact of the attack, when to my greater shock, something sloppy wet took hold of my right ear. The next thing I knew something else cold and wet nudged me in the side of my neck. And then my face was being slathered with slobber from my chin to my temple. What was it doing? Tasting me to see if I merited being eaten?
I put my hand up to try to cover my face, and when I did, this little furry body just sort of threw itself at my hand and started whining and wriggling, trying to get my hand away. Well, the body attacking mine was so much smaller than I had anticipated that I decided I could open my eyes and chance a look. So I opened one eye and squinted between my fingers, which I still had pressed against my face, and what I saw brought me into a sitting position roaring with laughter.
The little yellow lab puppy who was pouncing me and trying to give me a bath in his saliva couldn’t have been more than three or four months old. So this was the beast I’d seen in shadow form? Surely I wasn’t foolish enough to have made a mistake like that. But upon making the effort to sit upright fully and look around me in all directions, I realized that, sure enough, this little pup and I were the sole occupants of my huge back yard. He was little enough he could have squeezed under the fence if he’d had a mind to. And on further reflection, I realized that considering how low in the sky the sun had been, if it had been shining just right on that little fellow’s body, he would have thrown a shadow many times larger than his real size.
I grabbed the little guy and took him onto my lap, giving him a few good scratches behind the ears and a thorough belly rub. While doing so, I thought about how so many of the problems in my life had looked bigger than life and had threatened to destroy me. But, in truth, when I had finally decided to stand up to them and look them square in the eye and recognize them for exactly what they were and nothing more, I had forced them to show their true identity. And when all was said and done, they were always smaller than I was, and I had eventually defeated every one of them.
I determined to make a lasting mental note of my experience that day and to remember the lesson I’d learned from that little fellow with the monster shadow: Never judge a problem – or a puppy – by its fearsome shadow.
Tish Farrell has offered this photo as a prompt for a story, so I took up her challenge. My story is below the picture. Visit Tish’s site to find out how she came to take the picture.
BEYOND THE SPIDER’S WEB
Nessa was starting to feel a little chilly. When she’d left the group of picnickers, after the argument, she had intended to walk just a little while, until her anger dissipated, and then turn back. But somewhere she had taken a wrong turn and ended up in this wooded area. Now she was good and lost. The afternoon had turned brisk, and she’d left her sweater at the picnic site. She was pretty sure she needed to be heading in the direction the sun’s rays were coming from in order to get back to the group. She wondered about why she didn’t hear anyone calling for her, but, of course, they didn’t know she was lost.
After one more turn to head directly toward the sun, she spotted an old barn in a small clearing. One side wall was leaning awkwardly, and part of the roof had obviously fallen in. But she decided she needed to sit down and catch her breath, and at least this offered a little shelter.
As she got to the window, she peered inside to make sure no ferocious animal was making his home there. A huge spider’s web covered most of the window opening, and she had to move her head from side to side to see through the silken threads. But she saw no living creatures inside — just a pile of old flower pot, a rusty pitchfork, and several pieces of rotting wood that had fallen from the roof.
Moving to the left, she finally spotted a door, and pushing against it with all her strength, she managed to get it open enough to walk inside the building. The musty smell was strong: rotting hay, dust, dead foliage, and lots of mouse droppings, if she wasn’t mistaken.
But the relief from the wind was welcome, and there was enough light to look for a dry board or two to make a seat to sit down on and stretch out her legs. She sat for several minutes, enjoying the change in position, but gradually, she realized that she was hearing something besides the silence she’d expected. It was like a tapping — rhythmic but with pauses now and then — followed by the same sounds repeated. It was a pattern that spoke to her musical soul, but it wasn’t music. It was . . . what exactly was it? It was almost like code of some kind, but she dismissed that idea as ridiculous.
But it kept repeating — light, but insistent — until she couldn’t ignore it any longer and had to get up and make her way toward the direction from which it came. Trying to tell herself that it was just a loose board being blown against the wall by the wind, she continued in that direction. But by now she knew the tapping was too light to be just a board — and too rhythmic to be the result of the erratic wind. Her first twinges of uneasiness at being lost were now growing into outright fear at what she might find when she reached the source of the sound.
She stopped. She argued with herself. “I don’t have to go on. I can get out of here and keep walking. Besides, I need to keep moving while I can still be guided by the sun.”
That line of thought sounded good, but then the tapping caught her attention again, and she couldn’t dismiss the idea that if there was someone else here who needed help, she’d never forgive herself for running away. So digging deeper for what courage she had left, she eased herself forward toward an inner door. As she pushed the squeaky door open, the tapping suddenly stopped. There was dead silence for long seconds, and then a tiny voice, choked with tears called out: “Is someone there? Is someone there?”
Nessa’s heart almost stopped. She didn’t know whether to answer or not, but then thought how foolish to have come all this way to see if someone needed help and then refuse to offer it. Then the voice sounded again. “Please . . . is someone there? Please help me!”
Suddenly, Nessa’s heart took over from her terrified thoughts, and she answered, moving forward as she did. “Yes, I’m here. But where are you?”
“I’m up here!” the tearful voice called, and Nessa looked up for the first time. There, not ten feet from her, in the hay loft, a young boy was hanging out of a hole in the loft, with one leg still stuck up in the hole. He was holding onto a rope that hung from the loft as well, trying to keep himself balanced. With his other hand, he was tapping a piece of wood against the ladder leading to the loft. He couldn’t reach the ladder from where he hung, but he could hit it with the wooden stick.
“Oh, my goodness!” Nessa cried and ran toward him. “What happened?”
“I . . . I fell through a hole in the hay loft, but my leg got caught on something as I fell, and it won’t come loose . . . although I don’t want it to come loose if I can’t get a better hold on this rope because I would fall to the floor on my head. I called and called for help until my throat hurt too much to keep calling. Then I kept hitting this stick against the ladder, hoping someone would hear me.”
As she came closer, Nessa, realized the boy couldn’t be more than eight or nine years old. His tousledd blond hair hung down from his head as he hung almost upside down, and his face was dirty with smeared dirt and tears. “I’ll see what I can do to help you,” Nessa said, as she started to climb the ladder to the loft.
“Be careful,” the boy said. “That ladder has some rotten rungs.”
“Why on earth were you in here climbing it anyway?” she asked.
He sniffed. “I was running away from home.”
By that time Nessa was in the loft and had discovered that his leg was caught between two boards. She didn’t she any blood, but it was for sure he’d have a serious bruise on his leg when this was over. She tested the rest of the floor around the hole, and finding it solid enough to support her weight, she went to work slowly reaching down for the boy’s shirt and gradually pulling him back in the direction of the loft.
When she had him close enough to have a secure grip on him, she worked at loosening the boards around his leg with her other hand. It was slow work, and he cried out in pain once, but she finally managed to get his leg loosened enough for him to use it to help lift his own weight back toward the opening in the loft.
After a great deal of tugging and huffing and puffing by both of them, the boy was able to reach back through the hole with his own left arm and help pull himself the rest of the way into the loft. They both just sat there, catching their breath for some minutes.
Finally, Nessa spoke. “My name’s Nessa, by the way. What’s yours?”
“I’m Timmy Randall.”
“Do you live near here?”
“Yeah, just over that hill.” He hung his head and took a deep breath. “I didn’t get very far running away, I guess. I got tired, and I crawled up in the loft to take a nap. And that’s when I fell.”
“So why were you running away? Are your parents mean to you?”
“Well . . . they won’t let me have a horse.”
“What! Is that a good reason to run away from your family?”
“Well . . . they promised me a horse for my birthday, but when my birthday got here — yesterday — they said they didn’t have the money to get me a horse, and all they gave me was a new pair of shoes.” He started to cry again.
“But maybe something happened and your parents really don’t have the money to buy a horse,” Nessa argued.
“But you don’t understand. I bragged to all my friends that I was getting a horse for my birthday. They all laughed at me and said I was lying — that my parents were too poor to buy me a horse — and that I was stupid to believe they would. Now I can’t go back to school with all those kids. They’ll just laugh at me even more.”
Nessa studied him, weighing her options. Deciding her best bet was to get him to feel more sorry for her than he did for himself, she said. “Well, I’ll tell you what, Timmy. I’d like to help you, but the truth is that I’m completely lost out here. I was on a picnic with my friends, and we had an argument, and I did something as dumb as you did. I just took off walking. But now it’s almost dark, and I don’t know how to get out of these woods, and I’m so scared I don’t think I can help you at all. I’ve got to try to find my way home all by myself.”
Timmy looked at her for several seconds, his eyes wide, and his mouth hanging open. Here was someone with a bigger problem than he had. At least he knew how to get home — to a warm meal and a soft bed and someone to be sure he was safe for the night. Suddenly his green eyes lit up, and a grin spread across his dirty face.”
“Hey, you know what? I can take you to my house, and my dad can drive you home!”
Nessa feigned surprise. “You’d do that for me? But you’re running away.”
Tim thought about her words a couple more seconds. “Well, I figure it this way. You saved my life just now. If you hadn’t helped me, I would have hung there ’til all the blood ran to my head and I’d have had to let go of the rope I was hanging onto, and I would have fallen to the floor, hit my head, and died.
“But since you stopped to help me and now it’s too dark for you go get home, I’m going to take you home with me.” The last words were punctuated by another big grin. After all, there was no shame in changing his mind about running away in order to help a young lady in distress, now was there? He could go back home — where he’d really wanted to be all along — and save face at the same time.
“Well, Timmy,” Nessa said, as she stood up, “I’d be really, really grateful if you’d do that for me.”
Tim hopped up as well, wincing just a little as he put weight on his injured leg. His grin widened. “It will be my pleasure, Miss Nessa,” he said, holding out his hand to grasp hers as they made their way carefully back to the ladder to start their journey home.
“Where do your stories come from?” people ask. And my normal answer begins with, “Actually there are about as many different sources as there are stories.” And sometimes the answers can get pretty involved. But, with this little story – Everything’s Jake – it’s a ridiculously simple answer: I dreamed this story.
Yep, that’s right. As hoaky as it sounds, I dreamed this one. Well, to be more specific, when I began waking one morning, I was in the throws of the story. Then I floated into that unique hazy land that exists only between sleep and wakefulness. You know – that place where you’re awake enough to know you’ve been dreaming, but still caught up in the dream itself enough that your conscious mind refuses to let go just yet and begins to “finish” the dream for you. If you’re being held prisoner by someone, your thoughts start racing through possible scenarios for escape, and if you’re in the middle of a great kiss, you try to find ways to make it last longer.
When I got to that semi-conscious state, I had the root of the plot and not quite half of it played out. I had my heroine’s nickname, thus tempting my conscious mind to later form that name into the title of the story. Now, my hero was a little more vague. He was there alright, but I knew he’d take a little more work – the kind that comes only after you’ve gotten fully awake – and maybe even downed a couple cups of coffee.
No matter: I was off to a great start. But then I hit a snag. I just couldn’t seem to get the story to play out to the end. Enter my blogging family. I’ve been very grateful for my WordPress buddies any number of times, but no more so than when I realized I could use them to help me force a story to completion. I decided I’d make myself write the story for my readers here at “The Right Word Makes All The Difference,” and, that being the case, I would be forced to finish it in a timely manner. So I jumped in with both feet and announced that I’d post the story one chapter at a time on a continuous basis until it was finished.
Easy-peasy. Well – maybe not so “peasy” – but much more beneficial than any other remedy I could think of. Getting tremendous feedback from faithful readers – and lots and lots of encouragement from them – caused me to remain diligent about posting on a regular schedule. And before I knew it, Everything’s Jake was a finished story, and I loved it. That fact doesn’t mean everyone else will feel the same. None of us writes a story that everyone likes. But some people will love this little story as much as I do, and that’s who I’m writing for after all.
So there you have it. Everything’s Jake, which made its debut in digital format on the Amazon Kindle Store this past weekend, is what you’d have to call literally “a dream come true.” I hope a few of you hop over to Amazon and grab it for your e-reader. (It’s on sale for $0.99 through November). I also hope you find it a happy, fun book with just a touch of something deeper than fun clinging to you after you’ve read the words “The End.”
P. S. If you do read the book and like it, I’d really appreciate your going back to the page where you ordered it and saying a few words in the “Customer Review” section at the bottom of that page. It will help others to find and enjoy the book too.
This post is my second foray into the Wordle Writing Challenge, where we are encouraged to write a short story or poem that includes all of the words in a specific box. Each Sunday we receive a new box — the work of Brenda Warren over at “The Sunday Whirl.” So if you’re interested in taking part, hop over there and get started. My story’s below the box.
He stuffed the letters back into the manila envelope he kept them in. Since they’d arrived last week, he’d read every one of them at least a dozen times. He wasn’t sure why, except that he hoped reading them would help give him the courage he needed to make the trip.
He laid the envelope on top of his desk and sat down with a weary sigh. Thrumming his fingers on the desktop, he let his mind drift back to those days nine years ago. The minutes turned into hours as he sat there, but it didn’t matter. He was caught once again in that heavy flow of traffic, the chill of the icy winter weather soaking into him as he waited for his 20-year old Buick’s heater to kick in.
He’d put off making that trip to the store that night, but he was completely out of milk and bread both, and since he hated cooking, the lack of those two essentials left him hungry. Even the ham and peanut butter that he often existed on couldn’t do him much good without the bread, and he certainly couldn’t face his cereal in the morning with no milk. So bundling up as well as possible against the 10° weather, he’d risked the icy side roads and made it to the main highway.
He’d spotted her blue car pulled off on the shoulder while he was still almost a mile away. Ordinarily, he never stopped for strangers, but that day he felt such a unique urge to pull over and offer help. He pulled in behind her car as carefully as possible, and by the time he had walked to her door, she had powered down her window. The first thing that struck him was how cold she looked, but that thought was immediately replaced by the warmth in her beautiful green eyes when she smiled at him.
• • •
He stirred himself in his desk chair, sighing deeply, and pulling himself out of his reverie. Another heavy sigh escaped him, and he looked around the room, trying to make the final transition from nine years ago back to the present moment. They’d been together — happily, he thought — for seventeen months, and, then suddenly, she had packed her bags and walked out the door. Her only explanation was that she just couldn’t handle being tied down in one place. That’s why she’d never agreed to a legal marriage between them. She’d insisted she had to feel free.
He picked up the envelope of letters again. Everyone of them had been dated on the same day of the year, beginning the year after they had separated, but they’d arrived at his door packed together in a small box — each letter in an envelope — each envelope stamped — but not one of them postmarked.
He pulled out the cover letter that had come with the others: “I know you’ll be surprised at this package,” she had written. “But by the time you read this note, I’ll be gone from this earth, and I felt it was right to let you know the truth. I wrote each one of these letters, fully intending to mail them the day they were written, but then I lost my courage to do so. Now, however, I have no choice, and I think it’s important that you know you have a son. You’ll find all the details in these unmailed letters. The only thing I can add is that I’m sorry I couldn’t become what you wanted me to be.”
He picked up the last of the individual letters from the stack. She had included her parents’ home address and their phone number. She and the boy had been living with them during the past year. She had written that letter on his birthday — as she had all the others — and on the date of the last letter, the child had turned eight years old.
A kind of rage surged through him, and he crushed the letter in his hand. How could she! How could she do such a thing to him — and to the child? But the rage soon gave place to tears. He’d run through that gamut of emotions several times since first opening that package of letters. Part of him wanted to burn them and forget it all so that he didn’t have any more hurt and pain. But the other part of him handled them with trembling fingers, treasuring them because they were his only link to his son.
Suddenly, he rose from his chair, stuffing the letters back into the manila envelope once again. He walked to his bedroom, took his suitcase out of the closet, and started to pack. He made a quick job of it, then tossed the envelope of letters on top of his clothes and snapped the case shut. Taking a deep breath, he carried the case to the front door, where he picked up his coat, stepped outside, and locked the door behind him. Once outside, with his suitcase in hand, he felt his courage getting stronger. He had made the first step now, and the momentum would carry him through.
He was a father. And it was worth risking everything to be able to know and love his son. ~
Lee Dusing, over at Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures Plus, has posted the picture on her site of this owl with his eyes bulging as he takes in some scene before him. Lee has asked us to write a caption or a story based on the picture — taken by Peter K. Burian. So, naturally, I had to take up the challenge — even though I’m not much of an owl person in general. My story is below the picture.
HISTORY THROUGH THE EYES OF OGDEN OWL
Ogden Owl couldn’t believe his eyes. He was sure they must be bulging because he was straining so hard to see what was really going on. He’d lived in these sparse clumps of trees close to the sandy beaches of Kitty Hawk, NC, for almost three years now, and ever since he’d moved here, there had been some strange things going on.
Two human beings had spent months at a time out on the sandy stretches of land between the hills, half rolling – half carrying – some contraption that looked a little like a huge, ugly bird, but that seemed to be bound to move on the ground. Ogden was usually up doing his hunting during the night, and by morning, he was ready to get some rest, so he hadn’t bothered with the humans much, except to shake his head at their ability to waste time and energy out here on this almost barren stretch of land.
But early this morning, when he really should have been considering getting some rest again, he had noticed that the two human beings had an even bigger monster of a machine – even more ugly – and this time it made a horrible noise as they moved it across the ground. They pushed it onto some kind of inclined track, and the next thing Ogden knew, one of the men seemed to climb right into the middle of the machine.
Ogden could hardly hold his eyes open, but he was determined to find out what was going on practically right under his nose. Suddenly the huge machine began moving along the inclined track, picking up speed, and then, to Ogden’s astonishment – and horror – it lifted up from the ground, all the time making a roaring noise. It seemed to catch the wind with its enormous wings and sailed through the air just like he did when he took off from his tree limb and weaved through the sky looking for food.
It couldn’t be! Surely not! Human beings flying??? His eyes stayed glued to the scene. For long seconds, the huge, ugly contraption floated and soared – and scared the heck out of Ogden.
When the machine came back down to the ground and sat down without breaking apart, Ogden took a deep breath. He hadn’t realized that he had been holding his breath the whole time he watched that ugly, noisy machine fly. He shook his head now and stirred restlessly on the branch where he sat. He sighed and stretched his wings a little, wanting to feel their strength once more before he moved back onto one of the hidden branches of his tree to get some rest. He felt sad – and fearful. He had a feeling that life was never going to be the same again after today. ~
I just discovered a writing challenge called “Wordle,” which you will find at “The Sunday Whirl.” It involves writing a poem or short piece of fiction that uses the words in a prescribed group for each week. Writers can use any form of the words that fit their stories/poems. Below, you’ll see the green box with the group of words for this week. If you’d like to take part in the challenge, just follow the link to “Wordle 219” for October 4, 2015 and join in. My story is below the box of words.
THE CASE OF THE COPY-CAT CRIMES
Detective Becker pressed his left hand against his temple. It was tender from the pain where a migraine was threatening, but he had to go over this list of people who had received threats in the past month. The letters had all been made out in the same way: typed words that had been cut and pasted – one word at a time – onto a black sheet of paper and mailed in red envelopes. He’d sworn he’d figure out the nexus they shared that had made them victims of such a hateful attack, but time wasn’t on his side any longer, because the first two people on the list had already been killed.
His buzzer sounded, and his secretary reported that he had a call waiting on line one: his superior, Detective Holmes. “Yes sir,” Becker spoke into the phone. “What can I do for you?”
“The press has gotten wind of the fact that eight other people have received threatening letters. They’re pushing for a story, but, of course, we can’t tell them anything that could disrupt the investigation. I just wanted you to be forewarned that they’ll be waiting outside the front door when you leave the office.”
“Thanks for the warning. I slip out the basement entrance.”
“Have you figured out any connection yet between the two who are dead and the other eight?”
“I think I may have, Sir. All of these people served on a jury together about fifteen years ago. The decision of that jury was unanimous and resulted in the death sentence for the man on trial.”
Dead silence on the other end of the line caused Becker to stay quiet and wait. He could hear that the wind outside had started blowing harder, and he knew the storm that had been predicted was almost upon them. Finally, Holmes responded: “You know, of course, that Leiberman was convicted of perpetrating a series of murders after sending out threatening letters to his victims.”
Becker sucked in his breath. “No sir … no, I haven’t had time to research the case yet. But that’s too weird.”
“Yes,” replied Holmes. “And now I think I know who we’re looking for. His brother swore he’d get revenge. But then he got sick with some disease that the doctors said was incurable, and he was hospitalized for years. I guess everybody forgot about his threats. I know I did. But we need to find out if he’s still alive, and if so …”
“I’m on it, Sir,” Becker said. “I’ll call you back as soon as I have the information.”
Two hours later, Becker walked into Holmes’ office with a medical report. “He’s alive all right,” he said, laying the report on his superior’s desk. “And living right here in the city.”
“You’ve got an address?”
Holmes rose from his chair and strapped on his gun. “Let’s go get him and save eight people’s lives.”
Here’s my story to meet the challenge from the picture below. I had first thought we’d keep these stories pretty short but then the more I thought about it, the more I realized that a picture like this almost demands a good bit of detail. So I extended the rules to allow each writer to use his own discretion. I did suggest trying to stay below 2500 words, but I have to admit that I wasn’t far from that limit myself. There’s still two days to take part, so if you’re interested, here’s the link to the original postthat explains how to participate.
ALL IN A NIGHT’S WORK
When Inspector McGregor arrived at the scene, he found the car, empty, with the driver’s door standing open, exactly as the caller had described. Refusing to give his name, the caller had simply reported what looked like an abandoned car sitting on an abandoned street, across from the printing plant.
The plant was shut down for the night, but security lights were on in the front, and evidently someone was still working in two of the offices upstairs. Inspector McGregor looked at his watch. They were certainly keeping strange hours. It was 3:30 in the morning. Even the bars across the street and in the next block had been closed for an hour and a half.
McGregor stood looking toward the plant, thinking, when suddenly he saw a face in one of the dark first-floor windows. The outside security light, with its eery blue cast, threw enough light on the window that even the split-second appearance of the face was clear enough to tell it had a fragile look about. It almost had to be a woman or a child.
Time to call for backup, McGregor decided, and radioed the station to pass on the information he had, get two more units on the way, and get a phone number for the printing plant office. “Look up Peter Hampton’s home number as well,” he said into the phone. “Whoever’s in the office now may not answer the phone, and I want him down here with a key immediately.”
When he signed off, he punched in the printing office number first. The street was so quiet he could actually hear the office phone ringing, but after five rings, the answering machine picked up. He hung up and immediately called Hampton’s house.
The machine picked up at the house as well, but before the message played through, Hampton had picked up the phone. “Yeah, Hampton here,” he said, his voice thick with sleep.
“Mr. Hampton,” this is Inspector Alan McGregor with the metropolitan police department.”
“Police! What’s going on? What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to alarm you, sir, but we have an unusual situation going on at your plant right now, and I need you to get down here and open up the door so we can get in and take a look around.”
“What do you mean unusual situation? And how do I know this is really the police?”
McGregor gritted his teeth, but at the same time, part of him was glad that Hampton didn’t just take off running in response to a call from someone without positive identification.
“I’m going to hang up, Mr. Hampton. And I want you to look up the number of the 7th precinct and call it. Ask them if they have an Inspector McGregor working on a case that involves your plant. They’ll verify everything I’ve told you, and then you get yourself down here. Understand?”
“Yes … yes … I can do that.”
“Don’t waste time, Hampton. I need you here now.”
“Yes … alright. I’m looking up the number now. I’ll hang up.”
“Fine,” McGregor answered. “And thank you.”
By the time he’d ended the call the other two patrol cars had joined him. He had requested no sirens, but their lights were flashing. Whoever was inside looking out had to know they were about to get a visit from the police. “Any ideas at all about who or what, Alan?” one of the other officers asked him.
“Well, I’d bet a month’s salary the face I saw belongs to a woman or a child. She could be in there with a couple others, and they could be in the middle of a burglary. Or she could have run inside for protection from something else. This car door standing wide open tells me the second possibility is more likely.”
“Sounds reasonable. But why would somebody running for safety park on this side of the street if they were going into that building?”
McGregor shook his head, deep in thought, and just then Peter Hampton drove up, slammed on his brakes, and jumped out of the car. McGregor met him at the front door of the building, and Hampton unlocked the door, all the time emphasizing that the lights upstairs should not be on. “No one is supposed to be here at all, Inspector,” he insisted.
“Okay, it helps to know that. Now, you go back to your car, Mr. Hampton. We’ll take it from here. We don’t want you in the middle of anything that could be a threat to you.”
Hampton gladly obeyed, and McGregor and two of the officers eased through the front doorway. The other two officers had gone around the back to make sure no one left from that direction.
McGregor flipped on the overhead lights in the front reception area. “Police!” he shouted. “You need to come out into the open and identify yourself. The building’s surrounded. Come out where we can see you now!”
“Please! Please don’t shoot,” a thin shaky voice answered. “It’s only me, Carla Watson,” the voice continued, and slowly a young woman raised up from behind a desk on the right side of the room. She held her hands up as if in surrender, and she was shaking with fright. “Please, I was only hiding from some men who were chasing me. Honest. I didn’t mean to break in.” Her voice broke then and she began to sob.
McGregor told the other two officers to check out the rest of the building, and he walked closer to the girl. “Are you here alone?” McGregor asked.
“Yes,” she answered, trying to stifle her sobs. “Could I please get a tissue out of my pocket?” She asked, looking at him pitifully.
“Sure. You can put your hands down and come out here and sit down.”
She obediently moved from behind the desk and walked to a chair in the waiting area, at the same time digging into her sweater pocket for her tissues. When she had blown her nose and managed to get control of the tears to some extent, McGregor propped himself on the corner of a desk and asked her for her story.
“I was coming out of the Family Savings store and three men were standing out in the parking lot. They started to make suggestive comments to me and when I just hurried on to my car, they started following me. I jumped in and locked my door and got my car started, but they were right beside my door, banging on the window. I managed to take off though, but they jumped into their car and followed me.
“It was awful, I tried to go fast enough to lose them, but they kept up with me. Finally, I came to a red light and just ran through it. I should have known they would do the same thing. There was almost no other traffic on those streets, and I kept turning abruptly, trying to lose them. Finally, when a truck came across the road between me and them, they had to come to a stop, and I managed to turn two more corners and found myself on this street.
“A friend of mine works at the printing plant, and I remembered her saying that sometimes the ink odor is so strong they often open one of the windows on the back side of the building — one on the alley. I saw the lights on upstairs, and I just hoped that maybe I could find a window open. I pulled the car up on the other side of the street, hoping that if the men found the car, they’d think I had run in that direction and would start looking for me there. That would give me more time to get away. I ran faster than I’ve ever run to get to the alley, and I prayed the whole way that the window would be open. It was. I crawled in and closed and locked it behind me.”
“But you didin’t go upstairs to get help?”
“Well, after I’d gotten in and walked toward the front of the building, I realized I didn’t hear anything upstairs that sounded like people moving around or talking. I figured someone had just left the lights on by mistake, so I decided to stay down here — at least until I could glance out the window a time or two and make sure I wasn’t followed.”
“And did they follow you?”
She nodded her head and then shivered. McGregor stepped over to her and patted her shoulder. “You’re safe now, Carla. Just tell me everything you can about them.”
She nodded. I glanced out once and saw that they were getting out of their car and heading down the street the other direction as I had hoped they would. I didn’t think they’d try to get into any buildings that were locked, so I thought I was probably safe in here. But I did try to glance out another time or two to see what was happening. They finally came back and got into their car. But while they were gone from it, I managed to look at it long enough to get the license number.”
“Good girl!” McGregor said now, patting her shoulder again. Then he pulled out a pen and pad and took down the number she gave him. She also gave him a fairly good description of two of the men.
McGregor nodded his head as he wrote out what she said. “Yes, I think I many know one of these guys already. And if it’s who I think it is, he’s out of prison on parole, and this is going to go down hard on him.”
By that time all four of the other officers had scouted out the entire building and reported that no one else was on the premises. McGregor sent one man out to get Peter Hampton, and when he had checked out the situation himself, he came to the conclusion that the janitor had evidently left a couple lights on. “He’s new and, frankly, I’m not sure how reliable he is.” He thought for a moment. “Well, evidently, from what I see now, he’s pretty unreliable. I’ll have a serious talk with him tomorrow. But I don’t see anything out of place – and nothing seems to be missing – so I’d say he’s probably the one who left the lights ——” He stopped abruptly and looked at Carla. “Hey, how did you get in here anyway!”
She explained about the open window in back and then added. “I’m just so grateful it was open, and so glad the lights were on,” said Carla. “I don’t think I would have thought about trying to get in here if they hadn’t been. So … please … Mr. Hampton, don’t be too hard on your janitor.”
Hampton couldn’t help but grin. “Well, Missy, I guess if his leaving those lights on and the window open saved you from some serious harm, I’ll have to give him another chance to prove he’s dependable.”
McGregor chuckled, as did a couple of the other officers. Then he turned to Carla. “Is there someone at your home so that you won’t have to be there alone for right now?”
“Yes, my sister lives with me there,” she said. “And, as a matter of fact,” she added, looking at her watch, “I bet she’s starting to worry about me right now. My cell phone was dead, or I would have called her and told her to send help. I picked up one of the office phones here, but I couldn’t get it to give me an outside line. I couldn’t figure out all the buttons in the dark.”
“Well, I’m going to follow you home right now, and I’ll go in with you and talk with your sister. Then tomorrow, I’ll get in touch with you and let you know how we’re doing at making sure those men don’t get it into their heads to pull the same stunt with some other young lady. We may need you to identify a couple of them if we can bring them in. Are you willing to do that?”
“Can I do it without them seeing me?”
Carla nodded her head. “Then I’ll be glad to.”
“Good,” McGregor said, taking her arm gently. “Now let’s get you home.” They started for the door, and McGregor looked back at Peter Hampton. “Thanks for all your help Mr. Hampton. I hope you can still get a little sleep before you start your work day.”
Peter Hampton chuckled. “I don’t know, Inspector. When I get home, I’m going to have to fill my wife in on all that’s happened. And she’s not one to be satisfied with a summary. Like any good woman, she wants all the little details, and she wants them in chronological order. I figure I’m up for the day, but, all in all, I feel good knowing I could be a little help in keeping crime off the streets of our fair city. ”
Just got to thinking today that so many of our stories have characteristics and qualities that are both generic and universal. I decided to experiment a little with writing a story using nonsense terms instead of normal nouns and verbs. I’m certain you will be able to understand the story with very little trouble. It was fun, and I think it helps focus on the fact that sometimes it isn’t just choosing the right word that matters. It’s how we put those words together into a setting that gets the job done.
THE BONDO DELAFOR
The young delafor wandered through the cogem, wishing he could find a delafora to be his rhuba. He’d heard the fonders tell of bondo delafors who had won the hands of delaforas by zonering the terrible goganbulls. He knew the goganbulls were threatening the cogem, and many delafors were terrizon of them. He didn’t know if he were bondo enough to zoner a goganbull or not, but he hoped he’d have a chance.
One day the great kinba of the cogem announced that a goganbull had been spotted just outside the cogem. The great kinba porsayed that he would give the most beautiful delafora to the delafor who zonered that goganbull.
So the young delafor raced to his stetsa, hopped on, and took off to find the goganbull and zoner it. When he found the goganbull, it was maxma! It was so maxma that the young delafor’s stetsa reared up, threw the delafor off, and ran away. Now the only thing the delafor had was his pontier. So he looked the goganbull in the eye, stood up straight and tall and shumed toward him. Keeping eye contact, he shumed all the way to within two feet of him. The goganbull gloamed and hot smeltz came from his buzzle.
But the young delafor rememberd the beautiful delafora who was porsayed by the great kinba. The delafor wanted that delafora for his rhuba very badly. So he aimed his pontier and shumed the last two feet toward the goganbull; then he flumed his pontier right into the goganbulls corva. With one horrible gloam, the goganbull fell over, and black smoke roold from his buzzle. Then all was quiet.
The young delafor took his pontier and whapped off the goganbull’s henda and carried it back to the great kinba. That day the young delafor won the most beautiful delafora in the cogem to be his very own rhuba. And they both lived schnookumy ever after.
Well, it all started one night when I was bored with every story/novel/poem I’d been working on over the past several months. I wasn’t suffering from that somewhat vague malady known as “writer’s block.” No – I was just bored. I couldn’t seem to make myself work on any one piece that was currently under construction, yet I didn’t want to give up and walk away from the keyboard in a funk. Now, I did walk away from the keyboard, but it was mainly for the purpose of walking around in order to think better.
Suddenly, it hit me! “Sandra,” I said to myself out loud, “you are constantly telling your students that if they find themselves struggling to write on a current project, then that’s an excellent time to pull out one of those writing exercises and throw themselves into it with abandon. So practice what you preach, girl. Just clear your head of everything you’ve been struggling with, sit down at the keyboard, and write down the first two words that pop into your mind. After that you know the rules keep writing until you feel like you’re done.”
Now, this particular exercise is one that I enjoy using in my creative writing classes because I am always amazed at what my students come up with in the end. Of course, there are a few students who hold themselves back and don’t give their imagination totally free rein, but most of them throw themselves into the exercise whole-heartedly to get all the fun out of it that they can. I’ve made myself do such exercises a number of times and have had some really good results and some not so good, but each time, I at least felt refreshed after having done the work-out. And, in all honesty, a work-out is exactly what we’re talking about. These kinds of exercises do the same for a writer’s mind, imagination, and creativity as a physical work-out does for his body. And I keep reminding my students that sometimes the simplest, “silliest” writing exercise can end up netting them one of the best books they will ever write.
So I did it! Now, I do keep lists of words, phrases, and short sentences that I can go to and use as prompts for such exercises, but that particular night, I felt that if I took time to hunt for one of my lists (and at my house, I have to hunt for anything that hasn’t been used in the last three days), I might give up before I got started. So, trying to keep my mind in neutral, I sat down, and instantly grabbed the first two words that popped up when my bottom hit the seat. And – wouldn’t you know – the first two words that popped into my mind came at me out of nowhere: “peanut shells.”
Don’t anyone ask me why. I haven’t a clue. I hadn’t been eating peanuts, nor had I been craving them. In fact, I would have said they were the farthest thing from my mind. But, all of a sudden, out of the clear blue, here I was – faced with those two stupid words to write about. Well, I’m not a wimp, and I hate to accept defeat without even fighting, so I opened a new document, sat up straighter in my chair, took a deep breath, and wrote – literally not pausing to think about what I was writing – but just tapping out one word after another as it rushed out.
Within ten minutes, I realized that I had the kernel of a whole story, but it wasn’t until I had written for about 30 minutes that I realized I had the makings of a complete novel in front of me. The story unfolded, one part after another, in my mind, and by the time I’d finished typing the first chapter, I was captivated with it.
To be honest, I felt slightly guilty for putting aside all the other things I had been working on, but that guilt didn’t last long. I tell my students that they need to go with the flow of their own creativity. No matter how many pieces they are working to complete, if, suddenly, something new rises up out of their soul, and it is truly alive and growing, then they need to give themselves to it and see where it takes them.
Now, that is not to say that I don’t teach them discipline as well. There are times when we do have to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and just make ourselves complete a task we’ve started. However, we have to recognize, as well, that every single thing we begin to write may not be a piece that has enough life in it to keep growing and come to maturity. There’s also a time and place to say, “This piece is not what I thought it was, and I don’t want to devote any more of my time and creativity to trying to make it into something it can’t become.”
However, in my case, I knew I would return to all the projects that I had set aside. They were stories that I believed in and actually wanted to finish – but not right then – because this new story – the “Peanut Shell” story, had captured my heart, and I wasn’t about to throw away such a jewel or let it lie on the shelf to collect dust.
For several weeks, I wrote on the story, using the working title “Peanut Shells.” I knew, of course, that the final title would be something different, and before too long, I knew exactly what it would be. I won’t give away the reason for choosing that title, because I want the readers to discover it for themselves as they move through the story. But, needless to say, it has something to do with God’s Word and His promises. Yes, A Quiver Full of Arrows is another of my inspirational novels that lets us see God at work in our every-day lives, caring about all the little things that matter to us, and giving us help and deliverance through the power of His Word when we need it.
I tell my students that when they give themselves to a writing exercise such as the one I’ve described and make themselves keep writing without stopping to plan or make decisions – and without stopping to make corrections – they are allowing things from deep inside of them to come to the surface and come out in what they write. When they abandon themselves, with no restraints and no rules except to keep writing, ideas and images pop up inside and come rushing out while no one is standing guard with the normal rules of “good writing.”
Because I pray regularly for the Lord to give me the stories He wants me to write – and to help me create the works that will fulfill His will and His desire to help people – and that will give Him glory – I believe that when I end up with a story likeA Quiver Full Of Arrows, I have the Lord Himself to thank for it. I may have been engaging in a writing exercise, but as I freed myself from all the self-imposed restraints of “good writing,” I allowed His Spirit to pour through me all the ideas that He wanted to include in that story.
So, there you have it, dear readers. That’s exactly how it happened. I can’t take credit for a whole lot of it. Of course, in the weeks that followed day one, I did have to start thinking and planning and checking on facts — especially for a couple of events that needed to take place. And, once the story was finished, I had to do the normal pruning and polishing. But none of that activity would have been possible if I had not sat down and played around with that simple exercise. I started with peanuts; somewhere before the end of chapter two, I had a quiver; and by the time I got to the words “The End,” my quiver was full of arrows.
I do hope my readers enjoy the book. Personally, I think it’s one of the best novels I’ve ever written. And it’s the kind of book that almost anyone will enjoy – unless your appetite is for horror or moral degeneration. But I have to warn you: as you read it, you just might find yourself getting hungry for some peanuts, so better stock up when you buy the book.
St. Ellen Press has just recently published it in digital format as well, and you can find it at the Kindle Store on Amazon for only $2.99. If you purchase a copy and read it, please go on the site and write a brief review for me. Buy one for a friend as well. And don’t forget to get your friend a bag of peanuts.
P. S. By the way, if you do not have an e-reader, but would like to read digital books, you can download a free app from Amazon that will let you read any and all e-books on your own personal computer.
Why is it that it’s always on days when I have a thousand other things I’m supposed to be doing that the Friday Fictioneers picture grabs my imagination and won’t let go? I really don’t mind, except for the fact that I feel to doggone GUILTY the whole time I’m writing the story because I know I’m supposed to be using the time for something else. Aaahhhhh, I just had another thought: Perhaps that aspect of it adds to my creativity …….
THE LIFE YOU SAVE MAY BE YOUR OWN
The image of that chandelier hanging from the scroll-work ceiling is emblazoned on my mind for life. My enchantment with the artistry of that ceiling was almost my downfall. I still don’t know what sound made me look to the right in time to see Sheila leaning over the top-floor banister, aiming her rifle at me. I choked on my questions — and my scream. But the railing broke away a mere second before she fired, so the bullet missed me.
When I’d filed through that railing, re-painting it, I’d hoped it would do the job when Sheila leaned on it as she loved to do. But I’d had no idea how much my own life depended on my success.
I’m still working on narrowing down the list of short stories for the anthology that’s coming out later this summer. It’s called Stories That Leave You Thinking, and I posted re-runs of several of my stories a couple weeks ago in case you readers could give me some feedback about any of them that you liked or didn’t like. Here’s six more — totally different from what I posted last time. If you read any of these that you especially like or especially don’t like, let me know. It may help me with my final decision. I’m not choosing from all my stories. The ones for this book have to be stories that deal with a thought-provoking subject or that end in such a way that the reader is left to decide exactly what happened — or what is going to happen soon.
Story # 1: LOVE POTION ALA CABBAGE
Two old cronies sat on a bench at the edge of a small city park, their 78-year-old bones soaking up the sunshine.
“Ahhh, just smell that!” Harry said, taking in a deep breath, rapture shining from his face.
“What?” asked George.
“Love is in the air,” Harry replied, breathing deeply once more and smiling. “Mm-mm; Yes sir – love is in the air.”
“You’re daff, Harry. That’s just the cabbage cookin’ in the diner across the street. Wind’s from the south today.”
“Oh, come on, George, don’t be so mundane. Give yourself over to your senses, man.”
“Senses? Why, Harry, you ain’t got the good sense God gave a duck.”
Looking offended: “Why would you say that?”
“Well, look at you. 78 and a half, if you’re a day, and you’re sittin’ here on this comfortable bench with not a care in the world, but you’re talkin’ about love like it was somethin’ glorious and somethin’ you want.”
“Well, it is somethin’ I want.”
“No it ain’t. You done had it – four wives — and all it did was cost you lots of money – first for getting’ married, then for buyin’ houses, then for buyin’ your wives everything they wanted, then for the divorces, and now – every month – for the alimony – four alimonies.”
“But it’s Spring, Harry! Don’t that make you feel alive and ready to take a chance on love again?”
“No, it don’t! I’ve had it with love. It’s three square meals a day, a nice warm bench to rest on, and a trustworthy buddy or two that makes life worth livin’. Those things are better than what you call love any day.”
“Well, I do remember hearin’ a quote by somebody once that said havin’ all your own teeth and a good solid bank account beat marriage for makin’ a body happy.”
Nodding his head, George answered. “There you go. Now you’re talkin’ sense. And since we both have our own teeth still yet, and money in our pockets, what say we go across the street for a big helping of Archie’s corned beef and cabbage? It’s smellin’ so good right now my stomach’s growling.”
Sighing, Harry got up from the bench. “Okay, George. I guess it is time for lunch, but I still say I can smell love in the air.”
“It’s the corned beef and cabbage, you dope. Cain’t you tell the difference?”
“George, my friend,” Harry said, placing his hand on his friend’s shoulder as they jiggled their legs to work out the stiffness, “It may smell like corned beef and cabbage to you, but it’s got magic in it. In fact, I have this feelin’ that love is just around the corner for me.”
They both started across the street, but just as they reached the center of the road, a car came swerving around the corner and squealed to a halt, just missing George and knocking Harry flat. A beautiful woman jumped from the car and ran to kneel down beside Harry.
“Oh, sir, are you alive? Are you alive?”
Harry opened his eyes, looked up into her delightful face with its halo of golden curls, and grinned broadly. “By golly, I told George love was just around the corner.” He got up and dusted himself off. Taking the young woman’s arm, he escorted her to the curb. “How about I buy you lunch, pretty lady,” he said, beaming at her. “Let’s step into the diner, here, and talk about our future.”
George followed them into the diner but went to sit at the lunch counter all by himself, shaking his head in frustration.
“What’ll you have?” Archie asked him.
“Confound it! Just give me a order of that love potion you got brewin’ in there.”
“You know – that derned corned beef and cabbage.”
Story # 2: FOR LOVE OF BERNADETTE
Herbie was a barber. He was good at his job, and he had customers from all over the county. But Herbie didn’t like his job. He’d inherited the business from his father, but he’d never enjoyed it.
What he really wanted to do was own a dairy farm. Every evening when he finished work, he drove out of town and cruised by Old Man Swagle’s farm, looking at the fields of cows and the neat homestead – and dreaming.
Sometimes he’d stop, walk to the fence, and pet the cows. They knew him by now and came to him, but there was one particular brown and white lady who made sure she got the most of his attention. It made him feel loved.
If only he could manage to buy the farm. Old Man Swagle had put it on the market last year, but so far no one had met his price. Herbie had some money saved, and he’d talked to the bank about a mortgage, but Isabelle, his betrothed, said he’d be a fool to leave a secure business and go into debt for a cow farm. He used to love to talk about his dream, but lately, he’d just stopped mentioning it to Isabelle. He didn’t like the quarrels it led to. Sometimes he wondered …. But … they’d been engaged a whole year. It wouldn’t be right to back out now.
One afternoon, when Herbie didn’t have any appointments, he spent a couple hours sitting on the fence, talking to the cows and petting his favorite. As he glanced toward the farmhouse, he saw Swagle’s 11-year-old grandaughter came running across the field. He knew she visited often, and today she hailed him. “Hi,” she said. “Grandpa sent me to fetch Bernadette.”
“Oh, is that her name?”
“Yep. Grandpa let me name her.” She gave him a speculative look. “ My Grandpa said you want to buy this farm.”
“He did, huh? Well he’s right, but I don’t think I can.”
“Oh,” she said, hanging her head in disappointment. “I sure wish you could buy it.” She looked up. “My Grandpa is getting really tired and wants to come into town and live at my house with me and Mommy and Daddy. I stayed all night last night, and I heard Grandpa praying a long time that God would send someone today to buy the farm and take care of the cows the way he does.”
Herbie felt tears rush to his eyes.
“Why can’t you buy it?” she asked.
He cleared his throat. “Well … the lady I’m going to marry doesn’t want to live on a farm.”
“But you love cows. I can tell. I’ve watched you petting them and talking to them.”
“And you’d keep them and take care of them just like Grandpa does.”
Herbie nodded again. “If I could buy the farm.”
They were both quiet for a few moments — each lost in personal thoughts. Finally, she looked up at him with determination in her eyes.
“You know what I think?” she said.
“I think you should tell that dumb lady to marry someone else, and you should come and live here with Bernadette.”
Herbie looked at the child thoughtfully for a few moments. Then a huge grin spread across his face. Suddenly, he hopped off the fence and jogged toward his car.
“Where you goin’?” the girl called after him.
Herbie glanced back over his shoulder, but he didn’t stop. “To the bank!”
Story # 3: GOODBYE, SNOOKY
“Here we are, folks: the legendary bar where Snooky Adams was gunned down by his partner, Lila Corbell.” The young tour guide positioned himself against the bar to imitate the gangster, leaning on one elbow and scanning the group with a cocky light in his eyes. He was dressed in Snooky’s signature red turtle-neck and gray, pinstriped jacket, his hair slicked back in Snooky’s oily-smooth style. The resemblance was perfect — disturbingly so.
He continued to relate the history of Snooky and Lila, the gangster’s lover and partner in crime. As he came to the events that led to Snooky’s last minutes, he turned from the audience and looked into the wide mirror behind the bar, intending to make eye contact with his group again via that reflection. But instead, as his eyes focused in the mirror, he suddenly shouted, “Lila!”
His audience jerked heads to look behind them at the same second the shots rang out. But seeing no one else in the room, they all turned back to their guide. He was on the floor, three bullet holes in his chest.
Lila’s reflection lingered in the mirror, smoking gun in hand. The tour group stood speechless, thinking surely this was a staged production. But the gruesome realization that the bullets had entered the guide’s chest, rather than his back, struck them completely dumb. While they stood entranced, the guide bled his life out onto the scuffed wooden floor, and Lila, a satisfied smile on her lips, faded from the mirror.
Story # 4: WHAT IF?
“What’s the latest report?” Oneida asked Tron.
“The planet Verdure is still in a state of internal combustion,” he replied, his face pinched. He looked at the camera relay screen. “Watching that planet disintegrate right before my eyes and knowing I can’t stop it is tearing my guts out.”
“How long do we have?”
“I’ll know more when Beryl and Oma return. They’re out measuring the light levels in the power garden.”
“That red gas is our main enemy?”
“Yes, as our energy pods absorb it, their energy – the energy that holds this planet together – is drained off and absorbed by the gas.”
He panned the camera across the power garden of mushroom-shaped growths from which the planet drew all of its life. “See how many of the healthy purple pods have absorbed the gas until they have turned red and shrunk to half their original size?”
He panned to the pod where Beryl and Oma were still at work. Oneida spoke: “Look, Oma’s starting to descend. Maybe they’ll be back with their report soon.”
“Yes, but I’m not sure I want to hear it. Sometimes, I think we should turn off all the surveillance equipment so we can’t see it all happening one step at a time. Perhaps we should all just gather in the communal hall and do our best to comfort each other until it comes.”
“Until the end comes, do you mean?”
“Of course! What else?”
She looked at him gravely. “I’ve been thinking ….”
“Well … I’ve been wondering … Did we just happen?” Tron looked at her quizzically, and she continued: “I mean … well … I find it hard to believe this whole planet of Mushroom just happened – and that all of us who live here were non-existent one second and then – bang – here we were!” She looked at him hopefully.
“I don’t think I’m following you. What does it have to do with Verdure’s decomposition and destruction of everything within its electro-magnetic sphere?”
“Don’t you see? If we didn’t just … happen … then someone or something more intelligent, more creative, more powerful than ourselves had to have created us. And if that someone cared enough to make us, then wouldn’t it – or he – care enough to save us?”
Tron’s eyes grew large. Oneida could see that it was a concept he’d never imagined. But now … with no other possible avenue of hope … perhaps even he thought it was worth considering.
She continued. “I guess I’m wondering if we were to look back in all the records of Mushroom – especially the copies of those old black books the leaders buried underground last century — ”
“You mean you think there might be answers to our origins in those books? But the leaders insisted that they were lies and made it illegal for any citizen of Mushroom to read them.”
“But what if we could find out … and … what if … just what if we learned that there was a creator … and we could find a way to connect with him —”
“Is it? Our survival is impossible as we are now. But, just think, Tron … What if ….?”
Story # 5: THROUGH GEOFFREY’S WINDOW
“Oh, look!” Sally called out to her brother as she ran toward the odd wooden door that had a window with a giraffe painted on it. Jackie followed more slowly.
“That’s sure a funny-lookin’ door,” he said. “It isn’t hooked to any walls.” His eyes searched the area on either side of the door. “And, look … there’s nothing behind it either!”
“But it has a pretty window,” Sally answered.
By that time, they both stood before the door, staring up at the giraffe in the window. Suddenly the giraffe spoke: “Hello, there.”
The children sucked in their breath at the same time and looked at each other with eyes made huge by the shock.
“Did you hear that?” Jackie asked.
Sally nodded and turned back toward the window. “Did you say something, Mr. Giraffe?”
“Yes, I did. I said Hello.”
“Oooh, Helloooo!” Sally said. “We didn’t know you were real.”
“Well, I’m not real to everybody, of course.”
“No, no. In fact, most people just pass right on by and never even stop to look at me, so I remain just a picture to them.”
“Then why are you real for us?” Jackie asked, skepticism in his young voice.
“Because you believe in make-believe,” the giraffe replied.
“May we come in?” Sally asked.
“Don’t be so dumb, Sally,” Jackie said, taking hold of her arm. “There’s nothing behind the door.”
“I’m back here,” said the giraffe.
Sally reached up and turned the knob.
+ + +
Suddenly jolted out of her reverie by the ringing of the phone on her desk, Sally jumped. She had been reminiscing again. She smiled. She did love to remember how it had all started some twenty years ago. She picked up the receiver. “Hello.”
“Hey, sis, how’s it going?”
“Great. Just finished the 10th book in the series.”
Jack laughed on the other end of the line. “I just can’t get over it, Sis. Who would have thought your turning that doorknob to step into Geoffrey Giraffe’s world would have landed you nine best-selling children’s books.”
“Well, Geoffrey was so grateful, you know. He had lived in there for so many years with no one believing, and was so lonely for friends.”
“He certainly found a faithful one in you. And your Through Geoffrey’s Window series has made him famous.”
“Yes. And now thousands of children believe. You know, I think it’s about time I went back for another visit. I’ll read him this new story, and I know he’ll love it.”
Story # 6: CELLO LOVE
They’d met at a rehearsal in this very theater. He, with his polished coat of dark walnut, was instantly captivated by her honey-maple coloring – but even more so by the sweet voice she gave to every note assigned her in the performances. Standing beside her during a performance always brought out something in his own tonal quality that he knew would not have been there if he hadn’t been playing to impress her. And as the sounds from each of them blended in the symphonies, his heart soared.
Eventually, bravely, he’d professed his love to her, and she’d responded exactly as he’d hoped. From that moment, their harmony became something so rare that many a conductor had commented on it to the musicians who owned them, and they had made exquisite music together for 74 years.
Now, with their respective masters in their graves, the two aging instruments rested against the wall of an old closet behind the stage of the theater that had been home to so many of their performances. His coat was battered and marred significantly. But her luster still had the power to draw music from him every time he looked at her. They sighed quietly – in unison. They still had each other – and the music that lived within them. His strings touched hers in a gentle caress. Her instant response released the beginning notes of a new song.
Outside, people slowed their stride as they passed the old theater. “There it is again,” said one young lady, as she stopped and inclined her head toward the old building. Others stopped. “Do you hear it?” she asked them. They nodded, looking at her oddly because the theater was completely dark, and the doors had been boarded up.
An elderly gentlemen ambled toward them and stopped as soon as he heard the music. “Aaahhh, yes, I thought it was about the right time.”
The young woman looked at him. “So you were expecting to hear it too?”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Every evening.”
“That’s what’s so strange,” she said. “Every night, I’m sure I hear music coming from inside — some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. But there is never anyone there.”
The old man smiled. “My dear, there may not be any people inside, but somewhere within these old walls, there is still love. And where there is love, my dear, there is always music.”
I wrote this piece last year as part of a 20-minute writing exercise. I thought it deserved to have a post as a short story.
The Birthing of a Hero
Matthew couldn’t breathe. Well – no – that wasn’t right. He could breathe, but he felt as though he were being pushed through a very narrow tunnel, and it was squeezing the breath right out of him.
Whooooosh! Ah — now — now he could breathe normally again. But what had just happened? He looked around him.
“Holy cow! Where am I?” Surrounded by buildings taller than anything he could have imagined, with traffic rushing past him just to his left, he felt a little dizzy and disoriented. He shook his head to try to clear it, and that’s when he noticed the girl standing about four feet way from him.
“Hi.” she said, almost bashfully.
“Uh … hi yourself. Uh … do I know you?”
She giggled. “Not yet. But you will.”
“What does that mean?” He looked around in all directions as if trying to locate something. “And what on earth is that racket?”
“That incessant tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.”
She tilted her head to listen better, and a moment later she answered. “Oh, that. I’ve learned to just close it out after all these weeks. It’s the sound of the keys on the keyboard.”
“Melissa’s, silly. She’s the author.”
“What’s an author?”
“Oh, I forgot that you couldn’t know all that yet. It takes a while to figure things out once you get here, but I’ve been here so long that I’ve pretty well gotten acclimated to everything.”
Matthew tried clearing his head with a shake again. “Wait … what? … What are you talking about? What’s going on? Where am I anyway?”
The girl let out a huge sigh. “Okay. I’ll start from the beginning. Melissa Pendergast is an author, and she writes romance novels. She’s writing one now. I’m the heroine. My name’s Abigail, by the way,” she said, extending her hand to him.
He shook her hand but eyed her suspiciously. “And just what does that have to do with me?”
“Why you’re going to be the hero of the story.” She paused, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “And … the love of my life.”
“You’re crazy! I don’t even know you.”
Abigail sighed again. “Of course you don’t — yet. You just got here. Melissa has just now decided who you will be. Well, just a couple of days ago anyway. I heard her talking to her best friend, so I know what the plan is now. She decided to call you Matthew because her very first boyfriend – in sixth grade – was named Matthew, and she did it in honor of him.”
“Whoa — wait — start over, will you?”
Abigail began to get a little irritated. “I don’t need to start over. You just need to pay attention. Melissa is writing a love story and you are my lover. We are supposed to meet on the street right in front of that store over there on the corner. I’m supposed to get my heel caught in a grate at the edge of the curb, and you come to my rescue before a horde of people practically mow me down in their hurry to cross the street in the short time the light says ‘Walk.’
“So I’m in a book?”
“That’s right. And I understand it’s supposed to get a little steamy.” She smiled broadly now. “But I have to say that I’m not at all sorry. You’re quite a hunk, you know.”
“Well … thanks … but … I’m not sure I want to be in somebody’s book – even this Melissa’s.”
“Oh, don’t worry. She’s a great writer, and thousands of people love her books. We’ll be two of the most popular people in the world before too long. At least … I hope it’s before too long. She had a hard time sticking with this story. That’s why I’ve been around so long – waiting for you. She hit a block of some kind, but now everything seems like a go, and I can hardly wait.”
“So, when I felt like the breath was being squeezed out of me, that’s when I was being birthed into this story, so to speak?”
“That’s right. That’s exactly how it feels! But you’re okay now, aren’t you?”
Matthew looked himself over, took a nice deep breath, relieved that he could, and answered. “Yeah, I think I’m okay. But what do we do now?”
“Just relax for a few minutes. I think Melissa just finished the second chapter, and she’s about to have us meet. This is so exciting. I think I’m falling in love with you already.”