Smoky Mountain Series Continues

Just a little update to say Book # 6 of the Smoky Mountain Novel Series will be out around the first of May. GRACE FOR ATTICUS  has been one of my most challenging books in a long time, but I’ve been in love with it from the first paragraph. I thought I’d give you a little sneak preview just to stir up a tad of interest. See the excerpt below:

GRACE FOR ATTICUS

Copyright © 2021 Sandra Pavloff Conner

Excerpt: Chapter One

The glass front door of Tsalagi Craft and Trade Center flew open, the bell at the top of the door jangling so hard it sounded like an alarm. Grace Walela Ross looked up from the accounting work she was doing at the desk in the back left corner of the store.

Her black hair, cut in short tousled layers accented her black eyes and her bronze Cherokee skin. She rose to her full height of five feet, seven inches, and although she was quite delightful to look at as she stood behind her desk, the man stomping his way toward her had such fire in his eyes, it was unlikely he had taken time to notice.

“I understand you’re the one responsible for this trash,” he said, slamming a copy of The Sword newspaper down on top of the desk.

“I’m the editor of the paper, if that’s what you mean,” Grace replied, standing straight and looking him in the eye. He was a good half a foot taller than she was, and all powerful, barely restrained muscle. She felt only slightly intimidated, but had no intention of letting fear have a place.

“Do you have a problem with something in the this week’s issue, Mr. – ?”

“ A problem? No, I don’t have a problem. I have a legitimate complaint against your libelous excuse for journalism. You’re the one who has the problem, Ms. – ” He stopped and glanced at the masthead of the paper to double-check her name. “Ms. Grace Walela Ross! Because unless you print an immediate retraction – and on the front page – you’re going to court and pay through the nose.”

“And just what exactly are you referring to as libelous, Mr. Whoever-You-Are?”

“St. John.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Atticus St. John. Doctor St. John to you.”

“Oh, I see.”

“I don’t think you do see, Ms. Ross. I don’t think you even try to see the whole picture. You’re so focused on your own personal rant that you don’t care how distorted you make your articles.”

Some kind of righteous anger mixed with personal hurt rose up in Grace. She rounded the desk and advanced toward him until she stood mere inches away. “I never distort my articles! How dare you come stomping in here and speak such lies!”

“Me speaking lies! You have the gall to accuse me after you’ve written and printed this hideous excuse for journalism?! You should be tarred and feathered!”

Grace’s head almost buzzed with the anger she felt. She prided herself in all the effort she put into being sure of all her facts, even down to the exact spelling of every single name she used. And she was always hard on herself to make sure she’d used proper restraint before assigning responsibility and fault to anyone in her articles. Such an attack as this on her character as a credible journalist was more than she could bear, and before she could even think about what she was going to do, she spit in his face. Instantly, the shock of what she had done hit her so forcefully that she gasped, and her hand flew to cover her mouth. Her eyes, wide with the horror of her actions, locked onto his.

But her shock was nothing compared to his. Followed by a new level of anger. “Why you little savage!” he said, grasping her by the shoulders and, without thinking, pushing her backwards against the desk, and pinning her there with his own body. Grace put up her hands against his chest in an instinctive defense, but he was much more powerful than she. Her eyes focused on his shoulders now, and her self-defense training came to mind, but for some reason, she felt a kind of dazed lack of energy to inflict any kind of retaliation.

He wasn’t sure what he’d intended when he’d grabbed her, but was responding to some primal need in him to exact revenge for such humiliation and put her in her place somehow. He fought within himself over whether to spit in her face as well or kiss her forcefully enough to prove his mastery over her.

He had decided on the ruthless kiss when, suddenly, her eyes met his again and held him with a look that said she knew he was in control, but she wouldn’t even consider backing down. There was something so pure in her eyes – an assurance of being in the right – something that pulled on him to side with her unflinching commitment to what she believed – that his own thoughts came crashing to a full stop.

In response, he gradually leaned forward almost touching her lips in what would have been an entirely different kind of kiss, but he caught himself just in time. He pulled back slowly and heard himself say in a tone of disbelief, “Grace? … You’re name is Grace? And if I’m not mistaken, your middle name is the Cherokee word for Hummingbird, is it not?”

Grace was silent with surprise at the sudden change in him, and she just nodded. He laughed softly then. “What a mistake your poor parents made. You most definitely are not a hummingbird. In fact I’d say you’re more like a she-bear – defending her domain – a spitting bear in fact,” he added, taking his right hand from her shoulder and wiping his cheek where her spittle had landed. He quickly grasped her shoulder again, but couldn’t hold back more laughter.

The laughter was genuine, but he was having a hard time understanding everything else he was feeling. Something powerful had passed between them in those moments – something so elemental he couldn’t put a name to it, but it pulled on him and caused him to want to stay close to her. A ridiculous feeling since she represented everything he had to fight against in order to carry out his own work – work that he believed in and had labored hard to be able to accomplish.

He finally released her and stepped back, glancing toward the floor and running his hand through his hair in a frustrated manner. But he looked right at her again and spoke in a disgruntled tone. “Never mind. I don’t really have time to bother with you.”

He turned away from her and started for the door, but just before he pushed the door open, he turned and almost spat out the words, “Just be careful, my little Spitting-Bear. The next victim of your irresponsible journalism may not be as willing to forego exacting his vengeance.” And with those words he walked through the door and almost stomped down the street.

Grace still leaned against the desk, almost as if she needed its support. Her adrenaline was rushing, and she knew she’d been frightened a little by the encounter, but there was something else involved that she couldn’t identify. She realized with a quickening of her breath that she actually wished he had followed through on his actions and kissed her. She shook her head in disbelief now and finally pushed herself away from the desk, making her way around it, where she sat down in the chair again. She closed her eyes and relived the whole experience.

In the heat of the moment, she hadn’t been conscious of noting his appearance, but now, in her memory’s eye, she saw again the strength that showed in the muscles of his arms and chest even beneath the fabric of his long-sleeved dress shirt. His hair was sandy brown and had been tousled by the breeze. She saw again the firm jaw, and the olive green eyes – eyes that kindled with his barely restrained temper as they bored into hers. She felt a stirring inside as she remembered those eyes – and the way his body felt barely touching hers. Suddenly, she shook herself lightly, trying to escape those memories and clear her head.

Everything about the man was the antithesis of her beliefs and agenda for her own life. How could she have wanted to kiss him – to stay in a place where she was touching him and looking steadily into his eyes? She leaned back in the chair and just sat, waiting for her thoughts to clear and for her day to get back to normal somehow.

She heard the bell again, but at a normal volume this time, and when she glanced toward the door she saw her brother Blaze heading her way. “Hey, Sis, I read your article this morning.”

Grace looked up at him as he stood now in front of the desk, but she seemed to be having trouble focusing.

“Is something wrong, Hon.” he asked, concern in his eyes now.

Grace really looked at him then, finally focusing, and shook her head again slightly, as if still trying to clear it. “No, not really. I guess I’m just a little dazed after having a confrontation with Dr. St. John.”

“St. John? As in the man you wrote about in the front page article?”

Grace nodded her head and, to Blaze’s relief, her impish grin kicked in, and he felt reassured that she was her old self.

“What happened?”

Grace told him how Dr. St. John had stormed into the store and accused her of being irresponsible in her journalism and of telling lies, and how he’d threatened to sue if she didn’t print a retraction of her accusations.”

“I guess you set him straight, didn’t you?”

“Well … about that.” Grace said and started to squirm a little in her chair.

Blaze was intrigued by that move, because his little sister was generally straight-forward and outspoken with everyone, so he just stood there and looked at her intently until she glanced away and then, finally, looked back at him.

“Hummingbird, why do I feel that there’s something you should tell me, but you don’t want to? What really did happen?”

“Everything happened just like I said, except that … well … I guess he just made me so angry and so hurt … you know everything he said was totally unfair and just wrong … and … well … I … before I realized what I was doing, I spit in his face.”

“What!”

Grace leaned forward on the desk putting her face into her hands and groaning. She felt ashamed and so guilty. Not only was she ashamed about what she had done to the doctor, but she was just as much ashamed to have her brother know that she had acted in such an un-Christlike manner to anyone. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she lifted her head just enough to reach for a tissue from the box on the corner of the desk.

“Oh, Honey, don’t cry. I can’t imagine your doing anything like that unless you were seriously pressed beyond endurance,” Blaze said and sat down in the chair in front of the desk.

He sat quietly for a few moments while his sister blotted her eyes and blew her nose. He thought back to last fall when she had decided to move back to Cherokee to be closer to their family and to help him with his craft center and store because the Lord was using him so much in a traveling ministry now that he didn’t have the time to devote to actually running the business alone.

She had worked for several years for a publishing company, but had long had a dream to begin her own newspaper with the aim of focusing on much needed moral and social change in both the local community and the nation. After deciding to move back home and work with her brother, she’d felt it was the right time and place to launch the paper, and she had been working hard at making it a real success for the past six months.

He smiled now as he watched her getting control of her emotions and blotting her eyes once more before looking up at him.

“You want to tell me the rest of it?” he asked, grinning at her. “What did he do when you spit on him?” Grace thought back through all of his reactions – and her own unexpected response to his grasping her and almost kissing her. She wasn’t ready to share that part with her brother just yet, but she could at least tell him about the doctor’s words.

She grinned now too as she answered. “He called me a savage.”

Blaze’s eyebrows rose at that. “Wow, that’s a little cowboy-and-Indianish, isn’t it?”

Grace laughed out loud at that. “But that’s not all. He also said that he knew my middle name was the Cherokee word for hummingbird but that my poor parents had made a serious mistake because I was more like a she-bear – in fact a spitting bear. And just as he walked out the door, he addressed me by that name again.”

“And he’s going to sue?”

“Well … that’s the really odd part,” she said. “He acted like he sort of got better control of his own anger and said he didn’t have time to fool with me. Then his parting words to me were that I should be careful because the next victim of my irresponsible journalism might not be so willing to forego exacting his vengeance.”

“Whew!” Blaze said, leaning back in his chair. “You’ve had quite a day, haven’t you?”

Grace nodded and leaned back in her chair as well. “But I don’t think he’s actually planning on a lawsuit now. And, of course, even if he did sue, he can’t possibly win because, as you know, I make absolutely sure of all my facts – right down to correctly spelled words – and he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”

“Still, I’d hate for you to have to be dragged through court over all of it.”

“Yeah,” she said, nodding her head again. “Me too. But, you know, Blaze – well, we both knew from the beginning – some of the situations I’m addressing in The Sword are going to be pretty volatile from time to time.”

Blaze nodded. “It’s true. And, as you say, you didn’t go into the work blind. I think, though, that this whole abortion issue is something the devil and his forces fight more intensely than anything else right now. It’s going to take the true sword of the Lord and a lot more prayer to make any headway against it.”

“And concerning my articles … it’s not as if I’m trying to shut down every abortion clinic in the country. Of course, you know I don’t believe they should be legal at all, but my recent articles are mainly fighting against adding another abortion clinic to this area when we already have enough of them. It’s a valid argument. But it’s true that I am hitting hard on the whole fact that abortion is immoral period, wherever people have it performed.”

“Did he say specifically what he considered libelous?”

She shook her head and picked up the paper, scanning her front page article again. “No … but I’m pretty sure he was going to focus on the fact that I called him ‘another professional exterminator.’”

“Is there any chance at all that he can make his charges stick?”

“ I don’t see how. I was very careful in my choice of words. I would have liked to use the term murderer, but the technical definition of murderer is ‘someone who illegally kills another person. And right now, in most states almost all abortions are considered legal. There are still a few states holding out on late-term abortions, but the scale is sliding downhill fast. And the states where he has his other two clinics are one hundred percent pro-abortion at any time during pregnancy, so that term would have left me open to question. But the term exterminator specifically means ‘someone who kills whole groups of people or animals. What he does fits the term exactly.”

She leaned back in her chair again and sighed. “I think when he gets rid of all his anger, he’ll be sensible enough to know that even if he forced me to retract the article, or even won a lawsuit, it would just prolong the attention people are giving the story, and if I made it clear that I was forced to retract, he would still end up looking like the bad guy to our readers.”

“I think you’re right. And I’ll let Joy know about your little … uh … adventure today,” he said grinning again, “and we’ll both be praying for the Lord to cover you in this. But, listen, I came in to do some work on the leather moccasins I started yesterday, but I wanted to ask you if you’d like to take a couple days off and get away from the store. You know Joy and I will be gone four days next week for that seminar in Dallas, but I’m here for the rest of this week, and you’ve been working non-stop for months now. I don’t want you worn out with this, especially since you’re still doing some editing for Milton Publishing.”

“Well, if you wouldn’t feel abandoned, I just might think about taking a couple days. I’d actually like to take Mom shopping in Nashville one day, and if we stayed over and went out to dinner, that would be fun for her and me both. I can also make a quick run by the publishing house and check in with the main office.”

“Hey, that sounds like a great idea.”

“Do you think Joy might want to go with us?”

“Well … I guess she might … but … I rather hope she doesn’t,” he said, grinning.

“You really are still newlyweds, aren’t you?” Grace teased him. “You don’t want her out of your sight if you can manage it.”

“Oh, it isn’t that bad, but I do really like having her around all the time. And after all, we have been married only five months.”

He heaved a sigh and added, “But I don’t want to be selfish, and it’s only fair that she have some time with you girls if she’d like to. I’m sure I can survive forty-eight hours,” he said grinning again.

“I know you can, but I just can’t keep from teasing you. I think I will ask her if she’d like to go with us. We haven’t all three had a chance to do anything like that together.”

“I know, and, honestly, I’d be happy for her to get that time with you and Mom if she’d like to go. Call her and let her know what you’re planning.”


The Christmas Rescue — a short story


(I post this story annually as part of my celebration of the season. I hope it blesses you.)
♥♥♥


The following story is fiction – as are all the characters and the setting. However, the story was inspired directly by the real-life story of one of the most effective and compassionate men in ministry today. Bill Wilson, who is the founder of Metro World Child in New York City, was actually abandoned as a child and left alone on the streets of his home city in Florida. He was eventually rescued and greatly helped by a loving man of God, and that love led Bill Wilson to devote his entire life to rescuing inner-city children and ministering to their most vital needs – as well as those of their families.

The results of his work, both in the U. S. and internationally, would fill volumes. I have listened to him tell his own story more than once. He always concludes that story by sharing why he does what he does. And it is his reason – which constitutes the final statement by the main character in my story as well – that inspired me to sit down and write “The Rescue.”

I trust that the story will touch your heart deeply, and if it does, I encourage you to remember that it was inspired by the real life experiences of a great man of God. Readers can learn more about Bill Wilson’s ministry at the ministry website: metroworldchild.org.  I am not personally affiliated with the ministry at all, nor did the people involved have any influence on my writing this story. However, it is my prayer that this story will encourage readers to pray about supporting Metro World Child with finances and with prayer.

THE CHRISTMAS RESCUE
© Sandra Pavloff Conner

 

The old woman knelt shivering before the tombstone as her husband pulled away a pile of decayed leaves that seemed to cling defiantly to its base in spite of the wind that whipped at them repeatedly. It wasn’t bitterly cold — at least not like it had been many other Decembers in this city. But the wind was always stronger up here at the cemetery, and today, with no sun smiling down its warmth, the chill just seemed to beat its way into their elderly bones. Of course, sorrow had its own chill, and sometimes it was hard to tell if the icy feeling came more from the weather or from the pain within.

The old man finished his work and then joined her, slowing sinking to his own knees and removing his warm felt hat. Tears glistened in his eyes, but he wouldn’t let them fall. He had to be strong for her right now. He glanced sideways at her, seeing the tears flowing freely down her cheeks. She kept pressing her handkerchief to her face, to try to stem the bitter stream, but it did no good.

It had been a year and a half now since they had lost their second son. He had followed his brother into military service and then into war … and, finally, into the grave.

The old man shuddered out a deep sigh. He had brought his new bride to this country just one year before their first son had been born, and it had been a time of promise and happy expectation. The Lord had blessed them with two handsome, healthy sons, and they had been the sweetest blessing life had to give. He sighed now as he thought back over the years of raising two strong-willed, but tender-hearted boys. They had all been so happy … until ….

But he shook off the heaviness of those years of war – and the funerals – and the nights of wishing he could have gone in their stead. He knew his boys weren’t really in these graves here. He knew that for certain. They had believed in Jesus Christ, both of them, from the time they had been tiny little curly-haired youngsters. And they were in Heaven now. He couldn’t grieve for them, but for himself and his beloved wife, he couldn’t not grieve.

He leaned over toward her and put his arm around her shoulders now. “The wreaths look lovely, my dear. You’ve done yourself proud. I think these are the most beautiful you’ve ever made.” And she had made some beautiful flower arrangements, this wife of his. It had been her life’s work and a great joy at one time. Now, it seemed to always remind her of the need for flowers on these graves, and she took no joy in the work of her hands. Still … it kept her from sitting and mourning all the time, so he encouraged her to keep the business going.

And the money helped. There was no doubt about that. His pension and the little bit he made working as the church custodian were just enough to enable them to keep their house, modest as it was, and to cover their basic utilities.

But with both their incomes – and with a little extra help from the Lord from time to time – they lived well enough. And every year at this Christmas season they pulled out their special bank – the little treasure box where they had put aside a very small offering each morning during their prayer time with the Lord. They paid the tithes on their monthly income faithfully, of course, but this little extra offering represented their desire to do more than just what was expected of them. And each Christmas they asked the Lord what He would have them do with the money to help someone not as fortunate as they.

The old man smiled to himself now. Christmas Eve was just three days away. They needed to get to asking the Lord what His plan was for this year. He leaned over and kissed his wife on the cheek. “Come, Mama. We need to get into the warm. The wind is getting bitter.” She allowed him to help her rise from her knees and pull her coat tighter around her neck.

The wool scarf she wore on her head had almost blown off, and he straightened that too and then placed his hands tenderly on either side of her worn face. “Our wonderful boys are warm and safe in Heaven, Mama … looking down on these wreathes you have made for them and feeling proud. Now … we will go home and fix some hot cocoa and take out our silver bank and have our talk with the Lord about His plans for the money, hmm?”

She nodded her head in agreement, and they turned together to plod arm-in-arm out of the cemetery and down the lane to their car.

As they entered their back door, he stopped a moment and breathed deeply. “Ahhh . . . your kitchen still smells like molasses cookies and shortbread, Mama,” he said, pinching her cheek tenderly and grinning at her. “What do you say we have some with our cocoa?”

His wife was taking off her scarf and coat and hanging them on the pegs beside the door. “You’ll ruin your supper if you eat all that sugar right now, Papa,” she scolded him. It never occurred to either of them to refrain from calling each other by those names, even though they had no children living now. They had rarely called each other anything else since their two little ones had chosen those names for them. It had thrilled them so to be parents that they took pride in the names and wore them like crowns of honor.

Now he hung his coat and hat beside hers and grabbed her around the waist with both hands and began waltzing her around the kitchen. “Well, I have the solution to that!” he announced boldly. “We’ll just have molasses cookies and Scottish shortbread for our supper!”

“Now listen to you go on. What kind of supper is that?”

“Well … we’ll have a chunk of that delicious cheese you bought yesterday along with it, for protein,” he announced, as if that solved the whole question, whirling her around one last time and depositing her in a chair beside the table. At least she was laughing now, and that gave his heart a little ease. “You make the cocoa, and I’ll go get the treasure box.”

So while the milk warmed on the stove, Mama set the food out on the table. She was pouring out the cocoa when he returned carrying a small silver box that looked a little like a treasure chest. “Here it is, Mama,” he said setting it in the middle of the table and taking a seat beside her. “Now, let us thank the Lord for our food and enjoy it while the cocoa is good and hot, and then … then we shall count the money!”

When they had eaten their fill, and their faces were rosy with the warmth of the kitchen and the good food, they moved their utensils out of the way, and Papa pulled the box to him, unlocking it with the key that he always kept tucked away in his top dresser drawer. He dumped out the contents and began to straighten out the paper and sort the coins. “You count the coins, Mama, while I count the bills,” he said, and so they sat quietly, adding up their respective parts of the treasure.

When he was done, Papa picked up the little pad and pencil that he also kept in the box and wrote down his amount. Then he wrote down the amount Mama had in coins and added them together. He looked up at her beaming. “Mama, God has truly blessed us this year. We have put a total of seven hundred, four dollars, and seventy-two cents in our bank!”

“Oh, that’s more than last year or the year before either one!”

“Yes!” he said, nodding his head eagerly.

“Do you think the Lord has multiplied it for us?”

The old man smiled at her with eyes that were lit up with his faith that the Lord had done just that. “Now we must find out what our Lord wants us to do with it. Shall we pray right here, or go into the living room and kneel on the rug?”

“Let’s go and get down on our knees. We need to do everything we can to make sure we focus on the Lord. We wouldn’t want to make a mistake with so much money.”

So they moved into the living room and knelt down in front of their old but cared-for sofa, and, hand in hand, sought the Lord for His plan for the money they had given to Him during their morning devotions. After they had prayed for some time and were now both quiet and listening with their hearts, Papa whispered to Mama, “Do you hear anything yet, Mama?”

“Not yet, Papa. Perhaps, He will reveal something to us while we sleep tonight. He did that once before, remember?”

“Yes, that’s right. All right. We will expect that He will show us something, either as we sleep, or maybe when we first awake in the morning.” He grinned down at her with the eagerness of a small child. “I can hardly wait to see what He has in mind. I know we have to be patient. He may not show us until Christmas morning, you know. One time that’s what He did. But at least we know that He’s never taken longer than that to tell us what we must do, and that’s only four days away.”

Mama smiled at his excitement and rose from her knees, grateful for this generous-hearted husband that the Lord had given her. If only … if only he could have kept his sons to pour that heart into, she thought, shaking her head gently at the sad thought.

“No, Mama,” he said to her now, reaching out and lifting her chin and looking into her still bright blue eyes. “We will not be sad tonight. God has something happy for us to do, and we will enjoy it!” He leaned down and kissed her on the mouth. Then he raised his eyes heavenward and said, “Thank you, Good Lord, for giving me such a beautiful wife!”

“Oh, Papa . . .” she said, chuckling and shaking her head.

“Now,” he said turning her toward the kitchen, “I will help with the dishes, and then you shall read to me.”

The next morning the couple rose expectantly, eagerly anticipating the Lord’s leading about what to do with their money. But as the day progressed into evening, both had to admit that they just didn’t sense the Lord’s direction yet. So they retired that night with the prayer on their lips that He would show them tomorrow.

Again the following morning, they were a little disappointed, but since it was a day with much to be done, they quickly went about their business. Papa had more than the usual custodial work to do at the huge stone church in the middle of the city, because there were always extra services and celebrations this time of year. And Mama had finished the Christmas flower arrangements that had been ordered by two merchants whose shops were on the same street as the church. They always ordered the flowers for their holiday parties from her.

So after having a cozy breakfast, the couple loaded the flowers into the car and headed into the main part of the city. As they passed the corner one block from the church, they noticed a small boy sitting on a concrete bench on the sidewalk. “Would you look at that little tyke, Papa,” Mama said with a chuckle. “He’s bundled up all the way to his nose.”

“Well it is awfully cold,” Papa answered. “Wonder what he’s doing sitting there all by himself.”

“Oh, his mama probably told him to stay put while she ran into the bank behind the bench there.”

“Mmmm, probably, but … I don’t know … in these times, I don’t think I’d leave my little boy sitting by himself for even that long in a city this big.”

Mama sighed, “I know, Papa. Sometimes it seems to me that parents don’t take the dangers waiting for their little ones seriously enough.”

“Well, here we are,” Papa said in a more cheerful voice as he slowed down to look for a parking place close to the first store. “Are you sure you want to walk back down to the church? I can come and get you, you know.”

“Oh, Papa! Don’t be silly. It’s only two blocks. You just carry in one of the arrangements for me, and as soon as I’m done here, I can manage to carry the last one on to the shop two doors down. I’m sure they’ll both want to talk a few minutes, and then I’ll come down to the church to meet you.”

“Okay,” he answered, sliding into one of the few parking spots left on the street in this part of the city. While Mama carried the arrangement for the proprietor of the first shop, Papa carried in the other piece and set it down where Mama could get to it easily. He went on to the church and began his work, stopping almost an hour later when he realized that Mama had not returned yet. But just as he started down the hallway to the outside door to check on her, she walked in, bringing the biting air from outside with her, but flushed with a smile and twinkling eyes.

“Oh, Papa, they raved about my arrangements! They said they’d never seen anything they liked any better!”

He hugged her. “Well, of course, Mama! What else did you expect with your talent for working with flowers?”

“Thank you, Papa, but I happen to know you’re just a little prejudiced,” she said, pinching his cheek gently. “But come … I’ll help you with your work.”

So they worked side by side, finishing up the day’s list of tasks by noon, and left the church together. As they drove back the way they had come, they noticed that the small boy was still at the same corner, sitting on the bench alone.

“He’s been there all morning, do you think, Papa?” Mama asked, her tone beginning to sound worried. Papa looked at the boy as they passed and noticed that he kept looking in both directions, stretching his neck as if looking for someone or something in particular.

“It is peculiar, Mama,” he answered, but traffic was so heavy right at that time, that he had to give his full attention to working through it and getting into the correct lane to make their way back home. Concern nagged at him as he sat down to his noonday meal, and then troubled him off and on as he sat in his recliner and dozed during the afternoon. When the couple retired for the night, they prayed especially for the little boy they’d seen on the bench and his family.

The next morning Papa helped Mama finish her Christmas baking. She always made cranberry nut bread for four of the people in their church and popcorn balls and fudge for all of the children to take home after the Christmas Eve program. They stopped to have a ham sandwich and a cup of hot cider while the treats cooled enough for packaging. Then they began to wrap the gifts in gay paper and tie them with carefully worked bows, adding a candy cane to the top of each package.

When the last of the gifts was finished and set on the kitchen counter to wait for delivery, Mama made a meatloaf, while Papa scrubbed potatoes and prepared them for baking along with the meat.

“You know I can’t help thinking about that little boy we saw yesterday,” Mama said quietly as she worked. “I wonder who he was waiting for.”

“Probably some of his family who were doing last-minute Christmas shopping.”

“But wouldn’t you think they would have taken him with them?”

Papa looked up from the potato he was working on, thinking for a moment before he spoke. “No … not necessarily. Especially not if they were buying his gift.” He laid down his potato absentmindedly. “Still … you’d think they’d be a little hesitant to leave him there alone for so long.”

“You don’t suppose something happened to them do you, Papa?”

“Well, I wouldn’t know, of course, Mama, but I’m sure at least one or two police officers must have passed by their yesterday, and if something had been wrong, I’m sure the boy would have told them.”

Mama nodded her head and carried her meatloaf to the oven. “Of course. I hadn’t even thought about that.” She turned to look back at him. “Are the potatoes ready?”

“Yes, here they are,” he said carrying four potatoes over to the stove and laying them on the pan she had ready to slip into the oven beside the meatloaf.

After dinner, Papa read the newspaper to Mama, and then they watched a Christmas program on television. As they retired, they prayed once more for the young boy and his family and asked the Lord to show them by tomorrow what His plan was for the money He had helped them save this year.

First thing the next morning Papa drank hot coffee, wolfed down some of Mama’s gingerbread, and hurried off to the church to turn the heat up for the evening program. He also wanted to make sure that all the different props for the Christmas program were in place so that they would be easy to find at the last minute before the service began. But as he neared the block where the church stood, he was horrified to see that the little boy from two days before was still sitting on that same concrete bench. Papa hurriedly found a parking place close to the church and then walked back to the corner and sat down on the end of the bench opposite the young boy.

He could see that the child was very cold, even though he had on a heavy coat and a knit cap pulled down over his ears. He had his hands in his coat pockets, but once when he pulled a hand from his pocket to wipe his runny nose, Papa saw that he also had on gloves. He didn’t want to frighten the boy, but he felt frightened himself at the thought that this child could possibly have been sitting here for more than two days.

Why hadn’t the police done something about it? He thought about that question for a while, but then decided that there was so much crime and so many people with serious problems that possibly the police officers who were responsible for this area of town were unusually busy this time of year, just trying to take care of all of those other situations.

“Hi there, Son,” Papa said, his voice friendly and encouraging.

The big brown eyes just looked at him for a moment, and Papa saw a shiver run through the little body. “Hi,” the boy answered in little more than a whisper.

“I’m Jules Larson,” Papa said, holding out one gloved hand toward the boy. Slowly, the child pulled a hand from his pocket and reached it over to shake the old man’s hand.

“I’m David,” he said.

Papa nodded, letting go of David’s hand and watching him put it immediately back into his pocket. “Haven’t I seen you here on this corner for that last couple of days?”

David nodded, but didn’t speak. Instead, he just looked up and down the street again, much as he had been doing the other times Papa had passed by this corner.

“Well … you haven’t been sitting here all day and night, though, have you?” he asked.

David looked back at Papa and nodded again. Papa felt a cold wave of fear move through him and called out to Jesus under his breath.

“But …” Papa started to speak again, but then he stopped. He needed to figure out exactly what to say. After another minute, he sighed deeply and tried again. “But what about your family, David? Where are your mom and dad?”

David looked once more down the street and then turned his eyes on Papa. “My mom’s comin’ back for me,” he said, his lips trembling. Papa wasn’t sure if they trembled from the cold or because the boy was on the verge of tears.

“Where did your mom have to go?”

David looked up and down the street again, and then turned to look behind him once. He looked back at Papa and shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t know. She just said I should wait right here.”

“Do you live close to here?”

David shook his head. “Not anymore.”

“What do you mean? Did you used to live close?”

This time David nodded. “Unhuh,” he said, pointing back down the street. “Over in that other block. We lived in one of the apartments on the very top of that old brown building.”

“Well, why don’t you live there now?”

David shrugged his shoulders again. “Don’t know. Mom just said we couldn’t live there anymore. She put some of her clothes in a bag and told me to put on my coat, and then we left.”

“But did she put some of your clothes in a bag too?”

David shook his head. “I thought maybe she was goin’ to buy me some new clothes.”

Papa sighed, not liking the thoughts that came crowding into his mind with the boy’s last words. “So she took her clothes with her, but not any of yours?”

David nodded. “And when we got to this corner, she told me to sit down here and wait.”

“Is that all she said?”

David nodded. “Sometimes she goes away for a day or two, but then she comes home again, and we have something to eat. So I know she’ll be comin’ back for me,” he said, lifting his chin as if to ward off any rebuttal of that idea from the old man. But just then his lips quivered again and two tears slipped down his chapped cheeks.

Papa sighed inwardly and prayed silently with all of his heart. What was he to do? He couldn’t leave this little boy out here another night, and it was obvious to him that if his mother hadn’t bothered to pack any of his clothes, she had not intended to keep him with her. Should he go to the police? That’s probably what the police would tell him was the right thing. But, somehow in his heart, he just didn’t think he could bring himself to do that just yet. They would turn him over to the authorities, and he might end up in almost any kind of place while the legal aspects of his case were considered.

Papa shook his head silently. No … he couldn’t just turn him over to the police. What would Mama tell him to do?

He sat up straighter. Of course! That was the answer! Mama would say to bring him home and give him some warm food and a warm bed for tonight at least … and then they would pray for the Lord to show them what to do after that. But first, he’d have to do the necessary work at the church. He looked back at David.

“Well, I’ll tell you what, David. I think maybe your mama might have had to go farther than she planned to try to find another place to live. And I don’t think she’ll be able to come back for you for a while. But my wife and I … we used to have two little boys. They died in the war, and we miss them. We’d like to have you come to our house and eat supper with us and maybe sleep in one of the warm beds that we used for our boys. We could always come back here tomorrow and see if your mama is here waiting for you.” He knew that wasn’t a sensible plan, but he was counting on this boy, who looked no more than nine years old, to be too cold and tired and hungry to figure out how improbable it was. David was looking at him with wide eyes, full of indecision. He looked up and down the street again and than back at Papa.

“I’ll tell you what,” Papa continued. “I was going to go into that little coffee shop over there and get me some soup. How about you come with me, and I’ll get both of us some, and we can talk it over.”

David chewed on his bottom lip, and Papa could see the temptation on his face. What must it feel like to sit on this bench for nearly three whole days and have nothing to eat?

“What do you say?” he urged David again.

Finally, the boy nodded his head, and Papa stood and held out his hand to take David’s. Together they walked to the restaurant across the street, and once seated at the table, Papa ordered two steaming bowls of soup and added a glass of milk for David. He would have liked to have ordered him a big, juicy hamburger too, but knowing he probably hadn’t eaten anything in more than two days, he was afraid too much food at once might make the child sick.

Papa sipped his soup slowly, not really hungry yet himself, but David ate as if he were truly starved. “Did you have anything to eat yesterday?” Papa asked the boy.

David only shook his head and kept eating.

“Well, how about the day before?”

David shook his head again and picked up his bowl to drink the rest of the liquid from the soup.

“Well, I’ll tell you what, David. I could sure use some help to do my work at the church down the street. I wonder if you’d help me there for a little while, and then we’ll come back to the corner and sit a minute, just to see if your mama’s coming. Then, if we don’t see her, you come home with me, and we’ll have some more good food to eat. Would you like to do that?”

David thought, his brown eyes dark with the intensity of his concentration as he tried to decide what to do. Finally he nodded. “Okay,” he said, “but just for a little while, and then I gotta go back to the corner.”

“Good enough,” Papa said and rose from the table. They donned their coats and caps once more and made their way back out into the cold and down to the church. A couple of hours work put everything into good shape for the evening festivities. Papa had planned on him and Mama coming to the Christmas program, but he wasn’t sure now just what they would do.

He took David back to the corner, and they sat together for another thirty minutes, while Papa tried to listen to the Lord for instructions. Finally, he looked at David. “Well, now, let’s go home and have supper with Mama,” he said and then chuckled. “That’s what I call my wife, you see. Ever since we had our little boys, I’ve called her Mama, and she’s called me Papa.” For the first time David smiled just slightly, and Papa’s heart was lighter instantly.

“Well, as I was saying, let’s go home and eat some supper with Mama and then we can come to the Christmas program at the church and stop on this corner afterwards, just in case your mama comes along then.”

This time David decided more quickly and got up, reaching out to take Papa’s hand as he did so.

When they arrived home and entered the kitchen, Papa called out. “Mama, I’ve brought a friend home with me. Come and see.”

Mama came scurrying into the kitchen and stopped short as soon as she saw the boy. Her hand flew to her heart as she took in the situation without being told. She had known inside somehow that this little boy had been abandoned on that bench. She just hadn’t been able to shake that feeling, and now as she looked down into his dark, frightened eyes, she knew with certainty that what she’d felt was true. She hurried forward and reached out to shake his hand.

“Why, hello, young man! I’m so glad you’ve come home with Papa.”

“This is David … David McKenzie,” Papa said, “and I invited him to eat with us and then go to see the Christmas program. I even told him we could give him a warm bed to sleep in after the program if his mama hadn’t come back for him yet.”

Mama gave her husband a knowing look and then spoke to David, “We like having boys stay at our house,” she added, looking up at Papa to gauge his response to her use of the word ‘stay.’ He nodded his head in agreement and began helping the boy remove his coat and cap.

“We had a bowl of soup in town, Mama, but we could sure use something else hot,” he told his wife.

“Well, you show David where the bathroom is so he can use the bathroom and wash his hands and face in some warm water, and I’ll see what all I can find.”

After their mid-afternoon snack, Mama tucked David into the bed that her youngest son had used, and the boy had drifted into a deep sleep almost before she left the room. Then she went to an old chest that she kept in the hallway, and digging deep inside, she extracted two sets of clothing just about David’s size. For a moment her eyes clouded with tears, and she held the garments to her chest. But then she braced her shoulders and whispered, “Thank you, Lord, for having me save these garments all these years. You knew that little boy was going to need them.”

After his nap, a warm bath and clean clothes made David feel so much better that he couldn’t keep a smile from sneaking through when he re-entered the kitchen for another snack before they took off for the Christmas program. And during the program, David’s eyes were glued to every single action on the stage. The lights and music fascinated him, and he listened to the words, taking in the story of Jesus’ birth as if he had never heard it before.

At the end of the program, all the children received bags full of treats to help celebrate the Lord’s birthday, and as Papa and Mama led David out of the church, they turned once more toward the corner where he had spent three lonely, fearful days. “We’ll just sit here a short minute, David, and make sure your Mama isn’t right around here looking for you,” Papa said, and sat down, putting one arm around Mama and the other around David. But after about ten minutes, Papa shifted his position so that he could look right into David’s eyes. Mama looked over Papa’s shoulder, her face registering her pain for the boy’s situation.

“David,” Papa said, clearing his throat a little. “I know you want to believe your mama is coming back here to get you. But you see, son, I believe she was having some big problems and didn’t want you to have to go through them too. I believe she probably knew she couldn’t find another place to live with you, and that’s why she didn’t pack any of your clothes. She packed only her own, because she intended to have you sit here until someone came along who could help you and give you a good place to live. A place like she couldn’t give you.” Papa could see the tears glistening in David’s eyes just before the boy turned his head to look up the street as far as he could see, and then turned to look in the other direction one more time.

“Now, we could let you stay here, of course,” Papa continued. “But Mama and I …” he turned slightly to see his wife’s face, and she smiled at him through her own tears and nodded, so Papa continued. “Mama and I would like to have you come and stay with us as long as you’d want to.” He stopped and waited.

David looked at him and then at Mama. “Please come home with us, David,” Mama said in almost a whisper. “We’ll love you just like we did our own little boys years ago.”

“You can decide, David,” Papa said. “But we need to decide right now, because I don’t want to keep Mama out in this cold any longer. So what do you say?”

Once more David looked up and down the street, and then back at Papa. Suddenly he put his hands to his face and whisked away the tears that tracked down his cheeks. Papa could see decision in his eyes, and he knew the moment the boy faced the truth that his mother was not ever coming back to him. He heard Mama whisper just behind him, “Please help him, Jesus.”

David stood to his feet. “Okay,” he said.

Mama gave a glad cry and jumped up to gather the boy into her arms. Papa forced the tears filling his eyes to stay where they were, and he reached out to rest a hand on David’s shoulder. “You made the decision your Mama would have wanted you to make, Son,” he said. Then he stood up, putting an arm around each of them again. “Now,” he said with authority, “let’s go home and celebrate Christmas!”

Which is exactly what they did. And before David went to sleep, Mama and Papa told him more about the Jesus he’d learned about in the Christmas play. They told him how Jesus took all of people’s sins so that they could become good in God’s sight. They told him about the Father who loved little boys and welcomed them into His own family, and how they’d never have to be alone, no matter what, if they would allow the Father and Jesus to come and live in their hearts. So David made another right decision that night and offered Jesus a home in his own heart.

Just as they were getting into their own bed, Mama said, “Oh, my goodness Papa! We forgot about listening to the Lord about our $700.00!” But Papa reached out to take her hand in his. “Not to worry, Mama. I believe the Lord has shown us where to use the money this year, don’t you?” he asked, nodding toward the bedroom next door to theirs where David slept peacefully.

“Oh, of course!” she said, and giggled as he hadn’t heard her do since their own boys had been toddlers. “Clothes and books and toys and schooling, and so many other things. Isn’t it exciting, Papa? The Lord has trusted us with another little boy to raise for Him!”

So they did. And the days and weeks passed. Mama and Papa simply told friends and acquaintances that David was a friend of the family whose mother had become seriously ill and needed him to stay with the Larsons until she was well. In their own hearts and minds, they believed she would have had to be spiritually and emotionally sick to make the choices she’d made.

Friends were glad to see how much the elderly couple enjoyed giving the boy a safe, loving home, and they approved when Papa and Mama asked a young mother who home-schooled her own three children to add David to her classes. Papa used the $700.00 to help pay for the schooling expenses.

And the months rolled along, into the next year, and on to the next Christmas. That next Christmas Eve, Papa announced after their lunch, “It’s time for us to take a drive.”

So all three of them settled into the car, warm and cozy and ready for some kind of adventure. But as they neared their destination and David saw where they were going, he began to feel a tightness in his throat. His stomach began to ache, and tears burned his eyes.

Sure enough, Papa pulled the car into a parking place right beside the corner where they had first seen David sitting on a bench. And the bench was still there. “Let’s get out,” Papa said. He walked around the car and opened Mama’s door and then the back door for David.

“No … please!” David said, panic in his voice. “I’m sorry! Whatever I did that was wrong, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again! Please don’t leave me here again!” And then the tears that had started coursing down his cheeks became a flood of sobbing. “Please don’t make me stay here. I’ll be good. I promise!”

Papa and Mama were stunned. Mama sat down in the back seat, grabbed the boy, and held him close, “Shhh,” she said. “What’s wrong, dear?”

Papa knelt down in front of the door, reached in, and took David’s hand. “David … David … we’re not going to leave you here! Is that what you thought?”

David nodded his head, sniffing back tears as well as he could and leaning hard into Mama’s shoulder.

“Oh, no, no, no!” Mama said.

“No indeed, David,” Papa added. “We’d never give you up. Not ever! I’ve just brought us all back here so that we could remember how the Lord first brought us together. And I thought it would be good for us to sit here a minute and pray and thank Him for making us a family.”

“Would you like for us to do that, David?” Mama asked.

Sniffing again and trying to get the last of his crying under control, David looked at one and then the other with wide, surprised eyes. “You’re not going to leave me here?”

“Never, Son!” Papa said. “You’re part of our family for as long as you want to be. Just like you’re part of God’s family forever!”

So they got out of the car and sat on the bench together, hand in hand. They prayed and thanked the Lord that Christmas Eve for His love and mercies in their lives. Then the months rolled by again, and the next Christmas Eve found them at the same bench, praying the same prayer. They made the same journey the next Christmas Eve … and the next … and the next ….

~~~~~~~~~~

“Pastor McKenzie?” The voice seemed to come from far away. “Pastor McKenzie?” It came again more insistently. David shook himself slightly, realizing that his thoughts had been so concentrated on the testimony he’d been giving that he’d almost forgotten he was on an international Christian television program.

“I’m sorry,” he said, smiling apologetically now. “I was so caught up in remembering.”

“Do you still go back to that same spot every Christmas Eve?” the interviewer asked, her own voice husky with her response to his emotions.

“Yes,” he said, discreetly wiping the dampness from beneath his eyes with two fingers. Releasing a quiet sigh, David McKenzie leaned back in his chair and continued. “Yes, I still go back every year, and … and that’s also why I make sure that I drive one of the buses throughout those neighborhoods every Christmas Eve and pick up all the kids I can personally and take them to our church service.”

“Not many pastors of such a huge inner-city church would drive the bus themselves. It must be a heavy load of work, considering the fact that you have the Sunday School classes for several thousand children every week, plus all of the extra Christmas season services where you serve meals and hand out clothes and gifts to the thousands in need in the city.

“And you’ve begun similar work with children in similar situations in other nations, is that correct?”

“Yes. There are so many hurting children, and we touch only a fraction of them,” he answered.

“I’m sure after almost three decades of serving the Lord, you’ve had opportunities to move into many other areas of ministry. You’re a powerful preacher in your own right, and I’m sure you have connections that would open any number of doors to you. Have you ever thought about doing anything else besides reaching the hurting children in inner cities?”

He paused a long minute before answering. “I can’t do anything else,” he said, looking almost surprised that she had asked the question. “I can’t do anything else!”

“So … you would never consider turning your attention to any other kind of evangelism? Something on a larger scale that would bring you more into the public eye?”

David McKenzie smiled. It was a knowing smile. A smile that spoke of contentment and peace. And he looked directly into the eyes of the young woman asking the question. “No,” he said quietly, shaking his head gently. “No, I’d never considered that alternative even for one minute.”

“That’s interesting. May I ask why?”

“Because it’s only on the streets of New York, and countless cities like it, driving the bus through those ugly neighborhoods of ragged, hungry, frightened, hopeless kids to take them to Jesus … it’s only there that I can rescue the person I’m looking for.”

The interviewer’s eyes grew wide as she asked, “And who is that, Pastor McKenzie?”

“Myself,” he said, smiling at her as another trickle of tears made its way down his weathered cheeks. “Every time I pick up one of those hopeless kids … I’m really picking up myself.”

~ THE END ~

May you have a Christmas season filled with opportunities
to show the love of God to others.


 

The Wait Is Over

 

Yes, it’s official. Book # 5 of the Smoky Mountain Series of inspirational novels is on the market. THIS FIRE IN MY HEART, which continues the story of many of the original characters from the earlier books while introducing us to new ones as well, is finally ready for readers.

Many of my readers who have followed my website for a few years know that when I lost my best friend (who had also been my best book editor) a little over three years ago, the grief and the loss were such that I was not able to return to any of the novels I had been working on, or to start any new works. I was able to write poetry during those years, which provided a healing process for me, but after writing and publishing 11 novels, I was suddenly at a complete standstill when it came to fiction writing. It was a terribly unhappy time for me, not only because of my personal loss, but because of the creative loss as well.

Many of you prayed for me, and the Lord did a wonderful work, particularly during the past year.  Earlier this year, I was able to pick up the second novella in another series that had been about half done when my friend and editor died. And I was able to finish that short work and get it into the marketplace. But taking up the task of writing a completely new novel again — and one that fit into the series which has been the most popular of my works — was still quite daunting.

But during the past few months, I’ve experienced a fresh flow of creativity, and I am thrilled with the results. Not only did I write book 5 and get it into publication, but book 6 began to push its way into my psyche so strongly that it almost interrupted my completing book 5 just because I had to keep stopping to write down notes for book 6 that I didn’t want to forget. It’s a very happy problem for an author to have.  🙂

Anyway, folks, that’s a long way of saying that I’m celebrating. So I’ve launched both the E-Book and the Paperback versions of THIS FIRE IN MY HEART  at special sale prices through the end of the month.

E-Book — $0.99

Paperback — $6.99

I’ll include a brief description of the story below, and if you’re interested in your own copy, you can find the book HERE.


What’s it about????

He was Cherokee, she Scottish-American. But the moment they met in the airport coffee shop, they were connected. Waiting out the fog, they talked like old friends. When her plane was called, he carried her bag to her boarding gate.

With disappointment in her voice, she said, “Wow, Chicago and Dallas – talk about two people going in opposite directions.”

Light flared in his eyes as he realized she didn’t want their connection to end any more than he did. Her pull on him was so strong that he reached out, thinking to touch her cheek, but caught himself just in time. Such an intimate touch with someone he hardly knew wasn’t like him, He quickly bent and picked up her bag and handed it to her, smiling.

“Opposite directions today,” he said, “but not always, I think. I will see you again, Joy.”

How do you know when you’ve met the right person to spend the rest of your life with? For a Christian believer, the Lord has guidelines. Even so, Joy McDaniels struggles with her heart and mind in conflict. But determined to focus on God’s Word and His way of doing things, she finally allows her heart to take the lead.


Hog Wild Book Sale

THREE PIGS WITH SALE SIGN
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ALL of my KINDLE E-BOOKS are just $0.99.

For 10 days — today through July 31 at midnight, central daylight time.

All 18 of my E-books are on a hog wild sale for that time. And if you don’t have a Kindle reader, Amazon has a free Kindle app for any of your devices. Just download it when you order any of the books.

Check out the huge variety by visiting my author’s page at this link:


Encouraging Love Story — On Sale for Valentine’s Month

JONAH'S SONG AMAZON COVER - FRONTDon’t forget about the big sale on JONAH’S SONG.

This 4th book in The Smoky Mountain Series is a beautiful, memorable love story. Although it’s book # 4 in the series, it also stands alone as a complete and inspiring story. In fact, all the novels in this series are equally capable of standing alone without the other stories.

Special prices through Valentine’s Day!

E-Book —- $1.99

Paperback — $7.99

To read some excerpts from the story, you can visit this post.

Find the book in both formats on Amazon.



 

You’ll Never Look at Halloween the Same Way Again


DIGITAL VERSION ON SALE THROUGH THE END OF OCTOBER:  $1.99

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RACING FINAL AMAZON COVER - front

RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT

What’s it about?
When a small coastal town is invaded by witchcraft that threatens the lives of the school children and the future of the entire community, the citizens must learn to fight back with a Higher Power. Follow the story as God’s human vessels take their authority in the name of Jesus while the angelic hosts route the demonic forces on the spiritual plane in response to believers enforcing the Word of God. Read it, and you’ll never look at Halloween the same way again.
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Click the link at the top to find out more about the story and purchase your copy.
∞  ∞  ∞  ∞  ∞



Free E-Book — today through September 9

SET FREE - AMAZON FRONT COVER

Do you prefer reading books digitally? Well, then this offer is for you. SET FREE TO LOVE, which is Book # 1 in The Smoky Mountain Series, is available for the next four days absolutely free in digital format.

The book normally sells for $3.99, but since Amazon and I are focusing on The Smoky Mountain Series promotions this month, we’re offering the first book free — for the next 4 days only.

Also, if you don’t own a Kindle device, you can download a free Kindle app for any device that you use. You’ll find the download on the same page where you order the book.

If you enjoy inspirational fiction, I hope you’ll check out Private Detective Maddison Holt’s story in SET FREE TO LOVE. Click on the title to link to the product page for a description and to make your purchase.


 

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Inspirational Romance Goes To School

When there’s no textbook on love, romance can be a little tricky. But God, who’s the original Author of romance, has all the answers in His own book. And Professor Ephraim Kent is about to get an education with a higher degree than he’s ever earned before.
Purchase your own copy in paperback or digital:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1980587361

 

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Audio Short Stories — My Newest Project

Do you enjoy just sitting back and listening to stories? Then you’ll enjoy my newest project: Audio Short Stories. You’ll find the first story on YouTube now. I’ll make it really easy for you and insert it right here, but if you like it, hop over to the YouTube site so you can click the “thumbs up” symbol and subscribe to my channel so you’ll know when I post the next story in the project.

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From the Christmas Story Archives

Been going through my Christmas story archives and pulled this one out for today.


 

THE SIDEWALK

SIDEWALK BROWN STONE“Well, what’a ya know,” Ben whispered, grinning, seeing his breath form vapors on the Christmas air. “Who would have thought it would be the brick sidewalk?”

He sighed. In one unexpected instant – as his feet had tread the bricks of this dear old sidewalk that had run the length of Main Street all his life – it had happened. He knew for sure the place he’d returned to was still ‘home.’

Just yesterday he’d been dreading coming back – as he had been for a week – from the time the doctors had told him he was almost well enough to make the trip. He knew for sure how much he had changed, and he couldn’t shake the deep, gut-wrenching fear that the whole world had changed as well – including the little town nestled at the foot of the mountains in Montana. He’d grown up here, played high school basketball, and dated the girl from three houses down the street until she’d decided to elope with the captain of the basketball team.

He had to chuckle to himself when he remembered how devastated he’d felt back then. It had been his first serious relationship with a girl, but in hindsight, he realized that he hadn’t really been in love – just fascinated with the boy-girl relationship.

Sometimes when he’d been hunkered down in the trenches, waiting the next command to move out into the threat of enemy fire, he’d started thinking about Allyson, and even though she belonged to someone else now, the memories comforted him. He knew even during those hours that it had nothing to do with Ally or their time together, but it was all about ‘home.’ When he thought of Ally, it took him away from the cold, wet, ugly war he was fighting.

Sometimes he’d remember his mother and could smell again the warm vanilla scent that so often clung to her from her constant baking. He’d conjure up the image of Granddad, sitting with his feet propped in front of the living room fireplace, sweet-scented smoke curling from his pipe. He’d hear again his father’s voice as he read the latest news stories from the paper as the family sat soaking up the security of their home and their quiet life together.

Then, sometimes, when he and his unit were on the move and trekking through secure territory, on their way to the next battlefront, he had remembered walking down that old brick sidewalk – past Old Man Chesterfield’s hardware store, Woolworth’s Five & Dime, the candy and tobacco shop, where he’d bought Ally that huge box of chocolates for the Valentine’s Day they’d celebrated together. There was Mrs. Gallagher’s Boutique next, and then Pansy’s Pancake House. Some days, when his senses were crystal clear, he could nearly taste those light, fluffy concoctions smothered in her special Cherry Cordial Syrup.

When he let his memory take him wherever it willed, he usually ended up thinking about Christmas, and he’d see again the decorations strung the entire length of Main Street, with lights in the windows of every storefront, snowmen standing sentry at almost every corner, and wreaths and holly hanging everywhere. He could almost feel the frost in the air and the festive atmosphere that surrounded shoppers and merchants alike from Thanksgiving to Christmas. And oh those chestnuts! The scent of roasted chestnuts hung over the main business district for two whole weeks before Christmas Day. And often he thought that sweet aroma was his favorite memory of all. Sometimes he swore he could smell those roasted chestnuts even though he was thousands of miles away on foreign soil with no hope of even a warm dinner for that night.

He’d been wishing he could have some of those chestnuts just minutes before the ambush occurred, but then bullets and grenades had killed all thoughts and images of anything but the hell breaking loose in every direction. Those same bullets and grenades had killed twenty of the men in his unit as well. When he’d taken the first hit in his leg and fallen, his best buddy had turned back to help him up. But the bullet that had caught his rescuer in the head had snuffed out his life in seconds, and Ben had taken a second bullet in the chest, blacking out at that point.

Five days later, when he’d regained consciousness in the hospital, he’d found himself hooked to all kinds of tubes and machines. The doctor had been compassionate and kind, assuring him that he was going to make it, but that it would be a month or so before he was fit to leave the hospital. When he’d asked about his unit, the news had been brutal, and he’d found himself so frozen by the grief that he hadn’t even been able to cry.

The day he’d been released and given his extended leave for home, his doctor had been wreathed in smiles. “We’re going to get you back to your family in time for Christmas, Son,” he’d said. And as much as the news brought a spurt of joy to Ben’s heart, it also brought a stab of fear.

He’s made a short journey first to the home of the man who’d been his best friend in combat, the man who’d lost his life trying to save Ben. He’d learned that Rick’s body had been shipped home for burial in the family plot. Ben knew he had to visit that grave and spend some time with Rick’s family before he could get started on the longer journey to his own family. And it was with that family, sitting in Rick’s home, remembering his buddy, that he’d finally been able to let the tears come. With his head on Rick’s mother’s shoulder, and her arms holding him tightly – the way she would never be able to hold her own son – Ben had finally cried out the pain and bitterness and loss.

Eighteen hours later, on the day before Christmas Eve, he boarded the bus that would take him to Montana. He had purposely refrained from letting his family know what bus he was taking. He had to walk out this journey one step at a time – in his own way and in his own timing. He had to find out what kind of world awaited him at the end of this journey, and he had to have the security of facing it on his own terms.

His physical wounds were almost healed, but the wound’s in his soul would be with him forever. And that’s what made him afraid. As long as he didn’t go home, he could always try to tell himself that it was still a place of peace and safety and love and laughter – and that life was still good there. But all the time he sat on the bus, heading to that little town in Montana, he battled with the fear. The questions kept circling through his mind: when he walked down the streets of his old hometown – when he stepped into his mother’s kitchen – when he visited the high school campus – when he sat in the park watching the breeze blow across the lake – when he met with friends in a restaurant –would he find what he’d left behind – or would it all be gone – forced out of existence by the same powers that had changed him forever?

Finally, at the end of the seven hour trip, he stepped off the bus, retrieved his suitcase and stood for a few moments just looking across Main Street at the row of well-remembered businesses – those stores and shops that had filled his dreams and imaginations hours at a time in the rare instances between battles.

Everything glowed with Christmas. It looked the way he would have expected it to look back before he’d had to wade through hatred, filth, and slaughter in another land. But could he relate to this place any longer? Could he ever belong here again? Would it welcome him – would he welcome what he found here now? He slowly walked across Maine and stepped onto the sidewalk that would take him from the north end of town to the south, where his parents lived.

He walked – slowly – hesitantly at first. His eyes caressed the old, worn bricks that stretched out ahead of him the whole two-mile distance of the business district, and he began to realize that each step he took was a familiar experience – the same experience he’d enjoyed for years, day in and day out – those warm brown bricks woven together by expert hands generations ago – just slightly uneven but plenty smooth enough for easy walking.

And every step reassured him. He began to breathe easier now, and as he took a good, deep breath, his nostrils twitched a little. Chestnuts, roasting, in a cart just up the street about two more blocks. He walked with more purpose then, his eyes still caressing the worn, welcoming bricks beneath his feet, stretching out before him invitingly.

Finally, he chuckled out loud. Yep … it was okay. … It was really okay. … He was okay.  And this good old brick friend convinced him — more with every step he took — that home was still everything he needed it to be.

THE END


‘Everything’s Jake’ Preview — 2 Chapters

EVERYTHING'S JAKE AMAZON COVER - FRONTEVERYTHING’S JAKE
Inspirational Romance

 

CHAPTER ONE

Mariah Jacoby paced the tiny office, taking the confined distance from wall to wall in four agitated strides as she waited for her boss to join her. She was fairly certain what the outcome of this meeting would be. She’d be looking for another job. She shook her head from side to side now in frustration. If only she could convince her boss that she could probably sell more from this boutique in the long run if she were honest with her customers!

Well, that wasn’t going to happen. Convincing Patricia there was something to be gained by telling a woman she looked fat in one of her dresses was about as likely as going over Niagara Falls in a barrel without getting hurt … seriously hurt! Hadn’t somebody tried that once? She thought she’d remembered reading something about it, but … right now her mind was too muddled with the mess she’d made of her third job in two years. Of course, it’s not like this latest one was something in her field. With a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in journalism, selling in a boutique was a little wide of the mark on both counts.

But her one year working at the Excel Learning Center had been enough to convince her that trying to teach students how to learn better was definitely not her forte. Her second job, the one with The Beacon, had been more in her line, but evidently news reporting was not what she really felt called to do either. Well, Mariah did feel a genuine interest in writing for a newspaper. It was actually her editor who had felt that she wasn’t right for the part. “You’ve got to quit editorializing, Mariah!” he said, through his gritted teeth. How many times had he said that? She couldn’t be sure, but it seemed to average about once a week, until finally, he had given her the bad news: She’d have to go. And he’d warned her one last time that if she thought she’d ever really want to get serious about a career in journalism, she’d better start working harder on her ability to remain objective when she covered the news.

She sighed now and finally dropped into one of the two chairs that sat in front of the desk, just settling into the seat when her boss opened the door and came in with a purposeful stride. Patricia wasn’t a time-waster; that was for sure. She marched around her desk and leaned over it toward Mariah. “I guess you know what this means?” Mariah opened her mouth to protest … or defend herself … or something … but nothing came out. She dipped her head and then nodded.

“I know,” she said on a resigned sigh. “I really do try to do what you want though, Patricia.”

Her boss shook her head as she sat down behind the desk. “Not hard enough, Mariah. I’ve told you repeatedly that we do not tell any of our customers that they don’t look terrific in whatever they choose.”

Mariah’s head came up, and she looked directly at her boss. “But that’s lying! I can’t believe that’s the best way to do business!”

“The point is that this is my business, Mariah. And the only one who needs to be satisfied with the way we do business here is me. Besides, I don’t really consider it lying. When our customers have chosen something that they like on themselves, it makes them feel good about themselves, and that does make them look good. Happy people always look better than those who are unhappy. And more importantly, happy customers keep coming back!”

“But Mrs. Jamison wasn’t unhappy when I told her that I thought she’d look better in something else.”

“No? Well, just what would you call that frown on her face, that furrowed brow, and her flustered attitude?”

“She was just trying to think about what I’d said while I was showing her the other possibilities.”

“All possibilities that she did not like herself! That’s just my point. She’s been a customer here for five years, and she had already disqualified the style of dress you kept trying to push off on her!” She leaned back with a sigh. “I’m sorry, Mariah, but I did warn you that you may not be cut out for this kind of work. I know you’ve tried, but you’re not going to be able to treat my customers differently. This is the fourth time I’ve had to deal with the situation and try to soothe the people you’ve upset. I’ll give you the rest of this week doing jobs that won’t require you to work with customers, and I’ll give you the two week’s severance pay that your contract specifies, but I’ll definitely have to replace you with someone who’s comfortable with my rules here.”

It didn’t take long for the end of the week to arrive, and Mariah found that she wasn’t all that emotional about having to say goodbye to Patricia and the two other women who worked at the boutique. She was very emotional, however, about not having a job. She had managed to save a little money while she’d worked on her masters because she’d decided to attend the university at home and stay at the house with her parents. They had been eager to have her there again, even for that period of time, and they just refused to let her pay for much of anything at all. She’d tried to make up for it by treating them to special dinners out and a weekend away a couple of times, but she had put most of her money from the job on campus into a savings account. Good thing! She’d already gone through half of it, and it looked like the second half would soon be in hot pursuit of the first.

She made her way back to the one-bedroom apartment in a very unfashionable, but comfortable part of town, dropped her purse and jacket on the table just inside the door, kicked off her shoes, and headed for the tiny kitchen to make tea. Her granny had always sworn by tea as the fix-it potion for any problem. Of course, Granny had always held faithful to all the little details that constituted a traditional English tea – the boiled water, the warmed teapot, the unrushed brewing time. Mariah filled the teapot and stuck it in the microwave. What Granny didn’t know wouldn’t cause her any unhappiness.

While she waited for the water to boil, she picked up the mail that lay on her kitchen counter. She hadn’t had time to go through it carefully for the last two days, and now she was surprised to see a card from a friend of hers in another state. Abigail Harland, who had gone through the first four years of college with Mariah, was now a happily married wife and the mother of two rambunctious little boys. She took to that lifestyle like a duck to water, Mariah thought, smiling now as she remembered the last time she’d visited Abby and Seth.

She scanned the lines eagerly, moving over to the microwave as it dinged to let her know the water was ready. A few minutes later, as she sipped the fragrant tea and began to relax, she came to the end of the note, which included another invitation to visit as soon as possible. “Come for a whole weekend if you can,” Abby had written. “Better yet, I wish you’d look for a job here so we could be close like we used to be.”

Mariah laid the note on the counter, deep in thought. Well, why not? Why not at least try? She certainly had nothing holding her here. Of course she was only an hour from her parents living here, but Abby’s home wasn’t more than three hours from them. She shrugged her shoulders. She was going to have to start somewhere, and she might as well try to find something close to her best friends. She’d made a couple of local friends since moving here to work, and of course, she was comfortable with most all of the people she’d met at church. But there wasn’t anyone she felt she could bare her soul to the way she could Abby and Seth. Maybe this was a good time to move on.

She got up and added more tea to her cup, then moved into the living room and snuggled into the corner of the sofa. She had an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach … almost a fear. Only she refused to let herself be afraid. It was just that … well … she had never figured herself for a failure. She had always done well in school. And she’d taken a variety of electives just to expand her mind and her horizons. Hadn’t she even taken those two auto-shop courses?

She grinned now as she remembered how surprised a couple of the guys in the class had been when they’d discovered how much she already knew. That was thanks to her big brother Mitch, of course. From the time she’d been a preteen, she had helped him work on his cars. And he’d had several over the years that he virtually rebuilt. Of course, it was just a hobby with him. He’d opted for a career in marketing, but he’d really had a gift for working on cars! And he’d told her she was a natural too, but of course, no other girls she knew were interested in becoming auto mechanics, so she dismissed that idea as less than good if she were going to have to compete with them for the guys out there that were worth having.

She snorted now as she thought about the fact that even though she was never in overalls or smudged with grease and oil these days, the guys weren’t exactly beating a path to her door. She thought about what she had to offer a man. Well … there was her open, friendly nature … her quick mind … her Christian lifestyle …. She sighed. Those things didn’t sound like attention grabbers to her.

She took mental stock of her physical assets: She had a clear complexion. Her hair was a rich brown, and the pixie cut she currently wore framed her face perfectly and drew attention to her eyes. And they were probably her most positive feature, weren’t they? She had always considered them plain old brown until one of the men she’d dated in college had told her they were the warm color of a glass of sherry. Her relationship with that man had taken a definite upswing from that moment, although they’d never gotten serious, and he’d graduated the following year. Still, he remained one of her favorite dating memories just because he’d given her a whole new confidence about her looks.

She sat her empty cup on the table beside the sofa and stretched out, thinking. What kind of job should she look for? She laughed lightly. She’d lain on the sofa in her home as a child and daydreamed just this way, asking herself, what she wanted to be when she grew up? But this wasn’t like those times. This was no daydream; this was reality. She was grown-up. She was 25, and it was time she made a career for herself.

The following Friday evening, she arrived at Seth and Abby’s door with a large suitcase, having told them of her plans to look for a job close to them. They had insisted she stay with them while she searched, but she had been adamant about not staying more than a week. If she hadn’t found something by then, she would either move into a motel or start looking in a different town.

But by the end of the week, she was no closer to having employment. She had checked with the area schools about possible openings for the next school year, which was right around the corner. She knew she wasn’t licensed to teach in the state, but she also knew there were ways to deal with that as long as she was working toward meeting the requirements within a certain time period. But there wasn’t anything in her field. Then she’d checked with a couple of local newspapers, but still nothing permanent. They had told her they’d consider some free-lance articles from her if she wanted to turn something in, and she had, in fact written one article and had it published. But she knew that she had managed that feat mainly because it was the kind of thing she didn’t have to be objective about.

Then she’d checked with a couple of department stores, but their waiting lists were long, and besides … she could tell by the manner of the women who’d talked to her that she would be right back in the same boat as she had been with Patricia. So she’d signed up with an employment agency, and had even gone to one interview that they’d set up, but to no avail. They’d been pleased with her credentials, but they were equally pleased with those of some of the other applicants, and two of those people had lived in the town all their lives. The company just considered them a better risk, all other things considered.

On the Friday evening a week after she’d arrived, Abby tried to convince her that she should stay at least another week. “You know we love having you here, Ry,” she said. “And you’ve been so much help with the boys. They really love you.”

Seth had reached over and patted Mariah’s hand. “We both want you to stay, Ry. Give it at least one more week.” He glanced over at his wife, a light in his eyes that made no secret of the fact that he was in love with her. “Besides,” he said, a teasing note in his voice, “my sweety would never forgive me if I didn’t do everything in my power to make sure you move here permanently.”

Mariah had laughed with them, but she felt sad too. Something was wrong with her. Why couldn’t she find a job? And a job that she liked? What did she really enjoy doing, anyway? She thought long and hard on that subject after she retired for the night. Lying there in bed, she tried to remember every time she’d ever felt happy at work, and she realized with a good deal of surprise that she had actually felt pretty good about all of her jobs. The problem was that her happiness had really been coming from her interaction with people, which she always enjoyed, and not from the work itself. In fact, the last time she remembered feeling really happy about the work she was doing was when she had been in the auto mechanics class, helping her project partner put an engine back together.

The following morning at breakfast, Abby’s four-year old climbed up on Mariah’s lap and put his arms around her neck. “You stay wif us,” he said. Then he reached up to pat her cheek. “ Me don’t want you to leave. You stay wif us, Ry.” She squeezed him tightly and kissed his cheek.

Abby sat down at the table with a cup of coffee. “See,” she said, grinning. “You can’t break his little heart by leaving yet.”

“Oh, all right. You’re all ganging up on me. I’ll take one more week, but … Abby … you know if I don’t find something by then, I need to try to get something in a larger city. There’s bound to be some kind of newspaper and teaching jobs both in a large enough city.”

“Well, just try one more week here then. I can’t bear to think you’ve come so close to living in the same town as us again and then not have it work out.”

Mariah chuckled and reached over and gripped her friends hand briefly. “Me too, Ab. I’ll really try this week, and I’ll spend more time praying about it too. Maybe I’ve been trying too hard on my own and not looking to the Lord for the guidance as I should have been.”

So after breakfast was cleaned up, Mariah went out to their back yard to sit on the patio in the shade and read her Bible and pray. She’d been a Christian most of her adult life, and she thought she had lived according to God’s will, but sometimes she had to admit that she didn’t spend nearly as much time listening to what the Lord might have to say to her as she did talking to Him. So for the next week, that was her primary goal, and her job search would have to be secondary.


CHAPTER TWO

The next Monday she was on her way to apply for a position she had heard about at church the previous day and began having trouble with her car. It kept dying at every stop sign, and then began jerking and trying to die in the middle of traffic. She remembered passing an auto repair center several times on that end of town, so she made her way there now, gritting her teeth and praying that she could make it there without getting stranded in the middle of the road somewhere.

As she pulled in, she realized that there were several cars ahead of her, but she hoped that since she had a sort of emergency situation, that might weigh heavily with the manager. If she’d had tools and parts, of course, she could have fixed it herself, but that was like wishing for the moon, since she didn’t even have a screwdriver with her this trip. And boy was that stupid, she told herself. At least she could have come better prepared to cope with car problems. But she had been pretty depressed by the time she’d set out for Abby’s, so that probably accounted for her lack of thought on the subject.

She got out and walked toward the open work bays. Even though the day was warm, she could feel the change in temperature as she entered the cool interior and adjusted her eyes to the darker atmosphere. She sniffed the air, recognizing the smells of a normal auto shop … smells she was comfortable with … and she smiled slightly. She could hear the sounds of someone working and finally managed to see a man half submerged beneath the hood of a luxury car leaning over the engine, totally absorbed. She needed to go into the office area. Turning half circle, she saw the office door and headed inside.

Even cooler air from the office air conditioner hit her as she stepped through the door. There was one man inside, leaning slightly on a high counter, writing something out by hand. He looked back at his computer screen, which was sitting on a desk behind the counter, then turned back and wrote some more. He looked a little taller than her, and slightly heavy set. It was obvious that he weighed in a little over normal. Probably most of it was muscle, but she doubted that all of it was. He had dark brown hair, liberally striped with gray. His face had a few lines that she could see around his mouth and eyes, but it was rather nice looking … at least what she could see of it with his head down a little. He looked back at his computer again, and spoke something in an exasperated voice, scratched his head, and turned back to the counter.

But before Mariah could get his attention, the front door to the office opened, and a man came in with a set of keys in his hand. “Here’s my keys, Neil. I’ll be back around closing time to pick it up.”

The man behind the counter slapped his palm against his forehead. “Oh, for crying out loud, Paul. I forgot all about you coming in today, or I’d have called you.”

“Somethin’ wrong?”

“Boy is that an understatement! Kurt’s off sick with the flu, and Bobby fell off a ladder at home yesterday and broke his arm … pretty bad break too.”

“Wow, that’s tough. Is he going to be all right?’

“Well, they seem to think so, but they’re saying at least six to eight weeks until he can come back to work.”

The customer let out a slow whistle. “So I guess that mean’s you’re too short-handed to service mine today, huh?”

Neil nodded from behind the counter and Paul continued. “No problem. It’s not really giving me any trouble. It was just past time, and I thought this week would work schedule-wise. I’ll give you a call next week and see if you’ve managed to get a temporary replacement.”

Neil shook his head in obvious exasperation. “I appreciate it, Paul. I can’t tell you how sorry I am … for Kurt and Bobby … for all my customers … for Bill out there who’s all by himself except for me … and not least of all for me personally.” He finished that statement with a sheepish grin that made him look like a self-conscious teenager instead of a man old enough to have gray hair. Mariah felt a pang of sympathy for him.

“Well, I’ll get on my way and let you take care of your other customer,” Paul said, looking toward Mariah and nodding briefly. For the first time, the man behind the desk … she assumed he was Neil … looked over to the side where she still stood close to the door. His eyes widened in surprise.

“Oh … sorry miss. I didn’t realize you were here.” He glanced back at Paul. “Thanks again, Paul. I’ll get to you as soon as possible; I promise.” His customer lifted his hand in a brief salute and headed out the door. Neil turned back to Mariah. “Can I help you?”

Mariah had been entertaining the wildest idea ever since she had heard the conversation between the two men. Rather than ask this man who was obviously the garage manager to help her, why not offer to help him? Her eyes twinkled as she stepped closer to the counter, and he looked at her more intently, a slight question in his eyes. Mariah had butterflies in her stomach, but she just knew in her heart that somehow this was right. She spoke with all the confidence and authority she could, so as to drown out her own doubts.

“Well, actually, I think it’s more a question of whether I can help you,” she said, smiling directly into his eyes. He got an even more harassed look in his eyes, brushed his hand through his already disheveled hair and answered her. “Look, ma’m, if you’re selling something, this isn’t the time to talk to me. I’m not going to try to make any decisions about buying anything at all this week!”

“Oh, but I’m —“

He held up his hand as he interrupted her. “Absolutely nothing at all!”

“But I’m not selling anything. Except … maybe … myself.”

His eyes grew even wider and his face flushed just a little as he looked her up and down, trying to consider what a basically decent woman was doing standing in his office offering to sell him sexual favors. He hadn’t figured out how to answer her without insulting her when it dawned on Mariah that what she had said could have been seriously misinterpreted. Then it was her turn to flush, but she did so with no half-way measures. She turned red and felt as hot as if she’d been standing in front of a 500 degree oven.

“Oh, I … I didn’t mean … I mean … I don’t mean what you think I mean!” She put her hands to her cheeks and felt the heat. She closed her eyes in misery at her foolish words.

“And … uh … just what is it that you think I think you mean?”

“Well … it’s obvious … at least from the look on your face … that you think I mean I’m hear to offer you … uh … well ….” It just kept getting worse with every word, so she stuttered to a stop.

By this time, Neil was starting to feel relieved to know that evidently he’d been mistaken about her words and breathed a sigh of relief. Now he was able to take a little pity on her and he chuckled. “Would you like to start again?”

“Please,” she said, finally beginning to return to normal color.

“But, miss, I have an unbelievably busy day, so could you make it kind of quick?”

“Well, that’s just it,” she said, coming all the way up to the counter now and standing just across from him … only the width of the counter separating them. “You see, I did come to have my car checked out, but when I heard you tell the other man that you were so short-handed, I knew that wasn’t a possibility. But … well, I’m a mechanic myself, and I can fix my own car if I have the tools and a way to order parts.” His jaw dropped open, but she hurried on. “But even more important for you … I can help you with your work here,” she finished, beaming her happiest smile at him.

Once again Neil’s eyes widened, but somehow he did manage to close his mouth. Was there no end of the surprises to come from this perky girl? At the same time he was considering this question, another part of his mind was taking in the fact that, although he wouldn’t have called her beautiful, she had a certain something that drew a man’s attention. She had the kind of face that made you feel good looking at her, especially her eyes. They were inviting somehow. Good grief, he needed to get his mind back on his work!

His eyes connected with hers again. “Your … uh … a mechanic, you say?” He didn’t have to say he didn’t believe her. It was too obvious.

“Yes,” she answered eagerly. “Well, not a professional one, you understand.” Neil didn’t think he was understanding much of anything that had happened since he’d looked up and spotted her, but he didn’t have a chance to say so before she added. “But I’ve taken a number of auto mechanics courses in college, and I used to help my brother all the time. I’ve done most of the things that your customers would need done.”

He ran his hand through his hair again. He couldn’t seem to get hold of a sensible response. She still stood there beaming at him. Finally he tried to say something. “Look … miss … I can’t hire just anyone off the street —“

“Oh, I understand,” she interrupted. “You may even feel you have to have someone with a degree. But couldn’t you take me on as an apprentice for right now, and at least you’d have two more hands to get your customer’s cars serviced and repaired.”

Her eyes sparkled at him, holding him entranced for a few seconds. Just enough time to make him waver in his reply again, and Mariah took advantage of his hesitation. “Tell you what. I have some time right now, so how about if I go to work on my own car, and you can watch me and see if I’m not telling you the truth about how good I am.”

By this time, she was leaning over the counter, close enough for him to see the tiniest sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose, almost completely hidden by her modest make-up. He looked into her warm, sherry-colored eyes and was momentarily lost. “Well … uh … I … I don’t know …”

Her eyes grew more intense, and she pulled back from the counter and stamped her foot. “Well, what have you got to lose?”

He didn’t like being put on a spot like this and made to feel stupid. His voice was a little harsh as he replied out of his frustration: “My business?”

Mariah opened her mouth to answer him, but then closed it again. She had to admit that some strange girl coming into an auto repair shop asking to use the man’s tools and dig through his parts to fix her own car and then expecting to be hired on the spot did seem pretty unorthodox. And she had to admit to herself that most of the mechanics she’d known who owned their own shop had struggled like crazy and invested every last thing they had in it to try to make a go of it. Asking one of them to let some stranger go to work there out of the clear blue would put any of them in a tough spot.

Finally, she nodded her head with a resigned look on her face. “Of course,” she said, her voice considerably subdued now. “I understand. It’s asking a lot of you to take a chance like that with a business you’ve no doubt invested every single resource in. I’m sorry,” she added with a sigh. “I guess since you don’t have time to take on any more work, I’ll look for someone else to fix my car too.” She turned toward the door, and Neil’s heart turned over. He scratched his head again. He was probably going to regret this, but he just couldn’t stand to see her so disappointed. She had seemed so excited at the prospect of working here for a while. He supposed he ought to at least give her a chance. She seemed so sure of herself. But … a woman mechanic was something he didn’t have any experience with at all.

“Wait!” he heard himself saying before he had sorted through all those thoughts. She turned back to look at him, and he continued. “Uh … I’ll tell you what. Pull your car into the last bay down there, and I’ll show you where everything is and get you started.”

“Really?” Her eyes were brilliant again, and the smile on her face was worth the butterflies in his stomach as he asked himself silently whether his insurance would cover this if something went wrong. He took a deep breath.

“Yeah … really.” He said.

She stepped back to the counter and held her hand out toward him across the top. “You won’t be sorry. I promise you,” she said, as he took her hand in his. It was warm and strong, but just soft enough that it sent a little tingle along his arm. He had to remind himself to let go, but finally he turned to walk around the counter and lead her back into the work bays.

“By the way, I’m Mariah … Mariah Jacoby.”

Mariah pulled her car into the last bay, got out and raised the hood. Then she looked around to size up what she had to work with. She spotted a blue coverall hanging on a hook along the side wall and went over to get it. “Do you mind?” she asked Neil. “ I was dressed to go to an interview,” she added, looking down at her light colored skirt and short-sleeved knit top.

“Sure. Go ahead,” he answered, and she slipped into the uniform, rolling large cuffs on the sleeves and legs. She thought about her hair, but one look at the only greasy cap hanging there convinced her she was better off taking her chances without it. That done, she began looking around at the array of tools and collecting what she thought she’d need. She had a pretty good idea what was at the root of the problem, knowing there were only a couple of possibilities likely to cause just that set of symptoms, and she also knew the job could take quite a while.

She told Neil what had been happening with the car as she began to check some things out, and then she began to tell him exactly what she was looking for, figuring that should give him a good idea of whether she knew her stuff or not. Neil nodded and grunted his agreement, silently coming to the conclusion that maybe she really did know something about engines. She worked without talking for the majority of the time, and Neil excused himself after a while, saying he had to get back to his accounting for a few minutes.

As he passed the young man who was still leaning under the hood of the other car, he stopped momentarily. “How’s it going with this one, Bill?”

The blond-haired younger man raised up and wiped his hands on a cloth. “I think I’ve got this one licked. I’m about ready to give it a test drive.”

“Great,” Neil answered about the time Bill glanced over and saw Mariah. He raised a questioning brow at his boss.

Neil cleared his throat and motioned with his head for Bill to follow him into the office. Bill did so with a big grin on his face. He’d never seen his boss flustered any time in the last three years, but something was up with this woman. He couldn’t resist teasing Neil a little. “You hire a new mechanic?” he asked, grinning from ear to ear.

“Maybe,” Neil answered and looked Bill in the eye. The grin dried up immediately, and Bill’s mouth just sort of hung open. “Huh?”

“Well, it’s like this,” began Neil, and then proceeded to tell him how all of the last half hour had transpired.

Bill just shook his head and chuckled. “Well …” he said, looking back out through the window in the door, watching Mariah for a moment. “Well, she sure acts like she knows what she’s doing, doesn’t she?”

Neil sighed. “We’ll see,” he answered and then looked back at his computer. “I’ve got to get this finished and then go out there and watch her at work some more before I know for sure. Go ahead and take yours out for the test, and get back as soon as you can.”

“Sure thing,” Bill said and hurried back into the work area. When he brought the Continental back, he parked it outside, satisfied that it was fully repaired, and then he drove a gray and white truck into the bay he’d left empty. As he got out, he heard Mariah talking to Neil about how the repair to her own car was coming. Bill couldn’t resist walking over to where the other two were working, Neil mostly handing Mariah tools and making a suggestion here and there.

“So, how’s it goin’?” Bill asked.

“Great,” Mariah answered before Neil could decide what to say. “I should have this baby running right in another half hour or so.”

“So what was it, anyway?” Bill asked her, walking around to the other side of the car to be closer to her.

She told him and then began to talk about how the repair was going in a little more detail, Bill agreeing with her on all points that she made. Neil was beginning to feel like a fifth wheel, and he just slipped away and walked over to the truck. He remembered what the owner had told him about the problem with this particular truck, so there was no need to go back into the office to get the work order. He just started to gather his tools and get to work. He knew he should direct Bill to get to another vehicle in the third bay, but, surprisingly, the quiet conversation between Bill and Mariah in the bay beside him was soothing to him as he worked, and for the first time in the last 24 hours, he was actually beginning to relax.

By the time Neil had the truck running smoothly, Mariah was ready to take her car for a test spin. As she pulled it out of the bay, Bill walked over to Neil, who was just putting down the truck hood. “Boy, I think that little lady really does know her business, Boss? You gonna let her stay on and help us?”

Neil was wiping his hands on a rag. “Maybe,” he said, looking a little preoccupied.

Bill nodded. “Hard decision, huh?”

Neil grinned a little. “Toughest one I’ve made since deciding to go into business.” Bill nodded his understanding and Neil spoke again. “Take this one out for a test, will ya?”

“Sure thing,” he said, hopping into the cab and backing the truck out of the building.

Mariah was back in a few minutes, beaming. “It’s right as rain,” she announced. “Do you want to test it out yourself just to be sure I really did fix it?” she asked, looking at him so earnestly that his heart turned over again. For some reason this little gal really wanted to work at this garage. He made his final decision in a second.

“Nope,” he said, grinning back. “You’re hired.”


For the rest of the story, get your copy on Amazon. Paperback or Digital.

 

 


~~~

‘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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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.