Two Stories for the Price of One

(photo courtesy of WildOne @ pixabay.com)

I have so little time to post on this site currently, and I feel bad about that, so periodically, I take a nostalgic trip through my short story archives and pull something out to share again. I’ve acquired so many new followers over the past 5 or 6 years, and most of those people don’t go back years into my posts to read anything from that time period. That being the case, I feel okay about reposting some of the stories that haven’t seen an audience for several years. The two stories below are from the archives, and both deal with the theme of crime. They were originally written in response to a particular kind of writing challenge, but there’s no need to go into the details for this post. I hope any new readers will enjoy them– and maybe even a few old readers who have forgotten all about reading them almost 6 years ago.  🙂


THE CASE OF THE COPY-CAT CRIMES

Detective Becker pressed his left hand against his temple. It was tender from the pain where a migraine was threatening, but he had to go over this list of people who had received threats in the past month. The letters had all been made out in the same way: typed words that had been cut and pasted – one word at a time – onto a black sheet of paper and mailed in red envelopes.

He’d sworn he’d figure out the nexus they shared that had made them victims of such a hateful attack, but time wasn’t on his side any longer, because the first two people on the list had already been killed.

His buzzer sounded, and his secretary reported that he had a call waiting on line one: his superior, Detective Holmes. “Yes sir,” Becker spoke into the phone. “What can I do for you?”

“The press has gotten wind of the fact that eight other people have received threatening letters. They’re pushing for a story, but, of course, we can’t tell them anything that could disrupt the investigation. I just wanted you to be forewarned that they’ll be waiting outside the front door when you leave the office.”

“Thanks for the warning. I slip out the basement entrance.”

“Have you figured out any connection yet between the two who are dead and the other eight?”

“I think I may have, Sir. All of these people served on a jury together about fifteen years ago. The decision of that jury was unanimous and resulted in the death sentence for the man on trial.”

“Who?”

“Malcom Leiberman.”

Dead silence on the other end of the line caused Becker to stay quiet and wait. He could hear that the wind outside had started blowing harder, and he knew the storm that had been predicted was almost upon them. Finally, Holmes responded: “You know, of course, that Leiberman was convicted of perpetrating a series of murders after sending out threatening letters to his victims.”

Becker sucked in his breath. “No sir … no, I haven’t had time to research the case yet. But that’s too weird.”

“Yes,” replied Holmes. “And now I think I know who we’re looking for. His brother swore he’d get revenge. But then he got sick with some disease that the doctors said was incurable, and he was hospitalized for years. I guess everybody forgot about his threats. I know I did. But we need to find out if he’s still alive, and if so …”

“I’m on it, Sir,” Becker said. “I’ll call you back as soon as I have the information.”

Two hours later, Becker walked into Holmes’ office with a medical report. “He’s alive all right,” he said, laying the report on his superior’s desk. “And living right here in the city.”

“You’ve got an address?”

Becker nodded.

Holmes rose from his chair and strapped on his gun. “Let’s go get him and save eight people’s lives.”

THE END

 


ALL IN A NIGHT’S WORK

When Inspector McGregor arrived at the scene, he found the car, empty, with the driver’s door standing open, exactly as the caller had described.  Refusing to give his name, the caller had simply reported what looked like an abandoned car sitting on an abandoned street, across from the printing plant.

The plant was shut down for the night, but security lights were on in the front, and evidently someone was still working in two of the offices upstairs. Inspector McGregor looked at his watch. They were certainly keeping strange hours. It was 3:30 in the morning. Even the bars across the street and in the next block had been closed for an hour and a half.

McGregor stood looking toward the plant, thinking, when suddenly he saw a face in one of the dark first-floor windows. The outside security light, with its eery blue cast, threw enough light on the window that even the split-second appearance of the face was clear enough to tell it had a fragile look about. It almost had to be a woman or a child.

Time to call for backup, McGregor decided, and radioed the station to pass on the information he had, get two more units on the way, and get a phone number for the printing plant office. “Look up Peter Hampton’s home number as well,” he said into the phone.  “Whoever’s in the office now may not answer the phone, and I want him down here with a key immediately.”

When he signed off, he punched in the printing office number first. The street was so quiet he could actually hear the office phone ringing, but after five rings, the answering machine picked up. He hung up and immediately called Hampton’s house.

The machine picked up at the house as well, but before the message played through, Hampton had picked up the phone. “Yeah, Hampton here,” he said, his voice thick with sleep.

“Mr. Hampton,” this is Inspector Alan McGregor with the metropolitan police department.”

“Police!  What’s going on? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to alarm you, sir, but we have an unusual situation going on at your plant right now, and I need you to get down here and open up the door so we can get in and take a look around.”

“What do you mean unusual situation?  And how do I know this is really the police?”

McGregor gritted his teeth, but at the same time, part of him was glad that Hampton didn’t just take off running in response to a call from someone without positive identification.

“I’m going to hang up, Mr. Hampton. And I want you to look up the number of the 7th precinct and call it. Ask them if they have an Inspector McGregor working on a case that involves your plant. They’ll verify everything I’ve told you, and then you get yourself down here. Understand?”

“Yes … yes … I can do that.”

“Don’t waste time, Hampton. I need you here now.”

“Yes … alright. I’m looking up the number now. I’ll hang up.”

“Fine,” McGregor answered.  “And thank you.”

By the time he’d ended the call the other two patrol cars had joined him. He had requested no sirens, but their lights were flashing. Whoever was inside looking out had to know they were about to get a visit from the police.  “Any ideas at all about who or what, Alan?” one of the other officers asked him.

“Well, I’d bet a month’s salary the face I saw belongs to a woman or a child. She could be in there with a couple others, and they could be in the middle of a burglary. Or she could have run inside for protection from something else.  This car door standing wide open tells me the second possibility is more likely.”

“Sounds reasonable. But why would somebody running for safety park on this side of the street if they were going into that building?”

McGregor shook his head, deep in thought, and just then Peter Hampton drove up, slammed on his brakes, and jumped out of the car. McGregor met him at the front door of the building, and Hampton unlocked the door, all the time emphasizing that the lights upstairs should not be on. “No one is supposed to be here at all, Inspector,” he insisted.

“Okay, it helps to know that. Now, you go back to your car, Mr. Hampton. We’ll take it from here. We don’t want you in the middle of anything that could be a threat to you.”

Hampton gladly obeyed, and McGregor and two of the officers eased through the front doorway. The other two officers had gone around the back to make sure no one left from that direction.

McGregor flipped on the overhead lights in the front reception area. “Police!” he shouted. “You need to come out into the open and identify yourself. The building’s surrounded. Come out where we can see you now!”

“Please! Please don’t shoot,” a thin shaky voice answered. “It’s only me, Carla Watson,” the voice continued, and slowly a young woman rose up from behind a desk on the right side of the room. She held her hands up as if in surrender, and she was shaking with fright. “Please, I was only hiding from some men who were chasing me. Honest. I didn’t mean to break in.” Her voice broke then and she began to sob.

McGregor told the other two officers to check out the rest of the building, and he walked closer to the girl. “Are you here alone?” McGregor asked.

“Yes,” she answered, trying to stifle her sobs. “Could I please get a tissue out of my pocket?” She asked, looking at him pitifully.

“Sure. You can put your hands down and come out here and sit down.”

She obediently moved from behind the desk and walked to a chair in the waiting area, at the same time digging into her sweater pocket for her tissues. When she had blown her nose and managed to get control of the tears to some extent, McGregor propped himself on the corner of a desk and asked her for her story.

“I was coming out of the Family Savings store and three men were standing out in the parking lot. They started to make suggestive comments to me and when I just hurried on to my car, they started following me. I jumped in  and locked my door and got my car started, but they were right beside my door, banging on the window. I managed to take off though, but they jumped into their car and followed me.

“It was awful, I tried to go fast enough to lose them, but they kept up with me. Finally, I came to a red light and just ran through it. I should have known they would do the same thing. There was almost no other traffic on those streets, and I kept turning abruptly, trying to lose them.  Finally, when a truck came across the road between me and them, they had to come to a stop, and I managed to turn two more corners and found myself on this street.

“A friend of mine works at the printing plant, and I remembered her saying that sometimes the ink odor is so strong they often open one of the windows on the back side of the building — one on the alley. I saw the lights on upstairs, and I just hoped that maybe I could find a window open. I pulled the car up on the other side of the street, hoping that if the men found the car, they’d think I had run in that direction and would start looking for me there. That would give me more time to get away.  I ran faster than I’ve ever run to get to the alley, and I prayed the whole way that the window would be open. It was. I crawled in and closed and locked it behind me.”

“But you didn’t go upstairs to get help?”

“Well, after I’d gotten in and walked toward the front of the building, I realized I didn’t hear anything upstairs that sounded like people moving around or talking. I figured someone had just left the lights on by mistake, so I decided to stay down here — at least until I could glance out the window a time or two and make sure I wasn’t followed.”

“And did they follow you?”

She nodded her head and then shivered. McGregor stepped over to her and patted her shoulder. “You’re safe now, Carla. Just tell me everything you can about them.”

She nodded. I glanced out once and saw that they were getting out of their car and heading down the street the other direction as I had hoped they would. I didn’t think they’d try to get into any buildings that were locked, so I thought I was probably safe in here. But I did try to glance out another time or two to see what was happening. They finally came back and got into their car. But while they were gone from it, I managed to look at it long enough to get the license number.”

“Good girl!” McGregor said now, patting her shoulder again. Then he pulled out a pen and pad and took down the number she gave him. She also gave him a fairly good description of two of the men.

McGregor nodded his head as he wrote down what she said. “Yes, I think I many know one of these guys already. And if it’s who I think it is, he’s out of prison on parole, and this is going to go down hard on him.”

By that time all four of the other officers had scouted out the entire building and reported that no one else was on the premises. McGregor sent one man out to get Peter Hampton, and when he had checked out the situation himself, he came to the conclusion that the janitor had evidently left a couple lights on.

“He’s new and, frankly, I’m not sure how reliable he is.” He thought for a moment. “Well, evidently, from what I see now, he’s pretty unreliable. I’ll have a serious talk with him tomorrow. But I don’t see anything out of place – and nothing seems to be missing – so I’d say he’s probably the one who left the lights ——”  He stopped abruptly and looked at Carla. “Hey, how did you get in here anyway!”

She explained about the open window in back and then added. “I’m just so grateful it was open, and so glad the lights were on,” said Carla. “I don’t think I would have thought about trying to get in here if they hadn’t been. So … please … Mr. Hampton, don’t be too hard on your janitor.”

Hampton couldn’t help but grin. “Well, Missy, I guess if his leaving those lights on and the window open saved you from some serious harm, I’ll have to give him another chance to prove he’s dependable.”

McGregor chuckled, as did a couple of the other officers. Then he turned to Carla. “Is there someone at your home so that you won’t have to be there alone for right now?”

“Yes, my sister lives with me there,” she said. “And, as a matter of fact,” she added, looking at her watch, “I bet she’s starting to worry about me right now. My cell phone was dead, or I would have called her and told her to send help. I picked up one of the office phones here, but I couldn’t get it to give me an outside line. I couldn’t figure out all the buttons in the dark.”

“Well, I’m going to follow you home right now, and I’ll go in with you and talk with your sister. Then tomorrow, I’ll get in touch with you and let you know how we’re doing at making sure those men don’t get it into their heads to pull the same stunt with some other young lady. We may need you to identify a couple of them if we can bring them in. Are you willing to do that?”

“Can I do it without them seeing me?”

“Certainly.”

Carla nodded her head. “Then I’ll be glad to.”

“Good,” McGregor said, taking her arm gently. “Now let’s get you home.” They started for the door, and McGregor looked back at Peter Hampton. “Thanks for all your help Mr. Hampton. I hope you can still get a little sleep before you start your work day.”

Peter Hampton chuckled. “I don’t know, Inspector. When I get home, I’m going to have to fill my wife in on all that’s happened. And she’s not one to be satisfied with a summary. Like any good woman, she wants all the little details, and she wants them in chronological order. I figure I’m up for the day, but, all in all, I feel good knowing I could be a little help in keeping crime off the streets of our fair city. “

THE END


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.


 

Down Memory Lane Just For Fun

I’ve had almost no time to write new material for this website lately, so I decided to dig back through some of my old, old flash fiction pieces and post three of them that were written just for fun. My newer followers will not have read them, and I’m betting my readers of many years will have forgotten about them by now. So, hopefully, they’ll give you a little chuckle to lighten your day.

LAST MINUTE DECISIONS

The auditorium was full of guests, the organist waiting for her cue. The best man stood at the door, ready to enter as soon as Carter, the groom, came back inside. He’d just stepped out for some air. Where the heck was he?

Suddenly Carter hurried into the room, passed by his best man, and entered the auditorium. Looking at the guests, he took a deep breath and spoke:

“Sorry folks. Seems my bride eloped with someone else.” He laughed. “She took the car I’d arranged for my own last-minute escape.”

_____________________________


YOU CAN’T WIN ‘EM ALL

Harold slapped the alarm, grabbed the remote and clicked on the TV as the lottery numbers came up. Grabbing his ticket, he checked off the list.

“I won! I won!” He jumped out of bed, stepping on his boxer, Dolly.

“Woof! Woof!” Dolly joined in the excitement.

Barely thinking, Harold threw on clothes and started downstairs. Dolly ran under his feet, and Harold tripped, rolling down the flight in record time. Rubbing is head and his tailbone, he made it to the kitchen to warm up yesterday’s coffee.

The microwave blew a fuse, so he opted for juice, which he spilled on the floor. He bent to wipe it up and dropped his winning ticket into the puddle. And just when Harold thought it couldn’t get any worse, Dolly snatched up the ticket and chewed it to bits.

______________________________

 A WOMAN SCORNED

“Annie!  You’re attending my wedding?!”

“I’m the planner your fiance hired. Didn’t she tell you?”

“You? My ex-wife?! Why would Debra hire you?”

“Probably because I gave her the best price. She was very concerned that she not overspend.”

“Wow. I didn’t realize that you were over being so angry at me. But you’ve done a beautiful job with the decorations.”

“Thank you. I’ve tried to be very thorough and think of absolutely everything that will make the event perfect.”

“And … uh … you’re sure you don’t still hold it against me about … you know … cheating on you with Debra?”

“Relax, Harry. Everything’s fine. You don’t have anything to worry about. Here, drink this glass of champagne. I’ve poured this one especially for you. Now, drink up, and the next thing you know … it’ll all be over.”

___________________________


Friday Fictioneers 8/20/20 – ‘River of Love’

I had a little extra time this week, so I decided to jump back into Friday Fictioneers. If you’d like to take part and write your own 100-word story based on the picture below, just visit Rochelle’s Blog for the details at this link.

The photo is courtesy of Ted Strutz. My story is below the photo.

RIVER OF LOVE

Lindy was almost breathless with anticipation. She’d sat here in the bedroom window of the rambling family home on the banks of the Ohio scores of evenings, waving at the young men who manned the barges running down river.

Several months ago, one of those young men had come looking for her on his day off. They’d gone for ice cream and talked late into the night on her porch. One visit led to another, and then led to love. Tonight he wouldn’t wave from the barge. Tonight he’d put a ring on her finger and say, “I do.”


Author’s note: When my mother was in her very early twenties, she worked in Evansville, Indiana, and boarded with a family in a two story house on the banks of the Ohio River. She told me that she and the daughter of the house often sat in the open bedroom windows and waved at the guys who manned the barges running down river. I actually visited the place she lived when I was in high school. This house brought that memory back to me.


 

‘Stories That Leave You Thinking’ — on sale

GIRAFFE COVER W. SHADOW

My short story anthology Stories That Leave You Thinking is on sale during the whole month of June.

A collection of diverse and slightly unconventional short short stories

Have you ever come to the words “The End” when reading and just couldn’t seem to turn off your own imagination? Did your mind keep working on the plot and planning out possible ways in which the story could continue? Did you enjoy the process? Then you’ve come to the right book. The stories included here, on a wide variety of subjects and themes, offer the reader the opportunity to keep thinking past “The End.” Each story comes to a stop, to be sure, but most of them will tempt the reader to let his own imagination get involved and do some thinking about what would happen next – if the story continued. A refreshing approach to short story telling.

Paperback only — $5.00
Find it here:



 

Focus on Coffee – Day 4

I do apologize for my “Focus on Coffee” series being a little erratic where posts are concerned.  All I can say is that we’re living in erratic times, and my muse seems to be following suit. Anyway, I’m finally in the mood to do the next post in the series, so here goes. Today, I’m giving you one of my short stories with a coffee flavor. It’s actually one of several stories that will eventually make up a collection titled Elixir of Life Coffeehouse Stories. A few of you may have read this story when I wrote it originally a couple years ago, but even if you did, hopefully you’ll enjoy it again.


AS THE PLOT UNRAVELS

COFFEE & LAPTOP -- Gillie 1864 -- PX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How?”

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

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

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

“MmMmm, you do have a problem,” Clarence said, so engulfed in the conversation now that he just sat right down at the table beside Neville.  They both sat in silence for a moment, and then Clarence asked, “Well, why don’t you just delete all that part that changed and go back to your first chapter and start over on the story you intended to write. That would take care of it wouldn’t it?”

“Well, that’s the other problem. I’ve totally lost track of the story I intended to write … and besides ….” He paused and glanced off to the side, lost in thought for a long moment. Clarence waited, figuring Neville was trying to work out a plan.

Suddenly Neville looked back at Clarence with a smile on his face. He looked serene rather than agitated, and Clarence was a little confused. “You figure something out? How to stop this runaway story?”

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

“Huh?”

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

“But what about your contract and all?”

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

“But –”

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

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


photo: courtesy of Gillie 1864 @ pixabay.com

~~~
~~~

It’s the Principle of the Thing

I was just meandering through some of my old, old flash fiction this weekend, and happened across this little story. I decided that during this unique time of absenting ourselves from routine cosmetic care, this little gem might lighten the day for a few people.


BARBER POLE - CLIPARTIT’S THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING

Albert, the town barber, whistled as he walked the few blocks to his shop, key in hand. But as he rounded the corner, he saw that he had a customer impatiently waiting at the door.

“I thought you’d never get here!” the customer said.

Albert’s eyes grew round.

“Come on,” the customer urged. “Let’s get inside.”

Albert unlocked the door and followed his customer in, returning his keys to his pocket and unfolding a clean cape, while all the time never taking his eyes off his guest.

“Well, don’t just stand there,” the customer said, now in the chair. “Quick! Get me shaved.”

“Oh … I couldn’t!  I just couldn’t!” Albert said, as he gently wrapped the cape around the customer. “Why, that’s the most perfect beard I’ve ever seen.”

“What!?!?”

“Why, it’s thick and velvety, with perfect color. Every barber longs for a customer with a beard like that to care for.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!  What’s wrong with you, man?”

“I’ll delight in trimming it for you, but I could never shave it off.”

“But you must! I’m not leaving this chair until you do!”

Albert shook his head.

“Now look here,” the customer shouted. “I’ll pay you double your normal price. But get me shaved now!”

Albert looked genuinely concerned, but continued to shake his head.

“No, it would be a shame to do it” He said. “I’m very sorry if it upsets you, M’am.  But I will not shave off your beard.”

~~~

 

Laughter Is Good Medicine — Day 1

I think it’s past time for a new series from me, and in light of the heaviness weighing on people all over the world right now, I’m feeling led to offer just a touch of humor on a daily basis — for the next 7 days — in the hope it will help us laugh a little. The Word of God says, “A Merry heart does good like a medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22). And Reader’s Digest used to have a joke page with the heading “The most completely lost of all days is that on which one has not laughed.”  I agree whole-heartedly with both those sentiments. So let’s laugh a little and make ourselves feel better.

Of course, everyone has his own idea of what’s funny, but I’m going to do my best to give you a good variety of subject matter, attitude, and genre in this series. For the first installment, I’m reposting a short story from several years ago. I re-read this story myself periodically, and I have to say that I still enjoy it as much now as I did when I wrote it. I hope you do as well.

ANTHROPOLOGY 101

JUNGLE ISLAND 2

My marriage to an anthropologist was educational – and short. Herman loved his work and was really quite vain about it. He honestly believed that there was no people group that he could not figure out and eventually befriend – even when scores of others in his field had failed.

For years, he had been studying one particular tribe of natives on a tiny island in the Pacific that most ship’s captains refused as a port of call. The tribe was said to be cannibalistic, but my Herman just knew that he could convert them after explaining how much he had studied them in order to become their friend.

On looking back, I suppose that I should have put my foot down and refused when he insisted we honeymoon on the island. But he was so certain that he could convince the natives to help him with his research. So, as usual in our relationship, I acquiesced. My friends and family scolded me for my attitude. They said Herman should be treating me like a goddess rather than just ordering me around and dragging me off to some God-forsaken island to begin our marriage.

When we booked passage on the ship, we had to pay for a skiff as well because the captain told us that he would anchor far offshore, and we would have to go the rest of the way on our own. When we left the ship, he reminded us again what fools he considered us. But Herman insisted that he had everything under control.

We hadn’t been on the island more than an hour before the tribe captured us. They were quite large – both men and women – and exceedingly dark in coloring. They bound Herman immediately and tied him to a large pole at one end of their village. I was shaking like a leaf as they approached me, but they just looked at me with wide eyes and smiles, while making the most excited conversation with each other. I could understand only a very small part of what they said – mainly by their actions.

Then four of them brought a huge carrier – sort of a chair supported between two long poles and carried by the natives. One of the men – seemingly the chief – took my hand and escorted me to the chair. They then carried me ceremoniously into the center of the village and escorted me to an elevated area on which sat a throne – all inlaid with gold. I sat, still quaking inside, but almost too overcome by my curiosity to concentrate on being afraid.

Next they placed a crown of the most exquisite jewels on my head and then bowed down to the ground in front of me. Finally, I spoke and asked in my own language for an explanation. One young man came forward and spoke to me in my native tongue to explain.

Evidently my golden blond hair was a sign to them. They had been expecting the goddess of their tribe to come to them in person for many years, and the sign of her true identity was that her head would shine like the sun. So I’m to be worshiped and given every one of my heart’s desires forever. I suppose one might say that, in a way, it’s thanks to Herman that I’m being treated like a goddess.

Of course, they prepared a huge feast in celebration of my arrival, and I guess everyone would have to admit that Herman truly did give his all for the cause of getting to know this tribe of people better. Naturally, I declined any food.

I certainly miss Herman, but I have to admit that what worries me more is what will happen when my roots start to grow out.



Friday Fictioneers – 2/26/20

I don’t manage to take part in “Friday Fictioneers very often these days, but tonight I decided I just needed to write a story for the prompt. If you’re interested in taking part in writing stories of 100 words or less, hop over to Rochelle’s place and get the rules. My story this week is 99 words and is below the picture prompt, which comes to us from Dale Rogerson.

CAST ONSTAGE FOR F.F.

 

LAST CURTAIN CALL

“Look at her!” Claire whispered to Bryant standing beside her at the far right end of the line of actors. “Curtsying as if she’s greeting royalty, feigning humility when she’s loving every clap of their hands.”
“She’s a glutton for praise, all right.”
“That role should have been mine. I should have worn those gorgeous gowns instead of these ugly jodhpurs.”
“Well, at least you’re her understudy.”
“Hmmm, yes … well … not for long.”
“What, you’re quitting?” Bryant asked, shocked.
“No,” Claire said, a curious gleam in her eye. “She’s taking an unexpected leave of absence.”



 

‘Stories That Leave You Thinking …’

GIRAFFE COVER W. SHADOW

Well, I’ved dithered, and dallied, and delayed for a year. I had all kinds of excuses and reasons — some good, some not so good. But all that’s behind me now, and I FINALLY have the enlarged second edition of my short short story anthology ready for public consumption. 🙂

Yep, it’s out there: STORIES THAT LEAVE YOU THINKING … (A Collection of Diverse and Slightly Unconventional Short Short Stories)

Some of you helped me choose which stories needed to be included. Many of you have read several of them over the past few years, and your response played a part in decideding which stories to include and which to leave for another project. The book contains 20 stories in all. Three of them are also featured in my Christmas anthology, but the other 17 have not been published previously in book form.

Even though the book is actually a totally new entity and will replace the old, smaller version completely, I still wanted to use the same cover. My great friend, professional photographer Bob Mielke, generously gave me permission to use his amazing work. This cover photo inspired one of the first stories to go into the book, and, as far as I was concerned, it just HAD to be the front cover. Thank again, Bob. You’re one of the “good guys.”

Here’s the blurb to tell you a little more about what you can expect if you pick up a copy of STORIES THAT LEAVE YOU THINKING … .  And I hope you do — one for you and one for a friend. It’s currently available in paperback only.

“Have you ever come to the words “The End” when reading and just couldn’t seem to turn off your own imagination? Did your mind keep working on the plot and planning out possible ways in which the story could continue? Did you enjoy the process? Then you’ve come to the right book. The stories included here, on a wide variety of subjects and themes, offer the reader the opportunity to keep thinking past “The End.” Each story comes to a stop, to be sure, but most of them will tempt the reader to let his own imagination get involved and do some thinking about what would happen next – if the story continued. A refreshing approach to short story telling.”

Purchase your own copy for $6.00  from Amazon.




 

~~~

Friday Fictioneers – 6/17/19

Friday Fictioneers this week is based on the picture prompt below by Valerie J. Barrett.

My story is below the picture.

vintage-kitchen-tools-valerie-barrett

 

SEEDS FOR A NEW BEGINNING

The old stove looked as if Granny would be scurrying back into the kitchen any minute. I could almost hear the teakettle hum. The house should have felt empty, but instead, it was rich with welcoming sights and scents.

I had come to sort and process the remnants of Granny’s life. But as I stood in her kitchen, where life still seemed so warm and real – and where cyberspace seemed like science fiction – I realized those remnants were treasures that could give my wayward life some meaning. So I decided to light up the stove, fill the teakettle, and stay a few years.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Weekend Coffee Share – 4/7/19

COFFEE - YELLOW SMILEY -- Hans PX
photo courtesy of Hans @ pixabay.com

I’ve missed taking part in the weekend coffee shares, but my schedule just didn’t leave me much time for posting. If we were having coffee on this Sunday evening, I’d tell you that this weekend has been a wild ride. But I did manage to get two important things done.

The most important was planning and officiating at a funeral for a cousin. I’ve officiated at many funerals, but this one presented a particular challenge. Many members of the family (not the ones I’m close to, thank the Lord) have been having disagreements and considerable strife about a number of things. There are so many factions who are angry with one of the other factions that one other family member who traveled with me to the service said she was concerned that after we left there might be an actual fight break out.

You can imagine what it was like to try to plan and carry out the service, when so many of the people don’t want to speak to or cooperate with others, and when almost anything you say could possibly inflame touchy feelings even more.  One woman, who stood like a stone right in my line of vision through the whole service, had such a look of hatred on her face the whole time that I was amazed she could even maintain the look and stance for such a long period. She came to the service, but did not speak to any of her brothers or sisters.

Whew!  I lived through it, and I’m trusting the Lord that some of the things I shared will actually help bring some healing to those poor troubled people.  But I’m very glad it’s over.  I cannot understand a person allowing another person’s bad treatment of him to cause that first person to become so angry and bitter that it makes him physically sick. Why hold onto bitterness and resentment?  It certainly doesn’t hurt the person one is bitter against. It hurts only the one who feels and feeds that bitterness and hatred.

But, as I said, it’s over now, and I at least did what I was supposed to do to try to help.

The other accomplishment was a new video in my “Audio Short Stories” series. I managed to get that done late Saturday night, so I’m inserting it into this post so that — just in case you’re a person who enjoys sitting back and listening to a story rather than having to read it for yourself — you can listen to it right here.

I hope all the rest of you had relaxing weekends. I’m planning on my next weekend being more quiet and laid-back. Maybe I can get some painting done. Goodness knows I need to de-stress.  🙂

Oh, I almost forgot! Another happy thing happened on Saturday: a good friend came by with a gift for me. It was a lovely, fancy white cup and saucer with a silver fleur de lis design on it. It came complete with a little silver spoon — and a huge truffle inside to go with the coffee I was undoubtedly going to have in that cup. It was such a delightful surprise and a welcome positive addition to my troubled weekend.

Here’s the story I promised.  Kick back, prop your feet up, sip your coffee, and enjoy.

 

 

To participate in Weekend Coffee Share, visit Eclectic Ali for the details.

 

 


 

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.

`

 

 

 

 

 


 

New Writing Challenge: Write a Story Using Nothing But Dialogue

Okey-dokey, folks, it’s time for a fresh writing challenge. I’ve been doing this exercise with some of my creative writing students to help them get a better grip on using dialogue creatively and successfully in their stories. It’s a challenge for sure, but it’s lots of fun.

So here’s the only rule. Write a short story (anywhere between 100 and 500 words) using nothing but dialogue. No introduction, no tag lines to identify speakers, no narration of any kind.

Two Helpful Hints:
1. Since you can’t use tag words to identify speakers, you’ll be restricted to only two characters so that the reader can follow the dialogue easily.
2. You’ll need to make sure your dialogue reveals the identity of the characters because you can’t narrate their identity or description to your readers.

Just post your story on your own site and hop over here and put the link into the “Comments” section for this post.

No time limit: This challenge is open-ended. Anytime you read this post and want to try your hand at a dialogue story, go for it.  Do more than one if you like. And don’t forget to come back here and leave your link.

My own story is below:

GIRL DRAWING HEART ON WALL - cropped -- SFerrario - PX

FAMILY PICTURE

“Mandy, what on earth have you done to the wall?”
“I’m drawing a merle, Mommy.”
“A what?”
“A merle. You know, a picture that covers the whole wall.”
“Oh, you mean a mural.”
“Right, and this is a picture of our whole family.”
Our family?”
“Yes. See this really big person is God, because our Sunday School teacher said that all families come from God.”
“I see. And, yes, Mrs. Osgood is right.”
“And then here’s Daddy and you and me and Francis and Baby Daniel.”
“Well, I understand God and Daddy and me and you and Francis, but who on earth is Baby Daniel?”
“My little brother.”
“But, Mandy, you don’t have a little brother.”
“Not yet, but he’s coming. God told me today.”
“Ooooooh ….”

`

`


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