THE PRISONER by John Rosenman

Ahab

They put me in this cell eight months ago and locked the door.  I gaze out through the window at a world ravaged and barren.  There Famine rules, and her sisters Death and Despair.

Three times a day they bring me sumptuous feasts.  Steaks.  Chops.  Lobsters swimming in butter.  Pancakes and bacon and every kind of omelet you can imagine.  I eat and grow ever fatter.

The guards who roll these banquets in look like skeletons.  Their ribs strain against their skin.  Their lips drool as they lift off silver lids and fragrant clouds fill the air.  But they don’t take a bite.  Not one.

They keep me well supplied with women too.  Lord, you should see them.  They are tall and short, lush and lovely.  And they all exist for one purpose.

To please me.

Why, you ask?

That is the question I’ve asked myself ever since they brought me here.  Why do they go to such extremes to keep me happy when the Great War made the entire world barren?  The wine, women, and song they provide must drain what little wealth remains.  They treat me like the king of the world, and my slightest wish for pleasure, no matter how frivolous, is always granted.  There are only two problems.

(1) I can’t remember a damned thing before the day they brought me here.

(2) I can never go anywhere or contact anyone outside.

One day I’m listening to a Bach concerto, when an idea strikes me.  They are fattening me up for the kill, so they can eat me!

But it doesn’t make sense.  Why waste all that sumptuous food for a few pounds of overfed flesh?  It would be foolishly wasteful and my meat wouldn’t go very far.  Besides, my captors are not cannibals.  At least, I don’t think they are.

I pat my swollen stomach and sit back on velvet pillows.  Soon another explanation comes, and I sit up in fear.

They plan to sacrifice me as an offering to . . .

But that’s the rub.  To whom?  To what possible God?

I settle back, realizing that theory makes no sense either.  Seeking an answer to my imprisonment is as foolish as asking the guards, who never say anything.

The door to my cell rattles and opens.  Mr. Black, my warden, enters, followed by several guards.

“Please come with us,” he says.

I rise from the soft, scented couch and take a (last?) look around, feeling the beginning of fear.  I call this a “cell,” but it’s a large square room with a thick carpet and lavish furnishings.  Still, it comes with a lock, and I’ve never been allowed out even for exercise.

I search the warden’s eyes for a sign, something that tells me why he’s here, what this is all about.  His black eyes lead to eternity.  I retreat in panic.

“Mr. Mann,” he says, his voice deep as death, “please come with us.”

I get a grip and head for the door.  Outside my room (for the first time ever), I move down a corridor surrounded by guards.  The Warden marches at my side.

After an elevator ride, we enter a new corridor.  We walk, we walk.  We turn left, then right, then left again.  How big is this place anyway?

Eventually we stop before a black door.  The warden knocks and the door opens.  He turns to me and smiles.

“Mr. Mann, we’ll leave you here.”  Gently, he pushes me inside.

The door closes behind me.  I see two men in rumpled suits.  One is smoking.

I stare at them.  They stare at me.  The man on the right, the one who’s smoking, ambles forward and looks me over.  He shrugs.

“I don’t get it.  What is he doing here?”

The other shrugs too.  “You might as well ask, what are we doing here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Look around, for God’s sake.”

As the man scans the place, I do too.  There’s almost no detail.  This room goes beyond nondescript.  Except for a table and a few chairs, it’s almost featureless.

“I see what you mean,” the smoker says.  “This room looks unfinished.  Why’s that?”

“It’s obvious,” his friend says.  “The writer has absolutely no idea where he’s going with this story.  The opening is over the top but it ain’t bad – a prisoner treated like an emperor for some mysterious reason in a post-nuclear-war world ravaged by famine.  Problem is, the writer has no clue where to take it.  So you and I are basically twiddling our thumbs while he keeps scribbling, hoping that the situation generates a viable plot thread.  View it as a lame exercise in metafiction.”

I’m as lost as the smoker.  “Meta – what?” we ask simultaneously.

He lifts an eyebrow.  “It’s an artsy-fartsy term.  Basically it’s fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction and whose characters may be aware they’re in a fictional work.  It –  look, I don’t have time for a crash course in literary criticism.”  He points at the man’s cigarette.  “What’s your brand?”

The guy studies it and frowns.  “Damned if I know.”  He pats his pockets.  “And I don’t have a pack.”

“Uh-huh.”  The other comes forward.  I notice he’s black, though I’m sure he wasn’t when I entered.  “And if you search your memory, you’ll find you don’t know if you drink coffee or what your name is.”

“That’s not true.”  He scratches his head.  “It’s Fred . . . something.”

“Hooray, the writer’s got a few facts, but not much.  And when he wrote me in, he knew even less.  I don’t know what my handle is.  Nor, I’m sad to say, do I know what the hell to do with our guest.  I know he’s a prisoner, but that’s about it.”

Listening to them talk, I’m getting more and more lost.  Their words make no sense at all.  I thought they were going to kill me.  Surely they can’t be right about us being victims of some schmuck’s writer’s block.

The smoker drops the cigarette and grinds it out with his heel.  “You’re right.  There’s almost no details here.  I don’t even know if I like women.  The jerk who hatched this turkey must be heading toward a dead end.”  He snaps his fingers.  “Hey, could this be a minimalist story?”

The other shakes his head.  “Naw, a minimalist tale has a purpose, delicacy of handling.  The joker who still-birthed this aimless narrative is stymied and has no idea where to go.  For all I know –”

Suddenly the door bursts open and two masked men leap inside.  Unlike the others, they are finely drawn and wear brilliant red uniforms of elaborate detail.  They both hold lethal-looking weapons.

“Oh, shit.”  The smoker reaches inside his coat.  “Where the fuck did I put that thing?”  Finding nothing, he rummages through his pockets.  His friend is more successful, but his gun barely clears leather before bullets kill them both.

One of the killers seizes my arm.  “Come with us.  Only you can save the world!”

They hustle me into the corridor, which is filled with dead guards.  As we race toward an exit, I wonder why I didn’t hear any shots.

We crash through a door and run up stairs.  Around and around, higher and higher.  Once I fall but my escorts grab me and haul me up.  Exhausted, I stagger through another door onto a roof.  A helicopter sits unattended, its blades whirling.

In seconds we’re airborne, the city wheeling beneath us as we rise.  Everything’s moving so fast, I barely have time to think.  But one thing stands out.  The pilot had said that I – only I – could save the world.

When I ask him about it, he doesn’t reply.  The copter ascends.

“I did hear you say that,” the other man says.  “What’s it about?”

The pilot turns the wheel slightly.  “It’s classified.  On a-need-to-know basis.”

The other man adjusts his mask.  “At least tell me why we’re wearing these things.”

“So no one can identify us.”

“So no one can identify us?  Who cares about that?  We’re freeing a goddamn prisoner and just want to get him away.  And if we’re going to wear masks, why these tiny, silly, pansy ones?  They make us look like Zorro.  Another thing: in our line of work, stealth and secrecy are essential.  These faggy red uniforms practically shout that a mission is in progress.”

The pilot stiffens.  “Uh-oh,” he says, pointing out the windshield.  “Enemy at three o’clock.”

“And more at nine,” his colleague observes.  He flashes me a look.  “This man must be important.”

Important?  This is madness.  Surely, they have me confused with someone else.  I have no special skills and can’t remember my past.  My whole life has been that room where I received everything I wanted.  It’s hard to imagine I ever wanted to leave it.  As the copter rises, I find myself wishing I were back dining on lobster and watching strippers.

Soon the sky is filled with attacking aircraft.  Laser and mortar fire strafes the air.

The man with the questions grabs a machine gun on his side of the copter.  He fires in a continuous burst.  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  He swings the gun on a tripod, blasting the enemy as an ammunition belt rattles like a snake.

Above, to the left, a plane erupts in flames.  Gotcha!

The copter wheels, turns.  For an instant, I see a deep giant crater far below in the heart of the city.  A memory stirs.  Nuclear attack, but when?

“Hey,” the gunner shouts to me, “use the Browning beside you!”

“WHAT?” I shout back over the sound of incoming mortar.

He sights on the enemy.  “The M2!  Help me blast ’em!  Just sight and pull the trigger!”

ME?  He wants ME to shoot the enemy?

A burst of fire narrowly misses us, shaking the interior.  No time to argue.  Turning, I find a machine gun beside me.  How did I miss it before?  I grab the handle and draw a bead on an attacker.  Hold my breath and pull.

It erupts in a flower of flame.

Touché!

In seconds I’m completely into it.  I blast plane after plane.  They go poof, they go kaplooey, erupting in pretty patterns.  Fiery debris rains down toward the city.  I swing the gun and pop another plane, then another and another.  I’ve never felt better in my life.

Finally, except for us, the sky is empty.  We’re kings of the clouds!

“Status report,” the pilot says.

The gunner inspects the cabin.  “Everything looks AOK.  Just a little superficial damage.”

“Good.”  The pilot taps the instrument panel.  “Everything checks out here too.  Nothing to worry about.”

“I’m not sure,” his partner says.  “There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t make sense.”

A pause.  “Yeah, like what?”

“Well, just for openers, why are we using the M2?  The darn thing’s antiquated.  We haven’t used them in twenty years.  But even more important, where did all the bad guys come from so suddenly?”

“What are you talking about?”  The pilot adjusts his course.  “They saw we were freeing Mr. Mann here and tried to stop us.  He’s important to them.”

“And to us.  But no one seems to know why.”  He frowns.  “If the devil’s in the details, then Satan’s laughing like a madman.”  He points out at some burning debris.  “To me, this huge attack is a plot convenience with cheap special effects.  It’s a Deus ex machina to rescue a stalled narrative.”

The pilot snorts.  “You should never have majored in English lit.”

“C’mon, think.  There are more holes in this plot than you can shake a cliché at.  The critics will ask how we destroyed a hundred planes and barely got our hair mussed.”  He looks at me.  “And our brain-damaged passenger turns out to be an ace sharpshooter, a regular Hawkeye.  The end result is that the reader will find it impossible to suspend his disbelief.”

The pilot swings the copter around.  “Hold on, we’re going back.”  He glances over his shoulder at me.  “You Okay?”

I nod.  In fact, I’m better than ever before.  I feel exhilarated and complete, liberated from my misery.  But I do wonder about something.  Why are we returning?

I glance at the gunner.  He spreads his hands and shrugs.

Heading back, I see terrible destruction below.  Outside the monstrous crater, the city and surrounding landscape are ravaged by the horrors of nuclear warfare.  Something about the desolate scene stirs my memory.  An expansive laboratory, the whir of centrifuges.  And I . . .

I straighten in my seat.  I am Dr. Joshua Mann, neurobiologist.  I remember an assault on my lab, people trying to kill me.  Something struck my head and the world went black.

“My God,” I gasp.  “I’m Joshua Mann, a scientist.  Men attacked my lab.  I saw people die.”

“Yes!” the pilot said.  “That’s good, tell us more.”

I close my eyes, feeling it come back.  “I was injured.  Something knocked me out.  Later, our people tried to jar my memory.  Drugs, shock therapy, everything.  Then . . .”

I stop, drawing a blank.

The pilot continues for me.  “Finally, on the advice of psychiatrists, we put you in an ultra-pampered environment.  The latest theory is that for a work-driven, goal-oriented person like you, the boredom of easy living would be intolerable.  You would rebel and your amnesia would lift.”

“But it didn’t work,” he goes on.  “You chafed at the forced inactivity, but didn’t remember your work.  Maybe, in time, that would have changed.  But after eight months, we couldn’t wait any longer.”

He doesn’t have to continue.  “So the government decided a little excitement was in order, that it might stir up my memories when nothing else could.”  I frown.  “Only you didn’t expect to be attacked, and by such a large force.”

“A contrived force,” the gunner says.  “I still don’t think that scene’s plausible.”

The pilot glares at him.  “What else is coming back to you, Dr. Mann?”

In my mind, more pieces fall into place.  “My secret formula.  I memorized it so spies wouldn’t steal it.  The formula would lift the contagion, make the earth grow again.  But there were people who didn’t want that.”

“Yes, the Enemy,” the pilot says.  “They profit from a world filled with death.  They’re like scavengers, living off carrion.”

The other man laughs.  “Hallelujah,” he says.  “It’s not only another plot contrivance, but a bloody cliché to boot.  A secret formula.  You’re going to convince me that a few scribbles on paper will save humanity?”

“Fasten your seatbelts,” the pilot says.  “We’re about to land.”

We touch down on the roof where we started from and get out.  Before we enter the building, though, the pilot stops me.

“Take off your clothes,” he says.

“Why?”

He starts to strip.  “Because we’re going to change outfits.”

I hesitate in confusion, realizing for the first time that we’re about the same height and weight.  Then I obey.

Soon, we’ve swapped everything but the mask.  He removes it, then peels off his hair, making himself bald.

I gasp.  I’m staring at myself!  He looks just like me!

“Put the mask on,” he says, holding it out.

“How . . .”

“Surgical alteration to make me look like you.  The enemy must think you’re in prison and beyond their reach.  But it will be me taking your place while we fly you to a fully equipped lab.”

I take the mask, put it on.  “That’s brilliant.”

The skeptical one snorts in disgust.  “Bullshit, it’s just another cheap plot contrivance.  How would they even know he’s a prisoner?”

“They’ve got a spy on our staff,” the man with my face says.  “We know who it is and keep him away from Dr. Mann.  At the same time, we control the information he receives, so he won’t know about this switch.”  He pats my bright red uniform.  “Thank God, our trick worked and jarred your memory.  Our hopes for man’s future depend on you, Dr. Mann.”

His colleague steps forward.  “You know, for the first time, this narrative makes some sense.”  He stops, his eyes widening.  “Man.  Dr. Mann.  I . . . I can’t believe I didn’t see it!  Let me deconstruct this narrative, determine its deeper meaning.”

“Stop,” his superior orders.  “I’ve had enough.”

“Just a minute,” the other says.  “I thought this was a botched story by an inept writer.  But I see it’s not!  It’s deceptively nuanced, an amusette to catch the unwary.  It –”

“I’m warning you,” the pilot says.  “Shut your trap.”

“It’s actually a deeply symbolic allegory about the nature of man.  You see, Dr. Mann

represents all men, just as Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress represents all Christians.  And like men everywhere, Dr. Mann is a prisoner, confined by the existential limits of society.”

The pilot pulls a gun.  “I’m warning you!”

“Yes, yes, I see it!” the other cries.  “Ultimately, we are all prisoners in separate rooms, isolated from each other and exposed to life’s chaos and inexplicable events.  Viewed from that perspective, the sudden, seemingly unwarranted appearance of enemy planes is ingenious, a profound statement of the human condition.  It represents the unpredictable nature of life, the –”

BANG!  The man stops talking and peers down at a smoldering wound in his chest.

The pilot smiles.  “How’s that for a fucking plot hole?”  He watches the other fall, then holsters his weapon in disgust.  “Silly ass, I got tired of his jargon.”

I shudder, gazing down at the man’s body.  “I rather liked him.”

The pilot leads me inside.  There, I find Warden Black waiting for us.

“Welcome back, Mr. Mann,” he says to the pilot.  He gives me a meaningful look, then nods at several guards.  “These gentleman will accompany you to your destination.”

To the secret lab, he means, where I shall heroically endeavor to save humanity.  Funny, though I’ve learned a lot, I still can’t say this story makes much sense.  The only thing I know for sure is that I’ll be glad to get out of it.

My replacement seems to read my mind.  “This isn’t just a story, you know.”

Not just a story?  I start to ask what he means, but remember something.  “It’s a novel, isn’t it?  And this – is just the first chapter.”

He grins.  “Worse than that.  This is the first chapter of a whole action-thriller series.  If it’s any consolation, it’s going to be popular.  Over twenty best sellers.”

I groan.  Twenty novels of this dreck!

I gaze at the new Dr. Mann, tempted to ask for my old job back.  The life of a spoiled sybarite isn’t so bad, especially when you get laid often.  It certainly beats getting your ass shot at all the time.  But I guess I have a job to do.

I return to the roof, escorted by several men.  Reaching the copter, I halt in amazement.  The dead man’s sitting behind the wheel, munching a sandwich.

“I thought you were dead.”

He swallows.  “The author screwed up again, forgot he even whacked me.  Anyway, while these guards ride shotgun, I’ll be flying you to the lab.”

I peer at him in suspicion.  “Hey, do I know you?  You look familiar.”

He takes off his mask and winks.  “Like you, I’ve had amnesia and just realized who I am.  I’m Louie, your faithful sidekick in the series.”

Christ, I recognize him.  He looks just like Claude Rains who played Louie Renault in Casablanca.  That makes this chapter’s ending strictly a rip-off.  I climb in the copter and sit beside him, trying to prepare myself for all that lies ahead.  Deep down I know I’m even more of a prisoner than before.

“Louie,” I finally say, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” *

 

* Originally published in Chimeraworld 2008, a book to rejected fiction.  Well, it figures.

 

John has published twenty books and three hundred short stories, most of them science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal romance.  He’s the former editor of Horror MAGAZINE and Chairman of the Board of the Horror Writers Association.  Recently, he’s focused on his Inspector of the Cross series which features a 4000-year-old hero fighting to save the human race from seemingly invincible aliens. The Merry-Go-Round Man, a coming-of-age novel featuring three boys in the fifties, can be found on Amazon and elsewhere.

Web site: http://www.johnrosenman.com

Blog site: http:// www.johnrosenman.blogspot.com

FB page: https://www.facebook.com/JohnBRosenman?ref=hl

 

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Stiletto

Warning:  This story contains explicit language.

 

Gunners_stiletto_01

What happens when society begins to paint individuals in colours they don’t like? Well, I think I have an answer for you. And it begins and ends with my stiletto. This was a blade I had fashioned a few years ago, as part of my Knights Templar collection. But unlike my ceremonial swords and daggers, this piece was battle ready. Good strong steel, utilitarian design—its point proclaiming its wicked function; this triangular blade was made for stabbing.

A stiletto, you see, traditionally refers to a type of knife blade which is triangular in design rather than flat. It’s also longer than an average blade. And while it’s often referred to as a knife, a better term would be a dagger or a sword dagger―due to the cross piece between the handle and the blade. The triangular construction of the blade makes for dull edges. On the other hand, the blade is strong, much stronger than a normal knife. And then there’s that extremely sharp point. It’s this function that makes the blade ideal for stabbing, and in the past it was known to be damned good at passing through the ribs to get at the heart or lungs of an enemy.

The Italians developed the stiletto in the late 1400’s, when the art of the Vendetta, or honor duel, was openly practiced by the noble and the wealthy. A rapier (long, thin sword) would be held in one hand, and a stiletto dagger with wide cross guard would be held in the other. The stiletto could be used to fend off an opponent’s sword or catch and trap it along the cross guard. It could even be used for attacking.

The blade was also made in circular and diamond shapes, but they all had the common needle-like point. So popular were these blades that they went on to be adopted by professional assassins as their weapon of choice, both for the stabbing ability and because the dagger could be easily hidden on the body. In fact, the stiletto was so effective that entire countries banned its use.

And so we come to another reason I had the stiletto made. It was as a thumb-jerk reaction to the Mounties pulling my gun license. You see, I’d grown up with rifles and such, and right or wrong, I’d always felt safer knowing there was that kind of protection in my home. You might ask “Protection from what?” Home invasion, the drunks that have twice tried to break into my home, societal breakdown, war—I could name any number of reasons, and they would all seem somehow less frightening, because I had a good weapon at hand. Anyway, now, due to the onset of Bipolar Disorder and a three week hospital stay, I was suddenly unfit to be around firearms. I had been banned from owning or using them―painted by the same brush as those ancients who would have used the stiletto. Well fuck them; I was going to have protection. And I loved the deliciously circular nature of my situation and weapon of choice.

You see, the situation I alluded to at the beginning of my little story has nothing to do with the original issue of protection. It’s about justice…an eye for an eye. You know, that fucking McGonagle didn’t even get jail time. Road conditions, they said. Black ice, they said. Yeah, that’s why my baby’s chest was flattened. Not because the asshole was driving too fast, but because the road was icy, and Penny had enjoyed a couple of drinks before heading out for the evening. My ass. Penny would never have been that close to the side of the road, drunk or not. She always walked as far away as she could get from traffic. Her mom had lost a brother to a drunk driver, and there was no way Penny was going to repeat the tragedy. No, the fuck was driving too fast for the road condition and lost control of the vehicle. I knew it. So did he. I’d seen it in his eyes—they gleamed when the verdict was announced.

Well, I was going to fix him. No more thinking about it over and over and over again. The time had come to clear my mind. I stuck the stiletto in my waistband, the cold metal burning against my bared flesh, and I headed out. McGonagle was going get it right under the rib cage and straight up into his black, fucking heart.

I waited until midnight. The cops should have gotten their quota of drunk drivers by then. The town would be quiet, but there would still be enough traffic that I wouldn’t stand out. When I got to his place, I left the car on the street and walked up to the darkened house. I wasn’t worried about getting caught, see? But I wasn’t going give the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) a slam dunk, either. Trying to act like I belonged there, I went to the front door and pretended to jiggle the lock with my car keys. I needn’t have worried; the idiot didn’t lock his door at night.

Now for the tough part. There were going be two kids and a wife in the house. I’d cased the place and had figured out everyone slept upstairs. Kids at the back of the house and the parents up front. Their door would be right near the top of the stairs.

I went into the house, took the stairs quietly in my soft-soled Keds, and opened the nicely weighted, oak bedroom door without hesitation, without sound. I was going to get one shot at this, and I wasn’t wasting a second. The streetlights, shining through a large window, illuminated both the man and the woman.

I’m never going to forget McGonagle’s face… My luck, he was sleeping on his back. I walked around the bed, lifted his blanket and I shoved that steel pin as hard and as deep as I could. He made a huff and his eyes opened. I shoved my face into his and leaned into the weapon. It was just like killing a trapped fox. Take hold of the chest and keep the pressure on until the heart stops. He was trying to buck now. I didn’t want to have to deal with his wife, so, keeping one foot on the floor, I laid down right on top of him. There was very little blood. A stiletto is like a wedge, and it doesn’t have grooves for bloodletting and easy removal like a hunting knife has. No, the thing went in and stayed put until I wanted it to come back out.

And that’s why I say it begins and ends with the stiletto. There’s only one place in Canada that makes a dagger like that. If the cops were on the ball, they’d find out I bought one. But it wasn’t going to be a free throw by any means. I paid cash for the blade, used a fake name and had it sent to a U.S. mail drop. We Canadians have a lot of those drops just over the American border. They don’t care what’s in a box. Don’t even care where it’s from.

So, yes, there was that paper trail, but I bought enough in the way of weapons and supplies, I was hoping it was never put together. And when the cops asked me about it, well,  I wouldn’t know what they were talking about.  “I collect swords, gentlemen,” I would say. “Used to collect rifles, too.” Then I’d pause… “No, the only knives I have are a hunting knife and a set of carving knives.” Hopefully they would be stumped.

Anyway, I’m home now. McGonagle’s wife didn’t wake up. Even when the prick shit himself. It’s late, my clothes have been burned, the stiletto’s gone forever. And I’m nursing a double shot of Blair Athol single malt, rare, 27 years-old and the perfect end to a very good day.

 

Copyright  2014 Clayton Clifford Bye

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ENCOURAGE THE YOUNG TO WRITE by Salvatore Buttaci

ZZ1.Remington Typewriter

 

When I had my first writing published in the New York Sunday News in 1957, my parents thought it justified buying me a Remington typewriter. I loved that machine! I kept it in the corner of our kitchen, safe in its dark brown case, and after homework, I would carry it to the kitchen table, remove it from its case, and sit there thinking of what to write.

Sometimes not a single idea would come, but my father would remind me that success one day would depend on my own willingness to persevere. He encouraged me to learn the writing craft and to practice it daily. So when I would sit there staring at my Remington, my sisters occasionally poking fun at me, my parents would scold them. “Sal’s thinking up a story,” Papa would say. “Go watch television!”

And there were nights when poem or story ideas came late and I’d be banging away at the keys while Mama and Papa slept in the very next room. I’d typed a poem, a story, a dance of words that at the time I doubted was anything to sing about, but I so loved my parents! How could I give it all up? Find a new hobby when they believed so strongly in me? How? When they loved what I wrote, regardless of how amateurish it was? When they read everything I wrote? I kept writing. I have not stopped since.

From an early age I realized that if I shared my writing with family and friends, it encouraged me to write more often. It provided me with a reason to study hard and earn A’s in English. Metaphorically to me, the act of writing was a bird that could grow wings only if I shared it with others.

A favorite college professor of mine, Dr. Shahani, an author and friend of T. S. Eliot, once told our creative writing class, “A true poet is not one who pens his words in a garret, alienated from others, but one who shares his talent and his poems so others might learn to love poetry and want to become poets too.”

Writing is a craft we learn and practice day by day. If writers claim they love the craft but do not indulge in it daily, the question is, Why not?  They should try to write at least a poem a day or work on a short story –– something!  They should also become avid readers of books, including those on the writing craft. By writing a lot, they will always have new material to submit for possible publication.

Writing is like finding a treasure too precious to keep hidden. As an English teacher in middle school and high school, as well as a writing instructor in college, I did my best to teach my students to love writing. Once they were caught up in my own enthusiasm for the written word, they too wanted to write. Achieving that, I knew they’d be more inclined to learn grammar and composition, improve their writing, and finally be anxious to submit for publication their poems, stories, and letters to the editor.

Once published, they were encouraged to keep writing and what fueled them was a stronger self-esteem, one prerequisite for success in any endeavor. They learned not to fear letters or notes of rejection, but to enjoy them because they came with the writer’s territory. There would be less of them as they improved.

I told them the story of my rejection wall in the basement where I would paste those rejections from editors and publishers. I explained that rejection was a necessary and natural condition because no one is a perfect writer and no writer can please all editors.  I have been writing for over 60 years. Each week I submit my work: some earn acceptance, some, rejection. I edit the rejected, if necessary, and submit it elsewhere.

I never allow the market to scare me away. Last year I had two letters in the National Enquirer, one in February and one in March.  I was paid $25 for each letter of 50 words!  Now this periodical with over 8 million readers should have scared me away, but I tell myself: What do I have to lose?

I never loved anything more than writing since age nine.  Stickball and poker may have come in second and third but never first. I consider my ability to write a gift from God Who loves us enough to give each of us some kind of gift. To thank Him, I write daily, I submit my work to publications so that my work can be read by others, but I never regard writing as my ticket to fame and fortune. I am just one more writer among a billion out there. I do enjoy being read. I love it when folks buy and like my books Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts. I too would like to be recognized as a great writer, but what is more important to me is that I can continue writing every single day. My satisfaction is derived in the act of writing. That’s why I keep doing it!

I believe God gave me the writing gift because He knew the kind of boy I was and the man I would become: easily discouraged, not tough enough to accept life’s negatives,  weak in faith, unsure of myself –– all these things to which I answer daily with poetry and fiction. It is my way of confronting life, saving in my work those I love who passed from this Earth, accepting the harshness of life’s bad things and remaining hopeful they will be followed by good things, and loving God more each day for loving me more than I deserve. So no matter what, I write because it’s the way I fight my demons and remain on the right road to where my soul dreams one day to be.

ZZ1.-clipart-boy-writting

Parents and teachers, be on the lookout for talents in your children and then  encourage their development. Without your help, children usually never realize they have any talents and consequently lose them.

As a boy I was fortunate to have had perceptive parents who made my writing appear to be a good way for me to please them. How they beamed when I would read my new poem or story! I also had several teachers in my youth who also encouraged my writing. So, now as parents and teachers, you must do the same.

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Sal Buttaci is the author of two flash-fiction collections Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts, both published by All Things That Matter Press and available athttp://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Salvatore%20Buttaci

His book A Family of Sicilians… which critics called “the best book written about Sicilians” is available at www.lulu.com/spotlight/ButtaciPublishing2008
He lives in West Virginia with Sharon the love of his life.
www.salbuttaci.blogsport.com

www.twitter.com/sambpoet

www.facebook.com/salvatore.buttaci

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Within the Walls by Monica Brinkman

girl under the covers with a flashlight

Those who know me, realize I speak with honesty and integrity. For so many years, I hid a truth…a truth of paranormal activity within the walls of my childhood home. Today I will share with you a true story of one such paranormal occurrence.  In doing this, I hope to reach others who have been fearful of speaking out about their own experiences. It is time we cease labeling those who express familiarity with psychic incidents as lunatics, crazies, and mentally unbalanced.  I ask that you open your mind to possibility and open your heart to understanding. Thank you.

The home in which I resided from the young age of six months was built in the early to mid 1800’s. It was nothing fancy, basement, first floor and partially unfinished second floor with a small back porch entering into a mudroom and larger front porch, complete with rocking chair and heavy wood railing enclosures.  The home set back from the main road known as the Old Lincoln Highway. Unbeknownst to me, at the age of eight years old, was the fact yet another portion of the home was built underneath the basement. It was a secret kept by the locals, never spoken of but understood as part of the town’s history.

You historians may already have correctly guessed what lay beneath the home’s structure. If you are thinking Abraham Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, then you are on the right track. The Underground Railroad, for those of you who may be unfamiliar, was a network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th-century black slaves in the United States to escape to free states with the aid of abolitionists and those sympathetic to their cause.

So what does this have to do with the Paranormal? It has everything to do with my personal experience, for deep underneath the ground of my residence lay tunnels connecting neighborhood homes, used a hundred years prior to hide and assist former slaves to find protected, secure and safe sanctuaries and keep them out of harm’s way. During their journey to seek freedom, many would perish. From my own experience, they spoke to me from the other side, from deep within the murky tunnels of their final resting place.

Today, I will share a frightening psychic experience that baffles me to this day. In no way am I stating the entity was a former slave; only that the portal to the other side lay in those dark tunnels.

This evening was no different than most. I was about eight years old and after watching the Ed Sullivan Show with my parents and brothers, I climbed up the narrow, winding stairway to my bedroom, which set at the top of the stairs. It was the larger of the two bedrooms, given to me due to the fact I was a growing young woman and my parents felt it time I no longer shared a bedroom with my brother Mickey.

I was ecstatic knowing I had the biggest and best room, often gloating over the fact, being sure to rub it into the faces of my two brothers who had to share their room with each other.

The truth was, this room never felt quite right. It scared the wits out of me for it was always freezing and I had the sense I was never alone. On top of this, it wasn’t a welcoming aura but rather a cynical, foreboding, evil presence, which encompassed the space.

But what could I do after making such a big deal about having this room as my own? And how would I be able to explain my reasoning of wanting another room to my parents? I’d already learned years ago to keep my mouth shut about anything to do with ghosts or entities. So, I’d get undressed as quickly as possible, into my pajamas and run as fast as I could to the sanctity of my bed, pulling the covers up and closing my eyes tightly.

man behind glass

This particular night, I was snuggled in the warmth of the thick down cover, fast asleep. I awoke, eyes wide open, to feel myself being strangled, pressure so hard around my throat that I could barely catch a breathe. Fuzzy, yet not fully alert, I instinctively placed my hands to my throat to pull off whatever was stopping my breathing. Now wide-awake, I pulled at invisible fingers as they tightened their grip, struggling to pull each digit, one by one, from around my neck. Inside I was praying to God to please help me, to get whoever was trying to kill me off my body. I knew it was someone’s hands suffocating the life out of me, but whose? Why would someone want me dead?

I’ll never know how but I was finally able to pull each finger from its tight clutch, free now to take in a huge gasp of air, exhilarated I could once again openly take in air. My lungs welcomed the ability to fill with oxygen. I was alive!

You try to reason and use logic and I had done so, running to my brothers’ room next door, certain one of them had been merely playing a practical joke on their younger sister. My eyes doubled in size as I viewed the figures of my brothers, fast asleep. I cried silently so fearful to return to my bed. Was there someone in my room? What if they were still there? My body trembled as I cried openly.

A voice telepathically stated it was okay now. It was safe to return to the room; the presence was gone. Peace and tranquility replaced the terror. My soul felt protected and I knew no further harm would come to me this night.

Funny how the mind works; you don’t want to accept the facts, the reality of such an occurrence. You don’t want to be different. I knew it wasn’t a nightmare. I was wide-awake, eyes open and alert. Hadn’t I dashed from my bed and gone to my brother’s room? Didn’t I cry, tears streaming down my face?

I took one last attempt to place logic and sense into the episode and told my brother I knew he had tried to strangle me. I asked him why he would do such a thing. He shook his head, laughed at me, calling me crazy. He threatened to tell my parents but I knew he wouldn’t, that he’d keep my secret. For underneath it all, no matter how much of a looney-tune he thought his sister, he would love and protect me.

Wish I could say it was easier being in that room. It wasn’t. That is yet another story to tell.

 

Monica M Brinkman believes in ‘giving it forward;’ reflected by her writing and radio show. A firm believer open communication is the most powerful tool to make positive change in the world; she expresses this in her book, The Turn of the Karmic Wheel and It Matters Radio. Monica resides in the Midwest with her husband, two dogs and five cats.

Visit her web sites:

www.itmattersradio.com

http://theturnofthekarmicwheel.blogspot.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LAST SUPPER by Roger Ellory

 

 use

 

 

 

 

 

 

For some considerable time, David had known he would kill his wife.

David was a creature of habit, and yet he had learned to accept his anonymity and predictability as a blessing, not a curse.  He rose at the same time, dressed in clothes indistinguishable from those he wore on any other day, ate the same breakfast, took the same route to work.  He filed insurance claims until lunchtime, and then he walked to the park.  Here he sat for forty-eight minutes to read the newspaper, to eat his sandwich, and then he walked back to the office.  To him, this routine had become a comfort.

David had made no definite plans as to the means of disposal for her body, nor how he would explain her sudden disappearance to family, friends and neighbors.  Perhaps he believed that once the deed was done he would be struck by a brilliant solution, a streak of lightning, a bolt from the blue.

David had decided the manner of her death, however.

He would stab her in the eye.

The chosen instrument of death was not a knife, but a knitting needle.  He had bound half its length in duct tape so as to provide a firm grip, yet with six inches exposed he believed that the needle – if driven suddenly, and with sufficient force – would pass directly through her eye and into the brain.  There would be little, if any, blood, and death would be instant.  She had given him fifteen years of comfortable, predictable marriage, and he did not wish to cause her any undue pain or distress.

In fact, David did not think of it so much as a murder, but more of an execution for some unknown crime.

And so it was, on a cool summer evening, that David and his wife sat at the kitchen table to eat.  She had prepared a chicken salad and opened a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.  They ate in near-silence, the stillness punctuated by the odd pleasantry, the fact that rain had been expected but not arrived.

“Perhaps tomorrow”, David had commented, finding it ironic that he was mentioning something of which she would know nothing.

David sat calmly, the knitting needle beneath his thigh.  He felt a sense of philosophical resignation regarding the inevitability of what was about to happen.

There would be no struggle, no raised voices, no desperate drama as she fought against hands tightening around her throat.  There would be no blood spatter, no scuff-marks from frantic heels against the linoleum.

She would find herself at dinner, and then she would be dead.

Perhaps she would not even notice.

“You’re having no wine?” he asked her.

“No,” she said.  “I have a slight headache.  The wine will worsen it.”

It was then that David experienced a sudden pang of something.

She had smiled at him, and smiled in such an innocent and unaffected way, and there had almost been a sense of sadness in her tone.

She could not know what he had planned, for he had planned nothing beyond her death.

She could not suspect him of any deceit.

Each day had been the same.  He had done the same things, expressed the same thoughts with the same words, continued with routines that had remained constant and unchanging for years.  In fact, it was safe to say that the single most defining characteristic of their marriage was that nothing ever happened.

But now he was feeling something.  Was it regret?  Guilt?  Was he even now questioning the determination he had made to kill her?  Why was he experiencing this sense of disorientation, a feeling of agitation in his stomach, a fleeting wave of nausea?

Why did he now feel so weak, so uncertain?

He opened his mouth to speak.

His words were thoughts, but they were not sounds.

She looked at him, the same sense of sadness in her eyes.

The stab of pain in his gut was breathtaking.  It snatched every molecule of air from his lungs and throat.

He had never felt anything like it.

The pain did not last so long – thirty seconds, perhaps forty.

He felt his cheek against the plate of moist salad, and then he felt nothing at all.

David’s wife carried the wine bottle and the glass to the sink.  She was methodical as she washed them, ensuring every grain of sediment was removed from both.

And then she stood in the kitchen doorway, and she looked at her dead husband, and she believed that during the last days – as she had planned his murder – she had felt more than enough emotion to compensate for a decade and a half of feeling nothing at all.

 

As if writing powerful crime novels were not enough, British writer Roger Ellory is also a musician. Indeed, making music may be the greater of his two loves. RJ is guitarist and vocalist with Zero Navigator.  To find RJ’s books in the US visit

http://www.amazon.com/R.J.-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1403962252&sr=8-1
In England use
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Roger-Jon-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1403962965&sr=1-1-catcorr

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Life As I See It:  By Golden-Fang Rat-Slayer  (aka Dandelion)

cat with pen and pad

Readers,

Mommy had a mangy piece for you to read about how toxins cause birth defects and brain damage.  She’s always talking about that stuff, but I deleted it.

Because I’ve reached the age of sixteen, I’ve taken up my pen to write my memoirs.  I will share with you my wisdom.

I’ve learned many things over the years.  For example:  Not all dogs are dangerous, but if you have a hissy fit when you see the ones that live in your house, you get your own room in the house and Mommy feeds you gooshy-food. Then, Mommy and Daddy yell at the dogs to stay out of your room and leave you alone—that’s fun.

I let Mommy and Daddy sleep on the big bed in my room.  They are my family so we sleep together.  The bed has space for all of us if they remember to sleep close to the edge and not encroach on the pillows.

We used to have a waterbed and I could play all day chasing the waves until I got the covers and pillows pulled back and could kill the bed with my sharp fangs.  I killed three waterbeds before Mommy and Daddy got a bed that isn’t alive.  It isn’t near as much fun except when I barf on the bed and Mommy has hysterics that I’ll “ruin the mattress.”

My favorite food is hind-quarter of rat.  We live near the forest so I’ve had a steady supply of rats.  It is important to plan for the future, so in the winter, I keep a family of rats under the nice warm house so I have a fresh supply of my favorite delicacy whenever I choose to catch one.  I like gooshy-food too, and it is much easier to have Mommy and Daddy bring me a serving than it is to catch rats.

I have worked hard to train my humans and even if I say so myself I’ve had some degree of success.  Mommy was fairly easy to train except for one annoying behavior that I will discuss later.  Daddy is nearly impossible to train.  Sometimes, I can get him to bring me gooshy-food and at bedtime he might stroke me, but he never scratches me under the chin like Mommy does.  He never cleans up after me when I barf and is generally slothful about meeting my demands for attention or solitude.  He has never learned to let me in and out.  He seems to think I should use the little door they built special for me.  How undignified to open my own door!

I do have one serious problem.  Mommy and Daddy have a horrid behavior that I have never been able to break them of.  They put their best clothes in boxes with wheels and handles and leave home for days.  A couple times they’ve been gone for three weeks!  I hope I’ve broken them of these long absences, but I don’t trust them to stay home everyday and wait on me.

I’ve tried everything I know to break this behavior.  I tried sitting in their boxes-with-wheels, but they just take me out and don’t get the message that they are not supposed to leave.  Next, I tried peeing on the boxes-with-wheels to tell them that those boxes belong to me, and they can’t have them—didn’t work.  I’ve barfed repeatedly on the boxes, but Mommy just cleans it up, and they leave.  Of course, there must be consequences for bad behavior so I go next door and stay with the old couple there until long after Mommy and Daddy get home.

Next door, I sleep in the old people’s patches of sunlight and eat their mice and rats.  The old people pet me sometimes, but they also scold me for eating their birds.   However, they never give me gooshy-food.  What am I supposed to eat? I have stayed there for over a week after Mommy and Daddy got home, but I don’t think my minions have learned not to leave.

I hope that my readers might have suggestions on how to break Mommy and Daddy from this terrible behavior.  The fact that Melissa comes and feeds me gooshy-food doesn’t make the behavior any less horrid.

Finally, I want my readers to know that getting along with others is easy if you stay cool and don’t hiss at everybody you see.  When I was young, I made friends will all the cats in the neighborhood, and they let me eat their food if I chose.  I don’t really like dry food, but as a courtesy to my friends, I would eat a bowl of it while they stood and watched.  I knew I could always barf the disgusting stuff back up on the bed in my room. It is very important to be polite to your friends and eat what they serve.

I used to visit my friends daily, but all of them have passed on, so I now lie on my bed and remember the past when I made my daily rounds of the neighboring houses and ate the offerings they gave me and slept in the best patches of sunlight.  Now, I appreciate the sunlight on my own bed.

Delinda McCann

Delinda McCann is a mostly retired social psychologist with specialties in at-risk youth and adverse effects of toxins on children.  She has written four novels based on her career experiences and has the fifth novel, Power and Circumstance, to be released soon.  She is also an avid organic gardener and amateur musician.

 

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You Don’t Beat the River by Kenneth Weene

Ken Weene PastedGraphic-1

 It was a good day for being on the river—warm, bright, a few clouds to make the sky interesting. It would have been better if the two river guides had been there for fun or even if they were doing a normal tour group, what the company called a float. It’s a great run—that section of the Colorado; just not when you’re looking for a dead man.

“Find him,” Ray, the rafting company manager, had instructed. “Take your time, stay in contact, and find that sucker.”

“Yeah, sure. Like the river is going to give him back.” Mike groused to his partner Jackie. “What was he thinking anyway? Get these high-end tourists, thinking they know better than us guides.”

The smartass remarks always burned the guides’ sensibilities. Full of I know it all:

“I don’t need a lifejacket.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve climbed mountains all over the world.”

“That’s why I go to the gym.”

“Hey, I’m paying you guys.”

Usually, they didn’t die, drown, or disappear. But this guy Floyd Murchison, Dr. Floyd Murchison, “You can call me Doc.” World-class neurosurgeon. Traveling with his wife Bernice—herself a college professor, political science it said on the forms.

One of the trip guides had asked him, maybe she’d even told him not to. He shucked the vest anyway and climbed up onto the rock.

“Just want a few minutes of peace and quiet. This is a break, isn’t it?”

“Okay.” She turned back. “Just, be careful, Doc.”

“Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing.”

He hadn’t. Ten, fifteen minutes later, Butch, the trip leader, yells, “Let’s saddle up. Another ten miles before lunch.”

Everybody’s grabbing paddles. Bernice is hollering, “Floyd!” “Floyd!” But there is no Floyd. He’s disappeared.

He must have slipped, gone into the water. Even if Floyd Murchison had been wearing his life vest, who knows if someone in the group would have spotted him? But they hadn’t. More than likely he drowned dashed against a rock, dragged under by the current, food for the fish.

Butch radioed in first chance he got a clear channel. Lot of good that did. Couple of runs with a copter. Again, maybe if Murchison was wearing that orange vest. Anyway, he wasn’t. Not a sign.

Ray, the office manager, said, “Mike, Jackie, you two run the river. Real slow. You look everywhere. Find him. Take your time, stay in contact, and find that sucker.”

Jackie’s sitting in the front of the two-seater. Mike in the back. Enough gear for four nights—extra for Murchison just in case—and of course a first aid kit.

The two guides look up at the pocka-pocka sound of the search helicopters heading back to their base in Vegas.

“I guess they didn’t find him.”

“I guess. Now it’s up to us,” Mike said.

As they pushed off, Ray said, “Mike, you find him. Call in. We’ll get a chopper in first thing. Even if he says he’s okay, we get that chopper in. Got it?”

“Sure, Ray.” He couldn’t hold it back. “Hey, Ray, you don’t think—”

“Not a chance in hell. It may not be brain surgery, but you don’t beat the river.”

He laughed like his little joke was real smart. That was Ray, always thinking he was funny.

“Glad I’m not working that float,” Jackie said.

“Yeah, pass me the water.” Mike took a swig, passed the bottle forward to his colleague, and they dug into the river. It would be miles before Thorny Bend; that was where Murchison had gone in; that was where the search would begin.

“You watch the south bank. I’ll take the north.” There were still a couple hours of daylight. No sense wasting it.

“Sure. Sure.” Jackie bites off her words even shorter than usual. Sounds more like she’s saying “Sh Sh”

“Hey, I’m not telling you what to do.”

“Maybe she’s thinking about last night.” He smiles to himself. Mike figures the search is useless but hopes the nights won’t be wasted.

Jackie nods and shifts her head to left and right, ignoring Mike’s plan. What the hell, he does the same. At least it makes the scenery more interesting. No matter how many times he paddles the canyon, he still loves it. The subtle variations of rock. The desperate vegetation rooting into every crevice. The river, alive, sometimes placid, at others roiling. The sky so far overhead. The occasional coyote, or elk, or bobcat. All kinds of life. In the sky, too. Especially the hawks and the eagles.

Mike still loves the river three days later when they pull out. The truck is there to meet them. Good thing about radios; they make it easier to plan.

“Nah,” Mike says before Ray can ask. “Not a sign.”

Jackie doesn’t say anything. There’s no reason.

The two guides allow their hands to touch for a moment.

*****

 For weeks the dead man weighs heavily on the guides. It is a silent weight marked only by the occasional blurted word.

“At least she’s rich.” Terri, one of the guides is reading a newspaper.

“Who?”

“The widow. You know that guy got killed?”

“In June?” Another guide asks like there was more than one.

“Yeah, that guy, the doctor.”

“What about him?”

“Her. His wife. She got the insurance. He had a ten million dollar policy. I guess that’s not so surprising him being a famous doctor and all. Twice that if they decide it was an accident.”

“That’s good,” It is said with no enthusiasm.

Butch, who hasn’t said much since that fated day, slams the door on his way out of the break room.

“There’s more. Seems like his own brain was going.” Terri turns another page of the paper.

“What do you mean?”

“Parkinson’s. Early stages. Least that’s what the story says.” Terri points at a something in the newspaper. “Says he couldn’t practice anymore.”

“That must of sucked,” Mike comments.

“Fer sure,” Jackie adds. She’s holding Mike’s hand. Jackie’s been doing that a lot lately.

The guides are hanging, waiting for Ray. An organizational meeting he calls it. Usually, that means he’s going to yell: mostly about obvious stuff like those life jackets. Like the guides don’t know. Like the customers will listen.

“You don’t think he—” The question hangs in the air.

Who knows? A guy gets depressed—even a famous neurosurgeon.

“Sure, sure,” Jackie says, biting her words short.

“Mike! Mike!” Ray’s voice shakes the young man out of wherever his mind has wandered.

*****

 He was shaky: the expected results of fatigue, hypothermia, hunger, and thirst. The Indian should have packed in more water, food, and a better blanket. At least the camouflage worked; he hadn’t been spotted that first day, when the helicopters were overhead and he’d hunkered down and waited for them to head back to the northwest.

The Indian’s trail markings had been hard to follow, but here he was. Now if the damned Indian didn’t forget, didn’t get drunk, didn’t just decide to leave him in the wilderness. He hated having to rely on other people, especially someone untrained, somebody like Charley Chained Horse.

“Due north from river.” The Indian had pointed in a random direction. “Follow trail I leave sign.” He dropped four stones, the first three the vertices of a triangle and one more stone next to one of the three. “Follow fourth stone. Easy hike. No take more than day, but wait them stop search. I meet when safe.”

“Easy hike indeed? What did he think I am, an aborigine like him?” Floyd was frothing his anger as Charley Chained Horse trotted across the rough landscape towards him.

Charley held out his hand in greeting. Reluctantly, Floyd took it. He wanted to carp, complain, and shout. If it was back at Denver General, if they were in the operating room; but Floyd still needed the squat Indian with his pocked complexion and straggled hair. “Took you long enough,” was the best he could muster.

“Raft company send guides look. Not safe before. Now we go.”

“Did you bring something to drink? Eat?”

Charley was already gathering the remains of Floyd’s campsite. “No trace. Hikers come and see.”

All the while, the White man was changing into hiking clothes. He slipped his feet into well-broken-in boots, laced them tightly, and tied the knot with special relish. “I always loved tying knots,” he observed to no one.

Floyd had planned it for months. “Not so hard,” he thought, “not like brain surgery.”

As he and the Indian walked south, back towards the river and their fording place, Floyd sucked two bottles of water dry and ate the candy bars Charley had brought. Much as it offended his fastidiousness, Floyd wiped the chocolate from his fingers onto his kakis and rubbed his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. Soon enough he would be out of this damned place and on his way to a new life.

“We hike down river few miles, cross there.” The Indian pointed downstream. “I leave horses, more food, water. Stay night. Catch helicopter out in morning.”

“I’ve been thinking about that, Charley. I’m not sure about that helicopter. Somebody might recognize me.”

“What you want do?”

“I figured we could ride out, up to the parking lot.”

“Cost more.”

“That’s fine. What, another fifty.”

“Two hundred.”

“Come on. Be reasonable.”

“Two hundred reasonable. Ride trail in dark. Dangerous. Ride down more danger. Two hundred.”

Floyd laughed to himself. He had worried the Indian might demand thousands. The gun in the old Dodge’s trunk would have been the solution if Charley got too greedy, too untrustworthy. Two hundred he could live with. Two hundred and he could let the Indian live, too.

Floyd had to admit it. Charley Chained Horse had followed his instructions, done his job, and kept his mouth shut. That was the most important thing—secrecy. “What the hell does he care?” Floyd asked himself. “He just wants money. Can’t blame him for that. How the hell can he earn a living down there anyway?”

“Let’s do it.” Floyd walked in the direction the Indian pointed. Without a word, Charley followed.

The shadow of a hawk passed over. Automatically, both men looked up and watched the bird float easily against the blue of the sky.

“Long way,” Charley grunted.

It wasn’t an easy hike. Riding raw-boned and uneven gaited nag had been harder. By the time they arrived at the parking lot the sun was setting.

“You make it down alright?” Floyd asked as he pocketed the keys to the battered Dodge.

“Horses know way, Mr. Jones.”

Floyd gave a quick wave in response as the Indian headed over the cliff’s edge and down into the Canyon.

Floyd wondered if all Indians were this laconic. Certainly it had seemed so when he’d made that first visit. “Herb Jones,” he’d introduced himself—an easy alias to remember. “I need a guide, somebody with a couple of horses and willing to do some hard riding for some good money.”

That had been in the little tribal store. “As good a place as any,” he thought. And he had been right; the plump storeowner’s cousin was just the man. Now Floyd figured everyone in Supai were cousins. Not that it mattered, just as long as this one kept his mouth shut.

It took three more trips to work out the details. “A consultation,” he explained to his colleagues at the hospital on two of the occasions—not elaborating, not needing to. “Just getting away with Bernice” was the reason he used the other times. Each time, he had shown just a bit more tremor, a bit more hesitancy of gait, a bit more involuntary movement of thumb and forefinger. As careful planning as ever went into an operation. After all, this was his life, and Floyd was determined that the patient should survive.

 *****

 Ironic, much as he hated the hospital administrators, Floyd wanted to thank Earl, the chief operations officer.

“Great pictures,” he’d commented two years earlier when Earl and his wife had returned from their trip. Just an automated response; he didn’t mean it. Dr. Floyd Murchison had no interest in nature, camping, or especially white water rafting.

But it had been Earl’s pictures, stuck in the back of his mind that gave Floyd the idea.

“Remember that trip you and Francine took? To the Canyon wasn’t it?”

“Yeah. What about it?”

“You still got the pictures?”

“Of course. Why?”

“Bernice and I were thinking. You know, I’m thinking of retiring. Well, we figured we’d do some traveling. She remembered my mentioning your photos and suggested. … If you don’t mind.”

“No, of course. I’ll make you a copy.”

“No, no. Why don’t you guys come for dinner, bring them with you, and you can tell us all the details.”

Details: good planning required details. A doctor didn’t cut into somebody’s head until he had planned every move. He wasn’t going to have a phony death until he had just the right method. Not until the new life policy was fully vested—eighteen months before the double indemnity for accidental death clause took effect. Two years before suicide would be covered.

So many details to be arranged: Fake passports and papers, booking the tour, finding the right Indian—knowledgeable of the terrain, willing to do what was needed for a reasonable price, able to provide the horses—buying the old car and putting it in Charley Chained Horse’s name, having the Indian drive it.

“Look like Indian car,” Charley said when they bought the green junk heap in Flagstaff.

That was true enough. Nobody would notice the junk-heap sitting in the middle of the tribal lot high above the Canyon. It would be waiting for its owner to come up from the rez. For what—a monthly trip to the supermarkets or maybe a visit to a family member who had moved out of the Canyon.

“You want me get tickets?” Charley asked, incredulous at the next instruction.

“Don’t worry. I’ll pay the fines. Nothing big. Speeding. Couple of parking violations in Flagstaff or Prescott, enough to show it’s your car.

The trip had to be booked. Then calling Charley with the dates. That was one of the most difficult tasks.

“Not much service on rez,” Charley explained.

“Charley.”

“Yes, Mr. Jones.”

“Do me a favor. Go up and check the car. Make sure it’s ready to go. I have a long trip.”

“Where go?”

“Don’t worry about that. Just make sure the tires are good, the battery, that there’s gas.”

“Sure. You pay; you boss. Fifty dollars.”

“Fine. Another fifty—it didn’t matter?

Floyd made one last quick trip to drop a suitcase and carryall in the car’s trunk. His cover this time, an appointment with a neurologist in Phoenix. Bernice, following instructions, let that tidbit slip at her bridge club.

The plan was ready to go operational.

 *****

 “Suicide? Absolutely not!” Bernice Murchison said. “Parkinson’s or no, Floyd and I had a good life ahead of us.”

Even if the insurance company rejected the accidental death claim, there would be ten million to add to the millions already safely in her name. And, with double indemnity, make that twenty million.

Floyd had a plan. He always had a plan, seldom one that involved what she wanted. Rio? What about her life, her career, her thinking about running for office? No matter to Floyd.

Still, Bernice had to admit it: Floyd’s plan was excellent. Planning was one of his great strengths. Once he decided it was time to get out of medicine, he had created a game plan worthy of a five star general.

“It used to be fun,” he complained. “I loved the O.R., but now? Now, it’s all paperwork and dealing with administrators. Who do they think saves people—somebody with a clipboard or me with my knife.”

She wasn’t sure if she believed him. It didn’t matter. Bernice always made believe she bought Floyd’s lies. Why not? Their marriage had been built on lies for years. The great man: she knew better. Bernice knew it all, from the cheating in medical school to the tax evasion, to the nurses he balled in the recovery room.

Would his colleagues believe it? Maybe. But the insurance company? Too obvious; there would be questions. No, better to develop symptoms. Easy enough for a doctor. Getting his friend in Phoenix to write the prescriptions. Just dump the pills and order more.

“Where will you get a passport?” Bernice asked.

Floyd laughed. “Didn’t I save Stankovitch’s kid? Why save the goddamned kid of a Russian Mafia don if you don’t get something in return.

Two weeks later, Floyd waved the documents in front of her. “Meet Morris James Finklestein.

“You’ll retire right off, soon as the semester ends. The grieving widow,” Floyd reviewed the plan. “Of course you’ll take a couple of trips…you know, to forget. Places on our list. Then you meet a man in Rio. A whirlwind romance, and you’ll be Mrs. Morris Finklestein.”

“Sure,” Bernice said, her tone flat.

Floyd kissed Bernice quickly on the lips. That was all she ever got, a quick kiss. At least Sammy gave her more than that.

Sammy only met Floyd once; that had been enough. He, too, could not imagine the great doctor sitting around on the Copacabana Beach, each morning walking the promenade, sipping coffee and watching the endless waves of the Atlantic. “Well, you’d know better than me, Love, but I think you’re right. He isn’t a man for retirement.”

“No, but he is a man for getting what he wants. Whatever the hell that might be.”

They both chuckled.

Sammy put down his beer and rested his left hand on her right knee. “It’ll work out.”

Sammy was the great consolation in Bernice’s life. First her graduate assistant, then her colleague. At some point their liking had become friendship and then slipped into an affair—not love but a liaison that had lasted twenty-seven years.

“Why don’t you find somebody?” she asked more than once.

“I’m waiting for the right woman.”

“How are you going to find her if you don’t look?”

And Sammy’s inevitable reply. “I already found her. Now, I’m waiting for her to dump her husband and come away with me.”

“Away, where?” Bernice would ask as she kissed his ears and neck.

“To the South of France.”

Bernice would laugh and ask if he liked topless beaches.

“Only with the right bottom,” he would answer.

It was their routine. Nothing would come of it. Just one of those little dances couples do.

“Copacabana? Brazil? What the hell am I supposed to do?” Sammy seldom showed irritation. He was willing to wait and wait some more. Twenty-seven years and more to come. But for Bernice to leave—to go off with Floyd: that he could not accept.

“I wish I could ask Floyd; he’d figure it out.” Bernice was sorry as soon as the words left her mouth. Making light of it. What was she thinking? Giving up Sammy would be one of the hardest things.

 *****

 Floyd sold the old car—no questions asked—in Juarez, took a bus to airport; and traveling under the name Brian Louis York was soon in Mexico City. “What the hell, another twenty grand for a set of throwaway documents,” he had thought when Stankovitch suggested it.

“Always a good idea, Doc, just in case somebody spots you. Then that guy disappears. Easy.”

Brian York, Saint Louis businessman, took a cab to a decent hotel, where he spent the night—but not really.

Later that evening, all according to plan, Morris James Finklestein boarded his flight for Rio. Everything executed with operating room precision.

Even though he knew it would take months for the insurance to come through. Floyd, unable to restrict his lifestyle, had almost run out of his available money by the time Bernice was due to join him in Rio. Only twenty thousand American left in the carryall he had brought with him. It bothered him that he hadn’t left himself more cash.

That was the first inkling Floyd had that things might go wrong. The second was the phone call he made to Bernice’s office at the university.

“What do you mean she no longer works there?” The term was not yet over. Why would she draw attention by leaving early? Had something gone terribly wrong?

Bernice had no problems at all. Now officially a widow, the newlywed and her Sammy were on their honeymoon. The Mediterranean was beautiful that time of year.

“There is nothing like a good plan,” she said as Sammy ogled the topless women on the beach in Cannes.

 

Lover of life’s ironies, Ken Weene also loves white water rafting and Arizona. His novels including the soon to be released “Broody New Englander,” are published by All Things That Matter Press. In addition to writing, Ken co-hosts It Matters Radio ( http://www.itmattersradio.com ) You can find Ken’s books at http://www.amazon.com/Kenneth-Weene/e/B002M3EMWU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1406397310&sr=1-1

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TWO THEORIES OF HISTORY by BryanMurphy

conspiracy

 Have you read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine? If you are in the USA, you may have seen the Public Service TV series called Commanding Heights, which was based on it. It’s a marvellous book, I’ve just finished it, one that shows you things that were in front of your eyes but you had not noticed, or had noticed but not paid due attention to. It is about the rise of market fundamentalism and the disasters which that has unleashed upon the world since 1973, the date of the violent overthrow of democracy in Chile, which, by coincidence, is also the year in which my novel-in-progress opens.

When I lived in Africa in the 1980s, the crimes of the international financial institutions on that continent were no secret: basically forcing countries in debt to sacrifice their children by denying them health and education so that bankers could sleep easily at night secure in the knowledge that the bad loans they had made would be repaid at any cost. That, it seemed to me, was in the nature of bankers; what seemed more scandalous was how little anyone outside Africa was bothered. People in Europe would care very deeply when famine hit Africa, and fork out enormous sums to alleviate the suffering it caused, but were oblivious to the suffering meted out by human institutions. Well, as you know, what went round came round, and since 2008, when many of the less rich countries in Western Europe got into trouble over their finances, international financial institutions have been forcing market fundamentalism on them in return for debt relief. And guess what? The people in those countries do not like it.

Now, I live in one of the affected countries, and boy, do people moan. About the loss of their jobs, their children’s future, decaying public services, you name it. Quite right, too. But they do not actually do very much, here in Italy. Klein’s book was published in 2007, before “disaster capitalism” turned its attention to Western Europe, but she would accurately have predicted people’s initial reaction here: they were shocked into inactivity. Klein details how, in Latin America, it took over 20 years before governments started to stop taking the medicine that was killing them. People in Europe, with more hindsight available to them, may swallow less before they say “We’re not going to take it!” I hope I live to see that day.

balls-up

One useful way of seeing history is that it offers us two main theories for why things go awry (Murphy’s Law, no relation): the balls-up theory and the conspiracy theory. The latter says that things go wrong because tightly-knit groups of politically or economically motivated men cause them to do so for their own ends. The former says that people would like things to work to everyone’s benefit, but we are just too incompetent to make that happen. Klein is clearly in the conspiracy camp; I’ve always been in the balls-up camp, which is a hard place to be in Italy, where mafias and politicians traditionally feed off each other out of public sight. I had thought that Italy was exceptional, in this as in so many other ways. Maybe it is not.

It is irresistible for a science fiction writer to imagine where market fundamentalism will lead us, if it manages to continue its current dominance unchecked. Unfortunately, I think we have already seen the answer, in the cult classic film Zardoz, in which the rich live a genteel life inside a high-tech bubble which physically excludes the poor, whom the rich continually urge to renounce sex and kill each other. It is the ultimate gated community, although in the real thing the bubble will have to be opaque, because transparency helps people to see not just into fundamentalism, but through it.

 

Bryan Murphy is a British writer who lives in Turin, Italy. He is currently working on the second draft of a novel set in Portugal in the 1970s. You can find his e-books here: http://bit.ly/19vt7Ts. His individual blog is at: http://bit.ly/1cq1yus . Bryan also welcomes visitors at http://www.bryanmurphy.eu .

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Owls, harbingers of death or symbols of wisdom? by Maggie Tideswell

 

Owl 1

I have written ghosts in the past, but they aren’t all I am interested in. Owls are another passion of mine and are repeatedly used in my novels. My owls always act in unusual ways, for instance they fly together in a swarm, which they never do in real life; they attack humans, which is highly unlikely; and they guard or protect a human being, which is also not in their nature. That is the fun part of being a novelist. To serve the purpose of my story, owls may behave in any way I want them to, although I mostly stick to the known facts.

We all knowBarn Owl the basics of owls. They are birds known for their distinctive call, they are nocturnal and their flight is silent, and deadly if you are a tiny creature. Owls are right up there with bats and spiders as the most popular creatures of Halloween.

Owls are classified into two categories: barn owls have a heart shaped face, and true owls have a round face. In each category there are of course several species; 16 Barn Owl species and 190 True Owl species, to be exact. Owls don’t build nests, but make their home using anything that is convenient, from a nest built in the ground by other birds or burrowing animals, to a nook in a tree, to old abandoned buildings.

 Owls are carnivorous and will eat rodents, small mammals, nocturnal insects, fish and even other birds. After digesting their food, owls regurgitate hard pellets of compressed bones, fur, teeth, feathers and other materials they couldn’t digest. A barn owl can eat up to 1,000 mice each year, and farmers try to attract barn owls to help control rodent populations in agricultural fields.

Most people will know that owls’ eyes are fixed in their sockets, so that they have to turn their whole head to find their prey. You might have heard the tall tale that, because of their fixed eyes, should you circle an owl, it will wring its own neck watching you. As the owl can only turn its head 260 degrees, this claim is impossible. Because their eyes are fixed, they have binocular vision, a necessity for hunting in the dark. An owl has three eyelids: one for blinking, one for sleeping and one for keeping the eye clean and lubricated.

Owls have asymmetrical ears that are different sizes and different heights on their heads. This gives the birds superior hearing and the ability to pinpoint where the prey is even before they can see it. The flattened facial disk of an owl funnels sound to the bird’s ears and magnifies it as much as ten times to help the bird hear noises humans can’t detect.

Some owhorned owll species have “ear” tufts on their heads but they aren’t ears at all. These tufts of feathers may indicate the bird’s mood and help keep it camouflaged.

Owls have zygodactyl feet, which means they have two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backward. This gives them a stronger, more powerful grip on their prey. Their feathers have been especially adapted to muffle the sounds of flying. Their broad wingspan and light bodies helps to make them nearly silent in flight. Handy for stalking prey.

For most owl species, females are larger, heavier and more aggressive than the males and she is also the most colorful.

Owls don’t only hoot, but are capable of a wide range of sounds, such as screeches, whistles, barks and hisses. During the nesting season, an owl’s calls can often be heard up to a mile away. And they sing duets with their breeding partner, whom they mate with for life.

Did you know that a group of owls is called a parliament?

Owls have been found in the fossil record up to 58 million years ago. The largest recorded owl fossil, Orinmegalonyx oteroi, stood about three feet tall. Owl images have been found in cave paintings in France, in Egyptian hieroglyphics and even in Mayan art. Most cultures focused on the dark aspect of the owl, mainly because of man’s inherent fear of the dark. Because the owl is nocturnal, and the medical fact that most deaths occur at night, the owl became associated with death.

The biggest modern threats to owls are habitat loss, pesticides that poison the birds and their food supplies, and human persecution because of negative superstitions.

dreamcatcher

Unfortunately for the owl, they have been much maligned by folklore and superstition. In ancient Greek mythology, Athena, goddess of the Underworld and Wisdom, had a companion owl on her shoulder, which revealed unseen truths to her. The Japanese believe the owl warns them of impending danger. In Celtic folklore the owl was sacred and endowed with magical powers. To the Welsh, the owl symbolized death, renewal and wisdom. Today, owl superstitions still associate the birds with bad luck, death and stealing souls in many cultures.

In paganism, the owl is associated with the goddess, wisdom, Underworld deities and prophecy. Owl symbolism used in meditation and ritual can help you interpret dreams, unmask those who would deceive you and find hidden spiritual truths.

For me personally, hearing an owl hoot at night means something good is about to happen.

 

Bio: Maggie Tideswell’s specialty is supernatural romance. Her novels are set in her homeland of South Africa. learn more at  https://www.amazon.com/author/maggietideswell

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Views from a Hospital Room by Micki Peluso

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Personality traits differ significantly among hospital patients, Physicians and caretakers, which can include: sympathy/aloofness, empathy/impatience, caring/apathy, patience and intolerance. Mistakes and miracles occur almost on an equal basis; patients, who should live, die and those who should have died live. Hospitals are buzzing hives of contradictions.

My bed is one of four in a well-lit room with large windows displaying the dull gray tones of a broad flat roof from the floor below. It’s a Cardiac Care Center (CCU), so all of us are hooked up to monitors, which I find comforting. This is not my first time here, yet I note changes since my last visit. Maybe my “rate our performance” opinion letters were actually read.

The nurses are exceptionally pleasant, insisting that we ring the buzzer if we need them — that is not usually the case. The Personal Care Attendants (PCA) are surprisingly young with as many men as women. They smile, ask about our lives, our comfort and show genuine warmth and caring.” Ryan,” a very young handsome man works tirelessly as a nurse’s assistant. His wide smile can’t help but make patients smile back — a beatific smile. He offers to help bathe us, but I pass. He’s about the age of my grandsons and I really can’t handle that, preferring the female PCAs who are no less enthusiastic in doing their jobs. Ryan will soon graduate as a nurse.

Another PCA, working years to support his family, decides it’s time to make a career move into nursing. He’s a no-nonsense guy in his late 30’s, and while he doesn’t radiate joy in his work, his caring is deeply sincere and conscientious. One young man, looking like a teenage football player, sits patiently feeding pureed food to a demented old woman for a solid hour, until her tray is empty. He never sighs with impatience or abruptness, but handles her as a mother would tend her young child. The woman, who can only live in the moment, won’t remember this selfless act but can, in the now, as it unfolds. I think to myself that this young man is a true angel.

Judith, once a high–income professional, upon retiring, grew bored and chose to give herself to others in the lowly occupation of hospital cleanliness maintenance. A beautiful woman, she literally races from room to room, scrubbing, mopping, and disinfecting, all the while singing cheerful songs. Her face beams with happiness while disbursing gems of wisdom and optimism to all of us. I give her a signed copy of my book and she treasures it like gold. I feel my own discomfort receding just being in her presence.

One of my roommates is discharged late at night and I am annoyed when a maintenance man comes in, turning on all the bright lights, to clean and prepare the bed for an incoming patient. Then as I watch him diligently scrub every section of the last patient’s area, humming while he works, I realized that he likes his job and we talk as he works.

Once while speaking to one of my nurses, she tells me how she lost her husband and then her home and possessions during Super Storm Sandy the year before. We were discussing my book, which I always keep on my nightstand. I ask her how she could be so happy and smiling all the time.” Life is full of losses,” she says.” I’ve learned to accept that and move forward with my life.” Her attitude inspires me to rethink my own attitudes toward loss, pain and suffering.

Hospitals are far from perfect. The downside for me is a botched simple pacemaker battery change, which leads to five more surgeries and six months in and out of the hospital. A boy scout with a manual could have done a better job. Statistics report that approximately 400,000 deaths occur each year in hospitals, due to Doctor/nurse error or negligence, and three of every 25 patients contact a potentially, deadly infections. I hold the dubious honor of contracting both a UTI (urinary tract infection) and a VRE (Vancomycin Resistant Enterititus) intestinal infection. It is a humiliating experience as the “Swab Team” burst into my room in Haz-med uniforms, whisking me off to isolation. I did not have the infection but colonized it, being contagious only to a small percentage of patients with a gene defect.

There are also times when I have to tell a new and experienced nurse that he needs more practice putting in IV needles. Another time, one has to be reminded to use gloves before touching me. One day after getting no sleep from the pain, I take a late morning nap. My new roommate is suddenly surrounded by doctors as her monitors bleep and flash in alarm. The nurses assumed she is sleeping when in fact she stopped breathing and nearly dies. Since her heart rate is monitored that should not have happened. Mere coincidence causes her doctor to be visiting at that exact moment. Her life is saved.

There is much more to tell but to sum it up, while hospitality has improved dramatically, there is still much to be done for the protection of patients from errors in hospital-contracted diseases. Don’t even ask about hospital food. Being on a cardiac, salt free diet, I have the kitchen manager bought to me to discuss the salt content of his meals, which is far above my allowance; and still have to have my meals made and brought in from home. One food server tells me that no matter what I mark on my menu, all patients get the same thing. I believe him. There’s a possibility I might not be allowed back to this institution. My last opinion poll on hospital overall performance might ensure that. And that’s okay with me.

 

Bio: 

Micki Peluso is the author of the widely acclaimed memoir …And The Whippoorwill Sang. She also writes humor and  occasional pieces about life. You can find her book at http://www.amazon.com/Whippoorwill-Sang-Micki-Peluso/dp/1466497076/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347680072&sr=1-1&keywords=Micki+Peluso and join her on Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/811377-micki-peluso?utm_medium=email&utm_source=follower

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