Tag Archives: Good Read

The Corpsman by Kenneth Weene

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They called him Doc. It wasn’t his title or even his nickname, but it was what they called him. He knew if he were ever hit, killed, air-vacced out, they’d call the next guy Doc, too. Doc was better than the other name, “Medic, Medic.” That was what they called when somebody was hit, hit bad, bad enough to need him. Some nights it still woke him—in his dreams, them yelling, “Medic, Medic.” Him paralyzed, unable to help.

He is a bright guy. Career Navy, he’d worked his way up from corpsman to officer, gone to school—college. For all that education, he still didn’t have any insight, no self-awareness. Self-awareness isn’t something that comes easy with PTSD. Too busy reliving, too busy trying to keep his shit together .

Retired, going a bit to gray and pot, he and his wife were on a trip; they were staying at the same Bed and Breakfast as my wife and I.  The ladies had gone to bed; so there we were: just two guys sitting in a comfortable living room in small town Arizona.

He starts out telling me that he doesn’t much like being with people, being part of a group, doesn’t really join in, stays to himself. Then he spends the evening talking. Talking and sharing and talking some more. Guess what he really doesn’t like is listening. If the other guy is talking, how can he be back there, back then, reliving?

He starts by telling me about PTSD. I don’t interrupt—to tell him that I’m a shrink—not until he finishes telling me about what a Navy psychiatrist had explained to him—how if you take a cat, nice little cat, and put him in a back yard and start shooting at him and blowing shit up around him and then you take him back into the house, why that cat will be changed and that was how post traumatic stress worked.

Then I told him about my background; I mentioned there was usually something else about Post Traumatic Stress—something that cats couldn’t figure—not just the being scared but the guilt that somehow you should have changed things.

That’s when he talked about the ambush. He was supposed to go out with this patrol. They were going to do a sweep and set up an ambush, a standard night operation in Vietnam.

Bunch of kids; oldest, the corporal leading it, wasn’t any older than nineteen—kids, just kids. So this corporal tells me, “Doc, you ain’t coming with us.”

“Of course I am.  You got to have a corpsman.”

“You ain’t coming,” he says again.

“Yeah, I am.”

They go back and forth a bit before the corporal tells him that the patrol isn’t going anywhere, that they’re just too damned tired so they’re going to get a little way out of camp, and hunker down for the night. Just call in like they’re really out on patrol. Get a night’s sleep before they fall apart.

Well, he isn’t happy about not doing his job; so he decides that the least he can do is take a radio shift back at HQ, do something instead of taking the night off. At two, he takes over the C.P. radio. Everything’s quiet. The corporal calls in, his scheduled contact. Everything’s fine. A few seconds later, he hears hell breaking loose over that radio. First there’s a single shot. Then that patrol, the one he was supposed to be on, is screaming for help. Over the radio he hears the firing. Deep shit!

He’s one of the team that goes out for the rescue. Four medics, couple of officers, a bunch of riflemen. By the time they get to where this platoon is hunkered, every last one of those Marines has been hit. But everything is quiet, quiet as death.

“Where the hell are they?”

“Sneaky bastards”

Then they figure it out. The corporal had called in at two, just like he was supposed to. Then he decided to check his men, make sure nothing was wrong. Damn kid forgot to put on his helmet. In Marine world after dark and no helmet, you’re the enemy. Shoot to kill. That first shot he’d heard over the radio.

Well, that shot and the other Marines had jumped up – still no helmets. More fucking shooting.

All those guys hit; all by their own friendly fire.

Friendly fire. Jesus, who could have thought. Too damned tired to know what they were…

His eyes clouded. He was someplace else.

I should have been there. Never could figure out why I wasn’t. I should have been out there with those guys, but … but I wasn’t. Why? … Why?

The thing was, he was serious. He didn’t understand why the corporal had told him to stay in camp.

“You were too valuable to waste,” I offered.

What do you mean?

“They knew they weren’t going to be fighting so why waste a corpsman’s time? Just like if they needed to dig a hole or some other grunt work, you’re not the guy to hand the shovel. Medics were too valuable to squander that way. Why have you waste your energy when you might need it to save one of them some time?”

Shit, I must have asked a dozen doctors why; and nobody ever… He sat—quiet, nodding his head from time to time.

Thing is I came back. I was never even wounded.

“That was damn lucky. Corpsmen, you guys—only ones more likely to get it were Second Lieutenants.” I hadn’t served, but I wanted him to know that I understood.

Yeah, butter-bars. You see a Lieutenant with a map and you knew you were in shit. Fresh from training and not knowing a thing about what they was doing.

I laughed. He smiled wanly.

When I was fresh in the field, you know maybe six weeks in, I noticed something strange. There was this snapping noise. I’d be working on a guy and suddenly I’d hear this snapping. I’d look around, but there wasn’t anything breaking—no sticks or anything – just that sound. I asked this Gunnery Sergeant, “Gunny,” I asked, “There’s something I want to ask you.”

“So ask, Doc.”

“When I’m out there and I’m working on a guy, I hear this noise, this snapping, any idea what it is?”

“Sure, Doc, that’s bullets. Those sons-of-bitches are shooting at you. When a bullet gets close enough it snaps. Most of the time you hear a whine, but when it gets close enough.”

“After that, when I was working on a guy, I’d kind of dart around.”

He acted it out, reaching for something quickly, changing direction, moving suddenly in another direction.

He stopped moving, sat still and looked at me.

“It sounds awful,” I said to break the silence.

Nothing.

Some, a lot didn’t make it. Some I didn’t think would, but they did. Worst one, one I saved but I didn’t think he’d make it—there was this kid. We were on patrol and all hell breaks out. I’m working on some other guy, nothing too bad, when one of the Marines comes up, says, ‘Doc, you got to come.’

“I’m working on this guy,” I say.

He grabs me; pulls me right away, right down to his buddy.

This grunt is leaning against a tree. His arm is broken in two; he’s holding it up, and it’s just hanging down from here.

He gestures to show that the bottom two thirds of the guy’s left forearm is hanging down like everything inside it is broken, like it’s held on by skin.

And his right leg is gone right to here.” He indicates the hip. “I could see his hip joint. The leg is a couple of yards away, lying on the ground like it’s waiting for him. And blood. Shit, you ain’t seen a femoral until you’ve seen a femoral A femoral and a radial and both going at once.

He jerked his hands in different directions like they were supposed to be the spurting blood.

First thing I need is a tourniquet. I dump my pack right there on the ground, but I don’t have another one. None of the guys have one either; we’ve just used them all. So I think about it, and we’re wearing these new uniforms, not the cammies, those hadn’t come in yet, but these green nylon uniforms. At least we were out of the cottons—sweat to death in nylon, but they dried faster. These new uni-s, they got pockets on the legs, and there are these cords sewn in to tie those pockets tight so your shit doesn’t jiggle around in there. I never put anything in those pockets, but I grab the cord from my left leg and pull until it rips free.

Again his hands are flying around.

I use the strap to tie up that stump of his. Use some stump pads and there’s all this jungle shit right in the wound, but I got it tied off … and the arm, and I say, “Call a dust off; we got to get him out of here.”

That’s when this guy—his leg gone, his arm gone—he says, “Hey, Doc, you looked down there.”

I nod yeah.

“So is it all there. Do I still got what I need?”

“Yeah,” I tell him and that son-of-a-bitch smiles back at me like there’s not a damn thing wrong in the world.

Course we’ve got that chopper all ready coming in; and he starts coming down, but then he pulls away.

“What the fuck?” I ask.

“Taking fire, can’t land,” the sergeant explains.

So we load this guy on a poncho and his leg and we carry him down to an LZ not too far off. But the chopper still can’t land. Sarge says, “They’ll lower the basket. We put him in fast, and they get the hell out of here.”

So they get about a hundred feet above us and they lower this drogue, and it starts rotating like a crazy-ass pendulum, but then that pilot—damn he’s good—he gets it under control and sets it down gentle. Somebody yells, “Get him in.”

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We get that guy and his leg into the bucket and the copter takes off.

“Shit,” I yell, “We didn’t get him tied in.”

That basket is swinging around again, and we watch it gyrating as the copter pulls up and meanwhile I guess they’re pulling him in, too; but for a minute I expected to see that guy flying out of that bucket and…

Couple of months later, we get back from patrol and the shirt whose in charge of our platoon calls a meeting. “We got a letter,” he says, “from Clere. You guys remember him?”

Well, most of us—except the new guys—say yeah, and he reads the letter. How this guy’s back in the states and learning to use a prosthetic arm, one of those things that go across the back and you can move them around with your other shoulder and you can open and close these hooks.

He illustrated hunching his shoulders and clawing with two fingers of his own hand.

“They can’t do anything about a leg, too much of that was gone. But I’ll be going home and that’s what counts. So, I just wanted to let you guys know I made it out okay.”

The shirt gives us a piece of paper and a pen and tells us we should all write something back to this guy. Being I’m Navy, you know a corpsman and not a Marine, I get that piece of paper last and there isn’t much room; so I just write how most of us would give an arm and a leg to get out of Nam.

He nodded in appreciation of his own little joke. I tried to smile in response.

Didn’t hear from that guy for years. Then the VFW puts together a list of all of us members all over the country. Computers you know; they’re great. And each of us has written down his information. Forty bucks and you got a great big book to tell you where all your buddies are. It was brand new; my copy hadn’t come yet, but I was looking forward to it, maybe looking up a few of the guys.

Meanwhile, it was first day of deer hunting season and I’d spent it out in the swamps, wandering around and not seeing a single animal. I get home tired, hungry, out of sorts. Last thing I want is to talk to anyone. Just as my ass is finding my favorite chair, the phone rings.

I don’t answer; but it keeps ringing, and my wife can’t stand it so she answers: You know a woman, can’t leave a crying baby or a ringing phone.

“Tell them we don’t want any.”  He says it while making a cutting sign across his neck.

Don’t you hate those telemarketers? I figured nobody else would be bothering with us.

Anyway, my wife gets to talking, and I tell her again, “We don’t want any.”

Then she hands me the phone. “It’s for you.”

“Who is it?”

“I don’t know. Ask him.

So I kind of shout into the phone, “Who is this?”

And this deep, rough voice says, “Did you use to be in the Navy?”

“Yeah. And I still am. Who…?”

“A corpsman?”

“Yeah. But…”

“And you served in Vietnam?”

Now he was getting into some painful water, “Look, I don’t know what you’re selling, but who the hell are you?”

“Shit, Doc, now that ain’t any way to talk to a guy who gave an arm and leg to get out of Nam.”

“Clere, is that you? You know I never could find you, find out … How the hell are you? Wondered a lot of time, but couldn’t find you in any reports.”

He laughs. “That’s ‘cause my name’s not Clere, it’s Lehr.”

“So where are you? What are you doing?”

“We still live in Missouri. I work for the I.R.S.”

“Shit, I saved your life so you could go to work for the I.R.S.? What the fuck?”

He looked at me and shook his head like something worried at him but that nothing mattered.

We sat quiet for a while. We both knew there were no answers, no reasons, just the randomness of war. But on that night, that one night: yeah, there had been a reason.

Imagination is a wonderful Thing!

book_club-main

Have you ever thought where we would be if we didn’t have an imagination?

We’d be lost and hungry, for a start.

Let me explain.

Imagination is the ability to form new images and sensations in the mind that are not perceived through senses such as sight, hearing, or other senses. It is a mental process, which is not visible to others. Imagination makes use of relevant knowledge and previous learning to solve problems

This is why I say that without an imagination we would all be lost and hungry. Without an imagination, nobody would be able to translate an abstract concept like a road map into the reality of the roads. The same applies to recipes. Imagination is what enables a person to turn a bunch of words into a wonderful dish.

In the business world, trainers emphasize ‘thinking outside the box’ and ‘lateral thinking’ in problem solving. What do they mean by that? Simply put, they might as well have told their trainees to ‘use your imagination.’

In today’s world, we want to be visually entertained. We watch movies, TV series, we play computer games etc. These are the products of somebody else’s imagination. Our own mind’s eye becomes lazy to the point of not being able to ‘see’ without ‘seeing’. We forget how to think in the abstract. We rely on imagination borrowed from somebody else.

Everybody doesn’t have to be a visual artist or an author, but our imagination is what separates us from the animal kingdom. No invention would have been possible with the imagination of the inventor. Every painting and sculpture started with an idea in the imagination of the artist. Bridges, highrise buildings, airplanes, trains and spaceships, the common light bulb, the telephone, television sets, you name it, they all started as an idea formed in somebody’s head by his/her imagination.

If the imagination becomes the privilege of the few the human race will be left so much poorer. Each person should strive to develop all the faculties available to him or her. Imagination incorporates learning, previous experiences and personality to come up with solutions in a new and original forms. With a blunted imagination, this process becomes limited to the point of being useless.

One way to develop one’s inner eye is by reading. By reading a book as opposed to watching a movie based on that book, one creates mental images for oneself from the abstract words the author used to tell the story. One enters the world the author created by visualizing it. But when we watch what another person have created, our own imagination shrivels with disuse.

Read a book!

 

http://www.maggietideswell.blogspot.com/

Maggie Tideswell is the author of passionate paranormal romance novels. She lived in Johannesburg, South Africa with her husband Gareth and their three cats.  She has two books published, Dark Moon (2011) and Moragh, Holly’s Ghost (2013) and has just launched her new five book series Bridesmaids, Weddings & Honeymoons. Book 1, The Run-Away Couple, is available on Amazon. Book 2, He’s Married will be released next month.

THE TRUTH ABOUT MERCURY RETROGRADE

Aug 22 Hazel

Your computer fries. Your flight gets canceled. Your check is in the mail, but on its way to Brazil. Welcome to the havoc of Mercury retrograde. Although the next time this little troublemaker begins to moonwalk through the sky isn’t until October, now is a good time to learn some hidden benefits of these retrograde periods.

The Romans didn’t call Mercury the Trickster just for fun. Even if you barely know your Sun sign, I’ll bet you think you know plenty about retrograde, and it’s all rotten. Your horoscope says not to sign anything, your ex wants to crawl back in your bed, and you feel like locking the door and phoning it in. Oops, can’t do that. Your cell’s battery is dead. For years, I’ve watched the phenomenon of retro-fever grow. Rational adults start acting like superstitious cave dwellers and blame Mercury for everything that goes wrong. Today, you can even get a phone app that “warns” you of a retrograde period.

Three times each year, for about three weeks each time, Mercury appears to reverse its orbit around the Sun. Of course, no planet changes direction. Mercury’s closer to the Sun, and its orbit is smaller and faster than the Earth’s. Each time they pass each other, Mercury seems to move backward. It’s an optical illusion like when the rims on a car appear to spin backward even though it’s moving forward.

Although the impression of backpedaling through the sky is a mirage, the effects are mind-melting. When the Universe’s social butterfly flits out of sight, everything disconnects. You not only forget where you parked the car, you forget that you were supposed to get the slow leak in the radiator fixed, and the engine grinds to a smoking halt in the middle of rush hour. The boss hands you back the report you handed her. You didn’t spell-check it in your rush to get out the door to meet a long-lost friend for lunch.

However, it isn’t a coincidence that your old pal called during Mercury retrograde. The odds are just as great that something good will happen. My best friend used to panic until I reminded her that more often than not she receives money or finds a new client when Mercury is retro. Many Fortune 500 companies were started during a retro period. Goodyear. Disney. General Motors. Boeing. Does that mean you can sign mortgage papers on your new home? Sure. Don’t rush, and read the fine print.

A good way to think about Mercury retrograde is to think of words that begin with “re.” Revise. Reconsider. Remind. Repair. Relax. Mercury rules telecommunication and electronics. He also governs your personal adaptability, memory, and language. During retrograde periods these mental processes slow down. You make a mistake. The good news is that it’s more likely to be caught and fixed. You feel more like daydreaming than working. Great. Make time to do something creative. Write down your ideas because it’s almost guaranteed that you won’t remember them once Mercury’s whizzing forward again. These are good periods of time to schedule long weekends or a vacation. Just make sure that you communicate slowly and clearly with the travel agent or reservations clerk. No matter what you do during a retrograde period, it’s always best to ask questions, and keep asking until you understand the answers.

During a retrograde, Mercury turns his auto-pilot switch off and forces you to pay attention. He changes your impressions and the way you process information. He tosses the mix-ups and miscommunications around so that you learn how to be flexible. You may hate the changes, foul-ups, and déjà vu atmosphere. He’s fine-tuning your perception. Did your computer just quit, or did it stop working because you haven’t upgraded it in five years? Was it Mercury’s fault you forgot to get your car repaired? Or did you keep putting it off?

Ever hear of the self-fulfilling prophecy? If you expect the worst, the worst will happen. When you expect Mercury to mess with your life, he will. If you expect Mercury to send you second chances and help you take charge of your life, he’ll do that too.

The power of Mercury retrograde is that it gives you a chance to reclaim a hidden strength or recall a forgotten idea. You can receive an unexpected gift, hear from a long-lost friend, or find that pair of earrings you misplaced. You can figure out someone’s motives, straighten out a misunderstanding, and rework a plan. Retrograde is a good time to recover your emotional balance, or make someone an offer they can’t refuse. Yes, foul-ups happen. However, you can lessen the impact if you work with the slower energy.

Here are ten tips to help you maximize the positive side of Mercury retrograde:

  • Use your intuition. It’s easier to turn off the chatter in your brain under a retrograde.
  • Think about how you feel. Don’t auto-answer, “fine,” when someone asks, “How are you?”
  • Speak the truth. You don’t have to get nasty about it, but Mercury retros are great at bringing up old issues so you can finally resolve them.
  • Re-examine an important decision. Do you really want to elope with the guy you met at the neighborhood bar a month ago? Can you afford that 96-inch flat screen and 1000-channel cable package?
  • Dump a bad habit. Start a good one.
  • Make a repair list. Walk through your home and assess what needs to be fixed.
  • Pay attention to your body. Do you need a check-up? Schedule it.
  • Take a vacation. Whether it’s a long weekend or a seven-day getaway, the slow energy of Mercury retrograde is perfect for relaxing. Just be sure to double-check your reservations and allow extra travel time in case of delays.
  • Pause before you commit. You can get a little foggy-headed during a retro period. Don’t make a promise you’ll regret tomorrow.
  • Slow down. Take a break from the outside world and concentrate on knowing yourself a little better.

Now stop fearing Mercury retrograde and start making it work for you.

 

With the mouth of a Gemini, the soul of a Pisces, and an intuitive Aquarius Moon, Hazel Dixon-Cooper can nail anyone’s personality the moment she knows their birthday. She’s been an astrologer for more than twenty-five years and is the author of the internationally best-selling Rotten Day humorous astrology book series and a recently released book on Pluto, the planet of transformation.

WRITERS MUST BE SELF-DISCIPLINED

Sal at Computer.1998

Defined as “the training of oneself for the sake of improvement,“ self-discipline must be in the repertoire of all serious writers. To approach the writing craft without it is analogous to planning a road trip across the country on an empty tank of gas. You may entertain imaginative thoughts of sunny days in California, but the reality is you are not leaving frigid Maine without gas.

How do writers become self-disciplined? The same way champion boxers or ballplayers or dancers or any crafts people do: they practice until they are as near perfect as they can possibly be. It’s not easy and it doesn’t happen immediately. It’s an ongoing process that eventually separates those who truly want to be excellent at what they do from those who enjoy dallying from one activity to another. It has been said that we all have a book inside us, but without self-discipline that book remains unwritten, an empty boast, a snippet of party conversation.

As do all writers, I have some suggestions that might help develop self-discipline.

  1. Become a reader.

It is true that many writers read so avidly they claim to have little time to write. Learn to balance reading and writing so that neither becomes an excuse to avoid the other. In the biographies of writers we discover without surprise their love of reading. Most began writing at an early age, inspired by the literature they were reading at the time. The excitement of a Poe mystery, a Stevenson adventure on the high seas, a Dumas intrigue, a Chandler crime noir –– Why wouldn’t these books encourage young readers to write? Reading can do that. And while we all read, our brains infuse us with the ability to develop plots, effectively utilize dialogue, and vary the components of sentence and paragraph lengths, types of writing, and placement of foreshadowing and suspense.

  1. Write every day.

Carry a small pocket pad and pen. Jot down ideas as they come to you. Refer to them later in your writing session. I have found this effective all of my writing life. I jot down an interesting line of dialogue, a scene of slow-moving traffic in a heavy snowfall, a sentence that might become an arresting hook in a story, a dream sequence. The pad allows us to capture the moment; otherwise, like most night dreams they fade away.

Sharon and I used to take walks in the local graveyard where I would jot down tombstone names to use later in stories.

The daily habit of writing facilitates the act of writing just as the daily habit of shooting basketballs into hoops leads to hardly any misses. Don’t write only when the spirit moves you. Awaiting the arrival of the muse is not amusing to me. How often does she visit? Why does she appear in my head at my busiest time, compelling me to send her away? If writers apply their craft on a daily basis, they can dismiss the idea of a muse who delivers from her goody basket poems and stories. To be once-in-awhile writers is to be dabblers and nothing more.

There is a story about Ernest Hemingway coming to his typewriter every single day and banging away at the keys when ideas were dancing or bar-fighting in his head. One time he sat there dry as a bone. He typed the word “the” to get started, but nothing followed so he typed “the” again…and again…and again, until the page was filled with that repetitive article “the.” Then all at once the second word came…and the third…and on and on, page after page. Hemingway was not one to toss perseverance to the winds. He stuck to it because he was highly self-disciplined which led him to being highly and successfully productive. We ought best to follow his lead.

  1. Learn the writing craft.

What upsets me is the erroneous conception that word usage matters little if the story is worth telling. Who told them that? I have seen writers submit stories with blatant mistakes in grammar and then wonder why they were rejected. As an editor for several years, I would read sentences like the following: “She laid down in bed.” She laid what down in bed? “The minister had rang the bell.” Really? “Please come with Jack and I.”

Is it the editor’s job to correct submitted work? “She lay down in bed.” “The minister had rung the bell.” “Please come with Jack and me.”

Writers need to have handy at their elbows an English handbook, a dictionary, and for occasional reference, a thesaurus. They need to seriously school themselves in the language in which they are writing or incur the reader’s doubt as to how proficient they are in telling their stories.

  1. Create a writing challenge.

There is nothing like a word puzzle to keep the creative juices flowing. One way might be to open your dictionary and blindly point to a word or two and use them in your opening sentence.

Another example would be to write a flash without the use of a particular letter. In the following I did not include the vowel a. I call this “No A, José.”

“If I could I’d get out of this town,” Gus expressed without uttering even one letter a.

“How come?” Tessie inquired. “Why is it the word police treat us so cruel, coldly depriving us of one stinking letter? We’re left with twenty-five. How odd.”

“It’s not even odd,” spoke Gus.

“Which? Even or odd?”

Gus lifted his upper lip.  “It’s preposterously evil to rob us of completely free expression, even or odd. How will they punish us next? Forbid the world to use y or c or f?

“Drink your coffee, Gus. Things could be worse.”

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I welcome you to add your own suggestions in an attempt to help writers improve their craft.

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Sal Buttaci retired from teaching in 2007 and now lives with his wife Sharon in West Virginia. He writes everyday in an attempt to improve his craft. Sal is the author of two flash collections published by All Things That Matter Press and available at Amazon.com: Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts.

On Teaching and literature

Z.Town Crier (2)

 

Four members of The Write Room Blog
talk about combining teaching and literature.

WRITING A LETTER TO THE EDITORIt was never my intention to become a teacher, but you know the old saying, “Make God laugh; tell him your plans.” I had been offered, and turned down, a scholarship to Yale Graduate School of Drama on the merit of a two-act play I wrote, directed, and acted in during my senior year in 1965. I was off to Italy to take advantage of a scholarship to La Universitã di Roma where I planned to study for a doctorate in Italian Literature. No one told me I had to first be proficient in Italian, so I lasted a week. Hear God laughing?

I remained a year with family in Sicily, then flew home to a frightening reality: no income. Life looked bleak. Then my sister Joan informed me that a Catholic school in a nearby city was in need of an English teacher. That began a career that included teaching in middle school, high school, and college for nearly thirty years. If I pasted each day’s lesson plan end to end, I suspect the paper trail would reach the moon!

My favorite lesson I taught incoming college students each summer, and one summer in particular –– 2004. Most of the students were weak in high school English. Many came from homes where English was hardly ever spoken. Believe me, it was a challenge to teach them how to write a letter to the editor.

As it turned out, 70% of all three classes had letters published in the local daily and weekly newspapers of Bergen, Hudson, and Essex Counties, New Jersey. It proved a tremendous ego boost for these new published authors. It provided them with a stronger desire to succeed, a better self-image, and a staunch willingness to work hard. In 2005  Bergen Community College presented me with the Instructor of the Year Award, which hangs on my living room wall.

Here is that lesson.

  1. Read the newspaper and search for a news article in which the writer has taken a stand on some issue. It could be about a local, national, or international issue. Where do you stand? Do you agree with the writer or do disagree? Can you think of two or three reasons why you agree or disagree?2.  Read that newspaper article a couple of times so you understand what it’s all about.3.  Plan the writing of a letter to the editor by writing an outline. Include the following parts:a.  Introduction (Beginning):  In this first paragraph, mention in quotation marks the title of the article, the author’s name, if given, the date of the article, and the page on which the article appeared in the newspaper. In that same paragraph include a statement that tells the reader immediately that you agree or disagree with the article you are commenting about.

    b.   Body  (Middle): This section should be one paragraph or two small paragraphs and here you should give your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with the article. Make sure your reasons are all different from one another and all make sense.

    c.    Conclusion ( End): In this last paragraph come up with a good strong closing to your letter, something that will make your readers think or feel something. Maybe you can give some advice or a famous quote.

    4.   Write the letter based on your three-part outline. Include your name, address, phone number, and e-mail address on the letter because if the newspaper decides to publish your letter, the editor will contact you to make certain it was you who sent the letter.

    5.   Some newspaper do not accept e-mailed letters. You need to snail-mail your letter to the newspaper in care of “Letters to the Editor.”

    If your letter is published, count it among your credits as an author!

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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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Unmaking Readers through Lessons in Story

A musing by Joyce Elferdink

 

“The change which the writing wrought in me was only a beginning—only to prepare me for the gods’ surgery. They used my own pen to probe my wound.”

What gives me the right to write about love, me a three-time divorcee?  I believe in love, believe I have loved passionately (most recently the protagonist of my novel), and believe I will continue to experience love in at least some of its several forms; and I read–sometimes even stories or essays about love. Does that give me sufficient credibility to give advice on loving?

What I offer today is a painful lesson, one that confronted me after reading a C.S. Lewis science fiction novel, Till We Have Faces. In the reading I was forced to consider how much of my loving—if any—has been unselfish, directed toward the other person instead of my own desires. How can any of us know that? As I try to put in words what I fleetingly and shallowly recognized about myself in the tale of Queen Orual’s awakening,  I know the meaning of her words, “the change which the writing wrought in me was only a beginning—only to prepare me for the gods’ surgery. They used my own pen to probe my wound.” (p. 253)

In her story, which is actually Lewis’ alteration of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Orual loves her half-sister, Psyche, so much that when she meets a changed Psyche after she had been sacrificed to the god, Ungit, Orual feels she must rescue her beloved Psyche even as Psyche protests she cannot leave the lover she adores, the one who gives her unspeakable joy, the god who comes to her unseen in the blackness of night. Orual forces Psyche to betray her lover, justifying her actions by professing the dreadful deed was an act of love and she, Orual, was the one sacrificing to save Psyche from some dreadful thing.

With Psyche lost to Orual’s world, separated from her husband/god and forced to wander miserably alone, Orual threw herself into her duties as queen. Even in her good works, she took all that others would give in the name of love.

As her own death approached, Queen Orual got her chance to complain to the gods for seducing what was hers, those she had loved best. Their happiness should have been for Orual to give. Reciting the speech that had been at the center of her soul for years, she instantly knew that she had been the most dangerous enemy of those she loved most. By acknowledging that their happiness had never meant as much to her as her need to possess them, she became unmade. Only then could she love as she would have thought it impossible to love.

I think I understand, at least in part, the moral of this story. (I won’t repeat the lesson because your interpretation may be different). I could ignore the judgment of another person, but the message in “Till We Have Faces” is much more difficult to reject.

May we as writers use sensitivity, wisdom and creativity to tell stories that “unmake” our readers.

 #

This ENFP personality thinks of herself as a teacher, traveler, activist and author of thought provoking time-travel tales. Along with being a right brained slave to creativity, her inspiration comes from the life experiences which expose those questions that stir us to action.

Some of those questions are portrayed through her novel, Pieces of You, with the search for answers continuing in the coming sequel, The Battle of Jericho, 2040.

Links

Book trailer on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIacFKaNWe8
Amazon Book Listing (Kindle edition): http://tinyurl.com/927am9u

 

 

use

 

The day we studied “The Highwayman”

a story by Kenneth Weene

 

“So what did you think of the video?” I asked the class.

Jackie Brown, their regular teacher, had asked me to cover the class. There was little I wouldn’t do for her. Some women have it, and Jackie had even more. Would she accept my invite for Saturday night? Dinner and dancing. I wasn’t going to refuse a simple request.

“Third period. Just lead a discussion after they watch it. You’ll only have about ten minutes. They’re good kids, a great class.”

Jackie was going to slip out for two periods.  She wasn’t supposed to, but Phil, the principal, had agreed to it if she could find somebody to cover her  third period A-Track English class. Her next period was free and then her lunch break: enough time for the dentist.

“Damn, Mike,” she had explained to me; “don’t you hate losing a filling.”

The filmstrip ended. Tip O’Malley flipped on the lights.

He was the exception in the class. The rest were already headed for college. Seventh grade, but they were the good ones, the ones every teacher wanted to have. Tip was different: a scruff of a kid from a poor family, but still bright. Phil had personally placed Tip in the class. “We’ll A-Track him for Social Studies and English,” he instructed; “maybe it will motivate him. Maybe he’ll get the idea.”

As Tip’s guidance counselor, I had agreed with the plan. I liked the kid and one can always hope.

Vicky Henderson, already a dark-eyed beauty at thirteen, raised her hand. “It was sad, the way she killed herself for the highwayman.”

I waited, but there was no more. “Yes, it is a sad poem,” I agreed; “but what about her love? Do you guys think you could ever love somebody that much?”

Tip raised his hand.

“Yes, Tip?”

“I was thinking. The robber. He committed suicide, too, didn’t he? Like suicide by cop?”

“Yes, I guess he did.”

“So I was thinking about how much he loved her. How he couldn’t live without her.”

“Mmm.”

There was an uncomfortable stirring in the class.

“Love is kind of a trap,” Tim continued. “For both of them.”

“How does that make you feel?” I asked.

“Doomed.”

A miasma of discomfort hung in the room.

“Sorry,” Jackie said when I asked about Saturday.

“What the heck,” I said to myself and went to IHop instead.

Damn, if Tip wasn’t there with Vicky — the two of them in a back booth, holding hands and sharing something covered in whipped cream.

The wind was blowing when I left IHop. I looked up. Yeah, the moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas. Would those two kids notice?

 #

Sometimes Ken Weene writes to exorcise demons. Sometimes he writes because the characters in his head demand to be heard. Sometimes he writes because he thinks what he have to say might amuse or even on occasion inform. Mostly, however, he writes because it is a cheaper addiction than drugs, an easier exercise than going to the gym, and a more sociable outlet than sitting at McDonald’s drinking coffee with other old farts: in brief because it keeps him just a bit younger and more alive.

Find Ken’s books at http://www.amazon.com/Kenneth-Weene/e/B002M3EMWU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1409509512&sr=8-1

and listen to him co-host It Matters Radio at http://www.itmattersradio.com

 

 

sharp pencil

 

Creative Writing 101

I’ve been asked to teach a Creative Writing Course for a varied audience. Why would I consider accepting such a challenge?

The first reason is I’ve already written the lesson plans. This is something I’ve given much thought to over the last few years. You see, there are a couple of fundamental choices you can make in this life when it comes to the work you do: you can either create or destroy. As a writer, I’ve chosen to create. But unless I pass on some of what I’ve learned, my creations end with me.
In my course the students will be asked to work on a composition of their choice for the 6 weeks the program will run. Each Tuesday that we meet, new ideas and techniques will be offered to the student so that he or she may add depth and breadth to their work. In doing so, the world will receive dozens of new works of literary art—whether that be a creative letter to one’s boss or a highly polished haiku.

What follows is a program overview…

Week one the students will be asked to write on any topic that comes to mind and in whatever format they choose. For those who find themselves stumped, I will ask the student to write a vignette about a pencil. The idea here is to create a circular idea, one that goes out into the world then returns to where it began. Why a pencil? The student will be reminded that one can write creatively about anything that can be imagined, even a pencil. A final note for the students will be not to attempt to edit the story as they go along. The reason for this is that an idea is a fragile thing. Attack it too soon and it will die. As a writer, I don’t let anyone see my work until I have a complete first draft. The time to edit is once that plateau has been reached.

Week two will focus on editing structural elements of the student’s work. I subscribe to
Stephen King’s idea that a story exists in full the way a fossilized dinosaur exists in the ground. One finds a fragment (the idea), then he digs around the edges of the fossil to find a general shape that slopes off into the depths. Now comes the time for picking and brushing at the lines, slowly working deeper in an attempt to discover the artifact in its whole. This is structural editing.

Week three goes deeper. One brushes the story until each sentence is a clear and visible entity that fits smoothly into the overall structure. We’ll review basic grammar rules as they apply to sentence structure.

Week four takes a closer look at plot. The dinosaur has a skeleton upon which the flesh is hung. The same is so for a story, letter or poem. Now is the time to play God. Does your piece hang elegantly from the structure you’ve discovered or can it be improved upon? We discuss fundamental plotting.

Week 5 follows a similar plan but deals with theme. What is it and is there an apparent theme in your work? If so, are you happy with it? If not, how can you create theme as suggested by your work?

Week 6 will be an in class swap of pieces so that that each person’s work is proofed by a fresh pair of eyes. I will also field questions and encourage general discussion. The student may submit his or her piece for assessment.

#

Clayton Bye is a writer, editor and publisher. The author of 11 books and a varied collection of short stories, poems, articles and reviews, he has also published 4 books under the imprint Chase Enterprises Publishing. These books, published for others, include 3 award winning anthologies and a stunning memoir about what it’s like to live with and die from anorexia. Visit his e-store at http://shop.claytonbye.com.
Mr. Bye also offers a wide range of writing related services, including small business management for writers.
Visit his bookstore at http://shop.claytonbye.com
Find him on Amazon.com
Bookstores may order through Ingram

For Love of a Good Book by Kenneth Weene

 

dreamstimefree_122041My introduction to books was not innocent—not in the least. I was three and curious. Specifically, I wanted to know where babies came from. My father, not the most comfortable of people, harrumphed, cleared his throat, and told me that he was too busy.

I resolved to get the needed information on my own. My uncle, who was in the Army, had stored his medical books in our attic. I had looked at them and knew those pictures contained the kernels of truth; but the words: what might those words tell me? All I had to do was learn to read. Sufficiently motivated, I easily mastered the task.

The joke, however, was on me. Those wonderful books filled with information were in Latin. Oh, well, at least I had opened the door to new and wonderful worlds.

Finding books worth reading was not easy. I really didn’t care about Dick, Jane, or even Spot. Quickly, I was reading the few adult books our home offered. It was a limited and strange assortment, mostly chosen to fill the bookshelf Dad had found on the street and brought home. Still, they were books and I devoured them. One of the unintended consequences came to light when at five I began attending Sunday school. Being Jewish, I was not expected to know the legends of all the national saints of the European countries, but I did. I particularly loved the saints who had killed dragons. To be honest, the rabbi reminded me a bit of a dragon, and I did have fantasies of slashing him with my great sword. But that is a different story.

Somebody suggested the library. What a wonderful place. One small problem, those darn Dick and Jane quality books. I was five and had read most of the Hardy Boys and had heard of books by people named Twain, Stevenson, Dickens, and London. When would I get to read them?

“Too young. Too young.” The refrain hurt my pride and interfered with my favorite leisure pursuit. Eventually, I talked my way into a grownup card. I was off and running—or at least reading. Unfortunately, I had no idea which books were worth reading and which not. Worse, there was no one to help me. Perhaps one of my English teachers might have helped, but I had been duly warned that if word got out, my precious card would be taken away. So I read a motley array of books; none of which, by the way, providing the information I had originally sought.

Some of those books were great and some were trash. At the time I had my own list of which were which. Now, of course, I have the lists of “great books” and “classics” to tell me what I am supposed to think of them—not that I give a fig about such lists.

What I do care about—what I cared about then and still do—was finding books that did more than entertain me. Keeping a kid occupied is easy. I wanted books that made me think and feel, books that made me expand, made me aware, made me alive. Because I found them—too often buried in the trash, but still there, my love affair with books went on and grew. It still burns today. I try to read at least one book a week as well as lots of other stuff. On a vacation, I can push that number up to one per day. Such is true happiness.

I suppose books have made other members of The Write Room Blog happy as well. For some, perhaps the world of books gave them a sense of safety in a difficult and confusing world. Maybe others were looking for rules and standards, models by which to live their lives. For whatever reason, I guess we all do love books; why else would we write so many of them? And, because we know that visitors to our blog also love books—Why else come here? —we take pleasure in giving some of our books away. Please join us in this celebration of words and writing and enter The Write Room Blog giveaway. May the book you read today give you pleasure for years to come.

Link to The Great Book Giveaway

As one of the founders of The Write Room Blog, Ken Weene takes great pride in the ongoing success of this group and thanks you for visiting today.

The Romance of Christmas By Kathleen Ball

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I can’t think of anything that goes together as well as Christmas and Romance. I know for a lot of us it’s a time of stress, but if you can take a moment to sit and relax you might discover the wonder of it all. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy presents as much as anyone, but Christmas is not only a day for presents. it is a day of great emotion.

The joy of watching a child’s or grandchild’s eyes when they discover the presents under the tree; the very same tree you told them not to touch. Their expression of pleasure is dreamlike. It’s a day of love and laughter and it’s a day to listen to your heart.

The buildup and suspense of Christmas starts as soon as you put up your tree and your first and most fervent wish is for the lights work.  The first smile comes when topping the tree, unless you have a hot toddy. In that case your smile may be earlier. When finished I always take a step back and sigh, it’s Christmas time.

As in romance, there is anticipation and hope for a blissful outcome. And like romance, there can be a multitude of obstacles to overcome. In a romance novel there is the will they or won’t they moments— moments where one of the main characters does something to throw a wrench into their relationship. You keep reading, hoping they get back on track and then the magic happens. The author weaves a story of hope, dreams, and shows us love is the main thing, the only thing that matters. The feeling of wow, a sense of well-being and delight invade your heart.

Last year my father died, my son was deployed, and the magic didn’t happen for me. I didn’t want to celebrate. It made me realize two things. Life is short, celebrate when you can and it doesn’t matter where my family is as long as they are all safe.

This Christmas Eve I expect the swirl of enchantment to wash over me as I hope and pray for a better, peaceful year. I’ll experience the delight of my heart overflowing as I count my many blessings. I will have inner peace knowing I played secret Santa to a few families in need. And I will hope and pray for all who are having a bad year—especially for the military families with their loved ones halfway around the world.

This year I celebrate, understanding the need to cherish and make lifelong memories. I celebrate with an open and compassionate heart. Mostly I pray these things will happen- hence the magic of Christmas.

Hope and a happy ending is why I love to read and write romance. I love the emotions of expectation, happiness, despair, and love. I love cheering for the couple and crying when all is lost. I love the heart-filling ending, and I try to hold the feeling close to me as long as possible.

Most of all I have learned that giving is really much better than receiving. I understood the concept but never carried it within me. Kindness is free and I have embraced the saying Kindness Matters. It’s not only for a few weeks or for a special day—kindness needs to be a lifelong project. What if a simple smile is all it took to make the world a better place?  I know I can be too optimistic; it’s the romantic in me.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday and a year of kindness.

 

Sexy Cowboys and the women who love them…

Finalist in the 2012 RONE Awards. Top Pick, Five Star Series from the Romance Review.

Kathleen Ball writes contemporary western romance with great emotion and memorable

characters. Her books are award winners and have appeared on best sellers lists including

Amazon’s Best Sellers List, All Romance Ebooks, Bookstrand, Desert Breeze Publishing and

Secret Cravings Publishing Best Sellers list. She is the recipient of eight Editor’s Choice

Awards, and The Readers’ Choice Award for Ryelee’s Cowboy.

There’s something about a cowboy…. Http://www.kathleenballromance.com

Introduction to Freemasonry by Clayton Clifford Bye

When Ken Weene suggested I write a piece about Freemasonry for The Write Room Blog, I jumped at the opportunity. After all, I am an active Freemason who loves to teach people about what it is we do. It wasn’t long, however, before I realized I was overwhelmed. You see, Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons or Freemasons or simply Masons represent the largest, most complicated and dreadfully misunderstood fraternity in the world. People I know have called us a cult, a religion and a secret society. The following will explain why people think these things and will, at the same time, give you a reasonable introduction to Freemasonry.

No one is clear as to when the fraternity known as Freemasonry began. Our own, carefully preserved records claim we were around in the times of King Solomon, when the craftsman lodges of operative Masons began to turn away from the physical labour of building the temple at Jerusalem and moved towards the more speculative nature of the mind and soul, their working tools becoming symbolic tools with which to build a man with spotless morals and good character. Historical research, however, tends to suggest Freemasonry began in the 1300’s (when the first written records became available) and indicates the stories we use to teach our members are only complicated constructs.

Why the confusion? Well, originally, all the work presented to the initiate or candidate for admission to the Lodge was done strictly by memory. Vast lectures were learned word for word by one brother who would then teach it to a younger brother, and in so doing pass the knowledge along from generation to generation. Plays were put on with intricate costumes and great flair, all language being archaic in nature (and kept that way). There were no books to be passed down through the ages, just keepers of the work. If you were an authority seeking to destroy a Lodge—more about this later—all you would ever find were symbolic paintings and drawings that meant nothing to you. The real Lodge was kept safe in the minds of its members. Sometimes Lodges were even mobile, being set up wherever was safe and then taken down when the meeting was done.

There is also another reason the origins of Freemasonry are lost in the mists of time: all Lodges conduct their business behind closed and guarded  doors—in secret! Why? What’s the big deal? After all, the only reason Lodges exist is to take good men and make them better. Could it be we are protecting the fact that our initiates are taught a beautiful system of morality that is veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols? No, it is generally understood that our system is taught via stories, poems, paintings and special symbols that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden, moral meaning. The problem actually goes back to the days when teaching a moral message, other than that approved by  the Church, was forbidden and its purveyors persecuted.

Today, however, Masonic Lodges are not secret in and of themselves. They stand in the heart of every town of decent size in most countries of the world. You drive by these buildings every day. Some are ornate and some are plain. Almost all of them have our main symbol located somewhere on the front of the building. It is a square and compass surrounding the letter G, which stands for God …

 Square and compass

And if our existence isn’t secret and our meeting times are usually posted on the doors, why do the rumours of secrecy still exist? Well, prejudice for one thing. Freemasonry was non-denominational long before separation of Church and State, making it a very unpopular organization. The fraternity, was, quite simply, a form of heresy. Secrecy was oftentimes all that stood between a Mason and prison time or even an untimely death. In fact, even as recently as World War II, Masons in Germany had to go underground. You see, they supported Jews like they supported all other people of the world, and because of this they were persecuted as fiercely as were the Jews. Why,  until just a few short years ago, the Catholic Church wouldn’t allow any member to be a Mason. They even went so far as to create their own competing fraternity—The Knights of Columbus. I, for one, am thankful that practice has been stopped. Still, persecution persists: many religions believe an organization that doesn’t follow their particular path of salvation must by its very character be an agent of Satan. And this attitude is the big problem. For a man to be made a Mason, he must swear that he believes in a Supreme Being. We don’t care who or what that is—other than he/she/it must punish vice and reward virtue. We don’t even care what book you study from, be it the Bible, the Quran or some other written work. Freemasonry simply urges you study daily from the pages of your holy book or from the words of your religion. We want you to have a strong moral guide from which to learn. Freemasonry will teach the initiate many lessons about morality, charity, truth, upright character, brotherly love and … but he will learn much more by studying his own religion every day. Some people (religions) just don’t like these practices.

Are such problems, mostly in the past, the only reason Lodges have secrets? No, Freemasonry has always been careful about what it reveals to the uninitiated. For example, we all take an oath never to reveal the secrets or mysteries of a Freemason. Why do we do this? There are several reasons I can’t share, but I can tell you this much: some of the secrets are nothing but ways and means of identifying another Mason when in public. These methods, if revealed to you, would seem foolish. All I can say is remember Hitler. In his day if you couldn’t secretly identify yourself to another Mason, you were as good as dead! I believe these secrets that we must keep also teach us there’s a time to hold your tongue, to keep silent. They make us think about what we say and how we say it, thus helping us maintain a favourable image of ourselves (and thus Freemasonry) when out in the wide, wide world. Because, yes, we are taught to take what we learn as a Mason and use it in our daily life so as to be a leader, to be someone people look up to, to be a man people know is of good character and morals.

And finally, what about the mysteries? What are they and why are they to be kept inviolate? Here you’ll find the strongest reason Freemasonry has been deemed a secret society. Most Masons never study the stories and lectures hard enough and long enough to figure out what the mysteries are. There has been many a book written about the mysteries of Freemasonry, posing hypothesis after hypothesis. But given all the hidden meaning in our teachings it’s really no wonder the average Mason doesn’t know quite what it is he isn’t supposed to reveal. So, do you know what he does? He says nothing at all. In truth, many never even divulge their association with Freemasonry. I was in Masonry for 10 years before my favourite uncle told me he, too, was a Mason. He belonged to a different Lodge than I did and had no reason to expect me to identify myself to him as a Mason. It was just a chance remark I made one day that twigged it for him. So he challenged me with one of our forms of recognition, and I passed the test.

If we, as Masons, don’t know for certain what we can tell you about our unusual fraternity, then who are we to cry out when someone says we are a secret society, a religion or a cult? Only education, spurred on by us Masons can do that. Here’s what I tell people: We are not a secret society; we are a society with secrets. Freemasonry is not a religion; it does have religious aspects. Our fraternity is not a cult; it does teach a moral system through the relating of ancient stories and through the description of certain symbols, like the square and compass.

May I finish with a poem? It tells about our obligations and some of the ways to recognize a Mason (you can find them all on the internet, by the way, I just won’t tell you them myself); it also gives one the sense that there’s depth and goodness at the heart of this thing we call Freemasonry.

 

The Old Master’s Wages

I met a dear old man today
who wore a Masonic pin.
It was old and faded like the man,
Its edges were worn quite thin.

I approached the park bench where he sat,
to give the brother his due.
I said, “I see you’ve travelled east.”
He said, “I have, have you?”

I said, “I have, and in my day before the all seeing sun,
I played in the rubble, with Jubala, Jubalo and Jubalum.”

He shouted, “Don’t laugh at the work my son,
It’s good and sweet and true,
and if you’ve travelled as you said,
you should give these things their due.

The word, the sign, the token,
the sweet Masonic prayer,
the vow that all have taken,
who’ve climbed the inner stair.

The wages of a Mason
are never paid in gold,
but the gain comes from contentment
when you’re weak and growing old.

You see, I’ve carried my obligations,
for almost fifty years,
They have helped me through the hardships
and the failures full of tears.

Now I’m losing my mind and body,
Death is near but I don’t despair,
I’ve lived my life upon the level,
and I’m dying upon the square.”

Sometimes the greatest lessons
are those that are learned anew,
and the old man in the park today
has changed my point of view.

To all Masonic brothers,
The only secret is to care.
May you live your life upon the level,
may you part upon the square.

Author Unknown

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.

 

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