Tag Archives: Great Read

Big Trout Lake Blues (a Mike Money short)

 Beech King Air

Mike Money wasn’t enjoying this at all. It was one of a few recurring tasks that he, as the “town cop,” couldn’t ignore. There was too much of an opportunity for trouble to arise.

Why these young pilots couldn’t manage to keep it in their pants, when they had been warned, he never understood. Yes, many of the young First Nations women were stunning, and they were almost always willing partners, something the white boys were completely unprepared for. Which is why they were warned. Sleep with a local girl and you faced a BCR, a Band Council Ruling, ordering you off the reservation.

The owners of the airlines (Big Trout Air and Bearskin Air) had no choice but to fire any employee who received a BCR and ship them south. If they didn’t they would find themselves unwelcome on the rez.

And the girls? Well for the most part it was boredom that had led to the formation of the game. It was a simple one—seduce a pilot and then let the chips fall where they may. The council was always there, just in case.

It was too much for some girls to resist. They were often as curious about the white boys as the boys were about them. And there probably wasn’t a girl on the reserve who really expected a BCR. After all, that would mean all sorts of trouble for them, parents being parents. But it did happen. Yes, it did.

Mike knocked on the door of the pilot’s shack. He soon heard someone shuffling toward the door.

It opened on a blond-haired, good looking kid. It was hard to believe this was a pilot with hundreds of hours under his belt. Bush piloting was definitely a young man’s game.

“Morning, John,” the policeman said.

The kid nodded his head and looked confused.

“Can I come in, John?” Mike queried.

“Yah, lemme get a shirt on,” he said, heading for one of the 3 bedrooms that opened onto the main room—living room and kitchen as one. It was a beautiful building, really, an all log construction that was meant to create a sense of home for the young men who flew all over this part of the country, from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Thunder Bay, Ontario and as far up as Moosonee, Ontario, on James Bay. Mike had once flown a twin engine Seneca to Winnipeg, with a friend. There was nothing but bush and water all the way there.

“What is it, Mike?”

Mike turned his attention back to the friendly man who now stood fully clothed in the middle of the great room.

“I’ve got some shitty news, John, and I don’t know how to deal with it except straight up.” He walked over to John and put his hand on the pilot’s shoulder. “You’ve been BCRed, John.”

“What the fuck?”

“I know it’s a bad deal. But you know as well as I do that it’s a risk anyone sleeping with the girls must face. Whatever’s going on between you  and Josie is done.”

“I get to talk with her?”

“No. this thing is all done for but the crying. In fact, there’s a plane headed for Sioux Lookout in about 15. That’s how much time you have to pack, then I’ve got to escort you up to the runway.”

“This isn’t fair Mike.”

“I never said it was, son. It’s political mostly, with some racism thrown in.”

“Don’t suppose the fact that I love her makes any difference?”

“No, it might even make things worse. You’ve got to clear things with the elders when relationships get serious. It’s not so different from the way things are down south, except for the fact that the southern parents have no real power of influence in a bad situation and the band council does.”

The young man stopped asking questions and began packing. You could tell he had some guts, considering how busted up inside he must be.

* * *

Next on Mike’s list was another contentious duty: the dog shoot. The guys were heading back from the air strip when he put John on the Beech King Air.

Dogs on the rez ran free. Some were mutts that had been starved at home or had been abused. Whatever the reason, they were homeless and slowly reverted to a feral state—which pissed Mike off to no end. Once they reached such a state the dogs were ruined and had to be shot. He found the process barbaric, as it was not the dogs’ fault. They had once been loving creatures with an emotional age of a 5 year-old child. No one would ever put a child on the street, would they?

But now… The wild dogs would think nothing of cornering and pulling down a child. This reserve had been lucky in recent years and only had  a few maimings on its record. Not like other places where there had been deaths. Hell, he remembered the day when the crazy French man who lived in the village had flown over to Osnaburgh for some reason or another. Mike was on the same flight. And when it came time to go—no French man. Mike had to go looking for him. The guy had gotten himself cornered by a pack of about 10 dogs with a ringleader that was this small poodle-type mutt. Its constant yapping had built up animosity in the other dogs until they began to close in. The only thing that had saved the French man was his walking stick. With the man swinging the stick like a wild man Mike booted a number of the dogs, catching them by surprise and breaking up the ring. He was able to rescue the French man, but the dogs—unafraid—sat off a ways and just watched, sullen and hungry.

This time, Big Trout Lake had a pack just like Osnaburgh’s, and the band was going to do what they always did. Two shooters would stand up in the back of a truck, rifles steadied on the roof of the cab while another fellow drove around looking for the pack. Sometimes, there would be someone in the front passenger seat with a loaded weapon and two extra shooters sitting in the back of the truck on low chairs. Mike’s job, even though he understood the necessity, was to stop them. He couldn’t condone the use of firearms within the limits of their little village. The shoot had been advertised heavily, so everyone would stay indoors for the next few hours. But that just didn’t cut it. One stray bullet and someone could end up dead.

But stopping the hunt wasn’t as easy as it sounded. Everyone carried firearms in their trucks. Usually on homemade window racks. Others just threw them in the back of their vehicle or along the runner of their snow machine or under a heavy fur on a dog sled.

“Hey, Ben,” Mike said to the tall fellow in the back of the truck.

The first nations man gave a nod that was almost imperceptible. It was the white man’s way to say hello and goodbye, not those of the first  nations.

“You seen the dogs?

“They were over on the mainland early this morning,” Mike said.

“They got Mary Land’s dog last night. Killed it bad.”

Mike shook his head.

“You guys the hunting party?”

No answer, and no guns in site. They might be a decoy. Hard to tell, as he hadn’t heard any gunshots yet.

They banged on the roof of the truck, hollered directions at the driver and drove off.

It was about an hour later that Mike found the men at the garbage dump. He had been on the mainland when he heard the shooting. There were about 15 carcasses and no guns in site. Not even in the window rack.  Mike sighed in relief. Out here there was no way anyone could get hurt by accident. He nodded to Calvin Skead, took a deep breath and walked away. The landfill was set up in such a way that the pack had been pushed up against a hill of garbage. There was nowhere for them to go. And even though the shooting had seemed to go on forever, the job must have been done in mere minutes.

Mike was so upset he didn’t even comment when the driver put the truck in reverse and drove away. What was a dump for anyway?

* * *

Mike went home for lunch. Marion had a rich and creamy potato soup on the stove. She met him at the door with a big hug. These shoots always left Mike in a terrible state. They talked about it after Mike had finished up the deeply warming soup.

“How many this time?”


“Are you okay?”

“Not really. I didn’t catch them in the act.”

He sat silently for a few moments.

“If the people would just think before getting an animal. Most of the families barely squeak by. It doesn’t take very long before they realize how expensive a pet can be, just in food costs alone. Then they just boot the dogs out, leaving them to fend for themselves. It’s no wonder they pack. Think of a bunch of 5 year-old kids thrown out on the street. How long would it take them to go feral? Either that or die.”

Mike shook his head in disgust.

“There are times I really hate this job”

“Can’t the dogs be reintegrated into the community?”

“Not once they’ve gone wild. You could never really trust them again, and they wouldn’t really trust you. Sooner or later someone or a dog would be hurt. And we both know what the solution to that is. No, these guys did the right thing, even though the law doesn’t agree.”

Marion changed the subject.

“How did the eviction go?”

“Eviction? Oh, the pilot. He was a nice kid. Deer in the headlights though. He didn’t know what hit him. It probably didn’t begin to sink in until they were in the air and headed down to Sioux Lookout.”

“Girls will be girls, hmm?”

“Something like that. Can’t say he wasn’t warned.”

Mike rubbed his face with his hands.

“What people don’t understand is that they’re submerged in another culture. They would take great care not to offend if they went to Japan or just about anyplace foreign. It’s like this in Quebec too. A whole different culture most of us know nothing about.”

Marion got up and massaged his shoulders.

“Strangers in a Strange Land?”

“That’s about it, honey.”

She kissed him softly and deeply.

“What was that for?”

“Something to look forward to at the end of the day.”

Mike smiled and said, “I love you a lot, honey.”

With that, he got up, put on his Jacket and stepped out into the bright sun. It was a beautiful spring day, with the snow sparkling like diamonds and the air so clean and cold it almost hurt to breath. He thought for a moment and made the decision to go ice fishing later in the day. For some reason this end of the lake made for poor ice sport, but it would be a nice way to relax.

However, he had one more unpleasant job to do. But it was necessary, to say the least. One of the elders wanted to talk to him about his grandson. He was pretty sure he was sniffing, and he thought Mike might talk to the boy. They both wanted to find out who had the supply of glue that had recently appeared on the reserve. Maybe he could get the boy thinking straight and maybe he would talk. One never knew.

Another problem of heartbreaking proportions.


Mike, drove silently, thinking hard about his decision to become the first stationed policeman at Big Trout Lake. It used to be the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) had a regular rotation of visits and were always on call in Sioux Lookout, some 250 miles south. Now, here he was, an OPP officer by training, but a band cop in principal. After all, they funded his paycheck.

Things were strange here. Mike was native. Ojibway, mostly. But this was a Cree reservation. He was almost as much an outsider as the whites who lived and worked on the rez. The young people were highly suspicious of him, the elders tolerated him (It was their decision that had led to this pilot program) and the old ladies loved to poke fun at him. Their last joke was to send him a plate full of Elk strips. They had been delicious when fried like bacon, but Mike knew darn well he would never want to know how the meat was cured. He still shuddered at the thought of the moose meat Old man Beardy had offered him. The gutted moose was lying, hide on and all, in the middle of the warm kitchen. It appeared to have been there for some time, the old man just lifted a flap of hide—showing that about a third of the moose was gone—and sliced off a nice sized roast. Mike knew he couldn’t refuse the meat.

He never remembered such behaviour when he was growing up. A moose was hung in a cool room for 3-5 days, depending on how warm the weather was, then it was butchered. And the meat was damned fine. As good as the Beardy roast he had forced himself to eat. The dogs? He had seen plenty of dogs kicked in the ribs, but he had never heard of one being abandoned. The girls? If they wanted a white man, they had to move off the reserve. Mike supposed it was a form of BCR, but at least the couples were allowed to stay together.

No, Big Trout Lake was different. About the only thing he approved of was that it was a dry reserve. Natives just can’t hold their liquor. There must be some sort of missing gene, because it was a fact that held true throughout all the Indian Nations. And it wasn’t any different with glue or paint or gasoline. These things were easy highs for those willing to risk the substances, and they were most definitely habit forming.

Mike stopped in front of the Elder’s home. The boy, Martin Redsky, was at home and waiting for him. Mike accepted tea and passed some time talking with the senior Redsky. The man was in his 70’s but he looked a lot older. The rawness of a life lived in the outdoors had taken its toll on his skin. Eventually they came to the problem at hand.

“How long have you been sniffing, Martin?”

“Didn’t say I have.”

“Your grandfather seems to think it’s true.”

“He’s old. His mind runs off with him.”

“Maybe, but I notice you’ve got a bad case of the slurs.”

“So what.”

“I can get you into a program that will help you get sober.”

“Don’t want to.”

“Do you respect your grandfather?”

“When his mind is working right.”

“Then don’t you think you owe it to him to try and kick this thing.”

“Ain’t got a thing.”

“Do you mind if I check your room.”

“You gotta have a warrant Five-oh.”

“Not if you say it’s okay.”

“Not gonna do it.”

Mike looked at the elder and shrugged. “I can’t help if he doesn’t want help.”

The old man nodded and swung his palm low and flat.

They were done here.

Mike left without saying goodbye. He was that much of a native, anyway. Then he thought of his wife, waiting for him at home and he decided fishing could wait. There was nothing better than a little lovin’ to cure the Big Trout Lake Blues.


Copyright © 2014 Clayton Clifford Bye

Lughnasadh is Near by R.L. Cherry

image 1

Some readers may wonder, “What the heck is a lughnasadh?”  Is it some rodent from the Arabian peninsula?  Is it a balm for wounds used in ancient Persia?  Although there was a movie titled “Dancing at Lughnasa” with Meryl Streep and Michael Gambon that won an Irish Film and Television Award, it was not exactly a blockbuster and not that many watched it in America.  The award gives away that Lughnasadh (also spelled Lughnansa) is an Irish word, the name of one of the four ancient fire festivals in Gaelic (Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man) lands that were celebrated each year.  The other three are Samhain, Imbolc and Beltaine, with Samhain (New Year’s eve), or its modern manifestation of Halloween, being the one observed worldwide with many carry-over traditions from the original form.  But what is Lughnasadh?

Roughly halfway between summer solstice and the autumn equinox, it is traditionally celebrated on July 31st and continuing into the early morning of August 1st.  The name is derived from combining the name of a Celtic god Lugh, who was sort of a jack-of-all trades god, and nasad, which means an assembly.  In Irish myth, it all began when Lugh held a funerary feast and games after the death of his mother.  The Irish are known for having rip-roaring wakes (remember Finnegan) and Lugh threw the grand-daddy of them all.  The ancient Irish kept it as a tradition, eventually celebrating the “first fruits” harvest with a big bash on Lugh’s day, or night.

While the ancient Irish are said to have had games, ceremonies and the sacrifice of a bull along with their feasting, it changed after Christianity came to Ireland from St. Patrick and other missionaries.  Often called Lammas or Lammastide (an Anglo-Saxon term from “loaf-mass”), a loaf of bread would be brought into church and laid on the altar as a symbolic offering of the first fruits of harvest to God rather than a bull sacrificed to Lugh.   Pilgrimages to holy sites became popular as well.  But baptizing Lughnasadh did not ruin the fun part.  It became a traditional time of matchmaking and festival, with feasting and dancing.  Horse trading also became popular, no doubt linked to matchmaking.

Although Lugnasadh waned a bit in popularity in the mid-twentieth century, it has since had a resurgence.  Lughnasadh Fairs, sometimes anglicized to Lammas Fairs, are held all over Ireland.  The one at Ballycastle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, is called the Ould Lammas Fair, claims to be one of the oldest, more than three centuries, and draws thousands of attenders each year.  Their publicity warns visitors to come early to avoid the long traffic jams.  They have over 400 stalls offering all kinds of crafts, artwork, clothing, jewelry, farm produce and junk.  Well, they call the junk “bric-a-brac.”  There are street performers of all types, pony rides and traditional music as well.  Plus lots of food and drink.  They say not to miss their famous “Yellow Man,” a candy made from honeycomb and “dulse,” a dried seaweed that is also used for medicinal purposes.  That last one sounds yummy.

Ballycastle’s Ould Lammas Fair even has its own theme song, written by John Henry “The Carver” MacAuley, who owned the Bog Oak Shop.  He made his living carving oak recovered from bogs into everything from pipestands to animals, selling many at the fair.  Although crippled as a boy, he was a fine fiddler.  He died in 1937, but his song lives on.


Ould Lammas Fair

by John Henry MacAuley


At the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle long ago

I met a pretty colleen who set me heart a-glow

She was smiling at her daddy buying lambs from Paddy Roe

At the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle-O!

Sure I seen her home that night

When the moon was shining bright

From the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle-O!



At the Ould Lammas Fair boys were you ever there

Were you ever at the Fair In Ballycastle-O?

Did you treat your Mary Ann

To some Dulse and Yellow Man

At the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle-O!


In Flander’s fields afar while resting from the War

We drank Bon Sante to the Flemish lassies O!

But the scene that haunts my memory is kissing Mary Ann

Her pouting lips all sticky from eating Yellow Man

As we passed the silver Margy and we strolled along the strand

From the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle-O!



There’s a neat little cabin on the slopes of fair Knocklayde

It’s lit by love and sunshine where the heather honey’s made

With the bees ever humming and the children’s joyous call

Resounds across the valley as the shadows fall

Sure I take my fiddle down and my Mary smiling there

Brings back a happy mem’ry of the Lammas Fair.


R.L. Cherry is a long-term columnist about classic cars and hot rods for The Union newspaper in Grass Valley, CA, and his short stories have appeared in several eZines.  He has published two books, a female-detective mystery titled Christmas Cracker and a noirish suspense titled Foul Shot, both available in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon.com.  For more about him and his writing, go to http://www.rlcherry.com

Strawberry Girl By D. M. Pirrone


 For the past six years, ever since my best friend Laura gave me a single strawberry plant for my backyard garden, I’ve had a running fight with the squirrels over just whose strawberries they are. Strawberries are replicators, so every year the patch grows. Every year, more plants produce more berries. And every year, the squirrels beat me to every damned one of ‘em.

It got frustrating. I love local strawberries in our too-short season, and there’s nothing more local than picking them from your own backyard. Yet here were those greedy squirrels, depriving me and my family of that pleasure. Last year, when the patch covered nearly a fifth of the garden, there were so many berries—white and unripe when I first went to look—that I was certain we’d get some. There were plenty to share. Surely the misbegotten little critters couldn’t get them all. Surely I’d beat the squirrels to a handful or two, enough to scatter across my cereal or let my husband and sons snag a few from a communal bowlful on a lazy Sunday morning.

But they’d wait, those sneaky bastards, until the first blush of pink on the berry deepened to an almost-ripe red. They’d watch me kneel and run my hands through the leaves, eying the berries I knew would be ready to pick the next morning… and sure enough, when I got back out there, those berries would be gone. Eaten clean off their stems, or bitten in half with the remainder left in tatters just to torment me. We got two, which I dutifully gave my boys (a mother never loses a chance to get her kids to eat fruit!). And I resigned myself to the painful reality that my strawberry patch belonged to the bushy-tailed creatures with whom we share our neighborhood. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the danged varmints had just asked first…

So this year, with the strawberry patch big enough that I ripped out some to make room for tomatoes and peppers, I didn’t have high hopes. Even when I saw a bumper crop of white berries waiting to ripen, I didn’t think I’d get more than half a dozen. If I was lucky. I waited a week and then moseyed outside on a Saturday afternoon just to see how many ripe berries the squirrels had already devoured.

I found two berries half-eaten. A third, miraculously whole. A fourth and fifth, likewise untouched. Then more and more, until my cupped hands were too full to hold them all, let alone the others I glimpsed, rounded red sides peeking out like Nature’s rubies beneath the broad green leaves. Stunned and delighted, I dashed inside the house for a plastic container. By the time I was done picking, I had four cupfuls of ripe berries. The final score: me 60-plus, squirrels 7. I carried my harvest into the house and treated myself to a handful. Sweet, tangy, perfect. An unexpected grace note to the start of summer.

Life abounds in unexpected graces. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that. But every time I look out my back window, I can see the carpet of deep green, tooth-edged leaves that sheltered my bumper strawberry crop. A reminder written in the earth, in air and sunshine and water, that bounty exists where we find it if we know where to look.

D. M. Pirrone, aka Diane Piron-Gelman, is a writer, audiobook narrator and editor. Her latest book, SHALL WE NOT REVENGE, received a Kirkus starred review and is forthcoming in August from Allium Press of Chicago. Feel free to check out her author website at www.dmpirrone.net and her personal blog, Word Nerd Notes, at www.wordnrd.wordpress.com.



 The irony was not altogether lost on me.  Though irony – possibly – was not the right word.  Perhaps it was just another example of the way in which life can sometimes double-back, can turn suddenly and reflect itself every once in a while.  A variation of déjà vu.  An echo.

I sit in a darkened film-editing suite.  The room is thick with smoke.  I am watching a rough cut of a film by Olivier Dahan, Oscar-winning director of ‘La Vie En Rose’.  On the sound system is a previously unheard soundtrack written by Bob Dylan.  It is my first trip to Paris, and there I am – somewhere in an office within the shadow of the Eiffel Tower – discussing the possibility of writing a screenplay of my book, ‘A Quiet Belief In Angels’.   What happened as a result of that meeting, the three days I spent in Paris, the screenplay, the potential film…all of this is irrelevant to the story.  What was really interesting to me about that first meeting was Robert Johnson.  Forrest Whittaker as Robert Johnson, right there on the screen ahead of me.  The whole backstory of Johnson – how he met Lucifer at the crossroads and sold his soul for the Blues.  That story.

It was a story within the film that Dahan had just made, and it was a story I’d heard before.

Backwards more than thirty years.  A seven year-old child stands in the hallway of a strange house.  His mother has just died, and he has been sent to stay with a relative.  The relative, a great aunt – has a son.  The son is a teenager, a wild guy, a rocker, and he has a room painted black with posters all over the walls – Hendrix, Joplin, Canned Heat, Jim Morrison and The Doors.  He spends his time playing records, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer.

The seven year-old – lost, confused, alone now – finds some strange comfort in the company of this wild teenager.  The teenager tells him a story and plays him a record.  ‘Robert Johnson,’ the little boy is told.  ‘He went down to the crossroads and sold his soul to the Devil for the Blues…’  And the little boy listens, and he hears something in the music that stirs something inside of him, and he knows that no other music will ever sound the same.  Perhaps more accurately, he will never be able to listen to any other style of popular music and not hear the Blues somewhere hiding within it.

Because the Blues sits behind everything.  It is a rhythm, an atmosphere, a heartbeat, a pulse, a colour, a feeling.  It isn’t just a sound.  You hear sounds with your ears.  But this wasn’t just something you heard, it was something you could feel in your heart.

The fact that the seven year-old boy went on to write novels is also not part of that story.  Not directly.  The fact that the boy became a writer who was always trying to capture that feeling, that emotion, that sound with words, is perhaps more to the point.  Because they’re the same thing.  It’s the emotional connection.  The emotional impact.

I was that boy, and now I am that writer.  And I read to feel something.  I listen to Son House and Leadbelly and Muddy Waters and Charley Patton to feel something too.  The emotion comes first, the rhythm comes second, the dancing comes last.  Music is an outburst of the soul, Delius said.

My interest was sparked, like the small flame at the tail of the touchpaper, and at the end of that touchpaper was dynamite.  I moved on from there, found so many different stories that had all been woven from the same original strands.  It was an evolution, a progression – up through British rhythm and blues to The Yardbirds, The Animals, The Stones, and then the sound of the West Coast – The Elevators and Quicksilver, and West Texas variations like Doug Sahm, and out of the swamps came Dr. John and Professor Longhair, ‘Gris Gris Gumbo Ya-Ya’ and its strange, distorted reflection of the same things that the delta Bluesmen were saying.

All the same emotion.  All the same story, just told in very different ways.

My girl gone left me.  She left me alone.  You don’t know how it feels to have no home.  Got no money in my pocket, no shoes on my feet.  Got no food in my belly and my bed’s in the street.

It’s all humanity, the same things suffered a thousand different ways.

Music was the support, the way in which we survived our difficulties, our travails, our losses.  As Virgil Thomson said, ‘I’ve never known a musician who regretted being one.  Whatever deceptions life may have in store for you, music is not going to let you down.’

And even the whites had their own thing going.  They suffered the Depression, they suffered hardships, of course, and they sang and played their way through it.  European immigrants into the Maritime Provinces and the Southern Appalachian Mountains brought Old World instruments with them – the fiddle from Ireland, the banjo from West Africa, the guitar from Spain, the mandolin from Italy.  ‘Little Log Cabin in the Lane’, recorded by Fiddlin’ John Carson in the early 20s, Vernon Dalhart’s national hit, ‘Wreck of the Old ’97’, the flipside of which was something called – not surprisingly – ‘Lonesome Road Blues’, and artists like this were followed by the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers who managed to fuse hillbilly country with gospel, jazz, blues and folk music.

And without Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family the ‘The Golden Age of Country’ would never have happened.  No-one would have heard of the Grand Ole Opry.  Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jnr., Townes Van Zandt and Willie Nelson would have just been playing for drinks in some out-of-town juke joint or bowling alley.  And on the West Coast, had it not been for Bob Wills and Lefty Frizzell, we would never have discovered The Bakersfield Sound, and Merle Haggard and Buck Owens would have been packing groceries or fixing cars in a truckstop outside of Mendocino.

And from these strange unions came yet another illegitimate child – real rockabilly.  Without that unlikely collision of hillbilly country music and Delta Blues we would never have had Carl Perkins or Elvis or Johnny Burnette or Eddie Cochran, and without Eddie Cochran we would never have had Chuck Berry, and without Chuck Berry we would never have had The Rolling Stones.

And then the brash parents took a roadtrip, travelled further afield, and as they travelled they produced further offspring – artists like Gram Parsons, Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead, Neil Young, The Allman Brothers, Buffalo Springfield and The Eagles.  Country Rock was born.  Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, Canned Heat’s ‘On The Road Again’ – released in 1968, adapted by Alan Wilson from a song of the same name, recorded by Floyd Jones in 1953.  And Jones’ song, well that was an adaptation of a song called ‘Big Road Blues’, recorded in 1928 by Delta Bluesman, Tommy Johnson.  Did they know at Woodstock that they were listening to a song that was twice as old as most of the people there?  Maybe not, but it didn’t matter.  It said the same thing a different way.  It conveyed the same emotions, the same heart, and you either got it or you didn’t.

These were no accidents, no coincidences.  Serendipity perhaps, but not coincidence.  The emotion was always there, always present, always pre-eminent.  The emotion was what it was all about.  And it carried through every thread, and it walked down every road, and it passed from hand to hand, from heart to heart, from soul to soul.  It was a communication.  It was a message.  And those that heard it, really heard it, well they understood that it was not something that could be measured or quantified or given a value.  It was priceless.  The music was priceless.  It was a universal language, applicable to all, understandable by all, and as it evolved it encompassed more and more people, more and more variations on the same theme, and even those that didn’t know exactly what they were listening to still felt the rhythm inside of themselves and got up to dance.

And the seven year-old kid?  He grew up.  He grew up with music everywhere, and if there wasn’t music when he got wherever he was going, well he soon got some organised.  He even played music himself on and off, back and forth over the years – and nearly four decades later he’s still hammering away at the same chords, and singing some of the same tunes, and putting a band back on the road when all sense and sensibility says that such a thing should not be considered by an unfit man in his mid-forties.  But to hell with the rules and regulations, to hell with the conservative, the expected, the norm.  This is about life.  This is about being whoever you are.  This is about feeling something inside of yourself that you cannot exorcise without making a noise.  ‘Zero Navigator’ and ‘The Whiskey Poets’ will appear somewhere, sometime, and they will play riffs invented by Bo Diddley and Paul Burlison and Mike Bloomfield and Scotty Moore.  Why?  Because they are timeless.   People might age, but the emotion stays young for ever.

And now – even when I write my fiction – I am looking for the same rhythm, that same pace, the same tensions that I find in music.  I am working on the sentences and paragraphs like they’re bars of music.  I am losing a word here and there because the phrase has one too many syllables and it doesn’t feel right.  I know when it sounds right to my ear.  I know when it looks right to my eye.  It has a tempo, a timbre, an atmosphere, a colour.  And when I write lyrics my musical heritage is all the more evident.  The girl is still leaving.  I still ain’t got no money.  The train’s pulling out of the station and I’am sleeping in the street.  This is what we do.  This is what we have to say.  This is what we sing about.  Matters of the heart.  Matters of the soul.  The business of life.

Music has always been there, always something to look forward to, always there to return to.  It is both a destination and a home; it is both a familiar friend and a new acquaintance; it is both a parent and a child.  I look back at my life, and all the important events, all the things that mattered – marriage, fatherhood, new jobs, new places and people…well, all of them were somehow connected to music.  I can say in music what I will never be able to write.  I can write in words what I will never be able to communicate with music.  It has been said that a composer composes because he cannot say what he wants in words.  I believe the corollary also, that a writer writes because he cannot yet communicate his thoughts and feelings with sounds.

And I leave the last words to a writer, fittingly.  Not just a writer, but a writer for children who yet spoke to all generations.  Hans Christian Andersen said something so simple, and yet it encompassed all complexities, all truths, all fundamentals: ‘When words fail, music speaks.’

For me, in just five words, I think that says it 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

In England use

Why do you celebrate Memorial Day? by Sharla Lee Shults


Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude; America will never forget their sacrifices.”
– President Harry S. Truman (Remarks after D-Day, June 6, 1944)

Airplanes, trains, buses, cars, motorcycles, yachts, RVs will be revin’ their engines, reelin’, rockin’, rollin’ toward sunny beaches, campgrounds, as well as other retreats or escape destinations, this coming weekend. But, WHY? The fact is the very mention of Memorial Day brings to mind Memorial Day weekend: Three days filled with planned getaways—picnics, beach blasts, barbeque cookouts – hot dogs, hamburgers & apple pie, parades – marching or watching—marking school is OUT officially kicking off summer! For many, it is a long weekend with an extra day off from daily work routines. It is anything, everything red, white and blue.

Far too many Americans will focus attention on Sale! Sale! Sale! as shoppers scan newspaper/TV ads for the best bargains of the weekend. Time will be spent bartering, even bantering, over items not necessarily needed but wanted, not because they are ‘for sale’ but simply because they are ‘on sale’. Entertainment groups will gather in parks, some in arenas, around the nation. Barbeque with camping of sorts will be attractions of the day accompanied by cases upon cases of sodas, wine, mostly beer.

Whoa! STOP! What is wrong with this picture? Hello! This is MEMORIAL Day weekend!

That’s right…MEMORIAL! That means this weekend, especially Monday, is a celebration of remembrance: commemorating the men and women who have died in wars or in the service of their country. These are not our veterans, living/disabled or deceased, who served in the military coming home at some point during their service to reunite with family, friends, loved ones. These are the persons who pledged allegiance, gave their all, succumbing to their final sleep to ensure America’s freedoms remain intact.

Let’s back up a moment. Mentioning our veterans brings up a very important comparison since they, too, are honored with a special day of celebration.

Memorial Day vs. Veterans’ Day

Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who DIED in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered on Veterans Day, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL those who served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served – not only those who died – have sacrificed and done their duty. A complete history of Veterans Day, and why it is observed on November 11, can be found on the Veterans Day History Web page (http://www1.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp).
Source: The U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs (http://chosenfast.com/2006/11/11/veterans-day-vs-memorial-day/)


As you prepare in celebration for a fun weekend with family, also friends, don’t forget to include a special time for reverence in honor of, along with respect for, the men and women who gave their all, their lives, for America. We would not be where we are today enjoying the freedoms America has to offer, were it not for those who sacrificed to make/keep this country free. After all, they are the epitome of the human spirit called freedom!

It isn’t a bad thing to take advantage of the sales, especially taking into consideration our nation’s economy. However, should you take that advantage at any time during this weekend or on Monday be sure to notice whether an American flag is flying or if a sign is displayed in the window in honor, in respect of our fallen soldiers. If one is not visible, I challenge you to ask “Why not?


Bottom line—While this may be a time for the beach blasts, barbeque cookouts – hot dogs with all the trimmings, hamburgers with fries, then topped off with scrumptious apple pie, it is more importantly a time of remembering. . .

Cost of Freedom
a time for reflection, a time of remembering


Like the bald eagle

Forever watchful were we
Guiding, protecting
The land of the free

‘Twas our place
To be brave, stay strong
Ready, yes willing
All the day long

Our eyes were keen
Often focused on pain
Fields were bloody
Amid storms, heavy rain

Bodies of comrades
Strewn here, there, about
Never for a moment
Left room for any doubt

On home or foreign shores
Know ardently that we
Who gave up our lives
‘Twas for country and thee

Times of reflection
Assure tributes remain
Lest eroding sands of time
Leave nothing the same

Throughout each day, all year
Never forget the cost
Freedom sacrificially gained
Can easily be lost

©Sharla Lee Shults

In honor and recognition of their service to our country, pay tribute to all of the dedicated members of the American military who sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom. They paid the highest price for America’s freedom, not with currency but with blood. Say a silent prayer. Take 5 minutes to think about those sacrifices, how loss of life impacted the establishment of the America we know today. Be grateful.

Memorial Day: A day for reflection, a day of remembrance


 Sal relaxing on Virgie's porch in Yukon.2003
Thomas Marshall is reported to have said nearly a century ago, “What  this country needs is a good five-cent cigar.”  But what did he know! As Vice President of the United States in President Woodrow Wilson’s administration (1913-1921), he once told a bodyguard that his V. P. job was pointless. “Nobody ever shoots a Vice President.”


Let me add that since the Surgeon General’s report in 1964 linked smoking to lung cancer, cigars, cheap or otherwise, along with cigarettes, are best left unlit.


So what then does this country really need? My father used to say, “If you want answers, go ask somebody who knows what he’s talking about.” So don’t you think it makes good sense to ask King Solomon, reputed to have been the wisest man who ever lived? Looking him up in the Good Book, I found, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17: 22). Ah hah! A merry heart, of course.


And what does a merry heart do? Henry Ward Beecher said, “Mirth is God’s best medicine.” Mirth is gladness expressed by laughter. Of course, his sister Harriet might not have agreed. The abolutionary author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was all seriousness, and in that novel, rightfully so.


How can laughter be precisely what our country needs? Looking around, can we find much of anything to laugh at? Wars and natural disasters are not so funny. Neither is hunger and homelessness. Politically, we are at the mercy of two parties who have traded in their dedication to service for a senseless Mexican standoff. Ecologically, our beloved Earth is in a heap of trouble, inspiring naysayers to predict our planet’s imminent demise. How can laughter in some small way smooth the wrinkles on the face of our nation?


Norman Cousins (1915 – 1990) was an American political journalist, author, professor, and world peace advocate, who suffered a massive heart attack in 1980. Three years later,W.W. Norton and Company published  his book The Healing Heart. Its main premise stated that laughter could heal a literally broken heart.


I have always believed in the health value of laughter. To me it is truly the best medicine (except where a good strong prescription is required; let’s say, in the case of contracting a flesh-eating virus. You want to laugh, but honestly, it’s hard to laugh off a virus with a voracious appetite).


As a child growing up, I delighted in making my parents and siblings laugh. I told jokes. I performed ridiculous slapstick that usually backfired and earned me a few slaps from Mama or a belt, in absence of a stick, from Papa.


My older brother Alfonso once reassured me that I would never suffer a heart attack because I knew how to laugh away stress. My sister Anna once warned me, “You do that one more time and see what happens.”


My father was my best fan. He loved my humor. I’d get him laughing so hard, tears would pop out of his eyes, he’d reach for his back pocket and withdraw a large white handkerchief that he’d wave for truce. Mama would beg me to stop when Papa would laugh that hard. She’d pull on my arm as if the jokes were flowing out of my fingertips. She’d shake me like a jar of Ovaltine and milk, but I kept it up until my father wiped the last of his tears, sat down, and shook his head. If I said a word, his hand shot up and I knew he had had enough medicine for one day. An overdose would not have been in his good interest nor in mine.


I like reading stories and novels that make me laugh. In my younger days, I read Max Shulman’s hilarious novel Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys; Jack Douglas’ My Brother Was an Only Child and Never Trust a Naked Bus Driver; Joseph Heller’s Catch-22; Erma Bombeck’s  If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?


Humor, like music, soothes the savage beast, and while we have so many bloody novels about zombies, vampires, werewolves, serial killers, and spies, I think authors should try their hand at comedy. Come on, make us laugh! Remember that during the Great Depression (when almost everyone was depressed), folks spent their nickels at a picture show. They’d go to the movie houses and howl at the silent antics of Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Ben Turpin, Mabel Normond and a monkey barrel full of other very funny stars.


For some writers humor comes easily. One of them I know is Bob Rubenstein, author of Ghost Runners, which is not a funny book, a rather serious one set at the 1936 Olympics, but Bob is one of those people from whose mouth and pen gushes out humor, sometimes unintended. On the death of Sid Caesar he wrote on Facebook, “I remember his zany antics … the Japanese theater when he introduced his lovely daughter …Schmata. He was a man who fought alcoholism, drugs, and maybe that was the reason his life was cut short at 92. Who knows?”


Have I made my point that laughter is just what the doctor ordered? An apple a day is good but a laugh now and then everyday is even better.


I’d like to end my article with a truly funny event that literally knocked me off my feet


Many years ago at a dinner party in our apartment, my friend Pete told a very funny joke about an old Englishman who had loved going on safaris when he was much younger. Speaking in the British dialect of royalty (the old man was an earl or a duke), Pete told how one day while hunting the ferocious tiger, the beast suddenly lunged upon him and he screamed, “AAIYY!“ then fired his rifle, explaining that, out of fear, he had embarrassingly soiled his trousers.


Changing his voice somewhat, Pete spoke for one of the old man‘s young friends, “But Sir Henry, that is quite understandable. After all, it was a ferocious tiger that attacked you, and ––” Then back to the old man’s voice, Pete delivered the punch line, “No, you do not understand. When I just now screamed ‘AAIYY!‘ I soiled my trousers.”


Well, we all laughed for a long time. I let myself drop to the dining room floor. Then John followed suit, then his wife Barbara, then Tony and Rosalye, and then Pete and his wife Barbara.


At that point, all of us still rolling on the carpet, my ex-wife, the only one standing and the only one not laughing, made this prediction, “Sal one day is going to die laughing.”


From her mouth to God’s ear.





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


He lives in West Virginia with Sharon the love of his life.





FLASH BULLETIN: Today’ s the perfect day to order copies:


May Day Serenade

May Day 1

Sally Morrison shifted her weight to the right, steadied her hand upon the cumbersome wooden cane and warily lifted her frail body from the over-stuffed beige recliner, letting out an unconscious mandatory groan of willfulness. Once upright, her hand fleeted to wipe a stray, graying strand of hair from her left eye as she proceeded, systematically, toward the entranceway door. Careful to keep her balance, she turned the door handle to the right and exited onto the front porch.

The smell of freshly dewed grass, fragrant hollyhocks and daffodils filled her senses while the ever-chirping bluebirds brought melody to the morning’s silence. She hesitated before venturing to the white wicker love seat, to take in the glory of the moment.  She knew a person could not recapture the initial experience of seconds in time when you had to let it all in and later reflect upon the pleasant memory.

Sally managed to plop herself into the confines of the damp, yellow-flowered seat cushions without teetering and falling. This in itself was a mastered maneuver. With the beauty of the dawn, came the realization she was lonely, in fact downright sorrowful for the lack of any human interaction or companionship. She hadn’t given much thought to growing older; always-believed Arnie would be at her side, holding her hand, tending to her when the body gave way to the ailments of age. Too soon he fell victim to cardiac failure.

Oh how she envied those grandmas who doted over their grandchildren, telling stories of the deep bond and love they had developed. Childless, she had no such tales to relate, nor any deep friendships to carry her forward to another day. Sally wondered what purpose she held now. What difference would it make if she disappeared from the face of the earth? After all, who would miss her or even care that some old woman was gone.

Tears welled from her eyes. Stupid, stupid, stupid, she thought, me crying and feeling sorry for myself when for so long I have been the strong one. She hated what she had become. Once a lovely, charitable, compassionate and active woman, it had all come down to this facade of life. Sally closed her eyes, lost in the memories of yesterday, a time when she touched peoples’ lives and they touched hers.

Michael stood at his window, peering across the street at the figure who sat on a settee upon her porch. It had become his routine to check in on Sally Morrison, though he never ventured for a visit nor let on that he viewed her activities. He felt as if he were a Peeping Tom, at times yet could not cease his curiosity.

Today was May Day that brought with it a mood of renewal and bright beginnings. Yet he wondered how bright Sally’s life was after the passing of her husband Arnie some four months ago. What the hell could he do, after all, they were not friends or even formal acquaintances for that matter. With one last look across the street, he backed away allowing the curtain to swing into its intended placement behind the window.

May day 2

Sally hated the evenings the worse. The dusk would be setting in soon, replaced by darkness, blackness that brought the full reality of her existence. She heard a doorbell ring, once, twice then a third time. It certainly sounded like her bell, but who in the world would be calling on her? Though a bit apprehensive, she slowly rose to her feet, walked to the entrance, pulled the door slightly ajar and peered outside. She glanced left to right, saw no one and then noticed at the foot of the door lay a small gold and crimson box with a small envelope attached.  With much effort and pain, she crouched down and picked it up, closed the door and hurried as fast as her body would allow to the kitchen. Placing it on the table, she set herself down into the accompanying chair, stared at this small token, mystified and delighted, yet a bit hesitant to reveal the contents. “You old fool”, she thought to herself. “What could it hurt to open it, hell, worse that could happen is it would explode and then you’d have no worries.” Sally carefully pulled the ribbon and removed the golden and crimson wrapping to reveal a black embossed box. She opened it and gasped. It was stunning; a white and gold-ridged rose pin with a glistening pearl embedded in its center with the most delicate, two-toned light and dark green leaf protruding from the left side.

May day 3

Sally pondered, who in God’s name would have sent this to her. But wait; there was that small envelope. She had forgotten, for with age comes loss of memory. It took a moment to open the envelope; the fingers just didn’t work as well anymore. She read the words and when finished, she wept tears of joy and delight.

Seventy-two words would change her life…

This small gift cannot express our gratitude. Helen and I shall never forget your unselfish acts of kindness, love and care. You gave my little Gretchen such comfort as she battled brain cancer. It’s been fifteen years since her passing. So deep in remorse, we never took the time to thank you. Please come over for dinner tomorrow. Time all of us began to celebrate life. All our love, Michael & Helen Lawrence


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:



Algarve, Portugal, 24/25 April 1974


25 de Abril

On the Wednesday night, Ção’s contented snoring kept Harry awake. He got up, picked up a bottle of dark beer and his transistor radio and took them out on to the terrace. His watch told him it was nearly eleven. He listened to the radio for a while, relishing the joy of being wedded to Ção and in charge of his own fine destiny. Then the radio started on Portugal’s  entry for the recent Eurovision song contest, and he quickly switched stations. With the sea air caressing his skin, and the beer calming his racing thoughts, he soon dozed off in his chair.

He was awakened by the sound of men crunching on gravel. Lots of them, rhythmically, as though marching. He jumped up from his chair and looked down at the beach, but there was nobody below him. Then the men started singing and he realised it was the radio, which he had left on. The voices reminded him of a Welsh miners’ choir, and he listened intently until it finished, though he made out few of the words. Then he went back inside, fastened the window, got back into bed and snuggled up beside the now-silent Ção. Within minutes, he was dreaming of mine shafts, excavations and red shirts.

Elsewhere in the country, men had taken the Eurovision song as confirmation of their plans, and the Alentejo miners’ song as a signal to put them into action.

The next morning, clean sea air pervaded the hotel as usual, but the atmosphere was different. The staff stood around in knots, talking animatedly amongst themselves and paying only perfunctory attention to their guests or their needs. Harry and Ção did not mind: they had eyes and ears only for each other, and nothing could sour the mood of their honeymoon. They spent the day on the beach, in the water, and in bed back at the hotel.

It was when they came down for dinner that it became impossible for Harry to ignore the news being broadcast on the television in the hotel dining room, to which all the staff and most guests were transfixed.

“Ção! Look at that. There are tanks in the centre of Lisbon!”

“Probably some military parade. Why haven’t they laid out the fresh fish today?”

“No, look! There are soldiers and civilians next to each other. Something big is going on. I want to know what it is.”

The live broadcast showed a man whom Harry recognised as the Prime Minister, and others he did not recognise, being driven out of a military building in the heart of Lisbon into a square packed tight with ordinary civilians. The crowd reluctantly parted for them. Lines of soldiers kept the people back as the convoy of armoured cars drove away.

“Oh, Harry, it looks like a military coup. We’re probably going to be ruled by some even worse fascists from now on.” She looked on the verge of tears.

It seemed the hotel staff supported the coup, for they broke into an almighty cheer when the television announced that both the Prime Minister and the President of the régime were on their way to the airport to be flown to the Atlantic Island of Madeira. Then someone started singing the song that had woken Harry up during the night. Soon everyone was singing it.

“Ção, I heard this on the radio last night. Who’s the singer?”

“I think it’s Zeca Afonso. His songs are usually banned, because he is too left-wing.”

“Ção, my love, this is not a right-wing coup.”

“Then maybe we’re all going to be free!”


The mood in the dining room grew increasingly jolly and exuberant. It was as if everyone present had made each other into new friends for life. Then came news that sobered people up like a cold shower: the secret police, holed up in their headquarters, had opened fire on the crowd of civilians massed outside. People had died; scores were injured. For a while, in Lisbon, it seemed as if the situation might get out of hand, but gradually it became clear that those murders had been the last brutal act of fury of the dying régime. A new President was announced: General Spínola, who had been fired from the Army just months before for opposing the colonial wars, and a National Salvation Council that promised peace, freedom and justice.

Harry thought this was all very exciting, but what he really wanted was to get that fish grilled and Ção back into bed. It was past midnight when he fulfilled the second wish. Ção was on fire.

“Harry, this is the first day of the rest of our lives. From now on everything is going to be better. Harry, promise you’ll always love me like tonight.”

Harry did not need to promise anything so obvious, but he said the words, lest there should be even a speck of doubt.



Bryan Murphy is currently working on a novel set in Portugal in the 1970s. This is an extract from that work in progress. It covers the evening of 24 April and the day of 25 April 1974.

Bryan welcomes visitors at http://www.bryanmurphy.eu . You can find his e-books here: http://bit.ly/19vt7Ts .

Honeymoon – Rhodesian Style


             This is the true story of my honeymoon. It probably helps to illustrate just how diverse we, at the Write Room Blog really are.


Webster‘s defines “insouciant” as: “Blithely indifferent; carefree.”  It aptly describes the irrational idea to drive down one of the worst roads in Africa in the middle of the rainy season. It was an idea that could only have been conceived with the slightly insane self-confidence of youthful minds. It would be exciting and romantic to honeymoon in Inhassoro, in Mozambique, where we had met just over a year ago. We didn’t care that that had been in the winter, when it didn’t rain. We brushed aside the warnings with derision.


We were excited and filled with confidence that balmy summer morning, the first day of our life together. My new husband whistled as he maneuvered the Jeep deftly around the steep curves that would lead us down to Forbes Border Post where we would cross out of Rhodesia and into Mozambique. The freshness from the previous afternoon’s thunderstorm lingered and perfumed the air with its fragrance, but the scream of cicadas was a sure sign it would be hot later.


There was very little traffic and we made good time despite the rutted surface and potholes in the road. The midday sun blazed overhead when we stopped in the village of Theca. We wandered unhurriedly around a small private  zoo, hand-in-hand, while waiting for our meal of peri-peri prawns, a Mozambican delicacy. The earthy aroma of the thick coastal jungle conjured up memories of previous journeys and hinted that soon we would be at the Indian Ocean.


Not long after lunch, we turned off the main road and headed south toward the coastal plain and the village of Buzi. After about an hour the paved road came to an abrupt end at the banks of the Buzi River. There was no bridge and the  only way across was by pontoon.


On the other side, in the small settlement, the storekeeper cheerfully informed us in Portuguese that he had “no gasolina”. Rivers of sweat trickled into the folds of fat on his bare torso. His eyes rolled southward, he scratched the stubble on his chin, then raised his hands, palms-upward, and shrugged. It wasn’t his fault. No tankers had been able to reach him from the south on the flooded roads.


He had ice-cold beers, though. The sultry heat turned them blood warm before we had time to finish them, as we foolishly headed into the uninhabited coastal plain on an impassable road with insufficient gas.


The warm beer tasted metallic. Cicadas screamed. The heat hung heavy in the humid air. The open windows were our only form of air conditioning and Tsetse flies followed the vehicle in swarms. Our attempts to swat them away were mostly unsuccessful and their stings were painful.


Sweat poured off us in the stifling heat as the road deteriorated into two meandering pathways dotted with potholes in the thick, black mud. The tracks divided into three then four separate trails with no indication of their ultimate destination. Unconcerned, we sang to relieve the monotony, “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun…”


Precariously balancing above the deeply rutted tire marks, we had to skirt a wine-tanker—we didn’t see any gas tankers—buried to its stomach in the mire. We stopped and I jumped into a pothole that reached almost over my head.


The deserted town of Joao Belo sprawled into view and we pondered the reason for its demise as my husband randomly selected our route from the myriad of tracks that circumnavigated a broken bridge. The Jeep’s engine growled monotonously.


Darkness fell with the rapidity of the tropics, bringing only slight relief from the heat. The whine of mosquitoes replaced the buzz of the tsetse flies as we churned on through the endless, restless mud until a flooding creek forced us to stop.  A sign, incongruous in this lonely place, told us it was the Gorongoze River. Normally a shallow stream, it was now in flood, and the low bridge had disappeared under the rushing water.


A lion moaned mournfully in the thick undergrowth as we tried to decide whether to press on or wait until morning. We were young and impatient, and I held my breath, wondering briefly at our sanity as the Jeep eased forward. The headlights sank under the water and it lapped at the doors. Something grated against the undercarriage.


A Land Rover materialized in the opaque beams of the headlights as we fought our way up the steep, slippery bank on the other side. The dejected demeanor of the three men standing beside it in the darkness told the story. An unknown object under the water had smashed their vehicle’s differential. They had gas and we were almost on empty, so we agreed to tow them.


It turned out that a can of gas was a small price to pay for the xenophobic experience that followed. The old and tattered rope broke constantly as one or both vehicles was dragged down by the mud. Each time, they had to get out and re-join it, and we would start again, until a massive pile of steaming dung in the headlights announced the presence of elephants on the road ahead.  Flies buzzed around it and its unmistakable manure smell suffused the night air.


We stopped to investigate the reason for the urgent blasts on the horn of the vehicle behind us. The three men told us in their broken English mixed with Portuguese they were afraid we would come across the elephants and startle them. They would be helpless with their disabled vehicle, and unable to escape if the elephants attacked them.  They told us to leave them and continue on without them. We promised to send help, although I wondered how anyone would get to them, as theirs was the only other vehicle we had encountered.


The relief of travelling without the incessant jolting from the towing added to our excitement when we reached the banks of the Rio Save, which was in full flood. The old low-level bridge was buried beneath the water. The chain blocking the entrance to the new high-level bridge was easy to remove. Layers of spattered mud dulled the headlights and it was impossible to determine the cause of the intermittent bumps in the gloom. Finally, we stopped to investigate.


The icy grip of fear clawed at me when I looked down through a gap in the road to see the silver, moon-washed water rushing past far, far below. We were on the center of the longest multi-span suspension bridge in Southern Africa, and the massive concrete slabs suspended from the arch above had not yet been joined.


There was no going back. Time stood still as, with the heavy helplessness of a nightmare, we crept forward for an agonizing lifetime-long period. My fear gave way to sighs of relief that were short-lived when we reached the southern end of the bridge. In place of a chain, a massive construction vehicle blocked the exit.


We had come too far. Nothing could force us to turn around, and anyhow we didn’t have enough gas. We plunged down the almost vertical bank of loose earth, not daring to breathe until we felt the firm bite of asphalt under the wheels and we knew we had made it to civilization and paved roads.


I grinned at the Tsetse Control official. The whites of his wide eyes gleamed in the moonlight as he sprayed the vehicle mechanically, probably wondering if we were real or just ghosts in the night. I looked at my watch. It was four thirty in the morning. It had taken us thirteen hours to drive one hundred and seventy miles.


The insouciance of youth prevailed, and as we roared triumphantly onto the illusive paved road we had no misgivings about the return journey. And that is another story.


Trish Jackson writes emotive romantic suspense focusing on small towns, country folk and animals. www.trishjax.com



dreamstime_xl_12568801I’m sure most will agree that Alcoholism is a Family Disease. Most families have at least one member of the family who is probably alcoholic. Crazy Uncle Joe who is always falling down at Holiday Parties; cuckoo Aunt Sally who rarely leaves home but always accepts the deliveries from her local liquor store. And, even more sadly, there are the young people: sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, and cousins, some who are afflicted with a drug addiction or even dual addictions. But addiction is all the same: A KILLER! It kills hopes, dreams, potential, expectations, family relationships, and sometimes even the addict himself.  I know of many families who have lost a son or a daughter to an overdose. or to a long prison sentence for mistakes they made while under the influence. You just have to look at the list of celebrities who have lost family members to this dreaded DISEASE. And it is a disease. It is an allergy of the mind, body and spirit to an addictive substance, whatever that may be. Alcoholism is cunning, baffling and powerful. It is the one and only disease that tells you don’t have it. Some scientists now believe that Alcoholism is GENETIC. While the studies are promising, the exact gene has not yet been discovered.  Whether it is inherited or caused by environmental conditions, no one knows for sure, but the investigation is ongoing and every day we learn something more about this often fatal disease.

The good news is that there is a tremendous amount of help out there. The bad news is that Help is not for people who NEED it but for people who WANT it. I did not have that information when I went to my first twelve step meeting more than forty years ago. I didn’t particularly want to be sober, I just wanted all my problems, especially those associated with drinking, to go away, and if I had to go to a few meetings I could do that. But that was not the case. I could not stop drinking. And I continued on that destructive path until I had lost every single person that I loved and everything else that had any value in my life. It was only when alcohol brought me to my knees that I truly asked for help. And so, on March 24th, 1975 when I wanted to be sober, when I decided to do whatever was necessary to keep me sober, and agreed to keep on doing it on a daily basis, it was only then that I became a sober woman. On March 24th this year I celebrated 39 years of sobriety. Now that is a miracle! And it has been an incredible ride. I have met many wonderful people who have become my lifelong friends; I was married to a handsome, fascinating man for thirty years until he recently passed away. I have a beautiful family and have experienced a life I could never even have imagined unless I had WANTED to be sober thirty-nine years ago. But most of all, it has been FUN! It is not the death sentence I thought it would be. I have now been sober for many more years than I drank — and that is quite a feat.

If you, a friend, or someone in your family has a problem with Alcohol or Drugs there is an amazing amount of help out there—and you can beat it if you WANT to!

I have prevailed ONE DAY AT A TIME for 39 years.

Mary Firmin

Help for Alcoholism:



Educated in England and Canada, Mary Firmin has enjoyed several careers. After ten years as a ballroom dance teacher for Arthur Murray’s, she settled in Santa Monica, California, raised her family, and sold Real Estate while attending writing classes and seminars at U.C.L.A. Ms. Firmin wrote a society column for the Palm Canyon Times, and is past President of the Palm Springs Writers Guild. She is a long-time member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Romance Writers of America,. Mary has three grown children and presently resides in Rancho Mirage, California. Mary is the author of the award-winning mystery novel, Deadly Pleasures, and many short stories.