Tag Archives: Great Reading

PUMPKIN By Eduardo Cervino

pumpkin-writers group copy


I KNEW that a family from a nearby city had converted a double-camber roof barn on the property next to us into a large, comfortable, open-plan home. As the conversion had progressed, I had sneaked inside several times after the carpenters ended the day’s work.
They built a large bedroom in the former hayloft, and added a terrace outside the rolling door once used to stow bales of hay into the loft.

THE rumble of the construction crane broke the silence. I went out to watch. The crane lifted the massive blob of a young man’s body from the bed of a red pickup and hoisted him up in the air. Neighbors from the adjacent farm gathered to watch the surreal spectacle.
A bird flew by the crane and escorted the boy through his short trip.

The operator deposited him on a bed on wheels waiting on the terrace. Afterwards, I walked back inside my house.

“I guess I will never have direct contact with that young man,” I said to my mother that afternoon.

That’s how he entered my life.

The local TV station had gotten a whiff of the situation and dispatched a film crew. They transformed a moment of privacy into bizarre entertainment news.

Now I knew who would occupy the bedroom under the heavy rafters of the remodeled barn. On subsequent mornings, the boy’s parents rolled him out to the open terrace where he basked in the sunrise.

Curiosity molded my behavior. My bird-watching binoculars allowed me to spy from my house window.

His pale face reddened the first day. His large blue eyes and pleasant expression kept me watching.

“Gee, what could make a guy like him smile all the time?”

I made up my mind to visit him.

FOOD was an inappropriate housewarming present. Flowers? A plenitude of them carpeted the fields following a bee-filled spring.

He could use my softball cap during his terrace escapades. It didn’t cross my mind that the pink color could be objectionable to him.

To go, I chose the short way through the field where my father grew pumpkins for Halloween. One stood out above all others. Destined for the annual competition, we touched, hosed, and admired it every day.

My father estimated its weight at six hundred pounds or more. On my way to the neighbor’s, its waxy orange skin attracted my hand as a magnet draws a nail.

I noticed the young man on his distant outside perch. I’d learned his name from the news program, Mario Hidalgo. I was sure he was observing me.

A hummingbird buzzed my ear and hovered midair, inches from my face. The iridescence of his feathers and vibration of his wings froze me in place. The bird took off as fast as he had come. My eyes followed the trajectory of his flight until he landed on Mario’s terrace.

“I’m Samantha Jones, from the next farm over. Welcome to you and your family.”

“How sweet. Thank you. How old are you?”

“Seventeen. Why?”

“No reason. Please come inside. I’m Anna, Mario’s mother.”

I thought she acted with the guarded courtesy of a protective parent, but she guided me upstairs and out onto the terrace.

“Mario, you have a visitor. May we join you?”

“Of course, Mom.”

“Hi, Mario. I’m Samantha. I live over there.” I pointed.

“I’ve watched you come and go to see that pumpkin. Want to hear something funny?”

“I guess so.”

“Tell her, Mom. Tell her my nickname.”

Anna hesitated, turned to me, and said, “Pumpkin.”

Mario let out a genuine, ponderous laugh. It shook the bed. His flesh rippled like Jell-O, and we laughed with him.

“Please sit if you want,” he said.

His mother offered me a chair, and I accepted after a quick look around the terrace. From his high-up nest, Mario could enjoy the expanded horizon like a child in a tree house.

Anna measured me. “What can I offer you, Samantha?”

A cup rested by Mario’s side, close to his hand.

“Whatever he’s having would be fine.”

“Coffee, black, no sugar?”

I nodded.

“I’ll be back. Make yourself at home, please. ” She took two steps backward before turning and leaving.

“How old are you, Mario?’

“A very old twenty.”

If something is not done soon, you will not reach thirty.

He smiled at me and waited. I had nothing to say.

With his eyes on my face, he extended his arm in the air. The gesture distracted me.

A hummingbird appeared, another one flew in, and both landed on Mario’s arm.

His mother returned. The birds flew away, leaving me speechless. She looked at me as if she understood my amazement.

“Hope I’m not disturbing. I just wanted to welcome you. Being our new neighbors and all.”

“Don’t mention it, please. We love visitors,” Anna said.

Mario interrupted. “Maybe the Universal Spirit preordained our encounter as he chose the paths for both our lives.”

Wow, what kind of talk is that?

Mario and I started talking about school, and his mother put down the tray with coffee and looked at me. She relaxed.

I hope she knew I wasn’t motivated by insensitive curiosity.

Mario talked nonstop, and I learned of his interest about school, which he could not attend. Anna and various tutors had home-schooled him. He was eloquent, his prose lyrical at times.

“Do you like poetry?” I asked.

He pointed to still-unpacked boxes strewn around the room. “My books: novels, poetry, and history.” He pulled a book from under the pillows and handed it over. “Tales of the Alhambra, by Washington Irving, 1851 Edition. Have you read it?”

I began to feel inadequate in his presence.

“No. Tell me about it.”

He explained the content and its connection to a poem written by Alexander Pushkin and an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov. This conversation challenged me, but I liked hearing it. It differed from the kind of talks I had with my friends in town.

“Take it with you. I just finished it for a third time. Reading is my way to travel. I do not get around much, as you might imagine.”

Mario’s constrained body couldn’t tether his vivid imagination.

He gave me a short rundown of his family, city dwellers not enthusiastic about rural communities.

Mario’s health had declined in the city. In their suburban home, the patio door in Mario’s room looked onto a barren, fenced yard.

His father purchased the small farm to let his son enjoy the outdoors, the stars, or the sun whenever he wanted.

When fall breezes undressed the trees, golden leaves carpeted Mario’s terrace.

“Don’t clean them, Ma.”

“It’s a mess out here.”


“But I like the crackle of leaves under your feet. I imagine I’m walking on them. They and the birds are my visitors.”

In fact, flocks of birds flew away from the terrace every time I visited him.

Mario’s magical relation with birds puzzled me.

He hardly moved, and they flew all day. But we never talked about it.

We read and discussed books together. By mid-fall, we were the best of friends, and I was in love—but not with him.

MY high school’s Halloween Parade Committee met in the library. We took charge of the school float design. We developed a concept, selected music for the school band, and chose costumes for the float riders.

Mario’s friendship had increased my confidence and improved my vocabulary. Now my opinions turned heads.

“We need lots of your father’s pumpkins for the float,” Francis, our treasurer, said. “I hope he gives us a decent price and we don’t have to buy them at the supermarket parking lot.”

I would have to stand on my toes to kiss him, I thought. He looks gorgeous in his football uniform.

Francis’ olive complexion, black eyes, mane of hair, and square jaw excited me.

“Would you talk to your father?”

“Talk about what?”

“Did you hear a word I said, Samantha?”

“Yes. The pumpkins.”

He neither encouraged nor discouraged my infatuation. However, he glanced and smiled at me more often than he did the other girls, except for Roselyn. With her long legs and resemblance to a movie star, she made me jealous.

One afternoon we got a tip about the competing school’s float. It was similar to ours, but already under construction.

“Everybody will say we copied them. You have to come up with a different idea,” the drama coach said and sent our brains into a spin.

THE same afternoon, I visited Mario. He commented about the big pumpkin in my father’s garden patch. “It’s bigger than me,” he said and laughed. “I’ve given it a name: from now on, she is Cinderella.” We grinned.

“Okay. Cinderella does look a lot bigger.” As soon as I said it, an idea popped into my mind.

“Mario, would you like to go to the parade?”

His laughter faded.

“Are you kidding me?”

“Not at all. Would you like to go?”

No answer, only a questioning stare into my eyes.

“I’m sorry I asked. I did not think it through.”

An awkward minute later, Mario spoke.

“I would. I would like to go to the parade.”

THE committee loved my extreme concept. Ideas flowed like chocolate syrup, and the next day I called Mario’s house to ask permission for the group to visit him.

Anna remained silent for a moment.

“Let me put you on speaker. Tell it to his father.”

“WHAT? Do you want to parade my son as a circus freak?” Mario’s father yelled when I explained. “The cheerleaders’ boobs are not enough excitement?”

“Calm down, please,” Anna said. “Mario can hear you.”

Mario’s voice came loudly over the phone, “Daaad! It’s about time.”

“About time for what, son?” yelled his father.

“To stop hiding me. Despite what you see, Dad, I’m a human being. I’m willing to go if they take me. Descartes once said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’”

“What does that have to do with this?”

“Oh shit, Dad, you should read a book once in a while. I’m sorry to shame you. Let them come here and talk.”

Anna came back on the line. “Samantha, you are welcome anytime.”

THE project moved quickly. Every day, I kept Mario in the loop. Sometimes others came with me. We laughed and planned every detail.

“We need insurance for me,” Mario said, “in case the crane splatters me on the ground. Like an egg falling from the nest.”

One day I came too early. Anna asked me to come back later.

“We are giving him a bath,” she said.

I had never thought about it. The images that flooded my mind sort of revolted me.

“I’m sorry about that,” I said. “I mean, I’ll be back.”

I left, walking faster than usual. I looked back at the house and caught Anna’s sad expression.

God, help me be a better person.

MARIO turned anxious as the day approached. He obsessed over the move to the float.

“When alone, I watch Cinderella from up here. That pumpkin is growing like a sumo wrestler. Just like me.”

I ignored the remark, but the pumpkin’s girth had increased. Mario, too, had added pounds.

“Can’t explain it, but I feel connected to Cinderella,” he said.

Halloween morning, we moved the float below Mario’s terrace. The float depicted a vine and carved pumpkins crawling up a hill amid girls in rabbit and bird costumes. Atop the hill was Mario’s place. The crane flew him from his bed to the float. He sat inside a customized orange sphere as big as Cinderella. His voluminous arms dangled over the curved sides. A microphone would allow him to engage the crowd.

We drove away from the farm. Mario looked at the pumpkin. “Bye, my friend. I know how it feels to be stuck. I will tell you all about it when I return.”

The parade route through our small town overflowed with spectators. Happiness permeated the afternoon.

The school band marched in front. The girls on the float exchanged quips with Mario. His cleverness gave them a harder time than they expected. People applauded. We heard no pity, no cruel remarks from the crowd. Francis and others from the football team rode on the float.

“Get on the team, Mario,” a man shouted. “They need help. They are playing like sissies this year.”

Mario was a town celebrity.

BACK at the farm, the crane carried Cinderella onto a trailer truck to move her to the fairgrounds the next day. The truck driver parked beside the house and near Mario’s terrace.
When we returned, the sun had declined over the evening’s edge. The crane operator lifted Mario up.

“Would you raise me as high as you can before taking me to my bed, please? Then shut off the engine and let me rest a few minutes in silence,” Mario said.

The operator complied. He leaned back in his seat, lit a cigarette, and grinned, watching Mario floating in mid-air.

In the early darkness, I thought a bird landed on Mario’s knee.

“How did you feel up there?” I asked later.

“Like a hummingbird with lead wings. I had an out-of- body experience. My mind connected with Cinderella on the trailer. She wanted to know what I did today.”

Almost everyone had gone home. I was alone with Mario on the terrace, releasing the lingering euphoria. We heard voices and I went to see. Francis and Roselyn were looking at the giant pumpkin. Then they sat at the end of the trailer, their backs toward Cinderella.

“It was nice to win first place, and we did not spend the entire budget,” Roselyn said, unaware their voices carried up to us.

“We were lucky that Samantha convinced that freak to go along for the ride. We couldn’t lose,” Francis said. Rosalyn leaned on his shoulder.

“She is so naive. She thinks you are in love with her.”

“It saved us almost three hundred dollars on the cost of the pumpkins.”

“Poor thing. She should look in the mirror,” Roselyn said. “My gosh, Samantha is at least thirty pounds overweight.”

“I know, love. The two of them could compete with this huge pumpkin.”

My eyes got glossy. I turned my face towards Mario. His eyes flamed with anger. His clenched fists yellowed, and his bed shook as he attempted to stand up.

I heard a snapping sound and looked down. The cinch holding Cinderella had broken, and she was rolling along the trailer’s bed. Francis and Roselyn turned around, looked at the pumpkin, and saw me.

Surprised, they did not move. Cinderella barreled down on them. They jumped to the ground, but it was too late. Cinderella vaulted from her bed and landed on top of them. I gasped, and looked away.

“OH my God, Mario. My father said Cinderella weighed fourteen hundred pounds.”


About the Author

Eduardo Cervino, AKA E. C. Brierfield, was born in Havana, Cuba, and has resided in the US since 1968. He has traveled extensively throughout the US, Europe, and Latin America working as an architectural designer.

He is also a painter and his oil canvasses have been exhibited in the US and abroad.
He has written and published several novels and numerous short stories. He resides in Arizona with his wife and writing collaborator, L. S. Brierfield.



Betrayal by Delinda McCann

 sewer rat

“I still remember the day after the emperor set fire to my portion of the city as if it were yesterday” – Philippe Rouseff on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday.


I took my wife to Mass more to please her than from any desire of my own.  I watched as the priest lifted the loaf and intoned the words, “On the night in which he was betrayed…” Bile rose up in my throat at the words.  I knew betrayal.

The Emperor, one of my closest associates—a cousin even, had struck at the heart of my railroad operation in an effort to destroy my family business.  I pressed my lips together to stifle the urge to cry out in anger as the priest held up the cup.  When Christ was betrayed, only one man died.  I wondered how many thousands burned when I was betrayed.

As the faithful shuffled forward to take their bread and sip from the cup, I shifted in my seat and pondered why that bastard crime boss, Wu, a better man than my cousin, had sent his wife to my offices to warn one of the bookkeepers about the impending purge.  As the bookkeeper raced from the building, she screamed, “Fire! The army is coming! Fire! Flee!”  Who else had been warned that the emperor’s army marched against the city?  Who had time to flee?

I had no desire to spend a Sunday afternoon working, but at three in the afternoon, I met with two railroad supervisors to survey the damage to almost a square kilometer of the city.  We drove up to the deserted M’TK station.  Blowing ash shifted and settled after the passage of my car.  My stomach churned as I wondered how many of my employees’ ashes mixed and blew among the debris of burned buildings?

The brick and slate train station still huddled beside the tracks.  Soot now stained the red bricks the same black as the rest of the borough.  We stood and looked over the desolation—nothing moved, nothing lived.  I wanted to hope that some of my people survived, but hope refused to kindle here among the ruins.  The workers were only indigenous northerners, laborers, but they stocked my warehouses and loaded my trains.

The Central Region supervisor looked up. “What the hell?”

I followed his eyes and soon made out a string of boxcars, pulled by a gerry-rig, slowly rolling toward the station.  Filled with the horror that lay around me, I stared transfixed at the approaching apparition.  If I were a superstitious man, I’d have turned and fled in fear of death and ghosts.  I refused to take my eyes off of this small sign of life.

When the rig with it’s string of boxcars towering above it rolled to a stop at the station the operator, dressed in railroad coveralls, lifted a woman down from the first boxcar.  A young boy about ten jumped to the ground.  This family appeared to be like any other of the northern poor—dirty and ragged.

The man introduced himself as the assistant stationmaster.  He unlocked the station for us and assured us that he had locked the station’s ticket money in the safe.  He seemed respectful enough.  He kept his eyes lowered as custom dictated for a man of his station.

I heard the eagerness in my voice,  “Have you seen signs that some of my people survived?

“I haven’t seen anybody within a kilometer of the station.  Wu warned me so I had time to move the equipment.  I suppose others had time.”

I shook off my melancholy for a moment.  “Listen, you saved my equipment and the money in the station.  I must give you a reward.  What do you want?”

The man answered immediately.  “The stationmaster ran away when he heard about the army.  I stayed long enough to save your equipment.  Give me the stationmaster’s job and let me live here with my family.”  For the first time, the man looked me in the eye. The sharp intelligence I saw in the eyes of a northerner surprised me.  The man’s humility returned when he asked for help to assist his cousin from the train.

Curious about the new stationmaster, I helped lift his wheelchair-bound cousin from the boxcar.  I almost recoiled from the reek that still clung to the air inside the car.  I recognized the stench that is created when many unwashed bodies are packed close together.  I picked up a small piece of waste paper flecked with fish scales.  The evidence before my eyes and nose told me that many people, probably northerners with their love of fish, had very recently been packed into this car.  In my mind, I saw people filling the boxcars to flee from the fire.  I suspected that my new stationmaster had his own reasons for his secrecy, but the knowledge that my workers had survived settled into my heart.

I turned to the humble man beside me and forgot a lifetime of lessons about the indigenous people from the north.  I suddenly saw not a worthless, northern laborer but a man created in the image of God.  I saw the man who had saved my people, a man of honor and compassion.  I wondered if he thought of me as just an oppressive Southerner.

I reached out to shake the stationmaster’s hand, fearful for the first time in my life of being rejected…


Submitted by Delinda McCann

This story is told from a different perspective in the book M’TK Sewer Rat: End of an Empire. This is the first record of Mr. Rouseff’s side of the story of the day he met his longtime friend Jacob Jaconovich, then the assistant stationmaster.

 Delinda Mcann

Author Bio

Delinda McCann is a social psychologist who has worked in the field of developmental disabilities for over twenty years.  She has served on committees for the state of Washington and been an educational advisor to other governments. She has published four books Lies That Bind, M’TK Sewer Rat: End of an Empire, M”TK Sewer Rat: Birth of a Nation, and Something About Maudy.





The most wonderful time of the year – NOT! Well, at least not for some people.

Hum drum, melancholy, down-trotted, heartaches, an abundance of sadness during a season where most shout gladness.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Carol of the Bells, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. What? Did I hear you say holiday bliss? But can everyone claim such cheer? The holidays may not be so bright and chirpy for everyone. In fact the holidays may be the most stressful time of the year for some families.

Have you ever thought to stop for a moment to consider those who are filled with holiday despair? Perhaps we can help ease gloominess by paying attention to the needs of people who are not extraordinarily happy during the next few weeks.

Stress may be due to a variety anxieties, and/or concerns we may not share, but anxieties just the same. I’ll touch on a few: divorce, death, new family member arrival(s), financial hardship, incarcerated parent(s), abuse, marital concern, changes in routine, and so much more.

We may not be aware of the “baggage” that some people are burdened with during the holiday season, but after the stories and testimonials of these very fine authors your hearts and minds will change forevermore about Holiday Blues.

Dr. Cherrye S. Vasquez, Guest Editor



It starts before Halloween, the commercials, the displays, the hype–spend, spend, spend: “Thanksgiving…Christmas,
Thanksgiving…Christmas–buy now, buy here.”

First, I try to ignore it all. Then, I try to dismiss it with a yawn. But the advertisers keep yelping their pretentious ‘hap-happy’ “buy” jargon, and, pretty soon, my temper rises.

After rage comes discouragement. Then, disgust. What about all those who suffer during this self-indulgent luxury of spree? What about the starving, the lonely, the victimized, the pain-wracked, the abandoned?

I spend my assets, my “holiday cheer”, to help those in need, and then make dinner, as usual, and everyone at table agrees.

Living in the Purcell Trench in North Idaho, D. L. Keur as E. J. Ruek is busy pre-press editing her latest novel, Old Hickory Lane. Visit her on the web at http://www.DLKeur.com and www.EJRuek.com.



Carla’s comin’ home again this Christmas holiday.
Been that way for years and me and the wife
We say for sure this year and we set the extra plate.
The wife cooks Carla’s special meal and both of us
share the same thin thread of hope and faith.
A miracle’s on the way; she’ll come through
just like she promised all those times before.

Carla’s comin’ home again this Christmas holiday.
We saved her silly woolen cap. Her favorite leather boots
stand at attention in the foyer.
We ain’t gettin’ any younger, the wife says,
Maybe we should –– But I say quietly, Maybe we should not,
Because you know Carla, full of surprises,
can walk through that door and give us back them years.
We come this far. We know she’s out there headin’ home.
Have some faith, dear. Keep on your hoping because

Carla’s comin’ home again this Christmas holiday.
Our Baby. And then all them tears don’t mean a thing.
The wife she nods her head, goes on back preparin’
the holiday meal. A heavy snow tonight
might slow Carla down, but she always loved to taste it
in her open mouth, catch the flakes fallin’ down.
Her laughter we saved like presents in our minds.
Some days it ain’t so clear, but the wife and me
We’ll know it when we hear her in the yard again
When…when…when Carla’s comin’ home.
She’s comin’ home again.

Sal Buttaci loves seeing life flash before his eyes. Visit him at http://cherryevasquez.tateauthor.com/uncategorized/a-bio-flash-from-sal-buttaci/



The waves lick my feet
As I stand on the shore.
Smoky green eyes,
Beloved and mourned,
Entice me to celebrate
Sun-given life, our ritual
Of bygone days on that very beach.
I demur. Eyes and ocean
Blend in a seagull’s call.
At one with the tide
He guides my steps.
Someday our hands
Will clasp again,
Smoky green eyes, eternally young;
Brown, tired eyes yield to your wish
Rejoicing that you keep watch.

Marta Merajver-Kurlat writes novels, self-help, and essays in English and Spanish. http://www.martamerajver.com.ar/marta/



A puppy. However improbably, Santa had brought us a baby cocker spaniel, the one thing I wanted most in the entire world.

Why improbable? First, we were Jewish and didn’t celebrate Christmas. Second, we had no chimney; at six I knew Santa Clause came down chimneys. Third, Mom didn’t want a dog. She had her reasons: Too much work; my brother and I were too young for the responsibility; Dog food was expensive; AND, she couldn’t touch animals.

“It’s called a phobia,” she’d say and begin crying.

I’d cry, too.

Still, despite all Moms’ reasons, Santa had brought us that light brown ball of fur.

Too bad Santa couldn’t bring my mother a new head. We were at school. Mom had nudged the puppy towards the stairs; we lived on the second floor. “He had to go out. He had to go to the bathroom,” she explained.

Down the puppy tumbled. All day he lay at the bottom of the long flight of steps yelping in desperation—all day until Dad came home.

They told us the puppy died. Later I learned Dad, had taken him back to the breeder.

So much for Santa.

Ken Weene, who has subsequently owned many dogs, writes literary fiction and humor. You can check out his work at



Christmas carols waft through the crisp Manhattan air as the steady ringing of the bells of Salvation Army Santa sets the pace for shoppers hustling from store to store. The magnificent Rockefeller Center Christmas tree heralds the promise of Yuletide celebrations ushering in the season of love and joy.

But for thousands of homeless people in New York City, the season is a harbinger of struggle. Huddled in alleyways, bus terminals, doorways and other temporary hovels, attempting to ease the chill of winter, they find no joy.

Some keep their faces to the ground, too hungry and lethargic to honor the Christ child’s birth. Others glance upward, perhaps searching for a special star to offer solace to a life of misery, but more likely hoping for handouts–a dollar or two to stem the ever-present gnawing of a tortured empty stomach. Years ago, it was a nickel, but inflation has reached the street people as well. New York City with the highest population in the country also has one of the largest numbers of people for whom Christmas is just another exercise in survival.

Perhaps it is the fear of ‘Except for the grace of God go I’, mentality that keeps us from recognizing them or addressing the biblical question, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Now that the holidays are upon us it’s a good time to reconsider our priorities. We live in a country of great contrasts; from the extremely wealthy through the weakening middle class to the struggling lower class. Not enough of us consider the ‘no’ class, the people who have nothing; because acknowledging the problem necessitates a resolution.

Still, the day after Christmas there will be those who will ponder, like in the old Peggy Lee song, ‘Is that all there is?’ Too often Christ is removed from Christmas and we sense, but cannot name, the hollow feeling left after the frantic rush to make one day memorable. The homeless, hunched around garbage can fires, or sleeping over subway grates to catch the warmth of a passing train, do not have the luxury of such contemplation.

As our world grows smaller, the plight of the homeless becomes a global concern, bringing crime, disease and poverty to our doors. No one appreciates a guilt trip during the Christmas season, and no one wants visions of starving people interrupting the Holiday feast, overflowing with homemade delicacies, cookies and candy canes hanging from decorated trees. We work for what we have, ever harder in this sluggish economy and we deserve the rewards of our labors. True. But in the spirit of Christmas it is important to remember that over 2000 years ago, the Christ child lay in a manure-filled stable in Bethlehem, on a straw mattress of questionable cleanliness, wrapped in swaddling clothes that did not come from Macy’s.

Emphasis today weighs heavily upon material gifts. Charge cards promote gluttony of expenditure that has little to do with the meaning of Christmas. The legendary Little Drummer Boy had nothing but a song to offer the new-born babe. That gift was cherished more than the gold, frankincense and myrrh brought by the wise men from the East, because it was a gift of pure love.

This season let us all think about how much we have, and how fortunate we are to be spending the holidays with loved ones instead of a damp, freezing floor in Grand Central Station. Above all, let us love one another. And if we can extend that love to the homeless street people, the next holiday season may witness a practical solution to our mutual shame. Love is a self-perpetuating emotion; and all it takes to activate it is to exchange it among ourselves. Merry Christmas!
Micki Peluso is a journalist who writes poetry, short fiction, non-fiction and one memoir. Her personal blog site is http://www.mallie1025.blogspot.com



Holidays got you down? What is it, the fattening foods you know you won’t resist? Is it the fear you won’t get that Pet Rock you’ve been hinting at? No, I know what’s got you down. It’s the relatives, right? That tribe of primitives that always makes the Season fright? Well, if you are one of those people who normally dreads the holidays because your family is a bunch of Barbarians, allow me to make some suggestions for a happier holiday season this year.

My family didn’t invent holiday dysfunction… but we may very well have perfected it. I’ve always been a good cook, so this meant the insanity usually came to my house to celebrate. It took time and maturity on my part before I finally realized, insanity need not exclude hilarity.

Doesn’t laughter make everything better? I’ve learned to mellow some in my midlife years; I’ve learned that if I can’t beat ‘em (I can’t run as fast carrying a big club as I used to), I should just kick back and enjoy the fun. I mean, say what you want about those guys in the animal skin pants, they’re not all wrong–those guys know how to party. So without further ado, here are my tips for surviving the holidays when the Barbarians are coming to your castle;

Add some excitement to the dinner. Stow a battle axe (no, I’m not referring to your mother-in-law) nearby the roasted ham. You can’t imagine the children’s glee that’s generated when your crazy uncle uses it for carving. Sure, a little food may fly, but my goodness, what did they think you meant by a six “coarse” dinner. Geez;

Add some suspense to the party. Put the family bitch in charge of the cauldron of burning pitch, and seat her next to your brother, the court jester. Then, have everyone bet on what time she rolls out the catapult;

Add some culture to the mix. Yes, Barbarians are by very definition, uncivilized. So why not introduce a little… refinement? Offer a prize to the Hun with the nicest fur, plan to attend a Midnight Mass –marauding, or try singing some nostalgic Barbarian Christmas Carrols: Jingle Bones, It Came Upon A Midnight Spear, Silent Knight, Oh Cannon-Bomb, Rudolph the Red-nosed Philistine, and that timeless favorite, Chestnuts Roasting o’er a Grecian Fire; and, lastly,

Add some fun for the kids. Make games a part of your new holiday tradition. Here are some time-tested mini-Barb favorites: Pin the Mace on the Face, Red Rover Red Rover Trebuchet a Man Over, Grand Theft Battling Ram, Keep Away From the Celts, and my personal favorite, the Scavenger Hun.

So remember, even if you have always dreaded the holidays of yore, with a little imagination (and a whole lot of mead), you can turn those holidays blues into Medieval old news. Just remember to keep your sense of humor about you… and party like its 1499!


If you agree with Anne Sweazy-Kulju (and Anatole France) that history books that contain no lies are extremely dull, visit Anne’s website: www.Historical-Horse-Feathers.com, and read more of the
author’s fun perversions of the past!


Courting Celia. This is Celia’s holiday blog
By Delinda McCann

The holidays are a hard time for caregivers. We remember our joys of past holidays. We remember the disasters or grief of the holidays when a loved one was ill or engaged in embarrassing incidences. We have some idea that the holidays ought to be a happy time. Maybe they will be for many of you, but for others they will be a lonely and sad holiday. I’d like to offer these words of comfort.

The first Thanksgiving was a miracle of survival. Those who gave thanks were separated from family they would never see again. They’d given up the luxuries of civilization. They were among strangers with different customs. They faced an uncertain winter. Instead of giving in to fear, they had the courage to give thanks.

For that matter, the first Christmas wasn’t all that hot either. Think of Mary uncomfortably pregnant and farther along than her marriage would validate. She must visit her in-laws then inconvenience them by delivering a baby–making herself, the room she was in, and everyone who attended her unclean. That first Christmas was at best uncomfortable.

May we all find the sense of humor to laugh over our difficulties rather than seeing them as disasters and may we find the courage to face the New Year.

Delinda McCann Delinda McCann is a social psychologist who has worked in the field of developmental disabilities for over twenty years. She has served on committees for the state of Washington and has been an educational advisor to other governments. Visit Delinda’s blogspot at: http://delindamccann.blogspot.com/


A December Dirge
By R. L. Cherry

The old man stared out the window, watching the snow drifting down behind the cut-glass panes. At least he thought it was snow. It could be his blurred vision. The reflection of the twinkling Christmas tree lights made it even harder to be sure. He blinked his eyes, wishing he could rub them. Ever since the stroke, he couldn’t even lift a hand. Mutely, he watched, unable to turn his head to see who was speaking behind him. He knew it was Fred, but what he was saying was indistinct, undecipherable. Every so often he would understand a word and tried to make sense of what was being said, but they were disjointed, solitary. Christmas. Family. Will. They were understandable, but they didn’t make sense. He sighed. If only he had listened to the warnings.

Fred paced back and forth behind the old man’s wheelchair, glancing around at the walnut paneling and original Remington paintings. Why hadn’t the old cheapskate bought Picasso’s or Manet’s? They’d have been far more appropriate for Upstate New York than cowboys. And worth a hell of a lot more. “You know that I’m here, faithfully coming to your side when no one else does. If you recover, remember that I’m the only one of the family who cares. I’m staying for as long as I can, even though it’s started to snow.”

He glanced down at his Rolex. He’d been there almost an hour. Even if he had wanted to stay longer, he would have to leave before the snow stuck on the roads. His Porsche was not made for this kind of weather. He looked over at the two male nurses in grey sweats, lounging in arm chairs and watching him as if he were some circus sideshow. A couple of bums.

“Hey, don’t you think his diaper needs to be changed?”

The older one nodded but didn’t move.

Fred shook his head with disgust. He walked over to the old man’s side. “Well, I’d better go before I get snowed in. The wife would be upset if I missed Christmas with her.” He hesitated. “Maybe she’ll come next time. I’m sure you’d like her.”

He bent over and started to kiss the old man’s head, but stopped. With a scaly scalp visible through the wispy, white hair, he just couldn’t. Instead, he quickly patted the parchment skin of the old man’s bony hand and pulled his woolen lap robe up a little. “Take care. I’ll see you later.”

Fred grabbed his Burberry trench coat and scarf from the leather couch. He glared at the nurses. “Why don’t you get off your asses and do something to earn your wages?”

The younger one seemed to feel a little guilt and looked away. The older one just sat there and smiled.

Fred stomped fifty feet across the marble floor to the massive walnut entry-hall door and yanked it open. He cast a last scowl at the worthless pair of nurses, and then slammed the door shut as he left.

The older nurse gave a short, humorless laugh, brushed back his grey hair and stood. “Well, Jimmy, now that the ass-kisser has paid his annual visit, we can have a drink.”

“He only comes by once a year?” The younger man paused. “And it’s Jim. I hate Jimmy.”

The older man shrugged. “Whatever. Yeah, Freddy-boy only comes by every Christmas Eve. It’s just to remind the old man of that Christmas he’d said he was going to cut off the rest of the family out of his will. It’ll be ten years ago tomorrow. Only problem was that the old coot had his stroke that night and never got it recorded. So Freddy comes by to remind the old guy in case he ever recovers.”

He walked around the long, marble-topped bar that stretched across one side of the room. With a gilt-framed mirror behind it and the Remington paintings, it looked like a classy version of a Wild West saloon. Or bordello. The older man pulled out a couple of Waterford crystal glasses and a bottle of 30-year-old Macallan Scotch whisky. He poured a generous amount into each glass, added ice, soda and lemon twists, and handed one to Jim.

“Thanks, Bob.” Jim took a sip. “Hey, this is good stuff.”

“Yeah.” Bob walked back to the arm chair and plopped down. “Nothing but the best for the old man. He had cases and cases of good stuff. His lawyer carted off all the wine and Freddy grabbed the port and cognac, but I prefer the hard stuff anyway. Gets me a good buzz quicker.”

Jim walked back to his chair, but didn’t sit. He studied Bob. Years of booze were taking their toll, leaving the older man with red-veined cheeks, sagging jowls and a paunch. His sweatshirt had food stains. “Uh, ya think we should change the old man? His diaper’s probably dirty.”

Bob shook his head. “Jimmy, I’m paid to keep him alive, not comfortable.”

“Jim, not Jimmy.” Jim cocked his head. “You hate him, dontcha?”

Bob shrugged.

“Why? I mean, you worked for the guy for what, about twenty years before his stroke. Why do you even stay if you hate him?”

Bob downed half his drink in one gulp. “I worked for him for twenty-four years before his stroke.” He studied his glass, the lights of the Christmas tree the lawyer had made him put up glistening in the prisms of the crystal. “I stay for two reasons. First, it’s for the money. The lawyer likes having me around ‘cause I keep the old guy alive. As long as he lives, the lawyer makes more and more money. So he pays me good. He’s paying me four times what the old skinflint did, plus a big bonus each Christmas he’s still alive. The other reason is to watch him suffer.”

Jim dropped into his chair. “Whoa, man, that’s cold. You like to see him suffer? Why?”

“Because he ruined my life.” Bob finished his drink. Then he pulled himself out of his chair, went to the bar and mixed another. He turned to Jim and leaned on the bar. “I stayed here twelve hours a day, six days a week back then. Ten years ago, I was supposed to have Christmas off, but the old fart changed his mind and said I had to stay.”


Bob laughed. “Said he’d been attacked by three weirdoes who broke into his room in the middle of the night, that they’d threatened him if he didn’t give up his money. Claimed I’d have to have given them the alarm code or let them in. After I made sure the alarm hadn’t been tripped or turned off, I told him it must have been a bad dream. He swore it hadn’t been. He said he wanted me to stay around until he checked everybody out. The cook, the butler, all those other guys, too.” Bob took another gulp of his drink. “Then I got a call from my wife. My youngest kid was always sorta sickly and he wasn’t doing too good. I begged the old jerk to let me off, go home to my kid, but he said I’d lose my job if I left. So I stayed. Funny thing is that after his stroke, it didn’t matter about anybody getting into the old man’s bedroom that night.”

“That ruined your life?”

Bob nodded. “We only had one car and I had it. Kid got worse, so my wife finally called an ambulance. It was real icy and it got in an accident. Big mix-up for hours. By the time another ambulance got to my house and took my kid to the hospital he was real bad off. Took him to County Hospital ’cause I didn’t have no insurance or enough money for a decent one. It’s a real second-rate place. Plus it was Christmas, so they couldn’t find a specialist. My kid died. The old man might as well have killed him himself.”

Jim leaned back in his chair, eyes wide. “Wow. Bummer, dude. I can see why you hate him, but why stay?”

Bob shook his head. “My wife blamed me. Took the rest of the kids and bailed before I finally got home. Never found out where she went. The old man’s lawyer said he needed me more since the old guy’s stroke and I didn’t have no place to go. Told him I’d stay 24/7 and keep the old coot alive for enough money. It was the old man’s money, so I got it. Everyone else’s been let go over the years, so it’s been just me with the old man. Now I get to see the old man suffer like I suffer and still make some big bucks.”

Jim shook his head. “Guess it’s lucky for you the old guy had a stroke, huh?”

Bob was taking a drink of his Scotch when Jim said that and he started laughing so hard he choked. Jim sprang from his chair and began to pound Bob’s back. Finally, Bob regained control and waved Jim away.

After taking a deep breath, Bob continued. “That Christmas, the old man had all his family here. I don’t know what set him off, but he started screaming and telling them all to get the hell out, that he was cutting them out of his will. Said all of them were worthless, except for Fred.” He chuckled. “Funny thing is that he always called his nephew a no-account spendthrift, but suddenly he was the golden boy. So they all ran out, except for Fred. Then the old man told him to get out too, so he did.”

“That’s when he had his stroke?”

Bob studied the younger nurse, and then took a swig. “No, not right then. Not until after my wife called to tell me my kid was dead and it was my entire fault. The old man was on twenty-six different medications, so I played around with them before I gave them to him. Then he had his stroke.”

Jim stepped back. “Wait, you’re saying you caused it?”

“Probably.” He draped his arm across Jim’s shoulder. “But you won’t say nothing, will you, Jimmy? I had you hired to help me, so I know your background. You spent time in the pen for extortion. You stole from patients and maybe even killed one, ’though they couldn’t prove it. You’ve got the gravy train here. I’ll make sure you make a bunch of money, with bonuses, as long as the old man lives. I’m betting you’re not dumb enough to kill the golden goose.”

Jim stood, silent for a moment, and then extended his hand. “You can call me Jimmy. Here’s to keeping the golden goose alive.”

They shook hands.

Bob topped off his drink, and then staggered toward the old man. As he did, he bumped over the fake Christmas tree, leaving it on the floor with the fallen angel tree-topper mortally shattered. He grabbed a handle of the old man’s wheelchair and jerked him around, staring into his terrified eyes.

Bob Cratchit raised his glass. “Here’s to you, Ebenezer Scrooge. Merry Christmas. My dear Tiny Tim is in heaven now because of you. But I’m going to make sure your life on earth is hell for as long as I can.”

Mr. Scrooge closed his eyes. Why hadn’t he listened to those three weirdoes, those Christmas ghosts? But it was too late now. A tear trickled down his cheek.

R.L. Cherry is a novelist, columnist and raconteur. Sample his short stories, articles and blog at www.rlcherry.com


Fundamental Exposure


Hope, despair, vengeance, terror, or desire is the real and fundamental wellspring of every book written, fiction and non-fiction.  Whether one, several, or all of these motivators are responsible for catalyzing the author, every book holds a keystone, a core, that manifests its foundation—something real and evocative, something based on the author’s own experience and perspective, that proves the source. I asked a handful of authors to identify these keystones, then to expose that very private, very personal, source for us.  Some are overt; others not so much, but every one proves their authors and their books.  This nut, this kernel, when handled well, is what makes a reader care, to maybe weep or giggle; it’s what makes a book worthwhile.D. L. Keur, Guest Editor__________________

Excerpt from …And the Whippoorwill Sang by Micki Peluso


It is evening. I stand by my daughter’s bed. I watch her eyes open and dart about, sensing my presence before I speak. I lean over; kiss her forehead, the only place that she can feel sensation. I stroke her hair. It is time.

“Noelle, I love you so much and always will. But it’s okay, baby, to go toward that beautiful light you see.”

Noelle’s eyes try hard to focus; she seems to relax a little.

“Sweetie, I want you to know that it’s okay for you to go Home if you choose. Everything you need or want awaits you.”

As I watch her slip away from me, I no longer see my daughter trapped in her broken body. I envision her running like the wind down the basketball court, blowing her hair out of her eyes, shooting for the basket, scoring the winning point for her team. I see her ice skating on the frozen pond, gliding in perfect rhythm to the music within her soul. Noelle’s eyes gaze into mine, then close as she slips back into a coma. I collapse against her bed, cursing myself for telling my daughter to die; to let go of hope.

*   *   *

AuthorMickiPelusoSAYS AUTHOR MICKI PELUSO: “This part of a funny, sad, true family story is the core of the book.  There is no hope for Noelle, whose spinal cord is severed. She can hear, see slightly and has a perfect mind. How can those who love her obey doctors who insist we disconnect her from life support? It’s like murder, since she can communicate by blinking her eyes. Yet she had told me only months earlier, while watching a movie, that she’d never want to live paralyzed. I can not do it, will not. I must let her decide. Given a choice, Noelle stops struggling to live for us and goes Home within 48 hours. She was 14, struck down by a drunk driver.”




Excerpt from Just Toss the Ashes by Marta Merajver-Kurlat


“What have you done, Ma? How did you always find a way to screw yourself? Why didn’t you try it out, before, after, during? I thought you were brave. You said you had the world at your feet, until the world kicked your feet out from under you. I think one hemisphere of the world that really fucked you up was Grandmother Laura, even though you fought her, but at what cost, Ma? And the other was running into this guy, and then you couldn’t stand up for yourself anymore. You’d gotten used to defending yourself on your own. You stuck the dagger in your heart before they could stick it to you first. How you must have hated yourself! And you never asked forgiveness. Remember you taught me NEVER to ask forgiveness? You said it was attitude for beggars. How much fear, Mom, underneath the cocksure manner that made one want to slam you into a wall? ‘If you believe, it exists,’ you told me. I think maybe you loved me, a lot, and you were afraid I’d love you so much I wouldn’t be able to save myself from the darkness that engulfed you, afraid you’d infect me with the shadow of death that materialized next to your crib, calling you, tempting you, until you finally said, yes, ‘I want to.’ Now I know which deaths preceded you and who the dead were you supposedly had to replace. Poor Mom, the shadow didn’t permit you to see the living.”

*   *   *


AuthorMarta-Merajver-KurlatSAYS AUTHOR MARTA MERAJVER-KURLAT: “In his journey towards understanding his mother’s painful life and suicide, young Lucas talks at once to himself and to a mother whose mysteries haunt his mind. His train of thought provides the main clues to understanding much of what has happened before this pivotal moment, while allowing a glimpse into Lucas’s future quest for some truth that may reconcile him to Sylvia’s decision.

“The son’s interior monologue puts together the various kinds of discourse I listened to in my office from patients trying to make sense of a parent’s suicide. Sudden switches between accusation, empathy, self-pity, and speculation were frequent in many cases, yet I’d like to emphasize that neither the novel nor any of the scenes in it replicates a real-life case.”




Excerpt from Foul Shot by R. L. Cherry


Even in the dim light, Vince could see his eyes widen.  “You can’t,” he pleaded.  “You’re a priest.  Gawddammit, it’s a mortal sin!”

“Then I’ll see you in Hell.”  Vince fired two rounds directly between his eyes.  Blood, skull and brains exploded out the back of his head and he dropped back to the floor.

*   *   *

SAYS AUTHOR R. L. CHERRY: “Vince, my protagonist is a Christian, a faithful Roman Catholic.  He tries to live his life along the principles of his faith.  However, there comes this scene in the story when a murderer, someone who has persecuted, tormented and assaulted those he loves, assumes that Vince AuthorRLCherrywill not act on his feelings, not seek revenge.  That Vince will, as he has done in the past, trust in the justice of God and the laws of man.  But Vince has reached his breaking point.  Like all of us, Vince is flawed.  There are limits to his heroic nature.  When I wrote the scene, which is so crucial to Vince’s character, I wondered what I would do in the same circumstance.  Would I leave the villain to the courts, let the law decide?  What if a good lawyer found a loophole and the murderous bastard was set free?  Thank God, I have never been confronted with this decision in real life.  Yet, fiction gives us a chance to consider the unthinkable.  To be honest, I cannot say for sure what I would do if I were in Vince’s shoes, had gone through what he had gone through.  Can you?”




Excerpt from L’Immortalité: Madame Lalaurie and the Voodoo Queen by T.R. Heinan


“Caring and compLImmortalite_TRHeinanassion lead to life, to l’immortalité. They are the only path. You may comfort in the rituals of the church, but religiosity isn’t love; it isn’t even religion.”

*   *   *

SAYS AUTHOR T. R. HEINAN: “With these words, Marie Laveau confronts my protagonist, Philippe Bertrand, in her effort to get him to risk caring about other people.  Philippe has become a recluse after the death of his wife.  He soothes himself through prayer and rituals.  Within yards of his house, slaves are being whipped, neighbors are dying from yellow fever, and cruelty abounds.  Philippe wants to ignore it all and use God as a personal comfort blanket.

AuthorTRHeinan“In 1985, while in Portugal, I visited the Catholic shrine at Fatima. Tens of thousands of people were there, each hoping to get closer to God. My travel companion then led me to an orphanage located near the shrine.  There, for lack of funds, two dozen little girls, most the victims of sexual abuse, were living without adequate plumbing for lack of funds.

“If prayer can provide spiritual strength, then that same strength must, I believe, be used to meet our duty to the poor, the sick, and the marginalized. That day in Portugal lead to my own efforts to establish a fund to serve orphaned children.  Since 1985, this effort has been able to save and change the lives of thousands of kids.”

– T.R. Heinan, Author of L’Immortalité: Madame Lalaurie and the Voodoo Queen




Excerpt from No Tildes on Tuesday by Cherrye Vasquez


“I thought you forgot your notes, so over the weekend I picked up the pad and thumbed through it. I was very shocked to see what you had written.”

Abuela. Let me––”

“I believe that if you tried hard enough, you’d probably get it,” Abuela interrupted. “But that’s it. You don’t care to learn Spanish, do you?”

“Isabella, you can come to Abuela’s house anytime you want to, but not for Spanish lessons anymore.”

I don’t care. My lessons with Abuela are finally over forever! No tildes on Tuesday!

*   *   *

Dr-Cherrye-Vasquez-authorSAYS AUTHOR CHERRYE VASQUEZ: “The title of my book, No Tildes on Tuesday is a ‘play on words.'”

“Over the weekend Abuela learned Isabella’s heart wasn’t in learning her father’s first language, Spanish.

“In the previous chapter, Abuela discovered the pad. Isabella scribbled, “Being here and learning Spanish is a waste of my good time!

“Monday would be the first time Isabella returned to Abuela’s home for a lesson. Abuela confronted Isabella with her findings.  Abuela told Isabella not to return for her lessons. The following day would be Tuesday.

“A ‘Tilde’ is a Spanish accent placed over some Spanish words.  For example, piñata.

“The ‘play on words’ meaning—no more Spanish lessons.”




Excerpt from Redneck P.I. by Trish Jackson


‘They were right about one thing. I surely didn’t fit into their world, and I didn’t intend to be there for long. I would never let them know, but the truth is, I was homesick—as homesick as you can get. I really missed my previous life. I’m all country, and living in the city just wasn’t for me. The problem was, I couldn’t go home until the recession was over and that didn’t seem like it was ever gonna happen.’

*   *   *

Author Trish JacksonSAYS AUTHOR TRISH JACKSON: “This is from my romantic suspense/comedy novel Redneck P.I.

“Self-professed redneck, Twila Taunton has been forced to relocate to Boston because jobs are non-existent in the small AuthorTrishJacksonAlabama home town of Quisby. Prior to the recession and the housing market collapse, she worked as a real estate salesperson.

“In my life, my husband and I had relocated to Florida to help our daughter with her new twins.  I had been working in real estate for several years, but was forced to change my vocation when the market fell apart. My daughter was retrenched and moved back to California to be close to her brothers. Our house has been on the market four years now and still no sale.

“In my book, Twila is luckier….”

‘The sun was high in the sky when we pulled up outside Pop’s trailer. Home. Nothing, not even crazy Tina, could have wiped the smile off my face. I got off my bike, kneeled down on the ground and kissed it.’

Trish Jackson, Author
Saddle up for a wild read!




Excerpt from The Contrary Canadian by C. C. (Clayton) Bye


“An important lesson was offered to me the day I left my name on that mountain at the top of the world.  I learned to walk the unbeaten path, began to understand the importance of taking unique, purposeful actions.  And over the years, as this lesson became an ingrained part of my life, it slowly evolved into a guiding attitude I call The Philosophy of The Road Not Taken.”

*   *   *

SAYS AUTHOR/EDITOR CLAYTON BYE: “This is the second last paragraph in the first essay in a collection called The Contrary Canadian. It refers to a choice I made between climbing a small mountain covered in the scars left by people who were searching for a certain kind of black crystal and a sister mountain that supposedly had no crystals. Even though I was out there for the stones, something told me to climb the undisturbed mountain.  I found a cairn at the top of this mountain (visible only from theAuthorClaytonBye air) and buried in it was a tin box with paper and pencil so that I could add my name to those who had come before me—going back to the 1960’s.  It was one of those life changing moments. Perfect start to my book.”