Tag Archives: Short Story

The First American?

Flames licked the reindeer, fat dripped, and the fire flared up. Startled, Kayla turned the spit. Last year she’d been a child stampeding prey toward the hunters’ ambush. She’d peeked from behind rocks as the shaman released the spirit of each captured animal and bowed her head in gratitude as he dedicated their bodies to feed the tribe. This year she was newly a woman, and …

Don’t think about it.

She gazed around the camp saying a silent farewell to the familiar. Marc, Iro and Rog stood together, far from the fire’s warmth, their breath clouding white in the cold. She watched from the corner of her eye and matched her breathing to Marc’s.

“Daydreaming are you?” Luna took the spit from her hand.

Kayla blushed and stepped aside.

“Ola is waiting for you.” Luna’s frown revealed her jealousy.

Kayla struggled to keep her mind empty while Ola dressed her in fine skins. The old priestess was reputed to see what others were thinking, and terrible punishment awaited those who defied tribal rules.

“Don’t be fearful, Kayla. You are blessed. Tonight, when the moon is high, the shaman will take you to the sacred caves.” Ola’s words, spoken in kindness, fell like stones on Kayla’s heart.

Her father was an artist, one of the few tribesmen allowed in the caves. He’d told her about the pictures, the star map that guided travelers and the animals that beseeched the spirits for a successful hunt. He’d drawn star maps on the ground and showed her the beasts that lived in the sky, but he never spoke of the priestesses who lived there.

When Kayla was chosen, her mother had wept at the honor, but her father showed no joy. The next time they were alone, he’d told her about warm and fertile lands that lay across the great water. Many hunters had set sail, following the star maps, but few returned. The shaman had decided the trip was too perilous, and now it was forbidden.

Ola finished braiding her hair and escorted her back to the fire. Lines of tribesmen spiraled away from the warmth. Flames reflected amber on their hungry faces. Artists came first followed by toolmakers, hunters, women suckling babies, and lastly the other women. Children ate with their mothers.

Kayla took her place at the very front. Moments later, a procession moved down the hillside; the shaman had finished his fasting and prayers. He blessed the roasted reindeer then sliced the smallest with his long blade and offered the choicest part to Kayla. Only after she’d been served did the elders step forward to receive their portions. They carried their food to the sacred table, and the young women served the other member of the tribe.

Kayla ate sparingly. Marc would do the same, and he would hide food in his clothes, as would Iro, Rog and their women. When the bones had been picked clean and the rest of the tribe lay heavy with meat, they would be swift. Later, the meat they’d hidden would sustain them until they reached the great water where fish swam in shoals.

The shaman had finished eating. Ola signalled that it was time. Kayla walked toward the huts where she was to make her final preparations. As soon as she left the fire’s light, she changed direction and began running. Marc met her by the rock where she’d hidden warmer clothes. She changed quickly, and they raced to the river, where the others waited.

“Hurry.” Iro pointed toward the camp. Dots of light spread out from the fire, torches moving up the hillside and down toward the huts but not toward the river—not yet. “They’re already looking for her.”

Nila, Rog’s woman, was with child and would slow them down, but with this head start, they’d reach the boats hidden where the river’s ice became water. The river would carry them to the great water. The star map in Kayla’s head would guide them to the new land.

Eleven moons, two deaths and one birth later, two small boats entered the bay that one day would be called Chesapeake. Gentle waves rocked their boats. The motion soothed Baby Dora, who’d been howling since being removed from her mother’s breast so that Nila could pull in a net filled with fish.

“Do you want your child to be born here?” Rog said.

“Our child will be born here whether Marc approves or not.” Kayla rubbed her swollen belly. Already, it had begun to tense and release in the rhythm of birth.

They beached the boats and constructed a shelter of bent saplings and the skins they no longer needed for warmth. That night they enjoyed the plenty that this land provided. They thanked the spirits for their generosity and asked that blessings in the afterlife be bestowed upon Iro and Joa who’d disappeared when their boat capsized in icy waters. The next day, as the sun poked its first rays into the sky, Kayla gave birth to a son.

Bio: Writing is Patricia Dusenbury’s second career. In her first, she was an economist who wrote numerous reports that peoples’ jobs required them to read. Now, she writes mysteries to entertain readers and, perhaps, atone for all those dry documents. Uncial Press e-published Patricia’s first three books, which are now also available in hard copy. A Perfect Victim was named 2015 Best Mystery by the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC). Secrets, Lies & Homicide was a finalist for EPIC’s 2016 best mystery and a top ten mystery in the Preditors and Editors Readers’ poll. A House of Her Own was nominated for a RONE award and is entered in the 2017 EPIC contest. A member of the Sisters in Crime NorCal chapter, Patricia lives with an aged Malamute on a very steep hill in San Francisco.
More information about Patricia’s writing is on her webpage PatriciaDusenbury.com. She is on Facebook as Patricia Dusenbury and on Twitter as PatriciaDusenbu.

In Praise of Short Stories by Patricia Dusenbury

Reading short stories is like cruising a buffet. Try a bit of this and a bit of that, experiment with new things. If you find something you love, go back and fill your plate—i.e. read a novel by the author. Or keep nibbling on this and that, enjoying the variety.

Just as the buffet—quick and efficient with lots of choices—fits well into modern life, so do short stories. Do you ride mass transit? Look around, everyone glued to their phone is not chasing Pokémon creatures. Do you go to the gym? I’m not coordinated enough to read on a treadmill, but others are. Your colleague, reading while she grabs a quick sandwich at her desk? Could be a short story.

On the other side of the pen, a short story offers writers a chance to try something new and different, to experiment without investing the chunk of time a novel takes. My novels are about mysteries and relationships. My short stories are all over the place. Part 2 of this post is an adventure story inspired by Paleolithic cave paintings. Anthropologists argue about who the amazingly sophisticated artists were and where they went. I wondered if maybe…

Short stories are defined by length (duh) with under 750 words usually called Flash Fiction and over 15,000 words pushing novella. Perhaps the shortest story, certainly one of the saddest is, “Baby clothes for sale, never worn.”

Can you compose a story—mystery, romance, sci-fi, whatever—in ten words or less? Submit your story as a comment and you’re in a lottery to win a copy of Black Coffee, a newly-released collection of twenty-three short mysteries noir. Edited by Andrew MacCrae, Black Coffee includes my excursion into the dark side, Nor Death Will Us Part.

Bio: Writing is Patricia Dusenbury’s second career. In her first, she was an economist who wrote numerous reports that peoples’ jobs required them to read. Now, she writes mysteries to entertain readers and, perhaps, atone for all those dry documents. Uncial Press e-published Patricia’s first three books, which are now also available in hard copy. A Perfect Victim was named 2015 Best Mystery by the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC). Secrets, Lies & Homicide was a finalist for EPIC’s 2016 best mystery and a top ten mystery in the Preditors and Editors Readers’ poll. A House of Her Own was nominated for a RONE award and is entered in the 2017 EPIC contest. A member of the Sisters in Crime NorCal chapter, Patricia lives with an aged Malamute on a very steep hill in San Francisco.
More information about Patricia’s writing is on her webpage PatriciaDusenbury.com. She is on Facebook as Patricia Dusenbury and on Twitter as PatriciaDusenbury.

Fragments of Dimension by Monica Brinkman

 

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 “Frankie! Come here boy.” Jennifer inhaled three whistles before continuing. “It’s me sweetie. It’s mama.”

The short-haired Fox Terrier’s ears perked, nose pointed forward sniffing for familiar scents. Finding none, he cocked his head, circled the corner and lay down, now content on licking the dust from his paw.

If only I’d been more careful, thought Jennifer. She recalled the first time it had happened. She was sitting on the sofa watching the dust twirl, dance and sparkle within the beam of sunlight pouring through the open window. It occurred to her that the sparkles weren’t actually dust particles at all but tiny dots of glimmering rays, each separated by a minuscule space of darkness. When she looked deep into the empty spaces, she found herself drawing closer to the light.  Yet her body was motionless and seated on the sofa, content on staring into the rays, not moving a muscle.  The emptiness drew her further and further into its space. The nearer she came, the wider the darkness opened as it pushed the shimmer and glittering particles of sunshine to the side. She felt the darkness widen taking over the entire area of the sunbeam and in an instance, the empty space sucked her into another dimension.  She soared above the sofa at will and as soon as she had felt fear, bam, she was back in her living room on the sofa.

Often, she had focused on the empty space, the darkness between the light. She recalled that in school they had taught her nothing is solid; there is always space between the molecules holding items or she supposed, even people, together. Somehow, she had mastered the ability to enter into the between and experience a dimension where the body was lighter than air and could float across space and time. So addictive a game it was and such fun that all fear of the unknown ceased and the incidents became more a habit than an exception.

Now she had gone and done it.

Jennifer pressed her Miren shaped nose against the hard surface of the window-like substance. She had not yet decided what it most resembled. The color was not as clear as glass for it portrayed a pearl-like radiance that changed color according to the angle one peered, altering from a soft glaze of white to an intense shade of gray.  Little flecks of light burst from its interior, rather as those of fireworks, but much tinier in circumference.  Somehow, none of these oddities interfered with the clarity of vision. She could make out every single object or being through this odd looking glass.

The surface began to roll and ripple. Jennifer stepped back.  She watched with curiosity and alarm, as the ripple grew large, towered over her head and scooped her up. It formed a large bubble that encased her body. She cried out in terror. Her wails turned into cascading foam and fell liquidating under her feet.

The bubble lifted Jennifer into the air and through a tunnel of blackness.

Frankie jumped on the king sized bed and licked tears from Earl Hanson’s face. Animals have that innate ability to sense an owner’s despair. Earl knew it was foolish to think his daughter would appear after all, nine months had passed. He might be losing his mind, but at dusk, just when the final light of day shined through the windows, picking up bits of dust, which swirled through the air, he could swear he heard Jennifer’s voice crying out “Help me. Father help me.”

 

Bow Tie Judge by Kenny Wilson

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“All rise,” the bailiff bellowed.  “On this day of our Lord, August 4, 1997, face the flag of our country, recognizing the principles for which it stands; one nation under one God.  The District Court for the great State of Alabama, for the County of Cher-o-kee, Department One, the Honorable Beauregard T. Callahan, Judge presidin’, is now in session.  Be seated.”

I noticed that fat little judge walkin’ through a door ‘hind the bench while the bailiff did his hollorin’.  A red bow-tie was peekin’ out ‘a top of his shiny black robe.  It looked like a jewel on some fancy Hollywood lady’s neck.  Lord, I knowed this was trouble.  Pappy tol’ me: “Never trust no man wearin’ a bow-tie”.

There I was.  Wearin’ stripes an’ feelin’ weak from only eatin’ hot baloney and gravy top a’ slice a’ Wonder Bread.  Least Sundays they throw on an egg.  My head was throbbin’.  My hands was shaky too.  Not a drop a’ alcohol since bein’ jailed last week.  I weren’t in no mood for some bow-tied judge.

Junior Patton, sittin’ side me sweatin’ an’ stinkin’ like year ol’ possum grease, was the other prisoner in court.  We was walked ‘cross the lawn ‘tween the jail an’ courthouse chained like cat-fish strung on a line.  Deputy Atkins kept a twelve gauge at our backs.  You’d think we was murderers.

“Call the case of The People vs. Silas Fenstermacher, 0-7-3-1-9-9-7,” that sour ol’ clerk yelled.  An’ sho’ nuff, that clerk was wearin’ a yellar bow-tie.  ‘Least the re’ porter weren’t.  She was a nice lookin’ gal with legs comin’ out ‘neath a’ pink dress.  But I weren’t in no mood.

“You be Silas Fenstermacher,” the Judge asked, his jowls jigglin’ while his bug-eyes narrowed-in on me.  A fan on the wall ‘hind ‘em was on blowin’ a draft down his back.

“Yes, Sir,” I said, ‘fore the bailiff jerked me up by the collar.

“Stand up when addressin’ the Court,” he shouted in my ear.  “It’s ya’ ‘onor, not sir, inmate.”

“But y’all tol’ me to sit down,” I said.

I looked at that re’ porter to catch if I was right.  She kept on plukin’ on that machine ‘a hers.   Didn’t pay me no mind.

“My, my, ya’ ‘onor.  Looks like we got r’ selves a smart boy here,” the bailiff grinned, fixin’ to bash my skull with his stick.

I tried standin’ full-up but them wrist chains were so short I was yankin-up Junior’s hands.  Junior didn’t help none neither.  I was haulin’ up his lazy arms the whole time I was in front ‘a that judge.

“I’m only goin’ repeat myself once, Mr. Fenstermacher.  Are you Silas Fenstermacher?”

“Sorry sir, ah, I mean judge, ‘er, I mean ya’’onor.  That’s me all right.”

“You been charged with a violation of Alabama Code Section 13A-6-68, Indecent Public Exposure, a Class A misdemeanor.  How do you plead?”

“But ya’ ‘onor, I was only peein’ ‘hind Smitty’s bar.”

“Mr. Fenstermacher, you got cotton in your ears?  How do you plead?”

“I don’t rightly know.”

Mr. Fenstermacher, you plead guilty or not guilty. Otherwise, I’ll lock you up another week to think on it. Now what’s your plea?

 

##

 

I heard tell ‘bout Beauregard becomin’ a judge.  He went to law school but worked as a disc-jockey ‘til Judge Curley, the one ‘lected ‘fore him, threw Leonard, Beauregard’s cousin, in jail.

Leonard was ‘cused a’ mo-lestin’ a Curley relation livin’ outside a’ town.  A feud ‘rose ‘tween the Curleys an’ Callahans.  The town was split even ‘bout whether Leonard did it.  Beauregard decided to run against Curley in the next ‘lection an’ won by three votes.

Anyways, I learned ‘bout mo-lestin’ sittin’ in jail.  Ol’ Junior was a real criminal, not a drunk like me.  He’d been sentenced to five years for rape a’ his fourteen year ol’ step-daughter.  At least she weren’t blood.   He was also facin’ charges in the federal court down in Birmingham for sellin’ illegal firearms.

I didn’t have no lawyer, but Junior did.  His name was Bobby Davis, a real smooth talker.  No one called him Lawyer Davis.  He was jus’ Bobby ‘cause a’ that baby face a’ his.  Bobby won last year’s bass tournament.  It don’t count for much though ‘cause  a’ his ad-vantage havin’ the best damn bass boat in North Alabama.  Cherokee County a-signed Junior’s case to Bobby.

Sound echoes off them jailhouse walls.  I could hear Junior an’ Bobby talkin’ a day ‘fore we was sent to court.

“Listen, Junior, I need help.  I’ve gotta’ tell Judge Callahan something good.  Give me anything.”

“Why shit, Bobby, I was drunk, passed out, don’t remember nuthin’.”

“Anything Junior.  We’ve got to change that sentence.  Did she entice you, come at you with her tits showing?”

“Listen Bobby, y’all know how it is.  Hot-blooded fourteen-year-olds is all hormoned-up an’ stuff.  She’s Elmira’s kid.  Growed-up jus’ like her Mama too.  Never saw a dick she wouldn’t suck.”

“Look, Junior, I’m trying to get your time put together with the federal sentence so you won’t serve two terms on top of each other.”

Hearin’ Junior and Bobby talk got me thinkin’; why don’t they ‘gimmie some silver-tongue like Bobby?   

Then a loud commotion on the second floor made it so I couldn’t hear ‘em anymore’.  A deputy was arguin’ with a’ colored inmate.  Us white boys was kept on the first floor ‘cause it’s cooler.  Course, even downstairs was scorchin’ hot in the summer.

Layin’ on my bunk I wiped sweat outta’ my eyes tryin’ to catch a nap.  It was too damn hot for sleepin’.  ‘Fore’ long though, I could hear ‘em talkin’ again.

“Listen, Junior.  There’s no statute of limitations on those federal charges.  The Feds want you to serve time with the state.  Then they’ll re-file the gun charges so you serve both terms in a row.”

“So soon as I finish in the state pen I’ll start all over again?  It ain’t fair, Bobby.  It jus’ ain’t fair!  That weren’t the deal when I plead.”

“That’s what I’m telling Judge Callahan tomorrow.  Now give me a little help.”

“Shit, Bobby, I don’t know nuthin’.”

“Common, Junior, there must be something.”

“Bobby, jus’ tell that judge it was her fault.  She’d been askin’ for it.  I’d been resistin’ temptation for months but the Devil got me drunk.  I been prayin’ to Jesus ever since.”

“Shit, Junior!  Judge Callahan won’t believe a word of that.”

“Then ‘least tell ‘em my soft county-cut was gentle on her insides.”

“I’d be careful with that one.  It’ll remind the judge about the trauma Dr. Mary reported.”

“That bitch!  If she was any kind of doctor she’d a’ knowed it was on account a’ my big dick.”

“Junior, the last thing the Judge wants to hear about is the size a’ your dick.

 

##

 

“Your plea, Mr. Fenstermacher, your plea,” the judge said, still waitin’ on me.

Just then Bobby walked in with Attorney Dunsmere, the D.A.  Dunsmere always wore the same ol’ seersucker suit.    It had tobacco stains on front a’ the jacket an’ shit stains on back a’ the trousers.

“Ya’ ‘onor,” I said.  “How come I don’t have a lawyer?  I want Bobby to be my lawyer jus’ like Junior.”

The judge smiled, real big.  “Very well,” Mr. Fenstermacher.  “You’re hereby re-manded to the Cherokee County jail for e-valuation of your eligibility for a lawyer pro-vided by the county.  See y’all in a week.”

Everyone was grinnin’, even the re-porter.  At least I got to sit back down.

The bailiff whispered behind me: “you stupid drunk, he’d a’ given you time served for pleadin’ guilty.  Besides, only special criminals get free lawyers, an’ you ain’t special.”

That bow-tie judge never let on ‘bout time served an’ free lawyer rules.

“Calling the case of The People vs. Junior Patton, Case number 0-4-4-1-9-9-7,” the clerk yelled.

Bobby an’ Lawyer Dunsmere stood up.  Junior didn’t have to budge off his butt.

“Permission to approach, your Honor,” Bobby said.

The attorneys walked up to the judge all friendly like.  The clerk was shufflin’ papers an’ the re’ porter put her notebook on a table an’ went outside for a smoke.

The bailiff kept eyein’ me while he poured water in the glasses on the lawyer table usin’ a pitcher with a broke handle.  He wiped his forehead on his sleeve then went ‘hind the bench an’ ad-justed the fan to blow down on the lawyers too.

The lawyers was huddled in front a’ that bench yackin’ up a storm.  That bow-tied wearin’ judge’s face got redder than a baboon’s ass.  He slammed his fist on the bench.  “Junior is pre-vert’,” he said, “but he’s a son of Alabama!  The Feds are playin’ with us.  I hereby commute Junior’s sentence to time served.”

Then it was over.  The bailiff unchained that pre-vert sentenced to five years an’ lookin’ at gun charges to boot.  Bobby put his arm ‘round Junior an’ walked him right outta’ that courtroom.

Deputy Atkins walked me back to the jailhouse in chains, for a pissin’crime.

Jus’ my luck.

a

Kenny Wilson is an attorney who writes to clear his head. His work is seldom published, but we can report that one of his stories is included in the Chase Entertainment’s soon to be released anthology The Nettle Tree.

 

What would you do if he knocked on your door? By Bonnie Hearn Hill

lucas“It’s me,” said a quiet voice.” 

His name wasn’t Lucas, the way it is in my novel, Goodbye Forever. His name, he said, was Joshua. I can tell you that because it turned out to be a lie.

He stopped by my house one spring morning as I picked up the newspaper from my front lawn and asked if I knew where the elementary school was. I told him I did.

“Could you give me a ride?” he asked. “I’m late.”

I’m a sucker for little kids, and I live in one of the safest neighborhoods in our Central California community. Without thinking about it, I said, “Sure. Get in,” and we drove the two blocks to his school.

He asked about the make of my car. I told him.

“That’s nice,” he replied in a soft voice.

I took a second look at him. An impeccably put-together little guy, right down to his dark, carefully gelled hair, he smiled back at me.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Joshua. What’s yours?”

“Bonnie. How old are you?”

“Ten. I’m in the fifth grade.” I pulled in front of the school. “It’s Friday,” he said. “Snack bar. Could you loan me a dollar?”

He had already spotted the one in my change tray. I handed it to him.

As he headed toward the school, my phone rang, and my best friend asked why I wasn’t at home so that we could go to the gym as planned.

“I was driving a little boy to school,” I said.

“Are you out of your mind?” she shouted. “He could have an older brother. He could be setting you up for something. What were you thinking?”

I’m not sure what I was thinking.

That Saturday, when I spoke to a local writing group, I told them my story. I was trying to make the point that plots aren’t as important as what the writer brings to them.

“So,” I said, “if this were your story, how would you finish it?”

They made my point by coming up with answers as different as they were.

“He disappears, and the last person he was seen with was a woman driving a car like yours.”

“He gets out, and you realize you have driven into a Twilight Zone 1950s small town with no way out.”

“He was a figment of your imagination. You were trying to heal from some kind of crisis and invented this kid to help you do that.”

“It’s a horror novel. He’s bait to bring home dinner, and you’re it.”

They proved my point. Everyone took the initial event and made it their own story. They also warned me to be careful with my own real-life story.

“Next time, he’ll ask for five dollars,” one of them said.

“Or fifty,” added another.

The following Monday was so fragrant with spring air that I opened my front door and let the breeze drift through my security screen. As I worked in my study, someone knocked on the screen door.

“It’s me,” said a quiet voice.

I walked to the door, and there stood Joshua.

“I’m late for school again,” he said.

“Does your mom know you’re here?”

“Sure.” His grin grew wider. “It’s fine with her if you drive me.”

“Then let’s just call her, shall we? Just to be sure.”

“Never mind.” He began to back up. “That’s OK.”

“Because you didn’t talk to your mom.” I opened the door and raised my voice. “Did you?”

“No.” He turned and began to run.

What if he had knocked on the wrong door? I asked myself. He could be in danger, and I couldn’t forget this until I saw it through. Because I had no choice, I called his school. When I described what happened, the school secretary said, “I know the kid you’re talking about.” She emailed me his photo, and a little boy with enormous eyes and carefully gelled hair smiled up at me.

“That’s Joshua,” I said.

“It’s not his real name,” she told me, “but he is in fifth grade. He’s been stealing food and money from other kids, although his family is well off. This is the first time we heard of him knocking on doors in the neighborhood.” She paused and added, “He just walked in. The counselor’s taking him to the principal’s office right now.”

That was the last I heard of Joshua. After two years, I haven’t seen him again, although one Halloween I did hear a knock on my door and a soft voice saying, “It’s me.”

Did I invent the sound out of the many voices of children in my neighborhood that night? Was it another kid trying to coax me out of one more treat? Was it Joshua?

What would you do if he knocked on your door?

I wrote a book.

The kids in that book—a novel—didn’t get the help they needed. I hope Joshua did.

* * *

Bonnie Hearn Hill writes suspense tied to social issues. GOODBYE FOREVER is the second in the Kit Doyle series. It’s about a Sacramento, CA crime blogger who goes underground as a runaway teen.

The Corpsman by Kenneth Weene

a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You ain’t coming,” he says again.

“Yeah, I am.”

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

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

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

“Where the hell are they?”

“Sneaky bastards”

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

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

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

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

His eyes clouded. He was someplace else.

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

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

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

What do you mean?

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

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

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

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

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

I laughed. He smiled wanly.

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

“So ask, Doc.”

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

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

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

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

He stopped moving, sat still and looked at me.

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

Nothing.

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

“I’m working on this guy,” I say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again his hands are flying around.

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

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

I nod yeah.

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

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

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

“What the fuck?” I ask.

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

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

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

b

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is it?”

“I don’t know. Ask him.

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

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

“Yeah. And I still am. Who…?”

“A corpsman?”

“Yeah. But…”

“And you served in Vietnam?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Christmas by Diane Piron_Gelman

“At 70 years old, if I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to use the words ‘fuck off’ much more frequently.” —Helen Mirren

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” —Robert Frost

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” —Mark Twain

“Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” —Elmore Leonard

“Only connect.” —E. M. Forster, Howard’s End

And, please, enjoy the Christmas story that follows …

candles

It’s still dark out when Annie wakes. She didn’t mean to fall asleep. She meant to stay up all night, or at least long enough to hear reindeer hooves on the sloping roof of her house. The chimney is closest to her room—she eyeballed it Christmas Eve morning, just to make sure. If only she could’ve stayed awake. She imagines how the reindeer might have sounded. Little pitter-patters, like rain.

Her clock says five a.m., squarish numbers glowing in the dark. She sits up, keeping her puffy comforter close around her so the cool draft only hits her back, and peers out the window near the foot of her bed. It’s getting lighter, isn’t it? It’s not her imagination, the dark sky is starting to fade to silver-gray. Morning is here. It just needs time to catch its breath. Soon it’ll be here for real, and they’ll all be downstairs, her and Joel admiring the Christmas tree while Dad makes pancakes and Mom—

A soft knock comes at her door. Then Joel’s voice, hushed: “Annie?”

She scoots out of bed, the comforter wrapped around her like a princess cloak, her favorite stuffed lamb tucked in the crook of one arm. “Coming.”

#

Joel sits next to Annie at the top of the stairs. The staircase leads down into the dim grey shadow-light of too-early-for-Christmas-presents. Joel wishes it would hurry up and get lighter. Beside him, Annie stirs under her pink-striped comforter. “I wish we could go down now,” she says. “I want to see Santa!”

“He’s not there.” Joel wishes he’d brought his own comforter, with the baseballs and mitts on it. His bathrobe doesn’t feel warm enough, even though he can hear the bump of the furnace kicking on. “Santa starts at the North Pole, remember. He covers North America first. We’re pretty early on his route.” He tells himself this every year, to banish the sneaking dread he doesn’t dare confess to his little sister. She’d laugh if she knew he was scared of Santa Claus. No self-respecting twelve-year-old boy should even still believe in Santa, and most days this year, he didn’t…until he woke up this morning just before five, and heard the subtle little noises their old house always makes, and couldn’t shake the sudden conviction that the Jolly Old Elf was lurking around downstairs. Jolly. Hah. What’s jolly about a guy who knows what you’re doing every minute, and you can’t even spot him?

Santa is the spirit of giving. That’s what makes him real. The thought comes in his mother’s voice, clear and sweet and so vivid it’s almost audible. He huddles deeper into his bathrobe, tight around a cold empty feeling he doesn’t want to admit to. Annie holds out a corner of her comforter. “You can share my princess cloak,” she says.

“Thanks.” He drapes half the comforter over himself. Annie nestles in, like a puppy. Sadness washes over him, and he shuts his eyes tight. Annie shouldn’t see him cry. She’s only six. This Christmas, this first one After, will be hard enough for her. He’s her big brother. Mom asked him to look out for Annie, and he will. Right now, though, it feels like his little sister is looking out for him.

#

Annie leans against Joel, both of them wrapped up warm in her princess cloak. She can hear the house talking to itself, see the dimness downstairs ebbing like waves on the lakeshore in summer. Mom used to take them to the lake, Before. But now it’s After, and Mom is gone. The thought leaves a hole in Annie’s heart where Mom used to be. Sitting here now, with her big brother next to her trying hard not to cry, she has a glimmer of how—maybe—to help him out.

She nudges his shoulder. “Race you to our stockings in…what time is it?”

He swallows hard, opens his eyes, checks his watch. “Five-thirty.”

She screws up her face, trying to remember how long it is until six a.m., the earliest they’re allowed to go downstairs and start Christmas. “Half an hour?”

He looks at her, with a grin that’s almost like the one she remembers, even though his eyes are wet. “Sure, Annie Banannie. I’ll race you.”

“Don’t forget ‘on your mark, get set.’”

“I won’t.” He ruffles her hair. “I won’t forget anything. I promise.”

She finds his other hand beneath the comforter and slips her own into it. He squeezes and keeps hold. Together in the silence, they wait for Christmas Day to begin.

 

  1. M. Pirrone, aka Diane Piron-Gelman, writes mystery, historical and general fiction when she isn’t editing manuscripts, reading out loud into a mic, watching endless episodes of Farscape with her husband, or teaching her two boys how to fend for themselves in our crazy mixed-up world. http://www.dmpirrone.net/

 

Culture Clash

P1010111

This story is part of a longer piece about the misunderstandings when people or beings of different cultures and abilities must work together.

 

Characters:

Miss. Elizabeth – the president’s daughter who is working on her doctorate promoting education in primitive rural areas.

Miss Emily – one of the younger students recently moved to the mountains.

T’VN – a local youth from the mountains. He is illiterate and has little experience with outsiders.

Ophelia and Lizzy – sisters born to a white standard poodle and a Samoyed dog. Ophelia is Miss. Elizabeth’s companion. Lizzy is now living in the mountains with Emily.

 

Culture Clash

Miss Elizabeth stayed three days in the mountains. Emily tagged after her whenever she could. Miss Elizabeth even allowed the child to ride in the van to visit two other settlements that did not have schools. While Miss Elizabeth felt happy to have Emily with her, she did not appreciate the adolescent T’VN tagging along. His father had puffed himself up and insisted that as the most prominent family in the region, his son should represent them so the villagers would know the family consented to Elizabeth’s plan. To Elizabeth who had grown up witnessing the conflict between her father and the oligarchs who thought they should control the country, this decision irritated her. She understood that taking a local person with her would be a good idea and had planned to take Hannah or N’RA. She sighed, “Perhaps the arrogant lad would learn something.”

After making arrangements for the van to pick up students in each village twice a week for lessons, Elizabeth’s party drove toward home. Elizabeth put her arm around Emily.   “Sweetheart, I’m so glad you came today. You did a great job reading your story to the other children. I think you helped the parents see the advantage of educating girls and showed that our school staff takes good care of our children.”

Emily melted with happiness. The praise gave her the courage to voice something that troubled her. “I don’t like T’VN. Martha says he only flirted with her because he loves our truck.   Now he is flirting with you when Mr. Thomas is your husband.”

Miss Elizabeth laughed and whispered back, “Don’t worry about him. I don’t think he will try to touch me. If he does, I will teach him his mistake, if Ophelia,” she smiled at her large dog, “doesn’t get to him first.” The woman and child shared a giggle before Elizabeth added, “I think you need a room for a gym in your house so you can all practice your moves.” They giggled again.

As the situation played out, it proved that Emily had some wisdom for her age. Elizabeth took only one bodyguard, Lt. Chun, when she visited High Valley that evening to talk about the students needing someplace to study and read. She finally concluded, “Just a battery light by their bed will help. I will add providing one battery powered light per household to my list of things rural children need in order to keep up in school. Perhaps the Ministry of Education can provide that.”

Elizabeth needed to walk from the meeting place at the spring back to the truck waiting on the other side of the pass. She had Ophelia with her. Lizzy joined them just as Elizabeth stood to leave and the two dogs greeted each other joyfully. Delighted with a chance to play together, the dogs danced twenty feet in front of Elizabeth. One of the village elders trailed after her asking Lt. Chun questions about the army. Thus, Lt. Chun dropped behind Elizabeth for a few seconds at the top of the pass.

Things could not have worked out better for T’VN, or so he thought. He had convinced himself that Miss Elizabeth loved him.   Never in his life had a woman treated him so sweetly. Visions of her wealth and beauty danced in his head. He knew that the minute he kissed her she would fall into his arms and pledge her undying love. He’d imagined this so many times that he came to believe that every time she smiled at a child, or her dog, or one of her friends, she was secretly smiling at him, encouraging him.

He lurked in the dark by the trunk of a Scrubnut bush. He’d prepared a bed of ferns under the bush where they would consummate their love. Under his starry eyed fantasies, he nurtured a firm resolve to make this woman his, now.

Elizabeth reached the top of the pass and turned to say something to LT. Chun. T’VN saw Elizabeth pause to look behind her.   He knew she waited for him.   He stepped forward to wrap his arms around her. “My love.”

Elizabeth chose a move that involved elbows, feet and knees. Her master called it Dancing Goat.

All hell broke loose, or so T’VN thought. Something whirled into his chest at the same moment his leg flew up from under him. While he was off balance white demons attacked, throwing him into the Scrubnut. He woke up an hour or so later in the bed he’d made to share with his love. His nose bled, and he hurt in places no man should hurt. His clothes felt damp and smelled of pee.

Poor T’VN couldn’t imagine what had gone wrong. The idea that a girl had beat him up could never gain entrance into his head.   He thought about the problem for three days before confiding to his papa and grandpapa. “I have thought and thought about the attack on me. I think we have evil spirits at the top of the pass.   Perhaps they came for the president’s daughter, and I got in their way. Should we talk with the priest?”

As the next full moon started its descent from the sky, the shaman and High Valley elders crept silently to the top of the pass. Each man carried a smoking sheaf of grain for protection. The shaman had a small bell and each elder carried an instrument made of two pieces of wood that clacked when shook. At the top of the pass, T’VN pointed out the place of the attack. Searching the area by moonlight, one elder found the demon’s nest of ferns under the Scrubnut. The Shaman sniffed the air in every direction and affirmed that the demons lurked in this place and indeed evil spirits surrounded them.

With faces set in concentrated scowls the men began their ceremony. They walked slowly in a circle clockwise blowing on their smoking grain to spread the smoke. At the end of the first circuit, the shaman rang his bell, and the elders clacked their sticks three times. Next, the elders walked their circle counterclockwise while the shaman chanted. At the end of the circle, the Shaman rang his bell and the elders clacked their sticks three times.   After seven circles clockwise and seven counter clockwise had been completed the Shaman stood in the middle of the circle sniffed toward the four points of the compass and pronounced the evil demons gone. The men continued to chant quietly while they marched back to their homes.

 

Bio:  Delinda McCann is a social scientist with a background in working with at-risk youth. She has published 6 novels that focus on the foibles of the human race and their furry friends. http://delindalmccann.weebly.com/

A Siren’s Guide to Puberty by Cody Wagner

 sirens-2-meme-come-back-cropped
My humongous boobs appeared from out of nowhere the morning of December 1st.  Sure, Mom had been saying, “My little Coriander is becoming a woman,” for months. But I didn’t think it would happen so fast. The night before, I had mosquito bites where my chest should have been. Suddenly, and from out of nowhere, I sprouted giant handfuls of breasts.

 

I also woke with a funny warmth in my throat. It didn’t hurt, but my voice definitely didn’t feel “normal”. It’s like someone had wrapped a heating pad around my tonsils. I didn’t think much about it, though, at least not yet. A minor tingling in my larynx took a definite backseat to the emergence of chesticles.

 

OK enough about my boobs. That has nothing to do with what happened. But puberty did, so it’s all connected.

 

I walked to class at Sam Houston Middle School that morning, a little disappointed no one was staring at my chest. It shouldn’t have been a surprise; I was the resident nobody. I’d have given weeks of lunch money for a bully to knock me around. Invisibility was my superpower.

 

I doodled my morning classes away, oblivious to the tingling in my throat. The vertical symmetry of hearts coupled with their horizontal asymmetry intrigued me, so they littered my notebook. It had nothing to do with love, trust me. The boys in my grade were nasty. Besides, they didn’t even know I existed. I didn’t care. Art was more important. And choir.

 

Believe it or not, singing ruled my life more than hearts. I wouldn’t listen to music I couldn’t mimic. No rap or guy singers or sopranos. Only deeper rich altos. I belted Etta James for hours. Maybe some gene lying dormant in my cells and knowing what I would become spawned this love of music. Or maybe I was a bona fide choir nerd of my own choosing.

 

Either way, I sprinted into the choir room right after lunch. Pretending I hadn’t run myself out of breath to be the first one in, I made my way to the boxes.

 

Each of us had a neatly labeled wooden box containing our music. December had arrived and it was Christmastime. Panting, I reached inside to see what we’d be learning for the holidays.

 

The box held two pieces: Everyone Bow Down and Silent Night. Everyone knew Silent Night, so I shoved it back in and walked to the risers holding the other piece. Mrs. Addison, our music teacher, played something on a grand piano and didn’t acknowledge me. I flopped down and pored over the music.

 

By the time everyone had arrived, I knew most of the song. My jaw clenched with determination. I would be the most prepared singer. I would stand out.

 

“Let’s warmup.” Mrs. Addison stretched her abnormally long fingers and played various scales. I used my diaphragm support and tried putting vibrato into my voice, just like I’d been practicing for weeks.

 

We finished without incident (meaning no one commented on my mature sound) and Mrs. Addison said, “Did everyone get the new songs?” When we nodded, she continued, “Good. Let’s open Everyone Bow Down.”

 

I shot to my feet. Oblivious to my enthusiasm, she said, “Let’s practice just the first page.”

 

At that, she stood, lifted a thin baton, and conducted as we sang:

 

The King, The King is Coming,
To Bring Peace, To Bring Peace,
Everyone Bow Down.

 

Suddenly, all the guys except for two fell to their knees and reverently placed their heads on their thighs. The two boys left standing – both unpopular and nerdy – stared awkwardly around the room. I’m sure they felt utterly singled out again, as if everyone deemed “cool enough” was let in on surprise choreography.

 

A few of the cool girls giggled.

 

I rolled my eyes and thought, Very mature. How was I going to get noticed with the guys being stupid? However, I didn’t focus on that for long because the warmth in my throat erupted. I gripped my neck. The sensation didn’t hurt, but it was intense and foreign. Stiffening my legs, I mentally shook the feeling away; I needed to wow everyone, not obsess over warm tonsils.

 

Mrs. Addison smiled. “It’s great to see how much you love Jesus, but I want to make it through the song before my eighty cats starve to death.” OK that’s not what she said. But if Mrs. Addison could always ignore me, I could call her out on being the school’s cat lady.

 

The kneeling guys jerked up and began to look around, confused. One rubbed his head and said, “What happened?”

 

Mrs. Addison shook her head. “Very funny. Let’s sing.”

 

They glanced at each other and a few shrugged. I didn’t buy their little amnesia routine and ignored them until they grabbed their music and we all sang again:

 

The King, The King is Coming,
To Bring Peace, To Bring Peace,
Everyone Bow Down.

 

The same guys shot to their knees again. This time, the other girls about fell over laughing. I grabbed my throat. The warmth was more intense. The two boys still standing peeked at each other. I’m sure they were wondering if they should pretend to kneel. Anything to fit in with the stupid jocks.

 

 

Mrs. Addison clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention. “Enough. That’s the last time, OK?”

 

Only it wasn’t the last time.

 

We tried singing the song five more times. Five! Each time, the same guys fell to their knees. And each time, they acted all groggy after.

 

Mrs. Addison’s hands shook with rage. It was obvious the boys were showing off for the girls, but even Miss Popular Lindsay Thomas (or “MPLT” as I called her) threw her music and screamed, “Come on!”

 

Mrs. Addison slammed a hand on the piano and everyone jumped.

 

“That is IT.” She snapped her baton in half and pointed both pieces at us. “We’re singing solos until this stops.”

 

The class froze. Girls’ voices were young and wispy. Guys’ notes cracked all over the place. Being self-conscious tweens, everyone hated singing alone.

 

Except me. I sat up, excited. Finally. My chance to show how hard I’d worked.
“Lindsay, you go first.”

 

I guess it made sense for MPLT to start. If the boys were acting up for anyone, it was her. Still, I exhaled loudly, letting everyone know I wanted to go.

 

Lindsay stood up, trying to look cool. But her paper shook, betraying her nerves. Mrs. Addison raised a hand and Lindsay began to sing. When she made it to Everyone Bow Down, everyone froze and turned to the guys. Nothing happened.

 

“Finally,” Mrs. Addison said.

 

I stuck my tongue out at no one and pouted, figuring we were done with the solos.

 

But Mrs. Addison was still so pissed, she made the next girl stand up and sing. Again, the boys behaved. I didn’t care about that. I just wanted the chance to wow everyone. I imagined finishing my solo and everyone staring, mouth open. Mrs. Addison would clap and everyone would raise me up on their arms.

 

I shook away the fantasy and watched the procession of singers. As each girl stood, terrified, I drew a tiny heart with my finger, counting the people until it was my turn.

 

Finally, after six girls, Mrs. Addison said, “OK Coriander, your turn.”

 

I smiled and said, “I’m ready.” Then I held out my paper, on purpose, to show everyone my hands weren’t shaking.

 

She nodded at me. I felt the heat build, embraced it, and began singing in my smooth alto.

 

The King, The King is Coming,
To Bring Peace, To Bring Peace,
Everyone Bow Down.

 

The guys flew to their knees. This time, they moved so fast, I heard banging as their legs hit the risers.

 

A few girls covered their mouths. I jerked in surprise and, oblivious to the heat in my throat, started to seethe. Every single stupid shot I had to stand out was somehow ruined. I glared at the guys then turned to Mrs. Addison for help.

 

She looked at me, pure confusion on her face. Apparently, I was such a nobody, she didn’t think the guys would do this for me. After staring a few seconds, she composed herself and said, “It seems as if our boys aren’t mature enough to respect people.” She folded her hands. “Coriander, please go again.”
My heart bounced; I was getting another chance. And this time would be my best. I glared at the stupid boys, took my deepest breath ever, and began to sing.

 

The King, The King is Coming,
To Bring Peace, To Bring Peace,
Everyone Bow Down.

 

Knees hit risers again. Mrs. Addison growled in frustration.

 

Furious, I threw down my music and sang, “Leave me alone!”

 

That’s when my world blew up.

 

Every guy – except the same two nerds who hadn’t kneeled – took off. Most of them went for the door, crashing into each other in desperation to leave. Four eighth-graders raced to the windows. A heard creaks as the windowpane flew open. One-by-one they jumped.

 

A couple girls screamed. It was stupid because we were on the first floor and the windows were like five feet off the ground. Still, I admit my hands trembled. I had no idea what was going on but finally realized it had something to do with me.

 

Sweat running down my back, I put a hand over my vocal cords and turned to the front.
Mrs. Addison stood there, glaring at me. “Office. Now. And you better hope the boys return.”

 

The rest of the class stood paralyzed.

 

My brain was in another world and I didn’t even argue with her. Nodding absently, I shuffled out the door.

 

Tears should have flowed as I trundled to the office. Every scenario I’d ever imagined about being sent to the principal included mountains of tears. But I was so confused, I couldn’t cry. My subconscious knew singing the words, “Leave me alone!” would work. I don’t know how it knew, but it did. And the idea terrified me. I admit it excited me, too. I had done something straight out of X-Men comics. Talk about insane.

 

Stopping, I put a hand on my heart. The feeling in my throat seemed to reach out and grab my chest. I didn’t know what had caused all this, but I involuntarily looked down at my boobs. In that moment, I knew my invisibility cloak was gone forever.

 

About the Author

Cody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and create. He writes about topics ranging from superpowers to literate trees (really). His debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, “came out” on October 27th. See what he did there? Cody dealt with bullying as a teen and wanted to provide a fun escape for all the underdogs out there. He’s also handing out cookie dough to everyone who grabs a copy. Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at www.wagner-writer.com or find him on Twitter @cfjwagner, Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/wagner_writer, and Amazon at www.amazon.com/Cody-Wagner/e/B016NYGV40.

The Good, The Bad, and The Mexican By: Eduardo Cerviño

 

Secundino

Yesterday, by the time sunlight filtered through my office windows, I’d written the first three pages of a short story intended for this blog. Hunger made me stop and eat breakfast, which ended with a glass of grape juice.

As the burning star climbed a few degrees above the trees surrounding my home, the pale natural light began to turn golden yellow. The rays spilled over the treetops and awoke the Mexican bird of paradise on my patio. Its bright incandescent flowers opened up.

Warm light bathed me inside the dining room, passed through a stained glass partition, broke into a rainbow of primary colors, and tinted the carpet, the furniture and the wall

This time of the year, Arizona takes a breather from her customary hellish heat and turns into paradise.

I’d be a fool not to go out and enjoy the pleasant cool breeze.

Outside, the giant Saguaros and palm trees projected long striped shadows. I caught a fleeting glimpse of the cottontail rabbit family living under the cactus grove in my garden.

Overnight, yesterday’s clouds had melted into rain, and around my feet the morning dew created a shimmering blanket of liquid diamonds. Without a cloud in sight, the elegant palm tree canopies softly swayed against the sharp blue sky.

A cherry red Chevy truck entered my driveway. Secundino, the Mexican gentleman who has pruned my trees for the last eighteen years, alighted from the cab.

Buenos días,” he shouted, while removing his blue cap with a Ford decal. His broad smile showed two missing teeth.

Secundino’s onyx black hair is long and shiny with silver streaks over his copper colored ears. He walks straight and looks directly into one’s face with a determined stare. It’s not an arrogant look, but the frank open glance of a hardworking man whose ancestors built an empire with pyramids as majestic as the Egyptians built. Their capital city, upon a lagoon, rivaled The Serenissima Venezia.

“Don Eduardo, it’s time to trim the palms,” he said in the melodious Spanish accent from the state of Sonora. I have not been able to stop him from calling me “Don” Eduardo.

“That’s what they called my grandpa. Eduardo is enough for me.” I’ve said this to him lots of times to no avail. “Don Eduardo makes me feel older than I am.”

Each time he looked at me, bobbed his head up and down, and said: “Muy bien, Don Eduardo.”

“Okay, Secundino, go ahead. They are shedding leaves and pods over my neighbor’s gardens,” I said. We shook hands, and soon after he climbed up the sixty-plus foot high trunks and nestled himself among the frondose canopy. Enormous fan-like waxy green and brown fronds started flying over my head like free floating kites. I ducked for cover.

I watched with admiration. No one would believe he is seventy years old.

I started collecting the falling fronds, not because he expected my help, but because I, too, love the physicality of hard work, especially on a temperate day like this.

A passing SUV stopped by my house. I recognized the driver, a man past the prime of his life who lives facing the park a few blocks away and often walks his huge furry dog by my house. On occasion we chat if I happen to be outside. We have become more than acquaintances, but less than friends.

His house is opulent. An ample carport extends over the semicircular driveway. A second story overlook surveys the nearby mountains and palm trees in the back yard.

He joined me. Our conversation started with idle chat. We both kept talking with tilted up heads and eyes fix on the top of the palms and Secundino.

We grew tired of blowing air mindlessly. It was he who started talking about the politics of the day. At first his words went in one ear and out the other, until the underlying content of his words made them stay inside my head, like water rising up behind a dam.

As a child, Mother used to tell me, “Polite people don’t talk about religion, politics, or money.” Maybe that was the reason she was loved by so many people. She listened to me and everyone else with such intensity that we felt compelled to share with her our innermost worries. To Mother, time didn’t matter when she was consoling a human being. She engaged us in a Socratic conversation. We could talk to our heart’s content about our soul’s problems. She punctuated our diatribe with thoughtful monosyllabic comments, and suggestions. “Aha, I see, calm down, try to do this or that.”

Everybody left her side comforted, peaceful, and reborn. Needless to say, to my chagrin, I’m not like her.

This neighbor of mine kept talking faster than usual. He seemed agitated and started revealing his dehumanizing paleoconservative leanings. Something he said prompted me to ask, “Are you having business problems?”

My mistake. I had broken one of my mother’s politeness rules. His hate for the government in general, and President Obama in particular, spewed forth. His stereotypical political opinions increased the pressure against the imaginary brain dam inside my head.

“Doesn’t everybody these days? These unions are pestering me.” He stopped to light a cigarette, but could not stop venting his innumerable grievances against liberals, minorities, Muslins, and foreigners. I’m not sure if he made distinctions between legal or illegal ones. He loved the idea of a taller, longer, meaner wall at the Mexican border.

The man had fouled my morning, I wanted him to go away so I could decompress my head and reseed my thoughts with love.

“What can I do for you today, my friend?” I interrupted. “I want to get this done before noon.” I pointed at the fronds piling up at the foot of the palms.

“I saw what you are doing. The palms in my yard need pruning, too. I called the landscape company that takes care of my garden. But they said the palms are too high and they no longer can reach the canopy with their cherry picker. You think your guy can come by after he finishes here?”

I looked up and yelled in Spanish: “Secundino, do you want go to this cabron’s house and trim his palms later on?”

He was coming down from one of the palms. He stopped midway down the trunk and yelled back in Spanish. “Of course, Don Eduardo. Tell him thirty-five dollars each, and I can do them tomorrow early. I have two other jobs today.”

I said to my neighbor: “My Mexican friend says . . . and proceeded to translate Secundino’s words.

The man smiled. “Tell him I’ll see him tomorrow anytime.” He lowered his voice. “My landscapers used to charge me forty dollars.”

I felt relieved when he shook my hand and left. Secundino was now on the ground. He approached me while I was organizing fronds in manageable heaps.

“I guess the man doesn’t know what cabron means in Spanish,” Secundino said.

I had called my neighbor an old goat, to indicate to Secundino that he was not a good friend of mine. He understood and asked fifteen dollars more than he charged me.

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About the Author

Eduardo Cerviño Alzugaray, aka E. C. Brierfield, is the author of several novels and numerous short stories. His recent autobiographical novel, Cuba the Crocodile Island, is based on his internment in a forced Communist labor camp during the chaotic beginning years of Fidel Castro’s revolution. This is the reason why he published it under his family name, rather than his pen name.

A few of the characters’ names, except his own, have been changed to protect the identity of persons still residing on the island. Although many of the book’s characters have passed away, they are still present in the author’s memory. Some are remembered with enormous affection and others as a painful, if significant, part of the author’s spiritual growth, but none with rancor.

Thirty years after leaving the island, family issues brought the author back to Cuba.

While he stood in the Cathedral Plaza like any other tourist, a soldier approached him. After a few awkward moments, the officer identified himself as the lieutenant prominently described in this novel. His haggard appearance made him unrecognizable. He was inquisitive about the author’s life in the US. Satisfying his curiosity was a vindicating experience for the author. As the author attempted to pull away and continue his sentimental journey, the officer was reluctant to let go of his hand.

As an architectural designer, Eduardo has traveled extensively throughout the US, Europe, and Latin America. He has lived in several countries, but his principal residence has been in the US since 1968.

He resides in Arizona with his wife and writing collaborator, Les Brierfield.

The author appreciates with all his heart the time you have dedicated to reading his work.

You are invited to visit the author’s website:

www.ecbrierfield.com

To purchase Cuba the Crocodile Island, please visit

http://tinyurl.com/cubacroc