To Jump Off A Cliff

On July 30 of this year my 100 word story, To Jump Off A Cliff, was posted on The Drabble. They did a nice job with it.

“Jump off a cliff?” My wife was incredulous. “Thirty feet into a river? Are you nuts?” “No, I’m brave,” I tried to reason with her. “No, you’re an idiot,” she countered. “It’s just a bunch of macho BS.” Back and forth we argued, neither of us giving in. But she was adamant. And she was definitely right, I conceded, on the day I jumped, as I fell through the air, and the water rose up to meet me to slap me hard, so I wouldn’t forget.

Brotherly Love

My story, Brotherly Love, was posted at The Literary Yard today. I thought they did a great job presenting it. You can check it out by clicking on this link. Enjoy!

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Brotherly Love

We were walking home at sunset from the neighborhood rink, skates swings from the blades of our hockey sticks. Little Eddie was eight years old, younger than me by three years and smaller by a head and a half. He was revved up after the game since it was the first time he’d gotten to play with ‘The Big Kids,’ as he called us, so he was excited and talking a mile a minute while I ignored him, thinking about Christmas coming up in two days and wondering if our parents would call.

The temperature was near zero and we were getting cold, so I did something I never should have done. I had us take a short cut across the big pond that formed one edge of the boundary to the trailer park where our grandparent’s double wide was parked. The ice had recently formed, but I figured it’d save us ten minutes, so why not take a chance, being as cold as we were.

Cold but thirsty. We were eating handfuls of snow as we shuffled along, and I was watching a dozen or so crows flocking to roost in dead tree on the shoreline a hundred yards away, when suddenly the ice made a sickening sound and started to crack. I immediately thought of Eddie. If we broke through he’d be toast. He wasn’t the strongest swimmer in the world.

I put my hand out, “Stop.” I commanded, and for once my brother obeyed me. I was about to say, “Don’t move,” when suddenly the ice gave way and we plunged into the frigid water, sticks and skates flying. Eddie held onto me while I grabbed for the edge, but the ice kept breaking away until I lost my hold and slipped off, pulled under by the combined weight of our waterlogged clothes. We sank down, down, Little Eddie clinging to me in terror, bubbles streaming from his mouth. I thought for sure we were done for when miraculously my feet hit the mucky bottom.

The water was so muddy all I could see was opaque light from the hole above, but I figured we had a chance. I held Little Eddie tight, squatted down and then extended my legs fast like two pistons, shooting us upward. We broke through the surface, coughing and gasping. I tried to tread water, but my boots were so heavy I soon became exhausted. Worse, I started to lose my grip on Little Eddie, so I tightened my hold on him and slung my other arm over the edge of the hole, but the ice broke and we started to sink again. Panicking, I kicked my legs as hard as I could to stay afloat, breaking through more ice before I finally found some solid enough to support us. I hung on for dear life completely spent with no idea what to do next.

It was then I heard Little Eddie whimpering. He had turned his cold, wet face into my neck for warmth or comfort or both. He was even more terrified than I was. His raw fear jump started my will to save him. With a sudden surge of energy I didn’t know I had, I kicked and pushed and shoved with all my remaining strength until I was able to lever my nearly frozen brother up out of the water and clear of the hole. He lay panting and coughing while I hung onto the edge, fighting a losing battle with the unrelenting cold.

Slowly, Little Eddie began to revive until he was able to roll over and look at me, ice crystals forming on his wet clothes. “Rick, are you all right?”

“I’m freezing to death,” I told him, my teeth chattering. “You need to get help.”

“Won’t we get into trouble?”

These days, when we talk about that night, my brother’s statement always makes us laugh. Back then, though, our situation was too dire to be even remotely funny. I swore, “God damn it, Eddie, run and get help. Now. Fast.”

He scrambled to his feet, and even though his clothes were beginning to freeze solid like icy boards, he ran like I’d never seen him run before.

I’ll never forget waiting for him. Night had fallen completely and the temperature had become dangerously cold. My body had lost all feeling. My waterlogged boots and clothes threatened to drag me back under water at any moment. I passed into and out of consciousness as hypothermia took over. I wondered if I’d ever see my little brother again. With our parents both in prison for years to come, he was the closest family I had. Grandpa and Grandma did their best, but it wasn’t the same without Mom and Dad. Little Eddie…Well, he was my brother. We were family. We needed each other.

I finally passed out for good. I was slowly freezing to death when I thought I heard a voice. Was it my imagination? Probably. Then, I heard it again. What was going on? I forced my frozen eyelids open and saw Little Eddie. He’d returned with a neighbor who had called the police. But my little brother hadn’t waited safely off to the side like a prudent person would have done. Courageously, he had edged back onto the ice and laid himself out prone, extending his hand to me, “Here, Rick. Grab on.” Through the fog of my near unconsciousness, I followed his instruction. I reached for my brother and felt him grasp my hand.” I’ve got you,” he said. “Hold on.” And I did.

Behind him the neighbor was yelling at him to get away from the hole, but my brother ignored him. I couldn’t move or respond, but it didn’t matter. Little Eddie held my hand, whispered words of encouragement and stayed with me until help arrived. That’s what counted. Me and him, brothers to the end, safe and together. It was the best Christmas present I ever received.



Sketching Snowflakes

Even though this story was posted here in January of this year, Potato Soup Journal did a nice job posting it on their site. You can check it our here:

Sketching Snowflakes by James Bates

Sketching Snowflakes

Back then, back when he was just a gangly kid and before he became an artist, I felt I had a job to do – teach my son to be better at sports than I ever was. I’d been a second string jock during high school so on the day Joey was born I vowed to teach him how to play football, baseball, basketball and hockey better than I’d ever been able to. My underlying thought was that maybe one day he’d become a superior athlete, someone I could be not only proud of, but could also brag about to anyone who would listen. You can imagine my horror (or maybe not, but let me tell you, it was real) when Joey, try as he might, proved to be even less athletically gifted than his old man.

He was nine years old when, after pre-season hockey tryouts, the awful truth finally reared its ugly head. Joey dejectedly skated over to where I’d been watching from behind the boards and said, “Dad, I’m sorry, I really am. I’m trying, but those other guys are just way better than me.”

One look at the fluid motions of the other kids on the rink, skating comfortably backward better than Joey could ever skate forward, and I had to finally admit it – my son was not now, nor would he ever be, a hockey player. Which was his best sport. Football, baseball and basketball? Forget about it. The reality of the situation was painfully apparent. Joey would never be the star athlete I once imagined he’d be.

I swallowed my disappointment and put my arm around his thin shoulders, hugging him a little. “That’s okay, son. Really. Let’s head home,” I told him, trying to man up, along with beginning to adjust my game plan for him. Now that sports were out of the picture what could I get him interested in? Chess, maybe? Cribbage? Orienteering? I drew a blank. None of them sounded too exciting.

I went into the locker room with him while he changed out of his gear. When we sat on the bench, he unzipped his equipment bag and I saw a notebook.

I pointed, “What’s that?”

“Oh, nothing,” he shrugged. “It’s just my sketchbook from art class.”

“Art class? You’re kidding.” I hadn’t a clue. Having trouble drawing a stick figures, myself, I’d never once imagined he’d enjoy anything like painting or whatever.

He grinned, “Yeah, Dad, for my drawings. Here, let me show you.” He opened it. “Lately, I’ve been sketching snowflakes and winter scenes. I’m thinking about maybe using them for cards for the holidays. Tell me what you think.”

He lay the sketchbook on my knees and went about getting changed. I paged through his drawings, each one more impressive than the previous. He’d used what looked to be a pen and ink to create intricate snowflakes all with six pointed tips. Each one was unique and amazingly detailed. The snowflake sketches were followed by a series of charcoal drawings of winter scenes, mostly landscapes in the country, some with farmhouses, some with people, some with animals. One even had a horse drawn sleigh. He’d used colored pencils to make the scenes come alive with subtle tones of greens and browns and reds and blues. To my way of thinking they were utterly charming and made me think of those Currier and Ives calendars.

I turned to him, “Joey, these are amazing. How long have you been drawing like this?”

He laughed, “Ever since I can remember, Dad. Since I was a little kid.” Then he was quiet for a moment before adding, “Mom kind of got me started.”

Oh. Gail. My wife and Joey’s mother. She’d passed away four years earlier when he was only five. In many ways we were still coping.

I looked at him seriously. “These really are wonderful, son,” I told him.

“Thanks, Dad,” he said as we stood up to leave.

He grabbed his heavy hockey bag, hoisted it over his shoulder, tilting to the right a little under its weight, and started for the door. I held his sketchbook in my hands, aware that I was holding something special, something that really was what my son was all about, not just some sad, preconceived sports fantasy of his father’s. I suddenly had an idea. “Hold on a minute.” He stopped and I took the bag from him. (It really was pretty heavy.) “How about if on the way home we stop at Blick’s Art Supply and check out what they’ve got, maybe get you some supplies. What do you think about that?”

Joey picked up his hockey stick and looked at me questioningly. He knew how much I loved sports. “You sure, Dad?”

“Yeah,” I said, biting a metaphorical bullet, “Looks like we’ve got an artist in the family.”

Joey grinned as we walked to the car. His step seemed lighter, somehow, like a weight had been lifted, and I don’t just mean the equipment bag. It was good to see him so happy.

Next to the art store was a sporting goods exchange. We parked and while Joey went inside and looked around for art supplies, I went next door to see if I could sell his hockey equipment, which I did. Then I hurried next door to met him. But before I went inside I stopped a minute, looked through the window and watched as he perused the aisles, happily caressing the paints and brushes and sketchpads and canvases. He seemed in another world, one that he felt comfortable in. Natural.

I headed for the front door. Once inside, I’d get him to show me what all the art supplies were used for. Maybe I’d buy him an easel or something to get him set up properly for his art work. He was a good kid. I guess I had a lot to learn. It was time I started paying better attention.

Swing Dancing

Swing dancing night at the Long Lake Retirement Home. “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing,” sang the singer. Jerry could dig it as he sat off to the side in the community room, watching.  One of the orderlies had a boom box set up on a card table and was playing dance music from the thirty’s and forty’s. It was the best. In his memory Jerry could picture a long ago nightclub filled with sweaty bodies dancing up a storm, cigarette smoke swirling and the band wailing to the big beat of the drums and the thumping rhythm of the standup bass. He tried to contain himself but he couldn’t.

When the next song started he turned to his wife. “Let’s go cut the rug, Alice,” he said, standing up and reaching for her. “Let’s get on that dance floor and show them how it’s done.”

He grinned as she took his hand and stood with him, smiling. How wonderful she looked tonight, she in her blue and white checked poodle dress, looking like she was born for this, jitterbugging and jiving with him. Swing dancing. What a lucky man he was. He smiled, thinking this must be what heaven was like.

With Alice by his side, Jerry hurried out to the floor ready to dance like there was no tomorrow, ignoring the fact that it’d been fifteen years since Alice had been with him. Fifteen years, since she’d passed away from a valiant battle with  cancer. But tonight that was all forgotten.

The crowd watched awestruck as Jerry pivoted onto the floor and began jiving to “In The Mood,” by Glenn Miller, dancing up a storm, a smile as wide as the key board of a piano, as energetic as the wailing of a saxophone. They watched him there on the floor, lost in his memory of those long ago days, swing dancing across the floor with Alice, the love of his life, together again the way it should be, never wanting the music to end.

This story was posted on CafeLit, 8-11-19. You can view it here:

Frozen Fingers

My story, Frozen Fingers, was published by Simon Webster on his site, the Cabinet of Heed. It’s a nice posting and you can check it out by clicking on this link at this link. If you have the time, check out some of the other stories too!

Frozen Fingers – Jim Bates

Frozen Fingers

“Jerry, how are those matches holding up?” Steve asked, blowing on his frozen hands. “Can you get that kindling lit?”

“Shit, no,” Jerry swore. “I’ve got three left and I can’t feel my fingers. Can’t feel a damn thing.”

Those were not the words Steve wanted to hear. It was twenty degrees below zero. If they didn’t get a fire going soon, they were going to freeze to death.

Jerry fumbled lighting the match he was attempting to hold. It flared for a moment and then fell from his numb fingers into the snow, sizzled and went out. Two matches to go.

Next to them the rushing water of the Yellow Knife River cascaded over ice covered boulders on its way to Lake Superior ten miles to the east. Steve and Jerry had been on a winter hiking trip along the trail that ran high above the river when the ledge of snow they were on collapsed and they tumbled thirty feet down the steep slope into the frigid water below. In just seconds they were both not only soaked but numbingly cold. They scrambled out and found a level spot in the snow. Steve had sprained his wrist. It was up to Jerry to build the fire.

That had been fifteen minutes ago. A combination of wet stick matches and a wind swirling down the canyon walls made lighting a fire difficult. They’d built a small teepee of twigs and pine needles but getting it to light was proving next to impossible. With two matches to go, their prospects were grim.

Steve moved closer to Jerry. In a gesture of profound intimacy, he motioned to his friend, “Give me your hands.”

When Jerry balked, Steve said, “Don’t give me that macho BS.” He motioned again and said, softly, “Here, let me help.” Steve took his friend’s bare hands in his and, ignoring the pain in his wrist, drew them to his lips and blew on them, warming them with his breath.

After a minute, Jerry said, “That good. Thanks, man. They’re better. I can feel my fingers, now.”

He took the second match and struck it against the side of the match box. Nothing. It was too wet. On the second try it broke apart and fell to the snow.

The two men looked at each other. They were in their mid-thirties and had been best friend since grade school. Now it all came down to this. The sun was setting behind the pine trees lining the rim of the canyon. With the lack of sunlight the cold was settling in deep and hard.

Jerry took the last match, resolve set in his eyes. He looked at Steve. “Let’s do this.”

“Go for it, man,” Steve said.

Jerry struck the match. Both men watched, their lives hanging in the balance, as it flamed…flickered…then caught.

They quickly built a roaring fire. There was hope for them yet.


The Stink Of The Diesel

This 75 word story was posted 7-31-19 by Richard on Paragraph Planet

The stink of the diesel idling outside their apartment agitated the old man. His caregiver opened a vial of patchouli oil and wafted it under his nose. Instantly he calmed. A smile formed as he remembered the sixties, a tie-dyed hippie in love with life and a flower child named Sunshine. Who became his wife. And caregiver. She joined him on his lap and took a whiff, hugging him and mellowing out, grooving once again.