Bindweed Magazine – Patchouli Oil

Hi Everyone!

I’m thrilled that my drabble Patchouli Oil is featured in Bindweed Magazine. Enjoy!

https://bindweedmagazine.wordpress.com/2020/04/27/james-bates-fiction/

Here’s the drabble if you don’t want to use the link:

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 long-haired, tie-dyed hippie in love with life and a flower child named Sunshine. Who became his wife. And caregiver. He watched as Sunshine breathed in the scented fragrance and put a scratched Jefferson Airplane album on the old turntable. Then she joined him on his lap and held him tight while Don’t You Want Somebody To Love played. It was perfect.

Spillwords – Paradise

Hi Everyone!

I’d like to give a special shout-out to Dagmara for featuring my story today. Thank you so much!! https://spillwords.com/paradise/

Here’s the story if you don’t want to use the link:

Paradise

My wife and I were sitting in the living room reading and taking frequents breaks to check our phones to see what the recent news was with Covid-19. It was the beginning of the fourth week of the state imposed lock down and it already felt we’d been doing this for a year. We were gearing up for a long haul.

Suddenly Emily looked at me and frowned. I met her gaze, “What?”

“Bad news,” she said, grimacing.

It seemed like we were spending every minute of every day hearing about and talking about the pandemic. Bad news was becoming a way of life. “Someone we know have the virus?” I asked, my heart rate speeding up.

“Sort of. John Prine died.”

“Damn it,” I spat out, “I thought he might make it.”

We’d read the week before that he’d been infected. He’d been in poor health recently, but still…he was only seventy-three, my age. I loved him as singer songwriter and was sad to hear he’d passed on.

Emily shook her head, “Me, too.” She was quiet for a minute before saying, “He’d been in the ICU for eight days.”

“Shit,” I said, angry at the circumstances causing his death.

But then a song of his came into my head, Paradise, and I started to mellow out, suddenly at a loss for words, remembering the first time I’d heard his music. It seemed like it was only yesterday…

The year was 1971. I had returned from Vietnam in January and was working that summer as a dishwasher at Ken’s Cafe on the University of Minnesota campus. I’d just gotten back to the apartment after a ten hour shift and was sprawled on the couch smoking a joint when Tim walked in.

He held up a shopping bag, “Check this out.”

“What have you got?” I took a hit and offered it to him. He took a deep drag and held it in. “John Prine’s first album,” he said exhaling and coughing a little. “It just came out.”

He put it on the turn table and, given what we were doing at that very moment, we were hooked by the first song, Illegal Smile. We listened to the album about ten times that night, smoking and talking, digging the music and the words to his songs. We became immediate fans. So did our other two roommates, and it became a pattern that summer: coming home from work, smoking our dope and listening to John Prine. I even figured out the chords to the fifth song on the album, Paradise, and Tim and I sang it together sometimes while I played guitar. It was a memorable summer.

But then life got in the way. Early the next year Tim was convicted for resisting the draft and was sent to prison in Missouri. I drove down to visit him a few times but tapered off after I started going to college. We eventually lost touch. I heard later that he’d stayed in Missouri after he was released, met a woman named Sunshine and moved to a commune south of Eugene, Oregon.

I finished college with a degree in education and started teaching science in the Minneapolis school system. A few years later I met Emily while we were both working weekends at the North Country Coop. We married and built a life together, living in an older section of Minneapolis and raising three kids. I taught high school biology and Emily was a stay-at-home mom who also worked as a self-employed seamstress. It was a good life, and we had no reason to think we wouldn’t be able to live it out to the end of our days the way nature intended. But it turned out nature had other plans in the name of Covid-19.

That night, after we heard the news about John Prine’s death, we both went silent for a while. Emily had listened to his first album with her roommates when she’d gone to college and had wonderful memories of those times, much like me and Tim and our friends. The two of us listened to it when we first started dating, sharing a blossoming love for each other as well as John’s music, which became sort of a corner stone for our relationship.

After a while, Emily got up, crossed the living room and hugged me. “We still have his album around here somewhere?”

That old album had long since bit the dust. “Remember? It was pretty beat up,” I told her. “I had to replace it with a CD. It’s downstairs.”

“Why don’t you try and find it?” she said and kissed me again.

I went down to my workroom and rifled through my stash of albums and CD’s. It didn’t take long to put my hands on what I was looking for and I hurried back up stairs, holding the scratched jewel case out for her to see, “Found it.”

Emily’s bright smile took away some of my sadness. She still made me happy just by being around her. “Let’s have a listen.”

“Sure. You bet.”

We had a little boom box under an end table in the far corner of the living room. I put the CD in, started it and joined Emily on the couch. We listened all the way through, both of us quiet, lost in our memories of way back then.

When it was over, she ran her fingers through my hair and asked, “Didn’t you used to play that song, Paradise?”

I grinned. “Yeah, but not very good.”

“Do you think you could you play it now?”

I knew what she was asking. She was asking if we could go back to those earlier years when life was simpler and we were first falling in love and didn’t even begin to think about something like a pandemic and the possibility of people we knew dying.

“Sure, ” I said. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

I went downstairs and got out my old martin, tuned it and brought it back to her. I played the song while Emily listened and hummed along,

Daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County, down by the Green River where Paradise lay.”

            “I’m sorry my son but you’re too late in asking. Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.”

Then I played it again.

“Thanks,” she said when I finished. “That was nice.”

I went downstairs and put my guitar away. When I came back she was on the phone. “Who are you talking to?” I asked.

She covered the mouthpiece, “Jason.” We talked to our kids every day, now that the pandemic was so prevalent.

“Let me talk to him when you’re done.” Jason was our oldest son.

And she did. In fact, we talked to all three of our kids that night, and our grandchildren, too, giving everyone in our family our love and best wishes for them to be safe and well. It seemed like the right thing to do.

There was a pandemic going on and people were dying. We were all trying to survive. I felt that if John Prine was alive he might have done the same thing, call his family and tell them he loved them, maybe even write a song about it. It might have been a little thing, but it made perfect sense. And coming from him, that song would have helped make things a little less crazy. In fact, I’m sure of it.

When we were doing talking on the phone I went back downstairs and got John’s CD, thinking that we might want to listen to it again. I grabbed my guitar, too, just in case. This pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon. A little music might help.

The World of Myth Magazine – Preparations Are Made

Hi Everyone!

I’m thrilled that Steph Bardy and World of Myth Magazine has published episode #6, Preparations Are Made, in my SF series on the aftermath of global warming. They also published my drabble, Happy Valentine’s Day.

Here’s the link:

http://theworldofmyth.com/

Here’s the story along with a recap:

This ten part SF series has to do with the impact of global warming on one family.

The story so far:

Episode 1 – At the Biodome

We met Quinn an engineer at a wind farm and his son Matt on a field trip and learn about life in the year 2220.

Episode 2 – The Test

We met Karen and learn about Quinn and Karen’s life together.

Episode 3 – Millennium Microbial

We learned about Karen’s job as a biochemist working on improving the world’s food supply.

Episode 4 – The History Center

Quinn kidnapped Matt on a field trip and went on the run.

Episode 5 – The Hideout

Karen visited Quinn and Matt at their hideout and made a big decision.

 

Preparations Are Made – Episode #6

“Where the hell is she?” Jerry Finkelstein thundered.

“She just called and said she was on her way,” Jen told her boss as she cowered beneath his wrath. “She said she’d forgotten a flash drive at home. She was working on an idea for the project all last night.”

Finkelstein seemed somewhat placated. “Well, that’s good then. You both need to step it up if we’re going to get more funding.”

“Yes, sir,” Jen said, as Finkelstein stalked away from her cubicle. Then he turned and pointed a threatening finger, “I want a report emailed to me by the beginning of next week. Today’s Wednesday, so you’d better hurry up.”

“Yes, sir. We will, sir,” Jen said, but he didn’t hear. Finkelstein was already gone.

Whew, Jen thought to herself, what a jerk. For the next hour she worked on her computer. Her friend and project manager, Karen, was late and Jen had lied to Finkelstein. She had no idea where Karen was and now she was getting worried. She knew that Karen had a lot on her mind, what with her husband and son, but it was unlike her to not stay in touch at work.

Just a familiar face poked around the corner of her cubicle and whispered, “Hi there.”

Jen looked up. It was Karen but her immediate happiness at seeing her friend was replaced by one of immediate concern. Karen’s normally calm and controlled demeanor was haggard and sleep deprived. “Oh, my god. Karen what’s going on? Where have you been?”

Karen put a finger to her lips and kept her voice low, “Come with me. I’m not sure how much time I’ve got.”

When Jen gave her a questioning look, Karen grabbed her by the arm and said, “Come on. I’ve got something to tell you.”

They hurried out of the cubicle area and down a long hallway to the elevator bank where they went up five floors to the employee break room. They each got a cup of tea from a vending machine and went to a table alongside the wall, well out of the way of the dozen or so other employees scattered about.

When they were settled, Jen gave her friend a questioning look. “What gives? You look awful. Is something the matter with Quinn?”

Karen took a nervous sip, leaned forward and said, “Promise you won’t tell anyone?”

“I promise.”

Karen took a deep breath. “Well, you’re right. It has to do with Quinn but there’s a lot more to it.”  She quickly filled her friend in about how her husband Quinn had grown tired of seeing their son five your old Matt only for a few hours a week during World Order approved visits. “Yesterday he did something crazy. While they were on a field trip to the History Center he kidnapped Matt. They eventually found a hideout in an abandoned office building near the  outskirts of the city.

“It’s only a few miles from our apartment building. I went there this morning and brought them supplies.”

“My god, that’s horrible. What are you going to do?” Jen wanted desperately to give her friend a supportive hug, but the World Order’s surveillance cameras were everywhere, some working, most not. If the cameras picked up two people hugging, a day was taken off both of their lifelines. Showing affection in public was frowned upon in the year 2220.

“I’m going to go with them,” Karen said. “I made the decision this morning. They’re my family and it would kill me not to ever see them again.”

“What? Do you realize what that means?” The ramifications flew through Jen’s mind. Karen had essentially signed her death warrant. The World Order Security Police, WOSP, would eventually find them and when they did if they didn’t kill them right away, they’d use Karen and Quinn to make a point; that point being: Don’t Go Against the World Order. Then they’d be executed for being a danger to society and that would be that.

“You know what’ll happen if you get caught,” Jen said, her voice shaking. “I’m so frightened for you,”

“Look,” Karen tried to explain herself, “The World Order only lets us live to be forty years old anyway. They try to keep us in line by threatening to take days off our precious lifeline for any stupid in fraction they can think of. I lost a day by running across the street against a red light when there wasn’t a vehicle even in sight. Quinn’s lost nearly two-hundred days.”

In spite of the seriousness of the situation, Jen smiled, “Well, he is a bit of a rebel.”

Karen couldn’t help but agree. She and her husband had been married for six years and were very happy with each other. They were both twenty six and loved being parents to five year old Matt, the only child the World Order would let them have. The problem was, children were raised away from their parents in a huge five story concrete dormitory called The Neighborhood. Parents could only see their child once a week for four hours. The rest of the child’s time was spent being indoctrinated to the ways of the World Order.

But the longer they were together as a family, the more both Karen and Quinn felt that being parents to Matt was the most important way to spend their time in their short lives. Quinn was an engineer at the regional solar energy facility and Karen worked as a lead Microbiologist at Millennium Microbial. Seeing Matt for only four hours a week wasn’t cutting it as far as Karen and Quinn were concerned.

“So what are you going to do?”

Karen sadly shook her head. “I don’t know.”

Jen was shocked. Normally Karen never made a move without thinking through all the details and possible consequences.

“You can’t stay where you are now, right? The WOSP will find you.”

“I know.” Karen checked the time on her phone. “It’s been about twenty-four hours since Quinn took Matt. The dorm called me last night and reported him missing. I got mad at them and blamed the disappearance on them.”

Jen grinned. “Good move.”

Karen nodded and agreed, “Yeah, I thought so. I know they called the WOSP because I bumped into one of them this morning out on the street when I was bringing some supplies to Quinn and Matt. He showed me an old photo of both of them.”

“That’s not good.”

“Right. I feel like the noose is tightening.”

“On top of that, Finkelstein wants a report from us on Monday.”

“Why? I thought he didn’t want anything to do with us when he gave the project to our former team member.” Karen used finger quotes around ‘team member’ to show her distain for Randy who’d stabbed Karen and Jen in the back and took credit for their project to help improve food production to help stave off world hunger.

“Who knows. Maybe Finkelstein realized that he made a mistake by listening to Randy and giving the project to him.”

Karen laughed derisively, “It’s only been a day.” Then she thought for a minute and said, “You know, our idea is a good one.”

“I know. Looking at that special gene and seeing if we could splice it’s DNA with…”

Karen put her finger to her lips, “Shhhh. You never know who’s listening.”

But she smiled as she said it, though. If someone was listening they’d be done for anyway. Nevertheless it felt good to be talking to Jen. She loved her friendship with the woman she’d been working with for the last six years and was going to miss her.

She changed the subject. “Here’s my idea for our project,” she took out her laptop and started it up and showed the file to Jen. “This is a good start and you can use this as a beginning. You can flesh it out and show it to Finkelstein next Monday. I’ll be long gone by then.” She paused and didn’t have to elaborate because the near future was obvious. Next Monday she would either be dead or free. Then she shook the thought from her mind and continued, “He should like it. Maybe even give you a raise.”

Jen took a chance and patted the back of Karen’s hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.” Then she switched gears.  “Getting back to your predicament. I’ve been thinking and I have an idea.”

“Really?” Karen leaned forward, intrigued, “Tell me.”

And Jen did. When she was finished, Karen grinned and said, “That’s a great plan.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Jen smiled. “And here’s the best part. I’m coming with you.”

“What?”

“Yeah, I’ve had it with this place. Plus, I can help you take care of Matt.”

“You know how dangerous this is?”

“I know.” She took a nervous breath and let it out. “I don’t mind.”

Karen could see that her friend was serious. “Okay,” she said. “If you’re sure.”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“Okay, then, let’s get busy. I want to cover our tracks here and try to buy some time. First off, lets outline that report.”

It was around sunset that evening that Karen returned to the hideout. She had Jen with her. They had stopped at both of their apartments on the way to pick up the necessary supplies they’d need to move on to the next phase to the plan.

“Here you go,” Karen said to Quinn after giving Matt a big hug. She set down her backpack and took out a couple of bottles.

“Quinn looked perplexed. “What’s all this?”

Karen smiled and pointed at Jen, “Tell him. It’s your plan.”

“I brought some bottles of dye. We can dye our hair to help change our appearance.”

“I brought some different clothes, too,” Karen added. “Hopefully we can get ourselves looking different so when we’re out on the street no one from the WOSP will recognize us.” Quinn grinned at Karen, “Sounds like you’ve been busy.”

“We have. We’ll leave tonight. Jen reminded me of that electronics factory on the edge of the city. It’s only five miles from here and buses go there all the time. We’ll change our appearance and take a bus out there. Once we get off the bus we can cut across country to get beyond the city limits. No one ever goes out there. Once we’re out in the country, we’ll be safe.”

In Quinn’s mind the hazards popped up like a bad dream, the main one getting caught by the WOSP. They’d definitely be looking for them now and if they were caught they’d certainly be killed. But if they were careful and used their brains, they could make it.

“It’s a long way to go for Matt,” Quinn said crouching down and hugging his son. He looked the young boy in the eye. “Are you up for it?”

“I am, Dad,” Matt said. “It’ll be an adventure.”

Karen looked at her little family, which now included Jen and said, “Yes, it certainly will be.”

A few hours later their hair was dyed black, Quinn’s beard was shaved off, and, in Matt’s case, he was wearing a wig that Jen had brought from her apartment. “He looks like a girl, now. Just in case they’re looking for a small boy, this will throw them off. Hopefully.”

“Okay, then, we’re ready,” Karen said. She looked at Jen. “You still sure about joining us?”

“I am.”

Matt had taken a shine to the young woman. “I’m glad she’s coming. I like her.”

Quinn looked at Karen. “All set?”

In Karen’s mind flashed a scenario where Quinn had not kidnapped their son and none of this had happened. Life would have gone on the way it had been going; all the way up to their mandatory death by the World Order before they reached the age of forty. Compared to what they were doing now, to be honest, it was not much of a life. At least now she felt alive. Now their family was all together. Now all they had to do was to evade the WOSP and get out of the city and into the country to safety.

Karen hugged Quinn and gave him a quick kiss. “Time’s a wasting. Let’s get going.”

To Be Continued…

Here’s the drabble:

Happy Valentine’s Day

Dressed as Chicago police officers they lined the seven men against the side of the garage and opened fire. The wall exploded as bullets poured in a deadly stream from the barrels of their Thompson submachine guns. The guys in Moran’s gang never had a chance. They danced and spun as the 45’s tore them apart before finally falling as if in some macabre ballet. In moments their blood began pooling toward the four shooters who stepped to the side and nonchalantly walked away. One of them tipped his hat to the riddled bodies and smiled, “Happy Valentine’s Day, suckers.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Academy of the Heart and Mind – Winter Sun

Hi Everyone!

Many thanks to Thomas for publishing my poem today!

https://academyoftheheartandmind.wordpress.com/2020/04/17/winter-sun/

Here’s the poem if you don’t want to use the link:

Winter Sun

The boy loved the icy winter,

And playing in the snow,

Sledding and building snowmen,

Snowballs for him to throw.

One day he awoke quite ill,

Confined there to his bed,

His best friend Bob came to visit,

And panicked he’d soon be dead.

“No,” the father calmed him, “not my only son.

Not on my watch he won’t.

This sickness will soon be done.”

He thanked Bob for his thoughtful visit,

And waved to him goodbye,

Then turned to his boy and hugged him,

Wiping a tear drop from his eye.

“Don’t you ever leave me,”

The father pleaded and held him tight,

And stayed watchful right beside him,

Throughout the cold dark night.

In the morning his son awoke,

Feeling chipper and bright and gay,

While his father gave a joyful shout,

For Bob to join them on this happy day.

Later on that glorious week,

While playing happily in the snow,

The boy turned to Bob and said,

“There’s something you should know.

I really didn’t mind being sick,

But when all is said and done,

I like being outside much better.”

And turned his face up to the sun.

Inner Circle Writer’s Group Magazine – 5 Spring Haiku

Hi Everyone!

I have 5 haiku in the latest issue of the Inner Circle Writers’ Group Magazine. It can be purchased via this link and downloaded:

https://www.clarendonhousebooks.com/inner-circle-magazine-subscribe-pag

The haiku are listed here:

Lullaby

Woodland stream babbling

Bubbling and trickling with joy

Nature’s lullaby.

Resting

Beneath the tree-tops

A  lush carpet of soft ferns

Beckons one to rest.

Frolicking

Sunlight sparkling

On water droplets falling

Birds frolic beneath.

Seeds

Maple seeds falling

Whirl-a-gigging to the ground

Searching for a home.

Soul Soothing

Snow-On-the-Mountain

Soft green and white groundcover

Soothing to the soul.

 

 

 

 

 

CafeLit – Prairie Wind

Special thanks to Gill James for featuring my story today!

https://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.com/2020/04/prairie-wind_16.html

Here it is if you don’t want to use the link:

Prairie Wind

Traveling from the East he came upon a tiny graveyard. It’d been nearly six hundred miles driving and, as he coasted to a stop outside the gate and turned off the engine, silence enveloped the car like warm blanket. That and the billowing clouds of dust driven by the relentless prairie wind.

The old graveyard was situated on a low hill and located a mile outside the small town of Adair. He took a moment to collect himself, having driven straight though from Minnesota, following an uncontrollable desire to learn more about his great grandparents. And his roots. He lit a cigarette and smoked, trying to image what they’d gone through, traveling as they had, first from New York state all the way to Iowa and then across the great plains out here to the middle of nowhere. Nebraska. Their courage astounded him, Wyatt Plank, a guy who had yet to find himself let alone set off on the type of perilous journey his great grandparents had undertaken in the 1850’s.

He snubbed out his smoke, got out to the car and let himself in through the gate of the worn and rusted chain link fence that surrounded the desolate, half acre plot. Once inside he wandered aimlessly, studying the worn markers, marveling at how old they are were and thinking, Doesn’t anyone get buried here anymore? Then he had a thought: Maybe there’s no one around to die and get buried. For some reason the idea saddened him.

He continued searching until he found his great grandmother, a causality of a wagon train heading to California, her stone battered by over a century of wind driven sand and debris. He knelt on the compacted ground and put his hand on her battered marker feeling at once a mysterious connection with her. He read the faint inscription: “Katherine Marie Plank. Beloved wife and mother. Born 1824 and Died 1856.” After Katherine’s death his great grandfather had buried her on this spot and returned to Iowa with his three children, never to return. Years later after the town was settled his great grandmother’s lonely grave became the home of Adair’s cemetery. How Wyatt’s life might have been different if his great grandfather had buried his wife and then continued west.

Overwhelmed by the breadth of his family’s pioneering spirit and that of his great grandmother in particular, Wyatt got to his feet and looked to the horizon. All around was the tamed land of corn and wheat fields, framed by an endless sky so blue it hurt his eyes. He pulled the visor of his baseball cap down low and, though he wasn’t religious by any means, stood in respectful silence and said a quiet prayer for the courage of his ancestors.

When he was finished his thoughts were unsettled. He’d completed his quest, seen his great grandmother and paid homage to her courage and spirit, but now what? What should he do next? He didn’t know. He was divorced. He didn’t have any children. He had a job that he didn’t particularly care for. In short he had nothing.

The wind whipped up a sudden gust and blew his cap off. He cracked a ghost of a smile, thinking that at least he had something to do. He chased it down, capturing it up against the western fence line where he put it on and pull it tight. He was walking back to his great grandmother’s grave to say one final goodbye when the wind shifted again ever so subtlety, causing him to lose his balance. He caught himself as he stumbled and wondered what was going on. A storm brewing maybe? But no, one look to the blue sky and the answer was clear: no storms, not even a cloud in sight.

The wind suddenly gusted again and blew a little harder, seeming to nudge him like a guiding hand, pushing him gently, as if it wanted him to show him the way, the next steps to take. He looked to the west and watched dust devils dancing down a lonely country road. Beyond that, the far horizon seemed call to him, drawing him in, like weather beaten fingers tugging at his soul, just like they had for his ancestors.

It took him only a moment to decide. Why not. I’ve got nothing to lose.

            He got into his car, started it up and left the windswept cemetery. He turned on the first road heading west. He’d made his decision and his path was chosen. It was time to complete the journey his ancestors had begun so many years ago.

He pushed the accelerator down, kicking up a plume of dust along the gravel road, the wind at his back speeding him along. He glanced in the rearview mirror and caught his refection. He tipped his hat and grinned. He hadn’t felt this happy in years.

 

 

On to the Next Round!

Hey everyone!

I just wanted to share this email from Grant Hudson at Clarendon House.

More good news: this is to let you know that your submission for the Great Clarendon House Writing Challenge 2020 has made it into the ten chosen for publication in the issue due out very soon. It will appear anonymously and be part of the competition to choose the five best stories to move to the next round.

Congratulations – competition was fierce!

The magazine will be available soon here:

http://www.clarendonhousebooks.com/inner-circle-magazine-subscribe-pag

Here’s the 500 word flash fiction story:

Better Than a Sandcastle

The last time I saw the Big Jerk he took Mom and me to the ocean. They’d been dating for about a month, and to say he wasn’t my biggest fan was putting it mildly.

“Here,” he pushed me. I stumbled and almost dropped the cooler of beer he’d made me carry. “We’ll set up right here.”

Man, what a creep. I imagined spending the day with him and it made my stomach turn. Dad had died seven years earlier, just after I was born, and Mom was my whole world. Why she was putting up with this guy was beyond me. I guess it had something to do him being a father figure or something. Thanks, but I think I’ll pass.

Except I couldn’t. The guy had some kind of hold over her that I didn’t understand, but on that day it all changed.

We’d gotten ourselves situated and sat looking at the waves crashing in on the beach while he drank beer. He regaled us with stories of how he was a hotshot executive in the entertainment industry. I didn’t believe a single word and got the feeling Mom was starting to have second thoughts.

Then he started giving me a hard time, making fun of my freckles and glasses and skinny body. Finally, he stood up drained his beer and called me a pansy. “I bet ya’ can’t even build a sandcastle,” he taunted, and gave me a look like, what a pathetic little loser.

He leaned into close and sneered, “I’ll judge it when I get back and it better be good.” Then he wove his way down to the waterline to go swimming. I pictured the tide pulling him away from shore so he’d be lost at sea forever, the most pleasant thought I’d had all day

Mom looked at me, “I’ve had it with him. Let’s get out of here.”

They were the best words I’d heard in a long time. I guess Mom had reached her limit, and it made me happy, for both of us. “Just a second,” I said.”I’ve got an idea.”

I hurried up to the high tide mark and started collecting what I needed. It took a while, but Mom kept a lookout.

In the end, I built an elaborate sculpture, a three foot high pyramid made with different sizes of rocks all balanced one on top of the other. Mom told me it was magnificent and took a photo before we left. We never heard from the guy again.

The photo she took that day came out great: my structure with the different sized rocks looked stunning, especially set against blue sky with a line of surf in the background.

That was five years ago. Right now it’s hanging on the wall over the sink in our kitchen. It reminds us of that day at the beach and the best decision Mom ever made.

Best of all, her new husband, my stepdad, loves it, too. So do I.

Terror House Magazine – Arasu

Hi Everyone!

Thank you to Matt for featuring my story today. Please note that this is brutal subject matter. Here’s the link:

Arasu

Here’s the story if you don’t want to use the link:

Arasu

Allie listened with disgust as the door to her tiny bedroom groaned open. She turned to face the wall trying to empty her mind. Her stepfather grunted as he shuffled toward the skinny thirteen year old, cheap plywood flooring creaking under his immense weight. Please, she thought to herself, please let it be over soon. In her mind a soft breeze came up, gently rustling the leaves of the old oak tree and giving her a measure of comfort. She saw Arasu’s kindly face.

“Good to see you,” he smiled. “Hello.”

“Hello, my friend,” she whispered, just before…

Arasu the giant oak had lived deep in the alder swamp for centuries. He was friend to all, especially the birds and animals that called his branches home. He was also a friend to humans in need, people like Allie who came to him when they had to escape. Like now, if even if only in her mind; if even only for a minute. His leaves rustled softly as he enveloped the waif of a girl with his magical woodland aura. He hummed gently, a soft forest tune sounding like summer breezes wafting through a sunlit woodland glade. Allie drifted away hardly noticing what happened next.

The bed sagged as he rolled her over and climbed on top. In a minute it was done and he was gone. Not a word was said.

After she heard him close the door to his bedroom, Allie left her safe place with Arasu and sat up in bed. She looked out the window, thinking. An idea had come to her and if her plan worked she’d never have to hear him come into her bedroom again. Moonlight sparkled off freshly fallen snow, glistening like diamonds. The beautiful scene made her happy. She raised her eyes toward the black shadow of the horizon. On the other side of the ridge was the alder swamp she had discovered while exploring a few years earlier. In the middle of the swamp was where her friend Arasu the old oak tree lived. With his help she would get rid of the horrid man her mother had married; the pervert who made her call him father. She knew without a doubt that with Arasu’s help she’d be able to kill the disgusting degenerate. She couldn’t wait.

Just before sunrise Allie got dressed and went to the kitchen and began fixing toast and fried potatoes for him for breakfast. It was a task she’d done every day for the last four years, ever since her mother had died and she’d had to start taking care of her siblings and the small, dilapidated, single wide trailer they called home.

The tasty aroma of friend food brought five year old Andy and eight year old Leslie and Lara into the small but clean kitchen. They quietly sat down while she set out a carton of milk and poured bowls of corn flakes for them. They looked askance at the closed door to their father’s bedroom. What kind of a mood would he be in today? That was always the question. On a good day he was grumpy and quick with a hand to swat down any misbehavior. But more often than not it was not a good day. More often he was a mean, foul tempered bully who enjoyed picking on his stepchildren, making their lives more miserable that they already were.

“Eat up, kids,” she encouraged them and pointed to the clock. “We’ve got to leave in ten minutes.”

She had to drive them on their poor excuse of a driveway for a mile through the woods to the county road to catch the school bus. Then it was a forty-five minute ride to the town of Granite Creek where the school was located. Allie didn’t go to school anymore, an argument she’d given up on at the beginning the school year last fall when her stepfather had decided he wanted the seventh-grader to stay at home. “To help out,” was how he put it to the school board. To Allie’s horror they had reluctantly agreed, believing him when he said that he was home schooling her. Yeah, right, Allie thought to herself. If they only knew what homeschooling meant to the deviant.

Right then her stepfather shambled into the kitchen scratching his enormous belly as he plopped down at the table. “Get me my breakfast,” he stated, grabbing the mug of coffee she handed him. “Quick.”

She dished up his food while the kids quietly and quickly finished up their cold cereal.

“We still going to cut wood up in the alder swamp?” she asked, pushing her siblings toward their room to get their school backpacks.

He grunted, “Yeah. I told you yesterday.”

“Just checking.”

Allie smiled as she turned to the sink and began rinsing the dishes. Good. Going to the alder swamp was the key to making the plan work.

“Say good-bye to your stepfather,” she told the kids when they were ready.

“What?” he bellowed, standing. He raised his hand to hit Allie.

“Sorry,” she quickly apologized, and turned to her brother and sisters. “Say good-bye to your father,” she told them, pointedly, while ducking away from his raised hand. She glanced at him, “I’m really sorry.”

He grinned. “Don’t worry about it. You’ll make up for it later tonight.”

Allie shivered and said to the kids, “Okay, now, let’s get going.”

“Good-bye, Father,” three tiny voice said in unison.

They called him ‘Father’ reluctantly. He was a mean man and no one liked him. Not his kids or the construction crew he worked on for most of the year. It was Allie’s willingness to put up with his perversions that prevented him from abusing her siblings even more than he did, a price she was willing to pay, especially with the way she was starting to look at Leslie and Lara.

She hurried the kids out the door and said over her shoulder, “I’ll be back in a fifteen minutes.”

He grunted in response. God, she’d be glad to be rid of him. She loaded her siblings in an old pickup truck and drove through the woods to the county road where she made sure the they got on the school bus. Driving home she took pleasure in the satisfaction of knowing that by the time she picked them up at the end of the day, the depraved human being who was their stepfather would be dead.

Back at the trailer she parked the truck and noticed he was in the pole barn working on one of the snowmobiles. He motioned her over and as she got closer he reached out to grab her. “Let me have a little feel,” he leered at her. Sometimes after the kids went to school he came at her again.

She shook her head, “No way. You said we had work to do.”

He raised a fist to strike her but then lowered it, having another thought, “Okay, but then that’s more you owe tonight.”

She tried to derail his one-track mind. “Let’s get going and get started on that wood. Up in the alder swamp, right?”

It worked. He took a deep breath to calm down and then said, “Yeah, like I already told you. I’ve got an order.”

He sold bundles of firewood at the gas station in town to help make ends meet during the winter.

“I’ll put the breakfast stuff away. When do you want to leave?”

“Soon. Fifteen minutes. Pack some sandwiches and coffee, too. We’ll be gone all day.”

Inside she washed the breakfast dishes, wiped down the counter and table and put together thick sandwiches of lunch meat on white bread slathered in mayonnaise. She filled a thermos with coffee and then went to her room to change. It was the middle of February and the temperature was cold, hovering around zero. It’d feel colder in the woods away from any filtered sunlight so she put on heavy socks, long underwear, flannel jeans, a tee-shirt, long sleeve flannel shirt and a wool sweater.

She was all set except for one thing.

From under her mattress she took out her prized possession, a bone handled hunting knife with a six-inch blade, protected by a thick leather sheath. She’d bought it last summer at the hardware store in town. She lovingly slipped the knife and sheath onto her belt and buckled it, loving the feel of the weapon against her hip. Then she put her dark blue snowmobile suit on over all her clothes and zipped up. She was ready to go.

Her father opened the front door and yelled, “You ready? We’ve got a lot to do today.”

“Yeah, just about.” She went into the kitchen, grabbed the sandwiches and thermos and put them in a backpack. “Now, I’m ready,” she told him and headed out the door. “Let’s go.” She felt the blade of her hidden knife against her leg and smiled. She was more than ready.

They started their snowmobiles, gunned the engines and took off, her stepfather riding in front dragging the sled, Allie following close behind. Even with the noise, Allie could hear Asasu talking to her, calming her. “Bring him to me,” he was saying. “I will help you take care of him.”

Allie smiled. It wouldn’t be long now.

The ride to the alder swamp took nearly two hours and it was mid morning by the time they arrived. Her stepfather immediately began sawing up trees while Allie trimmed their branches. Then they stacked the wood on the sled. Nearby, the old oak tree watched over them.

They worked steadily for a few hours, taking a break for only a couple of minutes to eat the sandwiches Allie had made. They worked up a sweat, even in the near zero weather.

In the early afternoon Allie heard Arasu’s firm voice. “Allie,” her friend said. “It’s time. Bring him closer to me.” He didn’t have to ask twice.

“Let’s move over there,” she pointed. “Over by that oak tree.”

He looked up from cutting a soft barked aspen. “What? That big rotten piece of crap?”

Allie saw Arasu shiver in fury, branches rattling and leaves trembling. She knew he was mad and but she played along, “Yeah, over there. I see some birch nearby we can cut.”

Her stepfather shut off his chainsaw, went to the backpack and took out the thermos and poured a cup of coffee. He reached into his inner pocket of his overalls, took out a pint bottle of whiskey and added a generous slug. He drank and pondered for a minute before saying, “You know, that oak would make for some great firewood. We could use it in the wood stove at home. I’m going to cut it down.” He put the pint away, took out a pack of chewing tobacco and stuffed some in his mouth, working it into his jaw.

Allie was aghast, “No, don’t do that!” she screamed.

He turned to her, grinning with brown stained teeth. “Why not?”

Her mind suddenly went blank. How could she explain ‘Why not’ to him? He spit a generous stream of tobacco juice toward her feet and laughed. Then he started up the chainsaw and advanced on the huge oak tree. She could feel Arasu shiver and shake, not in so much in fear but in fury. She had to protect her friend. She also had to do what she came here to do; she had to kill her abusive stepfather.

She took out her knife and advanced on him from behind as he positioned the noisy chainsaw to cut into the thick bark of the massive oak tree. He never had a chance. As he steadied himself to make the first cut, Allie made her move and plunged the knife into his back, right between the shoulder blades. She felt the blade glance off a bone and then go deep. Arasu spoke and said, “Turn it.” She did. She turned the handle and she felt the blade tear through flesh and muscle. Then the blood started flowing, only a little at first, but when she pulled the six inch blade out, the blood came fast, shooting out like a red gusher.

Allie jumped back, dodging away from the spray so she wouldn’t get splattered. Her stepfather screamed in pain and fell to the ground. When he dropped the chainsaw it automatically shut off and the woods went blessedly silent. Silent that was except for the man who’d abused her for four years rolling in the snow, howling in agony at the top of his lungs.

“You little bitch,” he swore at her. “You’re nothing better than a whore.”

Allie stood over him and laughed in his face. “You ugly filthy pervert!” She screamed and stamped a heavy boot on his chest. His eyes went wide as she took her knife, bent down and cut his throat, nearly decapitating him. Then she knelt in the snow and began stabbing his chest over and over and over again until he was a mangled, bloody pulp. Then she collapsed, exhausted.

How long she lay there Allie didn’t know. When she came to she looked up to see the sun low on the horizon. She jumped to her feet in a panic. Her first thought was that she had to get home to pick up her brother and sisters at the bus stop. Then she looked at the gory mess that had been her father. What should I do about him?

As if reading her mind, a kindly voice whispered, “Allie.” She turned to Arasu and he said, “Allie, drag him over here.”

She glanced at the massive body. “I don’t think I can,” she said, tears of frustration beginning to form. “He’s too heavy.”

“Don’t worry,” Arasu smiled. “I’ll use my special powers to help.” He pointed a branch that looked remarkably like a crooked finger and incanted a short but melodic phrase, “Veni Santce Spiritus, Veni Santce Spiritus, Veni Santce Spiritus. ” Then he told her, “Okay, Allie, the spell has been cast. Now you’re ready. Pull him over here and put him by my roots.”

“Okay,” she wiped her eyes, glad to have some guidance, not to mention the help.

She rolled and dragged and pulled the body though the snow. Aided by the magical power of Arasu, the task went fairly easily. On the far side of the trunk was a hollowed out root system. “Just put him there, dear,” he said. “I have friend who will take care of him. Turok the wolf and his family will see to the remains.”

Allie grinned to herself. Eaten by wolves. Good. He deserves it.

            “What about the snowmobile and sled?”

The old oak tree chuckled, “Don’t worry about that. I’ll take care of them.”

Allie wasn’t sure she knew what he meant, but she trusted her friend.  He obviously had powers she was only beginning to understand.”Okay,” she said, happy to have someone she could trust for the first time in her life.

She left her father’s gear and sled full of wood to the power of Arasu. Then she started up her own snowmobile and drove home. Without the burden of having to worry about her stepfather and what he would want to do to her that night, she seemed to fly.

She made it home in record time and picked her brother and sisters from the bus stop. The next day she called the police and told them her stepfather had stayed in the alder swamp to cut more wood but had never returned.  A search party was sent looking for him but they found nothing. All trace of him had vanished, even his snowmobile and sled. It was as if they had disappeared from the face of the earth. After a week of half hearted searching the authorities gave up and never spoke of it again. No one much cared for the guy anyway.

Allie and her brother and sisters were raised in foster care by a nice family in Granite Falls. Allie got a degree in education from the college in Duluth and became a well respected teacher at the Granite Falls high school. She was a stern but fair teacher and beloved by her students and their parents alike. She taught biology and was especially passionate during the unit on trees.

A highlight of the school year was a field trip when she took her biology class deep into the woods to the alder swamp where the old oak tree still lived. She’d gather her students around the massive trunk and say, “Just close your eyes and take a minute to feel the tree, it’s energy and it’s power. Feel it’s strength. If you concentrate hard enough it’s like the tree is talking to you. Listen. Do you hear it?”

Most of the time the students would write her request off to the quirkiness of their well liked teacher. But sometimes one of the students would respond and nod their head and say, “Yes. Yes, I can hear it.”

“Good,” Allie would smile a knowing smile. And then on the way back to school she’d take the student aside and talk about magic and unseen powers and putting your faith in the natural world, especially trees. Then she’d watch the student’s eyes light up and know right then and there that it was only going to be a short matter of time before the student would come back to spend some time with the old oak tree. And that was good. Because if the student needed help that’s what Arasu was there for, to help the student do the right thing. Just like he’d done with Allie so many years ago.

 

 

 

 

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Th Literary Yard – Heroes

A special thanks goes out to Onkar and his staff for featuring my story today. Thank you!!

Heroes

Here’s what author and friend Steven Carr says about this story:

“Heavens! Jim, this is so beautiful! I’m not sure most folks can appreciate how hard it is to write a story like that and make it work, which you did. Your writing “voice” amazes me.”

Here’s the story if you don’t want to use the link:

Heroes

“I wish you could swim,” Camden told Megan. “Like the dolphins.”

They were downtown, sitting outside having just finished lunch at a favorite cafe. She sent off a final text to her mother, set the phone down and looked at him like he was nuts. “Camden, What in the world are you talking about? I can swim, you know that.”

“I know. It’s just that I was thinking about after we’re married and how much I was looking forward to getting away with you, especially from your parents. I know they don’t care for me. They’ve said more than once that they thought nothing could keep us together.”

“I know, honey. I’m sorry about that. And them.”

“Me, too. But it is what it is, even though we’ve been a couple for over five years. I was thinking we could go to the Caribbean for a few days, maybe ride on one of those catamaran’s and go swimming with the dolphins. I’ve got some money saved up. It’d be fun.”

“What brought this on all of a sudden?”

“Look, I know your parents wanted you to marry some rich guy lawyer or doctor or someone like that. Not…”

“Not a guy who teaches fifth grade at a hundred year old building in the dark and dirty inner city,” she interrupted, finger quoting around dark and dirty.

Camden grinned, “Well, yeah, something like that. I just want me and you to do something special after we’re married, that’s all. Just the two of us.”

Megan looked at him, her eyes dark and sensual, eyes he never tired of looking into. “Look, Cam, it’s you I love, and it’s you I want to spend my life with.”

“You’re saying that together we can beat them, forever and ever?”

“Yes, that’s what I’m saying.”

“What about your parents? They’re paying for the wedding.”

“I know…”she sighed. “We’re just going to have to compromise, somehow, be nice and try to get along.”

“Remember they also wanted to take us to Paris. Show us that new Monet exhibit.”

“Which would be fun to see, I can’t lie, but we’re kind of stuck going there with them.” She sighed and shook her head, “I have to say, though, traveling with my folks was not how I pictured us spending our honeymoon.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that, “Camden smiled at her, reaching out to caress her hand.”How about when we get back, you and I go to the Caribbean by ourselves?”

Megan snapped her fingers and looked at him, and idea suddenly forming. “How about if I tell my parents that it’s time for them to let me live my life the way I want? How about if I tell them that we’ll do our own wedding, on our own terms? How about that?”

Camden stood up, excited and pointed, “You know, the courthouse is right around the corner. We could get married there. Right now. What do you think? Let’s do it.”

Megan stood up, grinning from ear to ear, “Lets.” Just then her phone beeped a text. She glanced at the screen. “It’s from Mom.” Camden watched, waiting, wondering what she’d do. It didn’t take her long to decide. She put the phone in her purse without answering and turned to him. “Screw it. Let’ go to the courthouse. I’ll call her tomorrow. It’s our life, not my parent’s.”

Camden knew exactly what that call tomorrow would entail. Megan liked her things. She liked to travel. She like Monet. More than anything he was certain the big wedding would take place and the trip to Paris would happen. But that was all right. Today it was just the two of them with a dream of the traveling to the Caribbean and swimming with the dolphins.

“I could be king and you could be queen,” he said, smiling wide.

“That’s right,” Megan agreed, “No matter what happens, we could be heroes.”

Camden, hugged her tightly, not caring about anything except being with her. He paid for their lunch and they started walking toward the courthouse, arms around each other, happy and in love. He looked at her and smiled, “That’s for sure, Megan. We’ll be heroes. Even if it’s for just one day.”