CafeLit – Is There Such a Thing As True Love?

Hi Everyone!

Special thanks to Gill for featuring my story! Here’s the link:

https://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.com/2020/06/is-there-such-thing-as-true-love.html

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

Is There Such A Thing As True Love?

Dave Callahan’s browser was set to scroll through various news stories of the day. He was idly looking at them when one caught his eye: Is There Such A Thing As True Love? The story was based on an article a psychologist had written looking into the nature of true love. Dave was intrigued so he read it, but it turned out there wasn’t anything astounding there. The psychologist had done a twenty year study and written an article detailing his findings. It all came down to what, in Dave’s mind, was your basic psycho-babble about the nature of love and how everyone was different so every relationship was different and some relationships had stronger feelings of love than others, and blah, blah, blah, on and on, until Dave had just had enough. The author never even answered the question about whether or not there was such a thing as true love.

But what Dave found to be interesting was the “Comments” section at the end. There were over a thousand of them. A nerve had definitely been touched and reading some of them was quite interesting. The jest of it was that the vast majority of the people writing in were of the opinion that yes, in fact, they did believe in true love. By a margin of at least twenty to one. Easily.

Crazy, Dave thought to himself. Lots of romantic people out there.

Many of the comments were from women but there were a surprising number from men, and he found he couldn’t stop reading them.

“I found my true love after divorcing my husband of fifteen years after years of neglect,” one women wrote.

A guy said, “I married my high school sweet heart but it didn’t work out. We just drifted apart. After we divorced, I met my true love.”

Another female wrote, “We met in college and hit it off right away. We’ve been together ever since. It really is true love.”

There were positive comments by straight couples and gay and lesbian couples and transgender couples. All types. In a way it was kind of cool, Dave thought, that there were so many happy couples out there.

As the days went by, Dave found he really couldn’t stop thinking about the article and the concept of having one true love. He knew a lot of happy couples, and, if he had to guess, all of them would subscribe to the belief that their relationship was one based on true love. They did seem happy together, and Dave had no reason to doubt them. But there were also many people he knew who had been divorced or had been in bad relationships. How did the idea of true love fit into their view of things?

He remembered a conversation he’d had with his mother shortly before she passed away. His parents had divorced when he was ten. His father had left his mother for another woman, whom he subsequently married. They were together for five years before his father died. Some years after his death, Dave’s mother remarried and she spent the rest of her life in a happy relationship with her new husband. But when Dave asked his mother if she ever had experienced true love she answered without hesitating, “Why, yes, your father.”

“How could that be?” Dave asked, “He left you for someone else.”

“He was the first man I truly loved. Even after he left, I thought he might come back.”

Dave was shocked, “Would you have taken him back, after all he put you through? Put us through?”

“Yes,” she replied, “In a heartbeat.”

She was adamant in her belief and would not budge. In the end Dave wasn’t sure if he was happy for her or sad for her: happy that she had experienced true love, or sad because her true love had left her for someone else.

The article also caused Dave to look more deeply into his own past relationships. From an early age he had always wanted to marry and have a family. He had been married twice. Once when he was in his early twenty’s to a woman with whom he’d had two children. They had grown apart and divorced. A few years later he married a woman whom he’d been together with for over twenty years, before they, too, had grown apart and divorced.

He was a good father, but marriage hadn’t worked for him. Had true love been a factor in each of his marriages? Not really, if he was honest with himself. He’d felt a great deal of affection toward each of his wives in the beginning, but that changed over time as other insurmountable life factors got in the way. Some of his conversations with friends over his lifetime had hinted that maybe he’d married and had a family to prove to himself that he could do better than his father had done with his mother. There was probably some truth to that, except that deep down he really did want to be a father and husband. The father part had been wonderful. The husband part, not so much.

A couple that he knew were both on their second marriages. They’d been together for over twenty years. He was convinced that they would say that their marriage was based on true love. Why was that? Because they both were devoted to each other, supported each other and enjoyed each other’s company, as well as giving each other space and time to grow.

Maybe that’s what it came down to when it came to true love. More than the depth of feeling one had for the other person, it was also the ablility to accept that person for who they were and to be a positive part of the growth in that person’s life.

A friend of Dave’s often talked about her idea that relationships weren’t designed to last longer than twenty years. People maybe had three good relationships in them in their lifetimes. One, early on in a person’s twenty’s before kids were born. Then, a second, middle period, where two people had children and raised a family together. And, finally, a third relationship toward the end of one’s life when the child rearing and intense job years were over.

“Successful marriages, maybe combine all three relationship elements,” she said,

“What about true love?” he asked her.

“What about it?”

“How does that fit in?”

She was divorced after nearly thirty years of a less than fulfilling marriage. She laughed. “I don’t believe in true love. I’ll leave that to you romantics.”

Is true love, then, only for romantics?

Dave asked some of his male friends and most of them were very uncomfortable with the question, looking at him in a weird way with a kind of “What’s wrong with you?” look on their face. Only one said that he believed in true love. Others had never really thought about it, and, when pushed, didn’t really have an answer. But some of the comments on the article from guys said that they’d believed in true love, so that said something.

Dave wasn’t sure why he was obsessing over the question. It all came down to the fact that even though he hadn’t experienced true love, he still felt that maybe it was out there. That maybe it did exist. It did for others. Why not for him?

He was in a long term relationship that had been going on for over ten years. It was the kind of relationship where the two of them had met and been friends before falling in love and committing to each other. Friends told him that she was the kind of person he should have been with all along. He didn’t disagree. He felt a depth of love and affection for her that he never had felt before, and he was one hundred percent committed to the relationship. They were mature adults and each had their own interests, but they loved sharing their life with each other. It was the happiest he’d ever been and she told him that being with him made her happier than she’d ever been. He could easily see them being together for the rest of their lives. She wanted it too. Neither of them had a desire or need to be married.

When Dave asked her whether or not she believed true love, she told him that she didn’t. “Look, I’m just happy we’re together,” she said. “What more do you want?”

“As long as you’re happy, I’m happy. I guess I’ll just have to be the romantic one in the relationship,” he laughed.

She smiled, getting what he was saying. “So it sounds like you believe in true love.”

“You know, I believe I do, the more I think about it.” He was trying to be honest. He told her about the article and the impact it had on him. Maybe true love really was different for everyone. Maybe the point wasn’t about true love forever and ever, but, instead, was the idea of committing to the relationship through the good times and bad; to be with the person no matter what just for the simple joy of being together and having the fulfillment of a loving and caring relationship. Which was how he felt with her.

“Does it bother you that I don’t?” She asked, “Believe in true love?”

“No.” He liked that they were talking about it. “Just don’t hold it against me that I do,” he added and grinned.

She laughed. “Don’t worry. It doesn’t matter to me that we see things differently. How about you?”

“No. I appreciate that we are different and have our own points of view. I’m just happy being with you. I like our life together.” He paused and then added, “I’m just glad we found each other.”

She looked at him for a few moments and then reached over and squeezed his hand. “Me too,” she said, her voice honest and true.

At that moment Dave realized that whether what they had was true love or not, he didn’t really care. The important thing was that they were together and committed to each other and that was good enough for him. As to the question about whether or not true love really existed, well, he’d leave that for the psychologists to figure out. He had all he needed to know right there beside him with her.

 

 

Writers and Readers Magazine – Alan’s First Meeting

Greeting Everyone!

My story, Alan’s First Meeting is featured in this issue. It begins on page 76. Here’s the link to the magazine.

The Writers and Readers’ Magazine May/June Issue Contributors Access

If you don’t want to use the link here’s the story:

Alan’s First Meeting

The Upper Midwest chapter of Slothoholics Anonymous met twice a month at the home of Jerry Butler, the head of the chapter. The house was a small non-descript rambler befitting the general demeanor of the four regular attendees. When Alan Kershaw first decided to attend it took him until his third attempt to finally ring the door bell. Like most people dealing with his affliction, making a commitment was hard.

The door was opened by a cheerful woman. “Hello. I’m Emma, Jerry’s wife. Nice to meet you.”

“Hi. I’m Alan.”

He was suddenly tongue-tied and could feel sweat forming in his arm pits. He wasn’t sure he was ready for this, getting together with people like himself, people addicted to what those in the medical profession called Sloth-Like Behavior. But his doctor had recommended this particular group after what happened a few months earlier, and he knew he needed to give it a try. After all, his dad had almost been killed.

Emma seemed to sense his distress. She gave him an encouraging smile, took his coat and hat and led him into the living room where a tall man with a closely trimmed beard rose to meet him.

“Hi, there. You must be Alan.”

“Hi. Yeah, I am.”Alan crossed the small space and they shook hands.

“We’ve got a chair over there for you. Have a seat. Make yourself comfortable.”

Four people were already seated. Alan went to the folding chair and carefully sat down, thankful it supported him. Over the years he’d put on a few pounds, extra weight he was now very self conscious of.

He glanced around the room. Jerry was across from him, studying a clip board. To Jerry’s right was a small man, nervously playing with his bolo-tie. He had short brown hair and was dressed in a white snap button shirt and blue jeans. Next to him was a large man, bigger than Alan, who was wearing black sweat pants and a black sweat shirt. Even from a distance, Alan could see food stains on his massive stomach. Next to him, and to Alan’s immediate right, was a woman about his size with short cropped dark hair who wore a billowing red floral dress. He detected a light herbal scent on her which he found quite pleasant. To his left was a thin young man who looked to be in his early twenties, by far the youngest person in the room.

“All right, then,” Jerry said, setting his clip board aside. “Let’s begin.” He looked around to make sure he had everyone’s attention. “Before we have our newcomer introduce himself, let’s check in.” He looked at Bolo Tie. “Ed. How was your week?”

Ed sat up, quit fiddling with his tie, and said, “It was good. I was able to get two things accomplished from my to-do list. I cleaned my bathroom and took out the trash.” He smiled and looked around the room.

Black Sweat Suit harrumphed and said, “That’s it?” He shook his head derisively at Ed and looked at Jerry. “I actually cleaned my refrigerator, organized my dresser and replaced some burned out light bulbs.”

“That’s wonderful, Randy,” Jerry put up his hands in a supplicating manner, “but dial it back with Ed. Remember, everyone’s safe here. No negative opinions.”

Randy blushed and immediately apologized, “Yeah. Right.” He looked at Ed. “Sorry about that.”

“Apology accepted,” Ed acknowledged with a nod, and then went back to fiddling with his tie.

Next to him, Red Floral Dress was quiet. The entire room looked at her, even Alan. She said, “I’m sorry, Jerry. I…I…I didn’t…” Then she started to cry.

Alan fought back an urge to comfort her, pat her on the shoulder or something. Since he couldn’t remember the last time he had touched a female, he decided against it.

Jerry was quiet for a moment and then said, “That’s okay. Mary. We’ll just move along.” He turned to the young man on Alan’s left. “Larry? How was your week?”

Larry smiled. “Just fine, Mr. Butler, I mean, Jerry. ” He laughed nervously and looked at Alan. “I’m kind of new here.” Join the club, Alan thought to himself. He averted his eyes as Larry proudly stated, “I drove the car with my mom to the grocery store. First time in years.”

There were audible gasps throughout the room. Everyone was impressed and congratulated Larry. Jerry added, “That’s wonderful news. A real accomplishment.”

Larry beamed a smile. “It was. It felt great.”

Jerry consulted his clip board. “And cleaning your room? How’d that go?”

Larry went quiet for a moment, then shook his head, “Not so good.”

“Why was that?”

“Um. I guess I got hung up on my video games.”

At the sound of ‘video games’ Alan’s ears perked up, and he glanced at Larry. He was a gamer from way back.

“Again?” Jerry asked.

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“Fortnite?”

“Yeah.” Larry lowered his gaze as well as his voice. “Sorry.”

Jerry was adamant, “No ‘sorrys’ here. Remember, Larry, We’re all trying to do better.”

“Yes, sir,” Larry said, keeping his eyes down.

“Okay, let’s move along.” Jerry made eye contact with Alan. “How are you doing?”

“Fine, I guess.” He paused and motioned around the room. “It’s a lot to take in.”

Jerry smiled, encouragingly. “I know. But you’re here and that’s the main thing. It’s a big first step.”

Alan blinked rapidly, removed his glasses, wiped them off and put them back on. “You know the hospital pretty much ordered me to come here, don’t you?”

Jerry motioned to his clip board. “I know. Don’t worry Alan. Everyone is here for a reason. Good ones. Just tell us your story. I promise you’ll get a lot of support.

“Okay.” He looked around the room, took a deep breath and let it out. “Hi. My name’s Alan,” he began. He wasn’t used to talking. To anyone. He took a sip of coffee that Mary had brought to him and continued. “I’m thirty-five years old and used to live with my father in a small bungalow in West St. Paul. Mom left us and took my little sister Jane when I was ten.”

Jerry interrupted and spoke softly, “Tell the group why they left, Alan.”

“Yeah, well…,” He stopped talking, thinking, This is when I should just leave. But he’d made an agreement with the doctors. “This is embarrassing, but I guess that’s why I’m here.” He cleared his throat, “Mom left because Dad and me were what she called ‘Lazy, shiftless idiots,’ except she used stronger words than those. She actually called us assholes.” Alan grimaced. “‘Lazy, shiftless, assholes.’ Not a very nice thing for a mother to say to her husband and son.”

“Did you and your dad deserve to be called that, Alan?” Jerry asked gently.

“Not so much Dad, but I was especially bad. As far back as I can remember I really didn’t care about anything. Mom tried to interest me in things she liked doing. She enjoyed gardening so she had me help her dig in the dirt and plant flowers.” He shuddered and was surprised when a few of the others laughed.

Jerry  smiled and motioned to Alan. “Go ahead. You’re doing great.”

“She’d ask me to help around the house, vacuuming or washing dishes or even taking out the trash, but I couldn’t be bothered. I just didn’t feel like doing any of those things.”

Jerry asked, “What did you feel like doing, Alan?”

For the first time since he’d started speaking Alan became animated. “Video games,” he said, smiling. “I loved playing video games. Mortal Kombat and Brain Dead were my favorites.  I had no desire to make friends because all I wanted was to be in my room by myself with my games.”

Next to him, Larry asked, “You played on line?”

“Not back then, just at my console. But later, yeah, I did. I found that I liked being anonymous and not being around people.”

“Cool,” Larry said.

“Go ahead and continue, Alan,” Jerry said, giving Larry a sharp look.

“Yeah it was cool. I went to school and played video games. That’s all. I put on weight. I fought with my mom when she asked me to do stuff. I fought with my dad, too. Mom and Dad started fighting about everything: me, his job, her job, even my little sister who started staying out late and getting into trouble. Finally Mom left home when I was a senior in high school and took Jane with her. I got a job working at the Quik-Trip nearby so I could walk to work. Dad kept his job as a mailman and with my job we could make ends meet.”

“Did you help out your father at all?” Jerry asked. “Around the house?”

“That’s a real sore spot because, no, I didn’t. I kept up the same behavior I had with Mom and didn’t do anything around the house. I just walked to the Quik-Trip and walked home and played video games.”

“I get that,” Larry said, receiving another stern look from Jerry.

“Over the years trash kept accumulating inside. Dad couldn’t keep up and I was too lazy to help. I’m surprised someone didn’t call the police.”

Jerry interjected. “They almost did, Alan. It says here in the police report.”

“Well if they had, maybe what happened wouldn’t have happened.”
By now everyone was on the edge of their seats.

“What happened?” Larry asked.

“The house caught on fire and Dad almost died.”

Stunned silence filled the room. Alan’s face turned beet red. Perspiration drained out of his body like a sprinkler system. He glanced at the front door, thinking, I should make a run for it.

“Alan,” Jerry said in a soothing voice, “in spite of the fire, you’re okay, and your dad’s okay. That’s the important thing. But it’ll be good for you to tell us what happened that day. All right?”

Alan closed his eyes to gather strength and then continued. “Our home was a little smaller than this one. I was in my bedroom playing Fortnite Battle Royale when in the background I heard the smoke alarm go off. It was in the back of my mind that Dad should do something about it. I kept gaming for another ten minutes and the whole time the beeping from that alarm never quit. I kept wondering where the hell Dad was because he should be taking care of it, like put a new battery in it or something. I couldn’t be bothered to do it myself so I played on, getting madder at Dad for not doing something to stop that damn beeping.

“Finally, I started coughing. I pulled myself away from the monitor and looked around. My room was filled with smoke and it finally dawned on me that something was really wrong. I got to my feet, mad at Dad for not taking care of things and making me do it. When I touched the door handle of my room it was so hot I had to use an old shirt from off the floor to open it.”

Alan stopped and looked around. Everyone was staring at him. “Go on,” Jerry said.

Mary had brought him some more coffee. He gratefully sipped it and continued, “With the door open I saw the hallway was filled with thick smoke and flames were burning in the living room. My first thought was to save my computer.” He looked at the faces staring aghast back at him. “Yeah, save my flippin’ computer, not even thinking about my dad.”

Next to him Larry emphasized, “I know what you mean, though, man. I kind of get it.”

Alan was grateful for Larry’s comment. “Yeah, but really, it was not good. When I realized that I didn’t know where my dad was I ran into his bedroom. He wasn’t there. I checked the bathroom. Not there either.

“By this time the living room was nearly engulfed in flames. All the crap we’d let build up in there was burning like crazy. I hurried toward it and saw Dad passed out on the floor in the doorway leading from the living to the kitchen. I fought through the smoke and flames and grabbed him and carried him out the back door to safety.

“Once outside I could hear sirens in the distance. Someone had called 911. The neighbors came and helped. The ambulance arrived and took us the hospital. I had superficial scratches. Dad was treated for burns and smoke inhalation.”

“What happened to the house?” Ed asked.

“It was destroyed. We lost everything.”

“Even your computer?” Larry asked.

“Yeah. Even my computer.”

“Bummer.”

Randy in the black sweat suit exclaimed, “Good lord. Was that the big fire a few months ago in St. Paul?”

“Yeah.”

“I could see flames from where I live in Eagan.”

“Yeah. Everyone could see it,” Alan said and lowered his head. “It was massive.”

Jerry took over. “Alan’s Dad is recovering in a home for burn victims. He’s going to be fine, right Alan?”

“Eventually, yeah. His lungs are pretty scared but he’ll be okay.”

“Where are you living now?” Mary asked.

Alan coughed nervously.

“It’s okay,” Jerry said, compassionately. “Go ahead.”

“My mom heard about the fire and contacted me. First time I’d heard from her in over twenty years. She’d moved out west to a little town about twenty miles from here. She’s got a small house and she works as a cashier at the local hardware store. My sister lives nearby and has a job at a dry cleaners. Mom told me I could stay with her as long as…As long as I don’t go back to my old ways.”

“What’s that mean?” Larry asked. “No gaming? Man, I’m not sure I could do that.”

“It’s more than that,” Alan said. “But, yeah. Sort of.”

“Geez, that sucks,” Larry said, and then looked at Jerry. “Sorry.”

Jerry said. “Actually, that’s part of why we’re all here, right? To figure out how to live a better life and not give in to living like a sloth, being lazy and never doing anything for other people. Like we’ve talked about, Larry, there’s more to life than video games.”

“That’s right,” Alan nodded his head. “Mom said I could stay with her if I helpped out around the house, doing things like she asked me to do when I was a kid. I’m trying. I’m really enjoying being with her and getting to know her. I even see my sister, too. She’s married and has two little girls. They’re adorable.” Alan smiled for the first time all evening.

“I think Alan’s story is one we can all relate, too, right?” Jerry looked around the group. Everyone nodded in agreement.

Randy said, “I certainly can.” He looked at Alan. “I lost my job.”

Ed said, “Yeah, my marriage fell apart.”

Mary spoke up. “I live in a crummy apartment in north Minneapolis all by myself.” She motioned around the room. “You are all my best friends and I only see you twice a month. Even with that it just about kills me to make the effort to take the bus to get here.”

“But you’re trying, right, Mary?” That’s the important thing. It wasn’t Jerry who said it, but Randy in the black sweat suit. He looked at her and smiled.

Mary averted her eyes, but Alan thought he detected a slight return smile to Jerry on her lips.

Larry added, “Maybe you and I could start gaming together, man. I love Fortnite.”

Alan wasn’t prepared for such an outpouring of support. He was speechless and couldn’t say a thing.

Jerry interjected, “Let’s let Alan relax for a minute while we talk about the outing we have planned to go to Como Park Zoo. But before we do that, I’m going to put Alan on the spot.”

Alan’s ears perked up and he started turning red again. He’d spilled his guts and told his story. It was bad, not as bad as he thought it was going to be, but he needed to be alone and processes it all. Maybe play some Fortnite Battle Royale. Then he thought of Larry. Play with him sometime? It had possibilities. Maybe.

Jerry asked, “Alan, all I’d like to know is this: Do you think you’ll come back in two weeks for our next meeting. We’d love to have you.”

Everyone in the group nodded. Yeah, it’d be great to have you here, was the general consensus.

Alan liked that he could talk to Jerry and the four other people in the room. After he got over his first initial fear, being with other people wasn’t so bad. He enjoyed Larry even though he was much younger. They had a love of gaming in common.

But he had to learn to get out of his head and out in the world more. He’d gotten a job at the local Pump and Go station near his mom’s home so that was good. And his mom said that as long as he helped out around the house he could stay as long as he wanted. He loved getting to know her again.

Alan cleared his throat and asked, “You guys meet every other week?”
“Yes,” Jerry said. “Right here.”

“My mom dropped me off tonight but she might not be able to take me every time,” Alan said, wanting more than ever to come back.

Next to him Larry offered, “That’s okay. I’ve got a car. I can drive you.”

Alan took in a deep breath and let it out. Was he ready for this? Ready for his life to move forward after all these years?

He was. He turned to Larry, and said, “Thanks, man. I’d appreciate it.”

Jerry beamed. “In that case, welcome to Slothoholics Anonymous, Alan. You’re now one of us.”

 

 

 

Gold Dust Magazine – The Standoff

Greetings!

I’m thrilled that David has chosen to feature The Standoff in this issue. It’s on pages 28-29. Here’s the link:

If you don’t want to use the link, here’s the story:

The Standoff

Without warning the snow ledge we’d been traversing collapsed, sending Jerry and me hurtling twenty feet down the side of the shear granite canyon into the boiling rapids of the boulder infested Tettegouche River. In a matter of moments our heavy winter clothes were completely soaked, but we were able to fight our way out of the icy water onto the snowy riverbank where we lay exhausted in the minus ten degree February air. I’d sprained my wrist and from the swelling in his ankle it looked like Jerry had either a bad sprain or a fracture. We were minutes from freezing to death and had to get a fire going. Thankfully, Jerry was able to.

“There’s hope,” I said scooting closer as the first flames licked the pine needles we’d used for tinder. “We may make it yet.”

Jerry gave me a sick grin, “Always the optimist, aren’t you Steve? We’ve lost our gear, I used all our matches to get the fire started and we don’t have any food except these granola bars.” A point he emphasized by reaching into his pocket and handing me one of the two he had remaining. I had none. “And no one knows where we are. Yeah, things are looking great.”

I gratefully took the bar, opened it and contemplatively munched. My friend did the same.

If I was an optimistic, Jerry was a realist. We’d been camping on Lone Loon Lake for two nights, only three miles from the trail head where’d we’d parked our car. We could have snow-shoed the distance back in half a day easy, but we’d taken an alternate route for fun. Not a good idea. We’d gotten lost, ended up in the river and now here we were, the flames from our fire the only thing keeping us from dying a slow agonizing death from exposure in the unforgiving Minnesota wilderness.

With the sun hanging low on the horizon and with the kindling in the fire starting to die out, I hurried to collect as much firewood as I could, hindered greatly by my sprained wrist. Jerry could hardly move due to his swollen ankle, now nearly popping the laces of his boot. By the time I had gathered a healthy pile of pine, birch and aspen, the pain had become so intense he was fading into and out of consciousness.

With that in mind, I almost didn’t believe him when he recovered momentarily and pointed to the top of the canyon on the other side of the river. “Steve, you’re not going to believe this. We’ve got visitors.”

Thinking we were going to be rescued, I was about to cheer when my throat constricted and my heart rate jumped from the adrenaline pouring into my blood. There, peering over the edge of the canyon in the fading twilight was a wolf – a large one, an alpha male. In a moment he was joined by a smaller wolf, probably his mate, then three more, most certainly last year’s offspring.

I turned to him, “My god, it’s a wolf pack,” I whispered. “What are we going to do?”

For once in his life, Jerry was had nothing to say. Then he spoke softly, “I’ve no idea, but off hand I’d say we’re toast.”

We’d been friends for over thirty years, ever since we met in fourth grade. In our friendship, I was the stable one, he was impulsive. I was down to earth, he was free spirited. I was the follower, he was the leader. But now I took over. “I’m going to stock up on firewood. Maybe the flames will keep them away.”

He nodded, agreeing, “Good idea.” Then he lapsed into unconsciousness.

It was completely dark by the time I’d replenished our firewood supply. I had waited only a few minutes when out of the shadows and beyond the ring of our fire I sensed a movement. Moments later I saw him. The big male had arrived. His eyes were the color of bright amber and they seemed to look directly into my soul, taking my breath away. Bile rose in my throat. I’d never been so afraid.

I shook Jerry. He regained consciousness and I pointed to the wolf. He grabbed my arm in a gesture of solidarity. “It’s up to you, buddy,” he said grimly. “Do what you need to do. I’ll feed the fire.”

I could only come up with one plan.”I’ll see if I can scare him away,” I said, sounding way more confident than I felt. We both knew what we were up against. One big, strong, hungry wolf against two injured men? We’d be no match for him. Plus, he had his pack of four other wolves to attack us if necessary. The odds were not in our favor and I began to lose my resolve. Suddenly, though, in my mind I had a vision of my wife and two kids, my reasons for living, and something snapped inside. I wasn’t going down without a fight.

“Give him hell,” Jerry said.

“I’ll try,” I responded, giving him what in retrospect was probably a pretty pathetic thumbs up sign.

I grabbed a stick the size of a baseball bat, stuck it into the fire and got it burning flaming hot. Holding it with my good hand, I approached the wolf until I was maybe ten feet from him. He didn’t move. I stopped, my body shaking as I forced myself to hold on to my weapon. We stared at each other. He didn’t blink. I don’t think I did either. Impatiently, I thrust the flaming stick at him. He didn’t bat an eye. Nor move. We stared each other down. His fangs were bared and I was close enough to see dried blood on his black jowls. He growled deep in his massive chest and took a step toward me. I held my ground and waved the burning firebrand which now suddenly seemed the size of a pencil. The wolf stopped and growled low again but didn’t come any closer. I stayed put. I may have even bared my own teeth. Neither of us moved. It was a standoff.

I don’t know how long we stood there, poised, both of us staring – me into the wolf’s glowing amber eyes, he into my terrified blue ones. I’ll bet he could smell fear all over me. It was only a matter of time before he attacked. Still, I held my ground and stood firm, the flame on my stick barely flickering.

Suddenly he blinked. Distracted. One ear perked up, then the other. He’d heard something. In a instant he turned and ran, the rest of the pack following, silent and ghost-like. In a blink of an eye they were gone.

“Steve. Steve,” Jerry screamed, pulling me back to reality, “Do you hear it? A snowmobile. I think they’ve found us.”

In the background I could hear the high pitched revving of a four cycle engine. I looked up. Headlights shone over the edge of the cliff above us. Jerry was right. Rescue was at hand. We’d been saved.

I’ll never forget our near tragedy on the Tettegouche River, especially that big wolf and both of us staring each other down. Even now, years later I can still see his bright amber eyes, his bared fangs, the blood on his fur. I can see something else, too. I can see myself reflected in those eyes of his. It’s an image of me coming to terms with my own mortality. I could have died that night but didn’t. I know I would have gone down fighting, but there is no doubt that big wolf would have won. He’d have killed me and then Jerry and that would have been the end of us forever.

However, I do know this: Something happened between him and me during that standoff that I still feel to this day, a primitive connection of sorts was forged between us. Me at one with that wild animal.

In fact, sometimes at night I am compelled to rise from my warm, safe bed, leave my wife comfortably sleeping, and sneak outside and go to the park near our home. Especially when the moon is full. I feel this strong urge, a primordial wild desire that I can barely control. It’s overwhelming. I feel like running and sometime I do. I run through the darkness, my way lit by the starry sky and the brightness of the moon and I feel alive. I feel free. I feel like something greater than myself. It’s uncanny but, sometimes, with the wind blowing through my hair and my feet flying over the earth I feel like I’m more than alive. I feel at one with the wildness of nature. Like that wolf. And, sometimes, I even feel like howling. And sometimes I do.

Down in the Dirt Magazine – Death by Black Flies

Greetings!

My new ad hoc publicist Dawn D. pointed out that I have a second story in this month’s issue. I hope you enjoy it and thank you Dawn!!

http://scars.tv/dirt/dirt172jun20/Existential_Threats.htm

If you don’t want to use the link, here’s the story:

Death By Black Flies

The headline read, “Man Saved After Spending Night In Woods. Nearly Eaten Alive By Insects.”

“Damn,”  Sue slammed the paper down, grinning ear to ear.

On the bar stool next to her, Jane said, “What?”

“That gives me an idea for Frank.”

“What now?” her sister asked ready for anything. She couldn’t stand the guy.

Sue took a gulp of beer, belched and said, “Take a look.” She rolled up her sleeve, showing her sister a fresh bruise on her arm. “This is what I got all because he had a bad day at  work.”

“That friggin’ jerk! “Jane spat and motioned to their waitress, holding up three fingers, a beer for each of them and one for Gloria, their youngest sister, who was just now making her way through the crowd at The Rooster Roost from the restroom.

“Did you get me one?” Gloria asked, pulling up a stool and plopping her elbows on the table.

Jane nodded, yes, then she pointed to Sue, “We’ve got major league problem. Frank’s at it again.”

Sue pulled back her sleeve and showed Gloria who took a one look and blew up, “Shit. We’ve got to put a stop to that bastard.”

“I’m already working on an idea,” Sue said, grinning. It just came to me.” She pointed at the newspaper headline. “I’ll tell you about it. It has to do with insect repellent.”

Jane and Gloria both laughed, thinking their oldest sister was joking. Then they saw the determined look in her eye and realized she wasn’t kidding, she was deadly serious. They leaned in and listened, the noise of the bar fading into the background. When Sue was done explaining her idea her sisters agreed, it really was a good plan. Ingenious, even. They clinked their bottles to seal the deal, because if there was one thing all three of the sisters agreed on it was this: That jerk Frank more than deserved it. He had it coming.

When he wasn’t making life a living hell for his wife, Frank Jackson worked as a maintenance engineer at the Duluth Water Treatment Plant. It wasn’t glamorous work, his title notwithstanding, and couldn’t hide the fact that his main job was to clean raw sewage from the three treatment tanks every day before they were filled to begin their transformation from sewer water to drinking water. He hated the work, but he had a temper and could never hold a job for more than a year or two, so he took what he could get. Sue and he had been married for twenty-four years and Sue’s two sisters had never liked him. The marriage was doomed from the start due to Frank’s temper, the bruises on Sue’s body a constant reminder of his violent tendencies. Divorce was not an option, and Sue had stayed with him to protect her two daughters, Colette and Jessie. Things had gotten worse in the last few years, however, every since young Jessie had left home for the west coast.

Sue’s plan was based on Frank’s true passion in life, hunting. He loved being in the woods and enjoyed the power he had over killing defenseless creatures. His favorite prey was white-tailed deer. Every fall he planned carefully what he called The Hunt, and eagerly looked forward to spending ten days alone at his hunting shack fifty miles north of Duluth on a forty acre tract of land in second cut aspen forest he’d purchased in the early years of his marriage (without Sue’s knowledge or consent of course.)

Frank’s annual hunt was what Sue counted on to make her plan work. And what a plan it was, so simple in its design, elegant, even. She was going to mix honey in with his insect repellent in hopes that the insects would do to Frank what they’d failed to do to that poor guy she’d read about in the newspaper. The black flies and misquotes and horse flies and deer flies would be drawn to the sweet tasting repellent Frank spread on his body and they would, literally, eat him alive.

She chuckled to herself when, a week before hunting season and Frank at work, she spent a mellow afternoon putting together the essential  ingredients: half honey and half repellent. She enjoyed toying the formula, finding that it mixed up really well, once she warmed the concoction in a pan on the stove.

She gave the palm sized bottle to Frank the night before he was to leave saying, “Here you go Frank. I got you a fresh supply of Deet. Now you’ll be all set.” Liquid Deet was the insect repellent most serious hunters used. It was better than spray because it was easy to apply exactly where you wanted it without any waste or unwanted aroma. Frank took it from her hand without saying a word and went back to filling a bag with ammunition. Go for it, Sue thought to herself, knock yourself out.

She and her sisters had a celebration party at the Rooster Roost the night of the day he left and laughed amongst themselves, drinking their beers and toasting many times over to never seeing him again. They were right, they never did. Alive, anyway.

Later that fall, when Frank’s body was discovered, badly bitten and partially decomposed, all of the medical professionals who viewed the remains remarked that they’d never seen anything like it.

Dr. Koivou, the medical examiner for Tamarack County said, in his statement to the press, “It appears that Mr. Jackson was having some problems with the black flies that are so prevalent in the area. It seems as if he tried to run away from them, tripped over a log at the edge of a ravine and broke his neck as he fell to the bottom. His blood alcohol content quite high, and that may have contributed to his fall. It was autumn, the leaves were falling, and soon they covered him completely. That’s why it took us so long to find him. He’d been dead for nearly four weeks as best we could tell.”

Hmm, thought Sue, after hearing the doctor’s report. So Frank had actually fallen and broken his neck. Oh, well, it sounded like the doctored insect repellent helped contribute to his demise, so that was good. Anyway ,the end result was the same. He was gone for good and that made her happy.

These days Sue keeps a copy of the medical statement framed on the wall in her bedroom. She looks at it every night and smiles, thinking of the last hours of Franks life, the hurt and pain that she imagines he suffered.

After what he put me through, he got what he deserved, she often thinks to herself, especially when she remembers the violence he subjected her to during the years she was married to him.

Occasionally she wonders if, at the end of Frank’s life, he might have thought of her. She grins, hoping that he did. In her mind she sees him he lying helplessly at the bottom of the ravine reaching out to her for help, while she looks down and laughs at him before offering him some more sweeten insect repellant.

“Here you go, you jerk, have some of this,” she says, as she pours it over him and watches the black flies and (hopefully) other biting insects attack even more viciously. Then she turns away and leaves him to his fate, not even bothering to listen to his screams.

Life for Sue is lots better these days. She’s got a new boyfriend, the bartender from the Rooster Roost where she and her sisters meet at least once a week to catch up. He’s not too bad. He’s a hunter, like Frank was, so there’s that. He has a temper, but he hasn’t hit her, so that’s good. At least not yet. After years of Frank’s abuse, she’ll never put up with that kind of behavior again. Ever.

You see, the past is never far behind, and the future…Well, let’s just say it’s the future she feels she needs to be prepared for. And Sue definitely is prepared. She keeps a bottle of her special insect repellant hidden in the bottom drawer of her dresser just in case. Because you just never know. Now a day’s there’s only just so much she’s willing to put up with. Getting hurt again by some idiotic boyfriend? No way. And if it happens, she’ll certainly make him pay. She’ll suggest that he go on a little hunting trip. And when he agrees (because they always do), she’ll send him off with her special insect repellent, and say goodbye. Because there’s one thing she’s certain of these days, it’s that this time she’s ready to make him pay.

 

Down in the Dirt Magazine – The Tattoo Anniversary

Greetings!

I’m thrilled that my story The Tattoo Anniversary is in this month’s issue of Down in the Dirt Magazine. Thank you Janet!

http://scars.tv/cgi-bin/works_e.pl?/home/users/web/b929/us.scars/perl/text-writings/g8988.txt

If you don’t want to use the link, here’s the story:

The Tattoo Anniversary

“It’s okay, there’s nothing to worry about,” Caleb said in a gentle voice. Then he plunged a hypodermic needle into the man’s thigh and watched as his eyes closed and his breathing steadied. Quickly, with nimble fingers familiar with the procedure, he secured the man in seconds, binding his wrists and ankles with thick straps of leather. When he was finished, he breathed a sigh of relief. The hard part was over. Finally, he could relax.

Earlier that evening Caleb had sat in the shadows of the small town bar sipping diet coke, watching while as a bearded, burley guy chugged beer after beer for five straight hours. By ten o’clock he was stinking drunk and the bartender cut him off, telling him to leave before he called the sheriff. The guy took out his car keys and waved them mockingly before standing up too fast and losing his balance. From his table a few feet Caleb stood quickly, reaching out a hand to steady him.

“Easy there, buddy. I’ve got you,” Caleb said, taking the keys and putting them in his pocket. He put his arm around the man’s shoulder and said to the barman who was critically watching the whole thing, “It’s okay. He’s a neighbor of mine. I’ll make sure he gets home all right.” The bartender shook his head in disgust and turned to his other patrons, glad to be rid of the unlikeable jerk.

Caleb’s thin frame and wiry arms were taut as he gripped the big man’s shoulder and maneuvered him through the crowd, out the front door, and into the soft warmth of an early June night. Moonlight glowed on a nearby lake, the evening frogs were in chorus and sweet honeysuckle drifted on the breeze. Most people would have considered it a beautiful evening, but Caleb could have cared less. He had a job to do. He propped up the drunk against his hip and guided him across the gravel parking lot and out to the street where he’d parked his small RV.

“Let’s get you inside, pal.” Caleb opened the door, wrestled the inebriated man up the steps into the tiny living space, and lifted him onto the table. It may have been the change of light, or the change of scene, but he momentarily stirred out of his alcoholic fog. “Wha…? Where am I?” he slurred, moments before Caleb stabbed the needle into his thigh.

With the drunk unconscious, Caleb set about getting ready. He laid a plastic sheet on the floor. From the cabinet above the small sink, he took out his tool kit and put it on the table. He positioned a bright portable light next to the tool kit and affixed a miner’s light around his head. Finally, on a nearby counter, within eyesight, he set a framed photograph of his son, Ethan, standing next to his cherished blue bicycle.

When he was satisfied all was the way he wanted, he opened the man’s shirt, taking a moment to notice the smooth hairless chest. Caleb smiled to himself. Good. He wouldn’t have to shave him. Then he opened his tool kit, selected a needle, inserted it into its holder and began to work.

While he moved the needle gun back and forth across the man’s chest, Caleb thought about his beloved son and the accident that occurred four years earlier. Ethan had been only seven years old when he’d been run over while bicycle riding by himself on a warm summer’s evening down a quiet street near their home. He’d been killed instantly. From that day on, the lives of Caleb and his wife Samantha and four year old daughter Becky had been changed forever. To this day, he can still recall too vividly the blood smeared fragments of a twisted blue bicycle frame reflecting the flashing white lights of the ambulance at the chaotic scene. The drunk’s blood alcohol content had been twice the legal limit. He was given seven years in prison, and he could rot there forever as far as Caleb was concerned.

God, how he’d loved Ethan. Still did. From the day he was born, there’d been an instant bond between father and son starting the moment he’d held the tiny baby in his arms. While growing up, Caleb had taken it upon himself to be by his boy’s side as much as he could, caring for him and teaching him everything from tying his shoes and learning to read, to creating Lego models and how to ice skate. Ethan had been the light of his life, his reason for living. With his death, though, Caleb had been damaged deep inside on every level and, try as he might, he couldn’t fill the void left by the loss of his son. For weeks afterwards, he lived in a fog; emotionally crippled.

He almost lost his job. Caleb was a high school art teacher, and as much as he loved teaching, he’d lost the will to get himself to school and stand in front of a class. He was granted a leave of absence and was given three months off. It didn’t help. His grief continued to hang over him like a shroud. It was relentless. When the time came to return to his classes he forced himself to go, taking up where he’d left off, teaching introductory drawing, determined to do his best. In some small way he felt that it’s what Ethan would have wanted.

Who knows how long things would have stayed that way if not for a student in Caleb’s drawing class who, soon after his return, brought him a poster from the novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Caleb was immediately enthralled with the detail of the design, the subtle colors and flow of the lines. He agreed to help the student, and from that moment on his life started to turn around. He loved the artwork of the tattoo on the poster so much he not only started making his own drawings, he signed up for a class and learned the art of tattooing.

As the anniversary of the first year of Ethan’s death approached, Caleb came up with an idea and discussed with it Samantha,        “I need to do this, honey,” he told her. “I think Ethan would appreciate it.”

Samantha wasn’t sure about Ethan, but she agreed. “It’s insane, but I think I understand. Go ahead. Just be careful and make sure you come home to us.” In the end, if it helped her husband heal, she was okay with it. Nervous, but okay.

Caleb idea was to use his skill as a tattoo artist to make a statement. He bought an old RV and fixed it up in preparation for what was to become a yearly ritual.

That was three years ago.

When he was finished working on the bearded man, Caleb directed the light and peered closely. He dabbed some blood away with an antiseptic cloth and took a moment to admire his work. He’d used his tattoo needle to print, I will never ever drive drunk again. It took up a large portion of the man’s chest.

“This looks good,” he said out loud. Then added, “You should be proud, jerk, It’s the best work I’ve ever done.” The big man didn’t bat an eye.

Caleb put his tools away and cleaned up. He waited until the streets were empty before dragging the unconscious man outside and hiding him in the bushes by the side of the bar, figuring that the guy would come around by sunrise. Then he got in the RV and left town, already feeling the energized rush he always received when a tattooing was completed. It was a feeling he could get used to.

He pointed his RV down the single lane county road and drove east, bright headlights cutting through the summer night, heading home to Samantha and Becky. He checked the time, four in the morning. He’d be with them in less than twelve hours. He couldn’t wait.

An hour from home he pulled into a wayside park and turned off the RV. He climbed into the back and took out his needle gun. He pulled up his shirtsleeve and exposed the tattoo on his left forearm; a tattoo he’d drawn when he was first learning. It read, “Ethan Lives,” in black letters that were enclosed in a bright pink heart. Underneath it were three smaller hearts, one for each year since his son’s death, one for each tattoo he’d etched onto the chest of an unsuspecting drunk. When his gun was ready, he made a fourth one.

Then he put his equipment away and started up the RV and headed for home. As he drove he dabbed away some blood from his newly tattooed heart. The pain didn’t bother him, it made him feel more alive. He was already looking forward to one year from now and another anniversary and another tattooed drunk and another chance to show his son that he’d never forget him.

 

 

 

 

Academy of the Heart and Mind – Three Haiku

Hi Everyone!

Special thanks go out to Thomas and his team for featuring three of my haiku today. Thank you so much.

Here’s the link:

https://academyoftheheartandmind.wordpress.com/2020/06/02/three-haiku/

Here are the haiku if you don’t want to use the link:

Academy of the Heart and Mind – 3 Spring Haiku

 

Butterfly Delight

Purple Coneflower

Monarch butterfly alights

Double delightful.

 

Sunlight Dancing

Morning dew sparkles

Tiny droplets glistening

Sunlight dances wildly.

 

Thirst

Springtime misting rain

Tender garden shoots reaching

Thirstily drinking.

 

 

Setu Magazine – Texas Fried Blues

Greetings!

Many thanks to Kelli for featuring my flash fiction story. It’s very much appreciated!!

https://www.setumag.com/2020/05/texas-friend-blues-jim-bates.html

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

Texas Fried Blues

The knocking woke me from a dead sleep. I glanced at the bedside clock. Two am. I went to the front door and looked out. An apparition was half turned, smoking a cigarette, and made furtive eye contact. I flipped on the porch light illuminating a figure dressed in worn camo. My friend Rick. He looked at me, crushed out the butt, picked it up and put it in his jacket pocket. Something was in his hand.

Happy to see him, I grinned and opened the door.

“Hi, Jessie, he smiled shyly. “I made this for you.” He handed me a CD.

Texas Fried Blues the label read. I was touched. “Hey, man, I appreciate it. Thanks.”

“It’s got some kick-ass stuff. I think you’ll like it.”

Rick was a war vet. He couldn’t sleep most nights so he made mixed music CD’s and gave away them to his friends.

I couldn’t help myself and inadvertently glanced at the clock. I had to get up in a few hours to go to work. “I’ll play it this weekend.”

He grimaced, trying to, but unable to hide his disappointment. “Really? I was thinking maybe we could listen to it together.”

I looked at him, tall and thin and burned out. Haunted eyes sunk deep in their sockets. Stale sweat emanating. My heart went out to him.

“Good idea,” I agreed. Then I gently took his skinny arm, led him to the couch and sat him down. I went to the kitchen and started a pot of coffee before joining  him, sitting side by side. I took the cover in my hand and read the song titles, stunned almost speechless by his caring nature.

I put the CD in the player. “These songs look great,” I told him and watched his face light up. Then I pushed play and sat back. “Let’s have a listen.”

Old time blues from the deep south filled the room. From the kitchen I could smell the coffee brewing. It’d be a long night. I was looking forward to it.

Spillwords – Starry Night

Greetings!

Special thanks go out to Dagmara for featuring my story today. Here’s the link:

Starry Night

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

Starry Night

I was five when my parents were killed in a car crash. My closest relative was Mom’s older sister, Aunt Sally, who was unmarried and considered by many to be “Nothing but an old lesbian.”  I had no idea what they were talking about, she’d always be kind to me, so when she offered to take me in and raise me on the day after the crash I was as happy as I could be, given the circumstances.

Soon after I moved in, one night in her backyard I asked, “Aunt Sally, where do you think my mom and dad are right now?”

Sally and her friend April and I were sitting on lawn chairs. It was July and my aunt was off work from her teaching job at the University of Minnesota. I was drinking some lemonade and Sally and April, a nurse at the Hennepin County Medical Center, were sharing a bottle of white wine.  She set her glass aside and turned to face me. She had long, prematurely grey hair she wore in a thick braid and the biggest blue-green eyes I’d ever seen; eyes that seemed to look right into my soul. “Jerry, your parents will always be right here,” she patted her chest, “right here in your heart.”

Tears welled up in my eyes, “But they’re gone, Aunt Sally, and I miss them so much.” I realized right then and there that I’d never, ever, see my mom and dad again. The thought was hard to image but true. Living In my heart? For a five year old, that seemed like an incredible stretch of the imagination.

April picked up on my sudden sadness and switched gears, trying to help. “You have photographs, you know,” she said, reaching over to brush a mosquito from my arm. “You can look at them. That’s always a good thing.”

April was a kind person, but trying to make sense of death to someone was always hard, let alone that I was just a five year old kid. “But it’s not the same,” I whined. Then I lost what little dignity I had left and collapsed in tears that I couldn’t control. I’d never cried so much in my life.

Sally left her chair, knelt in front me and took my hands, “You know,” she said, her voice soft and full of compassion, “Your mom and dad were wonderful people, and they loved you very much. They were with you your entire life and I know how much it hurts that they are gone. I’ll bet if they could, they’d tell you that whenever you’re lonely and you miss them, they will be anywhere you want them to be.”

My ears perked up. “Really?” I forced myself to stop crying, which took a while. But I have say that it was nice to have something to hang my hopes on. April handed me a Kleenex so I could wipe my eyes and blow my nose.

“Sure,” Sally said. “Anywhere. Just choose. Then you can see them anytime you want to.”

I thought about for a moment and then it finally made sense to me. All I had to do was pick. So I did.

I pointed to the sky. “That’s where I want them to be.”

Aunt Sally looked, her beautiful eyes following my outstretched arm. “Up there by that constellation?”

She saw the questioning look in my eyes. “Constellation?”

“Yes, that group of stars up there.”

“Yeah. Up there,” I pointed again.

She smiled. “That’s called Orion. The Hunter. See, it has three stars for a belt.”

I smiled and repeated the name, “Orion. That’s a great name,” I said. ” It’s cool. I love it.”

Sally stood up and pulled me to my feet and gave me an all encompassing hug. “I think I even see your mom and dad up there,” she told me. “They seem really happy.”

“I see them, too,” April added. “They look great.”

I hadn’t been this happy since the car crash. It felt good have a feeling in my body other than sorrow; like life was going to go on and not always be so sad.

We watched the night sky for a long time that night. Sally and April talked to me about stars and constellations and it was fun. In fact, it even made me forget about my loneliness for a while.

Finally, it was time to go inside. We stood up and walked to the back door, but before we went inside I turned and waved one last time, saying, “By Mom. Goodnight Dad. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

And you know what? The next night they were still there and have been ever since. I was never lonely for them again.

 

Trembling With Fear – Payback Time

Hi Everyone!

Special thanks go out to Stephanie for featuring my drabble in this issue of Trembling With Fear. I hope you enjoy it. The link takes you to the issue, then scroll down to the story.

https://horrortree.com/trembling-with-fear-05-24-20/#more-564100

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

Payback Time

She leaned over his naked body handcuffed to the bed and made the first cut, whispering, “One.”

He screamed. “One? What are you talking about?”

She put her finger to his lips. “Hush.”

She’d kept track of his lies over the years, his infidelities. Now he was all hers and it was payback time.

She sliced him lightly, enjoying the blooding running over his chest. “Two.”

He screamed.

She loved the sound.

She cut him more and more until his screams turned to tears, “Please, no more.”

She kissed his trembling lips, “I’ve only just begun.”

And cut him again.