Short Stories

The phone rings in the Atlanta Braves’ locker room. The bat boy’s voice slices through pregame hubbub. “Hey, Ben! Telephone!”

            “What?” The baseball player growls into the phone.

            “Ben Peters?” A soft male voice.

            “Yeah. Look, the game’s about to start. Who is this? What d’ya want?”

            “There’s been an accident. Suzi—”

            “Oh, god.”

            He listens to the details and slams down the phone. From a Nashville hospital, a slender young musician dials another number.

            “Memphis Uniform Patrol. District Two.”

            “Sergeant Morgan, please.” The musician waits, taking deep, deliberate breaths.


            “Morgan here.”

            Details are repeated. Phones click dead.

            So, my three men know. Lying there on the operating table, I can feel that they know. In the midst of the pain, I sense Cosmo has called the other two.  Whatever the cost to his heart, he would do that.

Agony blankets my leg, creeps up through my groin, settles in my stomach. A mask slaps on my face. I breathe blackness.

            FLASH! I am above the pain, above the flesh, floating—floating? O’m’god, FLOATING! I’m in the lobby where Cosmo waits for the others. I need to help him; need to kiss away his fears. Wow! It’s purple out here!

            Love rains from my spirit and patters uselessly into Cosmo’s soul. I see his tear, but cannot dry it. My sweet, sensitive poet and lover. It’s Saturday night, but you’re not singing. Has the music died? Sing for me, my love. Sing from your heart to heal me.

            FLASH! What the—?!?  I now hover above my body on the antiseptic table. I wonder if I will live; wonder how things will change if I do. If I don’t . . .

            I never thought about dying. All those days in the sky, a merry flight attendant flying my Tennessee/Georgia tri-city route, a man in every port. Even in rough weather, even with other airline tragedies, I never worried about dying. I, Suzi Buckholz, am a free spirit. Free spirits don’t die. Not now. NOT EVER!


            FLASH! I’m flat on the table again: Me and my human entity. My life plays out in living color on the screen behind my eyes. Suddenly free spirit seems selfish. Independence becomes scared. Truth exposes what I called honesty. Things are much clearer now.

            FLASH! I watch a memory of last Christmas. Cosmo holds me in the crisp Nashville air; tree lights flicker against ornaments, stars against the sky. Colors dance across our faces. Ribbon rattles, falls. Wrapping paper follows. His gift, a book: The Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach. “About soulmates,” he says. His eyes beg me to find us among the pages. 

            My kiss of thanks warms to fiery passion. Ah, you taught me feelings, Cosmo. Like sun on the desert, or gentle drops of summer rain.

            FLASH! Another memory. With Cosmo in bed. Hands seek intimacy that hides beyond the touch—intimacy lost in words never spoken. “Talk to me!” I beg silently. “Feelings are glorious, but words need saying, too!  Sweet Cosmo, tell me your fears.”

            FLASH! Pain drives me from my form on the hospital table. I watch the knife cut away flesh and probe at bone. Too much pain. Am I dying? I’M DYING! I was wrong, Cosmo. Feelings are enough. Who needs words?


            FLASH! My spirit follows my thoughts to the outer room where Cosmo waits. He sits, head bowed, elbows resting on knees, nervously massaging each finger of each hand. I become his fear—his sensuality. They’re the same up here somehow. I love you, Cosmo!

            The hands stop moving. He’s heard me! 

            But he looks away, toward the door. I follow his gaze.

            Morgan! Familiar strong legs stride into the room. Oh, Morgan, you stride, stalk, and march, never just walk. Your Sergeant’s badge glitters against your Memphis blue as you take control. Morgan, my rock.

            “Buckholz. Suzi Buckholz.” Morgan snaps out my name to the nurse at the desk.  She looks up from her papers, his voice commanding her attention. Like it does from fellow uniforms. And criminals. And me.

            “She’s still in surgery. You may wait over there with your friend, Sir.” She gestures at Cosmo.

            I watch Morgan assess my poet, scrutinizing his competition with trained gray eyes, calculating if the pain of conversation with the foe will be worth the information gained. You clump over.

“Jack Morgan,” you say brusquely, hand extended.    

            Cosmo stands, struggling not to break eye contact. He flinches beneath the firmness of the cop’s handshake.

            Remember your center, Cosmo. Remember your dreams. Morgan’s a teddy bear; don’t let him intimidate you. But Cosmo cowers under Morgan’s gaze, and I am saddened.


            Morgan—my haven, my strength. Perhaps it is you I need. The old and strong may not need feelings and songs.

            “What happened? What have you done to her?” Flecks of anger and fear darken Morgan’s eyes; his voice is gruff, demanding. Darling, Morgan, always hiding behind interrogation.

            FLASH! Sutures crimp off my veins and suck me back to check on my body still being probed on the operating-room stage. I will myself to keep fighting.

            FLASH! I watch my knights circle for battle.

            “It was a motorcycle,” Cosmo says. “She had to try it alone.” His voice cracks. “I tried to get her to wear a helmet, but she said she was too much of a free spirit to . . . bother.” Pain and bitterness sound the same up here.

            I remember now, yelling about adventure as I roared away. Then the stench of hot metal and burning flesh mocked my hubris. Pain. Sizzling, searing pain. No! I don’t want to remember!

            A commotion at the door saves me. My dashing Ben catapults into the room like he’s sliding into base.

            “Oh, hello,” the nurse flutters. “You’re Ben Peters!”

            He doesn’t seem to hear her.

            “I’m a huge Braves fan.” the nurse prods. “Can I help you, Mr. Peters?”


            “I’m sorry. Yes.” Ben flicks the shock of blond hair from his forehead and flashes his famous, heart-melting smile. She forgives him his rudeness in an instant. I feel like I’m melting, too, but then I remember I’m a spirit and I’m supposed to feel this light. “I’m looking for Suzi Buckholz,” Ben croons.

            “Oh, my.” The nurse flutters again and glances at my other two suitors, who now stand together against this latest contender.

            Morgan ambles over, and I giggle at his pretense as he evaluates the enemy. Nostrils flare. Stallions prance. Territories are marked and acknowledged. Unconscious contempt for the “common man” curls Ben’s lip. There’s that “snob face” I hate. Stop it, Ben!

            “Who’s operating? Do we need a specialist? I’ll cover the cost,” Ben says. I see his fear. I am his fear. Ah, Ben, arrogance is a mask to hide your weakness.

            Don’t worry, I want to tell them all. It’s okay. Everything’s okay up here.

            DING! DING! CODE BLUE! Oh, no, it’s not okay! Flurries of starched white lab coats rush down the hall. The cord of light connecting me to my body jerks me back to physicality. Frantic commands. Hands pound my chest. I feel the hot sting of a needle. Fire surges into my veins and races wildly beneath flesh in search of the enemy that threatens my life. Electricity jolts me.


            COME ON, SUZI, FIGHT!!!

            My body jerks. Lungs pump madly. A cloud of strength surrounds me. I smile, absorbing the power of my knights as they put aside their war to join forces with mine. My breath surges at last. I’m going to live!

 

            For two days I lie in limbo, trapped in my prison of skin, knowing nothing but the hazy sense of changing auras around me.

            Cosmo sits with me first. His essence calms. Pink bubblegum love and poetic purple. I sense him going deep into his core to quiet his fear so I will not feel it. My heart smiles, and I wish I could make his do the same so he will know how his colors soothe. 

            Next Morgan takes a shift. His aura is solid gray. Steel. I pull his strength into me, but reality is crushing him, and I wish he could hear me laughing at death. He has never understood my flippancy about troubles. Not from that first meeting. I was driving my blazing blue MG Midget much too fast. Top down, I zoomed past this gray-haired, old-enough-to-be-my-father, very handsome policeman on his way home from work.

            As he wrote the ticket, Morgan gave me Lecture 101 about the dangers of driving fast in a convertible.

            “But I’m a flight attendant,” I said. “I love to fly.”

            “Then save it for the job.”


            He handed me the ticket. I smiled at him, saying I’d show up in court if he did . . . maybe we could go for coffee afterwards.

            “Are you bribing an officer?”  

            I laughed.

            “Laughing at a cop will get you in trouble, Ma’am.”

            I waved my ticket at him. “I’m already in trouble, sir. Why do you think I’m laughing?” 

            We hadn’t waited for court to have our coffee. For four years I have taught my serious man in Memphis how to laugh. And now, with a twist of a handlebar, I have taken his laughter away. From my hospital bed, my mind begs him to remember. Laugh with me, Morgan! 

            But he rises—age showing—and walks to the door. I think of the sun and concentrate on sending a few rays filtering over him. A flicker of yellow crosses his departing gray aura. A smile! He smiled! When my body has healed, I’ll show him how much that smile meant.

            As the door closes behind Morgan, energy races through me. Ben is near! Vibrant orange energy ripples through the air and descends over my bed. My spirit grabs at the vitality like a drowning swimmer clings to a life jacket. Consciousness creeps up my spine, knocking at the windows to my soul and flooding my brain. I try my eyelids for the umpteenth time—finally time they open. Ben’s crystal blues stare unseeing for a moment.


            “Isn’t this a hoot?” I mumble. 

            Ben’s eyes light up. Mine fall closed.

The orange aura fades into a rainbow of emotion as all three men huddle around me. My eyes won’t stay open, so I just smile and let the colors saturate me: purple . . . gray . . . orange.

            Now the doctor arrives. His aura is a pretty pastel blue. He lifts my right eyelid and puts a spotlight on my brain. I sit up, eyes bursting open, and push the startled doc away. “Hi there, sweet shining knights of mine,” I say to my three heroes.

            Nervous laughter. The men shake their heads, unsure what to do with me, but resigning themselves to love who I am.

            The doc eases me back on the bed; Nurse Hatchet prods for my pulse, pinching my wrist a little too tightly. Ha! Jealous!

            “Don’t talk,” says Cosmo.

            “Rest now,” says Morgan.

            “You’re going to be okay, kiddo.” Ben wiggles his fist. It’s the gesture he makes for me when he’s at bat on TV. He told me once it meant: Hi Suzi, I know you’re watching—maybe in Nashville with Cosmo, or Memphis with Morgan—but soon you and I will be together in Atlanta, and you’ll be all mine.

            “You say all that with one little waggle of the wrist?” I had asked.

            I touch his arm to still it. My finger traces down his hand as if it has a mind of its own, as if Cosmo and Morgan aren’t there.


            There is a moment of awkward silence. I smooth it over by motioning my lovers to stand together and say “party.” I take a picture with an imaginary camera. They understand. There’ll be no more talk of giving up the others—of marriage—about all those conventions that are not me. I need all three of my men . . . love them as one.

            FLASH! Pink, gray, orange, the colors of love, blanket me in a cozy glow. My eyes close, and I am flying. Free spirit . . . yeah, that’s what I am . . . Ahhhh . . . I’ve never flown this high before. So, this is love.

...

"Stop that fighting!" Carol yelled to the clamoring toddlers outside the bathroom door. Turning, she studied herself in the mirror. God! Five years ago, she had been senior prom queen. Now she looked fifty! Her auburn hair was long, limp, and unkempt. Yikes! Was that a wrinkle? She picked a dried piece of tomato from her eyelash and yelled again. “If I have to come out there, you boys will be sorry!” Splashing water on her face, she muttered to her reflection. "I need a break from these monsters before I go NUTS!" Her eyes hardened in decision. "I'll talk to Roger again tonight.”

The family dinner that evening followed the usual pattern. Roger, a construction worker who looked like an accountant, sat at the far end of the table, ignoring the three four-year-olds who sat on either side of Carol. Her head throbbed as she tried to coax mac-and-cheese through Paul’s pursed lips. Beside him, John circled a finger in a blob of ketchup and smeared it across his lips. He tried to smear his brother’s lips as well, but instead got his mother in the eye. Carol jumped up and screamed, which sent the triplets screaming as well. George nervously pulled on his hair, leaving behind a long streak of cheesy yellow.  The dog added his howl to the uproar.

Roger was oblivious as he swigged down the last of a beer and burped loudly, chuckling at something on his cell phone. Carol’s angry look went unnoticed, as did the loud sigh she let out before sending the dog to his bed and quieting the boys.

Squelching her anger, Carol got another beer from the refrigerator, popped the top, and set it in front of him. He was shoveling food into his mouth and barely noticed.

"Roger?" She hated that her voice sounded so meek.

"What?” He looked up from his plate, noticed the fresh beer. “Oh, yeah, thanks.”

"Roger!" Now her tone was sharp enough to get her husband’s attention.

He flicked his glasses up his nose. His voice was resigned. "What, Carol?"

"I need a break, or your sons will not turn five!  I am truly going crazy! Can't we afford a sitter one afternoon a week? A couple hours. I’ll cut back on the grocery bill."

Roger looked at the remnants of gluey mac-and-cheese and wimpy boiled hot dog on his plate and rolled his eyes.  “Sure, I’d love to eat gruel so you can have a spa day.”

“That’s not fair.” A tear sprang to Carol’s eye as she began to pace. “Look at me, Roger.  I look like crap. I’m starved for adult conversation. I’m too young to be trapped like this!” A plaintive whine crept into her voice. She hated the sound, but couldn’t seem to control it. “I’m beginning to hate my own children.”

Roger looked at the ketchup‑freckled faces staring at him. He knew his wife was right. He just needed a little more time. "I’m up for a raise in a couple months, dear, and with the new office complex project, it should be a good one. We'll look into it then. I promise."

"A couple of months? MONTHS?" Carol’s screech set off the toddlers and the dog again. Roger stalked out in disgust. By the time the chaos was calmed, he had planted himself in front of the television and was already nodding out. He barely noticed when the boys, all cleaned up, paraded by in their nightshirts and leaned shiny faces in to kiss him goodnight.

Once the kids were settled, Carol plopped into a rocker and stared daggers at her husband until he finally looked away from whatever insipid sitcom he was watching and scowled at her. “Stop staring. There’s nothing more to say. You’re the one who wanted a baby.”

One baby, not three!”

“Well, don’t blame me for that. Multiple births come from your family, not mine. Do you think I was planning to have to support five people so soon?”

“Maybe you could watch them a couple of hours at night once in a while.”

“After working like a dog all day, and having to get up at dawn to do it all over again?”

Carol was silent, dejected.

“The boys nap every afternoon so maybe do some yoga or something here while they’re down. Lots of women do that. Anyway, they’ll be in preschool before you know it, and you’ll have all day to relax. But I’ll still be punching that time clock to provide for all of you while you lay around. Now the news is coming on, and I would like to watch it.”

He turned his head deliberately, stared at the screen. She was too furious to speak. Stalking to the refrigerator, she poured herself a glass of cheap, boxed wine and wearily cleaned up the dinner mess and loaded the dishwasher. She muttered as she threw a load of laundry in the washer. “Lay around, my ass.” She slugged back the rest of her wine and stalked into the den. Roger was sagged over in his recliner, asleep, his can of beer dangling precariously in his hand. She took the can and set it on the end table, but left him sitting there as she trudged off to bed.

            The next morning, Carol was vacuuming when the doorbell rang, sending the dog’s barks and boys’ squeals to dangerous decibels. Carol switched off the vacuum and yelled futility for quiet as she answered the door.

"Howdy, Ma'am," said the chipper young man on the doorstep. He looked past her toward the chaos. “I see I’ve arrived just in time.”

Carol followed his gaze. “How much will you give me for the whole kit and caboodle?”

His eyes widened, and Carol rolled her eyes and sighed loudly. “Look, I’m busy and have no money to buy whatever you’re selling, so—” She started to close the door, but his hand stopped it.

“I'm with Rescue Babysitting Service. You entered our contest?"

Carol gave the man a wary look. “No. I didn’t enter anything.” 

“Maybe your husband entered for you. In any event, you won! I’m here with your free babysitter.”

Carol furrowed her brow as she glanced around for a camera. “Is this a joke?”

“No, Ma’am.”

“I won you as a babysitter? For how long?”

“No, Ma’am, not me. I’m Eugene Bradley. An inventor. This is the babysitter.” He held up a box that was about six inches long and four inches wide. Carol is intrigued, but skeptical.

“May I come in and show you how it works?”

Carol hesitated, but the sound of a lamp shattering behind her, and Paul’s wail immediately echoed by his brothers made her step aside so the man could enter. “Oh, why not? I’m desperate. Would you like some coffee?”

Later, the house was quiet, and Carol was smiling as she walked Eugene Bradley to the door. “Now remember the terms of our contract and the consequences—”

“Yes, yes. Now go. I have big plans for my day, and I want to get started.”

 

Roger returned from work as the sun set. “I’m home, dear,” he called out as he hung his coat on the coatrack.

“Hello, Darling.”

Roger turned toward his wife and did a double-take. Gaped in disbelief. She had dyed her hair the color of a shiny penny, and her make-up was impeccable. She had resurrected lingerie he hadn’t seen in years. Lingerie that left nothing to the imagination. "Holy cow, Carol? Wha—You look . . . magnificent! I’m not complaining, but what's going on?"

"I feel good, that's all. The boys went to bed early, so we’ll have a lovely dinner and…” Carol smiled seductively as she loosened his tie, leaned close. “…and then….” Her words were a warm whisper at his ear. A beer appeared in his hand, and Roger swallowed any questions with his first icy gulp.  

 

            A couple weeks later, Roger raised up on one elbow and studied Carol as she slid into bed beside him.           

"Carol?"

"Yes, Roger?"

"Carol, I may jinx things by asking, but what’s happened to you? Delicious meals every night, great lunches packed every morning, and you’re looking rested and lovely all the time. Not to mention the—you know— sex. I love it—don’t get me wrong—it’s just—are you okay? And what have you done to the boys? They're so polite and quiet these days. It’s unnatural."

"Oh, Roger, stop talking and kiss me.”

 

The next day, Carol studied the boys as they ate their oatmeal. They had become rather docile. Deep in thought, she walked around the table, fluffing each boy’s hair in turn, planting a kiss on the top of each head. “You guys are fine. Just growing up is all. That’s why you’re not so rowdy anymore. You know I love you and would never hurt you, don’t you?”

Carol wiped three faces and six hands and prodded the boys from their chairs. “Go and play with your Legos.” She shooed them toward the den, pulling a remote control from her purse as she followed them. “I’ll tell you what. I won’t pause you so much. Maybe one day a week we can have an outing. Go to the zoo or something.”

The boys all yelled “ZOO” at the same time.

“Maybe,” Carol said. “But I need these breaks. I’m finally starting to feel human again. Besides, there’s the contract. And you’ll start pre-school before too much longer, so we won’t need it anymore.”

She pointed the remote at each of her sons and hit PAUSE. The boys froze in place.

Carol actually whistled as she cleaned up the kitchen and changed into workout clothes. She stopped at the door to the den and blew kisses at the triplets. “I won’t be gone long today. I promise.”

 

At the same time, Roger was finishing his lunch at the construction site when his boss walked up with a clipboard. “Whitmore,” he said. “You still drive that van, right?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good. We need to replenish a few of the supplies on this job.” He holds out the clipboard. “Here’s a list. I want you to take off and go to the warehouse and load up. Then go ahead and knock off for the day, since you live over there.”

“I’d rather come back and get the hours, Sir. With the boys, things are—”

“Don’t worry about that. You’ll get full pay. We don’t need the stuff until morning so you can bring it then.”

“Are you sure, Sir?”

“You work hard, Whitmore, and deserve it. Go on, now. Get out of here.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

A half hour later, Roger looked around puzzled by the silence as he stepped into the house. He chuckled as he got a beer and took a long drink. “You are so busted, Carol!” After all her whining about how hard she worked all day, he’d caught her napping with the boys.

He walked to the bedroom, grinning. Maybe he’d join her for, well, not sleep. 

But the bed was empty. Where the hell?

Roger went to the boys’ room. Empty, too. Worried, now, Roger rushed to the den, his calls to Carol echoing through the eerier silence of the house.

He stopped dead in the doorway to the den, eyes wide, mouth gaping. Then he sprang into the room and rushed from one frozen boy to the next, shaking them, horrified when he got no response.

Rushing back to the kitchen, he grabbed the cell phone he’d left on the counter and was just punching in the first “1” of “9-1-1” when the outside door opened and Carol burst in.

“Roger! What are you doing home?” Her voice was breathless with guilt. He laid down the phone.

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? What have you done to my sons?”

“Oh, Roger, they’re fine. I just paused them for a few minutes to run out.”

“PAUSED THEM? What do you mean paused them?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“You’ll tell me or I am calling the police.”

“Please, Roger. You don’t want to do that.”

Roger pointed to one of the chairs around the kitchen table.  “Sit. Talk and make sense.” He held his cell phone at the ready.

“Do you want a beer? I’ll un-pause them as soon as you’re calm.”

“I’ve got a beer and I’m fine right here, so sit down and tell me what is going on.”

“You should blame yourself for this not me. You’re the one who entered my name in the contest.”

“I never entered any contest. What contest?”

“For the babysitter. It saved my sanity. It saved us.  I haven’t heard you complain about your home life lately. He said it wouldn’t harm the boys. I wouldn’t hurt them.”

“I don’t understand, and we are not leaving this room until I do. So, start making sense.”

Carol let out a huge sigh and pulled the remote from her purse. Tears welled in her eyes. She turned slowly and held it up for her husband to see.

 “What’s that?”

“It’s the babysitter, Roger. I just push the pause button, and the boys freeze until I push it again.”

“You should have told me. We should have discussed this. Done some research on the thing before we used it on our sons.”

“I couldn’t. The contract was very specific. I couldn’t tell anyone. The consequences—” She aimed the remote at him.

“So, what, you’re going to pause me now?”

“No, Roger, it’s much worse.” Tears rolled down Carol’s cheeks. “I have to STOP you, Roger. Forever. I’m so sorry, but I had to make a deal to get a deal.”

“Give me that thing.” Roger advanced on her, grabbing at the remote.

Her thumb smashed down on the STOP button.

But in the world of karma, it was Carol’s heart that suddenly stopped not Roger’s. Whether it was a malfunction of the remote, or it had been purposely designed to take the life of the one who would take another, no one ever knew. Roger un-paused his sons, hammered the remote into a million pieces, shredded the contract he found in Carol’s underwear drawer, and never told a sole about it.

Carol’s death was ruled a heart attack, and life insurance provided enough for Roger to hire a real babysitter. He found a spry and kindly grandmother, who moved in and helped raise the triplets into fine young men.

...
Brad and Tara were at odds. They stared angrily at each other. With tears streaming down Tara’s face, she offered Brad an ultimatum. “It’s time to make a choice. It’s either me or your new mistress.”

“Rose, her name is Rose Gray. Why can’t you call her by her proper name?”

“Brad I am tired. The two of you spend every waking moment together. You haven’t taken me to dinner in a year. We have not made love in months. The other night I got dolled up in a sexy negligée and you didn’t even notice. You came home and went straight to bed. You didn’t even take your socks off.”

“Quit being a drama queen, Tara. I was tired, I worked all day.”

Tara stood fast. “What’s it going to be? Me or your new love?”

“I am not giving up on Rosie,” Brad insisted.

Tara wheeled and strode off in disgust. As she climbed into her car she exclaimed. “You will be hearing from my lawyer.”

Brad pulled a stool up behind where Rosie stood. He stroked her backside. “Don’t worry honey, nothing will come between us. From now on it is just you and me old girl.”

True to her word Tara filed for a divorce on the grounds of alienation of affection. Two months later they appeared in court.

The judge asked, “Are all parties present? Where is this Rose Gray mentioned in the testimony?”

Tara barked back. “No, Rosie is still back home, where he left her. He sleeps with her every night.”

Brad added. “She can’t come out right now.”

The confused magistrate asked. “Why isn’t she here at this hearing, and why can’t she come out? What is her problem?”

Brad replied, “Her engine needs to be rebuilt.”

“What?” Asked the judge.

“Rose is my 1965 Rose Red Corvette convertible.”

The judge slammed down his gavel. “Divorce granted.”

Tara was awarded the couple's entire estate. Minus Rose Gray, of course.

...

"Shit, this weather is getting worse, I can barely see in front of me".

As usual, Satan was talking to himself.

He only had a few friends, and of those he did have, none would be stupid enough to accompany him on a late night drive in this weather.

The Dark One was returning from a business trip up north, where he had been closing a deal to acquire more souls. The meeting had gone well. He had purchased a dozen pure souls, and his client had thrown in a few wretched ones to seal the bargain. Yes, all had gone well until he had to make the return journey in this appalling weather.

"Oh do me a favour! What's wrong now?" Satan grimaced as his car spluttered and coughed, before slowly coming to a halt.

"That's all I fucking need. Now where's my bloody breakdown cover?"
Satan reached into his glove compartment and pulled out his crumpled certificate with the emergency number printed in big black type across the top. Flipping open his mobile phone, he gave another curse as he realised he had no signal. Trying anyway and getting the requisite "connection unavailable”, he let out a "Why Me?" at the top of his voice.

Looking through the rain splattered windows he could just make out the illuminated word "HOTEL" in red neon.

Satan pulled his jacket over his head before stepping out of the car into the raging storm. He proceeded to manoeuvre the car as best he could into the kerb until both his energy and interest sapped.

"Fuck it. Who cares?" were his parting words as he strode through the deep puddles on route to the hotel.

Making his way through the double doors into the reception area of the hotel he was a little put out to find that the desk was unmanned. Hitting the bell three times in quick succession he glared about him while waiting for someone to appear.

Minutes passed before he struck the bell again, this time with a ferociousness that would have sent a saint down to hell. The bell merely tinkled a faint and muffled "ding", before collapsing into molten metal.

Satan stared at the fist that had done the smiting and realised it was all aflame. "Oh fuck, this is getting to me; at this rate I will burn the place to ashes before I get a bed for the night".

He placated himself with a "Calm down old fellow, take it easy".

The door behind the desk opened and a grizzled old man appeared. With a smile that would have melted the heart of anyone but the prospective guest, the old man spoke cheerfully, "Good evening sir, what can I do for you on this dreadful night?"

"A room for one, with en-suite if you have it," Satan replied.

"Certainly sir, I have one room vacant on the sixth floor. Number sixty-six, would that suffice?"

Satan reached for the key with the 666 embossed prominently upon it and smiled. "Couldn't be better, home sweet home"

He told the clerk his car had broken down and that he would need it repaired and ready for the morning. He passed on the car keys, the breakdown certificate with the phone number and registration details, and asked the clerk if he could get it all arranged.

Satan added that there would be a decent tip if everything was 'tickety-boo' by the time he had finished breakfast the following day.

The smiling clerk told Satan that all would be ‘tickety-boo’ by morning, and assured him that everything would be taken care of. 

Going up in the elevator to the sixth floor the devil was slowly shaking off his bad mood. Still dripping wet of course, and if he had any spirits, they would also be pretty damp. Nevertheless, what the hell, he’d soon dry off.

Putting the key in the door, turning it, and then stepping into the room, Satan shrugged off his sodden clothes, hung them on the radiator and stepped into a steaming shower. "What the hell?" he repeated to himself. "Life ain't so bad".

Satan returned from the shower wrapped in the fluffy white gown, supplied free of charge by the hotel, and now he felt almost human. At least as human as any self respecting devil could feel.

After making himself a coffee from the facilities unit, he climbed into bed, dimmed the lights, and let himself drift into his favourite tormented sleep. Within moments he was blissfully dreaming of howling souls and burning red coals.

He awoke drowsily and knew at once that a drug had been administered to his normally all-powerful body. Finding his strength diminished and his powers non-existent, he could barely struggle with the bonds now holding him.

Satan quickly realised his arms and legs were stretched out to the four corners of the bed, all tied firmly to the bedposts. Surrounded by chanting figures, all but one masked, he immediately recognised the lone unmasked tormentor as that of the smiling front-desk clerk.

Satan's voice came out mumbled as there was a red kerchief rammed deeply into his mouth; but, even through the restriction, it was clear the words "fuck" and "hell" had been uttered."

As he writhed weakly on the bed pulling at his bonds the voice of the clerk came through the rhythmic chanting of the masked assailants.

"Hark oh Beelzebub, we pray to you Dark Lord; please accept this sacrifice as our pledge of unceasing devotion. Please accept the blood of this lowly human who we sacrifice in thy name and in this room dedicated to you, our eternal lord and master"

With these words the still smiling, the now near hysterical clerk plunged a dagger deep into Satan's black heart.

...
I place the last brick in the wall, and leave the cement to dry before plastering. Hopefully when I return to finish the job his screams will have stopped....

"The Demons of War are Persistent”

 A Personal Story of Prolonged PTSD

 —A.W. Schade, USMC 1965/69 

Fifty years have passed since my deployment as a combat Marine to Vietnam. However, only several years since I acknowledged my inability to continue suppressing the demons alone. Like many veterans, the “Demons” have haunted me through nightmares, altered personas, and hidden fears. 

Even as many veterans manage the demons’ onslaught successfully, millions survive in destitution, needless solitude, and social disconnection. Scores consider themselves cowards, should they concede to the demons’ hold. Countless live in denial and loneliness, protecting their warrior’s pride. The most vulnerable— tormented by guilt and feeling forever alone — too often choose to “end” their lives.

*************************************************

As friends and family gather to celebrate another joyful holiday, I am often disheartened, reminded by vivid memories of lost friendships and battlefield carnage that erratically seeps from a vulnerable partition of my mind. The cerebral hiding place I concocted, decades before, as a mechanism to survive in society. I unwittingly clutch at profound loneliness as I avoid searching for memories of my youthful years. If I dare to gaze into my past, I must transcend a cloak of darkness weaved to restrain the demons from so many years before.

My pledge to God, Country, and the Marine Corps were more than forty years ago. As a young, unproven warrior, I consented to the ancient rules of war. At eighteen, like many others, I was immersed in the ageless stench of death and carnage, in the mountains and jungles of Vietnam. However, my journey began much earlier, on a sixty-mile bus ride with other nervous teenagers, to New York City’s legendary Induction Center at 39 White Hall Street.

We went through lines of examinations and stood around for hours, recognizing one another’s bare asses before we could learn each other’s names. We did not realize so many of us would remain together in squads and fire teams, building deep-seated bonds of friendships along our journey. Our initial ‘shock’ indoctrination began immediately at Parris Island; intimidating Drill Instructors scrambled our disoriented butts off the bus, organized us into a semblance of a formation, and herded us to the barracks for a night of hell!

Anxiety, second-guessing our decision to join, and apprehension was our welcoming. Following what we thought would be sleep (but was actually a nap), we awoke in awe to explosive clamor, as the DIs banged on tin garbage can lids next to our bunks, yelling ‘get up you maggots.’ Even the largest recruits trembled.

We remained maggots for the next few weeks and began intense physical and mental training, slowly recognizing the importance of “the team” instead of “the individual.” In less than sixteen weeks we were proud United States Marines. It was a short celebration though, as we loaded our gear and headed, in order, to Camp Lejeune, Camp Pendleton, Okinawa and then the Philippines, where we continued to enhance our stealth and killing skills, before executing these talents on the already blood-soaked fields of Vietnam.

We argued and fought amongst ourselves as brothers often do. Still, we never lost sight of the bonds we shared: We were United States Marines with an indisputable commitment to “always cover each other’s back.” Crammed into the bowels of Navy Carrier Ships, we slept in hammocks with no more than three inches from your brother’s butt above you. The sailors laughed as these self-proclaimed “bad-ass Marines” transformed into the wimpy “Helmet Brigade.” We vomited into our skull buckets for days on our way to Okinawa, where we would engage in counter-guerrilla warfare training. 

Aware that we were going to Vietnam, we partied hard in every port. The first of our battles were slugfests in distant bar-room brawls.

Conversely, our minds were opened to the poverty and living conditions of these famous islands in the Pacific. Their reputations preceded them, but stories about war with Japan—John Wayne movies—were not what we found. Instead, we found overpopulated, dirty cities; we were barraged constantly by poor children seeking any morsel of food. In the fields, families lived in thatched huts with no electricity or sanitary conditions. 

While training I experienced the horror of being chased by a two-ton water buffalo (with only blanks in my rifle). Moments before, this same beast was led around by a ring through its nose by a ten-year-old boy. Worse than the chasing was hearing the laughter of brother Marines watching me run at full speed, trying to find something to climb. In a tree, I felt as though I was losing the “macho” in Marine, and we were still thousands of miles from Vietnam.

In confidence, we spoke as brothers about our fears, hardships growing-up, family, girlfriends, times of humiliation, prejudice, and what we planned to do in our lifetime once our tour of duty in Vietnam was over. We knew each other’s thoughts and spoke as though we would all return home alive, never considering the thought of death or defeat. We had not learned that lesson, yet. 

Moreover, we dreamed of going home as respected American warriors who defended democracy in a remote foreign land, standing proud, feeling a sense of accomplishment, and experiencing life, as none of our friends at home would understand. Our country had called and we answered.

We transferred to a converted WWII aircraft carrier that carried helicopters and Marines instead of jet planes. We were to traverse the coast of Vietnam and deploy by helicopter into combat zones from the Demilitarized Zone, the imaginary line separating North and South Vietnam, to the provinces and cities of Chu Lai and Da Nang. Then further south, to the outer fringes of Vietnam’s largest city, which was, at that time, Saigon.

Within sight of land, we heard the roar of artillery, mortars and the familiar crackling of a small-arms fire. These were sounds we were accustomed to because of months of preparing ourselves for battle. However, for the first time, we understood the sounds were not from playing war games. Someone was likely dead. Anxiety, adrenaline highs, and fear of the unknown swirled within my mind.

Was I prepared? Could I kill another man? Would another man kill me? From that point forward, death was part of my life. We would eventually load into helicopters, descending into confrontations ambivalent, yet assured we were young, invincible warriors. We were convinced the South Vietnamese people needed us; many of them did. Thus, our mission was simple: save the innocent and banish the enemy to Hell!

The first time we touched down on Vietnam soil, we mechanically spread out in combat formation. Immediately, everything I was taught to watch out for rushed through my mind: “Was the enemy around us?” “Was I standing near an enemy grenade trap, or stepping toward a punji pit filled with sharpened bamboo spikes?” Seeing our company walking through the low brush gave me comfort, until an unexpected explosion deafened our senses. We immediately hit the ground and went into combat mode, establishing our zones of fire. There was nothing to think about except engaging the enemy. We were ready for battle.

We waited, but heard no gunfire or rockets exploding, only a few Marines speaking several hundred feet away. One yelled, “I can’t F’N” believe it!” We learned our first meeting with death was due to one of our brother’s grenade pins not being secured; we assumed it was pulled out by the underbrush. Regardless, he was dead. Staring at his lifeless body, I felt the loss of youthful innocence gush away.

One engagement began with us being plunged into chaos from helicopters hovering a few feet off the ground. We anxiously leapt—some fell—into the midst of an already heated battle. The enemy sprung a deadly assault upon us. I became engrossed in the shock, fear, and adrenaline rush of battle. It was surreal! It was also not the time to ponder the killing of another human being, recall the rationale behind the ethics of war, or become absorbed in the horror of men slaughtering each other. Thoughts of war’s demons certainly were not on my mind.

When the killing ceased and the enemy withdrew, I remained motionless, exhausted from the fighting. With only a moment to think about what had just occurred, the shock, hate, and anger were buried under the gratitude of being alive. I had to find out which brothers did or did not survive, and as I turned to view the combat zone, I witnessed the reality of war: dreams, friendships, and future plans vanished. We knelt beside our brothers, some dead, many wounded, and others screaming in pain. A few lay there dying silently. 

As I moved about the carnage, I noticed a lifeless body, face down, and twisted abnormally in jungle debris. I pulled him gently from the tangled lair, unaware of the warrior I had found. Masked in blood and shattered bones, I was overwhelmed with disgust and a primal obsession for revenge as I realized the warrior was my mentor, hero, and friend.

My voice fragmented, I spoke at him as if he were alive: “Gunny, you can’t be dead! Son-of-a-bitch, you fought in WWII and Korea, how can you die in this God for-shaken country! Get up Marine!” Tears seeped down my face; I whispered that he would not be forgotten. I placed him gently in a body bag, slowly pulling the zipper closed over his face, engulfing him in darkness.

Navy Corpsmen—our extraordinary brothers—worked frantically to salvage traumatized bodies. We did our best to ease the pain of the wounded as they prayed to God Almighty. “With all my heart I love you, man,” I told each friend I encountered. However, some never heard the words I said, unless they were listening from Heaven. I was unaware of the survivor’s guilt brewing deep inside me.

In two or three weeks our mission was completed; we flew by helicopter from the jungle to the safety of the ship. None of us rested. Instead, we remembered faces and stared at the empty bunks of the friends who were not there. I prayed for the sun to rise slowly, in order to delay the forthcoming ceremony for the dead.

Early the next morning, we stood in a military formation on the aircraft carrier’s deck. I temporarily suppressed my emotions as I stared upon the dead. Rows of military caskets, identical in design, with an American flag meticulously draped over the top, made it impossible to distinguish which crates encased my closest friends. As taps played, tears descended. For the first time I understood, that in war, you never have a chance to say goodbye. I pledged silently to each of my friends that they would never be forgotten: A solemn promise I regretfully only kept through years of nightmares or hallucinations.

Combat is vicious; rest is brief; destroying the enemy was our mission. We fought our skillful foes in many battles, until they or we were dead, wounded, or overwhelmed. Engaging enemy troops was horrific in both jungles and villages. We had to either accept or build psychological boundaries around the terror.

Nonexistent were the lines of demarcation; we constantly struggled to identify which Vietnamese was a friend and which was a foe. The tormenting acknowledgment that a woman or child might be an enemy combatant had to be confronted; it was often an overwhelming decision to make. I was not aware of the change in my demeanor. In time, I merely assumed I had adjusted emotionally to contend with the atrocities and finality of war. I acquired stamina, could endure the stench of death, eliminate enemy combatants with little or no remorse, suppress memories of fallen companions, and avoid forming new, deep-rooted friendships. I struggled to accept the feasibility of a loving Lord. I never detected the nameless demons embedding themselves inside of me.

At the end of my tour, I packed minimal gear and left the jungle battlefields of Vietnam for America, never turning to bid farewell or ever wanting to smell the pungent stench of death and fear again. Within seventy-two hours, I was on the street I left fourteen months prior, a street untouched by war, poverty, genocide, hunger, or fear. 

I was home. I was alone. Aged well beyond my chronological years of nineteen, I was psychologically and emotionally confused. I was expected to transform from a slayer back into a (so-called) civilized man.

Except for family members and several high-school friends, returning home from Vietnam was demeaning for most of us. There were no bands or cheers of appreciation or feelings of accomplishment. Instead, we were shunned and ridiculed for fighting in a war that our government assured us was crucial and for an honorable cause. I soon found that family, friends, and co-workers could never truly understand the events that transformed me in those fourteen months.

I changed from a teenage boy to a battle-hardened man. I was not able to engage in trivial conversations or take part in the adolescent games many of my friends still played. For them, life did not change and “struggle” was a job or the “unbearable” pressure of college they had to endure. It did not take me long to realize that they would never understand; there is no comparison between homework and carrying a dead companion in a black zipped bag.

The media played their biased games by criticizing the military, never illuminating the thousands of Vietnamese saved from mass execution, rape, torture, or other atrocities of a brutal northern regime. They never showed the stories of American “heroes” who gave their lives, bodies, and minds to save innocent people caught in the clutches of a “controversial” war. For years, my transition back to society was uncertain. I struggled against unknown demons and perplexing social fears. I abandoned searching for surviving comrades or ever engaging in conversations of Vietnam.

Worse, I fought alone to manage the recurring nightmares, which I tried to block away in a chamber of my mind labeled; “Do not open, horrors, chaos and lost friends from Vietnam.” However, suppressing dark memories is almost impossible. Random sounds, smells, or even words unleash nightmares, depression, anxiety and the seepages of bitterness I alluded to before. I still fight to keep these emotions locked away inside me. 

Today, my youth has long since passed and middle age is drifting progressively behind me. Still, unwelcome metaphors and echoes of lost souls seep through the decomposing barriers fabricated in my mind. Vivid memories of old friends, death, guilt, and anger sporadically persevere. There may be no end, resolution, or limitations to the demons’ voices. They began as whispers and intensified—over decades—in my mind.

“Help me, buddy!” I still hear them scream, as nightmares jolt me from my slumber. I wake and shout, “I’m here! I’m here my friend,” and envision their ghostly, blood-soaked bodies. I often wonder if more Marines would be alive if I had fought more fiercely. “I had to kill!” I remind myself; as visions of shattered friends, and foes hauntingly reappear at inappropriate times.

Guilt consumes my consciousness as I recall the mayhem of war, and what we had to do to survive. As well I question: Why did I survive and not them? Most horrible, however, is the conflicting torment I feel when I acknowledge that I am thankful it was others instead of me.

Regardless of which war a person fought, I am sure many of their memories are similar to mine, as many of mine are to theirs. I never recognized the persistence of the demons, nor realized how quickly they matured deep within my soul. Disguised and deep-rooted, the demons cause anxiety, loneliness, depression, alcohol abuse, nightmares, and suicidal thoughts; traits that haunt many warriors for a lifetime. For thirty-five years, I would not admit these demons were inside me, and believed seeking medical assistance for what was going on in my mind, was a weakness in a man.

It was not until the first Gulf War began in 1990, that I sensed the demons were again bursting from within. No matter how hard I tried to avoid them, I could not escape the vivid images and news coverage of every aspect of the war. Eventually, the bodies and faces in the media were not strangers anymore; they were the faces of my brothers from a much older and forgotten war. Encouraged by peers and several family members, I finally sought assistance from VA doctors, who immediately diagnosed me with PTSD and began an ongoing treatment program.

During my third or fourth group therapy session at the VA, the psychiatrist leading the meeting persuaded me to speak about myself, starting with my overall thoughts of my tour in Vietnam, but then focusing on what I accomplished instead of what I lost. After a long hesitation, I told them the greatest accomplishment in Vietnam was the hundreds of people our teams personally saved from rape, torture, or savage death.

We did not give a damn about the politicians and college students arguing back home, or running off to Canada to avoid the draft. We were enlisted Marines, on the front lines, protecting innocent people caught up in a horrific war.

My most positive moment, I continued, was when I lifted a three-year-old girl from the rubble that separated her from her parents, who were slaughtered by the Viet Cong for giving us rice the day before. Though traumatized and trembling in fear, she reached up to me, and I cradled her gently in my arms and made her smile for only a moment. I handed her to one of our extraordinary corpsmen and continued to seek out the enemy who committed these atrocious murders. It was then I understood why I was in Vietnam.

However, as with everything I masked in my subconscious, I obscured that moment of compassion for decades until this small therapy group encouraged me to glance back and look for positive events buried within the worst of my war memories.

Regarding my post-war years, the doctor asked me to focus on my career, an area where he knew I had some success. I explained that when I left the Marines after four years, I was youthful and confident in myself. I had no clue what depression and anxiety were, and I thought the nightmares were personal and temporary. I was determined to look forward and in no way back to the war. Unfortunately, today I realize that while constantly looking forward helped me avoid chaotic memories of war, it also cloaked the memories of my formative younger years and positive events throughout my life.

I never relished talking about myself and thought it would be a good time to stop. However, the group asked me to continue. As peers, they knew I needed to feel a purpose, and not think my life was a second-rate existence. I was reluctant; as I looked around the room and knew many of the Vets succumbed to PTSD early in life and did not fare as well as I did. I felt I was about to sound like a wimp, or worse, a self-centered ass.

Awkwardly, I began to tell them - with many gaps - about my career after Vietnam. My first recollection was one they all understood. I went through eleven or twelve jobs feeling totally out of place. Watching sales managers gather their teams, and with fanatical enthusiasm tell us how great we were, and together we would attain the highest sales revenue, whipping all other regions. To me, compared to combat in the jungles of Vietnam, this was a game. 

Feeling extremely frustrated within the environment of civilian life, I was ready to head back to the military. However, before reenlistment happened, I got married to my current wife of 40 plus years, who will be the first to tell you living with a type-A personality with PTSD is often a living hell, especially since she had no idea what I was battling. But, neither did I. Like millions of warriors before me, I never spoke to anyone about the war, or the nightmares that abruptly woke me, soaked in sweat and tears.

I decided not to reenlist and pursued a career in business. After numerous jobs, I finally landed a position with a bank repossessing cars - a small-scale adrenalin rush, at times. Within five years, I worked my way up to branch manager.

Bored, of my repetitive tasks in banking, I accepted an offer from a very large computer company to join as a collection administrator. Though it seemed as if it was starting over, I was promoted into management within a year. Focusing on new business challenges aided me in keeping the demons at bay. Subsequent promotions followed.

Within roughly eight years, I was selected to attend Syracuse University to attain a degree in Management - paid by the company at full salary. I continued to accept challenging positions in finance, marketing, business development, sales, and world travel. 

At first, traveling to other countries was great, but after the second or third twenty-one-hour flight to Bangkok or Singapore, it got old quick. I began to realize boredom and repetition were major catalysts for my emotional setbacks; having too much time to think was a recipe for falling hard into the bowels of PTSD.

As years passed, anger, frustrations, mood swings, and depression were common events affecting me, my family and career. I stopped moving forward and spent more time battling the memories of the past. It was at that time I understood the demons never leave; they simply wait for a sliver of weakness to overwhelm you.

Consequently, these conditions, as well as heightened road-rage, quick to anger, and sometimes not able to carry on an articulate conversation, I unenthusiastically retired early from my very well-paying job. This, of course, decreased my income significantly, and opened new crevices in my rapidly deteriorating armor. The demons seized a stronghold; they are persistent.

I have still not won the battle against the demons, but, with the help of therapy, outside physical activities, medications and writing; I look ahead again. The demons continue to haunt me with nightmares, depression, memory loss, anxiety and the need for solitude.

Although I am not able to sit down with a vet and talk about war, I have taken on a cause through writing stories, to reach out to young and senior veterans to help break the stigma of PTSD, by seeking reinforcement. It took me, with present-day support from younger vets at the Journal of Military Experience [http://militaryexperience.org], over the course of six years to finalize this story. I mention this so others can move forward in his or her life; by knowing what I and others know now.

I wish someone cited the following recommendations to me earlier in my life; although being young and macho I probably would not have listened. However, here are a few suggestions from one old warrior, to those of all ages:

Breakthrough the stigma of PTSD and get medical assistance - PTSD is real!

Unless you are in a high-risk job, you will probably not experience the adrenaline rush and finality of your decisions as you did in combat. For me, I lived by playing business games - never finding the ultimate adrenaline rush again. It is a void within me, I think about often.

The longer you wait for treatment, the harder it will be to handle the demons. They do not go away and can lay dormant in your soul for decades.

Understand that it is never too late in your life to begin looking forward and achieving new objectives.

If you do not want to speak about PTSD with your family or friends, then hand them a brochure from the VA that explains what to look for, and why you need their support. You do not have to go into detail about the tragedies of war, but without your loved ones’ understanding of your internal battle, your thoughts can lead to divorce, loss of family, relationships, or suicide – a terrible waste of a hero. Silence and solitude is not the answer! If you have PTSD you may not be able to beat it alone.

If you are concerned about your military or civilian job, seek help from peer resources. They have experienced what you have been through and will help keep you living in the present, instead of the past.

Or contact a person in a peer support group anonymously. They will not know you but will talk for as long as you wish.

You cannot explain the horrors of war to someone that has not experienced it, except maybe a PTSD psychologist.

Get up off your ass and take a serious look into yourself! Accept the fact that if you have continuous nightmares, flashbacks, depression, bursts of anger, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide, you have PTSD. If so, talk to someone who can help.

There is also financial assistance through the VA, which may help you avoid living a life of destitution.

Finally, let your ego and macho image go. There are many individuals and groups today wanting to help you. If you do not seek help, you may find yourself alone and bitter for a lifetime. The demons are not going away, but with help, you can learn to fight them and win one battle at a time. Please contact the resources below!

Semper Fi!

[AW Schade; a Marine, Vietnam 1966/67, retired corporate executive and author of the award-winning book, Looking for God within the Kingdom of Religious Confusion. A captivating, comparative, and enlightening tale that seeks to comprehend the doctrines and discord between and within Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Secularism. What the seeker discovers, transforms his life forever!  www.awschade.com]


...

"I could hear Elvis singing as tears fell on the last page of the book. One of the best short stories I've ever read." -- Amazon reviewer

Archie Johnson thought he was prepared to meet his death in the electric chair. 
The sentence had been read; he had had his last meal and the prison chaplain had asked God to have mercy on his immortal soul. Then, just as they were strapping him in, he suddenly realized there were a few things he wanted to do before he left this earth.
This story has been called a "dead man's dream."

...

A story by Domenic Marinelli

__________

It was 1989; I was seven. My parents and I had left the comforts of New York for a trip back to my father’s birthplace of Parella, Italy. It was a small town of about two hundred people.

What I remember most about the trip was the freedom I had. I could wander the town walking from one end to another all alone, exploring and going on private adventures.

It was on one particular day that my walk took me to a less populated area where the alleys were narrow and the buildings seemed all but abandoned. I walked slowly, trying to take it all in, when suddenly I could see a small open fire in the distance. It was at the mouth of a small alley. The fire drew me closer, and the air smelled oddly of a scent I associated with Christmas Eve. It wasn’t until I was standing a few feet away from the fire that I noticed the small pan of chestnuts sitting above the bright orange flames.

A noise startled me from deep within the darkness of the alley. An old man was standing there, staring at me through grey eyes that were both menacing and kind. We stared at each other that way for the longest time, until he motioned me forward.

***

It was dusk, and my father saw me returning from the distance; I could see him waving me home from the front door of the house he’d grown up in. “How was today’s adventure, Ademo?” he asked me when I got closer.

“Fine, Dad,” I said as I squeezed by him.

He tousled my hair before I was out of his reach and into the hall bathroom.

I stared into the mirror, as I do now all these years later, wondering about the hidden corners of the world and the human spirit, where darkness covers all, and the soul suffers most.

 


(Copyright 2017 - Domenic Marinelli)

Domenic Marinelli is the author of Weathered Tracks, Save … Act – A Collection of Ten Stories, Miles In The Dark, Beneath The White Darkness, 13 Years of Lamentation, Resonant Words (articles) and Strays In The Cold. He is also a freelance writer who has contributed various pieces to many publications including The Sportster, The Gamer and Steel Notes Magazine.


...

Doesn’t look like Phoenix with all the cloud cover. It looks more like Atlanta this time of year. Must be climate change.

The weather in Phoenix was not what he expected on a spring day. The overcast was a blanket of gloom obscuring the blue skies and sunshine above the cloud layer. And sure, it was early morning, but it was also uncharacteristically cool in the valley. The permanent residents felt teased by the extended relief from the burning heat in their throats and lungs, and the melanoma attacks on their skin that was to come. They welcomed the relief of the cool weather. The late-arriving snowbirds had a different take on the weather in Phoenix. They longed to bask in the heat so they could thaw from the winter weather at home. They were disappointed. The temperature was cold enough to prevent them from belly flopping into the hotel pools. The forecast said the overcast would be rolling out of the valley by late afternoon, and by the next day, the thermometer would see a slight rise in the mercury.

He took the first flight out of Atlanta, 6:00 a.m. He thought because of the early a departure it would be quiet on the plane and he could catch a badly needed power nap during the four-hour flight, but he was wrong. He hated to be wrong about anything. It was a family trait. The other passengers, he guessed, had stopped at Starbucks to get jacked on the caffeine. And it seemed to him every rambunctious child on the plane, having had a pound of sugar for breakfast, found a seat around him on the full plane. The parents of the unleashed, ill-behaved cherubs wanted to get to grandma’s house early for Mother’s Day. Upon their arrival, the grandparents would hover over the kids while mom and dad tried to find a place to decompress.

Why did God have to put children on the earth? Couldn’t He, or She, or whatever found a better way––like instant twenty- one? It’s too early for the little demons to be awake. There should be a law against kids being on airplanes to punish me so early in the morning. I wouldn’t think of dragging Kyle along this early. Breathe in, hold, and breathe out, only three and a half hours to go.

He made every attempt to close his eyes and rest his head against the seatback hoping one of the parents of the wildlings, would take pity on him and show mercy. They didn’t, believing everyone loved children, theirs above all. He finally reached into his carry-on that was jammed under the seat in front of him, a gymnastic feat for sure, so he could retrieve his iPhone and earbuds to drown out the head-splitting sounds around him.

Only three hours and fifteen minutes to go.

The music flowing through the headphones worked fairly well for noise cancellation, but the kicking of the back of his seat was out of rhythm with the music. Finally, after three more hours on the plane, relief came when the captain made a public address announcement they would be descending, landing, and at the gate in twenty minutes.

As the aircraft came to a stop at the gate, the door of the Boeing 737-700 opened and he made every attempt to get past, around, or over the rest of the primates to make a break for it. He didn’t make any friends doing so. If one needed an example of what Cro-Magnon man was like, it only took watching a deplaning. While other passengers were fumbling with their carry-on bags in the overhead storage, he grabbed his and managed to get the best on several of them until he burst through the door and into the Jetway Bridge. He got angry glares from mommas trying to open their Winnebago strollers in front of the plane’s exit door.

Finally, in the terminal, he only had to get into the passing lane around slow walking travelers. He hastened his pace as if he were late to an impatient judge’s courtroom. He walked down the downward escalator, turned left, and walked out through the doors of Terminal Four at Sky Harbor Airport to where cars waited for arriving passengers. He stopped to breathe in the fresh morning air but got exhaust and jet fuel instead. He reached the curb and scanned left and right.

A black, late model Mercedes, after a quick beep of the horn, pulled up to him standing on the curb. The driver parked and exited the car. She walked back toward the raised trunk. She met him there and watched as he tossed his carry on into the trunk. He was taller than her and a handsome man. She was a beautiful woman. He closed the trunk then opened his arms to embrace her. She gave him a kiss on the cheek.

He gave his sister a long hug. He knew she needed one. It had been a year since their last embrace. It was Mother’s Day and they were at mom’s funeral. Both had tears in their eyes then, the kind once flowing wouldn’t stop for days.

FaceTime was the best way to stay in contact with one another since airfares weren’t as discounted as advertised. He didn’t want to leave home, the place where he grew up, but the paycheck decided for him. His Ivy League law degree was worth more in Atlanta than in Phoenix. And, Peter was there.

She couldn’t bring herself to pull up stakes and resettle in an unfamiliar place with her husband and two kids. Arizona had every conceivable scenery––mountains, deserts, rain and petrified forests, Kartchner Caverns, meth-colored lakes, and cliff- dwellings long vacated by the Native Americans for casinos on the reservations. To find all those climates and breathtaking views would require traveling around the earth. No, Phoenix would always be her home. She had deep roots there, extended family, and mom and dad. She decided to live in their house after both parents had passed. Unlike her brother, she hated change. They hurried for the warmth inside the car. Both car doors slammed shut simultaneously.

“I thought Peter and Kyle would come out with you,” she said.

“They were, then a capital murder case popped up late last night. You know how Peter gets when an inmate on Death Row stares at the clock as it ticks down to zero hours and the ‘three-drug cocktail’ is about to be delivered. Ten years of appeals from the man’s court-appointed attorneys failed to produce a re-trial or leniency. The guy’s guilty. Peter was called in because of his expertise and reputation of turning death penalty cases into life imprisonments. He sends his love by the way.”

“How’s Kyle? I was sure he’d come to see his aunt,” she said.

“Kyle is in non-stop motion from the time his eyes open in the morning until he crashes at bedtime. He’s so intuitive about things. He asks questions way beyond his age. He’s curious and analyzes everything in detail. He hates any change in his environment, like you. We adopted him and love him so much, but I swear he’s your kid. He’s doing great in kindergarten.

We had an interesting thing pop up a few days ago. After school, he asked me what a ‘Homo’ was? Some father, picking up his kid up, said to him, ‘There’s the little homo!’ The other parents say things about Peter and me, and he doesn’t understand. We need to prepare him for grade school, where the older kids will bully him. We’re trying to put that off as long as possible. He’ll be all right in the end. School doesn’t last forever, but the love in our family does.”

“I’d like to see those parents on my operating table sometime.”

She looked over her left shoulder to see if she could drive away from the curb while he spoke. The warning feature in her side mirror wasn’t flashing, but she hadn’t convinced herself to trust it yet. Sometimes trust took a long time to earn. When she saw there was no traffic, she launched out of the parking space and drove to the house. The kids wouldn’t be home from school for hours. Robert wouldn’t be home from the Tempe ASU campus until six as long as the traffic on I-10 weren’t backed up because of another accident. They had time to themselves, so brother and sister could do as they planned.

“Now I’m disappointed Kyle didn’t come.”

She crossed over five lanes to get into the far left lane. Her turn was next. She exited on 44th St. and it was a straight shot to the house in Scottsdale from there. Mom and dad had been in the house a long time. They bought the house in the fifties, before air- conditioning was common in Phoenix. They had it installed as soon as the first summer ended. It was a long, ranch-style house with a stunning garden and back patio area where the family would spend most evenings together, whenever mom wasn’t flying a trip for the airline.

“So the last time we spoke you said you were looking for a larger suite of offices for the firm.”

“We’ve definitely outgrown where we are. We’ll have to relocate before the end of the year if we get one more client. We already handle half of the criminal cases in Fulton County. How about you, Dr. Cochran? When will you leave the hospital and start your own practice? Get your doctor feet wet, or as mom would say, ‘Fly solo,’ I believe.”

“It scares me, taking that chance. The hospital is a steady paycheck. It’s hard to save these days with the economy the way it is, and the kids get more expensive every year,” she said.

“Mom wouldn’t let you get away with that conservative thinking. She wanted a rebel for a daughter, a risk-taker like her.”

“Yes, she did. Robert loves teaching at ASU. He loves the astrophysics department, the students, and the whole campus atmosphere. Robert would have gone to school the rest of his life if he could. He loves to learn and do research. His department is involved in research for NASA. We could move to Tempe so he wouldn’t have so far to commute, but the kids like their school. They’re involved with all sorts of things at school. Kelly is on the soccer team and, at her age, friends are important to her. Brian is on the baseball team. He and his friends spend the day playing video games after homework and baseball practice.”

“Mom would say you have to take chances. You can’t protect yourself from the future. I think you’re hiding behind your fear of change. Before long, it’ll be too late and all you would have collected will be dreams that stayed dreams, and not great stories to tell the grandkids like mom used to say,” he said.

She stopped for a red light and stared straight ahead. His head swung left and right to see the neighborhoods and strip malls. The light changed.

“Yeah, well, mom was bigger than life, and I could never compete with Jane Cochran no matter what I did. She trained other female pilots to fly military aircraft during World War II––her beloved WACs. After the war, she was the first woman to break the sound barrier. I don’t remember how many flying records she broke. I took all of those plaques down months ago. As a civilian, she broke down even more barriers. She opened the door to the airlines for women. Mom had logged more flight time going into the airlines than any man applying. I went to med school, and I always believed I broke her heart because I did,” she said.

“What’s wrong with your accomplishments in medicine? You’re a nationally recognized oncologist, Chairperson of the department. You broke quite a few barriers of your own, big sister. They don’t pale in mom’s shadow. Mom was mom. She started flying DC-3s, trained up to the Electra turbo-props and flew the first jet-powered Boeing. She flew everything between that and the A380. I don’t think she missed landing her airplane anywhere in the world. But you’ve saved lives in your career! They were so proud of you graduating a doctor of medicine, making discoveries, and becoming head of the department. They were proud when I graduated from law school, but they weren’t proud of my being a criminal attorney and keeping felons out of prison. I not only live in their shadow, I live in yours,” he said.

She looked at him with a disbelieving face. She couldn’t believe he felt that way.

“I think you followed into greatness by being daddy’s girl. He was always easier going, never trying to conquer some speed record. He cherished his little girl and what she had done with her life. You know he did, mom too. All that tinkering with him on cars taught you to tinker with biology and make discoveries. The only time I saw dad with disappointment in his eyes, was when I came out, but he never said a word about it. He just loved me no matter what,” he said.

She made a few turns on city streets that brought them to the house, which was impossible to see with the surrounding foliage and trees. He could see to the west the massive hospital where his sister worked. He had pushed her about her own practice but understood why she could never break away. He was more surprised he did. They sat in the car.

“Did it bother you that dad was disappointed?” she said

“Of course, how could I not be? But while other parents threw their sons out into the street, and never spoke to them again, I always had a home filled with love. I was lucky. And I was lucky, I guess, that I was more like mom. She taught me to protect myself, to never let anyone trash me for who I am. She taught me to stand on my own two feet and not let anyone get into my head because she used to say, ‘that’s where the battles are lost.’ Her strength and wisdom got me through law school and followed me throughout difficult times in life.”

She parked in the driveway and they got out of the car. The philosophical discussion ended. They wanted the keep the visit a happy reunion with the ones they loved.

...


The old man sat in his rocking chair at the narrow patio of the farm house. The time was 6.00pm. The evening breeze caressed his hair, the territorial birds already landing in their flocks, singing a series of consort before they roost.
The orange sun was only visible as the rays of light had returned back into the already dimming sky.

The old man took a fork and picked a die of pineapple from a fruit salad dish beside him. He still held the piece of pineapple and was carried far away into his own fleeting thoughts.
His state of mind was a mental reproduction of what was laid out before him. His thoughts came like the evening breeze; it came in one direction, ceases and then resumes again, traveling in a different direction. The traveling speed of the breeze was slow as the old man could observe it like a wave passing among the twigs of the plants. - and so was Pa Isaac's thoughts - sluggish.

Pa Isaac had been accustomed to imagining himself a sea god as soon as he sat on that position for an evening relapse. But that particular day was different. He was literally, not feeling as though he was sitting on a coral throne at the bottom of the ocean. Even the distant sound of automobile darting across the bridge some two miles away didn't help his imagination. He felt, rather, like a lonely earth worm buried in a thickening swamp.

Whenever his thought-wave moved in the direction hinting at his failure to take basic responsibility for his granddaughter, he felt as though he had failed in life. And yet, he knew he was nothing short of a failure whenever he remembered that Adah's plights were of his own design. It was Captain Isaac Ben-Bosch (retired), who awoke the sleeping dragon which now savoured his family, ready to gobble her up in piece by piece.
It all started on the day of Adah's initiation to bear the Prophetic Ring.

XXXXXXXXXXXX

The morning was cold. At 6.00am, the mist was still upon the field. Leaves on the trees and twigs on the field dripped water. None of them quivered for the breeze was stale.
Pa Isaac was the first to get off his bed that morning. As he opened the main exit, he smiled graciously at what laid in front of his eyes. Although the morning hadn't brought much into view - just thirty yard visibility - but the old man love misty mornings.
He stepped right out of the house and walked into the fog smiling all the way.
Most adults hold a personal superstitious believe; one that only the few consent to speak about. Pa Isaac hold his own superstitious believes about misty fields or gardens.

The old man still held on to his old Kibbutznik teenager mind
 'that taking a few deep and sustained breathes in the middle of a misty field or garden is capable of removing every toxin in the body. That such pneumatic exercise could cleanse the blood, starting from the bone marrow; cleanse the vital organs of the body, especially the heart; and flush out every impurity in the system.
Pa Isaac came to a mid-point inside the field and paused. He threw his arms wide open, shut his eyes and drew the first deep breathe - slowly.

He dragged it on until his lungs could take in no more air; [MISSING PARAGRAPHS].

The clattering and clanging in the kitchen might have livened up the home, but the ladies, particularly Adah, didn't stir in their beds. Pa Isaac allowed the soup to boil for ten minutes before pouring it whole into a strainer set inside the kitchen sink. He refilled the pot with fresh water, poured the mushrooms inside and put it back on fire. The second parboiling lasted for fifteen minutes. He drained the water and set it on fire for a third and the final round.
Cooking the magic soup took him a little more than forty minutes. He hauled the soup off the fire and filtered it into a water flask. He then ground the residue, the mushroom caps, in the electric blender before washing the poisonous pulp down the kitchen sink.
He took good care in cleaning every utensil used in making the magic soup.

Just when the old man had finished securing the filtrate in the water flask as well as removed every trace of mushroom, his wife shuffled out of her bedroom. She paused just outside the kitchen door and cleared her throat. The old man had just poured water into the kettle; he quickly dropped it on fire and swerved about turn.
"Hello Riz. How was your night?" he said, running fast with the words.
The old woman was about to reply but her brief delay seemed like hours to the old man. He had to conquer the silence.
"I said I won't disturb anyone ... Oh! the weather ... We've not had it so cool and sweet for a long while now," he added, with laughter.

The old woman smiled.
"Well, you did wake me up all the same. I thought that someone was chasing rats in the kitchen."
They both laughed to her joke.
"Oh! Something like it; I decided to sterilize our coffee kit today ..."
"Sterilize?" the old woman said, stressing the word.
"Yes! I boiled the first water with which I washed the mugs and the spoons and jug ..."
"Please, Isaac," the old woman cut him short with a shove of the hand in the mid-air. "I'm not interested," she added, turning away into the sitting room, "just fix the coffee. As long as it doesn't take up the whole day."
"Trust me it would be done before you could say nineteen seventy nine!"
The old man made and served his family a kettle of coffee for three.
The rest part of the day drifted by just like a normal Friday at the farm house. Adah was left ample time to read novels and to watch her favorite TV shows; until about 5.30pm when Pa Isaac came in from the field, carrying some lemon and a clove of garlic. He gave the lemons to Adah for peeling and dicing up.

Just as soon as Adah placed the last lemon on the chop board, Pa Isaac entered the kitchen.

"How far have you gone with it?"
"Almost through."
None looked at the other as the old man set fresh water on fire and left. Three minutes later, Pa Isaac walked into the kitchen again.
"Done?" he said, turning off the stove.
"Done," Adah said in a regimental manner.
The old man nodded. Time to commence the ultimate trick [in italics]. He hauled down the family coffee kit from the top of the kitchen cabinet, overturned one of the cups and poured hot water into it.
"May I have some lemon," he said, extending a hand at Adah. The latter carried the whole lemon in a tray, placing it in front of her grand father.
The old man, with a table spoon, scooped some diced up lemon into the steaming cup.

"Okay," he said to Adah, who took the tray again and placed it on the marble platform where it was.
The old man opened the kitchen cupboard and took a small jar of honey. He opened, and with a teaspoon, introduced a generous amount of the golden liquid into the steaming cup. Leaving the spoon inside the cup after he'd stirred the whole mixture, he took a plastic saucer, placed the drink inside it and transferred the load onto Adah.
"Take to your granny."
Adah received the saucer and left to Ma Theresa's bedroom.
The old man then brought down his little secret from the top cabinet. Even though the soup was at three-quarter level, the steam oozed out with a reassuring force that not much temperature had been lost over time.

The old man beat a painful smile to himself. He carried the water flask to the marble platform and went to work; scooping dices of lemon into the water flask. He filled the water flask to full capacity and then screwed tight the cover. He loaded it into a tin saucer, together with two mugs and spoons; on his way to his own bedroom he hollered at Adah to follow him for a discussion. 
Adah entered and sat on the only chair in the room while the old man sat on the bed.

 The old man and the girl talked about her education in a Nigerian University, while they sipped their lemon tea - not same sleep enhancer type as Ma Theresa had - but one with a psychoactive mushroom added. 
The old man had drugged his own granddaughter with a hallucinogen unknown to her; and without her permission. The thought of it in retrospect pushed the old man on the edge, against himself. He felt nasty, foolish, wicked, suicidal; as the tears poured down his cheek on that cool evening.

The old man caught the piece of pineapple between his teeth and munched. The sugary, soured taste was strong enough to distract him from the scourge of his mind. He pounced on the salad dish and devoured it like a pig. When he eventually bit his tongue and stopped in pain, the breeze literally blew his thoughts again into that psychedelic evening with his granddaughter.

In the course of their discussion, the old man shifted a little from the topic.
"What is your granny doing in her room?"
"Daddy promised to credit some money to my account on Monday, or Tuesday," she frowned and brushed her hair backward with her palm. 'I can't remember which exactly, " she said and exhaled audibly, hands on her laps, sitting bolt upright. Then she held her breath and fixed a punching look on a spot in the opposite wall.
The old man smiled and nodded his satisfaction. The organic acid had taken effect.

"Keep calm now, I'll be right back," he said, stood up and went to his wife's bedroom to check on her.

Finding the old woman already fast asleep, he turned back into his own bedroom. As soon as he crossed the door into his room, Adah turned quickly and faced him.
"Grandpa, I don't know what's happening to me ..."
"Feeling sleepy?" the old man stopped suddenly. The girl seemed so real now, the tripping was over.
"Not really, grandpa," she said, looking confused, but not out of her mind. "I think I feel a bit nausea ..." she paused and pondered for a while. "And am seeing colours ... Yes ... And sounds too. I can see the colour of sounds ... We are swimming in strips of orange and green, swirling in grey statics ..." as she spoke like a delirious patient, her legs shivered under her.
Just that same minute, as the old man feared her recovery, she was again hallucinating.
She jolted to her feet, ran up to the old man and held him by the shoulder.
"What time exactly did he arrive?" Adah said, gawking into the old man's eyes. Now the old man was equally confounded.
"I mean my daddy," Adah said grimly with the mannerism of a four year old.
"Oh! You mean he?" the old man cracked a quick laughter, "a couple of hours ago, and we are going now to meet him outside."

So saying, he overturned his mattress and took a metallic briefcase on the wood bedding. He set the number combination and opened it. There was an object wrapped in Scarlet Silk, lying alone in the briefcase. The old man took that, in one hand; dropped the briefcase on the bed and took a torchlight in the other hand. He told Adah to follow him.

Having completely lost her ego, Adah had started acting like a zombie, following every order given to her by her Shaman - orders given verbally and by means of thought transference.
The ritual march to the water front had just begun.
...
Book Of The Day
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Latest Poem

Countless things put together make us who we are

Perhaps what we’ve learned or things seen near and far

True or false learned from numerous varied sources

Or perhaps something seen travelling many courses

 

It has been my great pleasure to see some special lands

Majestic mountain vistas, Alberta’s haunting badlands

The vastness of the prairie with horizon never reached

The power of the ocean from a shell strewn beach

 

I’ve crossed giant rivers, walked beside the babbling brook

Seen the best and worst of nature seldom pictured in a book

The crags of mountain passes, topped by winter’s sparkling load

Miles and miles of wheat the sun and rain has turned to gold.

 

Acres and acres of deep green peas, topped by the pink of bloom.

Offset in midst of summer with bright yellow canola bloom

A patch-work quilt from nature and the work of many hands

Laid out in squares and diamonds across a great productive land.

 

The history of Bedford Basin, Louisbourg, Queenston Heights

Twenty four hours of daylight, mysterious northern lights

Beaver pelts to England to make all kinds of hats

And each spring the best of sugar boiled from Maple sap.

 

A strong beautiful stallion, head high, nostrils flared,

Eyes full of fire and danger as he guards his heard of mares

Several hundred cattle grazing the luscious grass

Or bedded in the shade to let the hot day pass.

 

Hundreds of pictures we catalogue as we go passing by

Let the good ones erase the bad, or at least let them try

Some of it we saw and some of it we learned.

Some good and some bad but somehow always earned.

 

There’s always strife and woe, you don’t need to hunt it up

Forget it, let it lay. You know there’s the rub

You may hate this or that but it’s all part of the way

You became who you are; what you are today.

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