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Spring/Summer 2018 Edition of Magnets and Ladders

Magnets and Ladders
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Spring/Summer 2018

Editorial and Technical Staff

  • Coordinating Editor: Mary-Jo Lord
  • Fiction: Valerie Moreno, Marilyn Brandt Smith, Kate Chamberlin, Abbie Johnson Taylor, and Bonnie Blose
  • Nonfiction: Valerie Moreno, John W. Smith, Kate Chamberlin, Leonard Tuchyner, Bonnie Blose, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Poetry: Valerie Moreno, Abbie Johnson Taylor, Alice Massa, Lynda McKinney Lambert, and Brad Corallo
  • Technical Assistants: Jayson Smith and John Weidlich
  • Internet Specialist: Julie Posey

Submission Guidelines

Writers with disabilities may submit up to three selections per issue. Deadlines are February 15 for the Spring/Summer issue, and August 15 for the Fall/winter issue. Writers must disclose their disability in their biography or in their work. Biographies may be up to 100 words in length, and should be written in third-person.

Do not submit until your piece is ready to be considered for publication. Rewrites, additions, deletions, or corrections are part of the editorial process, and will be suggested or initiated by the editor.

Poetry maximum length is 50 lines. Memoir, fiction, and nonfiction maximum length is 2500 words. In all instances, our preference is for shorter lengths than the maximum allowed. Please single-space all submissions, and use a blank line to separate paragraphs and stanzas. It is important to spell check and proofread all entries. Previously published material and simultaneous submissions are permitted provided you own the copyright to the work. Please cite previous publisher and/or notify if work is accepted elsewhere.

We do not feature advocacy, activist, “how-to,” or “what’s new” articles regarding disabilities. Innovative techniques for better writing as well as publication success stories are welcome. Content will include many genres, with limited attention to the disability theme. Announcements of writing contests with deadlines beyond April 1 and October 1 respectively are welcome.

Have You Published a book? If you would like to have an excerpt of your book published in an issue of Magnets and Ladders, please submit a chapter or section of your book to The word count for fiction and nonfiction book excerpt submissions should not exceed twenty-five hundred words. Poetry book excerpts should be limited to five poems. Please include information about where your book is available in an accessible format. We will publish up to one book excerpt per issue.

Do you have a skill, service, or product valued by writers? For a minimum contribution of $25.00 we will announce it in the next two issues of “Magnets and Ladders”. All verifications of products or services provided are the responsibility of our readers. Book cover design? Copyediting? Critiques? Formatting for publication? Internet access or web design? Marketing assistance? Special equipment? Make your donation through PayPal (see or by check by March/September 1. 100-word promotional information is due by February/August 15. Not sure about something? Email All donations support Magnets and Ladders.

Please email all submissions to Paste your submission and bio into the body of your email or attach in Microsoft Word format. If submitting Word documents, please put your name and the name of your piece at or near the top of the document. Submissions will be acknowledged within two weeks. You will be notified if your piece is selected
for publication.

Final author approval and review is necessary if changes are needed beyond punctuation, grammar, and sentence or paragraph structure. We will not change titles, beginnings, endings, dialog, poetic lines, the writer’s voice, or the general tone without writer collaboration. If your work is selected for inclusion in a future “Behind Our Eyes” project, you will be notified; your approval and final review will be required. To insure we can contact you regarding future projects, please keep us updated if your Email address changes.

About Behind Our Eyes

Behind Our Eyes, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization enhancing the opportunities for writers with disabilities. Our anthology published in 2007, “Behind Our Eyes: Stories, Poems, and Essays by Writers with Disabilities”, is available at Amazon and from other booksellers. It is available in recorded and Braille format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

“Behind Our Eyes, a Second Look” is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers, and in E-book format on Amazon Kindle. It is also available in recorded format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. See our book trailer on Youtube at

Several members of our group meet by moderated teleconference twice monthly to hear speakers; share work for critique; or receive tips on accessibility, publication, and suggested areas of interest.

Our mailing list is a low-traffic congenial place to share work in progress; learn about submission requests; and to ask and answer writing questions. If you would like to join our group and receive access to our phone conferences and mailing list, please complete our quick and easy membership form at

If you would like to learn more about Behind Our Eyes, or if you would like to make a donation, please visit our website at


Editor’s Welcome

Hello. Many of us have experienced April snowstorms, along with high winds and temperatures more characteristic of January. One radio announcer referred to this winter as “the winter that has nine lives.” Spring arrived this morning with sun, warmer temperatures and gentle breezes.

Do you like to read about unforgettable moments? Our “Looking Back” section is filled with memoirs and poems about life changing memories. Explore nature in its many forms in “Nature’s Wonder.” “The Writers’ Climb is packed with articles and exercises to stretch your writing muscles. You can find our fiction First and Second Place winners in “The Melting Pot.” Do you want to read something that might surprise you? Read “Not What I Expected.” Read about how some of our contributors experience life events in “The Essence of Daily Life.”

The Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Magnets and Ladders features work by authors of all backgrounds. See if you can find our youngest contributor, a high school Senior, and our oldest, a retired medical school professor.

In the Fall/Winter edition, “The Writers’ Climb” featured a finish the story exercise by Kate Chamberlin. We received six responses to Kate’s exercise. The top two endings to Kate’s story can be found along with the beginning of her story in “The Writers’ Climb. “If you didn’t try the finish the story exercise from the Fall/Winter edition, you might want to finish Abbie Johnson Taylor’s story starter in this edition. See “The Writers’ Climb” for Abbie’s suspense story exercise.

I would like to give a big thanks to all of the committee members and to Marilyn Brandt Smith, Jason Smith and John Weidlich for your hard work and support throughout the production process.

We had contests with cash prizes in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. We had a tie for the second Honorable Mention positions in both the nonfiction and poetry contests, so we have five winners in both of those categories. Below are the Magnets and Ladders Spring/Summer 2018 contest winners.


  • First Place: “Cactus” by Susan Muhlenbeck
  • Second Place: “A Special Photo” by Bill Fullerton
  • Honorable Mention: “Lilac’s Song” by Leonard Tuchyner
  • Honorable Mention: “Feet of Lead” by Nicole Massey


  • First Place: “Gold Star” by Greg Pruitt
  • Second Place: “The Connie” by Lynda McKinney Lambert
  • Honorable Mention: “A Bridge Between Waves” by Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Honorable Mention: “The Sweet Breath of Africa” by Amy Bovaird
  • Honorable Mention: “Buddy” by Marcia J. Wick, the Write Sisters


  • First Place: “Write a 12th Century Sestina for the 21st Century” by Lynda McKinney Lambert.
  • Second Place: “Memoir: To Jonathan” by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.
  • Honorable Mention: “Another Storm” by Jessica Goody
  • Honorable Mention: “Janus, Then and Now,” Senryu inter-leafed with prose by Kate Chamberlin
  • Honorable Mention: “Feeding Spot” by Sally Rosenthal

Congratulations to the winning authors. All of our prize winning stories and poems can be found throughout this issue. See “The Writers’ Climb” for details about our next contest, again with cash prizes.

The Magnets and Ladders staff wishes you a safe and happy summer.

Part I. Looking Back

Gold Star, memoir nonfiction First Place
by Greg Pruitt

I was once a paperboy. Not the, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” kind of big city Newsy, who stood on the street corners in old time movies, but like the ones in a thousand neighborhoods in cities and towns, large and small across America, who rode their bikes, or walked city streets with heavy bags slung across their slender shoulders.

This was at a time when nearly every home received a newspaper. Readers could choose from four daily editions, the Flint Journal or three Detroit papers, the Free Press, the News, and the Times. Of course, the number of subscribers determined the amount of money you could make. Routes seemed to range in areas from 16 to 20 blocks. These jobs were coveted by boys ages 11 to 15. If your timing was good, you worked one of the larger routes in your neighborhood. If not so lucky, you received one some distance from your home. Unfortunately, I was 11-years-old, one of the youngest, without any inside connections to the business, so I received one of the smallest areas, the Times and News. The total subscriptions would vary, but at its highest, I had perhaps only 30 customers.

Why anyone subscribed to papers from another city was a mystery to me. We were 75 miles north of Detroit. Possibly people sought a paper with a particular political slant, or maybe they had moved from Detroit and were unwilling to sever a connection with an earlier life. Whatever their reasons, my customers were my only source of income, so I was willing to make a daily delivery to their house.

I badly wanted a transistor radio that cost $75, an enormous amount of money for a kid at that time. At about $4.00 a week in earnings, it would take months to amass that much cash.

The city had been planned so that each neighborhood had its own business center, where there was usually a drug store, grocery, bar, small restaurant, or sometimes a barber shop. My bundle of papers was dropped off there. Six days a week, they would arrive in the afternoon, and I would pick them up later for delivery.

I had a large, wire basket that was attached to the front wheel and handlebars of my red Schwinn Corvette, and I folded and stuffed papers into that basket before setting out. Many of the homes had porches which spanned the full width of the house, that I could hit while still moving on my bike, but the fear of breaking a window usually forced me to stop and make sure the paper landed safely near the front door. Even though I took precautions, I remember missing porches entirely on windy days. Once a paper landed on a roof, and while funny now, I am sure it was not so amusing at the time.

The difficulty of the job varied with the days of the week. Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays were the easiest. Those papers were thin and simple to fold. Wednesdays and Sundays were the hardest and often needed a rubber band to keep them in one piece. Those editions contained extra advertisements and on Sunday, the comics added to my burden. In addition, the Sunday papers were dropped off well before dawn, and it was expected that they be on the customer’s porch by sunrise.

When the weather was good, the work was fine, but in the winter it was miserable. The cold, heavy snow, and early sunset made it difficult to ride my bike, so I was forced to cover the route on foot, a task that today might result in a parent being accused of neglect or abuse.

While peddling the papers was challenging, the worst part of the job was trying to collect payment every two weeks. I kept a book, checked off boxes, and punched a card when I received my money. The paper cost 90 cents for the full 14-day period. You would think that with that amount, when I was given a dollar, a small tip wouldn’t be too much to expect, but these were depression era people who kept their money close. So nearly every time, I would dig in my jeans for change, place the coin in their palm, and watch the hand snap shut like some sort of small animal trap. Giving a dime for no good reason to a kid was an extravagance sometimes reserved for Christmas.

Other than an occasional hello as a paper was delivered, I had little interaction with the homeowner, other than when I collected payment. So it was at these times I would step onto a porch, ring the bell or knock on a door, and wait to be acknowledged. Usually, the encounter was brief. I would state my purpose, accept payment, and be on my way. People rarely took the time to exchange pleasantries.

However, there was an older, gray haired woman, who must have been in her 50’s or 60’s, who would often ask me to step in. She lived alone in her small, two-story home. She would inquire as to how I was doing and sometimes offer me a cookie or piece of candy. The woman would also allow me to keep the extra ten cents. I politely thanked her and told her I would see her again in another two weeks.

Making my daily rounds was like that week after week. I walked or rode my bike, was chased by dogs, and folded thousands of newspapers, staining my hands and clothes black with printer’s ink, until one late summer’s afternoon, when I came to collect at the woman’s home.

As usual, she greeted me with a smile and gave me a dollar, telling me to keep the change. I thanked her and was about to leave when she said that she had something for me. She then presented me with a gift, a T-Shirt from the Ohio turnpike, which she had bought for me while on vacation. Feeling a little self-conscious, I accepted her gift and thanked her again.

I stared at her and finally gathered enough courage to ask why she was always so nice to me. She said that I reminded her of her son when he was my age. I asked where her son was now. She paused and then in almost a whisper, told me that he was dead. He had been killed in the war. I mumbled that I was sorry to hear that. The situation became awkward as she began to cry. She reached out and held me, and I stood there, locked in her embrace, not knowing what to do, until slowly being released. Then, seemingly embarrassed, she turned away and wiped the tears from her eyes, while I, confused and feeling somewhat guilty, opened the exterior door, and like a thief, quietly escaped to the street, leaving her alone in her sadness.

Thereafter, I made an effort to wear the shirt she had given me when I expected to see her. Each time I collected, she would smile, make some form of small talk, and send me on my way without mentioning her son. We had shared a painful, private moment that was best left unspoken.

Eventually, I had accumulated enough money to buy my radio, and perhaps a year later, I gave up my route, and never saw the woman again.

So many years have passed, but I still remember seeing the faded yellow star in the window beside her door, but as a child, had failed to understand its meaning. Now I know that her family, like several hundred thousand other families, must have received a telegram announcing the death of a soldier, and she had been awarded the star by the American Organization of Gold Star Mothers during World War II.

Lost in sorrow, she remained forever a heartbroken mother, who baked cookies and waited in vain for a son who would never return.

Bio: Greg Pruitt is a retired teacher living in Fenton, Michigan. He is a graduate of the Michigan School For The Blind and Central Michigan University. He has been legally blind since the age of nine as the result of an undetermined retinal disease.

A Bridge Between Waves, memoir nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

When I was three the sea and I found each other. I didn’t know I was supposed to hate the sand, the salt, and the humidity, so I loved it and the shells.

My father was working for the National Youth Association, a program for returning servicemen or those on leave from World War II. My memories start in Corpus Christi, Texas, a gulf coast city. My father supervised recreation and taught some classes. We lived in an apartment attached to the dorm where servicemen were housed. My parents were my world since I was an only child. They provided most of my socialization and entertainment. There aren’t many children around a quasi-military facility.

The servicemen were good to me, many had children at home they couldn’t get to right then. One who was returning from Australia brought me a seashell. That’s what he was taking home as souvenirs for his family and friends. We were buddies by the time he caught me crawling into his lap.

“Here, look at this shell! Hold it up to your ear. You know what? You can hear the ocean from way out there.”

I didn’t know where “way out there” was, and had no idea about acoustics so I bought it completely. When Mother wrote letters to family I’d brag, “Tell Aunt (fill in the blank) I got the ocean from Australia!”

Almost every Saturday when weather permitted we went to the beach. I’d walk as far out as I could, then get passed from parent to parent, or to any visitor accompanying us. We bounced and slid through the waves with great gusto. Daddy loved to yell out, “Here comes another big one!”

I knew about hunting Easter eggs. Digging for shells was even better. Each one was different in texture, shape, and size. When I wasn’t having much luck, they’d sneak one within reach and make my day perfect. But none equaled that monster from Australia.

Bundled in a towel much bigger than me, I’d squeal some more when we stopped to grab hamburgers on the way home. Then it was a shower and a super supper.

One day it all came to an abrupt end. We were cruising the waves as usual. Suddenly Daddy said, “Take her!” and shoved me into Mother’s arms. Daddy said some words I didn’t understand.

Mother started asking some questions. “Can you make it to the car…hospital…blood!”

I was kid scared–didn’t know what was going on. Parents didn’t act like that.

He’d been stung by a stingray, called a stingeree by many locals. They said that word as Mother drove to the hospital, and all I knew was that stings were bad, and they hurt. We had to go through waiting time while Daddy received treatment. I heard people crying, pages for doctors, and lots of big words. I think I started crying.

That was the last I saw of the Gulf of Mexico for a long time. Later I learned it was coincidence. My parents already knew we’d be moving soon.

Daddy knew, through no fault of his own, he’d left me with a bad memory of the beach I’d loved so much. He did his best to make it right by teaching me to swim across the Leon River on his parents’ farm in north Texas.

We never lived near or visited the coast again, but when I was eight my mother’s sister, Aunt Dottie, moved to Galveston, a south Texas island. She and Uncle Bob had three daughters–two older and one younger than me. We had tons of fun together, and I couldn’t wait to spend some time with them in the summer while my mother attended summer school to upgrade her teaching credentials.

The only thing I dreaded was the promised afternoons at the beach. A friend at school who lived in Galveston had been stung by a jellyfish, and talked about how much it hurt. Then there was the memory from five years before of that terrible thing that hurt my daddy. I’d also learned something about the storm that almost destroyed Galveston in 1900. The superintendent at the school for the blind lost his sight from sun exposure when he was a baby, and had to spend days on a raft with his family. So I was sure that the ocean was a place where bad things happen.

Aunt Dottie took it slow and easy. First she kept me on a raft so I wouldn’t touch the ocean floor at all. Next Uncle Bob brought some inner tubes from his workshop. If I was careful, I didn’t touch anything but water.

Aunt Dottie didn’t give up. “You can do this,” she told me. “Let Dixie and Margaret make a pack-saddle and carry you out far enough to enjoy the waves like they do.” Aunt Dottie had carried me out to the big waves many times, but she knew I needed to catch the girls’ joy directly from them if I were to make it mine.

I put my arms around their shoulders. Being close to them finally did the trick. One day a big wave whisked me out of their grasp. “Zoom!” I was head over heels in foam and fun, feet on the smooth sand at the bottom. I didn’t have a care in the world. I was hooked.

Two years after the summer in Galveston, I had to learn about the undertow and riptides when another aunt and uncle took me to a beach near the border with Mexico. That day the water wasn’t friendly and safe for underweight, short kids like me. They had to fight to keep me from going out too far. My adventurous spirit couldn’t believe the sea could really hurt someone. What a turnaround. Since then it’s been beaches, rivers, and lakes whenever I could find them, seaweed, moss, and algae be damned. I feel alive in the water. Maybe I was a captain’s wife in a past life? You think?

Bio: Marilyn Brandt Smith worked as a teacher, psychologist, and rehabilitation professional. She has edited magazines and newsletters since 1976, and was the first blind Peace Corps volunteer. She lives with her family in a hundred-year-old home in Kentucky. Her first book, Chasing the Green Sun, published in 2012, is available from Amazon and other bookstores and in audio form. She loves writing flash fiction stories, and was the primary editor for the first Behind Our Eyes anthology, as well as Magnets and Ladders from 2011 through 2013. She enjoys college basketball, barbershop harmony, and adventure books. Visit her website:

Sunset on a Beach, poetry
by Gretchen Brown

We stood on a beach,
where you claimed you loved me.
The blue sky,
waves, sand, and water,
reminding us that we were being watched.
Waves stretched endlessly,
more grains of sand than the eye could count.

piercing quick,
took you away from me!
They said it was poison
from a puffer fish.
You lay,
gasping and twisting
in the soft sand.
My tears wet your beautiful face,
replacing the salt filled ocean spray.
The soft, soft sand
caressed your pain filled body.
It soothed you.
You could relax,
it stopped your rhythmic convulsing,
your breathing grew to match the ocean waves.
The sun was warm and gentle.
The warmth soaked in
to your tired, wounded body.
“Sleep,” whispered
the summer breeze.
To your foggy mind,
it was as if
you were being cradled
in the arms
of the mother,
you never had
but had so
desperately longed for.
You fell into a deep sleep,
from which you would never awaken.
And the sun set,
on the beach of love.

Bio: Gretchen Brown is a senior in high school who hopes to become an Occupational Therapists Assistant. She has written several poems, essays, and two novels. Her work focuses on teens and their lives. She incorporates her personality into several of her characters, which she feels is a way to relieve stress and anxiety by writing about herself with someone else’s perspective. Because her work deals with personal themes, she has been reluctant to share her work with others, but hopes that she will have a book published in the future. Gretchen is totally blind.

Buddy, memoir nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Marcia J. Wick, the Write Sisters

As a mother, I prayed my daughters wouldn’t make the same mistakes I made growing up. I also hoped they wouldn’t discover some of the stupid things I did as a teenager in my day. One of the stupidest (I mean totally unsmart) decisions I ever made was to accept an invitation to a party with a couple of guys I barely knew. The summer before heading off to college, I waitressed at an ice cream parlor. Looking for fun, I flirted with the cute customers.

“An extra scoop for the scoop on a party,” I teased. Two boys scrambled to invite me to hang out with their friends. Pushing the envelope, I accepted.

“Pick me up at quitting time,” I said.

I phoned home and lied to my parents, saying that I would be hanging out with a girlfriend after work. As I slid into the front seat between my new friends that night, I chattered like I accepted rides with strange boys to parties all the time. I couldn’t wait to meet young people who were more exciting than the same boring crew of kids I had attended parochial school with for 12 years. The party was at capacity when we arrived.

Despite being blind as a bat at night, I entered the dimly lit house with confidence. I desperately wanted to fit in with the hip kids. Once inside the cave, I was swallowed up by a pulsing mob of highly intoxicated, high-flying characters poised for action. A group of girls blocked my way. Yelling over the din, they fired questions at me.

“What’s your name?”

“Who’d you come with?”

“How do you know those guys?”

I laughed, admitting with chagrin that I hardly knew the two guys who brought me. The girls continued to grill me. I tensed against their animosity. They demanded to know exactly how and where I had met their friends. Was I going out with one of them? Did I realize that the bitch standing nose-to-nose in front of me was his “former” girlfriend?

“Really,” I stuttered, “I barely know the guy. You can have him. I was only looking for a party.” My face warmed with my secret; I didn’t want the girls to know that the shorter fellow had held my hand in the car on the way to the party.

“So, what’s wrong with him? He isn’t good enough for you?”

I couldn’t believe the chick was coming to the defense of the jerk who had jilted her. I backed up three giant steps and rotated to escape outside. The swell of bodies closed in behind me, buying me time, I hoped. As new partygoers entered the living room, I was spit out the front door like a watermelon seed. I staggered down the two steps leading up to the house and followed the edge of the pavement to the sidewalk, taking a hard right. I wanted to get out of sight before anyone from inside that crazy house could pursue me.

Hearing laughter, screams and cries, I worried it wouldn’t be long before one of the neighbors summoned the police to check things out. The fear of cops calling my parents to come get me pushed me ahead. The noise of the party was thrumming in my ears as if the crowd was following behind me. I pitched off the curb at the corner, catching myself to keep from crossing the street in front of an oncoming car. I lurched back up onto the sidewalk and hunted with my foot for the right hand turn, heading west toward home. Drumming sounds from the party were still too close for comfort. I could hear the two guys who brought me calling my name,

“Marcia,” the short guy called.

“Marcia,” his friend echoed.

They begged me to come back. They called out apologies and promised to drive me home. Not on your life, I thought, suspecting, like everyone else at the party, they were under the influence of heavy duty drugs, way past my limited experience with pot and cheap wine. I figured I was safer walking, even with night blindness, than getting into a car with those guys. I reached the end of another block. It was then that I noticed a dog standing beside me, waiting, it seemed, to see which way I would go. The calls of the guys from the party were fading, replaced by new voices hollering a different name.

“Buddy, Oh Buddy,” they yelled.

“Buddy?” I asked. “Is that you? Go home before you get lost,” I scolded the dog.

Despite my directive, Buddy followed me as I crossed the street. Not one comfortable with strange dogs, I was reluctant to reach out to him. I did, however, speak sternly to him again on the opposite corner. I urged him to “stay” and “go home,” but he remained by my side. Silent and observant, he waited for me to resume my walk although someone continued calling his name. With a sigh, I plodded on, Buddy by my side.

The voices grew fainter and my heart slowed as I strode, trying to convince myself that ambling through the dark on a warm summer night with a dog beside me was not anything out of the ordinary. I heard a far off train whistle carried easily through the midnight quiet, reassuring me at least that I was headed in the right direction. The neighborhood beyond the party house was resting peacefully; an occasional porch light or the headlamps from a lonesome car helped point the way. The sidewalks being newer in that part of town were straight and clear of cracks so that I was able to progress with confidence. At each corner, a lamplight silhouetted my new buddy, always silent, gazing up at me, staying with me despite my commands to “sit” and “stay.” I decided I didn’t mind his company and left him to use his own wits since he insisted on following me. Who was I to tell this independent soul what to do?

The night air grew cool. The road began dropping down a hill, one I thought I recognized from riding in a car. If I was correct, an intersection with a stoplight was coming up. The road would then jig and jag, continuing downhill for about five miles until it would intersect with Wood Avenue, my family’s street. I still had a long walk ahead, but I relaxed knowing that the route was familiar.

Did the dog sense my relief, or had he reached the outside limits of his boundary? Under the lamplight, instead of gazing up at me, his head twisted toward his home. I couldn’t fault him for parting ways after helping secure my escape. But I was indeed sad to see him go. I spent the remainder of the trek castigating myself. Why had I put myself in such a dangerous situation? Why did I pick new friends so casually? What would my parents do if something were to happen to me? Why was I attracted to boys who were bad for me? How was I going to manage by myself away from home at college?

I walked and walked through the night. Approaching our older neighborhood, I began tripping over cracks in the aging concrete. Low-hanging tree branches swatted my face and overgrown bushes scratched my arms as I made my way. I started praying. The streets were deserted and the houses were dark. The sound of my guilty footsteps echoed loudly. It was two in the morning when I entered the house, two hours too late even for an angry mother to greet me at the door. I didn’t care by then whether or not I got caught in the act of coming home late. I had a story about my friend running out of gas at the ready, but, since no one was awake to greet me, I didn’t have to pull the lie out of my back pocket. I crept upstairs to my room and chided myself for putting myself recklessly into harm’s way. As my head sunk into the pillow and my eyes closed, I saw the silhouette of a dog gazing up at me.

Author’s note: The dog in this story was real, although I made up its name when writing this tale since I couldn’t recall its actual name from decades ago. It turns out, however, by selecting the name “Buddy” for my companion in this story, I was channeling the original Seeing Eye dog guide named Buddy. This coincidence was called to my attention by the Behind Our Eyes Writers Critique Group. In retrospect, I wonder if the dog in my story was a spirit guide dog after all.

Bio: Marcia Wick enjoys retirement along with grandchildren, gray hair, and time to write. Her essays have appeared in Magnets and Ladders, and Vision through Words. She reflects on parenting, caregiving, living with a disability, and adventures with her guide dog. Marcia’s career in communications, desktop publishing, and public education spanned 40 years. She now partners with her sister as The Write Sisters. Legally blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. Marcia also volunteers with Guide Dogs for the blind, advocates for public transit, and enjoys a variety of sports with her husband as her guide. Contact her at

Music Box, memoir
by Susan Muhlenbeck

In my box of keepsakes, there is a tiny music box my parents got me on our trip to Japan. I was three and a half at the time, and I remember them buying the little treasure in one of the tourist shops. It is a metal square on a short chain with flowers embossed on one side. It opens to show a little mirror and a slot to hold a picture. There is a picture of me they took on the trip. The music box is so small I could hold it in the palm of my little hand. I don’t know the name of the Japanese tune it plays, but it sounds delightful.

My parents also got me a can of wooden blocks with letters on them and a can of tinker toys. When we got to the hotel that night, I insisted that I take the new toys to bed with me, so I could guard them in case thieves broke into the room. I put the toys under the rough blanket and hugged them tightly. I couldn’t wait to get home to Korea so I could show my two younger sisters. I put the music box under my pillow so I could guard it with my head.

My parents could not convince me that no thieves were going to break into the hotel that night, and even if they did, they would want to steal my parents’ money and not my toys, and if they wanted the toys, I could do nothing to stop them from taking them. I hugged the toys close all night.

The blocks and tinker toys are long gone, but I still have the precious music box over forty years later. It serves as a reminder that I was a fierce protector even at the tender age of three.

Bio: Susan Muhlenbeck was born in Seoul, Korea, where she lived until she was five. She lost her sight at the age of two. She was raised in the Midwest and moved to Virginia as a teenager. She acquired a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her interests include reading, swimming, bargain shopping, and cats. Her books are available on Amazon.

Road Crossings, memoir
by Aly Parsons

The summer day was beautiful, hot, but not too hot, and the scents of fry bread and roasted turkey legs hung in the air. I’d had a great time at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, and my husband and I were leaving, as usual, a bit early to beat the crowd.

A walkie-talkie crackled, and off to our right, a staffer said, “Say again?”

We forged through an increasing press of attendees, blue-jeaned like us or costumed in period garb. I had one hand tucked in my hubby’s elbow and in the other, held my white cane diagonally across my body, occasionally touching its tip to the ground to check my footing. From behind on my right came another crackle. A female voice came through faintly. I wasn’t sure, but it sounded like she said, “Get to your stations. The elephants are coming.”

We must not have been leaving early enough, for we were surrounded by people making for the exit gate. I heard another radio crackle and this time I heard clearly, “The elephants are coming! The elephants are coming!”

I snorted. Pretty apt. The mass of people were like a herd of elephants stampeding to reach their cars in the parking lot before the confusion caused a traffic jam.

We got through the gate. A narrow lane lay before us, stretching to our left. On its left was a row of porta potties, and from its right side reached a number of lines of people, all waiting their turn. We had a long trip ahead of us. We rushed to join the back of one line. As we waited we talked about how we’d most enjoyed the stick-fighting demonstration.

When we reached the head of our line, I made the mistake of telling my husband to go ahead. I peered across the road at the nearest porta potty doors, waiting for someone to come out. My fatigue increased the blurriness of my low vision. The green booths faded into the green wall behind them that fenced in the fair. The babble of voices and screams of tired children formed an overwhelming cacophony that only added to my visual confusion.

I thought I saw movement at one door. No vehicles had gone by, but I glanced both ways, then took a step into the lane. The crowd noise increased. I stopped, caught in the memory of a similar summer day.

It had been hot, but more humid, as days in Washington, D.C. tended to be.

At the time, I worked downtown, a couple of blocks from the White House and had decided to carry my bag lunch to Lafayette Park to picnic. I was facing south on 15th Street, waiting to cross H Street, to follow that sidewalk to the right, then cross to the park. I couldn’t quite see the traffic lights. Standing at the curb, I listened, waiting for the cars passing on H Street to stop. As soon as they halted, I stepped off the curb, and strode out, sweeping my cane before me.

A din of sirens arose. The suddenness and number of sirens, though startling, were familiar. A motorcade was coming, carrying some VIP. The multistory buildings echoed the noise. I paused in the street. Was the motorcade coming from behind me? In front of me? My left?

The clamor had me totally disoriented. I thought I was halfway across the street. A motorcycle screeched to a halt, angled so I had no idea from which direction he’d come. A helmeted cop was yelling at me, his words indistinguishable as he kept revving his motor.

I decided to keep going across. I wasn’t sure if I’d find the curb or wander into the intersection, but I’d have the same problem if I turned around and tried to go back. I rushed, swinging my cane ahead as quickly as I could with the cop’s yelling, his motor, and the approaching sirens thundering in my ears. Before I found the curb, the motorcycle roared off, followed by others and a caravan of cars and limousines. I was mad at that cop and wanted to give him a good talking to, though I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say.

In the festival’s commotion, I remembered that cop, and my moment of hesitation.

And another time when I’d hesitated. I had worked at a new job for only about a month before my boss and I were transferred to another location.

At the first place, I had just become familiar with the huge building. I had managed to put together a carpool, and my legal blindness gained us one of the rare parking spots. So, when I was transferred, I left behind three disgruntled carpoolers who would have to return to taking public transportation.

Going to my new location for my first day, I successfully navigated the two buses to the correct stop. On Rockville Pike, my self-confidence ebbed as I stood waiting to cross three lanes, a divider, then two lanes beyond.

In the nearest lane, speeders zoomed around a curve into a shopping mall. The second and third lanes were filled with Maryland commuters whizzing south toward D.C. Yes, there was a traffic light, though I couldn’t tell if the red or green light was lit. I waited through three halts in the traffic to learn the traffic pattern–and found out the shoppers didn’t stop. Cars in the near lane just whipped by.

I finally took a breath and scurried across to the median, and waited through another two cycles of traffic before daring to rush the rest of the way. As I walked up the block searching for my building’s entrance, I tried to regain my composure. Already, I was grateful that, at the end of the day, it would be easy to reach my bus stop on this side, but dreaded each morning I’d have to face that terrible crossing.

Outside the walls of the Renaissance Fest, the hubbub had shifted to a different mixture of tones–excited laughter, shouts, and awed whispers. But some of the yells I was now hearing held the note of warning I’d expected on those previous occasions. I looked ahead. The porta potties had disappeared. Could I be so tired everything was vanishing in the gray fog of low vision? Motion to my left caught my attention. One green porta potty gave enough contrast to silhouette an elephant’s swinging trunk, his gigantic head; then I made out his enormous body, already past me. Behind him, grasping the thin tail with his trunk came another massive elephant, followed in like fashion by a medium-sized one, and then a baby. I watched them pass in a mixture of disbelief and joy. I’d almost been in touching distance!

A woman near me bent down and said in a hushed voice to her child, “Did you see the baby elephant?”

I’m glad I heard that, or I might have thought my tired eyes and brain had deceived me. And this would have been reinforced a few minutes later when my husband appeared beside me and said, “Go on. The second from the left is empty.”

On the ride home, I would tell him what he’d missed. Grinning, I swung my cane and strode across, knowing I’d never find out why elephants had come to the Renaissance Fest just as it ended for the day. Surely, this interrupted road crossing had been more enjoyable than any other I might ever experience.

Bio: Aly Parsons, who lives in Maryland, lost part of her sight in 1977, and, in 2008, became a widow, orphan, and blind. She leads a writers’ group she founded in 1980 that includes professional and unpublished writers. Aly has a story in The DAW anthology, Sword of Chaos, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and she wrote the Afterword in Catherine Asaro’s collection, Aurora in Four Voices. Other works have appeared online in Magnets and Ladders and Pen in Hand. Aly is a graduate of the Odyssey Workshop for Writers of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror.

Memoir: To Jonathan, poetry Second Place
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.

That day we raced all the way to the forbidden park,
my mother told me not to cross Austin Boulevard,
thereby making that my goal.
You had a speedometer on your sleek and shiny racer.
I had my old blue Schwinn.
Your long legs pumped rhythmically,
and you laughed to see me so far behind.

You reached the knoll first, of course,
and already had your bike upright,
balanced by the kick stand,
front wheel slightly turned.

My legs burning, my lungs bursting,
I jumped from my bike before it fell to the ground,
its back wheel spinning crazily.

I stumbled into you.
“Cheater!” I blurted,
not knowing how else to defend my embarrassment.

We fell to the ground,
arms and legs entangling.
You laughed and tears spilled from my eyes.
Tasting my tears,
still gasping for breath,
I turned my head.

Until you clumsily brushed the grass from my hair,
until you were so close I could smell your sweat
and your bubble gum breath,
I never thought of you as…real.
I never realized how we were different,
until you touched me.

Bio: Elizabeth Fiorite has been a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, for over sixty years. Her first career was devoted to Catholic elementary education. After experiencing vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, her second career began as a social services counselor for the adult blind in Jacksonville, Florida. Since retiring in 2013, she has enjoyed participating in church projects, Justice and Peace activities, facilitating peer support groups, and “Women of Vision.”. Her art work has been displayed in the Cummer Museum, and her articles have appeared in Behind Our Eyes, Behind Our Eyes: a Second Look, The Braille Forum, and in The National Catholic Reporter.

Janus, Then and Now, a Senryu inter-leafed with prose, poetry Honorable Mention
by Kate Chamberlin

Janus, oh, Janus,
Ancient Roman Deity,
Gate keeper of all.

As I walked among the dusty ruins during my Roman sojourn, I mused about what strange religions these ancient people had. It all seemed so illogical to my modern mind. What possible gates could be opened by Janus that couldn’t be opened by mortals?

Opening power,
Closing passage and portal,
Coming and going.

despite my sturdy Nike Cross-Trainers, I twisted my ankle as my footing became unsteady on the cobble-strewn road. I stumbled and fell to my knees. My hand landed on a potshard. Upon its smooth façade I could just barely detect a brow over a nose pointing to the left and a chin facing right. There seemed to be an arch alongside the features. Was that a portal? I couldn’t tell if the figure was coming or going.

God of change and time,
Transition, past to Future,
Memory to vision.

I rose, refastened my leather sandal and patted the dust off my long, white garments trimmed in threads of red and gold. I fretted that the Head Scribe would find me lacking in decorum. I do so want my clay tablets to honor my ancestors and descendants.

The limits of earth,
Extremity of Heaven,
The two faced Janus.

My hand is steady as I use the stylus to scribe the required marks on my tablet. The Head Scribe is pleased with my efforts. He entreats me to emblazon my tablet with a face facing East and a twin countenance in the opposite direction to assure the praises will reach Janus in the heavens above and beyond.

Gate keeper of all,
Ancient Roman Deity,
Janus, my Janus.

Placing mirrored Oakley’s on my face and adjusting the SRL Nikon strap around my neck, I walk through the Temple gate into the brilliant Roman sunlight with an odd feeling that I’ve walked through this archway before, though I’ve never been to Rome. I feel so “as one” with this place. Is this Déjà vu or déjà vécu? When I look back to the top of the crumbling arch and see two faces looking in opposite directions, I have the greatest urge to raise my arms to the heavens and proclaim: Janus, oh my Janus.

Bio: Kate Chamberlin, B.S., M.A, and her husband have raised 3 children plus 2 grandchildren. Her teaching career continues through her Study Buddy Tutoring Service, Feely Cans and Sniffy Jars Program, and as a popular lecturer. She is a published children’s author, Anglican educator, free-lance writer/editor, and proud great-grandmother.

The Sweet Breath of Africa, memoir nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Amy Bovaird

In my fifth month of pregnancy, after losing one of my twin fetuses, I was rushed to Dubai Government Hospital and stayed for the next several weeks. I prayed I would carry the second baby until term.

When you are on the other side of the world facing medical complications, many emotions surface and hold you captive. Foreign languages play a role in isolating you. Cultural differences with doctors and nurses can leave you confused and feeling uninformed. But the moment you decide you can’t go on, a special friend comes along to help you over that hurdle.

One afternoon, I lay in bed counting the drab ceiling tiles above me. “Thirty-seven, thirty-eight across …” I was halfway through the wall tiles when I lost count. How many times had I already done this? Time inched by. Each minute hung motionless, reluctantly measuring itself as if fearful it would run out if it yielded too quickly.

Curling up my toes in the shapeless flannel hospital gown, I studied the pattern. It could be worse. I touched the worn fabric–a light blue print covered with tiny flowers.

A shadow crept through the window and lengthened. If only I could feel the warmth of the late afternoon sun. But the cold sterile environment clung like a shrouded cloud. The desert sun might as well have shone on the other side of the world. It would never reach me here.

I yawned and stretched. How many days had it been? Twenty-six and today made a half more. “Calendar,” I mumbled to myself. “Got to get a calendar before I forget how long I’ve been here.” My mind grew foggy. Was this how it felt to be a prisoner of war?

“Oh come on, baby,” I crooned, “We’ll be fine.” I patted my rounded belly, feeling more secure with each passing day. I accepted the lethargy that settled on me as a sign of progress. But when I looked in the mirror after showering, what I saw jarred me into reality. My swollen face reflected the edema that encircled my body. I had only to look at my ankles and feet to know we were NOT fine. My baby and I were still cocooned in a toxic state.

The visits began for the other patients. Snippets of other languages – Tagalog, Arabic and Urdu – intruded on my self-imposed silence. Tuesday. No one would come to see me. Nor would I receive any phone calls. Dubai was long distance from Ras Al Khaimah where I lived and long-distance calls were not permitted on the hospital line. Besides, everyone was working, including my husband.

The food cart bounced along, carrying the afternoon snack. I fixed a smile on my face and selected a small flavorless cake. It crumbled between my fingers as I broke off the dry pieces and tried to swallow them. The lump in my throat grew so big that swallowing anything seemed impossible. Loneliness once again set in.

As the afternoon nurse slipped from bed to bed, I rolled up my thin sleeve for the blood pressure cuff. An hourly obligation. No escape.

The nurse smoothed my thin blanket, then sat down next to me. Slender and bronze-skinned, she reached out for my arm and expertly cuffed it, then checked and recorded my data.

She remained seated and reached for the silver-framed photograph I kept near my pillow. “I hear about this man.” She smiled. “The romantic Egyptian who sweeped you off your feet.”

The nurse’s soft voice invited me to speak. But I remained silent, determined not to cry since I so missed my husband. She adjusted her headscarf, winding it around her head once more.

I checked her name tag. “Maita, can you tell me about Africa?”

She glanced at her watch, and I felt impatience rise like bile. When would it be my turn to talk to someone? Everyone had someone.

As if to prove my point, laughter echoed from the hospital bed next to mine. The patient opened a box of chocolates from a friend – or maybe a sister – then reached to take a bouquet of multicolored roses from another visitor.

Sensing my need for companionship, Maita settled herself and warmed to her story. “My dear, I am far from home. My whole family is there. But I am here. I miss them.” She paused as if realizing how I felt.

With her soft-spoken voice, Maita described her way of life and glimpses of the jungle. “…The days, they pass so quickly and the sun…you can’t imagine how beautiful one can see the sunset.”

I shivered, imagining it all. I had never been to Africa, but the way she spoke made me long for it. I can still recall the smooth cadence of Maita’s voice, but not the exact country, the animals that were commonplace to her but sounded so exotic to me.

“I have many animals in my village and I wake to their sounds. Sometimes I step around elephant dung and hear screeches from gorillas too high in the trees. You know, we must to be very careful when darkness comes. The hyenas wait and attack people in the shadows – like this!”

She playfully grabbed me.

“Hey, don’t scare me like that! I have a baby to protect!”

After we shared a laugh, she told me how she moved to the city when she started secondary school and had to become accustomed to a new way of life.

She sighed. “Yes, I almost miss it today. Even today.”

That afternoon forged a bond between us that would remain long after I left the hospital. It transcended religion and cultural boundaries. I always looked forward to when Maita came on shift. She smiled often and teased me about the photograph of my Egyptian husband. On her breaks, she stopped by my bed. “I just came to say hello to baby–not you,” she joked.

Maita told me her name meant gratitude. This gave me an idea. To thank her, I surprised her with a poem. She was touched. “No one writes me a poem before.” My nurse fluffed up my pillow. “Rest now for baby.”

Shortly after I learned my baby died, Maita came to me and squeezed my hand, “May Allah takes care of you.” She had no other words and seemed on the brink of tears.

I clasped her hand back, choking up. “Shukran.” Thank you.

Though we both longed for a different outcome, that touch of compassion–a quiet shared grief–brought me warmth. I came to think of those moments as the sweet breath of Africa softening my harsh reality.

Years later, I was blessed to go on safari. I saw a country similar to the one Maita had so lovingly described. She came to mind many times. When I heard the screech of gorillas overhead and stood up in my jeep, I thought of her. When I caught a glimpse of a small herd of elephants pulling bamboo branches into their mouths, I again thought of Maita. Again and again. As the last animals came into view, I silently prayed God had blessed this African nurse as much as she blessed me during my lonely hospital stay in Dubai.

Today I cannot remember her face well. But her soft voice still breathes in my memory. I recently came across a photograph taken from the safari. It was filled with thousands of pink flamingos flying low over the water. Once more, I thought of my special nurse.

I wonder if Maita still walks among the sterile halls of a drafty Dubai hospital. If she’s still there, I’m sure she has found other fortunate mothers with whom to share her memories of a sun-drenched village and animals that roamed freely nearby.

While Maita goes about her rounds with clinical expertise, more memorable to me is how she seeks out those who most need the warm touch of compassion. In a ward where losses lurk in the shadows, and like a pack of hyenas, wait to attack, Maita’s sweet voice expels fear.

Maita is a nurse with a calling.

Bio: Amy Bovaird taught English as a Second Language (ESL) abroad and in the United States for many years. She lives with a dual disability-progressive vision and hearing loss due to Usher Syndrome. Amy is an accomplished public speaker on a variety of topics based on her life experiences and continues to educate and inspire others through her writing and speaking. Amy is the author of Mobility Matters and Cane Confessions: The Lighter Side to Mobility. She blogs about the challenges she faces as she loses more vision and hearing and manages to find humor around almost every corner.

Part II. Nature’s Wonders

The Connie, nonfiction Second Place
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

August days signify the end of summer when nights become cooler and I begin to forget the predictable, unrelenting steamy days and nights of July. Temperature readings by mid-August dropped down into the 50s. I opened the windows, felt the cool breeze move through the familiar old house. July’s humidity and stuffiness were swept away and I sensed the shift of a quickly approaching new season that was beginning to stir my senses. There is something in the air that I feel by mid-August. Is it a kind of nervousness and anticipation for…what? I cannot really say.

Last night I lay in my bed, listening to the soothing insect sounds drifting upwards to my open window. Unseen creatures sounded like Czech street musicians tuning their instruments, getting ready to play night songs. The sounds blended into a nocturnal symphony, a cacophony of a summer serenade.

Our century old home is on a ridge overlooking an ancient, winding creek that meanders for fifty miles in western Pennsylvania. People from this area call it “the Connie.” Its actual name is the Connoquenessing creek. For many of the residents of this xvillage, our ancestors date back to the 1700s. That is when the early settlers were going back to Germany to recruit artisans to come to America and settle here. People who had skills that were needed by the colonies were recruited for about one hundred years.

In the summer time, the Connie comes alive with the voices and sounds of the local “Crick Culture.” That’s what we call it here. Kayaking begins in earnest in late winter as soon as the ice begins to dissipate. Hearty enthusiasts will continue to ride the rapids through the summer days into the fall season. The Connie’s white water rapids provide the perfect setting for a swift course for kayakers to perfect their skills.

On August nights I can hear people laughing from down below the ridge. On summer nights, some people arrive here at the crick in the late evening, in the twilight, just before it gets dark. They leave their cars and trucks in a clearing beside the road, just under the old wild cherry trees. Generations of local people come to spend the night fishing. I often watch as they pull out their gear. They bring coolers and jugs, flash lights, buckets of worms, fishing poles, nets, and blankets. Most of them wear baseball caps. One by one, they scramble down the steep, rocky path that leads to the deep water below. When they get to the bottom of the hill, the night time visitors walk out onto the big, flat rock where they spend the night. I hear them talking and laughing; their voices blend with the insect concert.

In childhood memories my father and I are in the back yard behind our home in the foothills. I still live in the valley between the steep hills. Like most of the steelworkers in our village, my father loved to go fishing in the Connie. In the darkness of an August night, I helped him find earth worms. His steelworker’s helmet had a strange yellow light on the front of it. I smelled the acrid smoke, heard it sizzle and sputter as we bent over the dark ground. We poured mustard water down into the little tunnels where the earth worms lived. In just a few seconds, a worm came to the surface seeking fresh air and we grabbed that worm and rapidly washed it in a pail of water before we dropped the cleaned off worm into Dad’s metal pail with holes on the sides. Dad had put dirt into the pail before we went searching for the worms. We turned over rocks and found creepy creatures hiding under them. Dad called them helgramites and they made me shiver when I looked at them.

My favorite sight in August is the Queen Ann Lace mingled with the periwinkle blue flowers of Chicory. The two wild flowers grow together along all the roads in early August. I take my camera outside so I can capture the beauty of these disorderly flowers. I remember the fields of these uncultivated flowers long after they disappear for the winter. Oh, I should let you know, Queen Ann Lace is my favorite flower because of the delicate tiny flowers clustered on thin, celadon green stems. The flowers seem to float in space and ride the soft wafts of the August breeze. Fragile lacey blossoms dance in the fragrant afternoon air. The white blossoms of the Queen Ann Lace contrast with the sturdier chicory flowers. Chicory resembles a daisy with petals branching outward from a round, dark, center. Each Chicory bloom has little oval petals that come to a tip that looks like someone snipped it off flat, with zigzag pinking shears. The brilliant blue color of the Chicory seems to pop out from among the white Queen Ann Lace in full bloom side by side with Chicory. When I see the Chicory begin to bloom, I know that the season will soon be changing to autumn.

And, it always seems that it won’t be long before I’ll be walking through the colored leaves on my daily walks through the woods, along the Connie. My thoughts drift to the stories my father told me about his unique and rugged grandmother. I stop and look around through the woods, and down to the white-water creek. Some days my spirit calls out to her as I look around in the world that she lived in, too. Often, I feel like I am walking over layers and generations of my family members. I ask myself, “Am I an overlay from past generations of people who lived in this place?” I realize my ancestors’ presence because they seem to surround me. I can feel them. I stop to listen to them. At these solitary times when I am alone in the woods or standing in the meadow looking down at the rocky passages of The Connie, I whisper to my grandmother who died long before I was born. “Did your feet walk on this path, too?”

“The Connie” was previously published in The Indiana Voice Journal in the September 2016 issue and in Walking by Inner Vision: Stories & Poems, Lynda McKinney Lambert, DLD Books, 2017.

Bio: Lynda McKinney Lambert is a retired professor of fine arts and humanities. She writes full-time and has authored two books of poetry and nonfiction essays. She is a 2017 nominee for Best of the Net for 2016-2017. Lynda won a 2017 Proverse (Hong Kong) Poetry Prize; her poem, “Red December,” will appear in Mingled Voices #2. Her writings appear in publications world-wide. Lynda loves being outside late at night; walking through a meadow of wild flowers; gazing up at a star-strewn sky; listening to the rushing water of her favorite creek behind her home; and spending solitary winter days with husband, Bob, their 2 sister-cats and 2 dogs.

In My Dream, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

In my dream
I am standing on the mountain
near the terrifying edge of the precipice,
sit down to draw in my sketchbook.
I see Alpine villages in the valley below,
scattered like multi-colored Tourmaline stones.

In my dream
I am in death-defying situations
It is always winter and I struggle.
icy winds and dicey slopes
without a pathway.

In my dream
my solo flights are joyous.
I push my heels downward
launch my body into the sky.
Hover. Dive. Swoop. Circle.
No need for feathered wings.

In my dream
I climb upwards
on the ladder I stumbled upon
in the woods one afternoon.
Earth disappears
the ladder is unstable
“Keep it straight up,” I whisper.
“Keep your body centered. Stay poised.”

In my dream
a cerulean blue dragon kills stealthy leopards
I touch the Dragon’s horny face as we fly
full-speed ahead through throbbing pain.

In my dream
I hold asymmetrical yellow wildflowers
planted by birds and wind in open fields.
A white dog guards the entrance to the Underworld.
She sleeps under my bed
guards me on long narrow journeys.

In my dream
I rest in the shade of Hemlocks and ferns,
gather water-worn grey stones from the river bottom,
glide on the surface of the Allegheny river
in my red canoe.

In my dream
I watch the movements as dusty stars
leave tracks on a snow-covered path.

Feeding Spot, poetry Honorable Mention
by Sally Rosenthal

Swathed in hand-knit scarves and a thick wool shawl,
I watch my breath rise in misty puffs
As the pale winter sun peeks above the horizon on
My great-aunt’s hardscrabble Pennsylvania tobacco farm.

My five-year-old hands clutch a baby bottle
Of warm milk as the doe sucks it dry before turning
To Aunt Ivy for the apple slices on offer.

Rescued as an orphan fawn and nursed to health
In a box of blankets beside a wood-burning stove
In the old farmhouse’s kitchen, Spot was released
To the wilderness, only to return
Each morning for her treats as her mate, a buck
With, to my child’s eyes, an enormous rack of antlers that surely reached the clouds,
Waited from afar on the frozen ground of a neighboring field.

With adult hindsight, I realize we did Spot no favor
By teaching her to trust humans in a poor county
Where venison on the table helped families
Make it through the lean months of unforgiving winters.

Still, sixty years on, I hope Spot and her mate
Escaped the hunters’ arrows and buckshot and that their generations to come
Survived to nibble the green sweetness of next year’s Spring.

Bio: A former college librarian and occupational therapist, Sally Rosenthal left both professions due to vision loss. A childhood stroke survivor, she, now blind and losing hearing due to age-related genetic hearing loss, is the book reviewer for Best Friends Magazine. Her nonfiction and poetry have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies.

Lilac’s Song, fiction Honorable Mention
by Leonard Tuchyner

Lilac’s egg was part of a clutch of five light-blue, brown-speckled little ovoids. Her story began in the bloom of new life that awakens after the long winter’s dormancy. She thrived and grew in the security of her sturdy nest, which rested in the low branches of a young hawthorn tree that grew on the edge of the woods. Her mother and father looked after the young hatchlings with devotion and skill. The little bird was enthralled by the sights and sounds of life that surrounded her.

She felt rains that carried the cold leftover from March, and sometimes was warmed by the ever-growing presence of spring’s sun. Earth’s dark soil filled her young nostrils with its richness, laden with scents of green life stretching towards a warming sky. Buds burst into delicate leaves that drank sunshine.

Lilac watched, with an ancient knowing, the continuous arrivals of returning flyers from the South, while year-round residents became her extended community. This place was the little mockingbird’s home, to be forever imprinted in her memory. Lilac’s first acquaintances were with those denizens who had not migrated when winter’s cold winds blew others toward the receding sun.

She watched, smelled, tasted, felt, and most of all, she listened–listened to the songs of other birds. Some were sweet, others raucous. There were songs of joy and calls to battle. Her heart melted to the mournful tones of mourning doves, thrilled to the mystery of love songs flowing between her parents. A bullfrog’s croaking and the singing of tree frogs lulled her to sleep, in dusk of evenings.

Lilac’s woods opened to a gardened yard in which a little wooden house sat. The young mockingbird heard the sounds of children laughing and sometimes parents scolding.

Every time a new sound sauntered past the nest, the down-covered bird proclaimed, “That is so beautiful. I wish I could make that sound. I wish I could sing that song.”

“You can, you know,” her mother would tell her. “You are, after all, a mockingbird. You can learn to make every sound you hear and sing every song. But you must remember that you also have your own song. It is the most important and wonderful thing to sing your own song.”

“What is my song, Mother? Let me hear it.”

“I can’t sing your song.”

“Why can’t you?”

“Because you haven’t invented it yet, so I have never heard it.”

“When I invent it, will you sing it for me?”

“Of course, Little One. If that’s what you want. But you won’t need anyone else to sing it. You will sing it for yourself.”

Lilac got her name on the first day that she began to hop and flutter. She half flew and half fell into the branches of a lilac bush whose buds were ready to burst open.

As Lilac replaced her down with feathers, she learned to feast on the bounty of the rich earth. Her parents no longer needed to supply her with morsels of bugs, larvae and worms. Her brothers and sisters flew off on their own wings, to mix in with the symphony of life. Her parents gathered energy and prepared to raise a new clutch, as the season lingered and transitioned into summer.

Lilac continued to listen to the myriad sounds surrounding her, and began to imitate them. So captivated was she with the sounds of nature that her abilities far exceeded those of other mockingbirds. She could hear a new sound and almost immediately reproduce it, with nary a need for practice. She could hear the song of a new bird and copy it with precision the first try. It was as though the songs were written in the sky, and Lilac simply read them.

Sounds that came from human houses were of particular interest to her. One of those houses had a resident African grey parrot who lived in a screened aviary. Her name was Pearl. The two birds became good friends. Their favorite pastime was to have contests to see which one of them was the greatest mimicker–who could learn a new sound the quickest and who could remember the best. Lilac learned how to imitate three different kinds of telephone rings and to say human words. Pearl taught Lilac how to say the names of colors and to know what these words meant. On mischievous days, Lilac would call the children in from their play in the human mother’s voice.

Country songs that wafted out of Pearl’s house fascinated the mockingbird. In time, she developed an extensive repertoire of these country hits. Not only did she sing the notes with perfect pitch and rhythm, but also in the voices of the human artists. Two of her favorites were “King of the Road,” and “Love Is.”

“Do you know how remarkable you are?” Pearl asked. “You are a genius. How come you never sing your own song?”

Lilac’s head drooped, and she made herself look very small. “I don’t have my own song.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. Maybe the price I have to pay for my copying gift is that I can’t invent my own song.”

“Nonsense. All mockingbirds have their own song. Have you ever tried?”

“No. I’m afraid that I can’t do it.”

“Why don’t you try?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” and she flew off, suddenly feeling hungry for a grub.

Pearl never brought up the subject again, because she didn’t want Lilac to fly off in a huff. But inside, Lilac felt something missing. She felt a hole that needed filling, and knew that she was the only one that could fill it.

“If I listen very hard and look for the notes in the sky, surely someday I will hear my song out there somewhere,” she told herself.

She heard the songs of other mockingbirds and was envious of their splendor, imitating these singular songs and trying to mix them in order to compose her own song, but that did not do it. They were beautiful compositions, but were not her song. The void remained in her heart.

Despite the lack of a song, Lilac was not unhappy. She lived at peace with her fellow mockingbirds and participated in the goings-on of the community. When a hawk attacked one of them, she played her part in the chase to drive it away. When she saw a snake or a cat creeping up on a clutch of eggs or young hatchlings, she added her sharp, curved beak and claws to the birds’ efforts to drive the predators away.

When Lilac had come of age and knew that she was ready to lay her own eggs and start her first family, there was no lack for suitors. Lilac knew that she must choose wisely, for this would be a bond for life.

A young male named Bracken had long been attracted to her, as she was to him. He was healthy and vibrant. His courting dance and song thrilled her. What more could she ask of a mate? She accepted him.

That year of her courting was like all the other years and all the other early springs in which mockingbirds started their families. Bracken and Lilac made their nest not far from the very hawthorn tree where Lilac had been hatched. They made their nest in low branches of a mulberry tree near Pearl’s house.

Lilac felt a depth of satisfaction at the laying of her clutch that was totally unexpected by her. Five perfect little orbs. One early morning, as she dozed in the nest right after Bracken had brought her a fat little white grub, she felt the slightest vibrations coming from her eggs. Being only half awake, the little stirrings filtered into her dreams and she heard, as though in the distance, music such as she had never before experienced. It filled her heart with warmth and glory. Her spirit seemed to swell on ethereal notes that piped out of nowhere, her mouth open with astonishment. Her eyes blinked awake to search the skies for this indescribably beautiful sound and melody.

Imagine her surprise as she realized it was erupting out of her own throat, emanating from someplace deep within her, a place that must have been her heart and soul. And thus, Lilac’s song was born.

The song was not something that she sang, but something that sang her. It was not something she invented, but something that invented her by springing out of her own essence.

From that time forth, Lilac did not try to remember or copy her song. She only waited for it to sing itself. It was not always the same, just as she was never the same from moment to moment. It sang itself in the same way that a raindrop decides to fall, sometimes persuaded by a shaft of sunlight upon a purple flower, sometimes by gentle thunder in distant skies.

When Lilac grew old and failed to survive a cold, harsh winter, the essence of her song remained as part of the song of the network of life. For Lilac’s song was, after all, the song of life, and life never dies. It only rests and changes its face.

Bio: Leonard has Stargardt’s disease which was first noticed during his teenaged years. He is now seventy-seven. He reads through the media of Braille, recordings, and electronic voices produced by Open Book and Zoom Text. He lives with his wife of thirty-eight years and their two dogs. He is active in the local writing community, which includes attending critique groups. He also facilitates a Writing for Healing and Growth group at the Charlottesville Senior Center and writes a column for Dialogue Magazine. He recently published a poetry book through Cedar Creak Publishing. His hobbies include Tai chi, and gardening.

Immortal Birds, poetry
by John Wesley Smith

The speeches were those for the ages,
Recorded to keep all the words..
Forgotten is droning of sages,
I only remember the birds.

Bio: John Wesley Smith is a blind writer from central Missouri. He operated for 10 years. Readers are invited to view what he calls “Musings of an eclectic pilgrim” at

A Walk in the Woods, memoir
by John Justice

The woods around my family’s farm in Southern new Jersey were filled with paths. Some were created by animals, while others were intended for use by organizations trying to deal with the mosquito population. I loved exploring and would often find a new trail, one I had never been on before.

Although there were few dangerous animals, the land itself could sometimes create treacherous conditions. As a blind man, I couldn’t see what was coming so caution was the prime directive at all times.

One day, I started off along a wide and relatively smooth trail. When the ground began to slant downward, my warning bells were going off. There were places, deep in the woods, which were swampy. Some of them were filled with water choked with sand and debris. Although the ground looked safe enough, certain places were to be avoided. That kind of bog was often many feet deep and there was nothing to grab onto.

As I moved along, the sounds from the highway diminished until it was almost silent. I could hear small animals and birds moving in the underbrush, but that was all. I slowed my forward motion because the path was beginning to feel soggy under foot.

I stopped and was thinking about turning around when a voice spoke to me. “Don’t go any further! There’s a deep hole right in front of you. Turn around now while you still can!”

“where are you? I didn’t hear you coming,” I replied. But the voice didn’t speak again. I suddenly felt a chill which began at my feet, but soon covered my entire body with goosebumps. Where did that voice come from? How did that person get so close without me hearing him or her? The voice sounded like a young woman or a boy. I had a good sense of smell. I drew in a breath, trying to catch the scent of another person that close to me. But I couldn’t smell anything except the normal aromas of leaves, pine needles and water. I became a little frightened. “Are you still there? Can I turn around and go back safely?”

Once again, the voice responded. “Turn around and go back the way you came. Don’t go any further!”

I still hadn’t heard any movement at all. Any person makes some noise in the woods. Their clothes brush against branches, or they crush leaves or pine needles beneath their feet. I heard absolutely nothing.

I turned around and followed the path back toward the road. As soon as I did, the chill dissipated and I could feel the warmth of the summer again. In about fifty feet, the ground leveled off and that wet smell was gone. When I left the woods, I was very glad to feel the sun on my face and the two-lane road under my sneakers. I turned for home and didn’t go exploring anymore that day.

That entire incident left me with many unanswered questions. Who or what stopped me in time before I ended up in that hole? How could a voice speak to me and sound that close without me detecting someone else? Was it an angel, a spirit or a ghost? If a ghost, whose was it? Was someone watching over me that day? Well, whoever or whatever you were, thank you for saving my life!

Bio: John Justice is a visually impaired musician, entertainer and author. He has been blind since the age of three. John lives with his wife, Linda in Hatboro, Pennsylvania. More information about his books can be found at:

The Cycles of Life, flash fiction
by Kate Chamberlin

Sitting in my favorite wicker rocker on this old farm house’s wrap around porch, the humid July heat causes my eyes to droop and head to nod. A deep sigh escapes my thin lips, as if expelling the woes and weariness of my world.

Hearing my sigh, my old guide dog rouses herself to lay her white muzzle on my lap. We’ve been together so long that she feels what I feel. Her warmth comforts me and my petting her head comforts her. She lies back down to sleep, as my mind wanders back many decades.

The soft pink Royal Anne Cherry petals gently rain down on the babe as she sleeps on her blanket. Royal Anne is always in bloom for Mother’s Day. Warm breezes caress the hilltop. The old
orchard becomes an ocean of undulating popcorn balls.

The child is anxious for the Fourth of July cherry harvest. She clambers into the cherry tree in a very unroyal manner. She picks the sweetest, reddest, ripest fruit. The bees will become drunk from sipping the fermented juice of the remaining few.

Royal Anne’s leaf-laden branches shade our young lassie and her beau on the sultry summer afternoons. The Royal Anne has watched over many a swain but none as ardent as this one.

She sheds her golden brilliance on the ground as a blanket in anticipation of love’s consummation. Royal Anne’s halo of golden leaves surrounds the newly wedded lovers.

The winter is long. The crimson red Cardinal is grateful for the sustenance of dried fruit Royal Anne has managed to save. As the protective blanket of snow melts, it nourishes the thirsty roots.

The cherry buds swell with new life and burst into bloom for Mother’s Day. The young mother watches as the soft pink Royal Anne Cherry petals gently rain down on the babe as he sleeps on his blanket.

When my elderly dog puts her chin on my lap, I rouse from my reverie. As if from a distance under water, I hear familiar footsteps on the gravel path. The countenance of my face softens and a faint smile bows my lips.

“Mom, you look so peaceful.“

I feel the babe in my arms as a soft wave of darkness carries me away in its embrace.

I’m beyond hearing my son’s voice or the drunken buzzing of the bees. I no longer feel the warm caress of a lover or of the summer breeze hassling my grey curls. I am beyond tasting the sweet juice of the Royal Anne Cherries and life. I am beyond reminiscing.

Rainbows Rising, poetry
by Deon Patrick Lyons and Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Little child, little child, do you want to make a rainbow?
Do you want to know how?
Just wait for a sunny day;
then, with your back toward the sun,
let the water from the summer hose
arc into a powerful flow.

Little child, little child, let the wonder begin:
red, orange, and yellow–stretching awake inside a summer morn;
green and blue, splashing atop an ocean so deep;
indigo and violet, snuggling down into a bed of irises.
Replace those aimless frowns with effusive grins.

Can your tiny hand touch the rainbow?
Which color can you hold?
Can you feel the mist of wonder
where sunlight breaks through a raindrop?
Can you wave
toward the arc of indigo?

Open your eyes to an Irish tale;
gaze out across a clovered field.
Stand on your toes and stretch toward the clouds;
fill your pockets with a fistful of magic.
Chart a course
as your rainbow sets sail.

Little child, little child, why are you standing there akimbo?
Ah, you look just like your grandpa,
glistening like his shining star;
but your glance is so afar.
Little child, little child, sleep well
and dream a rainbow.

Bio: Deon Lyons is an aspiring writer with works published in local papers, Online magazines, as well as in Magnets and Ladders and Behind Our Eyes: a Second Look. Deon has self published a novel, along with a compilation of poetry. Mr. Lyons has a personal blog, and is currently attending community college, with hopeful aspirations for the field of journalism.

Bio: The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the holiday Season is the first book by Alice Jane-Marie Massa. To read more about this collection of holiday memoirs, short stories, and poetry (available from Amazon, BARD, etc.), please visit Alice’s author page:

Additionally, Alice invites you to visit her Wordwalk blog: where, since 2013, she has posted her poetry, essays, memoirs, or short stories concerning her four guide dogs and other topics. With master’s degrees from Indiana State University and Western Michigan University, Alice taught for 25 years, including 14 years of teaching writing at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Il Pleut, poetry
by Burns Taylor

It must have rained like this 100,000 million years ago.
Before there were rivers or oceans, there had to be rain.
Before there could be trees and flowers, there had to be rain.
Before there were people, it rained.

Rain is a portal for channeling Precambrian times.
And it always triggers memories, the rain:
the time as children we shared a bar of soap and bathed naked in the rain.
Walking in it; Making love in it in the back seat of a 1950 Chevrolet,
parked next to a dark woods down a rainy country road.
The rain, pecking on the windows lightly, like soft-beaked birds.

Younger than light; older than rip tides.
It washes clean from the earth for a moment
the stain of human history.

Bio: Burns Taylor lives in el Paso, Texas with his wife, Valora. They are both totally blind. Taylor has an MFA in Professional writing from USC. He published his most recent book, Hands Like Eyes, in 2014. In 1972, Taylor edited and published Passing Through: an Anthology of Contemporary Southwest Siterature. The book was awarded a two-year adoption as a freshman reader by the El Paso Community College. Taylor’s works have appeared in Publishers Weekly, The Texas Observer, The Braille Forum AND Reading Lips and Other Ways to Overcome a Disability.

Portrait in Green, poetry
by Jessica Goody

Inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible

The mamba is as green as new leaves.
The lion follows like a spy, stealthy
in his pursuit of me, a lame gazelle.
The mirror-image palindromes reveal

their asymmetrical secrets,
flashing in my bloodless brain.
Spiderwebs like woven gauze curtain
the ancient sprawling baobabs, their gnarled,

spreading roots parched in the Equatorial heat.
The kiss of the green snake leaves you frozen,
twin pinpricks on your arm like a vampire’s fangs.
The jungle spreads its skirts in a thousand shades of green.

I trudge through red dust, my heavy tread distinct
in the green silence, the slap and thud of my dragging feet.

Bio: Jessica Goody’s debut poetry collection Defense Mechanisms (Phosphene Publishing) was chosen as a “Power Read” by The Hilton Head Monthly and was a Book of the Month for The Creativity Webzine. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Reader’s Digest, The Seventh Wave, Event Horizon, Really System, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and The Maine Review. Jessica is a columnist for SunSations Magazine and the winner of the 2016 Magnets and Ladders Poetry Prize. She has cerebral palsy.

Part III. The Writers’ Climb

Write a 12th Century Sestina for the 21st Century, poetry First Place
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

Sometimes a Sestina is called “The thirty-nine-line poem.” This form seems to have been used by a 12th century troubadour. Sestina means, troubadour, and that word comes from root words that mean “to invent a verse.”

I often use medieval and traditional forms for writing contemporary poems.
The Sestina dates back to the days of roving singers and storytellers. I believe it is the best vehicle for writing a story-poem. “A Sestina for Alfred Rieder’s Widow” evolved from journal entries which I made one warm summer day as I was sitting on a stone bench in a peaceful cemetery in Grödig, an Alpine village in Austria. An afternoon visit to a local cemetery can provide insight into the beauty of life and death. I wanted to share what I saw that day, by writing my observations and notes into the form of a Sestina. Present moments, the past, and a feeling for the future came to life as I wrote what I saw and heard.

As I sat quietly with my journal, a little family group of three adults entered the graveyard. They never noticed me at all, but I had a ringside seat into the personal lives of a family I will never forget.

Because my poem is a Sestina, I begin my writing process by selecting six words that will be the “end words” of each of my six-line stanzas.
After I write those six stanzas according to the Sestina requirements, I wrote the “triplet” which is at the conclusion of the poem. Each line of the three-line triplet contains 2 of my chosen words. The triplet seems to wrap it all up for me. The triplet gives the poem one final burst of energy to express what the first six stanzas had to say. This is a fun way to end the poem.

My list of six words for this poem:

  1. Morning
  2. Ribbons
  3. Flowers
  4. Summer
  5. Lace
  6. Path


Title: A Sestina for Alfred Rieder’s Widow

Alfred Rieder’s widow arrived early this morning.
She stood awhile among the fading ribbons
bent low to light a candle near the edge of the wilting flowers.
The churchyard is alive with the movement and scent of summer
and a wooden cross at the top of Alfred Rieder’s grave is swaged with black lace.
Two others embraced this new widow near the winding brick path.

The three spoke softly, voices hushed near the edge of the path.
They never turned around to see if others had come here this morning.
Both women, in mourning black, reach out and rearrange the limp ribbons,
admire the many large bouquets of flowers.
The only fresh ones are the yellow centered daises this summer
with a golden message, “Dia,” written on a white streamer of lace.

A quiet breeze comes to lift the edges of the long black lace
attached to the top of the cross where three stand on the path.
The bell in the church tower strikes eleven times this morning.
They never notice the brilliant foil letters on the pale violet ribbons
or the small bee that moves quickly among the pastel flowers
continuing to stop and taste the sweet blossoms of summer

or the strong-winged butterfly that has no time for the graveyard this summer
and no interest in the marble stones, the cross, or the flapping lace
for it finds fresher flowers blooming farther down the winding path.
Alfred Rieder’s photo is attached to the wooden cross and his grave overflows with messages of love this morning.
The three sigh as they read aloud from the gilded ribbons
woven through the spikes of lavender larkspur, ferns, and pink flowers.

There are pine cone wreaths, rosettes and small bouquets of flowers
far too many to fit on the space of his fresh new grave this summer.
The sun and rains will slowly dissolve the flowers and wilt the taffeta and lace
that overflows from the gravesite onto the garden path.
This year Alfred Rieder’s widow will visit his grave each morning
and bring with her little bouquets, cut flowers tied with satin ribbons.

She will grow older, cry less often, and neglect the fancy ribbons.
She’ll come here some summer evenings to water the flowers
and she’ll bring freshly cut flowers from her garden each summer.
In the fall she will bring bronze mums tied with golden lace.
She will wear a bright flowered dress and her black shoes will walk firmly on the autumn path
as she nods a silent greeting to another new widow some morning.

A new widow stands knee-deep in ribbons and black lace.
On another summer day, the hot sun wilts the fresh flowers
Alfred Rieder’s widow walks down the path to console a friend this morning.

“A Sestina for Alfred Rieder’s Widow” was written in Grödig, Austria at the village graveyard, in July, 1998.
It was published in Concerti: Psalms for the Pilgrimage, Kota Press, January 1, 2003, and revised in January 2018.

A Writer’s Retreat, fiction finish the story exercise
by Kate Chamberlin

Editor’s note: Kate started this writer’s getaway story with an interesting twist, and left the story open for many possible endings. Magnets and Ladders readers were invited to finish the story. We received six story endings. Below is the beginning of the story written by Kate Chamberlin. The top two story endings will follow Kate’s story starter.


A Writer’s Retreat

The trail under the fragrant, cathedral canape through the Frasier Fir forest opened onto a clearing with a gnome-sized, gingerbread trimmed cottage in its center. A wisp of grayish smoke rose from the adobe chimney to lazily curl into the small puffy clouds floating in a crystal blue sky. It took her breath away.

Barb was hot, sweaty, and ached all over from the unaccustomed exercise of the hike up from the lodge, but the excitement of being on her first writing retreat in the Maine forest kept her going. Barb wanted to write her memoirs during the week, as well as hike, read, relax, and be alone. She wondered why there would be smoke coming out of the chimney, if as the brochure said, each one-room cabin was totally electric with running water and a full in-door bathroom.

She put the large, old-fashioned key into the lock, but the door swung open. When her eyes adjusted to the interior light, she knew the stairs to her left went up to the sleeping loft, where a double bed, rustic nightstand and lamp were. She put her back pack on the floor to the right, where the closet doors stood ajar.

Directly in front of her, on the far wall, a low fire flickered in a field stone fireplace. A comfortable-looking, leather lounge chair seemed to invite her to sit and read. To the right of the fireplace, a small, but well appointed galley kitchen beckoned her with wafts of cocoa to sit at the scarred table and straight-back, wooden chairs. It whet her writing juices.

The well-worn, oak desk on her left faced a large picture window with a view of the forest. The room’s tones of neutral browns, greys, and ecru complimented the forest greens, browns, and tans. The desk came complete with an ergonomic chair and laptop. She thought the open laptop was a nice touch, although she’d brought her own. Finally, the door to the left of the fireplace, she guessed would be the bathroom.

To her astonishment, then horror, the bathroom door opened. The most ruggedly handsome, bare-chested man she’d ever set eyes on walked out of the bathroom. His powerful shoulders and tall frame seemed way too big for the little cabin. His dark curly hair tumbled onto his forehead and cascaded to his massive shoulders. The full moustache flowed from the fullness on his upper lip down to the long drooping tip below his strong, square chin.

Her mouth agape, she sucked in her breath and froze, except for the tingle that zinged up her spine.

When he saw her, he quickly finished zipping. His steel blue eyes opened in astonishment, then slit into confusion.

“What are you doing here?” they both said in unison, glaring at each other.

“You first,” the man sneered.

“I won a writer’s retreat contest to stay here for a week,” Barb said. “Why are you here?”

“Same for me. You sure you have the right week?” he challenged.

“Yes, positive,” she snapped, pulling out her reservation confirmation.

“Same here. Looks like they’ve made an over-booking mistake,” he said taking in Barb’s mane of glossy chestnut locks, ample figure, and luscious, full lips. “I suspect we can work something out, since I know there aren’t any other available cabins for this week.”

Barb’s glaring emerald eyes became glassy, as the man took one slow, sensual step toward her. A lustful spark glinted in his eyes as he approached the frightened, innocent little dove.

(…fade to commercial break…)

A Writer’s Retreat Ending, fiction
by Susan Muhlenbeck

Against her better judgment, Barb threw caution to the wind and allowed the mysterious stranger to put his arms around her and pull her in for a hug. He hugged her for one long moment, then started rubbing her back. All her instincts told her to break away and run, but her racing heart and weak knees made her stay put.

Finally he broke away and held her at arms’ length. “Hi, I’m Al,” he said softly. “And you are beautiful.”

Barb opened her mouth to say something but couldn’t find her voice. She took a couple of deep breaths and finally said in a near whisper, “Let’s go to the lodge and see if we can get things straightened out.”

“There’s no need,” Al said regretfully. “I told you there are no more cabins available. We can work something out, can’t we?”

Again she was tongue tied. He took her by the hand and led her over to the lounge chair. She sat down heavily, willing herself to do the right thing.

“Why don’t you tell me about yourself?” Al said, kneeling down next to her and making her squirm.

“Well, I came here to do some writing,” she said with conviction. “I just went through a messy divorce, and I was hoping I could have some quiet time to write and relax. And what about you?”

“I am sort of between jobs at the moment,” Al sighed. “I was planning to do some writing and figure out what to do next. Maybe we can write something together.”

“Well, I was planning to write my memoirs, but maybe we can write a romance novel together,” Barb said cautiously. “I never tried that before, so I’m not sure what to do.”

“A romance novel?” Al said caustically. “I was thinking about a western.” He seemed to consider. “Sorry, I caught my wife with the repair man. I am not too keen on romance these days.”

“I see,” Barb said slowly. “Well, I had a terrible divorce, but I still love my romance stories. Guess everybody handles pain and loss differently.”

“Let’s combine our efforts and write a western romance,” Al suggested. “We can start tomorrow morning. Right now, I would like to go for a walk with you. First let me put out the fire. There will be plenty of time for that later.”

It was a beautiful day in late spring. The lush forest stretched its arms out as Al and Barb walked hand in hand around the premises. They met several of the other writers on their walk. Most of them were retired.

“I’m Margie, a retired school teacher,” one woman said brightly. “I’m trying to write some school fiction.”

“I’m Patty, a retired restaurant owner,” another writer said breathlessly as she unlocked her cabin door. “I am planning to write a cookbook.”

Barb thought the most interesting person they met on their walk was Josie, the retired female police officer. “I’m going to write a crime novel,” she said, shaking Barb’s hand. She gazed at Al, wrinkling her forehead. “Where do I know you from?” she asked curiously. “You look vaguely familiar.”

Al shrugged. “My ex-wife Carrie likes to write too,” he said noncommittally. She came to this retreat last year. I brought her up here and helped her get settled in. Maybe that’s where you saw me.”

“No, that’s not it,” Josie said, shaking her head. “I wasn’t at the retreat last year.”

“Al and I are going to write a romance story together,” Barb said, grinning hugely at him. “It’s going to be a combination romance and western. I already have some ideas for it. Let’s go back to the cabin and talk about it.”

“Just a minute,” Josie said, pulling out a camera. “I want to get your picture. You all make a cute couple.” Barb giggled.

They walked back to the cabin slowly. “I wish I remembered to bring my camera,” Barb said wistfully. “It’s so pretty up here.”

“It’s a shame we don’t get cell phone reception up here,” Al added. “What if there’s an emergency?”

“You have to go down to the lodge and use their phone,” Barb said dismissively, “but I’m not thinking about that. It will be nice being out of commission for a little while.”

They said at the kitchen table and drank cocoa with marshmallows. “I’m a nursing assistant,” Barb said, stirring the cocoa with her finger. “What do you do?”

“I was a construction worker but got laid off,” Al said without feeling.

“Construction worker?” Barb said in surprise. “You don’t seem the type.”

“Looks are deceiving,” he said mysteriously.

“What do you mean?” she asked, instantly alert.

“Nothing,” he said with a wave of his hand. “Tell me about the western romance you want to write together.”

“We can talk about that in the morning,” Barb said, yawning hugely. “I am beat. It’s been a very long day.”

There was an awkward silence as they both pondered the sleeping arrangements. “I can stretch out on the recliner,” Al said firmly. “That is not a problem.”

“Okay,” Barb said, relieved he had been so willing. “Good night.”

She climbed into the bed in the loft, exhausted, and with a can of pepper spray clutched in her hand. Can’t be too careful these days, she thought as she drifted into dream land.

She dreamed that she walked into the cabin and saw Al asleep in the recliner. He got up and started walking towards her, but then he changed into her ex-husband Jerry. “Now, are you ready to listen?” Jerry demanded, grabbing her arm and giving her a good shake. She woke up in a cold sweat. She soon drifted off again. If she had any other dreams that night, she didn’t remember.

The next morning she awoke to the tantalizing smell of frying bacon. For a minute she couldn’t remember where she was. Then the events of the day before washed over her. What had she been thinking, allowing this strange man to share her cabin? He seemed nice enough, and he was hot enough to be a movie star, but he what if…? No, she told herself resolutely. She wouldn’t think along those lines. She would take this opportunity to do some serious writing, and she would see where this situation with Al would go.

“Morning,” he said as she entered the galley kitchen. “Hope you’re hungry.”

“Well,” she hedged, “it smells terrific, but I was planning to go to the lodge for breakfast. That is the only time of day all the writers can get together. We are on our own for lunch and dinner.”

“Well, it’s up to you,” he said, trying not to look disappointed. “I’m not planning to go to the lodge for breakfast. The point of the retreat is to be alone with my thoughts, not to fraternize with a bunch of other people.”

“But you’re not alone,” Barb said reasonably. “We’re sharing a cabin, but I understand. I’ll be back in a little while, and we can start working on the western romance.”

Barb had forgotten how long the hike to the lodge had been the day before. By the time she arrived at the lodge, she was famished. To her disappointment, there was only one other person in the lodge eating breakfast. It was Margie, the retired school teacher.

“Where’s your friend?” Margie asked as she and Barb ate their cereal and juice. “He was cute.”

“He stayed and had breakfast at the cabin,” Barb said casually. “I think most people had the same idea. I probably won’t be down for breakfast again.”

“But you are coming to the lodge on our last night, aren’t you? I can’t wait to hear what some of the other writers wrote on the retreat.”

“I’ll be here,” Barb promised, “and I’ll make sure Al comes too.”

On her hike back to the cabin, Barb thought about Al. She hoped he wouldn’t be a distraction during her week of writing and reflection. On the other hand, she was looking forward to spending time with him and getting to know him better. She hoped she was doing the right thing by sharing the cabin with him. All of her instincts told her she should not be in such close quarters with a man she barely knew, but he seemed so kind and caring that she decided to take her chances.

He was sitting at the table typing on his laptop when she entered the cabin. “How was breakfast?” he asked, looking up from his work.

Barb shrugged. “Not a good turn out,” she sighed. “Margie asked about you, but I probably won’t go down to the lodge agin.”

“Take a look at my outline for the romantic western,” Al suggested, handing her his laptop. She read what he had written. “Sounds interesting,” she said, intrigued. “Let’s get started.”

They wrote late into the afternoon. Barb typed excitedly on her laptop while Al offered suggestions and comments. Barb turned off the computer around 4:00. “That’s enough for one day,” she said tiredly. “How about we pack some sandwiches and have a picnic supper in the woods.”

“Sounds good to me,” Al agreed. “I’ll make the sandwiches while you sit and relax for a few minutes.”

They sat on towels and ate tuna fish sandwiches and chips. “I wonder how Josie the retired cop knows you,” Barb mused. “She said you look familiar.”

“I think she’s confused,” Al said absently. “I never saw her before in my life.”

“You said your ex-wife liked to write too,” Barb said conversationally. “What did she write?”

Startled, al said, “Oh, poetry mostly. I don’t want to talk about her. She really broke my heart when I caught her with Ralph the Repair Man.”

“Sorry, didn’t mean to hit a nerve,” Barb said contritely.

“It’s all right,” Al said, putting an arm around her and hugging her close. “I’m glad we’re here together.”

The next few days flew by quickly. Barb woke up each morning to the smell of breakfast cooking. They had a long, leisurely meal, then worked on their romantic western. Barb did most of the writing while Al critiqued and suggested changes. In the afternoons they went for a walk, then picnicked near the cabin. Once in a while they ran into somebody on their hikes.

“How is the book coming?” Patty, the retired restaurant owner asked.

“So far so good,” Barb said, “but we are not sure how to end it yet.”

“It probably won’t be done by the time we leave,” Al added.

“So what do you plan to do after the retreat is over?” Barb asked on the next to last night. She had brought a bottle of red wine to drink over the course of the week, but they hadn’t opened it until that night.

Al pondered. “I was thinking about going up to Canada for a while to regroup,” he said vaguely. There was a long silence as Barb contemplated never seeing him again. “Maybe you can come with me,” he said cautiously.

Barb was stunned. “I can’t do that,” she cried shrilly. “I have a job and cats to take care of.”

He pulled her to her feet. “We can work things out,” he said softly. He bent and kissed her without warning. Barb’s insides quivered, and her face flushed. He kissed her again.

It’s the wine, a little voice inside her head insisted as her mind swam. “I can’t do this,” she said thickly, pulling away and staggering towards the loft. “Good night.” She hurried to get into bed and pulled the covers up to her neck. Al didn’t follow.

The next day they worked feverishly on their book. Nothing was said about the night before. “We are all meeting at the lodge tonight for cocoa and cookies and to talk about what we wrote,” Barb said over their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that afternoon. “Maybe somebody can help come up with a good ending to the story.”

They hiked down to the lodge that evening. “Will I ever see you again?” Barb asked shyly.

“Sure,” Al said, taking her hand. “I’ll be in touch.” Barb hoped it was true.

“I want to hear about the western romance,” Margie said, sitting down next to Barb in the lodge.

“Well, it takes place during the 1880s,” Barb began. “It’s about a man called Willie, who was in a saloon when a robber stole the saloon girl’s purse and tried to flee. So Willie shot the robber, and he and Annie, the saloon girl, escaped on horseback. They are headed to Mexico and are having all kinds of adventures. They met up with Indians, witnessed a hanging, and were in a train wreck, but the law is after them. We still can’t think of a good ending. Should they go to Mexico and live happily ever after, or should the law catch up with them and Willie be hanged?”

“Sounds like a real dilemma,” Patty mused.

Barb noticed that one person was conspicuously absent. “Where is Josie?” she asked.

“She actually left a couple days ago,” a woman called Sally said, pouring another cup of cocoa. “She said she wasn’t feeling well and thought she should go to the hospital. Let me tell you about my science fiction book. I can’t think of an ending yet either.”

Just then the door of the lodge flew open and Josie ran in. She was followed by two policemen. “There he is!” Josie shouted breathlessly, pointing to Al. He goes by Al now. He dyed his hair and pasted on a mustache, but he couldn’t fool this retired cop.”

The writers all sat there in shock as a cop handcuffed Al. “William Allen Davis, you are under arrest for the murders of Carrie Ann Davis and Ralph Michael Walker.” He kept talking, but Barb heard nothing after the word murder.

“After he shot them, he flew the coup,” Josie explained, “but his wife was able to call 911 and tell them that he had shot her and Ralph. By the time the ambulance got there, they were both dead, and Al was long gone.”

Barb felt like she was about to pass out. She opened her mouth to say something. “Al!” she cried and couldn’t continue.

“Maybe now you can think of a good ending to that romantic western story of ours,” Al said sadly as the police took him away.

A Writers’ Retreat ending, fiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

“Hey, not so fast, Marlboro man,” Barb cautioned, shifting her duffle and positioning herself near the door. “There’s just one place we can settle this, and that’s back at check-in.” She breezed out the door before he realized what was going on. “Are you coming?” she called from a distance.

Jack mouthed a response he didn’t intend for her to hear, and slipped into the bathroom for a quick comb through and a shirt from the bench outside the shower. “Marlboro man,” he snickered, “I’ve heard that one before. Dove and dynamite in one package?”

“Slow down, Jill!” he hollered when he saw she was really making tracks. “I’m not gonna bust my crown chasing you down this hill. And nothing’s on fire!”

Barb was running out of adrenaline, so she slowed her sprint to a stroll. “It’s Barb, not Jill,” she laughed, “You’re right, let’s not waste our creative energy on a stupid clerical error. They can probably put one of us up at that other lodge back up the road a few miles.”

“Bummer,” Jack sighed, “That’s a fishing retreat. I hate the smell of dead fish. I am not going there.”

“Whatever,” Barb grumbled. “By the way, why did you have a fire going? It was roasting in there. It’s July, for Pete’s sake.”

“Well,” Jack explained, “last night when I finished my skinny dip in the river I decided it would be fun to sit in front of a fire. I arrived early because I could, and I had a fire because I could.”

“Alrighty then,” Barb chuckled at his “don’t ask if you don’t want to know” attitude.

They walked single file across a rustic footbridge and stopped to take in the swollen stream below. “Angry spirits?” she offered.

“Powerful authority,” Jack responded.

She stopped to retie her tennis shoe. Much to her surprise, he waited. “It’s just not that easy to give this up and go home,” she said more to herself than to Jack.

“Don’t let me stop you babe,” he suggested.

She quickened her pace. “Don’t go there dude! One minute you’re…Oh never mind,” she mumbled.

He lit a cigarette. She frowned, coughed, and retrieved her phone from her duffle. “No service…Figures…But I know there’s a way to get on the net.”

“So what do damsels in distress write?” Jack asked, finally catching up with her as they hit a wider gravel path. Barb didn’t like his inference, but decided to let it pass in the interest of futility.

“My family has a story,” she began. “Some think it needs to be preserved. It’s no bestseller, but a famous author, Marita Downing, do you know her work?” Jack signaled that he didn’t.

“Well,” she continued, “She told our class that if you make a diligent effort to write your experiences, feelings and such, cradle to wherever you are in life, you may not sell copies to anyone except your family, friends, coworkers, and enemies, but” (long pause) “you will have this treasure trove of vignettes to pick through for stories, essays, even poetry if that’s your thing. That’s really what’s in this retreat for me. So when I won that contest, I knew it was time for me to take a break from writing screen plays nobody wants and try on a new hat.”

Jack hadn’t wanted chapter and verse, but told himself he should have known better than to ask a woman for information about herself. “Sounds good,” he said without much interest. They made the turn onto the asphalt road that would lead them to the lodge. “I’m glad I’m not the only one here who’ll be a wanna-be hiding behind rejections.”

As they reached the lodge they joined the line of other travelers claiming their accommodations. Mrs. Donovan at registration smiled at first when they offered their paperwork. “Wanting to exchange cabins?” Then she read the details and saw the dilemma. “This is going to be difficult. We have no other cabins, not even up the road at the Cozy Catch, our fisherman’s retreat,” she explained. “I know you both won your regional competition with your Writers’ Week in the Woods contest entries, and it would be a terrible shame…” After some mouse manipulation she brought up their information on her screen. “Let’s see…you’ve come from Boston,” she pointed at Jack, “and oh! Miss Willis, you flew in from Kansas. You all do know we have another session for writers in September. We could possibly…”

“Absolutely not,” Barb interrupted. “I have teacher in-service in early August, then the kids are back.”

“Yeah, me too,” Jack said. “I hired my cousin to run the bar for this week, but soon after I get back I’m in law school, August 20.”

“Oh!” Mrs. Donovan saw her chance to break the tension, “You write legal thrillers?”

“No,” Jack laughed, “Too many Grisham copycats out there already. Nature, adventure, sports, strange lifestyles, that’s what I like to write.”

“The only thing I have left is Adrienne’s Perch. It’s much more expensive than a cabin, and really meant for someone who wants an adventure, but I’m not sure it would work for someone wanting normal living circumstances to complete their projects.”

Jack had the feeling he was being baited. Barb smiled, believing Mrs. Donovan was setting things up so she’d get the cabin. After all, Jack could drive up here anytime.

Mrs. Donovan rummaged in a file cabinet behind her desk. “All that money for a French woman no one ever heard of.”

“Okay,” Jack laughed, “I’ll bite. Who is Adrienne, and why did she need a perch?” Barb laughed, curious herself, and glad Jack asked.

“She was an arborist, our founder’s lover,” she whispered. “He came to know her when she helped him pick the layout and design for our first retreat in Quebec.” Her voice volume came up a notch and took on enthusiasm- now in public relations mode. “It was her idea to do an ultramodern, habitable treehouse residence accommodation, so now we have one on all properties. The rest is history. You just have to see them. Most people are afraid to commit to stay a week. They’re usually rented on a nightly basis, noon one day to noon the next. That’s all the adventure most people can stomach.” She rummaged in a file drawer and placed a brochure on the desk.

Jack grabbed for it. He was fascinated. It looked to him like one of those exotic rich people getaways he’d read about with electricity and multi-level room-like enclosures. If he could get into the spirit of it for a week, he could no doubt sell an article to one of the outdoor magazines. He could just imagine how many others at the writers’ conference might want to visit him there. That might not be all bad.

Barb motioned for a brochure of her own. She saw a grill under the tree, and a minifridge that had to plug in somewhere. Up on a platform there were fold-down worktables, a hammock, and lots of other gadgets. She was fascinated by the picture way up in the tree-a slide? “Forty-foot controlled descent,” it read.

Her mind was whirling. She knew this would make a great video. Would they let her brother fly up after the conference to help her? She could write the voiceover during the week. The principal at her school would love it. It might be a week of rugged living, but of course the bath house and pool weren’t that far away. Maybe she could pretend she was back at Summer camp?

“You can’t both talk at once,” Mrs. Donovan laughed as soon as she told them it was time for her lunch break.

“I’ll take it,” Jack began. “I’ll get my stuff out, and she can…”

“Now just a minute,” Barb interrupted. “You moved in first, so I should get first claim…but you know what? Maybe we could split the time, or the days, or the hours, half and half.”

“Why don’t you both go look at it. Come back in an hour and tell me what you’ve decided,” Mrs. Donovan suggested.

“Come on,” Jack agreed, taking the bag of remotes and keys she offered. He picked up Barb’s duffle and started for the door. “Let’s go play Tarzan and Jane.”

Barb laughed in spite of herself, and followed him, brochure in hand.

Mrs. Donovan watched until they left the parking lot. “Do you think we can keep them from killing each other this week?” she asked her coworker who’d been eavesdropping as soon as she’d caught wind of the conversation.
“I can’t believe where you went with that,” her friend smiled. “When we realized we’d overbooked that cabin, I was just praying for a cancelation or a miracle.”


Ten Years Later:

Jack had burgers grilling and daiquiris chilling when Barb drove in from work. She ran to greet their guests in the back yard, but suddenly raised her voice and her hands in dismay. “Adrienne!” she scolded, “You can’t do those gymnastic moves up in the treehouse.” She turned to the crowd. “We should have never shown her that video of us dancing on that crazy slide.”

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And Evil Shall Come, fiction book excerpt
by Paul D. Ellner


When Kate Morrison, a young reporter, accidentally comes upon a U.S. Army camp in a desolate area of Nebraska, she is irritated and perplexed by the bizarre treatment she experiences. Kate, who dreams of writing for a major newspaper, investigates and is amazed that the army denies the existence of the camp. As she continues her investigation, she learns that the camp is actually an Al Qaeda operation manufacturing and distributing biological weapons to terrorist groups. Masterminded by a sinister Japanese who has compelled the acquiescence of a U.S. senator, the Al Qaeda carry out biological attacks around the world. Together with FBI Special Agent Matt O’Neill, Kate forestalls a biological attack on the U.S. Capital, but the Nation is left in turmoil when a devastating anthrax attack on the auto show in New York City leaves thousands dead. Thousands flee the city in panic when a miniature nuclear bomb is planted in Grand Central Station. In this gripping tale Kate is kidnapped, experiences betrayal, and faces beheading by the Al Qaeda.


Omaha, Nebraska

Kate drove away from her apartment frequently looking in the rear view mirror to see if she was being followed.

Where can I go? The farm? No, that’s no good. The Al Qaeda could follow me there and harm my family. Besides, it would be a long commute to work. And I can’t stay with anyone from the office.

Then she thought of Aisha. Kate and Aisha had been friends since their high school days. Aisha’s family was from Bosnia; they were Moslems and very strict. Aisha was never allowed to hang out with other kids or to go to parties. Sometimes she and Kate met secretly on a corner in town and went to a party or took in a movie. They were best friends and shared girlish secrets.

After graduation, Kate went to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and Aisha got a job in Omaha. When Kate started working at AgriCulture, she and Aisha got together every few weeks for cocktails or lunch.

I’ll call her in the morning. I’m sure she’ll let me stay with her until this thing is settled.

Kate drove around, finally locating an all night diner. She found a booth, pushed a discarded newspaper aside, and slid in. She was starved and ordered eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee. While waiting for the food to arrive, she picked up the newspaper. A heading on the front page caught her eye announcing a biological attack in Israel. She avidly read of the smallpox cases and continued to read even after the arrival of her food. Could this be something that the Al Qaeda at the camp had engineered? She remembered that Larry Bronsky had told her of his work on pox viruses.

The diner had a sign “Wi-Fi”, and Kate killed time by searching for Al Qaeda on the Net. Had the Al Qaeda used the smallpox to attack the Jewish State? Did they get the virus from the camp?

At seven o’clock, Kate dialed Aisha on her cell phone. There was a sleepy, “Hello?”

“Hi, Aisha. It’s Kate. Listen, I’m in a bit of a jam.”

“What’s up?” the sleepy voice asked.

“I’m in trouble,” Kate said, “and I need a place to stay.”

“What kind of trouble?”

Kate quickly told her about finding the camp and how she and Larry Bronsky were kidnapped.

“Oh my God, are you all right?”

“I’m OK now, but for awhile I was terrified. I can’t go back to my apartment.”

“Sure,” Aisha said, “no problem. Come on over. You can stay in the guest room. That’s the living room,” she joked, “but the couch opens into a bed. It’ll be fun.”

“Thanks. I’ll come over after work.”

Kate drove to the library and spent the day there reading about Moslem fundamentalists.

Later on, she phoned Gabe.

“Kate! What happened to you? Did you get to that symposium in Lincoln?” he asked in quick succession.

“Yeah, I did.” She went on to tell about meeting Larry Bronsky, what he revealed about the camp, their kidnapping, and her escape.

“Why didn’t you call me?”

“I couldn’t,” Kate said. “There was no opportunity.”

“Did you go to the police?”

“I went to the FBI, but I’m not sure if they believed my story. I can’t stay in my apartment.”

“What are you going to do?” Gabe asked.

“I’m going to stay with a friend until this thing is cleared up. I’ll stay in touch with you.”

“For Heaven’s sake, Kate, be careful.”

That evening the girls shared a supper and stayed up late talking about Kate’s experience. Aisha was horrified when Kate told her about Kimura, how she got away by untying the rope with the chair and escaped through the tornado. Kate told her about talking to the FBI.

“Wow. That’s serious stuff. What did the FBI say?”

“I don’t think they believed me,” Kate said. “I’m tired, and I’ve got to go to work tomorrow. Show me how this couch opens up.”

After Kate was asleep, Aisha sat in her bedroom. She was torn between two loyalties.

She’s my best friend-we’ve known each other for years-ever since high school. But I must be faithful to my religion.

Aisha agonized for a long time. Finally, she picked up the phone. “There’s a problem,” she whispered. “One of my friends knows all about your camp…”

The next day when Kate was at work, Aisha had a visitor. Muhamet was a family friend, and the one she had phoned the other night.

“Our families have been friends for many years,” he said, “but now there are things you must know. When I lived in Bosnia, I joined the Takfiri.”

“What’s that?” Aisha asked.

“It’s a group devoted to the destruction of Israel and the purification of the Faith. They-we follow a strict interpretation of Islam. It’s called Takfir wal Hijra. That means ‘Anathema and Exile’. We are part of Al Qaeda, and we are prepared to do anything for the Faith. We will kill or sacrifice ourselves for Islam. We must talk to this friend of yours.”

“Why do you need to talk to her?”

“We need to find out what she said to the FBI.”

“She told me that she thought the FBI didn’t believe her story.”

“Nevertheless, we must question her back at the camp. There are those who feel she is a threat.”

“What will you do to her?” Aisha asked.

“She will be interrogated rigorously. We have to learn what she knows.”

“But she is my best friend,” Aisha said. “Will they hurt her?”

“Possibly. She is an infidel. Her life is in the hands of Allah.”

“I hope Allah will be merciful to her,” Aisha said.

Kate parked on the main street of Aisha’s neighborhood. It was a mixed commercial-residential section with a few fruit and vegetable stores, a Lebanese restaurant, and a small movie theatre. She walked two blocks to Aisha’s building and climbed the single flight of stairs to the apartment.

Aisha seemed edgy.

“Is something wrong?” Kate asked.

“No, I’m OK.”

The women ate dinner without saying much. When the doorbell sounded, Aisha jumped and opened the door to admit a man.

“This is Muhamet,” Aisha said. “He’s a family friend.”

Muhamet was thin, shorter than Kate, with dark eyes and black hair.

Aisha didn’t say she was expecting anybody. I wonder why? He looks like those guys who grabbed Larry and me.

Aisha kept looking at Muhamet as if she expected him to say something, but they sat without speaking for an awkward few minutes.

What’s going on here? Kate wondered. Something’s fishy. They’re both so tense.

Muhamet abruptly broke the silence. “Some of my friends are anxious to meet you, Miss Morrison.”

How does he know my name is Morrison? Aisha introduced me as Kate. Kate immediately became suspicious and sensed that she was being set up. Her heart began to beat faster, but she tried to sound casual.

“Well, perhaps I could meet them sometime,” she said.

Muhamet’s voice became louder. “Not sometime. They want to see you tonight!”

Kate stood up. “No, I don’t think so.” She turned to Aisha, “I can’t believe this. What have you done, Aisha? I thought you were my friend. I trusted you. I’m getting out of here.”

Muhamet jumped up and grabbed Kate’s arm. ”You will come with me now!”

Kate was a strong girl who grew up with lots of experience discouraging over-amorous farm boys. She wrenched free and headed for the door. Muhamet grabbed her again. Kate brought her knee up hard into his groin causing him to double up in pain.

“You bitch!” he screamed. “Infidel bitch.”

“Stop it!” Aisha screamed.

Kate rushed out the door, flew down the stairs, and ran toward her car. Looking back, she saw Muhamet running after her, narrowing the distance.

I’ll never make it to my car. She ducked into the movie theater without stopping to buy a ticket.

“Hey!” the cashier yelled after her.

“Call the police,” Kate called back. She rushed breathlessly into the dark theater, quickly sat down away from the center aisle and slumped low in her seat, trying to catch her breath. Only half of the seats were occupied.

As Kate’s eyes became adjusted to the darkness, she cautiously looked to see if Muhamet had followed her in. There was no sign of him. She waited 15 minutes, hoping the police would come. I guess they didn’t call the cops. When the show was over, she left with the small crowd.

She walked rapidly to her car, constantly looking around to see if she was being followed. Her hands were shaking so badly she had trouble putting the key into the lock and the ignition.

Kate drove around the city, frequently scanning her rearview mirror, undecided where to go. She finally stopped at a hotel, pulled into the parking lot, and sat in the car with the engine running. She waited to see if anyone had followed her, then killed the engine, and ran into the hotel.

The clerk looked up as if expecting another person.

“Just me,” Kate said.

“No luggage I can help you with, ma’am?”

“No.” Kate gave him her credit card.

The clerk handed her a key and directed her to the elevator.

“Room 338,” he told her, “have a pleasant evening.”

Kate got off at the third floor, looked down the empty corridor in both directions and hurried to her room. She double-locked the door and secured the chain.

Muhamet drove into the hotel parking lot and stopped so he could watch the entrance. Ten minutes later he picked up his cell phone and punched in a number.

AND EVIL SHALL COME is available as an ebook from Dr. Ellner’s website, as well as from, as well as on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

Bio: Dr. Ellner taught medical and graduate students and post-doctoral fellows at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons were he became professor of Microbiology and Pathology. On four occasions, the medical students voted him “Teacher of the Year” and “Outstanding Lecturer.” This experience contributed to his ability as a storyteller and upon his retirement he started to write fiction. He is deaf and has been blind for the past 15 years. His novels include Stranger in Time, And Evil Shall Come, Marika, Incident in Geneva, The Ebola Connection and most recently, a collection of short stories, Bight Figures Sinister Shadows.

Abandoned, fiction finish the story exercise
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

Vanessa trudged down the alley. The night was dark, and no moon lit her way. She spotted what appeared to be a small blanket lying in a doorway. She was tempted to walk past, but a whimpering from within the blanket stopped her. She knelt, and bit by bit, pulled back the cover to reveal first a head, then a torso, then arms and legs. The body was naked from head to toe. Exposed to the elements, the baby cried in earnest.

“Oh my God,” she said, re-wrapping, then scooping the infant into her arms. “Where’s your mommy? Who could have just dumped you out here like this?”

There was no sound in the alley. She wished now she hadn’t taken this shortcut. She’d been in a hurry. Unable to afford a baby-sitter, she’d left her two children, ages eight and ten, home alone. She’d told them to do their homework, then go to bed at nine o’clock. She’d only planned to be gone until then, but now, it was nearly ten. Her writing group meeting had run later than usual.

She decided to retrace her steps and take the long way home. Once in the safety of her apartment, she would call the police about the baby. She hoped someone from the department of family services could pick up the child right away. There was no way she could feed another hungry mouth.

The baby continued to wail. “Shhhh,” said Vanessa, as she turned in the direction from which she’d come. The door, outside which the baby had been lying, opened, and a figure appeared. Vanessa froze. “It’s okay. Everything’s going to be all right,” she said, more to calm herself than for the crying baby’s sake.

A woman’s voice said, “Hey, bitch, what you doin’ with my baby?”

Another figure appeared, and a second woman’s voice said, “Bobbi, this is the pick-up I told you about. They’re going to pay us a lot of money, and they’ll find her a good home, a better home than we can give her. Remember? The woman on the phone said to leave the baby in the alley behind the building, and she would pick her up. That’s her.”

“But that’s my baby. You can’t take her away. She’s my flesh and blood. Please…” She burst into tears.

The baby in Vanessa’s arms cried even louder, if that was possible.

Vanessa ran, leaving Bobbi to grieve and the other woman to comfort her. What sort of adoption agency required a person to abandon a baby in an alley, she wondered, as she reached the street. She remembered there was a police station on the next corner. She would leave the baby there, tell her story, and be done with it. But as she ran toward the next intersection, reassured by the distant whoosh of traffic, she heard running footsteps behind her.

Editor’s note:
Abbie has this story off to an amazing start, but what happens next? You have the opportunity to decide. Write your ending to “Abandoned” and submit it for the Fall/Winter edition of Magnets and Ladders. We will publish Abbie’s beginning and the top two endings in the writers’ climb. Get your creative juices flowing.

Bio: Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of a romance novel, two poetry collections, and a memoir. She is currently working on another novel. Besides Magnets and Ladders, her work has appeared in The Avocet and Serendipity Poets Journal. She has a visual impairment and lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years, she cared for her late husband, totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. Please visit her website at

Contest Alert

We will be holding contests in the areas of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the Fall/Winter edition of Magnets and Ladders. All submissions will be entered into the contest. Cash prizes of $30 and $20 will be awarded to the first and second place winners. Remember, the deadline for submissions is August 15, so be sure to get your entries in on time.

Get Rid of Write Fright, Get Published, nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Recently an article in a publication from the Barbershop Harmony Society offered several accusations and suggestions about stage fright. If you belong to several writers’ groups, you’ve probably noticed that there are as many excuses for failing to write, submit, publish, as there are members. Examine your responses to these poignant possibilities:

You like to write for therapy or pleasure, but you don’t care if your work is ever read. You feel pressured or threatened by writers in the group who mention their latest bylines and seem to point fingers at you for not doing your rightful duty if you can’t claim one. You’re afraid that, if you submit, it won’t be good enough and you won’t receive a fair treatment. Writing with disability is such a challenge, the difficulty of doing research and meeting the right people, that it makes you tired just thinking about it. The anxiety of waiting for a response, a rejection, dampens your spirits for starting anything new.

It’s all very much like stage fright, isn’t it? It’s time to decide whether you’re willing to revamp your reluctance into participation in the writing life. Time is no excuse, we all find time for what we like.

If lack of “how-to,” technology, or resources poses problems, join a group or list, local or online, focused on the mechanics and basic techniques in your preferred genre. Critiques and contacts lead to new insights and opportunities. Don’t settle for friends and family evaluation. They love your effort and enthusiasm, therefore, they love your work. If you really want to know how your work may stack up under an editor’s evaluation, run it by a successful writer in the same genre, a teacher of English or journalism, or attend a writers’ workshop. Composition challenges and critiques should be part of the program. If you like the interaction of group meetings, ask for recommendations for a second group or list to join.

Afraid your work could stand some improvement and that someone might show you how? That’s what helps you grow. Learn to love it and seek it. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite! Become your own toughest editor. If I rewrote this article for the umpteenth time, I’d find improvements to make. Remember, spell check is manna from heaven sent to save us from embarrassment.

When your writing style is ready, start small. Don’t try for that great American novel first. Write for magazines, newspapers, or newsletters, online or in hardcopy. If you’re comfortable writing information or memoir about disability, that’s a good place to start. Don’t expect to win acceptance even half the time at first. Send multiple submissions if allowed so you don’t have all your eggs in one bucket. Don’t feel like a failure if you find yourself in anthologies, small niche publications, or at a self-publisher’s website. Mainstream publishing houses are struggling to stay solvent. The “Mom and Pop” bookstore is disappearing.

What really matters is your platform, your readership. You can establish a systematic growth count in many ways. Initiate a blog, a newsletter, or an Email discussion list. Social network about your interests and your work. Count your followers. Transportation is difficult for people who can’t drive and don’t have an interested friend or family member to help. If you’re invited for a reading, use a reader if you must, but you’ll gain some impressive respect if you can read it yourself.

Many budding writers turn to teaching writing as a way to earn money from their art, although they may not be earning much from their own publishing. Be sure to ask about the credentials, publications, and market successes of people who are offering you training. It’s wise to use any training you pay for as a “jumping off place” to better writing. It’s not wise to expect that class to put you in a prestige magazine or on a bestseller list. You’ll know if you don’t fit in a group of writers. Some genres don’t mix comfortably. High-end published writers and beginners sometimes have trouble being tolerant of each other. Poets and technical writers may not speak the same language. Don’t stay in a program if you aren’t learning, growing, or dedicated to helping others.

There’s every reason to hone your skills and see your work published, unless, of course, you don’t want to be read or don’t want to work to stay on your toes in the writing field. But if those things were true, you wouldn’t be reading a magazine for present and future writers, would you?

I Believe in Poetry, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

I believe in poetry–
in its artistry and creativity,
its chevron of sheer joy,
its force and frivolity,
its landmarks and laughter,
its footnotes and footprints
of yesterday, today, and the hereafter.

I do believe in poetry–
its mirroring of life,
its dancing with dreams,
its harboring of the downtrodden and hopeful,
its offering therapeutic strokes,
its touching just one reader
or reaching out to most folks.

I believe in poetry
for its grammar, punctuation, and format
with rainbows of rhythm,
boisterous brevity or
elongated lines,
its myriad of meters,
traditional stanzas, or
freedom of form.

I believe in you–
the poet–
who chooses a sip of rhyme,
a glass of verse,
or a whole liter of lyrical lines
that pour from your aged, poetic soul
onto pages, chapbooks,
full-length manuscripts
which richly shower us with
the confetti and concordance
of poetry.

The bardometric pressure is rising.
April is raining poetry
while Poets Laureate are reigning
under poembrellas.
This bodacious spring morning
awakens with such poetic potential
we believe in poetry.

Part IV. The Melting Pot

Cactus, fiction First Place
by Susan Muhlenbeck

I first heard of the Cactus Foundation when I ran into my old friend Penny at the mall last year. It was a lovely day in early March. Spring had come early, and I was looking forward to time off from my teaching job the following week. I almost didn’t recognize Penny. She had lost a lot of weight since the last time I had seen her the previous fall.

“You lost weight!” I cried as we hugged.

“Fifty pounds!” she exclaimed proudly. “I still have fifty to go, and I can’t tell you how easy it is.”

“I have got to hear about this,” I said as we sat at the food court, her with a garden salad and me with a hamburger with French fries. I had tried every diet in the book from The Atkins Diet to Weight Watchers, and none of them worked very well. I would have loved to lose fifty pounds myself.

“A friend of mine told me about the Cactus Foundation,” she said excitedly. “She lost over ninety pounds through their program, and she is not having any problem keeping it off.”

“So how does it work?” I asked impatiently, dreading the thought of ordering special foods with protein bars and shakes, or swallowing appetite suppressants that made me jittery.

“One of their representatives came to talk to me at my house,” she explained. “He gave me some CDs with soft music on them and told me to listen for thirty minutes a day. He said that once a week I could eat whatever I want, and the rest of the week, I had to eat sensibly. There are no pills, no prepackaged food you have to order, no meetings, and no counting calories. Oh yeah, and he said to walk twice a day for ten minutes at a time. I lost two pounds a week for the last six months and should continue losing weight at that rate for the next six months. And you know, the one day a week I can eat whatever I want, I usually go to a buffet and eat till I’m full, but no purging,” she added quickly, “and the rest of the week I don’t have the urge to overeat or eat foods full of fat and sugar.”

“Wow,” I said slowly, trying not to laugh. “It sounds like it’s too good to be true. You know what they say about how if something seems too good to be true-“

“It probably is,” she finished for me, “but I’m telling you, it works. I am living proof.”

“So how do you sign up for it?” I asked, intrigued in spite of myself.

“One of their clients has to recruit you,” she said with a shrug. “I can have someone call you to set up an appointment.”

“Great!” I said, my skepticism evaporating like water in a desert. “Can’t wait to lose fifty pounds.”

“You can do it in six months,” Penny said, squeezing my hand, “and by then, I will have reached my goal!”

I met with a representative from The Cactus Foundation a few days later. He was a nondescript middle-aged man wearing glasses, who seemed very proud of his organization. “We have a 99.99 percent success rate,” he boasted as he poured me a glass of mango juice. I watched him take a swig first before I sipped tentatively. It was good, I thought as he talked about his program.

“Yes, a friend told me how it works,” I said as he outlined the plan.

“Very good,” he said as he handed me a box of CDs. “Before you start listening to a CD for thirty minutes a day, say your secret password, and don’t ever tell anybody your secret password.” He handed me a piece of paper and said, “Commit that to memory. This is also the password you need to access the Cactus Foundation website.”

“Okay,” I said, staring at the paper. Then he shredded it and threw it into the trash can. He said I should lose two pounds a week for six months in order to reach my goal. “Don’t forget to walk twice a day for ten minutes at a time,” he said as I wrote him a check, “and remember, one day a week, forget the diet and eat whatever you want.”

Penny was right. The diet was too easy. I did exactly what Mr. Spicer from the Cactus Foundation said. Every morning I listened to one of the CDs for thirty minutes while I had my breakfast of yogurt and fruit instead of bacon and eggs. I found the soft violin music and enchanting flute music very soothing. Then I went for a walk for ten minutes before going to work. I took another little walk in the evening after eating lean meat with salad and healthy grains. Every Saturday I indulged in all the taboo foods and did not crave them the rest of the week. By the time school ended in early June, I had lost 25 pounds and was halfway to my goal.

“So what’s your secret?” some of my coworkers asked in the teachers’ lounge. “You are looking really good.”

I just smiled and said, “It’s the wine diet.” I wasn’t ready to tell anybody about the Cactus Foundation yet. I would tell them after I reach my goal, I told myself resolutely.

It was a long, hot summer. For the first time in several years, I went to the beach and did not feel self-conscious in a swimsuit. In fact, I felt so good I went back to the beach several times during the summer, looking and feeling better each time. I also got a nice suntan, something else I haven’t done in years. Just before the fall semester started, I went and got my hair cut into a trendy style.

Everybody was impressed with my new look when school started, including the students. I caught some of them staring at me in wonder. I don’t remember ever feeling so good about myself.

A couple weeks after school started, I reached my goal. I was very pleased with myself. I also received a package from the Cactus Foundation. It contained nothing more than a small glass bottle with a label that said Release. Without any hesitation, I unscrewed the cap and drank down the pink liquid, which tasted like Kool-Aide. Then I called Penny.

“I did it!” I cried shrilly. “I lost fifty pounds and feel terrific!”

“Congratulations!” she said excitedly. “I have two weeks to go. We’ll have to go out and celebrate when I reach my goal. I met somebody over the summer,” she giggled. “You have to let me know what you think.” In fact, we don’t have to wait two weeks. We can meet tonight if you’re not busy.”

“Sounds good,” I agreed. “Saturday is my off diet day anyway.”

We met at a seafood restaurant and stuffed ourselves from the buffet. Penny introduced me to her new boyfriend Percy Slater, the man of the hour. He seemed nice enough, but I really didn’t see what all the fuss was about.

“I can’t believe how easy the diet was,” I said over dessert. “I really enjoy the CDs too.”

“Oh dear!” Penny cried, smacking her forehead. “I forgot to listen to a CD today. That’s the first time I forgot in almost a year. So what was your secret password?”

My mind went blank. “I honestly can’t remember,” I said in astonishment. “I said it every day for six months, and I forgot just like that.”

“Mine is 2bxGardenia,” Penny said carelessly.

I suddenly felt cold. “Interesting,” I said softly. Why did I feel like somebody just walked over my grave?

I continued to follow the diet and exercise program and kept the weight off. The day after I met Penny at the restaurant, out of habit, I went to play a CD but couldn’t find my CDs. They weren’t where I always left them. It’s no big deal, I told myself. I can get more CDs, but the thought of losing them nagged at me.

I heard the report on the news a few days later. “There was a single vehicle accident at the corner of Maple and Spruce Streets,” the news anchor announced solemnly. “The driver, Penny Cook, died at the scene. She apparently drove her car into a tree. Police said that speed was a factor.”

I screamed. “It was the diet, the stupid diet!” I shouted. I don’t even know why I thought such a thing, but I somehow knew it was true. My mind spun. I tried to look up The Cactus Foundation on line but couldn’t access their website without my password, which I had forgotten, and I wasn’t allowed to reset it. I still had not found the CDs and had thrown away the bottle of juice that they sent when I had reached my goal. I had no way to contact them. Why did they kill Penny, and am I going to be next? I thought wildly. I suddenly remembered the cold feeling I had at the restaurant when Penny said her secret password. I felt faint. I didn’t know what to do.

What I ended up doing was calling Penny’s boyfriend. I looked up his number on line and asked him to come over the next evening. He didn’t seem surprised to hear from me.

As soon as he arrived, I noticed that his cheerful expression had been replaced with one of sad helplessness. “You think Penny’s accident was related to the Cactus Foundation?” he asked without preamble.

“Yes, how did you know?” I asked, stunned.

“She told me when we met how the program works,” he said derisively. “As long as you follow their instructions to the letter, like you seem to have done, you will be very successful. Most people seem to follow their instructions without any problems. That’s why they have a 99.99 percent success rate. But if you mess up just one time, well, I don’t have to tell you what happens.”

“So what happened with Penny, and how do most of us stay on track?” I asked impatiently.

“Penny told you at the restaurant that she forgot to listen to the CD that day,” he said quietly. “Then she told you her secret password. She was distracted that morning because her cat had snuck out of the house, and she had to spend a long time looking for it. I inherited the cat by the way, but that’s why she forgot about the CD.”

“Why are the CDs so important?” I asked, dreading the answer.

“Well, they only work if you say your secret password first,” he explained with a deep sigh. “I think there are subliminal messages hidden within the CDs, telling you what to eat, reminding you to walk every day, and every other aspect of the diet.”

“Like drinking the elixir they sent in the mail after I reached my goal,” I said slowly.

“Yeah, and forgetting your password after you reached your goal. Do you still have the CDs?” he asked suddenly.

“No, I thought I lost them, but now I think one of their agents broke into my apartment and took them,” I said angrily.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said, putting a placating hand on my arm. “Listen, Dianne, is that your name? I think they told you to get rid of the CDs after you reach your goal in one of the messages, and then have no memory of having done so.”

“What about Penny’s CDs?” I asked desperately.

“I think somewhere on one of the CDs, there is a message telling you to get rid of the CDs if you reveal your secret password and then somehow commit suicide,.”

“No!” I screamed, sinking way down in my chair. “I can’t believe it! So what should we do?”

“There is nothing you can do without proof, which they did a fantastic job of making sure you will never have,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “I would consider yourself lucky you were successful, and don’t ever tell anybody else about the Cactus Foundation.”

“Guess you’re right,” I agreed reluctantly, “but what a shame.”

After he left, I sat there for hours, trying to process everything we talked about. He must be a lot smarter than I am, I thought, to have figured it out. I wish Penny had met him before she heard of the Cactus Foundation, but then again, she might not have met him at all if not for the Cactus Foundation. It was all too much for me to consider.

I tried not to think about the Cactus Foundation after that, and had almost forgotten about them, until one day the next spring when I received a letter asking if I wished to work for them. The letter had a return address from a P.O. Box in Barbados. I had half a mind to catch the next plane to Barbados and have it out with those awful people. Then I thought about what happened to poor Penny and shuddered. I tore the letter into tiny pieces, then went out to take my evening walk.

A Special Photo, fiction Second Place
by Bill Fullerton

Sensual and seductive, she lay amid the rumpled sheets of the bed where we’d just made love, relaxed and at ease within the golden skin of her petite, perfect body. Not posing, not looking at the camera so much as through it, into the photographer, into me. Waiting with an expression of amused tolerance for me to finish and rejoin her. It was a special photo of a very special model.

I’m in the military doing special operations type work that’s supposed to be hush-hush. When people ask, I tell them I’m a security consultant specializing in on-site training. And, in a way, that is what I do. But that’s about to be past tense. This is my last overseas tour of duty. In two weeks I’ll be getting some time off, a promotion. Then I’ll become a headquarters man, a desk jockey advising more than supervising the other, younger guys who’ll still be doing this type of work. After spending eleven months on this bitch of an assignment, most of it in the bush, that’s starting to sound real good.

It’s against regulations to get personal mail in the field. That’s supposed to be collected when you go in for the monthly debriefing, delousing, and debauchery. Out here, it’s just job related shit, that’s the official line anyway. But there are ways.

I was sitting alone in an early afternoon patch of shade outside my hut, unable to take my eyes off the photo I’d just pulled from the envelope. It had been almost a year since I’d last seen Holly Hightower, and maybe an hour or so since I last thought about her and about how we’d tried to cram a lifetime into one month. All that because my brother’s girlfriend had an idea.

“Hey Logan, you remember Holly Hightower, don’t you?” My kid brother, a high school senior, had just come in from football practice and now filled most of the doorway to my old room.

I’d just finished unpacking, and looked up from lacing on my running shoes. “Sure. She was behind me in school. Cute as hell, but there wasn’t much news of her. Dated this college guy, can’t remember his name, all through high school. They looked so much alike it was spooky. Both were short, good-looking, blue-eyed blondes. I think they got married right after she graduated. Why?”

“Well, she and that guy, his name’s Bruce Dengler, they had a kid about a year ago. A few months later he split. And before you ask how I know all that, it’s ’cause I’m dating her sister, Heather. Well, when I mentioned you were coming home for a month, she decided it’d do Holly a lot of good to get out of the house. So she wondered if you’d be willing to go on a double-date, you know, me and Heather, you and Holly.”

I almost laughed. I’m a little old for double-dating. But Craig and I had always been close. So I decided it might be fun to tag along and check out his dating style, not to mention his girlfriend. And, okay, the idea of spending an evening with Holly Hightower had its appeal. That’s why I agreed. Which proves, I guess, that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

On Saturday, Craig said Heather would be spending the night with her big sister so we’d pick them both up at Holly’s place. Heather turned out to be a younger, slightly taller version of her “big” sister. It was obvious why Craig was nuts about her and even I could tell she felt the same way about him.

As for Holly, she looked even better than I remembered. In part, because her face and figure had filled out a little. Unlike back in high school, she had boobs. Not big, but in perfect proportion to the rest of her slim body. When I said she looked great and mentioned her improved figure, she seemed pleased.

“That’s what having one of these will do for you,” she said, jiggling the laughing baby she held in her arms.

But there was more to her improved looks than just a few extra pounds and inches. The Holly I’d known had been a girl, a cute, quiet, super-nice cheerleader type. The Holly I’d just been re-introduced to was a woman, someone who’d been hurt but knew she could endure. I liked this new Holly more, a lot more.

The baby was named Hope, a tiny, blue-eyed heart breaker with an uncanny resemblance to her mother and aunt. When I mentioned this, Heather said all the women in their family were runts and had names starting with the letter, H. The babysitter arrived and Holly gave her a quick orientation while I watched Craig and Heather playing with the baby.

Over supper at an Italian restaurant, they all tried to catch me up on the local gossip at the same time. During a pause, I heard myself asking Holly about her separation. I started to apologize, but she smiled, laid her fingertips on the back of my hand, and said it was okay. At least I think she said it was okay. That gentle touch overloaded my circuits.

She and her husband struggled for years to have a kid. Then when they hit the jackpot, he started going weird. A few months later she learned he was having an affair with his fitness instructor. When Holly confronted him, he confessed, and then moved out.

We couldn’t all agree on the same music, so going dancing after dinner was out. Instead, we caught a movie and then, at Holly’s suggestion, went back to her house.

“That way I can send the babysitter home early and these children,” she gestured at my brother and her sister sitting in the front seat, “can have some time alone.”

We talked all the way back. She’d gotten a degree in education after putting her husband through law school. Now she was an elementary school teacher.

“What can I tell you? I love kids.”

At her place, Craig and Heather did as ordered and took the babysitter home. A few minutes later they came back but stayed out in the car to do their thing in private.

Inside, we old folks talked over coffee until the baby started fussing. I followed Holly into the dim blue light of the baby’s room and watched as she checked out the situation.

“Houston, we have a problem. The diaper must not have been on right ’cause we’ve got major leakage. And this nasty-nice baby hates messy.”

After Hope had a new nightgown and diaper, Holly looked over at me. “Logan, would you mind holding her while I change the bed. It’s pretty soppy.”

I’ve handled my fair share of babies, even helped in a delivery, but this was different. The moment this baby looked up at me and grinned, I was hooked. By the time her momma had replaced the sheet and blanket, Hope was nestled on my chest and nodding off.

At first Holly just looked at the two of us with this odd smile. Then she leaned down and took Hope who stretched and yawned. No longer having a baby to comfort, I slipped outside to wait, and think. This feeling I had was unreal. It’d been years since I’d last seen Holly Hightower. There’d been many women in many places since then. But now I was falling for this one, hard.

Before I could get my tangled thoughts even semi-organized, the source of my confusion came out. Motioning for me to be quiet, she took my hand and led me away from the door. What she did next still amazes me. Just before we reached the living room, she stopped, turned around, and looked up at me.

“Logan McClain, if you don’t kiss me I’m going to slug you.”

The funny thing is, I believed her. There wasn’t the faintest hint of humor in her eyes or voice, just determination. I might be over a foot taller and had to outweigh her by at least a hundred pounds, but I had no doubt she’d hit me if I didn’t follow orders. Besides, it was one helluva a tempting assignment.

The kiss quickly became more than just two pairs of lips pressing together. Our two bodies seemed to mold into one. Arms, legs, fingers, lips, tongues all became hopelessly, marvelously, intertwined. She made no attempt to pull away. That was fine with me. I didn’t want us to ever stop. But then came the point where the sexual energy that kiss was generating became more than I could ignore.

With an effort, I forced myself to pull my lips away from hers and look down into those incredible blue eyes. “Holly, let’s either go to the living room so I can calm down or to your bedroom and make love, ‘cause you’re about to blow…”

My plea was cut short by her lips pressing against mine. This time, she was the one who pulled back. Taking my hand in hers, she looked into my eyes as if searching my soul. Then she smiled and began leading me back down the hall, toward her bedroom.

We went into the thing, I guess you’d call it an affair, maybe a relationship, knowing it couldn’t last. I’d be leaving soon for a year, going someplace I couldn’t mention to do something I couldn’t talk about. As for Holly, she and her husband were going to counseling, trying to work out some sort of reconciliation. The two of us were the proverbial ships passing in the night.

Maybe knowing we had no future together is what made our lovemaking so uninhibited, passionate, and constant. Thanks to Holly having her own house, and with Craig and Heather running interference and babysitting, we made love on an almost daily, sometimes hourly, basis. But all the sexual activity, even knowing our time together would soon run out, couldn’t mask a growing attraction that felt much more than just physical.

A week before I had to leave, we both knew the time had come for “that talk.” After a late supper at the same Italian restaurant we’d gone to on our first night together, Holly began.

“At the counseling session today, Bruce asked to come home. I hadn’t figured on that. In my mind, it was all over and we were just going through the motions. But now,” her voice trailed off.

Something told me she wasn’t finished and to keep my mouth shut. “Logan, I don’t think it’ll work, Bruce and me, not now, not after, not after meeting you. There, I said it, okay? No pride at all. I love you, not Bruce–not like I did anyway. That’s why it’s not going to work. But damn it, Logan.” Tears interrupted her.

We were sitting together in a back booth. I put an arm around her shoulders and felt her wilt against my chest. It was my turn to talk.

“But you’ve got to give it a try, for the baby’s sake and your own peace of mind.”

She nodded and cried even harder. When the tears subsided, she apologized and went to the ladies room. I ordered two cups of espresso and tried to be grateful for the brief time I’d had with her and not bitter at what I was about to lose.

Holly came back and sat across the table from me. “Remember how I told you to kiss me or I was going to hit you?”

“I’ll never forget.”

“Well, this is going to be our last weekend together. If you don’t spend every minute of it with me, I really will slug you.”

“With a threat like that coming from a treat like you, how can I say no?”

She smiled. “But I want something to remember you by. So bring a camera, take all the pictures you want, you know, of me. Just let me take a few of you, for a keepsake.”

“That’s one heck of an offer coming from a shy, modest school marm.”

“I am shy, and I’m modest, just not around you. From the moment you first walked into the house with Craig, I wanted you to take me to bed. And now, I want you to love me all weekend and do it so hard I’ll be able to feel what we did for days afterward. And when the ache is gone, I can look at the pictures and remember you and this last month, like I hope you’ll do, when you look at the ones of me.”

“I don’t need pictures to remember you, but I’ll take plenty. The thing is, where I’m going, what I’ll be doing, it’s not a good idea to have personal photos. So you keep ’em for me. I’ll be back and, who knows, maybe take a few more.”

That was the right thing to do. But for the last fifty weeks, I’ve wished I’d risked keeping one or two of the photos I took during that weekend.

Just before leaving, I gave her the address where she could send regular, censored mail. But I also handed her a special envelope to be used if she needed to send a personal message. I explained that delivery was chancy and unauthorized, but that with luck I’d get it within a week, even in the bush.

And today, less than two weeks before I would be heading home, that envelope arrived. Inside were two photos and a letter. The reconciliation didn’t work. Her husband had gone back to his jock girlfriend. This would be mailed, Holly wrote in a P.S., while coming home from the lawyer’s office after filing for a divorce.

The two pictures were in protective lamination. One was the special photo, the nude I’d taken of Holly lying on the bed where, moments before, we’d just made love. On the back she’d written, “If you still want me, I’m waiting.” The other was a close-up of her and the baby. Judging from Hope’s size, it was a very recent shot. Both of them were blowing kisses at the camera. There was no ring on the third finger of Holly’s left hand.

I went into the hut and scribbled a quick note. “I do want you, forever. So hold that pose. You won’t be waiting long.” Then I wrapped it around the two photos, stuck it all in a waterproof envelope, and gave the native who smuggled our mail a little something extra to make sure it was on the next plane out.

For the second time in less than a year, I’d given up that special photo of Holly. But this time, I didn’t mind. In a few more days, I’d be reclaiming it-along with the special model.

Bio: Once upon a time, Bill Fullerton was a more-or-less semi-reputable sports columnist and government paper-pusher in Louisiana. The retired, beat-up Vietnam vet now lives in Arizona, where he has sunk to being a short story writer and author of unpublished novels. His wife, kids and perpetually shedding dogs try to ignore this fall from grace.

Jade Grapes, nonfiction
by Nancy Scott

We were chatting in the lobby. Gwen’s invitation might have come because neither Laura nor I knew how to make a martini…

The first thing Laura quietly describes to me are the grapes lying on the side table. She puts my hand on them and they feel exactly like grapes-cold, stem-connected, but lying on an old-fashioned doily. It dawns, after gently fondling, that they aren’t edible.

“What are they made of?” I have to ask.

“Jade, I think,” Laura says.

I don’t ask how she knows this.

There is, of course, no dust. If you invite neighbors to visit and display jade grapes on a doily crisp but full of holes, you must dust often.

I do not understand jeweled fruit as art… an old God or a castle or a dragon, but not this presumed green grandeur of appetite.
My fingers itch, wanting to explore more of Gwen’s eccentric collection, but I can’t reach from where I’m sitting. I must be still and content, hearing my mother’s long-ago admonitions, imagining other wonders that want fingers but patiently wait for eyes to adore them.

Gwen feeds us fragrant, mouth-muscling, stuffed olives and makes wicked martinis with a real shaker. I have only known such things from movies and bartenders too distant for intimate, watchful hearing. I conjure romantic old crystal as the stereo plays vinyl Big Bands and risqué Rusty Warren I recall from 1960s teenage nights.

Gwen preserves and values what is hers. We sip and listen and smile secrets kept. I sneakily squeeze one cold orb slightly just to ensure its status.

How to capture color or play of light? How to capture style? How to capture fragility that doesn’t seem fragile?

When we leave, slightly tipsy, I finger-feather the mask on Gwen’s front door. I think Gwen says from “Africa,” though that could be vermouth variation. But the jade grapes are real and not real and, from now on, a two-word pre-miracle prop in my hands.

Bio: Nancy Scott’s over 700 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, newspapers, and as audio commentaries. She has a new chapbook, The Almost Abecedarian available on Amazon, and she has won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Her recent work appears in The Braille Forum, Disabilities Studies Quarterly, Philadelphia Stories, Pentimento and Wordgathering.

Flight, poetry
by Laura Minning

are meant to be fulfilled,
and dreams
are meant to be shared.

That’s what he thought.
That’s what he
always wanted.

He was so full of life.
His soul was free,
but his body
was weighted
with illness.

His heart grew heavy
with each passing day,
but he never gave up,
and he never lost sight
of his dreams.

I respected him for that.
I respected him
for who he was,
and I was grateful for
for the time
that we did have.

And every time
I think of him,
I will smile
because I know
that he
would have
wanted it that way.

“Flight was previously published in a verbal collage November, 2006

Bio: Laura Minning is an award winning published poet and author. She’s had one hundred and seven poems, six articles, two books and a one-act play published in hard copy and on-line. Her work has been featured in publications like: Literature Today, Amulet Magazine and Slate & Style. Laura’s artistic accomplishments are equally impressive. She’s had eighty-five original pieces exhibited and eleven published. In February 2016, an exhibit at Barcode featured thirty-six pieces of Laura’s artwork. She donates proceeds from her sales to the National Federation of the Blind and the VCU Massey Cancer Center. Additional information about Her work can be found at

Restoration, poetry
by Brad Corallo

In a far away place
in a moment beyond time.
We will finally meet
under a gently glowing golden sky.
Together we will stand, facing.
We will gaze deeply into each other’s eyes
and we will know one another
even more fully than we do now.
We will smile
and take each other’s hands.
A long forgotten ancient cord shall ring.
And at last, all will be
as it always should have been.

Bio: Brad Corallo is a Sixty year old writer in multiple genres. He is a Long Island native born and raised. His work has been published in seven previous issues of Magnets & Ladders, in the William B. Joslin Outstanding Performance Awards Program Journal “NYSID Preferred Source Solutions” and on the Facebook page of The Red Wolf Coalition. Brad has been a life long student of fine wine, food, music, books, several professional sports and relationships of all kinds. He makes his living as a certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC) and mental health therapist. Due to LCA (a very rare genetic retinal condition) Brad has had impaired and worsening vision throughout his lifetime.

Karen, poetry
by Valerie Moreno

She was a girl,
fragile as rose petals,
fierce as winter wind
tossing her dreams about.

Magnificence burst through as she sang,
feeling deep enough to drown reservation–
she was a princess sighing.

So many expectations,
she swept along in the spinning heights
lonely and crying.

Love demanded more than she could give,
masquerading as mercy, it ate her up,
soul and body.

Unheard, the pain she held turned
to black emptiness consuming–
she took her only key,
rock star lying.

Simple nourishment became undone,
her desperate control focused on despair–
she wouldn’t eat, a dreamer dying

She turned around, brought herself back,
help and health letting in hope–
a woman ready to run.

So, when she died,
the sun went gray,
gone too soon,
so much to say.
Mystery holds unanswered questions,
yet, she gave others a way,
her beautiful sound lives on–
beloved, a song of undying.

Karen Carpenter, RIP

Bio: Valerie Moreno has been writing fiction and poems since age twelve. Her inspiration is music, life experience and prayer. Her work has appeared in anthologies, magazines and fan fiction. She is totally blind.

Love is Blessed with Salty Tears, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner

What heart cries not, in pain’s delight?
When senses quiver on climax brink
to fall and break on crashing waves,
resting supine in velvet tears.

A baby’s soul is born with screams,
as mother and child herald new life;
suffering transformed to joyousness;
tribulations soon forgotten;
love bond nurtured by bursting breasts,
which quickened to a hungry cry.
Feast and feaster freshened to life.

Do you know of love that sheds not tears
in all its conceived-of sacred forms?
Life is born of love in all its ways,
And life’s adorned in salty tears.
Find solace in the mystery.

Part V. From A Different Perspective

Another Storm, poetry Honorable Mention
by Jessica Goody

I feel the rising storm with preternatural clarity,
hear the drumroll of thunder in my inner ear.
Panic prickles through my veins and along my spine

in a full-body spasm, involuntary and uncontrollable
as a seizure, an invisible tremor, painful in its intensity:
an electrical storm of the mind, a frisson of fear making

the ice rattles in my glass, the book trembles in my hand.
The explosion starts in my chest and bursts along my
limbs, making them tense and shudder. I can feel the

thump and throb of my pulse in every joint and muscle.
The lion’s roar of thunder spurs my rabbit-rapid heartbeat
as beacons of lightning flash overhead like fierce tempers.

My body creates a catastrophe where there is none.
My limbs are bird-boned, empty and hollow, my aspic
legs rubbery with anxiety. I am a cat with rippled fur,

Whiskers prickling with prescience, pulse trembling.
I feel each throb and tremor of the cosmic conniption
in the pained hummingbird flutter of my leaping heart.

Nerves, poetry
by Jessica Goody

My body vibrates with expectancy.
Every muscle, every tendon burns
from this self-administered shock treatment,
tension pulsing like the colors of flashing neon signs,
pain radiating red, blue, and green in my mind’s eye.

The blooming synapse sparks and spreads,
igniting spiderwebs of dendrites. Thought-pollen
flies from one mind-flower to another.
Fireworks explode behind my retinas.
My galvanized nerve endings itch and hum.

They tremble in the searing shock of spasm,
red with heat instead of hemoglobin,
as though boiling water runs in my veins.
The lit fuse of my burning nerves stings with every step,
the bone-deep throb of joints panicked and inflamed.

Feet of Lead, flash fiction Honorable Mention
by Nicole Massey

“People call Friday night Date Night. I think of it as Date Rape Night. But then, I’m biased. I’m a cop, or at least I used to be. I won’t be after I take about two more steps. Instead of solving cases, I’ll be one. Suicide,” Larry Cope mused to himself as he stood on the roof of the First International Savings Bank building. From sixty storeys up, everything below looked like ants and toys.

He looked down at an all too familiar view. He came up here at least once a week, intent on ending it all, ending the pain. And each week, he couldn’t take that last two steps. Instead, he went back to a life so dreary and sad the only way out he saw was to end it all. Only the weight of responsibility kept him from jumping. He’d say to himself, “Who’d take care of Mama? What will my wife do without me? What about the kids?” So each week he’d leave the roof and take the elevator down instead of the wind currents.

That all changed one August day. That was the first day Larry met the old man. The old man changed people. The old man had a sense about things, and he read Larry like a book.

“Say, Mister, can you spare a dollar?”

Larry reached into his pocket and without thinking, handed the man a five-dollar bill.

“Mister, you’re a really nice man. Thanks for the money. Now, in return, I got something for you.”

“No thanks,” Larry replied. “I have enough.”

The old man smiled. “There is something you don’t have that you need really bad. Peace.”

Larry stopped. “Say, what is this, some kind of scam? Or some kind of ministry?”

“No sir, not at all. I just see things in people. And in you I see a lot of pain. And…. Say, when you look up, what do you see in the sky?”

Larry looked up and got lost. The sky was clear today, a clear blue that went on forever. He thought about when he was a kid, and all he wanted to do was fly. Planes, gliders, even chutes.

The old man brought him back to earth. “That’s right. Gave it all up. ‘Cause other folks needed you. Think I’ll call you Atlas, ’cause you have the whole world on your shoulders. Be talking to you later, Atlas. Come back when you have time for you.”

As if on cue, Larry’s phone rang. “Yes, dear? Really? Again? Okay, I’ll go over there after work and talk to him. I hate doing this every month or so, but Bert is my brother-in-law, and he just doesn’t understand Cassie’s moods. Yes, dear. I’ll be home right after that. Yes, I love you too.”

The old man smiled. “Looks like you’re busy. Come back soon, Atlas.”

As Larry walked on, the man laughed. That evening, Larry patched things up between Bert and his sister, stopped by his mother’s house to check on her, picked up some groceries for his wife, and mediated a fight between his two kids. The entire time, he thought about the old man’s words. Atlas. The whole world on his shoulders.

The weeks passed by and Larry visited the old man, talking to him when his phone allowed it. One day, the old man looked at Larry and said, “Atlas, when are you going to do something just for you? Gotta drop some of those burdens or you’re gonna sink like a stone.”

Larry ducked his head and hurried off. He didn’t want the old man to see him cry.

Since he didn’t want to go back to the station house like this, Larry stopped for coffee.

The clerk apologized. “Sorry, sir, no quarters, only pennies. I can give you a roll of them. Will that be okay?”

Larry nodded and accepted the change, grabbed his coffee, and left. At twilight, Larry found himself up on the roof again, looking up into the sky. He ran the words over and over in his head. Something just for me. Something just for me. He climbed the railing and looked down. Sink like a stone. Sink like a stone. He looked up at the sky. Gave it all up. Whole world on my shoulders.

He stepped to the edge. “Only two steps.” As his hand hit the side of his pants, he felt the heavy weight of the roll of pennies. Gotta drop some of those burdens or you’re going to sink like a stone. He mumbled, “Drop the burdens. The whole world on my shoulders.”

As he fished out the pennies, his phone rang. He grabbed it, looked at the screen, and yelled at it, his hand shaking, “Not now Mother, I’m doing something just for me!” His anger flared, and he threw the phone as hard as he could. It shattered against the stone of the opposite building, falling in a rain of plastic and metal. With new determination, he opened the roll of pennies, pouring them out in his hand.

He threw the first one. “Father, this is you, and all you left by running out on us.” It arced down into the empty street.

He snatched up another one. “Mother, this is you. I never wanted to take his place as head of the family!”

Before it hit the street, he was throwing again. “Cassie, I’m not your marriage counselor!”

They came faster now. “Melody, I’m your husband, not your dad.”

“Joey, I can’t keep getting you out of jail just because I’m your brother.”

“Uncle Clint, I’m a nephew, not a bank!”

And so it went, the pennies fell, then the rest of the change in his pocket, and then, as the last coin left his hands, he looked up into the sky. With a deep breath, he took them. The last two steps. Larry jumped.

And amazingly enough, once the world was removed from his shoulders, Atlas flew.

Bio: Nicole Massey is a writer, composer, and songwriter living in Dallas, Texas. She writes in multiple genres, including mainstream fiction, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and romance. She also writes for role-playing game fan magazines. She lost her sight in 2003 and if you find it, she’d like to have it back. She can be reached at nyyki at gypsyheir dot com.

What I Did Last Summer, poetry
by Nicole Massey

Mama loved her kitchen.
It seemed like she spent her whole life working on the big black stove.
The room was her own, more than any other place in the house, and
there, between the cupboard and the sink, she was like unto a god.

Mama loved her kitchen.
The smells that came out of it when she was cooking were enough to
challenge the supremacy of the Christian Heaven. We all doubted God
could cook that well. And we knew no one could laugh like Mama did.

Mama loved her kitchen.
That was the only place where Daddy ever seemed to relax.
Everywhere else he looked like his back was on fire,
and he could get away from it if only he ran fast enough.
But in Mama’s kitchen, he was someplace safe. For a while.

Daddy never liked the town.
No one knows why he never left. But when he was there,
he moved like some hunted dog, waiting for his master to show.
Like someone else owned his soul.

Daddy never liked the town.
He said he wanted a better place for his daughters to grow up in.
When he spoke. That wasn’t very often, especially when that sweet,
sweaty summer slid in like a snake, surrounding our souls.

Daddy never liked the town.
And it didn’t seem to like him much either. I never saw any smiles
there, walking with Daddy. And no one seemed to speak beyond a soft,
murmur murmur murmur like mutterings in a mausoleum.

It was summer the day it happened.
Mama was cooking and cooking and cooking all day like she never
cooked before. The whole house felt like that big black oven, and a
feeling sat on us like a crow warily watching from the old willow tree.

It was summer the day it happened.
We knew, we had to know, that it would all change
some day, one day, but the hot humidity hid our souls from the truth that was coming slowly up the dirt road.

It was summer the day it happened.
And the first sign we got was the whisper of the tires on the car, shiny and new,
that came up to the house to bring word in case we hadn’t heard.

It was summer the day it happened.
Those who survived say it was the most frightening thing they ever saw,
like something out of a movie when the fire rose to the sky and
ate hungrily at the square, like we did to one of Mama’s cakes.

Daddy never liked the town.
But the quiet was finally shattered as his makeshift bombs leveled
the square and killed everyone and everything, including himself, in a
brilliant ball of compressed summer heat.

Mama loved her kitchen.
And that is how I will always remember her. She took in the news and
sent us all on. She finished everything she was making and got real
quiet. And we found out later, when we smelled the gas and found her,
there was something she loved much much more.

Clear Vision, poetry
by Valerie Moreno

I am blind,
does that scare you,
with images of wandering aimlessly
through dark chambers?

Do you shrink away from
what you consider different,

When you see me,
say “hello.”
Don’t talk loud or slow,
or assume my “blinder”
sees through you.

My listening and concentration
are always “on,”
Offer me your elbow to guide,
Don’t grasp my arm tight,
propel me forward,

We can talk naturally, laugh if appropriate–
I won’t break if you ask
me a question about my blindness.

Only my eyes are blind–
my mind and body are intact.
Don’t assume, I won’t either.
You aren’t expected to “fix” my life–
if help is needed, I’ll ask.

Yes, I am blind, not ashamed,
not helpless or guilty.
I love life,
laugh much, persevere like you,
feel all the same emotions you do.

I am not super human,
downcast and desperate,
I’m as simple and complex as anyone–
only my eyes don’t function.

Anonymous, poetry
by Mary-Jo Lord

You describe me as the young lady in the bright red dress.
My coworker wonders
who in our office you could have talked with.

I am not young, but
would like to be.
am a woman,
could never be a lady.
I love the color red, but
don’t wear dresses.

So when you referred to me,
a middle aged woman in a pink summer pantsuit as
“the young lady in the bright red dress,”
leaving out all of the other ways I could have been identified,
You managed to make me the one thing that I am
not and would often like to be.


Bio: Mary-Jo Lord writes poetry, fiction, and memoirs. A section of her work is published in a Plain View Press anthology called Almost Touching. Her work can also be found in Behind Our Eyes, Behind Our Eyes: a Second Look and in past Issues of Magnets and Ladders. She was recently published on the blog, “Walking by Inner Vision” and Dialogue Magazine. Mary-Jo is the current Coordinating Editor of this magazine. She has a masters’ degree in counseling from Oakland University, and works at Oakland Community College. Mary-Jo lives with her family in Rochester, Michigan. She has been blind since birth.

Part VI. The Essence of Daily Life

Spirits of Night, poetry
by Brad Corallo

Spirits of night converge
gathering in upon me.
Sleep banished
once and for all!
Small discomforts, inner processes, bodily demands
press insistently forward.
So totally alone,
confronted implacably by self.
There is no escape.

Mind echoes like an iron bell.
Toss and turn, what to do?
Read, 2 a.m. snack, music?
Animal in a maze,
frustration increases as one more blank wall
again Underlines futility.

Concentration, meditation, prayer
All have little effect.
Clamoring thoughts and memories
like hard claws scratching at my window
try to terrify
only partially successful!

Medical/psychiatric condition, insomnia?
Pharmaceuticals, herbal preparations
ludicrously ineffective when night spirits dance.

Time rhythm slowly distorts
lost moments.
In and out of shallow sleep.
Very slowly, dark sky lightening!
Sun’s limb appears over the horizon.
In that shining moment
spirits of night melt away.
I stand, breathe deeply.
The new day has begun!

Music and memory, poetry
by Brad Corallo

Stepping into the shower this morning
to the liquid strains of Pastorale,
the awareness of profound loss,
fell upon me like a familiar, tattered garment.
The bitter-sweet strains
both tore, and comforted.
How perverse the human heart.
So much self work
to move on;
and I have.
I truly have!
Yet these moments, far less frequent
can still shake the very pillars of my wounded consciousness,
and Shatter the Sun.
For a moment or two, before
with the water of my cleansing;
they are lost in the nonjudgmental, swirling, ever receiving drain.

NOTE: “Pastorale, music of nature and grace” is a 1997 acoustic music CD by Eric Tingstad & Nancy Rumbel. It was profound background to the tragically lost relationship with my beloved.

The Blue Carpet, nonfiction
by Marcia J. Wick, The Write Sisters

Unwrinkled and unperturbed, the water lies flat like shimmering cellophane. I slide in, disrupting the calm. The cold tingles my toes, then the backs of my knees, then my tummy. As the balls of my feet meet the tiled bottom of the pool, I do a quick two-step to warm up my legs. Lights seem to dance on the blue carpet around me.

I fiddle with the straps of my suit, the bright orange one, and pull my cap lower over my ears. Gazing through goggles, I hunt with my poor vision for the darker tiles striping the lane three feet below the surface. The line appears to wiggle as rings of water whirl away from me. I dip my hands into the well. With a jiggle, I tuck a thumb under the seat of my swimsuit and pull the elastic band back down over my tush. The crisp water hits my wrists and stings the sensitive spot inside my elbows. I swish my hands in a quick succession of figure eights, circulating the cold and warm spots, attempting to equalize the temperature. A pump pushes icy water into the pool through a grill behind me, counteracting my efforts. I extend my arms out to my sides, feeling for the lane markers. Bright, multicolored plastic rings stretch 25 yards end-to-end along a taut wire. I center myself roughly, relieved that my lower body has come to terms with the pool’s cool temp.

Gasping, I plunge my chest into the frigid liquid. Face down now, wide-eyed, my feet become buoyant, rising to kick off the wall. I am off, eager to propel myself forward as my upper body adjusts to the cold. Horizontal, I am committed to crawl without touching the bottom of the pool for 30 lengths. I stretch my right arm ahead in the direction of my goal, then my left, then my right, left, right, left. Droplets leapfrog ahead, flying from my fingertips with each rotation of an arm. My legs fall in line behind, doing their part to kick in time.

My head rotates left, then right. As the lower corner of my mouth breaks the surface, I part my lips and gulp for air. I turn my face down, searching through a burst of bubbles for the bottom. I mistake the blur of the lane marker for the blob of the lane line, and I scrape my side along the plastic rings. My peripheral vision is limited; looking for the lane line is like looking for an elephant through a straw. I hope the lifeguard won’t be compelled to rescue me as I weave side to side like a drunken snake.

As I warm up and work into a rhythm, I correct my course. I count strokes, alert that I will reach the far end of the pool after 10 or 11 breaths. At the count of nine, I lift my eyes to aim for the cross at the end marking my turn. I will my brain to see so that my searching fingers or the hard bone of my elbow will strike the wall first, preventing me from knocking my teeth out. This time, I nail the turn. My left palm slaps the side; I grasp with my right hand, release the left, pivot and push off to begin again. One, two, three; nine, ten, turn; one, two, three; turn again and breathe.

I spit out air. It gurgles past my cheek and escapes the weight of the H2O with a pop. The splashing of fellow swimmers and music blasting from the lifeguard’s boom box sound muffled like night noises after a snowfall.

Counting breaths, I am completely present. My weightless body rolls dolphin-like, as my cupped hands sweep the liquid behind me. Matching flutter kicks move me through the clear sludge, at once solid and soft, resisting and diverting, separating and converging, impatient to fill the void. The counting of strokes, the rhythmic breathing, and the repetition of laps put me in a dreamlike trance. I am transported to another realm, defying gravity as I glide.
The water wraps me in its cocoon; The moisture replenishes my Stoney soul.

T’ai Chi Awakening, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner

I stand in t’ai chi stillness –
alert – relaxed – ready.
Arms raise – chi awakens –
shivers through legs and spine –
Earth ascends to Heaven.

T’ai chi dances with circles.
Quickened fingers explore.
Searching arms, like feathered wings,
softly stroke through trilling air –
chi probing feeling chi.

Water flowing, moving slowly –
gentle sliding gliding ripples.
Water always finds its way,
cannot be stopped nor long contained.
To master water learn to float.

Fire, air, earth and water –
allied in flawless balance.
World twirls, pulls, challenges –
plays together in our story.

I rest in sublime harmony.

Growing Pains, nonfiction
by Peter Altschul

About a year after moving to Columbia, Missouri, I joined Missouri United Methodist Church, known for its music ministry.

Last April, the church’s new Director of Music announced that he was looking for volunteers to join the church’s newly-established praise band. Fully expecting to be turned down gracefully, I volunteered to play drums, as I had played for various ensembles in high school and college.

But to my surprise, I have been playing since then on drum kit, tambourine, and conga drum, as well as singing the occasional back-up vocal.

Playing in this band has connected me to my youthful drumming, a skill that helped bridge the gap between my total blindness and my sighted peers. It has allowed me to work with a mixture of college students and adults to make joyful, though sometimes imperfect, noise. It has allowed me to witness how a group of strangers can grow together to form a team that continues to improve at making soulful music for those attending the weekly 9:15 AM service.

Our growth has had its share of awkward moments. During an early rehearsal, the band leader counted off four beats so that our two guitarists could start a song in a given tempo. The guitarists, however, played ten percent too slowly.

“No, no!” the director shouted as he ran across the stage. After counting off again at his original tempo, he ran back to where he wanted to stand. Once again, the guitarists played ten percent too slowly.

“No, no!” the director yelled again, his feet pounding across the carpeted stage.

Disgusted, I pounded a conga beat at the director’s desired tempo, and much to my surprise, the drum kit player started playing at the same moment at the same tempo. The director shouted a grateful “thanks,” and the guitarists got the message.

I still haven’t quite figured out how we drummers played in sync at exactly the same moment without any eye contact.

Like many growing groups, the band has gone through changes: a new director; several different keyboard players and singers; a temporary absence of the other drummer; and an ever-evolving repertoire of new tunes.

We continue to grow.

But mishaps still intrude. The time when the minister forgot the offertory, the all-important time when the plate is passed so that attendees can donate money. The time that the band almost forgot to play our offertory song. The time when the keyboard player started a song in the wrong key. The time when I uttered an audible obscenity under my breath after making a mistake. The time when half the band began playing one tune while the other half started playing another.

Then there was that prayer time portion of a service when I sat on my drum stool (also known as a drum throne) and began orienting myself to my electronic drum kit. As the pastor droned on, I found that I wasn’t properly aligned.

But drum thrones swivel, and as I swiveled to get into proper alignment, the stool emitted a loud, grating, fart-like noise.

“Excuse me?” the pastor said in his ministerial Mississippi drawl.

“Sorry,” I said in mortified amusement.

During the next year, I hope that the praise band can make better connections between our music and the minister’s message. I hope we can better use the talents of our singers. I hope we can integrate one standard hymn each week into our repertoire. I hope we can get our hands on a synthesizer and use it wisely. Most importantly, I hope we continue to grow through the good and painful times.

Remembering that we can’t grow without pain.

And that well-functioning teams can grow through working together to survive and learn from those painful moments.

Bio: Peter Altschul, organization development specialist and author of the recently-released book Breaking It Down and Connecting the Dots: Creating Common Ground Where Contention Rules, and the memoir Breaking Barriers, Working and Loving While Blind, has traveled a unique journey as customer service rep, musician, trainer of New York City taxi drivers, tutor of student-athletes, parent of three stepkids, grants manager, mediator between pro-life and pro-choice activists, and workplace diversity specialist – all done with the assistance and companionship of six guide dogs. He blogs regularly about the connections between the workplace, politics, music, diversity, family life, sports, religion, and dogs. He lives with his guide dog, Heath, in Columbia, Missouri. For additional information, please visit:

Fugue in Five Senses, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

On stage, at the concert grand,
thanks to the braille music the pianist studied,
she smiles with joyful confidence
as her long fingers stretch over octaves
of cool ivory keys
that share warm melodious notes
with an audience, unseen beyond the spotlight
which smells of the heat of this solo moment.

Then, the applause bounces into her ears
as she bows
and takes into her talented hands
the comforting harness and leash
of her cherished guide dog–
her second sight–
that leads the pianist stage right,
where someone hands her
a fragrant, single, apricot-colored rose
and a chocolate raspberry truffle
to celebrate
her “Fugue in Five Senses.”

Turbulence, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

On an early summer evening,
thunder booms–lightning flashes-
rain pelts the city.

In an airplane, buffeted,
with sickening, continuous,
up-down-sideways motion,
over the loudspeaker,
the pilot says we may be diverted.

I fight back my lunch,
grip the armrests, close my eyes.
The roller coaster gradually ceases.
The plane lands–I’m home!

An Old Man’s Friend, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal

Pneumonia, folk wisdom contends,
Is an old man’s friend.
It creeps into the chest, and
Its hacking cough vanquishes
The indignities and lurking diseases
Of the very old and vulnerable.
It seeps into the pleural cavity, and
Its viscous fluid obliterates
The loneliness and fears
Of the elderly and frail.

Sitting by my husband’s hospital bed
And listening to the in and out
Rhythm of oxygen and knowing
A chest tube is draining pleural fluid
On his long path to recovery,
I recall the maxim.
Pneumonia might be an old man’s friend —
But never mine and not this time.

The Sidewalk Saint, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

I’m a fan of the Saint Francis Prayer. Bringing peace to chaos and shining a light into dark places is the way to go. Understanding rather than being understood and loving rather than being loved can bring results. Acting rather than being acted upon gets things done. But, being human, I like receiving as much as giving. And I’d rather be born without having to die first, a request I’ll slip into the Celestial Suggestion Box. While I’m here, I try to practice the principles of the Saint Francis prayer.

So I’m walking home from work with my Seeing Eye dog, Randy, when we are surrounded by the Unholy Trinity: lawn mower, weed whacker and leaf blower. This trio renders me deaf to street sounds I need for safe travel. But I nip my budding resentment with the words, “Everybody deserves to make a living. Keep calm and keep walking.”

Randy stops at the corner and, when I urge him forward, he stays put. Then I realize the landscapers’ truck is blocking the crosswalk. As my fresh resentment takes root, I hear a voice saying, “Here. Give me your hand. I will guide you across the street.”

“Is this your truck?” I ask the voice.

“Yes. I am sorry. Give me your hand. I will guide you across the street.”

“Your truck is blocking the crosswalk,” I say.

“Yes. I am sorry. Give me your hand. I will guide you across the street.”

Now, here’s where my Saint Francis training kicks in. I’m on the verge of throwing a snit fit. But I pause, take the offered hand and surprise myself by saying, “I forgive you.”

As we cross the street, I start laughing. “I forgive you?” What am I, the Pope? Since when do I dispense dispensation? But it sounded good and it felt good and it got the desired result so I say it again, pat the guy on the back and walk on, shining my light.

Bio: Jeff Flodin is the author of the blog, “Jalapenos in the Oatmeal: Digesting Vision Loss” ( He is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Access Fellowship. His work has appeared in several publications. He is a Licensed Social Worker in the State of Illinois. He has been living with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) for three decades. He lives in Chicago with his wife, his Seeing Eye dog and two cats whom, along with his sense of humor, he credits for maintaining his sanity.

A Taste of the big Apple, poetry
by Burns Taylor

Greenwich Village
Strangled by concrete aprons
green trees yearn to breathe free.
narrow streets, teaming with the homeless tempest tossed.
Oh say can you see?
Old black man slumped in a doorway,
holding a single rose wrapped in cellophane.
For Emily? For no one.

Renovations everywhere; other buildings slump quietly into ruin.
cast iron facades in SoHo.
Vestiges of vanished souls absorbed into history abound,
like dust mingled with the answer blowing in the wind.

new York! Awaiting a boost into the future
from some magical transformation.

ghosts of artists linger in the cul-de-sacs and alleyways,
waiting to emerge as the fresh princes of song and script.
Falcons perch high up on brick ledges poise for the falconers call.

New York, New York! Where everything that is, used to be something else.
Where the past, like a valence of the present, simmers just beneath the surface,
Everything in transition, a constant becoming.

Subways rumble beneath my feet, taxi horns blaring,
sidewalks swarm with the wretched refuse sent from distant shores.

Ships jockey for docking in the harbor.
The jagged fragments of broken sea shells dance in the froth of the incoming tide.
the distant cries of children splashing in the surf.

Broadway, time square Central park, the empire state.
If you can’t get it here, you can’t get it anywhere.

New York! everyone in a rush to get somewhere, anywhere,
sounding for an escape from the present moment;
stumbling over your own feet in the reach for tomorrow.
The evanescent present dissolves before I have a chance to take it in.

New York! Host to generations of great artists:
Melville, Whitman, Langston Hughes and Charlie (Bird) Parker.

Nourished from the afterbirth of this new nation’s deliverance from bondage,
your roots reach deep into your fugitive past.
but when will your tired your poor
ever hold the key to that golden door?

Nightfall, poetry
by Burns Taylor

Evening descends gently
like a woman,
with soft hands and sweet fragrances.
She hops up on the shoulders of the day,
trailing her veil of darkness
that smooths the edges of broken things,
And muffles the cries of the broken ones.

She comes like a nurse to soothe the wounds of life’s travelers,
to comfort those who lie naked and alone.

She parties all night with the revelers with gusto
Then greets the morning with a joyous hug,
slips on her gown,
and nestling the night’s secrets in her bosom,
she slumbers on a feath

This literary magazine is produced by Behind Our Eyes, Inc, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization of writers with disabilities.