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Fall/Winter 2018-2019 Edition of Magnets and Ladders

Magnets and Ladders
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Fall/Winter 2018-2019

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, Joan Myles, 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.

Authors under age 18: Please include a statement from a parent or guardian that indicates awareness of your submission of literary work to Magnets and Ladders.

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. As the leaves change color and fall to the ground, they form a thick, crunchy blanket on the grass and sidewalks. Jamie, our Golden Retriever puppy is sure that they are there for him to run through, chase, and eat.

This spring, the members of Behind Our Eyes were saddened by the deaths of two members.

In late March, Lauren Casey passed away after a long illness. Lauren had been a member of Behind Our Eyes since 2007. She was an active participant on Sunday night conference calls, volunteered for committees, and her work can be found in early editions of Magnets and Ladders and Behind Our Eyes: a Second Look. Her friendly presence will be missed.

In June, Ernest (Ernie) Jones passed away following his battle with Cancer. Ernie had been a member of Behind Our Eyes since 2006 and served on the Board of Directors for several years as a Member at Large. He also served as Interim Vice President. Ernie had been active on several committees. His work can be found in Magnets and Ladders, * Behind Our Eyes, and Behind Our Eyes: a Second Look*. Ernie’s calming presence and gentle leadership will be missed.

We will feature previously published pieces by Lauren and Ernie immediately following The Editor’s Welcome.

Do you like surprises? “From a Different Perspective” and “Not What I Expected” are full of them. “Seasonal Wonders” is full of stories and poems about the holidays and ways to appreciate the cooler seasons. “The Animal Kingdom” is back and “The Melting Pot” has some gems that you don’t want to miss. Be sure to read “The Writers’ Climb” for marketing and editing tips and a new challenge.

Although we don’t have a section that features ghosts, they might show up when you aren’t expecting them. See how many you can find. We have two new young contributors, ages twelve and fifteen, and work from a poet from India. You can find their work in “From A Different Prospective” and The Melting Pot.”

In the Spring/Summer edition of Magnets and Ladders, we had a finish the story exercise started by Abbie Johnson Taylor. You can read Abbie’s story starter and the top two responses in “The Writers’ Climb.”

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. Below are the Magnets and Ladders Fall/Winter 2018-2019 contest winners.

  • Fiction:

  • First Place: “The Demmies,” book excerpt by Ann K. Parsons

  • Second Place: “Therapy” by Deborah Armstrong
  • Honorable Mention: “Earth Song” by Brad Corallo
  • Honorable Mention: “Dream Driving” by Marilyn Brandt Smith

  • Nonfiction:

  • First Place: “Murderous Innocence” by Leonard Tuchyner

  • Second Place: “The Gig” by John Justice
  • Honorable Mention: “Charlie’s Ghost” by Greg Pruitt
  • Honorable Mention: “Keep Calm and Drink Tea” by Marcia J. Wick, the Write Sisters

  • Poetry:

  • First Place: “Talking to God While Making the Damn Bed” by Ria Meade

  • Second Place: “Writing Poetry” by Barbara Hammel
  • Honorable Mention: “Raven Watch” by Leonard Tuchyner
  • Honorable Mention: “Clinical Diagnosis” by Wesley D. Sims

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 happy and safe holiday season.

Part I. In Memoriam

Lauren’s Dream, memoir
by Lauren Casey

When I was growing up, my older sister, Jackie, was my role model. Everything Jackie did, I wanted to do. So when she decided to take up downhill skiing, I, of course, wanted to learn how to ski.

Since I was a know-it-all teenager it never occurred to me that my blindness, or should I say, other people’s attitudes about my blindness, could be an obstacle to my pursuits. I recall comments like: “Blind people can’t ski!” “How can you ski when you can’t see where you’re going?” or “That’s too dangerous for you!”

Several years later, upon learning about programs that taught blind people to ski, I immediately obtained more details. One weekend my friend Susan and I went to a ski resort in Vermont for such a program.

Saturday morning I met the instructor who would be giving me my first lesson. After she showed me how to put on my boots and skis, we moved around on flat ground for a while so I could get used to the feel and length of the skis.

Next we went up the chair lift. At the top, it was now time for me to go back down the slope on my own. It was the bunny slope but it was Mt. Everest to me. With the exception of my instructor following behind me occasionally calling out “left” or “right” and other such directional commands, I was doing it all on my own.

Gliding down the hill, my skis cut through the smooth fluffy snow, in the beginner’s snow plow position. In this technique the points of the skis nearly meet to form the tip of a triangle, helping to control speed and steer around rocks, bumps, and other skiers. But those challenges would come later in my skiing career. For now I was alone with my instructor and her occasional directions, with no other sounds of people or of the wind blowing through the trees. With no guide dog harness, no white cane, nor elbow of a sighted guide, the feeling of freedom and independence was incredible. It was just me, my poles and my skis!

Reaching the bottom, I sighed deeply and thought, let’s do it again. After all, that’s why I’m here.

Note: Lauren’s Dream was previously published in Consumer Vision. It is taken from a monologue She wrote which was performed by Lauren and other members of her theater company. This story is about living with and coming to terms with disabilities.

Lauren’s Dream was first published in the Fall/Winter 2011/2012 edition of Magnets and Ladders.

The Old Crow and the Beautiful Land, fiction
by Ernest Jones

From my perch high up in the old gnarled pine tree I surveyed the sight before me. I wondered why I remained here; maybe it was this beautiful tall pine tree. The tall tree stood on a small knoll beside some of the ugliest land I had ever seen. Being a wise old bird, I could usually find good in anything or anybody, but this place was terrible.

There was a stream, that is if you could find it buried in a tangle of dead & dying wood; beyond the water there was no beauty to behold. Thorn bushes grew into a tight bramble; thistles grew in the open field & nettles crowded the bank of the stream. Rusty tin cans, shreds of paper, & plastic bottles littered the ground under the brush, making a great hide-out for mice, rats, & snakes. It’s true that many birds lived in the brambles, & rabbits loved the thickets, but beyond this the land was an ugly, useless piece of sod.

Then change came, & it was for the better. A new year had come, & with it, a move for improvements. Huge land-moving equipment came, & in just a few hours the land was a mess of debris-strewn mud. When the workmen stopped for the day, the land was quiet. I could not say there was improvement for now—even the birds & rabbits had gone and only silence greeted this old bird. In dismay, I thought of leaving too, but at least I still had the pine tree. Besides, my curiosity got the best of me; I’d just have to stick around to see what would happen next.

The following weeks, as winter turned into spring, the land began to take on a new look. The stream reappeared and began to flow again.

Then one day in April, many people showed up. There was laughing, shouting, & even some singing as the people worked. Huge piles of debris: stumps, brush, & dead roots grew like magic as the people pulled, raked, & stacked the now almost dried wood. Large fires sprouted out of these piles, & by nightfall the land was clear. A few smoldering fires still spit up some smoke, but mostly the land was rough dirt & ash.

Over the following days the people continued to work, and what a change took place right before my eyes; a new creation sprouted out of what had been a desolate land. Just for me, at least this is what I thought, my old pine tree was spared. The stream’s route was altered a little to make it go meandering through the meadow. New trees were planted along its bank and scattered here and there to give future shade to the visitors. Many shrubs and flower beds seem to have sprouted out of the ground tempting butterflies, hummingbirds, and honey bees to sample their sweet nectar. A trail ran along the stream, crossing the water in several places on rustic wooden bridges. The remaining ground was turned into a velvet carpet of soft, green lawn. Like an ugly caterpillar emerging later as a lovely moth, the land came forth as a place of beauty. Once again, rabbits returned to eat the green grass and other plants, while still sometimes hiding in the fast-growing shrubs.

But what I liked most was the fountain. Right in the middle of the stream stood a fountain, its water shooting up in tall spheres, only to drop into fine mists, to again change into columns of spray. What a lovely way to take a shower or even a bath; we birds loved it. Oh yes, a multitude of birds again filled the air with their sweet songs. What a wonderful way to start the new year.

The Old Crow and the Beautiful Land was published in the Spring/Summer 2013 edition of Magnets and Ladders and in Behind Our Eyes: a Second Look.

Planting Winter Memory Gardens, nonfiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

As autumn falls into the winter stage of life, as the golden leaves turn into the golden years, I find that I am too often leaving behind the tools of my spring and summer garden. To plant a winter memory garden, I, as a writer, must reach for other tools—for words, recollections, rhyming memories, treasured moments, and keepsakes from the heart. To capture only a little of what I want to plant into my forever memory garden, I must first and then periodically sprinkle the garden bed with my tears. Next, I must manage to till the nearly frozen soil so that I can plant the tender memories. Throughout this fourth season of life, I must keep watch over my Winter Memory Garden, cultivate it with remembrances, and nourish it with prayers.

While other people will sing “For Good,” play “Ave Maria” on a pipe organ, strum “On Eagle’s Wings” on an acoustic guitar, play “Ashokan Farewell” on a violin, play “Wind Beneath My Wings” on a concert harp, speak the sentences and paragraphs of a eulogy—we, the writers of this world, must, during the hardest days and hours, find peace and comfort in writing the words that will grow after the memorial service is over. Many of us will turn to poetry and plant rows of verses in our Winter Memory Gardens to continue harvesting treasures from the Heartland.

Within a forty-day period of this past summer, I sadly had to kneel at my winter garden three more times. Dear poets, do not allow the cherished memories of special family members and friends to slip away: turn to your craft, and preserve some of the extraordinary recollections of those who live on only in our Winter Memory Gardens. For our Behind Our Eyes friend and frequent Magnets and Ladders contributor Ernie Jones, who both embodied and wrote of “The Old Crow,” I wrote the following poem to plant in my Winter Memory Garden.

NOTE: The initial letter of each line is in boldface type; forming the acrostic, these letters spell the phrase “The Old Crow.”

Planting an Acrostic Memory Garden for Ernie

(In tribute to Ernest A. Jones, who passed on June 1, 2018)

Tenderly, we plant acrostic recollections in the memorial garden,
harvested after tears rain upon these growing remembrances:
Ernie–dear friend, master gardener, gifted writer.

Old Crow flies away too soon, too swiftly, but
leaves us his philosophy in poignant essays and memoirs,
Different Views columns, and other stories.

Credited with caring, courtesy, kindness, and gentle communication–
remarkable Ernie–a man with great faith and family (including his guide dogs)–
opened our hearts, lifted our spirits, and reminded us of all that is good.
Will you, The Old Crow, guard our gardens and tip your wing to us as you fly by?

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.

Part II. The Animal Kingdom

Murderous Innocence, nonfiction First Place
by Leonard Tuchyner

Sometimes an open heart is an invitation to disaster. I led with my heart on that day, but my actions were poisoned with ignorance, a naïve companion to my child’s mind.

The puppy was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. Actually, he was almost half grown, all white and speckled with variegated black spots on medium-length hair. His body was sleek, along the lines of a bird dog.

He was walking leisurely along the sidewalk outside my house in Irvington, N.J. shimmering in the summer sun. It was love at first sight. How could I resist? Right hand extended, I approached him.

I started with all the appropriate gooey words and tones. “Hello. Come on. Nice doggie. What a good dog.”

He eagerly accepted my invitation for contact, barely stopping to smell my proffered hand. It is often in the nature of boys and dogs to be instant buddies. And so it was on this fateful summer morning.

“Would you like to meet Champ? He’s my dog. We could play together. Come on. Champ will be really glad to meet you. He’s inside my house. We’ll have to go around to the back door. Come on.”

Full of trust, the young dog followed me into my back yard. Champ was already at the door, revved with excitement and chomping at the bit to get outside where he could play with our new friend. As he scratched on the screen door and jumped at it, I turned the knob. As soon as the catch was released, he pushed the door aside and leapt at the unsuspecting puppy.

My blood froze when I realized what was happening. Champ didn’t want to play. He wanted to kill. The puppy knew that as soon as the hurricane exploded out of the door. I didn’t know what to do. I tried futilely to grab Champ, but I might as well have been grabbing at a snarling, twisting, fire-breathing dragon.

The puppy managed to break free and took off running. He was faster than Champ, who was blocky in build, but the older dog was hot on his heels. They left me in the dust as I desperately tried to keep up. We came quickly to the end of the block, which ran parallel to a major thoroughfare. I got there just after I heard a horrible thump.

The puppy lay sprawled out in the middle of the road, blood dripping out of his nose and feet quivering. I looked on with my heart racing and my lungs paralyzed. My mind tried in vain to deny what my eyes saw. Then shame fell over me like a suffocating cloud. I wanted to hide. This was all my fault. I didn’t want people to know. The cars were stopped, and the driver had exited his automobile. I imagine him saying that the dog came out of nowhere, but I really wasn’t hearing anything except the inner shouts of, “It’s all your fault. You killed that poor little puppy. Your dog is bad. You’re bad. Get away from here before somebody finds out what you did.”

I saw Champ in the distance. He understood that he should leave the site. I slinked away back to my house.

A few hours later, Champ returned. He showed no signs of remorse. I doubt that he felt any. Begrudgingly, I accepted him back as my dog. I realized, at some level, that he did not live by the sensibilities of good humans. I don’t think this is true of all dogs. I’ve learned through my years of experience with canines that they have all kinds of sensibility levels. Some undoubtedly exceed the moral fiber of many homo sapiens. In retrospect, he was protecting his territory. The puppy was endangering his status in his own home by soliciting the affections of his human. I can’t really know whether he would have killed the other dog if he could have. Bloodying him might have been enough.

I never confessed or talked to anyone about the incident, and to my knowledge, no one ever connected the accident to me. No one ever blamed me and thus no one ever offered any consolation. It is something I’ve carried around all my life. However, the burden is not heavy, because in adulthood I realized that a child should not be blamed for an innocent mistake, even if it is fatal. On the other hand, the fact that I did not trust anyone with the secret does say something about my trust levels in childhood.

I am writing this account a few weeks before Christmas in my 77th year of my sojourn in this incarnation on earth. The incident does still have a powerful effect on me. I notice that, on those rare occasions when I think of this event, my head looks down and there is still significant sadness, laced with the old remnants of guilt.

Although ignorance is a valid pardon for children to do things with horrible consequences, it is not a valid excuse for adults. Most ignorance is a matter of choice. I am reminded of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, when Scrooge notices two children cowering under Christmas Present’s robes. The spirit opens his robes for Scrooge’s perusal, and identifies them as the children of man. He says, “One is Want and the other is Ignorance.” He warns Scrooge to beware of both of them, but most of all to be wary of Ignorance. As we near Christmas, it would be wise to heed that warning, because it is highly appropriate for our times when ignorance and want run rampant in our societies, and when they can bring grave consequences.

Bio: Leonard Tuchyner 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.

Therapy, fiction Second Place
by Deborah Armstrong

You want to know how I come to be volunteering at both the kids’ hospital and the V.A. now six years? Kind of a trippy story, actually.

The problem with wives is once they get an idea in their heads, they just keep nagging about it, on and on until you can either tell them to shut up or try it out just so you can prove how their stupid ideas stink.

It started when the wife’s new job let her bring Nugget to work. A good thing since I was out driving all day for my idiot boss and Nugget was climbing the walls, literally. Never knew a retriever would eat sheet rock, but Nugget sure did. Anyway, about the time my back went out and the settlement came in, the wife’s company got bought and they said no more dogs, makes the office look unprofessional or some such nonsense. So yours truly gets stuck with Nugget.

But by this time Nugget’s four, and she only eats socks, and when we walk down the street, she prances real nice and trained at my left knee, so all them obedience classes I shelled out for actually paid off! But you can only watch so much “Jerry Springer” and “Days of Our Lives,” and the wife says now it’s me climbing the walls. So until I’m back on my feet, she says I ought to give Nugget a job, because Nugget’s missing going to work.

I’m grossed out thinking of all those old people pissing on themselves and me and Nugget having to make happy faces at them. And maybe we’ll have to visit some retard school, and the wife knows how I insist on staying away from hospitals and sick people. But the wife doesn’t let up, and with her playing breadwinner, I give in and say I’ll try it just a month.

So we get our asses certified, and Nugget’s real calm around the teacher banging her fake crutches, where some of the other dogs get disqualified on account of them yipping and yapping. Nugget doesn’t even try to pull the tennis balls off the walker they bring in to class! So I figure, maybe Nugget really is a working dog, and I sign up with all the other sheep who made it through pet therapy training.

Then we’re at the pediatric ICU and it’s way worse than the hospital because it’s little kids with tubes stuck in every orifice, doped up to the gills, most of them going to kick the bucket sooner than later. I only got two more weeks on my promise to the old lady though, and the retired folks in the home I visited last week weren’t half bad. Some were in the army like me, different war, but who’s counting? And a couple of them knew enough about fishing that I’ll have to get down to the lake real soon to try the geezers’ ideas out.

So I’m walking around the ICU beds there and a nurse grabs me, real rough for a nurse and says all fake cheerful, “Here’s a little girl has a golden retriever at home. I’m sure she’d like to meet your Nugget.” She yanks open this curtain, and there’s a tiny kid in this huge bed, needles stuck in her arms and tubes in her neck, enough stuffed bears and flowers for a funeral, her Mommy all red-eyed in a chair beside the bed, and the damned kid is in a coma. And the nurse has me bring Nugget up to the bed, put her head on the kid’s pillow, and she takes the kid’s limp little hand and places it on Nugget’s head. And Nugget snuggles her face down by the kid and kind of snorts, and her tail starts waving its flag the way it does when she’s real happy, and the kid’s breathing machine is too loud, but the kid keeps on sleeping of course. The whole thing is giving me the creeps, and after it’s gone on for maybe five minutes, I excuse myself and high-tail us out of there.

Course Nugget was such a big hit at the ICU they want us back next week, but now there are only seven more days on my sentence so I can tough it out. To keep myself from getting so fidgety, I log on to the internet to read up on comas, and who knew, sometimes those dudes in a coma can actually hear. Nobody’s sure, but it’s a good idea to talk to them like they can, and it might even help them come out of it. I wonder if some of my old army buddies who got shot up into vegetative states would’ve done better if they’d gotten talked to more, like before the brain injuries really set in. You think!

Nugget’s tearing around the house with her squeaky orange frog, and it’s easier to just take it with. So we get there and that same drill sergeant nurse is on duty and she collars us both and drags us up to the little girl’s bed. Nothing has changed, except the Mom’s got a bigger Kleenex box, and Nugget starts shoving her squeaky frog in the little girl’s face. I try to grab on to Nugget and settle her down, never saw Nugget like this, but then I think about the coma thing and the Mom’s too out of it to notice, so I kind of muffle the sound with a pillow and let Nugget squeak the frog close to the kid’s ear. And I reach through all the tubes, because the nurse split, across the sheets, grab her little hand and put it on Nugget’s soft, furry ears. And Nugget gives that little snuffle-growl she does when she’s turning around three times for bed, and the little girl opens her eyes and smiles.

Bio: Deborah Armstrong coordinates surrenders for Norcal golden retriever rescue and works as a computer tech for a community college. She has been blind since birth and is about to enter training to be partnered with her seventh guide dog.

No Extra Large Eggs, fiction
by Sly Duck

If you’ve lived very long, you may have noticed that things don’t always go the way we would like. An example of this happened to me recently when I went to the store for some extra-large eggs. Seeing there were none available in my favorite brand of range eggs, I perused the shelves for a suitable substitute. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were no extra large eggs. I checked a second, third, and fourth time. Surely, I was just missing them. But, no, out of seven brands of eggs, there wasn’t a single carton of extra-large eggs in any size.

“What is this?” I jokingly said to the shopper beside me, “Are the extra-large hens on strike or something?”

“Yes,” he said, “they’re striking for better working conditions.”

Taken aback, I just stared at him open–mouthed not sure whether to take him seriously or not.

Seeing my uncertainty, he explained. “It seems they don’t want to go in nesting boxes, and they don’t want to scratch around and hunt for their food.”

Over the next several days, I followed the poultry news with great interest. I personally want eggs from chickens that get plenty of exercise, roam free, and have a natural diet. I want them to have plenty of crunchy juicy insects, termites, ants, grasshoppers, worms, and other protein rich foods along with some wild berries, and tender leaves like baby spinach and kale—pretty much anything they can scratch up and get their beaks on except commercially produced feed.

The Fraternity of Fine Feathered Fowl (4F) got involved, stating they fully supported free range for the chickens. “Chickens need plenty of space to roam and gather live food,” said the fraternity leader. “What the farmers are offering is in the best interest of the chickens.”

A spokesman for the SPCE (Society for the Prevention of Chicken Exploitation) said, “What the farmers propose is exploitation. They want the chickens to gather their own food and still produce the eggs the farmers sell. These chickens have every right to be served. They are doing the work.”

In defense, the farmers explained, “It is not our intent to place a hardship on the chickens.”

As it turned out, the chickens settled for a maximum of eight hours a day of cage free time; the owners agreed to spread a commercial vegetarian diet pellet on the ground for those who didn’t want to search for their food. They will then return to their cages where commercial pellets and fresh water are always available.

“I understand you and the chickens have reached an agreement,” said the reporter covering the story.

“Yes,” said the chicken farm representative. “We understand that “free range” can be scary to a chicken that has only seen the inside of a cage. Over time, we hope the chickens will become more comfortable with the concept, and come to prefer a natural diet over the pellets. In the meantime, commercial pellets will be made available in the cages as usual.”

“Do you think this idea will catch on?” asked the reporter.

“Yes. In the future, chicks will be raised in a natural environment from start to finish. They will never know a cage or commercial food. In a way, the striking chickens will be making life better for future generations. It is unfortunate they will not participate in all the benefits.”

So, perhaps, over time, I will someday have an omega-3 fatty acid rich, low cholesterol extra-large egg, but for now, my desires have run a-fowl of the chickens.

Bio: As a person with Retinitis Pigmentosa, Cleora Boyd first pursued a career in Accounting. After receiving a B.S. degree in Math from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, she went on to obtain employment with a major pharmaceutical corporation in Fort Worth, Texas, where she still lives. Now retired, she joined a writing group, enjoys reading, taking adult education courses, watching TV with her cockatiel Dusty, and writing about whatever may be on her mind. Her creations have found a home in Magnets & Ladders and Consumer vision. Cleora also writes under the names Sly Duck and C. S. Boyd.

Royalty, memoir
by Peter Altschul

During my junior year of high school, royalty invaded our house in the form of an orange cat. We were surprised, as we viewed cats as oddities that dogs chased. But Mom, understanding that you can’t mess with royalty and drawing on her practicality honed while raising a totally blind kid, did what she could to make the house welcoming. She made sure that the cat door functioned properly. She placed his food and water out of the prying mouth of our pet Labrador. And she named the cat Marmalade.

I didn’t interact much with the cat except on Wednesday nights after choir practice. After going through my good night ritual with Mom, I would head upstairs and flop on my twin bed, forgetting that Marmalade insisted on occupying this space on Wednesday nights – and only Wednesday nights. Yowling loudly, he would disappear.

“Mom,” I would call sheepishly as I headed downstairs, “I sat on the cat again.”

“Now, Peter,” she would respond, trying not to laugh. “Didn’t you sit on the cat last Wednesday night?”

I sighed, trying to keep the smile from my voice. “Yes.”

So Mom would come upstairs and try to coax Marmalade to come out from under my bed. If the coaxing failed, she used a broom.

For everyone knows that royalty needs space.

Several months later, my grandmother and I were sitting on the opposite ends of our kitchen table as Mom prepared breakfast. Often called Queenie, Grandma appreciated calm elegance.

“What a lovely day,” Queenie sighed as Mom placed a tray of food in front of her.

Shortly afterwards, I heard in quick succession:

A shriek from mom.

A bird squawk and a flutter of wings.

The rattle of cutlery and china.

From Queenie: “There goes that damn cat!”

A snarl from Mom. “Got you!”

As Mom cleaned up the mess that used to be Queenie’s breakfast, she knitted those sounds into a cohesive story. Marmalade had dropped a bird after carrying it through the cat door. Squawking, the bird had flown to the top of a window shade over the head of Queenie, followed closely by the cat. The bird flew to the top of our living room window, where Marmalade caught it. “Got you!” Mom had snarled, taking the cat outside, squeezing it until he released the bird.

Miraculously, the bird, the cat, and Mom were unhurt, but Queenie was traumatized for the rest of the day.

But like some royalty, Marmalade suffered a violent death: murder by car, according to the neighbors. We never found the body.

About a year later, Mom bought another orange cat in honor of my sister’s seventeenth birthday and named it Marmalade II. Once again, my relationship with him started off badly, as I regularly shut him up in my shirt drawer.

Somehow, though, we became friends. He purred loudly as I carried him around. I obeyed his summons to be let in or out of the house, often at four in the morning.

But that all changed with the arrival of my first guide dog, a Weimaraner named Heidi. During the first day of her first visit to Mom’s house, she cornered Marmalade, and might very well have killed him if Mom hadn’t forcefully intervened. Afterwards, whenever I tried to engage with His Royal Highness, he would give me what my Mom and sister called the IhateyouIhateyouIhateyouIhateyouIhateyouIhateyou glare from his basket on the highest shelf in Mom’s bedroom.

But Marmalade II lived a long, happy life, outliving his weimaraner tormentor.

When Heidi retired, she moved to northern Connecticut into a house containing husband, wife, and a cat.

“Don’t worry,” the wife told me after I warned her about Heidi’s intolerance towards cats. “Things will be fine.”

About six months later, the wife called. Howling with laughter, she told me that Heidi, after watching the cat use its litter box, tried to follow the cat’s example.

“But she wasn’t quite as successful,” the wife said through her laughter.

Sometime later, she sent me a picture of Heidi and the cat sharing a sun spot.

Which reminds me of Isaiah’s prophecy (Chapter 6, Verse 11, New International Version) that, among other things, the leopard will lie down with the goat under the leadership of a little child.

We haven’t quite gotten there yet.
Bio: Peter Altschul has traveled a unique journey as customer service rep, musician, trainer of New York City taxi drivers, tutor of student-athletes, stepparent of three stepkids, grants manager, mediator between pro-life and pro-choice activists, and workplace diversity specialist. He blogs regularly about the connections between the workplace, politics, music, diversity, family life, sports, religion, and dogs. His book Breaking It Down and Connecting the Dots: Creating Common Ground Where Contention Rules and his memoir Breaking Barriers: Working and Loving While Blind can be ordered through He lives with his guide dog, Heath, in Columbia, Missouri.

Velveteen Viviane, Acrostic poetry
by Marcia J. Wick, The Write Sisters

Velveteen ears, the color of caramel, top off her bright yellow coat.
Inviting eyes framed by those soft floppy wings entice me to fly by her side.
Visions of trails sparkle like fairy dust as we soar along.
Intertwined, we dance a subtle two-step, avoiding obstacles.
Always side-by-side, like corduroy, we journey.
Never hesitating, tail wagging, she steps into her harness.
Ever grateful, I reward Viviane with a belly rub each day.

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 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

Hamster Horror, memoir
by Valerie Moreno

I groaned as I dialed the plumber, my plans for a quiet day with writing projects dashed.

Every change of season brought plumbing problems due to our townhouse being old and this Fall was no exception. There goes the extra money, I thought as my 17-year-old daughter came downstairs holding a pet cage.

“Mom, can you keep the hamsters down here today?”

“Why can’t they stay upstairs?” I asked as I hung up the phone.

“Because Chee-Chee’s hovering around their cage trying to get it open.” On cue, our large yellow-eyed black cat began to screech. “See?” Mary cried. “Screechy Chee-Chee!”

“Don’t call her that!” I shouted over Chee-Chee’s ear-piercing yowls. “I have a plumber coming and where are we gonna put the cage?”

“On the big end table. They won’t bother the hammies if they are up high and near the door. You can hear the cats from there.”

“Fine, but these hammies need a better cage.” Mary had a half-day of school, so she would be home by 12:30.

She set the cage on the wide surface while the three cats watched, sitting calculatingly in a row.

“Camille, Bigman and Cheech,” I addressed. “No funny business, you three.
No paws near those hammies, understand?”

No one moved for a few seconds, then the three left for food and water in the kitchen.

Gotta be firm, that’s all. The hamsters settled, too. Tish ate while Snooky went in the wheel.

The plumber arrived around 10:30 and headed for the basement. “Close the cellar door, please,” I called. Cats milled around the Livingroom as I sat in an easy chair, reading a Braille magazine. Rattling and banging sounded from the basement.

Crash! I jumped to my feet, Braille pages scattering as the hamster cage exploded from the end table. It split in half with food, water, strips of cage liner flying over the carpet.

The mayhem was instantaneous! Tish and Snooky were loose and the cats went crazy! Camille dashed upstairs as Bigman followed, both yowling. Paws scrambled across the wood floors. Chee-Chee flew in mid-air across the Livingroom, smashing a lamp near the couch. The sound was ear-splitting, as meows, thundering feet and pipe rumbling echoed my screaming.

“What in hell’s bathroom is going on!” The plumber stood in the doorway as cats whizzed by.

“Help! My daughter’s hamsters are loose!”

In the kitchen, food bowls were knocked about, dry food was everywhere. To my horror, the man turned and hurried down the cellar stairs; the door slammed behind him.

Ziggie, a neighbor, heard me screaming and helped secure the hamsters and I cleaned up the mess on the carpet.

“The motion of the hamster wheel pushed the cage off the edge,” Ziggy said. “At least the hamsters are safe.”

The plumber emerged from the basement, his feet crunching over yet-to-be-cleaned dry cat food.

“I’m finished,” he sheepishly announced.

“Peachy!” The three cats watched from separate corners as I paid him half our life savings. He followed Ziggy out the door.

The thunderous three sat quietly, as I swept the kitchen and vacuumed the carpet. As I switched off the Dirt Devil, Mary entered. “Uh-oh, what happened?”

“The cage flew off the table and the cats had a free-for-all.”

“You guys are terrible!” Mary glared at the cats.

“I suggest a new cage,” I ordered.

“I’ll go in a while, after lunch.”

“Now!” As the door closed behind her, I rubbed my throbbing temples.

“Just another fun Fall fiasco!”

Bio: Valerie Moreno has been writing fiction and poems since age 12. Her inspiration is music, life experience and prayer. Her work has appeared in anthologies, magazines and fan fiction. She is totally blind.

My Friend the Third Wheel Turtle, nonfiction
by Christopher Nicholson

One day on the way to work, walking alongside the highway, I spotted a turtle that seemed to be contemplating the prospect of crossing it. I couldn’t believe my good fortune of being there at just the right time to prevent a disaster. Of course, there was a chance that it could survive the crossing if every single driver coming through was observant enough to notice it and compassionate enough to care. In other words, it was doomed.

I approached it just as it was taking its first couple steps and picked it up, carefully avoiding its head in case it happened to be a snapping turtle. It apparently wasn’t and just retracted into its shell. Oldest trick in the book. I could have just thrown it onto the ground until its shell smashed and been like “Didn’t see that coming, did you? Thought you were so smart, didn’t you?” But that would have defeated the purpose of saving it in the first place.

Now where to take it? I thought about running across the road and just taking it where it was trying to go in the first place, but all I saw over there were buildings and corn fields. I figured it didn’t have a particular destination in mind. Later I noticed the almost empty stream that ran under the highway and realized it was probably following that, but if so, its decision to climb up onto the sidewalk and across the road instead of going through the culvert was a spectacularly stupid one, unless it was afraid of the dark, but as soon as I wrote that I realized it must have been dark inside its shell, not to mention claustrophobic, so that shouldn’t have been an issue.

But I knew a better place anyway. There just so happens to be a pond right next to the warehouse where I work, and I knew that it was a suitable habitat for turtles because it already had turtles living in it. When the weather was nice, they were always out sunning themselves on the log that drifted slowly through the middle, and if I got anywhere near the edge they jumped into the water despite me being at least three meters away. Surely they had room for one more.

As I carried the turtle the remaining four blocks I felt really bad, knowing that it was probably terrified and had no idea where we were going. I talked to it, trying to soothe it, knowing it was silly and it couldn’t understand a word I said but wanting to try anyway. I considered running to minimize the amount of time it had to be carried but assumed that would feel even scarier, as moving quickly is not a natural state for turtles to be in.

Other worries occurred to me. What if it was, in fact, a tortoise? Well, no matter. I wasn’t going to throw it in the water because I’m not an idiot, so if it didn’t want to swim it could just wander off again and still have plenty of wide open space where it wouldn’t get run over. But what if the other turtles didn’t welcome it? What if turtles, like ants and chickens and humans, mercilessly attacked outsiders who stumbled into their group? Well, it would still be better off dealing with them than with cars and pickup trucks and tractor trailers.

We arrived at the pond and I looked for a spot to set it down. There’s a ring of cement around the whole thing and then it slopes down rather steeply to the water and almost the whole slope is covered with thick and tall vegetation, but I found a nice little flat and bare spot where I could set the turtle down and let it decide at its leisure whether or not to get into the water. I set it down, took several steps back, and waited.

It sat there motionless inside its shell for so long that I began to worry it had died of fright or something. Then, very slowwwly, its head and feet came back out. It stared at the pond for a good long while, taking in its new environment. Then it turned its head sideways so it could see me behind it, and stared at me for a good long while. Then in a flash it pushed itself into the water and was gone.

The next day when I came back, it was sunning itself on the log alongside the other two. They jumped into the water as usual, but it didn’t. It looked at me and I looked back at it and it stayed right where it was. The same thing happened the next day and the next day and so on. One day it was in the water and I just saw its head poking out in one spot, and it looked at me and I looked back at it and it stayed right where it was.

Now I don’t know how much it comprehended and I’m sure it didn’t recognize the certain death I saved it from, but I’d like to think it understood that I didn’t try to eat it when I had a chance and that I brought it to this wonderful place, and that it liked me for that reason. I think I’ll do all right on judgment day after all if a turtle is willing to testify on my behalf.

Alas, I soon wondered if I had actually done it any favors by putting it there. It became clear now that the other turtles in the pond were of a different species, as they were smaller and differently colored. There were only two of them and they appeared to be mates, if not in the sexual then at least in the Australian sense. One day “my” turtle was on the log and they were right next to it – the log was plenty big for them to give it some personal space, but no, they opted to be right next to it – caressing each other’s shells in what I can only assume was an affectionate manner. “My” turtle was third-wheeling like a boss.

I don’t actually understand the expression “third wheel” because it always makes me think of tricycles, which are supposed to have three wheels, but people use it so I use it. It’s actually supposed to be “fifth wheel”, which makes a lot more sense, but as happens all the time it’s become corrupted and lost its original metaphor and people continue to mindlessly repeat it without exercising one iota of actual brainpower. But I could care less. (See what I did there?) Anyway. Turtles. Third wheel.

Do animals feel loneliness? Despite the risk of anthropomorphizing them, I think it’s a reasonable assumption that they do. It must be one of the basic sensations instilled by them in evolution that keeps them going. When they are low on energy, they feel hunger telling them to eat. When they are injured, they feel pain telling them to avoid further injury. When they are confronted by a predator, they feel fear telling them to run and/or hide from it. So when they are without a mate, I imagine they feel loneliness telling them to get (at least) one.

I was put in mind of the male Tropeognathus in “Walking with Dinosaurs” who, if memory serves me, made a long and arduous journey to the mating grounds every year, and failed to get a mate every year, and had less and less chance every year as he grew older and weaker and his colors more faded. Spoiler alert: he died of exhaustion and was devoured by the offspring of the more successful Tropeognathuses. That was so sad when I was a kid and it actually still is.

But maybe this turtle wasn’t that desperate yet. Maybe it was in no rush. “Yeah, I’m only five,” it might say if it could understand and speak English and I asked it about this topic. “I’m still discovering myself and enjoying the bachelor life. My mom keeps pestering me to settle down, but I’m like, mom, you abandoned me when I was an egg and you have no business butting back into my life now. Lonely? Nah. Maybe if I ever get bored of sleeping and eating, but I don’t see that happening until I’m at least seven. Yeah, those guys are kind of annoying with their PDA but I understand they’re just happy someone’s finally here to validate their relationship by giving it an audience. The fish and frogs and ducks just ignore them and it drives them nuts. But they share the log with me, so it’s whatever. Now if you don’t mind, I have some more sleeping to do. Bye.”

Granted, that might just be what a male turtle would say. If it was female, then maybe the conversation would be different. “Oh, I’m just waiting for Mr. Right to come along,” she might say. “I was actually going out to look for him myself when you picked me up, and now I’ve come to my senses and realized that taking initiative like that is highly dangerous and stupid. But he’s bound to find his way to this pond eventually, isn’t he? Unless he’s too stubborn to ask for directions. That’s probably it. Ugh, males.”

“Maybe he’s just shy,” I would say. “Maybe he needs some time to… come out of his shell.”

“Get out of here,” she would say.

“Maybe he’s had negative experiences with mating in the past,” I would continue. “Maybe he’s… shell shocked.”

“We’re not friends anymore,” she would say.

“Fine, my shift starts in a few minutes anyway,” I would say, turning to leave. I would look to the air bubbles where the other two turtles had disappeared at my approach as usual. “Tell Shelly and Sheldon I said hi,” I would add.

So maybe, immediately after saving this turtle’s life, I ruined it. That would be about par for the course with all my other efforts to accomplish good things. But since my dog died and the landlord made my roommate get rid of his disturbingly affectionate cat, this turtle was the closest thing I had to a pet, so that turned out pretty awesome for me. At least until all three turtles inexplicably vanished from the pond a couple months later and never returned.

My Friend the Third Wheel Turtle was previously self-published on Christopher’s blog in May 2017.

Bio: Christopher Nicholson is a 25-year-old super senior studying Creative Writing at Utah State University. He hopes to someday be successful enough with his writing to make a full-time living with it. He has Asperger’s syndrome / high-functioning autism as well as clinical depression. This has made his life very challenging but also given him a unique perspective on the world and a distinctive writing voice. He sees his disability as a blessing in disguise and even though he loathes it at times, he wouldn’t give it up if he could. Read more of his work at

Laurence’s Promise, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal

She wasn’t prepared to love him so fiercely,
This somber black Labrador retriever who arrived
To become her third and, perhaps, last guide dog.

He sized her up quickly with intelligent eyes,
This aging woman standing before him,
Worn down by her burdensome sack of worries and sorrow,
And intuited she needed more than his guide work.

When she sat and called his name, he lovingly rested
His broad head on her lap and
Made her understand he would bury that sack in a deep, deep hole
And care for her with all his gentle being.

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

Earth Song, fiction Honorable Mention
by Brad Corallo

NOTE: When I was very young, I remember seeing a cartoon which told something like the story that appears below. Since then, I have made an exhaustive search of the internet to find that wonderful bit of animation that I never forgot. I have been totally unsuccessful. Consequently, I decided that the only thing I could do was to try to recreate it as best I could from my distant memories. And so, this is the result. I hope it moves you as it moved me over 50 years ago. If any of you know of the cartoon of which I write, please share it with me as it clearly made a lasting impression.


Long, long ago, there was no music to grace the life of the creatures who dwelt upon the Earth. Birds didn’t sing, streams made no sound as they flowed over stones and the world was a silent place. Only the sound of the wind in the trees could be heard from time to time.

The princess Aloria was heartbreakingly beautiful, and yet very sad. She felt something that was extremely important was missing from her life and from the world.

One day a raven came to her and asked, “Why so sad my fair princess?”

“I seem to remember beautiful sounds that I sometimes hear in my dreams. But it feels like these sounds are real and were once heard all over the world.”

“You are right fair lady,” he said. “Once, all the different birds had their own unique songs that they joyfully sang, as they soared and dipped and with their mates, built nests and cared for their eggs and hatchlings. But one day a very evil black-hearted human shot a Robin while she was happily singing and keeping her eggs warm. He wished to take away her eggs and eat them and her for his own cruel and twisted pleasure. The Sun King of all the skies was angered and said in rage, ‘I command all birds to sing no more!’

“When he overcame his temper, he was sorrowful about his command and asked that the birds begin singing again. But they couldn’t, though they tried. There is a very old story that tells: If a bird can fly high enough and close enough to the sun, there is a wondrous and harmonious sound like a thousand sweet voices singing, which is like the long lost birdsong that is said to be beyond the clouds. It is also said that if a bird can fly high enough they can bring it back to Earth and all birds will joyfully sing again.”

“Oh my dear raven, could you call for an assembly of all good and noble birds to try to bring back the sweet sounds of their singing?”

“Fair Princess, for you I will do so in hope of banishing your terrible sadness which is like a knife in my very flesh,” he said.

And so it came to pass that the raven summoned a great assemblage of birds of all different kinds. The raven explained the need as follows:

“Fellow lovers of the sky, do any of you know of the ancient promise that if a bird can fly beyond the clouds and near the sun-halls of the great sky king, there is a beautiful sound of many sweet voices singing? And if such a special bird messenger could bring it back, all birds would sing once again and the world would be filled with joy and love for the majesty of all creation.”

A few of the birds, mostly the Robins and the wrens seemed to understand though the rest were confused.

“I ask that each of you different kinds of birds try to fly to retrieve the beauteous songs of the heavens,” he said.

The chickens and other barnyard fowl flapped their wings but only rose a couple feet above the ground.

Each in turn, ducks, geese, hawks, crows, larks, all tried but couldn’t fly high enough.

Until the proud eagle stepped forward and said, “if any bird can bring back the beautiful singing it is I, the king of the noblest tribe of birds.” As the eagle was speaking and fluffing up his feathers in a great show of ability, a tiny brown robin hid her self in the eagle’s ample breast feathers.

With a cry of determination, the proud eagle soared into the sky and flew higher and higher. On and on he went, but he began to grow fatigued. He was above the clouds and he was sure that he could hear the sweet singing of a thousand voices, alas a long way off.

But just as he couldn’t fly any higher, the robin who had concealed herself in the eagles thick breast plumage flew toward the sun like an arrow that had been shot from a mighty bow.

She came close to the sun’s fire and felt the beautiful sounds of the songs enter her. But she was spent!

She began to fall to Earth, faster and faster. As she neared the ground, just before it was too late the mighty eagle swept down and carried the robin to a soft and gentle landing upon the Earth.

The robin, whose breast had been burned to a brilliant red, opened her beak and the most poignant sounds spread over the entire world.

All the birds opened their beaks and each sang a separate yet important part in the great symphony of birdsong renewed.

The great sun king of the sky laughed and cried in relief that his rash command had been undone.

All over the beautiful Earth the sound of birds joyfully singing could be heard. Flowers bloomed and other small animals joined their voices to the great music. All living creatures realized how poor a life it had been until the liquid sound of joyful birdsong filled all the world. And they purposed to be kind to all other living beings and to be part of the wonderful harmony that had been miraculously restored to the lovely planet that was their special trust to cherish and care for. And so, they kept the faith and were good stewards, for ever and ever!

Bio: Brad Corallo, a writer in multiple genres, is a Long Island native. His work has been published in eight previous issues of Magnets & Ladders, in the William B. Joslin Outstanding Program Awards Journal “NYSID Preferred Source Solutions” and by The Red Wolf Coalition. He has been a life-long student of fine wine, food, music, books, space exploration, 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 experienced impaired and worsening vision throughout his lifetime.

Part III. From A Different Perspective

Talking to God While Making the Damn Bed, poetry First Place
by Ria Meade

Tasks I was taught to practice daily:
1. Make your bed. 2. Brush your teeth.
3. Always tell the truth. 4. Say your prayers.

Above, my parents’ dream list for model child.

I was never that obedient kid. Innumerable unmade beds,

lost teeth, myriad lies of size and color

find this adult still short of perfection.
These shortcomings, plus those more egregious,

did encourage an on-going dialogue with God.

During conversation in an early Sunday NPR interview,

heard a distinguished poet recently share his daily ritual of prayer.
With my reverence for morning’s atmosphere,

enhanced by coffee and muffin, this spiritual offering inspired.
I combined an unstructured praying style

with that thankless chore-bed making.

Can you help me here, God?
Two aspects of this simple job have changed since my early exercise:

I sleep on a full-size mattress, not the old twin.

I am totally blind.

Those unable to see the other side of this thick, wide pad,

can channel agonies caused by those damn fitted sheets.
Exhaustive pulling of sized corners, hoping for snug angles,

ends with repeated failures.

This tug of war proves disheartening any time of day.
Top sheets require as many shuttles around same plane,

should one strive for a wrinkle-free expanse.
Are you listening, God?

Sensing an unbidden gift of metaphor, my prayers double in their intentions.
Give me patience, insight, to understand why my smile,
considered words, actions with certain loved ones,

falls short of a dreamed embrace.

If that kink in fabric slides smoothly where I plan,

why is the feedback a buckled mess?
When material feels right, assume mutual agreement;

then silent area beyond my reach reacts with a snap,

a tear, an unraveling. Well, God?

Talking helps. My instincts, confused, frustrated,

needed you to guide spirit of my thwarted aspirations

towards softer self-criticism.

Spirits feel lighter. Worry and fears reduce in magnitude.

Flattening both palms on flannels, I move, smooth, soothe

from side to corner to side, attempting personal best;

open to accept imperfection.

I often ask God for assistance;

a choice preferable to complaint or inaction.

My soul never finds peace in that limbo.

Bio: A native Long Islander, Ria Meade endeavors to craft poems about her adult life as a blind woman. Painting since childhood, her passion culminated with a degree in fine arts. Twenty-five years after losing her sight, she began to paint again with words. She survives this vulnerable existence independently with her beloved guide dogs and many newly discovered senses.

Clinical Diagnosis, poetry Honorable Mention
by Wesley D. Sims

Two week visit at the clinic,
plethora of tests, team of doctors.
Good afternoon, I’m Dr. A. We need more tests.

Forms, questions, surveys greet us like beggars
with their hands out-Have you ever …?
When did you last …? On a scale of one to ten, …?

We feed bales of paperwork to the computer
like hay to an elephant one handful at a time.
Dr. B: When we get results, we’ll compile a report.

Storm of tests and appointments ends,
brings relief like Spring after a long winter.
Good morning, we’re reviewing your reports.

Last day, last appointment, lead doctor.
Good afternoon, I’m Dr. Z, we’re not certain,
but think it may be only stress.

We ponder reports, doctors’ comments,
tentative diagnosis, and conclude-you will live
for the rest of your uncertain life.

Appointments over, leaving the lobby,
I watch you go pale, quiet. Hail a taxi.
Get you to bed as another episode hits.

Awake, you whisper, I want to go home.
Hours drag, night crawls, tense ride home.
Life resumes, illness continues just as before.

Bio: Wesley Sims has published one chapbook of poetry, When Night Comes (Finishing Line Press, 2013). His work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Breath and Shadow, Liquid Imagination, Pine Mountain Sand, Gravel, American Diversity Report, The Avocet, Nature Writing, Pangolin Review, The Tennessee Magazine and others.

He lost hearing completely in one ear and has severe hearing loss in the other

Night Visit, poetry
by Wesley D. Sims

Memory sneaked in
last night, like a wild thing
from the past. Crept up
like a prowling wolf,
fangs of regret bared,
gazing at my throat.
I felt the scars tingle,
unravel to fresh rawness,
heard again the screams
rattle the windows and walls.
I tried denial, then reasoning
to calm it, chase it away.
The snarls grew louder,
neck bristles porcupine.

I turned aggressive,
rose to full height,
threw arms high,
made a big target
like experts advise,
stared into its eyes.

It crouched to spring.
I surrendered, curled,
admitted my scars.
Promised it could return.
It lowered bristles,
pulled fangs, backed away.
My pulse slowed
as it slithered out.
A wild thing needs to be
turned loose.

Trapped at Two, poetry
by Wesley D. Sims

Disease as a toddler scrambled his brain,
trapped him in a two-year-old mind.
Short-circuited neurons stole his speech.
He talked with grunts, muted laughs
and cries, pointed or picked up objects
to communicate wishes.

He peeled walls and splintered paneling,
pulled strings and loose edges, shredded paper.
Amused himself with blizzard of fuzzies-
tiny shreds of material thrown in the air
and blown to float like leaves on the wind.
Sometimes stripped his clothes in public.

Kept parents busy repairing holes,
toughening walls, removing loose edges.
At forty, siblings gone, his parents
fought sleep in shifts in the weary hours
when he prowled like a resident ghost
that nightly haunted their dreams.

Keep Calm and Drink Tea, nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Marcia J. Wick, the Write Sisters

Poised at the breakfast table, my dear old dad nibbles toast and sips tea while I settle in for our morning visit. My guide dog curls up at his slippered feet. At 93, my father can no longer be left alone; dementia is taking its toll. He peruses the paper, scanning the headlines with amiable blue eyes. His eyesight is excellent; 30 years his junior, I can’t see the small print. Dad enjoys endless visits with family and friends. Week by week, His six children piece together the caregiving puzzle to keep Dad at home. The daily rotation stretches us all, but I am thrilled when it’s “my turn” to spend a day with Dad.

As a girl, I looked to dad for the usual guidance. A teacher, he helped me struggle with homework. A mountain climber, he warned against cigarettes. An Air Force officer, he paid me an allowance when I earned it. Passing time with Dad when I was young taught me important life lessons. These days, this old girl still benefits from some good old-fashioned advice.

“Have you seen this?” my father asks, waving the newspaper at me.

“What’s in the news today?”

“The weather! Where do they hide the weather? Where do they hide the weather?” he chatters. “Afternoon showers, snow likely tomorrow, snow likely tomorrow, and snow tomorrow.”

“Springtime in the Rockies,” I say.

Shaking the paper, he asks, “Have you seen this?”

“Why yes,” I nod.

With a grunt, Dad slaps the paper onto the table and grasps the remote. CNN blares the headlines, piercing the placid morning. I blink at the intrusion. I turn and look, although I can’t see the screen.

“Let’s watch something else,” I say.

Dad hunches and punches the remote, landing on a First Alert commercial. He flicks to another channel showing another advertisement.

“Hmmmm, hmmmm, hmmm,” he seems to enjoy the sound of his voice. Pressing the button, he catches an ad for the Army. Scratching his bald head, he tells the TV, “Come on.”

“Nothing but commercials?”

“Hmmmm, hmmmm, hmmm,” he flips back to the news. “That’s the White House.” My father, the consummate teacher, quizzes me, “Who is our president? I don’t remember voting.”

Although the election results are lost to my Dad, I remind him that he served as a convention delegate when he was 84.

“Oh, Oh, that’s right,” he is suddenly lucid. With prompting, precious memories linger, like service as a navigator during WWII, the joy of teaching chemistry, and the view from atop a 14,000-foot-high mountain.

Bored with the news, Dad wobbles with his walker to peer out the window. Reading the outdoor thermometer, he reports, “Ooh, ooh, 32, that’s cold, that’s cold.” His voice is soft and child-like. He draws his bathrobe tighter.

Since Dad is on his feet, I encourage him to grab a protein drink from the fridge. He shuffles into the adjoining kitchen and pokes his head into the cold. I hear fumbling followed by beeping buttons on the microwave, then Dad hums his way back to the breakfast nook. Not sure if he retrieved an Ensure for the morning, I prod, “What are you drinking?”

“See? My mug says ‘Keep Calm and Drink Tea’,“ The mug hits the table, tea sloshing. Dad grabs the paper and asks, “Have you seen this?”

“What’s in the news?” I say, yet again.

Hanging his head, Dad’s mood shifts. “I lost my wife, you know.”

His sorrow chills me. Last year, our parents celebrated 69 years of marriage, but Mom passed after an accidental fall in the autumn. Whether symptomatic of the Alzheimer’s, a memory from earlier courting days, or the shock of recent grief, Dad tears up thinking about his bride.

“I miss Mom, too.”

He picks up his head and asks, “Did you know my wife?”

“She was a beautiful lady,” I say.

Dad gazes out the window at the snowy mountain scene. He whispers, “I miss her.”

With a tug at my heart, I say, “Me too,” then change the subject. “Rebecca, your caregiver, will be here at 11.”

“Is that right? Is that right? I better shave and get dressed,” Dad pops up and stomps to an old marching song, “I don’t know where we’re going but we’re going! I don’t know where we’re going but we’re going!”

Reaching an arm out to intercept him, I say, “Let’s wait until Rebecca gets here to help you.”

“She’s coming today? I’ll let her in. I’ve got my car right here.” He jiggles his walker.

“You got a license for that thing,” I quip.

He clomps to the kitchen abandoning his walker. His “Keep Calm” tea mug clangs onto the platter and buttons beep.

Dizzy with Déjà vu, I ask, “Are you getting a fruit drink?”

Returning, he bangs his mug onto the table and resumes reading the headlines.

“He, hee,” he giggles. “See what this says?” He holds up the paper for me to see. Rubbing his whiskers, he waits for my missing reply.

“Keep Calm and Drink Tea,” he chuckles.

“The headline says ‘Keep Calm and Drink Tea’?” I ask, amazed.

“Keep Calm and Drink Tea, hee hee. That’s not the headline. That’s what this says.” He shoves his tea mug at me.

“Keep calm and drink tea. Keep calm and drink tea,” he advises me.

Through the lens of Alzheimer’s, Dad reminds me when facing the news, it’s best to keep calm and drink tea!

Blindsided, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

Two years ago, my wife had cancer surgery. Once the bad parts were removed and she was back on her feet, we figured we were in the clear. But my wife’s cancer has returned.

Two years ago, I disproved skeptics predictions that this blind husband would fail as post-operative home health aide. I brought earnest imprecision to my duties and, mercifully, did no harm. This time around, I am dogged by feelings of inadequacy and frustration that I can’t run interference—drive my wife to treatments, navigate the medical maze or pore over the fine print in her medical records. Instead, we’re finding ways I can help with our shared vulnerability.

I’ve discovered 111 NLS Talking Books on cancer and I’ve read seven so far. I’ve learned how rapacious breast cancer is, how relentless and necessary are side effects of chemotherapy and how to be the best and most supportive husband I can be. I’ve learned not to fill her with false hope, ply her with vacuous cheerfulness or burden her with my anxiety. For once, I avoid trying to fix things. I’m learning the value of being there, the power of being present. I listen to content and tone and sometimes say the right thing and sometimes the wrong thing. Sometimes I don’t know what to say so I say nothing at all. I’ve learned to accept and support her decisions about her health, her body and her life.

We each carry conditions without cure. My aberrant RP gene kicked in thirty years ago; my wife’s cancer has been hit and run for fifteen. Despite my symptomatic head start, I must not presume to know what she’s going through nor pretend to have the answers. I recognize that she uses her strengths and meets her needs in ways different than I. I must honor my wife’s experience as hers, separate from mine. Honoring her reality, and she mine, values both.

I’m encouraged how briefly either of us dwelt on fairness. So easily I could rail ad nauseum, “If life were fair, I wouldn’t be blind and my wife wouldn’t have cancer.” Still, I catch myself murmuring, “Please make her well because I don’t know what I’d do without her. I’m not asking for cures, just containment.” Selfish prayers from my own needs may seem unseemly. Writing about my blind needs rather than her cancer needs may seem self-centered. For this, I beg your indulgence for my self-indulgence.

My wife and I are not islands—Cancer and Blindness. We are a system, a constellation, a family. We’re ordinary people—we let the dog up on our bed. We’re ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances—we get too up or too down based on events of a single day. As for the fluffy parable that adversity brings perspective, we’ve got perspective up to our ears. We practice surrender and strive to accept bodies that betray. And every time we think it’s OK, we are stung by the reality that no, it’s not OK. It is what it is and that’s all.

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.

We Will Not Be Silenced, fiction
by Anja Herrman

I felt the cool leather against my cheek, my eyes already drawn to the words on the front of the book. My Journal. Never had I seen such a wonder. Eagerly flipping through the blank pages, I lost myself into the clean blue lines on the crisp white paper.

Mommy crept in wordlessly, “Do you like it, Kathleen?”

I tore my eyes away from the journal and looked up in bewilderment. “Oh Mommy, I love it!”

“ I’m glad, darling. You can use it for writing assignments that I give you.” In fact, let’s start now. I want you to write about your life as the extraordinary girl you are.”

“Thank you Mommy,” I say, blushing.

She smiles and says, “I’ll leave you to write in peace then. Call me if you need anything!”

I breathe an excited little sigh and open up to the first clean page.

March 29th, 1977

Dear Journal,

Oh, I’m so excited to be able to write those words! I’m Kathleen and I’ll be your best friend. We’ll tell each other everything, ok? Can you dig it?

Here, I’ll start: I am 14, a regular rad teenager. It’s awesome to be me! I am a total book nerd. I have so many groovy books in my room, it’s sometimes hard to tell where the bed is!

I have spina bifida. I also use a wheelchair and can’t move anything past my waist. I am also homeschooled because there are no public schools that I can get into easily because I have a handicap. I badly want to go to school near my home but Congress won’t let me because they haven’t implemented the IDEA act that was signed 3 years ago. Those jerks.

The closest school that has classrooms that I can get in and out of with my wheelchair, and bathrooms that I can use is two hours away by bus, and just over an hour by car. Going there would mean that I would be on a school bus for four hours a day, or Mommy would be driving for that long, just so I could go to school.

So I have school at home. Mommy teaches me English & Social Studies while Dad is my Mathematics and Science tutor.

So Journal, do you want to see your new home?

My room is on the 2nd floor of our 3 level home. Carrying me up and down the stairs is a lot of work for my parents, but they don’t seem to mind it. Anyhoo, in my room, I have a narrow twin bed with a gray plaid cover lying parallel to a small porthole window. If I look through it, I can see some of California. Next to my bed, I have a white nightstand filled with my favorite books; it’s a bit of a knockoff of my large wall shelf also full of inspiring and informative novels. Just above my Classical section on my bookshelf is where you lie. I hope you like your new mini-room. I really like having a best friend!

Catch’ya on the flip side Journal,


April 7th, 1977

Hey Journal,

Guess what? Oh do I have a surprise for you! Mommy is letting us go to the sit-in. Isn’t that awesome! Earlier this morning, Mommy pulled me out of bed and said “Alright, you win.”

“ Win what?” I asked, a hint of a smile edging across my face.

As you well know, I had been begging Mommy to let me go to the sit-in for days now, ever since I heard about it on my radio before I went to bed a couple of nights ago. I wanted to go SO BAD. Now I can!

“You can go to the sit-in. I think it will be good for you,” she continues, a bit of worry creeping into her words. Her faux excited voice doesn’t throw me but I play along anyways. “YES!” She chuckles softly at my enthusiasm.

“Come on Mom, Let’s go!”, I urge, not wanting to waste a second.

“Let me go get your father,” she said, trying hard to hold a genuine smile.

As my father carries me down the stairs, all I think about is the protests. “Think about how exciting this will be, Journal,” I say loudly.

“Who (grunt) are you (grunt) talking to (grunt) Kathleen (grunt)?” Maybe carrying me is more work then I realize.

“ No one, Dad.”

The car ride is smooth and peaceful, so it was no surprise when Mommy called out, “Here we are!” in what I swear is no time at all. As Dad unloaded my chair, I turned to stare out the window and WOAH! I see tons of people in wheelchairs or not sprawled across the neighboring sidewalk and blocking all entrances to Secretary Califano’s office.

Dad lifted (and grunted) me out of the car and into my chair. I look around wondrously.

“Hi, Are you here for the sit-in? I’m Judy Heumann and I organized this event!”

I look up, startled. “Yes, I’m here for the sit-in.”

“Great! Let me get you a shirt.” She pumps her wheelchair and rolls away.

The late afternoon sun turns to dusk and I fiddle with the neck of my protest shirt. I am starting to get worried. Are we expected to just stay here? When do we get to go home? “Mommy,” I say.

“What Kathleen?” Her voice has not been smooth and lilted like normal, but brash and reserved. As far as I know, she only acts like that when she’s angry at Dad for spending money on “the new and latest saws” when he should be conserving our cash.

“Are we going home soon?” I ask, my breath hitching in my throat.

“Kathleen, you said you were ready for this!” She sounds angry and I don’t know why. I don’t spend money on saws!

“ I am ready! But you didn’t answer me!”

“Kathleen, if you had paid as much attention to the radio as you said you did, you would know that these protesters do not intend to leave until the bill is signed. Now that you are one of them you must do the same.” Her anger is raw and unflinching. Though I want to send a quick retort, I refrain, knowing that will only make her angry.

“You’ve made your bed now you must lie in it.”

I bite my lip and stare at the ground, not wanting to say another word…

I’ll catch you up soon,


April 17th, 1977

It has been ten days. Ten days since I’ve bathed, had a good sleep, or had real food. I am still at the sit-in. We have expanded past each entrance and we are crowding the entire block. I am as tired as a workhorse, but nobody else seems to be. We chant and chant, not moving even when the police officers threaten to jail us. Some members of our group have been arrested. Judy and I don’t think that they are actually in prison because it isn’t accessible.

I swear she is like a grown up me. In fact, I have 2 friends now, you and Judy. I look up to her for everything. Judy and I are becoming good friends. I’ve even led the chant with her a couple of times. I have also seen Judy and Kitty Cone (another organizer) handle the tons of people from various other groups (Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, The NAACP) sending nonperishable food our way. I guess I should be grateful that we get food at all, with the way the officers look at us (like us protesters are dirt that they have to get off the back of their hideous black boots). In fact, the cycle of the day is over, but our work is not. I shift around in my chair, hoping to catch a couple winks of sleep, but it is futile. I join the chants of my group and smile. This is where I’m meant to be.

I’ll keep you updated,


March 12, 1990

It’s been almost 13 years. I am truly shameful. I remember how happy and scared I was when I finally got to go to a mainstream school. Sure I fought hard at that sit-in FOR ME, but I stopped afterwards. I didn’t fight, I wasn’t active. I am ashamed.

Today I have a chance to change that. My boyfriend Liam, who has autism drove me from San Diego to Washington DC! Why?

Today, there is a “Capitol Crawl.” People with disabilities are crawling up the Capitol’s stone steps to GET THE ADA PASSED!

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is the big thing. The work and activism so many others and I have done were the stepping stones that lead up to this huge climb.

“Come on,” Liam nudges me, “we gotta go!”

“Ok.” I say, grasping his hand for comfort I square my shoulders and bend down, putting my weight on my hands. The pain I feel from balancing is nothing like I’ve felt before. The Capitol steps are made of unpolished stone and at one point I even scrape my hand slightly. The blood slowly runs down the palm of my hands, but I persist. I slowly continue climbing, huffing every so often, but I keep moving. I am no longer the 14-year-old that was so naïve. I am fighting, fixing my mistakes, finally “standing” up! We finally make it. Pushing and shouting got the attention of one security guard, who’s badge reads “Robin W. Greene.“

“I’m sorry, you’re going to have to leave now“

“Why?” I say. If I’m going to amend or (try to anyway) my mistakes, I guess I’ll go all out, right?

“Ma’m, go!” he says.

“You didn’t answer our question. Why?” I’m starting to get irritated.

“ You are disrupting important governmental work.”

“Mr. Greene!” I am smoking mad now.


“Do you know what’s important governmental work?” He’s speechless. I’m on a roll now, so I decide to keep going. “Passing the ADA! So shut the heck up and go oppress someone else!”

“We need rights!” says Liam, coming to my side.

“We need rights, we need rights!” What had started as a low grumble has spread throughout the space and the entire group is supporting our mantra.

Still chanting, we slowly back down the stairs, and out of the Capitol. A warm feeling has started to spread through me, as I contemplate how lucky I am to be able to make a difference in my world. No matter big or small, nothing will change unless we force it to.

I will not give up! Liam won’t give up. Mom won’t give up. Dad won’t give up. Judy won’t give up. None of us will give up until we have the rights we need!

This seems like the right way to end an entry, as another day of activism has come to an end.

I’ll see you later,


April 7th, 1991

Time is a fickle and fluid thing, ever-changing and never staying the same. Can you believe it’s been 14 years since the sit-in, and since I received you, Journal, as a gift. Liam and I are on the type of Access Living’s green roof. Yeah, that’s right, I can go up on the roof of a building. Do you know why; because the building is accessible!

Ok, wait up, what do I mean by accessible? Well, first off there are automatic doors. This means that nobody has to wait for someone to open the door. With a push of a button, I rolled through the door by myself. Once inside, it is a completely level lobby, covered and carpeted so wheelchairs will not get stuck on uneven bumps and crannies in the floor. The elevators are something else! As I roll through the lobby, I see at least 5 large elevators lining the wall. Woah!

“Come on, come on,” Liam urged me. “Don’t you want to see your surprise?” he asked.

I laughed, and rolled into the spacious elevator. The ride was smooth and I can’t stop thinking that if the ADA hadn’t passed last year, I would not be able to do this. It makes me so happy that our work paid off. I helped make sure people with disabilities could live as independently as possible and that I helped send a strong message to the world that WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED!

On the rooftop, I think about a lot of things. The 14-year-old naive school wanting girl is gone. Instead there’s a woman who graduated from UC Berkeley with a Political Science and Law degree. She followed the footsteps of Ed Roberts, another advocate. I’ve changed in so many ways. My life is now not defined by only me, but by so many others. now I realize the disability rights movement’s motto is more true to my life than I thought.

“There is nothing about us without us.” I know that means We are in this together until the end, and we will not let anyone define us. Journal, I’m closing you for the last time. I will always remember you.



Bio: Anja Korovesis Herrman is a twelve-year-old 7th grader with a physical disability. Her hobbies/ obsessions include: Advocating for people with disabilities, reading 24/7, knitting, swimming, horseback riding, and playing The Sims 4. She also enjoys planning her 2044 Presidential Campaign. Vote for Anja!

Who Weeps For Bhopal? poetry
by Brad Corallo

NOTE: This piece is my attempt to express my enduring horror concerning the Bhopal gas cloud tragedy by which I have been haunted since the details of its abomination filtered down to me, a 27-year-old privileged white disabled American in December 1984. I am ashamed to say that an American corporation, by its sponsorship of the stirring 1960’s TV series “The 21st Century” deceived me into believing it was a bastion of innovation and promise. Only to perpetrate less than two decades later, the most horrendous industrial accident in history, due to extreme negligence and monstrous indifference, upon a shockingly impoverished city in India. I have been inspired to write the below by my reading of Indra Sinha’s prize winning novel Animal’s People which details the aftermath of this most disturbing and ongoing crime against humanity.


In the darkest hours beyond midnight
with no warning until it was far too late.
The people of Bhopal awakened from dreams
to a starkly real pervasive nightmare.
A poison gas cloud rolled over the land
composed of 40 tons of Methyl Iso Cyanate,
chloroform, hydrogen chloride and other chemical goodies.
A thorough, equal opportunity poison mix offering severely damaged:
eyes, lungs, skin, kidneys, brains, circulatory systems, digestive tracts and;
let’s not forget about the spontaneous abortions and birth defects.

The facility was a pesticide production plant.
The intent was not to target humans and domestic animals;
that was just the result.
Three thousand seven hundred + died in the first 24 hours.
Since then five hundred fifty eight thousand related injuries have been documented.
Union Carbide paid $four hundred seventy million in reparations.
No comfort to those who had lost vision, unborn children, family members and the ability to walk or breathe normally.
As the great American Poet tells us:
“The executioner’s face is always well hidden.”
Union Carbide’s C.E.O got away “scot free!”

Ironically, the facility still stands
a constant taunt and reminder to the people of Bhopal.
The land around the factory
was a dumping ground for numerous toxic substances.
Twenty years later, such were found in the breast milk of nursing mothers.
Some half hearted clean ups were initiated for show in the intervening years.
Far too little far too late!

You may want to strike Bhopal from your vacation bucket list.
You might find the visibility of grotesquely damaged people
doesn’t pair well with cocktails; perhaps the only safe potable beverages there.
And as the signs in the nonexistent luxury resort hotels read:
“please don’t drink or bathe in the water-
like Union Carbide we will not be responsible!”

Wooden Boat, poetry
by Jyothsnaphanija

War is a heavy hour of holiday
Children play outside the window, their voices echo inside.
Take a photograph of rain
When it travels East to South.
Secrets are custard apple leaves
Hard to keep them safe
They may burn any time.
Check the time.

Have you heard of our village?
A technician came yesterday morning, for their blood.
No one screamed.
Half of them, were told thyroid.
“It’s because of salt”.
They heard.
Don’t you consume iodized salt?
Take a photograph of rain
When it burns the trees.

I want a story that puts me to sleep.
So the war began when languages were created?
The city catches the dust of the pedal.
City can no longer afford a cake or bread.
Flowers conspire about death.
Take a photograph of rain when it
Occupies the territory of Watermelon seeds.
Birds imitate
Songs of war.
Speak when you are on fire,
Speak if you are drowning.

In a quiet winter afternoon
The medicine in saline flows slowly
You and I feel the pain
Of unconsciousness.
The otherside of our palms
Are marked with needles.
Even with difficulty, lift your hand, click Take a photograph Of rain showering like glucose.

A new virus finds some place in the city Half of them were told a new name In which voice the prescription should be written? Active? Passive?
There was an engineer I saw.
I asked his way of living.
Separating chlorine from water
It may make kidney stones he said.
Aren’t we all indefinite articles?
He questioned.
Candles get burnt
Someone would count how many were burnt.
Definite silence.
Don’t you think our lives are like chopped wood?
Every village, every city
Swallow the polluted water.
We travel a lot
Exhausting so much.
We travel a lot
Still, we find it hard to live.

Bio: Dr. Jyothsnaphanija is the author of the poetry collection Ceramic Evening, published in 2016. Her poetry, short stories and research articles have appeared in several magazines and newspapers. Currently she works as an Assistant Professor of English, at ARS D College, University of Delhi, India. She can be reached at

What Does the Sky Tell? poetry
by Jyothsnaphanija

They call me a happy woman.
Their definition of happiness is just living a life, and waking up the next morning without crying.
Their understanding of happiness is just telling your name every day, without singing.
I count stars, name them
I don’t pawn my hands, even though I don’t see “Don’t you see at all?”
They stare, call it a strange thing.
I am no more fair, neither dark.
And she, is just a fraction of light.
A girl who cannot see
holds stories of those young pretty protagonists who see, preserves them like preserving the last quarter of infrequent rain.
She is a non-sighted version of their fancy, age, pain, and shine.
She tells him to leave
She tells him not to talk of that again.
How did she born?
She crawls, hitting the paint of windows.
She plays in dust, in rain, in her mother’s kitchen, with her brother’s cricket bat.
She plucks beads of the woolen doll that her grand-mother made, names her satiny friend as Kiran.
Her nails grow; she removes the smell of the nail polish.
She attends phone calls in the lunch break, listening the rules of the college.
She is a wife, tolerates him.
She is a mother, listens to her children’s laughter, cooks their favorite cake.
She is old, having pain killers becomes an everyday habit.
She is a clerk, an officer.
Bitter jokes won’t make her laugh.
She irons her hair, sweeps the dust at home.
She forgets the electricity bill, forgets to turn off electric rice cooker She listens, till someone comes up with a new question.
She reads the recent amendments to the laws of human rights, updates her female friends, whether women can get any new luxury.
She looks at the sky, crystallizing the anger of every woman, Carrying the extra-weight her sightlessness brings.

Needle Man, poetry
by Susan Muhlenbeck

Magic elixir of life,
Key to the world of illusions,
Path to dark night of the spirit.

I come to you devoid of emotion,
I offer you nothing,
For I have nothing left to give.

I detach myself with sorrow,
As my heart is your playground,
My tears your common drink.

I feel numb as you plunge your dagger into my soul,
Watch helplessly as you sow your seeds of doom,
As you spiral mindlessly into the ring of endless light,
I stand by till the bitter end.

Note: To all the suffering addicts out there

Bio: Susan Muhlenbeck was born in Korea and spent her first 5 years there. She lost her sight at the age of two. She was raised in the Midwest, USA, and moved to Virginia as a teenager. She earned a bachelors’ degree in psychology and masters’ degree in rehabilitation counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her interests include reading, swimming, bargain shopping, and cats. Her books are available on Amazon.

Part IV. The Writers’ Climb

The Demmies, book excerpt, fiction First Place
by Ann K. Parsons

The demmies were the public’s darlings, but they led a double life. By day, they posed for pictures, were guests on TV shows, and helped to increase knowledge about genetic engineering by taking part in scientific experiments. By night, they faced Dr. Albert Lud’s unauthorized experiments and his torture.

Was there something better for the genetically engineered, foot-high humans? Could they escape? If they did, could they find food, shelter, and freedom from the ogre who tormented them? Could they trust any of the “big folk” to help them? These were some of the questions that kept Alex Kenyon awake at night.

His daughter Ruth wondered what made a human being. Was it size? Was it intelligence? Was it belief in God? What made her know she was a human being, even though only nine inches tall?

This is the story of how Alex’s and Ruth’s questions are answered.

Chapter 1.

The Friday morning sun struck through the barred window of the dollhouse and fell across the bed. Alex Kenyon stretched and yawned. Carefully, so as not to wake Mary, he slipped out of bed and went to the bathroom. He shut the door, turned on the light, and glanced at his reflection in the mirror above the basin. It was as familiar as ever: straight nose, high cheekbones, and dark gray eyes. He had seen that visage every day, not only in the mirror, but on television, on the pages of magazines, below newspaper headlines, and on the covers of books.

He was the product of a scientific experiment. He was the first genetically engineered human being in the world.

He, Alex Kenyon, had been born in a test tube. His genes had been changed so that he was only one foot tall, instead of the six feet common in the year 2050.

The shower Alex stepped into was an exact replica of millions of others on the planet. It was lined with plastic and had colored fixtures and a frosted plastic door. But it was scaled to size.

Engineered, he thought. That’s a strange word to describe a process whose ramifications have changed the existence of mankind.

Alex’s thoughts went back over the series of events that had shaped him. Forty years before, a young Yale graduate from Scotland, Dr. Richard Maxwell, had begun to research the possibilities inherent in genetic engineering. He felt it would be a way to help and not hinder the development of his species. Initially, he changed the characteristics of certain plants. These experiments were directed toward miniaturization. Maxwell felt that there were many reasons why miniature plants, animals, or even human beings would be of use. Small things took up less space on an already crowded earth. A smaller man could be sent more easily into space because of the reduction in living space, life support, and fuel required by spaceships. Technology was moving toward constructing nanobots to make small models of new machines and new types of products. Having smaller humans to test and improve such products might be a good idea.

When Maxwell applied for a government grant to continue his research, the military experts at the Pentagon felt that a smaller man would make an excellent spy because he or she could get into places where others couldn’t go. However, before Maxwell could begin, he needed the approval of Congress. That was difficult because congressmen were reluctant to set aside the funds required for such a project. Even with some of the military personnel backing Dr. Maxwell’s aims, there was a strong faction who wanted no more money spent on weapons or anything that resembled them.

The public went wild when they heard of it. There were demonstrations and marches, and he received torrents of hate mail. He tried in England and received much the same reaction, though not as virulent. At last, the Royal Society of Sciences gave him a grant and a permanent laboratory so that he could design his demmy-man.

Test-tube baby, that’s me. Alex smiled as he turned on the shower.

But unlike those born in Huxley’s Brave New World, Alex had been raised as Dr. Maxwell’s son, living with him in his house and sharing his life.

Alex’s parents had been two of the hundreds of volunteers who freely gave their sperm and ova to the project. Their names were in Maxwell’s private file, but Alex never knew them. Even so, he felt that he had had parents no less loving than any natural ones. Dr. Maxwell was his adoptive father, and Florence MacKnight, the doctor’s housekeeper, had been his adoptive mother. He had his Scottish accent and their views of life from them. Maxwell had been an idealist, a humanist, and a Scotsman. Florence MacKnight had been a staunch Presbyterian whose faith and love were big enough to match St. Paul’s. These sterling qualities were passed on to the modern scientific experiment, Alex.

Dr. Maxwell had taught him to read, and when he was ready, had enrolled him in California Online University. Because of his size, Alex could not attend actual classes. However, through a combination of email, videos, and Web conferences, he obtained a degree. He continued his graduate studies at Yale through their online program, and now he possessed a doctorate in business management. When Alex was old enough to understand, his father had asked him what last name he wanted for his own.

“You ought to have one, Alex lad, and it shouldna be mine. That wouldna be right.”

Alex had chosen Kenyon because it sounded good.

Many other things were done for him as he grew, not the least of which was his introduction to Mary, who would become his wife. When the American public saw how well Maxwell’s project was working in Britain, they gave their approval, through a referendum, for the start of another pilot project in Houston, Texas. It was headed by Dr. Albert Lud, a colleague of Maxwell’s. They were to work in conjunction with each other.

Mary was born six months after the project’s installation. She was raised by Ella Murray, a teacher and humanist chosen by Dr. Maxwell as a suitable model of good character and integrity. There had been talk at the time about Dr. Maxwell’s reasons for choosing Ella Murray instead of allowing Mary to be raised by his colleague, Dr. Lud, but it stopped when Maxwell pointed out that a girl child needed a woman’s hand in her upbringing rather than that of a confirmed bachelor.

Perhaps Richard knew about Lud and didn’t want to jeopardize the project by sayin’ anythin’, thought Alex for the thousandth time. Ah, well, there’s no use moonin’ about it. Ella’s dead and gone now.

He began to soap himself, and as he did so, he thought about Mary. They had met five years before, when Dr. Maxwell had moved to Houston, leaving the British project under the guidance of Dr. Richard Drew. Alex remembered his father saying in his quiet way, “Alex Kenyon, this is Mary Winthrop. I hope that ye will become good friends.”

They did more than that. They fell in love and married five weeks later. Alex thought about their wedding. It was beautiful. The dollhouse had just been built, and the greenhouse had been finished the week before. The wedding took place on the stage at the north end, and it was filmed and shown on all the TV stations and on the internet. The minister was kind, and everyone congratulated them. There was even a wedding cake.

Their wedding night was special. Their house was brand new, and they were left alone for an entire weekend. They talked and laughed and swam, and naturally they made love in their bedroom. They were inexperienced, but they had read the requisite books. Book knowledge, however, was no replacement for the thrill, the excitement, and the fulfillment they shared. Their first night was somewhat awkward, but they eventually found that they fit together well, each giving pleasure to the other-and by combining, giving greater joy to both. When that special weekend was over, Alex and Mary had cemented their relationship with strong bonds that would endure for a lifetime.

Their first three years together were a joy. The American Demmy Project continued to receive worldwide attention. Kenyon was a household word that filled many with hope for the future. They appeared on talk shows, and they had interviews with the press once a week. They also gave exhibitions of gymnastics that were favorably received by all. Such was their charm, wit, and evident happiness that most of those who had objected to the project on moral grounds were forced to concede that at least this project was being run by a God-fearing man and that no lasting harm was done to the demmies’ moral character by their unorthodox births.

They were in constant communication with numbers of people, both famous and ordinary, who wrote them gigabytes of electronic mail; their Christmas card list had 5,000 names on it.

The Kenyon’s first five children were born during this time. The engineers had shortened Mary’s gestation period to four months. That proved to be a boon, for then there were more demmies to test. The work went faster. Because of the modifications to their genetic makeup, the scientists on the Demmy Project’s team had hoped that the Kenyons’ children would learn faster than normal-sized youngsters. They did. It had something to do with the construction of their brains and the use of untapped genetic material that lay dormant in the human genome. All of them were fully grown and possessed adult minds within four years. Finding that this was so, Dr. Maxwell and the staff at Houston provided each child with a specialized education, provided online by famous universities, in a field of his or her own interest that would also benefit the growing Kenyon family.

Peter, their eldest, had a consuming love for animals. He had been trained as a biologist, with a concentration in genetic engineering. He was now engaged in a continuation of the Demmy Animals Project that had been started before Alex and Mary were born. He had recently engineered some new subspecies. His laboratory was in the collection of barns and sheds that were part of the exercise room.

Alex’s thoughts reverted to Laura, their second child, who was trained as a physician. When Dr. Maxwell discovered that she had an interest in medicine, he had taken her under his wing, saying, “There ought to be at least one sawbones in the bunch. She should know all about how you were engineered and how new demmies should be created, too.”

Nancy, child number three, was a dietician. She made sure that they ate their six meals a day. Eating so often was required by their speeded-up metabolism. They started their day with a large breakfast at about 7:00 a.m. This was followed at about 11:00 a.m. by a light meal of sweet rolls and hot drinks. Dinner was the main meal, eaten at about 1:30 p.m. That was followed by tea, a good English tea, at 5:30 p.m. Supper was eaten at about 8:30 p.m., and most of them had a bedtime snack, too. Nancy cooked most of the meals and supplied the family with baked goods with the help of the lab techs, who made sure that they ate nutritious meals.

Their diet was closely monitored. All the supplies were cataloged, and most of the food was packaged in tiny portions that were made just big enough for each meal. The demmies did not have much say in what they ate because Dr. Lud and his lab techs did most of the planning of menus, although Nancy did have some input. The Kenyons were vegetarians, though dairy products figured high on the list of foods eaten. Eggs and cheese were favorites. Nan had a special interest in wild plants and their uses.

Alex stepped out of the shower and toweled himself vigorously as his thoughts continued to flow. Aye, that felt good after last night’s work, he said to himself.

Mary had given birth to their tenth child during the night. All had gone well, thanks to Laura, and he was proud of her. They had named the boy Daniel because he had been born into a den of lions.

No one knew that. To the world, they were the Kenyons, star attractions of the past eight years, the toast of presidents and prime ministers, the idols of millions of children. But a shadow of evil stalked their happy world, turning their luxury accommodations into a prison.

One morning-a Wednesday morning two years before-the telephone had rung, and Dr. Albert Lud had informed Alex that his adoptive father had died the night before of a heart attack. “You’re under me, now,” he had continued briskly, “and things are going to be different.”

They were, all right. Lud installed bars on all the windows of the dollhouse. He put cameras and microphones in every room except the pantry. After that, everything they did or said within those hated walls was recorded by the electronic eyes and ears. They had recorded every moment of last night’s birth.

Peter had learned to protect his parents, ever since the day when he was a year old and Dr. Maxwell had been on vacation in Scotland. The child had picked up the phone and heard the soft voice say, “Oh, Peter, may I speak with your father?”

“No, Mommy and Daddy are in bed all cuddled up, and they told me that they didn’t want to be disturbed.”
Peter had scarcely hung up the phone before the eye of a handheld video camera was at the master bedroom window. Then had come the soft, insidious laughter.

Alex and Mary had continued their performance because they loved each other. But Mary’s tears had burned Alex’s cheek, and he had trembled for hours afterwards.

Peter did not have to be punished. He had seen the results of his action and had wept all night.

Richard Maxwell had never found out about that isolated incident, but the Kenyons had had a premonitory look at what their futures would be like.

The Demmies is available in both print and e-book format from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is Also available in E-book from Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. The Demmies is also on Bookshare. Visit for more information.

Bio: Ann Kathleen Parsons was born in 1953 in Olean, New York. She received a B.A. in English Education from Elmira College and an M.S. in Guidance and Personnel from St. Bonaventure University.

Ms. Parsons was born blind, which has affected her life in many ways, most notably in how she reads and writes. The Demmies began as a braille manuscript, written on a Perkins Braille Writer, and it has ended up, after going through several incarnations, as a Word document.

Ms. Parsons tutors adults who are blind or DeafBlind in Braille and Assistive Technology. Her business is Portal Tutoring:
She has been writing as a hobby for 40 years. She enjoys storytelling and began writing in order to give this need a vehicle for expression. The Demmies is her first published novel.

Writing Poetry, poetry Second Place
by Barbara Hammel

I sit before the canvas,
Various paintbrushes at hand,
Tubes of every color
Lie in wait for my command.

I contemplate and ponder,
Rearrange the prismatic row,
I touch the bristles of the brushes,
And reorganize the rainbow.

I look again at the canvas
All ready to receive what hues
I mix upon the palette
To sadden or provoke or amuse.

Poetry is painting pictures
Brushed with the diction you choose,
Tinted by the kaleidoscope
Of the lexicon you use.

Bio: Barbara Hammel lives in Urbandale, Iowa with her husband and one cat.

Barbara has been writing poetry since she was sixteen. She contributed poems to a high school book and to her college dorm newspaper. She also has published a chapbook called Good-Bye Iowa Braille. Barbara has had a couple of articles published in Future Reflections, too.

Barbara enjoys reading, writing, playing games and doing crossword puzzles. Barbara was born blind.

Abandoned, fiction finish the story exercise
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

Editor’s note: Abbie started this intriguing suspense story with a shocking cliffhanger and left the story open for many possible endings. Magnets and Ladders readers were invited to finish the story. We received three story endings. Below is the beginning of the story written byAbbie Johnson Taylor. The top two story endings will follow Abbie’s story starter.

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.

Abandoned Story ending, fiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

The footsteps were right behind her when she reached the intersection. Vanessa knew she couldn’t dash into traffic, it was too heavy, and with a baby in her arms? “Come on, light, change!”

“She’s mine! Give her back! I never said Mom could sell her.” Strong arms tore the baby from her grasp. The tall teenager shoved the screaming baby into a dirty cloth bag and started running back toward the alley.

Vanessa turned and yelled, “I’m not buying or stealing your baby, I just saw her out there! Come back! You can’t just go back there! If someone’s coming to take her away, you won’t have a chance!”

The young girl stopped long enough to respond, “My dad’s in Hoboken. He’ll help me.”

Vanessa caught up. “That’s the first place your mother will look. She wants the money. She’ll tell them where to find you. She knows the places you go. Come back with me. The light’s changed. Let’s go to the police station over there,” she pointed. “They’ll find you a shelter just for the night. Then you can talk to your dad.”

“They will not,” the girl protested. “They’ll take her to foster care. That’s where I was raised. It’s hell. I’m going back, and fight it out with Mom.”

“Please! Come on! There’s a bus bench up there. Let’s talk this thing out. Maybe I can help.”

Vanessa knew no busses were running at this hour. Grudgingly the young girl followed her.

“Do you have a phone?” Vanessa asked. “This is private. No one’s coming, but we have to hurry.”

With a shake of her head, the teenager looked toward the intersection to make sure no one was there. “No, I ran out of the house so fast to catch you. Just had time to grab a laundry bag from the washroom.”

The baby had settled her wailing to a gentle protest. Vanessa opened the top of the bag to let in some fresh air. “Here,” she said, handing her phone to the girl. “Call your dad.”

“Nope,” she was told, “he’ll be out clubbing, making deals, can’t get him tonight.”

“I’m Vanessa. What’s the baby’s name?”

“I might not should tell you,” she hesitated, “oh what the hell. I’m Bobbi, she’s Fan; she’s two months.”

“Maybe I can help you find a shelter. You could make up something for tonight. Nobody will question; you need a place to stay with the baby.”

“Who are you kidding,” Bobbi laughed. “She’s naked as a jaybird, and I don’t have no food. You know what they’ll do-or maybe you don’t. They’ll call protective services, and there I’ll be again. I got no place to go. The whole story will come out and I’ll lose her.”

Vanessa thought for a minute. Bobbi was probably right.

“Just give me the fare to Hoboken,” she pleaded. “That’ll fix us for a while.”

Vanessa wasn’t sure that was the right answer, but she dug into her purse. It would free her from the responsibility. She barely had enough money for herself and the kids for the rest of the week.

Sensing Vanessa’s hesitation, Bobbi stood up and grabbed the laundry bag. “Hey, if you just help me get to the interstate I can hitch.”

“Not on your life,” Vanessa said with determination. “That’s asking for trouble.”

Both women stared at each other, at the traffic in front of them, and at the intersection half a block behind. Vanessa, somewhere between tears and fury, wished for a heartbeat that Bobbi would run away. Would she follow her? Could she let this go? What about her own kids at home, worried because their mom was late.

“Wait just a minute,” she stalled as she called home. When Jackie answered she sighed with relief.

“Who you calling?” Bobbi cried, “I’m getting out of here!”

“I’m calling my kids. Get back here. I’m going to help you.”

“No Jackie, I’m talking to someone else. Listen, I thought I had a ride home but it fell through, so I have to get the train. Everything okay there…Good. You all go on to bed now. Grab a snack if you haven’t had one. I’ll kiss you good night to let you know I’m there, but don’t worry, okay? I’m going to have a friend with me.”

Bobbi was crying. “Can I really go home with you to sleep? Can I get some formula for the baby somewhere? She’s not used to just milk. I promise I’ll leave tomorrow.”

Vanessa wondered if this was the right thing to do, but she nodded in agreement, and started at a fast clip for the subway entrance a few blocks away. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do, maybe Bobbi would hate her for it, but she’d call protective services herself when she knew mother and baby were asleep.

When they were settled on the ride home, she asked Bobbi if she could hold the baby for a minute. “There’s an all-night convenience store two or three blocks from my apartment. We’ll get off a stop early and run in there for some formula and diapers. She’s dry so far. I don’t think little Fan is scared anymore, so she’ll probably eat and sleep okay.”

The last part of their walk home seemed to take forever. It certainly wasn’t the safest time for two women and a baby to be out on the street.

Vanessa set her watch alarm for 5:00 AM. She reached an emergency number through 9-1-1, and talked with a worker from child protective services. No one heard the alarm. It was next to her ear. But when the doorbell rang at 6:00 Bobbi and Fan were gone. They left nothing behind except a scribbled thank you note on the coffee table.

“Nothing’s missing,” Vanessa told the worker. “Let me give you as much information as I can about the place where I found them and what little I know. I hope you can find them,” her tears threatened to interrupt her train of thought, “I feel so responsible. I don’t think I handled this right.”

The worker’s hand was on her shoulder. “You did the best you could, honey. We’ll try. If we can find Bobbi or her mother, you could have to talk to the police. I have your information.”

Vanessa dressed and fed Jackie and Joey, and tried to make normal mommy fun conversation about their day ahead. She put them on the school bus with good lunches, and wished she could have sent one with Bobbi. At least Fan would have formula for a while. The two bottles they’d filled the night before were gone. If there were bologna and cheese missing or in Bobbi’s tummy or purse, she was glad.

Just before she left for work she called the coordinator of her writers’ group. “No,” she said, “there’s no changing my mind. I’ll find another way-get books from the library, do an online connection, something. I have to be home where I belong. No more after work adventures for this mom. I’ve seen a belly full of bad parenting recently, and I don’t want to be part of that.”

If she hurried she could stop by St. Nicholas Chapel on her way to work. Surely the patron saint for children could help. She’d light a candle and say a special prayer for little Fan.

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 100-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:

Abandoned Story Ending, fiction
by Susan Muhlenbeck

Vanessa ran faster, willing her legs not to give out. Her breath came in ragged gasps, and her heart seemed to beat out of her chest, and still she ran. Suddenly she was seeing stars. With a little cry, she sank slowly to her knees as a terrible throbbing pain filled her head. She was dimly aware of the baby being snatched out of her arms as she fought to stay conscious.

She sat on the ground and put her aching head between her knees as she had been taught to do if a person were feeling faint. She felt a swelling lump on the back of her head, but she brushed that thought aside as she contemplated the baby’s fate. Had it been Bobbi or the other woman who had hit her on the head and taken the baby? She thought groggily as her head spun around. If only she could have run faster, she scolded herself. If only—well, never mind that, she thought with a jolt. She had to get home, she thought wildly as she struggled to her feet. Her vision had cleared, but her head still ached. She walked home in a daze, pausing several times to rest.

She snuck into the house quietly, as not to waken the children. She was relieved to find that they were both sound asleep. Then she sat at the kitchen table with a bag of frozen peas on her head after taking three aspirin. Should she go to the police? What could they do besides take a report? But what else could she do? Still thinking, she fell into bed and slept fitfully until her alarm rudely awakened her the next morning.

“What happened to your head, Mom?” her son Jake asked over breakfast.

“Oh, I got hit by a rock on the way home last night,” she said dismissively. “Just kids messing around,” she added, seeing the alarm on both children’s faces. It sounded lame, even to her, but there was no way she could tell them the truth.

She decided not to go to work that day. She did not want any coworkers asking about the bump on her head. After dropping the kids off at school, Vanessa decided to go to the police station and file a report. “I have reason to believe there is human trafficking going on around here,” she told Officer Sara Clark. She told the cop everything that happened the night before, except the part about leaving her kids at home alone.

“We’ll look into it,” Officer Clark promised, ushering Vanessa out of her office. “Meanwhile, you need to get that bump on your head checked out.”

So she went to the Urgent Care clinic and was told that the bump wasn’t too serious. Then she went home and took a nap. By the time the kids arrived home from school, she had calmed down enough to try to get back to her normal routine.

That Friday when her fiancé Charles returned from a business meeting, she brought up the subject over a glass of wine while the kids were in their room doing homework. “Can you believe it?” she asked incredulously. “Selling babies on the black market in our little town?”

“I know,” Charles agreed, taking her hand. “It’s the kind of thing you hear about on the news but never expect to see in person. I’m just glad you’re all right. I wish you would have told me about this sooner. I would have come back from my trip early.”

“That’s nice of you,” Vanessa said, touched, “but that really wasn’t necessary. The bump on my head wasn’t serious, but what should we do?” she asked anxiously.

“You did all you could by going to the police,” Charles said reassuringly. “Now it’s in their hands.”

“Guess you’re right,” she sighed, “but what a shame.”
She tried to imagine somebody snatching one of her children from her shortly after he was born and shuddered. Poor Bobbi had Vanessa’s sympathy, even if she had been the one to deliver the blow to her head.

“Well, on a brighter note,” Charles said cheerfully, “I got a text from Tommy today. Brenda had her baby. Tommy said he had to leave work to take her to the hospital. They almost didn’t make it in time,” he laughed. “The baby was born a few minutes after they got there.”

“Wow,” Vanessa smiled. “I’ll have to go around and see her.”

The next day, Charles took the children to see the latest Disney movie, so Vanessa took that opportunity to visit her neighbor Brenda. “Sorry I didn’t come see you sooner,” she apologized as Brenda ushered her into the kitchen. “It’s just been crazy lately what with work and my writing class and planning our wedding.”

“Glad you came by,” Brenda said, pouring two cups of coffee. “Tommy went to help his dad paint his house. I could use the company.”

“Charles said you almost didn’t make it to the hospital in time,” Vanessa laughed.

“That’s right,” Brenda said, hugging her baby close. “She actually came a few days early. I was so scared something was going to go wrong, but everything went like clockwork, no complications or anything.”

“That’s great,” Vanessa said, sipping her coffee. “I remember with my two, both of them were difficult deliveries. So how is motherhood treating you?”

“I love it,” Brenda cried. “I heard so many horror stories about mothers suffering from postpartum depression, but I love being a mother, and Tommy loves being a father. He participates in everything from feeding to changing diapers to giving her a bath.”

“I always wish I had a little girl,” Vanessa sighed. “I love my boys to death, but I wish I had a little girl too.” She hesitated, contemplating whether to tell her friend about the baby snatching she had been part of the week before. She decided against it. Brenda looked so happy, rocking her new baby in her arms. Vanessa didn’t want to do anything to ruin her mood.

“We named her Patricia after Tommy’s late mother,” Brenda was saying. “I think she would have liked that. I’m just sorry she can’t ever meet her grandmother in person.”

There was a knock at the door. Brenda looked through the spyhole, then pulled the door open with a big smile. “Hello, Miss Bessie!” she called. “Come on in!”

“I can’t stay,” an older woman said apologetically, “but I wanted to bring you this. I found it at a church sale.”

“It’s beautiful!” Brenda cried, gazing at the old-fashioned wooden cradle. “Wow! I never saw anything like it. Thank you, Miss Bessie!”

“Glad you like it,” the other woman said smiling. “I’ll see you later.”

“I am so blessed to have friends like you and her,“ Brenda said, putting a blanket in the cradle, then laying the baby in it. She rocked the cradle gently with an air of bliss. “I don’t know what I would do without you all,” she mused. “I feel so bad for those poor women who have nobody to help them after the baby is born.” The baby stirred, then started crying quietly. “Oh, it’s time to feed her,” Brenda said, picking the baby up and cradling her.

“I should probably go,” Vanessa said, glancing at her watch. “I still need to stop by the store before I go home.”

“Oh, can you do me a big favor?” Brenda asked as she laid the baby back in the cradle. She heated the baby formula as Vanessa rocked the baby. “I have a bag of maternity clothes in the bedroom closet I want to take over to Good Will.”

“I can drop it off on the way home,” Vanessa offered.

“Great,” Brenda said, pouring formula into a bottle. “We need to get together for lunch or something soon. I haven’t been out much lately.” They made arrangements to meet for lunch the next day after church. “Tommy can watch Patricia for a while,” Brenda said, picking up the baby and offering her the bottle.

Vanessa went into Brenda’s bedroom to get the maternity clothes. She resolutely made up her mind to tell Brenda about the human trafficking operation over lunch the next day, not to get advice, but just to vent to another woman. Brenda seemed so happy with her baby that nothing could spoil her mood, Vanessa decided. She found the bag of maternity clothes in the closet. She picked it up and was about to walk out when she noticed something under the bag. She bent down to get a closer look. She stared at the objects on the floor, first with curiosity, then confusion, and finally with abject horror. She put a hand over her heart and took long, deep breaths.

Vanessa heard Brenda’s phone ring in the kitchen. “Hi, Ma!” Brenda said cheerily. “She’s fine!” With shaking hands, Vanessa took pictures of the objects on the floor with her cell phone. Then she picked up the bag of clothes and walked out of the room, praying that her face wouldn’t give herself away. “See you tomorrow, Vanessa,” Brenda called as Vanessa reached the front door.

“Okay,” Vanessa called as brightly as she could, pulling the door behind her.

She dropped the clothes off at Good Will, trying to formulate what to tell the police. She drove quickly to the police station before she lost her nerve. She stopped the car and just sat for a few minutes. Then she called Charles, stalling for time. Her mind spun.

“We’re back from the movies,” he said. “What’s going on?”

“I’ll be a little while,” she said, trying to control her voice. “I still have to stop by the store.”

“Take your time,” he said without a trace of concern. “See you in a bit.”

She walked into the police station with a feeling of dread. “Is Officer Clark available?” she asked the desk sergeant.

“She’s out in the field,” the desk sergeant said, adjusting his glasses. “What’s this about?”

“I spoke with her last week about a human trafficking situation I witnessed,” Vanessa said softly. “I have reason to think I found the people who bought the baby involved.”

The desk sergeant examined Vanessa quizzically. “Officer Gardener is available if you would like to speak to her,” he finally said evenly.

Vanessa sat across from Officer Clair Gardener and told her everything that happened the night she had been attacked. Then she told her about visiting Brenda and her new baby just minutes before. “I think it was Bobbi’s companion who threw a rock at me and snatched the baby,” she said anxiously. “She realized that it wasn’t I who had arranged to pick up the baby, and she wanted her money. Brenda must have picked up the baby later that night. And if Bobbi was the one who attacked me, she would still have the baby. I know she would,” Vanessa said emphatically. She thought about how Bobbi had cried and insisted that she couldn’t sell her baby. She must not have had any choice, Vanessa thought sadly. It would have been two against one, and poor Bobbi would have had to stand by helplessly as Brenda handed over the money to Bobbi’s companion, then sped away with the baby.

“And what makes you think that Brenda’s baby is the one you found in the alley?” Officer Gardener asked curiously. She had been scribbling notes as Vanessa spoke.

Vanessa held out her phone. “I found those in the closet,” she explained, pointing to the pictures. “Brenda asked me to take some maternity clothes to Good Will, and they were right there with the clothes.”

Officer Gardener studied the pictures thoughtfully. Then she suddenly became very interested in looking at some files on her computer. “Do you know what these pictures are?” she asked dryly.

“Yes,” Vanessa said hoarsely. “They are silicon contraptions women put under their clothes to give the impression of being pregnant—one for each trimester. Brenda was never pregnant, or maybe she had a miscarriage.”

“I see,” Officer Gardener said slowly. “What is her address?” Vanessa wrote the address on a card the cop handed her. “Write down your phone number in case we need to contact you,” the detective instructed. Officer Gardener copied the pictures onto her phone, then stood up. “Thank you for coming in,” she said without expression.

“What’s going to happen to the baby if Brenda and Tommy get convicted?” she asked. She thought about the woman in the alley telling Bobbi that the baby would have a better life with its adoptive parents. What kind of life would the poor child have with adoptive parents who did something as illegal as buying a baby on the black market? Then again, what kind of life would the child have with Bobbi, who didn’t have the means to take care of her. And who was the other woman in the alley who thought it was her business to decide she could sell somebody else’s child. She had looked old enough to be Bobbi’s mother. Vanessa hoped that wasn’t the case. What kind of woman would sell her own grandchild?

“That would be up to social services,” the cop said, leading Vanessa out of her office. “They will find her the best placement possible.”

Vanessa drove home slowly, trying not to cry. She hoped she had done the right thing by going to the police. She wished she could discuss the situation with someone without feeling guilty. She would put her story in writing, she decided, turning her key in the lock. She would tell it in her creative writing class.

Half a mile away, Brenda opened the door and saw a female police officer and a teenage girl who looked too much like Patricia for comfort. She broke out in a cold sweat. It was all over, she thought mournfully as the cop started speaking and the teenager glowered at her. Her and Tommy’s careful planning had somehow gone terribly wrong. She felt tears stinging her eyes as the detective and the girl entered her house.

Services for Authors
by Heather J Kirk, PhotoGraphic Artistry and Publishing

I am an author myself, so I get it!
Proofreading and content editing, book cover design, interior layout, publisher’s logo; upload to Create Space or Amazon; website and all promotional materials: ads, bookmarks, postcards, one sheet, etc. Always fair prices and personalized service. Portfolio at: Contact:

Book Dreams Can Come True, article
(with Ten Tips to Help Your Book Dreams Come True)
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

After decades of hoping and wishing, after months of pondering the idea, my book dream actually started to take shape in late August of 2016. Although I realized in second grade that I loved writing poetry and I wrote the meager beginning of a novel in fifth grade, I was not on a serious writing path until after retiring from teaching writing at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Filling my retirement years with all the writing that I had never had time for while I was teaching full-time was and continues to be my goal for my golden years.

On January 19, 2013, I initiated my weekly blog; and WORDWALK remains the literary force that gives structure to my week. Since I always post a poem, memoir, essay, or short story on each Wednesday, this endeavor gives a writing deadline to my weekly schedule. One of the many benefits of writing a blog is that in 2016, I realized that I had accumulated enough writing pieces in my “blog portfolio” to give me plenty of material from which to choose for my first book. Essentially, the book was already written: I just had to decide on a theme, select the pieces for my collection, determine a title, organize the pieces into an appropriate and appealing order, write an introductory essay and bio, write the acknowledgement page and the dedication—my impetus for making my book dream come true in 2016.

Since my third Leader Dog, Zoe, had given so much to me, I wanted to honor her memory by dedicating a book to her. Due to Zoe’s passing being extremely sudden and unexpected, I had to turn to a more positive project as I was introducing my fourth Leader Dog, Willow, to our neighborhood in Milwaukee. Later, I expanded my dedication to also honor the memory of my parents. This dedication page became my motivation and strength to bring my book project to fruition.

After exploring various options for publication, I jumped into the opportunity of self-publishing during the first week of September of 2016. Although I had edited all of the six poems, five memoirs, five short stories, three essays, and two how-to pieces numerous times for prior publications, I continued to edit and proofread, edit and proofread because I had been an instructor of English and had taught MLA Style for many years. I wanted my book dream to float on a perfect cloud.

One of my favorite parts of this book endeavor was selecting and organizing the pieces for my collection. Ultimately, I chose three Thanksgiving, nine Christmas, two post-Christmas, one New Year, and three January pieces.

Eventually, during that autumn, I wrote the blurb for the back cover; and with the help of others (all of whom are happily detailed on the Acknowledgements pages of my book), I found the perfect cover photo and three other wonderful photos for my book.

This entire process of working toward my dream book was thrilling and was what I had awaited so long. If teaching was the satisfying and rewarding sentence of my life, the book dream was the exclamation point at the end of that sentence.

On November 28, Leonore Dvorkin, of DLD Books, called to inform me that my e-book was available. Reality! A couple of days later, I received my first two boxes of copies of my print book—The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season. Although I could not at all see these beautiful print copies of my book, I cried tears of joy as I opened the boxes and felt the book dreams in my hands. Book dreams do come true!

My first goal of being able to give copies of my book as Christmas gifts to family and friends on my holiday card list, as well as to neighbors and acquaintances in Milwaukee and to others as holiday thank-you gifts was most gratefully met. As my Leader Dog Willow and I made many trips to the post office, I realized that Christmas of 2016 was the most memorable holiday of my adult life. The feedback which I received about my 101-page book made me smile into the new year. I was most appreciative to bring forth this holiday book to honor the memory of Zoe, my third Leader Dog, as well as to honor the memory of my parents. (Please read the dedication page of my book.)

The book which I affectionately call “The Little Book that Keeps on Giving” did live up to its nickname as the pages of the 2017 calendar turned. I will share with you only some of the highlights of my “Book Year 2017.”

In March, I ordered and promptly received my first set of VistaPrint book cards each of which is the size of a postcard and features my book cover on the front and information about ordering my book on the reverse side. Although I had made my own bookmarks for the initial mailings and distribution of my books in December, these VistaPrint book cards (glossy on the photo side) make much better bookmarks and promotional cards. Since my initial order, I have purchased several additional batches of these useful and attractive cards.

Having contacted Audio and Braille Literacy Enhancement (ABLE of Milwaukee, Wisconsin) in December I was enormously pleased to receive word from Cheryl Orgas, executive director of ABLE, that my holiday book would be both recorded at the recording studios of ABLE and produced in braille before the upcoming autumn. However, I did not have to wait that long: on July 15, I was delighted to receive in the mail the audio version of The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season. Hearing one’s book read by a trained narrator for the first time is an overwhelming experience. On July 21, my book became available in a fourth format when David Dvorkin, of DLD Books, uploaded my holiday book onto Bookshare.

Then, on August 5, without any preliminary notice, I found in my mail a braille book–my own book in braille! As my hands first touched the braille dots that formed the words of the title of my book, I was filled with emotion; as I read on, my hands periodically had to leave the page to wipe away tears. Yes, dreams do come true.

Finally, the “cherry-on-top” was the phone call which I received at 5:15 p.m., on August 15. The managing librarian of the Wisconsin Talking Book and Braille Library, Linda Vincent, informed me that my book was officially on BARD as an audio download (DBC 08305). Reading the information about my book on BARD and downloading my little book from BARD were more memorable moments of my book-dream-come-true. With the help of ABLE and the Wisconsin Talking Book and Braille Library, I did meet my second goal of having my holiday book available in accessible formats. I must confess that my book’s being available in five formats is more than I ever dreamed. I found “Cloud Nine” and enjoyed floating there for a long while!

At the Little Italy Festival in Clinton, Indiana (near my hometown of Blanford), my holiday book was sold at five locations: on the main festival grounds, at the Italian Market, at the gift shop at The Wine Museum, at the art show, and at the Clinton Public Library (where my book was the focus of a special display for the genealogical exhibit). Since the Clinton Public Library was the library in which I had grown up and which was so special to me, having my book prominently displayed and sold there was an extraordinary treat for me.

As autumn and winter progressed, I enjoyed giving presentations about my book and being part of an interview for the radio-reading service in Ohio (Voice Corps). I am grateful to authors and bloggers Lynda McKinney Lambert and Abbie Johnson Taylor for each of their reviews of my book. Besides speaking to my two book clubs about my first book, a book club in New Jersey and one in Utah selected my book for their December read. I contacted Christmas shops and museums about selling copies of my book. I sent complimentary copies of my book to several locations, including the coach and carriage company whose horse-drawn carriage inspired the title story of my book. I participated in a four-week blog tour for my book. Since my book is a holiday book that is not dated, I have more marketing plans in mind for autumn and early winter of 2018.

In addition to all the excitement and memorable moments of my book-dream-come-true, I learned from this experience. Through this first endeavor of having my book published via CreateSpace and DLD Books, I share with you the following to help your book dream to come true as easily as possible.

  1. As you plan a timeline for your book project, start early to meet your goals—especially if your book, like mine, is time or season sensitive.

  2. For your first book project, you may wish to consider a shorter book or “gift book” so that you will perceive the project to be more easily doable for you than a lengthy tome.

  3. While you need to be true to your own talents, traits, and dream, you may wish to consider a topic and/or theme for your book that will be more easily marketable—if having higher sale numbers is extremely important to you. (For example, while writing a book about the holidays was suitable for me, I also anticipated that the book could be marketed for a number of holiday seasons.)

  4. If your book includes poetic lines, be certain to know the acceptable line length before finalizing your poetry and other such writings. (For example, you will also want to know the line length to determine the line break of a lengthier title of a short story.)

  5. You will need one or more photos that are of high resolution. I was lucky to find the perfect photo for my book’s cover: a professional photographer took the photo. On my author’s web page, you may read the story of my finding the cover photo: A photo taken on a phone may not be of sufficient quality.

  6. Between the various stages of your book project, take the time to plan the marketing of your book: make lists, type address labels for later use, write drafts of promotional letters and press releases, write ad copy, do marketing research, check out blogs that may promote your book, etc.

  7. Keep a journal to preserve all the dates of special happenings in regard to your book project. Later, you will use some of these special dates and happenings in your presentations and promotional materials. Additionally, the “book-project journal” gives you a way to savour the good times. Such a journal can be inspirational and motivational for you and your fellow writers in the midst of a current writing project or in planning the next book endeavor.

  8. Please try to have your book made available in accessible media. I believe that having your book made available in various formats is much easier today than in earlier years. Begin by finding and contacting the organization that is similar to Audio and Braille Literacy Enhancement and that is located in your region or state. After you pay this organization only the cost of your print book, you may have one copy of your book in braille; then, for the same cost, your book may be recorded by a trained narrator in a recording studio. After these initial “master” copies are made, you and others may purchase additional accessible copies. Most likely, this non-profit organization will work with your cooperating library (such as the Wisconsin Talking Book and Braille Library). After contacting your regional library of the National Library Service for the Blind (NLS), you may hear that your book will be formatted for downloading from BARD. Of course, uploading your book to Bookshare is another option. Exploring options for commercial recording is a relatively expensive choice that is growing in popularity. Prior to your book’s being recorded, make a list of proper nouns with a pronunciation key for the narrator of your book. If possible, you may wish to request a particular narrator.

  9. Writing the acknowledgements pages and dedication page for my book were among my favorite parts of my book project: enjoy giving gratitude to all who help you in achieving your book dream. One of the many individuals and groups to whom I give thanks is Behind Our Eyes. If members of this writers’ group had not shared their blogging experiences, I would not have begun my own blog. If writers of BOE had not shared their experiences of having their books published, I am not certain I would have realized my own book dream. Find a group to inspire you to realize your book dream!

  10. Dream! Yes, you, too, can have a book dream come true!

In conclusion, I am pleased to share with you that I surpassed my third goal for my little book. While my third goal was to sell and/or otherwise distribute at least five hundred copies of my book, as of this writing in mid-August, the running total is just shy of six hundred when I include the 45 times that my regional library has mailed digital-cartridge copies of my holiday book to library patrons. The 598 total does not include copies downloaded from BARD nor from Bookshare. This article is not intended to be a boastful series of paragraphs: the purpose of this article is to convince you that making your book dream come true is possible. Good luck, and best wishes! If this article has urged you to initiate your book dream, please e-mail me at:

NOTE: If you are a member of the writers’ group Behind Our Eyes you may listen to Alice’s holiday, 65-minute presentation about her book by means of the archived recordings of group teleconferences. The reference number for the December 3, 2017 meeting is 215. For additional information about Behind Our Eyes, visit:


We will be holding contests in the areas of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the Spring/Summer 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 February 15, so be sure to get your entries in on time.

Let JAWS for Windows Help with Your Editing, article
by Mary-Jo Lord

Are you a JAWS user? If so, let me tell you about some tools built into JAWS that will help you with your editing process.

The first tool is found by using the Research It feature. Research It gives you the ability to look up a variety of information, but the Research It Lookup feature that will assist you as a writer is the “word or phrase” lookup which can be found at the top of the combo box when you open Research It. This allows you to look up the meaning of a word or phrase using the Wiktionary dictionary. If you are unsure if you are using the correct word or spelling of a word or the correct homophone, Research it can save you from embarrassing mistakes.

Here are the steps to follow to look up a word using Research It with JAWS for Windows:

  1. Highlight the word that you would like to look up.
  2. Press Your JAWS key along with space. Your Jaws key is either the zero key on the number keypad or your caps lock key, depending on your keyboard layout.
  3. Press the letter r.
  4. A dialog box will open. Jaws will say, “Research it dialogue, word or phrase,” followed by your highlighted word or phrase.
  5. Tab over to the okay button and press enter.
  6. Arrow down to read the definition and other information about the questionable word.

You may still need to use another online dictionary if you are looking for a list of synonyms to select a better choice of word or to work on word variety in your writing. If you just need a quick way to know if you are using the right word though, Research it can save you time and make your work more publishable.

The second editing tool provided by JAWS for Windows is Text Analyzer. This is an invaluable tool when you are doing your final editing of a document. Text Analyzer can be toggled on under Quick Settings.

All good writers edit and reedit. You have a rough draft of your story, article or Poem. You move words, phrases or sentences within a paragraph. You reorder lines and change line breaks in a poem. You add new words and take away others, and then put sentences back where they were before the first edit.

So what happens to your document after all of that moving, adding, and subtracting? Text Analyzer will show you the great things about your document, as well as the cleanup work that needs to be done.

Text Analyzer will allow JAWS to read each line of your document, while pointing out inconsistencies such as space runs, missing capital letters, and stray or extra punctuation.

Here are the steps to locate text Analyzer and make it work for you:
1. Press Insert V.
2. Press the letter T and listen to the options. Stop when Jaws says “Text Analyzer.”
3. Hit the space bar until JAWS says “describe inconsistencies.”
4. Tab over to okay and hit enter.

You should also follow these same steps, using the letter P for punctuation and hit space until JAWS says “all.”

These tools, along with the spell checker on your word processer will help you prepare your work for publication. Good luck and happy writing.

Bio: Mary-Jo Lord writes poetry, fiction, and memoirs. A section of her work is published in Almost Touching published by Plain View Press. 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 in Dialogue Magazine. Mary-Jo is the current Coordinating Editor of Magnets and Ladders. 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

Reaching, poetry
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

It could be worth a mint.
Imagine, if I sent
An effort to impress
Experts at this address,
And one important judge
Gave mine the final nudge.

How should I spend my fame,
On mat and glass and frame?
Or should I savor wine,
Claim luck and skill as mine?
A win would soon command
My horizons to expand.

But first I need a start
For this secret in my heart.
Impressions bounce around–
A mouse, a creek, a town–
With affect bold or faint?
Which picture shall I paint?

The shock in others’ eyes
To hear I’ve won a prize,
Will outweigh the reward,
Keep me moving toward
Collections worth attention
With purpose and dimension.

I choose a path unique;
For instance, at that creek
I fancy stockinged feet
Near buried, ‘neath the seat
Of a wagon broke and bare.
Now, where should I go from there?

Note: Reaching was the First Place winner in the 2018 NFB Writers’ Division poetry contest.

A Storm of Six Word Stories, article
by Abbie Johnson Taylor and Mary-Jo Lord

Have you ever written a six word story? Members of the Behind Our Eyes group have. John Wesley Smith, the group’s Vice President invited members to submit a six word story to the mailing list in preparation for the September conference call. The list was flooded with six word stories! The conference call was lively and creative, which sparked continued enthusiasm about this unique story format.

A six word story tells the entire story about an event or aspect of someone’s life in just six words. There are magazines that feature or are entirely devoted to six word stories, and there are several books published filled with them based on various themes.

Here are some of the stories written by the Behind Our Eyes group:

Reading, listening, thinking. Writing as needed.
John Wesley Smith

I write my stories for others.
Abbie Johnson Taylor

Sent manuscript. Very Disappointed. Revised
Mary Highland

Today is illuminated by the past.
Deon Lyons

First sighted, then blind, now me.
Ann Chiapetta

Outrun, lift, fetch, drive, penning wins!
Donna Grahmann

We would like to read your six word story. If you submit your story for the Spring/Summer edition, you may see it in the magazine. We will publish the top six stories that we receive. You can submit yours at:

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

Part V. Seasonal Wonders

Harvests, poetry
by Brad Corallo

As the ancient wheel of the seasons turns,
we swiftly approach the great equinox of autumn.

As summer’s fire dwindles
a blaze of autumn colors ignites.

It is time once again
to offer up our gratitude

for the bounty of Earth and gifts of the harvest
the culmination of hard work, weather and growth.

We gather in our crops to sustain us
and the new vintage to gladden our hearts.

As we enter into these joyous days of abundance,
let us pause frequently in our crazed multitasking,
to remember and give thanks.

For, in spite of all we have done to her,
the covenant holds.

Earth, the great mother has not abandoned us!

Painting in Mid-October: Autumnal Days, Acrostic poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

Autumn’s morning light revealed changes
Undermined the scarlet-red palette
Taking center stage on the painting
Uninhibited rain cast grey-violet hues
Misty diffusion brought a new perspective
Not anticipated yesterday
Aroused the softened brushstrokes
Layered over the primed canvas.

Dying is a careful arrangement
A graceful staged performance
Yellow leaves are faithful dancers
Spectacular choreography!

Bio: Her name is Lynda Jeanne/ caring; self-motivated; inspired; smart/ Esther is her mother; Bill, her father/ Ida Matilda, her maternal grandma/ She likes crystals; poems; nature; crows/ She believes in Heaven, stars and timeless boundaries/ aubergine; der Hirsch; helix; woodlands/ She wants to stand in Charlemagne’s Palace Chapel again/ Virgo girl arrived on a Friday in August, Peridot Stone/ The Village of Wurtemburg is home/ Lynda McKinney became Lynda Lambert.

Supplanted, fiction
by Susan Muhlenbeck

Ellie sat on her front porch swing, impatiently tapping her foot and glancing at her watch. Rick was supposed to pick her up ten minutes ago. They were going to a Halloween party at their friend Sam’s house. What could be keeping him? It was not like him to be late. They had been going out for a few months, and he had never been late without calling and telling her. She sighed and pulled her phone out of her purse. There was probably a traffic jam, she thought, annoyed, and he didn’t want to call while driving-smart. She dialed his number, and her call went straight to voice mail. “Where are you?” she snapped into the phone. “I’m getting worried.”

Five minutes elapsed, and there was still no sign of him. Suddenly her worry turned into rising anger. Maybe he stood her up, she thought furiously. Maybe he went to the party without her for some strange reason. No, he wouldn’t do that, would he? She vacillated between being worried and angry for the next ten minutes. I’ll call Sam and see if Rick is there, she decided. She was about to dial Sam’s phone number when she saw someone walking up her driveway.

“Rick!” she cried, jumping up. “Where have you been? I was so worried!” She stopped short. It was not Rick walking towards her but another man they knew, Bruce Parker. “Oh, hi, Bruce, what are you doing here?” she asked, confused. “Where is Rick?” she asked before he could answer.

“He can’t make it,” Bruce said shortly. “I’m going instead.” Without waiting for a reply, he turned and started walking up the street.

“Wait a minute!” Ellie called after him. “What do you mean he can’t make it? What’s going on?” He didn’t answer and just kept walking. Ellie ran after him. Sam’s house was only two blocks away, but she still felt silly walking down the street in her black cat costume. She wasn’t expecting to win the best costume contest at the party, but it wasn’t bad considering she had made it from stuff she had lying around the house. Bruce was not in costume. He had not been invited to the party. He wasn’t exactly part of her and Rick’s circle of friends. He was a shy, serious young man who didn’t seem like the partying type.

It was a cool, crisp fall day. The wind was blowing gently, and in the air was the faint smell of cut grass. The houses along the street were decorated with jack-o-lanterns and flying bats in the window, and children in costumes of all types were going from house to house for treats. Ellie hardly noticed her surroundings as she followed Bruce. “Bruce, wait up!” she shouted. She had trouble keeping up in her high heels. “Where is Rick, and why can’t he make it?”

“He couldn’t get away,” Bruce said vaguely as they approached Sam’s house.

“Couldn’t get away from what?” Ellie demanded, getting angry again. “Tell me what happened.”

Bruce ignored her. He lost himself in the crowd on Sam’s front porch. “Hey, Ellie!” Sam called from the yard. She almost didn’t recognize him in his Santa Claus costume. “Where is Rick?”

“I have no idea!” Ellie was frustrated beyond words. “Bruce Parker showed up at my house and said Rick couldn’t make it, and that he was coming with me instead.”

“Bruce Parker?” Sam looked confused.

“He works at the Help Desk,” Ellie explained. “I don’t know him very well, and I didn’t think Rick did either.”

“I’m sure it will all get sorted out,” Sam said reassuringly. “Come on in and get some punch.”

Ellie wove her way through the throng of people in the living room. The stereo was playing music by Alice Cooper quite loudly. “No accounting for taste,” she muttered. Nobody could hear her. There was a box labelled “Costume Contest Ballots” in the corner. She looked around at all the fancy costumes. There was everything from gypsies to vampires. Most of the costumes made her homemade black cat get up seem pretty lame. She voted for the least fancy costume she saw, which was a nun.

“I voted for you,” Ellie told Nancy Jones.” They were in the kitchen getting food and punch.

“You were probably the only one,” Nancy laughed. “You make a cute cat. Where is Rick? I haven’t seen him yet.”

“You know what? I think I got stood up,” Ellie said in disgust. She told Nancy about the strange evening. “I don’t even see Bruce now either.”

“Well, I hope Rick is all right,” Nancy said slowly, stirring her punch with her finger, “but if he is, I would kick him to the curb.”

Ellie found Bruce standing on the back porch, where the crowd wasn’t as thick. She balanced a plate of food on the porch rail, then took a sip of punch. “The punch is good,” she said, hoping to draw him out of his shell. “Would you like some?”

“No, you go ahead,” he said. He looked so out of place in his pressed slacks and dress shirt. Ellie was going to find out what happened to Rick if it was the last thing she did.

She held out one of her cucumber sandwiches to him. “Try this,” she invited. “These are really good.”

Bruce backed up a step. “I don’t want anything,” he said quickly, putting his hands in front of his face. He looked like a cornered rat, bent on fight or flight, Ellie thought suddenly.

“Bruce,” she said slowly, “I am very worried about Rick. It’s not like him to not show up and not call. Tell me what you meant when you said he couldn’t make it and couldn’t get away and why you showed up instead of him.”

Bruce suddenly looked terrified. “I, I told you all I know,” he stuttered.

Ellie was at the end of her patience. “Damn it, Bruce!” she shouted, reaching out to grab him by the shoulders and give him a good shake. Bruce jumped backwards off the porch. “Don’t touch me!” he screamed as he landed in a heap on the grass. “Just don’t touch me,” he said more calmly as he stumbled to his feet.

Ellie was stunned. Several other people rushed to Bruce’s side, some concerned, some with unashamed curiosity. “Are you okay?” they asked anxiously. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m all right,” he said thickly. “Just give me a minute.”

Ellie walked over to Bruce, careful not to get too close. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I’m just worried about Rick. I hope you can understand that.”

“Sorry, can’t help you,” Bruce said sharply, turning away.

Ellie gave up. She wasn’t getting anywhere with his bizarre behavior. She tried calling Rick again and got his voice mail. She wished her car weren’t in the shop. She would drive around looking for him. She went back into the house and grabbed another glass of punch.

“It’s time to announce the winner of the costume contest,” Sam shouted over the music. “The winner is Mike Reed with his awesome zombie costume. There was a loud round of applause as the zombie accepted his gift card to a local restaurant.

By 10:00 Ellie was ready to go. She was feeling giddy from the punch, and her pipe cleaner cat whiskers she had stuck on her face with scotch tape were starting to itch. “Thank you for inviting me,” she told Sam. “I have to find Bruce.”

She couldn’t find Bruce on the back porch or in the house. She stepped onto the front porch, certain he was there waiting for her to come out. He was not on the front porch. “If you see Bruce Parker, tell him I left,” she told the crowd. She couldn’t believe how rude he was. She was ready to go home and put this whole wretched day behind her.

“I’ll take you home,” her friend Vickie offered. “I’m leaving too.”

“Can you believe I have been stood up by two men the same night?” Ellie griped as they walked to Vickie’s car. “It’s disgusting. I like your scorpion costume by the way. Did you make it?”

“My cousin made it,” Vickie said laughing. She made it for one of her kids, but he decided he wanted to be a skeleton. Anyway, I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation about what happened to Rick,” Vickie consoled as they drove towards Ellie’s house.

“Would you mind stopping by Rick’s house?” Ellie asked suddenly. “Maybe he’s there and…“ she broke off, not wanting to put her worst suspicions into words.

“Sure,” Vickie agreed, turning the car around. “Let’s have a look.”

“He left work at 5:00,” Ellie mused. “He said he was going home to get something to eat, then he would pick me up around 7:30. I haven’t heard from him since.”

Rick’s car was not in the driveway. “Oh dear,” Vickie said, “That’s not a good sign.”

Ellie tried calling Rick again and got his voice mail. “I’m going to take a look inside,” she said resolutely. “I know where he keeps the spare key. Would you come with me? I think something terrible happened,” she whispered.

“Don’t assume the worst yet,” Vickie said, putting a placating hand on Ellie’s arm. “Maybe he went out of town or something.”

“And how does Bruce Parker fit into the picture?” Ellie mused. “Why would he pick me up and then leave without saying anything?”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Vickie said, getting out of the car. “I don’t know where he lives or have his phone number.”

“He wouldn’t tell us anything anyway,” Ellie fumed. “You know, he acted really nervous the whole time.”

“I’m sure he knows something,” Vickie said with conviction. “You can corner him at work tomorrow and find out.”

They entered the house cautiously. “Rick,” Ellie called softly. “Are you here? They checked every room. Rick’s house was a typical bachelor pad. There were unwashed dishes in the sink, discarded clothes strewn all over the floor, and the bathroom could have used a good scrubbing. There was also no sign of Rick. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad,” Ellie said nervously as they got back in the car.

“Talk to Bruce tomorrow,” Vickie said again as she dropped Ellie off. “He’s the one with the key to the mystery.”

“Thank you for the ride,” Ellie said as she got out of the car. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Try not to worry too much,” Vickie advised. “Get a good night’s sleep, and everything will be revealed in the morning.” Ellie hoped it was true.

Ellie tried to call Rick one more time before going to bed and still got his voice mail. She fell into a fitful sleep, full of dreams about nuns dressed up like zombies and black cats jumping off the porch and turning into Bruce Parker. She dreamed of Rick picking her up to go to the party, then vanishing into the mist. She woke up in a cold sweat.

Ellie woke up early the next morning, still feeling groggy. She tried calling Rick while the coffee was brewing. This time his voice mail said that the mailbox was full. Dread settled in her stomach like a heavy stone. She considered staying home from work, then dismissed the idea. She needed to talk to Bruce Parker.

At 6:00 she turned on the news. She sipped coffee as the news reporter started to talk. She listened to the news anchor in rapt silence, and then started to scream. “Police identified the two men killed in a single vehicle accident on I93 last evening around 6:00. The driver of the silver Honda that hit a guard rail was identified as Rick Kramer. The passenger, Bruce Parker crashed through the windshield.”

Raven Watch, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner

Raven Raptor watches from Old Pine Tree,
solitary sentinel in snow-covered field.
Two days of blizzard-covered slopes lie
like white soft cotton bunting
that swaddles sharp-angled dark rocks.
Spiky tangled winter straw grasses jut up.
Fence posts pierce the white,
to cast long black shadows across silent slopes
glistening with jewels of refracted sunlight.

Winter quiet amplifies singular sounds.
Dogs bark, crows caw, crackling crash of broken limbs
startle the hushed calm —
a symphony of winter’s contrasts.

A shadow’s breadth away squats a snow-decked cabin.
Smoke streams twirl a witches’ dance from a sooty stone chimney
to smudge cerulean skies in dirty grey.
Torrents of slurring vindictive bickering
ooze and pollute the simple symphony.

The raven’s tree throws a long, pointing shadow finger
accusingly toward the offending cabin.
What does the dark hunter know of the thawing, softening earth
to which shallow roots cling, overburdened with heavy snow
and warm melting gusts blasting through the Valley —
that ‘til ripping roots and up-heaved earth
which tilt the tall pine ‘til it falls upon its own finger shadow,
as it sings its own moaning, crashing death dirge
and silences the affronting cabin clamor?

Raven Raptor flies into the winter-scape,
his piercing discerning eyes intent with satisfaction.

Thanksgiving, Then and Now, memoir
by Kate Chamberlin

“over the river and through the woods, to…”

Wait a minute! I’m not a grandmother, but they’re all coming to my house for Thanksgiving. I’m going to try very hard not to repeat any of the things that haunt me from past Thanksgivings.

When I was a child, we’d spend hours driving to my grandparent’s home in Fairfield, Connecticut. The big dining table was moved into the front living room and made even bigger with all its leaves in. Even then, there were still more people than spaces at the table.

Nana set up a card table in the empty dining room. It was “the kid’s table”. I was put at the children’s table with numerous younger cousins. I cleaned up the milk that spilled as each little one bumped the table. I cut their food. I quelled the squabbles. And, I hated it.

I suppose it was meant to be an honor, but, I seethed knowing my brother who was three years older than I, got to sit at the “grown-ups” table. True, he usually had to sit next to the doll and her place setting—Nana had a thing about not having 13 around the table, so she’d put a doll’s place setting to make it even. But, at least he was there.

Fortunately, my current family is comprised of all grown-ups. I think we can all squeeze in around one table.

As Nana and Pappy got older and could not handle having everyone, my parents took over. One Thanksgiving in Newburgh, New York, when I was a teenager, I had to give up my bedroom and double bed to my aunt and uncle. The only place Mom could find to put me was on a moldy cot down in the basement next to the oil burning furnace. Did they really wonder why I was in such a bad mood that year? What with a rotten night’s sleep and having to do most of the dishes, I felt like a real Cinderella—without the Fairy Godmother.

There’s no way I could repeat that situation. Our home is heated electrically. There is a gas water heater, in our basement, but there is absolutely no room down there for a cot.

Just a few years ago, I made a mistake I hope to never repeat. I figured I’d been doing the Thanksgiving dinner so many years that, even though I’d lost a lot of vision, I’d still be able to make the gravy. While Dave and our children scurried around getting the rest of the dinner ready, I set about to make the gravy. I used cornstarch instead of flour to thicken the turkey juices left in the bottom of the roaster pan. It was simple enough for me to put the cornstarch in a small jar. I added water and shook. It dissolved quickly with no lumps, so I poured it into the roaster pan. After it came to a boil—I could hear it boiling—I added enough water to make gravy for dinner and the left-overs. I stirred and stirred. It didn’t thicken. I added more cornstarch from the box. I stirred and stirred. It still didn’t thicken. Eventually, I tasted it. It was sweet! I had been adding confectioner’s sugar instead of cornstarch! Now a days, I have more braille labels on things, so, I know I won’t repeat that mistake.

This Thanksgiving might actually be a lot of fun. I don’t feel the need to control everything any more. Marion knows how to make the pumpkin pie, Paul makes the Pecan pie, Will makes a caramelized flan and Dave roasts the turkey.

I guess the only thing I really need to do is to train my daughter-in-law-to-be how to make perfect lumpy mashed potatoes to go with my perfect turkey frosting, er, I mean gravy.

A version of this memoir first appeared in my weekly column “Cornucopia,” Wayne County Star, November 27, 1996

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 for elementary students, Feely Cans and Sniffy Jars Program where participants interact to gain an understanding of the abilities of those with low-to-no vision, and as a popular lecturer. She is a published children’s author, Anglican educator, free-lance writer/editor, newspaper columnist, and proud great-grandmother. She was the Coordinating Editor of Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look anthology, available from Amazon. Her children’s books: The Night Search, Green Trillium, and Charles and David are also available from Amazon.

Snow, poetry
by Gretchen Brown

I love you
and I hate you.
You kiss my cheeks
and show me that every snowflake is unique.

You cushion me when I fall,
and hold me captive
in your frozen white arms.

You bring joy to little children,
as they build snowmen and forts.
You show us how it feels to fly,
as we learn to ski without sight.
You cause me great fear
as I navigate through the blind man’s fog.
You are so beautiful,
that it hurts my eyes to see you.

But there’s nothing more beautiful,
for the poet at least,
then hearing and seeing your beautiful flakes,
on a full moon
winter night.

Bio: Gretchen Brown is a writer from Indiana and will be attending the University of Southern Indiana as a Freshman in the fall of 2018. She enjoys writing because it allows her to view the world through the perspectives of her characters. She hopes to one day publish a novel or collection of poetry. She will be majoring in Occupational Therapists’ Assistant. Gretchen is blind.

The Poor Blessed Virgin, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

She stands, alone, cold, weary
after traveling many days and nights.
Why was she chosen to bear this Holy Child?
Must she do it alone?
No, heaven will help her.

Author’s Note: This poem was inspired by the song “Breath of Heaven” by Amy Grant. A link is below.

Silent Night, fiction
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

The day before Christmas, my seven-year-old daughter Hannah was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. I opted to spend CHRISTMAS Day with her. My parents, as they’d done every year since the divorce, had invited Hannah and me to their house for Christmas dinner, but I couldn’t leave my little girl alone in the hospital.

Hannah wasn’t on solid food yet, but a nurse offered to bring me a tray, perhaps realizing it would be difficult for me to navigate to the cafeteria with my limited vision. While Hannah slept, I sat by her bed and enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie. The food was surprisingly good for a hospital.

I said as much to the nurse when she came to collect my tray. “We have a chef now,” she said. “Of course many of our patients are too sick to appreciate it, but it’s certainly better than the fare we used to serve.”

The little girl in the other bed moaned and then started crying in earnest. I looked over and couldn’t see anyone sitting with her. “Oh, that’s Jessica,” said the nurse in a conspiratorial tone. “Poor kid, she fell out of her neighbor’s treehouse yesterday and broke her leg in three places. She’s in a body cast from her chest to her right foot.”

Hannah must have awakened for she said, “Ou, I guess I won’t complain about my tummy anymore. I’m glad I don’t have a treehouse, and I hope Santa didn’t leave me one.”

I marveled at how sensitive my daughter was. As the nurse went to Jessica and tried to comfort her, I said, “How are you feeling, sweetie?”

“I’m okay, but my tummy still hurts.”

“I thought you weren’t gonna complain about your tummy anymore,” I said, as I ruffled her hair.

Hannah giggled, then winced. “Out, Mommy, it hurts more when I laugh.”

“It sounds like you could use some pain medication too,” said the nurse, as she started to leave the room.

“No, it only really hurts when I laugh,” said Hannah.

“Well, in that case, laughter’s the best medicine,” said the nurse. “I’ll be back soon.”

“How old is Jessica?” asked Hannah.

“Oh, I think she’s about your age,” answered the nurse. “I’ll be back in a bit with some medicine for her, and that’ll make her feel better.” With that, she was gone.

Jessica was still sniffling, but it wasn’t as loud as before. “Mommy, you should go sing her a song,” said Hannah. “like you did for me last night when I was really hurting. I’m not hurting as much now, and I think she’s hurting more.”

Years earlier, I’d worked as a registered music therapist. That was before Hannah was born, before I’d started losing my vision, before my world changed. My husband hadn’t wanted a child but was resigned to the idea once he learned I was pregnant. The vision loss after Hannah’s birth was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Fortunately, he paid plenty of child support. That, along with my disability payments, allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom, and once I learned to use a computer with screen reading and magnification software, I brought in a little income from freelance writing.

Now, I looked over at the little girl in the other bed. My specialty as a music therapist had been with elderly nursing home residents, not hospitalized children. I hadn’t even done a clinical practicum with that population. I remembered bed-ridden residents who smiled and relaxed when I sat by their beds, held their hands, and sang. I even performed at some of their funerals. The fact that my singing in the emergency room the night before had calmed Hannah made me think that perhaps I hadn’t lost my touch. I rose and pulled my chair next to the other bed, where I sat and took the child’s hand that lay on top of the white sheet covering her.

“Hi Jessica,” I said. “I’m Joan. My little girl Hannah is in the other bed. What’s wrong?”

“My leg really hurts,” she answered. “I’ll never play in that stupid treehouse again.”

“That’s too bad,” I said, stroking her hair. “Would you like to sing a song with me?”

“Will that make the pain go away?” she asked.

“It’ll take your mind off of it. What’s your favorite Christmas song?”

She was quiet for a minute, then said, “I like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”

“All right, let’s sing it together, shall we?”

I started, and soon, she joined in, followed by Hannah. When we finished that song, Jessica suggested “Jingle Bells,” then “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The nurse appeared and said, “What lovely singing. Jessica, I have some medicine that will make you feel better. I’m going to put it in your IV now.”

As she started to do this, I said, “Why don’t we sing one more song?”

“I want to hear you sing something by yourself,” said Jessica. “You have a pretty voice, and so did my mommy. She used to sing to me at night before I went to sleep.” A wistful look crossed her face.

“Why doesn’t she sing to you anymore?” I asked.

“She was killed in a car accident a few months ago,” she answered. A tear rolled down her cheek.

“Oh honey, I’m sorry,” I said, as I stroked her hair. Tears welled in my own eyes.

Holding them back, I said, “What song did your mom like to sing to you this time of year?”

“‘Silent Night,'” she answered.

“Yeah, sing that one, Mom,” said Hannah.

I took a deep breath and began. To my surprise, the nurse joined in, singing alto. Our two voices blending together in harmony was almost too much, but I managed to continue.

As we started the second verse, I sensed a presence at my side and turned to see a man standing there. “Daddy!” Jessica said, her eyes wide with delight.

“Hey princess,” he said, reaching over me and ruffling her hair. Then he said, “oh, don’t stop singing on my account. It’s beautiful.”

His voice broke, and it was all I could do to keep from losing it. We started the song where we’d left off and finished the second verse. To break the spell, I turned to the nurse and said, “You and I need to talk. I sing in a women’s group that could use an extra voice.”

“Wow, that sounds interesting,” she said. “You also have a nice voice. I need to see to other patients, but I’ll come back later after my shift, and you can tell me more about it.” She turned and started to leave the room.

Jessica’s father put a hand on my shoulder and said, “You and I also need to talk. It’s only been two months since I lost my wife, and I never dreamed I’d say this to another woman, but could I buy you a cup of coffee, maybe in the cafeteria?”

From the doorway, the nurse said, “Our coffee here isn’t as good as the food. Why don’t you two go across the street to Starbuck’s?”

We hesitated. “Your kids will be fine,” she said. “They’re both out of the woods. I have your cell numbers in their charts. If anything drastic happens, I’ll call you. Joan, you’ve been here all day. You need a break. Go!” With that, she was gone.

I looked at this stranger, not knowing what to think. Finally, I said, “I’ve been divorced for about six years. I’m losing my vision, and I never imagined another man would ask me out for coffee.”

I expected him to back away, but instead, he said, “Any man not interested in you is a fool. You’re a beautiful woman. You’re good with kids, and you have a lovely voice.”

Flabbergasted, I said, “You just got here. Don’t you want to spend some time with Jessica?”

Jessica said, “I’m okay. My leg doesn’t hurt so much now that the nurse gave me some medicine in my IV. Daddy, Joan could make you happy like Mommy did.”

“Yeah,” said Hannah. “Mom, I think this guy could make you happy like Daddy did.”

Jessica’s father laughed and said, “I think these two, along with that nurse, are trying to play matchmaker.” He extended his hand. “By the way, I’m Don Gray.”

“Joan Clark,” I said, taking his hand and shaking it.

Still uncertain, I turned to Hannah and said, “Honey, don’t you remember what I’ve told you about not going off with a stranger?”

“Yeah, but he’s not a stranger. He’s Jessica’s dad.”

“She’s got a point,” said Don.

“My dad told me not to go off with a stranger too,” said Jessica. “but he’s okay. He’s been really sad since Mom died.”

I could feel my heart melting as more tears threatened. “Jessica and I could sing another song,” said Hannah. “How about 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall?”

“Yeah,” said Jessica. She started the song, and Hannah joined in. Laughing, we both made our way out the door.

“Do you need to take my arm?” Don asked.

“Yes, please,” I answered, realizing I’d left my cane in the room. As I grasped his muscular arm and walked with him down the hall, I had a good feeling about this.

Christmas With Iboo, memoir
by Rhonda T. Spear

Christmas is the most magical time of year. Everyone has their own special set of memories. Traditions can play an important role in our lives, defining what we take from childhood into adulthood.

Now that I’m older, I find myself missing certain things that were always a part of Christmas. There was the usual visit to Santa and writing our Christmas wish list. My family gathered each year to decorate our artificial tree with Mom’s homemade ornaments. All these things were fun to do, but there was one part of Christmas that always brought a smile to my face. I reflect upon not only what we did, but the time shared with a favorite aunt.

Mom’s older sister, Iva, had no children of her own. There was nothing she liked better than to spoil her nieces and nephews. My brothers and I were fortunate to benefit the most as we lived close to her. As youngsters we nicknamed her Iboo instead of saying her given name. We would occasionally spend the night with her, which was always lots of fun. One of her favorite holidays was Christmas. When December came around, we looked forward with subdued anticipation to the annual tradition of helping Iboo with her decorating and mailing Christmas cards.

Iboo devoted one of the first weekends in December to Christmas preparations. My eldest brother Jimmy would go to her house on Friday night and spend the evening retrieving the decoration boxes from the attic. My aunt was a short, round plump older lady so she kept things near the top of the stairs within easy reach. Iboo sat on the top step and handed boxes down to Jimmy. It took all day on Saturday to situate and decorate the tree and put the candles in the windows. Jimmy is slightly over six feet tall with long arms and legs. Visualize if you will, him crawling on the floor to plug cords in difficult to reach outlets behind furniture and under tables. Imagine Jimmy lying on his back as Iboo threaded the cord to him to be plugged in the outlet. Picture him practically lying under the Christmas tree as Iboo pointed with a yard stick to the exact branch where she wanted an ornament placed. It is not easy carefully hanging ornaments on the bottom of the tree in that position, especially as more ornaments were added. Did I happen to mention these were glass balls and she usually wanted them on the back of the tree? Once the bottom was done, Jimmy could stand and finish the rest of the tree.

Jimmy spent the whole weekend with Iboo since he was the eldest and could help her decorate. My middle brother Tom and I couldn’t do that. We had different Christmas jobs. My parents would bring us over to Iboo’s house on Sunday and that was the big day for getting her Christmas cards ready to mail and baking cookies. We gathered around her kitchen table, each prepared to perform a certain task. It was a regular assembly line. The process was daunting because she had numerous cards to send to friends all over the place. Iboo signed the cards and addressed the envelopes. I stuffed each envelope with the card and her annual five plus page Christmas letter. Tom stamped and sealed them. Since Jimmy had done the hard work of decorating, his job that day was to entertain us by reading her Christmas letter out loud. He would settle comfortably in the recliner and begin to read. One thing you need to know about my aunt is she did what she considered Important Things throughout the year and felt it necessary to proudly report those details to her friends. As her family, we already knew what she did; however, this infamous letter would appear in our cards as well. We considered this letter monotonous because we didn’t understand why she had to detail every little thing she had done, making the letter appear endless. Jimmy would read and it wouldn’t take long before the yawns would start, slowly and discreetly at first. The more he read, the more all of us yawned and it got more difficult to hide. If we weren’t yawning, we were laughing at Jimmy because he pretended to fall asleep in the middle of the letter. Iboo laughed, but looking back now, I hope her feelings weren’t hurt by our actions. We meant no disrespect. After Jimmy finished reading the letter, he joined the assembly line process in order to help get all of the cards done. I wonder what Iboo would think now if she knew her letter made a happy memory even though back then we laughed and teased her.

Baking Christmas cookies was as much a part of Iboo’s holidays as the annual letter. We cut out the various shapes with the Christmas cookie cutters and she baked them. Of course we ate some too, which was part of the fun. We took some home to leave for Santa.

One last memory I have is the countdown to Christmas Iboo would help us make each year. She’d buy cardboard cut-outs of Santa, reindeer, snowman, etc. We would cut out and attach the appropriate number of paper rings to it and hang it on our bedroom door. At bedtime Tom and I would tear off a ring until Christmas Eve.

It is with warmth and fondness I look back on these memories. They are what made Christmas fun and special. Even now my brothers and I reminisce about the times we had at Christmas with our family.

Christmas comes and goes with the turning of calendar pages. Family members fill our lives with love and laughter until their earthly time is complete. One thing that always remains in our hearts, never fading with the passing of time, is the memories we made when we spent Christmas with Iboo.

Bio: Rhonda T. Spear is a native of Richmond, Virginia where she currently resides with her thirteen year old faithful cat, Downey. Her education came from being mainstreamed in both public and small Catholic schools. She works as a receptionist, and in her free time she enjoys listening to country music, watching sports on TV and collecting trivia.

Rhonda has been completely blind her entire life, but that has not stopped her from living independently and pursuing her true passion, writing. She writes with hopes of sharing her work with a broader audience.

January Sunbeams, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Having survived a number of the record-setting gray days
on this Frozen Tundra, beside the lake,
I graciously welcome into my abode
the rare January sunbeams
that take their rest for a few short hours
upon the beige carpet of my living room.

“Willow, come! Sunbeams!”
When my guide dog joins me,
I encourage her:
“You have to catch the sunbeams.”
My British Black Labrador complies:
she nestles down into the warmth of the January sunshine.
In this patch of sunbeam,
I know Willow does not dream of
blue boots, red coat, nor salt.
My mellow Lab is in
a yellow Jell-O of comfy contentment.

After catching her limit of January sunbeams,
Willow returns to her bed
beside my computer desk
and patiently awaits the sounder
that alerts her
to my computer’s shutting down–
our cue to arise for a winter walk.

To waylay Cabin Fever,
Willow and I leave some January sunbeams
alone in the warmth of our living room
while we, bedecked in Arctic attire,
head outside
and hope other January sunbeams
will follow us,
warm our path,
brighten this January day,
lighten the load of this Wisconsin winter.

Dark Chocolate, poetry
by C. S. Boyd

Darkness surrounds me,
Why do I sit here in my suit?
There is nowhere to go.
My beloved has left me.

I think of the times we had together.
The smell of her perfume.
The delicate touch of a rose petal in her hand.
The whisper of her breath on my ear.

“Hello, kind sir, is anyone sitting here?”
“What?” say I, “What is that you say?”
“On the bench here beside you.
Is anyone sitting here?”
“No,” I say absently. “No one is sitting here.”
Grief pierces my heart.

A slight bend of the slats as she sits down.
“Do you come here often?”
“No, not since…,” I start to say, and then stop.
“I know what you mean,” she says.
“My love and I once came here, too.”
“Oh?” say I.
“Yes, we used to smell the flowers and listen to the birds.”
“I know what you mean. We would bring nuts for the squirrels and corn for the ducks.”

“Are you doing anything today?
I see you are wearing a suit.”
“No, just remembering.”

A delicate hand touches mine.
“Do you like dark chocolate?”
“Yes,” I say with a melancholy smile.
She puts a small piece of something in my hand.
I explore it. It is a heart shaped chocolate candy wrapped in foil.
“Will you be my valentine?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say. “I would love to be your valentine.”
We share the valentine, our grief lifted for the moment.

Snowy Moment, nonfiction
by Tara Innmon

In February the snow was finally gone, leaving only ice hills on the north sidewalk along the fence, where shovels had piled it and along the curb, where snow plows had dumped it. Now it was March in Minnesota. My friend Mark and I planned to have dinner at True Thai. Then sixteen inches of snow fell. The radio suggested people stay home that evening, but Mark was on his way over.

When he knocked, I pushed the back door open against resisting snow. Back to wearing boots again, I stepped out. My feet sunk into softness and it was hard to pull them up. Sounds of footsteps and cars driving by were diminished to subtle whispers. I didn’t want to talk, afraid my voice would break the whispers. Even though I became blind several years earlier, I imagined I had entered a magical world, more beautiful than a Renoir painting.

I reached for the gate as Mark said, “It’s stuck.”

It was partially open a few inches so I pulled it further open with Mark’s assistance. It tried to slow us down. It wanted to stay frozen in the position the snow allowed for it. Snow nestled against all sides of it whispering, “This moment, stay in this moment, this place.”

I felt his warmth as he walked past me and heard the low crunch of his steps as he said, “I’m going to put this in the car.”

I didn’t know what he was putting away and it didn’t matter; I was in a new world. This crunch of the snow was so soft that Mark, with his partial deafness, probably couldn’t hear it. It was a combination of crunch and low moan from the snow, saying, “Be still, be still.”

As I walked, I ran my yarn mittened hand along the chain link fence, careful not to step on the snow with the ice ridge underneath it. Now and then my foot slipped off that ice edge, even slipperier because of the snow on top of it. I’d been told the mittens were red, so I felt the warmth and brightness of that color. I suppose that if they were blue I would have felt them as red. I pictured how pretty that Christmassy color could be surrounded by white.

My mittens were wet. I thought it was from touching the fence, but then I realized my face was wet, my coat was wet, my hair was wet, and so was my hat. The snow fell on us like a rain that didn’t want us to know right away that it was water.

This form of water was not fast, impatient and ready to meld easily to the structures it hit; this form of water, frozen in time, wanted us to be quiet and still.

Mark is tall so when I took his elbow it was almost up to my shoulder. On our way we had to pass in front of the dentist office. Their sidewalk was already filled with snow. They close at five so an hour and a half of snow had fallen since they left. The restaurant sidewalk was like walking on felt. They must have just been out shoveling.

At the door we stamped our feet and shook our arms, brushing snow from our caps and mittens, like dogs shaking themselves after a bath. It was March but it felt like Christmas with the cheerful camaraderie of voices from people who had made it through the storm, who were ready to be warmed and fed after their heroism. Yes, there we were, we had made it, half a block from the back door to the restaurant, and we were ready to eat in this cozy shelter, to be resuscitated before we braved the storm again. I imagined people in cars stopped at the red light on Franklin looking into the warm, lighted restaurant and seeing folks drinking coffee and tea, as steaming plates of Pad Thai were set before them. In here the world went on; out there each flake of snow nestled against its sister and brother, whispered, “Notice this moment.”

Bio: As a young person Tara Arlene Innmon loved writing almost as much as she loved drawing. She kept an extensive diary. When she started going blind, she asked herself, “What will I do when I can’t draw anymore?” The answer came down like a bolt of lightning. “You will write.” In 2000 she was a finalist in the SASE Jerome Foundation Fellowship grant. She went to Hamline University, graduating with an MFA in Creative Writing in 2008. She published poetry and short prose pieces in numerous literary journals, including Verve, River Image, and Wordgathering. Many poems are inspired by dreams.

Part VI. Not What I Expected

The Gig, memoir nonfiction Second Place
by John Justice

Have you ever been mad, sad and laughing your rear end off, all at the same time? Read on!

There were six of us crammed into that old window van. We were going to set up for a job in Jersey City, New Jersey, the bottom of the barrel where northern New Jersey towns are concerned. It stopped growing or developing about fifty years ago. Each and every one of those years was visible in the pot holed streets, sagging buildings and election posters for people like George Montgomery. There he was, in all his glory, on the side of the bar where we were to play that night.

Let me introduce the band to you. We had Donna on drums and occasional vocals. There was Charlie the bass player, six feet tall and just about as wide. Sitting on the back seat was George, our sax player. He was trying to trim a new reed for his horn while the old Chevrolet bounced from bump to hole and crack. I’m Jack, the keyboard player. Next to George but far enough away to keep from getting nicked by George’s uneasy knife work, was Larry, the guitar player. Our leader is Rita. Eddy and Frank, our road crew, driving a big old twenty foot box truck filled with equipment were somewhere in the tangle of New Jersey trucks and bad smells.

“Okay, I found it,” said Rita as she pulled into a badly treated parking lot. “This is it?” asked George as he put away his trimming tools. Donna looked at the place “It says ‘The Alley’. I guess this is the place.” Charlie didn’t sound happy. “MY God, what a dump.” We slid open the door and climbed out. Eddy and Frank pulled in behind us, the old truck belching smoke and oil as it always did.

Rita didn’t sound happy “We’ll go inside and see what’s what.” Donna tugged down her sweater and stretched. We went through the street door. The bar was a long narrow room with a bar on one side and tables or booths on the other. At the far end, was a stage which took up the entire end wall. The place was completely empty except for a bar tender who looked like he’d been dragged about three miles on his face. He stared at us. “Are you people the band?” Rita smiled at him. “Yep, we’re Galaxy.” Harry shrugged. “You’ll have to go around back. You can’t get to the stage from here.” We all moved outside and went around to the rear of the building. We moved carefully through a really scary kitchen which, thank God, was also empty. A door opened to the back of the stage. Rita groaned. “Oh no!” I asked her what was wrong. “Come here Jack and I’ll show you.” She led me toward the front of the stage and there, from floor to ceiling, was heavy wire mesh. Harry had been watching us. “We had to do that to protect the band.” Rita and Donna shook their heads. “What is this place?” “I don’t know but it doesn’t look good,” said Donna.

There was plenty of room so we brought in our gear and got set up. My position is out front near where Rita stands. She queued me on each song and I gave the drummer the count. The crew was great. They worked around the greasy counters and grungy floors. We leaned our sign up against the wire mesh and hooked it in place. There weren’t many choices for electrical plugs but our crew came fully prepared for that.

Finally, the set up was completed and we did a sound check. Harry was growling at us again. “It gets pretty loud in here so you’ll have to turn it up when I give you the high sign.”

We asked about someplace to eat and he sent us to a diner about two blocks away. Surprisingly, it wasn’t bad at all. The tables and floor were clean and Charlene, the waitress was friendly. “You’re playing at The Alley?” Rita nodded “Yes we are.” Charlene looked worried. “You look like a nice bunch of kids and that’s a really rough place.” By this time, Rita was getting that tight look across her forehead. I heard her mumbling. “I’m going to kill that agent!”

It was 9:00 and we got ready to play. The place was full. Rita took one look at the crowd and groaned. “Jack, most of them are dressed in leather. The girls look tough enough to fight any man in here. The favorite drink looks like bottled beer and straight shots.” Something was very wrong. We were a soft rock, country and light jazz band. We were what they used to call a lounge act. We’re all professionals so we start our first set.

Rita chose a jazz classic and we were about three quarters of the way through the number when something hit the mesh. Something crashed and shattered on the stone floor outside the stage enclosure. One of the men was screaming four letter words but we did hear, “Rock and roll!” Well we dragged out every old Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and anything else we could think of that was loud, simple and stupid. They loved it! When Rita belted out a Patsy Kline, there were men crying in the audience. Donna decided to show them her best trick. She was a red head, about five foot three and she was very generously built, especially on top. Donna would take her mallets, a set of sticks or even her brushes and stick them down the front of her blouse, right into her bra. When she reached down and pulled out something or other, the men’s mouths flew open and some of them even drooled. Rita took off her pretty vest and finished the night in a cut away top. The thing had very thin straps and I swear those animals were waiting for her to fall out of her clothing. Rita had too much class for that but her whole delivery changed. From a soft talking lounge singer, she became a hard talking tough chick.

While we were playing, the audience was putting on their own show. There was a couple in a booth about half way back. Rita swore that they were doing the wild thing right there. Two girls got into it over a guy and before we knew it, they were ripping the daylights out of each other right in the middle of the dance floor. One idiot had too much to drink. He passed out and fell off of his stool. Two of his buddies picked him up and threw him out of the door. Three really big men started arguing and pushing each other around. Before anything bad happened, Harry came over that bar and he had a baseball bat in his hand. “All right, which one of you clowns wants little Billy first?” The men separated and sat down. Little Billy was the bat Harry kept for just such an occasion.

We made it through that night. When the breaks came, we stayed in the kitchen or walked out back. It was only a four hour job. When we finished, the sides of my fingers were bloody from pounding the piano and doing keyboard slides. Donna was exhausted. Charlie, as usual, never even broke a sweat but he played his fingers off. Larry and George really came through with some hot solos. Larry used his Fender Telecaster, a guitar he rarely played. Rita was soaked with perspiration and as mad as a wet hen. I don’t know what she said to that agent but we were never booked there again.

We were getting ready to leave when Harry and a man who looked like a classic pimp came in to talk to us. The pimp smiled at Rita. “You are really good! We’d like to book you on a regular basis.” Rita thought fast. Her answer was polite. “Oh, thanks very much. We enjoyed ourselves but our schedule is really tight. You’ll have to talk to our booking agent about any more dates.” The man nodded, shook our hands and went back out the way he’d come. No one bothered us as we packed up. Rita stopped long enough to make one phone call. I wasn’t listening but she related the conversation to me as we rode along. “I told the slimy weasel that if he ever tried to put us in that rat hole again, he’d be looking for another band to represent.”

The Alley was at one time an actual bowling alley. When it closed, there were boys setting the pins for each of the ten lanes. The owners never tried to upgrade the place by installing modern mechanical pin setters.

Usually, we would talk about the performance on the way home that night. I think that this was one gig we were trying to forget.

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:

Dream Driving, flash fiction, fiction Honorable Mention
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

I’m driving this Winnebago with precision; making problem-solving decisions about turns, speed limits, and passing cars. I don’t see signs; don’t care. Is This a dare?

My twin, seated behind me—wait, I don’t have a twin—begs me to stop, let her out! I am not listening, mesmerized by this power.

“You’re going to kill us,” she pleads. I laugh and assure her we are on auto-pilot. She tugs at my arm, almost causes me to lose control. She scares me…I scare me. Don’t take the magic away.

I hear a siren, they’re after us! “Oh God!” my twin wails. What does she know that I don’t?

I have no idea how to make this vehicle mind me. “Jump!” I scream, knowing it’s too late.


A tug on my arm wakes me. “Hey! You’re having a nightmare,” Mom sooths. “Everything’s okay.”

“Is it morning?” I croak. “Is it today I’m supposed to…”

“It’s almost time,” Mom laughs. “Let’s grab some breakfast so we can pick up your girlfriends. Everyone wants to watch your big moment. Dad’s rearranging seats so everyone can fit in the Winnebago.”

“You think I should? You think I can do this?” I question.

“No last-minute jitters,” she cautions. “You know how hard you studied; all the Emails, websites, interviews, and qualifications you had to meet to earn this chance to be the first high school senior in our state to test the self-driving car. Dreams do come true.”

My clothes go on in a flash. I slather Grandma’s strawberry preserves on toast, grab a juice, and head for the carport.

“Ready for the Indy 500?” Dad teases as I buckle up in the seat behind him.

“Piece of cake,” I smirk with a smile, confidence reborn and nightmare reclassified to the “Someday I’ll tell you” file.

Note: “Dream Driving” is the Second Place winner of the 2018 NFB Writers’ Division fiction contest.

Home Sweet Home, fiction
by Nicole Massey

Harold sat down in his favorite chair, picked up a book, and started to read. It amazed him how much heavier books were these days, but that was the result of age, and he was glad his eyesight wasn’t waning like his strength. Before he started reading, he looked around the cabin, a smile on his face.

Part hunting lodge and part vacation home, he found the rustic charm of bare logs and a stone hearth and fireplace reassuring. The room was sparse, with lots of open space between the small sofa, his recliners, her rocking chair, a coffee table in the center and an occasional table between the two chairs. He glanced into the open kitchen, its neat shelves organized and clean. That was Linda’s doing, of course, along with the half-finished puzzle sitting on the kitchen table. A glance into the bedroom showed their antique four-poster and its matching end tables and a blanket trunk at the foot. This place was exactly where he wanted to retire, and he was happy to be doing just that in just this place.

Contented, he started reading. It was one of the many books he’d always planned to read and why the kids’ rooms were also packed with shelves of them. He was looking forward to this one, as it would complete his tour of Dostoyevsky – the epic work called The Brothers Karamazov.

After he finished the satisfying and voluminous work, he started with Tolstoy. Upon completion of War and Peace he thought to himself, Linda, how long are you going to spend shopping in town?

Several books later Linda came in. She leaned over him, kissed him on his forehead, and sat down in her chair. She picked up the bulging bag under the table between them and pulled out an afghan in progress. As she rocked and crocheted, she said, “Interesting book?”

Harold nodded. “Yep. Dumas. The sequel to The Three Musketeers. It happens twenty years after the first book. Guess he was tired of thinking of titles, since he called it Twenty Years After.”

Linda laughed. “It’s good that you finally got time to read. Heard from the kids?”

Harold shook his head. “Nope. Phone’s been silent. Any mail?”

“None. Just how I like it.”

Linda never liked mail. She always said too many bad things came in the mail.

Harold put his book down. “Well, I’m getting tired. I think I’ll head to bed.”

Linda nodded. “I need to finish this row, then I’ll join you.”

The next morning, they woke to find that someone or something rearranged their living room. The sofa was farther from the coffee table and on the wrong side, and the two chairs now sat flanking the front double window with the table still between them. This moved everything farther from the fireplace and gave the room a broad open feel. But the thing that annoyed Harold the most was that the person or persons or whatever that moved everything about in his living room also filed his book. On the other hand, Linda was even more annoyed than he, as the same agency rearranged her kitchen and one of those food processors now sat on the drain board. None of this, however, was the worst insult. She yelled in anguish.

Harold came over and said, “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”

“Someone… some meddling person messed with my puzzle.”

Harold looked down at the puzzle, a picture of a rose garden. Linda always liked the hard puzzles. He said, “How can you tell?”

She pointed a shaking finger at the lower left end. “This entire section is new. I can’t believe anyone would be so rude.”

“Well, just take it apart and do it yourself.”

She stared at him. “It’s not the same. I’ll know those pieces belong there. And besides, it’s the principle of the thing. That someone would come in here, rearrange our furniture and kitchen, and invade my space by working my puzzle, well, it shows a defined lack of manners and breeding.”

Harold looked around. “I think it was just a prank, sweetheart. Nothing seems to be missing. I’m surprised they got away with it. Moving that couch had to take a lot of effort. And you sleep like a sentry—even my snoring sometimes wakes you up.”

She started disassembling the puzzle into its box. “I know, love. As soon as I finish this, I’ll put it all out of my mind.”

Harold pointed to the puzzle. “Giving up?”

“For now. I have others. I need some time to get comfortable with this one again.”

Harold put his arms around her as she took the pieces apart, leaned forward to kiss her cheek, then returned to the shelf that held his current book.
He tried to read with the furniture in this configuration, but it just didn’t make him happy. The light was all wrong. He got up, and though it took him several hours, he got the room back to its proper arrangement again. Now everything felt right, but he was so tired that he put the book down after a chapter and headed off to bed for a nap.

While he slept he dreamed of their daughter, Gina. She was on the phone at the cabin. He heard her say, “Mark, I thought we agreed we were going to rearrange the furniture. Well, someone did, because it’s all back in its old places. I have no idea who might have done it, but if it wasn’t you, then it has to be someone we know, because it’s right back where it always was, and I sure didn’t move any of it. I don’t know. Okay, I guess I’ll just leave it for now. Bye.”

The dream ended, and when he woke up he mulled it over. Such an odd dream. After all, Gina and Mark wouldn’t move their furniture without asking them first, and when could they have done it? The thought of their children coming up here on the two-hour drive from the city just to rearrange the furniture, file a book, and work on a puzzle, without waking them, in the middle of the night, was absurd. They raised both kids better than that.

When Harold and Linda woke, everything was as it should be, so they went about their daily business of being happy retired folks. As Harold finished the last Three Musketeers book, The Man in the Iron Mask, Linda said, “You know, dear, you’re very easy to be around in retirement. Most of my friends say their retired husbands don’t know what to do with themselves, always getting in the way, moping around, grumbling. You don’t do any of that, you just read your books and keep yourself busy. I’m a very lucky woman.”

Harold smiled. “Thanks, honey. Some of my friends who retired before me said they didn’t know what to do with themselves. I got all the books I wanted to read so I’d never be bored. Looks like it was a good plan. I never wanted to get in your way after I left the firm.”

Linda nodded. “Well, I appreciate it.”

The next morning Harold found himself in a rage first thing. Someone moved his favorite chair onto the porch, and rearranged the furniture in the living room again. He worked up a sweat getting it all back in place, and then he went around the cabin and checked all of the windows to make sure they were secure. He didn’t get any reading done that day, which made him even grumpier. Before going to bed he positioned a chair in front of the door from the dining area and double checked the windows.

In bed Linda said, “Dear, I’m sorry you didn’t get to read anything today.”

He grunted. He didn’t want to talk about it.

She snuggled up to him and said, “We’ll find out who did it, and have them arrested. I can’t believe someone would keep doing this. I bet they think the place is deserted, so they do it as a prank.”

He grunted again, but he put his arms around her and they drifted off to sleep. He dreamed again about the cabin. This time Gina, Mark, and their spouses Terry and Norma were trying to get in. He grumbled and woke up, then put on his robe and went into the living room.

His dream was real! There they were, his kids and kids-in-law, standing around in the living room, having a conversation about the room. And they were so engrossed in their talk they didn’t notice him.

He said, “Hey!”

They all turned and looked at him. Gina said, “Daddy?” and then fainted. As Terry grabbed for her, Mark held Norma, both of them trembling.

Harold was beyond tolerance. He said, “What in hell are you doing here in the middle of the night?”

Then he looked around. The light was blinding. Something wasn’t right.

Mark said, “Dad, is that really you?”

“Of course it’s me. It’s my house, isn’t it? This is my robe, isn’t it? What are you doing here?”

Mark said, his voice scared, “Dad, don’t you remember?”

This was so frustrating. “Remember what?!”

“The heart attack. Dad, you died six years ago.”

“What? Obviously I didn’t die, because I’m right here. What’s this nonsense you’re talking, boy?”

Mark shrank back. When his father called him boy he was in trouble, as that indicated he was angry almost beyond reason.

“Dad, you’re a ghost.”

Harold felt something weird, like someone was walking over his grave, as the old saying goes. It was a strange tingling feeling. He looked down. Mark was passing his hand through Harold’s stomach.

Harold flopped in the chair. Damn, a ghost.

He heard Gina say, “Daddy, is that you?”

Resigned, Harold said, “Yes, Gina baby. It’s me. Your apparitional father. I never saw this coming.”

Linda took this time to show up. “Harold, what’s going on? Kids, what are you doing here in the middle of the night? And why is it so bright in here?”

Mark said, “Mama? Both of you? Well, that explains a lot.”

Linda looked at him. “Marcus. Did you rearrange the furniture and do my puzzle?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Don’t you know that’s terribly rude? Didn’t I raise you better than that?”

Harold said, “Mark, how did she die?”

Mark looked at him, pain in his eyes. “Cancer. Three years after you passed. It was aggressive.”

Harold thought back. “I just thought she was taking forever at the store. This is a lot to take in.”

Linda said, “What? What’s going on?”

Harold said, “Linda dear, we’re dead. Ghosts.”

“Nonsense. Do I look like a ghost to you?”

Harold said, “No,” while all four of the younger adults said, “yes,” at the same time.

She whirled to face Gina. “Regina Elizabeth Jansen, do not lie to me. It’s not funny. Sneaking in here, rearranging the furniture and my kitchen, working my puzzle and messing with your father’s books, we raised you both better than that.”

Mark took tiny steps to get closer to her, then said, “Mama, look.” He passed his arm through her about hip level.

Linda looked down in shock and said, “What the…” She staggered over to her chair and sat down. She looked at Harold. “Harry, what’s going on?”

He looked back, compassion in his pale blue eyes. “Linda my love, we’re ghosts.”


“No idea. No reason I can think of. But we are.”

“Oh, my.”

Harold thought, his mind racing. He looked at his children. “Okay, kids, here’s the deal. I’m sure you legally own the house on paper, but we’re still here, so we need to find some common ground.”

Mark sat on the sofa. “I agree, dad. We’ll give you your space.”

“I don’t think that’ll be necessary. But we need some ground rules.” He thought back. When had he last eaten? Linda puttered about in the kitchen, but they never ate anything. That gave him an angle to pursue. He said, “First, don’t rearrange the living room or our bedroom.”

Mark nodded. “I can do that.”

Harold looked at Linda. “When was the last time you actually fixed anything to eat?”

She looked at him. “Last night? No, wait, it was… I don’t know.”

Harold nodded. “I think we don’t need to eat anymore. We can let them arrange the cabinets any way they want, because you don’t need them.”

Linda sighed. “Okay, I guess. But leave my puzzles alone.”

Harold nodded. “And my books, too.”

Gina said, “We can do that. Mama, Daddy, I’m sorry, we didn’t know you were still here. I thought some kids were getting in here and playing pranks on us.”

Harold nodded. “Us too. Okay. I’ve noticed that with the exception of the porch, I don’t go outside, and that was only to get my chair back. So anything outside of the cabin is fair game.”

Both kids nodded.

Harold looked at Linda. She nodded, so he said, “I think that covers it. If we find anything else we need to work out, we’ll let you know. A note on the fridge or something.”

Mark said, “I love you, Mama and Dad.”

Harold looked at him. “Love you too, kid. I bet it was hard for you both, losing us.”

Mark nodded. Gina said, tears on her face, “I can’t tell you how much. I’ve missed you both every single day.”

Harold smiled. “Well, we’re not going anywhere for now. You can come visit us any time you like.” And he knew that for now that was true.

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.

The Tie That Binds, flash fiction
by Nicole Massey

Larry thumbed through his ties again. It wasn’t there. Where could his lucky tie be?


Larry’s roommate came walking in, munching on a pizza crust. Mikey was always eating something. “What’s up, Lare?”

“Have you seen my lucky tie?”

“Dunno, which one is that?”

“The dark purple one with the little red and silver paisleys on it. My lucky tie. I can’t find it.”

Mikey stopped eating and looked down.

Larry’s voice was dark and menacing. “Mikey…”

“Um, well, I borrowed it. It was perfect with my sport coat.”

“Okay, so where is it?”

Mikey said something Larry couldn’t hear.

Larry said, “What was that?”

“I said, at Fitzgerald’s cleaners. I spilled mustard on it, so I’m having it cleaned.”

Larry counted to ten. He did it again, then a third and fourth time. He wasn’t cooling down. “You borrowed my favorite tie, my lucky tie, without asking, and spilled mustard on it?”

“I didn’t know it was your lucky tie.”

“Right. Which tie did I wear to the interview with Worldwide Data Services?”

“That one.”

“Yeah, and I got the job. Which one did I wear to the meeting with Johnson Kaplan and Associates, where they gave me the big contract?”

“Um, that one.”

“And which tie did I wear to court when that stupid jerk ran into me and then claimed it was my fault?”

“Okay, I get it, it’s your lucky tie.”

“Yeah, and you’ve told me that Melody is someone special, that we’re perfect for each other, and since I haven’t had a decent date in almost five years, I was sort of hoping to have my lucky tie.”

“Relax, man, it’ll go great even without your tie. Here, this one is nice, wear it.”

“Oh, no, no way. That’s the tie of death. Nothing good comes from wearing that tie. I only keep it because I don’t want someone else to wear it and suffer the fate it brings.”

“Dude, you’re the most superstitious guy I know. She’s not going to care what tie you wear, she’s going to be totally into you. I know her, and you should trust me on this.”

“Like I trusted you with my tie?”

“Dude, I said I’m sorry. Relax, it’s going to be all right.”

Larry picked out a tie that had no history to it, glared at Mikey, and grabbed his coat. “I’ll be back whenever. Don’t be surprised if I’m back in thirty minutes because the date went off the rails. And don’t ever borrow anything from me without asking first ever again.” Larry slammed the door before Mikey could swallow his bite and reply.

At the restaurant he said to the Maître d’, “I have a reservation for seven, and I’m meeting someone. Her name is Ms. Melody Firenza.”

“Ah, yes, sir, your party is in the bar. You can relax there or I can take you to your table.”

Larry followed the calm and somber man into the bar. His breath caught—could that be her? She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

The Maître d’ said, “Ms. Firenza? Your party has arrived. Would you like to go to your table now or relax in our bar first?”

Melody said in a warm alto, “Either is fine with me.”

Larry said, “Okay, then I’d like to go ahead to our table.” At their table Larry held Melody’s chair for her and sat. “I hope you don’t mind, I know some women consider it to be insulting for a man to hold her chair.”

“Yeah, I’m not one of those. I like the respect and attention it shows. So, Mikey is your roommate?”

“Yeah, and Jackie is yours I gather.”

“Yes.” She scowled a bit. “But let’s talk of more pleasant topics. Mikey tells me you’re in IT?”

“Yes, I do systems implementation and upgrades for major contracts. Mikey said you’re a teacher?”

“Yeah, of sorts. I teach exceptional students in computer science.”

Larry noticed she was squirming a bit. “You okay?”

“Oh, yes. Sorry. It’s just… Well, please don’t think ill of me, but sometimes the little things bug me.”

Larry felt his heart sink. “Oh? What have I done?”

She gasped. “Oh, nothing at all. Sorry, that came out so wrong. I meant something else. Um, well, you see, it’s like this. Jackie borrowed my favorite dress, my lucky dress, and I wanted to wear it tonight. So I’m a bit out of sorts. I’m not superstitious or anything, but…”

Larry laughed. “I know how it is, and I understand completely. Thanks to Mikey, my lucky tie is at the cleaners, and I didn’t find out about it until I started looking for it for tonight.”

Melody laughed. “Okay, you’re right, you know how it is. I feel much better now. Let’s order. I’m thinking about the crab cakes, but the steak is tempting too.”

“They do a great steak.”

As they looked over the menu, talking about the various selections, Larry’s hand dropped to the table. Without a word Melody’s hand joined it, grasping his fingers in an interlock. Larry thought to himself, maybe I don’t need my lucky tie all the time. Then he thought, I wonder what she’d look like in her lucky dress.

Charlie’s Ghost, creative nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Greg Pruitt

My story begins on a train, where I was in the company of my cousin and friend, Gary, a blonde, blue-eyed somewhat husky lad, who was two months younger than myself. Along with our mothers, we were traveling from Flint, Michigan to Peterborough, Ontario for a five or six day excursion, where we would visit relatives and partake of some of the local attractions. The journey of more than 300 miles took several hours, and I spent most of that time seated next to my cousin, as we traveled eastward.

Over time I have forgotten most minor details, but I recall watching the line of lights zipping by, while moving through the St. Clair Tunnel that passes under the St. Clair River. The river forms the international border between the United States and Canada, and separates Port Huron, Michigan from Sarnia, Ontario.

Aboard the train, there were several fascinating features of interest to small boys. Of course there was the conductor, dressed in his brown, woolen uniform and cap, who passed by after each stop to check tickets, and the cord that ran the entire length of the car, which somehow when pulled magically caused the train to stop. I remember being a bit frightened as my mother and I opened the doors and stood on the platform that connected the cars of the moving train to one another. I was shocked by the restroom with a toilet that emptied its contents on the rails as we rumbled along, and how that image caused my cousin and me to giggle at one another when the loud speaker announced that the restrooms would be closed while the train was at the station. Mostly, we spent our time gazing at mile after mile of flat Ontario farmland, and eventually, we napped.

We awoke as the train pulled into the Peterborough station. Peterborough, a mid-size city located in east central Ontario, was where Mother was born, along with her five brothers and three sisters. Their parents had emigrated from Ireland in 1912. Family lore has it that my grandmother had planned to travel aboard the Titanic, but was unable to secure passage for lack of money and space. Today, there are undoubtedly millions of Irish descendants whose ancestors make a similar claim.

We visited with our grandparents, and traveled from home to home where we met what seemed like an endless number of my mother’s cousins and friends. However, we spent our evenings in the house of our great-aunt Anna, an elderly widow, who appeared to us boys to be quite ancient with her gray hair, flowery perfume, long dresses and wrinkled face.

Anna lived in a venerable, old neighborhood at the residence she had shared with her husband Charles until his death. Her home, built in the late 1800s, was a sprawling one-story brick estate on property encompassing nearly half a city block, with grounds enclosed entirely by brick walls. The house was so spacious that since before the war, one wing of the home had been shuttered and no longer used.

Gary and I entertained ourselves playing on the grounds and exploring the mysteries of the house, peering through the lace curtains and trying the knobs of the large French doors that were always locked, barring our entry into that abandoned portion of the dwelling, and causing us to forever wonder what secrets stirred in the myriad of rooms concealed beyond those doors.

For other amusement, we also played on the long, polished floor of the hallway, which echoed our excited cries, as we ran and slid in our stocking feet down the length of its shining surface. Since Aunt Anna was childless, our joyful laughter and raucous behavior was as foreign to the house as the chaos of monkeys in a museum.

In addition to a number of bedrooms and baths, the home possessed a large kitchen and dining area and featured a central great parlor with a fireplace. The parlor was decorated in a quaint, but outdated style, with several pieces of antique furniture and a number of paintings adorning the walls. The windows on either side of the fireplace were hung with heavy, maroon colored drapes, complimenting the light gray carpeting, along with a massive grandfather clock that stood in one corner, its pendulum swinging back and forth, back and forth, marking the passing of the days, its rhythm like the pulse of the old house.

One afternoon in Anna’s parlor, we gathered for tea and to meet Anna’s sister Lizzy, another aging widow. During that time, we boys were asked to sit quietly while the women chatted. I had been reluctantly doing just that when Lizzy approached and took a seat next to me.

She placed her pale, wrinkled hand on my leg and whispered, “Do you know who that is?” as she pointed to a spot somewhere above the fireplace, where I looked, but saw no one. She laughed and said, “That’s your great uncle Charlie in that box up there.”

I glanced at the fireplace mantle where I saw a few candles and a white, porcelain box decorated with small, red flowers. With a puzzled look on my face, I stared at Lizzy.

Lizzy told me that Charlie was dead, and the box contained his ashes, adding that he had died in this very place. She nodded toward the unused portion of the house saying that it happened in a room just beyond those doors. She then smiled and patted me on my knee, rose and rejoined the women.

My old, Irish aunts often tried to frighten us children with obviously made up ghost stories and tales of the Banshee, the harbinger of death, so unafraid, I remained seated, but somehow this story seemed real. Had a person really died in this house, and were his ashes in that box? If the story were untrue, my great-aunt had gone out of her way to tell me such a bizarre tale that seemed so genuine.

Apparently, my once wealthy, great-uncle Charlie, who had worked as a Canadian government official, had passed away sometime before World War II. No one would ever speak of the mystery as to how he had acquired his fortune, or how he had died, and Anna had kept his remains in the urn on her fireplace mantle ever since his demise.

Eventually, the tea ended, and a few hours after supper, Gary and I were sent to our room, where I told him what Lizzy had said, and we talked about the mysteries of dead people and ashes until we drifted off to sleep.

Hours later, I suddenly awoke when I felt a hand upon my ankle, and for a moment imagined a figure standing at the foot of the bed. Frightened, I looked at Gary, who was still asleep. I gazed around the darkened room and saw nothing, but I felt certain that someone or something had touched me. The air in the room was cold, but the chill I felt on the back of my neck and across my scalp was due to something other than the drop in temperature.

I then heard the noises. At first there was a moaning like the wind makes as it blows through a poorly sealed window, and that sound was joined by what seemed like the subtle shaking of the house. Gary awoke when we heard the cries, perhaps screams, of Anna from the passageway just outside of our room.

We lay there momentarily holding our breaths until we again heard her cry. We then scrambled from our beds, and I opened the door to our room. Stepping into the hallway, I saw Anna standing there in her nightgown, her gray hair in disarray. She was pointing in wide-eyed terror towards the parlor and saying, “It’s Charlie. I see Charlie.”

Our mothers soon joined us, and together, we stared down the hallway, where in the entrance to the parlor, I saw only a weak, shimmering glow of light. The shape stood there momentarily before moving into the parlor where it gradually faded from view. By then, the noises had ceased, and the temperature had slowly returned to normal. In the eerie silence that followed, we looked questioningly at one another, but no one mentioned what must have been on all of our minds. What had we just seen?

My mother bravely moved down the hallway, examined the parlor, crossed to the main door, checked the locks, then to the French doors, where she tested the knobs.

A minute or so later, she returned to where we were standing, and announced there was no one there and nothing to see. Then with comforting words and placing her arm across Anna’s shoulder, she escorted Anna back to her room. We could hear Anna continue to repeat, “I saw Charlie, I saw Charlie,” until she was returned to her bed and my mother quietly closed her door.

Gary’s mother told us to go to bed, where we excitedly discussed what we thought we had seen and heard, but before we could fall asleep, we were startled when we heard the sound of a male voice. Listening intensely, we hesitated before finally gathering enough courage to leave the bed and cautiously moved toward the door.

Returning to the hall, we stared toward the main door where we observed a uniformed policeman speaking with our mothers. We then moved close enough to overhear the conversation. The officer was explaining to the women that he and his partner had examined the perimeter of the house and found no sign of entry. All of the doors and windows were secured, and there was no evidence of spirit or specter. He assured the women that they would be fine, and whatever they had heard was probably little more than the creaking of an old house.

The police left and the front door again locked before the women moved our way. We were persuaded that we need not worry, and that we should try once again to get some rest, since our return trip was scheduled for the next morning.

The following day, we awoke, had breakfast, and packed our suitcases. Anna was said to be not feeling well, and only appeared when she was told we were leaving. With hugs and kisses, we said our good-byes, as we departed. That would be the last time I saw Aunt Anna.

In the years following that night, the story was retold countless times at family gatherings. My mother never claimed that she had actually seen a ghost, but she did concede that she had seen something, and heard those haunting sounds.

I have often wondered whether or not I have recalled that experience accurately. Was it little more than the combination of a failing, elderly mind and a child’s imagination, or was it truly supernatural? Such things remain unknown. However, when the wind blows at night and the house stirs, I wonder if there might indeed
Be something beyond this life.

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. His work can be found in several issues of Magnets and Ladders.

Part VII. The Melting Pot

The Least Bowl Game, flash fiction
by Bill Fullerton

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and, here in the U.S., watch football games, especially college bowl games. Every year more of them appear on our screens. With the media talent pool stretched thin, two seldom used TV sportscasters are given the assignment of covering the newest, most obscure, least important bowl game.


“Hello sports fans. This is Greg Gumball coming to you from fabled Waterproof Stadium in the heart of beautiful Dry Prong, Louisiana. This hallowed old structure is the picturesque setting for the first annual No Hope Enterprises Motivational Bowl.

“Today’s game will pit the always tough Fighting Snipes from the Sam Houston Institute of Technology, led by head coach Jimmy Bob White, against coach Thomas ‘Gimmie’ Moore and his formidable Jackalopes from Southern Oklahoma Baptist.

“Both teams come into the game with impressive records. Sam Houston was 6-5-1 against a schedule that included six community junior colleges while Southern Oklahoma went 7-5 against the point spread run at Rick’s Redneck Retreat in Bug Tussel, Oklahoma.

“We’ll be getting insightful analysis of today’s eagerly anticipated game from our color commentator, the one-time special teams specialist and all-district honorable mention from Middlebrow High School, Allan Michael.”

“Thank you, Greg Gumball, and hello to football fans everywhere. This should be a real battle between teams with contrasting styles. The Jackalopes of Southern Oklahoma feature a ball-control offense built around the talents of the team’s 5’6”, 135 pound, senior running back, Cedrick ‘Say What?’ Sullivan.

“Operating out of coach Gimmie Moore’s famed Broken Bone formation, the diminutive Sullivan has pounded out almost six-hundred yards in four seasons with the Jackalopes. No doubt Say What? would have racked up even better stats had he not been wracked up by a series of painful, crippling injuries while running up the middle in his first three seasons.

“This year, he’s begun to improvise, running a lot of end sweeps. But these sweeps are so wide he goes out of bounds on almost every carry. Sometimes a really quick defensive back can catch him first, but Say What? has been running with a real sense of urgency this season.

“While the Jackalopes run, the Snipes fly. Quarterback Rod ‘The Reel Thing’ Coker, who passed for over 1200 yards this season, leads the offense. Unfortunately, about half of those yards came on interception returns. But when he’s hot, he’s hot.

“You know, Greg Gumball, everybody’s talking about Reel Thing’s favorite target, split-end Tyrone, ‘Spear Catcher’ Jones. Although Jones isn’t blessed with blazing speed, he makes up for it by running erratic, broken pass routes, leaving defensive backs bewildered and out of position.”

“That’s great, Allan Michael. It sounds like this game’s got all the makings for a great offensive shoot-out.”

“You could be right, Greg Gumball. But both teams have defensive units which could play significant roles in the game’s outcome.

“The Sam Houston Institute of Technology Snipes have one of the biggest defensive lines I’ve ever seen. Anchored by 5’7″ 353 pound nose tackle, Buford ‘The Blob’ Grossman, the Snipes’ defensive linemen are simply awesome. But despite that incredible size, they’re unusually slow.

“That combination should make it hard for the undersized Jackalope offensive linemen to execute any of their favorite weapons, such as leg-whips and holding. And since the Snipes use either five or seven down linemen with outside linebackers who often act like defensive ends, the Jackalope’s elusive running back Cedrick ‘Say What?’ Sullivan may spend a lot of time heading for the sidelines.

“Southern Oklahoma Baptist counters with a defensive unit that features some of the wildest linebackers in the business. The leader of the group is 6’2″ 167 pound senior,
Anthony ‘Nasty’ Nasturtium.

“I tell you, Greg Gumball, those guys are just plain mean. According to defensive coordinator Sam ‘The Body’ Breaker, they don’t rely on any traditional defensive schemes. Instead, they just hang around and clobber anyone who happens to come nearby. In a recent night game, they managed to cripple three members of the school’s marching band who hung around a bit too long after half-time, a couple near-sighted game officials, and a little old lady who’d made a wrong turn while trying to find the restroom.”

“Sounds to me, Allan Michael, like that could spell trouble for the Snipes’ great pass receiver, Spear Catcher Jones.”

“That’s right, Greg Gumball. Despite rumors to the contrary, Jackalope defenders aren’t stupid. They do know the difference between playing tough defense, roughing the passer, personal fouls, and manslaughter. Now whether they care about those differences, well, who knows?”

“How’s the kicking game, Allan Michael?”

“You know how it is, Greg Gumball, all kickers are a little strange. Well, so is the kicking game for both teams.”

“That’s great, Allan Michael. Fans, we’ll be right back for the kickoff after this pause for commercials, public-service announcements, station breaks, and dead air.”

“This dump’s falling apart, Gumball. Can somebody fix that draft? I’m freezing my buns.”

“Me, too. Hey, what about some coffee over here?”

“Who picked these teams anyway, the humane society?”

“Nah, the bowl committee. They’re all former International Olympic Committee members. For them it was an easy choice. These were the only schools willing to pay the price needed to get an invitation. By the way, Cedrick Sullivan pronounces his first name SEED-rick, not SAID-rick.”

“Who gives a flying buffalo chip?”

“You do, if you don’t want to go back to calling Middlebrow Junior High games. Hang loose, we’re going back on the air.

“This is Greg Gumball, welcome back to Waterproof Stadium and the first annual No Hope Enterprises Motivational Bowl. Any last second comments before the kickoff, Allan Michael?”

“Just this Greg Gumball. Fans should pay close attention to my main man, Southern Oklahoma Baptist running back SEED-rick ‘Say What’ Sullivan. If he starts turning up-field before running out of bounds, SEED-rick could have a real impact on….“

Bio: Bill Fullerton has been a country grocery store clerk, an oil field roustabout, an infantry soldier, a government paper-pusher, a struggling writer, and out of work, among other things. In between, he’s cranked out two unpublished novels along with a host of short stories, sports and general interest columns, online and print, picked up a bachelor’s from LSU, a master’s from Louisiana Tech, both in history, and had academic work published. At last check, his personal inventory included: one Purple Heart, two non-functioning eyes, three kids, two dogs, one wife, and a not-yet-paid-for house in Arizona.

My Best Friend: Grandpa, memoir
by Trish Hubschman

I think I was his favorite, though I didn’t realize it at the time. When I was a child, Grandpa teased me relentlessly. It was harmless and there was nothing negative about it. I guess I just didn’t like being in the spotlight. I’d run to my mother and tell her that Grandpa was picking on me. She would smile and say that Grandpa loved me very much. She was right. I adored him too. I just didn’t feel comfortable being the one he shot his cryptic Grandpa-sayings at, but again, maybe I set myself up for it.

I was always asking the time. This got two responses from Grandpa. “Why, you have a hot date, kid?” he’d ask. Heck, I was only eight or nine years old, I don’t think so. Or, he’d glance at his watch and say, “It’s ten to.” How was it possible that the time was always ten to the hour or fifty minutes into it? “Ten to what?” I threw back. When was I going to learn? He’d smile and say, “Ten(d) to your own business.” Everyone would burst into laughter, except me. I had no idea what the joke was.

Of course, I knew Grandpa loved me. He was always saying “Hey Kid, I love you still.” When did he stop loving me that he had to point out that he still loved me? Actually, what he meant was he preferred it when I was a sweet, quiet—little girl. No way was that going to happen! That would be boring.

He had his remedies for ailments. If I had a cold, he’d say I should put water in my mouth and sit on the stove. When the water boiled, the cold is gone. He had a point, but I wasn’t going to risk burning my butt trying that one. If I had a headache, his suggestion was to dunk my head in a pot of water four times, but only come out three. I found that one a bit fishy.

When my folks got divorced, Dad moved in with his girlfriend; Mom and we kids relocated to another house. Grandma and Grandpa came over every Friday. They’d sit in their car and wait for me to get home from school. Grandpa would say, “What took you so long to get here, kid? We’re missing our soap operas.” We watched the ABC soaps: “All My Children”, “One Life To Live”, “General Hospital” and “Edge of Night”. Grandpa’s favorite was “General Hospital”. I got home from school somewhere into One Life. Grandpa had a key to Mom’s house, so I don’t know why he didn’t just go in, but they waited for me. “I had to finish the school day, Grandpa,” I’d explain. If I missed a couple days watching the soaps and asked him to fill me in, he’d say I shouldn’t have missed them. Hey, I was a teenager. Some things couldn’t be helped.

At 4:30, Grandpa would say to Grandma, “Marge, get in the kitchen.” I was old enough by this point to understand Grandpa and could play along. This drove Mom nuts. She was constantly telling me I was being disrespectful.

No, I wasn’t. Grandpa loved it. I defended Grandma. “Hey, Lou, why don’t you get in the kitchen,” I fired back. By this time, the three of us were usually sitting at the kitchen table. Grandpa would come back with, ‘Hey, kid, you trying to start trouble here?” He’d ask. Of course, I was.

Grandpa loved baseball. The New York Mets were his team. I didn’t understand the sport, but I watched the game with him and rooted for the Mets. Sometime in 1985, Grandpa got cancer. I didn’t know this. Apparently, it was discussed at Mom’s dinner table or in the car. Since I’m visually and hearing impaired and never allowed to sit near the person who said the most, Mom, I missed out on a lot of things. In 1986, I attended college on Eastern Long Island. My grand-folks house was an hour west by train and the station was only a few blocks from them. I went home a lot. Sometimes I took a cab to my grand-folks house; sometimes I took a bus to my own. It was more fun hanging out with them.

In late October, Grandma had Thanksgiving dinner. I was called home from school. That was okay with me. Grandpa and I could watch the last few games of the World Series together, Mets vs. Boston Red Sox. That was when I found out Grandpa had cancer. He looked terrible. Grandma told me he lost sixty pounds. Thanksgiving was always his favorite holiday. The whole family was gathered together. Family meant the world to him. That Sunday night, he had his usual stack of white bread near his dinner plate. I watched my best buddy closely. He barely touched his food. He looked so depressed. Tears stung my eyes. I wanted to say something to Mom about this, but couldn’t think of the right words. While everyone continued to eat and pretend all was just jolly, which infuriated me, Grandpa got up from the table and went into the living room. He sat down in his favorite chair. I jumped up from the table and followed him. Mom tried to stop me, but I had to do something for Grandpa. I had to cheer him up. I plopped down on the sofa and tried desperately to come up with something to say. I called him the nicknames I developed for him, which he usually loved, Chubby and Baldy. No response! Without thinking, I told him I loved him still. That infuriated Mom. She reprimanded me and called me back to the table. I was fighting back hysterics, but there was nothing I could do.

On Monday, I was too depressed to return to school. That night, in Mom’s house, I watched the last game of the World Series. The Mets were the 1986 champions. They did it for Grandpa. Tuesday, feeling a bit better, I went back to school. Wednesday, Mom called and told me Grandpa had passed away. The wake started Friday, but Mom wouldn’t let me return home until Saturday. My brother was picking me up. Friday night, there was a Halloween party at the Ratskeller on campus. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks and mom didn’t want me to miss it. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that was very sweet of her. I went home the second day of the wake. Oddly, I don’t remember it or the funeral. I was devastated.

When I went back to school a few days later, I was sick. I figured it was the flu, but Dr. Mom said it was grief. I never watched the soaps after that. I never knew what became of Terry O’Connor or Lucy Coe on “General Hospital”, or Tina Roberts on “One Life to Live”, because I couldn’t bring myself to watch them. Tears would pour down my cheeks. I still get teary-eyed when I think of Grandpa, as I’m doing now. He was a precious gem, to me, at least. He was my best friend.

Bio: Trish is deaf-blind and has a walking/balance problem. She loves writing short stories. She also has two books published with America Star Books, a short story collection Through Time, time travel/romances and The Fire, first in her own Tracy Gayle mystery series.

Night Muse, poetry
by Valerie Moreno

You come
like cool, sweet wind,
in dreams vivid,
needing me.

I feel your torment,
cries to be heard,
I answer,
drawing you close

Somewhere beyond cold reason,
our spirits meet,
outside time,
healing each other.

Dignity, poetry
by Valerie Moreno

After a million prayers,
so many years–
a billion tears…
I still cherish you.

Odd as it may seem
to those outside the dream–
I’ve come to believe in me
and you.

Nothing bright or dark
dampens that sacred spark
brimming in my heart–
you gave me from the start.

No matter what they say,
I learned to find my way
with hope that made strong–
in you, I found my song.

After a million fears,
passing of these years–
I am alive, still young
unlocking all the doors
I couldn’t see before.

With your voice to guide me,
I know the gift of harmony–
the magic and true dignity
mirrored in your eyes.

Mountain Mover, poetry
by Emaline B

When you were young your parents told you to climb mountains
Even if it hurt
You could never give up
You have been through so much more than any person should go through
Work twice as hard to get what you want
Wondering why God chose you of all people in the world
He knew you could make a difference in the world and be the strongest of them all

Bio: Emaline B. is a fifteen-year-old high school student with Cerebral Palsy. She has not let her disability define her. She planns to have a career as a physical therapist so that she can help others experiencing similar situations to those that she has faced.

When I Lost My Sight, I Found Podcasts, nonfiction
by Robert Kingett

“The ambulance will arrive in five minutes, okay, hon?”

As the dispatcher finished the sentence, my world faded into darkness, then returned. I knew full well that the ambulance wouldn’t be here in five minutes, but what I didn’t know was that I was losing what little vision I had, forever.

Across the room, my laptop’s screen reader told me that I had new email and then my remaining vision cut out again.

“I think my optic nerve is damaged,” I told the dispatcher. She thought I was about to panic, so she repeated that I should stay calm and remain on the phone.

Two men lifted me onto a stretcher. I tried to look at their faces, but it was like I was sinking. The tunnel through which I once saw the world was collapsing in on itself (a shame, because from what I could see, these two men were very handsome).

The diagnosis I got at the hospital came as a shock: Acute narrow angle glaucoma. In previous eye checkups, I wasn’t
told I had to worry about this kind of rare disease or any other kind of glaucoma. Nothing presented as anything I or specialists should prepare for or monitor. It wasn’t a threat on the way.

Although I already knew how to use a cane, already knew every screen reader keyboard command in existence, already knew how to be “legally blind,” I still didn’t know how to be totally blind. My 20/200 tunnel vision in my left eye served me well. Even though I didn’t have any vision in my right eye, I was still fine. Or so I thought. I could see facial expressions if people sat close enough to me; I could see small print, even if I held a paperback book inches from my eye. I could even see well enough to navigate a lit familiar environment without my cane. I didn’t think i’d need braille because I could see and read large print just fine. Upon receiving the diagnosis, I wished I had learned Braille instead of insisting everything be transcribed in audio or large print. In mere moments, I had charted my own downfall-without my sight and without knowledge of Braille, I would soon be illiterate.

When I finally returned home that night, I lay on my bed with my Apple TV remote in hand, VoiceOver turned on, and looking up at the ceiling, wishing I could still see the small patterns etched into the plaster overhead. I was aimlessly flicking my thumb this way and that on the remote, listening to all the clutter I had on my home screen, when it happened: I landed on the podcast app.

My understanding of a podcast was that it was an on-demand talk show, and I had little interest in that. I opened the application anyway.

I flicked down, and then right, to cycle through the latest shows and episodes. At first, the titles didn’t seem very interesting, so I went to the search bar and typed in, “nerd.” The first result was something called “The Once and Future Nerd,” an audio drama. I was confused: they make modern audio dramas?

I scrolled down until I got to episode one. It was 9:00 PM, the perfect time to try something new.

The show begins:

“Imagine, if you can, what life is like for a rabbit. Imagine what it means to be vulnerable all your life. Which is my very poetic way of saying that life’s hard for a rabbit. Life’s also hard for a small business owner who accidentally witnesses the death of god. But I’d rather start with the rabbit. This particular story begins with a rabbit.”

To my surprise, I found myself listening intensely to this world created entirely in sound. Before long, I was hooked.

For weeks afterwards, my Netflix account lay forgotten as I listened to every episode of The Once and Future Nerd. I liked the jokes and the production quality of the podcast, but it was the diverse representation that struck me the most. One of the main plots involves a lesbian relationship, but in this fictional world there is no separation between straight and gay. The couple is no different than the rest of society—this felt utterly revolutionary to me. In addition to superb character development, it offered an examination of gender roles, and even examinations of race and power. It was truly progressive, something I couldn’t say for most modern broadcast TV shows.

When I’d caught up on all the episodes of The Once and Future Nerd, I wanted more. I found other storytelling podcasts like
The Moth and The Literary Salon

I discovered my favorite newspapers, anthologies, and magazines had audio editions, such as The Guardian’s Audio Longreads, LightSpeed Magazine, Clarkesworld Magazine, and Bric Moon Fiction. I ate those up too. I tried, and loved, more audio dramas like The Bright Sessions, and Love and Luck, a podcast where two gay men with superpowers meet and grow together through voicemails.

In a sighted world, I am always playing catch-up. My life is a never-ending exercise in problem-solving and thinking ahead. Whenever someone invites me somewhere, I have to consider whether the event will be accessible, and in that way I’m never equal with anybody. But with podcasts, my sighted friends and I were starting out from the same place. I don’t need anything extra to follow the plot and, for once, there is no advantage to sight.

Bio: Robert Kingett is a blind journalist in Chicago who writes for numerous Chicago publications, The Huffington Post and small papers. His investigative reporting has been nominated for awards. His work has appeared in several magazines, anthologies, and on radio stations. He’s the creator of the Accessible Netflix Project. He is the author of Off the Grid which is available as an ebook at: It is also available from, itunes, and is available on Bookshare and from The National Library Service for the Blind.

Zen Enlightenment, Abecedarian poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

Abstract thoughts
begin when an open mind
considers the first mark
drawn on paper or
encounters words not
familiar, ordinary
gestures. Non-traditional
hierarchy. Esoteric enlightenment
ideas not connected
(just so you
know). Abstraction holds
layers of meaning and
multiple voices speak
Noun – Adjective – Verb
obscure and impractical
passages without purpose
quietly contemplate
reactions to shape, form, color, line
sketchy points of outlined
theoretical ideas
useless embodiment
Verbs considered only in the mind
without a specific instance of
xerotic, dry ideas
Yoga contemplation – a centered mind –
Zen enlightenment.

Shelter, adapted Senryu poetry
by Kate Chamberlin

Ants in long, straight lines,
parading back to their hill,
sheltered from danger.

Prairie dogs dashing
underground burrow shelters
deep, warm and cozy.

Big, wooly Bison,
rump to rump in a circle,
shelter from attack.

Clown fish dart quickly
anemone spine shelters,
host none the wiser.

Mama bird comes home
to her four sheltered fledglings,
soon to be full grown.

Your touch makes me smile,
I feel sheltered in your arms,
safe in your embrace.

From Pitty pat To storm surge, poetry
by Kate Chamberlin

Pity Pat, pat, pat,
Rain drips from the eaves to splat
Hosta leaves of green.

Water droplets pool
Forming puddles that grow big
Soaking kids’ red boots.

Rills wiggle, jiggle
Zig-zagging down the windshield
Blurring vision field.

Streams become rivers
River currents surge over
Sand bag barriers.

Ebbing ocean tide
Carrying the storm surge to sea,
Lost in its vastness.

Acrostic by Color, poetry
by Barbara Hammel

Grazing elephants
Raise a ruckus,
Ears start flapping,
You better seek safety!

When the
Heavens open
In winter and pour forth
Their snow burden, leaving the world

Prairie rose
In bloom:
Nose candy
Kind I adore.


October brings
Ripe pumpkins
Arranged in
Neat piles,
Gathered from
Empty vines.

Lie in
Little crumbs.
Out come
Wet chicks.

Gemstone of May,
Reflection of grass,
Emblem of eternity,
Elegant emerald,
Named for its color.

Bent rays of sun-
Light reflect your hue
Upon the surfaces of
Every body of water.

Persistence became
Unpleasant the time she
Required the wrong food on the
Plate be eaten by her
Little ones who returned the

Bright rays of
Light cannot pass through
An object that’s opaque.
Cast in dark, its replica,
Known better as its shadow.

Beans are seeds in milky pods,
Remove, ferment and sun-dry,
Oven bake, open and crush the seed,
With all the good stuff mix and heat,
Now you’ve gone from cacao to chocolate. Yum!

Orb of
Light by

Sailing over ocean,
Island and boat,
Lake and mountain,
Valley and goat,
Everything is wearing a
Resplendent moonlit coat.

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