Skip to content

Fall Winter 2014-15 Edition of Magnets and Ladders

24-Oct-14

MAGNETS AND LADDERS
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Fall/Winter 2014-2015

Editorial and Technical Staff

  • Coordinating Editor: Mary-Jo Lord
  • Fiction: Lisa Busch, Valerie Moreno, Marilyn Brandt Smith, Kate Chamberlin, and Abbie Johnson Taylor
  • Nonfiction: Valerie Moreno, John W. Smith, Kate Chamberlin, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Poetry: Lisa Busch, Alice Massa, Valerie Moreno, Abbie Johnson Taylor, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • 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 submissions@magnetsandladders.org. The word count for book excerpt submissions should not exceed twenty-five hundred words. Please include information about where your book is available in an accessible format. We will publish up to one book excerpt per issue.

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

Please email all submissions to submissions@magnetsandladders.org. 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. See our book trailer on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk0uIaQTr24&feature=youtu.be

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. For the conference phone number and PIN, join our mailing list by contacting Donna Grahmann at dgrahmann@sbcglobal.net.


Table of Contents


Editors’ Welcome

Hello. As the trees change color, and leaves crunch underfoot, take a moment to breathe in the cool, crisp autumn air. Fall is definitely here. You can read about how some of our contributors celebrate and appreciate fall and winter, along with some great holiday stories in our “Celebrating the Seasons” section.

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

We had contests with cash prizes in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. We had over a hundred submissions, so thank you to everyone who submitted. Choosing contest winners and entries to publish was a rewarding and challenging task for our editorial staff. I’d like to thank our anonymous donor for making the contests possible. Below are the names of our contest winners.

Fiction:

  • First place: “The Intruders” by Bobbi LaChance
  • Second place: “First Saturday in May” by Bonnie Lannom
  • Honorable mention: “Silver: Blessing or Curse” by Ellen Fritz
  • Honorable mention: “The Grove” by Jessica Arnold

Nonfiction:

  • First place: “My View from the Balcony” by Jeff Flodin
  • Second place: “Kinder” by Robert Feinstein
  • Honorable mention: “Table for Two” by Carla MacInnis Rockwell
  • Honorable mention: “On Being a Happy Hooker” By Bill Fullerton

Poetry:

  • First place: “The Gas Furnace” by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.
  • Second place: “All About Bridges” by Terri Winaught
  • Honorable mention: “Keys” by Ann Chiappetta
  • Honorable mention: “Her Reality” by Myrna D. Badgerow

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.

We have contributors from South Africa and Norway, along with a new contributor from Canada. Jeff Flodin, our nonfiction first prize winner starts and ends this issue. Warning: our last section, “On the Lighter Side,” will make you laugh out loud.

Our editorial staff would like to wish you a safe and happy holiday season.


I. All About Sports

My View from the Balcony, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

If you think blind life is invisible, think again. Though I lack a view from my balcony, I think visually. Back in my photography days, I created my world view by my choice of film. Kodachrome shouted red; Ektachrome whispered blue and green. Kodachrome for pizzazz, Ektachrome for serenity. While Paul Simon loved his Kodachrome, he was inspired by his sweet imagination. These days, imagination is my film of choice.

My balcony fronts the eastern sky and western shoreline. Morning has barely broken when I hear the motorboat idling, fifty yards out, at ten o’clock. The man in the boat calls, “Ready?” and the girl at nine o’clock replies, “Yup!” The throttle powers full ahead. He shouts, “Up…Up…There you go…Good…Good!” The motor roars toward eleven o’clock. “Hey! Hey!” he hollers, gleeful as Jack Brickhouse calling a Cubs homer. Twelve o’clock. “Oh…Oh…Uh-oh…Oh, my!” The Motor throttles down and circles back. He calls, “What happened? Did you let go?” The motor idles. Voices, his and hers, “Honey, you OK?” “Wow, Daddy, that was fun but that was hard.” “Honey, grab the rope handle.” “Daddy, that was fun and I want to do it again. I want to do it again, Daddy!”

Rewind one minute. I see a ten-year-old girl bobbing in the water. Brave-faced girl with grimace. Mouse brown hair in a pony-tail. Three feet forward, ski tips like shark fins. Yellow tow rope snakes across the surface. Now the rope is taut and her hands rise and her arms are up and she’s shedding the water. And now she leans forward and she straightens and she leans back just right. And now she’s water skiing for the first time in her life. For the very first time, she’s gliding across the water, she’s really flying now. Day-Glo life vest over big brother’s T-shirt over jet black tank suit. Bent double like a jackknife, all knobby knees and bony elbows, skinny legs and broomstick arms. Each ski long as she is tall and wider than she is front to back. Now one tip dips into a wave and, BAM! She wipes out and it’s a spill she’ll remember all day and all her life. Now she’s bobbing again and waving to her Daddy and looking like she’s just had life’s biggest thrill, which she has.

And she glances around at the wall-eyed fishermen hunched over thin poles and fat bobbers and she knows they neither notice nor care what all the fuss is about. And then she spots me standing on my balcony, a balding man older even than her Daddy. She sees me and thinks she is seen by me. She feels me focus in and knows I’m into this moment, this exhilarating moment. So she raises one trembling, excited arm and she waves to me. And I see that mouse brown hair dipped in blue-reflecting, green eternal water. And I see that bright red smile adorn her sweet face. So I raise one arm, morning stiff at the shoulder, and I wave right back to her.

BIO: Jeff Flodin is the author of the blog “Jalapenos in the Oatmeal: Digesting Vision Loss,” where a version of this story recently appeared. http://www.jalapenosintheoatmeal.wordpress.com His work has appeared in “the Chicago Arts Journal,” “The Rockford Review,” “Social Perception” and “Kaleidoscope.” He lives in Chicago.


First Saturday in May, fiction
by Bonnie J. Lannom

Here at the Downs, the first Saturday in May is just that, the first Saturday in May. If a storm hasn’t knocked out the simulcast feed, one might be able to watch and wager on that holy race at that other Downs, and the rednecks might wear cleaner jeans and polish their scuffed cowboy boots. Other than that, it is just another day on a dead end, dusty racetrack of broken down horses and broken down dreams. And it is the only day of the year I call my AA sponsor.

There is one exception, the First Saturday in May Stakes. What started as a joke so long ago no one remembers its origins has become a tradition, a chance for the Down’s three-year-olds, no matter how bad they are, to shine on that one day on the calendar when everyone is aware of horse racing. No claiming price, the purse determined by that week’s wager, different from year to year and never enough.

I stood smoking, outside the track kitchen, wondering if it were too early to call my sponsor and pondering my chances on Besse Smith, the only mount I had all weekend. The sky was cloudless, the cool breeze deceptive. The heat would roll in later, smothering the plains. Be a good crowd for the Stakes I thought, maybe enough in the purse to pay the poor sucker who wins barn fees for the month.

“Char,” I jumped. Even in a world where girls can win classic races, here, where I was the Downs token female jock, I wasn’t used to hearing my name–just gal or girl and sometimes worse.

Mosen, a spare man of spare words in worn Levi’s reeking of tobacco, sweat and desperation stood before me.

“Hector didn’t show up again. You wanna ride Stilton?”

No good morning, how are you? Drop dead you lazy sloth.

“What?” I flicked my ponytail over my shoulder feigning disinterest.

“You heard me, girl. You wanna ride Stilton in the Stakes? Can’t get hold of Hector. Probably passed out in some cathouse south the Border again!

Don’t think I ain’t seen you makin all google eyed at that horse every time you come down my shed row. Ain’t no other jock I’d trust up on him, so do you want to ride him or not?”

Stilton, as dull brown as the dirt beneath my boots, with Silver Charm on top and Unbridled Song on bottom, his papers said he should have gone further than this place, but horses can’t read and Stilton, well, he would have been better as a birthday party pony ride. But there was something, a spark flash of fire and intelligence behind that sleepy gaze, a toss to the noble head whenever I gave him a surreptitious scratch when passing his stall as if to say, “I hate this hellhole as much as you.” No one has ever given me a chance. We were similar but different. I had had opportunities. I was just drunk or high when they knocked and after a while they walked away in disgust.

“He’s the favorite,” Mosen said like I was some money rider caring more for odds than any chance of a paycheck. Favorite. I couldn’t remember the last time I had thrown a leg over one. Had it ever been? Maybe that time at Monmouth or Colonial Downs? I pretended to contemplate this offer as if I had trainers knocking down my door.

“Sure, why not,” I said yawning with fictitious boredom. Experience is the only God I worship, and I had learned long ago not to get too excited about anything, knowing how quickly it could be snatched away.

“Ok,” Mosen said legging me up on Stilton. “You seen him run. Just ride him.”

I picked up the reins. Stilton danced beneath me, flicking an ear back, and I leaned down whispering words only the big gelding could hear.

“It is our chance, big boy.” My chance, us together, redemption, rediscovery. I knew a secret about Stilton, something I doubted anyone else knew or cared about at the Downs. I doubted even Mosen knew. Another horse, another track, another opportunity the same sire, though worlds apart, the same blood that fueled the creature beneath me also fueled the odds on the favorite in that other race.

“Good luck, Char.” Mosen, in an uncharacteristic display of affection, patted my leg as I swung Stilton into the post parade.

Here they sing “Don’t Fence Me In”, hundreds of off key voices as twelve rag tag horses file past the weathered grandstand to the rusting starting gate. Me and the local rough handed riders and Mexicans.

The clang of the bell, all juice, high voltage, and bright colors streaming out on the track. Stilton broke well, settling into an easy gallop. I would let the horses pass us. These other yahoos knew nothing about conserving their mounts. Use them up early to get to the lead. It was someone’s joke to make this race the same distance as that other race. Most of these nags couldn’t go that distance and were usually at a walk by the wire. We were placed sixth coming into the first turn–tight between a big bay and chestnut. The dust full in our faces, surrounded by the curses of the other jocks and the whack whack of their whips on tired flanks. I reached up, pulling down another pair of goggles. And there it was, the opening on the rail. I loosened the reins asking the question, and Stilton answered in the affirmative, surging forward past the rest of the field as we hit the backstretch. The other jockeys, having no respect whatsoever for a girl rider, didn’t even notice, figuring me well back in the pack. “Ok boy,” I whispered, “I know you can, I know we can.” It was as if we were one: heart, spirit, soul, melded together, one being all out alone on the lead, the pounding of four solid hooves on the track. This is what it is like, flashed through my mind, squelching other memories of disappointments and broken promises.

Stilton veered suddenly, causing me to lose one iron. The chestnut, the same one I had been beside earlier, materialized out of nowhere–coming fast, stretched out for the final yards to the wire. I caught the eye of his jockey, Alehandro, a young apprentice. I saw myself strong, determined wanting something better reflected in his gaze.

“No,” I screamed. I wouldn’t have this victory snatched from me. Crouching lower, one foot dangling, stirrup flapping against Stilton’s shoulder, I urged us forward as if by sheer will I could increase the inches between us and the chestnut.

We flashed past the wire our nemesis stuck to our side like a summer tic, the crowd on its feet, screaming wildly.

I wasn’t sure and, judging from Alejandro’s expression, neither was he. We circled our horses for what seemed an eternity while the stewards looked at the photo.

I barely heard the track announcer announce the fastest time in The Down’s track history as Stilton’s lucky number flashed as the winner.

I leapt from the saddle throwing my arms around Stilton’s neck, my tears mixing with his sweat. “Thank thank thank you.”

No blanket of roses, no speeches. A quick snap from the track photographer and back to the jocks room while the horses came out for the last race. The jockey’s lounge was empty, no congratulatory buckets of water, squirts of ketchup. What riders stuck around for the final race were probably pissed a girl had won a sizeable paycheck. I didn’t care.

I showered and changed into my jeans and t-shirt. I grabbed my truck keys and cell phone from my locker. One missed call. My sponsor. I stuffed the phone in my pocket. I might call her back one day. It was time. Time to move on.

Bio: Bonnie Lannom is a blind writer living in Wellington, New Zealand. Last November, she left her job and home in Boston, MA to begin a new adventure with her fiancé in the land of Middle earth.
An author of several short stories and poems, she is currently working on her first novel–a romance set in the fast paced world of Thoroughbred racing.


Throwing At Shadows, memoir
by Greg Pruitt

I have a nose that curves slightly to the right, enough so that a writer might say that it adds character to my face. My nose curves to the right, because I turn my head to the right, the better for me to see. That is most likely the position my head was in as the baseball slammed into my face and broke my nose on that sunny afternoon many years ago.

A baseball hitting a player is common, especially during the spring and summer, but very few of those players are legally blind boys, who were standing on a pitcher’s mound shortly before the impact of a five ounce sphere left them sprawled momentarily unconscious on the ground. Of course, you are probably wondering what an 11-year-old blind kid is doing putting himself in a position where such a potentially dangerous event as being hit by a ball traveling nearly eighty miles an hour might occur. The answer is that I wanted to play baseball.

I had played the outfield before my sight began to diminish, but now viewing the action at that distance meant that I always had a late jump on the ball, making a catch difficult. Playing the infield or catching, I would have been in danger of committing an error at a crucial time and costing my team a victory,, so pitching was the obvious position. As a pitcher, I was close enough to the catcher that I could catch a ball that was lobbed back to me. I could almost see the catcher’s mitt and the plate, and I had good enough control to throw strikes. Most of the batters didn’t know of my limited vision, but that was the batter’s problem. He only needed to move out of the way if he wanted to avoid being hit.

I think that I was allowed to play because it was the late 1950’s and adults seldom managed little league baseball teams in our city. Games were mostly scheduled for play during the daytime, so working adults would have found it difficult to be directly involved. Kids organized their teams and assigned the positions. I was a kid. I had friends, so I played. Today, such an opportunity might be impossible with adults and organizations fearing litigation. I can imagine the irony of the blind, Michigan lawyer Richard Burnstein suing my coaches and parents on behalf of his 10-year-old client for allowing such a dangerous weapon as another youngster, me, to inflict great bodily injury on a defenseless child.

I had the idea of pitching because of one of the New York Yankee All-Star relief pitchers, Ryne Duren. Duren was known for his blazing fastballs and his poor eyesight. He wore thick glasses that probably gave him 20/20 vision, but to others, it didn’t appear as though he could see very well. Duren encouraged that impression when he entered a game by sometimes hurling his first warm-up pitch ten feet above the catcher’s head straight into the backstop. This stunt left opposing batters a bit hesitant to really dig into the batter’s box. I figured if Ryne Duren could do it, so could I.

I had one pitch that was difficult to hit. I thought it was a fastball, but people always told me that the ball had good movement, so it might have been something else. I fooled around with other pitches, but threw nothing else except a hanging curveball that the batters usually drove into the outfield.

In organized baseball, pitchers and catchers need to communicate so that the pitch does not fool the catcher and a past ball results in any base runners advancing. The catcher flashing signs to me was a problem. The solution was for me to give the sign to the catcher. I did this by putting one or two fingers in a place where the catcher could see, one finger for fastball and two for the curve. The batter most likely did not know of my signaling method, so was unaware that he could see what pitch was coming. As I mentioned, I only had two pitches, one the batters might not hit, and one they would. Thinking back on it, I believe the catcher wanted the sign so he could signal the outfielders to be ready if I ordered up my curveball.

We played on dirt fields at the local junior high school. The umpire was usually a teacher who was supplementing his income with a summer job. He stood behind the pitcher. In that position, he could call balls and strikes, as well as make calls affecting the runners on the base paths. The umpire behind me worked to my advantage. Acting as much like a coach as an umpire, he would tell me the location of close pitches. He might say, “A little inside,” or “That one was high.” He would also make suggestions to help my throwing, such as my foot placement on the rubber and improving my arm movement. I am sure I benefitted more from the umpire than any other player. With him by my side, there was at least one pair of good eyes on the mound at all times.

As a pitcher, you are responsible for the base runners. You take a stretch, eye the runner, and decide whether or not to attempt a pickoff. While in my stretch, I would listen for either the first or second baseman to make a clicking sound with his tongue. One click was the first baseman telling me that the runner was far enough off the base to attempt a pickoff. Two clicks meant that the second baseman was ready for a throw there. All of our little tricks would become less effective as we grew older, but they always worked on the youngest players.

This of course was many years before the idea of a designated hitter, so batting was a challenge. I could see the ball as little more than a blur, but surprisingly, I could often hit it. My swing was late and the result was usually a ball hit to the opposite field. I joked that I possessed a skill not easily mastered even by many major leaguers. If my team’s bench was along the first base line, my teammates would keep their gloves ready or move to a place of shelter when I came to the plate. My occasional hits had me running the bases and listening to the shouts of my teammates telling me whether to stop or keep running. I remember once taking a slight lead off of first base when the pitcher suddenly attempted to pick me off. I managed to get back to the base safely, but I don’t know whether I reacted to the movement of the first baseman, or the sound of the approaching ball. My hits were few and far between, but I was a pitcher. We are not supposed to be able to hit, at least that was my excuse.

As I grew older, my vision became worse as the players became better. The ball was moving too fast. Line drives had knocked me down twice, and I was aware that a ball had seriously injured and shortened the career of the major league pitcher Herb Score when he was struck in the face. I began to realize that I had become somewhat of a liability to others and to myself. In addition, I had been enrolled in a residential school for the blind, which of course, had no baseball team, so at the age of 13, I was done playing the game I loved. I would be involved in recreational sports throughout high school and college and even played softball as an adult, but it is those summer days as a major league wannabe pitcher that I remember most fondly.

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.


Gladiator, fiction
by Deon Lyons

This is my home, Alexander thought to himself as he grabbed his face shield and jerked down on it quickly. He bent down and slapped his hands down hard on his thighs. “This kingdom is my responsibility. I cannot allow anything through here.” Again he slapped his thighs as his feet slid to the right, while his eyes darted quickly left.

“I am the protector of the fort. I am the defender of the empire. I am a well-trained gladiator for the ages. My goal is my command. My passion is my dream. My quest is to keep honor in my kingdom and never stand down in the face of a ruthless enemy.” He crouched down and set his hands gently onto the cool blades of grass shimmering under the banks of encircling light. His rapid breaths of air found their way into the chilly autumn night, quickly forming a foggy mist as he exhaled with anticipation.

His mind rolled on with readying thoughts. “Keep close watch on the one they have marked 22. He is a clever, sly, quick, ruthless and painfully proud foe, but he will never have seen such a wrath of obedience as he will by my hand. Lend him the scroll. Let him come and try to pass through my gate. Let him come and try to get past this defensive nightmare. I will put an end to his smile. I will break the silence with a crushing blow that will take him to the ground. I will end his quest and send him back to the lands of his forefathers. His mind will tirelessly question those commands handed down by his leaders as he quakes with fear at the sight of my onslaught.”

Alexander quickly moved his stance two steps to the right as the gathered onlookers rose to their feet and soared with emotional excitement. “I must always be ready. I will forever remain ready and alert. Focus is my brother. I will concentrate and anticipate the movement in front of me. I will sense the swell, the tide, the swing of the play. I will not stop until my task is complete. I will not rest until the advance of the enemy has been anticipated and dealt with accordingly. I will not let up until my objective is made known. I am the chosen defender of my lands. I am the chosen defender. I am the defender.”

The opposing forces gathered towards the line as the replenishing breaths gathered in his lungs. Eyes to the right, heads to the left, the enemy formed their union of force and prepared to set their task in motion. Alexander looked quickly to his right, then to his left. He shouted out an enthusiastic command to his brothers at arms as they themselves shifted and crouched with anticipation.

“Bring me your best. Put upon me the talented few you have gathered here on this night. Let me taste your plans of conquer. I will experience, I will endure and I will beat back your advances of evil.” He again crouched down and slid his hands along the coolness of the ground. The air stood still as all those gathered to bear witness hushed with anticipation. The moment was at hand.

Alexander quickly stood up and met eyes with each of his comrades at arms. “Bulldogs Ready!” His brothers all quickly stood straight up and gazed over at him. “Bulldogs Ready!” The enthusiastic chant was followed with a blood pumping chorus of hungry growls that would send any dog pack retreating with their tails between their legs. The gathered gladiators again crouched and readied their stance for the battle.

“Blue! 82! Blue! 82!” The general of the formidable foe bellowed out his commands as his advancing front of attackers approached the line of destiny and readied themselves for the battle. “Ready! Set! Set!”

Alexander’s glaring stare scoured the enemy line. He shifted one step to his right, then rapidly repositioned back two steps to his left as his teeth gnashed together. Noticing a familiar alignment of the enemy’s battle plans, he quickly hollered out his commands to his own defenders. “Red Dog Right! Red Dog Right!” His comrades quickly shifted and stealthfully maneuvered themselves into their requested defensive position. He felt that he was as ready as he ever had been. His purpose was clear. His goal was in front of him. His years of training and devotion gathered around his spirited heart as the electric currents charged up through his readying stance.

“Hut! Hut! Hut!” The medallion of honor was quickly transferred into the opposing general’s possession as the offensive attack ensued. With a jolt of courage and strength, Alexander jumped to his feet and shuffled to the right. Forcefully swatting one attacker to the side, he quickly stepped ahead and carefully followed the advancing swing of the attacking force. He leapt high in the air, narrowly avoiding a crushing blow from the enemy. With graceful agility, he pushed another blocker to the ground and hurdled another as he pivoted and swung to his right. In one, fluid motion, he pressed his way through two huge advancing Offenders of the enemy, and then, there he was. His objective lay straight in front of him. The goal of all his hard work had come to fruition. The warm and glowing hue of a thousand sunrises stood before him as his heart pounded its way towards all eternity.

The time had come, the time was ready to reward, the time was at hand. With the passion found only inside a kingdom’s bravest soldier, he drove towards the one marked 22 and met the foe with all the might and force he could muster from his warrior’s heart. A crushing blow ensued that shook the foundation of the night. His brothers, gathering quickly from close behind, grappled and helped push the attacker back to the place of his birth. With one wave of defending ambition, with one gathering of spirit, with one purpose and with only one accepted outcome, the battle had been won, and the kingdom was safe once again.

Alexander and his pack of protectors praised each other for a job well done as they gathered together in the cool autumn night.

The first play from scrimmage was complete. The state’s, Class A high school football title game pitting the Red Riots of South Portland against the Bulldogs from Lawrence was well underway.

Bio: Deon Lyons lives with his lovely wife of thirty-two years, in Central Maine. Upon losing vision in 2010, Deon learned touch typing, and with the help of assistive technology, embarked on a lifetime passion for writing. His works revolve mostly around fiction, personal essays and poetry. With inspiration from family, friends and the blind community, he hopes to continue writing for many years to come. His books, “Sully Street” and “Ready, Set, Poetry” are available at Amazon.com.


Father and Son, fiction
by Deon Lyons

*** Pride and Honor

“You call that a cast?” Loren chuckled as he tied his lure onto the end of his fishing line. “Aunt Margaret can cast better than that, Pops!” He kept staring at his hook while his father peered at him with an aggravated grin on his face.

“I’ll cast you out there if you keep it up, mister man!” Loren’s dad shifted on his swivel boat seat and slowly started reeling his line in. “You remember that big old bass you caught back when you was just a sprite?” He set his pole down and reached over towards a cooler on the floor. “It seems like it was just yesterday to me.” He opened the cooler and pulled out a can of beer. “Man, that fish was big. I remember the look on your face when I put the net on him.”

Loren looked at his father as he finished tying his lure. “Boy, do I ever remember.” He reached back with his pole and let the cast fly out into the lake. The lure splashed into the water nearly 100 feet away. Loren smiled as he looked at his father again. “That was the best fishing day I ever had, and by the way, I hope you noticed how far that cast went.” He cranked his line in a few turns and set the pole at his feet. “Did you ever catch a bass as big as that one, dad?” He also reached down into the cooler and pulled out a beer.

“That big? Me? Oh no, never one as big as that one kiddo.” He leaned back in his seat and chugged a couple swallows from his icy brew. “I remember one time when I was a kid, I was out in the middle of Simpson’s Pond with your Uncle Rick. He pulled one in one day that had to be damn close to that one of yours.” he smiled as he looked out across the lake. “I think it took him a day and a half to reel that sucker in. Nearly wore him out doing it too!” He chuckled as he grabbed the steering wheel and righted their trolling course. “I haven’t caught anything that comes close to those two bad boys.” Spinning around in his seat, he took another drink and set the can on the floor beside him, then reached for his pole. “Those are the two biggest fish I’ve ever seen. I heard a few stories of your great grandfather Schofield catching a couple big boys in his younger days. I think they were caught down in Brighton Pond. Your grandfather told me that he won a derby with one of them.” He started cranking his line in slowly as the boat moved lazily ahead.

“I wish I could have met him.” Loren grabbed his pole and mimicked his father, carefully reeling his line in.

The two Wilkinson men sat quiet as the late afternoon sunlight bounced across the water. The call of a pair of loons could be heard from across the lake. The fishermen looked into the direction of the comforting sound, separating their thoughts from the moment. Loren leaned ahead in his seat and looked down at the floor of the boat. His father noticed his parallel tangent.

“You know, I’m not sure if I ever told you how really proud I am of you.” Douglas set his pole on the floor, leaned ahead in his seat and stared at his fumbling hands. “I need you to know that you are representing our family with an amazing amount of pride and honor.”

Loren lifted his face and met his father’s eyes with his own. He slowly and silently looked down at his own fumbling hands.

“It was hard for me watching you go through it all, the training, the amount of time away from your mother and me. It was very hard, but I tell you,” He sat up in his seat, “With myself not being able to serve and all, well, part of me was with you. A big part of me was with you.”

Loren continued to look down in silence.

“I hope you also know that Timmy was like a son to me. Hell, I watched you and him go through basics together.”

Loren sat up in his own seat and looked over at his father, “Dad, don’t.”

His dad continued, “Now I know how hard this has been for you, and God only knows what his family is going through, but trying to take all this on your shoulders, as your fault, well, I just don’t see how you’re going to dig out of this hole as long as you keep on shoveling it deeper.” He stared at his son as the rippled sunlight shimmered across his face. “What happened to Timmy on that road in Afghanistan, it happened, and that’s all there is to it. It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault but those animals that planted that I.E.D. in the road.” He stared out across the water as Loren sat up straight in his seat.

“It was me that was supposed to be out there on point that morning! Not Timmy, not Dale, not Truman, but me! He did it for me! What the hell am I supposed to do with that?” Loren’s voice echoed across the waves as his mind quickly took him back to the burned images of Afghanistan. “He did it for me. It was supposed to be me out there that morning, not him.” His posture slumped down in his chair as he slowly grabbed his fishing pole.

“Now listen, the fact that you were sick as a dog that morning doesn’t make it your fault. You had covered for him a thousand times before, same as he did for you that morning. Same as you all did for each other time and time again! It could have been you out there, just as easy as it was him.” He kept staring at his son, trying to figure out what was running through his head. “It’s no one’s fault but those sons a bitches. You have to blame it on the enemy, and no one else.”

Loren looked down as he slowly started reeling in his line. “I just can’t get the image out of my head. Every time I turn around, I see him, and then, he’s gone.” A lone tear started rolling down his cheek as he stared out across Afghanistan.

“Promise me you’ll keep all your appointments with Dr. Healey, ok?”

“Ya, whatever.” Loren gave his pole a jerk, reeled in a couple turns and then sat it back down at his feet. He grabbed his beer and chugged it down to the bottom of the can. With a large belch, he threw the empty can across the boat, just missing a small trash can near the opposite side. “One down, four hundred million to go!” He burped loudly and wiped his mouth on his shirt.

“Did you hear me? Please tell me you understand how important it is to your mother and me that you continue to go to those sessions.” Loren’s father again peered down his long, thin nose at his son.

Loren put a hand on top of his head and ruffled his short cropped hair. “Ok, ok. I promise. I’ll keep going to see super shrink.”

“Just try and remember, it’s pretty important to keep talking about what you’re going through. Shutting the door on your emotions isn’t good for you, it isn’t good for me, or your mother, and it sure as hell ain’t gonna help you when you’re back in them boots.” He chugged down the last of his own beer and threw it towards the trash can, finding the bottom.

The two sat in silence for a few moments as the sun continued to shimmer its way towards the western horizon. The two had been fishing on the same lake ever since Loren was old enough to wear a life vest. It had become a father, son tradition, and nothing, not even the war in Afghanistan had gotten in the way.

Loren was an only child, and with the bond of friendship that had formed between him and Timothy during boot camp, his father and mother had felt like they had found another son. Timmy was the same age, the same build and looks, and lived only one county to the north, giving his friendship that good old, down home feel.

Loren gazed out across the lake, trying to find some ease with his churning emotions. “I’m gonna miss him dad.”

“I know you will kiddo, I know.” He reached over and set his hand on Loren’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “I’m gonna miss him too. We’re all gonna miss him.”

He reached around and gave the steering wheel a jerk to the left again, righting their way along the northern end of the lake.

Just then, the end of Mr. Wilkinson’s pole jerked. “Holy crap! Did you see that stick jump?”

Loren noticed the bending of his father’s fishing pole. “Grab it quick, pop, before it gets away.”

Just as his dad got both hands on the pole, it bent almost in half. “Wooooah baby! What’ve we got here!” He pulled up on the pole and reeled in a few times as he lowered it. “Man, this is a big one!” Again and again, he pulled back on the pole and kept reeling in.

Loren set his own pole down on the floor of the boat and picked up the net. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pole bend like that! I think you’ve got Moby’s cousin, dad!” He laughed, watching the facial expressions on his father’s face.

Two or three more minutes of pulling and reeling and Loren looked down at the water where the line was going in. “Hang onto him, pops! Reel that sucker in!” He continued looking down into the water. “Holy crap! I can see him! He’s a frigging monster!”

The two started laughing as Loren readied himself with the net. His father leaned back in his chair and pulled back on the pole for all he was worth.

All of a sudden, the fish emerged out of the water, splashing and fighting his way back home. Loren tried running the net underneath him, but he missed the first time.

His father managed to grunt out, “Net that sucker, son! Net him quick! My arms are dying over here!”

One more tail splash and Loren scooped him up. “Holy crap! He’s a monster! He’s the Loch Ness Monster!”

He quickly lifted the net into the boat and set it on the floor. The huge bass flopped inside the net as Loren’s dad finally released his grip on the pole, letting out a huge sigh of relief.

“Oh my Lord, look at the size of him.” He spun in his chair and stared down at the fish as Loren removed the net from around him.

Loren slid his hand in the gills of the mighty fish and lifted him up into the air. He reached in the fish’s mouth and removed the hook.

“This thing has to be a record, Pops.” He continued holding the fish up as they both admired the catch.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more magnificent fish. My, oh my, oh my.”

The two continued to stare at it as Loren spun it around, looking at it from all directions. He looked back at his father who had a wide smile on his face.

Loren looked from his father, to the fish, then back to his father. He noticed a calm, pleasant look on his face.

“You thinking what I think you’re thinking, dad?”

His father stood up from his seat and stared at his son. “Whaddya think there, kiddo?”

“I’d say he looks like he’s late for a very important date. That’s what I’d say.”

Mr. Wilkerson set a hand on his son’s shoulders. “Do it then.”

Loren spun the big boy around one more time so they could both get a good look at him. His father grabbed his cell phone and snapped a couple pictures.

With one motion, Loren swung his arm out over the side of the boat and lowered the fish back into the water. He let go, as the two Wilkerson men watched the mighty swimmer head back home.

“That was wicked awesome.” Loren’s dad slowly sat back down in his seat as his son stared out across the water.

“Ya, Pops, it sure was.”

Loren’s father reached into the cooler and pulled out two cans of beer, handing one to his son.

Without a word, they both popped the tops and tapped each other’s beer, saluting the moment.

“Whaddya say, time to head her on in?” Loren’s dad spun around in his seat and set a hand on the steering wheel.

“Ya. I think it’s just as good a time as any.” He grabbed the two fishing poles and started to store them away.

Mr. Wilkerson grabbed the throttle and slid it upwards, setting them in motion for the other side of the lake, and home.

A lone chorus from a loon skipped across the water as the boat pushed its way back across the lake.


An Impostor at Busch, nonfiction
by Peter Altschul

Last October, my wife, Lisa and I attended Game Five of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. Lisa had scoured the web to find two seats in Busch Stadium’s Champion Club at a 90% discount and a hotel room nearby at a very reasonable price. So we arrived two hours early wearing our Cardinals T-shirts.

While I’ve grown to like the St. Louis team since moving to Missouri eight years ago, my dad was a rabid Red Sox fan since fleeing from Germany in 1936 to do graduate work at Harvard University. “You must root for the Red Sox and hate the Yankees,” people advised him when he arrived, and he taught me well.

So I arrived in enemy territory not sure how best to show my true allegiance without irritating my wife and the rabid Cardinals fans. My first chance arrived when the waitress brought my first vodka-cranberry juice-lime concoction to our table.

“Thanks for the Cape Codah,” I said in my best Boston accent.

“What?” she asked.

“Thanks for the Cape Codah,” I repeated.

“Just ignore him,” Lisa said. “He’s from the East coast.”

My second chance to show my true allegiance took place in the first inning while Lisa was away taking pictures of our surroundings. The Red Sox strung together two doubles to score a run, and someone clapped five times very slowly and clearly. I repeated the pattern.

“What are you doing?” Lisa asked sometime later when I again repeated the five-clap rhythm.

I told her that I was supporting the other Red Sox fan in the room.

“Just do it under the table,” she advised.

Meanwhile, we were taking full advantage of the free Italian food and open bar available to all fans in the club while listening to the radio play-by-play. When the Cardinals came to bat in the bottom of the sixth, the score was 1-to-1, and we migrated outside to sit with the real fans. But we could no longer hear the radio feed, so I had to guess what was going on based on the ebb and flow of crowd noise and Lisa’s sketchy descriptions (she is legally, but not totally, blind). After the Cardinals were retired, I stood up to wish the Red Sox luck.

“What are you doing?” Lisa asked.

“Stretching,” I said, trying to sound innocent.

We lost track of what was happening during the top of the seventh inning. I knew, however, that something was going on based on the tension around us, and the occasional applause of two people far to my left.

“They’ll pinch-hit for the pitcher,” I declared when the PA announcer announced the name of the batter preceding him. “Something’s going on and they can’t afford to send up a pitcher who’s rarely hit.”

When the PA announcer indicated that the pitcher would indeed be hitting, I knew something good had happened, but not what.

“I think the Cardinals threw someone out at the plate,” Lisa said when the inning-ending cheers wound down.

“Yes, but what’s the score?”

We had to go back inside where Lisa could see from the bank of TVs that the Red Sox had scored two runs.

I haven’t quite pieced together how those two runs were scored because we went to a postgame dance outside the stadium where we drank lousy beer and danced to hit tunes from the 1960s to 2013, all set to a “house” beat. On the way, Lisa introduced me to someone dressed in Red Sox regalia, and the two of us celebrated quietly so we wouldn’t rouse the Red Bird faithful.

Bio: Peter Altschul assists groups and organizations to become better at motivating people, resolving conflicts, managing diversity, and planning for the future. A published composer, he lives with his guide dog, Heath, in Columbia, Missouri, with his wife, her three children, two standard poodles, and a python named Monty. Please visit http://www.peteraltschul.com to learn more about his work.


II. Present Tension

The Intruders, fiction
by Bobbi LaChance

My eyes flew open as a strange sound woke me from a wonderful dream. Like a garden rake that had been stepped on, I sat straight up in bed and startled my three cats. With intent, I listened for the familiar sounds of the night from my mobile home and silently checked off each of those sounds that I knew by heart. The refrigerator motor whirled, cubes clunked into the ice maker bucket, the hypnotic tick of the kitchen clock, and the wind that whistled through the window screens, were all normal.

Three cats reside with me, Cinder, a money cat, Shannon, a tiger striped Maine Coon cat and Pepper kitty, the youngest of the crew, a black Maine Coon with four white paws and a white vest. As I turned over to settle down and return to sleep, there it came again.

Cinder and Shannon sprang from the bed and raced down the hall. Pepper kitty remained plastered to my hip and slept on. As I disengaged myself from the tangled sheets, I slid my feet into my satin slippers and crept down the hall to investigate. In silence, I moved through the dark mobile home; nothing was amiss.

With a baffled shake of my head, I shrugged my shoulders and started back toward the bedroom. Cinder and Shannon stood near the front door with their hackles raised and bristled tails like Halloween cats. Just as I approached the door, there was a thump and the screen door squeaked, which froze me in place. As the doorknob rattled, my heart slammed in to my chest when I saw that the knob began to turn in front of me.

My mouth went dry. Cinder made a guttural sound in her throat. There was another loud thump against the door that stole my breath. Someone is trying to break in, raced through my thoughts.

I looked down to find that the door was locked, and then tiptoed across the living room to make sure the backdoor was locked as well. My hand shook and panic tried to rear inside me, as I reached for the wireless kitchen phone to call the police.

“Augusta Police Department dispatch. What is your emergency?”

I whispered in reply, “Someone is trying to break into my mobile home.”

“What’s your address, Mam?”

I gave the requested information to the female dispatch officer.

“Are you alone on the property?”

“There’s just me and my three cats.”

The thumping at the front door became insistent. The two cats kept their vigil, still agitated. I felt sweat run down my back.

“I’m scared,” I told the officer.

“Stay on the line with me, I have officers on the way. Where are you in the house?”

“I’m in the kitchen.”

“You stay inside until one of the officers arrives; I will stay on the line with you.”

With the phone glued to my ear, cradled by my left shoulder, I moved back into the hallway, toward the front door. I could hear what sounded like boots walking around on my deck.

I whispered into the phone, “I think there’s more than one person trying to break in.”

Bile rose in my throat and the nausea swelled in my stomach, as I leaned against the wall in the hallway. Shannon cat growled and wailed a pitiful meow. The screen door hinges screeched like unoiled metal against metal, and then, the doorknob rattled violently.

Through the windows that faced the driveway, my bedroom suddenly lit up like daylight from the flashing blue strobe lights. I heard the sound of car doors open and close, and then, there was complete silence.

The screen door slammed shut and something scuffled across the deck. The cats backed away from the door and sat down. Cinder now relaxed, scampered past my foot; her tail brushed my legs as she strolled by. Shannon followed and they both pushed the blinds aside as they jumped, in curiosity, onto the front window sill. Then came a hard knock at my door.

The dispatch officer asked what was happening.

“Someone is knocking on my front door.”

“Hold on, don’t answer the door.” The line was quiet for a moment and then the dispatch officer said, “Ask who it is first.”

I gulped, then asked, as my voice trembled, “Who is it?”

A deep voice boomed, “Augusta Police.”

Relief flooded my whole body. I turned the lock and opened the door about an inch. There stood a huge officer that filled up the doorframe.

“Did you report that you had intruders? May I come in, Mam?”

I looked down at my nightgown and slipper clad feet and said, “Um, just one moment.”

I raced to the bed, grabbed my robe, flung it on, and then, cinched the belt. As I admitted the officer, I turned on lights as I strode around the living room.

“I am Officer Peterson and this is my partner Officer Rollins.”

“S-S-Someone tried to break in,” I stammered.

“Did you see anyone outside?”

“No, I was too scared to look,” I admitted.

Officer Peterson’s blue eyes twinkled, as he smiled down at me.

“I understand,” he replied with a sympathetic voice. “It seems as though you had some visitors tonight.” With my puzzled look of silence he continued, “Actually, we found out who the culprits were; in fact, we even got a picture or two.”

I sat down dumbfounded and asked, “Did you arrest them?”

“Well I’m sorry, Mam, they ran off into the woods.”

The officer handed me two Polaroid snapshots, I glanced down at the photos and looked back up at the officer, who now grinned at me.

“Two other officers are scanning your yard to make sure that the intruders are gone. If it is all right with you, Mam, may I check the rest of the house?”

Officer Rollins checked the back bedroom, crossed the living room and went into the master bedroom. He came back carrying Pepper kitty. Pepper lay belly up in the officer’s arms as he stroked his belly with one finger.

“Cute kitten,” He remarked.

I looked down at the photos again and just shook my head in disbelief.

“When we pulled in and started up the ramp, I shined my flashlight and Officer Rollins took a quick snapshot.” They froze there for a moment, like deer caught in the headlights. Then they scrambled off over the deck rails and ran into the woods, except for the one in the lounge chair. He stayed there until we were half way up the ramp, and then, he high tailed it under the deck rails and into the woods. He was a little cocky; see how he just laid there, belly up on your lounge chair, like he was basking in the moonlight or something?”

“Yeah, I took pictures so that when we get back to the station., Sarge can have a good laugh at this one,” chuckled officer Rollins.

I handed the pictures back to the officer. Assured that all was safe, I thanked the officers, and then, watched as they drove away. I locked up and went back to bed. I laid there for only a moment, before I began to giggle. Then, that giggle became a full belly laugh, for my intruders turned out to be a party of five–raccoons!

BIO: Bobbi LaChance, author of three contemporary romance novels, lives in Auburn, Maine. She enjoys doing volunteer work in her community, loves to read audio books, and shares her delight in eating ice cream, all while singing along with her favorite country music. Her best friend is her guide dog, Honora, and she has two cats, Sassy, and Peppi. She loves the changing of seasons and favors spring. Her books, “Wishes,” “Cobwebs,” and “The Journey,” are available at Amazon.com.


ALL ABOUT BRIDGES, poetry
by Terri Winaught

Note: an “abecedarian” poem, also known as an ABC poem, is one in which each line starts with a letter of the alphabet. This means that the first line would start with an “A” word, and the twenty-sixth and last line would begin with a “Z” word.

A bridge stretches its worn-out wood over the rain-swollen river.
“BETTER not try to cross that bridge,” I think as I see it sway in the wind.
COAXING me to try and cross anyway is a nagging inner voice.
DETERMINED, I carefully plot my strategy.
EVERY step I take sends the rickety span swaying and teetering.
FINALLY, I have reached the halfway point.
GRATEFUL that I haven’t fallen, I continue my rocky journey.
HEARING someone yell startles me.
“I need help!” a tiny voice calls from the unforgiving, fast-moving water.
JUST when I think I am safe, my sense of security becomes fragile.
KINDNESS has a mind of its own, as it propels me into watery darkness.
LIFE is challenging me to defy what I think are my limits.
MORE than once, I am tempted to abandon the raging river for the shore.
“NO turning back now,” I tell myself, my legs feeling like Jell-O.
“OH, dear, can I get to this person in time?” I wonder.
POUNDING and flailing in terror are the bruised, slender arms of a child.
QUICKENING my pace, I soon reach the struggling girl.
“Reach out to me!” I practically yell over the river’s roaring voice.
“SCARED,” was all that the little girl could squeak out.
“TRUST me!” I insist.
URGING ourselves forward against the tyrannical undertow we reach land.
VERY tired but overjoyed to be safe, I inspect the crying child for injuries.
WAITING nearby is an ambulance that whisks us to the nearest hospital.
X-RAYS show just minor injuries.
“YOU’RE lucky I heard you,” I say softly.
“ZIPPING across a bridge is something I’ll never do again!” she said.

Bio: Terri Winaught lives in Pittsburgh where she enjoys performing community service. Her other interests include: spending time with her husband, Jim, especially at Pirates Baseball and Pitt Football games; going out with friends; and singing Broadway tunes and church hymns. To find more of Terri’s writing, see back issues of “Magnets and Ladders,” and “Behind Our Eyes: a Second Look.” You can Email Terri at t.winaught@verizon.net


Pink Slip, fiction
by Nicole Massey

Bob sat in his cubicle, calmly working on the document on his screen, when the “Axe” showed up. He glanced over.

“Kim, how can I help you?”

She cleared her throat. “Um, I need to talk to you in Sandra’s office.”

Bob chuckled to himself. It was beginning. He got up and walked calmly into his boss’s office.

Sandra sat there, scowling. “Bob, we’re going to have to let you go.”

“Interesting. Is there a problem with my work? My attitude? Something else?”

Sandra shook her head. “No, but we’re going to have to cut our technical writer staff. Budget cuts. Technical writing is always the first to go.”

“Oh, wow. Janice has a new baby. And Ron just sent his twins off to college.”

“I know, but my hands are tied. I’m losing my job too.”

Bob looked over at Kim. “I need to see Mr. Peterson.”

“Uh, why?”

“Isn’t he always saying that he has an open door?”

“Yes… um…”

“Fine, I want him to see someone he’s letting go, so he can know it’s a matter of people, not just numbers.”

Kim looked very uncomfortable. “Please don’t make a scene.”

“Oh, of course not.”

The ride to the seventh floor was silent. Kim was obviously nervous, but she couldn’t think of anything to say. Bob exited the elevator and calmly knocked on the CEO’s door.
Joe Peterson called, “Come in.”

Bob walked in confidently.

“Mr. Peterson, My name is Bob Carmen. I’m on your technical writer team in the quality department.”

Joe Peterson frowned for a brief moment. “How may I help you?” He put his putter down and walked to his desk.

“I was just informed that the technical writing staff is being let go.”

“Yes, we have to cut costs somewhere.”

“Do you realize that cutting writers is detrimental to the quality of your operation?”

“We’ll manage.”

“Who will handle the writing tasks?”

“Engineers can do it.”

“Uh huh. The people setting the guidelines will be the people doing the job.”

“It’s not just quality, it’s all of the writers. Documentation is getting cut too. We had no choice.”

“So you’re expecting the engineers to write coherent prose for the consumers to use? That is not a good plan.”

“Other companies are doing it.”

“And they’re having big problems with it.”

“We’ll have to make do.”

“Why?”

“Stockholder pressure.”

“Why not cut top management salaries or benefit packages?”

“Well, we couldn’t run the risk of losing top executives.”

“But you can put a new mom and a man who just put two daughters in college out in the cold.”

“I’m sorry.”

Bob smiled. “I am too.”

Bob reached into his back pocket, and pulled out a card. He placed it flatly on Joe Peterson’s desk. Joe looked at the card and blanched.
“Joe Peterson, My name is Bob Carmen, and though you’ve been employing me as a Technical Writer, I have also been employed by Central Mutual Funds as an onsite Auditor. As you well know, Central is a company dedicated to the reclaiming of American business from the morally bankrupt MBA’s that are destroying businesses and people’s lives in search of a fast buck. This firing will drastically devalue your company, and as such, will cause it to become a bad risk for our funds. We will be selling off all of your stock today. “

As Joe Peterson sat there, pale and shaking, Bob nodded to Kim. “I’m done. Let’s go clean out my desk. Will I be eligible for rehire?”

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.


MARCUS AURELIUS, fiction
by Edith Marks

Fleet-footed sailor, baby-faced Hermes leaving behind his calling card…if only my boss had attended to the crafting of his beautiful shoes instead of doing hanky-panky with his former secretary, I would not have possessed the key.

The beginning:Thompson’s musty second-hand bookstore where my best friend Shirley and I browsed early one evening. She discovered a copy of Dante’s “Inferno,” sighed at the price and reshelved it. Behind us, a sailor, “You like Dante?”

“What?” Shirley wheeled about and leveled a disdainful gaze at him.

I said, “Do you like Dante?” Corn-fed face, slant-eyes, sand-washed hair, lips pushed into a smile first at Shirley, then at me. My lips curved back. Shirley though, stared obviously upset at this intrusion. “I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s rare to find two pretty girls in a book store.” Shirley’s lips wavered and then formed into a smile. Captivated by the sailor’s appreciation of both us and of literature, we three, in perfect harmony, gravitated to a corner of the bookstore discussing writers we loved, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Thomas Wolfe, top favorites–ran our mouths off until the store closed.

Outside, diffident handshakes, solemn departure… but wait, voiceless appeal? The key weighed heavily in my pocket. Shirley knew I had it, “Couldn’t we just…?” The sailor’s eyebrows danced upwards, eyelashes fluttered over livening questioning eyes darting from Shirley to me. I fingered the thigh warmed key that in my hand sprang to life with the energy of a six-week old kitten. Convenient. My workplace, just two doors from the bookstore. “It’s still early,” the sailor said, now looking straight at me, divining I had the power to extend the evening. I would be IT–the progenitor, the instigator, the open-sesame genie. “Well, maybe an hour,” I whispered stifling a super-ego portent. Shirley kissed my cheek. The sailor modeled her kiss on my other cheek although not quite comprehending, his eyes still questioning me.

“We can use where I work.”

“Hot dawg,” and he placed a kiss on my cheek again, wetter this time.

“I need to use the head,” he said immediately upon entering the office showroom.

I escorted the sailor to the back room. The front part of this loft-like space held three desks, a work station situated close to the windows to capture natural light, enabling Emil, the leather cutter, to carve out the shoe parts from assembled leathers, a display table and two benches for customers to be measured for hand-crafted shoes. To better protect myself from the amorous advances of gentlemen who entered and found me the sole occupier of the office, I barricaded myself between two of the desks. Dora, the part-time bookkeeper, who had appointed herself my mentor, sat diagonally across from me at the third desk. She came in three mornings a week. My boss mostly kept to himself, living in two back rooms that were furnished with a cot, desk, dresser, hot plate, refrigerator and cabinet, where he stored dry groceries suitable for breakfast. The second room was a well-equipped bathroom with tub, toilet, and sink. Since his wife had banished him from his home upon learning of his affair with his secretary, these quarters had become his permanent residence.

“Somebody live here?”

“My boss,” I said opening the door to the bathroom.

“Is he coming back tonight?”

What business was it to this sailor whether my boss returned? I shook my head, catching a flicker of a smile that vanished as quickly as it had appeared. Uneasily, I stood there undecided as to my next move as the sailor disappeared into the bathroom. Should I call the whole thing off? Send him on his way? But what could he do, I rationalized to myself. We were two against one and both Shirley and I were sturdy girls. He was a serviceman, for God’s sake, one of our finest. Wasn’t it our obligation as civilians to support our enlisted men? And to boot, he loved literature? Again, I stifled my misgivings, comforting myself with the knowledge that this transgression into an illegitimate use of the office space would not be discovered. My boss resided securely at the Dedham Penitentiary, remanded there for the kidnapping of his seven-year-old daughter Tara, the issue of his liaison with his former secretary. She had subsequently left him, taking Tara with her.

When I brought him papers requiring his signature, he would fix me with his coal eyes calling me Edward, his son killed in the war. He commissioned me to rescue him. “Edward,” he implored, “I cannot abide this “vile Endurance”. Take me out of here.” Surely, even if my boss discovered our little tryst, he would approve given the sacrifice of his son to the war effort.

“I’m Marcus Aurelius reincarnated,” the sailor said when we collected again in the showroom and sat down on the benches. Shirley and I sat on one bench, the sailor on the opposite bench. He fixed his gaze on the cornice where the walls joined. Both Shirley and I followed his line of vision expecting to see an apparition appear though neither of us knew what Marcus Aurelius might look like, no less what the good man had thought. Vaguely I recalled that he was a Roman Emperor.

The sailor lowered his chin and pointed it at us, “You do believe in reincarnation, don’t you?”

“You’re kidding?” My voice sounded squeaky as I recalled my boss’s identity confusion.

“Of course,” and he smiled, a farm-fresh smile sunny as an egg yolk.

More book talk and at an hour’s end, the sailor rose, shook hands and departed. Relief. To quote the Bard, “All’s well that ends well.”

But not quite. The next day at twenty minutes to five, just after Emil left for the day, the reincarnation of Marcus Aurelius appeared carrying THE COPY of The Inferno, “For Shirley.” He handed me the book. My heart widened. What a dear, dear man. So what if he has illusions. But he didn’t look right. The chipper man of the previous night hadn’t shaved. His suit was rumpled and yes, there was a stain on a pant leg.

“Are you all right?”

“Just tired. Slept in the Greyhound Station last night. Bench kinda hard.”

“Couldn’t you have gone to a hotel?”

“Spent all my money on a ticket for home. Florida. Leaving tomorrow.”

“You spent money on the book. You might have been able to get a cheap room someplace.”

“Shirley really wanted the book. I wanted her to have it.” His eyes turned molten.

My neurotransmitters synapsed rapidly. He was obviously in need and I could help him. Last night had been a success. Both Shirley and I joyfully departed for our homes enthusiastically reciting lines from Emily Dickinson. We hadn’t been this stimulated for weeks. And then there was the war effort. He needed to be taken care of to continue to fight our country’s wars. Certainly, it was my patriotic duty. “You need a place to sleep?” I asked.

He nodded, his face a haystack in the sun. Yet, I detected a hint of sheepishness. With brotherly affection, he kissed me on both cheeks. Though his gesture was devoid of even an intimation of sex, warmed by my impulsive generosity, I might have…but his purity of purpose dampened budding desire.

“I can’t thank you enough,” he said when I handed him a clean towel. *

Floor open and swallow me; earthquake tumble this building; tornado sweep me into its vortex; fire reduce this place to rubble and me to ashes. Where was Marcus Aurelius now? Other than the uncontrollable tremor in my legs my imprecations to the fates did not yield a single disaster to save me from my fate. How could I explain to Dora, now in charge until the Boss returned, or to Emil whose tools had vanished, that everything of any value, the sample shoes, petty cash, checkbook had disappeared together with the sailor. Sobbing, I sank to my knees where Dora found me fifteen minutes later.

“A sailor needed a place to sleep,” I mumbled in answer to her concerned questions.

“You let a stranger stay here? Overnight?”

I nodded dumbly.

Dora’s lips compressed, her eyebrows forged together giving her a pruny look, one I had witnessed at the time our Boss was hauled off to jail. “He thinks he can make up his own rules,” she sniffed as we both stared out the window at the paddy wagon carrying off the Boss.

She carefully inventoried the theft: three sample shoes for the right foot only, an entire shipment of buttery kidskins, Emil’s special tools, and $15.47 in petty cash. She dismissed the checkbook of little value since that account had been closed.

“Not much gone,” I said. I’ll use part of my salary to pay for Emil’s tools and the skins.”

As Dora turned to me, I anticipated her lecture, and sure enough, she said, “It’s not the value of the items but the value of the trust.”

Dora, a veteran of sacrifice, had eschewed an operatic career to care for her sickly mother. She grasped me by the shoulders, “When you care for another’s property, you must protect it even more than you would your own.”

“He said he was a reincarnation of Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic.” And then I read to her material I had copied out of the Encyclopedia Britannica last night. “Epictetus form of Stoicism-the cosmos is a unity governed by an intelligence and the human soul is part of that divine intelligence and can therefore stand naked and alone, at least pure and undefiled, amidst chaos and futility. Marcus Aurelius, considered a historically overrated figure presiding over an empire that was already beginning to decay, had personal nobility and dedication and counted the cost obsessively and did not shrink from it.”

Dora only gave me a pitying look, but contrary to my expectation, did not fire me.

For the next several months, I answered to irate bank officials who called to tell us that somebody was writing checks on an account no longer active and to department store managers who could not collect on purchases made by a certain young man. The trail of purchases wound its way southward. The skins never showed up nor did the three right shoes.

Eventually, the calls ceased. Much to my surprise, the calamity fell lightly on my shoulders but my relationship with Dora soured and my trips to Dedham bored me and I soon left the job to seek greater opportunity elsewhere, discarding in the process the Stoics’ philosophy in favor of dispensing with virginity.

Bio: Edith Marks worked for the New York City Board of Education and rose from a teacher of emotionally disturbed children to a supervisor of teacher training for children with special needs.She is an active volunteer, assuming leadership of a Support Group for Glaucoma Patients. She enjoys sharpening her gardening skills with the West Side Community Garden, a pacesetter garden located in New York City, where she serves on the Board. Her eye sight has deteriorated over the past thirty-five years due to Glaucoma. At age ninety, Edith has had many stories and articles featured in various publications, and has appeared on radio and television numerous times nation wide.


The Date of Her Dreams, fiction
by Nicole Bissett

“Hello, Lauren,” Allen said with ice in his tone. It broke her heart to hear it.

“Hi. How are you?”

“Fine,” he answered. Lauren could hear the venom just beneath the surface.

Awkward silence…

“What are you doing?” Lauren asked.

“I’m on my way to an appointment.”

“An appointment? On a Saturday night?”

“Yes.”

“Are you dating someone?” She knew it was masochistic to ask the question, but she couldn’t stop herself.

“That’s not your business anymore,” he answered. “We’re separated now. What I choose to do, and with whom, is no longer your concern.”

“It is my concern,” Lauren cried. “Divorce papers haven’t even been filed yet.” She knew there was no logic in her words, especially when it came to Allen Whitaker. He did what he wanted. Five failed marriages was a testament to that.

“I told you at some point that if you didn’t come home, I was going to seek someone out.”

“So this marriage isn’t worth working on? You don’t care to save it at all?”

“I told you before, Lauren. It’s important to me in this marriage that I be the one to make the final decisions. That’s just one of many things you don’t want to agree to, and it’s important to me. You just want things your way, and in this marriage, I’m the head of the household. That’s how I need it.”

“So that’s what it all boils down to, does it?”

“Look, Lauren, I don’t have time for this. We’ve been through this. The bottom line is that you don’t want to defer to my authority, so you have brought this on yourself. I will now date whomever I wish, and you now have to accept the consequences.”

She hung up on him, then let the tears of rage flow freely. After seven years of this, it was time to let go, she knew. It had been time six years ago. She’d known it then. Her feelings vacillated for so long about what she needed to do; but now, things were set in motion, and she wasn’t about to stop them.


Gayle answered the door in response to his knock. “Hi there,” she said warmly. “Wow! My goodness! You didn’t have to bring anything.”

He entered with bags loaded with diet Coke, apple pie, vanilla ice cream, and a snack plate with Ritz crackers, raw vegetables, dip, and assorted cheeses which he himself had put together. “Of course I did,” Allen said.

It was spacious and clean inside, and smelled of cooked meat and potatoes. Jazz music played softly in the living room, and the table was set with what looked like her best linen and plates. It was nice for a change.

He set the bags down on the set table and began to unload them. “Put this in the freezer for later would ya?” he said, handing Gayle the box of vanilla ice cream. “I got some nice snacks for us to munch on.”

He set the apple pie down on the counter. He intended to have Gayle heat it up for later. Then he returned to the table to uncover the snack platter. Gayle walked back from the freezer and stared. “My goodness!” she cried. “What a surprise! Did you put all this together? It’s lovely!”

Allen nodded. “For the lady,” he said. “I hope you like diet coke.”

“I do,” Gayle said. “But dinner is nearly ready. It has a half hour to go.”

“Perfect,” Allen said, sitting at the table. “Sit down with me and dig in.”

She did. They ate while Gayle chatted about her day with friends and stood to attend to dinner preparations.

Allen found Gayle classy, friendly and intelligent. He enjoyed her company. They had much more in common than he’d had with Lauren, who was half his age. He did not, however, find her attractive. She didn’t have the best figure. Nice figures were important to Allen. She wasn’t fat, but chunky. It wasn’t her physical appearance which turned him off, though. His biggest obstacle with Gayle was that she was too independent. She had many friends and was often out with them to different events. This was not something he shared in common with her. He preferred home projects, and was mostly an introvert. He liked, no, needed, a woman who knew her God-given place under his authority, and would be happy there.

They dined on steak, mashed potatoes, green beans and salad. Then the two of them did the dishes and went into the living room to sit down and talk.

“Would you like some dessert?” Gayle asked, putting emphasis on the word dessert.

Allen understood the innuendo in her tone. “Yeah,” he said, ignoring it. “Could ya heat up that apple pie and pull out the ice cream? That would be great.” He wasn’t prepared for her kind of dessert yet. Not tonight.

Gayle smiled. “Sure, but I’ll be right back.”

She disappeared down the hall. Allen did his best to assure himself that she was going to the bathroom. That was all… But he knew otherwise… knew it in the pit of his stomach. Something was about to go wrong, very wrong.

He paced the room, not daring to look down the hall. He glanced at pictures of unknown people on the walls and hummed to himself.

Gayle reappeared, dressed in a white, lacey nighty that would have looked better on a model twenty years younger. Allen did his best to ignore it.

“Is that your son?” He pointed to the portrait on the wall of a tall, slim, blond young man around twenty-five.

“Yes.”

“He’s handsome. What does he -“

“Sit down with me.” Gayle’s voice no longer seemed confident, but nervous. This was not what Allen wanted. He suddenly had a bad feeling this night was going to end with a bang. “Let’s talk for a while.’

He stood still for a moment, then moved back toward the couch.

Not to be ignored, she stood in front of him. “Well? You like?” she asked.

He decided to try the approach that was guaranteed to turn her off. It was one that usually worked with Lauren. It was his tactic when he needed space, his way of pushing a woman away. “Well… not really. I think you looked better in what you were wearing. That doesn’t compliment your figure, since you have a little gut and you’re busty. But what’s important to me is that you’re comfortable. Friends should be comfortable around each other, and if that’s what makes you comfortable, that’s what matters.”

His lack of tact didn’t work. Instead of being turned off or even hurt, she sat beside him and put her hand on his thigh. He tensed.

“I find your honesty refreshing. You’re a breath of fresh air. That was one of the first things I found so attractive about you.”

“Honesty and open communication are important in a friendship,” Allen said. “We’re becoming good friends.”

Gayle chuckled nervously. “I’ve never been good at subtleties,” she admitted. “So the only way I know to do it is to just come right out with it. I… well… I’d like to make love to you tonight.”

“I, I…” his arrogant confidence began to wane. “I see that. I don’t know what to say.”

“Say yes. Who are we kidding? There’s desire between us. We’re not just friends.” She moved her hand further up his leg. “I think we both need this. It’s been so long for me and I know that it has been for you too.”

“Gayle, I…”

“It’s been so long since I’ve felt this way about a man… So long since I’ve made love to a man I really wanted. I find myself wanting to cook for you, be with you; I’d give my life up for you.”

Give everything up for him? That was something Lauren wouldn’t do. She wouldn’t even give up her friends for him. When they first married, Allen had thought himself lucky to have Lauren, a woman half his age, who worshipped him. But then, over time, she’d forgotten who was king.

As if reading his mind, she said, “I have a lot of friends, Allen, but I’d give them all up just to spend the rest of my life with you. You’re such a wonderful man! I don’t know why your ex-wife Lauren let you go, but if I can help it, I never will.”

Allen’s head was spinning, as if he had been drinking. He didn’t want her, but she had thrown him off balance. He couldn’t recall having mentioned Lauren’s name to her. Everything was happening so fast! One minute they were eating dinner and having a pleasant conversation; the next–well, the next, he really didn’t know…

He found himself following her lead into her bedroom. Before he knew it, she’d shed the skimpy gown. She was working on the buttons of his shirt. He was grateful for the dark. He only wished he had some alcohol in him, yet he felt like he was rapidly developing a buzz. He didn’t know how this woman could have such an effect on him.

“Easy,” he said coming to his senses a little. “Easy. There’s no rush.” He lay beside her on the bed fully clothed.

“What a romantic,” she said, pulling the buttons on his shirt. “Let’s get these things off. I’ve got something for you that will blow you away.”

He was buzzed. No, beyond buzzed. Something was wrong. Was he about to be date raped, he half-heartedly mused to himself. A woman wouldn’t dare drug him and then try..

“That’s better now, isn’t it?”

What was better? The room was spinning and he was losing himself.

“You have a terrific body for your age, Allen,” Gayle said running her hand over his chest. “I’m so fortunate to be the last woman who gets it.”

Wish I could say the same for yours, he thought. That was the last conscious thought he ever had.

“‘Scuse me,” she whispered, leaning over him. “I have a surprise for you.”

Had he been able to see the surreptitious smile on her face, he would have been frightened. But he didn’t. She opened a drawer while Allen lay there, nearly unconscious now. Grabbing a condom, he supposed lazily. For a woman, especially in her late fifties, she wasn’t much into foreplay. The class she had shown him over the past four dates was gone. She was like those women who came on to Austin Powers in the movie. Was this a movie?

Suddenly, his head felt wet, though he hadn’t thought it was hot enough for him to sweat. He reached up groggily and felt his head where the wetness was.

“You okay, honey?” Gayle asked.

“I…” He pulled his hand back in alarm. It was blood red. There was no time to react. He was only dizzy and weak for another moment before his head felt the explosion, and the world went dark.

She examined him briefly. He was already dead and bleeding profusely. “Goodbye, you male chauvinist pig,” she said. “No wonder Lauren wanted you dead!”

He deserved to be shot. She’d known that from the first date Lauren had hired her to suffer through. Sure, he had his charm; but he was arrogant, cruel, and didn’t appear to have a conscience. Furthermore, he wanted his woman as a subservient doormat, and had the nerve to use the Bible as his manly right! She hated so-called Christians like this. Her own father had that attitude when he was alive, before the “unfortunate accident” she had arranged for him twenty years ago took his life…


Lauren jumped at the sound of the ring. She had been waiting all night. “Hello.”

“It’s done. I took care of it. He’s gone.” It was Barbara, AKA Gayle.

“Gone.” Lauren let the words sink in. Her male chauvinist, cheating husband was gone, as per her personal request.

“You okay?” Barbara asked. “This was what you wanted, remember?”

“Yeah,” Lauren said, but her mind was detached from the conversation.

“He’s dead, Lauren. It was easy, too. He didn’t feel a thing. The drug I used knocked him out within half an hour. He was fading as I shot him.”

“Oh.” She didn’t bother to ask what drug. It really didn’t matter.

“You’re not having an attack of conscience, are you?”

“No. No, I’m just shocked I guess… I guess… I didn’t think it would happen that fast.”

“Service with a smile.” And with that, the phone went dead.

She had asked for this, paid for this, and the woman she hired had delivered. She now had to live with a man’s blood on her hands. She would learn how. She supposed it would be no worse than living with a man like Allen Whitaker for seven years. Only time would tell, she supposed. All she knew now was that, for the first time in years, she was free.

She suddenly heard a noise. Had the hit woman decided to get her, too? It was so hard to move. How she wished that damn noise would stop!

She reached out toward the sound to find the source. She turned it off and rolled over in bed. What a dream!

It took a moment to reorient herself to her own bedroom, but when Lauren’s eyes were fully opened, she realized it had all been a dream. There was no hit woman, and Allen Whitaker was very much alive. Wow but did that dream seem real! Too much pizza last night, she supposed.

Bio: Nicole Bissett lives in La Mesa, California with her husband, Harry. Together they enjoy swimming, working out, and hiking. Nicole will soon be participating in her second triathlon, sponsored by the Challenged Athletes Foundation. She is also an active member of the Blind Stokers Club, a tandem cycling club that rides with blind cyclists. These activities have become recent hobbies over the past few years. Nicole recently read a radio commercial for 105.9 the bash, and oldies station in Fort Wane, Indiana; and is pursuing reentering the field of voice-overs. Meanwhile, she continues writing with that same, twisted sense of humor.


Shakira and I, memoir
by Linn Martinussen

It was the kind of autumn evening you can only experience in London. The air was cold, and humid. It felt like it was going to rain anytime, but the rain never came. Instead there was the kind of wind that penetrates your clothes, even if you wore wool close to your skin, and chills you to the bone. I had just finished a long day at work and was heading to my friend Shakira’s for dinner. Shakira and I had met a few months ago. She was working at my local underground station and we got talking, because she’s Jamaican and I being new to the area, was wondering if there were any Caribbean shops or restaurants around. We were the same age and she was bubbly and fun to hang out with. Apart from a few weeks of not seeing each other, we had been inseparable. She only lived a few hundred meters away from where I lived, so we practically lived at each other’s apartments.

“Come in girl!” Shakira hugged me tight; like we hadn’t seen each other in ages, but it was how we always hugged. She smelled amazing, of perfume and spices. “I made lamb chops,” she said excitedly as we walked into her warm, soft carpeted bedroom which smelled of body lotion and clean clothes. Shakira had a nice flat. It had one bedroom, a bathroom, kitchen and living room. She never used the living room, so we were always in her bedroom, in her bed,when we ate, watched TV or just talked. I didn’t mind. I felt comfortable in her soft big bed which was full of pillows in various shapes and sizes.

As soon as I’d made myself comfortable, Shakira’s little kitten Kaya jumped up and started walking on my tummy. I stroked her and she started purring. Shakira was busy carrying out plastic trays with our plates piled high. “I’ve been sleeping for hours since I finished my shift, but I’m starving,” she said.

“Me too,” I replied, and lifted Kaya off me before accepting the tray Shakira held out. “It’s the weather. I always over eat this time of year.” I picked up a lamb chop and started nibbling. “This is perfect.”

We sat eating in silence for a long time with BBCThree on in the background. Shakira was an amazing cook. The chops were juicy and spicy. The fried vegetables flavoured with the juice from the chops and the mashed potatoes were creamy and a little salty.

“So what’s up on the man front then?” I asked, taking a swig of the tropical fruit juice.

“Oh my gosh Linn. You won’t believe it! I met this fine man you know in this club on Saturday.”

“Tell me. And are you still talking to the other two?” Back then I thought Shakira must be extremely pretty. She isn’t ugly looking I guess, nor is she plain. But in hindsight and through other people’s descriptions of her, it wasn’t so much her looks as her confidence that got her such a huge amount of male attention.

She was quite curvy without being fat. Her skin had a milk chocolate tone to it and she kept it very smooth. Her hair was always perfectly done and she wore a headscarf in bed so as never to mess up her weaves. She was always dressed to the nines and smelled nice. She had a voice that I could only describe as milk chocolate like her skin, soft and very pleasing to the ear with just enough of a Jamaican lilt to sound vaguely exotic. Looking back, I think I had a girl crush on her. Not in the lesbian kind of way. I am quite heterosexual. But in that kind of way where I always wanted to impress her, be approved by her, have her attention, admiration, even be her, because she was everything I wasn’t. She was confident in her own skin and knew what she wanted in life, or so it appeared to me then.

At the time, I was in an on-off thing with a man who also happened to be Jamaican. I was head over heels about him. He was dealing with issues that were way more serious than the normal “I’m not into you, but don’t have the guts to tell you” type of issues. Rather than being into making a new relationship with me, he was into repairing his life, something I don’t blame him for today. My mum had been diagnosed with terminal colon cancer, and though nobody, not even dad knew it at the time; dad too had the same cancer. I also hated my job. I was working for the BBC which was where I wanted to be, but I was in a position that wasn’t getting me anywhere. So I was in a very bad place and my thoughts about myself were negative, to say the least.

“I’m still talking to the others.” Shakira said and put our trays on the side. “I can’t put all my eggs in one basket you know. But this new one Linn, he’s amazing. Can you believe it, he’s……” she made a little pause before saying “Nigerian.” She said Nigerian through clenched teeth as if she tasted a sour lemon.

This is something I have noticed with London girls originating from the Caribbean. Many of them have a funny way of talking about Africans. “She’s really pretty for an African.” Or “I kind of like him and even if he’s African he’s not that African really.” “That Jamaican guy there is, too African looking for my liking.” So Shakira’s clenched teethed way of saying Nigerian wasn’t very strange to me. I have never noticed Africans talking about Caribbeans in the same manner.

“But Linn, that guy turns me on! And you know what they say about a good Nigerian….” She got interrupted by her blackberry that started to ring. “Yeah, wa gwaan? Me am chilling with my girl nothing much. Hmm. Yeah, let me ask yeah?” She turned to me. “Linn my mate Jayce wants to come over and he’s got a mate with him too, Dizzy. I know them both.”

I knew that mate meant occasional lover, and that the idea was for the guys to come over so we could get off with a guy each. I wasn’t particularly keen on the idea, but I wanted to get my Jamaican guy out of my system and maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Although if it got steamy between Shakira and Jayce, only God knew where Dizzy and I would go. “It’s cool,” I said after a couple of seconds. This could perhaps be the start of me too becoming cool and having lots of men after me like Shakira.

“She says it’s cool,” Shakira said to the blackberry. Then she handed the phone to me. “Dizzy wants to talk to you,” she said.

“Hello,” I said a little hesitantly into the phone. “Wa gwaan baby?” His voice didn’t have the deep undertone I usually find attractive, and his accent was too East London as well. But he sounded charming enough, so I decided not to be picky. “I’m good, and you?” “Yeah man, we’re just chilling in it, ma bredrin and I. So you wanna see us yeah?” I giggled. “Sure.” “What do you look like?” I hated this question for some reason. I’ve always had a large number of black friends and I’m used to being the only white person in a group, but the reaction from my black friends’ friends to me being white, has sometimes been a surprise. Not at all unfriendly though. “I am blond,” I started. “You’re a white girl?” Dizzy asked. “Yeah.” “Wow, ok, that’s cool, that’s cool; just send me a pic in it?” I could hear what he didn’t say “I never knew Shakira would hang out with a white girl.” But at least he didn’t say it.

We hung up, and Shakira snapped a picture on her Blackberry and sent it over to the guys. Dizzy called straight away. “I like your looks babe. But I hope you’re up for doing a ting yeah? Coz like, I wanna get down with you.” “Of course,” I replied, sounding confident, but feeling far from it. “We just need to raise some money for the petrol.”

I handed the phone back to Shakira. “Raise money for the petrol, I repeated with a laugh. “We’re not giving them any money,” she replied. “These guys are so broke.”

After half an hour or so of us talking more about men and work, she got serious and leaned towards me. I could feel her eyes on me. “Linn, I think we need to tell Dizzy you’re blind.”

“Do we?” I asked. “But why?”

“Because, honestly, not all guys would do a blind girl. I’m sure you realize that.”

I was horrified. “But he said I was hot, so he likes my looks and I think we got on ok on the phone.”

“Still though, we should give him the option to leave it if he doesn’t want a blind girl.”

I felt the anger rising in me. I wasn’t keen on Dizzy, let alone make out or sleep with him. But I felt this was really unfair and not like the Shakira I knew. She started pressing the keys on her phone and a few seconds later, I heard a distant dial tone.

“Dizzy, it’s me. You got that petrol money yet?”

“Oh great, yeah. But before you come over, there’s something I need to tell you yeah. You know Linn. She’s blind.”

“No, I’m not joking. She is.”

“Yeah. I understand. Ok, another time then.”

“He can’t,” she whispered and handed me the blackberry. “Speak to him.”

“So you are blind?” His whiney East London accent hit my eardrum and I wanted to scream. I was mad and I was in shock. How dare Shakira do this to me? “I guess so,” I said coldly. “I can’t, you know?” I didn’t know what to say, so I said “Ok,” hearing how ridiculously stupid it sounded. “Yeah, it’s just, Man, I can’t, a blind girl.”

I handed the blackberry to Shakira, feeling tears stinging behind my eyes. “I need to go home,” I said quietly.

“Linn, are you mad?” she asked. I said nothing, just moved out of her bedroom and into the corridor to pick up my shoes and jacket. “Because,” Shakira continued and came out after me. “You need to understand that not everybody can cope with somebody who is blind. And to be honest, you should already be used to this.”

That day marked the beginning of the end of our friendship.

I’m glad to say that five years down the line, my life is a whole lot different from what it was then and it is full of positive things I never could have dreamed of at the time.

Bio: Linn Martinussen, born in Oslo, Norway, is a journalist and writer who takes a lot of inspiration from London’s multi-cultural life in her fiction. She graduated with a BA in journalism from Edinburgh Napier University in 2007 and went on to work for the BBC in London. She is currently living in Oslo where she is completing an MPhil in media studies from the University of Oslo. She works for radio Nova, which is Oslo’s student radio, and writes for the UK based magazine StyleAble. She is blind from birth due to a detached optic nerve.


Flight for Life, fiction
by Bobbi LaChance

She lay drenched in sweat on her bed, tossing in the humid air that felt like a wet sponge against her skin. Distant thunder rolled across the valley, as if a battle had begun. She rose from the bed, changed her sopping nightgown, and thought maybe something to drink might help her get back to sleep.

She reached for her robe that always hung on the back of the closet door, but then remembered that Mama had taken it down to wash. Sliding her feet into her snug blue slippers, she quietly descended the stairs. Turning the corner into the kitchen, she was startled to see her mama, who sat at the table, reading a book. A frown creased her brow and her body tensed as reality dawned on Beth. As her eyes filled with concern, she crossed over the braided rug and turned toward Mama. The book snapped shut as Mama jumped in surprise.

Beth took a deep breath and asked. “He’s not home yet?”

Mama pinched the bridge of her nose and turned to face her. “Don’t worry Beth, he’s probably working overtime.”

Beth crossed the room, slumped into a chair, and then, proclaimed, “Mama, its five thirty in the morning and almost daylight.”

Ignoring Beth’s comment, she said, “Put something on over that threadbare nightgown; it reveals too much of you.”

“My robe is in the wash, and there is no one here but us.”

“If your father sees you that way, there will be hell to pay.”

Knowing her Mama was right, Beth sighed loudly and pulled Mama’s violet sweater from the back of the chair, and shoved her arms into the worn sleeves. Beth’s rebellion upset Mama. The reaction of her sixteen-year-old daughter, who dealt with the hormones of youth, not quite a woman, yet no longer a girl, left Mama looking frazzled. Their conversation was interrupted by the slam of a car door.

Mama pleaded, “Get up to your room now! I can deal with him.”

Beth hesitated, and then, reluctantly bounded up the stairs. She heard the back door thud against the wall and slam shut, as her father tromped into the kitchen. There was a pregnant silence that urged her to leave her bedroom door ajar to listen for any sign of trouble. The heat in the bedroom was oppressive, and again, sweat ran down the back of her nightgown.
She stripped off the damp sweater, tossed it on the bed and sat down. Then, she heard her father’s slurred voice, as it rose in anger toward her mama.

“I told you to cook me some breakfast!”

His shout bellowed up from the kitchen; then, she heard a sharp slap as clear as if she were in the same room with them.

Tears trickled down her cheek as she sobbed, “Oh, God, make him stop.”

“No, Chad! Please stop!” Mama begged, and then, another slap landed, louder than the first one, followed by a loud thud.

Beth flung her door open, raced down the stairs–three at a time, and then, rounded the corner into the kitchen, where her Mama lay in a heap on the floor. She witnessed her father’s boot kick forward, as it connected with her Mama’s ribs. The look of rage on his face sent chills down her spine.

Then, as his labored breath filled the room with the stench of liquor, Beth screamed, “You leave her alone.”

She started forward to comfort her mama, but his hand shot out and backhanded the side of her face, which caused her ears to ring and her eyes to water. Then, he turned back and kicked Mama again. Beth grabbed the tea kettle and slammed it against the back of his head, which stunned him into silence. He turned in astonishment and leered at her, then, began to unbuckle his belt.

Beth’s heart pounded like a bass drum in her ears, and just when he lurched toward her, Mama grabbed his ankle. He whirled around and stomped on Mama’s wrist, as the sound of crunched bones filled the room. Beth lunged through the dining room, sprinted to open the front door, and then, tore across the lawn, into the woods.

She had no plan of action, but instinctively knew she had to go for help. She thought if she ran on the road he would catch her, so she ran deeper into the woods. She needed to reach the Peterson’s home, across the river, which would lead her to safety. On a knoll at the base of the mountain, an old rope bridge spanned the river and led to the Peterson’s property. The last time she had crossed that bridge was at the age of ten. In order to join the club, her rite of passage had been earned six years ago, when she safely crossed the bridge.

The dangerous bridge had been condemned years ago, but the government never tore it down. There was a combination of safe boards to cross that bridge. If she could just remember the numbers. She ran deeper into the woods, until the stitch in her side blew into red hot pain and she had to stop. Her breath hitched in her throat. She stood silent and listened. She heard something thrashing thru the brush, she imagined her father as he slashed open a path, while he swung his belt. Her heart raced, as the sound grew closer. Could it be a wolf or bear that tracked her scent, she questioned.

Whatever creature followed her, the haunted sounds drew closer, as if her fear could be scented. She peered through the trees and gasped at the sight of the huge figure that spun from its backside to face her. She held her breath as the bear rose to its full height and stared down upon her.

Then, her two nightmares joined forces, as she heard her father’s angry voice yell in the distance, “Beth, you come here right now!”

The bear gave a low, menacing growl. Beth shook violently, as she watched the bear advance toward the sound of her father’s voice. She stifled a cry, and then felt the warm wetness on her nightgown, as her bladder gave way. She spun, sped forward, and prayed that she had fled in the right direction. The bridge appeared as she dashed for the river’s edge. Adrenalin drove her forward as she raced up the steep knoll to reach the bridge entrance.

A torn and battered sign condemned the rope bridge that spanned twenty feet across the river and hung above the water, sixteen feet. Beth’s mind was in turmoil, the numbers had to come. She stood at the edge of the bridge, and she looked through the cracks between the boards to the river that gushed below her feet. She shivered and raked her hands across her face in frustration at her lapse in memory.

The numbers three, five, and seven, popped into her head. Taking a deep breath she stepped onto board three; the bridge swayed from her added weight, as she white knuckled the guide ropes. She counted out loud as she stepped onto boards five, and then, seven, praying for guidance, but no answers were revealed. She looked down to the water, as her panic surged. Then a wry smile lit up her face as she replayed the scene in her mind.

Beth’s eyes closed and pictured her ten-year-old self, as she skipped out the sequence over the bridge, jumping three times or was it four. Stupid, stupid, stupid echoed thru her brain.

“No,” she cried, “I will remember.”

She jumped over three boards landing so hard she pitched forward, the bridge swayed precariously. Hot tears ran down her cheeks and her heart lurched, and then, as her breathing slowed, Five minus three flashed in her mind. She stepped onto another board. The cracking noise blew all thoughts from her mind, as her right leg plunged through the cracked board. She screamed in pain from the splinters that gouged her leg, while her lower leg dangled beneath the bridge. She looked about for someone or something to help her, and then, saw her father emerge from the woods.

In a frenzy, she yanked her leg up and felt her flesh tear, as blood trickled down her leg. She gulped down another scream and fought back tears. Looking straight ahead, she hoped for two more safe steps forward. The board that followed, attached by just one nail, tipped down toward the water. She stepped over the broken board, lost her blue slipper, and then, watched as it sank into the water.

She stepped out with her bare foot, only to slip on the rain drenched board and almost flung herself over the rope rail. Beth’s ragged breath escaped as she caught her balance and clenched the guide rope in her fist. Wet from the morning rain, the rope had shredded from age, and left small abrasions on her hands. She was almost to the end when she looked back and saw her father as he grabbed the guide rope at the far end of the bridge.

“Three boards to go,” she huffed in exhaustion. As she took a deep breath and lunged forward, she hit the ground with such force, it knocked the breath out of her. When her chin smacked the ground, her teeth rattled. Her elbows speared deep into the soggy mud and the rest of her body followed. She lay there, stunned for a second. Then, she heard her father’s voice carry across the bridge. Terror ripped through her body. Propelled forward on her knees and elbows, she crawled a scant distance, and then, sprawled on the wet grass, as her body collapsed.

She heard him call again. This time, Beth pulled herself into a seated position and stared at him, perched at the bridge entrance, but too far for her to capture his features. Then, his haunted words penetrated her brain.

“Oh, Bethie, I too, know the combination. Remember, I grew up in this valley and earned my rite of passage many years ago.”

As his words penetrated her soul, she hung her head in utter defeat. Her stomach soured, bile surged up her throat and she felt absolute terror. Beth’s urine dampened nightgown, smeared with blood from her injured leg, turned her blood icy, as a black haze crept into her outer vision. Her eyes struggled to gaze across the span of the bridge, but met her father’s sinister smile, as he danced a jig in victory. She thought he has snapped, gone completely mental. She looked to the heavens thinking that even God had deserted her. All of her hope had vanished. Again, she stared back across the bridge, sat a little straighter, in anticipation of the worst.

Then, the bear lumbered up the knoll and almost directly behind her father. The bear rose up on his haunches and towered over her father by more than a foot and a half. He never saw the grizzly’s approach; he only gloated and was too busy with his sick happy dance. Beth’s mouth fell agape, as her eyes widened in horror at the bear’s attack. The bear enveloped her father in a bone crushing hug that caused him to squeal like a stuck pig. The bear raked his claws down the front of her father’s body, and then, the long red gashes split open like a ripe tomato. He fought the bear as his body twisted and kicked backward to no avail. Beth heard screams that roared through her ears.

The Bear bit into the base of her father’s neck, as he went limp and dangled from its jaws. She saw his still form and heard the screams that she suddenly realized, were her own. She clamped her hand over her mouth and the eerie silence felt like a stone on her chest that couldn’t be lifted. The bear held out her father’s body, shook it like a rag-doll, and then, dropped it onto the bridge. Wood splintered and cracked like confetti, as she watched the angry bear and her father’s body, plunge deep into the water.


Getting Off the Page, fiction
by Manny Colver

It was the most peculiar employment ad Arbaghast had ever read, at least one printed in a well-respected daily newspaper like the venerable Sunderville Sun. Arbaghast felt especially qualified to make such a judgment too. He’d been reading a lot of want ads in the employment section of late, ever since a month long depression had led him to conclude much to his bitter disappointment that, through all those years of struggle, sacrifice and self-denial, he’d been laboring under a profound delusion; namely, that he could write something others would find interesting enough, if not to purchase, at least to read.

Not that he couldn’t fill ream after ream of 24-pound bond with words. He’d done plenty of that, had several stacks of manuscripts piled on the bottom shelf of his bookcase to prove it: ragged stacks of spineless, unbound manuscripts piled horizontally in staggered fashion one atop the other where they lay now with all hope gone that someday one of them might snap to attention (anyone’s attention!) and thereby find a place among Arbaghast’s collection of what he’d come to see as literary vertebrates displayed on the upper shelves.

Arbaghast lifted his eyes from the strange ad to stare up at his collection of great books, up there with their flawless posture, so upright, so proud, so ramrod straight with their hardcover spines. For an instant he felt as though he were staring off into the distance at the peaks of some great mountain range that lay far beyond his powers to reach, let alone to climb.

It wasn’t that he hadn’t yet found his voice as they liked to say. He had found it all right and others had found it too, but had found it wanting in any number of ways. No wonder he’d never known writer’s block. He wasn’t a writer.

True, it was foolish to heed the call of a stray epiphany, particularly one hatched in a fit of self-contempt. Arbaghast was well aware of that. He’d long been in the habit of rejecting most of what came to mind during one of those dark interludes. Besides, the conclusion regarding his life’s work hadn’t come in a flash. It had crept in upon him slowly, bit by bit. It had started out as an unfocused sense of discomfort but soon metastasized in a tendency to fidget and doodle when he should have been working. Ultimately he found himself unable to stay seated at his desk for more than a few moments at a time. He even tried standing as he wrote. It didn’t help. Ironically, he’d become not unlike one of the characters he’d fleshed out in a story long ago, a character whose name told something of his physical mannerisms. It was painful for Arbaghast to admit, but it was true: he’d become a living, suffering version of one of his own creations. He was not all that different from the fussing, fidgety wreck of a human being he’d named Antsy Carpenter.

And that had merely been the first phase of this reexamination of self, for next came the doubts and they were subtle at first. They came like gentle taps upon his shoulder to interrupt a sentence here or there or to make one he’d just completed look feeble. Soon they filled the air around him while he was working and settled upon his stacks of manuscripts while he slept where they hid in the dust, waiting. They came too like acid reflux whenever he lay down for a noontime nap, burgeoning up through recollections of the words he’d put to paper that morning. At such times he could taste those doubts. Oddly, they tasted like heavily peppered sauerkraut.

When after a time those doubts began to stumble upon shreds of irrefutable evidence, a single fear coalesced. One undiluted thought began to nag at Arbaghast with unnerving persistence, coming not only as he worked but also late at night, queued up and waiting there, first in the line of thoughts ready to fill his mind once he’d thrashed himself to a state of sweaty wakefulness. These intrusions were nothing like a tap upon the shoulder. They came like a blow to the head, armed more often than not with terrible headaches and bouts of gloom. Finally, there was no avoiding it, no way to think or write it away, for it came now as neither doubt nor fear. It came as fact: Edmond Francis Arbaghast was no writer.

Ironically, Arbaghast was forced to accept as especially prescient a nugget of caustic advice he’d gotten decades ago scrawled with a pen in the margin on page three of a screenplay that stood as his inaugural work: “Tell this writer to get off the page!” someone had raged. The hand had been so heavy, the pen put to paper with such angry force, that a legible imprint of those words appeared like a ghostly warning all the way back to page nine. Still did, in fact. He studied those inkless apparitions now, the page where they lay gone yellow with age.

“Tell this writer to get off the page!”

Arbaghast winced.

That wasn’t the only advice he’d gotten over the years. Most recently, one of Arbaghast’s few remaining friends had weighed in with, “For the sake of your own sanity, Arbo, get a life!”

“Get off the page?”

“Get a life?”

Well, those could serve as bookends between which he could shelve the many pages that told the story of a failed career. Yes, at last, at long last, it was over.

This precipitated quite an adjustment for Arbaghast, like being released from prison or coming home from a war. His entire routine had to change. Where once he awaited inspiration or the sudden recollection of the perfect word, now he waited for a single perfunctory thump upon the door of his basement apartment, which told him the morning paper had been flung his way. Having long ago given up his phone, TV and internet service to save money, Arbo’s future would have to be found now in the classified section of the Sunderville Sun. And so it was that combing through the want ads assiduously had become his life’s work.

And now this ad, this strange, rambling ad. He read it several times over in the course of the morning. It was more than simply peculiar. It was eerie.

“Some experience as a high school teacher or prison guard would not be looked upon with disfavor.”

He read it several more times that afternoon.

“Must have highly developed powers of observation and a firm belief that most of humanity’s problems can be solved with the combination of technology and the proper mix of chemical substances.”

“What the heck did that mean?” Arbaghast whispered to himself.

“Interested individuals must apply in person,” the ad advised. “Early mornings preferred.”

The ad didn’t give a phone number, just an address on First Street, which he knew ran along the river just south of downtown Sunderville. The place was within walking distance for Arbaghast as was much of downtown Sunderville. This hadn’t happened by chance either. Arbaghast had given up his car years ago for economy’s sake and, though he moved quite frequently, he always found a place within walking distance of a SART bus stop and, most importantly, a grocery store.

First Street had always been a curiosity for Arbaghast. It had also been the inspiration for the settings during his gothic fiction period. Along several blocks where the street ran to a bluff overlooking the river, ghosts from the gilded age towered above the sidewalk, great rambling old mansions built by the barons of the industrial age, men of great skill, limitless ambition and a love of ostentation. Mankind certainly hadn’t discovered opulence in the Gilded Age, but they had in America found a path there that didn’t require being born into European royalty or having a standing army at one’s disposal; nevertheless, when they found such wealth within reach, through coal or rubber or railroads or oil or a dozen other routes, they embraced the opportunity with feudal aplomb.

As one of Arbaghast’s friends crudely expressed it, these were the “in-your-face” houses of their day. And that was true, though now more than a century later they were less “in-your-face” than “in-your-pocket.” Descendants of the families who’d built them (if they hadn’t lost them to the 1929 Crash and the Great Depression) eventually decided to leave their preservation to those with a love of architectural history, old-world craftsmanship and deeper pockets, or probably more often than not, simply to chance. The less prosperous progeny of the great barons had quietly let them slip away.

So much for eugenics, Arbaghast reasoned with great satisfaction.

Fates of the dozen or so First Street behemoths varied widely. Several burned down under suspicious circumstances over the decades, while most of the others went through quite a few changes in ownership. Even Sunderville jumped in at one point, purchasing the Arvin Uberall three-story Italianate (some thought at an inflated price) with plans to restore it to its original grandeur for the purpose of housing a museum. Barely two months after the sale closed, the great sprawling low-pitched roof on Sunderville’s future museum ended up in the basement when a massive snowstorm brought the whole structure tumbling down, a disaster insurance didn’t cover.

The incident caused a major flap in Sunderville. It even lured Arbaghast away from his basement hovel long enough to make his first and last appearance before the Sunderville City Council where he proposed–or intended to anyway–that if any future billionaires decide to throw up one of their little 12,000 square foot “cottages” in Sunderville, they should be required as part of the permitting process to establish a trust fund large enough in principal for the earnings to cover maintenance and preservation of their status symbol lest the descendants of said billionaire decide to dump it on the city.

Arbaghast had worked himself into quite a state over the issue. He railed on in front of the City Hall assemblage well beyond the two minutes allotted each speaker. “Conrad Arbaghast,” as one councilman dubbed him, was finally “removed” from the chamber though no charges were filed.

Not surprisingly, this unpleasant and somewhat embarrassing episode inspired a lurch away from fiction, which lasted several years and ended with Arbo’s first piece of book-length nonfiction titled “The Feudal Position.” For two years Arbaghast plunged himself into the realms of evolutionary psychology, cultural anthropology and ultimately brain evolution theory to assert in the book’s final draft that the interplay between developmental layers of the human brain, in particular the limbic and necrotic layers, produced over the ages a tendency for humans to give in the construction of their communities a distinctly feudal flavor: a few residential behemoths surrounded by a sea of huddled huts. The manuscript was somewhere down there on the lower shelf with the others. Its author, Arbaghast was told again and again, it lacked a platform, even a small one.

All this came and went in a flash as Arbaghast studied the address. He was pretty sure he knew which house belonged to 812 First Street. He decided to apply the very next morning.

Morning arrived to find Arbo dressed and ready for his interview, seated before his typewriter and a blank sheet of paper with every intention of writing a short farewell to a life that was over. Perhaps a poem would be fitting, he thought.

He was still sitting there at noon. Still there at three. Finally, as darkness pressed in around him and everything disappeared, he began to write (yes, write!), write as he’d never written before. He wrote without thought to revision, wrote without seeing a single word, wrote into the small hours of the next morning and continued until his drab apartment crept from the shadows to gather around him once more. Then long about noon he stopped. Whatever it was that he’d written was done.

Several weeks later, Arbaghast’s landlord, having received neither the last month’s rent nor answers when he knocked upon the door numerous times to inquire about the issue, entered the apartment with his master key to find Arbaghast’s books, his clothes and other personal effects undisturbed, but the tenant himself had vanished. A stack of typing paper lay on an otherwise empty desktop in the corner, the pages filled with double-spaced typing.

Perhaps the answer was here, the landlord thought. He sat down in Arbaghast’s chair and began to read.

“It was the most peculiar employment ad I’d ever read,” Arbaghast’s landlord began to read in a whisper, “at least one printed in a well-respected daily newspaper like the venerable Sunderville Sun. I felt especially qualified to make such a judgment too. I’d been reading a lot of want ads in the employment section of late, ever since a month long depression had led me to conclude much to my bitter disappointment that I’d been laboring under a profound delusion for years; namely, that I could write…”

Upon finishing the lengthy piece, the landlord leaned back in Arbaghast’s chair and smiled. The poor fellow certainly poured himself into these pages, he thought. All in all, rather compelling.

BIO: Manny Colver was born with a rare eye condition that left him with 10% of normal vision, an extreme sensitivity to light and a view of the world devoid of color. His work has appeared in Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look.” He is an avid reader and a fanatic bowler. He lives with his wife in Florida where he can be reached at: colver.skip@tampabay.rr.com.


III. I Remember

The Gas Furnace, poetry
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.

This house was brick
with windows
tight as new shoes.
This house
had two bedrooms upstairs,
two bedrooms downstairs,
and a new furnace in the basement.

“No more shoveling coal, Pa,” Daddy said.
“No more dirty coal dust,” Mama said.

After supper,
Grampa went downstairs
to look again
at the clean floor,
the shiny metal vents
that carried warmth
to all the rooms upstairs.

Grampa studied the gauges, all the fittings,
every connection.
He listened
as the furnace clicked to life,
hummed and whooshed the heat
magically,
from its belly
up, up to all the rooms above.

Grampa took his bottle from under the stairs,
found his glass on the shelf over the sink,
and placed them on the floor
next to the old folding chair.

He removed his glasses,
not like Daddy did,
fast,
with one hand, not caring, really,
how they landed on the table,
but carefully,
lifting the curvy part over each ear,
folding them into his shirt pocket,
like a priest touching the holy gold cup.

He sat on the chair
facing the furnace,
poured wine into the glass, and sipped.
“I’ll be damned,” he said softly
and stroked his moustache.

Bio: Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P. is a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. She has a Master’s Degree in Education and has been a teacher and principal in Catholic elementary schools. She recently retired, after 20 years of employment, as a social services counselor for the blind. She facilitates a Support Group and a Talking Book Club, as well as a group for the Women of Vision project for women who are blind or partially sighted who write and “do” art. Elizabeth has been legally blind since 1990, due to retinitis pigmentosa and other complications. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida in a community with three other Dominican Sisters.


Kinder, memoir
by Robert Feinstein

When I was a little boy of five, going on six, my mother enrolled me in a regular public school with a Braille teacher. There were about six blind students at the school. Because I was so young, I stayed in the Braille room and began my studies of Braille.

I need to explain before continuing that we spoke a German dialect of sorts at home. I heard both English and this language. Because I was so young, I did not know where one language started and the other one ended. Often, sentences would be in both languages. Since I do not know how to write this language, I will do my best to spell it phonetically.

One day, the teacher decided to play a game, and give us objects to identify. She handed me a fork. “What is that, Robert?” she asked. I said immediately, “die Gabel.” “What?” she exclaimed. “No! It’s a fork.”
At home we used the word gabel, and I was very confused. I whispered the word fork.

She then gave me a spoon, and asked me what it was. I felt it, thought a long time, and said, in my loudest, most assured voice, “Löffel!” “What are you talking about?” she asked in disgust. “You are saying ridiculous things. It is a spoon. Stop being silly or I will have your mother come and you won’t get to have snack today.” Tears came to my eyes. I could not understand what was happening. “Well, let’s try again,” she said.
She gave me a plastic knife. I felt it. I examined every inch of it.

“Well, Robert, what is it?” I said as loud as I could, “messer. Messer. Messer.” There was silence. The teacher said, “What language are you speaking?” I said I didn’t know, but my mother called it Jewish and it was like German but not exactly the same. Her attitude softened. “Well, here, speak English, and use the words spoon, fork, and knife.” I never forgot those words.

This was in 1955. How different things are nowadays! Kids are enrolled in bilingual programs and often encouraged to speak the language they speak at home. When I was growing up, it was never explained to me that certain words belonged to another language, and for this reason, I spoke, and heard a real mixture.

When I got home, I explained to my mother what had happened at school.
She was surprised that I had used the Yiddish words, as I knew English well, but realized that we did mix languages at home. She said she would go to school and talk with the Braille teacher.

The next day, I did not take the school bus, but came to school with my mother. I was seated at my desk, but could hear their conversation. My mother explained to the teacher that I was using words in Yiddish for common objects like fork, spoon, etc. The teacher asked why I did this, when my English was good. She seemed to think that I was trying to confuse things, and was being stubborn. My mother said that she didn’t think so, but rather that when young children come from homes where other languages are spoken, they often don’t differentiate and say the first thing they think of. The teacher seemed to understand, and said she would be more patient with me.

I am glad my mother came up to school. Things went better and when I occasionally used a Yiddish word, there was no problem.

Interestingly enough, there was another girl in the class who came from a Yiddish speaking home. We were having a lesson on Kindergarten, and how it came before first grade. The girl said, Kinder means children.
And so it does, in Yiddish!

Bio: Robert Feinstein grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. He earned his Bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College, and his Master’s from Middlebury College in Vermont. Robert studied and worked in France, then returned to New York for a twenty-year career as a language teacher for children with English as a second language. He speaks French fluently, and has conversational background in Hebrew and Yiddish. Robert was a volunteer telephone communicator for the deaf community. He learned rudimentary sign language and became friends with several deaf-blind individuals. He researched the life and writings of Helen Keller.


Losing Sally, memoir
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

We were thirteen, born one day apart. She was Boardwalk, I was Park Place; I was Scarlet, she was Melanie. Roommates, soul mates, each an only child. Sally had moved from Wisconsin to Texas during our fifth grade year. We became fast friends, and our parents encouraged our bond since we lived in the same town. During the summer, we rode horses and read Nancy Drew books together on my Daddy’s ranch. She taught me a little German she’d learned from her Aunt Molly.

At the beginning of the eighth grade, by some stroke of luck, Sally and I were assigned to be roommates at the School for the Blind in Austin. It was like sisters rooming together. We were leaders, and had many other friends, but it was wonderful to know that there would be no fighting over space in the closet, taking turns in the bathtub, or what radio station to listen to, as there was in many roommate pairings.

Almost immediately, houseparents frowned. In their eyes, blind children weren’t supposed to play favorites. We included others in our circle, but there were a few girls we didn’t like. They weren’t as smart as we were, couldn’t keep up with the games we chose.

After a busy morning in home economics, gym, and English, we flew over to the dorm, hoping for a good lunch. It was a Monday in September.

“Sally, Marilyn… In my room after lunch.” Mrs. Carlisle blurted as soon as the list of mail recipients was read and the blessing was said.
She was not respected, not trusted. This meant trouble.

Through the beef stew and salad, Sally and I tried to figure out what we’d done this time. Maybe our room didn’t pass inspection that morning?
Maybe she found the poppy seed cake Sally had brought back from home, and which we weren’t supposed to have in our room? Even the banana pudding didn’t taste good now.

“Sally, you’re going to Cottage A.” A was the big girls’ cottage.
“Marilyn, you’re not going to have a roommate. You girls can’t speak to each other, and you can’t talk to anybody else about this decision.”

The shock paralyzed our minds, took away challenges and arguments we wanted to offer. Sally was sent to our former room to pack, and I was sent back to the classroom building. What we understood, but couldn’t share, is that we wanted to be running down 45th Street or jumping in someone’s car, headed for the bus station to go home.

The hurt was beyond our tolerance. There was no one to share it with, and no way to call home to try to get someone to take our side. There never was much recourse when decisions were made, and explanations were only offered if serious punishment was due. Since there wasn’t much to punish us for, we deserved no consideration.

We cried our eyes out through our afternoon classes, unable to participate or concentrate. “What’s wrong!” Ms. McClintock whispered at our end of the table in speech class.

“We’re in trouble,” Sally murmured, “and if we talk about it, we’ll be in worse trouble.”

Ms. Mc put an arm around each of us. “I hope it gets better,” she said.

Sally got a new start, but that meant making new friends as a wimpy eighth-grader among the older girls. I had our old pals, but had to suffer the alienation from the house mother for the rest of that year.

I eventually got a roommate when a new fifth-grader moved into the dorm.
Our parents chose not to make waves. They were convinced that there was something we weren’t telling them, something bad enough to deserve our separation.

Analyzing it later, we tried to understand what made them deliberately destroy our friendship. Officials were severely homophobic, but there was nothing of that in our relationship. Girls got in trouble if they were caught sitting on a bed together. Was that the fear, or was it someone’s lie or continued complaint because we wouldn’t make them our friends? The collar was too tight, the leash, too short.

Two years later when Sally and I were in the same dorm but had long since realized that the magic in our sisterhood was gone, we woke one morning to the news that Mrs. Carlisle had died in her room on campus from a sudden stroke. Maybe she was already ill when she hurt us so badly? We’ll never know, but I, for one, will never forget the pain.

At a boarding school, it’s necessary to grow up fast, and to sometimes carry adult crosses on shoulders that are not yet ready. Losing Sally was the first of a series of important changes in my life that year.
There was so much to share, and my best friend was gone. I got my first bra, my womanhood, and my first Valentine present from a steady boyfriend. Three months later I lost him. In December, I lost the vision I had treasured for thirteen years in an accident when I was sent to my room by the same infamous houseparent. I had always helped Sally with music, and she helped me with math, so those became chores instead of adventures.

Although I healed as did Sally, I had lost hope and trust in authority figures’ ability to be fair. I didn’t realize at the time that they had stolen part of my innocence, but I was terribly afraid that I had lost my sister forever.

I will never know whether the magic would have lasted had our friendship run its normal course. We tried rooming together when we found ourselves freshmen at the same college. She had obtained contact lenses and graduated from a public school. Although we were both planning to become teachers, she wanted to be a rich Herbert Hoover-style republican, and I was a cause-bound bleeding-heart democrat. It was too late to reconstruct the love and trust we’d known at thirteen.

When my own blind children had troubles with teachers and houseparents at residential schools, I was an outspoken advocate once I had the facts, and I did get the facts. Today parents and even children have rights and voices in school decisions. My children were never captive targets for malicious game players and power seekers, as Sally and I were. I tried to give them the courage which we were afraid to show when we were thirteen.

Bio: Marilyn Brandt Smith worked as a teacher, licensed 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 and many animals in a hundred-year-old home in Kentucky. Her first book, “Chasing the Green Sun,” published in 2012, is available from Amazon and other bookstores and in audio form. She loves writing flash fiction stories, and is the primary editor for the “Behind Our Eyes” anthology, and she was the Coordinating editor of this magazine from the spring of 2011 through the winter of 2014. Another of her interests is music–barbershop harmony, folk and Americana, and current hits. Visit her website and read her minimag/blog at http://www.marilynspages.com.


Keys, poetry
by ANN CHIAPPETTA

Jagged
little metal Alloy trinkets
open tumblers
Strung together on rings, tied
To thongs or clipped to lanyards.

Brass or silver toned,
taste like cold blood
When clamped between lips and teeth,
While Struggling to open the door
After Marathon shopping sprees.

One might surmise keys are replaceable–after all
What is a locksmith for?

hand slips into pocket
fingering objects,
touching the stories
Represented in physical sentiment’s:

A pewter policeman’s hat, a plastic starfish,
A silver dog bone.

If someone else found these keys, would they know? Would
They understand the life
The symbolism
The unrevealed memories

Of a charm for a father
Or a mother, gone
and the bone
Signifying the bond and love
for a guide dog?

Just trinkets
inserted into slots
And forever remembered with each turn,
The opening of a door
into a heart.

Bio: ANN CHIAPPETTA M.S. lives in NewRochelle, New York. At one time, before blindness, Ann fed the muse with the visual arts. Now, she fulfills the muse with creating words. Ann’s poetry has appeared in small press publications like “Lucidity” and “Midwest Poetry Review,” and her nonfiction pieces have been featured in the “Matilda Ziegler online Magazine” and “Dialogue magazine.” Legally blind since 1993, Ann lost most of her sight from retinal degeneration. After the diagnosis, she went on to obtain both an undergraduate and graduate degree. Currently Ann works as a readjustment therapist for the Veteran’s Administration To read more writing, Visit Ann’s blog: http://www.thought-wheel.com.


Good-Bye to an old Friend, poetry
by Karen Crowder

We saw you in the appliance store.
Your magnificent wood shiny cloth-covered speakers attracted us.
We planned to place you in our big living room.
You would look grand with your booming console speakers,
an aging TV consigned to our bedroom.
You seemed right in our large carpeted living room for everyone to see.

During your years on Marden street, cut glass candy dishes graced your wooden top,
filled with colorful peppermints, fireballs and fruit candy.
Photos of our family complimenting your top,
A lace doily covered the fine grained wood.
We listened to the booming voice of news commentators,
kids sitting attentive, watching cartoons.

When we moved, would we have to abandon you,
would you be too large to fit in to our apartment?
Your second home was in our new living room.
Family photos and cut glass dishes again decorated your aging wood surface.
After Marshall left, people hinted, “You should discard this old relic.”
By 2005, a DVD player, XM radio and digital cable box sat secure on your surface.

I wiled away hours watching movie, shopping or educational channels,
entertaining guests with funny and serious movies.
Your speaker’s sound quality began to fade.
By the fall of 2007, your majestic sound was silenced.
The repair men suggested
“This TV is too expensive to fix.”
You sat silent in our living room Until 2010.

They carted you off to some nameless junk yard.
My new apartment too small to fit your grand design.
A flat screen TV sits above my computer desk,
Its tinny speakers unable to match your rich bassy tone.
They do not make TVS like you now, the lovely cabinetry created with so much thought and care.
I will remember the joy and comfort you brought to us
on Marden Street and Liberty place.

Bio: Karen Crowder was born with Retinopathy of prematurity rendering her completely blind. She grew up in Weymouth Massachusetts, attending Perkins School in Watertown. She graduated in 1969, discovering a passion for writing during high school. In her twenties, she participated in poetry workshops. A newsletter and a newspaper published Karen’s poetry. Karen graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English in 1983, from Unmasks Boston After graduation, Karen had a full life, working, marrying and taking creative writing classes. She began writing for “Consumer Vision Magazine” September 2008. In 2010, she became a feature writer for “Matilda Ziegler” writing weekly articles. With other writers, she was laid off when the magazine suspended publication January 6 2014. Karen maintains Doing work you love enriches your life.


What I Learned From My Sister, memoir
by Carla MacInnis Rockwell

Maureen was 10 years old when I was born. On the 18th of May, 1954, she found herself presented with another sister, a sister who would be unlike the one she already had and unlike herself in a few unique ways. With the passage of time, the elder would teach the younger about the value of the E: empathy, endurance, energy, empowerment, and elegance. My sister, as she grew into a young woman, developed a quiet elegance, very much like that which our mother had in abundance.

Maureen, as pack leader, had a lot of endurance to put up with rambunctious younger siblings: David, Ian, Nola, Roddy, Robert, me, and Michael, who probably drove her to distraction. Michael and I probably not so much since he was an infant and I was 3ish when he was born. How much trouble could the two youngest possibly be?

My sister was an energetic force on the basketball court in high school, captain of the team, a friend to all who knew her and in her later years, I called her a social butterfly; with her easy manner, people gravitated to her. No doubt, during her school days, lots of guys had crushes on her, particularly when she was a junior and then a senior. But the man she ultimately married was a perfect match in so many ways.

She was very pretty, but more importantly, my sister was a very nice person. What I’ll always remember is that she always made time for us, mostly for my younger brother, Michael and me. She was rather like a mini-mother, especially for our brother. When she was in high school and dating, she took Michael and me on a few car dates to the drive-in, with sleeping bags and snacks. Memories were created for us three on those occasions. Then there were the hamburgers and fries at Howard’s restaurant, and the ice cream cones.

It was the summer of 1966, on the 14th of May, when my sister got married, and at the age of almost 12, I got to wear my first “real” pair of shoes; on her day, I would be free of the below-the-knee orthotics (heavy metal braces) and ugly brown boots. She insisted! How grown-up and special I felt wearing those black patent leather shoes that were chosen, no doubt with guidance from Mom. I also remember the dress that Maureen and I picked out together at Marich’s clothing store, blue with white dots. May 14th held additional significance for our family; it was also Mom’s birthday. I can’t recall if there were two cakes, though if there was a birthday cake for Mom, Maureen probably baked it. Nothing like baking a birthday cake the day before you’re to get married. It’s possible however, that our middle sister, Nola baked the cake. She was and is a great baker, but I have to say Maureen was probably the best of us all. There was to be a third cake, one for my brother Roddy and me as we had birthdays close together, his on the 13th of May, five days before my own. I don’t recall ever having a cake on my own special day; that’s what sometimes happens in a large family with many children who have birthdays in the same month, or within weeks or days of each other. An economy of time and energy was necessary if Mom was to maintain sanity.

A few months after Maureen got married, I would be out of school for the summer and about to go on a new journey, an adventure. I would be taken to a rehabilitation centre for intensive therapy as in-patient, mostly physical therapy on my legs. For years, our mother spent time each day working on my legs. Maureen and some of the others did their bit too. I’d like to think that having me as a baby sister taught them all a few things.

It was Maureen who, during her first year of marriage, over the period of hot summer months, introduced me to Anne with an E; this was the first in a series of books that she brought to me while I was being held hostage. I was having my legs pulled and stretched this way and that, at the Forest Hill Centre for Rehabilitation (since re-named). The FHCR. It was in the same city where my sister and her new husband lived, Fredericton, New Brunswick. It would be during these months that her endurance was no doubt tested by a little sister who was frustrated beyond words with what her legs could not do and would never do. Yet she still visited me, brought me books, games and dolls. She and her husband took me out for drives, for ice cream and lunch in city restaurants. Then it was time for them to bring me back to the Centre at the end of a visit. I didn’t like that part, but I knew she’d be back to see me again. I was good at waiting. Still am.

Books were a huge part of my life from the outset; Christmas and birthdays saw lots of books coming my way. Dad subscribed me to a book club, the Companion Library. Double-sided books arrived in the mail every month. I was in wordy heaven. All the old Classics, a lot of Dickens in that collection. Then there were books that Mom bought: “The Bobsey Twins,” “The Nancy Drew series,” and the companion series, “The Hardy Boys,” “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew,” “Little Women,” “Little Men,” and on and on. Then there was Anne with an E, the stories that captured me and drew me in; the odd girl out who would find herself as she grew and realized she had something important to say. I was Anne with an E and she was me. She hated her red hair; I hated my body, my legs and what they could not do.

It took growing and maturity for me to realize that my scrawny, weak legs didn’t have to stop me. What rested upon my shoulders, a good head, a good mind, would carry me through. I think my sister saw that, thus her decision to keep the books flowing. Her gift of Anne and the “Anne” books I treasured for years. None of my books had turned down corners; they were never laid pages down while waiting for the next chapter to be read. When a chapter was finished, a bookmark was slipped between the pages and the book was closed and placed on my night table until the next part of the journey began the following evening. Over the years, while still living at home, my library grew.

When I went off to university, the books were safe for many years. Then it happened! Mom donated my library to the elementary school. She kept back the Anne with an E books. They were to find a special home. That collection went to Maureen’s only daughter, Kathryn. I’ve never thought to ask if she still has them. If she does no longer, I can only hope that they have gone on to be enjoyed by other girls who are in need of a few Es of their own.

Early on, I was a screamer and a whiner. I was later to understand that screaming and whining were not strictly functions of a bratty kid, but more a frustrated reaction to cerebral palsy, the condition with which I was born that altered the way I would move, the way I would grow up, and the way I would live from childhood to adulthood. In fact, I had conversations with our younger brother about the frustrated mini-me of our childhood and he understood as an adult what neither of us appreciated as children. We get on very well now because we now understand what my needs took away from him. I was treated as the “baby” of the family, when that was his spot. Certainly, there were going to be trials. Maureen steered us through all manner of infantile messes that we created because we lacked the awareness to see that things would get better. She knew!

From a child’s perspective, cerebral palsy robbed me of a lot with regard to interaction with other children, particularly in play settings. I never felt that I quite fit. As an adult, I am very comfortable in my skin, and on my slender legs supporting equally slender feet. Though they still don’t move well, my legs look damned good. Our father always said, of the three sisters, I had the nicest looking legs. Whether that was his way of reassuring me that it didn’t matter that they didn’t carry me around a basketball court or across a skating rink, or he really did believe they were nice looking specimens with well defined quadriceps, it meant a lot. It told me that he and the rest of the family weren’t going to allow themselves to measure me, to define me based on what I could not do. Over time, it became clear that there was not much that I couldn’t do. I often sat in the kitchen and watched Maureen as she baked this cake or that pie. I was taking it all in, like a sponge.

I remember one Christmas when she was home with Peter, Maureen decided we should have a fondue. She made some really tasty dipping sauces for the strips of beef that she and Mom prepared. Then there was the chocolate fondue with fruit.

As her own two children grew older, I had occasion to spend time with them during their visits to Nana and Poppy. They too developed an E of their own, an empathy for those who were “differently abled.” I remember more than one evening when Maureen and Peter’s children were to be in bed asleep, but they were instead, having a serious discussion with me about my life as someone who walked awkwardly; how was it for me as a kid, and so on. Maureen, being a wise young woman, like our mother, let us alone and let her children ask the questions they needed to ask. So that they would learn, and take that learning and knowledge along with them. Because my sister knew that her children would meet others like me, some with more serious limitations, and as everyone knows, knowledge is power. Another E, her children became empowered thanks to their mother, my sister. There would be over the years, many visits to the home of our childhood, Maureen, her husband and children, and sometimes Maureen on her own, as Mom and Dad grew older and she felt it important to spend time with them. She was always baking something special for them during those “home visits.”

When we were all adults and on equal footing, Maureen got to know the mature me: the me who studied psychology and social work, the me who worked in a group home with intellectually challenged young people, and the me who still had the artsy crafty bent. A few hand knit blankets and a hooked rug found their way into Maureen’s home with Peter and their children. I had occasion to visit and see the rug draped over a sofa. She explained that it was far too pretty to put on the floor, as she realized how much work went into it. She respected my gift on so many levels, yet another memory of her generosity of spirit. She got to know the me who wrote about life as a person living with since-birth disability. She got to know the me who went on to get married and make it clear to all who knew me that I was going to be just fine. What she taught me when I was a small girl was huge; thanks to my sister I felt comfortable in the kitchen. So many with disabilities such as cerebral palsy don’t have such wonderful opportunities for learning, for growth, for empowerment. My sister gave me all of that! Cooking for a husband who appreciated my talents in the kitchen made for a happy and healthy home. It couldn’t have been achieved with such ease were it not for my sister and her showing me that I could do, that I can do.

Years passed and my sister faced considerable challenges of her own. In her 30s, still a young woman, she was plagued by rheumatoid arthritis. Over time, it worsened, robbing her of energy and wracking her body with unimaginable pain, making it necessary for her to take many drugs. Over time, other medical complaints compromised my sister’s quality of life but she never let what she didn’t have anymore get in the way of enjoying what she still had, what she would always have: a husband, children, and then grandchildren whose love for her knew no bounds. She had family and friends who were witness to a strength of character and will wrapped up in an elegance that was very much a part of who she was. She was Maureen.

I came into the world impacted by an injury to my brain that resulted in a life of living with and now growing old with cerebral palsy. I was fortunate to have grown up in a home with an older sister who took it upon herself to make sure that I would have childhood experiences not unlike those enjoyed by other little girls, though the way I explored new things might have to be slightly altered. My sister came into the world, healthy and whole, growing up to marry and have a family of her own. I doubt she ever gave thought to the idea that she would spend most of her adult life living as a person with disability. Maureen empowered herself to rise above and to press on, and that’s exactly what she did until she drew her last breath. All the breaths of Maureen live on in her brothers, her sisters, her husband, her children and her grandchildren. We all will make sure that who she was, and what she meant to each of us, will never be forgotten. God’s speed, Maureen.

Bio: Carla MacInnis Rockwell has been writing for the past 30 years, with contributions to local and provincial newspapers in her home province of New Brunswick, in addition to appearing in health and wellness themed magazines in Canada and the US. She writes about what she knows and lives, continuing to pen “life lessons” which have been compiled into a yet to be published book, tentatively titled “Growing Up With and Growing Old With Cerebral Palsy: One Small Step At A Time.” Along with her passion for baking and cooking, writing children’s stories and tales featuring dogs also occupies her creative palette.


Cradle in the Basement, nonfiction
by Kate Chamberlin

I stood at the top of the basement stairs and took a deep breath. I don’t usually go into my husband’s department. There isn’t enough room for my guide dog to go down with me, so I’m never sure I’ll make it back to the stairs.

I knew our old spindle cradle (with real rubber tires) was down there somewhere. I wanted to bring it up to get it ready for my first grandchild.

My great-grandmother had bought it at a barn sale when my grandmother was expecting my mother. My brother and I had slept in it. My three children each had their turn in it and the tradition will continue. That is, if I could retrieve it from the spidery depths of the basement.

We have a variety of gray steel shelf units that stick out from the east basement wall like stacks in a library. And, yes, when I was sighted, I used to have most things alphabetized by general categories. The water heater, water softener, sump pump and half a ping-pong table all share the east wall of the basement. The west end consists of a very large wooden double decker “loft” that my husband built twenty years ago. A large chest freezer and his work bench take up the remaining west side. The stairs and another wooden shelf unit take up the entire north wall. There is really lots of room in our little basement, but there is also a 26-year collection of stuff.

I prudently stationed my guide dog at the top of the stairs. I figured she could at least shake her dog tags to give me an auditory clue to guide me out.

Cautiously I descended the wooden steps and stood on the cement floor. I didn’t want to let go of the banister, but I really did want to find that cradle.

The last known location of the cradle was somewhere near the ping-pong table and that was some where toward the southeastern corner. I found a narrow path heading south and turned east when I felt the ping-pong table.

I got down on my hands and knees thinking it would, logically, be under or near the table. To make a long story short, an hour and a half later, I found it on top of the table.

Once back upstairs, I carefully cleaned the familiar white spindles and wove a new bottom with cotton webbing. I felt the high rounded ends and the hard rubber tires, remembering when I first placed each of my babies safely in its embrace.

The cycle begins again as I place my first grandbaby, Tyler, into our family cradle with the real rubber tires. I feel a sense of accomplishment and closure; a sense of continuation and peace.

NOTE: A version of this essay first appeared in my weekly column “Cornucopia”, 08/19/1998 Wayne County STAR Newspaper., All Rights Reserved.

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


Empty Nest, memoir
by Kate Chamberlin

My nest seems so empty now. My last baby is all grown up and flown the coop, so to speak. Her flight is a bit unsteady, but with a new purpose in life. She leaves to build her own nest, just as I did many years ago.

Now, as I walk into the empty front bedroom, I feel empty, too. I run my hand over the peg board. Its holes are gaping circles without purpose. They have lost the hooks that filled them. There are no flannels hung on them, no smelly sweat suits crumpled on the floor at its base. And no prize ribbons stuck on a golf tee crammed into a pegboard hole.

Next to this is where one son spent many hours drawing a maze on the wall. We designated a patch in each of the children’s rooms where they could draw or paint anything they wanted to on the wall. The maze ran from floor to ceiling and about twelve inches wide. He used a ruler and pencil to weave its many intricate angles. My fingers can still feel the indent the pencil made. I can’t bear to paint over it!

The traverse rod over the window on the north wall stands out in its stark nakedness. Many nail holes, blocks of wood and extra supports are still stranded there with the traverse rod above the window. Throughout the years, many a drapery has been hung on it. In the beginning, I’d made Olive green drapes of a soft narrow wale corduroy. The walls were painted chiffon yellow and, because the morning sun came streaming through the window, we called it our morning room.

With the birth of our first son, we redecorated this room by painting it a light blue. I made drapes made from a fancy dark blue and red plaid flannel. The bed had a comforter that was bright red on one side and dark blue on the other. The room stayed this way for almost 20 years.

When our daughter moved into the front room, the drapes were changed to a plaid of light blues, greens and browns, called Tyler plaid. A matching valance and comforter with coordinating pillows and a valance completed the decor. She took it all with her.

Now, the windows look blank, like the sightless eyes of a dying house.

Below the east window is a long, electric heat run. I remember one nap time, my young son discovered that the hard, rubber rug protectors under the table legs could slide neatly between the heat run and the wall. I didn’t discover this brilliant maneuver until I turned the heat on. A terrible smell filled the room and then the house!

Oh well, there isn’t any need for heat in this room any more. I’ll just keep the door closed. My foot kicks something as I turn to leave. I pick up the baby’s rattle and shake it absent-mindedly. It, too, looks empty, but the many little beads in it make it full.

My front bedroom is like that baby’s rattle. It looks empty but it is full of wonderful family memories.

A rush of warmth envelops me as the baby’s rattle reminds me that my grandson is coming for a visit. I’d better get out the vacuum to corral the dust bunnies, vanquish the spider webs and then hang new drapes to match the port-a-crib quilt.
I guess this ole nest isn’t so empty after all.

NOTE: A version of this first appeared in my weekly column “Cornucopia”, 11/04/1998 Wayne County STAR Newspaper.


IV. Celebrating the Seasons

Transitions, poetry
by Shawn Jacobson

Out in my back yard,
I sip my evening drink.
Peace is all as the sun descends.
Great clouds of shading leaves
catch the mellowing sunlight
and shine with golden light.
The sky is that soft blue
of well faded denim.
In this peace I feel a permanence:
all is in this moment of eternal blue and gold.
This time is constant; this moment is forever.

In my reverie
intrudes the feather softness
of a falling leaf.

Bundled against November’s bitter bite,
I bend to shovel tarnished gold
remembered as last year’s shade.
The leafy clouds that once caught evening sun,
in turn are caught and shoveled into bags.
The sky once denim blue is iron gray,
and knifing winds defy my dreams of permanence.
Fall’s transition has come upon me.

Bio-Shawn Jacobson was born totally blind. He grew up in Iowa where he attended the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School and the Iowa State University. He then moved to the Washington DC area where he has worked for the Government for 30 years. Shawn writes a little bit of everything, fiction, memoir, poetry, and book reviews. He currently lives in Olney Maryland with his wife Cheryl and son Stephen. His daughter Zebe now lives in towsand MD where she is attending college.


Adornment, September Daydreams, poetry
“Adornment: decorations worn to attract attention.”
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

On languid September days
I would like to wear
colorful gaudy jewelry
every single one
at the same time.
Adornments are worn to enhance autumn days.

I’d put the gems on in layers,
an ancient warrior preparing for battle.
Blue Topaz rings, one on each finger.
My arms, encircled with ornaments.
Protected by brilliant stones-
faceted cherry quartz, deep green turquoise chunks,
nuggets of Baltic amber in different colors,
jet black polished stones, and waxy yellow opals.

I’ll wear a periwinkle blue dancing skirt.
a flowing chiffon jacket.
I am a flamboyant coat-of-armor
that covers voluptuous, full breasts
like a bishop’s gold encrusted shawl.
My holy, rare, mother-of-pearl talisman
adorns my royal, goddess chest.

I slip my perfumed feet into soft sky blue sandals,
promenade around the spacious room,
in ever widening circles,
among the evening shadows,
under luminescent blue spheres
turning high above me.

Bio: Lynda McKinney Lambert uses ancient artifacts to carry contemporary magic. Her stories merge fragments from memory, myths, history, found objects, and personal experiences. The ordinary and mundane become precious treasures that represent a spiritual dimension. The retired professor of fine arts and humanities lectured at Geneva College and national conferences.


Fall Garden Chores, nonfiction
by Kate Chamberlin

Earlier in the summer, I had pruned off the old flower heads of my single peony with blossoms that look like fried eggs. Its strength went into making healthy foliage rather than seed pods. I sat on my skateboard to cut off all the stems. I replaced the little wooden fence so that I would remember where to feel for the small red eyes of new growth next spring.

As I rolled along the boards next to the asparagus bed, I found that some of the stalks were more than an inch-and -a-half thick. The dried stalks resemble a miniature forest and make fascinating shadows on moon-lit snow drifts, but this year I pruned them to about 3-inches tall. It is easy to weed the asparagus bed, because the stalks have such a distinct feel to them. Everything else gets pulled.

I plant Japanese Lanterns in with the asparagus each year. The tall, stiff stalks of asparagus help to support the fragile lanterns and keep them from getting torn by the wind. By this time of year, though, I have harvested the lanterns and dried them for my friend to use in fall arrangements. The remainder of the plant came out of the damp, friable earth very easily.

Even the dandelions pulled out without much protest. You, realize, of course, that a weed is just a misplaced flower. My dandelions are all “hybrids”. They were, however, not in the right spot, so, out they came.

I rolled my skateboard to the chip path and started in on the iris. My mother taught me that if you prune them into a fan shape, they will be attractive until the snow covers them. In the spring it is easier to rake over the short tops to encourage the sun to warm and dry the soil.

I felt good about my new little fans until an honest friend said they really looked more butchered than fanned. Oh well, I suppose it depends on your perspective.

I pulled the weeds out of the keg where the parsley is flourishing. Parsley is one of those crops I like to munch on any time I can snatch a sprig of it. It is a natural breath freshener, but you have to be careful not to leave any little green pieces on your teeth.

I rolled along the other chip and brick paths to pluck any errant weeds and dumped my little bucket into the big barrel. My husband empties the big barrel each week. He is concerned about my getting lost going to and coming from the compost pile!

I made a final sweep of the brick path and I was ready for a clean blanket of snow to cover my garden for its winter’s nap.

NOTE: A version of this first appeared in my weekly column “Cornucopia”,
09/25/1996, Wayne County STAR Newspaper.


The Haunted Hayride, fiction
by Rhonda T. Spear

It was Halloween. The air was chilly. Dark clouds covered the sky and an eerie silence prevailed. The only sound that invaded the stillness was the wind moaning and howling like unknown spirits. Hearing this sound sent shivers up the spine of the bravest hearts.

At midnight, the children would gather in the pumpkin patch to go on a hayride through the cemetery. It was the highlight of the day’s festivities. They looked forward to it every year. The kids planned their activities saving the hayride for the last thing they did on Halloween.

It was dark when the kids arrived at the pumpkin patch. A tractor piled high with hay waited for them. Every year it was driven by the old man who worked at the cemetery. They saw him sitting in the driver’s seat waiting to start the tractor. The sky, still cloudy, hid the moon and stars as they climbed on board, though they couldn’t see where they were going.

“Are you ready?” asked the old man.

“We’re ready!” cried the children. The tractor started on its way for the much anticipated night of fright. It moved slowly, picking up speed as it chugged along, carrying the children away on an adventure filled with thrills and chills.

The houses were dark as they passed through the town. All the candy had been given out to the trick or treaters and everyone inside was asleep. Mysterious shadows swirled about. The tree branches reached out, grabbing the riders as they rode by. It felt like unseen hands clutching at them as branches got caught in their costumes. Spider webs hung across the narrow path, brushing their small faces and necks, feeling like the breath of unseen spirits. The children heard sounds coming from invisible creatures which sent tingles down their spines. As they rode along, the old man told the children what the cemetery was like at night and the strange things he had seen. He told them how the head stones would move and the graves appeared to open. Often he heard voices calling to him from under the earth to let them out.

The tractor continued its slow pace. The wind blew harder moaning and shrieking louder as it rose. The sky was dark without any moonlight. Thunder rumbled, or was that the pounding of small hearts? Lightning flashed periodically. The tractor bumped its way toward the cemetery on the far edge of town. Chug, chug, chug, it kept going.

The children were nervous. They listened to what the old man was saying, wondering if it was true. They had heard the cemetery comes alive on Halloween with the dead people coming out of their graves. As they turned on the road that led into the cemetery gate, they felt the earth rumble like an earthquake making the grave stones shake and roll back. Creatures stumbled out of the opening graves moving toward the tractor. The children screamed! The creatures kept coming! It looked like coffins were walking along, their tops flapping open and shut, making a clattering sound. Bang, bang, bang, what a terrifying sound! When the tops lifted, the bones inside looked like the people that used to be alive. Oh no! Were the bones trying to crawl out of the coffins?

Suddenly, the tractor stopped and the motor stalled. Was it stuck? What was wrong? Ghostly laughter filled the air and screams came from all directions. The tractor would not start. The wheels seemed to be stuck in the mud, or were they held by some unknown force? Nobody could move. Helplessly ,they sat listening to the eerie sounds all around them.

Closer and closer the creatures crept. Footsteps were heard on the gravel. Crunch, crunch, crunch.

“We’re coming to get you! We’re coming to get you! Go with us into our graves and see what it’s like,” moaned the creatures. “We want you, and we’re gonna have you!” the creatures cried.

The children felt cold hard hands trying to pull them off the hay wagon. The rough hands of the creatures clawed and grabbed at them.

“No!” shouted the children. “No! Go away!” as they kicked and fought. Still the hands tried to take them away.

“You’re here, we’ve got you, and you’ll never leave!” the ghosts said with a terrible laugh. Clinging to each other, the children were filled with terror. They knew if they fell off the wagon, the creatures would get them, taking them to graves unknown, never to be seen again!

The tractor rocked back and forth. The children swayed, but they held on for dear life. The wind blew wildly. Costumes flapped, trapping the children in a tangled heap. The tractor seemed to be tearing apart. On and on, until the children thought nothing could save them from the evil spirits.

Suddenly, the tractor started with a lurch. Jerking, it sped out of the cemetery and back through the forest the way it had come. The children were sure the creatures followed them. They still heard the frightful laughter and screams from the cemetery.

“Stop! Come back! Don’t leave us here!” the ghosts howled into the night air. The clattering sound of running could be heard behind the tractor as the ghosts tried to catch them before they got away.

“Faster! Go faster!” the children screamed at the old man. “They will get us!” It seemed as though the ghosts were catching up with the tractor. Finally they broke out of the forest and there was only the sound of the tractor motor. The eerie sounds from the ghastly cemetery faded into the thick misty air.

The tractor returned to the pumpkin patch where the ride had started. The children were shivering and their teeth chattered. They looked around for the old man. The driver’s seat was empty. He was gone! They were alone in the silent pumpkin patch. In the distance they heard the town clock chime twelve times. It was just midnight. How was that possible? They knew they’d been gone at least an hour or more. Could time have stopped while they were in the cemetery? Time creeps and crawls when you’re being chased by ghosts.

In the distance, they heard someone whistling. The sound was coming through the dark toward the tractor. The children froze, hearts pounding in terror. Had one of the creatures found them? They saw an old man approaching and he sat down in the driver’s seat.

“Sorry I’m late kids. Are you ready for your hayride?”

“No!” the children screamed as they jumped off the wagon and ran for home.

Bio: Rhonda T. Spear is a native of Richmond, Virginia where she currently resides with her 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, singing, playing guitar, 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.


Winter’s Magic, nonfiction
by Rhonda T. Spear

Winter can be whimsical. From one year to another, winter changes moods just as nature changes the seasons throughout the year. January and February often bring winter storms that blanket the ground in a beautiful mantle of white. Other years, Old Man Winter doesn’t seem to make an appearance at all.

I live in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. Our winters are mild. We can go for several winters and not see a single snowflake fall from the sky and other years we may have a couple of coastal storms brew up a good old winter blast. Most winters, our average high temperatures range in the 40’s with nighttime lows in the 20’s. We have snow removal equipment, but I’m sure our northern neighbors find it amusing how a small snowfall seems to paralyze everything here. For them, what would be a small interruption in life leads to just about everything grinding to a halt when snow falls below the Mason-Dixon line.

I have many fond childhood memories from winters past. Being blind, I wasn’t able to just run out and enjoy the snow like other children. We had a wooden sled and my dad or brother would pull me along the snow covered street for a while, or I would walk with Mom in the snow reveling in the sound of its crunch under our feet. My brother would pound me in snowball fights. His ammunition was packed so well that I could throw it back at him because it hadn’t disintegrated once it hit me. Of course, he would never stand still for me to hit him. While I was trying to figure out where he was and aim my throw, he was on the attack bombarding me from all sides with more snowballs. After a while, Mom would call us in and make us snow cream or hot chocolate.

Now that I’m grown, winter has lost some of its appeal. Oh, I still love to hear snow crunch and dream of sleigh rides or building snowmen; but gone is the excitement of hearing the magical words, “no school.” When the forecast is for snow, I wonder with dread how much we’ll get and if I’ll be able to get to work safely.

The winter of 2014 proved to be what we southerners term a hard winter. We were due for some snow since none had fallen during the past couple of winters. We were pummeled with a procession of coastal storms that seemed to come once a week from mid January to mid February. Tuesday or Wednesday afternoons were the pattern for the arrival of snowfall.
Each one had an accumulation, just enough to close schools for a few days and make the kids happy.

One afternoon in January, following one of the winter storms, I had the chance to return to childhood for an hour. The storm left us with 3 inches of powdery snow. We were also in the grip of another seemingly endless bone-chilling freeze, one of several we’d had this winter. For days our temperature hadn’t risen above freezing, so conditions were perfect for a nice snowfall.

I received a call from my friends Phyllis and Erik inviting me to join them at a popular local park to play in the snow. Normally, I don’t have the opportunity to enjoy the snow should we be fortunate enough to get any. My sighted friends don’t live within walking distance and often the roads aren’t safe to travel even for some fun, but this wintry afternoon we decided to brave the elements. We bundled up and headed for the park. School was out and it was packed with kids and parents enjoying the second winter storm of the season. I heard the delighted squeals of the children as they slid down the big hill. Anything that would slide was being used for an afternoon of fun. It sounded like an amusement park or fair.

Phyllis and I borrowed a plastic sled from a young family and we took a quick trip down the main hill of the park. The father got behind us and gave us a push and we started off. As we passed Erik, I felt his hand on my shoulder as he gave us another helpful push. Off we went down the hill laughing as the sled glided over the freshly fallen snow. It was over all too soon and we climbed back up the hill we’d just slid down. It was more fun going down than climbing up. We returned the sled and thanked the family for letting us borrow it.

Phyllis and I walked around the lake. It was much quieter there with no sounds of happy children. Others had been there possibly seeking the peace and beauty the scene afforded. The afternoon turned out to be quite nice after the storm moved away. The clouds from the morning gave way to a bright afternoon sun. Though the temperature was in the mid 20’s, it didn’t feel all that cold, making for a pleasant walk for Phyllis and me. The snow crunched softly beneath our feet and because it covered everything, sound was muffled. I could hear water flowing from the small waterfalls as we passed them. The lake was frozen over but not enough for walking safely or ice skating. There was a layer of snow on top of the ice and Phyllis described to me the few duck or goose prints that were on it.

On our way back to the car, Phyllis showed me an icicle. It felt heavier than I expected and I kept breaking pieces off of it as I explored its thickness and length. She showed me how they were attached to the rear bumper of a minivan, but each time I tried to touch one, it fell to the ground.

When we got back to my house, Phyllis and I attempted to build a snowman. I’d never built one before and she and Erik said they would help me if we ever got the chance. This snow really wasn’t the proper texture for making good snowballs, but we were able to construct a small snowman that stood about six inches high. Even now as I think of it, I can feel my hands cupping the snowballs as we placed them together and I remember how the finished snowman felt in my hands. He didn’t last long, which made me sad. When the temperature rose in a few days, he melted away but his memory will linger.

As I think back, it had been twenty years or more since I had a chance to really play in the snow. We don’t always get snow in winter and I was grateful for the opportunity I had on this incredible day to spend time with two special friends helping me enjoy the magic of winter once again.


Pomfret Thanksgiving, poetry
by Paul D. Ellner

We came thru Wednesday’s mist and rain,
to the kitchen of the grand old country house
and a hearty welcome from Pam and Herv.
While she chopped turnips and monitored a venison roast,
Herv helped unload our car, offered bourbon to chase the chill.
Heidi barked at a setter, they touched noses and began to play.
We sat before a crackling fire, traded jokes and stories
about our kids and friends.
Harry and Deb dropped in and later on Darlene made apple pies,
’til Jocey and Aaron arrived from Boston.
Tomorrow he would hunt with Rob.
After supper we dozed by the fire ’til cobwebs filled our heads,
then went to sleep midst frigid sheets.

Next morning we hiked through woods and fields.
The day was warm and foggy.
And after slogging through mud and puddles,
we returned to share a country breakfast and
happy hunters with two bucks hanging in the barn.
We were twelve at table where Grace and Thanks were said.
We all joined hands and sang a hymn before we sat to feast.
The turkey was superb and the gravy that several of us
helped to make graced stuffing, turnips and sweets.
We had to wait an hour or two before dessert,
to let our dinner settle.
Neighbors came to call and joined us by the fire to talk of
work and how their kids were doing.
We all shared wine and funny stories.

Pam led some horses from the barn.
We saw their breath in the morning air.
Some of us had a joyful ride through woods and fields,
past the ponds.
The air like chilled champagne and woods that
smelled deliciously of fall.
Later Pam showed us with pride,
the house that she and Herv fixed up.
Too soon ’twas time for us to go.
We said our fond farewells in the barn,
where Rob and Aaron dressed the deer,
Then we started home.

Bio: Dr. Ellner is 89 years old and served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He received a Ph.D. at the University of Maryland College of Medicine. He taught microbiology and infectious disease to medical students at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons as Professor of Microbiology and Pathology. He has published many articles and several medical books. Dr. Ellner became deaf twenty years ago and blind ten years later. He wrote a play, poetry, short stories and self-published three novels and a biography. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and guide dog.


SILVER: BLESSING OR CURSE, fiction
by Ellen Fritz

Having settled his twenty breeding donkeys and seven horses in their respective sheds and stables for the night, Simon made his way back to his comfortable little house next to the main road. Though this particular road out of Bethlehem was usually relatively quiet, now in the deepening twilight, a dust cloud from recent travel still hung over its surface. In the distance, Simon could make out a departing caravan. It was the three distinguished foreigners and their retinue who arrived from Jerusalem a couple of days ago. Their urgent business,something to do with paying homage to a future king, seems to have come to a rather abrupt end.

Why though, he wondered, were they leaving on this road? According to one of their servants, they were supposed to return to the court of king Herod before making their way back to Persia and the lands beyond.

“I wonder why those exotically clothed Easterners left in such a hurry,” wondered Martha, Simon’s wife, later in the evening as she was putting their infant son to bed.

“Oh who knows,” said Simon with a yawn. “They are wise men, magi. Their kind is said to have dreams and visions of things to come. They were probably acting upon such a vision or, maybe, they are simply in a hurry to get…”

An urgent knocking interrupted him.

“Get the door, quickly before the knocking wakes this little one,” urged Martha.

“Can I help?” Simon asked the man at the door.

“Yes please. I need to buy a donkey, a good, strong one, right now,” explained the man. “Obed from the inn said that you bred the best donkeys in Judea.”

“You want to buy a donkey at this time of night?” Simon asked incredulously. “Can’t it wait until morning?”

“Please sir, the wife,” he indicated a woman carrying an infant behind him, “and I have to leave right now.”

“I have an excellent young donkey for you but it will cost you,” Simon said and leaned back into the house to get a lantern.

“How much?” asked the man.

“Ten silver denarii,” Simon replied. “I assure you, Amal is worth that much.”

“That is a great deal of money for a donkey,” said the man aghast. “However, I’ll pay it as long as it is the fastest, strongest donkey you have.”

These people must have a very pressing need to have to travel at this time of night, Simon thought. Sighing, he relented, “all right, make it seven denarii then.”

As Simon handed the lead rope of the sleek grey donkey to the traveler, the wife turned towards him and smiled.

“May the angels of God watch over you this night Simon son of Asor,” she said and the infant in her arms opened his eyes and smiled at Simon.

A feeling of peace, unlike any he had ever experienced before, settled on him. In his heart he just knew that it would be prudent for him to forget all about seeing this couple with their little son.

Martha and their son were already asleep when he returned to the house. It felt as though he had just drifted off to sleep when he was awakened by the sound of horse’s hooves and marching feet out on the road. probably just a passing roman contubernium accompanied by some cavalry, he thought.

A loud knock at the door made him sit upright. Hastily he donned his simlah and sandals and went to open the door. In the deep darkness of an overcast midnight, he saw, not the expected roman soldiers, but rather a troop of their own king Herod’s men.

“Can I help,” he said for the second time that night.

“We have to search the house,” the commander said gruffly. “King Herod decreed that all children up to the age of two years old be killed.”

“All children? Jewish children? His own subjects?” an utterly baffled Simon asked.

“Yes, all Jewish children under the age of two,” the commander repeated through clenched teeth.

“You will find no children in this house,” Simon declared, preparing to shut the door.

“Stand aside man,” growled the commander impatiently, “let us through or must we make you?”

“You, Ezra,” he continued pointing to a young soldier, “you haven’t had a turn yet. Get in there and see what they’re hiding. We’re continuing on to the next house just over that hill. Join us when you’re done here.”

A young mounted soldier separated himself from the troop and rode up to the house. Dismounting, he glanced back uncertainly at the troop that was now rapidly marching away.

“Still so many houses to visit before our next camp,” the soldier grumbled as he stepped past Simon.

“What!” gasped Martha as the soldier entered. “How can you murder innocent children? What kind of threat can a child of less than two years old pose to a powerful leader like king Herod?”

“Quiet woman; let me pass,” the soldier growled.

“No, No please, not my baby!” wept the distraught mother. “Oh please not my little boy! What can I give you to pass this house by?”

Shutting the door behind him, the soldier became thoughtful. Simon the donkey breeder was well known for his quality donkeys and, it was even whispered that he bred some of the finest horses. Horses and donkeys mean money, the soldier mused.
“I’m searching this house,” said the soldier in a considerably lowered tone of voice. “Should I find thirty silver denarii in this house while I’m searching, I might just forget that I also found a little boy child. Should I find said silver pieces and leave the house with it, I’d advise you to take your child and leave this country until the king is satisfied that all children below the age of two have been eradicated; is that understood?”

“But I don’t have thirty denarii,” Simon said dry mouthed. “I have seven, only seven!” In the background Martha was sobbing brokenly and clinging protectively to her son.

“Three minutes,” the soldier said emphasizing his threat with a chopping hand gesture.

Simon started taking out the coins he had received for the donkey. When he had extracted all seven, he felt more coins in the folds of his simlah. He started taking them out. Eight, nine, twelve, fifteen, twenty three, twenty nine and, unbelievably, a thirtieth piece. How is that possible?

Having completed his search, the soldier took the baby from Martha’s arms. His face seemed to soften just a little
as he asked, “what’s his name?”

“Judas,” said Martha, through trembling lips.

“Ah, I have a little one at home, too. Thank God he’s five, so, he’s not covered under this order.” Then, casting a furtive glance in the direction of the door he continued in a whisper, “I wish you knew how I hate this! It takes me apart, but, I’m a soldier, and I got to do what I got to do.”

Turning to Simon with a renewed scowl on his face, he hissed, “Hey, you, no more of that damned whining. Hand over that silver now, before I change my mind.”

“Wait,” cried Simon. “I have it! I have your price, thirty pieces of silver!”

Smiling smugly, the soldier took the thirty denarii and dropped them into his money pouch. Then, with a wink to the relieved parents, he left the house to join his troop and tell his commander that there were no children in the house of Simon Iscariot.

“Martha, hurry,” Simon said. “Pack only the essentials and get little Judas wrapped up warmly. I’m going to get our donkeys ready for a long journey.”

Bio: Ellen Fritz is visually impaired and lives near Johannesburg, South Africa with her musician husband, two friends and several pets. She works as a free lance animal trainer and does book reviews when she is not busy writing. You can Email her at: ellen@mr-music.co.za


What’s In a Name?, fiction
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.

Nog could not remember ever feeling more miserable. It was bad enough that his family had to move from Detroit, away from all the friends he had known since kindergarten. Now here he was in this small town in Alabama in December, with no snow, no sleds, and no ice skating. Worst of all, he had no friends. All the kids in third grade in his new school made fun of his name. His whole name was Nicholas Omar Gianelli. It seemed perfectly okay at home to be called Nog. But at school the other kids wrinkled their noses when they said it. Either that or they called him Nellie, abbreviating his last name. His older sisters didn’t have this problem. Meg was in the fifth grade, and her whole name was Mary Elizabeth Gianelli. Peg, who was Patricia Ellen Gianelli, never had any problems with her class mates in the seventh grade either.

Nog kicked at the leaves as he walked to the bus stop, a full half block behind his sisters and their friends. He looked down and tried not to notice the other kids as they jostled him on their way to the bus. In the chilly morning air, he mused, I bet I won’t get a puppy for Christmas either. Just last night at supper his father had said, “This has been a tough year, kids. Our move and my new job have turned out to be quite a roller coaster ride for all of us. Don’t expect a stocking full of presents this Christmas.”

Nog had looked at his mother to see if she would disagree, but she just passed the gingerbread cookies and asked if anyone wanted more milk.

“Hey, Nellie,” he heard someone call, and looked around to see Joey Johnson running to catch up with him.
Nog half smiled and thought, Joey Johnson. There’s a nice simple name. Nobody makes fun of Joey.

“Nellie, who are you going to be in the play? I’m going to be an elf. I already know my lines. “Help me make a wreath and gather the mistletoe; we’ll pack up the sleigh and away we’ll go.” What are you going to be?” Joey didn’t sound mean when he called Nog “Nellie.”

“Could you call me Nog instead of Nellie? You know, Nellie sounds like a girl’s name.”

“Sure, Nellie, uh, Nog. Just you don’t call me “Elephant Ears.” Now, are you going to tell me your part or not?”

“I’m going to be Kermit the Frog. I don’t know my lines yet.”

“Get out your paper and we’ll practice on the bus.”

Nog scrambled on to the bus after Joey, who saved a seat for him. As Nog slid next to him, he saw his sister Meg a few rows back. She waved a kazoo at him, to show that her class would be playing them for the program. Nog pretended he didn’t see her, but he was glad she was there.

“Come on, Nellie, get your paper out. Mrs. Lizard will be surprised if we both know our lines.”

Nog was pretty sure the music teacher’s name was not Mrs. Lizard, but it sounded a little like it. He would check it out with Meg later.

Nog reached into his book bag and unrolled a piece of paper. He whispered the words slowly. “You all came to the party, as I knew you would. So here’s hoping your time here is hopping good!”

“Your lines are harder than mine, Nellie, uh, Nog. See if you can say them without looking.”

On the night of the program, even though Nog felt a little silly in his green frog costume that Mrs. Glissard had found for him, he said his lines perfectly and hopped a few steps to join Joey and the other elves near the painted cardboard sleigh. The fifth-grade kazoo concert featured three songs, and the seventh-grade choir provided the background music for the eighth graders’ tableaux.

On the ride home, Nog didn’t argue about whose turn it was to sit in the middle. His sisters sang the songs from the program, and their mother said how nice they all looked and how proud she was of them. Their dad just smiled and did not even have any words for the other drivers on the road.

When they reached the house, the light from the kitchen seemed especially warm and welcoming. Dad held the door open as his family entered. Nog was the first one to notice the box in the middle of the floor.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” Dad said, “One of the guys at work, his dog had puppies. I thought you wouldn’t mind a Christmas present a little early.”

“Oh, boy!” said Meg.

“No, it’s a girl,” countered Peg.

“Wow,” whispered Nog, looking at the brown and white ball of fur, startled by the sudden gush of cold air, blinking at the newcomers.

What will we name her?” asked Mom.

Peg said, “She’s the color of gingerbread.”

Meg said, “We could call her Mistletoe.”

Nog picked her up and held her close. “I’m gonna call her Nellie.”


Charlie’s Christmas Present, flash fiction
by Elizabeth Fiorite, O.P.

This is going to be a great Christmas, Charlie thought. He returned the silver pendant to its box, and replaced it in his top desk drawer, where he had made space for it behind the box of rubber bands and paper clips. He locked the drawer and ran his hand over his desk, priding himself on his neatness. His office space at the hospital was uncluttered, his computer area clear of crumbs and coffee cups. Charlie’s thoughts were usually organized as well, but on this particular Friday, he found himself daydreaming about his plans for a real date with Sandy. Today he would ask her to have dinner with him on Christmas Eve. Over coffee, he would ask her if she would consider being more than a lunch partner. Then he would present her with the heart shaped pendant with the diamond chip in the center.

He had rehearsed his speech a hundred times.

“Sandy,” he would begin, “we have been going to lunch together almost every day for three months now, and you came to my surprise twenty-fifth birthday party last week. I like the way that you’re not embarrassed to lead me around, you know, being seen with a blind guy.”

Sandy worked in medical records, on the opposite end of the seventh floor. Charlie had accidently run into her on the way to the elevator one day last October. By the time they had reached the first floor, Sandy had offered to help Charlie maneuver his way through the cafeteria lines. Since then, they had met almost every day for lunch.

He checked his talking watch.

“Dreamer!” he said, half aloud, “you’re five minutes late.”

He reached for his white cane and started for the door.

“Oh, Charlie, there you are!” said Sandy. He had smelled her “Eternity” fragrance before he had heard her voice.

“Charlie, I’m not eating in the cafeteria today.

There was another smell. After Shave? Another presence?

“Charlie, I want you to meet my friend Steve. He flew in from L.A. last night to spend the holidays with me.

He wanted to surprise me. Isn’t that great?”


Eavesdropping on Christmas, memoir
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Two Indiana highways ran through our small rural hometown: Highway 163 and Highway 71. On one side of Highway 71 was my Aunt Zita’s Italian restaurant; directly across the highway from my aunt’s restaurant was the grocery store of my grandmother and uncle. Although my mother worked full-time as the postmaster of the third-class Blanford Post Office, she still helped at Binole’s Restaurant almost every Saturday night. On Christmas Eve of 1957 or 1958, the restaurant was still open, and my mother was busy frying delicious Italian breaded veal. At that time, my dad was still working changeable shifts as a firefighter, and my sister was at my youngest aunt’s house which was a short walk away. Evidently, at Aunt Zita’s residence, which was attached to the restaurant, I had already looked through my favorite volumes of the World Book Encyclopedia and my cousins Bill and Donald’s high school yearbooks; so, I was ready for some action and a change of scenery.

Despite being only seven or eight years of age, I was allowed to cross Highway 71 alone on an already dark Saturday night to go to my grandmother and uncle’s store. Leaving the residence of the restaurant, I walked over the white rock of the parking lot, edged near the highway, looked carefully both ways, listened, and then ran across the two-lane road to sprint up the three stairs to the grocery store.

Shortly after I entered the store and greeted my Uncle Pete, the mother of the poorest family in our town walked inside the store. With a freezer at the level of the countertops on the right, behind which were shelves of groceries, Mrs. L. turned to her left to the glass display cases atop which were school supplies and to the shelves that contained other non-food items. From behind the counter and toward the back of the store, I listened to Mrs. L. as she proudly smiled and requested various items in the store. I said nothing because I, still a pretend believer in Santa Claus, realized that Mrs. L. was purchasing or putting on her bill the gifts from Santa for her sons. One of her sons was a year younger than I; her daughters, one my age and one a year older, were taken from their parents and placed in another home or homes. Besides the son whom I knew, the family included two older boys and two younger.

While Mrs. L selected coloring books and crayons, writing tablets and pencils, a kite, I thought that all the gifts the boys would receive were being bought on Christmas Eve at my uncle’s grocery store. I thought of those children and Mr. and Mrs. L. as I never had before. Although I knew their family and mine would celebrate very different Christmases, I felt a warm kinship with Mrs. L. I was mesmerized by this scene. With the dark wooden floor, dark wooden counters, dark wooden shelves, and drop lights suspended from the 20-foot ceiling, I saw the large store room in sepia tones, like the Rotogravure section whose photographs I looked at each Sunday in The Terre Haute Tribune-Star.

When I left my aunt’s restaurant, I never guessed that instead of just crossing Highway 71, I was walking to the North Pole. Instead of just seeing Mrs. L. with her rosy cheeks and positive smile, I saw Santa Claus because in this world, there truly are many real and amazing Santas.

Bio: After earning two master’s degrees and teaching for 25 years, Alice Jane-Marie Massa recently retired from teaching writing and public speaking at a technical college. Alice invites you to visit her blog: http://alice13wordwalk.wordpress.com, where she weekly posts her poetry, essays, or memoirs. Her writings on Wordwalk frequently focus on her guide dogs, her rural hometown, her Italian ancestors, as well as grammar and punctuation. Away from her desk, Alice most enjoys long walks with her third Leader Dog (Zoe), container gardening, and the television program Jeopardy.


I remember Santa, memoir
by Mary-jo Lord

The J.L. Hudson Thanksgiving Day Parade had just ended. The reporters were recapping the highlights, and reminiscing about parades from previous years.

I chewed my last mouthful of scrambled eggs, as my stomach did flip-flops and somersaults. It took every ounce of strength that my eight-year-old mind could muster to just sit still. This was the moment I was waiting for. If the phone call came, I would know that I was right.

Recently, some of the older kids on the bus said that there isn’t really a Santa Claus. They said that our parents buy the presents and put them under the tree after we fall asleep. Kenny said that they even eat the cookies and drink the hot chocolate. He said that his brother found all of their presents hidden in his dad’s closet last year. I told them that they were wrong. Santa Claus calls me every year right after the parade, and this year my two-year-old sister Laura could talk to him too.

Although I argued fiercely with Kenny and the other kids, I was beginning to wonder about some things. How could Santa fly in a sleigh delivering the right gifts to all the kids all over the world in one night? If he called our house right after the parade like he did for as long as I could remember, then I’d know that Santa was real and Kenny and the other kids were wrong.

The phone rang. My heart pounded as my mother called Laura and me to the phone.

“Ho! Ho! Ho! Have you been good little girls?”

I was relieved. I was right after all. Of course we told him that we were good all year long. He asked Laura what she wanted for Christmas.

“I want a daby dender wuv,” Laura said shyly.

“A big suspender dog,” Santa sounded confused.

“A daby dender wuv,” Laura repeated.

“A baby doll?” He was getting close.

I decided that I better help them out. “She wants a Baby Tender Love,” I shouted clearly.

“Oh! A Baby Tender Love. And what do you want this year?” So now it was my turn.

“I want Dawn dolls and a Fashion Show,” I said and then added, “and some clothes.”

He repeated our requests, and said good-by with an exuberant “ho! Ho! Ho!”

On Christmas morning, we found a Baby Tender Love doll and a Dawn Fashion Show complete with dolls and clothing under the tree. Laura’s doll could drink real water and wet. I spent the morning watching Dawn and Glory walk on and off stage modeling pleated dresses and polyester pant suits.

The next year, I stopped believing, but for several years Santa continued to call right after the parade because Laura still believed. My feelings of excitement and anticipation changed to curiosity. Who called our house every year, asking for Laura and me, pretending to be Santa Claus? I could have asked my parents. Maybe they would have told me; maybe they would have pretended not to know. I might have felt as if the identity of our caller should have been clear, along with acceptance of the reality about Santa. As much as I wanted to know, there was magic in not knowing. When the parade ended, and the phone rang, for those few minutes I’d almost forget and believe.

Years later as we sat down to Thanks Giving dinner, Aunt Emma asked my cousins Ben and Mary Ellen if they got a phone call from anyone special.

“We got a call from Santa Claus,” they both exclaimed. “Right after the parade,” Ben added. They chattered excitedly about Stretch Armstrong and a Cher doll.

Stuffing, Mashed potatoes and Cranbury sauce were passed around the table in both directions as several conversations began or resumed. Above it all, Uncle Al’s infectious, exuberant laughter filled my ears, and I experienced one of those rare a-ha moments. Suddenly all of the missing pieces fell into place, and it was as if I always knew.
Bio: Mary-Jo Lord has a masters’ degree in counseling from Oakland University, and has worked at Oakland Community College for Twenty-two years. She writes poetry, fiction, and memoirs. A section of her work is published in a Plain View Press anthology called “Almost Touching.” Her work can also be found in “Behind Our Eyes,” “Behind Our Eyes a Second Look,” and in past Issues of “Magnets and Ladders.” Mary-Jo is the current Coordinating Editor of this magazine. She lives with her husband and son in Rochester, Michigan. She has been blind since birth.


V. The Writers’ Climb

On Being a Happy Hooker, article
by Bill Fullerton

For the benefit of any unsuspecting reader, let me state now that this is NOT an article about how one might become a contented courtesan or smiling strumpet. Nope, not even a titillated trollop. Sorry about any confusion, honest.

Truth be told, this assault on good taste and English letters is concerned with the fine art of creating attention grabbing hooks in the opening lines of your next Pushcart Prize winning short story or Nobel Prize contending novel.

The biggest single rule those eager to become happy hookers should always keep in mind is, there is NO single rule that can guarantee success. Not one. There are, however, some guidelines that might be of some help, maybe. Here are five.

  1. The mission of those first few words at the beginning of your story is to intrigue your readers and, by doing so, keep them reading.

Don’t fall into the trap of using that priceless piece of writing space to describe people, places or things that can be mentioned later. Consider the following opening line by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” “One Hundred Years of Solitude”

The reader doesn’t know who the Colonel is, or any of the other W’s (what, where, when, why). But ask yourself, would including any of that information have made the sentence stronger and the “hook” more compelling?

  1. Instead of falling back on description, try to open with action. That doesn’t mean you need to begin with a car chase, shoot-out or at the climax (so to speak) of a hot, steaming love scene. There is, of course, nothing wrong with any of those. Just remember that action doesn’t have to mean frantic activity. Here are a couple examples:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” “1984,” by George Orwell

“They shoot the white girl first.” “Paradise,” by Toni Morrison

  1. High on the list of things to avoid describing is the weather. Granted, the opening to 1984 includes a brief mention of the climate. But even if you pull off an Orwellian caliber job, editors, agents, reviewers and other such literary flotsam and jetsam seem predisposed to not liking the practice. No doubt this goes back to the infamous opening line from the novel, “Paul Clifford,” by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents-except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

  1. One of the better ways to intrigue and thereby “hook” readers is to begin with a question. It doesn’t have to be explicit. In fact, implied questions often work best. For instance:

“Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not on the subconscious level where savage things grow.” “Carrie,” by Stephen King

“There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” “Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” by C S Lewis

  1. If you feel compelled to use a direct quote, try to make it short, as in, very. The problem with any quote is your reader has no idea who is speaking or the circumstances. If the speaker rambles on for several lines, once “all is revealed” readers may stop to go back and reread the quote. Here’s one example of a great short-quote opening:

“”Take my camel, dear,” said Aunt Dot as she climbed down from the animal on her return from High Mass.” “The Towers of Trebizond,” Rose Macaulay

Whatever the genre or format, writing is writing. When it comes to creative writing, to quote the great Dooley Wilson, “The fundamental things apply.” One of the most important of these “fundamental things” is to create strong openings. For when it comes to cranking out successful, commercial fiction, there are no unbreakable rules except: Don’t bore your reader. Hook their interest from the beginning and never let go.

Happy hooking.

Note: How to be a Happy Hooker was first published on line at: http://absolutewrite.com

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 Austin, Texas.


How to Take a Word Snapshot of Autumn’s Poetry, article
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

One of my favorite parts of teaching at a technical college for twenty years was presenting a poetry unit. Of course, this unit culminated with my students’ presenting their own “Poetry at the Podium”-a wonderfully creative way to conclude each term. Each semester, when I first talked with students about writing poetry, two of the typical comments were: “I have not written a poem since elementary school,” and “I have never written a poem.” Since I began writing poetry in the second grade and have continued writing poetry throughout my life, I was surprised how many young-adult students and middle-aged students told me that they had never written a poem. Well, we broke that record, and amazingly, without a chorus of complaints. With the final poetic product in hand, each student seemed pleased with the accomplishment and, most often, eager to share the creative effort. Signing one’s name on the dotted line of a poetic license can perpetuate satisfaction and a little pride.

Each semester, I gave each class long lists of topics which could be developed into unique and strong stanzas. While these given lists gave much leeway for those ready to embark with a poetic license, I also allowed a student to nurture a topic of his or her own choosing. Some of those meritorious results still echo through this retired teacher’s mind.

To assist students who were more challenged with getting started with the creative endeavor, I suggested writing an acrostic poem because this form not only helps with initiating a poem, but also guides the writer through each line, and lets the writer know exactly when to conclude the poem. Do you want to write an acrostic poem? First, select a short or long word (such as “apple,” “mauve,” or “Congratulations”); or you may choose a two or three-word phrase (such as “Happy Fiftieth Anniversary”). Then, each letter of the selected word or phrase will begin each appropriate line of the poem. Thus, the first letter of your chosen word will be the first letter of the first word of the first line of your poem; the second letter of your chosen word will be the first letter of the first word of the second line of your poem. Then, continue in this fashion until you have a line for each letter of your selected word or phrase. For example, looking down the left margin of the following poetic lines, you will read vertically the word “autumn.”

A Word Snapshot of Autumn’s Poetry

Aspen trees quiver flakes of gold
under autumnal, mountain-scaped skies.
Tangerine leaves over Hoosier hills unfold
umbrellas of delicately painted disguise.
Maples, hard and soft, unite to crimson this hearty season.
Nature, thanks for all these sweet tastes of autumn before your dose of bitter winter.

Are you inspired to write a poem? Would you like to try an acrostic? I hope so. The changing of seasons does inspire many people to write more creatively. How fortunate we, in the Midwest, are to have all six seasons-spring, summer, autumn, winter, construction, and creativity!

When writing autumnal poetry or poems of another season, consider the following handful of suggestions:

  1. Never wait for the Muse to arrive at your “Poetry Party”: if the Muse is late or does not even attend your party, commence with your “Poetry Party” without her. Just start writing! (Frequently, I think of an idea for a poem or develop the first stage or draft of a poem in my mind while I am on a long walk with my guide dog, Zoe. Create wherever and whenever you can.)

  2. After you have written a poem, carefully read the poem and ask yourself if any word or phrase can be written more creatively. If so, revise the word, phrase, or line to display more imagery, more figurative language.

  3. Do not be afraid to punctuate your poem. If you can punctuate a sentence and a paragraph, you can punctuate a poetic line and a stanza. Punctuating a poem should be as easy as punctuating an essay or a short story. Punctuation marks are the keys to help your reader unlock your intended meaning of the poem. Do not suspend a stanza in
    mid-air, punctuate the stanza!

  4. While counting syllables and noting stresses in a poetic line is crucial for some poetic forms, reading your poem aloud will give you confidence in the rhythmical quality of each line. If a line does not read aloud well, revise the line.

  5. In the construction of a poem, remember that your poem is not written in cement: you can tinker with the little words, lines, stanzas, and punctuation until you set the poem aside for a few hours, a few days, or a few months, at which time, you can enjoy tinkering with your poem again or reach the sweet stage of contentment with your creation.

POET’S TEST: If you are excited to discover that the wonderful word “crimson” is not only a noun and an adjective, but also a verb (as I did to write the above poem)-you pass this test; and you need to write a poem today!

Happy Autumnal Poetry Reading and Writing!

Editor’s note: Below this article is an acrostic poem that was submitted for this issue of the magazine.


Summer 1964, poetry
by Terri Winaught

SEGREGATION was always the special at a Southern lunch counter.
UNMISTAKABLE was the hatred that freedom fighters endured.
MANY were the people who challenged Jim Crow.
MEDGAR Evers gave his life in the quest for equality.
EVENTUALLY, some hearts began beating to the rhythm of change; and,
RESILIENCE, the hard road traveled, made all of the difference!


Writers’ Block Party, Poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Cast, in Order of Appearance
(Read fast before the disappearance!):

Sonnet: published poet, Booker’s wife
Booker: Sonnet’s spouse, a columnist looking for a new life

Setting: Between two windows is a grandfather clock.
Aside each window is a rolltop desk and chair;
Downstage is a coffee table, on which lies a silver block.
Behind the table is a sofa with pillows everywhere.
Each of the walls is covered with shelves of books:
books are displayed in all crannies and nooks.

Sonnet: Here, dear, are the invitations all ready to mail.
Oh! Booker, what’s wrong? You’re looking a bit pale.

Booker: The Annual Writers’ Block Party-I can’t do it.
I have Writer’s Block-a terrible case of it.

Sonnet: Darling, I have everything planned! I am even tanned.
We will amuse and muse you. Just do this little errand.

Booker: I’m mourning a loss. The newspaper is dead.
I can’t! Have you heard a word of what I have said?

Sonnet: Oh, love, you need a columnoscopy.
Forget your column! Have a cup of chamomile tea.

Booker: I have writer’s block, and I so need an idea for a novel now.
How can I get rid of this block? Sonnet, how? How?

Sonnet: Let’s leave our desks for a while;
let’s sit on the sofa and look at the tile.

Booker: The tile? The tile! You mean the block.
Just bring in all your poet friends-call in your flock.

Sonnet: Forget the party, for now. Look at these words we have always adored:
Writer’s block is a luxury we cannot afford.


Contest Alert

We will be holding contests in the areas of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the Spring/Summer issue 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.


Take Charge Café, novel excerpt
by Susan Muhlenbeck

When a renowned physician is murdered by poison shortly after announcing he was leaving his wife for his paramour, everyone presumes it was an act of revenge by one of his many conquests. When another person is murdered in a similar fashion, the town thinks there is a serial killer on the loose. A suspect is arrested for an attempted murder in the same manner, yet he maintains his innocence. The police are convinced he is lying, but Sequester Sawyer can’t help wondering, what if he is telling the truth?

Prologue

“Are you sure they’re going to like this?” I asked, spreading the mixture of sliced strawberries, pineapple, peaches and bananas over the baked sugar cookie crust.

“Yes, it looks very good, and it’s good for you. It’s also very colorful, so I’m sure they’re going to like it a lot. They really loved your chocolate cupcakes with the smiley faces on them that you made for Jimmy’s birthday. I still have a couple left over for a midnight snack. Are you going to tell me what the secret ingredient is?”

“No, I’m afraid I can’t tell you that. It’s a family secret. My grandma made me promise not to tell anyone.”

“Oh, I see. Hey, Ester, can I ask you something?” he asked shyly.

“Of course you can,” I said absently, not looking up from the fruit pizza. “You can ask me anything, you know.”

He hesitated. “How did you get that scar on your arm?” I froze, feeling my face flush. “Don’t worry, you don’t have to tell me,” he said quickly, noticing my panicked expression.

“No, it’s all right. I want to tell you about it.” I suddenly felt weak-kneed and a little dizzy. “It’s just a long, crazy story. It has been a crazy few months if you want to know the truth.” I covered the fruit pizza with aluminum foil and slid it into the refrigerator. “I don’t even know where to start. I thought for a while that I was losing my mind, or that I was perfectly sane, and the rest of the world was going mad, especially the police.” I tried to laugh, but it came out sounding automatic and forced.

“We have time.” He took me by the hand and led me into the living room. I sank down onto the futon. He walked into the kitchen and returned a moment later with two glasses of diet ginger ale over ice. Then he strode over to the window and looked out.
“It’s raining outside.” He spoke softly, almost in a whisper, and I started to relax. “I thought we would have some snow by now, this close to Christmas.” He reached under the coffee table and produced a pair of fuzzy-looking, blue slippers. “Take off your shoes and put these on.” He handed me the slippers, and I slid them onto my feet, welcoming their warmth and softness. “They’re too big for you, but they’re warm and comfortable.”
I closed my eyes and listened to the rain, thinking back over the past few months. I really should get it out of my system. I had always heard that it helped to talk about things that bother you.

“You know you don’t ever have to tell me anything you don’t want to.” He patted me gently on the shoulder, and I felt the tension slowly drain from me. “Ever since you got here this evening, I’ve been telling you all about myself: my job, my apartment, my family, and you’ve been listening to me. Now I think I should give you a chance to talk, and you should give me a chance to listen. I’m a good listener as well as a good talker.” He sat down beside me. The rain started beating harder against the window pane.

“Oh, I have something for you.” He opened a drawer in the end table. “I was going to wait until Christmas to give you this, but now is a good time I think.” He handed me a CD of classical violin music.

“I love violin music,” I exclaimed. “Thank you so much. Can we play it now?”

“Yes, of course.” He peeled the cellophane off the case and slipped the CD into the player. The room was soon filled with soft violin music that almost drowned out the sound of the rain. I sat for a few moments, swept away by the soothing notes. Then I started talking.
“Well,” I began, taking a sip of my soda, “I never told anybody about some of this stuff before, not even my parents or my brother or even my best girlfriends. I’m really not good at telling stories either.”

“You can tell me anything.” He squeezed my hand. “I promise I won’t laugh or get upset or yell at you. The best way to tell the story is by pretending that it’s all happening again, right at this moment. That way you can remember things better. As my dad would say, pretend we’re sitting on a log in front of a campfire, and you’re reliving whatever happened.”

I took a deep breath and started. “Well, I’ll try. I guess it all began on a day in late August, on a rainy day like this one.”

“Take Charge Café” is the first book in a trilogy. The others are “Ridge top Terrace” and “Rose Acre Falls.” They are available separately or compiled in one volume called “Sequestered” on Amazon as are my collection of short stories and poems called “No Frills” and my children’s book called “Wild Flower.”

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


Her Reality, poetry
by Myrna D. Badgerow

It began with a word or two, perhaps a
Random thought searching for its pen
Of discovery and the ink of curiosity

That bled from her heart and soul… and
She gathered those words as they drifted
By, keeping them close… keeping them

Safe, until they asked to be written
In shades of poetry and shadows of prose,
In moments of silly abandon, and those

Of poignant reflection. She honed her craft,
Her dream, her vision, her possibility, and her
Words remained loyal to her as she did to them…

It began with a few words.
It blossomed into a dream.
It became a vision.
And she? She made it her reality
And a writer was born.

Bio: Born, raised, and living along the bayous of Louisiana, Myrna D. Badgerow, has three grown children and seven grandchildren. Her work can be found in several small press and online venues. She has been honored with a Pushcart Prize nomination and nods as Poet of the Month and Poet of the Year at The Writing Forum. She has published several collections of poetry. She now serves on the NFB Writers’ Division Board of Directors and is very honored to do so.


Simply Words, poetry
by Myrna D. Badgerow

They tumble like blocks from a pail,
fall like raindrops from clouds,
scatter like leaves changing
into Autumn’s wardrobe,
or confetti tossed in gleeful celebration.
They are simply words, just thoughts,
until they fall onto parchment,
and then become special.


VI. I Will Move On

Table for Two, memoir
by Carla MacInnis Rockwell

For most of my young life, I had a long-standing date at a table for two with a very significant person, my mother. Though she never stood me up (well, she did, but that’s explored later), she did hand me off to a brother or a sister, and even Dad, from time to time. Our table for two wasn’t in any fine dining establishment with all the accoutrements of a formal meal. Au contraire! Our table, custom-made based on a design set out by my father, and ultimately finished with a lovely red stain, applied by my mother, had a prominent place in the TV room of our family home. The table was my childhood exercise table, around which many activities took place when it wasn’t used for its primary and intended purpose. Four times a day, the “torture table,” as I called it, would be called into service to accommodate a range of exercises that were done to my legs. The implications of cerebral palsy required that my lower limbs be made stronger with help from many pairs of hands, with the most significant pair belonging to Mom.

Each session would begin with me sitting on the edge of our table for two, after Mom rolled out a long folding cushion and placed a sheet over it. Shades of physiotherapy at rehab. Ugh and Yuck! First up, while I was already seated, I was to sit with scrawny legs dangling over the table edge. I would extend first the left leg, then the right, alternating for 10 reps, 15 if I was up to it. I’d be hanging on to the edge of the table, so I didn’t flop over to the side. Next exercise, sitting without hanging on to the table, with spine straight, while Mom pushed with just her index finger, on left shoulder, then right, pausing between. The goal was for me not to fall over, and not grab onto the table edge. Learning sitting balance was critical to graduating to more stable standing, stepping and walking balance. The joy of it all!

Now for the really fun part of our table for two date. Mom would lay me on my back with pillow under my head. While sitting on the edge of the long red table, she’d place her hand over the knee of the leg furthest away from her, to work the muscles of the leg closest to her. With a grasp on my ankle, she’d bring the leg, bending at the knee slowly up to my chest. It took months and months for the knee to actually touch the chest. All part of the process of loosening spastic muscles. Ouch! Ten reps. Ten ouches! Then the opposite leg and more ouches. Sometimes tears. It hurt! Sometimes screaming, I didn’t want to do this anymore; I didn’t want to do this ever again. Just leave me alone! My eldest sister wanders through with an offer, just do it and get it over with and she’d take me out for ice cream.

Now that I got that tantrum out of my system, on to the next course. I’d be rolled on my stomach, and again the legs, each in their turn would be bent, with heel touching buttock, 10 reps for each leg. After this bit, there’d be a relaxing break while Mom massaged my back, from waist to neck, then each leg and foot. While she was massaging the feet, she did heel cord stretching. This involved pushing the floppy flat foot, toes to ceiling, then pulling downward, 10 reps of each for both feet. I was sooooooooo not enjoying this. It wasn’t time for dessert just yet.

Feeling rather like a piece of meat in a rotisserie oven, I was turned to lie, first on the left side, for more leg raising and stretching, then onto the right to repeat the process. Almost finished. Mom helped me sit up and then stand, with flat, socked feet on the floor. I had to lift one foot, and hold to a 10 count, repeat for ten reps. If I could do it without hanging on to the table, great; if not, that was okay. Then there was the swinging the leg forwards and backwards and out to the side with the same ten reps for each leg. Yay! Almost done for the session. Final course for this table for two date, walking around the table wearing the leg braces. There was to be no table touching. Five times, then done. Then, ice cream. I was a bottomless pit as a child so there’d be a burger and fries. The food went in, but no weight was gained. And so it is today. Thin as a stick. I take after my table for two date. Mom was thin her entire life, as was my eldest sister, my ice cream date.

There would be another seating at the table for two after dinner, with only half portions of each course. It was important to allow time for a bit of relaxation with television. At just before bedtime, another brief date, but this time with an audience. While Mom did her thing with my legs on our long red table, my brothers and sisters were piled into the TV room doing their own thing. Dad was ensconced in his chair in the corner, doing what he did so well, after a long day, napping! His evening cocktail with ice cubes melting, resting on the corner of the “torture table.”

The table for two dates with Mom went on for many years, close to thirteen. In fact, until I made the decision that I’d had enough. It was at that point that the table officially ceased being the “torture table” and took on a life of its own as the “go-to” spot for many activities. This multi-purpose gathering place was set on heavy-duty casters, as it served many functions after it ceased being the torture table of my childhood. It became the place where Mom engaged in a newspaper puzzle popular in the 60s, Match the Twins, with the occasional fly-over of an escaped budgie as he screamed, “Crazy People.”- His vocabulary was extensive. Thankfully, he never mimicked my wailing and carrying on, while I was trapped on the table for tor–er–therapy.

Dad kept an assortment of medical journals on the shelf below, and I often read bits of this and that in those journals and still have interest today in many things medical. Also on the shelf was a box containing the current rug kit I was working on. Rug hooking was a form of therapy to strengthen my spine and teach my body proper “sitting balance.” As arms were outstretched, one hand holding the bit of yarn, and the other hand holding the tool to draw it through the stenciled canvas. Those finished therapy rugs graced my parent’s home for many years, until being presented to me upon my mother’s death.

The great red table also served as a place where brothers would play cards and eat pizza. It was where we’d play board games with playmates from next door or across the street, or with brothers and sisters who taught the younger amongst us how to play scrabble, Monopoly, and array of such games. As we grew into adulthood, an elder brother would sit on the sofa, at one end of the table, cigarettes, ashtray and rye and cola at hand. A younger brother would come through with a slice of homemade pizza fresh from the oven; often he’d bring a plate through for me. I was well looked after. Plates, empty glasses, magazines, newspapers, the stuff of living were scattered across the top of that table.

As we moved out and off to university, we’d come home and once again we’d hang out around the table for two that was the table for four, six, 10, dozens. Many people sat around that table over the years. Friends of my parents who would drop in for drinks and conversation. School mates from university who would visit for weekends, helping themselves to whatever was in the fridge and bringing a thrown together meal to the table to share with whoever might be roaming around the house at the time.

Other/new people now live in the house, the home of my youth and the Table for Two is gone, but the memories I have from the time my tiny self was first lifted up and laid down on it, to the last meal my brothers, sisters, and others gathered around it to share, will live on. No one in my family will ever fully appreciate what that table and the dates with Mom meant for and to me. Many little bits of who I would become were woven into those table dates. At the time, I hated them, but now, the adult me can look back and fully appreciate that my mother hated them as much as I did but I, she, and we “had” to make the dates at the table if I was to become the person I am today. Thanks, Mom!


Of War and Peace and Mary Beth, fiction
by Bill Fullerton

The smiling, long legged brunette in the photo leaned against the door of a familiar car. One hand held a set of keys against her freckled cheek while the other seemed to toy with the almost unfastened snap of her skimpy white shorts. In between, an unbuttoned olive-drab, US Army fatigue shirt was spread just wide enough to give a teasing peek at the swell of her young breasts.

The soldier holding the photo smiled. He’d taken the picture. It was his shirt, his car and most important, his girl. As he gave it one last look, it occurred to Mac Floyd that there were better places to spend Thanksgiving than here in South Vietnam. His first choice being the back seat of his car with the girl in the photo, Mary Beth Riser.

He was tired of death; tired of trying to kill unknown men who kept trying to kill him. He wanted life, and peace, and Mary Beth.

Someone yelled, “Get your squad saddled up, Mac. Time to go play soldier,” And his mind snapped back into gear.

Today’s plan called for his recon platoon to leave the shelter of a jungle-like wood line and cross a large expanse of dry rice paddies to a village. The word was it might be a staging area for the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese Army, maybe both. If everything went right, the infantry company and the troop of armored personnel carriers left back in the wood line would then move out and join them.

For the officer in charge of the operation, the plan had the advantage of protecting the men in his own company, while risking a handful of troops. Viet Nam was a numbers war. Should recon get shot up, the casualties wouldn’t be figured against his unit’s body count.

It was a scheme Mac and the other men of recon knew all too well. They were the eyes and ears of the battalion, experts at operating alone on intelligence gathering operations. Ambushes, snatches, tracking, manning listening posts at night and observation posts during the day were all considered good missions.

No one thought today’s assignment, serving as scouts for a regular infantry company, was a good mission. They were now under the direct control of another unit’s commanding officer. Whenever that happened, they became expendable.

Halfway to the village, things started going wrong. A high-pitched shriek from somewhere ended in a sickening explosion, followed by a geyser of dirt, smoke, and death. Unable to tell where the fire was coming from, twenty-four men dove for the only available cover. After that, it was a matter of praying they’d guessed right and put rice paddy dikes between themselves and a body bag.

The platoon began checking in. “What the hell was that? Where’s the son-of-a-bitch? Is everybody all right?”

“Hardcore” Harding, the unit’s platoon sergeant, yelled over from a nearby rice paddy. “That thing’s gotta be a goddamn recoilless rifle, Lieutenant.”

First Lieutenant Dale Lester never stopped scanning the terrain. “Roger that, shit. You got any idea where the hell it’s firing from?”

“Can’t be sure, sir. But they’ve probably got it set up on that hill over there on our right flank.”

Mac forced himself to lift his head and look for the hill. There was a second explosion followed by an eruption of sporadic small arms fire from the village to their front. But he’d seen a flash.

“I think Hardcore’s right, Lieutenant. I spotted something looked like a small back-blast. Probably about two-thirds the way up the hill, just left of that dead tree.”

Dale Lester studied the hill and then the surrounding terrain. His platoon, a group he and Hardcore had molded into a first class recon unit, was pinned down in the open. Meanwhile, Delta Company and the supporting armored personnel carriers were back in the safety of the wood line and didn’t seem anxious to risk exposing themselves by providing fire support. “Looks like it’s command decision time, Big Mac.”

Mac, whose name and size had made the nickname inevitable, wiped sweat and dirt off his face and nodded.

“If we stay put and call for help that recoilless rifle will pick us off,” said Lester. “Heading towards that automatic weapons fire would be dicey. Going back’s not much better. So that leaves….”

His words were cut off by another incoming round. Mac had an idea, but wished he hadn’t. “Lieutenant, my squad’s closest to the hill. What if the platoon lays down covering fire long enough for us to shag ass over there? If it’s just the weapons crew, odds are they’ll ‘di di’ when they see us coming.” What he didn’t need to say, what both he and the Lieutenant knew, was that if the crew didn’t leave and the position was defended, the squad could be in a world of hurt.

Lieutenant Lester glanced at Mac, then surveyed the situation. “Okay. Go get your squad moving. We’ll do our part here.” He looked away and began yelling orders to Hardcore.

Mac rose into a crouch and hurried toward first squad, his unit. The sound of another incoming round sent him diving back for cover. It exploded along the base of the dike being used by second squad, the squad of Sergeant Andy Andrews.

Redheaded, freckle-faced Anderson Andrews, Mac’s friend and fellow squad leader, son of Mr. and Mrs. Carl P. Andrews, brother of Paul and Joyce, husband of Kim Irving Andrew’s, and father of their three month old daughter Kacey, was killed instantly when members of the North Vietnamese Army manning a recoilless rifle on Hill 87 scored a direct hit on his position.

Before Mac could get back to his feet “Hassle” Castle was rushing to Andy’s motionless form. The expert grenadier and Andy had joined the unit the same day. They were very tight.

Everyone knew to avoid the junctions of rice paddy dikes. They were prime spots for booby traps. Hassle knew better. But maybe all he could focus on was his friend’s body.

There was a small bang and a can filled with tiny steel pellets shot into the air, then exploded at chest height. It was hard to believe how many holes that “Bouncing Betty” drilled into Hassle’s dark, wiry body.

The recoilless rifle fired another round while Mac’s squad was racing to the base of the hill. After catching their breath, they formed a ragged skirmish line and began moving up the steep hillside toward the unseen gun position. The heavy brush and stunted trees limited their vision. It all made for a very hairy climb.

Maybe that’s why they got careless. The well camouflaged firing site was undefended and deserted. For the squad, the danger seemed over. They relaxed and instinctively moved closer to talk and check out the scene.

Mac was on the radio with Lieutenant Lester when he noticed what the men were doing. With an impatient gesture, he motioned for them to move away. “Don’t cluster fuck. Spread out and watch for….”

He never finished his last command. Tony Doughty, a big, pug-nosed, good-natured guy from Tennessee, so new to the unit he still didn’t have a nickname, stepped on a booby-trap. His large body danced in mid-air as a sheet of flame, laced with white streaks, raced toward Mac. It was the last thing he’d see clearly for months.

When the blast slammed into him, Mac struggled to stay on his feet, in part out of pride, but also fear of falling into another booby-trap. Then his knees gave out and he crumpled to the ground.

After spitting out a mouthful of something, he made a quick, unsuccessful search for his rifle. Reaching for his canteen, he discovered his pistol still in its holster. Knowing he had the .38 Special made him feel better. It was common knowledge the VC seldom took prisoners and when they did, the captives were tortured, then killed.

He remembered to check his body for wounds and felt something warm and wet around his groin. A flash of panic ended when he discovered it was only urine, not blood.

The blast had caught him from the waist up. There were tiny pieces of metal and gravel in his arms, chest, and face. Raw powder burns also covered his face and he couldn’t see. But Mac knew he’d been lucky. He was alive.

The cries of wounded soldiers replaced echoes from the explosions. In front of him, someone was moaning, “Crotch, crotch, crotch.” Mac rinsed out his mouth and then started crawling toward the moans.

The casualties soon turned into statistics. Tony was dead. Three more, including Mac, would require a medevac. The immediate danger of an ambush was over. Now the wounded needed moving to a flat, open spot for quick loading onto the “dustoff” helicopters.

Somebody linked Mac up with “Cowboy” Thompson. The low-key, reliable fire team leader had gotten his right leg messed up. He could see, but couldn’t walk. Mac could walk, but not see. The lame soldier and the blind soldier linked arms and prepared to help one another down the hill.

“Helluva way to spend Thanksgiving ain’t it, Big Mac?”

Mac’s mind flashed on an image of Mary Beth Riser stretched out nude and luscious on the back seat of his old Chevy, giving him that look that could turn his bones to jelly. He’d enjoyed that sight, and Mary Beth’s body, almost every day during his last leave home. In his pocket was the letter she’d just sent-the one with the photo of her smiling and leaning against the side of his car.

He was blind and had just lost two friends and the new guy under his command. But for the moment, the sudden realization that he was a survivor overwhelmed all feelings of remorse and loss.

“Damn straight, Cowboy. But it could be worse. We may be beat-up, but we’re alive and going home in time for Christmas. Hell, let’s celebrate.” As the two men began walking away from war and towards the rest of their lives, a ragged chorus of, “Jingle Bells,” floated over the world they were leaving behind.


Appearances, poetry
by Ann Chiappetta

Once, not long ago
the details of a visual life consumed me.
Images of wild flowers, riotous colors in a
blanket of green
were picked, not left untouched.

Dependence on Televised Greek tragedies
Indelible Portraits, live feeds and last breaths
Possessed me.

Now a sound or smell overrides the lost optical cues
Memories ribbon the air with Familiar scents:
Warm, pungent earth after it rains
Reminders of ripening tomatoes
The brace and sting of crisp winter wind
Recollections of hikes in the snow tipped pines,

The soft, clear tinkle of ice on a windowpane.
My husband’s breathing deep in the night
Comforts the troubles
Lulls me back to sleep.


Will You Come?, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

If I call, will you come
from the depths of the hereafter
sit with me, hold my hand,
caress, kiss me, say you love me?

I know you’re in a better place,
but at times, I need your soothing touch,
reassuring voice, companionship.
If I call, will you come?

Bio: Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of a novel, “We Shall Overcome,” and a poetry collection, “How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver.” Her chapbook, “That’s Life: New and Selected Poems,” has been published this fall by Finishing Line Press. Besides “Magnets and Ladders,” her work has appeared in “Serendipity,” “Poets Journal” and “Emerging Voices.” She is visually impaired and lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years, she cared for her late husband who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. Please visit her Website at http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com.


Out of Nowhere, memoir
by Jena Fellers

“It WAS a tornado,” my voice quivered as my husband grasped my hand to lift me off the concrete of the church parking lot near the van. Confusion and relief co-existed in my mind as I brushed dirt and mulch off of the seat of my pants. All thoughts were suspended in mid-air, dangling just out of reach over my head where I couldn’t get to them. Slow motion would even have been nice at this point.

Less than a minute earlier, I had been arguing with my husband that there wasn’t a tornado. A minute before that we were in our mini-van headed to church for evening service, staring directly into the tornado. It was a race, or a game of chicken, not sure which.

I didn’t realize my husband was guiding me, or even where I was for sure yet. I heard him yell, “Get back in!” to our eighteen-year-old daughter as she ran out the back door.

Was it not over yet? Were we in danger? I thought to myself, not knowing they were watching the tornado head southeast towards my parent’s house a block away.

Leslie had been able to jump out of the van and reach safety inside the church, while I continued to argue, “It’s not a tornado.” By the time my husband told me to grab my traditional white cane used by the blind and visually impaired and get out, there wasn’t enough time for us. A board flew towards my head, according to my husband, so he did what every knight in shining armor would do. He knocked my feet out from underneath me and gently laid me on the ground next to the church.

Disbelief still consumed me. Even after I opened the van door, I felt no wind. There was no sound like a freight train, no clanging or banging. Steve’s voice was the only sound I could hear. But…why would his cell phone have gone dead? I tried to hold on to it but when Steve kicked my feet out from underneath me, it slid down my leg. I told him I needed to get it. He sternly, but loudly said, “No!” as he lay on top of me. Since his phone is usually glued to his ear, I knew something serious was happening. As his head nuzzled under my chin, we began to automatically pray out loud. I brushed my hand along the wall my shoulder was shoved up against in hopes of finding a clue as to where we were. The siding under my fingertips gave no answer. An opportunity to ask didn’t exactly present itself. Nor is prayer time conducive to figuring things out. A serious need for attentiveness existed, but no fear. Unexplainable peace enveloped us while praying.

Steve and Leslie finished gazing at the departing tornado carrying metal and siding from the surrounding buildings, adding poles, boards, shingles, and glass to its rotation. We reached the top of the steps at the back door where Leslie stood. By then, all that mattered was embracing one another in the tightest group hug we’d ever had. Simultaneous exchanges of “I love you” were spoken amidst uncontrollable tears. Mine pooled under my closed eyelids before being forced out while my daughter’s flowed so fast I could hear them thumping on the top of her bare feet like the heavy rain that usually accompanies a tornado. Steve’s, on the other hand, gently rolled down his elongated cheeks passing through a maze of whiskers already forming his five o’clock shadow.

In the midst of our tight embrace, Steve must have remembered I was lost and confused. Or, he could’ve seen the puzzled look on my face. To help me sort things out, he shared, “We’re at the church, honey.” Then he started telling me how he saw Bert and Janie’s van turning in the parking lot, when an electric pole snapped and flew directly over them, as the tornado lifted them up off of all four wheels. Trembling and out of breath, he said, “I thought I was going to see Bert and Janie die while we were laying there.” Before he could explain further, he ran off to take care of a young man running through the parking lot screaming, “Where is my son?”

Reality began to sink in, or so I thought. All I knew for sure was I wanted to stick close to my family. Knowing all of my family, church family included, was safe was important. Leslie attempted to tell me her story as the other two gentlemen from inside came out visibly shaken. Sentences couldn’t be completed for quite some time as our thoughts were interrupted by other thoughts or people coming to check on others. What Leslie did get out made me tear up again. “I heard the tornado hit the church and knew you guys were out there. I thought you were dead so I ran out to see.”

Names of our children, my parents, and church members flooded our mind.

Our first reaction was to grab our cell phones to check on our older two children. “I’ll call Steven; you call Jennifer,” Steve instructed. Dead, no service.

“Duh. We knew tornadoes knock out service,” I said chuckling but keeping a death grip on his elbow.

The emerging panicked and concerned people made us forget about even checking for damage on our own church. Finding out everyone was okay was still precedent in our minds.

Then the guy I was on the phone with when the tornado struck came running, “Steve, your house is gone! Your house is gone!” My gut tightened, believing he was referring to our house we moved out of six months ago, after twenty years. It ended up being a rental we purchased three months earlier and just finished remodeling. My stomach couldn’t relax, as we realized we needed to check on everyone. At least we could start making sure everyone in the neighborhood was safe.

“Do you want to stay with Leslie or go with me to check on everyone?” Steve asked.

“Let me see what Leslie prefers,” I responded, then checked with her.

She decided to stay and visit with others needing to share where they were, and what they saw. Off we went. We took off at a brisk pace, stepping over and on so many objects, deciphering their identity was impossible. Occasionally, I’d get out, “What is this?” but before he’d answer, I’d hear him yell, “Is everyone alright? Anyone hurt? Got any damage?”

Chaos was about to set in, and it would be days before information could be processed and memories returned. I was transported from being nestled against the side of a building with my husband laying on top of me, to at least ten feet away and I didn’t know it. I found myself laying down by the side of a building in mulch, then got up on concrete next to the van we escaped. Being transported from one place to another without feeling the airlift was unbelievable! And, not remembering it for three days seems strange too.

There were not enough words to express the anxiety I felt that night, with constant motion, unexplainable noises, and hearing the heaviness in people’s hearts. I was unable to walk to them by myself, to provide comfort. We had been involved in disaster relief quite heavily three times, so we immediately started the best way we knew how; fix food and pass out water. Having a feeding ministry out of our church made things readily accessible.

No matter what we did, we still didn’t feel prepared. During all the conversations of everyone telling their story, the one thing repeated was how it came out of nowhere. In fact, when we reconnected with our oldest daughter, she informed us our youngest grandson, age eleven, was playing in the yard. The wind got stronger and his leaf pile began whirling upwards. He threw his hands up in the air trying to catch some of the leaves shouting, “It’s a tornado,” then looked south and saw the real deal. In a split second he was inside and was so scared, he wet his pants. Later, he called his leaves a mini-tornado.

Yes, we live in tornado alley, and are accustomed to many tornadoes. All others had watches, bad weather, or both. The one in Joplin, Missouri surprised everyone, since it was rain-wrapped, but many bad storm cells were being reported in our region. With ours, though, the sun was shining that Sunday afternoon. Kids were laughing and riding bikes, mowers were cutting grass, charcoal smells from grilling lingered in the air, and people were putting on their shoes to head to church. No rain was in the forecast nor any scattered thunderstorms. The tornado siren actually gave a two-minute warning when the tornado itself was seen destroying a town five miles south of ours.

According to every story told that night and the next few days, the sun shone brightly behind the tornado the entire time. Fear continues to rise as thunderstorms come our way, but the biggest difference is watching heads lift periodically to view the clouds on sunny days to make sure a tornado isn’t hiding somewhere.

Bio: Jena Fellers is a pastor’s wife of twenty-one years, mother of three, and grandmother. She enjoys writing inspirational stories of her faith and about her experiences with home schooling and serving her community through a ministry she and her husband began.


VI. From Another Dimension

The Grove, fiction
by Jessica Arnold

Hannah sighed to herself and rolled her eyes as she tried to block out her Mom’s stupid stories. There they were again, she and her two younger sisters, Amber and Mary Beth, a week before Christmas, sitting on that worn couch and listening to the soft lilt of her voice as she told tales about magical lands and flying reindeer. Hannah didn’t believe in mystical, magical things; she had faded out of that stage after their Dad suddenly passed away. It had been two years, but she remembered the way she and her sisters used to sit on his lap, listening to him spin wonderful tales until his words became their dreams. He would do it all year round, but the winter stories had always been Hannah’s favorites. She always got so caught up in them, no matter how many times he may have told them before. She would dream about those lands, and all the creatures within, and she would make secret wishes. Then, when Christmas morning would finally come, she was always amazed at the gifts that the entire family would get, even though they were tight on money. She never knew quite how it happened, but they always had wonderful Holiday seasons. She had never believed that her Dad, her wonderful superhero and storyteller, could just go away and leave as he did. After it happened, she tried to dream about magic, tried to remember the feelings, tried to visit those lands again, but found she could no longer see them as clearly. As time passed, she slowly drifted further and further away. She now knew that there was no such thing as magic, and that silly dreams and wishes would not come true, for if they did, her Dad would be sitting in their living room right now.

A log from their old fashioned fireplace popped in the licking tongues of flame, snapped Hannah out of her dismal thoughts. She heard her Mom’s soft voice again, and again. She sighed. It wasn’t that her Mom couldn’t tell stories, because she had done it as well, and she was just about as good as her dad. But everything felt different somehow. Hearing her sigh, her Mom paused.

“Is something wrong, dear?” She asked.

“Mom, I don’t know why you must tell those silly tales.”

“Well, you didn’t think they were silly so very long ago,” her Mom replied softly. “But if you don’t want to listen, you can do something else, like go collect pinecones and good felled branches for some decorations to lighten this old place up a bit.”

Hannah scowled, but she grabbed her coat and stuffed her hands into the thin, winter gloves she got two Christmases ago. She took a small wooden basket off the hearth, and headed out the door. She didn’t see why they needed decorations; they didn’t even have a Christmas tree, and this entire affair was dull anyway. However, she thought of her sisters. They were, after all, still children. Why should they be deprived of some silly things every once in a while? So, she went behind the house, and entered into the woods not too far off their small backyard. Deeper she wandered, absentmindedly sucking on a small homemade peppermint stick.

She kept walking, until she finally spied a couple of thick pine branches near a fat, squat tree. Picking them up, she knelt to peer underneath. Three pinecones lay side by side, and she took each one to add to her basket. In the end, she found four more branches and seven more cones. The last cone, however, lead her to an interesting sight.

In the distance, a few beautiful evergreens shown in the waning sun, their needles greener than anything she had ever seen. Though she didn’t really know why, something compelled her to go over there. It was snowing softly now, and the wind whistled through the woods, creating a haunting, winter melody. Hannah realized that the trees were a little farther than she thought, but she kept going. The grove was larger than she imagined, with pines clustered in staggering numbers. She was about to turn back, when she saw that there was a small gap between two trees.

Before she knew it, her feet were moving, and she was pushing through the gap. She looked around, and was completely surprised. The snow in this area was white and pristine, untouched and sparkling in the dapples of the dull light from the late afternoon sun. She seemed to be in a rough circle of thick, tall pines. The grove that she had stepped into was large, so large that she could barely see the other side. Smaller, but still very full and healthy pines dotted the area, their branches covered with a dusting of snow. Dumbfounded, Hannah set her basket down by the thick trunk of one tree, and slowly walked around. Some places had soft, rolling hills, but most of the ground was level. There was still a breeze whistling softly through the trees, and as she listened, she thought she heard faint singing. Shrugging, she stepped deeper, the snow crunching softly beneath her feet. She stopped again and listened; she thought she heard the distant tinkling of bells. “Oh, get ahold of yourself.” She said under her breath. Looking closer, she saw that there were also Poinsettia bushes dotting the terrain, their red and green foliage making a lovely contrast to the mostly white background. They were fully in bloom, and gorgeous! She felt that this whole place had an aura of haunting peacefulness and beauty.

“Hello.” A voice said beside her. Hannah jumped, whirling to her right. Her eyes widened in bewilderment. Standing there was a lady garbed in a robe that was as white as the snow. It was trimmed in blue, the color of frozen waters. Her hair was silvery blue, like a winter twilight, and upon her back were beautiful wings. She was a winter angel. Hannah gawked; she couldn’t help it. This couldn’t be real.
“Hello, welcome to our land,” The angel said. “We’ve been expecting you.”

“But, but…” Hannah sputtered, “Expecting me?”

“Yes.” Hannah looked, and saw three more women approaching them. They were all dressed in pure white or ice blue. She noticed that one had long, silvery hair, while the hair of the others was either light blue or white.
“Please, won’t you join us?” One of the others asked. Hannah was trying to think of how to reply, when she gasped as something whizzed past her head. She thought she heard laughter. Another flew near her right ear, reversed direction and came back. More and more appeared, some landing on the heads and shoulders of the angels.
“Little sprites, our guest has arrived.” Said the first angel. They all quieted, clustering around the group.
“Welcome to our land!” They exclaimed in their small voices. Hanna saw that they were tiny human-like figures, and they, too, had wings. All were blue-some ice, others sky. Each one radiated with a slight but welcoming glow.
“Snow sprites?” Hanna asked. The angels nodded.
“They are our friends, and they help keep the place looking nice,” said the third angel.
“Come,” The first angel said, “It is time for the celebration to begin.” Hannah followed as everyone moved toward the center of the grove. Upon arriving, she saw that there were a few more Poinsettia bushes here, as well as a full, tall blue spruce. The spruce was decorated from the little yellow flowers of the Poinsettias and small pinecones that had been strung together. There were also some sprigs of Holly with plump, red berries set in the branches. It wasn’t exactly a Christmas tree, but it was a beautiful rendition. A bit farther stood a little cottage, smoke gently rising from the chimney. Icicles hung from the roof and window sills, and the walls were the color of gingerbread. The scene looked like something straight from the front of a Christmas card.

“Shall we go in?” The second angel said, opening the door and ushering them inside. A blast of warm air engulfed Hanna as she stepped in. It felt good after being in the cold. It smelled wonderful, like fresh bread, sweetmeats, and an underlying scent of pine needles and mint. Suddenly Hannah’s stomach grumbled furiously. Everyone gathered at a table in the middle of the room, and food was passed around. Hannah ate with them, and listened to the stories shared after the meal. They reminded her of her family, but strangely, she only felt a slight pang of sadness and longing for her Dad. There was no bitterness at the world, no disgust at hearing stories once brought by his lips, and no anger for his leaving. She wondered if she wasn’t going completely crazy. However, the more time passed in the cottage, the more relaxed she felt. After the storytelling was over, they all went back outside, although Hannah didn’t want to leave the warm fire.

The angels gathered around the big spruce, along with all of the sprites, and put on a grand show. They sang a beautiful melody, and the sprites moved around them as if they were magical little lights. It almost had a hypnotizing effect on Hannah. Then, they put on a graceful dance. They glided along, twirling and weaving about in an elegant pattern, like a ballet. The sprites also flew, since they were much smaller, and they had tiny bells that tinkled when they moved. At the end, most of them settled, and seemed to disappear into the snow for a moment. Then, suddenly, they exploded out in a cloud of white, and as the resulting shower of snow fell over them to settle back in its place, they ended the dance with a wonderful climax. Hannah was in awe. The sprites began flying around the tree, and each had a small something in their hands, which was exchanged by all, even the angels. The first angel held out her hand, presenting Hannah with a small glittering snowflake. It was made of metal, but it sparkled like gold.

“I can’t accept this,” she said, staring at the gift.
“Why, of course you can. The sprites made it, and all of us,” she gestured at the other angels, “Blessed it with good tidings and the Lord’s protection. Always remember that he is here.”
“Thank you.” Hannah said reverently, closing her fingers around the snowflake. For some reason, she felt tears forming, but if the angel noticed, she said nothing. The wind began blowing just then, and snow started falling, swirling and spiraling in the air.
“It looks like we’d better get inside. May you and yours have a wonderful future filled with happiness,” the second angel said. Hannah was about to reply, when the snow began coming hard, and the wind picked up, blowing thin drifts from the ground and whisking the falling flakes about. It was so thick that the whole land seemed to disappear for a moment or two. Hannah had to shield her face and hunch from the cold. Just as she was starting to wonder how she was going to get back, a final and brief gust buffeted her, then died away. The snow also lightened up, and Hannah found herself standing in the woods, holding her basket. She was a bit dizzy and disoriented, so she sat down on a stump. The woods looked normal, even the pine grove which seemed so huge. She blinked, then slowly opened a clenched fist, revealing the little snowflake.
“So they were real!” She breathed. After a moment of sitting, she found she could navigate again, and that she was cold. Picking up her basket, she headed in the direction of her home, back to her wonderful family.

Bio: Jessica Arnold was born September 21, 1990, in Michigan, with almost no usable vision. She wasn’t diagnosed until about six months later. She enjoyed rhyming assignments in Elementary school, but her love for words didn’t blossom until seventh grade. She loved English class, and wrote in her free time. Writing was therapeutic, and she sometimes wrote when she was supposed to be doing schoolwork. Jessica’s interests include: writing, reading, crafts, playing Goalball, bowling, and camping. She has amazing friends and a very special someone in her life who supports her work, and encourages her to follow her dreams.


Dust Witch encounter, fiction
by Shawn Jacobson

The witch came swooping around the corner on her cane. She missed a door jamb, by what seemed to be micrometers, righted herself, and swerved back down the hall. I involuntarily jumped back. “How did she manage to miss the door?” I asked.

“You’re a strange one,” the kid next to me said.

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Because,” he said, “if you were normal, you would ask how she can fly.”

I mulled that over then asked, “OK, how can she fly?”

“Magic,” he said, “there is no other explanation.”

As I pondered the obvious truth and dubious usefulness of that answer, a loud speaker squawked to life. “Mr. Magoo, please report to the principal’s office.”

A couple of kids giggled as I trudged down the hall to a place I know well, from when I’d lived here so many years ago. “Don’t mistake the office for the bathroom.” quipped some amateur wit. And they wondered why I didn’t come back for reunions.

Let me say right here and now, that “Magoo” is a perfectly good last name, provided you can see. However, if you happen to be blind, especially if you’re in a school full of other blind guys who know of the television character, then it can be a passport to a Hell peculiar to isolated places where everyone knows everyone else, and there is no escape from the crowd. There was an old country song about a boy named “Sue.” According to the song, he had grown up to be a world class fighter. I’d just grown up to be cranky and antisocial.

The day I’d graduated from the Braille school, I had sworn that I would never return; up till this day, I had kept my promise. I would not have come back at all except that Bill, one of my few friends from those days, had met me in a bar in Cedar Rapids and we started talking about old times.

Bill started talking about a new student mentoring program here at Vinton while we drank cheap beer and reminisced. He told me that there was a girl at the school that could use my special insight. “Just go up there and see if you can talk some sense into her head. Talk to her about life and see if you can relate to her. She really needs some help.”

“Hold on!” I said. “Just what do you mean about special insight?”

“You’ll know when you get there,” he said. “You read all that weird science fiction junk when you were at school.” Bill explained. “Given what’s going on, you’re the man for the job.” It was that “weird science fiction junk” that had kept me sane, well sort of sane, through all those bleak times at the braille school. What that had to do with Bill’s problem child was beyond me.

So, it was curiosity about what science fiction had to do with mentoring of any sort that delivered me back here. Lord knows it wasn’t something I was planning on, but looking around there was no denying I was here.

Well anyway, I got to the office and a tall lady said, “Welcome to our school Mr. Magoo. I trust you remember this place fondly.”

Stifling a bitter laugh, I looked around the office. Besides the tall lady who had opened the door, there were two other people in the room. One was an older lady with wire rimmed glasses. The other was a middle aged man who was just starting to get fat. He looked like an ex-football player who ate like he was still active.

“Mr. Magoo,” said the tall lady, “this is our principal Mrs. Davis and here is our other guest Mr. Farrell. And I’m Mrs. Doe.”

“Thanks, Jane,” said Mrs. Davis. “We’ll take it from here.”

The witch flew into the office then, just missing Mrs. Doe in the process. “And here is Wendy, our problem child,” said Mrs. Davis. “Your friend Bill said you might be able to help.”

“What seems to be the problem with our problem child,” I asked, “other than she’s going to kill herself on one of these turns?”

“Maybe I should give you some background,” said Mr. Farrell as he reached to shake my hand. “My Company is in the human potential business. Among other things, we help improve the potential of our people so that we can win our never ending war against our enemies. Terrorists never stop inventing new ways to do us harm, so we must never stop finding new ways to protect ourselves,” he said.

“So you’re responsible for the little magic tricks Wendy does?” I asked as my hand recovered from his grasp. “She is supposed to be some kind of weapon?”

“First off,” said Mr. Farrell, “it’s not magic, it’s science; magic is for the superstitious. We’re up to date at Idaho Tool. I don’t understand how it works, of course, something to do with quantum mechanics or some such stuff. The science boys keep trying to explain it to me, but I can’t make heads or tails of it. All I need to know though is how to get our little friend here to fulfill her human potential. And that’s where you come in,” he said letting the force of his statement fill the room.

“By getting her to see?” I asked.

“Precisely!” he said looking at me like I was terminally slow. “She is to grow up into a new kind of guardian for our country, the first of many who will take our terrorist enemies down, so that our nation can be safe, strong and free. It is your duty, your patriotic duty, to help.”

“And sight is important because….”

“Obviously,” Mr. Farrell said, “she has to learn to see, so that she can target those people who she needs…”

“What’s that?” Mrs. Davis asked, looking over my shoulder.

Suddenly, I heard the sound of something like a hornet and then a plop; something wet and gooey looking was all over the front of Mr. Farrell’s shirt. “Spit ball,” Mrs. Davis muttered, trying to pretend this was even remotely normal.

“But how did you do that Wendy?” I asked.

“Magic,” she explained, as if in savage vindication of her power…

“And that’s why you’re here,” Mrs. Davis said. “We figured that you would be able to help us with our problem. None of us know quite what to do. Do you have any questions,” she asked, almost as an afterthought, “before you talk to her one on one?”

“I think he wants to ask Mr. Farrell what it’s like to be a fool among geniuses,” Wendy blurted with breezy unconcern at the rudeness of the question. OK, I’d wondered that myself.

“Well,” said Mrs. Davis, “why don’t you talk to her and see what you can do. The first grade room isn’t being used right now.”

So we went off to the empty classroom. As we went, the familiarity of the place came back to me. Two girls talked about the latest strange things the multi-handicapped kids were doing and some boys were talking about their plans after school. I thought about nasty computer viruses I could give Bill in payment for this experience, fools overwhelmed by the works of genius and magic.

We got to the classroom, where I tried to decide which too small chair I would sit in. Looking around the room, I noticed an old Hall braille writer; it dominated a corner desk, huge and hulking, like some great beast from the prehistoric age of braille.

“So,” Wendy asked with undisguised scorn, “are you going to bother me about why I can’t see, as if you really care? Maybe you’ll tell me about the wonderful sights I’m missing.” she said as I looked at the institution green walls and out the window at the gray November Iowa sky. The last brown leaves skittered before the wind; it was a day you could tell was cold just by looking outside.

“I’ll tell you what I tell other people who ask me about seeing,” I said. “I only see a little so I know a little of what I’m missing. I know that for me to see excites my sighted friends and family more than it excites me. That’s probably why you don’t care; you don’t know what you’re missing. Eyesight is a good thing, but it’s not the world. I would say though if you can get it you probably should, as much for those who care for you as for yourself.”

“Nobody cares about me,” Wendy said. “My folks wanted something that would be special, the first kid on the block to have magic powers, so they could brag about it all over the neighborhood. Now they see what they got, and think I’m some kind of monster. They haven’t got me out of here since the school year started, and they wouldn’t have taken me home for the summer if they didn’t have to. Mr. Farrell wants something that will fight his wars for him, and all the people he brings in to prod me want a new kind of toy to play with. They don’t care about me, so why should I care about them?”

“But what about your friends here?” I asked.

“What friends?” she asked. “I don’t have friends here, just like you didn’t. And yes, I can read your mind. Everyone here is scared of me and they should be; it keeps them from bothering me.”

“So what do you think is cool?” I asked seeking a less intimate topic. All the while, I got the impression that Wendy was playing with my mind the way some kids wanted to play with my adaptive equipment, using things personal as common toys.

“Do you know the dust witch from that book by Bradbury?”

Something Wicked This Way Comes?” I asked.

“Yeah!” said Wendy. “That one. Now she’s cool, goes around finding people and casting spells and scaring everyone half to death. Now that’s cool.”

“Actually,” I said, “I like Bola better. She’s in one of Senna Henderson’s stories.”

“Yeah, I remember, she’s OK, If you like to be dependent and have everyone bring stuff to you,” Wendy said. “It’s much better being able to do things for you. You should have seen Mrs. Burns face when I floated those cookies out of the cafeteria; she’d liked to have a heart attack. It serves her right for not letting me have seconds. Now that’s what I call cool, real independence!”

“At least Obla had friends,” I said. “But you really don’t have the people skills to appreciate that do you?”

“Whatever,” Wendy said. “As if you would know.” Yes, I thought ruefully, she had me there.

We talked about books and other things that I thought would be safe. Wendy talked about magical mischief she thought was cool, and I talked about what the school was like when I was growing up, and how it seemed to have not changed at all. We got to the subject of books we liked, and I found that she was, if nothing else, a literate sort of monster, if monster was truly the right word.

Then, Mr. Farrell popped his head into the room. “Time to go,” he said. “Class starts in five minutes.” We went back to Mrs. Davis’s office.

“There is one good thing about this,” he said.

“What would that be?” I asked, totally perplexed.

“At least the secret of what we’re doing won’t get out. This is one of the truly forgotten places of the world. It’s amazing just what can be hidden around here.”

“I know,” I said. “I spent twelve years living here before getting mainstreamed; not much gets in or out even now that we are more enlightened about disabilities and such. That’s one reason I couldn’t wait to leave.”

“So did you have any luck with our project?” he asked. “Is she going to help us?”

I couldn’t decide what to say. Had I said that Wendy was fine and well adapted for her world, that Mr. Farrell had mistaken a sight problem with a deeper problem with alienation, Mr. Farrell would not have believed me. To him, the thought of being able to adapt to blindness was as fanciful as Narnia, or Barsoom.

Then inspiration came to the rescue. “If she sees, it will be because she’s doing it for you,” I said hoping I could explain. “Teach her how to be a better human being, and sight will come if it’s meant to be.”

Mr. Farrell just shrugged. I didn’t have to see him to tell that in his world, things were not meant to be. Besides, teaching people to be better human beings wasn’t his deal; he wouldn’t have the people skills for anything like that.

We stopped at Mrs. Davis’s office and said our farewells. It was apparent to all that I had failed, but I wasn’t sure that was a bad thing. The thought of Wendy fighting someone’s war, of reaching Mr. Farrell’s idea of “full potential,” was something I didn’t want to think about.

…….

“How was it?” Bill asked me later over beers.

“Let me have one more and I can talk about it,” I said. “Maybe more than one.”

“OK.” said Bill, “I’ll wait. Just don’t put malware on my computer like you told Wendy you would. That would truly ruin my day.”

“I didn’t say that to Wendy,” I protested. Then, “Oh, that’s right, she reads minds. I’d forgotten. Well, don’t worry; I really wouldn’t do something like that.”

Time and beers passed. Then Bill asked again. “How did it go?”

“Hard,” I replied, “scary and hard. I’m not sure I’m the man for the job. Everything I’ve learned from life I’ve learned from space aliens and what she needs is someone to teach her to be human. I think I’m out of my league.”

“Will you try anyway?” Bill asked with an edge of desperation in his voice. “We’re all out of our leagues with this one.”

I fully expected to turn him down flat, but I found myself saying “let me think about it.”

“Thanks! Exclaimed Bill. “I figured you would help.”

Meantime, a thought came into my head as if from the void, that for someone who had learned to be human from space aliens, I had not done that bad of a job. And then a word followed that thought, magic.


Ticket to Trouble, fiction
by Susan Muhlenbeck

Robin Hubbard sat in her car, impatiently waiting for the doors of the lottery headquarters to open. For the next five minutes, she compared the numbers on her ticket to the numbers in the newspaper for yesterday’s drawing. They were right, she assured herself again and again. She had won! A huge 40 million dollars! Unbelievable! She had never played the lottery in her life. “I need my dollar,” she always told anybody who asked, but for some inexplicable reason, she bought a ticket yesterday, maybe because it was Halloween.

“Dan can keep his cheap house and all the junk in it,” she said aloud. “He can even keep that mangy dog of his, and his even mangier girlfriend,” she laughed. The divorce was just finalized the week before, so the money was all hers, or so she thought. The judge had awarded her half of all their assets, but she didn’t want anything. In fact, she would return the flat screen TV and old vinyl records as soon as she had her lottery check in hand.

The office was finally open for business. She jumped out of her old beat up Ford and ran to the door, thinking about a house on the beach, a red Corvette, and a trip around the world. She pulled open the heavy door and stepped into another world.

“-and don’t know where I am,” Robin was telling a group of people sitting around a table in a strange room. Before anybody could answer, a tall man in a doctor’s uniform entered the room.

“How is everybody in here?” he asked sternly.

“Good,” everybody except Robin chorused.

“Who are you?” Robin demanded, “and where are we?”

The man walked over to her, looking annoyed. “You’ve been asking that ever since I started working here,” he said in exasperation. “For the last time, I am Dr. Krum, and you are at Cypress House.”

“Never heard of Cypress House,” Robin said in confusion. “I live in New York, and I don’t remember coming here. I was getting ready to collect my lottery winnings-“She broke off. The lottery ticket! Where was the lottery ticket?

“Where did you say you were from?” a man across the table demanded. For the first time, she noticed that everybody at the table was wearing the same plain white uniform.

“New York,” she said desperately. They all stared at her as if she were crazy. Crazy! Suddenly she understood. The doctor, the white uniforms, the patients! This was a mental hospital!

“New York is a city in the United States,” she explained in a trembling voice. She continued to draw blank stares. “On the planet Earth,” she shouted.

“You’re from Earth?” the man next to her scoffed. “I’m from Pluto,” he laughed. He laughed harder and harder until he fell on the floor and rolled around.

With a deep sigh, Dr. Krum removed a tube of yellow powder from his apron pocket and poured a generous portion into his hand. He grabbed the laughing man by the arm and rubbed the powder into his skin until it disappeared. The man’s mood changed instantly. He became silent, heaving himself to his feet and sitting down carefully in his chair.

“Now, are you ready to listen?” Dr. Krum demanded.

“Yes, sir,” the man claiming to be from Pluto said tonelessly.

“Go to the dorm and wait,” the doctor ordered. “I’ll come see you later.” Without another word, the man walked out of the room, staring straight ahead.

Robin stood up on shaky legs. “I need to get home,” she told the doctor firmly. “Can I borrow your phone?”

The doctor looked at her hard for a minute. Then he walked over to a bookshelf at the other side of the room and scanned the titles. This must be the library, Robin thought in amusement. She had never seen so many books before.

“Are you really from Earth?” a young woman to her left asked suspiciously. “What are you?”

“What do you mean, what am I?” Robin asked, trying not to laugh. “I’m a female, a young woman.”

“I’m a cow,” the other woman announced, getting on her hands and knees and making mooing sounds.

“I’m a bird,” another woman at the table chimed in, flapping her arms and making chirping sounds.

They’re making fun of me, Robin thought furiously. That’s all right. Let these poor nut cases have their fun. I’m getting out of here as soon as the doctor lends me his phone.

“Girls! Girls!” the doctor shouted. More yellow powder appeared, and the women were subdued. “To the dorm,” he ordered, and they left.

“Now,” he said, turning his attention back to Robin “let me show you something.” He opened the thick book he had brought over and flipped through some pages. “Look,” he said, pointing to a picture of a desolate landscape. Robin stared at the picture and the article accompanying it.

“The planet Earth was once a lush landscape, home to 7 billion people.” She continued to read, unable to believe what she was seeing. “Over the centuries, the planet continued to deteriorate, mostly due to the thoughtlessness and carelessness of its inhabitants. They polluted their wonderful planet with all kinds of toxins until it was no longer inhabitable. Unfortunately, most of its inhabitants perished along with the planet; however, there were a few fortunate enough to escape before the planet crashed. Of course, these fortunate inhabitants were very wealthy by Earth’s standards. They were able to afford passage on a special spacecraft which was equipped to take them to more inhabitable planets. In addition to being extremely wealthy, they also had to be extremely resourceful. These special spacecrafts could only house about 1 percent of the wealthiest inhabitants. In other words, less than a million people were able to escape. None of them even stayed in their solar system, as none of the other planets sharing Earth’s sun were inhabitable by Earth kind. The survivors were scattered all over the universe, all passing through Stargates, so it wouldn’t take thousands of years to get to their new home.” Robin wasn’t even sure what a Stargate was, only that it had something to do with time/space travel.

“What is this?” she shouted, picking up the book and throwing it at the doctor. It hit him squarely on the nose and hit the floor with its spine broken. The others at the table dissolved into gales of laughter.
Then they clapped their hands and stood up and bowed.

Dr. Krum held a blue handkerchief to his bleeding nose. “I’m going to get my colleague, Dr. Coo,” he said, shaking his head sadly at Robin. “I think he can help you more than I, young lady.”

“Wait a minute,” she cried, grabbing at his apron, but he was gone. “What’s a Stargate?” she demanded of the crowd around the table.

The youngest man of the bunch stood up importantly. “They’re like wormholes,” he said patronizingly, “you know, portals leading from one planet to another, so you can travel to other planets fast, without having to get mixed up in that time/space nonsense. Maybe you found one, if you really are from Earth, that is.” The room again broke into laughter.

“And what’s the name of this fabulous planet?” she asked sarcastically.

“Harmony,” they said in unison. “Planet Harmony in the Galaxy Paste. Any more questions?”
Would these people ever stop laughing?

“How do you get out of here?” Robin shouted over the laughter.

One of the women pointed to the window which took up an entire wall. Robin walked over and looked down. She saw the tops of lots of trees and strange birds flying around. Wow, these people really are crazy, she thought in defeat. If anybody jumps out that window they’ll die. I can’t believe these people don’t know that.

“Where do you want to go?” the woman who pointed out the window asked.

“Home, you dummy, where do you think I want to go?” Robin shouted.

“You dummy,” everybody laughed, pointing to the woman Robin just shouted at, “you dummy!”

The woman ignored them. She waved her hand in front of the window, and it parted, leaving a gaping hole.

“How did you do that?” Robin asked, awed.

“Just rearranged the molecules,” the woman shrugged. Robin watched in horror as the woman stepped to the edge of the floor and jumped off.

Robin screamed. The sound of raucous laughter filled her ears. She forced herself to watch the poor woman fall. To her surprise, she did not go crashing to the ground, but was born gently down. “Wow!” Robin breathed. “I should do that,” she said aloud. “It’s my only hope of getting out of here.” She hesitated, and then turned to the crowd. “I’m getting out of here,” she said loudly. “Take care.”

“Thought you’d never leave,” one of the men shouted.

“It’s about time you flew the coop,” one of the women added. Their incessant laughter was unbearable.

She walked to the edge of the floor, but before she could make the leap, she felt a vice-like grip on her arm. “I’m Dr. Coo,” an incongruously soothing voice said in her ear. “I’m here to help.”

Before she could protest, she felt him rubbing something on the inside of her elbow. Then she felt a warm, fuzzy sensation coursing through her veins. A strange sense of submissive well-being flowed through her mind.

“We’re just going into my office,” Dr. Coo said smoothly, leading her out of the room.

“Yes, sir,” Robin said meekly. Dr. Coo was a good person. Dr. Coo would make everything right. Everything was going to be fine.

Dr. Coo had a large, comfortable office with plush chairs and lots of beautiful flowers. She sank into one of the soft chairs, feeling it swallow her up like a cloud.

“Now,” Dr. Coo said, sitting behind his massive oak desk, “what seems to be the problem?”

“You’ll help me get home, won’t you, Dr. Coo?” Robin asked sweetly.

“Yes, of course,” Dr. Coo said, nodding his head vigorously. “I think you’re almost ready to go back home. You came a long way since you got here. I know you miss your dear husband and dear children and that lovely house. I’m sure they miss you too.” He took her hand in his and rubbed some bright orange powder onto her palm. He watched her head sink lower and lower, and then her body slump to the floor.

Dr. Krum pushed the door open without knocking. “Well?” he demanded.

“Those ungrateful earth people,” Dr. Coo fumed. “That’s what we get for offering them asylum after their planet became uninhabitable. They want us to send them back to the ruins.”

“Right, they’re better off this way,” Dr. Krum said, picking up Robin’s corpse and throwing it over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “Glad that was the last of them,” he said as he left the office.

That afternoon, Dan Hubbard and his girlfriend Frida drove to Robin’s apartment. “You don’t have to do this,” Frida pleaded. “Let her keep those things.”

“No way,” Dan fumed. “That TV set and those vinyl records are mine. I told her I was coming over today to get them. I told her that last week.”

He knocked loudly on her apartment door. There was no answer. “Her car is gone,” Frida said nervously. “Maybe you should come back later.”

Dan ignored her. “Good,” he said, jimmying the door open with a credit card. “This is easy.” He unplugged the TV and grabbed an armful of records. “Okay,” he said, hefting the TV in his arms. “Carry those records for me.”

“Hey, a lottery ticket,” Frida said, picking it up off the coffee table. “It’s for yesterday’s drawing.”

“She never played the lottery,” Dan laughed. “Come on, before she comes back.”

“Okay,” Frida said, picking up the records. “I’m taking the lottery ticket too. Who knows? Maybe we can win a few dollars.”


SINGULARITY, fiction
by Paul D. Ellner

Benjamin Ross left his home at ten o’clock in the evening and drove for an hour and a half, until he reached the desert. He found the dirt road and followed it for half an hour until it came to an end. He killed the engine, ate one of the two sandwiches his wife had prepared and drank some of the coffee from the thermos. It was still scalding hot. He settled down, preparing to wait until morning.

As the hours passed, it became increasingly cold in the car. Unable to sleep, Benjamin had to run the engine from time to time so that the heater could provide a little warmth.

When the first streaks of light appeared, Benjamin ate the other sandwich, finished the coffee and got out of the car. He retrieved his carbine, a Winchester Model 94 lever-action 30-30. He took three cartridges from a small box, fed them into the magazine and levered a round into the chamber, setting the hammer at the safe half-cocked position and started out.

Benjamin headed west and when the sky began to redden he declared, “Hail Aurora, thou rosy-fingered goddess of the dawn.” Then he laughed. Benjamin did not believe in gods or goddesses.

He continued to walk, startled when a large jack rabbit bolted from a clump of brush, running with large leaps, like a small kangaroo. Benjamin threw the carbine to his shoulder and followed the bounding rabbit but did not fire. He was hoping to get a deer.

After an hour of walking, he came to the edge of a large canyon. Peering down, he thought he saw movement. Yes! It was a mule deer that disappeared into the bottom of the canyon.

Benjamin started along a steep, narrow trail that wound down. He realized that if he shot the deer he would never be able to pack it out of the canyon, but he continued down. Suddenly, he lost his footing, slipped on loose stones and tumbled headfirst downwards. His head struck a large rock, and that was all he knew.

Benjamin woke in pain. He was lying on his back on a sort of mat that served as a bed. His head throbbed, and when he reached his hand up to touch it, he encountered a bandage or poultice. His hip and knee were also painful. It was dark, and he seemed to be in an enclosure, a cave or hut. Benjamin tried to get up but only succeeded in groaning. A man appeared, looking down at him.

The man spoke, “Don’t try to get up.” The man knelt and proffered a small wooden cup. “Drink this.” He supported Benjamin’s head slightly so that he could drink. It was a broth of some kind, warm, and slightly salty. “Now sleep.” the man said, and Benjamin slept.

The next time Benjamin awoke, the man was standing beside him. The man looked to be about 40. He had long white hair with a ribbon around his forehead to keep the hair out of his eyes. His face was tanned with blue eyes, a white handlebar mustache and a white, neatly cropped beard. He was dressed in a tunic that looked as though it was made of animal skins that left his arms bare and reached down to his knees. He wore sandals.

“Thank you for helping me,” Benjamin said. “May I ask your name?”

The man smiled. “You can call me Gus.”

“Where am I?” Benjamin asked.

“You are in my hut.”

“How did I get here?”

“I carried you down from where you fell.”

“Should I be in a hospital?”

“You have no broken bones,” Gus told him. “You will mend here.” Benjamin wondered how Gus could make this assertion without x-rays, but decided not to push the point.

“Are you hungry?” Gus asked.

“Yes, I could eat a little something.”

Gus turned and walked to the rear of the hut and returned with a wooden bowl, which he handed to Benjamin. On inspection, the bowl contained small pieces of meat together with what looked like rice, a vegetable and a fork. The food was warm. Benjamin could not identify the meat, but it tasted good, and he finished everything. Gus watched while he ate. Taking the empty bowl from Benjamin to the back of the hut, he returned with a wooden cup.

“Drink this,” Gus told him. “It will help you to mend and to sleep.” Benjamin drank the liquid, began to feel sleepy, lay back and was soon asleep again.

Days passed during which Benjamin was soon able to sit up. Gus changed the dressing on his head every day.

“How long have you lived here, Gus?”

“I have always lived here,” Gus said. Gus did not talk much; he answered Benjamin’s questions but was otherwise silent. Benjamin’s strength slowly returned. He was able to stand although he still felt weak. He explored the back of the hut and found a small fireplace of stones. There was no other bed. Where did Gus sleep? Benjamin’s carbine stood in the corner.

More days passed; Benjamin was able to walk out of the hut and sit on a large rock near the doorway. Sometimes Gus would leave, walk down along the canyon floor and disappear for an hour or so, always returning. Benjamin wondered whether police were searching for him. Alice, his wife, would surely have called 911 when he failed to return home.

“Have there been people looking for me?” he asked Gus one day.

Gus simply smiled and said, “No, no one has been looking for you, but you are ready to return to your home.”

Benjamin was elated. He dusted off his clothes. His jeans were torn. He walked into the hut and retrieved his carbine. He worked the lever, ejecting three cartridges. Picking them up, he was startled to see that they appeared different from the 30-30 rounds he had always used. He retrieved the cartridge box from his pocket and saw that the three cartridges were identical to the others in the box. He examined the box, which read 38-55 caliber. He examined the carbine. On the side was etched, Winchester Model 94 cal 38-55.

He turned to Gus. “This is not my rifle,” he said.

“Surely, it is,” Gus told him. “It was nearby when I found you. There is no other rifle here.”

Benjamin reached for his wallet. “I want to pay you,” he said, only to find his wallet missing. Gus walked into the hut and returned with the wallet, which he handed to Benjamin. “You cannot pay me,” he said with a smile. Benjamin took the wallet. It appeared untouched.

Gus accompanied Benjamin up the trail leading out of the canyon. They reached the top after an hour’s climb. Gus pointed in the direction that Benjamin should walk. “You will find your vehicle there,” he said before he turned, and without another word, started back down the path.

Benjamin found his car, which to his surprise, started immediately. He turned around, found the dirt road, then the highway, and eventually reached his home. To his surprise, his house was now surrounded by a low white picket fence. He checked the house number and the street to assure himself it was his house. He went in to be casually greeted by Alice. “Oh, you’ve hurt yourself, and your jeans are torn. Are you okay?”

“That’s all you have to say?” Benjamin asked. “I must have been gone for weeks!”

Alice laughed, “What are you talking about? You left here last night.”

“When did you have that fence put up?” he asked her.

“Are you kidding? You put that fence up yourself two years ago,” she said and looked at him quizzically. “Go and wash up, dinner is almost ready.”

Later, at the table with Alice, their kids joined them, together with a black Labrador Retriever.

“Hi Dad,” Ted, his 13 year old, greeted him, followed by 10 year old Andrea, who kissed him, before they both sat down.

“What dog is that?” Benjamin asked.

“It’s Sheba,” Andrea told him. The dog ran over to Benjamin, wagging her tail and licking his hand. Benjamin was confused. The Sheba he knew was yellow, but he did not say anything. He noticed that his son was wearing a new wristwatch.

“That’s a nice looking watch,” he told Ted. “Where did you get it?”

His son looked at him strangely. “You gave it to me last Christmas,” the boy said. “Don’t you remember?”

That night, in bed with Alice, he leaned over to kiss her goodnight. “Is that a new perfume? It smells nice.”

Alice turned to him.

“It’s the same perfume I’ve worn for years. Are you alright, Benjamin?” she asked him. Benjamin wasn’t all right. Something was wrong, but he didn’t know what.

The next day was Monday, and he went to his office. His secretary and co-workers greeted him and everything seemed okay until he observed that his computer, a Dell when he left last week, was now a Hewlett Packard, but he found that all his programs were the same.

The following Saturday, Benjamin was determined to go back to the canyon. Somehow he felt that Gus would be able to explain what was happening. He told Alice that he would return in a few hours. He drove back to the desert, found the dirt road, and walked to the canyon. He picked his way down the trail, taking care not to fall again. When he reached the bottom he looked around. There was no hut. There was no sign that there ever had been a hut, although he was able to identify the large rock that had been just outside the hut’s door.

Benjamin sat down on the rock and tried to figure out what had happened. He called to mind the change in his carbine, the picket fence, Sheba’s color, his son’s wristwatch, Alice’s perfume and his changed computer. What did it mean? He sat there for hours but could not think of a rational explanation. It must be me. Maybe I’ve had some kind of a stroke or something.

Dejectedly, he started back up the trail, found his car and drove home. The picket fence was still there, and everything was the same. After dinner he called to his new Sheba. “C’mon old girl. Let’s go for a walk,” He attached her leash and started, heading down the block the way he always had before. It was dark and as he approached the corner, he observed a fire hydrant that he had never seen. In exasperation, he looked up at the sky and saw two moons shining brightly.


VIII. The Melting Pot

Working, fiction
by Nicole Massey

Piotr slowly drew the heavy stone saw across the top of the mortar seal on the thick brick base stone. Master Andrew was due back soon, and he was not a patient man. Piotr heard his words still echoing in his mind. “Have that section of wall cleared from the foundation before the sun reaches the top of the heavens or you will feel my wrath.”

He cut the mortar of the slender stone as fast as he could. He knew time was critical, as the Church was clearly trying to destroy all traces of the Templar heretics and their vile places of worship. They were anxious to consecrate the sites and build right and proper cathedrals in their places, so that none of the memory of the heretics would survive.

They were so anxious, they’d been far more open and generous to the masons for once, acting almost as if the old rivalries were healed. But Piotr knew better. This was just the priests trying to get what they wanted. When the cathedrals were finished, the old feud would soon rise again.

The thin stone came free as Piotr grumbled at poor construction. Even a journeyman like him knew better than to level uneven blocks with a thin shim of stone. It was never as stable, and this was just shoddy work that made his job harder, another reason to grumble.

Piotr’s rough hands grabbed the slab and removed it, carrying it to the pile of stones waiting for consecration. He almost didn’t bother. This would be re-cut, so that stone would probably not be used anyway, but he didn’t want to give Master Andrew any reason to chastise him. The foul tempered Scotsman didn’t like “continentals,” as he called them, so any excuse was enough for a whipping.

When Piotr returned to attack the larger stone, one of the last three, he looked up at the sky. He had about an hour or so, judging by the sun’s position, so no rush. He noticed a wooden top to the stone he’d just uncovered. It had a recessed handle, so he pulled, and it lifted out. He glanced at it. It looked very old. He realized that no one knew it was here, so he justified quickly that it was rightfully his. He quickly carried it to his tool chest and then returned to work.

As he finished removing the last block, Master Andrew came up with Father Eudes, the priest in charge of the project.

Master Andrew looked at the sky, and then at Piotr. “Aach, Perhaps yer worth something after all, Laddie.” He gave Piotr a slap on the back that sent him staggering.

“The other laddies are so farra behind, we’ll be lucky if they get done next month. Take yerself a break and gi yerself a bite. Boy, you surprised me. You may make yerself a Master yet.”

Piotr beamed at the all too rare praise, and rubbed his very sore shoulder. But he knew better than to tempt fate, and so he ran off to find the cook and get a tasty reward.

That evening, he dragged his tool chest to his room and pushed it against the wall. Tomorrow was the Sabbath, so he would have the day off. He looked at the setting sun, and debated whether to hurry to sharpen his blades tonight before sun fall, or wait until tomorrow night. He opened the chest, and all thoughts of work fled his mind as he saw the box.

It was a simple box, with little ornamentation, but something drew his attention. Under the catch on the front sat a small carving of a templar cross. He carefully inspected the box, then removed tools to try to open it.

The hinged lid was constructed so that the fasteners for the single hinge were concealed inside the box, but he decided after a few minutes of inspection that he could probably remove the pin. Working carefully to keep from damaging the finely crafted box, he got the hinge pin out and removed the lid. This revealed several things.

First, as he removed the lid from behind, several sharp needles poked out on the front of the box. Piotr looked at them carefully, and noticed some kind of dark substance on them, probably poison.

Studying the lock mechanism, he found the reset trigger and the needles returned back into the box. He lowered a metal disk that trapped them in their recessed position, then examined the contents.

The most obvious thing was a cross of gold, ornate and jeweled. Along with it sat a handwritten sheaf of papers. Piotr couldn’t read the language in which they were written, but this came as no surprise. He read only a smattering of French, most of his written language skills focusing on his native Russian and a bit of Greek from his Mason training.

The cross, that was worth some money. But for some reason, he decided he didn’t want to take it from the writings. It had several holes in the design along the upright that were unevenly spaced, and for some reason that struck him as odd. He looked down on the sheaf of papers again. There were fifteen written leaves with tight script, made of vellum. Each one had a strange figure marked in random places, something that looked like an ornate comma, but in the middle of the line. Piotr looked at it carefully, then noticed a similar figure on the cross. This got him to thinking. He placed the cross over the writing where the two figures met, and yes, certain letters were revealed under the holes in the cross. It was something of a cipher key. He returned the cross and the pages into the box, rearmed the needles, and carefully closed the box. He knew how to get into it if he needed to. Then he returned the box to his work chest and climbed into bed.

Piotr’s suspicions were borne out, as the moment he and his crew finished clearing the stones and working up the plans for the new cathedral, the Church turned hostile toward them once more. This didn’t bother him much, as he was busy with his examinations for mastery, and he didn’t think of Templars, Cathedrals, or trapped ornate boxes again for many years. The ornate box was on a shelf in his reading room all that time.

It was noticed again when Piotr brought his new wife, Valna, home.

She saw it and said, “Piotr, what a lovely box.”

He nodded. “Yeah, but be careful. It’s trapped with poisoned needles. Probably very dangerous.”

She frowned then. “Why would you keep such a thing? Where did it come from?”

“It’s from an old Templar chapterhouse. I found it on a job. It’s got some papers and an old cross in it, probably some artifact from when they built the place and consecrated it. It was in a cornerstone.”

Valna said, “Well, why don’t you get rid of it?”

“Because it’s a handsome piece of workmanship, and because it shores up the books on the shelf nicely. I like the look of it.”

Valna wasn’t a curious woman, and they both soon forgot about it.

Boris and Susa, though, their children, were both highly curious. Once they discovered the box, they wanted to handle it every chance they got. Piotr showed them about the poison needles, though, and they both decided it was a bit too risky to play with. The box took on “Family Artifact” importance with them, and many years later when they were going through their parents’ house after both Piotr and Valna died, they debated what to do with it. Susa was more interested in the old Balalaika their father learned to play in his youth, so Boris got the box. He explained the poisoned needles to his children and placed it on a shelf with some of his father’s books. And there it sat until it was disturbed by the Bolshevik Revolution some centuries later. Boris’s descendant, Anders, took the box with him when he fled to Germany. Then he took it with him again when he fled to America as the Nazis grew in power. It sat in his office at Yale for many years. When he died he passed it on to his son, Henry, who gave it as a graduation present to his daughter, Elaine. Along with the box Henry told the story passed down for so many years about their distant ancestor Piotr and how he removed it from the cornerstone of a Templar chapterhouse. He was actually glad to be done with it, as Becky and Frankie, the children of Elaine’s older brother Edward, were constantly taking it down to play with it, and he was worried about the needles. He showed Elaine the way the needles worked, then passed it on, satisfied that he was now free of the risk.

The vellum sheets fascinated Elaine, who transcribed them and used her studies at college in languages to discover they were in a very old dialect of southern French. Translation proved difficult, but not impossible, and when she was done she had a lovely little poem about nothing at all. Then she noticed the marks and the corresponding mark on the cross. It didn’t take her long to put the two together, literally, and decode a secret message about the founding of the Templars. But something didn’t seem right about that, so she inspected the cross again, and found three more marks, one on each arm of the cross. This led her to three more messages. One didn’t make sense. It seemed to be in a different language. She looked at it, tried several other languages, then tried something else. She took the letters of the different secret messages and started mixing them. This took her years.

As she neared retirement, she started working on the code again. She finally found it. She needed to use the pattern Catholics used when they crossed themselves to get the right order. The resulting message was in Hebrew, which revealed another poem meaning nothing. However, Hebrew is only partially a language. It’s also a cipher, and reducing the lengths of the words to letters revealed another cipher, which she finally got the inspiration to apply the ancient Asbash code to. As she finished the cipher, she wondered at what would be so important that someone would go to this length to conceal. When she was done, she found the final message was in Aramaic, a rare and not well understood dialect. But she had the skills to translate it, and she wound up with the following text after translation.

“If you deciphered this, you are obviously a very wise and adept scholar. I honor you, my brother, for your knowledge and skill. I am about to impart unto you a secret so deep that none will ever doubt your vast knowledge and mastery of the alchemical arts. Guard it with your life, for wealth, prosperity, fame, and the high regard of persons both noble and common are dependent on keeping this a secret from their curious and prying eyes. This secret is of greater value to your fame and fortune than those of the philosopher’s stone, the Elixir of Life, The making of a homunculus, and the universal solvent combined, for it has real value in this world, and will bring you riches greater than all of the aforementioned combined. Guard it carefully, and use it well.”

Then Dr. Elaine Hobbes, Dean of the College of Language at Harvard University and a direct descendant of Master mason Piotr Andreovich of Kiev, read a detailed and exacting recipe for the making of ice cream.


Moon Dance, creative nonfiction
by Valerie Moreno

He knew when it was time. Something beyond sleep would touch his mind, and he would open his eyes to the soft moonlight streaming in through the curtains of the dark room.

Slipping on a light jacket over his pajamas, his bare feet silent as he made his way outside, his heart filled with buzzing excitement. Nearing the still, silent beach, he smiled to find it deserted.

Waves broke against the white sand, the sea a deep shade of midnight, as the moonlight caught the rippling waves, making them sparkle like the boy’s large eyes. Sighing, he closed his eyes, listening, feeling the light motion of water and sound like natural music.

standing in cool sand, he began to turn slowly, following the cue of ocean and moon. Repeating the twirl, he gave his spirit freedom to become part of light, sound and peace of the moment.

Twirling, faster and faster, his movement clear and precise. His heart seemed to leap to beyond time and motion to embrace the universe and the One who created the dance of love he felt within himself.

Alone on the silent beach, spinning with arms extended, the boy was aware of the wonder of life beyond tangible time, and the music of the universe flowing through his mind and soul like sweet, clean water.

He was a part of it all. His spirit charged with realization and certainty that he was not dancing alone, that the peace within him was the clasping of spirits between himself and his Creator.

Slowing now, tears glistening on his cheeks, he was still. He lay down on his back, his eyes on the stars that twinkled so close, he raised a hand as if to catch one. After a while, his eyes fluttered closed, his breathing deep and even.

He was home here in the dance of light and serenity.

Note: based on an essay by Michael Jackson.

Bio: Valerie Moreno, age fifty-six, has been writing since she was twelve-years-old. Always inspired by music and fascinated by people around her, she’s written fiction, memoir, poetry and articles.


An Awakening Encounter, fiction
by Valerie Moreno

Assisi, Italy, 1208

My truest love,

As I sit beneath the shadows of this bent and protecting tree, the wind whips around me in the white laughter of snow. My thoughts, like the silk flow from heaven, swirl and move about me. The littlest of fires is dimming in the snow. Yet I have no inclination to stumble across this shimmering cloth of cold, to warm myself with fellow knights exchanging weary battle memories, for smooth, calming wine. Not yet.

For I must share with you, my Dear, what is set in my mind and heart, as only you and delicate nature can understand.

I met the most peculiar man, while riding my patient horse along the countryside. The sun was nearly hidden by coming night, and my soul was as dark as the climbing shadows around me. Sounds of merriment drifted by me as I cantered along, beginning to shiver from weather as well as my milling thoughts. I had fought, well as always, yet I was preoccupied with a notion that I was accomplishing very little. There was no comfort in the gleaming sword at my side, so recently stained scarlet with the blood of many. I found no consolation as I gazed around me, catching sight of something at the corner of my vision.

Unable to distinguish the thing crumpled on the bare earth, I paused, then dismounted and stepped closer, sword in hand. No sound or movement occurred, but it was no wolf carcas left for dead.

Pulling back a coarse hood, my eyes took in the face of a man, blue with cold, huddled with eyes closed. “He is dead,” I muttered and nearly jumped back as the eyes opened. Through a haze of sleep and cold, he gazed up at me.

How to describe the dark orbs, like almond shaped rocks in pale stone?
He was not fair or pleasant to behold, yet those luminous eyes captured me as no others had. He stretched out, sat, then stood with a sweet smile lighting his face. He wore a tunic as ragged as the shadows of rope about his waist. And,merciful God, he was barefoot!

“You need shelter and warmth,” I said. “Climb upon my horse and I will help. Here,” I reached in my cloak and took out a flask. “Wine,” I thrust it toward him. “Drink now!”

His eyes twinkled. “I will, God be praised, if you also warm yourself from sister snow.”

He didn’t move. He waited for me to nod. “But…but you need it more than I do.”

He let me help him mount the horse and we sat together in the dark and snow, passing the flask between us.

“My destiny is war,” I sighed, the wine warming my body and mind. “At least, it has been. You?”

“Once,” he said, light and shadows playing across his face. “Now, my battles are waged within me where the heaviness persists in a different struggle.”

I reached in my bulging side-pouch, dragging a threadbare blanket around him. “I want to know what it is all for,” I said. “Killing brings more killing and war. I ponder, is peace just a chance on the wind? Is it the tale of children we strive after, as fleeting as these flakes of white?”

“I would imagine brother winter might say no. His destiny is set in the Creator of seasons. We fear his cold, yet he is beautiful.”

“War is not beautiful,” I answered.

“No, indeed.”

I looked at him carefully. “Why do you call it brother, sir?”

“Snow?” he laughed. “I’ll show you.”

Before I realized what he was doing, he jumped from the horse, tossed the blanket to me and raced off. “Come, meet your brother!” he shouted and down went sword, flask and cloak and even my boots. I ran after him, both of us waving arms and shouting like little children. Snow was in my eyes, all over limbs and feet and I became aware of him singing in French, so beautifully in the stillness, that I began to cry, my tears mingling with falling snow.

It was all caught in the falling white, my freezing feet, the moon lighting our path and him singing to God, though I don’t know how I knew.

We collapsed on our backs, laughing and weeping until we could hardly speak.

Gasping, I stood, wet to the bone. “You aren’t coming with me, are you?”
I stated.

He lay where he was, a smile on his lips. “No. I am content here.”

I wanted to ask how, but my throat closed. In the barest of life, he was at home.

“It will go with you,” he said as if he were hearing my silent question.

“I am Rinaldo.”

“I am Francesco. God’s peace be yours.”

I left him lying in the snow singing, my frozen frame shivering and somehow light.

I don’t pretend to understand exactly what happened. Somehow, I am on a new course not yet clear. His voice remains in my spirit and I will see him soon again as surely as brother will leave for a while and return. The fire is out, yet I am inwardly feeling its light.

Rinaldo


Relief, poetry
by Larry Chambers

Our greatest relief
For frustration
Is when love
Becomes greater
Than the
Temptation.

Bio: Larry Chambers is sixty-one. He has had a hip replacement, diabetes and arthritis. He has recently earned his high school diploma. He also attends all of the blind peer support meetings he can, and he recites his poems to the groups as well.


A Song in Time, poetry
by Brad Corallo

Is the tarnish on bright metal a humbling of beauty?
Or, rather is it the hand of a truer art through time?
Where we all now stand for this brief moment
Marks upon the tapestry of imagined possibility.

Bio: Brad Corallo is a fifty-seven year old visually impaired Certified Rehab Counselor (CRC) who works and resides on Long Island where he was born. His specialty is providing psychotherapy for folks with a wide variety of issues and disabling conditions. Brad is separated from his second wife and has no children accept for his large furry cat Jack Hinks. Brad’s hobbies and interests include: reading, writing, music, enjoyment of fine wine and food and his many fascinating friends.


Mary, poetry
by Brad Corallo

She appears in a room.
The mist dissolves.
The atmosphere sparkles.
The air is like wine or the clearest water.
And the long sleeping possibility of sudden joy
awakens the mundane.
And unimagined ebullience ignites
Leaping, unbound and ready to soar.
Not all, but many are given to feel it and know,
and are glad!
“And my empty cup tastes as sweet as the punch.”

The thought of her fire,
still burning so brightly.
And untended by some who have its sacred keeping,
a bewildering puzzle.
But a bar of gold ,
in the hand of a fool,
is just a piece of metal.

Burn on!
Your radiance is oxygen.
Even if only scant breaths come my way,
I am comforted, though not yet healed.
Perhaps I must just remain bedazzled!

NOTE: quoted line adapted from “Along comes Mary” by Tandyn Almer


Shelter from the Wind, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

“WELCOME TO NEVADA,” where flashing lights and casinos
Grovel together at the base of violet shrouded mountains
Walk in fields of fragrant sage and purple tumbleweed
Stacked in fluffy clumps against fences, by the wind.
Look across this fertile plain of the valley.
Watch the long train moving east to an Oasis.

Trees and grass, water aplenty in the Oasis.
A single gas pump, a shiny slot machine in this lonely casino.
Behind violet shadows on taupe-blue mountains.
Reach down to touch the prickly tumbleweed
that blooms before the winter winds
sweep through the Nevada Oasis valley.

Winter winds blow frigid in this valley
thrusting weighted clouds of ice to the Oasis.
Winter storms howl and moan around the casinos,
sweeping down across the barren mountains,
removing purple from the tumbleweed
and lifting its hollow bones to the icy wind.

The casinos are a shelter from the wind.
Tourists stay, trying to win in this frosty Nevada valley
drawn here like thirsty men to an Oasis
seeking water and wealth from the casinos
when the wind blows sharp in the mountains.
The only thing moving is the tumbleweed.

Truckers never see the tumbleweed.
They mark time like notches on a gun through driving Nevada winds
ignoring the signs posted in the valley,
desiring to reach warm arms in the Oasis
or painted lips and blinking lights in the casinos-
trying to delay the next voyage over the mountains.

Seasons change slowly in the Nevada mountains,
leaving behind memories like frail tumbleweed.
Dreams pass as fragments in a winter-wind,
and tumbleweed blowing in the valley
as surely as a man travels, looking for an Oasis
and a sure bet in the Silver State casinos.


Majesty, poetry
by Barbara Hammel’

You must be Atlas reincarnate.
You’re old. your hair and beard are white.
You stand there holding up the sky,
The weight of it has worn your shoulders bare,
Bits of its azure brightness flake off
And cascade in streams and fall over your body,
Nurturing your robe of evergreen hue.
Sometimes your breath wraps around your head
A veil of privacy for a while
Hiding your eyes from the man-made things
Where your feet are firmly planted.
Some day you, too, will tire of the burden.
You’ll shrug, and the shift of weight
Will force your life-blood to pour
In torrents of flowing heat and fire.

Bio: Barbara Hammel lives in Urbandale, Iowa with her husband, twin sons and two cats. She has been writing poetry since she was sixteen. She contributed poems to a high school book and to her college dorm newspaper. She also recently published a chapbook called “Good-Bye Iowa Braille.” Barbara enjoys reading, writing, playing games and doing crossword puzzles. She was born blind.


Star Ship Haiku, poetry
by John Wesley Smith

Star Ships facing off.
Playing tag, weapons ready.
Sun lights my glasses

Bio: John Wesley Smith is a blind writer from central Missouri. Most of his creative endeavors go into his blog site at http://www.destinysurvival.com


Magnolia Tree, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner

Exposed, shy and ,alone
within the stark shadow
of a great stout oak and
scarcely four feet small,
this frail magnolia seemed
too feeble to survive.

Every winter she’d withdraw.
In spring time she sprang right back.
When one winter came around,
she didn’t flinch, just held her ground,
as if to say, “I’m here to stay.”

Through the years she stretched up and out.
Her long glossy leaves draped around
with an air of royal vestment.
Romantic aromas wafted
from milky-white lavish flowers.

My front green became her domain.
Equal in stature to lord high oak,
her leafy hoop-bustled-dresses,
in need of lifting entourage,
pushed juniper, boxwood, dogwood,
peony, grasses, everything
out of her imperial way.

Despite her magnificence,
hems were in need of trimming.
With rash chain saws and loppers,
we revealed her shapely legs.
Now her grace and elegance
replaces ponderous pomp.
Kudos to Her Majesty.

Bio: Leonard Tuchyner has had Stargardt’s disease, which was first noticed in his teenaged years. He is now seventy-four. He reads through the media of Braille, recordings, and electronic voices produced by Open Books and Zoom Text. He lives with his wife of thirty-four 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 Creek Publishing. His hobbies include Tai chi and gardening.


No Color, poetry
by Myrna D. Badgerow

I slipped into
a crayon box
and that I was
of no color meant nothing.
I was accepted
for just being me,
not the shade of my togs.


Rain, poetry
by Ann Chiappetta

My dog barks at the rain,
as it bounces against the picture window.
Drops that only hit if the storm
comes out of the north or east.

Hyper vigilance, a startle reflex provokes
people, too,
sometimes well-managed, but often untreated.

As I watch my dog, hunched and trembling, eyes
riveted at the window,
I think of my client who can’t sleep because
he is afraid of his dreams.
I think of the child who falls asleep in schoo,l
because he waited all night for his mother to come home.
The teen who won’t change in the locker room,
because being picked on devastates him.

Tonight I sit and listen to the intermittent bursts
harrowing my window, the dog trembling beside me.
Recall the man, the boy, and the teen,
and hope.


Who’s Next, poetry
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

At Christmas the office manager we just hired drew my name,
So since I was blind, I got a personalized cane;
No, it wasn’t the type that I like to use,
So I included it with some clothes, purses, and shoes
And gave it the next time the veterans’ call came,
A charitable donation on my taxes I’d claim.

Ernie was shopping at the veterans’ thrift store
And Dorothy found, lying flat on the floor,
A cane that it looked like was made for the blind;
Ernie had his guide dog, but what a wonderful find.
They bought it, took it home, thought of folks they might know;
Then on TV, as part of a show
They told about a teenager involved in a fight,
And as a result, he’d lost most of his sight.

Paul accepted the cane, and some counseling too;
Ernie made him feel like he might make it through
This tangle of disaster; so he signed up for training;
Living by sound and by touch took lots of explaining.
“But your cane is too short,” the mobility guy said;
The new one in hand, the old one under the bed.

Then three years later, Paul went off to college.
During some remodeling, and without any knowledge
About blindness or Paul, or the use of that stick,
Was it for fishing? For golfing? Who knew the trick?

In a truck for the trash dump it lay unattended
‘Til one of the workers casually recommended,
“Hey, let’s run this load by the Salvation Army store.
“There are some of these discards they might find a use for.”

You guessed it, one day while searching for curtains,
Among the rods and the hooks, there it was, still uncertain
I looked for my initials carved into the grip;
Sure enough, there they were, where’d it been on its trip?
No, I couldn’t leave it; fate had sent me a sign;
I’d keep passing it forward, a new home to find.


Waiting for Dan, poetry
by Lorie McCloud

I’ll wait for Dan till the stars come out,
in the city sky over the tree.
And I’ll hold my breath and I’ll count each star,
and I’ll wish on the first one I see.

I’ll wait for Dan till the breeze blows up,
and it stirs in the leaves and the grass.
And I’ll stay right there while it plays with my hair,
and I’ll wait for the time to pass.

I’ll wait for Dan till the city sounds stop,
and the moon is way up high.
And it shimmers in the night with its soft yellow light,
and the cars have all stopped going by.

Hurry Dan!
The night is well along its way,
and we have things that we must do,
before the break of day.
There is that plan,
that you explained so carefully.
And we must work together quickly,
you and your friend and me.

In the hush before dawn when the air turns cool,
and the insects cease to humm,
I might still be by the maple tree,
waiting for Dan to come.

Bio: Lorie McCloud is totally blind from birth. She resides in Fort Worth Texas. Her interests include hiking or walking, swimming and reading and conversing about psychology and metaphysics. She is a singer/song writer as well as an author. Her youtube channel is: http://www.youtube.com/user/LorieMccloud?feature=mhsn


A Blind Bard Sings, poetry
by Paul D. Ellner

Come listen while I tell of eons past
and how the gods were made.
When ice retreated to the poles
and sunshine warmed the Earth.
I sing of primal times.

A woman crept from out her cave,
peered at a cloud
and wondered at the blue beyond.
Her mate had seen how lightening cleft an oak
and fearful thought of who had thrown the bolt.
Still other men considered nature’s acts
’til all these thoughts and wonders coalesced,
to form a being terrible and great.
I sing the nidus of a god.

It doled out punishments, rewards
and needed food, demanded praise,
sacrifice and prayer.
Men gave it names and gender:
Jov, Astarte, Isis, Yahweh and Allah.
I sing of gods and men.

Then priests and rabbis came:
Imams and mullahs, shamans all.
Self-appointed pastors of the people
Described their gods and gave them traits of men:
Jealousy, love, prejudice, vengeance,
determined good and evil, invented sin and guilt,
imagined destinations after life,
fables of punishment and reward,
created scriptures they called holy
and swore the words divine.
I sing of human needs and fears.

Then cohorts of the star, the cross, the crescent
Began to kill each other for beliefs,
insisting theirs was true and right,
contended for the city all deem holy,
as they still do today.
I sing of our religions.


Hawkeye, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

Named after the character
in The Last of the Mohicans,

he’s the doc I’d want to have
if I were wounded in Korea.

Like any single man,
he flirts with nurses, USO stars,
Even a doctor and a journalist,
But he knows better
Than to use them.

At the end of the day,
With his great sense of humor,
terrific bedside manner,
he makes war funny,
even though it’s not.


Yellow Wedding, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

Swathed in yellow, she glides to the altar,
attended by bridesmaids, also in yellow,
all carrying bouquets of yellow flowers.

A blackbird sadly calls,
as if knowing this is the second time around,
wondering if this time, their love will last forever.


IX. On the Lighter Side

My Talking Crotch Watch, nonfiction
by Janet Di Nola Parmerter

In recent decades, an unfeeling thief has robbed a valuable possession from thousands of men and women. In some cases, this thief quietly appeared at night, long gone by morning, and stole their most precious irreplaceable treasure, their sight.

The name of this culprit is Macular Degeneration. It has been a devastating shock for many, but thanks to modern technology, coping with this disease has become easier. Since the age of nine, I have struggled with this now familiar eye disease. Therefore, I for one am grateful technology did not leave the blind in the dark.

For visually impaired individuals, talking aids now make independence a reality. For example, in my home, there are clocks talking from different rooms, different handbags, and at different times of day and night. There are: talking desk clocks, talking alarm clocks, talking kitchen clocks, talking travel clocks, talking stopwatch clocks, talking calculator clocks, and talking wristwatches everywhere. These clocks are all shapes and sizes, but the tiniest is the talking mini clock in my purse. In our quiet home, when the hour strikes and all clocks begin speaking, this synchronized cacophony of voices, my usually patient husband wants to see time fly…right out the window!

When having overnight guests, I attempted to turn off each clock but inevitably would miss one. Kindly, my daughter began warning our guests about the speaking clocks, after they terrified two of our Italian friends. The two girls said they were frightened all night, “Earing dee leetell teeny voices.”

Now this particular story, and believe me there are many, many clock stories, began in Europe. Unfortunately, for this clock, it also ENDED there. That troublesome watch would never take another trip with me. Its next journey was a solo, non-stop direct flight to the garbage pail.

However, in its defense, it did have one redeeming feature…its size. It was the tiniest little thing, the size of a credit card, with a small, square, raised button. When this button was pushed, it announced the time in a female voice. The problem was, this tiny square was raised just enough so if anything inside my purse touched the button, the clock automatically began an irritating time announcement. Often, the button stuck in the talk position, and repeated the time like a rap song. If the clock showed 5:36 PM, it would rap…”ffifififififive ththithithithirty sisisix.”

Compounding that annoyance, right before its demise, it plagued me with a new dysfunction. Whenever it became cold, it started making strange high-pitched screeching electronic sounds, and stopped only after warming up. All this, rapidly lead to this tiny tickers downward plunge to “the old clock graveyard.”

At work, this tiny talking clock was indispensable and always with me. Being in the travel industry, arriving at each museum, city or hotel on time was essential. With my visual impairment, as strange as it may seem, for decades I have escorted groups of American tourists to foreign countries. My goal was, and still is, to help their International vacation be as fun and problem free as possible. Europe is my forte but I have accompanied groups to places like China, Russia, and the Middle East. With assistive tools for the blind, like my typical white cane, and talking devices, I still lead tourists around tiny quaint villages, to bustling world capitals. Honestly, I must admit because I was a skier, my favorite tours of all were ski tours to the western states, and the majestic Alps of Italy, France, Austria, and Switzerland. At that point in time, my next job was a ski tour in Switzerland. However, as you will soon come to find out, this infuriating clock’s time was definitely up!

To set the scene, we must move back counterclockwise in time, to my final tour with that crazy clock. The saga begins as my tour group departed from a ski trip in the Jung Frau region of Switzerland. After the one-week tour, we included a three-day stopover in Belgium. In order to catch the first flight from Zurich to Brussels, we had to wake up at 4:00 am. Though the group only had a few hours sleep, everyone seemed comfortable on the plane except me. I was freezing! The floor under my seat had an open crack to the unheated cargo area below, and the constant icy cold breeze on my feet made me miserable. My legs were bitter cold, and the liquid contents inside my purse turned solid. As if things were not bad enough, all of a sudden, this continuous, high-pitched, piercing sound exploded from my purse. It was my tiny, temperamental timepiece again reacting to its intense hatred of cold. Quickly, I cupped the credit card size clock in my hand trying to warm it up and curtail the exasperating electronic shrieks. But, regrettably, it screeched even louder! In an effort to muffle the shrieks, while still in a sleep-deprived state of confusion, I thought I could stop the piercing sound by tucking it next to my belly under the waistband of my pants. Soon, the clock warmed up and little by little the shrieks lessened until there was silence. Being thoroughly exhausted, in seconds I drifted into a comatose sleep.

Surprisingly, the rough landing did not even wake me. All of a sudden, someone shook me and laughed, “Wake up! We’re in Belgium!” Startled, I awoke in a daze, and again heard others from my tour group shout, “Hey, you have to get up, we’ve landed!” Still half-asleep, I grabbed my purse and coat, and by instinct jumped to my feet and stretched my arms up to open the overhead bin. Simultaneously, as I stretched up and pulled out my carryon, the tiny clock shifted from my waistband, slid down my silky panty hose, and stopped at my crotch. As a result, every time I put my right leg forward to take a step, my thigh pushed on the raised button and in a muffled voice, my crotch proudly announced the time. Unavoidably with every agonizing step I took, my crotch blatantly said, “Its 8:30 AM, its 8:30 AM, its 8:30 AM.”

Sylvia, a friend from back home, burst into a fit of laughter because she knew the muffled, crotch time announcement was my crazy clock. People looked around, turned their heads and wondered where this semi-muffled time announcement was coming from. With a confused and embarrassed red face, I tried to ignore people who curiously stared at my crotch. At first, I wondered whether I should stop and try to dig it out. DUHH, NO! What was I thinking? As I envisioned a bizarre scene of digging the clock out of my pants, I reasoned, that would LOOK really, really strange! In a split second, after weighing the matter of sound versus looks, I decided I would much rather SOUND really, really strange, than LOOK really, really strange, so I left it in my pants.

As if things were not bad enough, my crotch watch changed into that funky STUCK rapper mode, as I began strutting down the long, seemingly endless aisle. With each agonizing step my discomfort grew as my crotch did its wrap thing with, “It’s eh ehh ehh ehh eight thi thir thir thir thirty two.”

“It’s eh ehh ehh ehh eight thir thir thir thir thirty two.”

“It’s eh ehh ehh ehh eight thir thir thir thir thirty two.”

Hysterical laughter came from my tour group, but I had a sickening feeling when I heard the dragged out wrap version of, “It is 8:32, 8:33, and 8:34.” Frantically, in an effort to shut the humiliating thing up and stop my thigh from pressing on the button, I began dragging my right leg behind me. As a result of this abnormal gait, I looked like Quasimodo doing a STEP / DRAG, STEP / DRAG, STEP / DRAG.

Again, weighing the level of embarrassment in my choices, I wondered which brought me a greater feeling of humiliation, the talking crotch watch or the Quasimodo drag. Either way, to say the very least, it was a mortifying choice! As I recall, I did a little combo of the two, then finally came to the end of the plane.

With my tour group waiting in the terminal, my hysterics turning to tears, and my makeup running down my face, Sylvia and I prepared to disembark. As we turned left to walk through the galley, Sylvia looked ahead, then covered her mouth and bent over with laughter. Through her giggles, she forced out the words, “Get this Janet, the whole crew is lined up, shaking hands, and saying good-bye to every passenger leaving the plane.” Sure enough, there they were; the pilot, the co-pilot, and seven flight attendants, perfectly lined up like officers at attention bidding farewell to their troops. It was certainly an impressive gesture on the part of Sabina airlines, but, I groaned, “Of all times, what timing, not now, WHY now?” In all my years of tourism, this was the first time I ever experienced nine people from a flight crew on a happy handshake line. Even the “Friendly Skies” of United were not THAT friendly. In any case, considering my current dilemma, that lineup was a bit too friendly for me!

All of a sudden, like a cartoon light bulb appearing over someone’s head, a crazy thought came into my mind. If I slipped into the cockpit until everyone left the plane, I could sneak out when the cleaning crew entered. For a split second, I actually contemplated my outlandish idea. Could that work? Instantly, I dismissed the delusional thought with a shake of my tired and giddy brain. First of all, that thought was insanity, and second of all, I had a tour group waiting for me to bring them to baggage claim. Giving my head a good left to right shake, I tried to clear my brain and wondered if there was a chance I could slide past that so-called, “jolly flight crew line” without being noticed. THAT, was something I was NOT sure of. However, there was something I DEFINITELY WAS sure of, I would NOT stroll past this group dragging my leg behind me and looking like some red faced hysterical Hunchback of Notre Dame.

At this point, Sylvia and I desperately tried to stop laughing, regain our composure, and prepare for the inevitable. After we straightened our posture, I lifted my head up, took a deep breath and tried to have a poised and confident appearance. Was I now prepared to meet each one of the polite, well-mannered and friendly crew?

Of course not! But, taking one last deep breath, I wiped tears off my face, pulled my shoulders back, then boldly walked toward the airline cheerleading squad. With a somewhat stern face, I extended my hand forward, shook hands with each one, thanked them for a safe flight, and listened to my crotch proudly announce “It’s 8:38, it’s 8:38, it’s 8:38!!!”

Sylvia chuckled as she whispered, “The crew is looking all around with puzzled, confused faces,” then added, “They’re looking at the floor, at their legs, at each other, then uncomfortably at your crotch.”

Yes, they were wondering where this strange muffled time announcement came from. Therefore, with my face still expressionless, I politely said good-bye to all nine airline personnel, and pretended I heard absolutely nothing from my impertinent, impolite, and infuriating…”TALKING CROTCH WATCH.

This article was featured on August 22, 2011, on the computer software website of Ai Squared. The featured section is called Zoomed In http://www.aisquared.com/blog The Ai Squared Blog
The direct link to this article is http://www.aisquared.com/blog/2011/08/my-talking-crotch-watch/ It was also published in the NFB magazine Slate and Style 2011 fall edition

Bio: At age nine, Janet’s sight declined and by age fifteen, she discovered she had Stargardts. From 1969 to 1984, she worked in New York as a runway, showroom, and hair model, while simultaneously running ski tours. Passions for skiing, people, history, geography, and language helped develop her career as a travel agent and International tour escort. In 1982, she became a teacher of the Holy Scriptures and successfully continues both occupations. With all of her activities and a large family and pets, her life is NEVER uneventful. Janet finds a touch of humor in life’s bizarre situations, believing, “True life is often funnier than fiction!”


ReinCATation, poetry
by Susan Muhlenbeck

One day I was at a yard sale, just browsing,
when I stumbled upon something quite arousing.
It was a collection of records of classic piano,
I bought the whole stack with the rest of my dough.
I played a piece by the famous Chopin,
at this my pernicious cat Rex jumped down from the divan.
He stood in front of the player with eyes bugging out,
his mouth open wide like he was going to shout.
His ears perked up, his tail was wagging.
His attention was definitely unflagging.

Next I played a song by the well-known Liszt.
At this my cat bared his teeth at me and hissed.
“What’s wrong? Don’t you like this musician?
He was a man of great ambition.”
Maybe Rex would like Beethoven a bit more.
That’s one composer everybody seems to adore.
I put Beethoven on, then gave a cry of alarm,
for the cat jumped on me and scratched my arm.
“What did you do that for, you bad boy?
This happens to be a piece I enjoy.
I’ll put on some Bach for a change of pace,
and you better behave, now get out of my face.”
I played the Bach record, feeling a bit befuddled,
when Rex peed on the carpet, making a big puddle.
He yowled in anger and ran around the room,
I had half a mind to smack him with a broom.
Instead I cleaned up the mess he made,
then put on the Chopin record I had first played.
He purred contentedly as I walked down the hall,
I didn’t want to be around him at all.

I found some sheet music of songs I liked very much.
I thumbed through them, afraid I had lost my touch.
I started playing Handel’s “Messiah”, a piece I held quite dear,
When Rex jumped on my back and bit my ear.
“All right,” I shouted, “I’ll play you a tune.
Let go of my ear, or I’ll knock you to the moon.”
I played Chopin’s 7th movement of his 38th opera the best I could.
Rex bobbed his head and grinned as if to say, “Very good.”

The next morning he was in the den, and I almost jumped out of my shoes.
All I could do was stare and shake my head, confused.
He was standing on his hind paws on the piano stool.
He actually looked kind of cool.
His front paws were painstakingly tapping out,
the song I played the night before, I had no doubt.
Suddenly I had to laugh just a little,
for I always heard that cats played the fiddle.


Underworld, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

The meeting is called to order. I sit up straight, hands on the table. Randy, my Seeing Eye dog, is down below, alert and observant. Under the table, committee members are scrutinized

The minutes of the last meeting are read. I don’t recall anything of the sort taking place. Randy makes nose contact with fidgeting fingers. Under the table, body language gets noticed.

The minutes are approved. Who was the spin doctor behind that fiction? Randy emits a foghorn moan. Under the table, authentic opinions are expressed.

Old Business gets old. We’ve been through all this before. Randy curls up and naps. I wish I could join him. Under the table, energy is conserved.

New business sounds half-baked. Suggestions veer off at obtuse angles. Randy puts his head on my foot. Under the table, connections are established.

The chairman wants to strategize. Everyone becomes suddenly stupid. Randy uses his little front teeth to pry dried chewing gum from the underside of the table. Down below, ingenuity exceeds expectations.

The chairman proposes a sub-committee. I hear eyes darting. Randy crawls to Moses and the two guide dogs chomp on each others’ heads. Under the table, teamwork is the buzzword.

The chairman calls for volunteers. Everyone looks at somebody else, I think. Randy waves one arm in the air. Under the table, the prospect of service is enthusiastically received.

Ad campaigns are devised. One slogan uses the word “chow.” Each time “Chow” gets said, Randy pops up and hits his head on the underside of the table. Down under, marketing concepts get results.

There’s a motion to adjourn. I second it. The motion passes. Under the table, Randy prepares for schmoozing and donut crumbs.

Committee members file out. The chairman intercepts me. He says meetings must be boring for Randy. I tell him he’d be surprised, that a lot goes on in places people can’t see. Randy sniffs the man’s shoes. Down below, the path up the corporate ladder gets fleshed out.


A Cold Winter’s Night, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

When the Polar Vortex hits, our menagerie migrates to our marital bed. Two adults, two cats and a big, black dog having a sleepover, bundled in the 320-watt, dual-control electric blanket. I ask my wife, “Hot enough for you, Honey?”

“Hmmm, hrumph.”

“Speak up, Dear, you’re all muffled.”

“Hahee hah hmy heh,” says my wife. I translate that to, “Harvey’s on my head,” Harvey being our elderly, uninsulated cat.

Meanwhile, Mulligan, our fifteen-pounder, climbs atop me and starts doing that front paw push thing cats do when they’re feeling connected. I lift him off my bladder and place him on my wife. “Mulligan will give you a back rub, Dear.”

“Phayn hoo, muhhuggun.”

“Has he found that really sore spot, Honey?”

“A lihhull lohuh, pleahh.” I move Mulligan down a few inches. “Hmmm, dat fee so goo.”

On the outer rim of the bed, spooning with my wife, Randy the dog gives himself a Saturday night lick bath. Slurp, smack, snort. The whole bed rocks. What will the neighbors think? Slurp, smack, sigh. His head plops down. He’s out.

The animals flock to my wife’s side of the bed because it’s toasty over there. My side has no warmth. I press the power button. A light’s supposed to come on, but I can’t see it if it does. I press the Hot button a few times. In a while, I’ll either still be cold or be poached. Then I’ll press the buttons some more until I get it right.

The Polar Vortex settles on my side of our marital bed. My wife sleeps. Harvey snores lightly. Mulligan splays out. Randy chases the rabbit of his dreams. I lie awake and wait for the blanket to do whatever it’s going to do. I hope to fall asleep soon. Sleep does not come easily tonight. I’d count sheep but the bed’s full as it is.


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