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The Bird

Once upon a time in a land far away lived an old man.  He lived in a cottage not far from Schneeze.

Many a day he would walk out of his tiny cottage in the woods and walk along the paths towards the village clothed in a little brown jacket with pants and shoes that matched.  He loved to match colors and dress in casual but comfortable clothes.

One -day as he was walking to the village he spied a bird in need.  Looking around he saw nobody to help so he picked up the bird in his gentle hands, put him in his pocket to keep warm, and continued on his way.  While he was at the village he bought a handkerchief, a small tin cup and seeds. Then he took the bird and the things he had bought and went back home.

When he got there he lit a couple candles to make the house brighter so he could see, took the bird out of his pocket and placed it on the table.  After massaging the bird all over, he took the handkerchief and wrapped up the bird.

After the bird was wrapped up he put the seeds in the cup and fed the bird.  It was getting dark so he went to bed.

After a couple days the bird began to feel better.  He’d hop about the room jumping on one thing and then another.  Soon, the old man thought, the little bird won’t be needing any more help.

That night everything was quiet.  It was the quietest night for several weeks.  Usually the animals were noisy.  Some of the people in the village said the animals did it to ward off evil spirits.  This night not a sound was heard from anywhere.

The next morning as the old man woke up, the bird came to his side and gave him a glance.  The old man understood and got up to let the bird outside.

The old man had lost a friend so he was sad the next day.  When the bird was in his home he was happy.

The next day the old man went to the village as usual.  While he was there he spied an old English Antique shop.  Seeing a lot of good things in the window, he went in and looked around, as he was doing so a lady came up to him and said,”Are you the man who helped the little bird?”

“Yes,” replied the old man, “Why do you ask?”

“I’m just curious.” she said.

“Why are you curious? Did you see me pick it up?”

“No,” explained the lady.”I was just told by someone.  He told me to tell you to go to the old Turkish well on the south side of the village.  I haven’t the faintest idea what he wants you there for.”

After the old man had done his shopping he went to the south side of the village.

It was a long, tiring walk to the south side.  He passed a lot of gift shops, cafes, craftsmen shops, and houses.  It was late afternoon when he arrived at the well. As he approached he saw a figure standing under a fig tree by the well.  The figure was completely dressed in white from head to foot.

The man was astonished to see a figure standing there.  He was afraid that he was dreaming.  It was very scary.  When the old man walked near, it spoke to him in a strange voice saying, “I have longed to meet you.  You were very kind.  Why did you pick the bird up? Many people would have ignored it, yet you helped it.  Why?”

“I did it because I enjoy helping others.  I am kind to a lot of things that other people wouldn’t bother with.  I have an urge to help them.  Do you  understand what I am trying to say?”

“Yes,” said the voice from under the white robe,”I know.”

Then to the old man’s astonishment the figure disappeared.  Not a trace of what he saw or heard was left.

It was turning dark so the old man decided to return to his cottage.  It was a long way off but he could easily catch a coach to the village square where he would find a short path to his house.

The next day as the old man was dressing he spotted a white piece of cloth on his dresser.  Fastened to it were big bold letters that read “THANKS.”

A FOOT OF MYSTERY

Daydreaming for hours had been one of her favorite pastimes, but now she sat bored out of her mind in her aunt’s home for the summer.

She hated her parents for leaving her with an eccentric aunt they hadn’t seen in years.  It was rumored that Aunt Mame had become more withdrawn since the death of her husband twenty years ago.  Her aunt had isolated herself from every relative she had ever known and yet there wasn’t a choice as to who could take her for the summer.

Josie had understood their reasoning when they sat her down one night to explain that they needed time to be alone.  Her mom was having a hard time getting over the loss of a child.  Josie would have had a sister had she lived.

Aunt Mame lived in a three-story Victorian home that looked like the one in California that Josie had read about.  The Winchester house had been built by a lady who had lost her husband and child in an accident and was told by a psychic that their ghosts would leave her alone if she kept building the home.  She spent her entire life building on that house.  A lot of the rooms and hallways were dead ends, and some of the staircases went on forever.

Her aunt’s home looked just like it, with little nooks and hidden rooms everywhere.  There were a lot of places to explore in this old house.

Josie’s room had a Victorian canopy bed that was a little hard to climb into so her aunt had given her a stool to step on.  The sheets were silk and the curtains flowed down like angel’s wings.  The mattress was one of the softest she had ever laid on, and the room was bigger than her room at her parents’ home. There was an old-fashioned dresser complete with an armoire and a window seat that looked out the back of the house for miles.  Her aunt had acres of land with fruit trees  and a pigeon coop.

Lying down on the soft sheets, she fell into a deep sleep. Dreaming about her parents hunting an elephant made her smile because seeing them standing next to or damn near one was hysterical.  They looked like ants against such massive creatures, and she could not help but smile.  Then her dream went from funny to weird.  A lady with long, curly red hair and the face of an angel started to sing, and as she sang Josie could see tiny cherubs strumming banjos and other cherubs shooting their arrows into floating hearts.  Every now and again they whispered to each other their secrets.  All she could hear in the wind was bring me back, bring me back.  Confused by this and not sure where to turn or where to go in her dream, she turned around the trunk of a tree and saw a monster ready to grab he so she ran screaming her head off.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” her aunt asked her as she wiped the sweat from Josie’s brow.  “I heard you all the way down the hall.  What else can I get you?  Are you sure you don’t want me to get in touch with your parents? I have their phone number in case there is a problem.”

“No, please don’t bother them.  There is no reason to do that and I am old enough to take care of myself.  My mom and dad really need this time to be alone.  Don’t bother them, okay Aunt Mame?”

“All right, I won’t do that this time, but if you keep screaming you’re going to wake the dead, so cut it out, okay?”

“All right, I promise.  I’ll try to keep it down next time, and believe me, there had better not be a next time.”

With that, the lights were turned off and good nights were said by all.

The sound of the rooster and the clattering of dishes woke Josie with such a start that she began to breathe hard and clutching her chest all wild-eyed she looked about the room, not sure where she was.  It had been a fitful sleep and rested she was not.  She clambered out of bed, put on her slippers and robe, and went to use the bathroom down the hall before heading downstairs.

As she walked down the dark staircase, the smell of sausage permeated her nostrils and smoke hung heavy in the air.  She could see her breath as she came downstairs, and the chill of the air hit her arms like she had dived into the icy sea.  The morning fire had not been attended to, and for a moment Josie thought it was one of her chores that she had forgotten when her aunt called from the kitchen to say that she had not gotten that far yet and would do it after breakfast.

After breakfast her Aunt Mame had chores in the barn, leaving Josie once again to her own devices. This particular day, she decided it was about time she did some exploring, starting with the house itself.  She thought the best thing to do was to start at the top and work her way down to the basement.  She had plenty of time to explore in the next two months.

The attic was dusty and so filled with huge spider webs that Josie didn’t know where to begin.  To avoid some of the dust, she decided to start in the middle of the room.  Seeing a trunk that looked interesting, she slowly lifted the lid and the smell of old moth balls filled the room.  The clothes in the trunk were still in good condition and lifting through the slit she found a variety of heirlooms carefully wrapped in silk handkerchiefs and tissue paper.  Lifting the tissue off of a garment she stared at a wedding dress complete with veil and matching gloves.  She also found medals from the war that her aunt’s dead husband had been in.  There were corsages so well preserved they looked alive. And at the bottom of the trunk was a pair of opera glasses still intact after all these years.

Later she would dust some of this stuff off so she could play with it.  Looking up from the trunk for a moment she saw a weird shiny pattern across the room on the wall. Going over to investigate, she lifted a piece of material sitting on a table and noticed a section of the table that seemed to glow orange in color as the sun hit it.  Tracing the glow with her fingertips she felt the edge indent just a little and pushing aside the rest of the wood she managed to open it.  The drawer was built into the table, completely hidden from sight.

In this drawer she found puzzle pieces enclosed in an embossed velvet pouch.  There wasn’t a picture of what the pieces were supposed to be about so Josie figured this was a chance to find some amusement.  She loved a good mystery.

Spotting a table with a lamp on it she took the pouch to the table and dumping the pieces onto it, she separated the corners from the flat-edged outside pieces. Slowly putting the outside of the puzzle in place, she soon realized that several hours had gone by.  Tired of sneezing from the dust, she took a break, leaving the finished pieces intact.  No one had been up here for years so it was a sure thing that no one would disturb it but the attic critters that roamed the room in the darkness.

The next day she returned to the attic to figure out where the next section of the puzzle went and much to her amazement it took several hours of her time.  This was partly because she had to continuously take breaks to stifle her sneezes.

Aunt Mame was not aware of the trips to the attic or the whereabouts of her niece, nor did she seem to care.  Josie was only called for dinner and breakfast.  Her aunt had her own chores and agenda for the day and Josie did not care about her whereabouts either.

As the puzzle progressed, it resembled a face that seemed familiar to Josie and yet she could not place it.  The face was angelic and beautiful with long, curly, red hair.  The young lady’s eyes seemed to follow her around the room.  It looked as if the eyes had been crying for they were the clearest emerald-colored glass you had ever seen.  It looked as if her soul were reaching through the picture.

Looking about the attic, Josie searched for photo albums, but to her dismay did not find any.  The next day she asked her aunt, who told Josie to search the library.  There was a greater chance the albums were there because albums were considered books, after all, her aunt had told her.

Walking down the hallway, Josie searched for the library and finally finding it she went in and looked around.  Taking a few albums off the shelf, she looked inside them page by page.  Not finding any pictures resembling the face in the puzzle, Josie became more and more discouraged.  She recognized some of the relatives she saw in the photos, but none of them even remotely resembled the face in the puzzle.

When she was almost finished going through all the albums she could find, Josie was about to give up when she spied a huge book lying on a stool in one corner.  The cover was heavily embossed and almost looked like a Bible but was not.  Flipping to the middle of the album she found the face she was looking for.  Next to the face she found a locket of red hair and a baby’s booty with no explanation.  Once again she was at a dead end.  She left the room and went to bed to think.

Falling into a deep sleep, her dreams once again whispered in her ears and she again woke up screaming.  Looking about the room and breathing heavily as if she had been running in her sleep, she started to realize  the lady in the puzzle was trying to speak to her through her dreams and she knew she had to ask her aunt who she was.  Her dreams had cherubs, floating hearts and the most beautiful woman she had ever seen singing in a voice that would make a grown man cry.  Maybe the dreams were trying to tell her something.  If only she knew what it all meant.  She was tired of waking up to the sounds of her own screams.  Trying to make sense of her dreams and the puzzle was beginning to take a toll on her beauty sleep.

Getting dressed she glanced at the clock and seeing that it was time for breakfast she went downstairs to look for her aunt.  Aunt Mame was in the basement tending the fire in the stove. The smell of bacon in the air made Josie’s stomach growl.

“Aunt Mame,” Josie said, “I’ve been having a dream I can’t explain.  I have a hunch it has something to do with what I found in the attic.  A couple of weeks ago, I found a puzzle in a secret drawer and when I put it together it was the most beautiful face I have ever seen with long, curly red hair and when I looked in the library I found her picture in the last book I looked in.  Beside her picture was a locket of red hair and a baby’s booty with no explanation.  Do I know her?  She seems familiar and she was in my dreams before I found the puzzle in the drawer.  Who is she?  And what happened to her?  She was singing in my dream and there were little cherubs strumming banjos, shooting their arrows into floating hears and they kept whispering to each other to bring me back, bring me back.  Why do I keep dreaming about someone I do not know and can’t remember?”

“Wow, you certainly have a lot of questions,” her aunt said as she thought about what Josie had asked her.  “I don’t know why you would be dreaming of her.  She died a long time ago and no one has spoken of her since. Why don’t you go eat your breakfast and I’ll explain when you’re done, okay?”

“Okay”, Josie said as she sat down at the table.  Contemplating her aunts words, she wondered what was coming next.

After breakfast Aunt Mame took Josie to the library.  Gathering the dusty embossed album in her arms, her aunt walked behind two columned bookcases filled with romance novels and poetry books.  Along the walls of the long hallway leading to a hidden room were pictures of ancestors framed in gold.  It reminded Josie of a museum. Every other picture had an oil lamp hanging alongside it and was lit with the light coming from the end of the hallway.

Reaching the end of the hallway, her aunt paused for a brief moment as she lifted the plastic sheet off the window seat.  The light in the hallway had some from the sun filtering in from a huge window that looked out onto the family graveyard which was now covered in rose bushes and ivy.

Sitting down on the cushion, she gestured for Josie to sit beside her.  Josie waited patiently for her to speak.

“Jane was thirteen years old when she died giving birth.   Her baby was also born dead.  She had taught herself to crochet to pass the time on the farm she lived on and had made booties and a matching gown in anticipation of her new arrival.  She had the voice of an angel and would often sing to her unborn child.  The same fate had befallen her mother who had also died giving birth.”

” Her father despised Jane for killing his wife, and he often left her for days.  She sang to keep herself company.  At thirteen she got pregnant and none of us were sure who the father was.  She was too far away to check on every day and there weren’t many close neighbors.”

“As she grew nearer the end of her pregnancy she went into labor and lying down in the barn with horses she attempted to give birth.  We all think the baby was breach because when we found her the baby’s legs were sticking out of her body.  The baby was too small to breathe on its own and there was no one to turn the baby in the womb so it could get air.  Neither of them survived.”

“The puzzle was made by her father because even though he despised her, he loved the sound of her voice.  He often told others that despite his resentment, he thought she was the most beautiful person on earth.  She looked so much like her mother that it was like looking in a mirror and that is why he stayed away.  He became a drunk after her death and ended up in a mental institution, where he hung himself a couple of years later.  We were so ashamed of the incident that we tried to bury the past.  None of their names were uttered again in this house. The puzzle was hidden so that no one would speak of it again.”

“The only reason I even know about it is that my grandparents used to tell us stories of the ghosts they saw at night in this house. We thought they were making up the stories to scare us until your mom went digging in the attic one day just as you did and discovered the family secret.  Our grandparents were telling us the truth and passing down the tales as ghost stories.”

“I don’t know what your dreams mean, but I could probably venture a guess if you want me to?”

Josie nodded. “I would like to know what those dreams mean.  I keep waking up screaming, and the dreams are so weird that it is keeping me up at night.  So it would be nice to know if you have an explanation, ” Josie said.

“Well, perhaps the elephants signify the exaggeration of the story over the years and the whispering cherubs shooting floating hearts could mean that we have broken a lot of hearts over the years because we have not loved people for who they are.  We have mistaken the sins of others for the people they remind us of. It was a mistake to forget she even existed.”

“Josie, I should have been paying more attention to you instead of wallowing in my own grief.  My husband died twenty years ago and your mother lost a child.  I’m sorry.  We should call your mother, I haven’t really talked to her in years and I know we have grown apart.  Do you think she needs me?”

“I think it’s time to bury the ghosts of our past and to move on, don’t you, Aunt Mame?”
“I agree.  Let’s phone your mom, shall we?”

 

 

A GRIP ON THE SOUL

Slowly creeping through his veins like a caterpillar inching its way inside a leaf, the sensation made Harry irritated as his leg cramps returned.  He had been sitting in the same spot for hours.  Lying down earlier had relieved some of the pain but now it was back again.   So he stood up to stretch, his feet slipped out from under him, flinging his legs into the air and sending his butt to the ground with a thud.  Instead of staying in one spot, the weight of his body slid him closer to the edge and then suddenly stopped.  Harry’s breathing ceased for a second and he froze.  Slowly moving only his eyes, he looked around him to determine why he was still on the mountain.  After coming to the immediate conclusion that he was on his back staring at the sky above him, he glanced in the direction of his hands and saw that the only thing holding him on the cliff was a branch caught between a rock and a hard place.  His hands had turned white against the strain.  “Whew”. he gasped.  “That was close.  What was I thinking?” he muttered.

Having spent the night up here, he had removed his shirt at sunrise, giving praise to the beautiful day and giving in to the chill and wetness of the heavy dew.  A compiling of wood-chips had been built up as high as a tiny ant hill beside the rock he had perched his butt on the night before. Needing to keep his hands busy so his mind would remain calm, he had whittled a stick so much that there was nothing left of it but a small stub.

Memories of the past seemed to flood his mind.  Growing up, he had always turned the other cheek like the Bible told him to. His family had always gone to church and fervently believed in God and the devil.  Both of these concepts were deeply believed by his family and were alive and well and living on earth and in Heaven.  His family had chosen to always turn the other cheek like the Bible had taught them for generations.  “A man can walk away from a fight and still hold his dignity but once you join in, you are just as bad as they are,” his dad would often say.  His family did not act like Christians all the time, however.  People were different behind closed doors.  His dad was drunk half the time so it was a real challenge believing a word that came out of his mouth.  Once again, Harry’s heart chilled at the thought he had been contemplating all night.

The air stung briskly as it hit his skin, rushing in from the trees and the sunny mountain sky.  Earlier, looking over the edge of the mountain, bare-chested and in shorts and hiking boots, he could not believe how far down the drop was. Pulling himself up to his knees, he started to stand but sensed something in front of him. His muscles tensed at the sound he heard. Standing between him and the edge of the cliff was a rattlesnake whose shade rock had fallen when Harry had slipped.

Trying to give his mind a respite from the problem it now faced and trying to maintain his balance without moving a muscle, he tried to think of the right thing to do at the moment. But instead, his mind went back to earlier in the day when he had been sitting near the edge of the cliff.

While sitting on a rock, he had received a feeling of power and control over his life.  It felt right.  He had never known this feeling of control at any time in his life.  He could remember a lot of incidents where he did not have control, and as the memories crossed his mind, his attitude started to change from a feeling of ambivalence to an almost uncontrollable anger.  Popping into his mind at the moment, he recalled a conversation between him and Jessie, a child-hood friend who had been in his life for a brief time.
“Harry, why do you always let them get to you? Nobody can take your attitude away from you.  You have control over how you feel.  Don’t let them get to you, no matter what happens. Promise me you won’t let them get you down”, she would often say.

“I promise I won’t let them do that to me. Don’t let me catch you doing that either, you hear me?” he would shout back into the wind.

Times were hard back then, and soon his one and only friend was gone.  She had moved to another state and handwriting letters was not his forte so they soon lost touch and the words she had often encourage him with soon left him too.  The comforting words pushed into the recesses of his mind did nothing to protect him against the cruel world and the promise was soon forgotten.  Teased and ridiculed for having a family who believed in turning the other cheek and having a birth name of Harry Gripp, he had endured a lot of torment over the years.

His mind bogged down with nothing except the memories of pain and the dispositions of everyone he had known all his life.  With his support system failing him at home and with no one to count on but his mother, he could not seem to ignore the ridicule and the alcoholism that pervaded his home. His life now had no meaning for him and there was nothing left.  He thought there was nothing he could hold on to, not even the love of his mother.

As the late morning started to fade and the sun had  moved out from above him, the sweat on his brow drenching his face brought him back with a start.  The decision he had to make about the circumstances he was currently in was driving him nuts and standing in a semi-crouch position and not moving a muscle had begun to give him the shakes.  Complications were starting to set in quicker than anticipated.  It was now or never, he thought to himself.  It was time to make a decision.  It was time to act. Sweat trickled down his neck, making his back itch, and resisting the urge to scratch was too much.  Before he had his mind made up, he instinctively moved his hand and the snake arched its neck and struck, biting his leg.

His first thought, of course, was of his mother and what she would have thought had she been here.  Had she come up to him at that moment, she would have been appalled to know that he had come to this decision and she would have told him that it was a sign from God who was intervening in his life for a reason.  He could still make something of his life if only he would see the good around him and the chances still to take.  God had a purpose for him despite the past.

Ignoring the thoughts of his mother, Harry knew this was the moment he had waited for.  It was time to prove to him-self and to the others who had taunted him over the years that he had the guts to finish what he started.  Closing his eyes and breathing slowly, he knew he had to clear her judgmental face from his mind, from his heart.  He knew that deep down she loved him and had always been his ally, but over the years his trials had become hard for her to bear and she had begun to think that it was his fault.  That it was him bringing on all the pain.  He could not afford to contemplate what she would think of his decision now.  At 15 years of age, he was considered a man in many cultures and was old enough to make his own way in the world.  His mind was made up and he swore to himself he would not budge.

Coming back to reality, the pain sinking in to his senses, he fell to the ground and screaming in agony, he tried to see where the snake had gone.  Inching out from behind a twig, the snake bit him again and again until it had enough room to maneuver to the other side of Harry.  Trapped no longer, the snake slithered out of sight.  Harry lay there thinking of everything that had happened, the real and the imagined, and it dawned on him that he needed to do something quickly or he was going to die a fools death.  Having not been the method he wanted to die from, he managed to get off the ground with the help of a stick he found lying near his head.

Inching his way to a standing position, he looked around him trying to get his bearings.  He knew all too well what this meant to him now and the decision he had started with the night before was slowly changing into a desperate need for survival. As the pain grew and retreated like the waves of an ocean, his mind eased with the course of the wave so that he could recall in those moments of retraction where he had left items not needed in his journey the night before.

In one of those tearful moments through the pain, he remembered where he had parked his truck.  It was a forty-five minute walk from the truck to the top of the mountain, and he knew he would be dead before he got there.  He had deliberately parked where no one could see his truck from the road, and he had hiked in without any extra clothing or survival equipment as his intent was not to survive.

Now, he was berating himself for not being prepared for Mother Nature’s interference.  He  should have known better.  He’d had encounters with her as a child and many a time she had interfered with her gusty winds or bears eating the fish that should have been his while he was fishing in the same stream.  Scattering the poles into the water, he would run, leaving the bears to the fish before they sniffed the air and made a meal out of him instead.

Facing once again a powerful pain in his gut, he had to do something quick. Feeling his pockets, he found the pocketknife he had been whittling with last night and he tried to remember what he’s read in that book on snakes as a child.  Oh yeh, he said to himself, I should cut the site and suck out the poison.  And with that thought, he did.  Doing this bought him some time and he managed to make it to his truck.  Finding the extra keys underneath the truck made it easy for him to drive.

Halfway down the dirt road, he started to get dizzy and passing out at the wheel he slammed the truck into a ditch almost hitting a tree. Opening his eyes slowly and assessing where he was, he tried to maneuver the truck out of his ditch.  Mud sprayed everywhere and the tires went deeper into the soft earth.  After many attempts, he finally realized he should put it into four-wheel drive.  Doing this gave him an advantage between the mud and his losing battle which gave him the necessary traction to get the truck back on the solid dirt road.

Every minute seemed like hours, and the act of driving became such an effort that even though he was sure he had sucked most of the poison out he began to doubt himself and with this doubt came the fear that he would not make it through this after all.  He was hard pressed to realize that staying alive meant, as much to him as his original intent– to kill himself.

Harry could not appreciate the beauty surrounding him as his face was dripping in sweat once again, only this time it was from the poison and not from the sun.  He wanted to live and he now wanted to prove that he could turn his life around despite his past.

About an hour down the dirt road he turned off and hit the freeway.  Another ten minutes, he saw a hospital sign and taking the exit off the freeway he followed the signs and pulled up to the front doors of the emergency room.  Leaving his car door open and the engine running, he stumbled in and collapsed on the cold sterile floor.  An attendant rushed to his side.

Hours later, feeling much better and very much alive, he had such a tale to tell.  The first person he was going to talk to besides his mom was Jessie– a friend that he had thought was lost forever, a friend that had helped him realize what a goober he had been and what potential he could become.

Worse for Wear

Checking her watch against the train station clock, Judy wanted to make sure she had the right time.  Judd was expected off the train at 6:0 p.m. today and she hated being late.  She double-checked the time every five minutes.  Feeling anxious for Judd to show because she’d heard about a train accident on the news, she considered talking to the attendants at the station to see if the schedules had been changed. She thought she must have missed his train.

Checking her watch again, she watched the minute hand move fast around the face. Had she gotten the directions messed up again? Had she gotten the time and day right? She couldn’t remember.  She was nervous and anxious.  She had missed him terribly and couldn’t keep these terrible thoughts out of her brain even though she was a smart and sensible person.

Judd had ridden the train this last time to Vegas for a conference on P.O.S. terminal systems.  He was one of the project managers and was mainly there to spy on the competition and to explain the new flat- screen technology at the company’s demonstration booth.  Taking the train had been cheaper than flying this time around.

Thinking about their relationship as she waited on the platform, Judy wondered how the years had passed by so quickly.  They had been together now for almost four years and had never been happier.  Having a lot in common with each other was like a gift from God.  Other relationships had not worked out because they lacked having things in common.  Going for hikes in the hills and lying underneath the stars were some of their favorite things to do.  They also liked to go on spur-of-the-moment trips.  However, the last-minute trips had slacked off since the joining of their families, and now all trips had to be planned.  Having kids still in school made taking any trip harder.  Plans had to be arranged around the school schedule.  Kids seemed to need more things as they got older. They seemed to grow out of things more quickly too, which hit the budget unplanned for. Growing was predictable in some ways but you could not plan when it was going to happen.

Checking her watch for the umpteenth time, Judy tensed when she felt a hand on her shoulder.  Jumping out of her skin, her shoes staying on the platform , she slowly turned around.  Judd stood behind her smiling with that huge, boyish grin of his, and she couldn’t help but melt.

“You scared me to death” she said as he was brought into a close embrace. “Don’t sneak up behind me again.” she managed to say after coming up for air.

“I didn’t sneak up on you.  My stop is behind you.”

“Oh, I must have gotten the tracks messed up.  I’m so used to picking you up at the airport, I thought for a few moments that you were in that train wreck they’ve been talking about on the news.  Did you hear about it on the train?”

“I didn’t hear a thing. . . I’m starved.  Where’s the nearest restaurant?” he said in one excited breath.

“Judd, is that all you ever think about? Food! How’d the conference go? Was it successful sales wise?”

“Yes it was,” he replied. “Sales went through the roof.  We sold one thousand terminals, and the competition has a new screen out that’s 3-D . My boss is gonna flip when he hears how they did it.  It’s hysterical.  Let’s go.”

Reaching the nearest restaurant that did not serve dinner in plastic containers, they opened the door to find the place all lit up with candles and ivy.  A waitress dressed like a French maid showed them to a secluded table in the back of the restaurant where candlelight serenaded them. Judy could not take her eyes off him.  It was like he had never been away.  Time stood still and Judy did not glance at her watch.  All the uneasiness disappeared when Judd was within her presence.  He gave her peace and she had no reason to look at her watch when his gaze was so entrancing.  She could look at him for hours and not get bored.  They trusted each other immensely.

Hours later, Judd was so thrilled to be in his own bed that he did not let go of Judy when they spooned that night. Having their tummies full of food and their hearts full of love for each other, they soon fell asleep in each others’ arms.

The next morning, Judy knocked on the children’s doors as she headed to make breakfast downstairs.  Her footsteps were soundless on the plush two-ply red carpet they had installed on the second floor of their two-story home in California.  Two the children answered with “uh, what. Ok.” And the other two children made no sound at all.  Judy knew she would have to go back upstairs to try waking them again, but time was short and she needed to finish what she had started in the kitchen.

The sounds of pots and pans being taken out of the cupboards and put on the counters and the stove echoed in the sparse remodeled room which would eventually take the place of their old kitchen.  She could not wait to have cabinets and a hanging rack above the island where she could put the pots and pans that did not fit under the counter.  She had waited four years for a new kitchen.  When they had moved in, there were limited cub-boards and no room on the counters for the equipment needed to prepare meals, but she had made do knowing that someday a new kitchen would be one of the projects they had in mind for the house.  It had taken a good two years to begin the project in the first place. Having not a lot of money when they first lived together, they had made do with what was already built and there were several projects that had taken precedence.  But now, the kitchen was almost complete and she could not wait for it to be done.

Judy loved to cook and it relaxed her to no end when everyone got on her nerves or she had a bad day at work.  Measuring ingredients helped her to focus and kept her hands busy and out of trouble.  Each leveling of the measuring cups and spoons soon whisked away her troubles.

When he came downstairs after a short shower, Judd grabbed Judy by the waist, pulling her close to him so she could feel his smooth, bald head.  Feeling his body awakened memories of the night before.  Squeezing away from Judd’s arms, Judy finished breakfast and left the room to finish waking up the other two boys who were still in bed.

Heading out the door after a quick breakfast which neither of them sat down for, Judy hit the back of her thigh on the edge of the house at the end of the landing. “Ow, dammit”, she said out loud.

“What’d you do now?” Judd asked. “I can’t take you anywhere. You always have to hit something, don’t you? Have a nice day at work. See ya tonight.”

“Have a nice day too.  See ya later, baby.”

On Saturday, the morning came quickly, and as the sun came through the curtains the alarm clock went off loudly in their ears.

Not being able to hear anything for a few minutes, Judd finally said, “What the hell kind of alarm is that?” as he tried to find the source so he could turn it off.  “It sounds like a fog horn.  When did you buy that? Who sold it to you . . . a deaf man? Did he demonstrate that monstrous thing?”

“No, he did not”, Judy said from the other side of the bed. I really wish you would stop yelling all the time.  It really is getting on my nerves.  And for your information, I don’t have that many nerves left.”

“Why, what happened while I was gone?” Judd demanded. “I was only gone for two weeks.  Surely you could have managed the household for that long without getting into too much trouble.  I’m back now so we don’t have to worry.  Discipline is back in town and anyone who disrespected you while I was gone is gonna get it.”

“Nothing major happened.  The kids get along better when you’re here and it’s not because you’re the only one who can discipline because I did my share while you were gone and I am just as good as you are.  Now none of them are restricted anymore so we won’t have a problem taking them to buy school clothes.  They just won’t get everything they want.  We don’t have the money and I don’t want to hear about it from you. Do want a lunch this morning or should I call in the respect police instead?” she said with emphasis on the word respect.

“No, that is not what I meant and you know it.” Judd said as he stormed out of the house on his way to work.

Once he was home that evening, Judy avoided him like the plague.  Not willing to start another fight or to continue with the same one that had started the day, they both went to bed angry.

The next morning came way too early and as the sun shone into the room, Judy woke with a start.  Screaming the name of her son, “Jeff !” she yelled from her bedroom behind closed doors.  Pausing long enough for an answer and not hearing one she rattled off the next person on the list of children that she and Judd had together.  “Joe !” Not getting a response out of either one, she wondered where they could be.  Surely they were not so deep in sleep that they were deaf.  On the way to to bedroom door, Judy reached for her robe which was on a hook kept neatly off the floor.

Reaching for her robe on the hook made Judy think about what Judd had told her when they first moved in together.  Now they could afford to live like they wanted, he’d said. Everything would have its own place. Together we have the money to be able to do that. Nice, neat and perfect never did fit into Judy’s way of life.  Being a single mom she had never had the money to buy the things that would organize her home into the kind that always had a place for everything.  Living with Judd, she had accomplished this to some degree.  He had helped her to become neater and they could afford to buy the little things that kept them organized.  Still much of a slob, she had a hard time putting stuff back.

Coming back to reality and now looking for her slippers, Judy yelled the next name on he mental list. “Josh!” No response from anywhere in the house.  The house was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  Searching her memory for the last name she had said out loud, she ran through the list  in the order she had gotten used to.

Old habits were hard to break.  She had a hard time remembering the children’s names so she had to run through the names in a certain order so that she could remember which one she had previously called.  Having four boys in the family was tough enough, especially when their names began with the letter “J”.

Yelling the last name on the list, she sighed with trepidation.  “Justin !” Judy’s voice echoed in the hallway.  It was odd that the children were not home at 5:30 in the morning on a Monday.  The children were school age, and none of them left the house at this time.  On a normal day, they were in the kitchen making themselves breakfast or were taking showers before they left the house.

Thinking back to moments ago, Judy tried to recall what had happened after waking from one of the weirdest dreams she had ever had. The dream felt as if she were falling off a cliff. She recalled yelling for her son but could not tell if she had been yelling in the dream or if she had said it out loud.  Shortly after yelling his name, she became aware of the blaring alarm clock going off in her ear.  With the fog surrounding her dream, she tried to shake the bad dream in which her husband was dead. Leaning over and putting a hand on his shoulder to wake him, she did not feel a stir out of him.  Sometimes she could get away with tickling him awake. It usually worked but she thought perhaps he was avoiding her this morning after the disagreement they had last night about the kids.

Sitting up in bed, she tried to assess the situation and decided to try again.  Enough was enough. It was time to get out of bed and she knew if they dallied long, they would both run out of time.  This time, she leaned over and tried to shake him.  Shaking did not work either.  She started to get worried.  “Judd, it’s time to wake up. Come on, let’s go. It’s too early to be playing games.”

Not getting a response, she started to panic and pulling herself together for a moment she felt for a pulse at the base of his neck.  Not getting a pulse, she thought she was dreaming or had her hand in the wrong spot so she laid her head on his chest and tried to feel his breath.  No breath came out of his mouth, not even a shallow one.  Turning on the bedside lamp, she looked at his face and tried shaking him again, panic now rising in her throat.  He was a lot heavier than she and it was hard turning him over with no help.  Looking at his face, she knew he was dead.

Jumping off the bed she pulled the covers back.  The white silk sheets were covered in dark red blood.  Looking for wounds, she inspected the body for any point of leakage.  His face did not have a scratch on it and his eyes had been opened as if the incident had happened while awake. Judy did not have any cuts on herself.  There was blood on her nightgown, but she had no idea were it had come from.

Continuing her yelling for the children, she soon found she was alone.  There was no answer from anyone.  The hall was quiet.  The only sound she could hear was the beating of her heart, which was so loud she could not think. Afraid to check on the children, she continued to call their names but none answered back.  She was alone in an empty, dead house.

Not knowing what to do next, she feared that not hearing a peep from the children meant that maybe they had met the same fate.  Checking on them would be too much of a shock if it turned out that her worst nightmare came true, that they were also dead.  It would be too much to know that she was the only one left alive.

How could she not hear anyone? She knew she was a sound sleeper but come on, she told herself. I’m not totally dead to the world.  Of course not, she muttered to herself like some crazy woman, pull yourself together and call 911. What’s the number? she asked herself, what’s the number? she repeated like a mantra.  I can’t seem to remember what number I am supposed to dial.  How can I not know the number?  I know I have never dialed it but so what, she kept saying to herself as if she were a child.  She was numb and in shock and there was only one thought racing through her brain.  Where are the children?

Her mind lay open like a fresh canvas.  Blank.  Lost in thought, she waited ten minutes before she was calm enough to dial the cops.

Imagination

Once upon a time in a land far, far away there lived an old man.  He was a man who aged well like a fine wine which gets better with time.   He enjoyed playing cards, hiking, riding horses, roller skating (this had become trickier as the years went by because his body was becoming more fragile, but he still enjoyed the breeze on his face and the freedom it gave him), he loved to read and tried his best to take care of himself.  He took the time to enjoy something just because it was there to be savored.  He liked to call them “little moments” which he wrapped up and put into a little box in his head in which he would take one of them out in moments of solitude to enjoy and remember and laugh.  Laughter truly is the best medicine which keeps us young at heart, especially if we can laugh at ourselves.

One day as he was out strolling in the hills behind his Black Hills cottage in Germany, he came upon a path he had never seen before.  Being the curious man he was, he decided to follow it.  The path went for miles surrounded by beautiful scenery like he had never seen.  There were a lot of wildflowers that were not native to the hills he was from.  They were exotic-looking as if they had come from a hotter climate and that made him all the more curious so he continued on his way.  He encountered a variety of different species of animals that were also not native to the land he was from but yet he continued, totally submersed in the beauty surrounding him.  Hours went by and the sky began to get dark and yet he continued with no care in the world.

After many hours, which seemed like minutes, the old man came by a stream alongside a rocky. terrain.  He was sure that the stream which he saw before him connected to the river close to his home because most streams end up in a bigger pool of water. Even though he thought this and there was some doubt about which stream this was, considering he had never seen this one before, he continued walking following the  water downstream, mesmerized in the wonder of it all.  After a few feet he saw something shiny in the water.  He did a double take because his mind had played tricks on him before and he was not certain if it was doing it again.  He had once saw a small metal coffee pot in the middle of a field and when he had reached it, the coffee pot was steaming with no electricity to make it so.  It had turned out that that particular vision had been a steaming lizard basking in the hot sun when he reached out to touch it.  So with great trepidation and curiosity, he glanced again at the water to see if the object was still shining or if it was all in his imagination.  Hallucinating is never a good sign of anything.

He glanced in the water and sure enough, the object was still shining.  He edged closer to the bank and looking around him with a sense of pride and ownership, he reached down to grab the object from its resting place.  Pulling it out of the water was pretty difficult because it was attached to a rock and covered in slime which made it slippery in comparison to retrieving a hard -shelled clam from the sand.  He managed to grab it and when he lifted it toward his face,  he noticed more of what it looked like.  It was not as tiny as it had looked underwater.  It was about the size of a tangerine with the illusion of being as big as a penny in the ripples of current. the size of it was not the only curious thing because it also had the hardness of a rubber ball and the heaviness of a feather.  There were porcupine-looking spines attached to the top of the sphere which retracted when touched.  It seemed to have a distinct bottom and top to the object and was clearly noted with the words embossed on it like it was meant for a person of stupidity to find it, instead of a person of smartness.   It was very odd that way and it gave off a fierce aura like fireflies glowing in the dark while fighting over a meal enough for one.  As I mentioned before, the sky was growing dark and it was getting late, yet in this particular vicinity, it seemed like it was daytime and that time had stood still.  Wrapping the object gently in a neatly embroidered handkerchief, he put the object gingerly in his coat pocket and continued following the stream toward home.

A week later, comfortable in his tiny little cottage, he got out of bed and proceeded with his new daily routine.  All of the days following the arrival of the sphere to his home, he had managed to do things he had always put off.  He was such a procrastinator, one of the worst in his village.  He started to exercise daily doing yoga and tai chi and of course, lots and lots of sit ups which were now starting to show on his body.  A body of youth, wow, he thought, what else will become of this.  Ever since that sphere has been in this house, things have been different and I’m not only referring to the physical appearance of my body but also of my mind which seems to have gotten a sudden burst for knowledge that I can’t seem to quench.  My brain has gotten sharper and less foggy.  I get out of bed with more determination and steadfastness than ever before.  The sphere is like a drug which I can’t seem to get enough of and yet it satisfies my desires.  I have to tell my friends about this.  No one is going to believe what I have found.

The days continued to fly by and the old man swallowed everything around him.  There were days of exploring the countryside and shopping in the neighboring towns and villages.  There was traveling to do and lying around contentedly on a hammock reading his favorite stories over and over and stories he had never read before.  The days melted into each other and the old man thought of no one else.  He continued to gain pleasure from physical things and he bought more material items than one could count.  He thoroughly enjoyed himself.  Whatever he imagined seemed to come true and came very easily for him.  He had no more pain, no more sorrow, no more thinking.  He acted like a child with no care in the world and no bills to pay either.  Some way, unbeknownst to him, money appeared out of no where.  He had no trouble acquiring it and he used it like it was going out of style with absolutely no worries about where it came from.  He did not care what happened to that part of the equation.  It was like the sphere took the form of a rich benefactor.  His account was always full and he was always busy giving no thought to where the days ended or began.  He forgot about his friends and others around him as he set out to satisfy himself and his needs.  Selfishness became his motto and way of life.

Months later when he realized he had to share his “gift” , he set out for the company of his best friend.  His friend who lived about twenty minutes down the hill.  Setting out the door, he made sure that the object of his desire was with him and that he had everything he would need to explain the benefits of owning this sphere.  No other name could describe it.  The walk seemed to take forever.  Time did not want to cooperate today.  The steps seemed to be closer together as if his feet were dreading the news.  It seemed as if his feet or time knew the news he was bringing would not go over well, but yet he continued determined to spread the word.  He passed fields and fields of color.  It was that time of year when the fields came alive with colored wheat stocks waving in the breeze.  The colors passing each other like waves in an ocean, one on top of each other.  The flowers he passed seemed to bend in recognition but he chalked this up to his imagination which seemed to be sharper and more abundant than ever.  Each step seemed like an eternity and yet they brought him closer to his friend and closer to the truth.  Finally his feet landed on his friends’ doorstep and he knocked, looking around him suspiciously as the noise resounded in the house.  Hearing footsteps on the wooden floor an a rustle of fabric as his friend pulled back the curtain over the door, he waited patiently for it to open.  His friend hesitatingly opened the door because the look on his friends’ face was of pure peacefulness and he had not seen this in him in a long time.  It was an odd feeling but a curious one because people are drawn to looks of peacefulness and the curiosity of how such a look could permeate his friend so much was one he could not resist.  His curiosity got the better of him and his friend crossed the threshold. Curiosity killed the cat, or so the saying goes.

Glancing around the house one could see the furniture was eighteenth century French provincial.  Each room seemed to have a style of its own and yet they all seemed to belong together like one big happy family.  The old man was offered a seat in the living room and he made himself comfortable on the couch.  Sitting here once again brought back a lot of feelings of happiness which they had shared over the years.  Memories of cooking in the kitchen using recipes passed down from one generation to the next, often verbally by an elder.  Such laughter and gaiety filled the room as their attempt often did not compare to the original recipe or the elder present.  Sometimes the translation did not translate correctly thus producing hideous results.  One time they attempted to make American dinner rolls but instead the translation got messed up and they used baking soda instead of baking powder.  The rolls looked beautiful on the outside but one bite into them and they were in the garbage across the room faster than a cat can wink his eye.

There were other memories over the years, which showed they had been really close friends.  One could say that both of them had had a full life.  They grew up together and went to the same schools year after year sharing secrets, friends, girlfriends, clothes and each others’ study notes.  Their friendship had its falling out periods but they continued to see each other through life’s wonders and heartaches.  Their wives had long been buried and their children grown so the only thing these two had lately were each other.  It had been a long time, maybe as long as a year since they had broke bread together.  It seemed that the months between visits had created a rift between them which was too big to mend.  Life had suddenly gotten busy.

Sitting down on the soft, warm couch had significant meaning.  It was as if a load had been lifted off of their shoulders and the months of not seeing each other had never been.  It was as if time had stood still and then had picked up where they had left off.  Their memories had come down between them to fill in the void.  Memories of laughter and parties, cooking together, playing as children with no care in the world.  Sights of their children playing on the floor and their wives passing looks between themselves at the sight of their husbands having a dispute over chess or a game of paper battleship.  A  show of times not soon forgotten but pushed aside when times got busy.

Pulling courage from the air, the old man took the sphere gingerly out of his pocket, carefully freeing it from the neatly embroidered handkerchief, he placed it on the table between them.  The sphere stood out like an ugly duckling in a lake of beautiful swans.  It still glowed, unchanged from the day it was found.  The aura filled the room and seemed to outshine the sun which was coming in through the windows.  Both of them stared at the object and the peacefulness on the old man’s face did not seem to dim.  His eyes, however, gave off a weird hypnotic stare that no one else would have noticed except for his best friend who had known him all of his life.  He was fascinated but yet repelled by fear of the object that seemed to have control over his friend.  The old man did not seem to be feverish or psychotic but the impression that was given was more of hypnotic suggestion, perhaps, of being under some spell that was totally unexplainable but was there just the same.  He still talked of the old days using the same voice he often spoke with, he seemed to have an excellent memory recall which was odd for his age.  It seemed as though his recollection of events was clearer because of the object in front of them.  He seemed to be younger and more virile and yet there was something haunting about the look in his eye, as though he only lived for the object and had no other desire to live for anything else or anyone else.  It seemed as if the hours slowly ticked by as the sun dropped from the sky and the old man talked endlessly and tirelessly catching up with his old friend.  Telling him of the path he had not been aware of and the vicinity of where he had found this most amazing sphere.  He felt as if his friend were not exactly accepting of this new way of life, of the adventures they could now have, of being together forever and forever feeling younger, younger of mind and soul.  The sphere did not change the aging process only the mind of the one it possessed.  Time did not seem to matter to him for he had plenty now and it was time to travel and take advantage of the peacefulness of the whole thing.  He could live forever in his mind and it was okay that his body would soon die but he would take with him more knowledge than anyone else had acquired in his century.  He could live in his imagination, which seemed to be endless and of a great comfort to him.  He wanted his friend to join him and he too could experience great knowledge and at last peace.  The peace he had been seeking all of his life.  The peace that kept him from suffering over lost ones or opportunities which had come and gone and were never taken.  Of children who seemed to forget him as he had gotten older and who had seemed to be too busy with life to burden themselves with their parents now that they were older and had lives of their own.

Sitting there on the couch waiting for his friend to say something, the air was filled with a current of electricity.  It was so thick that you could not tell if the electricity was coming from them or the sphere.  One could see the electricity in the air as the two of them sat together and yet they sat apart with the sphere dividing them, dividing their friendship, dividing their world.  The electrical charges in the air started to change color from blue to green in a half hours’ time as the clock ticked slowly and loudly.  As time marched on, the room started to get hotter, even though the sun was going down and the air outside had started to cool off.  The temperature in the room had started out as a cool 60 degrees but had warmed up slightly when the sun was shining through the windows.  The temperature had remained constant until two hours later and by that time it had risen to 90 degrees.  The two men were still mesmerized by the sphere on the table and to look at them one would think they had not moved an inch yet they were stripped down to their underwear.  Only one of them was still talking with the old man trying to convince his friend that he should join him and become one with the sphere.  The sphere was harmless and the change did not hurt a bit when it took over the mind and spirit.  For months, the only thing the sphere seemed to do was encourage the old man to stop procrastinating, to live in the moment, to dream, to do what seemed impossible but really wasn’t.  The sphere was his friend and as such it did not control him, possess him, or harm him in any way.  It made him young, both in spirit and in mind.  He was living his dreams.  Doing what he could only imagine.  It was not the sphere controlling his destiny.  The sphere encouraged him and the “change” the sphere took on was in changing the person’s attitude toward Life and the things that really mattered.  The old man was in control, no more hallucinations, no more talking, what’s it going to take to convince my friend to join me, to join us, to spread the word and warmth of the sphere? Doing whatever I imagine is wonderful and exciting.  Just when you think you have Life figured out, something comes along and kicks you in the pants,

And then out of nowhere, as if reading his friends’ mind, the old man said loudly over the din of electricity above their heads, “You know, sometimes we all need something to get us moving.  Why is it that sometimes, we need something other than ourselves to jump start our life? Why can’t we do it alone? What type of species does that make us when we can’t seem to find the time or the motivation to be ourselves, to live our own dreams, to use our own desires to do what we want? Why is it that in every relationship we have, we either find the beauty in it or the bad? Why is it  that sometimes the people we meet touch our lives in ways which are totally unknown to us and yet it often takes the rest of our lives to figure out what they have given us, even if they were only in our lives for a moment?

“Because”, his friend said, “We are human.  We need each other whether we want to admit it or not.  The sphere may be only a tool.  A tool to help us remember the times that brought us closer together or maybe it is a tool to kick us in the butts to live the lives that were given to us, to make good choices instead of bad ones or to live our lives to the best of our abilities.” “Well”,said his friend,”How long have you been this way?

The sphere had made the old man young, both in spirit and in mind.  He was living his dreams.  Doing what he could only imagine.  It was not the sphere controlling his destiny.  The sphere encouraged him, and the “change” the sphere took on was in changing a person’s attitude toward Life and the things that really mattered.  The old man was in control, no more hallucinations, no more going senile, no more doing things he never wanted to do.  Gee whiz, he thought, after hours of talking, what’s it going to take to convince my friend to join me, to join us, to spread the word and warmth of the sphere? Doing whatever I imagine is wonderful and exciting.  Just when you think you have Life figured out, something comes along and kicks you in the pants.

“Well”, said his friend, “How long have you been wanting to say that to me?” “All of our lives”, the old man said, “all of our lives.”

Maybe the sphere was a figment of the old man’s imagination just like the dreams we have been having ever since the day we were born.  Are we a figment of our imagination or of someone elses’? Do we really exist? It it safer to live in a fantasy world than it is in the real life where relationships, accidents, murders really happen? If you can answer these questions, then you are by far a wiser person.  The hours tick by as the old man and his friend sit and wait for answers.