The Write Practice

The Online Writing Workbook

The Show Off Writing Contest: Stories of Redemption

Once a month, we stop practicing and invite you to show off your best work.

This might be for you if:

  • You want to be published (in print)
  • You want to improve your writing
  • You enjoy a little competition
  • You like the Write Practice

Interested?

Redemption

Photo by Bala Sivakumar

Show Off Your Best Work

Here’s how this writing competition works.

You will submit a longer piece, between 500 and 1250 words, based around this month’s theme: Redemption. You can submit as many pieces as you want. After one week, on March 8, 2012 at 11:59 pm EST, submissions will close, and we will choose a winner.

Here’s the exciting part. If your piece is chosen, I will work with you on making it the best it can be. We’ll work on making your images shine, your prose sparkle, your dialogue sing, and your grammar… not suck.

Then, at the end of the month, we’ll publish it on the Write Practice where hundreds of people will get to read you at your very best. For example, read last month’s winner, Tara Boyce’s story On Behalf of Love.

It gets better though.

We’re going to do this every month for the next year, and in December 2012, we plan to collect all twelve of these pieces and publish them in a book. Real paper, real cover, real ink. So if your piece is chosen, you will be able to consider yourself a published author.

Ready to start?

SHOW OFF: RULES

The Theme: Write a story that shows redemption.

Guidelines

  •  It should be a finished work. A complete story.
  • Non-fictional and fictional pieces are both accepted.
  • I’m looking for pieces between 500-1250 words. I will read every word, so please, nothing over 1250 words.
  • You can post your completed piece in the comments of this post. You can post as many times as you want!
  • The deadline is Thursday, March 8 to post your piece. That’s a week, but start today!

And, of course, if you submit your work, you agree to let me publish your piece exclusively on the Write Practice and in a physical book.

Best of luck to you!

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

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  • Patricia W Hunter

    Wow…what a great theme. Wish I could enter all over again.

  • http://bobgroves.com/ Bob n Shawn

    The Redeemer

    Zo met with us today. That he met with us is not unusual, he tries to meet with us on a regular basis, as we try to do the same with him. We have come to love meetings with Zo.

    Let me introduce Zo. Zo is an old friend of ours, I’m not sure when I met Him, but I know he knew me first…like an old family friend that can remember you growing up, that’s Zo. He has memories of knowing you before you have memories of knowing him.

    Zo, well, he’s a quiet man. In that regard, he reminds me of my grandfather. A man who seldom spoke, yet when he did, he spoke volumes. That’s Zo. When Zo speaks, he just seems to have something worth hearing. Something so simple it’s profound. Words full of life. Zo says things that, at the time, might not seem like much, but as you ponder his words, they grow into life change of some sorts.

    Zo has gray hair. It’s that old man gray hair. The gray hair that says “I’ve lived & learned a lot. I know a lot about life and how it works. I know things you don’t yet know.” That hair. Not only does he have gray hair, his hair is thick and it’s longer than most at his age. In the wind, his hair lifts as one big piece of gray, like a wing of a dove being lifted by the wind. His hair is past his shoulders in the back and sometimes he keeps it in a pony tail. He needs a haircut, but I can’t imagine Zo with anything other than long flowing gray hair. Anything less wouldn’t seem right on the guy.

    Zo’s face looks really old. His face is tanned and full of wrinkles. Deep trenched wrinkles. The kind of wrinkles that have many stories of having lived life the hard way. His tan, looks like it never fades. It’s deep into his skin. His eyes, that’s the part of him that I like looking at the best. His eyes speak without him saying a word. His eyes are full of love and compassion. They are full of life, even though the face they are set in, says life has been long and hard. Those same eyes seem to see right through you as well. You know, those looks you got when growing up, that just let you know that they knew you weren’t being truthful. Zo’s eyes seem to pull the truth right out of you, just by looking at you. It’s like he can see right into your heart.

    Zo’s hands are calloused and quite rough. Zo says that’s from “helping lift people up from life’s pits.” I don’t know exactly if that’s really how he got all those callouses, but suffice it to say, that Zo has definitely lifted a few people out from life’s pit. Picking people up seems to be one of Zo’s favorite things to do. Zo calls that, “redemption”.

    He says redemption means to help people believe in themselves again. To help them believe they are still worth something. Once you meet Zo, you’ll know, that no matter what your pit is about, you’re worth something to him. You’ll see it in his eyes, feel it in his hands and hear it in his voice.

    Zo says it doesn’t matter how you get knocked into the pit, he sees all people the same. If they are in the pit, they need help getting out. Zo figures that’s part of why he’s on the earth, to help people get out of their pit.

    That’s Zo. The redeemer.

    People that know him, love him. People that don’t, don’t fully understand him.

    That’s who we met with today. We, being me and my wife Shawn.

    Our meetings are somewhat planned, yet sometimes Zo just shows up. It seems Zo has a knack for knowing when to show up.

    Like a few years ago, Zo showed up. I’m not sure if he even knocked that day. That day, I do know, we didn’t have a time set to talk with Zo. We didn’t really think we wanted to meet with anyone that day. It was a bad day.

    Bad, because we were trying to figure out how to sift through the mess I had made in our marriage. Honestly, we weren’t even sure we wanted to or would be able to sift through it all. There was a lot to sift through and the pile seemed daunting at best. Overwhelming in fact.

    Hurt. Angry. Unsure. Lonely. Broken.

    That’s how that day felt.

    So, that day, we weren’t ready to meet with anyone.

    Tears. Silence. Isolation. Confusion.

    Then, right there, when it seemed to be the worst possible timing, Zo showed up.

    At first, He just came in and sat across from us without saying a word. His presence seemed to be enough. And, strangely enough, his silence was exactly what we needed at first.

    Calm. Serene. Peace. Hope. Love.

    That’s what Zo brought that day.

    He began to speak to us both about things like: life, love, joy, grace, each other – together.

    Zo somehow helped us believe again that day.

    Zo helped us believe, that in spite of the mess that needed to be sifted through, no matter how bad it was, we could get through it. We could redeem it. “If we wanted to,” Zo said. Crazy thing is, Zo said he’d help us. He was true to his word. He met with us over & over. Sometimes planned and sometimes not.

    He would let us cry and sometimes he’d cry with us too.

    He would remind us of how good our love was and how good it could be again.

    He would make us smile and sometimes we’d laugh as he told some story that painted the picture of a better tomorrow.

    Every time we met with Zo, something seemed to be put back together or something new came to life.

    We were learning all about that redemption thing Zo was teaching us about.

    Then one day, we realized it had happened. Our life together, our love for each other, our marriage had been redeemed from the sifting pile. Our marriage had been redeemed from the pit.

    Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, we had been given new life.

    Zo still comes around, like he did today. Sometimes, he still sits quietly and sometimes he speaks.

    Now, we know what his calloused hands really feel like. For Zo reached down into one of life’s pits and pulled us out.

    Now, when we see his eyes, we know they are full of life and love.

    Now, when Zo speaks, we know his words are life giving and can help make sense in life and life’s pits.

    Zo, our friend, is a redeemer, and that’s what he does – redeems. Buys back. Adds value. Dispenses hope.

    Zo, the redeemer, because that’s what he does, redeems.

    Thanks Zo.

    • Adrian P.

      Beautiful. Powerful and gentle at the same time. I love it.

      • http://bobgroves.com/ Bob n Shawn

        Thanks! It’s definitely a new “way” of writing for me. I’ve never tried a story like this before. Glad it said what I was trying. thanks again.

    • Claire Vorster

      Adds value. Dispenses hope. This story does just that!

      • http://bobgroves.com/ Bob n Shawn

        Thanks Claire. I may develop more stories with Zo… thanks for saying it hit the mark.

  • KimberleyMcClure

    She could almost visualize the divergence in the road, taste the rocky uneven earth beneath her feet, and smell the dry billowy heat of summer. She had to choose the course before her in this one pivotal moment. She wondered if it had been like this for the less-travelled poet. Was his heart ripped out and pressed flat before he wrote those tender verses?

    Both paths were shouting fear into her mind, the kind of fear that takes over your body in a swift and steady progression until paralysis sets in, and you are unable to move, speak, or reason. Every atom in her flesh forced her to take the next breath. She marveled for a moment at her own breathing; it was the one triumph she could claim. Everything else had fallen away.

    She gazed again at the screen in front of her and tripped back through the scenes that led her to this place. There was the first encounter last autumn, turning leaves and turning hearts. She had stumbled on the evidence, asked him about it, accepted the casual explanation cheerfully, and moved on in blind hopefulness.

    Months later in the bareness of winter, trees and hearts exposed, the same patterns were discovered by accident. He offered the cavalier answer, this time sprinkled with an odd mixture of quiet agitation and humility. She tried hard to remember the words he had said, searching the blackened memory-places for a phrase that she should have questioned. There was nothing. She had been blissfully accepting of his temperate demeanor, ready to believe everything that dripped from those sweet lips. She loved him. Love believes.

    And then spring with its infant newness promised fresh hope, but instead delivered a crossbreed of pride and denial. The third time she questioned him they walked in sunlight, children on swings in the distance. It took borrowed strength to speak the words again. If they were never spoken, she thought, the sun-warmth would continue, the child-sound still echo. She hesitated. The pedestal she had constructed beneath him was splintering, and horror began to taunt her. This time, his answer exposed an obvious fissure.

    The heart refuses its own destruction. The heart has hidden pockets filled with justifications and exemptions for the beloved. She steeled her hope and put away her imaginations. She forgave hard and loved harder.

    Summer came with its slow, resolute melting of the soul. Truth stripped bare before her eyes. Truth tunneled deep into her stomach. Truth hurried the blood through her swollen heart-chambers. Truth wrote large on her face.

    Now she gazed at the screen. The last jagged slice of certainty stared back at her and implored action. She could fold away in desperation and rejection and steadily lose herself to become his shadow-lover; this is the way of ease, but only promises silhouetted-love. This way finishes with empty, broken lovers and silenced child-innocence.

    Instead, she chose redemption-love, that love that only shows its face in marriage-mystery. Redemption is born full-term in a moment, and yet labors long to wrench back the redeemed. It would be the difficult, foul, and public course to restoration.

    So, she stepped out on the crueler path, enveloped in panic and terrified of the darkness before her. She stepped deliberate, arms wide-stretched.

    This is the way the redeeming ones walk.

    And closing the screen, she discovered she hadn’t been breathing at all.

    • Rose Campbell

      I loved your descriptions in this. “This is the way the redeeming ones walk” was my favorite line. And I love that you don’t giver her a name, as if she’s not just one person, but many different people who have been in that same situation.

      • KimberleyMcClure

        Thank you so much, Rose. Your comments are very encouraging.

    • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

      This is very poetic. I really love how you incorporate the seasons into the story.

    • Oddznns

      I was “hooked” into this right away and I love your writing. But I’m sorry I don’t actually “get” what’s happening in concrete material terms. Would love to have it come back to actual events and decisions more.

  • Kirk Longuski

    One More Day

    As Gregory Samson awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself full of a conviction to end his life. He had contemplated it before, and today decided to follow through. Going to his closet, he calmly squatted and rummaged until he found an old shoebox, heavy with a physical weight and psychic significance, both of which emboldened Gregory. Inside was a handgun, the final answer to all of his questions. Not a very good answer, to be sure, but at least an answer. He sat on the edge of his bed- the other half of it cold and empty, as Martha had gotten into the habit of rising much earlier than he- and stared into the now open box. The metal of the gun gleamed slickly, and the bright brassy revolver’s bullets seemed to twinkle in the dull gray light of a Wednesday morning. He took it out and loaded it, wrapped his lips around it and sat, thinking. He wondered if he should write a note, but didn’t know what he would put in it. He wondered if he oughtn’t use the toilet first, to minimize the mess involved.

    He put it all away, and in the closet, near the front. One more day, he thought to himself. If things are not better by tonight, I’ll do it. He did not expect things to get better.

    He had delayed, and was now running slightly behind schedule. Martha was already turning off the shower, and usually he was gone by this time. She had preferred to use the shower downstairs ever since he had found her riding their couple’s tennis coach like a pony one fateful August afternoon. That had been eight months ago. He used the adjoining master bath on the second floor of their apartment, in scenic just-outside-of-Detroit.

    Downstairs, dressed and washed, he intended to just grab a banana from the counter and go. But Martha was at the table when he came in, her back to him. He watched the still-wet hair on her head shimmer as her head bobbed and shoulders shook. She was sobbing silently but violently. Wordlessly, he walked to her and put his hand on her shoulder. She jumped, letting out a frightened sound. She whirled on him and he noticed the deep circles under her eyes for the first time. He despaired at what he saw, not anger, but fear. He was never violent with Martha, and rarely got upset, but in her eyes, watching him like those of a cornered animal, he saw that he had been cruel to her.

    “I thought you left for work already.” she said, as though apologizing. She gripped her elbows, as though trying to make herself seem small.

    He thought about answering, and considered a wounding response about his near suicide, but only muttered “I overslept, a bit.”

    “Oh.” he reached out and put a hand on her arm, and though he was gentle, he saw her wince. He had been stupid to think that just because he had not asked for a divorce, she would not consider his feelings about the affair. It wasn’t as though she was a serial adulteress, yet that was how he had treated her.

    Silently, he drew her into the living room. They hadn’t been together here for a long long time, hadn’t watched movies or laughed at television, and the board games under the desk had grown dusty. On the couch, she sat at one end and he at another, and the silence, a now familiar third party in their marriage, sat between. For a moment neither of the spoke, and Gregory thought that he would rise, and leave her. She was not beautiful, at the moment. Not with sunken eyes and a drawn mouth, but this was Martha, his wife and the woman he loved.

    He felt his mouth move, “Why were you crying?” the frankness was unfamiliar, like a language he’d rarely used.

    She shifted, as though she wanted to flee “It’s just what I do, now.”

    “But why?”

    “Greg…” she looked at him. She wasn’t crying because he had been cruel, with his clipped words and cold kisses, she was crying because she felt their marriage crumbling just as he did, and thought it her fault. He considered the gun again. It would be easy, to go get it, kill her, then himself. Then this could all finally stop. But he had promised himself one more day, and would stay true to that promise. So he gives this, too, one last try.

    He slowly slides across the couch, until his knees touch Martha’s. He takes her hand in his and leans toward her. He kisses her cheek, not one the quick pecks he had given in his smoldering, subliminal rage, but an honest kiss, the kiss a husband would give his distressed wife. A man’s kiss.

    “You made a mistake, but I did too.” he said to her, whispering against her ear “I’m sorry, Marty, and I still love you. I promise.” she looked at him, with something like hope.

    “I did this,” she said, but he felt one arm gently encircle his neck, her hand resting on his shoulder. His eyes were clenched tight, as though in pain, but he was breathing her in, for the first time in forever, smelling that scent that always reminded him of strawberry yogurt, that had comforted him on many nights, and greeted him on many mornings.

    “I don’t want any blame. I don’t care if it was you or me or us or neither. I just want this thing to be over. Please.” he whispered into her neck.

    She was crying again, but she nodded. She crawled into his lap and held him fiercely, and felt feverishly warm against him, tears spilling onto his face like drops of fire.

    He lifted her and took her to the bedroom, made love to her. Afterwards, smiling, he slipped from the room, and returned minutes later with a board game, and a movie she loved. They laughed and held each other all day, sometimes side by side, sometimes rocking against each other, as though they were newlyweds again. Night fell, and they lay among disheveled sheets, her fingers tracing invisible patterns on his chest. She kissed his neck and looked at him, a touch of the old fear back in her eyes.

    “Greg,” she said, and he kissed her lips. “No, I need to say something.” she took a deep breath and swallowed once before continuing “Today has been magical and I want to believe it’s all going to be okay. But things don’t work like that. I want to go to a marriage counselor.”

    He thought again of the gun, but felt her warm and soft next to him. He nodded. “Tomorrow. Tomorrow, no delay.”

    She nodded once and slumped next to him, as though the simple request had taken the last of her strength.

    Greg and Martha went and made an appointment for marriage counseling the next day. During their twice weekly sessions, their therapist suggested Gregory come in to see a doctor on his own. Gregory began going to therapy for clinical depression. Nine months after he decided to kill himself, Gregory saw his son born.

    Gregory led a good life and like all men, eventually died. But he was old and happy when he did, and forever grateful he had chosen to live just one more day.

    • rmullns

      Great work Kirk … I was rapt with attention wanting to read faster as the story unfolded … it was very crafty how you kept us wondering if he would kill himself after all that … made me think of the life he would have missed. The beauty of your story is that it could have gone either way — forget the prompt! lol …

    • alvarezml

      nice story. I could really see this as a longer piece too. I liked this: On the couch, she sat at one end and he at another, and the silence, a now familiar third party in their marriage, sat between.
      I also like the sentence where you described how he “breathed her in” I could visualize him with his eyes closed and taking in her scent that had once brought him happiness.

  • Just B

    A Hand in the Dark

    The pavement felt wet and slimy beneath her cheek. She could feel cold and the grittiness of the concrete. For a moment, her befuddled mind had no idea where she was. Her eyes wouldn’t focus, but she could tell it was dark. Every bone in her body ached. Slowly, she raised her head and with herculean effort, pushed herself up on shaky arms to a sitting position. She licked her dry, cracked lips and realized she was incredibly thirsty. Her mouth tasted sour, stale. Beside her on the wet sidewalk lay her dirty jean jacket, frayed at the cuffs and stained down the front. She reached over and stuck a pale hand into the side pocket, taking out a crumpled pack of Winstons and a tattered matchbook. She tapped one out and lit it. She took a deep drag, sucking in the acrid smoke, and the effect of it on her lungs was immediate. She coughed, sharp and deep, jarring coughs that made her shoulders shake and her eyes water. She took one last quick drag and flicked the half-smoked butt out into the street.

    She sat there, shoulders slumped, her bony knees pulled up uncomfortably underneath her. Her long, dark hair clung to her face, limp and damp. She wrapped her bare, pitifully thin arms around her chest to try to stop the shivering. Was the shivering from the cold or something else? She picked up her rumpled jacket and slipped into it. As her eyes grew accustomed to the murky darkness, she could see she was sitting near the curb, just out of the gutter, underneath a street sign dangling by one corner from a steel pole. The sign bore a couple of ragged bullet holes, having been used at one time as someone’s target practice. The dark street was completely deserted. A couple cars were parked along the curb nearby, a yellow Chevy Malibu, except the paint had faded to a dirty gold and rust was eating away at the wheel wells. A rusty red Ford Galaxie was parked right behind it, missing it’s driver’s side window and a front license plate.
    The only light came from a few dingy street lights and the dim light showing through a couple store windows. A neon Coors Beer sign hung in one, blinking on, then off, on and off. A glaring red and electric yellow sign that read Bail Bonds hung over another. She had no idea how she got here. Nothing looked familiar, but then, this wasn’t the first time. She’d found herself face down before, hung over or strung out, falling wherever she landed when her body could take no more and physically gave out. She would wake from another self-induced stupor, unable again to deny the demons that constantly taunted her. Drink me, smoke me, shoot me. I’ll take you away from everything, everything bad and ugly and painful in your life. Don’t worry, be happy with us. She knew better but still found herself incapable of turning away, putting down the bottle, the joint or the needle. Her waking hours were sometimes sketchy, stretches of time lost somewhere in the haze that had become her reality.

    Suddenly, she heard footsteps, distant yet distinct, and they were heading in her direction. Some of the mind-numbing dullness from another intense binge was wearing off and she instinctively knew she had to move. Go, somewhere, away from this scary, dark place. But where and how? She had no money, not for cab fare or anything else, not even a hot cup of sobering coffee. She tried to stand up, but her legs had gone numb and her knees buckled beneath her. Panic started in her throat, a huge lump that made it difficult to swallow. She was alone. How would she defend herself against what or who was coming? She had no weapon and her head was throbbing, pounding in sync with every beat of her rapidly beating heart. The footsteps were louder now, closer. She had to get into the shadows, at least out from under the street light. She braced her hands against the pavement and pushed, pushed with the all the puny strength she could muster to drag herself back against the building – – when she felt someone grasp her arm. She gasped, the air rushing into her lungs, and pulled, pulled hard against whoever was holding her. Then she heard a voice, a voice that said “Whoa, take it easy. Let me help you.” A hand slid under her other elbow and strong arms lifted her, lifted her up and held on, steadied her as she tried to find her legs and stand.

    He was much taller than she, standing well over her head. He had dark hair, cut closely cropped, very neat. He was clean-shaven and it occurred to her in that moment, this isn’t the sort of person I would expect to meet on this dark, deserted street at this hour of the early morning. “Are you all right?” he was asking her. “Can you stand?” She found herself leaning into him, using his weight to find some balance on her trembling legs. “I’m fine”, she managed to mutter. “I’m fine”. Her legs felt a little steadier now and she thought she could feel a blush in her cheeks, as the blood was beginning to circulate again. She pushed away a bit, her hand against his chest, unsteady, but she was uncomfortable so close to this stranger, close enough that she could feel his warm breath on her damp hair.

    He was looking at her with clear blue eyes, bright and alert. She felt he was almost looking through her instead of at her, his study of her was so intent. She found herself wondering what was this man doing up this early, what business could he have in this part of town at this ungodly hour? “You shouldn’t be here alone”, he was saying. “it’s not safe.” Then, “Is someone coming to get you, to pick you up? I’ll wait with you if you like.” “No”, she replied. “I – – I was at a party – – I think. I don’t have a car or a ride or anything. I just stopped to rest. I’m ok.” Her voice was weak, wavering as she spoke, and she stumbled over her words.

    “You look tired. Come in for a few minutes. I’ll make a pot of hot coffee. We can talk.” Talk? Where? She just needed to get out of here. But before she could answer, he had already turned away from her and she watched as he inserted a key into the lock on the door, the door to the building she’d passed out in front of just a short while ago. The key clicked and the door swung open. He flipped on a light and a warm glow flooded the sidewalk where she stood. She looked up and above the man’s head she saw a sign that read Community Outreach Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center. And right below it, this quote. “Redemption can be found in hell itself if that’s where you happen to be.”

    “Come in”, he said. “Maybe I can help”. He extended his hand. She hesitated, frightened. Then, as though someone placed a gentle hand in the middle of her back, she took a step, then another until she was standing in the doorway. He smiled. She smiled back. And the door closed behind her.

    • Rose Campbell

      I liked your story, your images are really vivid. I felt like I was the woman, and I like that you leave us wondering where she had been and what she’d been doing before you bring her to life in your story.

  • Talia

    what a good topic…:)

  • Caspar Cole

    Rome is Burning

    I cried and cried my eyes out in that O’Charley’s bathroom. I never thought my parents would believe my scumbag cousin over me. What I thought was going to be a pleasant meal with my parents and sister had just turned into a screaming match.

    My cousin, Donovan Watts, is a pedophile. Well, maybe not officially, but that’s the term of endearment I prefer. That’s just one of his hundreds of vices. He’d slept with his fourteen-year-old student about a year ago. He told me about it when it happened. He always revealed his secrets when he was drunk. However, he turned the story completely around on me when his fiancé confronted him about it. She found out from me a few days ago. I would have to say that she manipulated me into admitting it. That was the thing about Donovan’s girlfriends; they always tried to become my best friend. They knew I would give in and leak information since Donovan and I were so close.

    “Matt? Are you in there?” my sister Carrie asked at the door of the men’s restroom of O’Charley’s. “Mom and dad will come around. Surely they didn’t mean all that. They are just in shock,” she said.

    “I’m fine,” I replied. I walked out. I could tell by the look on Carrie’s face that she understood. I tried to hide my tears from her when I came out.

    I left the restaurant and sped to my apartment at plain dangerous speeds. I grabbed my phone out of my pocket and dialed Donovan. In a nutshell, Donovan had told my entire family that I made up a story about him sleeping with a student at the high school he used to teach at. He told everyone I did it so I could get into his fiancé Pearl’s pants.

    Realistically, I didn’t have any interest in Pearl. That’s what really bothered me about the situation. Everyone believed Donovan’s story though. He has more charisma than you can imagine. Honestly, I just felt sorry for Pearl. They were getting married the upcoming Saturday. That’s the main reason Pearl asked me about the young girl a few nights earlier. She was probably having cold feet. Apparently, Pearl had seen a text conversation on Donovan’s phone that raised some suspicion, and of course she text messaged me looking for answers. If I could redo it, I’d never have answered her text. But I can’t help it; I just have a soft spot for gullible girlfriends. After about fifteen rings, Donovan answered.

    “What, Matt?” he said in a rude tone. I could tell by his tone that Pearl was with him. I’m damn good at reading people.

    “You know damn well what, Donovan,” I said as my voice trembled. “You’ve manipulated everyone. It blows my mind. You sleep with your old student Diana and cover it up to Pearl. She then convinces me to tell her, and now everyone hates me,” I said with even more anger.

    “Who’s Diana? Matt, what are you talking about?” he asked. It was very convincing. I remember wondering whether or not he was actually starting to believe his own lies. Diana had moved to New York and basically disappeared about six months earlier. I’m sure that helped Donovan erase her from existence.

    “Your whole relationship is a lie. I hate you, Donovan. You hear me? I hate you!” I shouted so loud my voice cracked. I took the phone away from my ear and pressed the off button with extreme force. Had it been one of those old rotary phones, I’d have slammed it.

    My life was going downhill. I finally got to my apartment. I grabbed a bottle of vodka and started drinking fast. I was never a big drinker until that situation. It’s funny how things can change you.

    “Rome is burning,” I said aloud. I don’t know why I said it. I wondered if I was going crazy. They say that crazy people talk to themselves. At least I wasn’t answering myself.

    I finished the bottle in about five minutes. It was the tastiest vodka I’d ever had. I like the burning sensation you get in your throat when it goes down. Everyone says I’m weird, but I really enjoy it. About ten minutes passed, and I heard a knock on my door. As I stood up, I felt the world spinning around me. I guess the vodka was hitting me hard. I stepped over and opened the door. It was Carrie.

    “How’s it going?” she asked as she turned her head from the vodka stench that apparently engulfed me. She was being a little dramatic. She tends to do that.

    “It will be a lot better soon,” I said back and chuckled as I held up the empty bottle.

    “Let it go, Matt,” she said calmly. This was a little out of character for my sister. “Just go to the wedding on Saturday.”

    “Fuck the wedding,” I said harshly. When I said it, I realized I sounded a little like Donovan. He always said stuff in the tone I’d just used.

    “Do you want to be the reason this family falls apart?” she asked. “If you don’t go Saturday, you look like the guilty one. You know that, Matt.” Carrie could be very convincing at times.

    “I know,” I said hesitantly. “I have to admit that I’m only going because it will make them feel so uncomfortable,” I said as I tried to sip the last small drop of vodka out of the bottle.

    “As long as you’re there,” she said. “Don’t let Donovan win. Not going only insinuates that you’re guilty.” I could see her point; although I would rather eat glass than go to that wedding.

    Four days passed, and the dreaded Saturday came around. I didn’t get too dressy for the wedding. The wedding was at his parent’s house, and I pretty much knew it was going to be a big joke.

    When I got there, there was tension in the air. It was a lot like I had imagined. Everyone in the house stared at me rudely. Even my parents glared at me. I’d never wanted to kill myself until that moment. I could tell that they all thought I was a villain. I was drunk, but it still bothered me. I grabbed a glass of whiskey from the small mini bar and plopped down on the couch, hoping the wedding would start soon.

    After about ten minutes, someone in a dress with a black hood walked in. It was damn odd. She took the hood down. It was Diana.

    Donovan had just walked in the room. He spotted her immediately. He turned as white as a ghost. Diana stepped over to the DVD player and inserted a video. It was terribly raunchy. It showed the two of them having sex.

    “Don’t you remember, Donovan? We were going to get married when I turned eighteen. So much for that. Have fun in prison,” she said as she turned around and walked out. Just as she exited the door, two police officers came in. The timing was perfect. It was almost like something out of a movie. They handcuffed him and walked him to the door. He looked at me on his way out. Everything turned to chaos in the house. For the first time in weeks, I felt relieved.

    “Rome is burning,” I said with a smirk as I took a sip of my whiskey.

  • http://redantegg.wordpress.com/ Adrian P.

    “Lifeblood”

    I suck against the child’s neck, watching the lifeblood pale from her face. She is unconscious now. Her warmth slides down my throat and I finish. She lies there on a tattered mattress, pale, still, her thighs bruised from what I did to her. My passion ebbs away and I am left lifeless again. Her warmth has changed nothing.

    I’ve done this enough times to know it’s meaningless. But every time I see them, it’s so close I think I can touch it. I drool blood on my hand and watch it track across the creases of my palm. It’s useless.

    Suddenly disgusted with the mangled body, I flee the room and come out into the night. The stillness maddens me. Her parents won’t know until morning. Why do I care? I’m the one who stole her from them. If I were a mindless beast, I wouldn’t know what I’ve done. Why must I have eyes to see what I really am? Who cursed me with this knowledge of good and evil?

    I break off. Why this torment? I’ll never get an answer. He doesn’t listen or refuses to. Hatred fills me, but still I am cold. What sick God would cause me to cry out in pain for my sins, yet refuse to answer? He’s just as twisted as I am.

    I exhale, but don’t know why. I’m not breathing. Strange that I’m not living, yet long to be dead. God knows I’ve tried many times. I always did it for him. Trying to straighten myself out, stop the killings. Starve myself because I shouldn’t exist. Oh God! I could never do it! Always another body.

    After years of trying, I finally gave up. So tired of feeling, but not feeling… All I desire is death, and even that he refuses me. Even eternal punishment would leave me knowing there is some sense to my existence–that a just God prevails. But instead he leaves me to question.

    I’m still walking, thoughts disjointed, misfiring. What an ugly building. “Grace Baptist Church.” A church. I read the sign out loud: “Try Jesus. If you don’t like him, the devil will take you back.” Ha. They just don’t get it, do they? People aren’t worried they won’t like Jesus. They’re afraid he won’t like them.

    At least I know for sure. He sent me back to the devil long ago.

    I know this, and yet I keep pounding at heaven’s trapdoor, begging to present my case before him. I’m not asking for forgiveness. That’s impossible. I’m asking him to make up his mind and punish me once and for all. No more of this cursed half-life.

    Suddenly I can’t take it anymore. Not another year. Not another second! Do you hear me, God?! Why won’t you answer?! You say you’re merciful? Put me out of my misery!

    I’m on my knees now, defeated. On the verge of hysteria. A prayer floats to the surface, one I learned long ago, before the curse. I cling to it with what sanity I have left. Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner! Lord Jesus Christ, son of God! Have mercy on me, a sinner. Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy! Lord–

    Everything vanishes, replaced by darkness. I see nothing. My words falter to silence. I hear nothing. Nothing. Nothing. This is my answer. What else did I expect?

    A spark flashes, fades. I’m seeing things. No, it flares again! It catches and steadies into a flame. My thoughts numb as I watch with childlike fascination. Rise, fall, flicker, rise, reach. Grow. It takes me a few seconds to realize it’s moving closer. I could reach out and touch it, but I wouldn’t dare. I’m beginning to feel its warmth. It stops inches from my face. Silence. Silence. I’m trembling. Is it fear or awe? Reaching higher, growing larger. The flame now rests above my head. A tongue of fire. Could it be–

    A bloody whip, a crown of thorns. I see them again, each pale face. Their taste fills my mouth and I want to be sick. Christ have mercy! An earthquake, a flash of light, a stone rolling away. The face of God! The light expands, washing everything away…

    I wake to the sun filtering through my eyelids. A blank moment passes, maybe more. I’m becoming vaguely conscious of a subtle sound. A rhythm. I’ve heard it before, a long time ago. What is it? Suddenly I sit up and clutch my chest. Impossible!

    My heart is beating.

    • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

      Loved this phrase: “pounding at heaven’s trapdoor”.

  • http://www.eileenknowles.com/ Eileen

    Redeeming the Pain

    Lucy’s passion was to minister to others who were “there”. A decade ago she’d been there too. She saw glimpses of her own past in the stories shared every Tuesday evening. She heard it in their voices and saw it in the tears that would flow from their eyes. Tonight, it was the young lady sitting next to her. For weeks, she had been showing up to the recovery group at New Hope Community Church but would never say a word.

    Lucy had been leading the group for two years. It was where she belonged. This is where all the tears and all the pain from her own past made the most sense.

    The pit that King David speaks about in the Psalms is a real place. Lucy could still remember hers, especially the walls. Some days those walls seemed to close in even tighter around her, so tight she couldn’t take a single breath without sharp smothering pains filling her insides. She struggled for years to climb up out of that hole but the walls were too high. She’d fallen too far down.

    Instead, Lucy would spend her days retracing the steps and the choices that led her to this place. Sometimes all the thinking, all the if-onlys tormented her to the point where all she could do was curl up in a tight ball on the ground, her back pressed firmly against the cold wall, and wish, oh how she wished, she could take all back…every wrong turn.

    Lucy could also remember the instant when everything changed. The moment she knew that there was nothing left. She was too tired to climb. She was too tired to pace. She was too tired to think anymore. And despite the fear of letting it all out, of letting it all go, she opened her mouth and cried out, “I can’t stay here, help me!”

    What happened next is still a memory that Lucy has a hard time putting into words. All she knows is that, at that moment, there was someone standing in that pit with her. She could feel his breath filling up all the empty spaces and taking away the fear. She could feel his strong-arm wrapped around her waist. She could hear his voice whispering words into her tired heart, it is finished. And, for the first time in years, she felt strong. For the first time in years, she knew that this darkness was not her home. Lucy had hope.

    Today, there’s a joyful ache, an urgency deep down inside her that must come out. She wants others to know. She needs others to know. She’s felt the cool morning grass between toes again. She’s felt the warm sunshine resting on her cheek like a warm winter fleece.

    Lucy can’t recall how many times she’s shared her pit living experience with others…hoping, praying, that it would minister to someone.

    Lucy wrapped her arm around the young girl sitting next to her tonight, pulled her in close and listened as she acknowledged between sobs.

    “I can’t stay here. I need help!”

    It is finished.

    • alvarezml

      lovely. It is so impossible to stay out of the pit on our own.

  • http://www.eileenknowles.com/ Eileen

    Redeeming the Pain

    Lucy’s passion was to minister to others who were “there”. A decade ago she’d been there too. She saw glimpses of her own past in the stories shared every Tuesday evening. She heard it in their voices and saw it in the tears that would flow from their eyes. Tonight, it was the young lady sitting next to her. For weeks, she had been showing up to the recovery group at New Hope Community Church but would never say a word.

    Lucy had been leading the group for two years. It was where she belonged. This is where all the tears and all the pain from her own past made the most sense.

    The pit that King David speaks about in the Psalms is a real place. Lucy could still remember hers, especially the walls. Some days those walls seemed to close in even tighter around her, so tight she couldn’t take a single breath without sharp smothering pains filling her insides. She struggled for years to climb up out of that hole but the walls were too high. She’d fallen too far down.

    Instead, Lucy would spend her days retracing the steps and the choices that led her to this place. Sometimes all the thinking, all the if-onlys tormented her to the point where all she could do was curl up in a tight ball on the ground, her back pressed firmly against the cold wall, and wish, oh how she wished, she could take all back…every wrong turn.

    Lucy could also remember the instant when everything changed. The moment she knew that there was nothing left. She was too tired to climb. She was too tired to pace. She was too tired to think anymore. And despite the fear of letting it all out, of letting it all go, she opened her mouth and cried out, “I can’t stay here, help me!”

    What happened next is still a memory that Lucy has a hard time putting into words. All she knows is that, at that moment, there was someone standing in that pit with her. She could feel his breath filling up all the empty spaces and taking away the fear. She could feel his strong-arm wrapped around her waist. She could hear his voice whispering words into her tired heart, it is finished. And, for the first time in years, she felt strong. For the first time in years, she knew that this darkness was not her home. Lucy had hope.

    Today, there’s a joyful ache, an urgency deep down inside her that must come out. She wants others to know. She needs others to know. She’s felt the cool morning grass between toes again. She’s felt the warm sunshine resting on her cheek like a warm winter fleece.

    Lucy can’t recall how many times she’s shared her pit living experience with others…hoping, praying, that it would minister to someone.

    Lucy wrapped her arm around the young girl sitting next to her tonight, pulled her in close and listened as she acknowledged between sobs.

    “I can’t stay here. I need help!”

    It is finished.

  • Nancy Vandre

    A Place to Call Home

    My name is Anna and I am from Filer, Idaho, where the men fight over water rights and the women over 1st place ribbons for peach pie. I lived with my four sisters in the attic of my parent’s barn-red farmhouse with purple and orange shag carpet. When I was fifteen, I would sneak out my window to meet Brett. Brett sang me songs on his guitar and shared his dreams about becoming the next John Lennon. Two years later, on the night Brett left, he gave me a pale green sapphire ring with delicate flanking diamonds. A ring which—two years after that—my mother made me throw in the trash because she (who’d married a man who’d given her a 20 year-old daughter and a 19 year-old marriage certificate) had found the man I would marry.

    I married in September 1980 and in the winter moved to Rexburg, ID, where the frozen fog glued my nostrils together. John Lennon was murdered that year. We lived in a 300 ft2- basement apartment with empty slots where kitchen drawers should be and a floor that would scrunch underfoot from little black worms that oozed under the front door when it rained. I had an Associate’s Degree in General Studies while he was perpetually undeclared: pre-med, radiology, tech school, to a life-experience degree from an Idaho community college. My savings from selling Cutco Knives and wages from working at Cascade Building Materials for a cigar-smoking boss who exhaled workforce wisdom like the Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland, paid his tuition. We had a hole in our bathroom door; every place we lived had a hole in that door. Shouting started it: The blame thrown my way for the job he could not keep, the child not growing in my womb, and it inevitably ended with his fist and a termination of our lease.

    From Rexburg we moved to the Bench near the Nevada border, just 40 miles south of Twin Falls, into a singlewide propane-powered trailer with a cat. I named him Mr. Lennon for his chipped tooth and black circles like glasses around his eyes. Mr. Lennon became ill and we had no Cutco savings to pay for the vet, so he took Mr. Lennon out back and forced his head into the water trough, keeping it there until Mr. Lennon was dead. We were living in that trailer with a cat grave to the west when my mother gave me a 3-foot-9-inch-dark-brown-Wurlitzer spinet with 73 keys. I played, and played, and played. We continued to try on our own for a baby until January 1985. Test results: not my fault. We visited the Utah Center for Reproductive Medicine where attractive, “fully tested”, first year med-students donated their sperm for extra cash. I picked an anonymous father for my child. And when I went in for my intrauterine insemination, he did not come. Two weeks later, he sold my Wurlitzer and we moved.

    We moved into the top East unit of a 4-plex in Roy, Utah, adjacent to Hill Air Force Base. The front yard had a cherry tree with voluminous pink blossoms that trembled when he slammed the door and when planes flew overhead. That summer, the sun scorched, and I mowed the lawn of the landlord’s other properties to save money on rent while he worked at Radio Shack and we saved enough to buy our first microwave for $600. Tommy came three weeks early on a hot sticky October evening after 14 hours of labor and an emergency C-section. Tommy was fragile: 5 lbs. 6 oz. 19 inches long with jaundice. My mother came for a week and I took Percocet for two. Two VCRs and a TV missing: another job, another door, another lease.

    This time we moved back to Filer. Back where I started, except for a pale green sapphire and the fact that John Lennon was dead. He worked for Dairygold Dairy and we lived in a small yellow house, at the edge of a cornfield behind my parent’s barn. It had straw bales stacked against the outside walls for insulation and the shower was on the porch where icicles formed on the showerhead and crystals on the walls. As the weather warmed, the petunias overtook the backside of the house and Tommy would load his dump truck with the fallen petals and surrounding dirt. When my parents came over for dinner, my father grunted for more spaghetti and my mother did not ask about my long sleeves in the summer. Just after Tommy’s second birthday I had a baby girl by the same anonymous attractive med student. I named her Grace and then a Dairygold Dairy demotion moved us north.

    Boise was the destination to a sapphire blue, split-entry house that sat on a cul-de-sac that flooded when it rained. As a homeowner, I purchased a Rock-hide-a-key and hid a spare inside. Next door lived Bohemian flower children who taught me how to grow sunflowers that towered over the fence and that the shrubs I had trimmed were actually lilac bushes. The basement was cold but carpeted; it was where I did my projects. I sewed an oversized Bugs Bunny for Tommy and a Babs Bunny for Grace, Christmas stockings for the holidays, and a multi-color-faux-fur-patch bedspread for our queen-size waterbed. Grace took her naps on that bedspread while I found ways to hide my right eye with my bangs. Tommy liked to watch Star Wars and pretend his squirt gun was a Blaster. Once, Tommy heard the battle ensuing and came to the rescue only to end a fallen solider in a crumpled heap against the bedroom wall. It was time to move again, but this time without him.

    I went back to school at Boise State University and took my children with me. Grace went to pre-school where she had nap-time and a tire-swing, and Tommy came with me to Cost and Managerial Accounting 403. We lived in a two-bedroom-end-unit University Heights student apartment with red-brick walls and a mini-fridge. Tommy and Grace shared one room with bunk beds, Barbies, and Power Rangers, while I, for the first time in my life, had a room of my own. On May 21, 1993, I put a poster of John Lennon above my single pillowed full-sized bed and watched the moon pass between me and the sun as Tommy and Grace played hide-and-seek outside our home.

    • Claire Vorster

      Nancy, I am glad that you have a room of your own. I hope that you can start to heal there. Your writing is good – no self pity but a clear sense of what you have been through.

      Thank you for writing your story for us. And for your courage!

      • Nancy Vandre

        Thank you! This is actually not my story; it’s based on a story of someone else I look up too.

        • Nancy Vandre

          To* :)

    • Barb

      I liked the line “20 year old daughter with a 19 year old marriage certificate”. !

    • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

      This is a well written story. You have a detectable style and voice. I have a friend like the one you based this story on. And like you, I have a great deal of respect for her because of the way she has lived her life.

    • Hotnovelist

      Wow! Fabulously written! Best story by far. Good as much for what you didn’t say as what you did. You have my vote!

    • Oddznns

      Best story I’ve read so far. I’d vote for this for the short list. Clear, no nonsense, no self pity writing.

    • Nancy Vandre

      Thank you all very much for reading the story and for your comments!

    • http://letmemoveyou.me Shelley Lundquist

      Congratulations! Wonderfully written story… so glad you moved on without him.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Suzie-Gallagher/100001281206171 Suzie Gallagher

      The writing is so subtle and understated, a beautifully woven tale against a backdrop of fallen dreams and a fallen hero, John Lennon whose introduxtion and continued reference to glues the whole story together wonderfully.
      Well Done on winning.

    • Laura

      I love the “room of my own” reference. It lends even more power to a powerful story. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=590030615 Sorren Galiza

    DROP THE FERRARI

    The cool breeze of the day contradicts the blazing race track.

    “Good day for driving Adam?” the newly arrived VIP greeted the manager of the track.

    “Your highness, welcome! It’s a great day indeed for racing.”

    “I’ve been hearing about the fearless driver who is beating anyone who challenged him.”

    “Prince Rashid, it is actually HER. No driving training, she never entered into any competition but if she will she could actually win, she race without bet, and that’s her driving at the track right now,” pointing to a very fast driven car.

    The Dubai Prince watched the Supercar passed them like lightning. He can’t believe a woman is behind it.

    “I want to race with her but I hope you don’t tell who I am,” the prince stated.

    “Your highness I can’t do that,” thinking about the safety of the royalty and possibly the ego after the race.

    “Come on Adam, I am not asking you. If she will be ready on Saturday morning, I would be here. I know she said she doesn’t accept any bet but if she wins I am giving her a Ferrari 458.”

    “Let me ask her schedule but forget about the bet. She never accepts.”

    “Why does she drive then? What gratification is she getting if there isn’t any prize?”

    “She never lost a single race your highness. She never stays for a chit chat after every game so no one ever asked her. The losing male drivers usually can’t swallow their pride and just thought it was pure luck. My assumption is she just loves driving really fast.”

    “How many challenged her for a rematch?” the prince curiously asked.

    “Every single one of the boys asked for a rematch and everyone got it with the same end result. No one attempted a second rematch.”

    “What’s her name?”

    “Eva.”

    —-

    Eva pressed the gas hearing the angry roar of the engine and she felt exhilarated. She parked the car disappointed that her driving time ended.

    “Eva, good drive!” Adam complimented.

    “Hi Adam,” she shortly greeted.

    “Someone wants to compete with you on Saturday. Interested?”

    “Sure.”

    “By the way, the guy is willing to give you a Ferrari if you win.”

    “He better keep that Ferrari somewhere else or he won’t see me showing up,” she said dismayed.

    “Okay, I’ll let him know.”

    “Good,” she said and walked away.

    The prince was watching Eva from a distance and his phone rang.

    “Adam.”

    “He’s free on Saturday but forget the Ferrari.”

    “Fine.”

    —–

    Saturday.

    Adam made sure the prince’s car is in top shape. He is not allowing any accident today not with a royal in the track.

    Eva was relaxed in her car. No pressure. With or without a race she comes to drive faster than the last time.

    “Everything okay Eve?” Adam quizzed.

    “Yes, but what does a one digit car’s plate doing in the parking lot. Am I competing with some royalty today?”

    “What if you are?”

    “It doesn’t matter. I got nothing to lose.”

    Prince Rashid is anxious for the race to begin and end. It should be the fastest under 2 minutes he’ll ever be. And he heard Eve’s words about she has nothing to lose. He asked himself, “Am I really going to lose anything if did lose? Am I being a coward not introducing myself as a prince?”

    Before he could answer his own dilemmas, he heard the gunshot and he drove. He wasn’t looking at Eva but engaged himself with the road. He wasn’t stopping almost not breathing too until he saw the black and white flag.

    As the drivers hit the break they looked at one another. They finished at exactly the same time. Adam couldn’t believe it himself.

    Both drivers removed their helmets and got out of their car.

    Prince Rashid walked towards Eva.

    “Good game Eva. I’m Rashid.” He waited for Eva to extend her hand but it didn’t come.

    “Yeah, good game,” she replied.

    “How about a drink?” he invited.

    “I got to go.”

    “How about a rematch?” he invited again.

    “Sure.”

    “Next Saturday?”

    “Why not.”

    —–

    Second Saturday.

    All set. Prince Rashid is determined to win this time. Eva just wants to drive.

    Bang.

    The two Supercars blazed the track like never before. As soon as it ended, the prince couldn’t believed it.

    He lost by 3 seconds. He tried to examine what to feel but he isn’t sure he is familiar. He never lost in his entire life. This is a first and he doesn’t know how to accept.

    “Eva, how about a rematch?” he asked when he got out.

    “Sure.”

    —–

    Third Saturday.

    He lost again by 12 seconds.

    “Since you beat me twice, can we at least grab a drink?”

    “Can you promise that you won’t challenge me again?” she asked ignoring the invitation for a drink.

    “Why would you let me promise?”

    “I don’t feel like playing with a prince.”

    “I never introduced myself to you as the prince, you call me Rashid and we’re equal.”

    “We’re not. We maybe human but we can never be equal.”

    “How about we discuss this over a banquet?”

    “I have to go.”

    She turned her back but the prince caught her hands so she stopped.

    “I don’t owe you any race, let me go.”

    “Why do you drive?”

    “You drive like maniac every single time. Why?”

    “I am crazy.”

    —–

    It has been a month since that last race and the prince is holding a folder. He asked an investigator to find out about Eva. He can’t deny that he is intrigued and smitten.

    —–

    “Eva!”

    She finds where the voice is coming from and saw Prince Rashid standing next to a Ferrari.

    “How are you feeling? You don’t look so well. Can I give you a ride?”

    “Please.” She walked towards the car and he opened the door for her.

    “Home?”

    “Yes. I guess you finally got me investigated. No one ever followed me in this hospital.”

    “What did your Oncology doctor tell you today?”

    “Nothing new but my lapse becomes shorter. I may have one more month to live.”

    “Is that why you drive like crazy?”

    “We have different reasons for driving. I drive because it is the only time I feel that I am alive, roaring, soaring, and moving exquisitely fast. No one see my bruises or that I vomit every time I finish my chemo. Don’t worry I’ll try not to do that in this car. You drive because you think life owes you excitement, pride, and domination. And your father spoke to me that Dubai needs you for the future.”

    “You spoke with my father?”

    “He told me I maybe teasing you for danger… Why are you here Rashid?”

    “I feel like you got answers. I feel like you’ve never shared your life enough to the world. You could be the greatest female Supercar driver in the world yet no one will ever know.”

    “And?”

    “And I wonder if I am ever going to beat you on the track?”

    They both laughed.

    “You can beat me. You’re a good driver. You just have to have the right reason for driving. You don’t need a race to prove you’re spectacular. I never compete with anybody but myself that is why every time I drive I drive faster than the last time unless I’m using a rubbish car.”

    “Will I see you on the track on Saturday?”

    “Yes. I feel tired. Can I sleep?”

    “Sure.”

  • Claire Vorster

    REDEEMED

    Deep under the earth’s surface, subject to intense heat and pressure, created as time unfolds and unfolds, a precious stone of great price is formed. The stone sleeps in the darkness of its secret underground world until the earth heaves and turns, then water finds its way through fresh nooks and crannies forming streams and eventually a wild river. The water courses over the stone for time and time again, until one day, the stone is loosed and washed into the torrent.

    Now the stone looks like lumps of sugar all stuck together and it is driven hard by the river waters until it catches fast and nestles quietly amongst some tall, wind blown grasses by the side of a secluded river cove for time and time again. One day as the sun rises, a boy called Azizi whose name means Beloved, comes singing and fishing by the old river bank when he catches sight of the stone warmed by the sunshine, glistening amongst the swaying grasses. Azizi knows the feel and look of a precious stone of great price because he has heard stories about them from his grandfather.

    He picks the stone up, carefully puts it into his bag and runs home as fast as he was made to run. ‘Mama, Mama, look what I found!’ he says as he jumps up and down for joy. That night everyone in the village dances. Joyful messages are sent out so that a few days later the great Craftsman comes to the village to inspect Azizi’s stone. The Craftsman examines the stone with great reverence, ‘oh my friend’, He exclaims ‘you have found a wonder! I will sell everything I possess to buy it from you.’

    Solemnly Azizi promises to keep the stone safe until the Craftsman returns. The sun rises and sets while Azizi sings and fishes, counting out time, waiting. Time passes like the river waters and the Craftsman keeps His promise. He has sold everything He has to buy the precious stone. He smiles the widest smile as He wraps the stone gently and takes it home where He cleans it and cuts it and polishes it until it sparkles and shines like the crystals in a snowflake.

    The stone that lay in darkness, crushed by the earth, buffeted by the river, lost in the tall grasses has been found. It has been bought at great price, and refined in the hands of the Craftsman until its incredible beauty is revealed. Beauty that was always there, just waiting to be found.

    Whatever the darkness and the pressures of life, God knows who you are. He paid the ultimate price for you and He will work in your heart and in your life until your beauty is revealed. You have been redeemed, you are treasured, you are irreplaceable to Him. And just as you are, you are loved.

    ‘I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.’ Isaiah 45 v2-3, NIV

    He believes in you.

  • Rose Campbell

    The Feelings of Memories, by Rosemary Campbell

    The first time it happened, we were running. We ran and ran from our faceless pursuers who shouted and yelled, furious that we’d escaped their clutches. Their shouts warned us that it would be worse if we didn’t stop. But my brother pulled me along behind him, his feet a blur, my feet stumbling as I tried to keep up, pounding fast along the ground that wasn’t ground, but something unseen, only rising to meet our feet each time they fell. We ran through an unexistence, no darkness or light, no trees, no sky, no streets, no people. We were the only entities of the strange universe. And those men were bigger than us.

    In an instant we burst through a door into a long, dim room, the back wall a murky shadow, rows of creaky cots and moth-eaten mattresses lining the windowless walls, children, orphans, asleep under the covers. The shouting was on our heels, and we dashed down the aisle and slid to the floor in between two children, lying on our stomachs, peering under the beds toward the door.

    We heard quick footsteps on the other side, more shouting, and they charged into the room and stopped short, taken aback by the scene before them. One by one, the orphans awakened, shuffling in their tangled blankets, groggily squinting at the intruders, crying out in alarm, whimpering with fear.

    Covered in shadows, we peaked out of our hiding spot. A tall, hulking man, the first to hurtle through the door, took a step toward the closest child, a gun appearing in his hand. The child mewled in dread, and the man hesitated for a moment, then pulled the child from the cot.

    “You surrender, or we kill the kid and everyone here!”

    My breath caught. I could hear only myself, panting, lungs burning. Surrendering meant death, death for both my young brother and me. I tried to think, why are we here? Who are these men, and why are they chasing us? What did we do? But I couldn’t remember why. I could only remember running in terror and desperation through that strange no man’s land, and probing my mind to find any earlier memories was like running into a rough brick wall again and again, too high to climb over, too long to run around. Someone had clenched my brain in a strong, unyielding grip.

    I heard a click, the cock of the gun. I felt my brother shift beside me, and I grabbed his arm. The man roared again, “This is your LAST CHANCE.”

    A fleeting glance at me, a resigned, determined look in his clear blue eyes, his dirty blonde hair a mess of curls on his head, he squeezed my hand, and then my brother leaped to his feet, instantly gone from my side.

    “DON’T SHOOT THE BOY! You can have me, I surrend—“

    BANG!

    He dropped.

    My body jerked violently, my eyes flared open.

    My chest pumping up and down, I lay in bed staring wide-eyed at my ceiling, tears already forming in my eyes and rolling down my cheeks, soaking my ears and my hair and my pillow, seeping down my neck, absorbed by the collar of my t-shirt. My heart beat loud in my ears, throbbed in my hands, in my feet.

    My mind frantically searched my memory, panicked and confused at my brain’s narrative creation. He died? He’d been shot? He’d surrendered to that man with the gun? The vividness of his last arresting look into my eyes blurred my sense of reality, forcing my reasoning to ransack my mind for any scrap of actuality in what I’d just witnessed, any bit of truth gliding through the air like burned clumps of ash floating in the aftermath of fire. The only shred of solidity it found was the lingering feeling engulfing my senses, the crushing grief, sorrow, and unbelief leftover from watching my brother stand to defend and then drop, limp and lifeless.

    And while I squeezed my eyes, trying to stop the tears, my heart wrenching itself, hurting my head, constricting my chest, relief flooded my body. My mind oriented itself back into my bedroom, my home, my world. He was on the other side of the wall, in the room next to mine, asleep in his bed. Alive, safe, here.

    I lay in bed for a long time, trying to think through it, trying to understand. I remember wondering at different moments in my life, after hearing about someone’s mom or dad suddenly dying, or someone’s brother or sister, or cousin or best friend, I remember wondering how I would react to that news. I wondered whether I’d cry the moment I found out, or if I’d be too shocked to cry, or if the defense mechanisms of my body would forbid my soul from feeling the tremendous pain of losing a bit of my heart, the bit of my heart I’d given away to my mom or dad or brother or sister or best friend who had been snatched from my life.

    The first time it happened, I was in the car with my mom and my sister, driving home from elementary school on a spring day, 11 years old, when my mom told us Grandpa Campbell had died that morning. Three strokes in a year and a half had taken their toll, stolen his voice, but not his mind or his heart, until the very end.

    The next time it happened, I was home alone in the June of one summer, 17 years old, when my little sister called me from her violin class, and she told me that Grandpa Warner had just died. Lymphoma, a decades-old illness, had put him in the hospital, his organs turning against him, and after two weeks, he let go.

    I remember wondering if I’d feel differently about it if it had happened suddenly, like a car crash, instead of gradually, because of sickness. Would the pain be more stark and raw if it were sudden, or was what I felt more immense because it was gradual, because there was time for it to build up, to saturate my senses?

    In all the times I imagined how I would feel if this happened to me, I never thought of how it would be to have someone close to me die to save me, to save other people, strangers. The aching emptiness and sorrow of a dead brother twisted itself into a mass of raw heart, still beating, but torn from my chest and crushed by the love exuding from the memory of his determination to relinquish his life to save mine, to save that child, even if it took him only an instant to decide it was what he needed to do. And that was just a dream.

  • http://www.brookegale.com/ Brooke Gale Luby

    Most people in the small town of Blackford had heard of Kendra Neely. They knew she was “special.” They knew she was trouble. They knew if they came close enough to her that they could smell the strong scent of permanent marker. They knew her nickname in Blackford High School was, “The Sharpie freak.”

    But what people didn’t know was how much Kendra Neely loved words. She loved the way they rolled off her tongue when she spoke them out loud, how they stirred her soul like music. But most of all, Kendra loved the way they looked when written with a black permanent marker. Kendra was not limited to white sheets of paper. The world was her notebook. Often when she got particularly inspired or depressed, she would scrawl out descriptions of what she was feeling across her arms and legs.

    Her mother frowned and whined at her daughters behavior, sure that it would lead to some kind of poison seeping into her thin skin and running through her bloodstream. She told Kendra her concern while inhaling a cigarette, despite her persistent bronchitis. Kendra knew her mom looked down on her because of her strange, obsessive behavior, but she also knew everyone was addicted to something, she just happened to be addicted to sharpies.

    Kendra’s room, her belongings, and nooks and crannies of places she frequented, were marked with words and poetry. The dashboard of her beat up station wagon, spoke of the road that met the balding tires daily.

    “Here we spin, miles passing under us, oblivious to our destination for obvious reasons, impaired at directions.”

    Her mom had thrown a fit when she saw she had had ruined the interior of her car,

    “My only daughter, a common criminal, a thug, a graffiti artist. I had high hopes for you, but its seems like you are following your paternal genes, like I feared.”

    Kendra ignored her, used to her mother’s dramatic presentations, knowing she couldn’t say much since she bought the car herself with her own money, saved from her job cleaning up after Ted.

    Ted was an elderly man who lived alone in a small purple house he insisted was blue. He was bitter and mean and almost drove Kendra to quit after her third day cleaning his house and doing his laundry. But she stuck around, proving she was strong enough to deal with his verbal abuse.

    Kendra rubbed her hand along the iron fence as she walked by it, walking down the street past abandoned buildings. Her hand vibrated and tingled all the way up her arm. She could get lost in moments like these. Something in her never seemed to grow up. She was diagnosed with a learning disability when she was in fourth grade, and she still scribbled all over her homework. Some people were born to make the world a better place, she though maybe she was born to destroy things by writing all over them.

    A screeching car interrupted her train of thought. She looked up to see an old blue truck idling a few feet ahead of her next to the sidewalk. A man with a thin face and a scraggly orange beard leaned his head out the window.

    “Hey fatty! Come here! I have something for you!”

    He began to yell obscenities at her. Kendra broke into a run, leaving the man yelling after her. She ran down a side street and until she knew she was far from her pursuer. She stopped, panting, and pulled out her marker from her sweatshirt pocket. She looked around to see if anyone was watching, then began to write across the big red face of the stop sign in front of her.

    “Around the corner or around the world, people live in hate and pain. Where has Love gone? He’s a missing person. Who will find him?”

    That night, Kendra stood in her over-sized t-shirt and boxers, about to go to bed. She thought of what the bearded man had yelled at her, and it took hold of her somewhere deep inside her. She thought of her own father and how he had been quick to point out her flaws before he went out drinking one night when she was ten and never came back.
    She picked up her sharpie and scrawled across her thighs,

    “FAT. WORTHLESS. STUPID. NOT NORMAL.”

    She continued, insulting herself with every word she knew, late into the night, till her pale skin was hardly visible beneath the black scrawling.

    In the morning she woke up, and seeing her inked up body, ran to the shower. After forty minutes scrubbing her skin red, there were still faded remnants of angry words on her. She dressed in a long sleeve shirt, and jeans even though it was fairly warm out, and headed to her job at Ted’s.

    Ted was waiting on a plastic chair on his porch when she got there. Kendra was surprised, this was not the old man’s usual behavior. Usually he hid in his den watching reruns and mumbling about the state of the world, or how she didn’t fold his laundry the right way. Kendra didn’t know if she’d ever seen him outside.

    “Good morning Kendra,” Ted began, “Please sit. I want to tell you something.”

    This was certainly not what she was expecting, on today of all days. Kendra took a seat on the opposite side of the steps. She looked down at her hand, and could see the faint outline of the word “FAILURE” sticking out of her sleeve. Ted began to speak.

    “You know Kendra, I have been through many pain in my life. Years ago I met a beautiful lady at the factory and we fell deeply in love. Three weeks after I asked for her hand in marriage, she died in car accident. I have lived these past fifty-three years alone and angry. I have wanted to die for many years, but never had the courage to end my life. Last night I got the courage I have waited for.”

    Ted stopped, and swallowed. Kendra stared at the man awkwardly, not sure what to do, say or feel. He continued,

    “I bought a bottle of extra strength painkillers from the 7-11. I was on my way home, ready to swallow the whole thing, ready to be done with my pathetic life. Then a funny thing happened. I stopped at a stop sign and saw a message on it. It was like my thoughts were written there for the world to see. It said love was missing person, who will find him? The moment I read it, I started to weep in my car. I knew then that I didn’t have to die. I could live, maybe outside this sadness and anger, if I spent my life finding this missing person.”

    Kendra was unable to move from her seat. Finally she stood, her voice shaking,

    “And I… I will help you find him.”

    • Alison Holler

      Brooke, this is a lovely story. The characters are quirky but very believably quirky and lovable. I liked how Kendra’s mother’s addiction was juxtaposed against Kendra’s own addiction, a common against an uncommon. I like how Kendra loves words and their power. I like Ted insisting his purple house is blue, and how he has a tragic past that we don’t know about til the end. I like how Kendra’s pain is cause for the beginning of Ted’s healing. Beautifully put together :)

      • http://www.brookegale.com/ Brooke Gale Luby

        Thank you. I think I am drawn to quirky characters because it’s who is around me in “real life.” ;)

    • Oddznns

      I love the characters and how redemption plays out in this story.

      • http://www.brookegale.com/ Brooke Gale Luby

        Thanks.

    • Graham da Ponte

      Kendra is the most memorable character of any in the stories I’ve read so far. Vividly drawn and consistent, she never sounds a false note. This is good work!

      • http://www.brookegale.com/ Brooke Gale Luby

        Thanks!

  • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

    The corridor stretched before him. It was a mile long—the longest mile he’d ever walk. He felt someone lightly push him on the back. He smiled at the young guard standing on his right. “So, this is it huh?” He said with a light laugh. The guard remained silent; his eyes remained staring in front. October’s smile fell from his lips. It landed on the tiled floor with a crash. No one looked down. No one heard the smile shatter. October took a deep sigh and he started walking down the mile.

    October was a huge man—six feet ten inches tall of muscles. He was thirty three years of age—Caucasian, a construction worker, no wife and no kids. The only family he had was his two beagles—Snoop and Pea. He thought it to be a funny joke. He was the only one who laughed every time he tells the story of how he named his two dogs. Two hundred meters in and his two beagles entered his thoughts. He hoped they were being taken care of by the kid next door.

    The silence was thick inside the corridor, punctuated by the sound of chains and the sound of shoes hitting the linoleum tiled floor. Five hundred meters in and another thought slipped inside his shaved head. In his mind’s eye, he sees the back of a girl. She had mahogany colored hair and she wore a bright yellow sundress. October walked towards her. She must have heard the chains on his wrists and ankles. She turned around and looked at the chained giant. The girl had no face but October knew that she was smiling. October heard laughter come out of the girl. “What are you doing wearing those chains?” She asked. October raised his hands, the chains clanking, and he looked at them. “I—I honestly don’t know,” he said, laughing as well. The girl took a step closer towards him. She stretched out her arms and wrapped October in an embrace. “Hey, what’s wrong?” October opened his eyes. He found himself back inside the long corridor. “Keep walking Vasquez,” the guard beside him said. October looked at his hands and the chains that bound him. “Damn. And here I thought I’ve moved on,” he gave a chuckle and continued his way down the mile.

    The door drew closer. October grew tenser. He started to walk slower. He was afraid—afraid of what lay waiting behind the steel door. What would happen to him once he crosses that threshold he wondered. The mile was almost at its end. “What’s wrong?” The guard on the left asked. October gave a nervous smile. “Nothin’. Just feeling a bit tense is all.” The guard gave a nod to show he understood. Silence slowly filled the corridor once more while the past filled October’s thoughts. He was eight hundred meters in.

    He was short in cash. James had a plan to get more. He was desperate. James told him the plan was foolproof and all he needed to do was just be himself—large, imposing, scary. He agreed. He’d do anything to take back that ‘yes’ he gave.

    October remembered there were no stars that night. He wore a ski mask over his face. James handed him the kitchen knife. “I—I don’t know man,” October said as he eyed the blade, “I want out.” “Come on October,” James said as he pulled down the mask over his face, “it’s not like we’ll be really harming anyone. You just have to scare ‘em is all.” October gave a reluctant nod. And so, they waited in the darkness.

    They were in an alley. James had his back on the cold wall and October was beside him waiting. Then the footsteps came. “We’ll just scare the poor fellow ok?” James whispered.

    Closer, the footsteps slowly got closer. A shadow of a man appeared on the sidewalk. James acted. Quick as a cat, he grabbed the man by the shoulders and pulled him in the alley. October watched as James covered the man’s mouth with his hand. “I know you don’t want trouble,” James hissed, “so give us your money, all of them, and we’ll send you on your way. No trouble.” James gave the man a fist to the gut. The man folded and fell on his knees. “Pull him up!” James shouted. “Hey just let him go,” October whispered. “We’ll let him go once we get the money,” James answered. “No James. This is wrong,” October grabbed the wrist of James. “This is wrong,” October repeated. He saw anger in James’ eyes. He saw the fist approaching. October ducked. It was enough of a distraction. The man fought back. He shoved James and James reacted. It happened so fast. The next thing October knew was the man lying face first on the ground—blood slowly spilled out of him. “Shit, shit, shit. We gotta go,” James didn’t wait for a reply. October stood frozen. He heard a sound come from the man lying face down.

    Noises. Shouting filled the night air. October was on his knees. He turned over the body and he saw the man was still alive. The knife went deep inside the spot just below his rib cage. He won’t be alive for long.

    Lights. Red lights punctured the darkness of the night. There were some more shouting. October tore his gaze from the dead man and he looked at the street. He saw three police cars and an ambulance. He saw an elderly couple pointing at him. He saw guns pointed at him.

    Pain. He felt the rough shove of the cops. October felt like he was in some kind of twisted dream. He tried moving his hands but he can’t. He felt the cuffs biting into his skin. The cop pushed his head down as he was shoved inside the back of the police car. October watched from the window as the man’s body was lifted and placed in a stretcher. Then they drove him away.

    The mile was over. October was standing inches from the steel door. One of the guards removed a ring of keys from his belt. The silence was pierced by the sound of a lock being turned and a steel door being pushed open. Then light, sunlight, splashed on October’s face. He spent three years of his life inside and now he was walking out.

    The man survived. Because of his survival, October survived as well. He announced that October had nothing to do with his stabbing. He didn’t press charges. October had no idea why the man did what he did…but he was thankful.

    The chains had been removed. October rubbed his wrists as he stepped out into the sun. He looked up and he saw no clouds, just the blueness of the sky. He was free.

    • http://kinswomans-pursuit.blogspot.com/ Casey

      Oh, JB, that was good. I love surprise endings. Here I was thinking he was walking the other mile.

      • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

        Thanks Casey! Though I’m not sure if it’s really a “redemption” story. At first I thought of sitting this one out but I knew I just had to try.

    • Marianne Vest

      I liked that. The pace was very good, not rushed but not draggy. I also looked the ending.

    • Yvette Carol

      You’ve achieved a certain amount of strain and momentum, that kept me reading to the last word.

      • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

        Thanks!! :)

  • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

    Redeeming Dimitri – A True Story of a Good Friday
    by Clint Archer

    They mercy-hired me to teach English at my alma mater. I was a 21 year-old teaching 17 year-old eleventh graders, some of whom were dating guys older than me. Maintaining discipline was like nursing the ephemeral flame in a Jack London story. It was imperative for me to sustain a stentorian façade of strictness, totally incongruous to my laissez-faire style, if I had any hope of covering Animal Farm in time for the Orwell exam. Mercilessness on deadlines and a stoic demeanor underscored by a biting sarcasm helped strike the necessary balance of fear and respect to induce classroom compliance. I had them duped, except for my nemesis, Dimitri.

    Dimitri Molotov was a tall, pock-marked Russian kid complete with an accent that was reminiscent of 80’s Cold-War spy dramas. He was a brilliant young man, in a Hannibal Lecter psychological warfare kind of way, and deftly aced any exam I tossed in his path. It was impossible to fault him on his academic prowess or diligence. His swagger was as confident as ice is slick. I won’t lie, he terrified me. And he knew it. His inescapable perception of my insecurities was like having a KGB surveillance bug in my brain.

    A born leader, like Stalin, Dimitri treated the class like his personal troupe of marionettes. On a whim he would dexterously pull his invisible strings to rile up his minions while wearing down my patience. He once orchestrated the grade 11 herd to mindlessly chant incessantly for an extension on an assignment. On another occasion he staged a revolt of sorts with the entire class refusing to settle until I agreed to let them sit on top of their desks, creating a spectacle which elicited the concerned curiosity of my head of department. Whenever I raised my voice in exasperation, he would sit back satisfied that his coup had been accomplished. And yet, trying to prove he was behind any of it proved impossibly elusive. Until one day.

    I hadn’t planned to ensnare Dimitri. But I had a notion that the time had come for the fall of his regime. I needed to leave the class unattended for a few minutes, always a risky proposition with this particular class. I assigned an essay to be written in what I stressed would be an exceedingly brief absence. And I made it abundantly clear that anyone who failed to remain perfectly silent, seated, and productive would face an hour of after-school, essay-writing detention that day. The stakes were heightened, as it was a Friday.

    After-school detention was one threat that Dimitri tended to heed. I had heard that his parents strictness was more authentic than my feigned act, and it was rumored that their punishments were of the old school corporal variety, Soviet style. Whatever the reason, Friday detention had worked as a deterrent before, so I left the classroom with some confidence. But with each step down the corridor my suspicion (read: paranoia) grew. I decided to do a quick about face for an impromptu ambush.

    As I pounced across the threshold the expression “red-handed” seemed apropos. Standing before his audience, Dimitri was performing an animated rendition of a caricature impression of me. I concede it was funny and accurate, if somewhat Russianized. I steeled myself enough laugh neither at the humor of the schtick, nor the self-satisfaction of my successful sting. I matter-of-factly pronounced the inevitable sentence: “Unlucky Comrade Molotov, not a good day for playing roulette with my patience. I’ll see you after school for an hour-long essay on ‘Why respect for authority is in my best interests.’”

    I waited for his witty riposte, but none came. Instead he began to tremble slightly, and turned paler than tundra. I could have sworn I detected the sclera of his eyes reddening with salty moisture.

    I returned to my errand and when I re-entered the classroom the silence was palatable. I sat at my desk invigilating the churning out of the assignment, but noted Dimitri intensely gazing at his blank page. There was a chill in the air, but his brow was beaded with sweat. I called him up and asked to explain why he was not working. He very quietly asked me if he could do the detention the following week, as his father was coming to collect him from school that day and would not tolerate waiting. He seemed genuinely shaken at the prospect of incurring his father’s wrath. I feigned indifference, “You should have thought about that before you disobeyed me.” He remained standing there. The class was courteously ignoring the events unfolding only three feet away from them. With a voice barely above a whisper he issued a sincere apology and asked me for…mercy. He actually used the word.

    I couldn’t tell if he was capitalizing on his knowledge that I’m a Christian, but I sensed he was truly desperate. I felt for him. But I simply couldn’t waive the punishment. That would declare open season on any remnant respect the class held for me. Then an idea occurred to me.

    I interrupted the class’s essay-induced silence with a brief explanation of Dimitri’s predicament. I then offered them a chance at paying the ransom price for their esteemed peer. I asked if there was anyone who would stay after school in Dimitri’s stead, and complete the essay on his behalf.

    After a pregnant moment of stunned silence, one of his friends who knew about Dimitri’s family situation offered to do half the detention, but due to a sport commitment couldn’t fulfill the whole sentence. It was sweet of him, but I felt my coup de grace was more magnanimous and would thus prove more effective. I declined the compromise and instead offered to pay the penalty myself, and quipped that my essay would be superior to Dimitri’s anyway.

    The class wasn’t sure what to make of this turn of events, but Dimitri immediately asked, “What’s the catch, sir?” I though of loading the offer with stipulations of perpetual fealty and unwavering obedience for the rest of the year, but instead I risked, “No catch, Dimitri. I’ll pay your price, you’re free to go. I don’t want anything in return.”

    If this were fiction, it may be considered a predictable cliché, but truth serum itself would collaborate the claim that from then on Dimitri was the model pupil. Not only did he never attempt to stage any other coups, but he forcefully quashed any disruptions attempted by his peers.

    The hour I spent in self-imposed detention on that fateful day was one of the most profitable of my teaching career. For the price of 60 minutes of writing I was rewarded with a class that offered their un-coerced respect, I purchased the freedom from inordinate consequence for a good kid in a bad world, and I filed away a short story I can now share with you as a picture of what Christ did for us in the most dramatic redemption story of all time, the gospel. I’m sure you’ll agree that was a pretty good Friday.

    [the end]

    • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

      Bravo! I’ve been trying to come up with a believable story paralleling the sacrifice of Christ, and have failed. Not wanting to write anything too predictable or sappy I’ve steered clear all together. You on the other hand have captured the truth believably, compellingly, and beautifully. Thank you for sharing the story of Dimitri and the power of redemption.

      • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

        Thanks for your encouragement, Beck.

    • Alison Holler

      I loved every bit of this story! The way you used your words (some of which I need to look up), and the word pictures you had: the minions and marionettes, the literary allusions. And what a neat story altogether. It sounds as though you had spent some time witnessing with words before this event, but when you were able to live out your words, your message truly hit home.

      • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

        Thanks Alison, I appreciate your appreciation!

    • alvarezml

      Wow. Wonderful story.

      • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

        And it’s a true story. Gives me goosebumps when I remember that day.

    • http://letmemoveyou.me Shelley Lundquist

      Loved this story! A valuable lesson for you both!

    • Rosie

      Great story. I love the turn of events and the way you swayed the class. I am certain that the entire class remembers their remarkable teacher.

  • Alison Holler

    Nicholas
    by Alison Holler

    If she was not afraid, she would march up those stairs and give that principal a piece of her mind. Her little boy stood here, by her side, bawling his eyes out, unable to explain what had happened. If she were not afraid, she would march up those stairs and tell that teacher not to treat her son in this way. If she were not afraid, she would call little Johnny’s mother and put her in her place and tell her what an awful mother she was for letting her little Johnny get away with such atrocities.

    But she was afraid, and Nicholas, her son, was paying the price for her fear. Her husband was gone, taken in an awful car accident from her, and her strength was taken with him. Who would back her up now, as she tried to defend the rights of her little disabled boy? If only she were not so afraid…

    She felt alone. She felt helpless. Who would come to her aid? Who would give her the power she needed to love and care for this poor little boy who had been given to her? Her husband had poured his life into this child, empowering him. Now that life was gone, and Nicholas had dissolved, leaving in his place hurt and anger. She felt pity for him, but not love. Not the strength she needed.

    She stared up at this huge awful building in front of her, a symbol of the one hope she had that was now dashed to pieces. If she could leave Nicholas here, she had thought, everything would be all right. But she had thought wrong. School was not a place for a little boy as broken as he was. She was afraid of him, afraid of the responsibility he meant, afraid of taking care of him, afraid of her own failure.

    “Nicholas,” she said gently, squatting down and sitting on her heels in order to look him in the face. She stroked his cheek and wiped his tears away with her sleeve. “I’m sorry you had such a bad day.”

    Nicholas just looked at her, hiccupping and breathing in deeply as he tried to calm his sobs. His bright blue eyes, held all the hurt of the past few months that she felt. Why had this happened to them? Her fear and anger began to melt away as she stared into her little boy’s face. Her pity began to be replaced with compassion as she realized that in this little boy was her one hope of getting through her grief. They were one in their sorrows, she and he, one in their anger, one in their weakness.

    Her husband couldn’t come back, couldn’t give back the life he’d infused into both of them, but she could take the pieces she had of him in her heart and the heart of her son and begin to rebuild a new life, to take back the life of Nicholas. Together they could recreate their existence and begin to move forward, but to do this, they would need to be together. She decided, at that moment as she sat studying her son, that she would need to take him out of school, that she would do whatever it took to keep him near her. She would work from home, educate him at home, find alternative ways to socialize him.

    “Whatever it takes,” she thought as she looked at her little boy with a sudden and overwhelming love spilling over in her heart. She leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead.

    “Come on, Nicholas,” she said, standing up and taking his little hand in hers. “Let’s go home.”

    • Yvette Carol

      Poignant Alison.

  • hemsri

    REDEEMED
    =============
    “You liar,” she hissed, the contempt in her voice was palpable.
    I turned back to step out of the front room, where I had found her sitting, apparently in wait for me.
    “Where do you think you are going?” her voice was a whiplash, pulling me back, “ you better stay in today and explain to Mother as to why it is absolutely necessary for you to volunteer for the Army and not be beside her when she undergoes her third round of chemotherapy?”
    There was no way I could avoid answering such direct questions. I also had no ready answers.
    “How do you know I have volunteered to be a soldier?” I countered, with the faint hope that this might lead her to doubt what she had heard. It was the wrong strategy. She stared at me as if she couldn’t believe her ears.
    “Raj, Raj, Raj!” she whispered exasperatedly, shaking her head from side to side, “you know me, I never play around with facts. I had the clerk at the ‘Bhim Rao College’ check the Final Year BA admission forms. Your form wasn’t one of them.”
    “Fine that makes me a liar, not a soldier,” I made one last desperate attempt at diverting her from her chosen path.
    She glared at me. Her eyes were like X – Rays. I could feel them penetrating deep into my brain, peering at my thoughts. I had the same sinking feeling – she was already five moves ahead of me, like in the game of Chess, she sometime played with me and always won, in not more than 10/11 moves. I felt like a fly, trapped in a web of deceit of my own making.
    She was elder to me by two years. It could well have been 20 years; or she could even have been younger to me – it would have made no difference. She would still have pinned me down with her steadfast belief in truth and on facts based on this most slippery of quicksand. Half truths, half lies, white lies, subterfuges, were blown away like will o the wisp before the gale of her indomitable belief in truth and facts that she ferreted out from the unlikeliest nooks and crannies of life as if the act of living had to be based on her belief that ‘truth is beauty’ – in fact the only beauty in life.
    She continued staring at me. Her eye balls like black tar, etched on a white background as if willing me to admit the lie. I stayed mum, hoping that my eyes or the expressions fleeting across my face would not betray me. She gave me the full rope to hang myself, not for a moment taking her eyes off my face.
    “Ayesha was telling me that Ashok had received the Joining Letter from the Army Recruitment Centre and he has to join by the 1st of next month,” she said.
    My heart sank. If she had touched base with Ayesha it was certain that she must have spoken to Ashok, Ayesha’s brother and my best friend. Poor Ashok was no match for Shobha didi; it wouldn’t have taken her more than 10 minutes to make him disclose that I, her brother Raj, wished to join the Army.
    The expression on my face must have been a dead giveaway. Shobha didi gave a tight smile, “Admit it Raj, you are a liar.”
    There was no point in carrying my futile attempts at evasion any further. I raised my arms in abject surrender.
    “My dear sister Shobha didi,” I implored, “Our country is at war, they want every able bodied male to man the borders against the enemy.” I tried by way of an explanation. Shobha didi cut me short, “Yes,” she said, “All able bodied men who don’t have mothers, fighting 2nd stage cancer, desperate to live and an useless elder sister confined to a wheel chair forever, beholden to every passing stranger for her most simplest of physical needs.”
    “Shobha didi, please don’t make it sound worse than it is. You are a crack wheel chair athlete. You do more magic things sitting on that wheel chair than few people with two legs can do.”
    “Oh Raj,” It was rarest of the rare occasions; tears were glistening on Shobha didi’s cheeks, I didn’t remember when I had last seen my elder sister cry, “Mother gets so chirpy when you are with her at the hospital, you make her laugh so, I think she forgets the pain of the therapy when you are with her. My presence makes her sad, I think my physical condition scares her.” Shobha didi’s voice was taut with pain. She always wanted to be mothered. Mother abhorred her deformity.
    “I think after this round of chemotherapy mother would start feeling better, “I said, “At least that’s what the oncologist was saying last time.”
    “So?” Shoba didi asked.
    “I think I’ll apply again in the next round of army recruitment.” I replied,” From the way the war is going on I hope we would still be fighting when I’m ready to join.”

    • alvarezml

      loved the dialogue between the sister and brother. very real.

      • hemsri

        Thanks i feel encouraged

  • http://kinswomans-pursuit.blogspot.com/ Casey

    “To Be a Father” by Casey Kinnard

    When Braxton looks down at his newborn son, he wonders to himself, What on earth am I supposed to do with him? This isn’t a good time in his life for a baby, what, with the problems he and his wife are having. He’s not sure their marriage will last much longer.

    He sees a tuft of black hair, and puffy, blue-black eyes staring up at him. The baby watches him, as if memorizing his father’s face, trying to get to know him. Braxton wonders if, when he was a newborn, he looked at his dad the same way that this new person is looking at him now.

    And Braxton remembers his father.

    ****

    “Why don’t you come home anymore?” Braxton asked one weekend when his father came to pick him up from his mother’s house.

    “Well, your mother and I got a divorce. That means that we aren’t married anymore, and so we live in different houses.”

    “Is Sheila divorced, too?”

    “She was, but now we are married to each other.”

    “Why do Kay and Shelly get to live with you then? Don’t they have their own daddy?”

    “Sheila is their mom. And I’m adopting them, and that means that I will be their daddy, and they will be your sisters,” his father said.

    “Will you adopt me, too?” Braxton asked.

    So on Fridays, Braxton packed his bag to visit his dad‘s house. He would bring a toy so that he could play with Shelly and Kay. He often gave those toys to the sisters as a present. Maybe it was a sort of peace offering to make his new siblings and step-mother like him. Maybe it was payment for staying with this new family: for eating at their table and sleeping in their beds; a recompense for his intrusion into their life. He brought a suitcase with him every weekend, but the sisters had their own dressers and pillows .

    ****

    Before his parents got their divorce, his dad used to take him to the park to slide and swing, and his dad would spin him around on the merry-go-round until he was dizzy and laughing. Those afternoons stopped after his dad married Sheila.

    There was one time that Braxton had his dad to himself. His dad took him out fishing without Sheila and the girls. It happened just that once. It was clear in Braxton’s mind: the green, leafy trees of summer, the humming and buzzing of insects, the still heat of the late afternoon.

    The two of them sat in the shade on an outcrop of gray rock, their lines hanging in the water. Neither of them talked, but Braxton felt like he could–if he wanted. He didn’t want to, though. His dad put his arm around Braxton’s shoulders and pulled him close for a hug, kissing him on the top of his head. Maybe his dad didn’t always show it, but Braxton knew his dad loved him.

    Neither of them caught any fish that afternoon. But afterward they shared a soda and candy bar at the gas station.

    ****

    When Braxton was in eighth grade, his father moved out of state. He came to visit Braxton before he left, the back of his Subaru loaded with the last of his belongings from his old house. Braxton was in his bedroom when his father came over.

    “We‘re heading out now,” his dad said. “I came to say goodbye.” His voice was thick and husky, but his eyes were dry.

    “Pennsylvania‘s far away, Dad,” said Braxton. “I wish you didn’t have to go out of state.”

    “Shelia doesn’t like Utah,” his dad said. “And she doesn’t get along with her family. She’ll feel better when there is a lot of space between them.”

    “Oh,” Braxton said. Then, “Will you sign my report card?”

    One of his parents needed to sign it. It would be his father’s last chance. His dad looked over the grades and signed his name. It was the first time that his father ever signed a report card or a permission slip for school. It was also the last time. When his father left the state, he never came back.

    ****

    When Braxton graduated from high school, he saw his father again. He had driven out from Pennsylvania with the rest of his family.

    “You’re huge, Braxton,” Sheila said, hugging her step-son. “The last time I saw you, you barely reached my shoulders.”

    Braxton looked at the man that was his father. He’d changed since Braxton last saw him. His hair was thinner and his beard gray. A pang of the time that was lost twisted in his heart.

    “I’ve missed you, Dad,” he said.

    His father hugged him hard , and then pushed him back at arm’s length to look him over.

    “You’re all grown up,” his dad said. “I don’t know how time has slipped passed like it has.” His dad put his arm around Sheila.

    “I’m glad you could come,” said Braxton.

    “I wish that I could stay longer.”

    A moment of uncomfortable silence descended. Even Braxton, who looked forward to this visit and imagined all the things that he wanted to tell his father about, didn’t know what to say.

    “So, how have you been?” his dad asked. “What have you been doing?”

    Braxton shrugged. There was so much to tell and he didn’t know where to begin. Should he tell about the job that he had, and loved? He was a line cook at a restaurant down the road, and he enjoyed it so much he was considering culinary school rather than college.

    “I finally got my drivers license,” he said instead.

    There was a stack of photographs that Braxton had put out in the living room so that he could show his dad the pictures of his last year of high school. It was his plan that they could sit together, the two of them, and Braxton could tell his dad everything he wanted his dad to know about him.

    The pile of photographs sat beside the television set, Braxton waiting for a lull in the flurry of excitement of out-of-town guests. But Braxton never got the chance to have that long chat with his dad. Three days later, his father left.

    ****

    Five years later, Braxton married. His father drove out before the wedding to meet Braxton’s soon-to-be wife. After the wedding, as his father stood in the open door of his car, he told Braxton that he had chosen well.

    “Do your best by her, Braxton,” he said. “Don’t make the same mistakes I did.”

    ****

    Braxton cradles his son. He is such a little thing, Braxton thinks. Too little to be left on his own without someone to watch over him.

    He wants to take him to the park to slide and swing. One day he can teach him how to fish. He will read him Green Eggs and Ham at night and tuck him into bed.

    To do those things, he will have to work on fixing his marriage with his wife– somehow.

    Braxton knows what he will do with this little baby: he will be his father. And maybe one day–down the road–Braxton will take his son back east to meet his grandfather.

    • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

      Babies embody redemption in so many ways. I like the way your story spans so much time and comes full-circle at the end.

    • Marianne Vest

      I like that this shows really that love is a means of redemption and that redemption for the father is coming. It’s so simple and a common story but you emphasize all the right elements in it.

  • Yvette Carol

    ‘Life begets life’

    23 July 2002
    Mid-morning, my brother Sal rang from the hospital with bad news. His wife Jules had deteriorated overnight. The doctors said her spine was dead, her bowel had perforated. It was down to his choice now, as her husband, whether she was to become a quadriplegic, connected to a respirator for the rest of her life, or whether she be taken off life support. Sal said he’d lost all hope… and he asked me to bring their son Bevan up to the hospital after school.

    We found the whole family in the hospital hallway, grim-faced and disbelieving.
    Sal took Bevan in to the Intensive Care Unit, just the two of them with Jules. It was too much for Bevan, who didn’t want to be there… he left shortly afterward in the care of Jules’ friend, Darren.

    My husband Bill arrived. We went in to see her next. She lay cocooned by a tyranny of lighted machines. A web of tubes snaked from her body, the green line on the heart monitor bleeped. Bill asked if I wanted to pray, and we said whatever came into our minds as we held hands over her chest. Jules though remained unconscious throughout.

    Once her parents, Sue and Woodrow finally arrived, the life support was withdrawn. Jules continued to breathe on her own, but as the hours ticked by the bleeping line on the monitor dwindled. The family maintained a vigil around her bed. Bill had to work next day so at 8.30 that night he left. I went back to her bedside, dumbfounded that Jules could die…at the age of thirty-two… it was inconceivable.

    Jules’ good friend, Margaret arrived. She watched a while. Then she went to talk with Sal who stood a foot or so beyond the end of the bed. I saw Sal’s whole demeanor change, he seemed to grow taller.

    I went over to them. Margaret said, Jules had “told her”, that ‘although she’d had resistance at first, on Friday Jules had remembered her purpose in life. She had come here to learn how to give and receive unconditional love, and she’d done that.

    Then, Margaret said, Jules had told her that the son I was to have would be a great healer. He was coming here to bring a message of immortal love, and that he would be a man with a ‘fully functioning female side’. He would be a salve to my soul.

    Margaret explained to us the way she saw it. Jules was like ‘a modern-day Mary Magdalene’. She had been given a choice by Spirit. While she lay there in critical condition, being ravaged by an unknown ‘super virus’, Spirit had told her that if she didn’t accept it was her time to die, a baby coming in to the family would die in her place. Jules had remembered her agreed-upon term for being here and had accepted it.

    “Ever notice how oftentimes when a grandparent dies, there will be a birth in the family? Or the other way round, a birth is followed closely by a death?” Margaret said. Now ‘the room was full of spirits and angels’ and she ‘could hear the fanfare of trumpets welcoming Jules home’.

    At 10.55 p.m. the monitor beside her went to ‘flat line’. Sure enough, the color was leaving her face. The warmth receded from her skin the way red heat ebbs from an electric element when it’s been switched off.

    The doctors went in, and closed the doors while they took the tubes out of her body and propped her up more. When the doors reopened, my heart dropped because she no longer looked like herself. Jules looked like a cadaver. It was terrifying.

    My brother Sal waited for me in the hall. Through the tears he told me he loved me and said, ‘Look after this baby…’

    26 July 2002
    We got to the church with only minutes to spare. The three hundred-strong crowd was already there, the entire family sitting in the front pews. I went up and sat with my family. It was then that I truly took in, for the first time, in the centre of the room, the blue and gold casket. Jules!

    A couple of times during the service that followed, I thought the sobs in my throat would converge into a wail. But I managed not to disturb the service with my own breakdown.

    Then Sal, Bevan, Woodrow, Jules’ brother Reece and her two best friends Brett and Darren carried the casket down the aisle. We, the family followed. The coffin was put inside a white hearse. We each took a handful of petals and scattered them over the lid like a pink rain that fell softly and slowly, inexorably down.

    The reception was held at the Table Tennis stadium. We talked about Jules for hours. Margaret told me that Jules had been there for the whole service, smiling, standing most of the time beside Sal and Bevan. She said that Jules can’t understand why people can’t see or hear her!

    16 September 2002
    The midwife Jo bade me sit on the edge of the pool. Bill held me tightly. She handed me the limp, slippery baby while she ran to get the scissors to cut the cord. He’d had the cord wrapped around his neck. We struggled to keep him upright and to hold onto his dangling torso while Jo severed the cord, and blew on his face telling him to ‘breathe!’ Another nurse came. They put him onto oxygen. He barely made a sound. Bill and I clung to each other. Jo turned and said Bill was getting blood on his shoes. We looked down to see blood all over the inside of the pool, the outside of the spa and in a burgundy pool growing at his feet.

    When Jo brought the baby back to us, my first thought was ‘he looks like an alien’, it looked as if his eyes were wrapped around his head. Jo looking apologetic and heartbroken for us said, ‘I have something to tell you… I think your baby might have Down Syndrome.’

    20 September 2002
    A few days later, Jo rang me. I had to ask her a question… one that had been nagging on my mind ever since the baby’s birth. An aspect of the birth memory was bothering me. “Do you mind me asking, did you YELL at me when I was in the birthing pool, PUSH! PUSH! PUSH!!?”

    I was convinced that it had been that loud, strident voice shouting ‘PUSH!’, when the baby became stuck in the birthing canal, that had given me the strength to push, despite the fact all my energy was gone.

    Jo said, “No, there was no yelling.”

    That was the first time I believed that Jules had died so my child could live…. She, above everyone else, knew how I felt about my second chance at motherhood. It was the opportunity to redeem the failures of my past. Jules knew the secret in my heart of hearts; the guilt I had carried all my adult life, about my truly epic failings as an irresponsible teenage mother. Jules and I could talk all day, and being Bevan’s live-in nanny, I was there all day every day. She and I had spent years in conversation — she knew I’d craved redemption for twenty years — over those early years with my first son.

    And she gave it to me.

    • Marianne Vest

      That’s eerie. Very good. I like the descriptions of the hospital and birthing pool etc. There’s enough detail to let you know what’s going on but not too much.

      • Yvette Carol

        Thank you sincerely Marianne. I was totally nerve-wracked about entering the competition. This story carries such intense memories that I felt rather like I’d served myself up on a plate. I think next time I’ll stick to fiction! The fact you left a comment helped me save face a little so many thanks….

  • http://www.madd0g.org/ Mo “Mad Dog” Stoneskin

    I remember our first meeting as if it was yesterday. The scene is still vivid, burnt into my memory through emotion and pain. I can hear the surf, I can smell the sea. Danny in his wetsuit, dripping and shivering, he was desperate for a smoke. I helped him roll it.

    He had piercing eyes (I forget the colour), the kind that make you honest, the kind you can’t hide from. Not that he made me feel uncomfortable, his guard was down and he made me want to know him. Clean and dry for one year and thirty days, he took a long drag (his last remaining vice) and introduced himself.

    We went to his house-warming party with Rob and Joe. I was so pleased for him. It was an alcohol-free dance-fest. Prancing like maniacs, the lads were in their element. The house was perfect. Danny and his friends had done a lot of the work themselves. He was a joiner, a tiler, a kitchen-fitter and pretty much God’s gift to mankind.

    He came for Sunday lunch and we roasted a massive piece of belly pork. I remember being disappointed there were no leftovers, but that’s how I always feel. We got to know where he came from, a broken home full of drugs and neglect. His first experience of heroin was at the age of thirteen, at the hands of his mother. Telling this story makes me sad.

    Over the next few months I saw him at church a few times. He had found God, or God had found him, and his life was restored. Self-sufficient, working, he had a father now, and he had his life back.

    As a kid he excelled on the ramps and on the surf. That was where he escaped. We arranged to take our boards down The Level for some fun, a quick skate followed by bacon butties. He cancelled on me every time. This never bothered me, it was his childhood hideout and I expect he couldn’t face it.

    We grew close quickly, but gradually I saw him less and less. We met for breakfast once at a greasy cafe. I remember it fondly, but aside from an occasional meeting at church and a text message or two, that was it. I tried, I really tried, but he dropped off the radar and I couldn’t do much about it.

    I bumped into Joe on the promenade. He was always a bit of a machine, running for miles with weights and all that. Danny had died the week before. He’d been on holiday in Thailand with his Aunt and Uncle, an innocent reward for how far he had come. Yet here was the truth, tragic and out of the blue, an overdose.

    I trust that when he found God that was enough. At least that’s what I believe. His past was pain, but he came through that, for close to two years he was free. He’d found peace and grace, that’s what he told me, and he’d forgiven his mother. For the brief time I knew him his eyes sparkled and his face shone. I have to fall back on that.

    • Marianne Vest

      That is touching. I think his finding God was enough. It’s just sad that he died.

    • Yvette Carol

      Simply beautiful Mo. I could see him clearly. I sort of like it that we don’t know his name until nearly the end of the piece it speaks of pain of missing someone….
      Nice job.

    • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

      This is a haunting tribute in which I see redemption not only in Danny finding God, peace, and the grace to forgive his mother, but also in the fact that you saw the value in his life and sought to be his friend.

  • http://www.storywrought.wordpress.com/ Elizabeth Hudson

    No matter what you hear, love, the story began like this:

    Fifteen years ago, I’d never even touched a cigarette. We lived normally – wonderfully so – with a house, two cars, a dog in the backyard. I built your mother a fence around the property when we first moved in. It wasn’t white, and it wasn’t picket, but it made her smile.

    And when she died – you know – it wasn’t sudden, quick like it should’ve been. Her pain dragged on for months, and we did our best to hide everything. We did our best to make sure you lived like a normal teenager.

    Only now can I see how selfish we were.

    You were never normal. You knew, and you let us keep on with the charades, and we played it all the way to the end like fools.

    Something happened that day we drove home from the cemetery. I stopped being your father. Maybe I was never a good enough father, I don’t know.

    I remember that day you got home from school, report card behind your back, grin stretched from dimple to dimple.

    I’ve got a surprise for you, you said.

    Your words fell on me slowly, like you were stringing a necklace one bead at a time. I’m not sure if it was you or me. You moved the mess off the corner of the coffee table to sit down, but you stopped. I followed your eyes down to the thin line of dust and waited to hear you breathe again.

    I wanted to tell you to go on.

    Sixteen and already you knew too much.

    I vomited in the trash, and you were gone when I turned around. The report card on the table – all As. I wept like a child and blew the powder from your grades.

    When you went off to college, I tried to help, tried to save a little money.

    It’s only community college, you said.

    But from the way you said “college,” I could tell you were smiling on your side of the phone.

    I didn’t want you to move out, but I didn’t want to stop. It felt like the Promised Land, warm and fluid and sweet. I hadn’t waited my turn, but even 40 days felt too long without your mother’s frame beside me in bed every night. Let alone 40 years.

    I’d promise myself every morning, sit upright on the sofa cushions and hold my hand over my heart. But then the night would come and the moon would glow and the crickets would carry on until I thought I’d go mad. On those nights I found myself more afraid of the present than the past. I’d start itching and the room would sink in on me with moon glow and I’d hear your mother’s voice on the stairs, in the hall, at my side. And I’d shake and sweat and ache and pull pillows over my mouth to keep the silence. I’d bite at the fabric. Like a dog, I can see that now. Like a rabid dog.

    Then I’d unroll the bag and line the powder straight to the edge of the table. Right off the table you did homework on and stretched out your bare feet on during movies. I always thought of that, my nose burning, the hot sweet feeling coming back into my head.

    Your visits stopped, and I don’t blame you. I became something your mother would never have married. I’d look in the mirror every morning and see the red vessels tangled around irises that looked nothing like my own.

    People always said you had my eyes, but in that mirror, I never saw your reflection.

    I lost my job. I stopped eating. I didn’t leave the house until I needed more.

    I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin without it in me. My skin would crawl, my heart beat would sound closer to my ears than my chest until I’d line up another trail of dust on the counter.

    The power went out, then the phone. I worried that you wouldn’t know how to get in touch with me, but I know that was the drug talking.

    You were better off without me. Still are.

    Envelopes dropped through the mail slot, but I didn’t touch them. Within months I was out of the house, evicted from the walls you’d grown up in, the front door I’d carried your mother through on the day we moved in.

    I left everything behind when I stumbled out into sunlight for the first time in months. Your baby clothes packed away in boxes, pictures still hanging on the walls, your mother’s clothes and jewelry. The string of pearls that hung around her neck, the pearls that should have hung around yours.

    I didn’t care. Not then.

    And I’m sorry.

    Love, I can’t ask you to understand. I can’t ask you to walk in my dirty shoes, feel the drug inflaming your brain, see the heaven I thought I saw.

    And I can’t ask you to believe me when I say that I never meant to kill that man.

    It wasn’t me. It wasn’t the man I was, and it wasn’t the man I am now. It was a monster molded and trimmed with the skilled hands of Heroin. These handcuffs are its signature. What a masterpiece I was, body trembling with need so hard I couldn’t hold the gun, eyes blind with need so deep I didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

    You have every right to roll your eyes at my excuses, to walk out of here today and never come back, but I’m not asking for your blessing.

    I’m asking for your forgiveness.

    Forgive me for being nothing more than a ghost in your life, forgive me for shouldering you with adult concerns long before you grew tall.

    Forgive me for never teaching you to drive, forgive me for never attending your college graduation, forgive me for never walking you down the aisle that afternoon in June.

    And forgive me for never laying eyes on my grandson.

    It’s useless to say that I would take everything back and begin again if I could. It’s useless to say that I wish I could have seen you grow up. I couldn’t have loved you more, but I could have loved you better.

    I’m not asking for your love. I’m not asking for you to visit or call or write.

    My love, I’m asking for your forgiveness.

    I’m asking for grace.

    • http://www.storywrought.wordpress.com/ Elizabeth Hudson

      I forgot the title. “Visitation Hour.”

    • rmullns

      Very powerful Elizabeth … compelling – kept me interested till the end. Now I want to know more …

    • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

      Your character’s voice was excellent. I especially liked your last line. As I explored the topic of redemption, I noticed how it teeters between grace on one side and revenge on the other.

    • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

      Lizzie, that was VERY powerful. Love the tone! So well done!! Wow. Seriously, wow!

    • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

      The personal style and feeling of this story is very well done.

    • http://lauraplusthevoices.blogspot.com/ Laura W.

      LOVE THIS. That is all.

    • Felicia Stanford

      Wow! So palpable. I felt your words. I’d read a book that you authored today! The winner as far as I’m concerned!

    • Graham da Ponte

      Very affecting and well-written.

    • http://www.storywrought.wordpress.com/ Elizabeth Hudson

      Thank y’all for the encouraging comments! They mean so much to me.

    • Rosie

      Powerful story, and it made me relate to people I know who have walked down that road.

  • Barb

    A Dream Redeemed

    The funeral was on a Monday. Pronounced dead and buried all in the same day. It was a swift ceremony in contrast to the not so swift, drawn out death. There was only one mourner – me. That was the day my dream died.

    It was a long, slow, painful death. It had taken years and it lived well past its prime. By the end it was just a shadow of the dream it was when I was a child and was draining me of my strength and joy. It had turned ugly and gangrenous, infecting me with its evil poison, attacking my heart.

    The dream had been healthy at its birth. Like so many little girls past and present, my dream was of hearth and home complete with spouse and child. It was morally, biblically and culturally acceptable. There was no reason for it to not come true.

    Books were written about it. Articles published about it. Sermons preached on it. All supposed with the presumption that marriage would come. And so my dream grew.

    As I was invited to dozens of wedding showers and attended even more marriage ceremonies I was heartened by thoughts of when my turn came. Enamored with the sights and sounds and frills and thrills I would experience. Shoots of anticipation developed and from the dream emerged an enticing, captivating being.

    Then came the scores of births and the accompanying baby showers. Encouraging friends talked about what a great mother I’d be when my time came. I imagined what I’d look like pregnant. I would cradle a small pillow to my breast like I would my infant some day. Buds of imminent hope emerged.

    When my time came. I was turning fifty and when never appeared. Never. Not even from a distance. Joshua Harris wrote a book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”. Dating had never even shaken my hand hello. Never. Ever. My dream became stunted

    I don’t know when it happened, but at some point, my dream became infected with bitterness. My heart had been bruised and battered by repeated poundings it took from seeing happy couples walking through the mall. Taking a shortcut through WalMart – BAM – I would inevitably take a wrong turn and wind up in the aisle filled with wedding decorations. Walking up and down the grocery store aisles – POW – I’d find myself in the baby food section. My hope weakened and my emotional immune system failed, allowing anger and a sense of entitlement to overpower me.

    Poisoned dreams secrete a virulent, acidic substance that causes painful, gut-twisting loneliness and I was engulfed by it. Friends avoided me, lest I infect them, as well. And though desperate for companionship and affection, I didn’t want to transmit my animosity to them, either, so I sank back in to myself. I was in isolation.

    Over Labor Day weekend, the efforts of tending this dying creature had become too laborious for me. The emotional hurt had become physically palpable where I was doubled over, holding my abdomen in pain. At times I found myself clutching my chest, so intense was the hurt inside me. I was afraid a passerby might think I was suffering a heart attack and call paramedics. It was time to end the dream, to euthanize it.

    The only concoction that can kill a sinful entity is repentance. Readily available, I’d sought to purchase it through good works, spending all my emotional funds on keeping the dream alive, hoping upon hope it would be made well and beautiful. On this day, spiritually broke, with empty pockets, I remembered repentance is free. Jesus paid for it long ago.

    Though free, I did have something I had to exchange. I had to give God my honest, earnest confession. So I handed over my confession – to God first, and then to my friends. I confessed my anger and hatred. I confessed my jealousy and coveting the things they had, that I wanted. I confessed that marriage had become an idol to whom I’d regularly offered my worship. I confessed it all. And my soul was relieved of the dead weight of that infected dream. Healing began. Friends started to come around. I was more approachable. I was no longer contagious.

    A few months later, I was miraculously blessed with a relationship with a very kind, sweet man; the very first of my life. He sent me a valentine, gave me flowers, held my hand as we walked through the mall. It appeared my dream had been brought back to life, but that was not the case.

    He treated me politely and with grace. But it turned out this gentle, considerate man did not share my faith. Our personalities meshed, but our spirits did not. I had to break it off.

    This was difficult, but not as hard as I would have expected. Some have applauded my act of faith but after years of battling my affliction, I could not risk another exposure. My spirit would not survive another infection. This was an act of self-preservation.

    The decision to give up this relationship was also made easier because God made it so. It is only when one starts to feel better that one can realize how sick they had truly been. By experiencing the grave illness I did, God placed in my heart an eternal desire for Him that is not worth compromising for a finite, earthly relationship. I had no choice but to make the decision I did.

    I’m still healing where the old, sickly dream had been cut out. I mourn its death. The wound has closed and has begun to scar over, but it’s still sensitive and like an amputee still feeling the presence of their old limb, at times I still look for my fantasy to fill the void. I miss it.

    I still desire the companionship and affection of a godly man. Because of Jesus, though, my diseased dream has been redeemed with a healthy hope; one that will be fulfilled in eternity. I don’t know what form this will take, but because of the suffering I experienced I trust the skill of the Great Physician who brought me back from the brink of death.

    • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

      The honesty of your story grabbed me.

    • http://www.eileenknowles.com/ Eileen

      I agree with Steph, Barb. The sincerity and honesty shine through in your entry.

      • http://brab.blogspot.com/ Barb

        Thank you so very much. Any acknowledgement I receive on this forum – compliments or (constructive) criticism are appreciated.

  • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

    Hollow

    I lost my given name in the market when a stranger, a man I later came to think of as The Thief, passed me a note over a cage containing a single scrawny chicken.

    Perilous times required unconventional means of communication; the note must certainly be for me to deliver to Father. Besides, why would the stranger assume I could read when the majority of my countrywomen could not? I never flaunted my literacy; doing so would endanger my father, an election official, who had taught me to read on his knee when I was a small girl. Father had a good heart.

    I turned away and slid the note into my white satchel, which was secured across my body and tucked under one arm. I ducked through the dried reeds that hung from the bamboo frame to give an illusion of a wall in the rear of the market stall.

    Before I could slip away through the alley that ran between the market’s rear and the row of flat-faced buildings that lined the street, the strap of my satchel stopped me like the seatbelt in Father’s jeep. I spun to find myself ensnared in The Thief’s grasp.

    He flipped open a knife and pointed to my satchel with its tip. “Read it,” he mouthed, not that anyone would have heard him over the market’s din.

    I did so, and with each line that I read, another letter of my name sizzled away, like drops of blood shed on scalding pavement in this city of war. When I finished, I was reduced to the vulgar name The Thief had called me in the note, our language’s word for my hollow place.

    While I still held the note, The Thief speared it with his knife and took it back. He ducked back into the market stall and returned with the chicken from the cage. He rung its neck and thrust it at me.

    “A reminder of what will happen to your father if you fail to report for duty tomorrow,” he said.

    #

    “Please don’t make me,” I pleaded from my makeshift stage on a low table. “I feel like someone is watching.”

    The Thief rose from the stained mattress in the middle of the room. He sauntered over to the window high above the market and dropped his satin track pants to his ankles. “Watch this,” he yelled to the no one and everyone, clutching himself and laughing.

    He returned to the mattress and aimed the camera at me.

    “Now do it. Someone is watching your father. He is a puppet of this false regime. If you don’t perform, I cut the strings. He will not be missed.”

    #

    The days became a week in which my hour allotted to the market was spent under The Thief’s command in the top apartment of the abandoned building. Whether it was him, the camera, or the window, I felt viewed and violated by the world.

    After each session, I scrubbed myself with a damp rag while he packed my satchel with market goods, sometimes even sending me home with dates or jerky. He took my allowance for this, of course, but he also supplied me with more than I would have traded for at the market below.

    I went to The Thief to save my father’s life, yes. But I also did it for my country. My father stood with men of faith – men of heart – to free us from tyranny. And whenever a good man died, his spirit was born away on the fledgling wings of our people’s freedom.

    #

    On the eighth day, I reported for duty. As usual, the Thief had set out items for me to wear, mere strips of cloth with missing pieces so he could better see my hollowness through the lens of his camera from his spot on the mattress. I slowly changed, doing my best to eat away minutes of my hour at market.

    A siren sounded in short bursts from the empty market street below. The Thief went to the window.

    “Come see,” he told me.

    I joined him, covering myself as well as I could with my bare arms. A military jeep led a cavalcade of uniformed marchers, bearing our country’s flag, down the street. At the rear of the procession, I noticed a man with a limp: Father.

    There was no way he could possibly see me from there, but I collapsed behind the windowsill in shame. On my knees, I looked through the upper part of the window, searching for heaven above the waves of heat that rippled off the rooftops across the market, praying for forgiveness.

    All I discovered was a small hole – a perfect circle – poking through the iron railing that lined the towering roof of the building across the street.

    I pulled at The Thief’s track pants, and pointed. “The resistance is going to kill my father.”

    He squatted down to my level and followed the direction of my finger. “I didn’t think we had a man on that building,” he mumbled. “Our orders were to let the election happen…this time.”

    He cupped my chin and looked at my face. My tears soaked his hands.

    “Wait here. I will wave off the gun. But it means you must stay. You are mine.”

    I nodded through tears. Now The Thief had not only stolen my name, but what remained of my life.

    #

    I watched, only my eyes daring to rise above the windowsill.

    Below, The Thief and another man, whom he must have recruited to join him on his way down to the street, slunk behind the procession, concealing themselves, where possible, in the rubble of stalls and boxes that were now the market. The Thief flashed a swatch of bright yellow cloth toward the sniper’s position on the rooftop across the street, a signal of their cause and not to shoot, while the new man covered his back with a handgun.

    A shot cracked through the air. The Thief fell. The Thief’s recruit put a bullet through my father’s good heart with his handgun, and half of an eye’s blink later, the sniper took his second shot. The Thief, Father, then The Thief’s recruit: all three men were dead.

    #

    The procession of election officials scattered. Many of them piled onto the jeep. The others disappeared into the market and alleys. More men, likely in league with The Thief, flooded into the street below me. The sniper mowed them down until they quit coming.

    The firefight ended, and I waited, curled on the floor until it was almost dusk. I dressed and stuffed my white satchel full of the scraps of lace The Thief had made me wear, my own uniform for this war.

    I crept down the flights of stairs. I saw no one. At the street, I sprinted to Father. I tried to pull his eyelids closed, but they were plastered open, so I could only smooth his hair and kiss his cheek. I looked up at the sniper’s lair. That perfect circle that was the end of his gun was trained onto me.

    I rose and stood above Father’s fallen body, facing the sniper. I held my satchel by its strap at arm’s length. I screamed my name – not the hollow one, but the beautiful one Father had given me at birth – and the satchel exploded into a thousand scraps that hung in the air before floating to the ground like white feathers.

    • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

      What a story! I could feel the girl’s emotion and humiliation in your words. Very well done.

      • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

        Thank you, Angelo. Did I miss your story in here or have you not submitted yet? I always enjoy your submissions – you’re on my “Write Practice Must Read” list! :-)

    • Marianne Vest

      Steph – That was great. I like then ending like the death of a dove with the white feathers falling to earth.

      • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

        Aw, thanks, Marianne. Like I asked Angelo (who later posted a gem!), did you submit this time? I haven’t seen yours yet, and I always look forward to reading your stuff. I get kinda lost in the tangle of comments for these Show Off contests!

        • Marianne Vest

          I didn’t finish one for this contest. I just got stuck and finally gave up. I always look forward to reading the entries but there are so many and so many comments that I’m never sure if I even read them all. It must be awful to try to judge these things.

    • Oddznns

      This one is different. Beautifully evocative. Set in a locale that stands out from the other stories.

    • http://www.madd0g.org/ Mo “Mad Dog” Stoneskin

      This is my favourite yet, your imagination and storytelling are immense. Not just the emotion but the way the paragraphs build and interlace is awesome. Loved this.

      • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

        The fact that someone named “Mo Mad Dog Stoneskin” likes my story makes me feel like one rockin’ mamma! Thanks, Mad Dog!! :-)

    • Erin Roberts

      I loved this story – I actually read it a couple of times, just to make sure that I was getting every detail and nuance. The line “a bullet through my father’s good heart” was particularly poignant. I would love to read about this place again. Wonderful job.

      • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

        Erin, that you would love to read about this place again made my day! :-)

  • Rosie

    “Jeanie…
    Jeanie…
    Jeanie!”

    My head shoots up off my desk. Ms. Hanson is standing over me, hands on hips, and lips pursed. I always thought she looked like the perfect English teacher; the perfect angry English teacher.
    “Jeanie,” she says, folding her arms across her chest, “What is my policy on sleeping in class?”
    “um….” It is only the first week and I never read through the purple-paged syllabus. “Don’t do it?” I ask.
    “Never will I tolerate any loafing, nodding off, or lounging in my classroom.” She says this to the entire class, turning on her heels and striding down the aisle to stand at attention in the front of the room. All of the student’s eyes are on Ms. Hanson as she lectures on the dangers of sleeping in class during a discussion on Charles Dickens. Doing so will apparently cause us to fail the 10th grade. All eyes are on Ms. Hanson, except Georgia and her court. Following Georgia’s lead, the court twists in their seats and they smile deviously in my direction. Georgia wiggles her fingers and blows a kiss at me as the posse turns around, giggling and whispering to each other.
    My insides turn to spaghetti and I wonder if Georgia noticed my new earrings and miniskirt I begged my mom to buy at the mall yesterday. When I told Mom that Georgia’s parents let her wear miniskirts far shorter than the one I wanted her to buy, she had relented. She still believes we are best friends and queens of the 10th grade.
    When I see Georgia, I am forced to relive that horrible day. The day I lost everything: my good name and placement as the head of this school in tandem with Georgia Lewis.
    Even now I can hear her long, high-pitched wail as I stumbled and shoved her into the water in front of Gary the senior. Even now I can feel the icy paralysis that spread throughout my body as she splashed and slurped.
    Every teenager on the beach that day saw Georgia Lewis, hair sopping and mascara streaming down her face, scream and fling sand at her “best friend”. Every person on the beach that day heard Georgia Lewis swear to never be associated with scum like me again. She stormed off the beach, ranting and raging all the way back to her family’s beach home.
    Even now, I can feel the gnawing sensation of regret, and I dread that it will never end. Even now I feel sick thinking about the events following that sweltering summer day. I became nobody. Nobody walked with me down the hall, nobody sat with me at lunch, and everybody avoided eye contact and took Georgia’s side.
    “Brrring!” The bell rings shrilly and pierces through my retrospective nightmare. The entire class slowly begins to file out into the hallway. Georgia and the court are at the back of the clump trying to get out the door, so I stay close by, hoping to talk to Georgia and beg her forgiveness.
    “Georgia, hey um, Georgia?” I say timidly from behind her.
    “Yes?” she turns slowly and gives me a bored stare with one hip kicked out to the side.
    “I’m-really-sorry-and-I-just-wanted-to-invite-you-to-come-to-my-house-this-weekend-and-here,” I race through what I’ve been rehearsing in my mind and I shove the earrings I bought yesterday into her hands. She closes her palm over the earring and squeezes tightly. She scans me from head to toe, her smile dripping with disdain and mock pity.
    “You are so pathetic.” She said, “I wasn’t going to tell you this, but it seems the whole school thoroughly hates you so I think it’s safe to say it.” My heart leaps in my chest and I hold my breath, already anticipating her forgiveness. “I threw myself into that water,” I can’t speak. “Thanks for the earrings.” she sneers. She then flips her hair and strolls out the classroom door into her kingdom where I know I will never again be welcome.

    I stand in the doorway watching Georgia as she parts the crowd and disappears around the corner. I lean my head on the doorjamb and close my eyes, breathing in the fact that Georgia Lewis fooled us all. Even worse, she fooled me into thinking I was guilty. I still feel as if I am at fault, nothing has changed.
    “Hi!” My eyes snap open and my breath catches in desperate hope. Is it Georgia? Will she take me back? No, I am looking into the eyes of a mousey, Indian girl who is wearing a faded black T-shirt and a black cargo skirt.
    “Hi.” I say with obvious disappointment.
    “I don’t know if you remember me. We’re in Algebra 2 and journalism together. You know, with Mr. K?”
    “Oh yeah. Hi.”
    “You’re Jeanie right? I’m Rima.” Her smile stretches wide and she holds out her hand for me to shake. I wonder if she knows my crimes, if she knows what I did. I stare at her and I can’t help but notice her smile is blindingly white, a stark contrast to her brown skin and black T-shirt. I suddenly feel sick and limp; I have to get away from her. I brush past her small frame, swinging my shoulder bag and slipping into the crowded hallway. I look to my right and she’s there, walking alongside me. I stop.
    “What do you want from me?” I demand
    “I just wanted to meet you. You seemed lonely in class the other day.” She replied cheerfully
    “Are you new or something?”
    “My family just moved here from San Francisco.”
    “I think I should tell you, we can’t be friends.”
    “Why not?” she looks confused and maybe even heart broken
    “I’ve done something terrible. You won’t want to be seen with me.” Rima seems nice and she deserves to get out of my social Siberia as fast as possible.
    “Oh the thing with Georgia Lewis?” she smiles again. I don’t know why she keeps smiling
    “You know?”
    “I’m an aspiring journalist. I know everything.” She said with a giggle. She continues, “I honestly don’t think it’s all that bad. Georgia probably had it coming.”
    “But everyone hates me”
    “Why would everyone hate you?”
    I look around the hallway and no one is averting their eyes, glaring at me, or throwing things. Rima is standing next to me resting her books on her hip and waving at friends passing by. Maybe Rima is right, maybe people don’t hate me for what I’ve done or for what they think I’ve done. I’m sure Georgia has loved seeing me trip over myself, trying to please her and buy back her friendship. In many ways her scheme was genius. All she did was sit back and watch as I condemned and punished myself for something horrible I didn’t even do.
    “Do you want to come over to my house on Friday and hangout?” Rima’s ever-constant smile is like an oasis in the desert.
    “Yeah, I’ll bring a movie.”

    • http://lauraplusthevoices.blogspot.com/ Laura W.

      “um…don’t do it?” LOL.

    • Yvette Carol

      You captured the pangs and angst of those pre-teen and into teen years perfectly!

  • http://www.redemptionsbeauty.com/ Shelly Miller

    The Strange and Small Places of Redemption
    Green corduroy pants and jean bell-bottoms with frayed ends hang next to the three shirts I own in the empty closet. I stare at them like paintings I am tired of looking at on my wall. It isn’t until my mother catches me going through her drawer to find something different to wear to school that she realizes I only have five articles of clothing.
    My mother wakes up with bags under her eyes and swollen fingers from the hard labor she does at the shoe factory on most days. I sit on the edge of her bed; weave my fingers through the cigarette holes in the blanket while we talk. Reassure her that I still love her, even after the events of the night before.
    The guilt lingers over her like the sour smell of cheap wine and ash lying around the house.
    We ate a lot of boxed macaroni and cheese during those early teen years. Trips to the grocery store made my stomach hurt when we pushed the cart down the liquor aisle. But all that changed the day she decided to go see the Reverend Bill Cunieo.
    The first time I met Bill, I sat in a pleather chair next to my mother in a church office that smelled of Old Spice aftershave. His smile, like the crisp collared shirt he wore. Every hair slicked back perfectly, sitting stiff behind his brown particleboard desk.
    I was sure he would get tired of us like everyone else. Wear that hospitable Christian smile initially, and then weary from the neediness we wore like rags. He proved me wrong.
    After that meeting, my mother and I began attending Faith Assembly of God regularly. I exhaled a bit easier, worried less about the frenetic afterschool scenes I navigated daily. Our experience at that church charted a new course as I began to see life through the lens of the person of Jesus. The humble, caring, loving Jesus that Bill presented.
    When we moved away from that small Midwestern town a short time later, all those connections ended like dropped internet in the middle of an upload. Until one blustery day in a hotel room in Greensboro, North Carolina, thirty years later.
    After we mingle with a few thousand people in the grand ballroom and my husband’s responsibilities in front of the crowds finish, we kick off our shoes. Change into jeans, get the wine opener and welcome new and old friends in the conference room adjoining ours. Laugh until the eyes see blurry and then do it again the next evening.
    During one of those gatherings, I hear a slight knock on the door over the boisterous laughter from clergy letting down after a long day. Open it in my socked feet. Extend my hand to welcome the Air Force chaplain I heard about from my husband months before over a dinner conversation.
    “Hi, my name is Shelly, I don’t think I have met you yet,” I say with a smile and extend my hand. “But I have heard a lot about you from my husband.”
    “Steve Cunieo,” he says as he takes my hand, shakes it firmly.
    The tone of his voice echoes familiar and in a sudden halt of time, memories filed away decades ago suddenly open to a tab forgotten. Words roll off my tongue like a magician’s trance. “I once had a pastor by that name Cunieo,” I recall. “At a little church in Missouri called Faith Assembly of God.”
    “That’s my Dad,” he responds in that same calm voice I heard tell stories behind a pulpit.
    I take a step back, lean onto the back of a chair and breathe deeply. I can’t decide if I should laugh or cry in this startling moment.
    It seems too bizarre, I tell myself. I just shook the hand of Captain Steve Cuneio, an Anglican Mission chaplain at the Air Force Academy in Colorado under my husband’s endorsement. We lived in the same town, went to the same church. Moreover, his Dad, he saved my life. What are the chances?
    So I asked him again. Just to make sure.
    Except now, I am sitting down among a bevy of witnesses as stunned as I am. My teenage daughter slumped down in the couch cushions among them. As Steve tells me about the story of his father in that familiar cadence, this surreal encounter awakens what lies dormant, resurrects a piece of forgotten life in the story that is mine.
    Steve admits his Dad often questions the fruit from his time at that little church. Says he grapples with wondering why God had him there.
    Later, Steve steps out of the room into the hallway, dials the number attached to his Dad on his cell phone, hands me the phone.
    As we talk in reunion, I give reference points of reminder. Describe the house where we lived, the one at the top of a dead end street with tilted floors and cockroaches crawling out of the walls. He remembers it. The one he visited with a bag of groceries under his arm a time or two.
    Maybe it gave that humble man, the one who made Jesus look so desirable, some comfort knowing my life took a divine bend on the journey because of his faithfulness to the call of God.
    When I question God, I remember that nothing is lost in this life. Every minute, every word, every circumstance is useful in God’s divine plan.
    An onlooker in the room that evening remarked that perhaps God orchestrated that divine encounter just to let me know He has been with me all along. He was with me in the cockroach-infested house of uncertainty and he is with me now as a Christian leader who writes stories to help people think differently.
    I think he is right. Because God is in the business of redemption that comes in strange places and small spaces, to extract the best of who we are.

    • Yvette Carol

      Easy to read and compelling Shelly. And the last line is killer

    • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

      God’s grace bursting upon the scene like a downpour or drenching as a steady mist is always breathtaking. Nothing inspires worship like holiness stuping to kiss our broken places in love. Yay God!

  • http://www.redemptionsbeauty.com/ Shelly Miller

    The Strange and Small Places of Redemption
    Green corduroy pants and jean bell-bottoms with frayed ends hang next to the three shirts I own in the empty closet. I stare at them like paintings I am tired of looking at on my wall. It isn’t until my mother catches me going through her drawer to find something different to wear to school that she realizes I only have five articles of clothing.
    My mother wakes up with bags under her eyes and swollen fingers from the hard labor she does at the shoe factory on most days. I sit on the edge of her bed; weave my fingers through the cigarette holes in the blanket while we talk. Reassure her that I still love her, even after the events of the night before.
    The guilt lingers over her like the sour smell of cheap wine and ash lying around the house.
    We ate a lot of boxed macaroni and cheese during those early teen years. Trips to the grocery store made my stomach hurt when we pushed the cart down the liquor aisle. But all that changed the day she decided to go see the Reverend Bill Cunieo.
    The first time I met Bill, I sat in a pleather chair next to my mother in a church office that smelled of Old Spice aftershave. His smile, like the crisp collared shirt he wore. Every hair slicked back perfectly, sitting stiff behind his brown particleboard desk.
    I was sure he would get tired of us like everyone else. Wear that hospitable Christian smile initially, and then weary from the neediness we wore like rags. He proved me wrong.
    After that meeting, my mother and I began attending Faith Assembly of God regularly. I exhaled a bit easier, worried less about the frenetic afterschool scenes I navigated daily. Our experience at that church charted a new course as I began to see life through the lens of the person of Jesus. The humble, caring, loving Jesus that Bill presented.
    When we moved away from that small Midwestern town a short time later, all those connections ended like dropped internet in the middle of an upload. Until one blustery day in a hotel room in Greensboro, North Carolina, thirty years later.
    After we mingle with a few thousand people in the grand ballroom and my husband’s responsibilities in front of the crowds finish, we kick off our shoes. Change into jeans, get the wine opener and welcome new and old friends in the conference room adjoining ours. Laugh until the eyes see blurry and then do it again the next evening.
    During one of those gatherings, I hear a slight knock on the door over the boisterous laughter from clergy letting down after a long day. Open it in my socked feet. Extend my hand to welcome the Air Force chaplain I heard about from my husband months before over a dinner conversation.
    “Hi, my name is Shelly, I don’t think I have met you yet,” I say with a smile and extend my hand. “But I have heard a lot about you from my husband.”
    “Steve Cunieo,” he says as he takes my hand, shakes it firmly.
    The tone of his voice echoes familiar and in a sudden halt of time, memories filed away decades ago suddenly open to a tab forgotten. Words roll off my tongue like a magician’s trance. “I once had a pastor by that name Cunieo,” I recall. “At a little church in Missouri called Faith Assembly of God.”
    “That’s my Dad,” he responds in that same calm voice I heard tell stories behind a pulpit.
    I take a step back, lean onto the back of a chair and breathe deeply. I can’t decide if I should laugh or cry in this startling moment.
    It seems too bizarre, I tell myself. I just shook the hand of Captain Steve Cuneio, an Anglican Mission chaplain at the Air Force Academy in Colorado under my husband’s endorsement. We lived in the same town, went to the same church. Moreover, his Dad, he saved my life. What are the chances?
    So I asked him again. Just to make sure.
    Except now, I am sitting down among a bevy of witnesses as stunned as I am. My teenage daughter slumped down in the couch cushions among them. As Steve tells me about the story of his father in that familiar cadence, this surreal encounter awakens what lies dormant, resurrects a piece of forgotten life in the story that is mine.
    Steve admits his Dad often questions the fruit from his time at that little church. Says he grapples with wondering why God had him there.
    Later, Steve steps out of the room into the hallway, dials the number attached to his Dad on his cell phone, hands me the phone.
    As we talk in reunion, I give reference points of reminder. Describe the house where we lived, the one at the top of a dead end street with tilted floors and cockroaches crawling out of the walls. He remembers it. The one he visited with a bag of groceries under his arm a time or two.
    Maybe it gave that humble man, the one who made Jesus look so desirable, some comfort knowing my life took a divine bend on the journey because of his faithfulness to the call of God.
    When I question God, I remember that nothing is lost in this life. Every minute, every word, every circumstance is useful in God’s divine plan.
    An onlooker in the room that evening remarked that perhaps God orchestrated that divine encounter just to let me know He has been with me all along. He was with me in the cockroach-infested house of uncertainty and he is with me now as a Christian leader who writes stories to help people think differently.
    I think he is right. Because God is in the business of redemption that comes in strange places and small spaces, to extract the best of who we are.

    • alvarezml

      You are so right…nothing goes to waste in our life.

      • http://www.redemptionsbeauty.com/ Shelly Miller

        Even the things that seem mundane in life, He uses it all.

    • Bethhawkins1

      Loved that story….Thanks for sharing.

      • http://www.redemptionsbeauty.com/ Shelly Miller

        Humble thanks Beth, appreciate you reading it here.

    • Rshamlin

      Confirmation, Shelly! With God nothing is impossible – share your story with joy and assurance, someone is listening!

      • http://www.redemptionsbeauty.com/ Shelly Miller

        Thank you, I hope that my stories of redemption will help others think differently about their lives too.

    • S&S+6

      God’s providential care…and the people and places He uses – amazing grace!

      • http://www.redemptionsbeauty.com/ Shelly Miller

        Yes indeed, it’s all grace!

    • http://www.madd0g.org/ Mo “Mad Dog” Stoneskin

      Wonderfully written, the bedroom scene was painted so vividly. I can relate to a lot of the sentiments in this piece.

      • http://www.redemptionsbeauty.com/ Shelly Miller

        Thanks Mo, it felt like it was yesterday standing in front of that empty closet when I wrote the story.

  • http://letmemoveyou.me Shelley Lundquist

    The cold gray waves crashed and swirled around me. A torturous undulation. Wringing every breath. Washing away every memory. Culling the little life left.

    Through those surging and billowing white horses, I felt it. A terrible tearing. He pulled me. Wrenched me, from the coffinous cover of obscurity I had in refuge sought. He fought against the rush, that both protected me and punished me, in a battle for every breath.

    And he dragged me back to myself.

    Past… the little girl, blood almost black, wet on the wisps of her silky auburn hair. Red, where it splattered over her sun-kissed skin, decorating her small swim suit with tiny crimson flowers – maybe marigolds. And finally a sickish brown, as it spread beneath her where she lay lifeless there on the gray cracked concrete, as on a drying canvas. A few tiny stones embedded in her soft cheek, I so wanted to brush away.

    Past… the run-away who sat hungry and hollow, shivering in the cruel cold that stung her flesh, yet never numbed mind nor memory. Her gray-green-blue eyes, set deep in a dirt-streaked, blood-spattered face, were almost beautiful, but for their lack of life. Leaves tangled in her dishevelled mop of unruly red hair, she watched and waited, half hiding, under the abandoned bridge that was now her home.

    She hid from the mother who had hurt her, and from those who willingly would. The bruises on her skin would heal. They always did. The arrant rift inside her never would.

    How had she ever let that boy catch her eye? She didn’t even remember his name. Why had she crossed the street on a red light? Her sister had followed, her laughter echoing on air, as she skipped behind. Why was she alive when her little sister was dead?

    And so, she stood alone in limbo, awaiting her turn, wishing that she had taken the place on that concrete canvas instead. Never to be forgotten.

    Past… the young woman who lay bruised and beaten, clothes torn with the filthy sweat of some savage thick on her tender skin. Her russet hair splayed across cold concrete, strewn like spirals of spreading blood. Swimming in and out of consciousness, she was sick with the stench he had left behind that would never wash away.

    Slowly she stood, setting out for home, clutching the soiled sweater that just yesterday she had been so excited to find because it perfectly matched the cobalt coloured flowers on her new skirt. The new skirt now randomly redecorated with tiny crimson flowers – maybe marigolds. She did not notice that it too now matched the bluish-purple markings mercilessly mottling her sullied skin. She wound the sweater tightly, a cocoon to cover her shame. Lost so far inside, with no tears left for her.

    On and on he pulled me, past each and every blood-painted picture. So much pain to thresh through.

    He not see the futility as he tried to force life into a tired and tortured body that had already been long dead.

    I felt his mouth on mine, breathing life, purging the water that had been meant to deliver and drown me. I felt his weight through the compressions of his hands. He was stronger than I, and I lost the battle.

    Heroes never stop to ask if we want to be saved.

    • Barb

      I liked both versions. If I had to choose one I preferred, this would be the one. This version completes (what I think is) the intended story – the rescue. There is resolution to the story – obviously you lived to tell it. Version 2 is almost an entirely separate story.

      • http://letmemoveyou.me Shelley Lundquist

        This is the first day I had enough nerve to come back in here. It’s a little scary to toss something in that means something to you and wait to be judged.

        It is interesting that you supposed it was a true story, and that I had been the one to survive it.

    • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

      I like the last line in this version. It packs a punch.

  • http://letmemoveyou.me Shelley Lundquist

    This is the second version I have submitted… ine one story she finds redemption… and in the other one where don’t know what happens to her…
    ______

    The cold gray waves crashed and swirled around me. A torturous undulation. Wringing every breath. Washing away every memory. Culling the little life left.

    Through those surging and billowing white horses, I felt it. A terrible tearing. He pulled me. Wrenched me, from the coffinous cover of obscurity I had in refuge sought. He fought against the rush, that both protected me and punished me, in a battle for every breath.

    And he dragged me back to myself.

    Past… the little girl, blood almost black, wet on the wisps of her silky auburn hair. Red, where it splattered over her sun-kissed skin, decorating her small swim suit with tiny crimson flowers – maybe marigolds. And finally a sickish brown, as it spread beneath her where she lay lifeless there on the gray cracked concrete, as on a drying canvas. A few tiny stones embedded in her soft cheek, I so wanted to brush away.

    Past… the run-away who sat hungry and hollow, shivering in the cruel cold that stung her flesh, yet never numbed mind nor memory. Her gray-green-blue eyes, set deep in a dirt-streaked, blood-spattered face, were almost beautiful, but for their lack of life. Leaves tangled in her dishevelled mop of unruly red hair, she watched and waited, half hiding, under the abandoned bridge that was now her home.

    She hid from the mother who had hurt her, and from those who willingly would. The bruises on her skin would heal. They always did. The arrant rift inside her never would.

    How had she ever let that boy catch her eye? She didn’t even remember his name. Why had she crossed the street on a red light? Her sister had followed, her laughter echoing on air, as she skipped behind. Why was she alive when her little sister was dead?

    And so, she stood alone in limbo, awaiting her turn, wishing that she had taken the place on that concrete canvas instead. Never to be forgotten.

    Past… the young woman who lay bruised and beaten, clothes torn with the filthy sweat of some savage thick on her tender skin. Her russet hair splayed across cold concrete, strewn like spirals of spreading blood. Swimming in and out of consciousness, she was sick with the stench he had left behind that would never wash away.

    Slowly she stood, setting out for home, clutching the soiled sweater that just yesterday she had been so excited to find because it perfectly matched the cobalt coloured flowers on her new skirt. The new skirt now randomly redecorated with tiny crimson flowers – maybe marigolds. She did not notice that it too now matched the bluish-purple markings mercilessly mottling her sullied skin. She wound the sweater tightly, a cocoon to cover her shame. Lost so far inside, with no tears left for her.

    On and on he pulled me, past each and every blood-painted picture. So much pain to thresh through.

    He not see the futility as he tried to force life into a tired and tortured body that had already been long dead.

    I felt his mouth on mine, breathing life, purging the water that had been meant to deliver and drown me. I felt his weight through the compressions of his hands. He was stronger than I, and I lost the battle.

    Heroes never stop to ask if we want to be saved.

    I did not know his name. I did not want to. He had forced me back to the land of the living, undead.

    I lay in my hospital bed, tears streaming, reliving every memory, wishing those cold numbing waves had swallowed me whole.

    The years flew by, echoes etched into them, and I walked through life invisible.
    Nobody saw me. I did not see myself.
    Some days, I was a lost Lilliputian, adrift in a vast sea of uncertainty. On others, I would spin, like an out of control top, dizzy with despair, along the errant artery that was my supposed path.
    I learned to turn off my feelings. I sought peace. All I wanted was respite from the guilt. I did not ask for love, and none was given. I attracted men who seemed bent to punish me further. I accepted my penance, and I perfected my persona.
    Outwardly, I seemed fine. My career was flourishing. My mask intact.
    But then my career path veered sharply to the right and I found myself standing in front of a yellow brick house. It was a place for women who were victims of violence. They seemed to need me, and I became part of the team. I quickly became infected with the joy of helping others.
    I soon realised that feeling nothing was giving up; pretending your way through life, each day a new act in some unceasing play, as if trapped in a twilight zombie zone.
    I watched the women and saw a reflection of myself. I healed alongside them, never realizing that the stains upon my soul were slowly fading away.
    I spent seven life-changing years there. Growing. Making a Difference. Flourishing.
    But not everyone heals at the same pace. It was heartbreaking to watch such suffering. In reaching out to help others, I somehow found compassion for myself.
    Creating a gratitude journal helped me open my eyes to life’s abundance. And this was the gift I gave to many of the women I came to know. It can be hard to see the simple blessings that abound, especially when your world seems so full of suffering. Finding five good things on a bad day can seem a daunting task when life looks bleak.
    When a woman would come to tell me she had nothing to write about, I would say… “Just try it. Give it some time. You’ll begin to see the magic. If you can’t find five, start with one.”
    “Look for a smile. Listen for laughter. Be thankful for tiny arms wrapped around you. Notice the sun shining. Hear the birds singing. Be thankful even for the rain on a dreary day.”
    I couldn’t believe my own ears. My transformation astonished me, and still does.
    I started a secret stash of individually wrapped, spongy-red, clown noses in a desk drawer. I would often be seen wearing one, while working away, my office door open. The perfect bright red accessory, that always went with everything. The sight always brought a smile and maybe it even provided something to write in a journal. Such a little thing to make such a big difference. I carry one to this day.
    Those that look to discover simple blessings open themselves to healing. I was sad and elated, when these courageous women came to say their good-byes. Each left with a parting gift: a clown nose of their own. You just never know when one might come in handy.
    I have known some wonderful warrior women –and I count myself amongst them.
    But for the grace of God and that passing hero, I would not be alive today. I would not be able to offer a message of hope to other lost souls who need to know they matter.
    When I look back to the hopelessly lost girl that almost drowned that day, it is now with forgiveness .

    I tell her it wasn’t her fault. I tell her that accidents happen. I tell her she matters and that she needs to let go.

    I think she almost believes me.

  • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

    Here’s my story of redemption.

    I Didn’t Even Know Her Name

    It was a warm, sultry night in the south Florida city where, twenty-one-years earlier, my law enforcement career had begun. It was the night I learned that training and experience, and even a well-honed instinct, couldn’t stop a destiny hiding in the murky darkness. It was the night that I realized that the most elusive forgiveness is the forgiveness you grant to yourself.

    It was a night I will never forget.

    The police radio crackled to life with a rush of static. “Possible domestic disturbance,” the dispatcher said. “See the women in apartment three.” The address was one I knew well.
    I acknowledged the call and steered my car into a U-turn. As my headlights pierced the inky darkness, I drove into an unknown destiny.

    Muffled voices filtered through the closed apartment door as I waited for an answer to my knock. The door squeaked open a few inches and a woman peeked out at me; worry pinched her face.
    The apartment was sparsely furnished and messy, and as I spoke to the woman I heard a giggle and turned. A single blue eye peeked at me from around a corner. Five small, dirty fingers and a thin arm came into view, followed by a tiny head covered with a mass of blond curls. I smiled at the little girl and she ran off with a screech, her footsteps slapping against the bare floor as she raced down the hall.
    When I turned back to the girl’s mother, her boyfriend, Gary, stepped into the room. His furtive eyes contradicted his broad smile. Tattoos covered both arms. I turned to the little girl’s mother.
    “Is everything alright?” I asked while keeping an eye on Gary.
    “I know the neighbors called about us fighting,” she said. “But we’ll be quiet, I promise.”
    “If he’s a problem I can arrest him, that way you’ll be safe.”
    “No,” she said quickly. “That will only cause more problems for us. I promise I’ll keep him quiet. Please let me take care of it.”

    A police officer is permitted a wide use of discretion, but that night the exercise of discretion carried with it a very heavy burden. I tossed aside all the doubts spinning in my mind; I ignored the knowledge of what I should do.
    As I turned to leave the apartment the little blond girl poked her head around the corner and giggled again. Her smile was as cute as any three-year-olds smile. Her blue eyes sparkled, her golden curls bounced when she moved. I knelt down and told her she was pretty and that everything was alright. I don’t know if she understood, but she smiled and her shyness took hold again. she ran off down the hall.

    An hour later the call came in.

    When I arrived back at the apartment I found the little blond girl. In a fit of drunken rage, Gary beat her until life left her innocent little body. The sound of a mother’s sobs as she mourns the death of her child can live in your soul for a very long time.

    “It’s not your fault,” everyone said. But fault was not what I feared. A young life I held in my hands for a brief few minutes was gone forever; my fear was that I would never be able to forgive myself.

    I never even knew the little blond girls name.
    . . .
    I retired from law enforcement two weeks later. On a sunny afternoon, many years after that night, my wife and I sat at a table in a restaurant. I had no idea that my life was about to change again.
    The waitress walked to our table and smiled at me. “Do you remember me?” she asked. Before I could answer she said, “I’m Angela. You came to my house many times when I was young.”
    “I’m afraid I don’t remember.”
    “I was eight, and I lived in low income housing, a crowded place that scared me. I hardly ever felt safe there, especially when my mother and brothers fought with the neighbors. All the shouting, the fighting, the violence; I was young and I was always afraid.
    “The police were called many times, and most times it was you who came to the door, and you always made me feel safe. You always took a minute to talk to me, to make sure I was okay.” She smiled at me. “You’d kneel down and whisper to me that everything was going to be alright. You always made me feel safe and secure.”
    I still didn’t remember her. “I hope your life is better now.”
    “I’ve never forgotten you, and I always hoped I’d see you again.”
    “I’m glad I could help,” I said.
    “You may not know this, but a lot of the kids in the housing projects thought the same way about you. They looked up to you, because at one time or another, you had made them feel safe too, just like you did for me so many times. We use to talk about you at school. Most of them haven’t forgotten you either.”
    I sat silently staring at my trembling hands resting on the table.
    “I always hoped I would see you again so I could tell you that you were my inspiration. I grew up wanting to be just like you. I wanted to spend my life trying to make people feel safe, especially young kids in the same situation I was in back then. You’re the reason I applied to the police department; I start the academy in two weeks. I’m going to follow in your footsteps.”
    I looked up at this young woman who I didn’t know, but whose life I had touched. I didn’t know what to say so I said, “Thank you.”
    She smiled and leaned down and kissed my cheek. “No,” she said. “Thank you.” Then she turned and walked away.
    My wife took my hands in hers. Even her tears couldn’t hide the love that shined bright in her eyes.
    . . .
    Knowing that I had touched a life in a positive way filled me with comfort. I began to realize that doing the right thing doesn’t always have the same result, and learning that lesson after all this time made me realize that I could, finally, begin to forgive myself.

    I had helped someone, someone whose name I didn’t even know.

    • Yvette Carol

      Wow Angelo, the gravity of this piece is haunting. Nice job….

      • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

        Thank you Yvette.

        • Yvette Carol

          And what I like about it, apart from the honest content, was your way of building a story. A natural, born story-teller Angelo, to be able to turn an experience like this into such an accessible, readable story. I hope you have grandchildren around you. :-)

          • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

            I have 3 beautiful grandchildren that fill me with joy.

            And thank you, again, for your kind words.

    • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

      Hats off to you, Angelo, not just for writing this, but for living it.

      • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

        Thank you, Steph. It has been a long stuggle.

    • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

      Angelo! I cried my way through that one. Not only because it’s tenderly written but because the truth of beauty in broken places is so powerful. What a special gift you gave and received!

      My sister flies to L.A. next week to testify in a case against a man for the neglect and abuse of his 2 year old daughter that eventually led to her death. She witnessed events leading up to the little girls death and she is haunted by it. I pray for healing for her as well.

      • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

        Thank you, Beck. Hopefully your sister will be able to bring justice for the little girl.

    • Marianne Vest

      Angelo – I don’t know what to say exactly to do any kind of justice to this, so I’ll just say Thank You.

      • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

        And thank you, Mariane, for your kind words.

    • http://golfprotalk.blogspot.com/ Robert

      Angelo,

      Storytelling at it’s best … thank-you for sharing and I’m glad you found redemption! I hope you realize what a hero you are to those children …

      • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

        Thank you Robert. I think everyone tries to do what’s right, and I think we all get it right more often than not.

    • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

      It was an honor to read that Angelo. Thank you so much for sharing it!!

      • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

        And thank you for taking the time to read my story.

    • http://twitter.com/MLeaJohnson MLJohnson

      Wow, Angelo. This is a very touching story that brought tears to my eyes and continues to do so each time I read it. You have a tender way with words that touches the heart.

    • http://www.madd0g.org/ Mo “Mad Dog” Stoneskin

      Gut-wrenching story and a story told absolutely perfectly.

    • http://www.redemptionsbeauty.com/ Shelly Miller

      Tears here. What a beautiful story. I know how those kids felt and how important your presence was to them. I lived a similar story.

  • http://twitter.com/johnstarnes johnstarnes

    THE PRODIGAL SON

    It’s roughly a 1,000 mile drive from my home in Nashville, TN to Miami, FL. Dade Correctional Institution, located south of Miami, was the first prison where I was to volunteer teach on this 11-day tour. After a long drive and a short night’s rest at a motel located about a mile from the southern tip of the Florida Turnpike, I drove the remaining short distance to the prison. Arriving at 8:30am, I stood in line with one other gentleman who I assumed worked inside. The prison officers at the entry/exit gate informed us that due to minor problems we would have to wait outside for a while before being allowed in.

    We both took a seat on some benches under a small pavilion a few steps from the entry/exit gate. It was a gorgeous day. After using the beautiful weather as a conversation starter, I shortly found out that this gentleman didn’t work in the prison after all but was there to pick up his son who was being released today after spending five years in prison. His son was now 30 years old–about the same age as my two daughters.

    Often, during the course of my volunteer work which, takes me to a majority of the 71 prison chapels throughout the FloridaI Correctional system, I hear stories of inmates who have been forgotten or been disowned by their families. On visitation day, it’s not uncommon to see only one or two dozen visitors for a facility housing 1,000 inmates. The stigma of prison or the crime that places people there does little to engender love and compassion. Today was different though–at least for this one father and his prodigal son.

    In my new acquaintance, I saw a loving father who was as excited to see his wayward son as if he had won the lottery and was waiting for his ticket to be verified. He tapped his foot incessantly as we talked yet he kept a sharp eye focused down the 100 yard walkway where his son would hopefully soon appear. It was obvious that this dad was unlike the many dads who abandon their homes and leave their wives to raise the kids, never to be heard from again. Many, if not most, of the young men through prison system don’t even know who their dad is. This dad however, was so eager to see his son that I could feel his joy and sense his anticipation. It was palpable.

    After a forty-five minute wait, the dad spotted him. Craning his neck and squinting in the Florida sun he said, “There he is–my William. He looks excited!” I glanced at William, then back to his dad who was now standing. I couldn’t tell who looked more excited! William was walking with a distinct pep in his step. His grin had to be from ear to ear. There’s not a sporting event in the world that can generate anything near the excitement level of what I was witnessing. This was a grand reunion much like the wayward prodigal returning from a far off country.

    William disappeared into the prison side of the building with the entry/exit gate. We waited for a painfully long time before an officer brought William, dressed now in civilian clothes, to the gate and opened it for him. The wayward son had been set Free! They didn’t run to meet each other but there was equal urgency displayed by both parties. They embraced. I teared up.

    After a few moments, father and son walked back over to where I had been standing no doubt looking like a fool replete with tears and a huge grin. I shook William’s hand. Then after a few moments of conversation, it was somehow mentioned that I was there representing “Timothy’s Gift”, a non profit organization that I helped found. I was to present a seminar to the inmates in the prison chapel. William’s eye widened and he broadly smiled, “I remember you. I was at your last event in the chapel!” I now felt as if I was a legitimate part of this reunion! Then after another familial hug between the two of them, the loving father and his prodigal son were off to eat breakfast somewhere…a long peaceful breakfast I assumed. They tossed me a goodbye as they walked to their car.

    I remained on the bench for another thirty minutes ruminating over what I had just wittnessed. Then I found out that my class had just been canceled. A 1,000 mile drive for nothing? No, I drove 1,000 miles to see the story of the Prodigal Son enacted live, in front of me, and I got to be an “on-stage extra”.

    As I drove toward tomorrow’s prison, I reflected on how much better it is to experience a story live rather than the hearing a dry version of it–two dozen times. The Prodigal story is simple. It’s about a father’s unending love for his son. William (not his real name of course) is going to have a tough time in life with the word “felon” forever attached to his name. However, the strong love of a forgiving father can him over every hurdle he confronts if he will remember and take strength from it.

    • Barb

      I relate more to this “prodigal” than the biblical one, and you caught the excitement of the father beautifully.

    • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

      I like the depth of theme here. You have redemption in the father-son relationship and also in terms of the time, distance, and money you spent to make the trip for a class that did not happen. What a special experience, thank you for relating it here.

    • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

      John, thank you so much for sharing this story. It really helps bring the Bible to life. I pictured the entire event in my mind: the hot Florida sun, the anticipation, and the reunion. Thanks so much for taking me on this trip with you. I really enjoyed it.

  • Visionless

    “Clock Tower”

    I grew up in a clock tower. Well, at least… I was pretending to grow, but had no inkling of the location at the time.

    I grew up with my father, and men with guns. It was strangely common to see them patrolling around with their helmets and rifles and not speaking to one another face to face, always looking off for something to happen. I imagine I wanted a helmet of my own at some point but carrying the gun made it seem tedious – too much work. No, instead I took to the toys that filled the place corner to corner and from top to bottom: my personal wonderland.

    When I first began to have memories I tried to give the place a name but couldn’t put my finger on one significant detail that distinguished it; I lacked references. After I was finally allowed a book or two I came across a story of elves and gifts and a suspiciously active large fellow (these were my thoughts then, I am surprised at my judgment and that he was forever engraved in my head with that name and not “Santa”), so it followed that the room was named ‘Daniel’s Toy Factory’.

    One day I found myself with those childlike impulses that often raised the sheets from the dead or brought flight to anyone capable of making plane noises. I had decided that the men with guns were, well, men with guns and that as ‘Daniel: Super Spy!’ it was my duty to penetrate their perimeter and discover their secrets. And so I did, at the age of 9. But I would soon find out they weren’t their secrets.

    I loved my father much like anyone else who grows up with one specific adult figure distinguished from the others by time would (not to say he wasn’t special – but what’s one adult from another when they seem to pay you no mind at all). I learned later in life to feel empathy for the absence of a mother, but later was too late.

    What I discovered was the men who had guns had something to protect and, what it was, it was not within a nine year old’s scope of understanding. They were taller than the men with guns and my father and, of course, me. Black eyes (it’s interesting how we equate things to humanity when we are none the wiser), and hard skin I imagined since I never got closer than the rules of the ‘Super Spy’ (and my fear) would allow. They were silver, some of them, with the others only varying in color if the size varied as well.

    Monsters. As a child the word is almost synonymous with things we do not understand but want to go away. But when I first saw them I did not want anything of them but to know what they were. I heard the men with guns getting too close so I hid in a nearby vent (I was quicker witted then) and decided to stay and see what else would surprise me. They started talking and I never stopped listening.

    “Sentient.”

    “Destructive.”

    “Overmind.”

    “Revelation.”

    I was taking in a lot of information at once and there was no time to be picky about what words I could remember: what they were speaking of went far beyond a clock tower and a toy room. Suddenly the men with guns look up and I hear something mechanical moving – I look up too, just for good measure. The machine grinds and displaces itself until one of the hard skinned, black eyed sentient things with some kind of overmind (imagine I’m telling myself this in my head at the time – I think I was) was placed in front of the men.

    It WAS different from the others: it was covered in blood. But it wasn’t disturbing – even at that age. I never knew the pain of one’s blood being drawn. But the men with guns did seem surprised at the sight of it.

    I wish I had figured out why back then.

    I have to fast forward. I learned a thing or two in the years that passed about the machines. Where they came from and what they were for. Intelligent beings that represented man walking into the future tall; triumphant over technology. My father himself taught me, all while keeping me locked away in that prison of a clock tower or toy factory or whatever it is or was. He showed me the world through books about war and peace and his scribbled theories of achieving world order and, for some odd reason, I didn’t see the wrong in him never letting me see these things with my own eyes.

    Fast forward again and we’re getting closer to the end of the grand design; the puppet master’s final act before leaving his lifeless minion to the ravenous dogs. I was given bits and pieces – never whole stories –but enough to manipulate my ideas of what was true, all for it to turn into a cascade of lies in the end. I became curious, sneaking around corners looking for answers to questions I couldn’t even be sure anyone was asking. What I found were my own memories in repetition with two acting in tandem: thoughts of the day I first saw the machines and my father’s crazed theories. If you could imagine, I became a slave to the own inner workings of my intricately doctored mind.

    I decided then that he was evil – my OWN father was a terror who created machines for malicious reasons. And, to absolve him – to protect him, for all I knew was how to love him – I would find a way to dismantle the malcontent he had fostered. But I was wrong – all the evidence there to prove as much.

    I found access to the overmind of all the machines too easily. I learned how to manipulate it too quickly. Everything so carefully placed just within my grasp, but far enough to present some kind of realistic challenge. And, before I knew it, I had done the unthinkable.

    I wish I could do more than just confess…

    My name is Daniel Seymour II. I was born in a clock tower and I loved my father – an evil, confused, demented and demonic sort of man.

    I cannot undo what has been done.

    If you are reading this than I am sorry, for you may be at the end of days.

  • Visionless

    Clock Tower

    I grew up in a clock tower. Well, at least… I was pretending to grow, but had no inkling of the location at the time.

    I grew up with my father, and men with guns. It was strangely common to see them patrolling around with their helmets and rifles and not speaking to one another face to face, always looking off for something to happen. I imagine I wanted a helmet of my own at some point but carrying the gun made it seem tedious – too much work. No, instead I took to the toys that filled the place corner to corner and from top to bottom: my personal wonderland.

    When I first began to have memories I tried to give the place a name but couldn’t put my finger on one significant detail that distinguished it; I lacked references. After I was finally allowed a book or two I came across a story of elves and gifts and a suspiciously active large fellow (these were my thoughts then, I am surprised at my judgment and that he was forever engraved in my head with that name and not “Santa”), so it followed that the room was named ‘Daniel’s Toy Factory’.

    One day I found myself with those childlike impulses that often raised the sheets from the dead or brought flight to anyone capable of making plane noises. I had decided that the men with guns were, well, men with guns and that as ‘Daniel: Super Spy!’ it was my duty to penetrate their perimeter and discover their secrets. And so I did, at the age of 9. But I would soon find out they weren’t THEIR secrets.
    I loved my father much like anyone else who grows up with one specific adult figure distinguished from the others by time would (not to say he wasn’t special – but what’s one adult from another when they seem to pay you no mind at all). I learned later in life to feel empathy for the absence of a mother, but later was too late.

    What I discovered was the men who had guns had something to protect and, what it was, it was not within a nine year old’s scope of understanding. They were taller than the men with guns and my father and, of course, me. Black eyes (it’s interesting how we equate things to humanity when we are none the wiser), and hard skin I imagined since I never got closer than the rules of the ‘Super Spy’ (and my fear) would allow. They were silver, some of them, with the others only varying in color if the size varied as well.

    Monsters. As a child the word is almost synonymous with things we do not understand but want to go away. But when I first saw them I did not want anything of them but to know what they were. I heard the men with guns getting too close so I hid in a nearby vent (I was quicker witted then) and decided to stay and see what else would surprise me. They started talking and I never stopped listening.

    “Sentient.”

    “Destructive.”

    “Overmind.”

    “Revelation.”

    I was taking in a lot of information at once and there was no time to be picky about what words I could remember: what they were speaking of went far beyond a clock tower and a toy room. Suddenly the men with guns look up and I hear something mechanical moving – I look up too, just for good measure. The machine grinds and displaces itself until one of the hard skinned, black eyed sentient things with some kind of overmind (imagine I’m telling myself this in my head at the time – I think I was) was placed in front of the men.

    It WAS different from the others: it was covered in blood. But it wasn’t disturbing – even at that age. I never knew the pain of one’s blood being drawn. But the men with guns did seem surprised at the sight of it.

    I wish I had figured out why back then.

    I have to fast forward. I learned a thing or two in the years that passed about the machines. Where they came from and what they were for. Intelligent beings that represented man walking into the future tall; triumphant over technology. My father himself taught me, all while keeping me locked away in that prison of a clock tower or toy factory or whatever it is or was. He showed me the world through books about war and peace and his scribbled theories of achieving world order and, for some odd reason, I didn’t see the wrong in him never letting me see these things with my own eyes.

    Fast forward again and we’re getting closer to the end of the grand design; the puppet master’s final act before leaving his lifeless minion to the ravenous dogs. I was given bits and pieces – never whole stories –but enough to manipulate my ideas of what was true, all for it to turn into a cascade of lies in the end. I became curious, sneaking around corners looking for answers to questions I couldn’t even be sure anyone was asking. What I found were my own memories in repetition with two acting in tandem: thoughts of the day I first saw the machines and my father’s crazed theories. If you could imagine, I became a slave to the own inner workings of my intricately doctored mind.

    I decided then that he was evil – my OWN father was a terror who created machines for malicious reasons. And, to absolve him – to protect him, for all I knew was how to love him – I would find a way to dismantle the malcontent he had fostered. But I was wrong – all the evidence there to prove as much.

    I found access to the overmind of all the machines too easily. I learned how to manipulate it too quickly. Everything so carefully placed just within my grasp, but far enough to present some kind of realistic challenge. And, before I knew it, I had done the unthinkable.

    I wish I could do more than just confess…

    My name is Daniel Seymour II. I was born in a clock tower and I loved my father – an evil, confused, demented and demonic sort of man.

    I cannot undo what has been done.

    If you are reading this than I am sorry, for you may be at the end of days.

  • cowbellnation

    Willie Nelson
    by Scotty Fairmont

    I’m not there. Rarely am. Persona non grata, as my parents used to say. I’ve been to exactly three family functions in my lifetime; a reunion, my grandfather’s funeral, and my sister’s wedding. Pissing yourself at the reception doesn’t typically elicit many encores. My sister, although clearly mortified, escorted me upstairs to my hotel room and placed me in my reserved seat on the bathroom floor, where i rode out the remainder of her reception horizontally, pulling myself up only to vomit. I was never sure what she saw in me, but she was the only one to ever offer any help in navigating through my putrid existence.

    I was there for my sister during her second miscarriage. She never told anybody about the first one. She’d been trying for years to have a kid, and when she was finally successful in creating a new hint of life, her body fucked her over once again. I didn’t think it was possible to feel anything through the complete numbness that i had created for myself, but that crushed me in a way like no other before or since, until now. At that time i’d already paid for two abortions, begrudgingly coughing up booze and motel money quicker than i coughed up blood, only to avoid the absolute disaster that bringing life into this world with those two whores would have been. What a disgusting irony, to be selfishly taking life while my sister was trying so desperately to give it.

    During a slightly more sober year, i managed to get it right, or as right as possible at the time. I’d met an incredible blonde firecracker named Julie one night down at the Brunswick Tavern, my local, who was keeping pace with me drink for drink; even lapped me. She was putting herself through school by serving drinks at a pub just down the road, and was in spending some of her hard-earned tips on some post-work gin and tonics. We talked about movies, not politics, and our mutual appreciation of Willie Nelson. She laughed at my awful Bullwinkle impression and even bought the last round. She seemed right at home amongst young drunks like me, which i guess is what made her good at her job. I know i was right at home around her.

    We became fast lovers, carousing the dimly lit recesses of local shitholes like the Wick, after she finished up work each night. We would stumble blindly back to her quaint little apartment above a retro 50’s diner, light some candles, and attempt to fuck the remainder of the darkness through into daylight. I’d still be passed out when she left for school, and would be out drinking by the time she came home to change for work. Her penchant for drinking never seemed to interfere with her busy schedule, which was shockingly admirable to me. We’d meet up afterwards for some drinks and a laugh, the cover of night becoming our entire unified existence.

    Julie became pregnant with my child, and when she insisted on having it i didn’t recoil in terror this time. I was always in awe of how i could continually function at a capacity to impregnate anyone, yet there i was yet again. She knew she’d have to give up the nightlife we’d grown accustomed to, and i knew it as well, but didn’t anticipate the sheer difficulty in actually pulling off the task, even with such rays of light attempting to guide my way.

    Cheating on Julie was the last thing on my mind, but not entirely shocking based on my track record of past fuck-ups. She was understandably floored, and when i sobered up i felt like the complete bastard that i was. She left me, wanted me to have nothing to do with our kid other than financially, and distracted herself with finishing up school before she had the baby. I slumped miserably back to my other mistress, the Wick.

    One afternoon, while sucking back dollar drafts like they only cost fifty cents, my cell phone vibrated with a courtesy call from my sister. I think she only called to make sure that i’d still be able to answer. We continued through a conversation – meaning i must have been moderately intelligible – asking if was doing okay with the Julie thing, and something about me going to see a doctor for a ‘routine checkup’. This was her way of making sure i wasn’t going to die on a barstool, figuring that a doc’s orders might carry slightly more weight than hers. She never tried to get me into any programs, rehabs, or hospitals, knowing that pushing that hard would only cause me to bury her with the rest of them. She told me the appointment time and day, and called me again that morning to make sure i wasn’t sleeping or drinking through it. I obliged her and jumped a cab over to our family doctor, who i hadn’t seen in almost three years.

    He initiated the usual barrage of health questions, including how much would i typically drink in a week. Even with my answer reduced to 25% of my standard intake he looked visibly shaken. I gave him the usual spiel about going through a ‘rough patch’, and that i would definitely cut back, knowing the blood work would betray my story early next week. I tried to make light by asking if he knew the old Willie Nelson lyric about there being more old drunks than there are old doctors, but that only drew our appointment to an abrupt close. I thanked him for his concern and caught a cab out front. The cabbie was talking about the hockey scores from last night and cursing out the Leafs collapse yet again. At that moment, spanning exactly one second, i heard rubber screeching, metal contorting, and a ‘Jesus Christ’, as my brain bounced off the side of my skull, bringing only darkness.

    I awoke to my sister’s face hovering worriedly over mine, unable to do anything except roll my eyes around in my head, with no other part of my body following suit. Her tears dripped down onto my face as she hurriedly buzzed for the doctor and prepared to recount to me what had happened. I could hear only her words, form none of my own, and didn’t think i’d feel anything ever again until she started speaking.

    “Your cab was blindsided by a car running a red light. The cabbie’s okay but you are not doing well.” She tried to contain herself, but decided to just let it all go as she continued, slowly. “Julie’s water broke, so she panicked and jumped in her car to try and drive herself to the hospital. She’s the one….” She didn’t need to finish. She didn’t have to. Knowing my obvious next question, she leaned in and whispered, “Julie’s gone, but the baby’s going to make it. He’s going to live.” Sobbing uncontrollably now, stricken by a polarizing combination of grief and joy, she slumped back in her chair and waited for the doctor to come and tell me what i already knew. My son was alive, yet both of his parents would soon not be. He would need someone to guide him through this fucked up world, someone to love him as their own, and someone to tell him about his beautiful mother and vacant father. Someone like my sister.

    • http://www.madd0g.org/ Mo “Mad Dog” Stoneskin

      Astonishingly good, loved this piece. The language and style is sublime.

      • cowbellnation

        thank you Mo. i really appreciate the feedback.

    • http://alishanewton.wordpress.com/ Alisha @ Unusual Passions

      I’m not used to reading fiction on blogs, I guess, because I kept thinking, how did the author come out of this alive to be able to write this? But really, this is excellent.

  • alvarezml

    Honor out of Darkness

    Sometimes people ask me if I have any children. I smile, shake my head no. But inside I know differently. I know I have a child in heaven, her name is Rebekah Hope. Twenty years ago, when I was eighteen, I made a choice between life and death.

    I close my eyes and I can feel the tension in the back seat of the car I’m sitting in while it idles. Two men, my boyfriend and his father, shout their demands at me. I am alone, lost, I don’t know where to go from here. So out of anger and fear I make the choice that will follow me to the grave.

    When I am drowning in the emotions, it can seem like it happened yesterday. The fifty plus women being herded from room to room like cattle. The cold steel table and stirrups. The whirring of the vacuum suction machines. The faint cries from the women around me.

    I made vows, more choices that sealed the deal that I would ever have the chance at having a child again. All in the name of punishment. One I knew I deserved. I lived my life as if I had nothing left. Outside I had on my mask and everything was alright, but inside I was an empty husk discarded and tossed in the garbage. I held tight to the lies that the voices spoke in my mind. You’re worthless. You’re nothing. You’re weak. A sad cadence that repeated itself as if it were my heartbeat.

    Ten years later reality crashed into me opening up wounds I thought I’d sealed. After all, I had placed plenty of layers on top of them. But here it was exposed, festering and infecting every aspect of my life. The wounds came in the form of regret, shame, pain, and anger. So much anger.

    Layer by layer they were peeled back and I watched as rays of piercing light splintered the darkness. Each glancing blow revealed the raw emotion and allowed healing to break through, cleansing, revitalizing. In knowing the truth, there was freedom.
    These truths resonated deep within me breaking ground and springing forth new life from seeds left long before. Seeds that had been planted for such a time as this and would reap a harvest. Death to life.

    Where I had no voice before, I now speak for the post abortive woman. Where I had shame and pain, I have permission to grieve my loss, my choice. Where I felt shackled inside the prison I built, I now have freedom.

    My desire was to break my silence to help and support others hurt by abortion. I wanted to show them it’s possible to find the same restoration I found. When they show up that first night, I watch them walk into the room. The fatigue is written in the lines on their face. They are nervous, hunched over, weighed down from years of keeping their secret. Piece by piece the transformation begins. They start to sit taller, their smile is brighter, they laugh more than they cry. They are powerful for taking this first step and courageous for trusting someone else with their secret. When I look at them, I see me.

    There are moments that can still bring me back. A pregnant woman, baby showers, a mother and child. But instead of the regret and shame I once carried as heavy chains around my neck, now they serve as gentle longings of what I lost. The wound that once festered is now healed leaving a scar as a beautiful reminder of how far I have come. Nothing goes to waste, not my story, and not the memory of my child.

    • Marianne Vest

      This was a very brave thing to write.

      • alvarezml

        Thanks. I think it gets easier the more I speak it out loud.

    • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

      I feel like whispering my response. Such a story is holy ground and I stand in awe of the power of redemption. Thank you for courageously sharing your story of beauty from broken places.

    • http://www.madd0g.org/ Mo “Mad Dog” Stoneskin

      Brought a tear to my eye, and I’m so glad there is now healing. You’ve a great deal to give.

    • http://www.redemptionsbeauty.com/ Shelly Miller

      So beautiful the way God uses our pain to cultivate redemption in someone else. Thankful that you are using the story of your life to help others.

  • Joanna Hyatt

    Redemption on the 405
    by Joanna Hyatt

    Los Angeles. Delivered.

    The words stared back at me from the truck ahead, filling my view as we inched along the 405 freeway in bumper to bumper traffic. The grime and smog of the city had long ago etched itself into the white lettering, as if daring the statement to continue to be so bold, so confident in the face of the constant battle being waged by filth and ugliness. It doesn’t matter how many times those white letters would might be cleaned. Countless hours spent hurrying up for the long slow idle of traffic meant they would always get dirty again. What was the point of then of trying to restore those white letters to brilliance, of working to scrub out the ugly only for it to seep back in?

    Staring idly at those words, my thoughts were full of the meeting I had just left. This was supposed to have been a friendly meeting, a meeting of like minds coming together for a noble cause: giving a particular group in society access to education and resources so they could make the best possible choices for their lives and futures. Yet in less than 15 minutes, the tension in the room escalated to such chest crushing proportions I found myself struggling to breathe. Questions were spat at me with such force I could almost feel the skepticism and derision spraying into my face. The ‘best choice’ that I represented was unrealistic, threatening, judgemental and even dangerous. It was exclusive, left people feeling margianilized and guilty.

    This ‘best choice?’ That people are capable of posponing immediate gratification for long-term rewards, that some decisions really are better for a person than others. That we could and should expect more for this particular group in society because they are not only capable, but deserving of the best.

    That was the crime for which I was being interrogated. Yet when I finally walked out of that room and back to my car, my only feeling was sadness. In their well-intended efforts to make every choice a ‘good’ choice regardless of how painful or destructive the outcomes might be, they left people vulnerable, exposed and lost. Years of working in the system had made them skeptical, had worn down their expectations and caused them to replace what was best for what was good or simply average.

    But was their brokenness that screamed out at me the loudest through their stoic faces, eyes betraying pain. Their anger came from wounds inflicted by others, from guilt over their own less than best decisions. The damage had been done long before I walked into the line of fire. In the name of caring, they were leading people down a similar path. If others feel the same pain they had felt, perhaps it would make theirs seem less real.

    How does one survive in the face of so much pain, so much death and despair? Not just survive, but thrive. Where is the hope?

    These are the thoughts that scream in my mind and fill my heart as I continue to creep along this cement corridor, a speck in a sea of metal boxes, each one filled with their own wondering souls, unfulfilled expectations and fading dreams of what the world could be.

    Los Angeles. Delivered.

    The words suddenly come into focus as the hope, the promise of that simple statement dawns on me.

    Los Angeles: a city of broken dreams, glass masks, and glaring emptiness. A city where all that glitters is gold, but it is the Midas gold that comes at a high price, demanding your life and accepting nothing less. A city where the filth and ugliness etch themselves upon your soul. Anything good, pure and true becomes defiled. Fighting seems futile for as soon as one battle is won, another is quickly lost. This city of stories and fantasies that pull people in with the allure of fame, fulfilment and future glories, only to spit them out broken and beaten, a whisper of their former self. Their real self.

    Delivered: Made whole. Restored. Renewed. Broken dreams and broken hearts put back together again. Pain erased, slaves of Mammon set free. The filth turned to radiant splendor as both soul and street are restored.

    A city of so much confusion brought to order and light, more glorious than any of its former glory. Hope restored. People set free from lies, taken from wretched brokeness to perfect wholeness. Rather than hurting each other, we begin to help, to care, to notice that there is someone in that car that just cut us off, a story in the mother with the screaming child behind me at the grocery store. We catch and create moments of beauty, of kindness, of compassion. Moments that whisper of a city yet to come. A city waiting to be redeemed and restored.

    Los Angeles. Delivered.

    Hope. Renewed.

    There on the 405, I found redemption. Redemption for a tired soul. For a worn out city. Or rather, redemption found me. On the back of a truck, on the busiest freeway in America.

  • Erin Roberts

    Blackbirds

    “I heard the ‘Birds are shooting up houses ’round here.” Pez’s chewed-up Bazooka gum hung half out his mouth as he said it, the pink bright against his dark brown cheek. He’d been talking Blackbirds since he’d popped in the piece over an hour ago – how nobody messed with them, how they wore the nice jackets that the news said somebody got killed for last week, how the girls they hung with were pretty meets fine meets scary-in-a-good-way.

    “I heard the bullets went right through a building, killed a girl right in her sleep, just like that.” He made the point with a snap, loud and sudden. I almost managed not to jump.

    He laughed at me, of course. One of those head-thrown-back full-belly laughs, the ones that made him look like one of my cartoon candy dispensers, complete with his whole wad of gum falling out on the floor. I’d tried calling him Pez out loud for a whole summer, once, but it had never stuck, and when the girls-who-were-pretty started calling him D, there was no way to fight it.

    “Keep your nasty gum in your mouth,” I play-snapped, throwing one of the way-too-many lacy pillows that my Ma seemed to think I liked at his head and missing by a good two feet.

    “Good thing you’re not a banger,” he said, scooping the gum up off the floor and pitching into my Hello Kitty trash can across the room in one shot, “You couldn’t shoot nobody.”

    “Could to.” I tried to close my eyes and roll my neck to the side a little, like the girls-who-were-pretty did, but it just felt like squinting and shaking. Of course. I couldn’t even turn double-dutch right, and I saw 5 year olds doing flips in the ropes like it was nothing.

    Pez started to laugh again, but the new kinda fancy phone his older brother who sometimes came around flashing cash had bought him started buzzing and playing one of those songs that everyone knew but me – something about clubs and money. I knew it was one of the girls-who-were-pretty before he even answered. His whole face melted into one of those smiles that I remembered from summer before last, when we went running into the open fire hydrant or bought Icees on the street and swung around street poles to see how dizzy we’d get.

    “Hold on baby,” he said, holding up his hand like she could see it before mouthing some sort of goodbye in my direction and heading down the hallway to the front door. The last couple of words trailed out as he fiddled with the one too many locks on our door. “Nah, just hanging with Janie. You know, the skinny one with the pimples.”

    My hand was at my face before I could think, tracing. Last year we’d done dioramas of the Pueblo people, and I’d caked too much of the tan-brown paint over the Styrofoam heads, and it had dried blotchy and lumpy, like there was something caught beneath the surface. It was the same with my face and my arms and my skin everywhere, only I couldn’t beg my Daddy to buy another set of Styrofoam balls and do the whole thing over and get an E for excellent. I was stuck with me.

    ‘Course Daddy hadn’t gotten me the new pieces in the end, and I’d still gotten the E, with a matchstick and yarn and popsicle stick village that almost made you want to be one of those ugly-faced Pueblos. “Just make everything else better, and nobody’ll even be looking at their little lumpy heads,” Pez had said, laughing again. He was right. I had to become a Blackbird.

    I started walking out the apartment before I even thought of where to go, tossing a line about going across the street to the library over my shoulder as I went and half-hearing Ma say okay and be-back-before-dark from the kitchen. Pez was still in the hallway outside the front door, laughing low and quiet and different from normal, and dropping babys and honeys every other word, but I blew on by him like he wasn’t there. He could wait ‘til I was a Blackbird girl, pretty meets fine meets scary-in-a-good-way.

    I could see my breath on the air like smoke before I even opened the building front door. Ma would have me mummied up in weather like this, talking about catching-your-death-from-the-cold and adding one more scarf on top of jacket on top of shirt on top of long johns. But Blackbirds didn’t feel the cold, didn’t wish they’d grabbed something to go over their too-thin sweater, didn’t let the slushy piles of dirt-snow covering everything make their toes wet and slimy cold. Blackbirds walked straight and tall and hip-swaying onto the streets that Ma always sped up on while grabbing my hands too hard and tight. Even when they didn’t really know where they were going, and the buildings looked broken, their windows covered with wood and plastic tarp flapping in the wind.

    Pain. Sudden and sharp against my back. I grabbed at it, but my too-short arms didn’t reach that far around. Was this what that other girl felt, the one who was sleeping in her bed and woke up shot? A flash of white-gray flying, and pain again, at my neck, from something icy cold. This wasn’t death and blood – this was ice balls and laughter from just behind my head and deep voices saying dumb bitch walking in the snow and get her ass and bulls-eye. Pain again, at my face now – the dirt-snow working its way against my mouth and tasting like salty grits gone bad. Blackbirds would fight, would take them all out in one blast of fire or guns or something, but I was just skinny Janie with the pimples and I needed to cover cover sit down get down don’t let them get me don’t let them hurt me.

    “Leave her alone!” Pez. His voice was behind me and his arms were around me and it was warmer than before. My eyes were closed too tight, but I could hear you’re out you fucking asshole and we thought you were cool and what is she your girlfriend, angry but fading away into the distance.

    “You okay?” Things hurt still, arms and legs and neck and face, but I nodded, opened my eyes even, and it was just some street again, still covered in dirt-snow and lined with ugly broken buildings.

    “I was gonna be a Blackbird,” I said, like that would explain everything.

    “Yeah, me too.”

    • Graham da Ponte

      Wow, Erin, I just read this. I love it; the writing is crisp and clear and the crazy-made-up adjectives, the run-on sentences of youth-speak really resonate. Well done!!

      • Erin Roberts

        Thank you so much! This is the first short story I’ve finished in years, so I’m just excited to actually be writing again.

  • Rosie Browning

    From Soldier to Warrior
    By Rosie Browning

    It would be an exaggeration to say that I had seen my brother-in-law five times during he and my sister’s marriage of thirty-seven years. Lee was Army, and he prided himself in being tough, rogue tough. In retrospect, I think he was afraid of us because he didn’t always live like he knew he should, and he didn’t always treat my sister like he should have. Lee, who was afraid of no one, thought we would tell him the truth. When my sister Sindy called in July, 2010, with the condemning diagnosis of lung cancer, Lee’s ability to shy away from sister-in-laws was eroded.
    Sindy had a strong faith. She taught a Sunday School class; she volunteered at the church; she loved the people in her church; she loved the Lord. Lee always gave Sindy her space and time with God, but it wasn’t for him. He was comfortable in the world, and calloused to frivolous ideas like God and church ; he had been to Nam; he had been in battle; he didn’t need God. And he knew that he was so bad that God didn’t want him.

    The first of December, Sindy was admitted to the hospital. Lee and their sons and wives tried to help with twenty-four hour nursing , but maintaining jobs and staying at the hospital were impossible to juggle. They needed more help. On Tuesday, my sister and I arrived at the hospital; Lee was by Sindy’s side. She was visibly slipping away. This man hardened by years of hard work and living tough had a façade that was also tumbling away.

    As Sindy struggled for breath, she tried to talk. “S,” she said. We tried to figure out the significance of S. She then whispered A. SA still perplexed, and anxiously worked on what she was trying to tell us. L ! L? What message her message? “V,” she whispered. S A L V “Salvation,” we almost said in unison. Weakly, she nodded her head. Yes, salvation. Then she patted Lee’s hand.

    We left the hospital with the intent of getting their home set up for Hope Hospice. Sindy wanted her last days to be in the home that she had created. A few hours later, we got a call from a broken Lee. Sindy had died. But before she died, Lee gave her this message. “Sindy, it is okay for you to go. The boys and I will be fine. And, I am going to ask for salvation.” She opened her eyes, and with her assurance of Lee’s eternity, she took her last breath.

    Now, a death bed scene, and no one to hold you accountable, would have been an ending, but just that, an ending. However, Lee did ask for salvation. Not only did he ask, he began living the Christian life that would put many Christians to shame. He started reading his Bible, listening to a Christian radio station, and is now out winning souls. He told me that he prays for me and my sisters every day because we are his sisters in the Lord. “Do you know why people don’t come to church?” he asked me. I shook my head because I wasn’t sure. “Because people don’t ask them, and I ask them and they come,” he told me. Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, don’t call Lee at home, he will be in church. If you need a prayer warrior, his name is Lee, my brother in the Lord.

  • http://golfprotalk.blogspot.com/ Robert

    It was strange to consider myself homeless, but here I lie. I’m awake now, I didn’t want to be but I was restless and couldn’t sleep. My senses were monitoring the pitch-blackness. Stealing my sleep was the continuous pounding of the crashing shore break. I was lucky to find this cubby, it was nicely hidden but I knew it wouldn’t last. The freshening breeze stirred. Sitting up, I could see what lay before me by the light of the moon; the ocean was dancing a shimmering ballet.

    Still half asleep, my mind wandered to the events of last week. During a session at Pipe I completely humiliated my new friends Sweeny and Kimo. They talked me up to the locals so I could have a spot in the lineup without the usual fight. If you couldn’t get in the lineup you didn’t get a wave. North shore locals were brutal if they didn’t know you, and they would kick your ass if you took a wave without the nod. You had to have the nod.

    That entire day my fear of the backside drop and the shallow coral reef was too much. I couldn’t take off. On one such wave just as I pulled out Kimo had to back off too and was sucked over the falls and tossed onto the razor sharp reef like a rag doll. Kimo, bloodied and pissed had Sweeny rush him to the hospital. That night, Sweeney tossed me out of the house.

    Suddenly, shadows of movement captured my attention. The beach stretched out into a clearing darkness and through the mist I could make out surfers with boards marching towards the channel. Daylight was no longer a stranger, groups of surfers arrived on the beach simultaneously; a few were walking so near I could smell the smoke of their cigarettes.

    Loudly, my peace and my solitude were rudely invaded.

    “Hoaaaa hey, what the fuck you doing here braddah? Oh, you that haole nearly got Kimo killed last week? That was some real stupid shit!”

    I didn’t see him coming and I lamented the reminder. I recognized the local boy as one of the groupies, a wannabe. I said nothing. I knew he was getting ready to paddle out and wouldn’t stay long.

    “You think you got the balls to paddle out here?”

    I stared at him briefly; just missing the mokes grin as he raced off down the slope, board first, splashing into the shore break.

    Of course I was going to paddle out. I knew Kimo and Sweeny would be in the lineup. Sunset was already breaking a respectable six to eight feet – at dawn – a good sign.
    I had to gather the courage to begin my swim to the lineup where I knew it would get tough. I wouldn’t get any preference this time and I couldn’t be sure the guys would even speak to me. My waxing ritual always takes precisely twenty minutes and I needed that time for the tempest in my mind to leave. It was vital to regain my focus; I knew this would be a marathon session.

    Nearing the lineup I noticed it consisted of all locals and veterans; I recognized most of them. I wondered if they could see the fear I felt as I approached them working to finish my paddle out. Sweeny was ‘talking story’ at the other end of the lineup. He was gesticulating wildly, smiling, laughing and having a good time. He didn’t want me near him; Kimo was there too with his cuts and bruises. I heard he got fifty stitches.

    Mother nature was furious, all of us were thrashing about with every slight movement – the sea-maiden was alive! The swell was building fast, I could feel it, and now the decisions we made could be life and death.

    Intense focus is required as one waits, searching for the slightest change in the watery landscape. She was ready to explode with the brilliance of a huge display, we were there to challenge her, to conquer her; she would take those too timid to the task and spit them out to their own ends. I could sense a shift in the lineup; instinctively I took the prone position.

    “So, you stupid or what braddah, huh … Kimo’s gonna kick your ass if he sees you!”

    “I can’t stay outta da water forever, bradda.” The words felt uncomfortable coming out I didn’t have the accent. I thought about it and decided I could never fake it. I knew a few guys that faked the accent … not me.

    “I’m go get Kimo brah, you bettah paddle back in.”

    Thankfully my words and my actions froze. I took to my board and began a furious paddle to deeper water; no time for talk, the sets rising out toward the horizon were endless, signaling a huge swell. The entire lineup began an epic paddle, it was a race, and it was my chance to regain my standing out here. The guys had to see me take off on something epic, something huge and redeeming. A few of the guys turned back grabbing any wave to safety.

    Fear began rising in my throat, I could sense the danger. Not far out a huge wave approached masking the horizon. I began a furious paddle pumping my arms like windmills, the rest of my body snaking about on my board like a slithering salamander. I hoped to gather as much surface speed as possible. This wave had to be thirty feet and climbing. It took all I had to paddle to the top and to fly down the backside. Breaking the crest I could see an endless supply of these monsters.

    Several of the locals were caught inside and a few went over the falls – a watery thirty-foot cliff. The cliff dive was the easy part, knowing what was coming next was every surfer’s nightmare. You were in for the fight of your life not knowing which way was up; holding your breath hoping to reach the surface.

    I had to survive one of these giants. Finally the long paddle finished I began the selection process. With only six of us left there would be no fight – all that local jargon disappeared, no more cheap talk. These waves were twenty feet and climbing! Only a handful of surfers in the world could drop in on one of these monsters. I picked my girl just as the others began another fierce paddle out. I knew I had to get the drop or the next wave would swallow me up in her deadly wake.

    The drop was insane, the speed was almost too much, my board left the face momentarily and then re-engaged mid-drop. The salty water knifed beneath my board as I made the bottom turn and raced towards the belly. It was so loud I couldn’t hear my own shouts of joy. I knew I would finish this ride and make it to the channel and back to the safety of beach.

    Reaching the shore I could see my redemption would have to wait for another day. Kimo was missing. He must have gotten caught between sets. Sweeney had Kimo’s board and was frantically racing up and down the beach searching the shoreline and the inside shore break. The search went on for three days before Kimo’s body washed up just south of Kaena point.

  • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

    Last Fix

    I woke up on the cold, dingy tile floor with my head throbbing with pain. The tile had a distinct smell to it, a mixture of cleaner, urine and mold. Not exactly the wake up call you’d expect at the Hilton. Or the Holiday Inn. Or wherever I was. Everything in sight was blurry. I immediately looked around for any leftover stash in the bathroom. Nope. I must have used it all and then passed out. I slowly opened the door as the breeze from the air conditioner made a million goose bumps appear on my naked body. Everything was out of focus as I tried to piece together what happened last night. Then I remembered: I made a quick sale, picked up a girl, and mainlined some stuff.

    I walked across the dingy white tile to the faded blue carpet in the hotel room. An attractive blonde in her twenties laid in bed covered by a white sheet. I walked over to the small table next to the bed with her small black purse on it and glanced inside. Good. She was didn’t take any cash or smack. Then I noticed my pants, shirt, underwear and sandals on the floor. I grabbed my jeans and found a wad of cash in my front left pocket. My ID, a couple credit cards and my wedding ring filled out the other front pocket. I threw my clothes on, hoping the blonde did not wake up. I walked over to the table across from the foot of the bed. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the blonde shift in the bed. Time to move, now. Nothing good could come from her waking up. She was either going to try to get some more stuff from me or want to have an awkward conversation that just drained all of the fun out of the night before. I tiptoed toward the door, careful not to make a sound. As I opened the door, it creaked as I walked out into the hall. Then I heard my name several times as I walked away from the door. “Jonny? Jonny?”

    “Okay, now where am I again?” I thought to myself. I snaked through the drab hotel as my head continued to throb.
    I felt a weird sensation on my leg. Then it stopped. Then it the feeling came back. Then it stopped. I put my hand in my back pocket. My phone was on vibrate. Gina. No way, not now. I’ll call back later. She thinks I’m on a business trip in Dallas. Not, well, wherever I am. I walked out into the parking lot and noticed my silver Civic. I climbed in and sped out of the parking lot, relieved to see the GPS that could get me out of wherevers-ville.

    As I cruised down the interstate, my cell phone rang again. This time the call said private. I let the phone continue to vibrate. Then a couple minutes later, a private number called again. And again. A half an hour later, I decided to listen to the three voice mails that had piled up on his phone. It was well, whatever that blonde’s name was. She sounded more distraught with each additional phone call, pleading for me to call her back and there was some drivel about someone coming by the hotel room looking for me. She obviously couldn’t handle the heavy stuff and was probably still half asleep.

    About five hours later, I pulled into the driveway. It was dark inside, with the minivan noticeably missing from the driveway. I noticed it was about 5:30, so I figured Gina probably took Tony somewhere to eat. As I entered the house, something felt different. The furniture was still in the same place, and Tony’s puzzle pieces were still scattered on the living room floor. Something felt odd. I shook the feeling off and wandered into the kitchen. My eyes immediately focused on the piece of white paper on the table.The torn piece of paper had a phone number scrolled on it in black pen.

    I called Gina and the call went straight to voice mail. I hung up and decided to call the number on the table.
    A deep, confident voice on the other end of the line answered. “Jonny, I’ve been expecting your call. I’m here with Gina and your son Tony.” I felt my heart leep into my throat as I tried to blurt out a sentence. “What? Why are they with you?”

    “You have two options. You can run and I’ll come find you. Or you can turn yourself in today and you might eventually see your family in a few years. I know absolutely everything about you, and Gina does too now. My name is Special Agent Ryan and I’ll be seeing you soon.”

    The cocky FBI agent’s words sent shivers down my spine. Before I heard the dial tone, I was already out the door and had popped the car trunk. I pulled out my hand gun out of a small black case from inside the trunk. Then I hopped in the drivers seat and squealed the tires as I took off down the street. My mind raced faster and faster. I pulled over at a gas station. I knew they were probably watching me, so I didn’t have much time. I pulled my last syringe out of the middle console and tucked it into my pocket. Then I took my handgun and stuck it in the waist of my pants and hopped out of the car.

    Within a few minutes, all of the pain, fears and FBI agents would go away. My mind raced briefly toward Gina and Tony as I went into the men’s bathroom and locked the door. As I entered the bathroom, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and stared into it for a moment. I turned on the faucet and splashed some cold water on my face to calm down. I pulled out the syringe and got ready for the rush. My hands shook uncontrollably as pain shot down my arms and chest. I was overdue for a fix. I dropped the syringe on the tile floor and it shattered, spraying a fine mist of heroin all over the floor. I immediately dove to the floor in an attempt to salvage any of the drug. I slammed my hand down on the tile and groaned in pain as the cold tingling sensation spread throughout my hand, intensifying more every second.

    I sat on the floor and as tears poured from my eyes. I cradled the cold gun in my hands. I tried to hold my arm up as pain went up and down my arm. The gun became heavier in my shaky fingers as I elevated it higher. I thought of the smiles on our faces at our wedding day. Our first date. The smell of her hair. The feel of her kiss. The first time I held Tony in my arms. The sleepless nights. His first steps. His first words. My fingers tightened and then loosened the grip of the gun. The gun fell back to the floor and I pushed the send button on my phone.

    • Marianne Vest

      Well done as usual Jim, petty gritty but well done.

      • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

        I really appreciate it Marianne! So nice of you to say. I am trying to grow as a writer and try new things. Which is very fun, challenging and scary all at the same time. I’m blown away that you enjoyed it. Thanks.

    • Yvette Carol

      You definitely have a way with words, put me right there. Vivid depictions of scene. Well done!

      • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

        Thank you so much Yvette! I really appreciate that!

    • http://www.madd0g.org/ Mo “Mad Dog” Stoneskin

      I enjoyed this immensely, it geniunely gave me a rush as I sped through it, addictive writing and the scenes and emotions were pure class.

      • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

        Thank you so much. I sincerely am blown away. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

    Against my better judgement this month’s submission is a sequel to my submission last month, Hidden Love. I wrote it to stand alone but if you would like to read the first part of the story you can read it here: http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/2012/03/hidden-love-short-story.html
    I tried to write other stories but this was the one that wanted to be written.

    ***

    Redeemed Love

    Stella awoke to the sweet sound of a mockingbird. Turning over she glanced at the digital numbers of the alarm clock, 12:45 am. Moonlight flooded her bedroom. The song of the little bird stood out in stark contrast to the night.

    Sighing heavily Stella thought of tomorrow’s task. It had been five years since her grandmother had died. The beautiful white house that had been grandma’s pride was now overgrown and neglected. Unable to care for it the family had decided it was time to let it go.

    By virtue of her proximity the task had fallen on her to deal with the logistics of selling the house. It also didn’t hurt that she was unattached so her siblings assumed she had the time to spare, which she did, but that was beside the point. Listed several months ago it hadn’t received a lot of attention; due mostly to it’s run down and out dated state. Tomorrow morning she was meeting a man interested in the old place.

    Stella woke early to make the thirty minute drive to the little town her whole family had been raised in. Stretching sleepy limbs, she noticed the sound of the mockingbird floating on cool morning air through her open window. Had he sung through the night? His song lifted her spirits; it had the feel of a promise.

    Pulling up to the two story, white frame house her heart sank. It had been several weeks since she had been here. The warm spring weather had opened the azalea blossoms and sent them cascading in an unruly curtain of pink down the sides of the house. The grass was too tall and had gone to seed. Branches from last week’s storm littered the big yard.

    Walking across the cracked walkway to the old fashioned, wide porch Stella noted the curled paint peeling from the woodwork. Her grandmother would have blushed with shame at such a sight.

    The sound of tires on gravel roused her from her revery. A young man in his thirties stepped out of a sharp black Nissan. He strode purposely toward her, confident and pleasant faced. She noticed how his hair shown in the sunlight and his blue eyes twinkled like a boy with a secret.

    “Hello, I’m Ben Hadley.” He offered his hand in warm greeting. No ring she noticed to herself.

    “And I’m Stella Blake, so nice to meet you,” she responded. His warm manner put her at ease.

    “This is such a beautiful place; peaceful and quiet.”

    Surprised she agreed, “My grandmother loved it here she tended her flower beds and garden devotedly. Of course it needs a good bit of work now.”

    “Yes but it won’t take too long to put it right. The house is structurally sound, isn’t it?”

    “I’m afraid it will need a new roof and some minor repairs, but it is sound other than that. It’s been empty for several years. I’m sure it will need some work inside as well,” she finished weakly.

    He didn’t seem to care about the condition of the house in the least and brushed her concerns aside. She could tell his excitement was mounting.

    “Shall we go in and take a look around?” She had been dreading this sad moment. A lump welled in her throat as she unlocked the glass paneled front door. A hundred girlhood memories flashed through her mind. Light filtered in from the tall windows and fell in long rectangles across the dusty wood floor like church windows consecrating her past.

    Ben enthusiastically explored the downstairs, commenting on the house’s old fashioned state. Stella’s defense of her grandparent’s simplicity brought his assurance that he preferred it untouched. Curious Stella asked about his interest in the house as they mounted the large wooden stair way.

    “Actually my interest is personal,” Ben confessed.

    “Oh,” Stella’s brows arched up in question.

    “Yes,” he continued, “A couple of years ago my grandfather told me about a girl he had loved as a young man. World War II had kept them apart and she had married someone else, but he had always loved her. He married my grandmother a few years later. They had one son, their only child. She died young, when my dad was just eight. Grandad never remarried.”

    “How sad,” Stella replied, “but I don’t quite see the connection.”

    “As he got older Grandad missed this girl he had loved. Not that he hadn’t loved my grandmother, but I think it was regret that nagged him. Before he died last year he asked if I could find her. Grandad had made a good deal of money and he mentioned he wanted to make sure she was comfortable and cared for in her old age. I wasn’t able to do what he asked before he died, but not long ago I traced her and found this was her house.”

    In a quavery whisper Stella breathed, “What was his name?”

    “Edward Hadley.”

    “Oh,” gasped Stella, tears swimming in her eyes. “You’re Edward’s grandson!” She could scarcely believe it. “Then you’ll want to see these.”

    “You know about my grandfather?” Stella liked how his face displayed his emotions with the vulnerability of a child.

    “Yes, I know about Edward.” She led him into the spare room with the faded rose wallpaper. Reaching up on a shelf in the dusty closet she lifted down a dark wooden box and matching key. “I found this the week my grandmother died. It was a surprise to me. Grandma had never spoken about Edward and she and my grandfather were very happy together.”

    Stella handed Ben the box of letters telling the story of their grandparent’s love and loss. It was a heartbreaking tale of young passion, the separation and miscommunication of war, loss, acceptance and new life.

    “At the time I didn’t know why I left the box here. It felt funny to take it with me. Part of it belonged to me, it was my grandmother’s story, but the other part didn’t. So I left it with the house. Now I know why.”

    Ben and Stella’s eyes met in understanding. Gently taking the box from him she opened it with the little key and lifted the lid. There on top of the letters the faces of May and Edward smiled back at their grandchildren. Stella lifted out the picture and looked closely at the yellowed images. Lifting a tear stained face to Ben she smiled, “You know you really look so like him.”

    Raising his hand he gently brushed a tear away, and then took the photograph from her. Looking closely, fondly, he nodded, “People always said I did favor him.” Looking up he added, “You look a lot like your grandmother as well, odd isn’t it…” his voice trailed off.

    Surprised and disconcerted by the emotions rising in her heart Stella abruptly turned back to business. Taking a step away from him she asked, “So, you’re interested then?”

    He smiled knowing she was putting space between them, “Yes,” he answered softly, his gaze direct, “I’m interested.”

    His pointed response made her blush, she ducked her head and smiled, pleased.

    “I’ll take it,” he declared.

    A mockingbird burst into joyful song; a celebration of old things being made new.

    • Marianne Vest

      Oh that’s such a good ending to the other one from last month. Are you thinking of making it into one story?

      • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

        Thanks Marianne. It was fun to write. I don’t know if I’ll do anything with it or not. Maybe down the road. I’m finishing up one novel and have a second one brewing at the moment.

  • Martha Holmgren

    We are deeply grateful to you for writing this story. It reminds us of the healing we all need in one way or the other.

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  • alvarezml

    nice imagery “The stone sleeps in the darkness of its secret underground world until the earth heaves and turns…”

  • http://letmemoveyou.me Shelley Lundquist

    I didn’t see my second story listed below… was wondering if it had been removed?

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Hi Shelley,

      Strange. Nope I didn’t remove it. What was it called?

      Joe

      • http://letmemoveyou.me Shelley Lundquist

        I submitted 2 with the same name… then after I had posted it, I changed the name on the longer version to avoid confusion. I can”t even recall what I changed it to. Maybe it was – I Think She Almost Believes Me… ?

      • http://letmemoveyou.me Shelley Lundquist

        I recall now… She Almost Believes Me. It may not have been the best story, but it took a lot of courage to share it. To not see it here with the rest makes me feel a little sad.

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          Hi Shelley. It makes me sad too, really sad. I don’t know what happened, and since I was traveling in the middle of the contest, I didn’t have time to investigate as much as I should have. I’m so sorry. I feel terrible.

          • http://letmemoveyou.me Shelley Lundquist

            Well, I don’t want you to be sad, too! Please don’t feel badly. What’s happened, happened. If there’s a glitch, maybe this will help uncover it.

            It was odd, though. A couple of people said when I first posted that they saw both versions. Did you read both versions?

            But when I changed the title so it would be less confusing, it disappeared and said somehting like… waiting for moderation.

            Anyway, on to the next! Hope you had a wonderful trip! : )

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