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Archive for Stories

Fall 2014 Issue of Stone Path Review has been published

The Fall 2014 issue of Stone Path Review is now available for reading at http://www.stonepathreview.com and http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/823370?__r=322616

Interview with: Peter Vircks
Poetry by: Amanda Barusch, Anuja Ghimire, Deonte Osayande, Gary Glauber, Lisa Megraw, Ralph Monday, Robert Henschel, Jr., Rochelle Natt, Salvatore Folisi, Samantha Tetangco, Wendy Brown-Baez
Short Story by: John Richmond
Paintings by: Margaret Karmazin
Photography by: Kristy Johnson, Louis Staeble, Rohnda Monroy
Photography for written pieces by: Twisted Root Studios


Stone Path Review Fall 2014

Stone Path Review: Stone Path Review Fall 2014

Issue twelve of the artistic journal Stone Path Review featuring an interview with a musician, poetry, short story, paintings, and images of people and nature. The focus is what we harvest and what we become.

Find out more on MagCloud

Summer 2014 Issue Now Available

Volume 3, issue 11 of Stone Path Review is now available for your reading pleasure.

This issue features an interview with a goat farmer, Beth Donovan; photography by A.J. Huffman, Aaron Bowen, Brian Biggs, Claire Ibarra, Galen Faison, and John Sikkila; and writing by David Rutter, J.B. Mulligan, Jeffrey Willius, John Michael Flynn, Kathleen Lindstrom, Kathryn Hujda, Michael Gould, Michael K. Gause, and Sarah Nour.

 

Stone Path Review Summer 2014

Stone Path Review: Stone Path Review Summer 2014

Latest issue of the artistic journal Stone Path Review featuring an interview with a goat farmer, poetry, short stories, and images of people and nature.

Find out more on MagCloud

Story – The Steppes

rape field


Photo from the public domain


The Steppes, by Robert Schmidt

Sahim wore a long linen robe, the excess bunched and thrown over his shoulder, and a turban wrapped carefully around his head. His gray eyes were small and deep set, and a long thick beard grew down to his chest. He was working though the poppy fields – back bent and with hast – as he was nearing the end of the harvest.

The poppy had a long stalk that terminated into a bulb, where atop, a small delicate purple flower projected. Before the flower would bloom, the top of the bulb was marked with delicate lines that would radiate out from the center like the spokes of a wheel. It was on the bulb that he was cutting thin slices. In time, milky ooze would run down the sides and dry to a black resin. But you had to do it just right. Too deep and the flowers would die, too shallow, and no resin would form.

He had been working all day, and his hands were coated in the sticky and pungent resin. He paused to take a breath, looking outward. His crop grew next to a winding stream, the water like a desperate trickle through the long snaking bed of muted stone. The far bank sloped upward and leveled into a flat plain of grass, splotched and thinning, as herding goat moved about in the distance. Looking further, he could see the red earth scattered with jagged rock and cavernous hollows. Tall skinny sheers of rock like stalagmites, dwarfed by the rising immensity of the steppes stretching across the horizon. It was a breathtaking dichotomy. The flats, sunny and hot, while the steppes were cold and cloaked with hazy clouds and mist that diffused the sunlight into a myriad subtlety of purple, red, and orange as if haloed in a mystical aura like some distant pantheon suspended in the sky.

He dropped his hand and hunched over and continued on amidst the long ordered rows of bulbs – no wind, a brief scattering of purple, that sense of calm and total isolation – till the light of day was all but gone.

When Sahim finished he was exhausted. His hands were rubbed raw and a pit was growing in his stomach. He gathered his tools and placed them in a sling and slung it across his back, and then climbed down the steep embankment towards the stream to wash up. The sound of the water, meandering and gurgling through the rock, was pleasant as of rhythmic paddle strokes. From his knees he bent and washed his hands and splashed water on his face and took a long drink and then he looked up, water dripping through his beard. The rocky river banks seemed immense around him; the dark swath of purplish black sky carved out above like seen though a slit. He felt very moved as if coming to the end of a long journey. He closed his eyes and spoke a prayer of thankfulness, and then climbed back up the embankment and began his trek back towards his home.

The path wound away from the river and cut across the flat desolate land before branching off, one part towards his home, the other towards the village. The land felt lonesome and unending, but he could now see firelight far away like bright points of light ebbing. It was comforting to see that light ahead of him and to think of his children, wife and the smell of his hearth.

In time, he was near. The dark rounded silhouette of his home rising up as if out of the land. The house was constructed from packed straw and mud; the exterior a light brown and smooth. Windows were cut into the walls, and a flicker of candlelight could be seen, as a thin stream of smoke curled from the roof. He walked around to the rear. A crude fence corralled a goat and a few slumbering chickens, and a large wooden basin was filled with water, while a tarnished dipper hung from an old split nail. Sahim crouched down in front of a shed that abutted the back wall. Fully dark, he was guided by vague outlines, opening the rusted lock and swinging open the door. He took his tools and placed them in the back, and re-clasped the lock and brushed off the front of his gown.

When he came in through the front, his wife raised her head from a meal she was preparing in the center of the large common room. Sahim said, “Good evening.”

“Welcome husband.”

“How is the mother of my son?”

She bowed her head in a sign of respect, her face solemn and refrained.

“I am well.”

His son was crouched on the dirt floor next to her. His daughter, sitting in the corner next to a clay oven set into the wall, her head bent downward, while poking at the fire. The room was warm and smoky. There was little furniture to speak of. The center point of the room was the fire pit, where his wife had laid out a collection of clay bowls and rough weaved wool, frayed at the edges. Sahim crossed the room and patted his son on the head.

“My son. My little Amir.”

He remained quiet, a shy boy, but he smiled. Sahim looked again at his wife and said, “I will clean up and then dinner will be served.”

“Yes my husband.”

And as he walked towards the back, his wife said to their daughter, “Flip them and be done with it.”

“Their not ready to be flipped.”

“Why must you argue.”

“I’m sorry, let me …”

She flipped the naan and her mother smiled.

“You see they were almost burnt.”

Sahim stepped back in the room. They grew silent.

“What is that you women speak of?”

“Nothing. How are you tonight?”

“Tired and very hungry.”

His wife smiled.

“I have cooked extra.”

Sahim sat down on a cushion next to his son and his wife brought him a cup of tea. His daughter was just finishing placing pieces of naan in a large bowl, and she carried it to them and placed it next to a group of smaller bowls that contained meat stock and dried buttermilk. She sat, completing the circle they had formed around the fire pit. Sahim said, “We should celebrate tonight for the reaping has been completed. We have been blessed.”

They bent their heads and were quiet, observing a ritual. Sitting there, cross-legged, with his long grayish beard and sun cracked face, Sahim looked like some Sufi prophet. And when sufficient time had passed, he raised his cup and pronounced, “In the name of the all merciful and compassionate Allah we may start to eat.”

They washed their hands with water from a copper pot and then they began. They ate from the same bowls, the meal meager, so they tried to eat slowly, savoring every bite. The smell of bread, spice, and musk intermingled into a homey aroma, and the fire cast the tan dirt walls with a warm orange light, while the far recesses still lay in pockets of shadow. Silence as they ate: a look, a passed bowl, the gentle splash of water as they washed their hands in the copper pot.

Sahim stopped eating and set the bowl of meat stock down, resting his hands on his knees. His daughter was now bareheaded, her long dark glossy hair spilling over her shoulders. She was pretty. Her skin was caramel and smooth with eyes dark. He watched as she ate as if trying to divine an answer to a question, as yet, unasked. She noticed his stare and began to eat with a familiar self-consciousness, her head down and with small slow bites.

“Have you heard from your husband?”

“No sir, not since last week.”

Sahim rubbed the point of his beard in thought.

“This is not like him to be gone so long without word. It worries me.”

His wife said, “Perhaps they have extended his work.”

“If they had done so, then he would have still sent word, or at least the money back from which he had earned the week before. I do not like this. It is very disrespectful to us and to you.”

“Something must have happened you know that he is not like this.”

“Then I am worried. Listen. I must go to the village tomorrow. I could be gone for a few days, but I will send word if it is for any longer.”

“We are almost out of provisions.”

“I know this women. I will try to return as quickly as possible, do nothing to the animals, if anything visit Deqhar.”

“Papa?”

“Yes.”

“Can I come with you?”

Sahim’s stern face, suddenly, broke into a smile like a stone mask that cracks.

“My little Amir, soon. Soon you will come to the village with me, and soon you will come to the fields with me, and you will grow to be big and strong and brave like a great lion. Wife?”

“Yes?”

“Fetch us some of the yogurt. It is time to celebrate.”

Sahim patted Amir on his head and sat back and sipped the remainder of his tea, forgetting about his daughter’s husband. He thought of his crop and about his son growing older and the many [possibilities. The idea made him very satisfied and he was happy.

They were asleep. The two children curled up beside their parents, chests rhythmically rising and falling, Sahim’s head laid to the side, his beard tickling the top of his sons head. A large trunk sat against the wall, the corners covered in bronze, linen neatly folded atop. The shade for the window was made of woven straw and angled just open; a thin yawn of night could be seen. Tranquil and quiet.

A thunderous explosion awoke Sahim. It was so close. A momentary lull … and then the concussion blasted their home, the walls of the house cracking, straw separating from mud, the goat outside bleating like some wild alarm; and it was as if time had slowed to the minutest of points, every motion cataloged and delayed in some terrifying aspect as he scrambled to his feet, the screams from his children, his wife shouting, his own heart pounding panic. And then came another explosion. The ground rippled with such a violent force, a brilliant red and orange flash, his ears ringing. The roof and walls blew a cinder and caved in like a hole collapsing in upon itself, the desperate look on his wife’s face, hands outstretched, a roof beam falling, crushing …

In that perfect unity of time and place, a tomb was created from their home. A home where once love had been made, children born, and meals prepared. Now burning, a thick billowing black smoke pouring upwards into the starry night.

The sunrise began with a subtle lightening on the horizon. Soon, the sun will emerge out of the desultory and craggy land. From where Sahim sat he could see the rubble of his home, but he dared not look, sitting with his head between his legs. In his arm he held a long staff, his other carried in a sling. He sat next to three graves. There were no headstones, only a piling of rock like small rounded hills. He had sat this way for the last two days, as those from the surrounding villages came and paid their respects. He had not eaten nor washed. He had not thought about the deaths of his loved ones. He had not thought of what he would do next, as if in total shock.

As the sun was rising, a small figure appeared on a distant hill. Sahim watched as it wound its way down. It paused at the rubble of his home and then continued towards him, slowly growing larger, the figures white robe bright, as the sun reflected off it. The figure came to a standstill in front of Sahim and was quiet, no introduction, no greeting, as if he knew this was trivial in comparison to the tragedy that Sahim had suffered.

Sahim, for the first time looked lucid, and he stood and clasped his hand over his heart and said, “It is good to see you Deqhar.”

“You as well my friend. I offer you a thousand blessings.”

Deqhar embraced him. They held close for many seconds.

“I am so sorry my dear friend, so sorry.”

They withdrew and Sahim watched as Deqhar walked to the side of the graves and bent down on his knees and placed his hands on ground and bent his head onto them. He began to recite a prayer in a low voice, his head rising and falling, and when he was finished he stood, and the two walked from the graves, hands clasped behind the smalls of their backs.

For a while they were quiet, and then Deqhar asked, “What do you plan on doing now?”

“I have had no time to consider that in the last few days.”

“You must consider. You cannot lay in grief forever. You must pay the necessary respect and then you must be strong and begin anew.”

Sahim held his head downward, those small eyes of his growing ever smaller, as inward they looked, his essence laid bare and exposed like a wound. A wind swept up and their robes gently fluttered.

“Come of you man, what have you to say?”

Sahim turned his head up and looked at him with a penetrating gaze.

“I know that I must consider and be strong. I know this to be the truth. I trust that there is purpose behind this, that I will find them waiting for me in the afterlife, but my friend how much pain I feel and how angry I am that this is to happen to me. Why has this befallen me and not the man that strays? Why must my wife be crushed, my daughter burned…”

His eyes had begun to grow watery and his bottom lip trembled, he turned his face away.

“My little Amir, my boy, my son!”

“You must not cry. I beseech you to remain strong and remember the pillars in this moment. You must not fall from the path. Listen my brother, after tomorrow I will go with you to Sharana and we will visit the army office and submit a claim for your wronging, and then you will come with me and I will take you into my home, until you can rebuild. It is no shame. You still have your crop do you not?”

“Yes.”

“Well, all is not lost.”

Sahim had stopped crying and was wiping his eyes. Deqhar stood next to him, stolid, his face old with splotches of white in his beard. When he spoke he did so with an assertive cadence, almost magisterial, eyes stern like the stone on which they walked.

“Have you heard from your brother?”

“I have not.”

“I would have thought he would come to pay his respects.”

“I don’t even know if he is still alive.”

“You see what his jihad has gotten him? Away from you and your family in this time of need, while he is off in the mountains living in caves, and for what? What has he changed? This is a war that we cannot fight with weapons, but with our sheer resistance by maintaining our way of life. In time the foreign invaders will leave.”

“Yes, but what until then? Were they not the ones that bombed my home?”

“It was an accident.”

“But if they had not been here in the first place.”

They faced in the direction of the steppes. The sun was rising quickly, one side of the river valley cast in shade, the summery green plains adjoined by vast stretches of hard rocky earth.

“I know that you feel that you have been wronged. But there is a purpose for you. You have been chosen and you must remain devout. When my youngest took sick I prayed and did all that I could for her to get better, but alas, it did not change anything. I was saddened, but I told myself that this was the ways things were and that I must accept.”

He looked up towards the sky.

“She is in a better place now.”

“God bless.”

“You will come with me tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

“I will leave you then to continue your mourning.”

On the third day Sahim was still sitting by the gravesides. The shock was replaced by maddening and convoluted thought. He thought of so many things, running his whole life through his mind as if trying to discern some meaning, some pattern, and he would break down and cry, and then build himself back up only to do it again.

At first he did not see the group of men crossing the plains towards him. The came quickly and moved with a practiced ease, covered head to toe with dark cloth and wearing packs. Slung on their shoulders were the long stocks of AK-47 automatic rifles, the magazine clips long and curved. Sahim sat up when he saw them, and as they approached, he recognized his brother at the front.

Forgetting any introduction, they came together and embraced each other. Sahim held him at arms length.

“My brother I thought you were dead. How good it is to see you!”

“I am sorry to have come in this way, but when word reached of what happened, I knew that you would need my help. What has happened is a tragedy. I am very sorry for you. But thou knows that the most merciful God has taken into his arms the pureness and righteousness of your loved ones in all of his infinite wisdom. They are in a better place now brother.”

Sahim began to cry.

“My brother, my only family, why, what has befallen me?”

“Please do not cry. Do not let them see you cry brother.”

Sahim, eyes welling, face tragic and imploring, looked at his brother.

“You know that you shouldn’t have come. You put each of us in danger, but it is so good to see you. I have known nothing since the day.”

The other men had collected behind his brother, guns still slung, and eyes casting about warily. They were a rugged group, their faces long and drawn in. Beards thick and untrimmed.

“I came for you brother, for are you not ready to join our jihad? God has sent you a message, thou had strayed and now he asks of you to take the true path towards righteousness. Dost thou not see? All else is subordinate to his will.”

Sahim looked hesitant, his eyes searching his brothers, them still holding each other at arms length, and then he turned and looked back over his shoulder at the rubble of what once his home, and his face became grim, as anger flashed within his eyes.

“I am.”

“We will have our vengeance against these blasphemers.  Like a stone we will not move…”

“Look!”

His brother turned and saw one of the men pointing towards the sky, where a bright metallic point flashed like quartz in granite.

“We must go now!”

“Move, move.”

“I must wait till night fall!”

“We cannot or there will be no nightfall to speak of. Let us go brother, say goodbye.”

Hurriedly, they slipped away, becoming part of the land. Sahim looking back once at the three graves, the rubble of rock, his home. They headed towards the steppes, crossing the green plains and rocky flats, slowly climbing ever upward, until they could no longer be seen.

Short Story – Becoming Ted and Mabel

elizabeth-templeman_edit


Photo by Twisted Root Studios


Becoming Ted and Mabel, by Elizabeth Templeman

Ted lived in the basement of their house by the lake.  It was dark, pleasantly cool and damp on a summer afternoon, and unkempt from the top step as far as the eye could see, which wasn’t far.  My memory is of him answering the door at the top of the stairs, squinting in the sunlight, bare-chested and clad in plaid boxers, trailing the sweet smell of cigar smoke.

Mabel lived upstairs, on the main floor.  It was elegant and sunlit, stretching from the doorway through an open kitchen and into a vast living room lined with bookshelves.  At the centre stood a grand piano of dark gleaming wood.  Mabel appeared, in the midst of it all, more petite than she had once been.

Age was shrinking her body, and a fondness for dry sherry, clouding her once sharp mind.  She would have intended to be first to the door, to avert the humiliation of Ted in his underwear.  But, though she’d look lovely—in a silky shirtwaist dress, bedecked with jewellery and trimmed with lace—she’d forget the sound of the doorbell, or muddle what it signified.

Clear across town and a lifetime before their split-level cohabitation at that house above the lake, Ted and Mabel—Mr. and Mrs. Strong as we would have called them then—had been our nearest neighbours.  They weren’t the closest, a term reserved, in our childhood vernacular, to affection, rather than proximity. (The closest neighbours, for me anyway, would have been the Montgomery’s, principally because of Marcia, my best friend.)  In the fifties, or in Maine, or maybe just in our neighbourhood (though I suspect not), closeness evoked a different quality than it tends to today.  At that time, Ted and Mabel’s home was the nearest, their yard beginning on the far side of our swing set.  But there may as well have been a gulf between our home and theirs, rather than a slightly descending slope and span of grass.

Ted and Mabel inhabited a class apart from us, or the Montgomery’s, or certainly from the neighbours further along South Main Street toward the bustle and grit of downtown.  Ted was an engineer.  Mabel taught piano.  In her home on Main Street there were three pianos—a pair of baby grand’s for her pupils and her own grand piano behind them—in a room curtained off from sun or distraction. The room smelled faintly of perfume and—odd, for a room full of pianos—inspired a hush, and the stab of awareness that I was too clumsy and artless to belong there.

In their home next to ours on South Main Street, Ted and Mabel lived together, or certainly gave the impression that they shared the house in the usual way of married couples.  Ted was the friendlier one.  From heavy framed photographs leaning on the pianos and hanging on their walls, I could see—even as a kid—that he had always been lean and handsome.  Mabel was pretty in a delicate way, and elegant no doubt from birth.  She was classically trained, but I don’t know where or how.  It never would have occurred to us to ask, or to her to elaborate.

Outside, around their house, Ted grew mint along the shrubbery, and roses, and a few rows of vegetables.  Sometimes he’d bring my mother a bag brimming with Swiss chard—never much appreciated by us kids—which she’d steam and serve with potatoes.  They had one son, Ted Junior, whom I only remember as grown up and living away.  He’d visit every summer with his own single son, Ted III.  Ted the Third was younger than me by a couple years.  I remember him appearing one summer sporting a plastic beanie with a propeller on top.  Why I remember that I’ll never understand, but somehow I think that I covet it still.

In the house next door, we were the big noisy family whose father was away more than not, and who managed to appear well fed, decently dressed, and tolerably mannered.  My brother and older two sisters took piano lessons from Mabel.  They claim to have hated piano, but when we’re together now, they share jokes about piano practice still, in a way that makes me envy all it might have been for them.  Though a piano still stood in our living room, piano lessons were out of the question for my younger sister and me.  I think that my mother was exhausted by trying to hold up to whatever high standards she perceived to be expected of mothers of piano students.

Mabel had a sister who lived alone a block further up the street.  None of us can remember her name, nor quite why we would sometimes visit her.  But my clear and sole memory of a doorway opening from the side of the house suggests it was to await treats on Halloween night.  Probably She was older, and widowed, I think. There was talk of another sister who had died in childbirth.  Forty years later, in the unimaginably remote future, Mabel will sometimes call my mother by the names of her sisters, both, by then, long gone.

In the fall of 1979, I had returned to Maine to get married.  Monty and I had fallen in love in university, and sustained a long-distance relationship after he graduated and went back to Canada to work.  Marriage was our first solid step into a shared adulthood, having no set plans about where to live or what to do for a living.  We were aware of, and yet not particularly burdened by, the various and sometimes contradictory dreams and expectations of our families: those of my mother, the more typical immigrant family drive for a life of wealth and importance; and those of my husband’s family, which seemed to centre on working hard and having pride in that work.  As for us, we were deeply in love and shared only vague dreams of home, land, and children; dreams largely unexplored and most certainly not yet articulated.

After our wedding, we would be separated again for the winter while I completed a teaching practicum, and Mont went back to work, to save for our vaguely imagined future.  In the short time between wedding and yet another separation, my mother propelled us into taking on a job.  I never knew whether she was motivated by a sense of obligation (hers), or opportunity (ours).  Whatever the reasons, we were to pack up Ted and Mabel’s possessions for their last move.

In the years I had been away growing up—making my way through university and a range of jobs, seeking adventure and knowledge and love—Mabel and Ted been growing old in their retirement home.  They had become, by now, too frail to live alone in that house on the lake.  Their son would be moving them out to Milwaukee, to live in a suite in his family home.

My mother, somewhere along her own trajectory—between leaving our childhood home and neighbourhood, her kids growing up and, one by one, moving away—had unaccountably drifted into looking after Ted and Mabel.  By now her apartment was in the middle of town, and theirs, over the lake along its more gentrified edges.  Despite the distances, she would call them every morning, pick up their groceries and Mabel’s weekly bottle of sherry, take them for doctor appointments.

So perhaps it’s not so surprising that, as those years of care and whatever closeness they had forged came to a close, she had offered us up to do their packing.  Such are peculiar loops and dips that propel us; and the circumstances that pry the lid off one’s life, opening us up to intimacy where we’d least expect to find it.

I vaguely remember meeting with Ted Junior, himself the most jarring reminder of his father’s long-ago charm and rugged good looks, as he provided us with some general direction of what to box up and label for the movers, and what to discard.  I believe we were paid, and also encouraged to sell what we could and keep whatever we liked of the things not moved.  The instructions—ambiguous in a way that flattered me then—presumed the capacity to interpret the accumulation of a lifetime, and conferred upon us powers of discernment that today strikes me as astonishing, and dismaying.

I don’t remember any cogent conversation with Mabel or Ted, only awkward good byes.  While they had become, in the years since I’d left home, enmeshed in my mother’s life, I had, after all, hardly seen them in the years between twelve and twenty-five.   Had they had a share in the decision to move to the mid-west?  Would they even have agreed between themselves?  No one seems to remember these things.  What my mother—herself ninety two, older than Mabel was then—remembers with certainty, is that a couple short months after that move to a home not their own, far from Maine, they would die: first Ted, and weeks later, Mabel.

What had once been elegance had given way to eccentricity.  For us, newly wed, secure in youth and love and possibility, Ted and Mabel’s split-level co-existence seemed amusing. But even then, we had the good sense to recognize the poignancy of their being moved from Maine, with what was, in all probability, at best only a dazed acquiescence.

As dissimilar as they always were, they would have been in love once.  I had seen the wedding picture, mounted on one wall of that piano room back on South Main Street—in love, despite and because of their differences.  I envision Ted as a romantic and Mabel as the exotic, charming one—always a Prima Dona.  Somehow, by the time they reached their eighties, those differences had become irreconcilable—or at least too great to commingle, comfortably, in a single space.  Somewhere along the way the differences lost allure.  Somehow, what had once drawn two individuals into a union produced, instead, a chasm—albeit one navigated, as needed, by a stairway.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so astonished to have Ted and Mabel show up the day I sat down to write quite a different essay than this.  But it has surprised me to recognize, in the months during, which thoughts and memories of them have roamed my mind, the extent to which their lives touched mine, and then to note how the stuff of their lives has entered our lives.

Today, my husband and I live in a home we built.  Enough years have past to see it evolve from fragrant with newly sawn pine, to noisy with kids bounding up and down stairs, to run down and then repaired, bit by bit.  The kids are now adults, even the youngest away at university.          It’s a quiet home now, finer than I’d ever have imagined as a child, yet filled with family clutter, and reminders of other pasts, and older influences.   On a shelf in our newly renovated kitchen rest three nesting bowls of Oxford stoneware from Mabel’s kitchen.  They’re heavy and beautiful—cornflower blue, with ivory lids.  The biggest lid is missing, and the smallest is chipped.  But they’ve been well used and have outlasted most of our dishes.

In the living room, the top shelf is filled mostly with books that had been Ted and Mabel’s.  There’s a cloth-bound set of stories by Kipling, and volumes of American poetry.  Sitting on a ledge in the den is a small stainless steal thermal cup—ingeniously insulated by an inner cup, which seals with a double lid—which I can’t find it in myself to discard.  This was Ted’s, and I like the thought of him drinking tea wherever he worked, taking a break from whatever he did there, perhaps turning that tea-warmed thermal cup in his hands as he leaned over a blueprint.

On a shelf above the kitchen sink sits a china tea caddy that holds my sleep-time tea.  Slightly chipped, it’s painted with flowers and leaves, and edged in gold.  In the drawer of cooking utensils is a carving fork with an amber resin handle, which we use to test baked potatoes.  To me it’s pretty and useful, with a delicacy not usual in newer ones.  None of these were gifts, given to us by them; none are of particular value.  I think of them as remnants of two lives; the miscellany we have been privileged (or burdened, as it may seem to my husband) to carry forward.

What’s become clear to me is that my own quirkiness that results in impulses to keep a random thermal cup through all of our own moves, becoming even more firmly attached to it as the years unfolded, is exactly the kind of trait that once must have appealed to my husband.  Now, it only irritates him, chafing against his own evolving sense of what is right and good about a home.  Not, clearly, shelves of oddball, mismatched curiosities.

Once, we’d have been shocked to realize that, like Ted and Mabel, we would advance in our out-of-sync crabbiness, our idiosyncrasies that once enchanted and now annoy.

Sometimes, in the early morning hours, when I find myself alert—worries and wild ideas are coursing through my brain.  When my husband’s restlessness signals that my being wide-awake is a problem, I will quietly gather up pillows, reading glasses, book, sweats, and move out to the couch.  I’m always tempted to creep upstairs or downstairs to one of the kid’s old rooms, where I can read, stretch, and just toss and turn freely—venting whatever stresses are percolating.  But there’s this nagging reluctance to become comfortable in a different bedroom, on a different floor.  Instead, I make a nest of blankets and pillows and curl up to read until dawn lulls me to sleep, there on the couch, where my husband will know to look for me in the morning.

Story – Africa

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Image used with permission from 1 World Maps Online


Africa, by Melodie Corrigall

She will never see Africa. She knows that now. She will never foray out from the trees onto the Savannah. Never follow the Nile. Never. Not in a few years. Not when the children are older. Not when she has saved enough money. Never.

She is here, her feet not planted in the soft sand of possibilities but rooted to the living room floor. The celebrant faces clustered around her seal her fate.

“So birthday girl,” jovial voice, “What do you say?”

The crowd expects a response, and quickly.

Marion shrugs; her smile spreads like honey across her friends’ whole-wheat faces. “Good food,” she mugs; exotic food now her only adventure.

“That, we do well,” her sister confesses proudly.

“And drink,” her husband David chirps, “Speaking of which….” The exuberant host retrieves his wife’s glass and fades to the kitchen.

Her husband has played every role he can imagine. He is no traveler.

*                      *                      *

Standing by the window, the last of the pale sunlight seeping through the glass, Marion is pulled back to her other kingdom. She returns there often now, thanks, in part, to the medication.  There she is wakened by the sun’s warmth, early morning eyes blink at cracks of space, hints of openness seen through the pattern of enclosing branches.

There, through hours dense as foliage, she scurries through the house of trees, scrambling up and down the rough trunks, swinging from perch to perch.  Her eyes lured beyond the shelter to the flat open expanse.

Hesitantly, she moves forward. Swinging rhythmically from tree to tree then stops abruptly at the edge of her knowledge, the last tree. Her head cocked, she spies a shadow scampering across the yellow sky.

The shadow is here, in her living room, she is back to the voices.

“To the next 50,” a voice roars.

“And the next.”

“Who knows,” David speculates, “The way things are changing….”

A chorus of groans, “Here we go.”

“Who brought the professor?”

Affectionately overcome, David raises his hand. “I accept defeat. I appreciate when a crowd wants circuses.”

“I know 30 first-year students who’d argue that point,” his colleague says. Scattered laughter and shuffling feet: the herd drifts towards the canapés and shoptalk.

*                      *                      *

Marion remains near the window. The first time, even the shadow flickering across the mind would be as terrifying as the scrape of rat’s claws. But a powerful curiosity, a painful longing pulls. Her crouched body cradled in the familiar womb of branches slowly moves from her mother. The hot connecting chord trembles to protect the vulnerable flesh. The membrane peels to separate them like an adhesive bandage from a wound.

The other animals carelessly chirping and jostling are unaware that a sister considers venturing beyond their tree cradle. Reaching forward, the sharp sun-knives pierce the flesh, burning the eyes. Marion turns away, digs in, back to the cool afternoon.

*                                  *                                  *

“Just ten years to go then, eh? Or are you planning an early retirement?”

“We haven’t decided,” David smiles. “Looking at options.”

“Like winning the lottery?”

“Something like that.”

“What you need is a rich old aunt.”

“Don’t we all?”

*                      *                      *

Someone went first. Someone who was young, curious, incautious, pulled roughly away from her mother’s nipple. Some she scrambled down.  Seeing a bird perhaps, or scampering animal, the adventurer ran to catch a shadow. And once across the line: exposed. The small naked body impaled on the sun’s blade.

Visible from above. Visible from below. Visible.

*                      *                      *

“David said they offered you a promotion?” Marion’s friend says.

“It’s been suggested,” she replies.

“Is that good news or bad?”

“I don’t know.”

“Marion hasn’t decided what she wants to be when she grows up,” her husband says.

“Worse still, I haven’t decided to grow up.”

“You’re too grown up, that’s your problem,” her friend rallies.

“It’s David’s influence.”

On hearing his name, the kindly man moves to his wife’s side and squeezes her to his ribs.

“What am I being accused of now?”

“Making me grow up.”

“I thought Mother Nature did that.”

“No, she just makes us grow old.”

“Up, old, what’s the difference?”

*                      *                      *

The eyes fold shut sealed by the heat of the day, the sun hot, but she still cradled in her tree’s womb. (Behind her the music of family, friends, chattering, voices rising, laughing and chiding.) The lids slowly unpeel. She is here on the edge, hairy back pressed against the familiar rough trunk, chest exposed to the open space. The air shimmers, waves of heat, yellow, insistent.

Move.

Skeleton fingers grip her face; a taunt wire caught in her chest, winding ever tighter, pulls her forward. Her stiff legs snap untangled.  Her body is awkward, uncontrolled. Clutching the trunk, she shimmies to the ground. Hooked to the sun wheel the wire of curiosity draws her to the edge. The body splits. Behind: cool, hesitant, comforting repose.  In front: hands outstretched, legs bent, she cautiously moves out and pushes ahead. She crosses the line. Contact.

Embraced in heat, within the waves, the furnace, she fumbles headfirst on mechanical legs, below the stiff grass prickles the flesh. Still advancing from the familiar, her breath held, expectantly; the sound of those safely nestled behind her now memory, subdued. She leans towards the unfamiliar open horizon.

*                                  *

“David said you have a chance to take some time off.”

“Yes I do,” Marion replies.

“Escaping our rain drenched Island?

“There’s a problem with the kids,” she says.

“Take them.”

“David will be on his own.”

“He’s of age.”

“Where are you going?” her sister calls from behind the metal tray.

“I don’t know. Africa?”

“Be serious.”

“Maybe you and David, but the kids?”

“No way city boy will go.”

*                                  *                                  *

There, at last. Exposed to the sky. Unprotected. No enclosing tree, no shadows, no branches, nothing.  She a vulnerable insect scuttling across the celebrant’s table: the hostess unforgiving. When she turns to summon the others, they call her back.

“Marion, Marion.”

“Spaceship to Marion.”

“Hey, birthday girl.”

Slowly focusing her eyes, Marion warms to the circle of faces, round and golden, every smile beaming at her. Can she tell them of her journey? Explain the frisson of the unknown, the alien risk of this otherworld far from the comfort of the warm nest, where they remain contentedly entangled with family and friends. Would they join her?

David’s warm bony hand encircles her fingers. “Come back,” he says softly. She will, she will come home but she will not leave anything behind.

Story – My Grandmother’s Bible

tabitha-holcombe_my-grandmothers-bible_02_fall-07-286-copy

Photograph by Patricia Youker

My Grandmother’s Bible, by Tabitha Holcombe

Silence drives me crazy. The guy across from me bounces his leg up and down furiously. Why is he here at the counselor’s office? What is his problem? I pick up the issue of People magazine from the chair beside me with the intention of reading it as a distraction. I want to look normal. It smells like laundry detergent and antibacterial soap in this waiting room. As I turn the thin pages, I see a headline about Shania Twain’s “new lease on love.”

I must have been five or six when my grandmother would have all of us cousins over to spend the night. I try to repress the memory of us, standing in front of her television dancing, our mouths moving to Shania Twain’s “I Feel Like a Woman” as she sat laughing in her crimson recliner. Even more, I try not to remember how she looked: her brown eyes squinting happily under her glasses, her soft hands placed on her cheeks as she smiled, and her stringy hair curled to her scalp with a new perm. I say a mental thank you to Shania for the sweet memory she gave me and try to forget it for now. Silence forces me to remember, and I don’t want to. I want to be ordinary again.

“Tabitha,” he says from the hallway, “you can come in now.”

I place the magazine down on the table next to me and walk past him in the hallway. His room smells stale, like a trashcan full of a week’s worth of take-out food. When is the last time I ate? It’s been a few days, I know that much. He has a square rug that covers the first half of his office and extends to a big beige chair he has in the right corner near a window placed high on the wall for privacy. The rug looks expensive and even a little excessive. On a dark oak shelf adjacent to the squared chair sits a brass elephant and a dim lamp. I sit down, getting choked up already; I remind myself that it’s okay, but maybe I shouldn’t cry as much this time. He closes the door before he sits at his small wooden desk. He begins to rummage through yellow legal pads.

“Ah,” he says, picking one of them out of the pile. He leans back carefully, propping an ankle on the opposite knee. He starts to scribble things down, muttering words like “tornado,” “grandmother,” and “boyfriend.” He looks at me through big square glasses that sit low on his cheekbones before he begins, “So, I’m just going to look over some of my notes from the last time we met, but you can go ahead and start talking if you’d like. What is it that you want to talk about today?”

“It was just so much at once,” I say blinking fast so that I don’t have to wipe tears from my eyes yet.

“Yes, it was, wasn’t it?”

The clock ticks, ticks, ticks and I realize that it actually started ticking long before I realized the countdown.

During the launch of an Orbiter (OV), at T-minus 16 seconds, the massive Sound Suppression System (SPS) drenches the Mobile Launcher Platform (MLP) and Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) channels with almost 300,000 gallons of water to protect the launch stack from harm that can be caused by reflected acoustical energy and heat during lift off. April 21, 2011. It was T-minus six days before the tornado would barrel through Tuscaloosa creating a 5.9 mile path of destruction. I was sitting in the library when Mom called me back. It was too late. My grandmother had passed away before she could make it to the nursing home. My helplessness hung heavy in the air between her sobs and my forced library silence. I stared at the computer screen. I had been watching videos of Challenger and Columbia violently fading into the atmosphere in a plume of smoke, the mothers, sons, brothers, wives and students of the astronauts watching in horror at the sudden disintegration of the launch stack. I watched with them as bodies turned to ash and mixed with chunks of Reinforced Carbon-Carbon (RCC). I imagined what it must have been like to be there, inhaling it into the heavy capillaries of my lungs.  Guilt flooded my heart, pumping gallons over the surface like the SPS soaking the MLP. I had watched the last documented seconds of Columbia’s crew in a film that had been recovered on the side of the road after the disaster, but I had missed my grandmother’s. She was alone, no cameras around to capture her last moments so that I could watch them over and over. She’s gone like them. I wonder if she passed by them on her way out and what they must have said to her from deep inside the computer screen. I sat frozen, an hour and a half away from family. I had an engineering exam in two hours. Do I stay and take it or do I go home? I knew I’d have to go home for the funeral and I knew they wouldn’t let me see her before then. But I wanted to see her one last time, her heart still full of blood, her lungs full of air, and her palms facing the ceiling waving goodbye. Will you call your brother for me? my mother had asked.

I walked to the staircase, my face dry. My grandmother had taken my tears with her when she left and I couldn’t wrap my mind around that fact, much less how I was going to call Dillon and break the news to him. I walked outside onto the steps of the library overlooking campus. The brightness of the sun hit my eyes like the overhead lamp of a dentist’s office turning everything white.

Hello, he said into the ear piece, ignorant of the circumstances. Dillon, you know how Mom was going to see Mimi? I ask. Yeah, he mumbles. And then it hit me. I would never hear her soft voice say Tabitha ever again. The sound of her voice echoed around my brain and I couldn’t catch it. I remember the last time I saw her, sitting in her wheelchair at the nursing home, her hands snug under a tiny red blanket; she was crying as we left because she didn’t want to be there. I remember how I played “Yea Alabama” on my clarinet for her during the visit and she smiled at me in awe and love. Before now she had just passed away, passed somewhere above the clouds, but now she was dead. And dead settled down in my heart. I couldn’t say it. But I didn’t have to—he already knew.

I used to wonder why people often referred to the tragic events of Challenger and Columbia as disasters instead of accidents. I would soon learn how to distinguish between the two. An accident is something that can be fixed.  Like the time I dropped my bowl of egg-drop soup in the Chinese restaurant, or the time someone ran into the back of my car, or when someone spilled beer on me at the bar. But a disaster happens so suddenly that you can’t possibly know how to react. A disaster inspires incomprehensible shock in its victims. And while the general public was shocked when Challenger and Columbia disintegrated, NASA followed specific procedures for the vehicle losses. It’s like a tornado; you know what to do if it happens, even though you think it never will. The contingency plans were stringent.  No one was allowed to leave Mission Control and no one was allowed to enter. No calls in and no calls out. All attention was immediately focused on preserving the data in front of you. It must have felt like being in middle school all over again, sitting quietly at your desk, copying equations from the board as fast as you can keep up, not being able to talk and having to raise your hand to ask if you may use the bathroom. At some point the engineers had to realize that what they were doing was far more important than copying down numbers. They were copying down all the reasons the astronauts died, what went wrong and how close they were to actually living. Here I was so concerned with studying for my engineering exam, learning the process of the problems, copying formulas onto a blank sheet. But it wasn’t going to get me any closer to understanding what had really happened. I would never understand why she died or how close she was to living.

Silence.

“It’s just difficult having to go through all the boxes,” I say to the counselor.

“Last time we talked about disassociation. How has that technique been working for you?” the counselor asks, staring at me with a hand on his chin.

I glance out the high window beside me. The tree is green and her leaves move with the wind, her limbs outstretched like big brown arms. “Okay, I guess. I still have to go through what’s left. It’s hard not to focus on what happened, you know?”

No. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what it’s like to lose your grandmother and bury her on Easter Sunday as your boyfriend sits beside you texting the girl that he is cheating on you with, and then go through an EF4 tornado several days later as your mother has plastic surgery.  I blame her and him. She thinks I’m here because of the breakup, not the fact I barely survived a natural disaster. I’m so angry and hurt. I can get over Thomas, but I really just need Mom right now.

I haven’t been this mad with her since my senior year of high school. I remember plastering the walls she had worked so hard to paint pink with black posters of Guns N’ Roses, Kiss and Motley Crue. I listened to Guns N’ Roses just to make her mad because she didn’t like Axl Rose. Now she’s recovering from surgery, the death of Mimi and a bad marriage. I feel guilty for being so angry at her. I told her that she shouldn’t go through with the plastic surgery; just like I told her she should spend more time with me in high school. I need her. Sitting in a strange blank apartment going through boxes littered with more debris than belongings is worse when you’re alone.

“Do you think it’s possible to wait ‘til you don’t get upset to go through all of that?”

No, I think silently to myself. My best chance of moving on is to create something similar to what I had. To go through everything so that I know what I have and what I lost – to start creating home again. This is the ninth time I’ve put these things in a box since I started college. Charleston Square was the closest I had gotten in the past few years to having what I considered home. But I am still scared to unpack. Scared because I know things are missing. Why didn’t I grab it – the maroon book with my name engraved in gold in the bottom corner, the words “I love you” on the first page in her handwriting followed by “Mimi”. What if I can’t find it?

“Maybe I should wait before I go through all of it. But it’s not just the tornado. I don’t know what makes me upset the most. I think it’s everything at once. My mother says I should be stronger,” I say.

“Well, there is no such thing as strong and weak,” he replies. “Maybe we should talk about being more like a palm tree. You ever wonder how the palm tree always makes it through the hurricane but the oak tree doesn’t?”

His voice trails off and I try as best I can to follow it. It’s my life line, something to cling to. It keeps me from the silence.

At T-minus 6.6 seconds, the three Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) ignite in sequence 120 milliseconds apart. They are required to reach ninety percent of maximum thrust in a minimum of three seconds before the gimbal to complete the launch configuration. Before Thomas, I couldn’t wait to start my job as an Aviation Challenge Camp Counselor at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center for the summer of 2010. But after spending the month of April together, I didn’t want to leave Tuscaloosa. I jettisoned into love giving zero thought to what kind of shockwaves would appear because of it, much less how hard it would hurt when gravity kicked in after all the fuel had been burnt off. One early morning in June, I graduated my first group of Mach 1’s. The nine-to-eleven-year-olds hustled me around afterwards, the effects of Dip N’ Dots running through their frail veins, saying Maestro, come meet my parents! Then they begged me to play one last game of four-square, no cherry bombs. When I waved bye to them as they pulled their small bodies up into their parents’ cars, I was genuinely sad. I helped the other counselors clean up the graduation setup under The Bubble and went into Gabreski Bay to pack a bag for Tuscaloosa. I walked by the Tomcat featured on the carrier in the movie Top Gun and through the gate to my truck. That summer was especially hot and I had no air conditioning. I drove, windows down, Orianthi’s Believe album streaming loud through the tape player, in the red and white-striped truck.

I knocked on the green door of his one-bedroom apartment in Alberta City on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa. I heard him unlock the door and waited for him to open it, sweat rolling down my back. I opened it frustrated, and there he stood with a dozen roses. A smile appeared fast across my lips. He had a putrid smell that followed him everywhere, and it bombarded my face as he hugged me. Don’t ask me what I found attractive about him, the list was short, but even he knew that. Over the past two and half months I had learned to love him for his humor (even though I hated his coughing laugh), his baby blue eyes and the fact that he could appreciate my intense passion for all things glam metal and space (or at least tolerate it). He had spent the past year and half pining for me, asking me to the movies and trying to get my number. I don’t know what made things change so drastically that I gave in. I remember sitting on my bed before we started dating talking about our parents’ divorce. I finally had someone that could understand the kinds of struggles I had been through. But giving up hours at the Space and Rocket Center for him that summer, after the way he would treat me sometimes, left a sour taste in my mouth that I would eventually spit out—not once but twice.

Fast-forward almost a year to April 27, 2011. I was standing in front of Hardaway Hall, between physics and thermodynamics, sure and unsure. We made brief eye contact as he walked towards me. I always hated his awkward gait. And those ugly black shoes. He held the key to my apartment in his hand as he stood there, his eyes dancing. He looked down at it, rubbing the brass finish between his fingers. Rain had fallen hours before and the ground was wet with puddles.

It’s over for good if you give me that back, I said nodding towards the key. He didn’t say anything; he just looked down at it, nervously tapping it on his right hand. So do you want to be with me or not? I asked firmly but even he caught the desperation in my voice. He continued to look down at the key, heaving out a sigh. This is not fair, I started, I deserve an answer, even if the answer is no.

How can you not know whether or not you want to be with someone? We’ve spent a year together, our thoughts entangled, our bodies mashed against one another sideways, our laughter (or coughing) finding its way to the other’s ear. I’m so mad at him, but I can’t get past the frustration that I have with myself. I still want to be with him, but I want to be strong enough to leave, because I know that’s what I should do. Why do you still want to be with him? Why are you willing to be the only one trying in this relationship? He texted a girl from class during your grandmother’s funeral several days ago! But I love him and we can work this out. Right? These thoughts raced across my brain like the ticker at the bottom of the screen when the news is on. I didn’t want to read them anymore so I grabbed the key from his hand, turned around and entered the building for aerospace engineers. Tears gathered thickly in the corners of my eyes as I stormed up the steps. This kind of hurt was new to me. I had never been in a relationship before him and, now that it was ending, I wasn’t sure that it was supposed to hurt this bad. My hand swiped under my eyes. I hoped that only I could tell the difference between the cold raindrops and the warm tears that collected on my heated cheeks. I would give anything to talk to Mom at this moment. I hope her surgery is going okay. I can’t believe she actually went through with it.

The computers onboard the OV accounted for the twang, or oscillation of the launch stack caused by the intense throttle up of the SSME’s, and when the stack had pitched back to vertical position the two SRB’s were ignited by the computers. Since the SRB’s contained solid fuel, once they were ignited they could not be turned off. So when the cameras spotted black plumes spewing from the joint of the right SRB during the launch of Challenger mission STS-51-L, there was nothing they could do but wait and watch. And soon I would be waiting and watching, helpless, as clouds twisted and turned into something I couldn’t turn off.

At 3:00pm on April 27, 2011, I finished my statics class and walked to the parking lot by Coleman Coliseum. I sat on the red bench seat of my truck. I need new windshield wipers. Fat raindrops plopped onto the glass. I parked in front of my bedroom window at Charleston Square and ran through the small hallway leading to my door.

When I opened the cream-colored door with the numbers 39 nailed to it, I took my cold feet out of the houndstooth rubber rain boots. It didn’t smell like I had remembered home to be, but it was close enough. As I walked toward my bedroom, I read a portion of my Facebook newsfeed from my phone. James Spann’s status told me that there had been several confirmed tornados in Alabama alone. I sat on the new red polka dotted comforter that my mother had recently bought me as I waited for Thomas to come get his things for the last time. She said I needed new sheets after the first time I broke up with him. I decided to turn on the TV and check the local weather. My ears heard Jerry Tracey talking about Tuscaloosa, but my mind was on everything else. It flipped between my grandmother, Mom and Thomas like channels with no sound. Several minutes later, Thomas propped himself on the white doorframe beside my favorite Nikki Sixx poster. I could see him out of the corner of my eye but I didn’t want to look at him. Our eyes played a game of chicken, trying to decide who would make contact first.

The weather is really bad, I said. Yeah, I don’t have to go to work anymore, he replied, there’s a tornado warning. I soon realized that Tuscaloosa County was red. A tornado warning? I asked. He nodded his head and walked over beside my bed. Daddy lit up the screen of my phone so I answered it.

Tabitha, there’s a tornado headed for downtown Tuscaloosa, he had yelled into the crackling speaker. I didn’t have time to say anything before he hung up. I don’t believe him, I thought. A tornado in Tuscaloosa? Thomas sat on the bed next to me. I felt obligated to say something when he turned his soft blue-eyed focus from the television to me. It was my dad, I said. He had said there’s a tornado headed toward the downtown area. Tuscaloosa, take cover, mimicked Jerry Tracey from the television screen. I soon recognized the little yellow circle hovering over a street near me. I gazed over my shoulder, past Thomas, out the window facing my bed. No trace of the sun, and it seemed awfully dark at 5:00 in the evening. The clouds looked a strange dark black and beckoned me to the window. Look how dark it is, I remarked, getting up from my bed. Wanna go weather watch outside? I asked.

I stood against the window, nose fogging up the glass looking outside; I could feel his breath on my neck. It was sensation I’d never felt before. Both hot and cold, inviting and distant, true and false. That’s a tornado, he said extending his hand to my face to point out the window. I tried to find it, tilting my head here and there. A faint rotation hung just above the trees.

Where? I asked. Tabitha, we have to get in the bathtub, he demanded. He stomped to the bathroom. I stood frozen, trying to make sense of the grey clouds just past the trees. I looked down at the desk sitting under the window. A thought crossed my mind. What if this is real? What if we are really never going to be together again and what if that really is a tornado?

He yelled at me from the bathroom, adding, I know what to do; I’ve done this before. How tired I had grown of hearing him say that. My eyes floated from the clouds to the police officer that rushed down the road with his sirens on. Why is he outside? Back up to the grey clouds. My head turned quickly, my eyes searching for the television. I needed reassurance that this couldn’t be real. It had to be a dream. Black and white dots powdered the screen as the sound of static got louder. I looked at the large rotation in the clouds one more time. Like my grandmother’s unexpected death a few days ago, I couldn’t stop this. A ripple of panic rumbled through my body. My hands were shaking uncontrollably and I didn’t know what would happen. I didn’t know if Mom’s cosmetic surgery was still in process or had been completed. I didn’t know what was happening between me and Thomas at that moment. I didn’t know what was about to happen. Helpless. What matters to me? What do I need to grab?

I ran to the bathroom, closed the door, and slid down into the bathtub. I’m going to look like an idiot when I find out this isn’t real. Okay, brain, now would be a good time to wake me up. He looked at me, his face wrought in fear under the dim yellow light of my bathroom. Do I look as scared as him?

As I sat there in the bathtub, my legs crossed, hands in my lap, waiting to see what would happen in a few seconds, my eyes caught his. For the first time in weeks, I saw his resolve of acceptance. He had already let me go. But his powder blue eyes were home to me, the porch light on, inviting me in. And I had been so ready to leave, searching selfishly for strength in my ability to leave him behind. The light above us hummed. The wind sucked violently at the outside of the walls. The distance between us multiplied with every labored breath of my helplessness. The light flickered on and off as electricity surged. Fear floated down the river of my arteries and veins, sticking in my heart. When the light blinked off, the darkness took me as his own. Nothing seemed to matter in that small little area of space void of light.

The tips of my fingers flung to the ivory marble that cupped us. The smell of dirt thrown into the air hit my nostrils, the wind pushing and pulling on everything around me. My heart sank to my right hand, anchoring itself with every atom of my being to the sturdy rock of my bathroom. I closed my eyes, fighting the grey wind. Blood and fear rushed from my chest, rolling through the tenseness of my body. I felt Thomas’ hands on my back as he pushed me down. For the first time since my grandmother’s funeral, I thought of God. She doesn’t even look the same, lying there lifeless in the casket. Mom had asked me to play “Amazing Grace” on my clarinet. How can I be expected to play, when I can’t even breathe, I had thought.

It felt false to play “Amazing Grace” for her when I didn’t believe it. I was lost, but no one could find me. I didn’t consider myself an atheist, but I didn’t consider myself a Christian either. I thought doubt meant that I didn’t have faith. If I didn’t have faith, how could I believe in God? I reasoned that if I only believe in God because I’m too scared to go to Hell, then maybe that’s not true faith. But I was scared of being an atheist and scared of being a bad Christian. I didn’t tell anyone; no one would understand. I wrote witty essays entitled “The Three F-Words of Religion: Fear, Faith and Free Will” inspired by Ralph W. Emerson. But I never shared them. I thought myself a modern transcendentalist; spiritual, but unwilling to follow traditional religious doctrine. When my grandmother died, I searched my heart for Him; all I found was more doubt. How could He leave me when I need Him most? Between seconds of fear, confusion and pale wind came a profound clarity. I’ve spent more time searching for reasons to leave then reasons to stay. Doubt is natural. But believing despite the doubt? That’s faith.

The bathroom door flung open and in a gleam of light I saw bricks being thrown through the door. I wanted to believe again. I wanted to believe His love endures forever, even in the swirling grey wind. I wanted to believe that it’s not over, that the story doesn’t end with me in the storm. I wanted to believe that He’s fighting for me even when I’m not fighting for Him. Rocks were reduced to sand as they found impact. The building creaked and moaned as the wind pushed everything out of the way. The second floor was torn apart as the tornado crossed the corner of Charleston Square, but I didn’t know at the time. After a few seconds, the wind fell silent. It was the quietest silence I have ever heard in my life. It was so quiet that my ears tingled, trying to calculate the air. It was over. Everything was over. Dead.

I opened the door of my apartment, though it felt useless, considering it was missing all the windows. How did this happen? Our courtyard was littered with debris. For weeks I had watched them in the process of fixing our pool, pouring new concrete and scrubbing the old. Whole chunks of rock were missing from the new granite. Trees lay uprooted, plucked from Earth, and the other half of Charleston Square was flattened like a tree into a piece of thin paper. I saw a police officer walking in our direction.

Are you okay? he asked. Yeah, I’m okay, I said, but these words lingered strangely in my mouth as my mind tried to make sense of what happened. You gotta find somewhere to go; this is unstable, he said as he passed, waving an arm through the air. Somewhere to go? The banner returned across my brain, thoughts ticking across faster than I could read them. Where do I go? This is all I have to go to. My Dad is an hour and a half away, my Mom is in surgery and she doesn’t even know what’s happened. She doesn’t know. I just want my Mom!  I looked around. Tears rushed behind my eyes trying to fill the helplessness. Everything had changed to the point that I couldn’t even recognize where I was. All I knew was that this wasn’t home anymore. This is how they must have felt, the astronauts, as the Orbiter broke apart and everything they once knew disintegrated into ashes before their very eyes. This is not an accident. This is what disaster feels like.

The United States Congress requested the construction of Endeavour in 1987 after the Challenger Disaster. When my best friend and previous roommate Hannah called me a few days after my 21st birthday, May 9, 2011, and asked if I wanted to go to the last launch of Endeavour with her and her mom, I couldn’t say no. I went through enough of my tornado boxes to find a few of my NASA t-shirts to wear and on May 15 we left for Coco Beach, FL. Early the next morning we got up and went to Kennedy Space Center (KSC). I spent the early part of the morning learning about the jobs of the engineers, touring the science racks in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and talking to people that helped with the OV. As we walked to the front of the VAB several minutes before launch at 08:56 EDT, I said prayers of thankfulness and safety. It was everything I hoped it wouldn’t be—there were no malfunctions. When the ground shook in fury as Endeavour made its way to space, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what the lives of the astronauts would be like in several minutes. After the launch, Hannah’s mother drove us to Launch Complex 39, Pad B (LC-39B). The first launch stack to ever clear this tower ended with the Challenger disaster. Several years later, Endeavour would be waiting patiently as other OV’s launched from LC-39A, prepared to rescue astronauts if anything happened. Endeavour was the rescue ship. I wanted to stand there forever staring at the launch pad that had seen almost as much disaster as I had in the past month. When Orbiter Atlantis rolled out the next day, we went back to KSC to take pictures with her. Her final mission was coming up and the engineers were about to mate her with the External Tank (ET) and SRB’s. I inspected all the tiles on the underside as if I was already a real engineer, trying to ensure the safety of the vehicle passengers. On July 8, 2011 I watched NASA TV as she launched for the last time, retiring the entire shuttle fleet for good. It was the last time I would juxtapose my life with the United States Space Shuttle. At the end of our journey to KSC, Hannah’s mom gave me the mission patch for STS-134, the last flight of Orbiter Endeavour and the second to last Space Shuttle flight, signed by all the astronauts. She also gave me an American flag that was flown in space on one of the earlier missions. Words will never be able to express the gratitude I have for those things.

Silence.

“It follows me everywhere,” I admit, still fighting the tears as best I can. “I had a dream last night that I watched someone die because I was unable to get help. Everyone was busy.”

“I’m going to refer you to one of my colleagues at the Betty Shirley Clinic. She should be able to give you something to help with that, okay? Have you ever heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?”

I stop looking out the window and nod my head yes. I am an ordinary person with an ordinary life, I repeat to myself. But a part of me feels that this is no longer a true assessment. The astronauts of Challenger and Columbia were ordinary once too. Like the three hundred and twenty five other astronauts, few people knew their names, much less the mission they flew on. But because they experienced disaster, people know them. They are regarded as heroes, slipping the surly bounds of Earth to touch the face of God. They have songs made in honor of them, schools and streets named, documentaries and books made. They are famous in their own right. But I will never view Earth from the window of an Orbiter. I will never know what it’s like to go through years of difficult training to become an astronaut. But I have an understanding of what it’s like to train hard in wilderness survival, flight simulators and the centrifuge. I know what it’s like to be separated from the person you love because you have a strong passion for flight and space. And more, I have seen life turn to ashes, breathing it deep into my lungs as people around me hunkered down in fear from the wrath of Earth. But, despite all this, I will always be an ordinary person where few know my name. Yet, somehow, I have become like the astronauts of Challenger and Columbia. Because my life is not ordinary. I have seen the face of God.

Short Story – When the alligator goes away

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Image is courtesy of Yoho2011 Toronto, ON


When the alligator goes away, by Regina Bou
Translated by Ilias Sellountos

All people have an alligator in their house. I had one too and I say, “I had”, because I don’t have one anymore. Some night, he just opened the door with his snout and he announced to me that he was leaving. Yes, I know, alligators don’t talk but did you know that they could communicate with their eyes? He tapped his tail twice on the floor, the tenant from the floor below stroked his broom on the ceiling and then he went downstairs, running the stairs like crazy on his four short legs. There he met some other alligators that were leaving their homes and soon there was a cramming crowd of running alligators on the staircase of the building.

I am not going to say that I missed the alligator, how sad I was, blah-blah-blah because exactly at this moment a fly is trying her wings in front of my eyes. She is making forceful attempts to sit on my eyelashes and she is buzzing so annoyingly that I wish I could spray some pesticide on her by just opening my mouth, through my teeth. Ha ha, this is so funny! The fly just disappeared when I wrote the word “pesticide”. Just imagine if I had written “ten million dollars” and someone rang my doorbell. Wait…I am going to open the door and what do I find? A sack full of dollars out of my apartment! Well, it would be incredible to be able to bring in life everything I write! My alligator used to bring in life everything I was dreaming in my sleep and that’s why I didn’t use to have the best of relations with him! If I dreamt something pleasant, everything was just fine! I was having a great time! But if, for example, I dreamt about a dead horse dragging me up a hill or a crazy guy chasing me screaming, then…oh god…I don’t even want to remember things like this!

One of the mornings back then, I was just woken fresh and vibrant by a dream and I saw a hanged man in my room performing ballet steps, pulling with all his strength the rope around his neck so as to move forward. I helped him to stop and I asked how the hell he had entered my room. Of course I tried to be calm and not shout. I told the word ‘’hell’’ gently and smiling. I have been in your room because you called me, he answered to me, so next time don’t eat tinned food before you go to bed. I dragged fiercely the alligator under my bed and I was so angry that I threatened him if he dared bring a hanged man in my room again, then I would have to sleep between his sharp teeth. There isn’t a worse punishment for a pet alligator, since in this way he is obliged not to press his teeth in the flesh of his snoring master and I am really glad that my mind works in such a sadistic way many times. This scared him to death! He knew that if he forgot about it and let only a little tiny, tiny tooth free to bite or some stray saliva and if he remembered his lower instincts, he would disappear at once in a cloud of smoke! It was my own desire to have him in my apartment, that desire held him in life and controlled his existence. If he had his fangs nailed on my tender throat then how could I have any desires at all?

He was so imaginary as imaginary my imagination could be and so real as my imagination could also be. My imagination can be both real and imaginary. Imaginary in what it creates in the center of its core and real in the same center again. The center of the imagination can be a real thing – after all it exists! If it didn’t exist then I wouldn’t be talking about imagination. I suppose that the total blank is the opposite but I really suspect that it isn’t so absolute as it wants to show, otherwise I would have flung the alligator in there, a long time ago, just to try my limits.

In the distant past, I used to be hell scared of wells, but now I think I could dive in them just for fun, why not? The alligator used to leave one of his teeth under my bed, every time he brought me a dream in my hand. When he left I pulled the bed and I discovered a real tooth cemetery there, but who cares? I pushed the bed back into its place and I just wished not to have seen that hideous teeth construction. Alligators are deeply silly creatures with stupid habits and unfortunately too many teeth!

Hmmm – do you think that I should go out, in the city and search for my alligator, begging him to come back home? Would it be a good idea if I tied a leash around his neck and dragged him back to the elevator if he pretended to be the tough one? Should I promise him that I wouldn’t despise him anymore even if he brings me the worst dream? And that I would take care of equipping his place with special tooth storage boxes? But how am I now going to tell which one is my alligator since all the city alligators have escaped their houses and apartments?

I go out in my balcony and I see a green-copper sea of alligatorish flaked backs flowing like a water stream in the streets – a carpet of alligators. People have to walk on their backs so as to cross the street. The cars cannot move and I have just completed my writer’s exercise of the one thousand words.

I would like to close my story with a question, the same way the American writer James Thurber used to do. He always used a dubious moral conclusion to finish his story. Do you have an alligator under your bed? If yes, do you feel the need to kick him out? If you have already kicked him out, then do you think that you shouldn’t have and if yes why? These were more questions, but it’s ok I guess! I have to wait for your answers.

Short Story – Path

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Path, by Jay Duret

“As we get older,” her tee shirt said, “we get faster in our youth.”

She ran carefully but briskly down the sandy path. Her hair was pulled behind her head with a rubber band. She wore running shorts and a beaten up pair of Nikes. The path she was running on ran through a pine strand and the sand kicked up gently and efficiently behind her as she moved. Her face had that lack of expression that runners wear when they have moved through the beginning of their run and settled into the steady beating rhythms of their body. She held her hands in shallow cups and they extended slightly in front of her body keeping rhythm with her legs, her hands pulling cupfuls of air and loosing them behind. Spare. Efficient. Forty years old.

The path began to slope and she had to work. Her body leaned into the rise and pumped harder the way a car rises within a gear before demanding to be shifted. She broke rhythms for an instant to wipe her forehead with the back of her wrist. For the first time there was expression on her face but nothing more than determination to keep her speed on the hill. She had a black plastic watch on her wrist but she didn’t look at it.

“As we get older, we get faster in our youth.” The phrase was like the woman. Realistic, but not grim. Purposeful. This was a purposeful run through the pine scrub and sandy loam. It was day’s end and the day’s sun had lost its driving heat. The light had softened. The sounds were like the light. A foghorn miles in the distance. The gentle thud and scrape of her Nikes on the path, a cadence as measured as the ticking of a clock. Her breathing deep but even.

At the top of the slope the pine scrub ended and now she was in a field of high brown grass. The path was narrower here, more efficiently trodden. The dry stalks of grass rasped against her brown legs and her nylon running shorts.

Ahead on the right there was a couple holding hands and walking towards her. The path was too narrow for them to walk abreast and so the boy walked ahead. The way he held the girl’s hand made it seem like he was leading her on some dangerous journey over unreliable terrain. The boy had on a tee shirt that said “Naked Coed Lacrosse” and his face was very red. The girl had long blonde hair in a ponytail. She was wearing a sleeveless peach colored top and on one shoulder the strap had slipped askew and a band of very white skin stood out against her sunburn.

They couple stepped off the path into the tall grass as the runner neared them, but they didn’t look at her. “It’s going to be fine,” the boy was saying.

“Will you stop saying that please. Its not fine,” the girl said, her voice surprisingly high and insistent, “it isn’t, it just isn’t.”

The woman ran harder as she passed them. A look of pain or disgust or annoyance spread over the boy’s sunburned face and he turned to the girl just as the woman went by. But the boy’s movement had turned his hip into the path and it caught her hard just at the top of her own hip and suddenly she was knocked into the long grass out of control, legs overextended, arms flown up, the grass dense and resistant and loud like paper tearing and she couldn’t see her feet or find the ground’s grade in her mind. But she balanced herself and leaned forward and didn’t fall.

She came to a stop and looked back. She had gone fully twenty feet in the high grass and the angle of her departure from the path was revealed for an instant in the parted grass she had left behind.

The boy and the girl turned to look at her, their red faces impossibly young and impassive. The boy yelled something. An apology lost in the wind and the sound of her own panting. She bent over at the waist and put her hands on her knees, steadying herself, looking down into the grass.

When she looked up again the couple had turned back to each other and the wind swept away their voices so she couldn’t hear what they were saying. She walked slowly back to the path and began walking in the direction she had been running. After a few minutes she began to run again.

Short Story – David in the Different Colored Shirt

David in the Different Colored Shirt, by Greg Morton

Photo by Patricia YTwisted Root Studios 


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Guy tended his bruised cheek. His muscles flexed. He looked at himself in the glass and saw the bruise, but the bruise seemed distant. He dabbed it with the wet cloth before walking away. He still remembered. Maybe his cheek was sore, but that wasn’t what pained him.

He walked to the phone, picking up the receiver but not putting it to his ear. It had been ringing, and now he heard a voice but he didn’t want to talk. He didn’t want to listen. Guy was still thinking about his cheek. About David. He put the phone to his ear.

“Yes.”

“I have been trying to find you.”

“I’ve been out.”

“Out?”

“Yes.”

“Can I see you?”

She wanted to see him. He didn’t want to talk. He didn’t want to see her. He was in pain, and his cheek was sore. His day had started so well, too. Now it was full of pain. And she wanted to see him. He set the receiver on the counter and walked away. Guy walked out of his front door and to the walkway. He still held the wet cloth in his hand.

Guy met David just that morning. They didn’t know each other before, but maybe had seen each other. Guy didn’t know if he had seen David before. He tried to remember. All he could think about was his coffee. His paper. His life before David.

His life had been habit. Routine. Guy didn’t have many friends. He worked alone at the house. Occasionally he needed to go out. He didn’t own a car. He didn’t own a television. His life was habit and routine. Guy didn’t spend much time talking to others and he didn’t spend much time listening to others. He remembered when he was little, when he would talk to other kids and what they would say to him and how much he tried to be different. It turned out Guy was different.

Guy walked. He received three deliveries at the house every day, and Fred always delivered them at the same time. Guy knew when he could leave the house to walk or when he needed to be home. The deliveries were heavy. Reams of paper in heavy cardboard boxes. Guy didn’t mind. He liked lifting the boxes. He liked seeing Fred and getting his deliveries, and then leaving home for a walk. His morning walk always took him to the coffee stand.

It was his routine.

Guy ordered regular coffee and sweetened it with low fat milk. No sugar. The regular coffee didn’t cost much and he had his own cup. It was large. Each morning he walked to the coffee stand and had his cup filled and sweetened and then he sat in the corner chair by himself and read the free paper. Amanda Petersen said it was Guy’s social time. Guy didn’t have social time.

Guy would read his paper and drain his cup and return home. It was his routine. Every day he spent his morning walk going to the coffee stand before returning home to work and to receive other deliveries. His afternoon walk took him down the street to the bakery for a sandwich and cup of soup. In the late afternoon Guy walked to the park.

Guy stood on the walkway in front of his house and looked down the street. It was empty. No car had driven by since he walked out of his house. He turned and looked the other direction. The street was empty. Guy felt empty. He checked his watch. It read five minutes after twelve noon. His second delivery was late.

Just like the first delivery was late.

The new driver had told Guy that Fred was at the hospital with his wife. She was pregnant. Fred was going to be a father. His first child. The new driver was excited for Fred, he told Guy. He was a father, too, and he knew Fred was going to be really good to his new child. Guy was happy too. In a way.

He had arrived at the coffee stand later than normal. He ordered his regular coffee sweetened with low fat milk. Guy paid for his drink and found a free copy of the paper lying on a table. Someone was sitting in his regular seat. Guy had checked his watch.

He had sat in another seat toward the middle of the coffee stand. Closer to the counter. The stand had been busy. More people had been standing in line ordering coffee. More people had been sitting in the seats. Someone had been sitting in Guy’s seat. He tried to read but he was distracted. He heard all of the conversations.

And he had seen David walk in. David was young and thin and small, and had been wearing that different colored shirt. Guy was sure he had never seen David before. He would have remembered. David had walked in and sat down in a seat. He had sat near Guy.

And Guy heard the conversations. He heard the words. He had heard them before. Guy hadn’t heard those words in a very long time. He had glanced around carefully to see who had said them. He was sure they were talking about him. He had heard those words before and they had been talking about him. Guy had looked around and found his regular seat was occupied. He hadn’t known the man sitting there, but he had heard the words before.

Guy had quickly returned to reading. He had pretended to read. He tried to sip his coffee and read but he was distracted. The man in his seat had been talking. When Guy had looked up again from his paper, he had noticed the man wasn’t looking at him. The man had been looking at David. David in the different colored shirt.

“Loser.”

Guy had trembled. He had heard the words when they were said about him. He had remembered how it made him feel. It had been a long time ago, but not so long. He had trembled when he heard them. But the man hadn’t been saying them about Guy. He had been saying them about David. They still hurt when Guy heard them, but they weren’t being said to him.

“Faggot.”

Guy’s face had flushed. He had held his paper up between him and the man sitting in his seat. The man he had never seen before. He had held the paper up and could no longer see the man. But he had still heard him. Guy had quickly looked to David.

David had been sitting in his seat with his back toward the man who had been talking about him. It hadn’t appeared to Guy that David had even heard the words. David had seemed like he hadn’t heard anything. He had never turned his head.

The woman who owned the coffee stand was young. She was a pretty woman. She had walked around the counter with a small cup of hot chocolate and a magazine and had given them both to David. She had kissed him on the forehead and tousled his hair. She had kissed him.

Guy hadn’t heard the words when the woman was near.

David had taken his cup of hot chocolate and his magazine and set them on the table in front of him. He had lifted the magazine so nobody could see his face. He had been hiding. David had heard the words. Guy had seen that David looked just like him. Guy’s face had flushed.

“Sissy.”

Guy had wanted to break into tears. Like he used to. He had finished his coffee and hadn’t been able to read his paper and had been flushed with hearing those words again. Guy had checked his watch. He was late. His routine had been interrupted. Destroyed. He had gotten up to leave. He had gotten up to flee.

“Nice shirt, retard.”

Guy had left the free paper and his own table. He had grabbed his large cup, empty. He had avoided eye contact with everyone at the coffee stand. He had avoided looking at the man in his seat. He had walked toward the door but then he had stopped. Guy had walked to the counter.

“Is that a fresh pot?”

“It sure is.”

“Is it hot?”

“Very hot.”’

“Can I get a refill?”

“You sure can. Be very careful.”

Guy had paid his money. He hadn’t asked for low fat milk. Guy had walked across the coffee stand and stood directly in front of the man who was sitting in his seat. He had stood there and waited for the man to look up again. The man had finally looked up to say something to David. The man had noticed Guy.

Guy had poured the very hot coffee directly over the man’s head. The man had screamed and flailed his legs and squirmed. Guy had to take a step back. It allowed the man to stand. It had allowed the man face Guy. The man’s face had been red, very red. It had been burned with coffee. The man had troubles seeing. But that hadn’t stopped him from punching Guy in the cheek.

Guy had never been hit before. Not in the face. When he was ten Guy had been called a name by a boy at the playground. He had answered the insult with one of his own. The boy had chased him, and Guy remembered being scared. The boy had caught up with him near the monkey bars and punched him in the back. The blow had knocked all the air out of Guy’s lungs. He remembered not being able to breathe. He remembered thinking he was going to die. He had never insulted anyone after that day.

The man at the coffee stand had punched in him the cheek, but it had seemed distant. And fast. Guy hadn’t thought about being punched in the face before and certainly had never thought about what he would do. Guy had reached out with his coffee mug in his hand and smacked the man on the nose. The man who had been sitting in his seat and saying those words to David fell back onto the floor. His nose had grown red and swollen. He had begun bleeding. The man’s eyes had grown big, and he had gotten up from the floor holding his bleeding nose.

Guy didn’t know it but the man who had been sitting in his seat and saying those words to David had never been punched in the face before either. He had stood there and lightly touched his cheek and had felt the bruise begin to surface. He had been lost in his own world for a moment, but that moment hadn’t lasted. He had soon realized the coffee stand was quiet. And he had realized everyone there had been looking at him. A couple of the people there had been smiling at him. David too. Guy had started walking for the door.

“I think your shirt is very cool,” Guy had whispered.

Guy stood on the walkway in front of his house and looked down the street. His afternoon delivery was late. He checked his watch. He still held the wet cloth in his hand. His bruised cheek was sore, but that wasn’t what pained him. He looked up when he heard the sound of a car turn the corner and stop in front of his house. It was the young woman on the phone. The woman who owned the coffee stand. She stepped out of the car.

“My son told me.”

“What?”

“You like his shirt.”

“I had the same shirt.”

“Nobody has ever told him.”

“Is he okay?”

Nobody had ever told David they liked his shirt. Nobody had ever asked if he was okay. She smiled. The young woman reached her hand out to touch Guy’s hand. She told him she appreciated him. She asked if he was okay. Nobody had told Guy they appreciated him. Nobody had ever asked if he was okay. He smiled and held her hand.

Short Story – Tunnels of My Childhood, Part 4

Tunnels of My Childhood Part 4, by Felice Scrittore

Please read the previous Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Photo by Patricia YTwisted Root Studios 


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Once finished we closed the outer door leading into the storage area and ran out of the house. Chasing each other through the backyard and out into the open field that lay behind my grandmother’s immaculate rows of fresh vegetables. We raced to bury our new found treasure. We stopped under the spreading limbs of a massive oak tree that stood three stories tall, with large twisting branches and a solid trunk that had deep crevices of broken bark – easily traced with a child’s fingertip. This was perfectly suited for a tree house or a swing with the Soo Line train tracks just beyond the other side of the tree and tall summer grasses.

A shallow hole was dug and the box was put in. We covered it up with loose dry dirt and placed a few rocks over the disturbed earth. To give the appearance that the area had not been touched in sometime, we kicked a little sand over the rocks.  As we worked at this the afternoon train signaling the 4 o’clock hour came through – on time and lumbering past us. We waved at the engineer and he sounded his horn in response – he was used to the sight of us waiting and waving. It was one of the highlights of the day, to see the trains and hear the loud whistle blow. When the operators were not looking older boys would try to jump the slow moving train, waving as they moved down the tracks and jumping off at the next block. I did this once and never again – it was frightening, my footing slipped and I almost went under the wheels. There was one boy who did lose his foot a few years later, Leonard, not too many boys jumped the train after that, at least not the smart ones.

After burying the box we made a solemn oath, swearing never to tell anyone about our adventure or our treasure, it was our secret only. Plans were made to explore more the next day, if grandma was at the neighbors. It was time to return to the backyard and run through the sprinkler that was watering the garden and grass, careful not to run into the garden and disturb the plants. This was grandma’s pride and joy – the neighbors would come by to admire the beauty of her plants and the neatness of the weed-free rows. She grew the most delicious tomatoes, peppers and beans from her gardens. She seeded her own plants every year and canned the harvest for the long winters of Minnesota so as to have a taste of summer when the biting winds blew deep drifts of snow into our yards and neighborhood.

During all this play in the water we knew that once grandma came home we would be forced to strip down to our underwear so as not to make her floor wet. We never cared though as we grew up so close to each other it was more like we were siblings not cousins. As I was the smallest I had to endure the first stripping and sent into the house while Mark and Tony took their clothes off after me. Tony always laughed at my panties making me self-conscious even to this day. Interesting how memories of the past continue to pervade our day-to-day life as adults.

Day two began, and as always we were up early in the morning so as not to miss a chance at playing hard outside. Grandma made me my usual bowl of oatmeal with a glass of milk to wash the breakfast down. The milkman had just come that morning so it was a fresh jar of milk, the time when milk was delivered at your front doorstep in glass jars. There was no such thing as skim milk, 1% or 2% for that matter. We all had whole milk and the best was when the jar was fresh and unopened because of the sweet thick cream that covered the mouth of the bottle. Grandma knew this was my favorite part and would forgo her cream in her coffee just so I could have this treat.

Afterwards I sailed out the back door with a wave and kiss for grandma to start my new day. I would greet all the other neighbors as I skipped down the block to see my cousins and hurry them along with their breakfast. My auntie, unlike my mother, didn’t work. My mother was working to save up enough money for us to have a place of our own, even if it was an apartment just down the block. My mother never married my biological father; I was a love child in the truest sense. It was just mom and me; she had such a loving, caring way about her. She always made sure I had enough to eat and was clean and comfortable. She shared her kisses and hugs without reserve and I never once wondered why I was different from the other girls on the block. Not as long as I had my mom, she was my safe haven from the cruelty that the world can show to a child who was fatherless.

Tony and Mark were just finishing up and ready to hit the sidewalk. Again it was fast becoming a hot summer day, with clouds building on the western horizon. First we made our rounds in the neighborhood, checking in on all our buddies, making sure there wasn’t something we wanted to do before our other adventure called us. We had to wait a bit until grandma went next door to have her coffee and chat with her friends. She always did laundry and hung clothes outside on the line before opening the back gate of the fence to visit. Sometimes I would lie in the cool grass under the big oak tree in the backyard watching the sheets dance in the breeze, imagining that they had a life of their own.

Listening to the sounds of the air rushing around and past the cloth that sounded like a whisper, with an occasional snap of the cotton fabric as if someone were snapping their fingers. Lying there, I would ponder what I would be when I grew up, who I would marry, and where I would live. I thought I would be a jockey and race horses or maybe an artist, making beautiful paintings that people would want to own and hang on the walls of their front room. My life would be filled with love, this I knew. I wanted to live in a house with a beautiful garden and lots of flowers so I could pick them and bring them into my home – a garden where I could paint and a backyard to hang my own laundry out to dry.

Once we checked in and made sure that we could get into grandma’s house without being noticed we made a fast track to the door in the basement – another day awaited us and we wanted to make the most of our time.

We pulled the bench away from the doorway and yanked on the now extremely swollen door. We took all of our necessities as the day before and tied our string and walked into the cool dampness of the tunnel. We adjusted our eyes to meet the darkness now only lit by a low beam from a flashlight. Continuing forward we went right again at the fork in the tunnel, we never did find out what lay beyond to the left. Wandering for quite a while, I was beginning to worry if we had enough string. The tunnel broke again, this time with three passages. Using the scientific method of “enie, menie, minie and moe”, we took the center tunnel.

My worries became true as we did run out of string, but being we were going straight and hadn’t come across other splits we continued, it was fast becoming cold, so we hurried to keep warm. The tunnel ended abruptly, we saw no other door or passage, but it looked as if it was a huge ballroom used for parties. There were tables, chairs, and a sofa, all battered and soiled from a lack of use. Bits and pieces of shattered china and glass lay haphazard in the crevices where the walls and floor met. There were torch holders in the wall, six in a semi-circle as the cave had become quite large and open at this point. It was here I imagined fancy parties with dancing and singing, people dressed up and laughing, drinking their illegal liquor till all hours of the morning.

Since we had run out of string and come to a dead-end we decided to follow back. Again this took a while, how long I am not sure as no one owned a watch. By the time we came back to my grandmother’s house we heard the first calling to lunch. Today I was excited; grandma had made spaghetti and her delicious meatballs.

After lunch we headed out back past the backyard and garden to the big oak tree. We wanted to check the contents of the tin box we found the day before. Maybe there was a map or buried treasure we could find. After we dug up the box, we ran to the tall grass in the field. By now the weather was changing, it was more humid and the wind was very calm. Tall mushroom shaped clouds where hanging just on the western horizon threatening to spill out large amounts of rain and lightning.  In the tall grass only the very tops of our heads could be seen so we knew we were safe to peek inside our treasure.

Looking inside with wide-eyed wonder, we removed the ledger we discovered the day before. Being I was only 6, I couldn’t read all that well so it was up to Mark to read to the youngest of us two. We were very excited to see a paper with writing on it and a diagram of sorts, also in the bottom of this box laid an old key – a skeleton key like the one my grandmother had for the door to the attic. Mark read the paper again with the diagram and believed it to be some kind of map, and the key had to do with this paper. Wonder filled us at what we might find once we found the door this key would open.

By this time the sky was more than threatening as it was starting to make us wet with large raindrops and the wind had noticeably picked up. The box was closed but we kept out the key and paper with the diagram. We would find the door that this key fit and maybe find a story to tell. It was time to go inside to play awhile.  The rain was now beating down harder as we ran as fast as we could across the field. Once inside grandma’s house we found a quiet spot in the front porch to look over our paper.  The honor of holding the key was mine for now. What Mark and Tony figured out is that the passage actually started from my grandmother’s basement. It looked as if it went a considerable distance, longer than we would have between meals. The only plan we could devise was to sneak into the tunnel at night to explore this to the end. We started making our plans as to how we would do this; it had to be a sleepover. Now how to convince grandma and auntie to have this sleepover – we had it!  We wanted to camp in the backyard but we would have to wait for the rain to stop so we could build our makeshift tents of sheets and blankets.

The rain finally stopped, leaving sweet smelling pools to splash in. You could see the smoky mists rising from the street as the water evaporated into the afternoon heat. There was only a small reprieve from the heat and we knew that it would become even warmer with the humidity rising along with the temperature. In Minnesota we need long sweltering hot days as this is a memory that seeps into our bones to carry us through the even longer cold winters that keep us so hardy and preserved.

We had our lunch and asked sweetly for blankets and sheets to make our tents with. Grandma gave us some old sheets and an old blanket to cover the ground with. This we used along with clothespins and a clothesline to make a tent. There were times we would pretend to be explorers who had just discovered the Mississippi or Indians who had lived there well before the explorers found their way to the large river that starts in Minnesota and winds its way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Today though all of that was forgotten as the only reason for this tent was to have a sleep over so we could continue with our adventure into the tunnel.

Short Story – The Triumph

Photo by Patricia Y, Twisted Root Studios


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The Triumph

by, Frank Scozzari

Mowambi was breathing hard, panting like a wild animal, his leathery face wincing in the hot African sun. He had been hit cleanly through the side, the wound causing a great numbness in his abdomen. His left leg lay limp like a dead thing, the life in it taken by the bullet. But the maumivu, the pain that it made, wasn’t bad. Except when he tried to move or when he breathed too deeply. He concentrated on his breathing, short and fast, short and fast, never too deep.

Mr. Rick – on the other hand – was dead. He lay, face-up on the rocks ten feet below Mowambi, where he’d been hit. The tsetse flies had already gathered around his eyes, scavenging on the moisture there.

Together, he and Mr. Rick had made a gallant rush up the dry wash, under the weight of heavy packs, laboring like horses, dodging bullets that ricocheted and wheezed past them. They had been close to the top, very close, nearly three-quarters of the way up the stone gulch to where it steepened abruptly, almost into a cliff. Then, Bam! Bam! Two shots and they were down—dropped like two gazelles on the Serengeti.

Mowambi lay now, back propped against a stone, trying desperately to hold back the blood which oozed from his side. His head was fuzzy and light; his breathing still fast and labored. The air was hot and dry and parched his throat with each breath he took. His life light, that which gave vision to his eyes, had momentarily gone out, but was back now, and his heart was pounding fiercely. He looked over at Rick Johnson, a big man, Mr. Rick, young and tall and strong. The bullet had hit him squarely in the back and came out his chest. Mowambi had seen many bullet wounds in game animals in his long life of fifty-eight years; many bullet wounds in animals, but not as many in men. He could see now how this one had taken Mr. Rick down so quickly. Over five-hundred meters and right through the big man’s heart. They shoot very well, he thought. These white men from Zambia.

“Mr. Rick,” Mowambi spoke aloud. “They got you good!” He shook his head, sadly.

He squinted up at the sun, the sweat running down the sides of his face. It was mid-afternoon, hot, and there was no shade, except for one old thorn tree, scraggly as the thin gray hairs on Mowambi’s chin. And Mowambi wore only a green army tunic and big Bermuda shorts, so his slender arms and lean black legs lay heavily exposed to the heat of the sun.

“Now they come to kill me!” he said, resting his head back against the stone and staring up into the blue, Zimbabwe sky.

He pulled himself higher on the stone, dragging his dead leg, and he looked down the wash. He could see them coming up: four, no five, of them. The three bushmen from the Kalahari and the two white men from Zambia. Their white safari hats were shining in the sunlight as they came out from under a group of huge, thick-trunked baobab trees at the bottom of the wash.

All that practice, he thought. Shooting down elephants. It has made them good shots. Now they come to kill me and won’t have to shoot well. So this is how it ends?

He began to laugh about it, but the laughter made the pain rise in his side.

They could use their hands now, or a rock, he scoffed.

Then a grisly thought entered his mind, that they would not kill him at all, but would leave him to die in the sun.  He had seen, many times, the carcass of an animal out on the Savannah, left to die beneath a blazing sun, left alone to ward off buzzards and hyenas, left until it could fight no more and was savagely eaten alive.  He understood how all things are connected; how all that rises from the earth goes back to the earth, but this did not comfort him.  Death in the Savannah could be hard and brutal.  Not a good way to end a long and joyous life.  It was a frightful thought, and it made his heart hollow.  Living long made dying okay.  But slow dying, in a way that humiliates, was not good.

But they would have to kill him, he thought.  After all he and Mr. Rick had done!  They had no choice but to kill him!  He smiled broadly.

“We done good, Mr. Rick,” he said.  Ah, yes, we did them good!

He began to laugh out loud, a high-pitched, happy laugh.

In his mind he saw the two jeeps explode, going up beautifully, spitting huge bellows of black smoke into the sky.  And then the plane.  Yes, the plane!  Mr. Rick was right.  Just one bottle of gasoline and one match did it.  And the Coca-Cola was so good!  They enjoyed drinking the Coca-Cola thinking of the gasoline with which they would fill the empty bottles afterward.

This was a huge setback for them, the white men from Zambia.  Mr. Rick said it would be.  No longer could they so easily shoot elephants from the sky.  No longer can they take the last rhinos from the Savannah.

“Sorry you cannot laugh with me, Mr. Rick,” he said.  “It was a very funny thing we did.”

He looked at the packs, the packs that had ruined them, one still slung partially on Mr. Rick’s arm, the other beside him on the ground where he had fallen.  They were filled with ammunition, hundreds and hundreds of rounds, ammunition for automatic rifles.  Mr. Rick had insisted on taking them.  After blowing up the jeeps and the plane, with the bushmen breathing down their necks, he insisted on taking them.  It would be a tremendous setback, he said.  The hunters could not replace them. Each two or three rounds represented an elephant’s life.  Now the two packs lay there, heavily on his mind, easy pickings for the white men from Zambia who came up the wash.

He surveyed the area around him. He and Mr. Rick had made it to the point where the two washes merged.  He had picked this spot, this saddle near the top of the two washes, from far away.  He had remembered it because the two washes were like crossroads and he had looked up at them when they first started up the wash, using them as a bearing to know when they neared the top.

Above him was the rock-strewn ridge that they would never make.  Before him was a vast view of the African countryside.  From high on the stone face, he overlooked a deep valley, almost a canyon which swooped down from the mountains and opened into a large sea of rolling hills of grass.  Beyond that were the flatlands, and further out, along the western horizon, a dusty yellow haze, fading into the sky, marked the end of the Savannah.  The near end of the canyon was thick with bamboo forests, out of which the hunters now ascended, following a game trail steeply up the gully.

Between him and Mr. Rick’s body, there was nothing but the rocks and stone slabs that made up the slope, the two packs, and the scraggly old thorn tree.  Near his foot he saw a stick from the thorn tree. A nice, round stick–the length of his arm.  He reached for it with his one good leg, pawing at it with his heel until he could draw it in.  Then he reached down with his good right arm, stopping for the pain to subside, then reaching again, stretching and clenching it in his hand.  It is a good stick, he thought.  It will be useful.

A noise sounded behind him.  He looked up and saw a large yellow hornbill perched on the stone just above his head.  The bird watched him, turning its head, showing its big, curved, yellow beak.  It had small yellow eyes that pulsated and zoomed in out.  The bird peered at him, long and lustfully.

“So, you have come for dinner, my friend?” said Mowambi.  “Leave now.  I do not die yet.”

Mowambi waved at it with the stick and the bird flew up and over the small rise in the saddle between the two washes, and down into the steep gorge beyond.

Mowambi looked down at the packs. All that weight in those packs, he thought, that weight that slowed us down, that kept us from getting away free. That’s a shame, Mr. Rick.  Too bad the hunters will end up getting the bullets back.  It is mbaya sana, very, very bad.  But we got their plane.  They will not be killing elephants from the sky for a while.  No, sir.  We did good, Mr. Rick.

He looked at Rick Johnson again, thinking of the young American.  A crazy man, he thought, here in Zimbabwe, so far away from his home, here to save elephants from the culling, the poaching, and the trophy hunters.  It was not his fight, they were not his elephants, nor his home, nor land, but here he was, leading the charge, organizing the others, doing what he could to thwart the hunters.  Here he was, dead because of 150 pounds of bullets that would go back into the hands of those who will use them to kill.

Mowambi was thirsty now, very thirsty, and he tried to think of something pleasant.  He thought of the water flowing in the small stream down below in the bamboo forest.  He thought of the Kariba, the endless Kariba, and the cold, clean water that flowed from it.  He thought of the life it brought.  He thought of what it would be like to have a cool drink of water!

Nipatie kinywaji baridi, tafadhali,” he said – please bring me a cold drink!

But his mind kept switching back to Mr. Rick, his presence here, and why he should die in Zimbabwe, in vain, high on this rocky gulch overlooking the Savannah.  And for Mowambi, it was wapi – the worst way to die.  When you do not finish what you start out to do.  It was the worst way.  Those bullets, Mowambi thought, they really ruined us.

Mowambi had not known all that had taken place, until Rick Johnson told him.  Sure he knew the value of ivory, pound for pound more valuable than gold, but he did not know that the culling had been authorized by the government and the ivory was being used to finance rebel armies in the north.  It was bigger, even bigger than Rick Johnson had known.  But for Mowambi, what he had always known was enough.  The killing was bad.  He worked hard to help the foreigners fight against the killing.  What he saw in Rick Johnson’s eyes and what he felt in his own heart was enough for him.  It was all that Mowambi needed.

The elephants were friends of the people and friends of the land.  And they had always been friends to Mowambi.  From the time he was a small child in his father’s village, to now as an old man, they had been a part of his life, part of the Savannah.  From birth to death they all walked together on the Savannah.  The elephants widened the water holes and brought life to many.  ‘Tangu kuzaliwa hata kufa,’ was the saying.

He knew how elephants cried.  Even more so than humans, they sensed death and felt death.  They were not thoughtless beasts.  He remembered the time he saw an elephant cow crying for her lost child.  He had watched her from a thicket, and had returned three days later to find her there, still mourning.  He had heard elephants laughing, under the sunlight, herds wallowing in mud holes, laughing and squirting showers of water on one another.  He had watched young elephants rumble on the Savannah, tripping over their trunks, fumbling with the use of that strange appendage. And he had laughed hard, so hard that he thought his belly would crack.

He had seen an elephant reach out and touch another, fallen from a bullet; and many others carrying and fondling the bones of their fallen friends. He had heard stories told of young elephants, orphaned after their parents were shot, having horrible  nightmares for months on end, as any human child would. He had heard their trumpeting cries across the desert, felt the sorrow of their low, subsonic rumbles, and saw them kick up clouds of dust against a setting African sun. Elephants had brought him amusement and sadness, compassion and joy. They had brought great laughter to his long life, and he owed them for that. They belonged here.

But the hunters could not see the elephant’s soul. Their eyes were blinded by greed. For them, the prize was ivory—white gold. And the herds were diminished, as was all the world. At first, they took out the big bulls. When the bulls were no more, they took the females, often leaving the young elephants motherless. Mowambi’s heart ached for the small, clumsy babies left to die on their own.

His head was hot and clammy now. His mind was fading in and out, almost into unconsciousness. And, in the heat and clutter of his fever, he had a vision. A big elephant came to him, crashing through the forest, its huge ears flapping, ivory tusks swinging from side to side. It stormed toward him, crushing down branches, pounding the earth with each step, shaking the ground so hard it rattled him. Then it stopped and stared in his eyes, its huge head swaying from side to side. In an instant, as quickly as the elephant had come, it turned and charged off into the forest.

Mowambi was startled awake by a noise. The bird again, the big, yellow hornbill. This time, it was perched on a rock below him. It was blazing hot and the thin shadow of the thorn tree was fully behind him now. He looked down the wash and saw the men closer, laboring up, their rifles slung confidently on their shoulders.

“You want to eat me now, don’t you?” Mowambi said to the bird. “Uende! Go away again. I do not die yet.”

He picked up a small stone with his good arm, and tossed it at the bird. Pain rose sharply in his side. The stone bounced off a rock near the bird, and the bird flew off again, as he did last time, over the saddle and down, laughing mockingly as it vanished over the rise.

“Where do you go, bird?” Mowambi asked.

He stretched his neck, trying to look over the small rise in the saddle. He could not see far beyond the curvature of the rock; only the sheer wall on the other side.

He grabbed a stone and tossed it over the saddle, not far enough to drop into the steep hole beyond. He threw a second stone, and the pain in his side roared so intensely that he almost blacked out.

This time, though, Mowambi heard the rock tumble, bounce, echo, bounce again, and then splash. He threw another, and again there was a bounce, an echo, a bounce again, and a splash. And Mowambi began to laugh loud–his high-pitched, joyous laugh. It would be the perfect plan, he thought. The perfect place.

At first, he went for the pack closest to him. It was scarcely an arm’s length away, but it was on his bad side, the side that had been killed by the bullet, and although he could move his left arm, it was almost numb, and his left leg was lifeless.

He felt his left thigh with his slender fingers. Nothing. Through all his years, it had been a good leg. He had traveled many miles on it, across the savannah, in the desert, through the mountains.

“Wake up, leg,” he said. “No time to sleep.”

But it was usingizi – dead–the worst kind of sleep. His only choice was to twist across his body and reach for the pack with his right. He was reluctant to try it, the pain might cause him to pass out. Yet the men were coming up and he knew he had to move quickly. So he reached for it, at first stretching slowly, testing the pain, pacing himself through it. Then he made himself fall over on his side, in the direction of the pack. His slender left shoulder hit the rocky ground and he clenched the pack-strap in his good hand, gripping it tightly, and dragged it toward him. He took a second, resting his face in the good earth.

It is truly not bad, he thought. When I stop, the pain goes away.

He pulled himself up and rolled the pack over his dead leg, the full weight of it, nearly seventy pounds, coming against it. He was glad it was asleep now. The bullet must have completely smashed the big nerve.

Over his good leg next, and down to the rocky ground. Then he began to push and roll it up the small grade of the saddle. He turned sideways and pushed with his right leg. He dragged himself along the rock to get closer, always pacing himself, sweating and gritting his teeth through the pain. He took the stick and pushed the pack as high as he could so that it reached the peak of the small rise.

The pack was long and cylinder-shaped. Mowambi knew it would roll easily once it started down. He inched himself forward. Smiling, then wincing with pain, then smiling again, tasting victory. He reached out and placed the stick against the bag, holding it there as he readied himself. Then he pushed hard, extending his arm fully. The pack tumbled, began to roll, and fell through the open air.

There was a huge splash, and Mowambi smiled widely. He thought of an old East African saying: Kusika si kusna – hearing is not seeing. But what he heard was mzuri sana – very, very good. The splash was loud and wonderful, as good as seeing. It must be deep, he thought. It has to be very deep!

“Do you see, Mr. Rick?” he said aloud.

Hurrying now for the other pack, he dragged himself across the stone, pulling with his one good arm, pushing with his one good leg, laughing hard against the pain. His bad arm had no feeling, but he folded the numb hand around the stick and dragged it, looking back frequently to see if the stick was still there.

He laughed at the thought of himself crawling across the ground like a worm. Stretching out, then inching forward—just like a worm! A worm that would defeat the hunters! He had walked great distances in his time. How he could barely make ten feet to where Mr. Rick and the other pack lay. He was glad he had watched worms and understood their movement.

No time to laugh, worm, he thought. Time to work!

Stretching out, he extended himself completely and reached for the pack with the stick. For a moment, everything went black. Then he came to. He looked down-canyon, but was too low to see the hunters.

“I must hurry,” he told himself. “They are close.”

Then he stretched for the pack again.

The strap, still on Rick Johnson’s arm, had a nice loop in it that stood out. He tried to snag it with the end of the stick.

“Come on, stick. Come on, fimbo. Take it.”

He jabbed and poked, finally catching it. Then he pulled on it with his good arm. He reached up with his numb arm as well, holding the stick with both hands now, and pulled back hard. The pack slid from Mr. Rick’s limp arm, and began to come away, pulling the dead man’s arm with it.

“Don’t worry, friend! I come join you soon,” Mowambi said, softly.

He yanked on the stick again, this time with all his strength, and the pack came loose from Rich Johnson’s shoulder. He drew it in close enough to where he could grab it into his chest.

It was the greatest chore, inching the pack back uphill. Every time he stopped to rest, the thought of the wonderful splash it would make gave him strength to go on.

When he reached the saddle, and pushed the pack down the other side, he held his breath until he heard the deep splash—then he let his head fall back and laughed high and fast. Finally, limp and exhausted, he lay back against the flat rock, resting his head on the earth, his one good arm outstretched above him. After a few moments, he let gravity roll him back down to his original position, pulling himself against the stone, and waited.

It was not long before he heard the hunters approaching and could see their white safari hats topping the rocks below him.

Habari! Karibu!” Mowambi said, in the nicest form of welcome.

The men came in slowly, cautiously, circling around Mowambi, and around the body of Rick Johnson. Two of them pointed their rifles at Mowambi. One of the bushmen poked at the corpse with the barrel of his gun.

Wafu,” he said. “Dead.”

Then they looked at the wound in Mowambi’s side.

“It’s not bad,” Mowambi lied. “Sijambo! I’m fine.”

One white man, the mzungu, had curly red hair, narrow eyes and a pug nose. He turned to the bushmen and spoke in Swahili.

Kutafuta wao! Kuta wao! Look for them! Find the ammunition!”

The bushmen immediately began searching the area, behind the rocks and in crevices, up higher in the wash, too, where it steepened. One bushman backtracked down the wash from where they had come.

The other white man, thinner and taller, with a big black mustache, looked at Mowambi.

“Where are they?” he asked. “The bullets, the popoo! Ramia!

Mowambi smiled at him, showing him his missing teeth. He laughed at him, with his high, ridiculous laugh, until the pain from his wound made his stop.

“How do you kill now, with no bullets? How do you kill? No more elephants. No more buri. No more, pembe,” Mowambi said, using the Swahili words for tusks and ivory.

One bushman was now halfway down the wash. The pig-faced white man yelled to him in Swahili. The bushman looked up, raised both hands in the air, and shook his head.

The other white man walked to the top of the saddle, where another of the bushmen stood looking down the steep cliff at the water below. When the white man saw the water, he turned back and looked at Mowambi.

“Too bad,” Mowambi said. “Too bad no more ivory.” He was laughing, laughing and choking on the blood that erupted in his mouth.

Kufisha,” said one of the bushmen. “Kill him.”

The man with the mustache picked up a rock and tossed it into the pool of water. It splashed so loud they all could hear it. Then he walked back down beside the other white man and stood before Mowambi.

“Black bastard,” the black-mustached one spoke. “Bastards.” He kicked at Mowambi.

Mowambi was ready. He wanted to force them to end it now. His side was hurting badly. Also, he didn’t want to be left for the hyenas.

It would be the white man with the narrow eyes of a wild pig, he thought. The ngizi.

The pig-faced one stepped forward now, his rifle barrel low to the ground. Then he raised the barrel to Mowambi’s face. Mowambi laughed again, high and silly. His mind went into a dreamlike state, and he saw the large elephant in his vision, charging through the forest. He saw the young elephants playing in the mud holes. He saw Mr. Rick, behind a pair of dark sunglasses, laughing and smiling. He saw the packs, full of bullets at the bottom of the pool, soaked and wrecked. Then he saw a white flash, and he saw no more.

Short Story – Back to Pan

Introduction

Love the images in this semi-state of reality blended to perfection with imagination, that is timeless, as can be the soul and state of mind within.

Photo by Patricia Y, Twisted Root Studios


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Back to Pan

by, Michael Gause

This weekend I decided to embrace my inner Pan, who breaks free of his provincial bonds every summer and fall, and return to the waters that sated and bathed me, those earliest years of my new life in Minnesota. I saw a faerie there (yeah, really) and the energy of that place helped ease the turbulent transition from my old life in TN to my new one so far north. It is a certain spot on the Mississippi, just west of where it joins the Minnesota. This space is a sacred cloister for me, a place to recharge the soul batteries and get perspective from the daily grind. It would be fifteen more years before I would discover that this area is also sacred to someone else, the local Dakota who consider the place where the two rivers join, the Bdote, nothing short of the center of the universe. The place of Dakota genesis. I’m telling you; you feel something here.

My spot is waiting for me, though the weather has transformed it from a hidden sanctuary to a pit stop on a well-traveled path. I feel I have traveled sideways through time. Enormous puppets and madrigaled beauty surround me. Ren Fest made real. People of all ages in some kind of celebration. Seems like something to be imagined, but it is only good timing. Lovers holding hands. Feudal love, requited. How wonderful. I am passed without a glance, shielded by indifference or native glamour. The old driftwood tree, which has always centered my visits here, has somehow escaped the spring floods and glows in the afternoon sun. It is more beautiful in how less it has become. Once imposing, now a stark piece of art Zen against all thought it could be so. Its protective skin long gone, smooth grooves hardened perfectly by everything it has weathered.

There are still nymphs about. I can’t see their ethereal curves; I feel them. They approach me, whisper in enticing breeze, giggle out of nostalgia. They ask me where the hell I’ve been. I try to respond, but have nothing. One pulls on my shirt and I smile. Pan, the wrong time, always the right place. And the old Pan simmers here in the light between the trees. Visions. Primordial drive and open sky. Earths moved by desire alone. I am shone fires that still burn beyond the day. A silent proposition. The sun laughs. Pan, too. He smiles at the newness of everything. He wants to make long love to the modern world. Remind it through coarse sweat what it keeps leaving behind. He wants it to call him in the morning.

As I prepare to leave, the modern self begins to take over. “Where am I?” The sand just laughs. It wonders why the question is always the same. A day trip to Fey, I tell myself. The rumored madness not a fear, but a blessing that prepares me for the return. The timeless clearing seems at odds with the world that waits. Come here as you become the thing that does not fit. Join them both inside you. Tighten the bands while opening the soul. Rectify infinity with the stone ticking of the clock.

Short Story – Down A Mountain, Up the Creek

Introduction

A short story that relates a portion of Justin’s trip through Central America.

Photo by Patricia Y, Twisted Root Studios


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Down A Mountain, Up the Creek

by, Justin Teerlinck

“Do you want to go back?” I asked.  The sky was getting dark, but it had been dark all day.  We had been told to expect rain.  What began as a thick, humid mist, had morphed into something more ominous.  We watched as cloud banks rolled down the steep-sloped, lush mountain sides like panthers stalking their prey.  They eventually became one, indistinguishable mass, hovering over us and teasing us with light, cold, steady droplets.  “Maybe it will let up,” I suggested.  I recall that we had been told to expect rain, that indeed, rain in a rainforest was quite common.  Still, I thought it was still the height of the “dry” season, and that meant more of a light, misty, dainty drizzle.  Apparently not.  The intensity seemed to be increasing even as the temperature kept dropping and the angle of the slopes sharpened against our feet.

We had been told to expect rain…

I looked at each of my companions.  Darcy stood, like myself poncho-clad with her hood pulled tightly around her head.  Her pale, exhausted face stared back at me.  “I don’t know,” she said.  “What do you think we should do?”

I turned to Laura, whose face was pointing at the ground.  “I never wanted to do this,” she said quietly.  “I hate this.”  Dirty, soaked strands of her blonde hair hung loosely from her scalp like a drowning victim.

“Does that mean you want to go back?” I said.

“I don’t care anymore.  This is your deal.”

I clenched my jaw.  We had been hiking for about five hours through the mud, uphill in a steady downpour.  Laura had slipped and fallen twice.  I slid down a cliff and my fall was only arrested before the cliff’s edge by a hefty log that blocked my passage into oblivion.  We were attempting to scale Celenque, the highest mountain in Honduras.  It seemed unreal that we were having so much difficulty given that we had planned and prepared for this trip for days in advance.  The guidebook said there was a cabin at the top and a view of all of Central America that would blow our minds.  So far we could see nothing but jungle and glimpses of other mountains through the occasional clearing.  There were no signs, markers or guideposts and our map was a single page in the guidebook.  We had packs full of dried spaghetti and ramen to be consumed immediately upon the kindling of a fire in the cabin.  We had spent several hours in a hot spring in the town of Gracias Lempiras talking to some Canadians over beers, and they said the journey was hard-going but totally doable—never mind that one of their lot had broken her ankle and needed to be carried off the mountain and their gear abandoned.  On our way to the base camp, we observed another gringo being dragged off with a compound leg fracture, and were then charged with finding two parties’ abandoned gear.  The second couple we ran into also said that in the previous week another gringo went missing on the mountain and had not been heard from in two or three weeks.  This seemed like enough information for me to encourage our companions.  We were a hale and hearty lot!  We had our health, some ponchos and food.  All we needed to do was be methodical about not breaking our legs and the adventure was absolutely within our power.

“Okay,” I said.  “I have an ‘I don’t know’ and an ‘I don’t care anymore’.  We must be closer to the cabin than to base camp by now, so let’s keep going.”  Laura and Darcy said nothing, but slowly turned and resumed their death-march up the side of this beast called Celenque.

As I marched in front of them, I thought about Papa Hemmingway.  I thought about the Snows of Kilimanjaro and I realized that this was supposed to be romantic, like a hero’s quest.  But hero’s quests were a Joseph Campbell sort of thing.  Papa Hemmingway wouldn’t sit around analyzing shit.  He would just slip some gaiters over his cowhide boots and haul ass up the friggin’ mountain.  Papa Hemmingway would never let a little rain piss on his parade.  He would…He would…be like a tough burro that never gives up, even after it’s all wet and runs out of hay and the other burros stop talking and pretty much hate what they’re doing.

Persistence, I realized was the key to a good many things.  Success was one of them, as were bruises, callouses, hypothermia and starvation.

We walked for another two hours.  As what little light there had been, began to fade I noticed that Laura and I were shivering uncontrollably and Darcy was no longer shivering at all.  Not only had our pace slackened to that of a hip-surgery patient taking their first walk after waking up, but we were lurching all over the place like zombies—even where it wasn’t steep.  There was no map, sign or any objective indicator that we were anywhere near the cabin, or if it even existed any longer.  I decided not to tell Darcy and Laura that we all had hypothermia.  I decided not to tell Laura how angry I was at her for not bringing rain gear to a rain forest, or how stupid I felt for not being better prepared myself.

None of us had spoken in hours.  I signaled my companions’ attention by simply coming to a dead stop and lowering my hood.  I was already soaked to the skin and it no longer mattered that the rain was pounding down on us harder than before.  “We need to go back,” I said.

“Finally!” said Laura.  “We never should have come here to begin with; we shouldn’t be here right now.”

“No one forced you to come along,” I said.  “I asked you hours ago if you wanted to go back and you said you didn’t care.  Am I a mind reader?”

“What was I supposed to do, stay behind while you go off and have fun with your new best friend?”

“That’s your problem, not mine.  I came here to do things, not just sit around on my ass the whole time.”

“Whooooooa,” said Darcy.  “I didn’t do anything.”

Laura started to cry.  “You…don’t even care that your girlfriend is miserable and doesn’t even have a rain jacket.”

“This is a rain forest!  We’ve been here for months.  Why do I have to be responsible for everything you forget to bring?”

“You’re the biggest asshole I’ve ever met.  I wish I could forget I’ve ever known you, ever!  When we get to the bottom of this goddamn mountain we’re through!  Do you hear me?  It’s over!  I don’t ever want to see you again you bastard!”  The exclamation points of her words were marked by plumes of steam as her warm breath hit the now frigid air.

What would Papa Hemmingway think of this drama?  He would probably just shrug it off with a shot of whiskey and a game of pool.  He wouldn’t let it eat at his conscience, or examine his conflicted emotions toward the two women he was with.  He certainly wouldn’t die of hypothermia.  No, he would generate heat from the force of his will.  He would soldier on.

We had been told to expect rain, but not cold or anger.

We began a rapid, perilous descent through jungle canopies of the cloud forests of Celenque.  What had been sloppy hiking on the ascent, was now pure mud soup on the way down.  Our wrinkled feet squished around for traction in our soaked hiking boots as we slid more than hiked down from the mountain in the dark.  On the way down there were no words at all except expletives shouted from Laura as she fell down.  During each of these occasions, I silently paused and turned to make sure she could get back up, but then proceeded.

Somehow the hours passed and we made it back to base camp without injury.  Our home was an ancient, unheated structure made out of concrete and corrugated steel roof.  Our only source of heat and light was two or three votive candles we had found in a drawer full of cobwebs.  Overcome by utter exhaustion, we stripped off our clothes and slipped into our merely damp sleeping bags.  It was fortunate that we had planned to leave behind a set of dry clothes, but there was no wood or fuel to make a fire and cook our food and even if there had been, our energies were lower than the candles that shed their weak glow and cast long shadows over our frames and against the bunker-like enclosure.  The rain pounded on the steel roof like a thousand carpenters, and it was this ear-splitting cacophony that sent us off to the sweetest oblivion in the most dismal hole.

I entertained the faint hope that in the morning, rest, warmth and dryness would create a much needed change of mood for my girlfriend.  But as I awoke, I heard a familiar sound greeting my ears: abject sobbing.  I approached Laura’s bunk and found her curled in the fetal position, sobbing without pause.

“What’s wrong?” I said.  There was no response.  I stood looking down at her for several long minutes, unable to conjure words or gestures.  My stomach growled and twisted like a wounded animal.

“Why are you standing there?” she said, her back turned to me.  “Fuck off.  We’re through.”

“I thought you would be feeling better today.  Yesterday was rough, but here we are.  We made it back.”

“I don’t care.  I wish I was dead.  Why did you have to come into my life?”

Darcy looked at me from across the bunkhouse.  She rubbed her gazelle-like belly and pointed to it with an undeniable sense of urgency.  I nodded.

“I think you should eat something.”

“We don’t have anything we can eat.”

“Darcy thinks there might be a little comedor around here.  We could get a hot meal, or try to.”

“I can’t believe I’m in the middle of nowhere with the biggest asshole who ever lived.”

“Darcy and I are really hungry.  We’re going to try to get some food.  I think you should come with us.”

“Why?  I’m too slow for you anyway.  You don’t need me slowing you down do you?”

“I never said that.”

“Well, you thought it.”

I had thought it, but since when was thinking a crime?  “Look, you should eat.”

“Why?”

“So you don’t starve,” I said somewhat sarcastically.  My stomach was squeezing itself into knots and then slowing untying itself.

“Oh, so now you care what happens to me?”

I sighed.  “I’m not playing these games with you, Laura.  Darcy and I are starving.  We need to eat.  If you want to come with, you can come with.”

“Why don’t you just go to hell, fuckhead?  Just leave me alone.  That’s what you want to do anyway.  Go off with your new girlfriend.  Why don’t you just fuck her instead?”

“Okay…bye.  We’ll see you soon.”

“I hope not.”

On that happy note, Darcy and I set off in search of warm nourishment.  None of us had eaten in at least 24 hours.  The guidebook suggested that there might be a comedor about a kilometer down the mountain, and while it seemed like an impossibly long way to walk at this point, it at least was on a partially rutted, dirt track rather than a goat trail.  On the way in, we had been chauffeured up the rugged mountain by a tiny, candy-apple colored, cartoon-like rototivo—the Honduran word for a three-wheeled taxi.  The three of us had been crammed into the doorless, go-cart-sized vehicle with all of our gear and the engine just barely pushed the tortoise-like contraption up the steep mountain road to base camp.  On several occasions the driver hit a rut and lost traction, causing tires to spin and nearly toppling us over.  There may have been comedors on the way in, but we had not been paying attention to the scenery.  It seemed like this trip was providing us with one near miss after another.

I looked at Darcy and what Laura had said rang true.  Here was someone who could keep up with me, who was mellow and easy-going, who provided no complications.  She seemed like she had resolved life’s problems and mysteries and was no longer troubled by anything.  How hot was that?  She was pretty, smart and seemed like she might be a bit kinky.  How many times had she subtly informed Laura and I that we could go ahead and have sex in front of her?  Was this a good thing?  Her boyfriend was in jail, suffered from deep depression, and sounded like a complete drainbow.  Darcy seemed concerned for him but complained about him every day.  It appeared that we were both trying to take care of people we wanted to be free from, or perhaps I was assuming too much.

“What’s wrong with Laura?” Darcy asked when we had been walking in silence for some time.

“I don’t know.  She’s been pissed off as long as I’ve known her.  I thought she would be happier, coming out here.  This was her idea.”

“Really?” Darcy said.  “She was so happy and fun in our Spanish class.  I had no idea she was like this at all.  It seems like she did a 180 as soon as we got off the plane.  Do you think she’ll come out of it?”

“I don’t know.  She seems to be getting worse, and she’s getting more mad at me with every passing hour.”

“What are you going to do?” she said, her wide, green eyes staring into mine all of the sudden.  Could she read my mind?  Could she feel the vibrations of my heart, pounding against my rib cage.

“I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” I said.  “What do you think I should do?”

“Maybe just hang in there and see if things get better.  I’m sure she still loves you, deep down.”

Right, I thought.  But did I still love her?  I was afraid to answer that question, afraid that the question even existed, but it did exist and it was boring its way into my soul, slowly burning and digesting my insides.

There was still some rain in forecast, it seemed.

We reached a tiny house further down the mountain.  It was the first dwelling we had seen since exiting the base camp.  Our last pairs of dry clothes were being soaked beneath our ponchos.  Ours, was a forced march, but not like the march that the Smothers Brothers’ father had to endure in World War II.  We could see rags hangings from a bit of wire, a small fence made of sticks enclosing some cooing chickens.  A friendly mutt ambled up to the gate to greet us, wagging his tail.  There was no sign of the human occupant, but smoke was issuing forth from a chimney.

“Maybe there’s someone inside who can tell us how to get to the comedor,” I said.

“Yeeeeeeah,” said Darcy.  “That would be awesome.”

We let ourselves through the gate, and muttered a few half-hearted “hola”s.  After the second or third attempt, an old woman appeared at the door.  She glanced at us curiously, then smiled.

“Good afternoon madam,” I began, my Spanish becoming less sophisticated with each syllable.  “Very pleased to meet you.  We very hungry, so need food place to the eating.  We eat anything thank you much.  Know you where a food place here?”

The old woman let out a cackle and gestured us inside.  She patted some benches and bid us sit down, and before we knew it we had steaming cups of instant coffee in our hands—with sugar.  “This lady is niiiiiiiiice,” Darcy said.  “Too bad Laura didn’t come.  It’s so warm in here!”  Warmth was something we had not previously lacked in our sojourns through the tropics, but in the higher elevations, our paper-thin shorts and t-shirts were not enough to keep the damp cold at bay.

“I wonder when she’s going to get around to telling us where we can get some grub,” I whispered to Darcy.

“Look,” she said, in the wonder-filled voice of a small child.  “She’s makin’ it.  I think she’s gonna feed us, dude.”

“No way,” I said.  “No way.”

“Seriously.”

My stomach let out another spine-twisting spasm as my olfactory bulbs detected frying eggs and ham.  The woman stirred a pot of fresh black beans in a kettle hanging over an open fire.

“I have a feeling this is going to be totally home-made,” I said to Darcy.  “I’m talking Little House on the Prairie-style.”

“Mmmmmmmmm.”

We watched her cook in silence.  I could see steam coming off of my wet t-shirt as it began to warm up.  Several puppies ambled up to us and sat in our laps.  The woman told us their names but I forgot immediately.  Her house was tiny, packed end to end with utilitarian objects but tidy and orderly.  Other ancient, dented pans and metal cookware hung from home-made hooks on the walls, as did clothes, boots and other objects.  It looked like Yoda’s hut in Empire Strikes Back.  In the corner there was a mat, probably her humble sleeping space.  Sleep…in a warm place…with no one hollering bloody murder…it sounded like such a sweet, sweet dream.

My head began to nod, the sedative effects of the warmth and the friendly animals lulling me back into blissful oblivion.  When I awoke, the woman stood before us smiling and there were huge plates of bread, eggs, ham and beans in front of us.  A giant mother cat was purring away in my lap and several more were meowing and kneading close beside us.  Our trembling hands held wooden spoons and devoured every ounce of food placed before us.  It was as though we were dead, in a fog, unable to see in color, or think.  Our bodies soaked up the nourishment and reveled in its simple, satisfying completeness.  A new kind of light seemed to radiate from everything that had previously been so gray.  I could see all the details of the room, the house and the many dogs and cats that I had just moments ago barely realized even existed.  Just minutes later I realized that my arms and legs had been numb, and so cold, but were now so quickly restored and full of vigor I could climb the mountain again—but wouldn’t dare try, given inflammatory effect it would have on my already distraught girlfriend.

Darcy and I sat for another hour or so, just digesting and luxuriating in the calm crackle and glow of the fire as though we were at some kind of four-star day spa—but this was better.  Finally, after an eternity of needed rest, we extricated ourselves from the kind lady’s abode and her many loving animals and warm fire.  I held out twenty wet, crumpled paper lempiras—about ten paltry bucks, all the mad money I had left.  The woman carefully folded each bill and put them in a hidden pocket in her dress.

“Gracias, muchas gracias senora,” I said.

“A la orden,” she said, beaming broadly.

The rain had stopped, and the sun was poking out from somewhere.  It was still cold, and I worried about how my messed up girlfriend was doing.  I hoped she had exhausted her ability to cry and be angry.  I hoped she wouldn’t yell when I opened the door of the concrete bunker we were calling home on the mountain.  The steaming bowl of beans I held in my hand was no longer steaming, or even warm.  I opened the door and tentatively peeked inside.

It would be a lie to say Celenque was cruel to us. We were cruel to ourselves.

Short Story – Tunnels, Part 3

Tunnels of My Childhood Part 3, by Felice Scrittore

Introduction

Part 3 of “Tunnels” picks up from the Winter 2012 issue. Our main character, a girl of about 7, is growing up in a Northeast Minneapolis neighborhood and about to embark on the greatest adventure of her life.

Photo by Patricia Y, Twisted Root Studios


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Tunnels, Part 3, by Felice Scrittore

My cousins and I were playing in the basement but because there was not much to do, we quickly became bored. I went to the doorway that led into the cellar storing all of the canned harvest from the summer past. When my grandfather was alive, he had used this as a workspace. Once inside, there was another portal to the immediate right that had been closed long ago. A heavy board and small workbench lay across and in front of the door to prevent us from entering the passageway, and keep others from wandering in.

This was the entrance into the little known tunnels that traverse the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. On this day, the untreated boards would not stop us from exploring what adventures lay on the other side – into a past that none of us understood at the time. We decided to take a peek inside, taking with a flashlight we found on the bottom shelf of the workbench; we removed all the makeshift barriers and stepped through the dark and small opening into the musty and pungent smell of damp earth. Batting at spider webs and walking carefully, just in case we found something to poke and examine. We continued as we imagined finding a skeleton of some poor soul who had the misfortune of crossing the gangsters of a past era, or maybe an old Tommy gun or bottles of gin.

The only thing we found for the first few steps were more spiders and webs. As we progressed we found that the tunnel was becoming larger before there was a split: a path to the right and one to the left. We made a choice to go right, being two of us were right handed we voted and the righties won. We continued for a while, losing track of time. We were becoming hungry as we still hadn’t had lunch, but at least the heat was gone while being filtered by the cool damp earth of the tunnel. Finally I had to use the bathroom, being a girl I didn’t want to go there in front of my boy cousins and begged to go back. Tony told me to go back by myself, as expected, but Mark said he would take me back and Tony could wait for us. All at once his taunts of calling me baby ended with the thought of sitting in the darkness of this tunnel by himself. Now it was his turn to be teased, “Baby” I called, “scaredy cat” Mark called.

We traced our steps back to the entrance. By this time my grandmother was calling us for lunch with a sound of impatience laced in her voice. We had to sneak upstairs, out the back door and run around to the front. We were not in trouble since all of us were together. When she asked where we had been Tony pinched my arm from behind thinking I was going tell. As grandma turned her back to lead us into the house Mark punched Tony in the arm, so off we followed, bruised and dirty we headed in for lunch.

We ate our lunch in almost near silence as we contemplated our discovery. An occasional question from grandma would break into our thoughts along with a reminder to eat everything on our plate, “there are starving children in china” she would always say. We knew that as soon as we could, we would be back in that tunnel, eager to continue the journey we had begun.

After lunch we left the house with a thank you and a kiss for grandma’s cheek. We were never asked where we would be only because the whole neighborhood was our family and a parent never had to worry about the welfare of their children in that time and place. Watching for grandma to return to her friends, we crept back into the house. Making our way down to the basement again, we decided to bring more necessities; we only had one flashlight so we found candles and matches, a kite string to tie up at the door in case we found more passages and a few apples for later when we became hungry. There was time until the evening meal so we rushed in after tying off the string.

Once we came to the first break in the tunnel, it was decided to explore in the other direction, to the left. The tunnel dipped lower with a slight decline. We could smell a more intense mustiness and another scent not readily recognized, almost a fishy odor. Suddenly there were stairs carved into the limestone leading down to the sound of water. As we descended we could see a faint light creeping into the darkness of the tunnel as the light became brighter we had found we were in one of the cave openings that connected to the Mississippi river. It was there that a small landing with large rings had been deeply embedded in a limestone platform. These must have been used for tying up small boats; the area was not much larger to allow more than a small boat to enter. We had to see how deep the water was but had nothing to test the depth. We searched and found a loose rock that we tied the remaining kite string onto and lowered into the tiny pool. The slip was deep, about 20 feet; the water was dark and murky with algae forming along the natural formed edge. This made the rock we were stepping on somewhat slick.

Two torch holders were screwed into the wall on either side of a small alcove that almost looked like a built in desk. We felt around inside the recess of this alcove and found it had a depression in the back. Mark hoisted me up and pushed me further into the cramped space, since I was the smallest it was to my delight I was the first to peer in and have a look. Upon closer examination I found that a flat stone had been fitted almost perfectly into the depression. It was heavy as I tried to move it. My fingertips hurt as I grabbed and clawed at the stone. It moved a little so I knew it could come out. Mark took his shirt off and made a hammock of sorts by tying the ends up. This I used to wrap as best I could around the rock and held tight with clasped fists as Mark and Tony pulled me back out by my ankles, straining my scrawny legs.

The cloth shifted then slipped and I lost the stone but as children who are very determined we continued to tug and pull and push that stone around. Finally we were able to shift its weight enough to balance it on its side. I was shoved back into the alcove and looked again into that depression. What I found this time was a small tin box, rusted and grimy but a treasure from our hunt just the same. Again I worked the shirt to fit around the box and this time success was accomplished on the third try to release it from its hiding place. As the box came loose, Mark and Tony had been tugging so hard at my legs that we all fell in a heap on the wet slimy ledge, scrambling quickly so we wouldn’t fall into the dirty abyss of dark, murky, stinky water. I always had a fear of water, not so much the water itself, but what lay below the surface in the unseen depths of the water; too many creatures from the black lagoon movies.

The box fell to the ground with a large echoing clang sliding and hitting the edge of the wall. As it hit the latch broke open. In the box we found a ledger of sorts; a bill of lading that contained a detailed list of deliveries spanning three years from 1927 to 1930. What surprised us was that not only liquor passed through this cave and into the tunnel but jewelry and art such as paintings and sculptures. Included were names of the people who delivered and the names of those persons who received the goods, along with dollar amounts and details of the articles. We closed the box and set it aside. We wanted to see exactly where the cave led out to the banks of the Mississippi River.

Since it was summer, the trees obstructed part of our view, but we knew where we were once we stepped around the ledge and recognized the old brownstone brick building of the Salvation Army across the river from where we stood. The Pillsbury Mill was just upstream north of the arches of the 3rd Avenue Bridge.

The Salvation Army was very familiar to us as we shopped there along with the rest of the neighborhood. It had an old Coca-Cola cooler machine on the main floor, and you were on your honor for payment in a little box on the side. There were 3 floors in the building, not including the basement level. Each section was packed with donated and discarded items ranging from toys to furniture. It was always akin to a safari hunt going there and always we would manage to sneak out to the river’s edge to toss stones or watch the baby ducks swim along the shoreline.

We walked along the bank for a little while before going back into the cave, the air outside had become much warmer if that was possible, almost a suffocating heat. The coolness of the cave was a welcomed reprieve. It was getting late and we turned around to head back to the basement. It took a little longer because now we were climbing up hill. What felt like a gradual decline coming in became a steep climb back out. A couple of times I tripped and slid on the wetness of the ground. Finally we found ourselves back to the entrance in the cellar, all three of us muddy and dirty faced. I had suffered a scrapped knee, nothing new; I always had a scab somewhere on my legs or arms. Once we came out we had to close the door and latch it again. The door had swelled slightly from being opened in the heat. We pushed and shoved and managed to close it as best we could but we could not latch it. The workbench was pushed back in place in front of the door, but as the door wouldn’t shut all the way it didn’t lay against the wall as it should.

Apprehensive of being caught and have our new adventure taken away we found a few things to pile on top of the bench so it was not evident at first glance that the door was ajar. Since this was a side room and not used too often, we could only hope that no one would need anything soon from this room.

Short Story – What We Really Are

Introduction

Wonderful images and descriptions of a child finding himself and knowing there is more to ourselves, beyond here, at an early age and how this turned into a life-long journey.

Photo by Patricia Y, Twisted Root Studios


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What We Really Are, Craig Steele

Seeing how we expand toward stars and planets after death,

it’s no wonder we look at the night sky in awe with feelings of reverence

and maybe even memories. —  Rudolph Steiner (1861 – 1925)*

The view from up here is incredible and makes me feel like I’m home again, just like in the beginning.  It’s difficult to talk about the beginning, when I was learning how to listen to the universe.

The beginning is the story of a Seeker, not the story of the experience itself.  After all, the real discovery was that the experience was always there, as insubstantial as a shred of tissue paper, as close as a living thing can be to being there, and not being there at all.

But questions are understandable, so I will try to answer.

Many years ago, when I was about seven-years-old, I invented a game, a very amusing game, in which I sat inside an overturned cardboard box.  In this game, the box was my body, was a machine, a starship, and there was an idea of “I”.  I used to imagine that “I,” the traveler, the soul of the machine, sat inside this starship, which I called “Body.”

You must understand this wasn’t a mystical technique, or a meditation method.  At least that is not how I considered it.  I was just a child, a very creative child, who overturned tables and made-believe they were boats, who rode a broomstick and imagined that it was a horse, who could turn a sheet draped over the kitchen table into a deep dark cave that was sometimes warm and safe, and sometimes filled with delightfully scary adversaries, such as Ogres and Orcs.

And in this game I didn’t just go to the stars.  “I” would steer “Body” toward the stars, where we all belong.  This game continued and developed:  I would no longer sit, but “I” would sit in “Body”; “I” would feed it, as someone refueling a starship.

This game amused me for many months.  I remember my mother saying, “Jason, are you all right?  You look very odd, as if you’re not here.”

It was one night, when I was about eight-years-old, that for the first time the traveler, the feeling or the idea that there was a traveler, disappeared for a moment and instead a light appeared that started between my eyebrows and continued to grow and grow … inwards.  I never until then felt something that was so real.

The light continued growing inwards — a white light, the body’s energy, a feeling as if my head was exploding and surging upwards to infinity, getting stuck among the stars.  And one moment I wasn’t … and then I really was.  I was a real reality:  an indescribable bliss … enormous love … peace.

When this experience ended, the search began, a mad search to regain the same experience, which disappeared for about forty years.

The search started when I asked my father about it, and later, my mother, aunts, uncles, other relatives, teachers.  From all I got the same answers — blank stares and fear-filled eyes.  No one knew what I was talking about.  No one knew me.

For forty years I kept searching, in the “New Testament,” in the Koran, in the Bhagavad-Gita and the Darmaphada, in the Tao Te Ching, and the Upanishads.
Traveling this long road I found charlatans, healers, mediums, crazy people, and fanatics.  I also met wise people, good people, developed souls.

But I did not come across anyone who was forever in that state which happened in me when I was a child.

I practiced every technique and method that can be imagined — everything.  But in all those moments of being caressed by the divine, that which happened in me when I was eight-years-old didn’t return.  Of course, during those years of searching things did happen:  energies, light, nothingness, but not that thing I drank of at the age of eight.

Then, five years ago, after a boring bus trip from Cleveland to Erie, I was back in my apartment, getting ready to meditate.  But I didn’t meditate.  I only sat.  And then, after forty years, I felt again that same experience.

It wasn’t as if the experience started again, but it was as if everything had always been there.  There was a feeling of, “How didn’t I notice it before?” and “Why didn’t I pay attention before?”

And the light came back.  But this time the light continued growing, as if all the universe’s energy was within me and as if I was within all the universe’s energy.  It was as if all and everything started disappearing within me, while I’m disappearing within all and everything.  And then, there’s more light, as if I were waking up in light.  That light is impossible to believe.

Have you ever seen a movie about an atomic explosion, the light that blinds the camera?  Well this light is like a million lights like that.  This light is not of this world — an indescribable love; bliss that we are unfamiliar with.

Gradually, in the years since then, the experience is becoming more natural.  It is natural to be what you really are.

It doesn’t matter how much I try to explain the experience in words because they are incapable of expressing what we really are:  that ocean of an enlightened consciousness, pure, what we are in essence, reality, the source of our souls.

The important thing, what is really important, is not so much what happened in me, but that it will happen in you.  It will happen where it is found.  For such is the beginning of the pathway to the stars.

______

*Rudolf Steiner, Austrian philosopher, founded Anthroposophy, which he characterized as “a path of knowledge, to guide the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe…”

Short Story – Tunnels, Part 2

Tunnels, Part 2, by Felice Scrittore

Photo by Patricia Y, Twisted Root Studios


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It was on this hot day that my greatest adventure began. You see this community also was once famous for bootlegging during the prohibition of the 1920’s. In this area there are many tunnels that run under the sublevel of the houses, similar to the catacombs of Europe, that lead to the caves of the Mississippi river. This is where the liquor was brought in under the darkness of early morning and run through the tunnels to be sold in the greater Minneapolis – St. Paul area and further north and west into Wisconsin. These caves and catacombs were also used to hide the famous outlaws of the day – Ma Barker, Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, and many others. My grandmother’s house was one of the few that had direct access to these tunnels; another little known access is a cramped Italian deli. This store still stands today, if ever demolished it will be the last known entry point to these tunnels in this area.

To escape the sweltering heat my cousins and I decided to go play in the basement of my grandmother’s house. At this time she was visiting with the neighbors next door, her closest friends from the old country, still speaking their native Italian language so we could not understand who or what they were talking about. The house of my grandmother was an old 2 story with the kitchen in the back and the living room in the front – the front room as it was called. There was a screened in 3 season porch that I spent many days watching the rain fall when I couldn’t go outside to play. I would bring my toys out there and dream the day away, or draw my dreams of one day having a horse of my own to ride with the sun shining through the tall prairie grasses littered with wildflowers and buzzing bees stalking nectar from the bloom.

There were two sets of stairs leading to the upper level. One was directly inside the front door of the porch, which led into a middle room on the second level, that was my grandmothers bedroom and a walk through to the only bathroom in the house. Another bedroom sat above the porch area; this was the bedroom that my mother shared with me. There was one more bedroom in the back of the house on the other side of the bathroom; this room was my Uncle Louis’s room. The bathroom that separated the middle room and the back bedroom was the kind that had a commode, a pedestal sink and a huge claw foot tub. Many times I was in trouble for overflowing that tub. I fancied it as a small ocean and would dive under the water pretending to look for buried treasure, or the princess mermaid that mirrors my astrological symbol.

The back stairs went down into the enormous kitchen where my grandmother would fry up her delicious meatballs to be used in her famous spaghetti sauce. The scent of the sizzling and snapping meat as it was cooking would entice me into the kitchen looking for a fresh fried meatball that was rolled just to size for me, and offered up on a pink handled child’s fork. I would run to the front room and sit 1/3 the way up the stairs so I could peer out the porch windows and watch the neighborhood activities from my perch. Here I would see my aunt Mary across the street washing the sidewalk with a garden hose or my uncle John cutting the grass with his push mower that made a clacking sound as it was pushed and pulled through the grass. There were always children of the neighborhood riding a bicycle or running toward some unknown destination past the windows of my world. It was these moments where I would find my quiet space as I leisurely took small bites of my meatball, so as to savor the taste and absorb the memory into my cells.

The back kitchen stairs had a fake step fourth from the bottom. This step was hallow and had a hinge that allowed for easy access. Many years before my conception and existence this was used to hide bootlegged liquor, but was now used for storing boots and shoes. It was here I would hide sometimes when it was naptime, my grandmother always knew where I was and would sit on the step calling my name as I clasped my hand over my mouth to lock the giggles rumbling inside me. When I would finally answer because I was becoming tired of being confined, my grandmother would laugh and say in her beautiful broken English “where are you, I can hear you but I don’t know where to find you”. It was a game we would play and I would be so grateful when she finally let me out that we would hug and kiss and laugh. She then would gently reprimand me about hiding from her because she would be so sad if the day came where she could not find me.

Short Story – Tunnels, Part 1

Tunnels, Part 1, by Felice Scrittore

Photo by Patricia Y, Twisted Root Studios 


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It was a hot summer day in 1967. The kind of sultry heat that curls the leaves of the towering ancient oak tree in the backyard of my grandmother’s house. The wind was strong but not strong enough to give relief from the heat; the hot, moist wind only moved the perspiration along my brow into my hairline, tickling my scalp.

We lived in lower northeast Minneapolis, my two cousins and I. The oldest, Mark, was 12 at the time. Tony, 10, was his younger brother. Then there was myself; the tomboy of the block, I was 6. Even though I was young I had no trouble keeping up with the boys, or at least it seemed that way. Unknown to me at the time it was Mark who always looked out for me; it was his way to ensure I was never alone. He was my hero. Tony on the other hand was my tormentor, and it was because of him I was tough, tougher than any of the other little girls in our neighborhood.

The neighborhood was a close-knit clan with generations of blue collar workers ingrained with traditional values. The area was known as dog town because there were as many dogs running loose as there were children, and being a Catholic community there were many children. You could hear the laughter, the cries, and the sounds of ball games of all kinds from sunup to way past sundown. We used to play hide and seek at night or kick the can and all ages were included. On occasion when the parents were settled in at one neighbor’s house sharing stories and beers, we would sneak out with pots, pans, and tennis rackets. These were all were used to try swatting at the bats that came out from the caves cut into the bluffs of the Mississippi river, to dine on the mosquitoes Minnesota is so known for as our second state bird.

The neighborhood was comprised of many different ethnicities – German, Italian, Polish and Native American with sprinklings of Russian and Middle Eastern. It was a 4 block by 8 block area. The borders were comprised of: East Hennepin Avenue, Johnson Street, Broadway Avenue, and Central Avenue. All the houses were closely built together, with front stoops that led to paved sidewalks, which separated the green grass of the boulevards from the front, manicured lawns. The streets were lined with mature Dutch Elm trees that created a rustling canopy to block the sun during the summer heat.

When the ripening of fall came, the amber hues crunched under our feet on paved walkways as we traced our steps to school. On the front stoops of these homes you could find the owners sitting as they watched the neighborhood dramas play out. It was from these vantage points all the neighborhood children, no matter whom they belonged to, were raised. Everyone had a hand in bringing up the children of dog town. If you were naughty you would be scolded and sometimes spanked by the nearest adult, only to be sent home to receive the same from your own parent because the call had reached your home before you could run as fast as your legs could move you. Although, if you were hurt it was those same adults that came to your aid with a kiss and a pat on the back and sometimes a Band-Aid coupled with a small glass of Kool-Aid. That was the dynamics of my childhood; it was a liberated, easy time to grow up and a loving community to have been reared within.