Dog Days

Timing was everything.  Look normal.  Don’t draw suspicion.  Still, he couldn’t focus on anything…

I no longer remember what the prompts were for this piece. I believe one was “The lizard crawled through the window,” another was “internationally recognized warning sign,” and finally, I believe the last prompt was “doodling in the margins of big yellow pads of paper.”

Sid sat transfixed by the digital clock on the dashboard of his ’87 Olds, the dark gray vinyl cracked and chipped beneath the hot Texas sun.  It was 5:30 and he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  His blue Cutlass, wedged tightly between a Greyhound bus in front and a tanker truck behind, hadn’t moved ten feet in as many minutes.  Trapped high above the city streets on the Pierce Elevated in the heart of downtown Houston, if Houston had a heart, he thought. His week had been hell and this day even more so.  On the surface, this day was no different than so many others spent in this endless line of rubber, steel and glass, snaking back through the sweltering heat of summer, but that wasn’t the whole of it.  Today was the day for which he’d waited and prepared for years, really for all his life.

He looked at himself in the rear view mirror, sweat dripping from his balding head and bearded chin.  “Damn this Texas heat!  Damn this traffic!” he said to his image, but he knew it wasn’t the heat, even though the AC hadn’t worked in this piece of crap for over a year now.  No, it wasn’t the heat.  He’d waited all week for this day, excited and afraid, ever since he’d gotten the email late last Saturday.  There in the midst of innocuous prose were the words he’d hoped for and dreaded for so long, “The lizard crawled through the window.”  The time had come.  Now, hating every minute of delay, each hour an eternity, he crawled towards his destiny.  This past week at the firm was spent doodling in the margins of big yellow pads of paper as paunchy old wind bags rambled on about projected losses and declining markets.  Timing was everything.  Look normal.  Don’t draw suspicion.  Still, he couldn’t focus on anything but today.  All week long it was all he could think about.  Could he do it?  Should he do it?  He was nearly paralyzed, caught between faith and reasoning.  The whole city was caught in an urban paralysis, frozen in its tracks, unable to untangle from the knot of congestion and commerce.  With all the warnings and all the news flashes, here it sat, frozen in place with nowhere to run even if it did know what lay ahead.

Somewhere ahead, unseen to Sid, wreckers towed away the last of the arterial blockage and the traffic began to nudge along, picking up speed bit by bit.  Finally he reached his exit and trundled down the ramp to the city streets below, stopping in front of a dilapidated warehouse with a barely readable, century-old sign, on its side announcing some defunct company, and hawking a product long ago forgotten.  The metal door screeched open, resisting him as though in some feeble attempt to stop the inevitable, a last and pitiful defense.  With an almost casual glance up and down the street, he returned to the car and eased it into the cavernous hole, stopping just inside the door to pull it shut behind him, and locking it, now his defense against prying eyes.

From the trunk he pulled out a large toolbox and a crowbar.  Strewn about on the floor in haphazard fashion were several large wooden crates marked “Machinery” and “Machine Parts”.  All bore the address, Smith and Jones AG Equipment Company, Inc. and were marked, “Made in India,” or “Made in Germany,” or “Made in Belgium.”  Sid attacked the boxes feverishly, prying the packing crates apart and laying the contents neatly on the floor.  Every now and then he would move a part from one spot to another and replace it with some other piece freshly emerged from the packing material.  Soon it was all unpacked and he stopped to survey the “ingredients.”  Wiping his brow, he opened the toolbox and set about assembling all of this into one large, complex apparatus.  Done, he grabbed up a broom and began to quickly sweep the packing material to the back of the room, where several heavy sheets of rusting iron leaned against the wall.  Strewing the Styrofoam in front of them, he pried them away from the wall with a long bar from another pile of rusting metal scraps.  They crashed with little noise, leaving the wall behind exposed.  There the wall had fresh plaster applied and he tackled this with renewed fervor.  Soon he had an opening a man could move through at a stoop.  Grabbing a flashlight from the toolbox, he ducked into the low opening into the space beyond.  It was barely a room, more like the bottom of a ventilation shaft.  But there was room enough.  In the corner, sat a black metal case, internationally recognized warning signs plastered on all sides.  Sid lifted it with a grunt.  Tired from the previous hour’s work, the thing weighed more than he’d expected.  Gripping it with both hands, he shuffled back to the opening and heaved it through, following immediately behind.

Back at the apparatus, he carefully opened the box.  Abandoning all caution, he lifted the dull metallic rods from the case, one by one, and inserted them into his machine.  What did it matter to him?  It would all be over soon.  With the last rod in place, he closed the machine cover.  From a velvet wrap, he removed a small palm-sized box, a thin wire trailing from one end.  Connecting the wire to the apparatus, he unwound it several paces back.

“This will do,” he thought.  He lay the box on the floor and returned to the car.  From the back seat he lifted a small, well-used prayer rug.  Slipping his shoes off, Sid returned to the box and unfurled the rug, laying it gently on the floor.  After a moment’s reflection, he determined which way he should face, then knelt down, bending low upon the carpet, his head pressed against the course fibers.

His finger found the button.

“In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.”

He pressed and knew no more, his soul swept away in the nuclear blast to meet whatever destiny awaited the faithful dead.

Leveling the Ground: Creationism vs Evolution

It requires less faith to believe in creation by design than by chance.

I wrote this paper for an advanced writing class I took at Sam Houston State University with Dr. Siebert back in the summer of 1992. 

Evolution.  Even after a nearly two hundred year history, this idea is shrouded in controversy.  What is evolution?   It is a widely accepted theory, not only among those of a scientific bent, but even among laymen.  In a nutshell, the theory states that life as we know it today did not simply spring up from nothingness full-grown, but slowly changed, over eons of time, from the simplest organisms, through many and numberless alterations, into more and more complex organisms.  Until, now, after billions of years of evolutionary history, we have humans and dogs, elephants and porcupines.

There are two observable phenomena that serve as the basis of evolutionary theory.  The first is known as the fossil record, the untold story left behind in rock by ancient creatures, long dead.  Untold, because there were no means available to these simple creatures to relay their tale to us, except to die, trapped in amber or volcanic ash, their bodies left to slowly turn to stone, awaiting excavation and discovery.  Among the fossil record are some very impressive finds, such as the skeletal remains of fantastic creatures, like dinosaurs and saber-toothed tigers, as well as the remains of man and man-like creatures.

The second basis of evolution is the observation of that incredible mechanism among animals, labelled the adaptation of species.  This is the amazing ability of animals of the same kind to change in order to better fit their environment and to improve their chances of survival in a hostile world.  The butterflies in England which changed their coloration from light to dark, enabling them to better blend with the soot blackened trees, are an example of this.  Evolution is the theory put forward to explain these phenomena.

Evolution depends heavily on two elements: the chief of the two is chance and it determines the second, which is time.  Chance is a very important issue, so we’ll begin with it.  Let’s start at the very beginning.  Scientists tell us of the primordial soup, a chemical potluck washing over the earth some tens of billions of years ago.  A chance lightening strike provided the energy to combine some of these chemicals into amino acids.  This has been shown to be possible in laboratory experiments.  Amino acids are considered the building blocks of life.  Every organism has them.  They are not alive, simply the stuff of which life consists.  The amino acids in the lab were simply that, amino acids, not living organisms.  They lacked some of the crucial structures found in every living thing: DNA and RNA.  If amino acids are the building blocks, DNA and RNA are the builders and the architects.  We know very little about DNA and RNA, but we do know that they are immensely complex and without them life cannot exist.

We are told that these amino acids did combine into a living organisms; after billions upon billions of chance strokes of lightning, and billions upon billions of chance combining, some group of amino acids succeeded in producing the necessary elements for biological survival.  Then began the long evolutionary process of trial and error: these extremely simple single celled organisms, through millions of hit and miss changes, some succeeding, many more failing, evolved into more advanced and complex organisms.  It would be stretching credulity if this process were to result in one complex organism, like a snail, for example, or even a worm, let alone the vast myriad of living plants and animals that exist in the world today.

The other element of evolution is that of time.  Evolution requires enormous amounts of time.  Hand in hand with historical geologist, evolutionists have increased their estimates of the earth’s age, first by millions of years, now by billions.  But even this is not enough time to account for the progress allotted to these chance happenings.  To understand the problem that chance brings to this issue of time, let’s look at it from the view of mathematical probability.  Mathematics has often been referred to as a pure science, mathematical truth being beyond bias.  One branch of mathematics concerns itself with the study of probability.  If you were to sit down and put a pencil to it, even given the best odds, the probability, or chance, of evolution happening, in any length of time is astronomical.  Some would say improbable; the word “impossible” is more like it.  It is like shredding the New York City phone book in a mulching machine, then tossing the debris into the air, and having it land intact.

Many of the weaknesses in this theory are disguised behind the subtle language used by evolutionists. For example, the word “evolved” does not suggest the radical and fundamental changes that must take place in order for one organism to become another, dissimilar organism.  The change required is not subtle, not even if it were spread out over eons of time.  It is not so much like changing the color of your hair, as it is akin to growing another head.  Nor does it suggest the absolutely incredible complexity of every living creature, no matter how “simple”.  There are enumerable functions, such as respiration, reproduction, circulation, digestion, carried out by highly specialized organs, each suited to its task and different from every other, each an amazing achievement.  But together?  In one animal?  Incredible!

It is easy to see why evolution has many detractors, both among the brotherhood of science, and among the common man.  One must ask, is evolution the only theory that can explain the presence of these phenomena?  The answer is no; there is another way of thinking.  Many scientists disagree fundamentally with the tenants of evolution, and have searched for other explanations.   The theory most often pitted against evolution is that of creation by divine fiat.  That is, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  This is known as creationism.

In its extreme form, creationism leaves no room for compromise.  Its stance is that evolution is an unpalatable blasphemy, which seeks to deny the veracity of the holy scriptures.  But there is a compromise offered by some.  It is as follows: God is the creator, and evolution his modus operandi, his method of operation.  Impossible?  No, the purist would have to admit, God can do just about anything he wants to, but the holes in the theory of evolution still exist, and blaming God for them, fills not a one.  But many do hold to this middle ground, and feel very comfortable in doing so.  It may not answer all the questions asked by a purist, but it provides a position that draws from the best of both worlds: doing away with the unbelievable element of chance, and offering an explanation for the physical evidence offered up by evolutionists.

There is even some biblical basis for this way of thinking.  If one were to look at the order of creation as given in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, it would be found to correlate with the various stages enumerated by evolutionists.  First, life in the sea, then plant life.  Next comes fowl, and creeping things, and finally, come the beasts, and among them, man.  The purist could only find fault with the amount of time attributed by evolutionists.  But with God in the picture, as has already been noted, you’ve eliminated the element of chance, and therefore, you don’t need the huge chunks of time which chance requires.

Evolutionists would find this talk of God outrageous, it being an issue of faith and religion, they would say, not science.  But it requires less faith to believe in creation by design than by chance, to see order and purpose in the universe, rather than chaos and happenstance.  When you observe the wonders of nature, be it the most magnificent, or the most minuscule, it takes very little belief to see that it was not chance, nor natural selection that caused it to be, but design and therefore, a designer.  Taking into account the difficulties inherent in a chance driven evolution, it  is easy to see that more faith is required of the evolutionist.  Their theory is not, after all, a matter of science, but a matter of faith.

So the battle rages on with each side holding to their own beliefs.  It is not something that can be decided by science, for this is a battle of the mind and heart, waged between a man and his own conscience, a woman and her own intellect.  There, inside, beyond the reach of others, every man and woman must make up their own mind; they alone can decide what they will accept as truth, and what as false.  I hope you choose wisely.

A Night Without Fear

Jamey“Jamey!”  Gramma called from the foot of the stairs.  “Are you coming down?  Breakfast is ready.”

On the bed a pile of quilted blankets stirred.  Jamey popped his head out from beneath the covers.

“Coming, Gramma!”  He answered.  Sitting up, he groped for his clothes.  “Let me get dressed.”

As he pulled his clothes on, his thoughts turned to his parents. They were on their second-honeymoon, going to the same place they had gone before, fifteen years ago.  Jamey had wanted to go, but his father had explained it to him.  This was something very special for his mother and father, and it was important that they spend some time together, just the two of them.   He wasn’t so sure he understood, but after last night, he was sure he wished he was home instead of here.

Jamey remembered last night.  It had been a nightmare.  He lay awake all night in his father’s old attic bedroom, dark as a tomb.  A tree branch scratched at the window, like a skeletal hand seeking entry; an owl hooted constantly, while all the while the house creaked and groaned.  Jamey had done precious little sleeping.

“It was all that racket,” he told himself, but he knew better.  It wasn’t the noise that had kept him awake.  It was his fear.  He knew it, but he didn’t like to admit it.  “No self-respecting twelve-year-old is afraid of the dark,” he told himself.  “That is, none but this one.” At breakfast, he just picked at his food glumly.

“What’s the matter, Jamey?  You don’t feel well?”  Gramma asked with concern.

“No.  I feel alright.”  Jamey answered.  “Really.”

“Well, something is the matter.  Grammas can always tell, you know.  So, what is it?”

“Nothing, Gramma!”

She looked at him over her glasses.

Looking away, Jamey said, “I couldn’t sleep, that’s all.  I guess

I wasn’t very tired.”  He hoped that she would be satisfied with that.

She wasn’t.  “It’s darker in the country at night; no street lights, you know.  Sometimes I forget that: it takes some getting used to, especially when there’s no moon out.”

She poured herself some tea. “I meant to leave a light on for you last night, just until you get used to the place.  Remind me to do that tonight, okay?”

Jamey looked at Gramma with admiration and wonder.  Sure!” he said, “And thanks!”

Gramma smiled, her wrinkles crinkling around her eyes.

“Here, have another muffin.”

That morning Jamey spent exploring the wood and hill round the farm.  He even rode his father’s old bike to Mr. Clancy’s farm, Gramma’s nearest neighbor who lived about a half-mile down the road.

“You tell your grandmother to get her furnace lit.  There’s a blue Norther’ blowing in tonight!”  Mr. Clancy spoke with concern.  Ever since Grampa had died, the Clancy’s had kept a neighborly eye on Grandma.

That afternoon, which had been unseasonably hot, the wind began to pick up speed, blowing in gusts from the north.  Soon the sky became overcast, the clouds scudding before the wind like animals before a fire.  Within a couple of hours, the temperature had dropped forty degrees, and by supper it was well below freezing.

Grampa Smith's Farmhouse (2)

It began to hail and sleet, the frozen pellets bouncing off the roof like rocks.  By supper’s end, the hail was replaced by snow, a steady supply drifting downward, with an occasional, but furious, gust of wind.

Jamey volunteered to do the dishes and Gramma cleared off the table.  While the storm raged outside, picking up intensity with every passing moment, inside it was snug and warm, a comfortable, cozy shelter.  Jamey felt content.

“Well, now that the table’s cleared, I believe I’ll go out and check on the animals,” Gramma said. It won’t take but a moment, then I’ll be right back.”  She bundled up and went out the back door.

Five minutes went by.  Ten minutes: the dishes were done, the glasses dried and put away.  Twenty minutes.  Thirty!

Jamey paced the floor.  “Surely it doesn’t take this long just to check on a few dumb animals!”  He was upset and beginning to really worry.

Not able to wait any longer, Jamey went to the back door and looked out.  It was pitch black; he couldn’t see a thing.

Reaching for the switch, he turned flipped it up.  “It must be burned out!”

Jamey’s hands sweated.  “She’s probably alright.”  he said to himself weakly.  He wanted nothing more than to just leave the door closed and the darkness safely on the other side.

“But she could be in trouble.  I’ve got to find out!”  His hand gripped the doorknob until his fingers ached.  Everything inside him fought against fear and indecision. Finally, he threw the door open and stood facing the chilling blast of night.

“Gramma!” Jamey cried.  He ran to her where she lay sprawled at the foot of the stoop, unconscious.  Already snow covered her, and he wiped it away from her face.  She must have slipped on the ice that had formed on the concrete steps.  She lay on her back; her glasses, bent and crooked, were shoved up on her forehead; her face was pale and pasty.

Jamey’s mind raced like mad.  He knew he shouldn’t move her, in case her injuries were serious.  Besides, he doubted he could.  “But if I leave her here, she’ll freeze to death!”  Despite the cold, Jamey’s hands sweated.

“The phone!  I’ll call for help!”  Running inside, he grabbed the phone.  There was nothing but static.  It didn’t work.  Biting his lip and trying to think, Jamey fought back the tears that threatened to erupt.  “If only Mom and Dad were here,” he cried.  “Someone.  Anyone besides just me.”

“Mr. Clancy!”  he said out loud.  “I can get Mr. Clancy!” But first he must do something about Gramma.  He had an idea.

Running to his room, Jamey stripped his bed.  In Gramma’s room he found a pile of quilts.  Carrying them outside, he covered Gramma from head to toe, making sure she had room to breathe.

“There that ought to keep her warm enough for a while.”  he said to himself.  To Gramma, he said, “Hold on Gramma!  I’m going to get help.  You just hold on!”

A search of the kitchen turned up a flashlight with a weak light.  It would have to do.  Shrugging on his coat, Jamey rolled the bike down the driveway and onto the road.  The darkness closed around him, the pale beam of the flashlight useless in the falling snow.

Jamey swallowed hard.  The fear he had conquered in the kitchen came again and beat upon his imagination.  The wind began to blow even harder, driving the snow into his eyes, making it nearly impossible to see.

Winter Ride

“I can’t stop.  I can’t stop!  For Gramma’s sake, I’ve got to go on!”  He forced himself to think only of reaching the Clancy’s. The wind, icy, sharp-fingered, tore at his clothes, trying hard to throw him down.  Failing at this, it shook the trees in fury, howling at him as he passed.

Just as he lost hope, when he was sure he wouldn’t make it and not only he, but Gramma as well, would perish in the storm, he was there.  Pedaling with the last of his strength he plowed up the driveway.

“Mr. Clancy, Mr. Clancy, open up!  It’s Gramma, she’s hurt!”  He shouted as he pounded at the door.

Mr. Clancy opened the door, exclaiming. “Why it’s Mrs.

Wilson’s grandson.  Come in boy, before you freeze to death!”

“I can’t Mr. Clancy, Gramma’s hurt bad.  She fell outside, and she won’t wake up.  You got to help me.  I can’t move her!”

Only moments later, they were speeding back down the road to Gramma’s house.  Jamey prayed that it wasn’t too late.

transparent divider


Much later that night, Jamey sat on the bed in the attic, completely exhausted.  Downstairs, he could hear his Aunt Mary puttering around.  She had come to keep an eye on him, and to help Gramma when she came home from the hospital.

Jamey’s parents had been called and were ready to cut their vacation short.  His mother had wanted to leave right away.  But Uncle Richard had reassured them.  “It was only a little concussion.  The doctor wanted her to stay the night just for safety’s sake.  You know Mom,” he told Jamey’s dad, “It would take more than a bump on the head to keep her down.

“By the way, that’s some boy you have there.  If it hadn’t been for him, things might have turned out differently.  You know, his quick thinking kept her alive. He set out for help in the middle of the biggest storm we’ve seen around here in a long time. A real hero!  That’s what he is, not afraid of anything.

You should be proud.”

“Not afraid of anything…” the words echoed in Jamey’s head. Wasn’t that something?  He, Jamey, not afraid of anything!  He didn’t know about the hero stuff.  What else could he have done?

But it occurred to him, he had faced the night, the storm, and his own fear, and he’d won.  As he shut off the light, he remembered.  It wasn’t that he hadn’t been afraid; it was that he hadn’t let it keep him from doing what he had to do.

Snuggling into the bed, he knew he had it beat.  Tonight, would be a night without fear.

Last Christmas

The Challenge:

Create a written piece from one or more of the following prompts.

Don’t save me Prince Charming, I’m busy |  Jig on tombstones |“Uh oh! Someone’s….FABULOUS!”

Here’s my attempt…


Christmas Party

Sharon stood on the ledge, her eyes squeezed tightly shut.  Her chest heaved as she sucked in air between sobs.  Her intent had been to jump, but she hadn’t found the courage.  As she had worked her way away from the window, she nearly lost her balance when she stepped on a loose brick.  In that instance, she realized she didn’t want to end it all.  Unfortunately, going back inside seemed as scary as plunging over the edge, so she stood frozen in place, crying.

“Sharon!” a voice spoke from the window.  It was Ron.  Mr. Head Stuck Up His Butt Ron, the office Romeo.  The sounds of the office Christmas party drifted past him.

Don’t save me, Prince Charming!  I’m busy!” she shot in his direction.  He was such a baboon, she thought.  He thinks he’s God’s gift to women.  She couldn’t stand him; he was a wart on the face of humanity.

“What are you doing out here?”

“What does it look like?” she said, sniffling now as her sobs subsided.  “I’m taking a walk, Einstein!”

“If this is about last night, I’m sorry!”

“You conceited prick!  A girl contemplates suicide, and naturally you have think it has to be about you,” she swore.  “Believe me, you’re not worth the trouble.”

“Well then, what is it?” he asked, one foot now on the ledge.

“Why should you care?” she dared to open one eye and shot a glance towards the window.

He had both feet on the ledge now and was cautiously straightening up, his back pressed against the window.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” she warned.

“Look, I know I wasn’t very…nice, last night.  I…I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Oh, what did you mean to do?”

“I didn’t mean anything.  I wasn’t thinking.”

“Ah, a moment of honesty!” she exclaimed.  “Is this a breakthrough?”  She scooted further down the length of the building, as he began to make his way toward her.  “You’d dance the jig on tombstones, you’re so thoughtless,” she added.

“Sharon, I’m sorry!  She didn’t mean anything to me.  I don’t even know how it happened!”  he said as he moved closer.  “Her husband has been so bad to her.  I  felt sorry for her.  I was trying to help.”

Uh oh!  Someone’s…” she began, as he stepped on the loose brick.  With a shout, he flailed his arms, and plummeted to the ground.  “FABULOUS!” she finished.  Having reached the next window, she slid it open and stepped through.  Moments later, she joined the growing crowd on the sidewalk.

“Who is it?” she asked innocently of Bill from Accounting who stood at the edge of the throng.

“Ron Strake, Sales.”

“Oh, what a shame!” she exclaimed.

“No kidding!  He had so much going for him!  Who could have seen it coming?” Bill commented.

“Really!” she agreed.  “Who could have?”

What’s REALLY at the End of the Rainbow?

The Challenge:

Create a written piece using the prompt below.

What is REALLY at the end of the Rainbow?

I am  fairly certain that there was more than one prompt, there always was and normally, I challenged myself with writing a piece using, not one, not two, but all three prompts.  Apparently I did not rise to that challenge on this one.

Also, I am not proud of my dialogue.  I suck at dialogue on a good day.  This was a quick piece and mostly unedited, so…

Anyway, this is my attempt…



“What was that?” I asked aloud, my own voice echoing back to me in a sinister whisper not my own, as though someone stood in the shadows mocking me.  Turning around to study my surroundings once again in the flickering torchlight, I saw only the damp, moldy walls of the lowest dungeon.  With each step I took across the debris-strewn floor, crunching noises erupted from beneath my feet.  As far as I could see in the unsteady light, the carcasses of various rodent and vermin, some of them human, lay in heaps scattered across the floor.  A shudder went down my spine.  The smell of it all beat upon me—the perfume of death and decay.  The only sound here, the relentless traffic of water, seeping through the floors, the walls and ceiling.

I remembered my foolish boast, “What is there to fear in the dungeon?”  What indeed?  Steeling myself to my mission, I pressed onward, down one of the many narrow, low-ceilinged passages honeycombing the bedrock foundation of the castle.  The path wound its way ever deeper beneath the earth.  Not the slightest hint of air current stirred through this death maze.  How could he be alive after all these years, in these conditions?  How anyone could live a week in this filthy hell, I could not fathom, but two decade?  Impossible!

After an interminable time, the passage leveled out and I entered a cavern with iron cells built along its walls.  Holding the torch up to each as I passed, I began searching for the one that held my father.  What I saw here cannot be described: creatures, no longer human, staring out at me with vacuous eyes, their sweet, syrupy, sticky…smiles of delirium and madness, drooling little trails of spittle through the filth that covered their half-naked bodies.  The stench of it all threatened to overwhelm me; several times I retched until I thought my stomach itself would heave out upon the floor.

Finally, in the last of the cells, I found him.  I knew him.  Perhaps it was his spirit that gave him away to me; certainly it was not his appearance for he had aged beyond the intervening years.  Somehow, he had survived—his gaunt frame only the slightest whisper of his former self.  But his spirit was indomitable.  I could see it his eyes.

“Father, I’m here! I’ve come to rescue you!”  I choked on the words as I fumbled frantically with the locked  gate. The key I had acquired fit easily, but try as I may, it would not turn.  In my haste, it broke off in the lock.

“It is no use,” his voice grated, like the rusted gate, it had not been used for a long time.  “It has been bewitched.”

I fell back, startled to hear him, and hopeless at his words.  “But there must be a way!”

“No, but all is not loss.  I have waited for you.  I knew you would come.”  He erupted in a racking cough, blood appearing on his lips.


“Don’t worry.  Death will come as a relief to me here.  I will at last be free.”  He smiled weakly.  “I have waited to tell you what only I can tell.  They have tried again and again to get it from me.”  He coughed again, this time the blood flowed more freely.  He wiped it with the back of his hand.

Incredulous that he had managed to keep his secret against every effort to pry it from him, I was excited that the answer would soon be mine.  So many had died attempting to attain it.  And, many had killed, as well.  I leaned against the rusting bars and strained to catch his words.

“There’s,” he gasped, “There’s a…” and he collapsed dead upon the floor.

I grieved there by his cell for as long as the conditions would allow me.   When I could bear it no longer, I made my way up the wending path, to return again to the world of light.  I could not grieve deeply for a man I barely knew, but I felt a deep satisfaction that my traitorous uncle would never know the answer to that question.  It never occurred to me that he would not believe my father had not told me.  When the guards met me as I emerged from the secret passage, I suddenly realized it had all been too easy, that I had been allowed to “rescue” my father, in the very hope that he would divulge the precious secret.  Now I sit in the very cell inhabited by my dead father, to scribble these words upon the damp walls for no one to read, and to ponder the question my father died refusing to answer, “What is REALLY at the end of the Rainbow?

A Recipe for Success

The Challenge:

Create a written piece using one or more of these prompts.

Tail of two Gypsies | Inquiring minds want to know | Something based on a superstition that proved the superstition right!

Here’s my attempt…


narrow building

The bookstore went almost unnoticed as Kali shuffled by.  I say shuffled, because Kali was deep in a funk, a treacherous, black funk, the morose sort that consumes your every thought, dragging you down into a dark whirlpool of despair.  It was just this sort of funk that had Kali shuffling down that particular street on that particular day.  Her boyfriend of nearly three months, a personal record for her, had not called her for two straight days.  And what’s more, when she called him, his line was busy!  This was not good and could mean only one thing—he was growing cold.  She’d seen it before and it always hurt, but never like this.  This time she was truly in love!  She had to do something about it; only, she had no idea what.  That’s why she was in such a funk and nearly passed the old shop.

It resided in an ancient, dilapidated building that leaned precariously against its neighbor for support.  In the store window squatted an extremely fat, black cat atop a humongous pile of books.  Above the door, attached at just one corner by a chain, a wrought-iron sign dangled dangerously, swinging in the breeze.  On it perched a stuffed owl, barred, if I’m not mistaken, holding a book in one talon and gripping its iron perch with the other.  Above the owl, in faintly gilded gold letters, were the words, “Ye Olde Book Shoppe” and beneath it, in smaller letters, “Inquiring Minds Want to Know”  And if that weren’t enough to get the attention of any even moderately curious girl, the front door swung open all by itself.

Kali entered.  Inside her eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light.  Everywhere there were books, books in great, huge stacks, books laying all jumbled across the tables,  piled in heaps under the tables and even in the aisles.  It was unlike any bookstore Kali had ever seen.  In the center of it all, behind a dark mahogany counter, surrounded by mountains of books, stood an old woman, her spectacles thrust down to the very tip of her nose.  Silver hair framed her face like a halo Kali had seen in Renaissance paintings.  Skin the color of ivory stretched tautly over her tiny frame, with not a wrinkle or blemish to be seen.  Kali knew in an instance that she was old beyond belief: her eyes gave her away.  Piercing and intelligent and warm all at once, they spoke of more than any one lifetime could possibly behold.  And even though they were what caught and held her attention, Kali could never recall afterwards what color they were.

Kali realized that she had been standing for some time simply staring at the woman.  She blushed and stammered, “What a lovely store you have.”

“Nonsense!  Balderdash!  Say what you mean, not what you mean to say.”  The woman retorted in a surprisingly sharp voice.

“But I did, it is a lovely store.”  Kali said defensively.

“Interesting? Yes!  Quaint? Maybe.  A mess?  Most definitely!  Lovely?  I don’t think so!”  The woman pushed her glasses up and looked as if to study Kali more closely.  “What is your name, girl?”

“K-k-kali,” she answered, a bit put off by the woman’s abrasiveness.  With a little defiance, she added, “And yours?”

“And what are you seeking?” the woman asked, ignoring Kali’s cheek.

“Seeking?”  Kali repeated a bit perplexed.  “Nothing!”

The woman chortled.  “Everyone is seeking something.”

“Not me.”



The woman paused a bit, searching Kali’s face.  Then she said, “No boy problems?”

Kali’s amazement showed.  “How did you know?”

“Close your eyes and turn around three times.”

Too confused to resist, Kali did as she was told.

“Now, with your eyes still closed, move forward and pick up a book.”

“Which book?”

“Any book you want, but you must keep your eyes closed!”

Kali moved forward gingerly, her hands in front of her, groping air.  She came upon a pile of books and felt her way along them, fingers exploring first one book (too heavy), and then another (too big) and another, each one inspected, weighed, judged and rejected, all with her eyes clamped shut.  At last, she gripped a little cloth-covered book with raised stitches along the binding.  Her skin tingled at the touch of it and warmth spread through her as she held it.

“This one,” she said tentatively, half question, half statement.

“Keep you eyes closed,” the woman barked.

“How much does it cost?” Kali asked.

“Everything and nothing!”  The woman was suddenly at her side.  She took the book from Kali’s hand and then returned it to her wrapped in crisp paper.  “When I tell you to, you can open your eyes again, but don’t look at the book until you are again in your own room.”

“Now,” she whispered.

Kali opened her eyes and nearly fell over.  She stood upon the very street she had shuffled down before entering the store.  The woman was nowhere in sight and neither was the store.  In its place an empty lot squatted between hulking buildings.  Kali blinked several times as if to clear her vision.  She felt numb, dreamlike.  It wasn’t real, she thought, until she looked in her hand.  It was the package of brown paper tied with cord.

“Oh, my!” she said aloud, “It really did happen!”  She fumbled with the string, trying to work it over the corner of the book.  Then she remembered what the woman had said.  Slipping the package into her purse, she hurried to get to her room and see what she had bought.

About half way there, she realized that she hadn’t paid for it.  This pulled her up short.  That couldn’t be right.  That would be stealing!  But what did she say, “Everything and nothing?”  What was that supposed to mean?  Was it a riddle?  She hated riddles!  Nothing means it’s free and everything means it isn’t.  So which is it?  How could it be both?  It made her head hurt.  Shrugging it off, she continued on her way, perhaps just a little less excited as she had been.

Once in her room, she cut the string with a pair of scissors and ripped the paper off.  The cloth cover was orange.  Her favorite color!  The title, hand-lettered in purple ink, was “Recipes for Success” and beneath it, in smaller bright green letters, “A Collection of Curses and Spells by Gilda Hogsbreath”.

Kali’s hand trembled as she turned the cover.  On the facing page, a poem was inscribed.  It said:

On these pages

words of power

Comfort in your darkest hour

Be not hasty in their use

For they will not

abide abuse

This one thing is sure

If your heart is not pure

What you speak will transpire

But not as you desire

Heed this warning

Or else!”

Kali frowned.  Or else?  Or else what?  She turned the page and the backside was blank.  “Well, that’s a silly poem, isn’t it?” she thought.  “And not a very good rhyme, either!”

She began flipping through the book, perusing the titles at the top of the pages, things like “Find Something Lost”, “Put an End to Gossip”, and “Put Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder.”  Every recipe listed ingredients under the title and beneath that, instructions.  One called “You Call the Shots” sounded promising.  Its ingredients included, “a pinch of dry mustard, two drops of hot pepper sauce (the green ones), a sprig of clover, hair of a one-eyed cat (Calico) and three toe nails from a large dog, among other things and the instructions called for a quarter moon on a Tuesday between midnight and 2 a.m.  Very strange!  She continued to flip the pages until at last she stopped on a page in the center of the book.  At the top it said, “Make Him Stay.”

“Hmm…” she thought aloud, “This sounds interesting.”

The page contained a short list of necessaries: the tail of two Gypsy moths, ½ cup of white vinegar transfused with two crushed garlic cloves, an article of clothing from the intended target (preferably something intimate) and a dash of cayenne pepper.  She could do all of this, except the intimate article of clothing.  She had none of his clothes.  That would be difficult, especially if he wasn’t seeing her.  The directions were even worse:  grind the moth tails into a fine dust (very easy) and add a dash of the pepper.  Sprinkle entire content over the article of clothing.  Pour the garlic vinegar over all and roll up tightly.  Do this on date with significance to both you and your target.  Hide it in a dark place for exactly 240 hours, remove and wear.  Your beloved will follow you like a faithful pup.  Drawn to you like a moth to the candle flame.


I know this is not complete, but it is what I produced in response to the above prompt (plus a few edits).  I love this character.  Kali and the disappearing book shoppe have found a place in my heart and I want to do something with this some day.  Until then, I share it with you.




Must Come Down

The Challenge:

Create a written piece using one or more of the following prompts:

She could fly! | 10 minutes later he bought the largest suitcase he could find \ Rock solid conviction

Here’ my take on it…



She could fly!  He was sure of it.  And so, based upon this rock solid conviction, he launched her over the edge of the balcony.  Or at least, that was how he played it. For a brief moment though, it appeared she would indeed fly—that terrible moment when she seemed to hang suspended in the air.  Their eyes met, terror and disbelief bulging hers to insect proportions.  Then gravity kicked in and she plummeted to the pavement four stories below.

Of course he would plead insanity, if anyone ever caught him.  He had carefully laid the groundwork for such a plea over the last several months.  He had filled notebooks full of nonsensical, pseudo-scientific babble about human flight and unleashing the hidden power of the mind.  He’d even published one such paper online.  Everyone said he was crazy.

He had intended to sit quietly at the desk, revising his notes.  He wanted to appear calm and unsuspecting when the police arrived.  But he was restless and unsure his plan would work.  He argued with himself for a moment.

“Stick to the plan.  It’s a good plan.  It will work!” said one part of his brain.

“You’ve got to run.  You’ve got to get out of here!” said another, perhaps more reasonable part of his psyche.

Ten minutes later, he bought the largest suitcase he could find at Wally’s World.  He’d go back to the apartment and stuff it with as much as he could fit and take off.

By the time he returned, there was already a crowd gathering at the complex.  This new plan was flawed, he now saw—he’d never get back to the room without being seen.  Sitting in the car, he watched the activity.

An ambulance arrived and the paramedics leaped from the vehicle and rushed through the crowd as police officers urged people to back up and let them through.  For a moment, he panicked.  Why an ambulance?  Could she be alive?  Was it even possible?  But then he thought that it wasn’t unusual for an ambulance to be called to such a scene.  No, she was dead.  She had to be!

As he mused, a neighbor at the back of the crowd spotted him.  Grabbing a police officer, she pointed to him.  He noticed.  “Stay calm,” he thought, rolling down his window as the officer approached.

“Are you Mr. Schlimmer?  Alfred Schlimmer of 18101 Crowely Street, Apartment 401C?” the officer asked.

“Yes, sir.  What’s going on?” he asked.  It occurred to him that he might bluff his way out of this yet.  “Is someone hurt?”

“Sir, there’s been an accident.  I need you to shut off the motor and step out of the car, please.”

“What’s this got to do with me?”

“If you would just shut off the engine and step out of the car, sir.  I’m sure we’ll clear everything up.”  The officer looked past him to the large suitcase on the back seat.  “Are you going somewhere, Mr. Schlimmer?

“Oh, that?  That’s just an old suitcase I was going to take to Goodwill.  I’ve been toting it around for ages, I just keep forgetting to drop it off.”  He lied smoothly.  He liked the sound of it; it came across so matter-of-factually.

Suddenly, the officer unholstered his gun and leveled it at the window of the car.  “Mr. Schlimmer, step out of your vehicle now.  Open the door slowly.  Step out and place your hands on the hood.”

“But I don’t understand?  What’s going on?  What did I do?” he was beginning to panic now.  Other officers, noticing the kerfuffle, swarmed to join them.

“This is the last time I’m telling you this… Get out of the vehicle.  Now!”

“But, but, I…” he stammered.  The officer ripped the car door open and dragged him from his seat and throwing him against the car, kicking his legs apart and pressing his face against the still hot hood.  First one arm was bent behind his back, then the other, as the cold steel of handcuffs encircled his wrists.  “I don’t understand?  What’d I do?”

“You are under arrest for suspicion of murder.  You have the right to remain silent.  Everything you say…” the officer droned on, but he was no longer listening.  What had gone wrong?  How did they know?  This couldn’t be happening!

“What’s up?” a newly arrived officer asked.

“This is the husband of the victim,” was the reply.  “He just told me that the large suitcase in the backseat there was some old thing he was supposed to have given to Goodwill.  It’s still got the tags from the store on it.  I think he’s lying and that he had plans of running away somewhere.”

The words echoed in his ears as they walked him to a squad car and tucked him away in the back seat.

“But she could fly!” he sobbed.  “I know she could!”  In his mind he thought, better go for insanity.  He blubbered all the way to the police station, too stupid to realize it was over.

Strange Uncle

The Challenge:

Write about a strange relative.  Here are a few random words, to incorporate together into a narrative: 

book |  vessel  |  lifesaver  |  vagabond  |  bottom

Here’s my attempt…


war of the worlds

My uncle is a strange one.  I mean he was really something once upon a time—way back, during the war, he had been a hero, a true lifesaver.  Many owe their lives to him.

After the war, he wrote a book about an alien invasion. He wrote convincingly, with strong conviction, as though it was non-fiction.  In fact, it read more like a well-written history, than a science fiction story.

Shortly after it was published, he popped a blood vessel in his brain—no one could make any sense of anything he said after that.  He quickly hit the bottom.  Now he’s a vagabond, an honest-to-God bum.  The last time I saw him he was stumbling down Main Street, clutching a ragged doll and singing softly to himself.  He didn’t recognize me.  Looked right past me.  I’ve tried many times to bring him home.  But short of locking him up, he won’t stay, so I’ve given up.

I have the original manuscript of  his book.  It was delivered by mail one day, right after his aneurysm.  I read through it again this past summer and the strangest thing happened—a note I hadn’t noticed the first time, fluttered out onto the desktop.  On it, scribbled in my uncle’s scratchy hand, it read, “If you have received this manuscript, it means that they got to me.  They’ve finally shut me up.  I don’t know how, but I know that something dreadful has happened to me.  I am missing, or I’m dead, or perhaps even worse!  The aliens have so infiltrated our society, and I am no longer able to expose them.”

Imagine that!  What an old coot!