A Moment in Paradise

Paradise is where you find it.

Kim walked down the dark, deserted street of the little mountain town. At 10 pm. the sidewalks rolled up, except for a couple of bars that carried a pub menu to look respectable. Nobody glanced in her direction as she ambled down the street. Kim looked down and scowled at her worn, tight jeans, and faded college t-shirt that told everyone she was just another dropout.

Kim stopped for a moment and forced herself to smile. Life was not all that bad. After all, Doreen had given her a part-time job at the tourist information center. Alice had given her a room in exchange for maintenance on the house. A glow in the sky coming from the next town over caught her eye.

She winced at the thought of the college town nearby. Self-absorbed professors strutted around like royalty. They would stroll down the sidewalks looking down their noses at the locals. The townspeople appreciated their business but scowled as the elitists left their stores. The sleepy college village was now segregated between those with PhDs and those who built the town.

These same professors would talk class after class about the oppressed, and examples of injustice weren’t hard to find on campus. Kim’s roommate slept with a professor just to get an ‘A.’ The roommate had no concerns for his wife and children, nor the fact he was sleeping with other students. Kim had grown tired of the hypocrisy. If these were the people she would spend her life working around, she preferred to walk away.

It only took a ten-mile drive to find her new world. People here welcomed everyone, even the college dropouts that meandered through town. Fashionable cars driven by stylish people would park next to old rusty pickup trucks. Vehicles that coughed and smoked would start up next to high dollar imports. Nobody minded. Everyone was equal, and everyone smiled and waved to one another.

Kim leaned against a light pole and looked towards the local bar and restaurant. Patrons filled the patio on this late summer night. The owner, Patricia, walked back from a table and spied Kim. She smiled and waved. Kim smiled, waved back, and rested her head against the pole. She was not sure where she would end up, but for now, she would stay in paradise.

A Deadly Struggle

Sometimes we are called to fight for our lives.

Darren felt the blackness begin to give way to gray. Pain shot through his skull. His lips felt sticky as he opened his mouth. The metallic taste of blood touched his tongue. His world started coming into focus, and then pain shot up through his body. Darren sucked in his breath, and everything rushed into view.

Headlights blinded him, and he turned his head. A body laid on the ground with a cell phone next to its open palm.

His chest tightened, and he whispered, “Deborah.”

He looked around, and his world started to spin. Darren slowed his movements. To his horror, Deborah’s head hung limply against her shoulder, and her body rested bleeding against the doorframe. Deborah’s eyes stared blankly at the broken windshield.

He tried to reach for her, but his arm would not move. He looked down and saw a bone sticking out past his elbow. Darren stared and wondered why it didn’t hurt.

He looked back at Deborah and then to the crinkled ceiling near his head. Tears started to stream down his cheeks. “Take me, please! Don’t take her, take me.”

Blue and red lights began to light up the car. Someone walked up and looked inside. Darren pleaded, “Please help Deborah. I’ll be okay.”

The man standing outside yelled towards the red flashing lights, “Hey, this guy has multiple compound fractures, and his legs appear crushed under the dash! The woman is unresponsive.”

A female medic yanked on the passenger door, but it would not budge. The policeman and EMT yanked and pulled. The door finally gave way with a screech. Another medic appeared, and they both gently lifted Deborah out of the car and laid her on the ground. They checked her vitals and began to administer CPR. Darren prayed.

A policeman brought a blanket and placed it on top of Darren. Tears began to flow down Darren’s face. Two Firemen walked up and began discussing where they would put the jaws of life to rip the car’s cockpit open and free him.

One of the medics with Deborah hollered, “I have a pulse!”

Could it be true? Darren looked towards the activity around Deborah. Oxygen was over her mouth, and an IV needle was being taped off.

The female EMT looked in Darren’s direction, “She’s stabilizing. I think she’ll be alright, sir. Why don’t we take care of you now?”

Darren laid his head back against the seat and quietly thanked God for saving Deborah.

Suddenly, a fiery pain ran up his body, and he gasped for air. The agony he had been blocking came rushing in like a flood. Someone stuck a needle in his arm. The pain started to retreat, and Darren felt himself smile as he drifted off to sleep.

Bitten

Careful where you step.

Jerry’s pace quickened against the crisp mountain air. Dusty clouds emitted from his jogging shoes as he traveled up the dirt road. A view of the Rockies was on his left and an Aspen covered slope on his right. His agile legs expertly guided his feet around the rocks that could twist his ankle.

The smell of pine and fresh air filled Jerry’s nostrils, and a smile remained transfixed across his face. The dirt road turned sharply and substantially increased in grade. His leg muscles started to burn. The smile left his face for a few moments before it returned, and the burning disappeared.

The sun was beginning to break over some of the lower crests, and its warm glow fell on the back of Jerry’s t-shirt. He turned the next switchback, and the sun heated his face. He glanced up at the clear, blue sky when a sudden pain struck his right ankle mid-step. Instinctively, he kicked and saw the small rattlesnake go flying off into the bushes.

He stuttered, wobbled, and stumbled. The blood swiftly pumping through Jerry’s veins began to burn.

Jerry let himself collapse in the middle of the road. He screamed, and the morning’s smoothie ejected from his stomach. Tearing at his shirt, he fashioned a tourniquet using a nearby stick. His hot muscles and veins fought against the restriction put upon them.

Jerry blocked his instincts to stop tightening the torn fabric and twisted the stick between gasps for air. Dizzy and nauseous, he worked to control his breathing.

He had wanted a quiet run, and now it looked like he was going to die in the effort. The minutes ticked by, and his right leg became numb below the tourniquet. Looking down, his toes and foot looked as though they would pop if someone poked them with a needle.

An unnatural rumble emitted from the bottom of the valley. Jerry blinked, shook his head, and strained to decipher the sound below. Whatever it was, it was climbing up the dirt road. The distinct sound of an engine began to grow louder, and Jerry said a prayer of thanks.

A black jeep appeared around the bend and Jerry hollered and waved with everything he had left. The red-headed driver stopped and jumped out. Her tight hiking outfit and boots fit her girlish figure like a glove.

Jerry gasped, “A rattlesnake bit me.”

“Don’t move,” insisted the young woman.

The hiker went back to her jeep and got one of her walking sticks.

“Grab hold of this. I’ll take your other shoulder and help you up. Then we’ll get in the jeep.”

Jerry managed to keep his foot off the ground. A warm wave rose from his stomach to his chest, and the road rose and fell under his feet. He swallowed hard, and they worked their way over to her jeep.

The young woman already had the passenger seat tilted forward, and Jerry eased into the rear. He laid there on his back with his foot elevated. She grabbed an ace bandage from her first aid kit, and the two of them tied off his tourniquet. Dialing 911 on her cell she jumped in the front seat, turned the jeep around and made her way back down the mountain to meet the ambulance.

“If you don’t mind me asking, why didn’t you have a cell phone?”

Mumbling through the pain, he responded, “Solitude.”

The young woman glanced at him over her shoulder, “Judging from that swollen foot, I think your running days may be over.”

Jerry attempted to smile, his voice strained, “Maybe. There’s always swimming.”

“Does that mean next time I’ll find you floating in one of the lakes?”

“Possibly.”

The woman reached back with one hand grasping at the air. Jerry grabbed her hand for a moment. “My name’s Maria.”

Although he was wincing with pain, the conversation was keeping his mind occupied. “I’m Jerry. Thanks for the rescue.”

The ambulance appeared ahead, and she pulled to the shoulder. The EMTs brought the gurney to her vehicle and Maria hastily scribbled something on the back of a card from her purse. She walked over and put it in Jerry’s hand.

“Don’t lose this. It has my business number on the front and my cell phone on the back. Let me know how things turn out. Maybe we can go to dinner sometime, and you can tell me how you managed to avoid this from happening until now.”

Jerry looked into Maria’s bright, blue eyes and muttered. “Remind me to thank that snake later.”

The EMTs delivered a quick dose of pain medicine and pushed the gurney into the ambulance. Jerry felt himself relax and closed his eyes.

Happy Birthday

An unexpected gift.

“Happy Birthday Conner! I see you’ve added a few pounds.”

I responded with a smirk, “Glad you’ve noticed Tim.”

“What are you doing with yourself these days?” he asked.

Before I could answer, I noticed his eyes wandered away from me. I glanced over and locked onto the tan woman with wavy, thick black locks that flowed gracefully over her shoulders and partially covered the spaghetti straps of her red string bikini. Tim’s presence faded from my memory, and the noise of strangers chatting up one another disappeared.

The ravened haired goddess waved and began to saunter our direction. Can this really be happening? I had never had such a beautiful woman show an interest in me. She opened her arms, my heart started to race, and then Tim’s frame invaded my vision and hugged her passionately.

“Conner, this is my girlfriend, Debbie.”

“A pleasure.” Her bikini-clad body wrapped me in a bear hug. Debbie released me, winked, and traced my cheek with her fingertip. I shuddered and prayed that no one noticed.

“Tim, you didn’t tell me the birthday boy was so cute.”

George, Cindy, and Julia mercifully walked up, and Debbie’s bottom lip stuck out in a mocking pout. Tim took Debbie’s hand, and the two went wandering off on their own towards the other side of the roof deck.

“Conner, where were you born?” asked Cindy. “I was telling George I thought it was somewhere in Kansas, but Julia said you were born in St. Augustine. I have a steak dinner riding on the answer, so make sure you get it right.”

I was just about to disappoint Cindy when I heard someone yell, “Time for the Birthday Cake! Get Conner over here.”

Thirty people surrounded a table and waved me over. A large white sheet cake with red printed words, “Happy Birthday Old Man.” took up a large part of the table. I walked up to everyone encouraging me to make a wish.

Various voices in the group gave their opinions and advice concerning my wistful aspirations. I smiled and inhaled deeply. I somehow manage to blow out all thirty candles. Julia handed me the first piece of cake, and I walked over towards the pool as friends and acquaintances lined up for their sugar rush.

The quick bite of chocolate cake and buttercream icing sent a wave of pleasure over my body. As good as the cake tasted, the quiet waters of the swimming pool beckoned me to slip under their surface for a quick respite.

I put the cake down, looked over my shoulder, nodded towards my well-wishers, and then jumped into the freshwater. I slowly let the air release from my lungs and allowed my body to gently rest on the bottom of the pool. I closed my eyes and let the stillness and watery embrace wash away the stress from the workweek.

The sound of a small object plopping against the surface of the water six feet above caught my attention. A second plop and both my eyes looked up towards the wiggly image of my best friend dropping ice into the pool. I broke the surface of the water to find out why he had interrupted my short meditation.

Trey stood by the ladder with a towel extended.

“What?”

“I thought you’d like to know that Tim left the party with Debbie’s red handprint on his face.”

He had my attention. I quickly cleared the pool steps and tore the towel out of Trey’s hands. “What happened?”

Trey shrugged, “I would guess another woman. The fire in her eyes tells me Tim won’t be coming back.”

My lips pressed together tightly as I thought for a moment. I caught a glimpse of Debbie standing alone at the far corner near the condo entrance from the pool deck.

“I should go say something,” I said to myself as much as to Trey.

“All’s fair in love and war, eh?”

I ignored Trey’s quip and tossed the towel on a chair, grabbed my birthday cake, and walked over to console Debbie.

Debbie kept her back to me and waved me off, “Some friend you are.”

“Excuse me?”

Debbie’s voice cracked as she spoke, “You just came over here to steal your friend’s girl while she’s brokenhearted.”

I took a bit of cake and took my time chewing. Finally, I responded, “So, do you always leave your handprint on the side of Tim’s head when you two argue?”

She crossed her arms and turned to me, “No.” Her eyes began to pool up.

Before I could stop myself, I held Debbie in my arms. Coconut wafted up from her suntan lotion. She released her arms and pulled me in tight. Debbie whimpered, and I could feel her tears trickle against my chest.

“He cheated on me,” she stammered.

I chose my words carefully, “Tim is a fool.”

I gently stroked Debbie’s silky hair. I thought I felt her soft lips pressed against my chest, and then she pushed away.

“Thank you.”

I pointed over my shoulder, “Why don’t you join me in the pool? I promise it can do wonders.”

Debbie cocked her head, and her black eyes twinkled, “Only if you take me to dinner afterward.”

“I would enjoy nothing more.”

Debbie brushed against my body as she walked by towards the pool. Then, she stopped, looked over her shoulder, and said, “Happy Birthday.”