Country Christmas Shopping

Hey y’all! Merry Christmas Shopping Season. Now I know I like fuss about shoppin’ with Darla, and I always say I’ll find other things to do. To be honest, if I did half the things I say I’d do Darla would bury me out under the still where nobody is ever gonna find me. So, when that woman tells me its time to go Christmas shoppin’ I’m already out the front door and in my pickup with the passenger door open waitin’ on her.

This year was like the others, we headed on up to Columbia where the big shops are. I will say there seemed to be more folks than usual this year. Now I expect our usual influx of yankees who like to complain about their weather, and then complain about our way of livin’, but there were just lots of people in general. Especially on the freeway.

Now you got to understand, I may be getting’ older, but I can still get it behind the wheel when I need to; so it ain’t like I’m an old doddered. But some of the folks drivin’ these days are either drunk or stupid. I reckon half of ‘em must have been stumblin’ into drivers-ed class when they was teenagers. I done quit countin’ how many drivers attach themselves to my bumper instead of passin’ me. I swear, if you can’t change a lane you best not be drivin’. Worse, these folks normally have picku-ups or SUVs. I reckon it must be more than they can handle, so they’re afraid to pass. Bless their hearts.

Then you get folks that don’t want to let you on the freeway. I guess they might be fantasizin’ about being Dale Jr.  I was changin’ highways and this old boy kept his shiny new pick-up next to mine the whole time. I’d speed up and so would he. I hit my brake and he’d slow down. I was running out of acceleration lane right quick. I guess he didn’t know us southern boys ain’t afraid of runnin’ out of road. I just kept right down the shoulder. I was up to seventy-five and he just sat there next to my door in his truck. There was a woman with him. I could see that on account of him being so close to me. Now I reckon she must’ve been his wife because I see her start fussin’ and her arms are flying ‘round. The next thing I know, that old boy let off the gas and I was able to get in front of him.

You ever done somethin’ and got so embarrassed you just wanted to get out from wherever you was? I think this fella must have felt that way. Traffic was still movin’ at eighty and that old boy got in the left lane and took off like a scared cat. I have no idea where he was goin’ but he was makin’ good time.

I tell you what, compared to the freeways, the shops were down right calm. Although the pickin’s were meager. There were items scattered on the floors, shelves, shelves and the floors, even shoppin’ carts. At least I thought that shoppin’ cart was part of a display until a woman started yellin’ at me. I reckon we all get a little stupid durin’ the Christmas shoppin’ season. Y’all be good.

The Daily Post: Meager

Christmas Cowboy

Jack sat back and laughed. Luke scrambled to get out of the horse’s trough. Poor old Luke. Thought Jack. That boy has never been right. Three young men from his side of the street ambled across the dusty road towards Luke. Jack could tell they were looking for trouble. He dropped his boots off the railing and onto the wooden planks. He stopped his momentum when he sheriff was coming up the walkway across the street.

Jack’s fingers tapped the holster strapped to his hip. He hoped Sheriff Nolan was not going to live up to his reputation. The young men saw the sheriff, but kept walking towards Luke. Luke was too busy cussing at the trough and kicking it to notice the men approaching. The Sheriff and the men converge at the same time.

Luke looked up. “Howdy fellas. Why’s everybody comin’ to see me?” Luke smiled, took off his soaked hat and slapped it against his thigh.”

Sheriff Nolan responded first. “I was about to ask the same question. What business to you three boys have with Luke?”

Adam, the biggest of the three spoke first. “That’s our business Sheriff. We don’t want no trouble, but if you’re gonna harass us there just might be some.”

Nolan looked at the three young men. Their expensive pistols told him that he did not want to argue with lead. In a street fight he was hopelessly outnumbered. There was nothing he could do from where he was standing. “No trouble, boys. I was just curious. If you aren’t planning any trouble I guess I’ll be on my way.” Nolan turned and walked the other direction. All four men watched him walk away.

From across the street Jack stood up and leaned against the nearby porch post. The four people across the street had not noticed him, but the people near Jack began to find their way into shops or turn around and head the other direction. Jack held his ground. He was not going to get involved until the time called for it.

Adam looked at Luke with contempt. Look at that simpleton. Thought Adam. He’s standing there shivering in this cold December air, too stupid to go home. “What’s wrong with you Luke?” Asked Adam.

“What do ya mean?” Luke answered and put his wet hat back on his head.

“It’s freezing out here. You’re all wet. Why don’t you go home? You too stupid to get out of the cold?” Adam and his cohorts took a few steps closer to Luke.

“I don’t know. Some folks probably say that.” Luke followed their lead and stepped up between Adam and the horse trough.

Adam looked at his friends. “Maybe you ain’t wet enough then.” The three men lifted Luke in one quick move and threw him into the horse trough and held him under. Luke sputtered and splayed in a panic. The three men laughed. Adam pulled him up, and as soon as Luke took a breath he shoved him back in again.

Jack had seen enough. He slowly walked across the street towards the young men who were too busy torturing Luke. When he was ten feet away he hollered over then whooping and yipping. “Hey! Idiots!” Adam and his friends stopped. All three turned around and faced Jack.

The smallest of the three spoke first. “Adam, that’s Jack, Jack Domingo. He’s a legend ‘round these parts.”

“Shut up, Carl.” Adam responded. “What do you want, Jack?”

“I want you to leave that boy alone. He’s done you no harm.”

Behind them Luke rolled out of the trough. He laid in the mud shivering and coughing up water. Adam turned to look at Luke and then looked back at Jack. “We were just teaching him a lesson. Maybe next time he’ll get out of the cold before he catches his death of pneumonia. I think you should just move along and mind your own business.”

Jack gave Adam a half-smile. He had to admire the kid’s quick wit. “This is my business. Luke is a friend of mine.”

Luke was sitting up now and replied, “I am?”

Jack just nodded and returned his attention to Adam. “I think you owe my friend an apology.”

Carl looked over at Adam. “Just do it, Adam.”

“Shut up, Carl.” Adam tapped at his gun holster. “It seems to me there are three of us and one of you. If we kill you that’ll make us legends, won’t it?”

Jack shook his head. “It’s not worth dying over, son.”

Adam glared at Jack. “I’m not your son.”

Jack’s hand quietly unbuckled the strap on his pistol. “One of you may kill me, but which one. How many of you are willing to die? How many want to die over Adam, or Jack?”

Carl lifted his hand. “I don’t.”

Adam looked over to his right. “Carl, I swear, if you run I’ll shoot you myself. You know, Jack, for a legend you sound like a coward.”

Jack pulled back his trench coat, so he would have free rein to grab his weapon. The other three did the same. Adam took one step closer and drew his weapon. Jack’s world slowed to a crawl. This is what he loved. Life and death hung in the balance. It was like the earth held its breath. He could see Adam’s pistol part way out of its holster. By the time it cleared Jack already had his first shot off.

The first bullet shot true into Adam’s chest. He turned to the man on his right and fired again. The bullet hit the man in his gut. Jack saw the flash of the man’s muzzle before the gun dropped from his hand. A searing pain cut through Jack’s right calf. He started to fall as soon as the bone broke. A bullet whizzed by his head from the left. Jack pointed his gun that direction and fired. Carl fell to the ground dead with a bullet in his head.

Everything was silent. Jack laid there in the dust and focused on breathing. He looked at his shot leg. Thankfully, the bone was not sticking out. “I saw it, I saw everything!” The familiar voice of Sheriff Nolan came from Jack’s right side. He could hear him running up the street. “It was self-defense. They tried to ambush Jack when he went to help Luke. Somebody get the Doc!”

Doc Johnson walked up behind the Sheriff, “I’m already here.”

Luke walked over. “Thanks, Jack. Nobody’s ever fought for me before. Why’d you do it?”

Jack sucked in a breath and gritted through to pain. “It’s Christmas time, kid. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you too.” Luke said with a smile.

Doc Johnson turned to Luke. “Okay, Luke. Why don’t you head home? I think you caused enough excitement today, and get out of those wet clothes. You’ll catch your death.”

“Yes, sir.” Answered Luke. “Bye, everybody.”

Luke waived, turned around and left.

Somebody put a stick into Jack’s mouth. “You bite on that.” Doc Johnson said. “We are going to move you now and it’s going to hurt.”

Men lined up on each side. In one swift move they lifted Jack’s body. A blinding flash of pain emanated from his leg, and then the world went black.

The Daily Post: Legend

A Proper Inheritance

“Doug! Bring me my dinner!”

From inside the kitchen Bernice could hear Doug moving around pots and pans. “I’m hurrying. I’m sorry, Aunt Bernice. The time got away from me.”

Bernice straightened her silk house dress, and rocked in her favorite mahogany chair. She yelled back. “I bet you don’t forget how much money I have!”  Bernice thought to herself. He thinks he’s in my will, ha! I never heard a word from Doug until he lost his job. Now he can’t do enough for me. They’re all the same, bloodsuckers every single one.

Doug brought in the dinner tray to Bernice. “Doug, why would I eat in my rocking chair? Put it over there on the table near the television, and put on the news or something. You know I hate eating in silence.”

Doug bowed his head “Yes ma’am.”

Bernice stood up and made her way to the small table sitting against the wall of her family room. “Doug, quit being so silly. You’re not a servant. If you think acting like one will get you a bigger inheritance, don’t waste your time.”

Bernice sat down, and Doug turned on the local news. The anchor woman’s face covered the wall in the eighty-inch flat screen. Bernice didn’t really watch television, but she hated the silence even more. Taking a bite of filet, she gazed around the room. She would trade her Tiffany dishes, leather couches, mahogany chairs, and teak wood flooring for one more day with her late John. How she missed her husband. He had left her a rich widow, but she would rather be his poor wife.

Doug walked back in from the kitchen. “If you don’t need anything now, I will go ahead and eat.”

“I’m fine.” Bernice pointed at the empty chair across from her. “Why don’t you join me?”

Doug attempted to look surprise. “Who me? No ma’am. I am your humble servant. I’ll gladly eat in the kitchen. If you need anything just holler, and I will bring it straight to you.”

“Suit yourself, but I see through your game. I will say I’m impressed you’ve been able to keep it up for six months.”

Doug bowed his head. “Maybe this isn’t a game.”

Bernice glared at him. “Indeed, it’s not.”

Doug turned to leave, but then turned back. “Maybe if you weren’t such a bitter woman more people would be interested in something more than your money.”

Bernice slammed down her silverware. “You have some nerve, young man! How dare you come in here and tell me how I should act. Who do you think you are?!”

Doug turned and left the room without answering her question. Bernice’s chest tightened as she thought. Maybe I am a bitter woman, I have every right to be. No children, no husband, and all our real friends either died or moved. I have nobody who looks in on me except a greedy nephew. Her chest got tighter and she worked to pull in air to her lungs. I just need to calm down. Easy Bernice, at least John didn’t leave you destitute.  It was no use; her chest began to hurt and she couldn’t breathe.

The room became pear-shaped, and begin spin. Bernice fell off her chair and on to the floor. She could not tell which was up. Doug seemed to appear out of nowhere. He was standing over her, or was he beside her, maybe beneath. “Can you hear me Aunt Bernice?”

Bernice gasped, “Doug, I need help. I can’t” the air would not push through.

Doug laughed, “You poor woman. I told you I would take care of you. Now you will be with John. No need to thank me. Your millions will be thanks enough.”

Murder, how? The food. Doug was nothing if not obvious. Bernice smiled.

“That’s right old lady, feel better, it won’t be long now.” Doug put a pillow under her head.

Bernice’s smile grew larger. She wanted to laugh, but could not push past the vice upon her chest. Doug studied her for a moment. “Wait, you aren’t happy. You’re trying to laugh.” He grabbed her by the front of her dress. “Why are you laughing? What’s so funny? You’re almost dead, what’s so funny?!”

Bernice answered with her last breath. “Gave it all to orphans.”

The Daily Post: Inheritance

Little Green Men

“Luke, you have to come see this!” Ethan stood there dusty head to toe. He had a crazed looked in his eye. Luke wondered if his friend had started to taking meth again. He sat with the engine running. All he had to do was roll up the window and drive away, but Ethan was his friend. If he left him out in the desert at night, he might not survive. Luke shutoff his engine and turned on his emergency blinkers.

“Ethan, how did you get out here?”

Ethan grabbed Luke’s car door and began jerking on it. “Come on man! I’ll show you. The aliens brought me here.”

Luke grabbed Ethan by his wrists. “Stop it! You’re high, there aren’t any aliens.”

Ethan blinked and let go of Luke’s car. His crazed looked disappeared. He took long slow breaths and spoke slower. “Look, Luke. I know I sound crazy, and look crazy. You would too if you’ve been through what I have. Just do me a favor. Please get out of the car and come with me. I don’t know how long they will stay. They’ve already been walking around the middle of nowhere for the past hour.”

Luke could tell Ethan was not high, but something was wrong. He got out of his car, and Ethan led him across the two-lane desert road. They started heading towards a group of rocks when the sky lit brightly up behind it. The small hill cast a small eclipse in front of the light show behind it. As the light rose both men had to cover their eyes to avoid its brightness.

“Dang it, Luke. I told you. Come on!” both men ran towards the hill. Halfway there the light shot vertically into the sky and was no more than a star in a few seconds, and then it was gone. “I told you, Luke! Dang it, why weren’t you faster? Why did you have to screw around on the roadside?” Luke stood there dumbfounded. He looked over at Ethan, who was kicking the dust into the night air.

Luke finally spoke. “Ethan, can you take me where the ship was.” Ethan stopped stomping his feet and fussing to himself.

“Good idea, follow me.”

Both men walked over to the rocks. On the other side were a distinct set of four round prints. It reminded Luke of the old Apollo moon landers he saw on television when he was a kid. Both men looked at each other. Luke shook his head. “I don’t know what to say. I guess I owe you an apology.”

Ethan smiled, “It’s okay. Until you see it, you can’t understand.”

Luke walked past Ethan and stooped down. He examined the prints. Something looked strange, and then it hit him. There weren’t any pebbles. No small rocks. The ground was just sand, like a sand dune. Except, they weren’t near any sand dunes. He stood up and looked around. This sky is all wrong. The thought ran a chill down his spine. Ethan was leaning against a boulder near the hill watching him. Luke took a couple steps towards him.

“Do you have a theory on why they took you?”

Ethan gave Luke a knowing grin and said, “It’s funny you’d ask me that now. After we saw the ship, and not before you left your car. They told me they need to expand. Their population has outgrown their planet. They wanted to examine me and see if our biology was similar. Unfortunately, I would end up at least disabled, if not dead when they were done.”

“How did you get away?”

“Who said I did?”

Luke shook his head. He was right. “Why?”

“Well, Luke. Back when I was having my drug difficulties you called the law on me instead of trying to help me.”

Luke started to pace. “I did help you. You sobered up. That was the idea.”

“Yeah, and now I have a prison record. You ever try getting’ a job, a car, a home with a prison record?”

Luke stopped. He had never even thought about what would happen to Ethan after prison. Instead of helping his friend he had made things worse. “So, what now?” Luke asked.

Ethan stood up, walked over and gripped both of Luke’s shoulders. “Now, my friend, you stay here, and I go home.” He released his shoulders and walked back over to his rock.

“What are you going to do?”

Ethan laughed, and said, “Me, you shouldn’t worry about me. I’m going to be fine. These dudes have an amazing transport system. Those bright lights we were in, that was it. It took us, and this hill, up into their ship. That’s right, we are in space now. Pretty amazing huh?”

Luke looked around. The room was still dark so he could not tell its size, but it was large enough to hold a twenty-foot hill and both of them.

“I guess you’re beginning to realize how big this ship is. I was the same way the first beam-up. Anyway, they picked me up some cash. I’ll be heading back to earth with enough to live on. No need to worry about living expenses any longer.”

Luke shook his head. “You really didn’t think this through. People know you, they will want to know where you got the money.”

Ethan started walking away. “I did think it through. I’m not going back. They are dropping me off in the town of my choice.”

“Where?” Luke asked.

“You don’t need to worry about that. I’ll be seeing you, old friend” A bright light blinded Luke, and Ethan was gone.

Luke was trying to get his bearings when he heard a noise. On the other side of the hill a faint glow of light came streaming around the hill. A mechanical voice from the other side spoke. “Mr. Luke Chadwick, please come with us. It is time to begin.”

The Daily Post: Theory

Executive Romance

I don’t belong here. Paul’s thoughts only added to the stress he was feeling under his tailored tuxedo. How do you get yourself into these things? Paul knew the answer to the redundant question that always popped up in his head at times like these. He wanted to be here. This was not about the executive office party. It was not about climbing the corporate ladder. This was about Paul’s ego. He had to prove to himself he could run with the big dogs, but for no other reason than proving he could do it.

Gerald, Paul’s boss, approached. “Good to see you, young man. I’m glad you could make it. I want you to know I’ve been working the crowd for you. No pressure, but don’t disappoint me.”

Paul gave a nervous laugh while he attempted to find the correct response. “No problems with me, Gerry. I would never let my favorite boss down.”

Gerald gave him a friendly slap on the shoulder. “Good, that’s what I like to hear. Now mingle. You’re among friends.”

Paul watched Gerry meander to a large group of people. Surveying the room Paul found the open bar and strolled over. After getting a beer, he turned around to see what conversation he could interrupt. He was slowing panning left to right when their eyes locked. Paul wanted to look away, but he couldn’t. Those are the most incredible eyes I have ever seen.

Her elegance pulled Paul in. He forgot why he was there, or even the rest of the room. Her long thick black hair accented the white sequined evening gown she wore. Her olive skin and dress seemed to blend into one beautiful piece of art. Paul tried to stop himself from imagining her silhouette beneath. He stood there admiring the woman when there was a tap on his shoulder. The woman smiled and looked away.

“I see you have expensive taste.”

Paul turned to see Gerry standing next to him. “Hi, boss. I guess I do.”

Gerald smiled and spoke softly. “You do know that’s our boss, right? As in the whole corporation, as in CEO.”

Paul smirked. “I know, but she’s also a beautiful woman. She’s out of my league, but I would never say no to a drink.”

A female both beside them said, “Neither would I.”

Both men gave each other a quick panicked stare. Neither knew the female voice, but they had an idea. Paul turned his head and stammered. “Oh, hi. I, um, I’m Paul. Um, Paul McCoy.”

The CEO laughed. “Are you sure?”

Gerry attempted to jump in. “He’s sure, Ms. Dufrey.”

Paul could not stop staring into her eyes. I may lose my job, but I don’t care. I would swear she is returning my gaze. Ms. Dufrey broke the connection and turned to Gerald.

“Gerald, I can handle things from here. Why don’t you go to talk to Lewis? I hear you two like golfing together.”

“Thank you, I’ll go do that.” Gerry’s shoulders slunk a little as he walked away.

Paul’s courage returned when he realized she wanted to talk with him alone. “Ms. Dufrey, this is a lovely party.”

She locked with his eyes again and put out her hand. Paul shook it and swore he felt the tingle of electricity. Her hands were soft and graceful. She held his hand for a moment longer and slid her fingers slowly off his. Hold it together boy. You aren’t that good.

“Please, call me Michelle. I hear a lot of good things about you.” Michelle smiled and took a sip of red wine.

Good things. Wow, the CEO knows who I am? Paul found himself caught in a tug-o-war between his ego and desire. He gave a sly smile and spoke. “If they were good then they were all true.” Both laughed. Paul continued. “Would I be out of line to compliment you on your dress tonight?”

Michelle gave Paul a coy smile and responded. “I suppose if it is out of line I am equally guilty because I find you quite handsome in your tux.”

Paul’s ego kicked up a notch and he moved forward. “I like the idea of being deviant with you.”

They both laughed once more. Neither noticed the number of glances they were getting, or at least Paul did not. He took a step closer and did his best to look even more deeply into her deep black eyes. “I think we should go to dinner sometime.”

Michelle took a half stepped back and smiled. “Aren’t you the little egotist.”

Paul’s soul felt crushed. What am I doing, she’s my boss? I’m not allowed to do this. At least, I don’t’ think I am. “I’m sorry, I was out of line.”

Michelle leaned in a little. “You misunderstand. You told Gerry you would go with me for a drink. What do you say we finish networking with the crowd? Then let’s leave this place and have that drink. I know a wonderful little Irish pub that stays open past 2am.”

Paul almost dropped his beer glass. “Yes, definitely, most certainly.”

Michelle allowed a quiet giggle to escape her perfect lips. “I’m glad you’re sure.”

With that she turned and walk over to a group of five people who Paul did not know. He turned and went to get another beer. I might like office parties more than I thought. He smiled at his own thought and went to work the crowd.


Shotguns and Friends

Hey y’all! We are sayin’ hey to winter in these parts. In Carolina we tend to go from shorts to sweaters in a matter of hours. None of us like the cold none, but it kills our bugs and a few reptiles. So, winter is tolerable, but maybe not welcomed.

My buddy Bobby ain’t too happy about this weather none. He’s in right much pain after a shootin’ accident. Well, if I’m gonna be honest, it was a stupid accident, and it could’ve been much worse. I had invited Bobby and Frank over to the farm for a little recreational target practice. What with the warm weather ’til recently, and all the chores around the farm done, it’s a great time. At least when folks mind their weapons.

Bobby showed up with his grandpa’s old shotgun. He was as pleased as punch. He had just put varnish on the stock and the barrel grip, and he’d oiled the barrel and the trigger. For a shotgun over a hundred years old, it looked showroom new. Frank was most impressed and asked if he could hold it. Now, most folks who handle firearms know you should unload your weapon and open the chamber to make sure that gun won’t go off.

Frank took that gun, but didn’t bother to crack it open. He’s lookin’ at it and Bobby is going on ’bout all the work he had done on it. I’m sure you figured out by now that gun went off. Fortunately, Bobby had turned around to talk to me for a second when it did. It’s a good thing that shotgun was only a twenty gauge with bird-shot cause them pellets went into Bobby’s hind end.

Lawd, the whoopin’ and hollerin’. I ain’t seen jumpin’ and yellin’ like that since we was kids and painted the family dog Gamecock colors. My daddy whooped all of us for that one, on account he was a Clemson fan. We got ole Bobby to the emergency room and they took them pellets out. Course Bobby ain’t sittin’ too good right now. Heck, other than layin’ on his stomach that boy is pretty uncomfortable most of the time.

I did help him out a might though. Them docs wanted to give him those dangerous pain killers. Course ain’t none of us folks around here need them crazy drugs. I just took Bobby some shine medicine. He told me he’s able to sit and watch t.v. a might easier. Frank is pitchin’ in by doin’ any work Bobby needs ’round his place. I might be wrong, but I have a feelin’ Bobby may be laid up longer than them doctors think. Least until Frank gets wore out. Y’all be good.

The Daily Post: Varnish

The Unexpected Christmas Hostess

Heather stood outside upon the cold slushy ground. The tower castle looked more foreboding than friendly. She supposed that was the point. Heather wondered how the royals of the seventeenth century would feel about a “commoner” renting their property in the twenty-first century. The gray bare trees and darkening overcast sky only added to the somber setting. Heather liked it. The setting fit her mood. This was her first Christmas without her boyfriend.

Charles had been by her side through the death of her parents. He promised to always be with her, and the two had talked marriage. Then came his promotion. A new job, a new city, and within six months a new woman. Charles “discovered” he was not one for long distant relationships. Heather had gone to the trouble to travel from Oklahoma City to Phoenix, twice. Charles never returned the favor, that should have been her first clue.

This would be her first Christmas alone. Heather decided to go to the one place she and Charles had dreamed of visiting together one day. Let him have Carol, Chrissy, or whatever her name was. She would use her new freedom to see the world, and it would start here. The large wooden door groaned against the hinges when it opened. Warm air wafted out and greeted Heather’s face. The smell of a welcoming fire met her nostrils.

Inside she found a beautiful antique red velvet couch and four over-stuffed white chairs in a U-Shape in front of a large stone fireplace. A redheaded woman in a long purple and red dress stooped down stoking the fire.

Heather introduced herself. “Hi there, I’m Heather. I didn’t know anyone was going to be here.”

The woman turned to face Heather. Her face seemed to glow. She was certain this person was the most beautiful woman she had ever met. “Excuse my manners.” The woman stood and extended her long graceful hand. “I’m Margaret. This is my castle. I just wanted to make sure everything was perfect when you arrived.”

“Oh, thank you. It has been a long trip, and I do love the warm fire.”

“Where do you come from lass?”

“I’m from America, Oklahoma.”

“Of course, the colonies. Good for you kicking out the ole Brits. We can never seem to be rid of ‘em here. Won’t you sit down?”

Heather chose a chair nearest the fire and Margaret sat across from her. I think it’s cute the way her dress matches the period. “Are you here to show me around as well?”

“No, lass. Where is the fun in knowin’ about a castle? Half the adventure is discoverin’ things for yourself.  I will give you one word of warnin’. Stay downstairs at night. It’s a might cold upstairs, and there’s rumors of ghosts.”

Heather felt a chill go down her spine. Ghosts!? That wasn’t in the property details. “Ghosts? Are they mean?”

Margaret laughed. “No. I’d not let anyone stay here if they could be harmed. Just give ‘em their space. Come now, I bet you’re hungry. Let me show you the dining room.”

“Thank you, I’m famished.” Heather and Margaret made their way into the next room. A large table that would easily seat twelve people sat half empty. The other half of the table contained all sorts of food. Turkey, goose, duck, mashed potatoes, green beans, and other assorted vegetables sat steaming in their bowls. Two place settings were waiting for both women to gorge themselves.

“You don’t fool around when it comes to your meals. I’m not sure I can eat half of what you have made.”

Margaret pulled the chair out for Heather. “Don’t worry, lass. Eat what you can. There are some families living nearby I can take the leftovers to.”

The women ate, laughed, and talked. Heather told Margaret about Charles. Margaret told Heather she needed to attract the right kind of men, but later admitted she had her share of bad relationships. Heather felt like they were lifelong friends. After the meal both ladies retired to the living room again, and Margaret brought out a delightful bottle of Scotch.

Margaret sat back with a gleam in her eye. “I know it’s dark now, but would you like to walk around the grounds a bit?”

“I would love to, but isn’t it a bit cold and damp for that?”

Margaret doubled over laughing. “Oh, lass. This is Scotland. The is perfect weather.”

Heather rose with Margaret and they got their coats. Heather led the way out the front door. A frigid blast of air hit her face. She buried herself as best she could inside the ski jacket’s raised collar. Heather turned to complain to Margaret, but she wasn’t there. She turned back around, and there stood Margaret. Her long dark cape flowed in the cold breeze, and her face glowed with her smile.

“I’m sorry, lass. Did I startle you?”

“Oh, no. I just didn’t hear you come out. I guess I wasn’t paying attention.”

“That’s what you modern girls need to learn. Grace and quiet lend to our mystique as ladies. It always intrigues an intellectual gentleman.”

“What do you mean modern? You can’t be five years older than I am.”

Margaret smiled and turned. Her cape and dress seemed to glide across the ground. Heather followed her to a tall hedgerow next to a walking path. It blocked the breeze and the air no longer bit at Margaret’s face. The two women sat on the first bench they came to.

Margaret took both of Heather’s hands into her icy fingers. “Now, lass, nobody needs to be alone during the Christmas season. Do you see the lights down the hill there?”

“You mean where the town is.”

“Exactly, dear. Tomorrow you go down there to the pub. Don’t worry, there’s only one pub. Ask for James, he owns the place. You tell him Margaret sent you down to find some Christmas cheer. He will make sure you have a proper holiday.”

“I really prefer being alone.”

“That’s what we all say when we lose somebody we love, but then when we’re alone we regret it. Consider my suggestion a favor to a new friend. You are staying in my castle after all.”

Heather nodded, and the two women walked back up to the front door. Margaret stopped just short of the door. “I think you have what you need. I have other things to attend to now. Remember, the pub.”

“I will, and thank you. Are you going to come by before I leave?”

“I hope not. I have too many things to do.”

Heather turned and opened the front door. She turned back to say one last goodbye, but Margaret had already gone. Heather smiled. Grace and mystery.

The next morning Heather woke and made herself some tea. The pale winter sky brought a weak light through the windows. She decided it was time to do a little exploring. Venturing up the stairs Heather found Lairds and Ladies paintings lining the wall. Heather stopped and stared at the first couple. The woman looked just like Margaret. Beneath the image was the plaque “Lady Margaret 1605-1660”. Amazing, she looks just like her ancestor. A bit more snooping found a few modern bedrooms upstairs for larger groups. I wonder if the ghosts ever wake them up.

By afternoon Heather was ready to explore beyond the castle walls. She remembered her promise to Margaret and drove her rental car into the small village. She stopped on the “Broken Leg” pub. She giggled at the name, and then went inside. There were white-hot coals inside the massive stone fireplace. The ceilings were low enough she could touch them with her hand. Only a few patrons were scattered about the tables and booths. All of them greeted her as she walked to the bar.

“Excuse me, I’m looking for the owner. I believe his name his James?”

“I’m James. You sound like an American. Who sent you lookin’ for me?”

“The owner of the castle on the hill, Margaret.”

James’ face went pale. Two men sitting at a table within earshot started to mumble to one another.

“Are you sure her name was Margaret?”

“Yes. I’m here alone for Christmas and she told me I should tell you she sent me. Oh, and you would show me proper Christmas cheer. I’m not sure what that means.”

James laughed, pulled a glass from under the bar and filled it with beer. He placed it in front of Heather without asking her.

“It’s good to see the Lady of the Castle still at work. Although I do wish she would take her rest.”

“She looked very rested last night when I saw her.”

“You may want to sit down, miss.”

There was something in the tone of his voice that made Heather sit down on the barstool.

“You see, Margaret is a very old soul.”

“She did seem very wise for somebody so young.” Everyone in earshot of Heather laughed.

“Excuse us miss, you see, Margaret died in 1660. She is anything but young. Although to you she probably appeared young. Legend has it that she was a very kind Lady. She took care of the people of this village while she was alive. After her death she would appear in the castle, and sometimes in town, to people who were having some sort of problem. She would comfort them, give them advice, and then disappear. I guess she plans to continue her work until Jesus Himself returns.”

Heather reached over and swallowed half a pint of beer before she stopped for a breath.

James reached over and took her hand in a brotherly grip. “I don’t know what you told Margaret, but if the Lady wants you to have Christmas cheer, then a cheer it will be. Leave everything to me.”

Heather took a deep breath and looked around. “I’m still not sure I understand everything. This celebration, will it be at the castle?”

“On no ma’am. It will be in town. Any friend of Lady Margaret is royalty to us.” Heather finished her beer and told James everything that had happened. He listened and got very excited when Heather described Margaret. After they had finished talking she decided she would return to the castle. Just in case Margaret wanted to visit again.

The Daily Post: Gorge

Lost on La Luz

George looked up at the sky. The black clouds flowed towards the mountain peak like paperclips to a magnet. He knew he was going to get wet. This was not the leisurely hike he had planned. Sunrise over the desert looked so perfect. The drive through Tijeras pass into Albuquerque had gone from light into shadows, but he knew the sun would catch up to him before he reached the trail to hike up Sandia Peak.

George knew better than to hike alone, but he had hiked the La Luz trail from the peak to the valley several times. The cornucopia of views made the eight-mile trek worth the effort. Rocky Mountain cliffs, rock slides, pine forests and the desert floor offered up a feast for the senses to anyone willing to brave the drastic altitude changes.

I knew better than to do this. All the landmarks look different, but they always do when you come from a different direction. George was not sure how he lost his way. He had started at the trailhead and followed the first sign. The first mistake was following a coyote a few dozen yards off the trail, so he could get the perfect camera shot. He was sure he backtracked correctly. The trail he found looked just like the one he had left. True, there was no reference point, but how many trails could there be? After forty-five minutes the trail ended and George had his answer. Looking around all he could see was sagebrush, sand, rock, and scrub oaks.

There he stood, clouds gathering at the peak, the unknown trail dropped back into the valley below. From his vantage point he could not see the parking lot he had left. Above he spied the switchbacks going up the cliff side of the peak. If he walked straight ahead he knew he would hook back into La Luz, but there was no trail. If he backtracked, he may or may not return to his car. The clouds above assured he was going to get wet. Low ground in the desert was always in danger of flash flooding. Lost on the cliffs was preferable to that horror.

George started moving forward. The ground rose as he forged his path. He knew he was in the rattlesnake’s domain, and the occasional snapping of locust would cause him to jump. Occasionally, a well-hidden cactus would reach out to his ankles. More than once he had to stop and pull its spines from his ankles and socks. Bloody spots began to form on the white cotton from multiple encounters with the barbarous plants. Two hours later he found a trail, but he knew this place. He had walked this part of La Luz many times. Unfortunately, George knew he had around six miles to the peak.

Sore, exhausted, and parched George continued. As the elevation increased his oxygen dropped off. He chastised himself for such a rookie mistake. Of course, this was going to be tougher. Trekking from the peak’s ten thousand six hundred and seventy-eight feet to seven thousand feet below was easier. The oxygen increased as you grew more tired. Now here he was, already exhausted and the air was growing thinner the higher he went. He sat down on a large rock and rested his elbows on his knees. He did not want to continue. Looking up he was nearing the rocking switchbacks. The Sandia Crest House was only two or three miles away. The longest miles were behind him. From his left he heard running. A young woman in her twenties ran by on her way up the hill.

George was not about to give up. He was not a tri-athlete, but he had done his fair share of treks. This mountain, a mountain he had known for years, was not going to defeat him. He got up and began to walk again. Fifty yards later he sat down again. Fine, if this is what it takes. I’m no quitter. George found his third resting rock when the thunder clapped above.

It can’t be that close. I’ll okay. George continued up the steep switchbacks. He was close enough now he could see the tips of the towering antennas at the top of the mountain. I’m within a mile. Then the beeping started. George knew that sound well. It was a sensor that had been setup at the peak to warn of an impending lighting strike. The crack of lightning and thundered rocked George’s environment. He tried to quicken his pace, but his lungs and body would not submit. By now he could see the bottom of the crest house. The lightning strikes were increasing, but his body protested each step.

Rain began to fall in sheets. George wanted to panic, but did not have the energy to do so. God, if this is how I go, please let it happen quick. The air-filled with ever quickening beeps and then cracks of thunder. George reached the top of the trail and only had a few yards left. The sensor began to go off once more. This time the pings were slower. Looking around, the parking lot was mostly empty.

George forced himself to ascend the steps to his rest. He promised himself hot chocolate and a view of the city and the storm from the safety of the snack area indoors. The warmth of the gift shop welcomed him. He stepped inside and closed the door. In his mind everyone stopped, turned, and applauded. However, the mostly empty building offered only quiet solace from the storm.

A worker came over to George’s table. “I just wanted to let you know we are closing early because of the storm.”

George looked out the window. The rain had blocked the view of the city. He turned back to the worker. “Is the tram closed?”

“It is, but that wouldn’t matter. Nobody should be on the trails in this weather. We’re closing in twenty minutes.”

The worker walked off. George wasn’t sure what to do. He had planned to take the tram back and walk to his car. Maybe he could get a ride down to the Highway 14 and call a friend. He began to search for someone who might look friendly. His eyes immediately locked on a friendly face. A blond-haired woman in a blue wind-breaker stood there smiling. “You need a ride, stranger?”

“How did you know?” George motioned to the seat across from him, and Shelly took it.

“I heard about the weather, and you told me you were hiking today before we go out tonight. I thought I should drive up here when I couldn’t get you on your phone.”

George shook his head. “The signal dropped when I got lost. I turned it off to save my battery.”

“You got lost?”

“It’s a long story. What do you say we go get my car, head to my place and let me clean up, and I’ll take you to a terrific dinner?”

“That’s what I was hoping to hear.”

Maybe getting lost on the trail wasn’t so terrible after all. George took Shelly’s hand and they braved the storm together.


Hanging by a Thread

Jack sat in the cab of his semi holding his breath. Out his windscreen he could see the whitewater of the river that lay five hundred feet below. The truck’s hitch groaned between the stress of the overhanging cab and the trailer still on the bridge. Jack closed his eyes and prayed God would hold his truck long enough to get free. I never saw the ice. Twenty years of trucking, I should know better. There was no use to scold himself now.

From somewhere outside an emergency worker hollered. “Hey, Jack! It’s Jim, again. We have the crane in the wrong spot. She’ll turn over if we try to hook up the cab to it. We got a tow truck connected to the trailer, so that should stop you from slipping any further down. How are you hanging in there?”

Interesting choice of words. “I’m okay!” Jack felt the truck cab vibrate beneath him. Stay still Jack.

“Try and stay still in there, Jack. Once we relocate the crane we’ll hook up the cab so we can get some rescue workers to you and get you back on solid ground. I’ll let you know when we’re ready.”

Jack thought how beautiful the view would be if there wasn’t a chance he was going to pancake into the valley below. He noticed a pair of hikers midway down the gorge. They were sitting on an outcropping of granite looking up at his truck. Jack wondered if they were pulling for his rescue or demise. His cell phone began to ring from its cradle on the dash. Jack’s home popped up on caller-id. Should he answer it? What would he say to his wife? The phone quit ringing.

Outside his window Jack heard the crane’s engine crank up and several people yelling directions to its driver. This is not how I thought my day was going to go. The thought frightened him. Who wakes up the day of their death and knows they will die that day? Everything had been so normal. He woke up at the truck stop at 4:30 am. By 5 am he was on the road with his thermos full of go-go juice. Five minutes before he reached the bridge he was an hour ahead of schedule.

He noticed the standing water from the rain the day before. He knew the temperatures had dipped below freezing during the night, but the asphalt looked dry for miles. When he saw the large wet spot under the overhanging trees he had assumed the road had warmed even though the sun had only been up for about an hour.

Jack had been in a wreck before. The world slowing around him was not a surprise, but he was sure his demise was at hand when he felt the cab breaking through the bridge’s barrier. All he saw was air in front of him, and the truck’s momentum wedged him against the remains of the guard rail.

His cab shook. Jack instinctively grabbed the steering wheel and pushed the clutch and brakes. Short breaths shot from between his lips.

Jim’s voice emanated from the bridge. “Sorry about that, Jack! We should have warned you. We hooked up the rear of the cab. We can’t pull her back though; the bridge and truck are jammed. We’re going to extend out the crane and try to strap her up and give it a little lift. The guys are lowering next to you now. You’re gonna hear some rattling. Don’t worry, it’s normal.”

Normal!? How is any of this normal? True to Jim’s word Jack could hear the men hooking up something to the frame of the truck. He was unable to tell where they were until one appeared below his door.

“Hang in there, Jack. We will have you out of there soon.”

Jack slowly turned his head and spoke. “I’m here all day. Please, take you time. I don’t want anything breaking loose.”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re going buy us breakfast when we’re done.”


The man looked up the strap. “All set, pull me up!” A similar message came from the other side of the truck.

Jim’s voice quickly followed suit. “Jack! This may be a little exciting from where you are sitting. We are going to lift the cab a bit to relieve the pressure between the truck and the bridge. Once it’s stable we’ll get the fire department boys to you with a ladder. I hope you aren’t afraid of heights. If you are, just don’t look down.”

Jack chuckled. Look down, what did Jim think he was doing now? An engine began to roar on the bridge behind him. The truck’s cab began to groan and shudder. Jack closed his eyes and prayed the nightmare would end soon. He could feel the front of the truck lift slightly, and the rear screeched and scraped against the reinforced concrete. A loud pop and a jerk caused Jack to pop his eyes open. The cab’s rear started to dip and he could feel the truck slowly move down. Several men yelled above the din of the crane engines.

Everything went silent. Jack wasn’t sure what was happening. It felt like he was back where he started, but the rear sat lower than before.

“Hey Jack! It’s Jim. We hit a slight problem. The trailer hitch snapped, and the truck’s rear slid down. Now, don’t worry, we have you in a good spot. You aren’t going anywhere, but to be safe we want to reduce anymore weight. That means you get to go on a carnival ride.”

“What kind of ride are we talking about? I’m not too keen on bungee cords.”

Jim laughed. “No, but you may find this a little exciting. We’re going to extend a fire truck ladder to you. The guys are going to throw you a harness. We want you to put that on just like they tell you. Then you’re going to step out of the cab.”

“You mean out of my cab and on to the ladder?”

“Well, here’s the exciting part. You are actually just stepping out of your cab. We don’t want to risk you falling off the ladder. So, you’re gonna get to hang there while the firemen retract the ladder. You’ll be on firm ground in no time.”

“Is there a second choice?”

“I’m afraid not, Jack. These guys know their job. Just follow their instructions.”

Jack could hear a diesel engine crank up and then the whine of a smaller motor. In a couple of minutes, a fireman was at his window. “Hey, Jack. You can call me Bart. I’m here to relocate you to better accommodations.”

Jack did not want small talk. He would do plenty of that after he escaped his bad dream. He followed Bart’s instructions to the letter. The harness was very constricting, but that reassured Jim.

Bart wrapped his arm around the ladder. “Okay, Jack. This is the easy part. You are going to put your seatbelt back on and open the door. I’ll hook you up and we will both get back to the solid bridge behind me. Jack followed Bart’s instruction to the letter. At Bart’s direction he unbuckled.

“Okay, Jack. It’s time to say goodbye to your bird nest. Step off on three. One, two, three.”

Jack stepped off and he felt the harness catch him. Then a sickening loud pop of the hook breaking away filled Jack’s ears. The earth rushed quickly up. Just before Jack hit the shallow river he sat up and sucked in a big gulp of air.

His breaths were long and labored, and he looked around. Jack was in the bed of his truck. He looked out the window and saw the familiar lights of the truck stop. It really was a nightmare. Jack wiped the sweat from his brow. He stretched and checked the time. His watch showed 4:30 am. With any luck he might be able to beat his schedule by an hour. He pulled on some clothes, and headed over to grab some coffee before he hit the road.

The Daily Post: Relocate

Treasure In The Desert

David and Gary traveled along the dusty path in the western Mojave Desert. Neither boy knew how far they had walked. Gary’s watch covered his ten-year-old wrist, and based on its hands, they had hiked for two hours.

“Man, why did you have to wake up your dad from his nap like that?” David’s voice did not hide his irritation.

“I was thirsty. That old motor home door is always loud, it’s not my fault.” Gary quickened his pace.

“Where are we going?”

Gary shook his head. He was already tired, and did not want David getting in his head. “I don’t know, man. Until we get there I guess.”

“You know we have to walk back?”

Gary stopped. “Look, man, I’ve never been on this trail. You see those rocks and that hill in front of us? I want to see what’s behind there. Then we’ll go back. Besides, I’ve been on this mountain beside us. We can hike across the rocks and be back in forty-five minutes. We aren’t that far away.”

“Okay.” David responded.

Both boy sped up with the destination only a couple hundred yards away. Drawing closer to the rocks and small hill neither boy said a word but instead diligently swept the desert floor before them for rattlesnakes. They had encountered a deadly breed of scorpion near camp that morning. Gary’s dad had ground the ghostly arachnid into the dust with the heel of his boot, but now that were alone. Neither boy wanted to stumble into any of the desert’s hidden dangers.

They slowed and followed the path around to the small hill. Both boy stopped at the curious site as they cleared the turn. A dilapidated stone and dirt hut stood in the middle of the arid landscape. The boys threw caution to the wind and ventured within the roofless structure. Inside they found an old rusty bed frame. On the dirt floor sat a half rotted tin cup and pan.

Something else caught Gary’s eye. A cross like he had seen at his grandmother’s sat half buried in the dust near the bed. Time had given the object a green patina across its copper surface. He quickly reached down and grabbed it.

“Hey, look what I found!” Gary showed the cross to David, but quickly pulled it back when David tried to take it.

“I just want to see it.”


The boys began to bicker, but then the sound of a baby rattle broke-up their disagreement. Both knew what that sound meant. However, something sounded off about it. The rhythm of the rattle was too fast and offbeat. They scanned the floor beneath their legs. They saw nothing. Neither boy dared to breathe.

David whispered. “You see anything?”

“No. Let’s just stand here.”

It felt like an eternity for the rattling to begin to slow. David and Gary turned their heads very slowly. David was the first to see his snake. It sat in the far corner of the old shack, shading itself against a rotted timber leaning against a rock. Gary saw the second snake in the other corner. It was a scant four feet from where he had picked up the cross. The reptile was trying to hide from the hot afternoon sun in the shadows of the old bed frame. Both boy slowly scanned the rest of the old homestead as the rattling ceased.

Confirming no other snakes had ventured into the building they slowly backed out. The rattling started up again. The snakes were both coiled, but out of range. They seemed content to invite the uninvited guests to leave, and David and Gary were happy to comply. Once cleared of the doorway, both boys turned and ran back down the trail. Gary stopped a hundred yards later and tried to catch his breath.

David spoke up. “Hey man, let’s go. We don’t want your parents looking for us.”

Gary pointed at the small mountain covered with large boulders. “Do you want to take the shortcut?”

“No way! You know there’s more snakes up there.” David said.

“Yeah, okay. We better keep running then.”

The boys changed their sprint to a jog and they continued their trek back towards camp. The path back did not seem to take as long. Perhaps they had stopped to inspect more rocks, insects, and jackrabbits than they realized on their walk out. The RV came into sight and the boys slowed their pace. Gary began to feel guilty about what he had done with the cross earlier.

“Hey man, you want to see the cross before we get back to camp?”


David took the cross and turned it over in his hands. “You think this green stuff can hurt us?”

Gary shrugged. “I don’t know. Let’s go ask my parents.”

Gary took the cross back and the boys wandered into camp. His dad and brother were working on their motorcycles.

Gary’s dad looked up. “You boys have a good adventure?”

“Look what we found!” Gary held up the cross to his dad. His father walked over and took the cross.

“Where did you boys find this?”

“Some old shack. We can show you.”

David spoke up. “I’m not going, there were rattlesnakes.” Gary cringed, why did he give that away?

“Rattlesnakes!” His dad looked at David and him. “I think maybe you boys should stay around camp the rest of the day. You seem to have a knack for finding venomous animals today.” He turned and put the cross on the picnic table.

Gary turned and whispered to David. “Thanks a lot, man.”

David put his head down. “Sorry.”

“Hey Dad, is that green stuff dangerous?”

Gary’s dad laughed. “No, it’s called patina. Copper does that when it gets old. That was a nice find. Maybe tomorrow you can show me that house.”

Satisfied with their quarry, and content with their adventures of the day, the boys took their bicycles and headed for the dirt road around the campground.

The Daily Post: Patina

Holidays and Hornets

Hey y’all. I hope you and yours are enjoyin’ the holiday season. We had a little drama down ’round the homestead. I really wanted to cook Ma’s prize turkey, but she wasn’t havin’ none of that. I can’t complain much though, that other bird was good eatin’.

It’s been real warm ’round these parts for this time of year. Now it might sound funny, but I’m disappointed I ain’t seen a hard frost yet. You ain’t seen nothin’ ’til you get up early on a frosty mornin’. I love lookin’ out over yonder at the fields. The sparkle in the sunrise looks like glass reflectin’. The other problem is the trees. We usually have the leaves put up and the yard work done by Thanksgiving. After that we just have to put out the Christmas lights, decorations, get the house cleaned for company, shop for food,  and go huntin’ for a wild turkey. I was thinkin’ the leaves still fallin’ was stoppin’ us from restin’, but I reckon I was thinkin’ wrong.

This warm weather did cause me a problem over yonder at the barn. Seems some hornets made themselves a nest in one of my storage bins over the summer. Now normally this ain’t a problem. We don’t use that old barn much these days ‘cept for storin’ old tools. In the summer I pay close attention if I have to go in there on account of the wasps and hornets. They like it in there cause it keeps them out of the weather. This time of year I usually don’t give them no mind. If I find a nest the cold normally has them quiet and I can just destroy it right quick without no trouble.

Well, Darla insisted on storin’ our Christmas lights out at the farm on account of she needed the house storage for her cannin’. So, on Thanksgiving day she wanted me to head out that way and get those lights. I went out a little early so I didn’t miss no football. I was missin’ the frost and cold when I got out there. Seemed sort of a shame to be in a t-shirt in November. Anyway, I walk on in the old barn and find the storage bin with our Christmas decorations. I was plumb shocked to find a big ole hornet’s nest wrapped around the boxes holdin’ the lights.

You ever done somethin’ out of habit, and later wonder why you weren’t thinkin’? Well, I just figured I’d get me a shovel and pull that nest off of there and then sweep off them boxes. Y’all can’t imagine my surprise when about twelve hornets came screamin’ out when I broke that nest. I lit out of that barn like my pants were on fire. One of those suckers had stung me in my butt, so it sort of felt like I was on fire. Now I’m not a young man anymore, but I swear I could have beat my younger self in a race. They got me in the back of the neck and elbow. I hooted and hollered and ran every direction I could think of.

I don’t know when they quit chasin’ me. I just know I got to my ole pickup and got my door closed without any of those devils gettin’ in there with me. I looked out my window and there must’ve been twenty of them things flying around that open barn. I decided I’d leave things just like they were. We don’t have much trouble with thieves. Besides, there ain’t much in that barn but old tools and Christmas decorations. I reckoned if anyone came wondering inside them hornets would chase ’em on out.

Now Darla wasn’t real pleased when I came back with nothin’. She looked at my neck and elbow and would only say I’d had worse. Darla doesn’t like to have her holiday decorations missin’. I told her I’m happy to head back over after we have a hard freeze for a week. She protested, but I told her I wasn’t the weatherman and she oughta start prayin’. So things are a might tense at the moment. Or they were until today.

I reckon I should know better than to try to outsmart my wife. She went grocery shoppin’ this mornin’. She was gone longer than usual, and I assumed it was for all that food we are gonna be needin. She came in the door whistlin’ a happy tune. I’m feelin’ good cause maybe this means she’s forgiven me. I get up out of my readin’ chair and ask her what she’s bought. She grins and topples over these two large paper bags. Boxes of Christmas lights come pourin’ out onto the kitchen table.

I reckon she got me. At least ’til the end of the holidays when I store them lights with her cannin’. Ain’t no way I’m going anywhere near that barn until January from now on. Y’all be good.

The Daily Post: Sparkle

Do I Have To Go?

“Do I have to go?” Billy hated everything about today, and it was only 9 am. The house was a zoo, filled with people he did not know. Billy hated the dark suit his mother made him wear. The tight black dress shoes he normally wore on Sundays made his feet ache.  “But, mom! It’s Saturday. All my friends will be at the park before we get home!” Billy jumped in surprise when his mother burst into the bathroom. Pain and anger filled her face.

“Young man, if I hear you complain one more time you’ll be going with a sore butt!” His mother turned him, so he faced the bathroom mirror on the wall and grabbed a hairbrush. The bristles yanked and pulled at the twisted black locks in Billy’s hair.

“Ouch! Mom, that hurts!” Billy could see tears forming on his mother’s olive cheeks. He knew they were not for him.

“Maybe if you would obey me, you would have more hair!” Although the tone was threatening Billy could feel her strokes lighten and flow more smoothly. He did not understand her anger. Everybody’s reaction confused him. Sure, he felt a little sad, but everybody dies. Why should he care so much? He would never be that old. Why was he being forced to think about it now?

“Mom, why do people die when they’re old?”

His mother stopped organizing his mop of hair and put the brush on the counter. She bent down and put her arms around Billy. He never understood why, but he always felt safe when she did. He could smell the perfume she would wear when they were going somewhere as a family. She had on a black dress he had never seen, but he thought it looked cute on her. His mother’s thick black hair flowed down over her shoulders and brushed across his face. Billy buried his face inside. This was their safe place in the world.

He heard his mom quietly whimper, and felt a tear roll down her soft cheek and touch his face. “Billy, I wish we knew why people die. The church teaches it’s because of Adam and Eve’s sin. When Jesus came here, he promised to return and put an end to death. All of us wish He would hurry up if He really is planning on coming back.”

His uncle poked his head in the bathroom. “We need to go soon, Susie.”

Susie raised her tear-filled eyes to her brother. “In a minute Hank. This is important.” Hank nodded and disappeared.

Susie held her son tight. “Many of us believe that death is a transition. The Grandpa that you knew, the man you talked to, was a soul made by God. I believe he is now with God and Jesus.”

“Is there anybody else with them?”

Susie smiled. “Oh yes! Your grandmother, your Uncle Dave, all of Grandpa’s siblings, a lot of people. Even some of his friends we don’t know about.”

“That sounds good, mom. It sounds like he is gonna have the best Christmas ever.”

Susie pushed her son back and turned him to her. “I suppose they are.”

Billy’s innocent smiling face brought a glimmer of light to Susie’s empty heart. After a moment, he looked at her confused. “Then why is everybody so sad?”

Susie’s dark eyes began to pool up again. “Because we miss the people we love. Especially for special occasions. We aren’t crying because something bad has happened to them. We’re crying because we feel lonely without them. We won’t get to see them again while we’re alive.”

Billy hugged his mom tight. “I’m here, mom. I won’t leave.”

“I hope we’re always as close as we are now.” Susie started to cry.

Billy laid the side of his head on his mom’s shoulder. “We should probably go, mom. We don’t want grandpa to be late meeting grandma. You know how that used to make her mad.”

Susie laughed between her tears. “You’re right. Let’s get going.”

Susie grabbed a couple of tissues and cleaned up her face. Billy held her hand, and they walked out into the room filled with mourners, ready to send off her father to better times.

The Daily Post: Zoo

A Victim No More

Sheriff Derek Hurley stood over the dead body of Mayor Ellison. Derek had seen a lot while town Sheriff, but nothing like this. The mayor lay murdered behind a dilapidated, abandoned farmhouse. His pants were around his ankles. His neck punctured by some sort of tool. A pitchfork, or possibly a screwdriver. The device had stabbed his carotid artery. Derek worked to keep down his morning coffee. Blood had soaked into the dirt beneath the mayor. His suit and body lay covered in coagulated blood.

“Derek!” Deputy Harris ran towards the Sheriff. “We found her. We found the killer.” Harris stopped short and tried to catch his breath.

Derek turned around. “Easy, John, slow down. How do you know you have the killer?”

Harris regained his breath. “Follow me, this is something you have to see. It’s Betty, Mia’s and Ron’s daughter.  She’s in the barn.”

“Okay, John. Let’s walk over.”

Outside the faded, gray barn doors Deputies Sean Conover and Ruth Beaty stood guard. John led the way inside. Derek stopped short, and Deputy Beaty bumped into him. Derek turned around annoyed. “I think you can wait outside Deputy.”

Ruth held her ground. “I’m sorry boss. I’m the only woman here, I believe you are going to need me.”

Derek turned back praying he had seen the scene wrong when he walked in, but he had not. Betty sat against the far barn wall with a pitchfork in her hand. Partially dried blood ran down the far-left tine. A snippet of flesh still clung to the sharp tip. Her torn dress  hung down to her waist, and she covered her exposed breasts with her free hand. Betty’s right eye was black and swollen almost completely shut. A panicked look still found a way to express itself beyond the wound. Her underwear hung on one ankle. A fist size bruise, already black and yellow, showed on her inner thigh. Blood  streaked across her body and head.

John stood just four feet away with his gun drawn. “Sheriff, she’s crazy and armed! Drop that pitchfork or I promise you I will shoot.” Before Derek could respond Ruth walked quickly passed him and inserted herself between Deputy Harris and Betty. Derek swallowed hard. Ruth was within easy striking distance of Betty’s pitchfork. “Get out of my way Ruth! She’s dangerous!” John tried to move Deputy Beaty out of his way with his hand, but Ruth would not budge.

Ruth looked John coldly in the eye. “You need to leave.” She looked past John. “Sheriff, I think you should both leave. I’ll be okay.”

John turned to protest, but Derek held up his hand. “Save it, John. I think Ruth has things under control for now.” John shoved his gun in his holster in disgust and stomped out.

The Sheriff looked Ruth in the eye. “Deputy Beaty, you better know what you’re doing.” He turned on his heel and walked out the barn door.

Ruth walked away from Betty to the door. She looked out at everyone. “Don’t try to come in until I tell you.” She slid the door shut, took off her gun belt and wrapped it through the door handles.

Ruth turned around and took off her badge. She laid it on a bale of hay, walked within five feet of Betty and sat on the dusty floor. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’ve locked them out. My badge is off. We’re just two women in here. Please tell me, honey, what happened.”

Betty held the pitchfork tighter. Her legs pulled in tightly under her body, and she bent over until her body touched her thighs. “He attacked me. I told him to stop. I pushed him away, and he punched me.” Betty looked up at Ruth with her tear-filled eyes.

Ruth did not move and simply nodded her head in understanding. “Okay, Betty. You’re doing good. Can you tell me what happened next?”

Betty dropped the pitchfork and wrapped her arms around her legs. “I fell on the ground. He grabbed at my underwear, and I kicked him. He hit me in my leg. I kicked at him harder, and he got off me, I thought he was going to stop. He told me I knew better than to say no.”

Ruth leaned forward. “Do you mean he’s done this to you before?”

Betty slowly nodded her head. “He and Deputy Harris caught me smoking a joint once out in the woods near the school. They said they would arrest me unless I did things. Nasty things.”

Ruth slid closer to Betty but stopped when Betty grabbed the pitchfork back up. “Betty, Deputy Harris was with the Mayor near the school?” Beaty nodded. Ruth pushed ahead. “Do you know why they were there?”

Betty’s black eye had now swollen shut and she could only look at Ruth through her other eye. “I don’t know why they were there. They were always around the high school. I guess they were looking for somebody.”

I think they found who they were looking for. “How did Mayor Ellison find you today?”

“I don’t know. I always cut through by the old Thomas place when I come home from Lisa’s house. It’s usually safe. People think the house is haunted, so nobody comes around. I don’t know why the Mayor was here. He told me to get in the barn because we needed to talk about what had happened near the school.” Betty started crying.

Ruth reached into her pocket, grabbed a handkerchief and handed it to Betty. “You’re doing good. I know this is tough. How did you get the pitchfork?”

“I saw the pitchfork on the ground next to me after he got off. I grabbed it and told him to stay away. Mayor Ellison just laughed at me, dropped his pants and tried to get back on top. I stabbed at him with the pitchfork. It poked his neck, and the mayor jumped back. Blood just started to squirt everywhere. He grabbed his neck and stumbled out the door.”

Ruth looked down at the ground and saw the unnoticed blood trail they had all trampled through. Bloody footprints went in several directions. She sighed and shook her head.  “Betty, I’m going to pull out my cell phone and call the FBI, okay?”

Betty sniffed, “Why would the FBI care about me?”

Ruth slowly pulled her phone out of her pocket. “They have a special team of people who help children. Betty, you are the victim, do you understand that?” Betty shrugged her shoulders. Ruth dialed the FBI office thirty miles away and explained their situation and hung up. “Beaty, they will be here shortly, but I need you to trust me. Do you think you can trust me?” Beaty nodded her head. “Good, I need you to throw that pitchfork over there away from both of us. That’s all I want you to do.”

Betty slid the pitchfork across the floor. “Can I get something to cover up?”

“You can, dear. Can I have the Sheriff bring it in? I need to tell him some of what you have told me.”

“He’s never hurt me,” whispered Betty. Ruth walked over to the barn door and hollered to Sheriff Hurley.

“Boss! I need a jacket for Betty, and I need you to come inside!”

“Let’s lock her up!” yelled John.

“No! Only the Sheriff can come in.”

“What’s going on Beaty!?” Ruth could tell Derek was losing patience.

“I promise to explain everything when you come in.”

“You’d better, the ice under you is so thin a bird could break through it.”

Ruth put her gun belt and badge back on and opened the door. Derek walked in, and Ruth shut the door behind him. He handed her the jacket, and she covered Betty’s bare shoulders. Betty covered herself and curled up against the wall. Ruth told Derek about the Mayor and John. Derek nodded and frowned when she mentioned the FBI.

“So, the FBI is on the way?”

“Yes, boss. I’m sorry I went over your head, but I don’t know who I can trust, and I didn’t want John to hear.”

Derek’s face relaxed. “You did the right thing Deputy. Betty, you stay where you are. Consider yourself in protective custody, Ruth will keep you safe.”

“There is something else, Boss. John is the one who called this into us. I have a feeling Betty, and Mayor Ellison, were not alone.”

The Sheriff leaned against a couple of moldy stacked hay bales. “I never thought something like this could happen in our happy small community.” Derek checked his watch. “The FBI will be here in the next couple of minutes. I’m sure John is wondering what I know. Betty, don’t say a word, not a peep. I’m going to open these doors and buy us a minute.”

Derek turned, and Ruth helped Betty get up and fix her clothes. Deputy Beaty gave him the all clear, and he opened the door.

“Are we takin’ her Sheriff?” John inquired. “She murdered the mayor.”

Derek looked back at Ruth. She discretely pulled Betty close.  Derek turned back to John. “Well, John. I do think we need to take somebody in for this.” In the distance, sirens could be heard quickly approaching down the country road. Derek continued. “This is a serious crime, so I thought I ought to ask for some help. After all, Betty and her family are respected members of the community”

John chuckled.

Derek pulled out his pistol and leveled it at John as the black cars and blue lights came into view. “John, I suggest you to put your hands behind your head and don’t breathe. I would love to have you join the mayor.”

John fell to his knees and spit a wad of chewing tobacco at the ground by the Sheriff’s shoe. “I was just the driver.”

Derek removed John’s weapon, and the FBI agent took over.

The Daily Post: Snippet

Anger and Death on the Freeway

Michael sat staring at his computer, discouraged by the constant bombardment of bad news. Some channels had people arguing with one another about politics. Their heads populated boxes that looked like a “Brady Bunch” show introduction. First, they would squabble at each other, and then over one another. Other channels showed reality stars speaking one-way conversations among themselves. They would rant about money, relationships, and even rage against their own faults. Other channels held reruns of old movies that had been massively edited and filled with commercials.

Attempting to escape the nonstop anger he came and hid in his office with his laptop, desperate to find something positive to fill his mind. Here too he saw nothing but hatred. Friends would banter politics on social media. Not to foster creative dialog but garner likes on whatever social media tool they were using. Most websites contained articles known as click bait. The headlines would seem intriguing, but often held stale facts and in some cases outrageous lies. The website owners did not really care if people read the content. They just wanted the mouse clicks to satisfy their advertisers, and get their payday.

Wholly discouraged, Michael decided to go for a drive. Indeed, on such a sunny day he could find refuge in his automobile. After all, driving had been a passion since he got behind the wheel of an electric toy car as a toddler. Then came his learner’s permit and finally his driver’s license. He remembered it like yesterday. It was the best day of his life. With a smile on his face, he walked out to his Nissan, popped open the sunroof and headed towards the freeway.

It was the perfect day for a drive to the mountains. He turned Pandora to his favorite seventies channel and relaxed as he made his way up the on-ramp. Looking over his shoulder, he confirmed his blind spot was clear and merged into traffic. He wasn’t sure where the black SUV came from or even what kind it was. All he could see the grill quickly speeding up the right lane and slowing slightly behind his bumper. Michael checked his speed. He was right on seventy, the speed limit. Surely the driver would go around if he was in a hurry. After all, traffic was light.

The SUV began flashing his lights, indicating Michael should move out of his way. Since he was in the right lane, Michael had no intention of moving. The driver honked their horn. Perhaps there was something wrong with his car. He began to slow down and check his instruments and mirrors. Maybe there was something caught under the chassis. With a touch of a button on his wheel, the radio went silent. While Michael evaluated his vehicle and SUV swung into the left lane and roared by. His car seemed okay, and his foot pushed the accelerated back up.

Michael finally relaxed. “Maybe the SUV was in a hurry and didn’t realize the other lane was clear.” A mile up the road the same car that had tailgated his Nissan was now almost touching the bumper of another vehicle. Clearly, the driver felt annoyed. This time he drove along stuck in the right lane because there was a car next to him. Michael eased up and got in the left lane to pass. He could hear the angry driver honking at the slower car in front. The Toyota two-door blocking the enraged driver’s way opened his window and gestured to the sizable vehicle behind. This resulted in a similar response from the other driver. Maybe it was instinct, or a desire to escape the madness around him. Michael eased off the gas, got in the right lane and let the drivers push ahead. After all, he was trying to escape all the hatred and anger.

He never saw what started the crash. Judging from the nosedive of the SUV Michael surmised the little Toyota had enough. Everything appeared in slow motion as he hit his brakes and eased his Nissan to the shoulder and slightly to the grass. A few yards ahead of him, the collision to the rear of the smaller car caused it to swerve left into a minivan. The van bounced left into the median wall, and the driver overcompensated to the right. The momentum made the blue minivan flip. Glass shattered and what looked like a child’s toy flew from the window. The small Toyota swerved right to miss the returning van and was hit again by the impatient driver who had now lost control of his SUV. The compact car spun around from the impact to its rear quarter panel and came to a stop. The angered driver who had pushed the herd of vehicles into the collision had given up retaining control and t-boned the inverted van. Everything on the freeway stopped.

Michael dialed 911 and turned on his flashers. The atmosphere was eerie when he emerged from his car. Drivers stood outside their vehicles on cell phones calling for EMTs, and others began to video the tragedy before them. Michael checked on the Toyota. The woman driving the car was sobbing but unharmed. He walked over to the minivan. The SUV sat partly inserted into the passenger side door. He could see blood dripping against the imploded door frame. Weak crying could be heard underneath. He peered inside the SUV. The airbag had softened the impact, but the driver sat catatonic, unable to comprehend what had just occurred.

Praying for a miracle Michael got down on his knees and peered inside the van. His brain panicked at the horror before him.  It took all his courage not to run screaming or collapse into a sobbing heap. A baby hung upside down in a car seat. Its eyes were open, and the child appeared to breathe. Michael wondered why it wasn’t crying. A young mother in the passenger seat was unconscious. The SUVs bumper against her shattered skull. Blood poured from her wound and Michael was not sure if she was even alive. The father hung unconscious with his arm bone exposed and impaled in the airbag.

Someone held Michael’s shoulder. “Sir, is anyone alive?”

Michael looked up and saw the concerned eyes of a Highway Patrolman. He began to sob. “I don’t know.”

The officer helped him up and began to yell at another officer. “John, get the Fire Department in here now! We need EMTs!”  Michael saw Lawrence on the Patrolman’s nameplate. “Officer Lawrence, please look after those people, I’m okay. I was behind the accident.”

“Okay, sir. Do you see that fire truck?”

Michael nodded yes.

“Go over there and tell them Officer Larry needs them to give you some water, and wait there. I will need your statement.”

The door of the SUV opened, and a man came stumbling out. “Where’s that idiot that wouldn’t get out of my way! This is all his fault! He deserves a good butt-kicking!”

Larry looked over at Michael. “Did you see what happened?”

“Yes, sir.” Michael could feel his anger and despair fight against his self-control. “This maniac has pushed people along in the right lane since I got on the freeway. It started with me. I don’t know if he was afraid to pass people, but he finally went around and up the road a mile or so back. When I saw him with this group of cars, he was tailgating and honking at the driver of the wrecked Toyota over there. The two eventually collided and this happened.”

The SUV driver was not going to have any part of the blame. “What does this guy know? He wasn’t in the wreck! It isn’t my fault these idiots go too slow. Maybe if they didn’t bunch up, I wouldn’t have hit that guy!”

An EMT walked up to Larry. “I don’t know started this, but on the bumper of this SUV is the head of a dead mother, around age twenty-five. The father will survive physically, but I’m not sure emotionally. The baby miraculously appears fine. If you call losing her mother fine.”

Larry turned to the SUV driver, and Michael stepped back. “Sir, place your hands behind your back. You’re being arrested for reckless driving. I’m sure the DA will be adding to that.”

“What!” The driver yelled. “Why is this my fault! I wouldn’t have hit that stupid little car if people had just got out of my way. I have as much right to the road as they do!”

Michael went over and sat on the bumper of the fire truck. He bowed his head. “God, please help us learn to love again. Please don’t let me get this angry.”

He looked up and saw the unconscious father being pushed on the stretcher passed the Highway Patrol car with the angry SUV driver yelling behind the closed-door from the back seat.

The Daily Post: One-Way

Memories Past, Present, and Future

Deborah sat in her old white rocking chair. The crisp autumn morning seeped through the blanket covering her jeans. Her pale legs ached slightly against the cold air. She rocked and thought of her younger days. She used to run around the yard and dive with abandon into the leaf piles her father would make. He never fussed at her for destroying his leaf collections. Instead, he would rake them up and invite her to do it again. Instead of the chill aching her bones, the sweaty skin from her play welcomed the fresh air. She had no problem wearing t-shirts and shorts until the first snow arrived.

A smile crept across her lips. She could see her son and daughter laughing and playing in the piles her husband had built. The trees had grown ever larger over the years and so had the number of leaves. The mounds grew to support their three children and two dogs. Harvesting of the leaves was now a two-day affair of laughter, raking, more laughter, and more raking.

Now the yard sat covered with a blanket of crinkled brown leaves, with the occasional patch of yellow. The grass now lay buried under a warm blanket of leaf litter. Deborah’s smile faded. She missed days of her youth. In her hands was the incomplete baby sweater she knitted while she dreamed. A fourth grandchild was due to arrive in just a few months. Was it time for another generation to begin taking the stage? She and James had only just started to settle into adulthood. Deborah’s contemplation broke with the sound of a car pulling into the drive.

It was her oldest son Frank and his three children. They all rolled out of their minivan and waved. Frank popped open the back and his family converged towards the rear. They reappeared with rakes. James walked out the front door on to the porch. “Hey honey, Frank asked if the kids could come over for a leaf party. I told him the yard was theirs.” James sat down in the rocking chair next to Deborah.

Deborah took his hands in both of hers and looked deep into his eyes. “Honey, thank you. How did you know?”

James smiled and kissed her hand. “I don’t know. I guess it’s just instinct after thirty-five years.”

James and Deborah held hands and rocked in their chairs. Frank and his family raked, frolicked and played until the kids could hardly move. The sun began to grow dim, and Deborah went inside to make everyone hot chocolate. She stood at the counter and stirred the chocolate elixir that would soon disappear with the grandchildren and stared off into nothing. Maybe she was no longer the little girl with the father she longed to see again, but seeing her children’s’ children experience her same happiness was somehow sweeter. Past, present, and future all knit together into beautiful memories that would outlive her.

The Daily Post: Knit