Communion, A Short Story

My dad sat on a tree stump every day before dinner. It was about three feet tall and stood near the back fence. Dad looked more like he was leaning when he sat on it. Usually both hands dangled between his legs and he stared off beyond our yard toward the trees that ran along the backside of the neighborhood. If you walked through the trees, you could only go about ninety or so feet before you came to a stream that split the center of the wooded area. 

It didn’t matter how hot or cold or rainy it was, he went to the tree stump, sat for a few minutes, then came inside. On some days—mostly in early fall—he would sit a little longer, sometimes with his head bowed as if he were asleep or maybe praying. Dad wasn’t the religious type, so I doubt he ever prayed.

I guess I was four or five the first time I noticed him go outside and to the stump. I went to go after him, maybe so he would play with me, but probably out of curiosity more than anything. 

“No, Heath,” Mom said from where she stood at the counter, cutting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in half for me. 

I looked back at her. “I wanna go outside,” I said—or I think I said. Time has a funny way of playing with memories. 

“Not right now.”

“Why?”

“Your dad’s having communion.”

“What’s com-u-non?” I asked. 

“It’s what your dad is doing right now.” She set my sandwich on the table. “Now sit down and eat. Your daddy will be inside when he is done.”

I didn’t sit and eat. Not at first anyway. I went to the back door. It was open and the screen door was shut. I could see Dad from there. His shoulders were slouched like he was tired. His head was down. I thought he just might have fallen asleep. Then I saw his shoulders go up then down a couple of times. His head bobbed in sync with them.

“Sit down, Heath,” Mom said and steered me away from the door with both her hands. She closed the door gently.

I ate my sandwich and set my plate on the counter. Dad came in as I was leaving the kitchen to take a bath. He looked so tired. His eyes were rimmed red and there were angry red squiggly lines in them. The tip of his nose was pink. He wiped it as he went by me and to the bathroom where he washed up. He didn’t say anything to me as he passed, just went by without even glancing in my direction. I remember how bad it felt. He walked by me as if I were invisible. Maybe I was.

“Get ready for your bath,” Mom said when she saw me standing at the foot of the hall looking toward the bathroom where Dad went. She sounded irritated. That was her default setting.

“Dad’s in there.”

“He won’t be for long, so do what I said to do.”

I went to my room and gathered my night clothes, then took a towel from the hall closet. I waited outside the bathroom door until it opened, and Dad walked out. His eyes were no longer red, and he didn’t look as tired. 

“Hey there, Heath,” he said with a smile. He bent down and picked me up, then gave me a big hug. His hugs always made me feel safe, like everything would be okay. He set me down and all was right again. He didn’t look worn or weighted down at all. He didn’t look sad. 

Every day for the next six years, I stood at my window, watching Dad out on the tree stump. After the first time I was shooed away from the  back door, I didn’t think Mom would take too kindly to me going and watching him as he had communion. 

I still didn’t know what that meant.

***

I was eleven when Mom died. She wasn’t really the loving type. She was stern and rarely gave hugs, kisses or said ‘I love you.’ I should have felt more, but I didn’t. I think I felt more ashamed that I wasn’t as sad as I thought I should be. It didn’t help that we had argued before I left for school. I wanted to go to Jerry’s house before coming home. 

“Not with your grades, Heath. You come straight home and do your studies.”

I guess it wasn’t much of an argument after all. I left for school, angry at her for the umpteenth time in my life. 

Mom died while I was at school and Dad was at work. It wasn’t anything terribly tragic like the house caught on fire and she couldn’t get out or she was in a car accident, or even someone broke into the house and murdered her. No, it was nothing like that. Mom choked on a piece of toast. 

I found her when I got home from school. She lay on the kitchen floor, faced down. She was still in her bath robe and nightclothes and her face was a shade of purple that bordered on black. I stared down at her. And I didn’t feel anything, at least not right then.

I called Dad, then I called 9-1-1. Then I sat on the front porch and looked out on the road in front of our house. 

The ambulance made it there before Dad did, but not by much. They were inside tending to her body when Dad pulled up in his old truck. He was out of it in a hurry. He forgot to close the door before he ran across the yard to me. His face was red, as were his eyes. I had seen that look every day for the last six years of my life. 

I stood.

Dad reached me and put his arms around me. Just like when I was little and he would pick me up, I felt safe. I know it sounds crazy, but even with Mom in the house dead and the emergency people inside the house doing what they do, I felt safe in Dad’s arms. Everything would be okay.

Dad released me and went inside. I walked over to his truck and gently closed the door.

For me, everything was fine. Like I said, Mom wasn’t very loving, and we never really got along. But for Dad, nothing would ever be the same again. 

One thing didn’t change, though. Like every night since I could remember, Dad went out the back door to the tree stump. He sat, stared off into the woods, but this time I could tell he was crying. I stepped away from the window and sat on my bed. And I cried. too.

***

Dad did the best he could. He was a widower and he and Mom had been together since they were kids. They were high school sweethearts and married right after graduation. 

For the better part of my life since her death I’ve regretted not being closer, not trying, though she never really tried either. Guilt is a funny thing. You don’t realize you’ll feel it until you do.

***

I was sixteen when I finally worked up the nerve to ask my dad why he went outside every day before supper. He was already out there with his coat on and his hands between his knees. His head was down, and I could see his lips moving when I approached him.

“Dad?”

He didn’t jerk in surprise of my presence. His head didn’t swivel on his neck and he didn’t look irritated to see me standing there, my hands jammed into my coat pockets, vapor pluming from between my lips.

“Everything okay, Heath?” His voice was shaky.

I nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, everything is okay. I just …”

“You just what?”

I shrugged. “Dad, why do you come out here and sit on this stump every day?”

He looked away from me, back in the direction of the woods. By then, some of the land had been sold and some of the trees further down from our place had been removed. The frame of a house stood like a silhouette in the dying sunlight. When he looked back at me, he had tears in his eyes. He wiped at them and looked away.

“My Daddy died cutting this tree down.” He patted the side of the stump with one hand. “I was a little older than you, eighteen, I think. He had a heart attack and died where he fell. I come out here to be near him. It’s like he never left. I can feel his presence.”

Dad looked back at me again. His eyes shimmered with tears. “I know it sounds crazy but sitting here makes me feel like he’s still around and not dead and in some box in the ground in Meacham Cemetery. I come out here and talk to him. Then I listen for his voice. I reckon you can say I come to have communion with him.”

I never bothered him while he was out there again. I still looked out the window from time to time, but I never bothered him. It was sacred for him.

Now, I understand why.

***

Barely two years later, Dad passed away. I just turned eighteen, and yes, I see the foreshadowing in our lone conversation about his visits to the stump. He died before supper, and yes, he was sitting on the stump.

He had aged so much in the seven years since Mom passed. He looked older than his fifty-four years. If you do the math, you can figure out my parents had me when they were in their mid-thirties, but Dad looked like he was in his mid-seventies that last time he walked into the back yard to the stump to have communion with his father. 

I stood at the back door, something I hadn’t done since that first time when Mom shooed me away. He sat gingerly on the stump. As always, he looked out to where the woods used to be, but now they were all gone. Houses now sat where trees once stood. His head dipped, his chin touching his chest. Then he leaned to one side and fell.

“Dad,” I yelled and ran from the house. I vaguely heard the clatter of the screen door as it slammed shut. Dad was gone by the time I reached him. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my cell. Much like when Mom died, I dialed 9-1-1. This time I didn’t wait on the front porch, my elbows on my knees and my head down. No, this time I waited in the back yard, Dad’s head on my lap. 

***

It’s been two days since his funeral. The coroner said he died of a massive heart attack. He was dead before he hit the ground. I can still see him toppling off the stump. I can still hear me yelling for him. 

Tonight, just before I sat at the table by myself for the first time in my life, I walked out to the stump where my dad died, and where his dad died. I sat down on the stump with my hands between my legs. Tears spilled down my face.

“I miss you, Dad.”

Then, like so many times as a child, I felt his arms around me, and I knew I would be okay.

AJB

10/15/2020

S.A.M.M (Free Fiction)

S.A.M.M.

A.J. Brown

It was an odd sight, one I didn’t expect to see when I ran into the woods, the bullies on my heels, their calls of ‘You’re going to get it when we catch you,’ still loud in my ears. I believed them, too. I wasn’t like everyone else. I wasn’t popular and I didn’t come from the best family, with the best clothes and three cars in the driveway and a nice house with all the bells and whistles. We weren’t the nuclear family with a mom and dad and 2.5 kids.

No, we lived on the other side of the tracks in a small house in a rough neighborhood where gunshots weren’t uncommon at two in the morning. I rode the bus to and from school and we hung our clothes out on a clothesline after we brought them home from the laundromat. Yeah, we couldn’t afford to dry the clothes, just wash them. I wore hand-me-downs from Aunt Rosalyn’s neighbors, and most of those clothes were too big for me. 

I was different. Daddy was white and Momma was black in a time that type of relationship was still frowned upon. My skin was the wrong tint of white and the wrong shade of black. I guess, having to deal with that, I saw things differently. I still do, but back then, when I was a young girl trying to find my way in a mean world, seeing things differently was just as bad as being a ‘gray baby.’ And I think that is why I came across SAMM. Yes, SAMM, with two M’s–It stands for Sand And Mud Man.

The bullies–Jack Olson, Mickey Darbey, and Knollwood Herring–had chased me from school that afternoon (like so many others). And, like so many others, I ran as fast as I could, hoping and praying those three white boys wouldn’t catch me. If they did …

I made it to the woods and ran right through the branches of some smaller trees, creating my own pathway and stumbling along as I went. They stopped at the edge of the woods, as if they were afraid to follow. I did not stop. I ran until I reached the stream that split the woods in half. By then I could no longer hear their taunts. I dropped to the ground, my knees sinking into the soft mud of the stream’s embankment. I put my face in my hands and cried. I pulled my hands away and looked at the right one. There was blood on the palm. I wiped at my cheek. At some point, a branch must have sliced skin because when I pulled my fingers away bright blood was on the tips. 

Staring at the blood, my mind slowed to a crawl and asked a question. How was I going to survive another day with those jerks around, much less the remainder of the school year? 

I slid onto my bottom and scooted back against one of the cypress trees, wedging myself between the upraised roots in order to get comfortable. I didn’t care about the mud on my pants–again, hand-me-downs, a size two big, a pair I just wanted to chunk anyway. Mom might be mad, and I would have to explain to her why they were so dirty. What was I going to say? What was I going to do? 

And the tears flowed. A snot runner escaped my nose and I wiped it away with the back of one hand. 

Then I saw It. It stood on the other side of the stream, a dirty, gray stone creature that looked as if it had been chiseled right out of the wall of a mountainside. Its features were rough, and its arms came almost down to its feet like a rocky gorilla, but it stood straight, not hunched over. Its face was square and its jaw jutted out, a mouth carved into it, complete with three teeth. Its eyes were hollowed out holes that held darkness in them—something so deep it made me shiver to look at. Though it seemed like someone had just dropped it into the woods without a care, the large, thick vines that were tethered to its wrists and ankles told me this creature, this thing, had been placed there intentional. Whatever it was, this thing was dangerous.

I stood, my heart pounding harder than it had when I fled a beating I was sure to get later. I stared up at the thing. It couldn’t have been much more than a statue someone no longer wanted, an art project gone terribly wrong, maybe. I didn’t know, but it fascinated and terrified me all at once.

Stream 2Carefully, I approached it, tip-toeing as if to keep it from hearing me. A twig snapped under foot and I was startled as if someone had fired a gun. My hands went over my head and I dropped to the ground. I think I screamed. When it didn’t move, I cautiously stood and continued toward it. I reached the edge of the stream and stepped into the icy water. Chills raced up my legs and tailbone and right into my spine. The water soaked through my sneakers and holy socks, but I didn’t care. Seconds later, the cuffs of my oversized jeans were wet all the way up to my shins. 

On that side of the stream I could see it better. The stone of the sunken into the ground feet was covered in green moss that travelled up its legs and just passed both knees. The stone was also weathered and cracked and chipped. There were grooves where rain had worn away pieces of it. The knees and elbows were hinged, and the shoulders and wrists were ball sockets. The vines that held it in place were more like branches, thick and brown and green, leaves clinging to it. 

But it was its chest that caught my attention and held it for the longest time. The stone had been smashed in and the edges of the hole were a much darker gray, as if

(it had a heart, Meghan)

it had bled, but that was impossible. It was nothing but rock. Rocks don’t bleed.

I reached up and let my fingers trace along the ridges of the hole. It was rough, and some of the edges were dull, but a few of them were sharp like glass. 

It moved.

I pulled my hand away with a scream in my throat. A sharp pain ripped through two fingers. I stumbled backward, my foot slipping in the mud. I tripped on a rock and landed in the water. My scream was cut off by the shocked inhalation of chilly air as the water spilled over me. I scrambled to turn around, fell back in, this time face first. I swallowed gritty stream water before I was able to get my hands beneath me and shove myself up. I stood, soaked from head to toe, and hurried out of the water. 

On dry ground, I ran to the tree I had sat at when I noticed the thing, and hid behind it.

My breaths were loud, a wheeze coming from my chest. I whispered silently, “Please don’t hurt me. Please, don’t hurt me. Please, don’t hurt me,” all while my mind screamed Run!

It spoke two words, its voice deep and, for a lack of better term, gravelly. 

“Help me.”

I wasn’t sure I heard it correctly, so I remained with my back firmly planted against the cypress tree and my feet on two of the roots jutting up from the ground. Then it came again, and this time I heard the sadness in its voice. Or maybe it was pain.

“Help me.”

It didn’t matter if it was sad or in pain, or even if it was scary, I heard something in its voice that said, ‘I am here and I am alive and I need help.’

I turned around and placed my stomach to the tree. Slowly I eased my head from behind it so I could see the creature. Its head was down and moving slowly from side to side as if looking at the vines that bound it to the ground like chains. 

With each movement of its head came the rumble of stone on stone. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought it was crying and the sound wasn’t the rubbing of two rocks together, but the sound of its voice as it bawled like a little baby.

I stepped from behind the tree, and eased a few feet off to the side. When I did, it looked up. What could only be tears spilled from its hollow eye sockets, creating black streaks along its gray face. Its jaw looked as if it were trembling. It cocked its head to the side and lifted its arms as high as they would go, which wasn’t much further than his thighs.

“Help me.”

“How?” I asked. I wasn’t scared. That’s the thing. I wasn’t scared, though I should have been. This creature made of rocks should have terrified me, but in that moment, with everything I had been through over the previous couple of years, I felt a connection with it. “How can I help you?”

It cocked its head to the side again, something I immediately found endearing, and then it looked down at its wrists and the vines that held him.

(You have to set him free, Meghan)

He raised his arms again, this time pulling the vines as tight as they would go. 

“I can’t break those,” I said.

Without realizing, I had approached it. My toes were on the edge of the stream when I became aware of how close I was to it. Water gently lapped against my shoes. For a few seconds we stood looking at each other.

“Please.”

How can you say no to some … thing that says ‘please?’

I crossed the stream and stepped onto the other side. At first I tried to pull the vines from the ground. What was I thinking? If it couldn’t pull them free, how did I expect myself to pull them free? Still, I strained for about two minutes, my face growing hot and my arms and legs tugging for all I was worth. My hands slid up the vine, pulling the skin away from my fingers. I looked at one hand and saw the slices in the two fingers and blood spilling from them. 

“Wow, that’s deep,” I said, then up to the creature, I spoke, “I can’t pull them from the ground. Do you have any suggestions?”

Honestly, I didn’t expect anything, but it did have a suggestion. “Cut.”

“Cut? Do you mean cut the vine?”

His neck rumbled as he nodded.

“I don’t have a knife.”

He craned the round ball that was his neck toward the water. 

“Rock.”

I looked at the water. It was the first time I actually heard the sound of it babbling along, flowing over the rocks and along the embankments. The peacefulness of it relaxed my muscles and cleared my mind. I don’t know how long I stood there staring down into the stream, looking at the many rocks there without seeing them. The stone on stone grind shook me from the nothingness that had swept over me. In the water was a rock, about the size of my hand and flat. It looked like it could have been apart of an old Native American tomahawk. I reached down, the water like ice to my skin, and worked my fingers beneath the edge of the rock and the sand that held it. Silt washed away with the roll of the stream and the rock came free.

The rock was the same gray as the creature, and it no longer looked like it could have been part of a tomahawk, but something else a heart, maybe. 

“Please,” it repeated.

“Okay.”

I stepped out of the water and knelt down on the ground next to one of the vines. 

“Can you pull it tight?”

It lifted its arm as far as it would go and the vine stiffened. I ran my hand along it, snatching leaves from their anchors as I did so. Then I lifted the rock above my head and brought it down as hard as I could. The tip tore a small chunk from the vine and the creature bellowed, a sound like it was in a pain so horrible it would crumble and collapse to the ground or face first into the stream.

“What? What’s wrong?” I stood, backed away and looked up at it.

The tears were back and streaming down its face and dripping off of its chiseled chin. One of his fingers pointed at the rock in my hand. I looked down and almost dropped it. It had been wet earlier, but it had been gray. Now, it held a dusty purple tint to it. At first I thought it may have been smudges of blood from my sliced fingers, but then I rolled it over in my hands and realized it was pulsing, as if it was a beating heart.

I know my eyes became wide. I don’t know how I didn’t drop the rock to the ground or back into the stream. 

“Is this your heart?”

A rumbling nod came from it. “Put back.”

“Put back? You mean, back into the water?”

A shake of the head was followed by, “No. Put back.” Though its arm was tethered with the vine, it turned its hand over and pointed the best it could to the hole in its chest.

“Put it back there?” 

He nodded again.

I stepped in front of him and stood on the tips of my toes. I held its heart in my one hand and stretched as far as I could. Even then I couldn’t get the heart back into the hole. I was too short. 

“I can’t reach,” I said and rocked back on my heels. “Can you …”

“Well, well, well. Look what we have here, boys. It’s the mix breed.”

Startled, two things happened all at once. First, I lunged upward and pushed the rock into the hole of its chest. Second, I spun, tipping myself off balance and pitching forward in the wet mud. I almost righted myself, but my momentum splashed me into the stream, again face first. For a second or two my head was under the water and in that brief amount of time I had never been more afraid of anything. A thought, fleeting but very possible, darted through my mind: what if they pounced on me as I lay in the water? 

Get up! Get up, Meghan!

They would drown me.

My heart leapt into my throat and the very real fear of dying pounced on me, just as I expected Jack Olson, Mickey Darbey, and Knollwood Herring to do. As I pulled my head from the water, that is exactly what they were about to do. They spilled from the trees, each one carrying their own brand of nastiness. My mind screamed, Surely they wouldn’t beat up a girl, but the part of me who had always dealt with people like them, both young and old, knew that is exactly what they intended to do.

I tried to stand, but slipped on the rocks and fell back into the stream. 

They laughed and it sounded like the cackles of hungry hyenas. I pushed myself up to see Knollwood splashing into the water and reaching for me, his big hands on the ends of tree trunk sized arms, a lock of his dark hair dangling in front of his dull brown eyes. I tried to turn, to run away, but he wasn’t going to let that happen again.

“Hey, gray girl,” he said and grabbed me around my waist, lifting me up out of the water. “We’re going to have some fun with you.”

My mind screamed. My voice followed. Their laughter grew louder.

I didn’t think, so much as acted. I swung an elbow back, connecting with the side of Knollwood’s head. He cursed and flung me to the other side of the stream where both Mickey and Jack waited. I landed on my hip. The pain tore down one leg and up into my back. I cried out with the new found soreness in my lower body. 

“You’re going to pay for that, gray girl,” Knollwood said. He held his ear and stomped from the water. He gave a nod and one of the other two boys grabbed a handful of my hair.

“Get up.” It was Mickey. He pulled me to my feet by that handful of hair. I tried not to scream but I was scared and cornered and there was nothing I could do. Three against one and I would be destroyed.

Knollwood approached me, hands in tight fists, that angry sneer on his face. I didn’t expect the first thing that happened. The second one, I did. Knollwood spat in my face. That was the unexpected thing. The punch to my jaw was the expected one. it was hard and jarring and my head snapped to one side. Blood filled my mouth where my teeth caught the inside of it. 

I couldn’t help the tears that fell. At that moment I not only hated my three tormentors, I hated myself. I had been bullied my whole life because I was different, because my parents were different colors and my skin was not quite brown, but not quite white. It was that natural tan most teenage girls want. Momma always said, ‘Some people God bakes a little slower and they turn out white. Some people God bakes a little longer and they turn out black. You, Meggie, you God baked just long enough and you turned out perfect.’

I didn’t feel so perfect right then. Truthfully, I never felt perfect, not even around my family. 

A slap came to the back of my head, a heavy, stinging sensation. That was followed by a fist around the same spot. My ears began to ring and pain exploded inside my head. My stomach rolled and I suddenly felt like I would throw up. Before I did I glanced up. Everything was hazy. Knollwood was a blur of white flesh that moved in jerky motions. Their voices were now echoes in my humming head. The world around me ran together. Before the punch to my stomach sent me to my knees and Mickey let go of me, something moved behind Knollwood. It wasn’t the wind in the trees or an animal. I couldn’t quite make out what it was, just that it was on the other side of the stream.

Then came that last, gut rending punch. The air flushed from my lungs and I was falling. I landed in the water, again, face first. The pain in my midsection was dull, but intense and the rush of the stream played in my ears like a song I would hate my entire life. I pushed myself from the water to try and take a breath, but no air reentered my lungs. A snot bubble rolled out of my nose and my mouth hung open.

Then came my death. Okay, what I thought would be my death. My mind was scrambled and I couldn’t breathe and I heard this weird laughter and taunts from the boys and this other sound … this sound like stones rolling down a hill. A hand grabbed me by the back of my neck and shoved my face into the water. My forehead struck one of the rocks, but that pain didn’t matter. What mattered was I was going to drown right there in a stream barely a foot deep because I was different. At least the sound of the water was in my head and not their hateful voices. At least that would be the last thing I heard.

Spots formed beneath my closed eyelids as water rushed into my mouth and filled my nose. My head thumped. There was a train on the tracks of my skull and it’s horn was loud. My ears popped and my stomach begged for air it would not get.

Then, just as suddenly as the attack had begun, it ended. The weight holding my head in the water was gone, but I was weak and could barely push myself up. The muscles in my arms gave out the first time. The edges of my life were closing in on me. The locomotive in my skull was bearing down and about to crush my head. The water in my lungs …

You’re going to die if you don’t get out of the water, Megan!

And I was out of the water. I don’t know how I got my arms beneath me, but I did. I crawled to the edge of the stream and collapsed onto the muddy embankment. From somewhere in the world, I heard screams and those rolling stones tumbling down a mountain. I coughed several times and water spilled from my mouth. I rolled onto my side, my hand ending up in the water. The locomotive in my head was still there, but its horn was now off in the distance. I tried to open my eyes, but the only thing I wanted to do right then was lay still, not move and pray wherever the three bullies had gone, they would not be back. Eventually, the pain in my lungs and chest and stomach and head subsided and I dozed off into the black land I thought was death. Honestly, I welcomed it.

I didn’t die. That’s obvious, based on this writing. I woke up on the embankment still on my side. My body ached and my head still thumped its angry tune. My hair was matted to my face and my jaw was swollen. The residual bitter tastes of blood lingered on my tongue. 

I opened my eyes, my vision blurry at first. Slowly, it cleared and my heart almost stopped. Hunched over in the stream next to me was the stone creature. It stared at me with its darkened eye sockets. I tried to scream, but nothing more than a whisper came out. If he meant to finish the job Knollwood, Jack and Mickey started, here was his chance and I couldn’t fight it. I was tired of it all, tired of being different and of being bullied because of it; tired of being looked at like I was a freak show. 

It reached down with one stone finger and stroked my face. It was cold to the touch. 

“Okay?”

It took a few seconds to realize he had spoken and it wasn’t a word of hate, but one of concern. He repeated it.

“Okay?”

I sat up. My stomach rumbled and I barely got my head turned before I threw up grimy, gritty water, mixed with blood. My face was hot and sweat spilled off my forehead. My stomach lurched a second time, but nothing came out. I wiped my mouth, turned to the creature.

“I’m sorry.”

It shook his head several times, as if to say not to be.

I looked around. The world was back to normal. The trees were brown and green, the water of the stream was mostly clear, the rocks appearing to wave with the ripples of the water as it rolled on by. The embankment I sat on was wet and muddy. And there were foot prints in them, most of them clustered around where I sat. 

“Where are they?” I asked, fear leaping up into my chest. I got on my knees quickly. My head swam and black dots clouded my vision. Dropping to my hands, I took several deep breaths until everything came back and the edges of my vision was normal again. 

“Gone,” it said.

“Gone?”

It nodded. “Gone.”

“Where’d they go?”

It lifted its hand and pointed behind him. 

I started to move so I could see, but decided not to. A strong realization swept over me right then. That rolling stone sound I had heard when they were trying to drown me, that odd movement I had seen before they shoved my head under the water had been the creature that sat beside me. 

“Thank you,” I said. I didn’t need to look for them. I also didn’t need to know they would never bother me, or anyone else, ever again.

“Thank you,” he repeated back. It wasn’t a question, as if he was asking why I said that, but it was more something he was saying back to me. I didn’t get it at first. When I looked up at him, I saw the hole in his chest was no longer there. Instead, it was closed up, though there were cracks and creases in the stone. 

The rock I had found in the water had been his heart. Before, I wasn’t sure, but right then I knew. I also knew, his thank you was just as much for me saving him as mine had been for him saving me.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

His head rolled to the side, rumbling as it did so. Though the dark sockets didn’t change, there was something quizzical in them.

“Name?”

I nodded. “What do they call you?”

He tapped his chest with one finger and shook his head slowly. “No name.”

“You don’t have a name?”

Again, he shook his head from side to side.

For several seconds I sat, staring at him. I looked at the ground. One of my hands had sunk into the mud. I looked back at him. “SAMM.”

Again, his head cocked to the side. “SAMM?”

“That is your name. SAMM—Sand and Mud Man.”

He—because it was a he—nodded at this. “SAMM.”

I stood, my muscles ached and my body hurt. The sun was setting, casting an orange and purple hue on the world. Soon the sky would turn gray and that would be swallowed up by the early darkness of night. I was not going to get home before any of that happened, but I didn’t have to worry about being chased and beaten and drowned by hateful people. My worry was Momma and Daddy and them being angry that I was late from school, by several hours. I would have to explain where I had been and what had happened to me. I wasn’t sure what I would say, but I hoped once I told them what had happened, they would believe me. 

“I have to go,” I said. “But I’ll come back. I promise.”

“Go?”

“Yeah. I have to leave. I have to go home. My parents are probably really worried about me and …”

“Home?”

“Yeah. Home. The place where I live.”

SAMM stood. The ground shook beneath me when he did so. He craned his neck back and looked off into the trees. “Home.”

My heart hurt for him. I didn’t know how long he had been out there, tethered to the ground. I also know I would have been dead if not for him. But the reality of where I was and what had happened started to sink in and I knew I had to leave; I had to get home. I also knew I would return, the next day if I wasn’t in so much trouble. 

“Bye SAMM,” I said. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Okay?”

“Bye,” he repeated and gave a little wave. 

With tears tugging at the corners of my eyes, I went back through the trees, the same ones I and three bullies had come through earlier in the day. I came out where I had went in and I hurried home as darkness settled in. As I neared my house I thought about how ridiculous my story would sound. There was no way they would believe me. But I didn’t have anything else and I didn’t have the time to make up a lie, or a series of them.

I walked up the sidewalk that led to our small house. Daddy sat on the porch stoop, a cigarette in hand. Momma sat in the rocker. She didn’t have a smoke, but she looked like she could use one.

“Where have you been, Meghan?” he asked.

I crossed the front lawn to the steps. I didn’t need to answer Daddy’s question, but the one Momma asked next.

“What happened to you?”

She stood and went down the steps, pushing by Daddy as she did so. Her hand was warm on my face as she turned my head, first one way then the other. 

“It was some boys who don’t like me much.”

“They roughed you up pretty good,” she said.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Who were they?”

“Knollwood Herring, Jack Owens and Mickey Darbey.”

“I’ll be having a talk with the school tomorrow about them, but for now, tell us what happened.”

My heart sped up. Sweat formed on my face and in my arm pits and down the center of my still damp bra. “You’re not going to believe me.”

“Try us,” Momma said and went back up the steps. She sat in her chair and they both waited for my story. I told them everything, but when I reached the part about finding SAMM I saw Momma’s eyes brighten up.

“He was made out of stone, wasn’t he?” she asked.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“And he was near the stream?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“What did you name him?”

This stopped me. I didn’t know how to answer her question. I was certain she thought I was lying and was now playing along and when I was done, one of them would take me inside and lay Daddy’s belt to my behind. 

“SAMM,” I said.

Momma smiled. “I called him Martin.”

“What?”

“I called him Martin,” she repeated. “After Martin Luther King.”

My eyes must have become wide and I know my mouth dropped open. “You believe me?”

She laughed. “Oh yes. He saved me one time before, too. Or maybe it was someone like your SAMM.”

“You’re not mad at me?”

“We were worried about you,” Daddy said and snuffed out his cigarette on the concrete step. “Now that we know you are safe and why you were late, there is no need to be mad at you.”

“And there is no reason for me to go to the school and talk to the principal about those three boys.”

“Why is that?” I thought I knew why, but I wanted—needed—to hear it from her.

“They’re not going to find those boys, at least not alive.”

She didn’t need to say anything else. She would go on to tell me the story of how she came across SAMM—Martin, to her—when she was a teen, in the midst of racism. 

“And Meghan, there’s no need to go back to see him. He won’t be there.”

“But I told him I would go back.”

“He won’t be there, Meghan.”

I guess this is the end of my story, but there are a couple of things you need to know. First, they eventually found Knollwood, Jack and Mickey in those woods. They appeared to have been stoned to death, at least that is how the papers put it. Who did it? They don’t know. 

Second, I went back to those woods the next day, on my way home from school. I wasn’t scared, as I had been the day before. I went in at the same spot and I followed the same path, most of which were broken branches and trampled down grass—the path I made when I ran from the bullies. I made my way to the stream. The foot prints were still there from the day before. I crossed the water, not trying to keep from getting wet. There was a wider swath in the foliage. I followed it until it ended abruptly. 

I called for SAMM, but I never found him. I didn’t find Knollwood or Jack or Mickey, either. All I know is SAMM was gone, and Momma had been right. It made me sad that I didn’t get to see him again, but I understood, as I hope you do, now, that each and every decision we make in our lives has a consequence, good or bad. I was different from most kids back then, and because I was different, SAMM found me. I didn’t find him. Those boys chased me into the woods and SAMM was there, but he wasn’t there to save me, but to test me, to see if I would do something for him. By finding his heart—which is really the soul of a person—and giving it back to him, I freed him from his bonds. By saving me from those bullies, he freed me from my bonds. That day changed my life, as I’m sure, my little girl, it will change yours.

Love,

Your mom

__________

Some stories are easy to write. This was one of them. I saw a picture on social media one morning, drawn by a young girl—I believe she had been thirteen when she drew it. It was of a stone creature with vines holding its arms and legs in place. I saved the image and later printed it out. That image became the basis to S.A.M.M. It also hangs on my wall at work, right next to my desk. I don’t know the little girl, who is probably a young woman now, so I won’t post the image with the story. I also won’t post her name.

What I will say is thank you to her for drawing the picture. It made my mind run and this story is the result. 

I hope you enjoyed S.A.M.M. If you did, please like the post, comment and share it to your social media pages and help me get my work out to the world. Thank you.

A.J. 

A Little Bookstore

When I was a child Sunday’s were lazy days. Most stores were closed. If you didn’t get your groceries during the week, you were mostly out of luck. You certainly couldn’t get alcohol on Sundays. For us, Sunday meant watching football, playing outside and reading, the reading being the chief pass time.

ithink-thereshould-be-a-toidaydedcated-to-reading-book-s-everyone-23441056My parents piled us into the car on Sunday afternoons and took us to this little book store out on Edmund Highway. It didn’t look like much—a small building that could have passed for a convenience store minus the glass windows in the front. It was owned by a couple who I only knew as Al and Laura. To get an idea of who they were, when I think of Al I think of Edward Hermann. Laura always reminded me of a white Uhura from Star Trek. Both of them were very nice.

Al and Laura didn’t peddle new books, they sold used books, which made the prices cheap, cheap, cheap. They had a great return policy also: you bring in a book, you get a credit toward other books. Each Sunday we gathered our books and comic books and turned them in. Then we used the credit to purchase more. In essence, it was a trade in system. There was a nice little perk to it: if you didn’t have money, all you had to do was trade in a book or two and you could get a book or two in return and not spend a dime.

Mom and Dad looked through the novels and my older brother and I always headed to the back where they kept the comic books. Dad always told us how much credit we received for our comics and we would pick out the same amount worth (with the occasional little bit over when we had extra money). I was into the vampire and horror based comics. I can’t remember what my brother was into. 

After checking out, we headed home and spent most of the rest of the day reading comics (and later, novels). Sometimes, if we wanted to be nice to each other, me and my brother traded comics.

Going to Al and Laura’s store was something I looked forward to each week. I was always disappointed when we didn’t go. It’s a slice of my childhood I would love to revisit. 

Al has since passed and I’m not sure if Laura is still alive. The store is long gone, taking with it one of the joys of my childhood.

onebcToday, a lot of the old bookstores are gone. The brick and mortar places have given way to the digital era. There aren’t many Mom and Pop stores like Al and Laura’s, and I don’t know of any system like theirs: bring a book, get a book in return.

When we were kids, our parents had us reading, if not during the week, then every Sunday. Those lazy afternoons are where my imagination got its exorcise, where my love for scary literature was cultivated. 

The reading population is dwindling, and as a writer, that’s a sad thing. It’s even sadder to hear, ‘I love to read, but I don’t have the time.’ Don’t have time to read? This is the world we live in. We read every Sunday for hours at a time. 

I enjoy reading. I enjoy dipping into someone else’s world. I enjoy the harmony of words, the beauty of a well-written story, the coming to life of characters. I owe that to my parents and Al and Laura, the owners of a little book store on Edmund Highway. Today, I want to encourage you to stop at some point during the day (or maybe just on Sunday afternoons), grab a book, sit and read. Let yourself relax—the world will still be there when you finish. 

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J. 

Shooting Marbles, A Lesson Learned

Not too long ago I wrote a longer short story titled, The Forgetful Man’s Disease. The story is set in the old Mill Village in West Columbia. It was a place I spent a lot of my childhood. The main character is based on my grandfather and many of the characters within the story are based on people I knew from the area.

Tonight, my brother-in-law, Stephen, came over and we talked about Dredging Up Memories, my second novel. (If you don’t have a copy of it, you can get it HERE). While we were talking, he on the couch across from me, and the house somewhat warm and a crime show playing on the television in the background, the subject turned to my grandfather.

I couldn’t help but talk about him and a particular story he told me.

My grandfather was a good guy. He preached and taught Sunday School for many, many years. He told great jokes—his timing was impeccable. But even better, he told awesome stories. Some of them have ended up in some of my own stories. One of them I would like to tell you about right now. It is a touch of real life that no one gets to see too often.

When I was around eleven, my brother and I began to grow apart. He was thirteen and the things we once had in common were nonexistent. Before that, we had been thick as thieves. We argued a lot and the first of several fist fights took place not too long before my grandfather asked me if I wanted to shoot marbles ‘out in the yard.’

Of course, I wanted to shoot marbles. I loved marbles.

My grandfather took me out in the yard and wiped the sand away from a small area. He drew a circle and we poured my bag of marbles into it. He picked a medium sized cow and I did the same. We walked a few feet away and began to shoot the cows at the marbles in the circle. For several minutes we played, each of us knocking marbles out of the circle, claiming them and putting them in our own separate piles.

When there were only two marbles left in the circle, my grandfather stopped playing. He looked at me and said, “Let me tell you about these two marbles.”

This meant he was going to tell a story. I always looked forward to his stories.

He plucked the two marbles from the circle and held them in his palm. He said, “This circle is your family. These marbles are your family members.” He motioned to the marbles in our two piles when he said that.

He then held up the two marbles. “These two marbles are you and your brother.”

He set them back in the circle and took his cow—what most folks would call a shooter—and took a shot at the two marbles. The cow struck home, scattering the two marbles. One of them left the circle. The other one remained inside.

As my grandfather always did, he told his story without a ton of dramatics, but with a straightforward message.

“Even if your brother leaves the circle, he is still your brother. That will never change.”

He picked up the marble that had left the circle and set it next to the other ones.

“Your family will always be your family. Your brother will always be your brother.”

He stood, patted me on the shoulder and nodded. I think he was proud of himself. He then walked off, leaving me looking at the two marbles in the circle and thinking about the lesson he had just taught me.

Though my brother and I would drift apart over the years, he has always been my brother. And that was his point. We would always be brothers, no matter what happened, no matter what direction we went in.

When I started writing, I tried to capture the flare my grandfather had with telling stories. Sometimes I succeed. Other times I don’t. But here is what I shoot for every time: I want my stories to stick, like my grandfather’s lesson that day. If you remember one of my stories and if one of them moved you, then I have done my job. It is what my grandfather did, and those are hefty shoes to follow in.

One more thing: that was the last time my grandfather and I played marbles. Yes, his lesson stuck.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

Under Pressure…

I have 1484 ‘friends’ on my Facebook page. Whether I know all 1484 of them personally doesn’t matter. At some point we made a mutual agreement to become acquainted. One of us sought out the other one and said ‘hello.’ The other one responded by accepting that ‘hello’ and becoming friends.

Isn’t that how life happens, how friendships are born?

I find it interesting that we view total strangers as friends. I have never actually met, face to face, with probably 1300 or more of these friends. Still, those perfect strangers are my friends. But what I—and more than likely, you—fail to realize is on the other side of the device (where you are reading this right now) is a person. For me there are 1484 people looking back. Of those 1484 people, probably less than 200 of them actually interact with me. I’m okay with that.

Why?

Well, because they are all people and they have lives and cares and worries. They have dreams and ambitions. Some are sick and in need of prayer or comforting words. Others are fine and life is being very good to them right now. But all of them are people.

A little perspective if you will. On my friends list:

There are rich folks and there are poor folks and there are those in between.

There are folks from every state in the United States.

There are folks from England, Australia, Canada, Germany, Russia and, yes, the Middle East.

There are folks who work as lawyers and nurses and teachers.

There are folks who work as bartenders and taxi drivers and in retail stores.

There are folks who work in factories and in restaurants.

There are folks who work in the business of religion and others who work in the business of politics.

There are cops and firemen.

There are single moms and single dads raising their children the best they can.

There are married couples raising their children the best they can.

There are gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

There are straight folks, too.

There are musicians and voice instructors.

There are successful writers, as well as fledgling ones with dreams of writing for a living.

There are readers who love books.

There are Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, Non-Denominationals, Methodists, Nazarenes, Atheists, Agnostics and maybe even a Satanists or two. And yes, there are Muslims, as well.

There are liberals and there are conservatives.

There are folks who like heavy metal music. Others who like rap. Still, others who like classical, and some who like country and some who like bubblegum pop. There are those who like it all.

There are sports fans and there are folks who can’t stand sports.

There are those who love movies and television.

There are those who don’t care much for either.

There are those who love The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and those who have never seen the first episode of one or both shows.

There are those who will only drive a Chevy or a Ford.

There are high school friends on here, too.

There are whites, blacks, Asians, and Native Americans.

Why does any of this matter? Simple: all of them are people. People with hopes and dreams, and people who just want to make it home to their loved ones at the end of the day. They, like you and I, have feelings. They, like you and I, have ambitions. They, like most of us, are saddened by events where people are killed recklessly and needlessly because of hate and fear.

During this week where America celebrated its independence, at least seven people died who should still be alive today. The key word isn’t black or cop. The key word here is ‘people.’ Seven people are dead and millions more are angry and some are even enraged to the point of…hate.

Today I sit at my kitchen table having not only celebrated my nation’s independence, but also my birthday. Seven people will never see another birthday. Their families are forever changed, and many of them are mad, not just at those who killed them, but at other people as well—people who have nothing to do with the events that unfolded this week.

There are those who want revenge and those who want to take away someone else’s freedoms and those who want justice now. There are those who will lump everyone into a category because of a few people’s actions. There are those who will scream and demand change, demand our government do something about this.

Here’s the problem with that: change will never come about until we, the people, change our way of thinking and change our hearts. We, the people, are the only ones that can bring positive change. Not our governments and not our laws. The people. The same folks I have mentioned up above can make a change, but in order to do so, we have to change our hearts, we have to learn how to be compassionate again. We have to learn to love our neighbor. If we can have total strangers on a social media site that we call friends, and some of which we come to cherish and possibly even love, then why can’t we do the same to the people we come in contact with every single day of our lives?

I’m reminded of the song Under Pressure, by Queen and David Bowie. At the end they come to the conclusion that it is love that can make a difference in every person’s life. But love is so old fashioned…

And love dares you to care for

The people on the edge of the night

And love dares you to change our way of

Caring about ourselves

The way I see it is, love dares you to look in the mirror, but we don’t want to do that. We want to lay blame somewhere else. We, as a people—not as a nation, as a people—need to step back and look at ourselves, and make a change, starting with ourselves. If we don’t, I fear for myself, my children, my friends, my fellow people. Because, the way I see it is if we don’t make a change in our hearts and our mindset soon, then we will never have true freedom again. We will all be prisoners to fear and rage and hate, and no one will be safe.

This, well, this is how I see it. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Dreams of a Poor Child

I was once asked where story ideas come from. Well, it didn’t happen just once, but many times. I always say, ‘they come from everywhere and everything.’ Yeah, it sounds lame, but it is true. Story ideas really come from anything I see, anything I hear, anything someone says.

Today, we took a road trip out to Hartsville. It was just a little day trip to get out of the house. On the way home, we drove through Bishopville and did a bit of exploring. We came upon an old baseball field…and the story you are about to read is directly inspired from it. Enjoy.

Dreams of a Poor Child

Picture this:

A long country road, cotton fields on one side, separated by slat board houses, open fields on the other side for as far as the eye can see. Cotton may have grown on that side as well, but now it’s mostly weeds and trash tossed from cars passing by (mostly bottles and cans and faded chip wrappers). Not too far away and left behind in the rearview mirror sits a prison, big, impressive and as out of place in that space of country just between two little towns. The prison isn’t important for this story, but it is part of the area, and now it is an afterthought.

What does matter for this story is on the left hand side of the road (as you go away from the prison and head south). There’s a park, complete with a large playground that has several slides, ladders and monkey bars. There are swings, both for able-bodied kids and the disabled ones. There are benches for the attentive (or unattentive) parents or adults that aren’t parents at all or maybe the teenagers who begrudgingly take their siblings there. It’s a respite for them; an opportunity for peace from the whining and nagging rug rats their parents don’t want to take care of.

A kid is on the playground. He’s maybe eight and his red shirt has a hole in it, as does both the knees in his faded blue jeans. He’s swinging, swinging, swinging and dreaming of jumping out and flying away from there.

Like the prison, the playground isn’t all that important either, but it’s part of the scenery in this low-income part of the world. What is important sits just beyond the playground. It’s a place where dreams are formed, but so few of them come to fruition.

The ballfield is closed in with cyclone fencing that has rust spots throughout its length and on all sides. It forms a cone around the field. The dugouts are to the left and right of where a cracked home plate is forever embedded into the ground. Each dugout holds a wooden bench, which at one time had been smooth wood painted blue, but now is bare of any paint and splintered throughout its length. The outside of the dugout is nothing more than painted plywood that has warped over the years, Mother Nature having done a number on the untreated lumber.

An opening where a gate should have been at the dugout’s entrance leads to the field, which had once been taken good care of. Now, after the unusually wet fall and early winter, the infield is an orange clay mud pit. The bases, which were never soft to begin with, are hard as rock. Stepping on one of those the wrong way could lead to a broken ankle or worse. Yes, there are worse things than a broken ankle.

The outfield grass had long since encroached upon the infield, covering the base path with what amounts to thick patches of moss. The outfield, itself, is deep to center and left, but shallow out to the right. The outfield fence stands eight feet high, a black rubber pad along the top having begun to crumble beneath Mother Nature’s watchful eye—yes, Mother Nature and her vengeful eye had her way with that part of the field as well. There’s a gate in left center. One would assume it was there to make it easy to retrieve balls hit out of the park. Or maybe it was a shortcut to a neighborhood that once existed nearby.

Beyond the ballpark is a football field, minus the goal posts, and a basketball court with no goals and a cracked concrete surface. Like the prison and the playground, none of those things matter. Neither does the wooden bleachers on either side of the baseball field or the concession stand with its boarded windows that is near a dirt road that leads to the parking lot.

Pay attention here. You can’t see this, and even if you can, just listen.

That’s the sound of young boys and girls on the field, playing baseball or softball. It doesn’t matter which. You can hear them screaming from the dugouts, we need a pitcher, not a belly itcher. That’s the sound of a wooden bat on the rawhide of a baseball, a thwack that is distinct and easily recognized.

Keep listening. A young boy just called out, ‘I got it,’ or ‘mine, mine,’ the universal language for I’ll catch it. Someone calls the out. One. Two. Three. Change sides. Batters head to the field. Fielders head to the dugouts.

Still, listen. Is that the sound of a ball slapping a mitt? Is that a called strike? Maybe it was a ball, just a little off the plate.

Strike three, you’re out!

Ball four, son, take your base.

In this impoverished area where stomach grumble after a meal of half a bowl of rice and no water to wash it down, where shoes so tight feet are cramped and blistered and damaged for life, where gloves are stitched together with shoe laces or wire or maybe there’s no gloves at all, but a milk carton tied to a hand to protect the palms from the sting of a hot shot from a bat; yeah, in this place the game—the dream—is the escape. And it’s the dream that often goes unrealized once life invades and washes away the innocence.

But if you listen carefully you can hear the game being played by those young boys (and girls, let’s not forget them). Close your eyes and listen.

Just listen. Open your mind. Open your heart. Listen.

And when you do open your eyes, look to the field, to its dilapidated dugouts and mud caked field. And what do you see? Yeah, there’s a little boy—the same one who earlier had been swinging on the playground dreaming of some place besides there. He stands on the pitcher’s mound, the rubber long gone. He is slightly hunched over, one hand behind his back, an imaginary ball spinning with the movement of his fingers. He stares in at a batter who is only there in his mind.

He straightens. Both hands come out in front of him, coming together in front of his chest as if he is in prayer (and he just may be).

His arm goes back.

His front leg kicks out in front of him.

And he fires the ball toward home plate…

Thank you for reading, and until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

 

 

And Your Mother Was There

My mom and I don’t always see things on the same level. We don’t always agree or see things eye to eye. We argue and sometimes those arguments get heated. Sometimes things are just bad. There’s no other way to explain it. We’re both opinionated and bull headed. We both speak our minds, which is not always good, especially when we are in disagreement on something.

If there’s one thing we agree on, it’s my dad. We both love him and the thought of something bad happening to him terrifies us both. So, when he went in for quadruple heart surgery we both had a shared interest: his health. There was no arguing or bickering or petty disagreements. There was a silent bond that wasn’t spoken. Yet, there was a story told, one I didn’t know of, though my mom swears she told it to me before.

This story, which I will tell you about in a moment made my mom’s eyes tear up. It was a result of Dad coming out of surgery and going into recovery. We would be allowed to see him about an hour after the surgery. Mom asked if I wanted to see him. Of course I did, but not with tubes in his mouth and all sorts of lines going in and out of him. I have seen these things before and it’s not something I haven’t been able to handle in the past. But this is my dad and I chose not to see him that way. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have been able to keep the tears out of my eyes, even knowing he was going to be okay.

And this led to the story.

If you can, picture this: We sat in a large open room. Chairs were set up in a square in each corner where at least ten to twelve people could sit as a family or a group. We sat in the far corner, furthest from the entrance, but also in full view of that entrance. The woman(my mom)—not young, but not old either—had sat in the same spot for most of the time waiting for someone to tell us Dad was out of surgery. Across from her sat her second and third born children. That would be me and my baby brother, the one affectionately known as Mutt. Some of you will get that reference. Others of you won’t.

I had voiced my decision to not see Dad with all the wires, tubes and i.v.’s hooked up to him. I wasn’t sure what Mom would think about this or even what she might say. What she said surprised me a little.

‘I understand,’ Mom said. ‘It was like when you were in the hospital with all those wires hooked up to you.’

I gave her an odd look, I guess. She clarified her statement.

‘When you were a kid.’

The light came on. Long story short: When I was a kid I was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night. Some things transpired and I died.

Let’s stop here for a moment.

If I died, how can I be typing this? Yeah, I would ask that question, too. The answer? They revived me.

Now, stick with me for a minute as I try to recall Mom’s words, though I probably won’t get them a hundred percent right.

She said:

‘I prayed and prayed that God would let my baby live. And I felt like the prayers were getting pushed down, getting pushed back. I kept praying, God, let my baby live. And it kept getting pushed down. I knew what God wanted me to say, that His will be done, but I couldn’t do it.’

At this point there were tears in Mom’s eyes. I said nothing. What could I say? I never recalled hearing the story, so, to me, it was very new and very raw and very real with emotion.

She continued:

‘Finally, I prayed and I said, ‘Lord, I know what you want me to say, but this is as close as I can get to it, if it’s Your will, let my baby live.’

To steal from the movie Grease. I got chills, they’re multiplying.

‘Almost immediately after praying that, I got the peace that passes understanding and I knew you would be okay. I knew my baby was alive.

Two days later you woke up and you said…I was here on your right and your grandmother was on your left and you said, ‘I just visited the most beautiful place.’ And you turned to Momma (my grandmother) and said, ‘And your mother was there.’

‘You were in Heaven and you saw her there.’

My great grandmother died when I was two. I don’t remember her, though according to Mom, she loved me and hugged and snuggled with me and I let her do it and was content to be loved and hugged and snuggled.

Out of body experience? Mom believes so. I have no reason to disagree.

If you know anything about me, you know I write dark stories and that I’ve always been fascinated by the darkness of the human soul. Mom said she’s always thought that my interest in these things is related to that event. She may just be right.

And, if you know anything about me at all, then you know I have faith in God, in Jesus, and you also know I’ve always been a little different in my approach on a lot of things in life. I am my own person and I like it that way. Do I believe I paid Heaven a little visit and that I saw my great grandmother? You bet.

Do I believe in the power of prayer? Yup.

My mom wiped her eyes and gave me a smile. She understood why I felt the way I did. Why? Because she had seen me in a similar position when I was a little kid. She had seen me unconscious with wires and i.v’s hooked up to my body. It couldn’t have been easy for her.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it now: nothing makes you appreciate life more than death.

I lived through death years ago. I was prayed through it. Today, my dad is alive and he was prayed through it. I know many out there don’t believe in God and Jesus, but I do. My family does.

One more thing. I’ve thought on this story a lot tonight and I’ll probably think on it a lot going forward. It’s a story I am happy I heard. It explains a lot.

I got chills, they’re multiplying…

I don’t know how things will be going forward. But I know that moment will always be special, real and raw with emotion. And I understand a few things about myself that I never did before. It’s interesting how one story can make you see things differently.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

Like Grandfather, Father and Son

I have two stories I would like to tell you. One involves my dad and me. The other one is about my son and me.

When I was a little boy, Dad would wake me up early on Saturday mornings in the spring and summer months. You see, Dad liked to fish. I didn’t care much for fishing, but I liked being around my dad so I always told him I wanted to go when he went. Thus, he woke me early on Saturdays (and sometimes Sundays) so we could load up the boat and head out to the lake.

Before we would make our way toward the lake, Dad always stopped by the Dunkin’ Donuts not too far from where we lived. We would each get a coffee–though his was usually bigger than mine–and a donut or two. The donuts were always one of the highlights of the day.

[SIDENOTE: Donuts are my greatest weakness. They are my kryptonite. END SIDENOTE]

Dad has never been a straw person. Or a top on the cup person. He always took the top off his coffee and threw it away. Me, wanting to be like him, did the same. There was one problem with that. You see, when we would leave Dunkin’ Donuts Dad liked to suddenly mash on the brakes, making the car jerk to a sudden stop. In those younger years of my life, I never failed to spill hot coffee on myself when Dad hit those brakes.

Sometimes I screamed.

Dad would then ease off the brakes with a cat-ate-the-canary smile on his face and pull onto the road, as if nothing ever happened.

“If you learn how to hold that cup you wouldn’t have that problem,” he would say after each spillage of hot coffee.

It took a while, but eventually, I learned how to let my arm, hand and cup move with the flow of the car, and when to let the cup go forward when he hit those brakes to keep it from spilling out on me.

I grew up, as kids tend to do.

Dad and I also share the same enjoyment of aquariums. I took a day off from work and he and I decided to go to Augusta to this place called Bob’s Tropical Fish. I was driving. Before leaving, we decided to stop off at the McDonald’s not too far from Dad’s home (the Dunkin’ Donuts was long gone by then).

I was driving. 🙂

You kind of see where this is going, don’t you?

We went through the drive threw, ordered our coffees and pulled out. Dad took the top off of his. I hit the brakes.

I’m smiling right now.

Dad let out a surprised yelp as hot coffee spilled on his hands and lap.

I said, “If you learn how to hold that cup you wouldn’t have that problem.”

It had come full circle.

The apprentice had become the master, even if just for a moment.

Fast forward to now.

Sometimes The Boy (my son) will walk out the front door in front of me to go to the car in the mornings before school. Sometimes when he does that, I let him get to the steps and then I close the door and snicker as I’m doing so. The Boy almost always let’s out a ‘Hey, open the door!’ as he beats on it, trying to get back inside.

“What?” I say. “I was just going to let you start without me.”

Do you see where this one is going? I bet you do.

This morning I had my hands full. The Boy did a nice thing for me. He held the door open so I could get out the house. I gave him a ‘thanks, buddy,’ and walked out the door. I reached the steps and I heard the door close behind me. I went down the steps, turned back to say something to him…and he was nowhere to be seen.

I could hear him laughing from inside the house. Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, I burst out laughing.

The Boy opened the door, his face glowing. He said, “Yeah, that’s what you get. That’s what you get!”

Of course, I continued to laugh.

It had come full circle, just like my dad and I had.

And I couldn’t have been prouder of The Boy.

Until we meet again, my friends…

Life Is…

Life is… umm… funny sometimes.

Really, it is.

Ask my son as he stood at the coffee maker this morning, eyeballing it as the coffee filled the pot. For me, watching that pot would have been the same as watching grass grow or paint dry. For Logan it was anticipation, exciting, the build up before the reward.

He ran into my room and said, “Daddy, the coffee is over the ‘six line.’ What does that mean?”

The six line? You know, the line on the coffee pot that shows it has brewed passed the six cup level. I generally make a seven cup pot in the morning. It’s a little more than I need, but then there are those days, like today, when my son wakes early.

I answered his question with, “It means it’s over the six line.”

“I know that,” he replied.

I smiled and asked. “Do you want a cup of coffee?”

“Umm… Yeeaaahhhhh.”

If you have children then you know how long that yeah was and you know there was a look of sarcasm on his face, his arms out to his side. You can change that yeah to a duh and you would know what it meant just as well.

I laughed.

The boy got his cup of coffee.

It was funny.

But life also has a way of sneaking up on you.

It’s time and we can’t bottle it.

My son is seven and my daughter is ten about to turn eleven. My baby brother just turned thirty. My baby sister just got married last month.

Life. It sneaks up on you.

A friend of mine’s husband died this past Thursday. I went to the funeral yesterday (my best friend went, seeing how he was friends with the woman I speak of as well). It was, quite possibly, the most beautiful funeral I’ve ever attended. It was emotionally charged and there were points where–and no I’m not going to say I am super macho and it didn’t bother me in the least–I teared up.

What I took away from the funeral was something very basic, but something many of us miss: So often we don’t enjoy life. We go through the motions, the daily grind of working and cleaning and paying bills and taking care of our children and we let life sneak up on us. We don’t take the time to enjoy the life we are given. We complain and moan and groan to anyone who will listen because we have burdens. Oh yes we do. Many of those burdens are simply in our heads and not real at all.

We worry more about someone wronging us or cutting us off in traffic or if our favorite television show is going to be cancelled. We worry about things we have no control over.

We hold onto the past–something we can’t get back. I understand this all too well. The truth is life is built on memories. Each thing we have learned, each thing we have heard or said or done or witnessed all become part of our memories. Memories are good. Dwelling on past failures or mistakes are not so good. Some of us try to drown those mistakes in drinking or using drugs or just saying ‘I can’t do this anymore’ and giving up.

Life sneaks up on us.

Kansas once sang a song called Dust in the Wind. The opening lyric:

I close my eyes only for a moment, and the moment’s gone.

I say to you, Fair Readers, don’t let a moment pass you by that you’ll wish you had back later. Live. Understand what I’m saying here: Live. Don’t just go through the motions, but live your life. Enjoy your life. The young man who was laid to rest yesterday did just that: he lived life and I’m sure he had no regrets before passing on.

For me, this blog was more of a purging–a way for me to release what’s in my head, in my heart. I don’t know what it is for you, the readers. Hopefully, a little inspiring.

I’m going to stop here. In the coming weeks I have a couple of interviews that will be posted. Also, come back tomorrow when the topic of the day will be ‘What Constitutes a Horror Story?’ If you guys came by on Sunday, you will have noticed Crashman Jack. Yeah, he’ll be back later this week and in the coming weeks as well. He and the Deconstructioneers will be working on Logan’s RC car, rebuilding it thanks to the nasty crash he had–concrete just doesn’t budge when struck by plastic. And there is also new information about an upcoming publication that picked up one of my stories and updates on the collection I am working on. Stick around. It’s about to get busy around here again.

Thank you for reading and until we meet again, my friends…

A Well Taught Lesson

Picture this:

A ten-year-old red headed girl with a wide smile and freckles on the bridge of her nose goes to her dad and says, “Daddy, I want to teach you a lesson.”

Whoa… whoa there little doggie. Teach me a lesson? How often do you hear that term and it is a positive thing? Usually it’s something like ‘boy, I’m gonna teach you a lesson…’ It’s not something I was certain I wanted to hear.

I looked at her with a touch of trepidation and said, “Okay.”

Off to her room we went.

She closed the door.

I admit I watched as the door closed and I felt a touch of… well… fear. After all, she was going to teach me a lesson.

[Side note #1: If you are wondering where my lovely wife was during this lesson learning I was going to get, she was in bed, taking a nap because at exactly 12:01 on Friday November 18th, she was going to be in the movie theater watching some sickening vampire love story.]

“Have a seat,” she said.

I listened, not wanting the lesson to be too painful if it came to that.

[Side note #2: For those who don’t know my daughter, she has been known to be a mix between Wednesday Addams and Mandy from The Grimm Adventures of Billy and Mandy. If you don’t know who they are… well… look ‘em up.]

She pulled out her white board and the dry erase markers.

Okay, this may not be so bad, after all. At least there were no knives involved.

“Today, we are going to talk about the four steps of writing. Do you know what they are?”

“You tell me,” I said. My interest peaked a bit.

She took her white board and proceeded to write the numbers 1-4. And she said:

“First, there is the prewriting. It’s where you jot down your thoughts and ideas about what you are going to write.”

“Okay, brainstorming. I get that.”

She nodded and continued.

“Second we have your sloppy copy.”

I am not making this up. That is what she called it. Sloppy Copy.

[Side note #3: A few years ago I wrote an article about a copy shop called Super Soppy Sloppy Copies. It was a humor piece and, to say the least, it was fun to write. Say Super Soppy Sloppy Copies three times real fast and let me know if your tongue is all twisted in knots when you’re done.]

“Sloppy Copy?” I asked.

She gave me the rolling eyes look and shook her head. “The first draft, Daddy.”

Can you say sarcasm?

“The third thing is Revise.”

“Editing,” I said.

“If that’s what you want to call it, sure.”

I think she was irritated by my constant interjections.

“The fourth thing you have is your final draft. Do you understand so far?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Now, let’s relate this to getting up and going to school.”

You may be wondering what I was thinking at this point. How was she going to relate getting up in the morning to the four steps of writing?

“What do you do in the morning?” she said, but it was one of those questions that she didn’t want an answer to. Rhetorical, you know? “First you change your clothes. Then you brush your teeth. Next you put on your shoes. Finally, you eat.”

I counted on my fingers. Yup, there were four things there. Yet, I was perplexed as I tried to figure out how she was going to tie this into writing. I’m sure I’ve confused my share of you by doing the exact same thing in some of my blogs.

As she started relating the things together she drew a rough picture of a kid getting ready for school. I liked the simplicity of the image.

“When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is get dressed. This is like prewriting because I have to figure out what I’m going to wear and what goes with what. ‘Does this match this or does that go with these pants.’ Just like prewriting.”

She vigorously nodded her head at this point, an emphasis saying she’s right and she knew it.

And she was.

“What do I do next? I brush my teeth because, you know, when you wake up in the morning your breath stinks and it has that cruddy feel and it’s just… it’s just nasty. So I brush my teeth and get all the sloppiness off. That’s your sloppy copy or your first draft—you work at writing that story just like you work to brush those teeth.”

Point two could use a little work, but I think she has the gist of it and related it pretty well.

“The next thing you do is you put the shoes on.”

This is where she struggled for a moment. I could see it on her face as she tried to figure out how Revising/Editing was the same as putting on her shoes.

“When you put on your shoes you’re… well, you have to tie your shoes and… and sometimes you have to put the Velcro on and…”

She looked at me. I could see the wheels turning, but I also saw that look of disappointment on her face—disappointment in that she couldn’t relate the two together. Then it happened and she picked up steam.

“Sometimes when you put on a shoe, it doesn’t feel right on your foot or you don’t tie it so well or maybe the Velcro doesn’t go in place right and then you have to take the shoe off and look in it and maybe re-tie it so it doesn’t fall of your foot when you walk or maybe you have to fix the Velcro because it didn’t hold right. That’s like revising or editing.”

At this point Chloe looked at me with hopeful eyes.

“Great save, Chloe,” I said and smiled. “That was terrific. I love the way you didn’t give up until you figured out what to say and then when you did… you just rattled it off.”

“I improvised,” she said.

“Yes, you did.”

I was really proud of her for not getting upset and sticking with it, trying to come up with the right words to connect the two.

“Finally, I eat. It’s the last thing I do before going to school and when I’m done, I’m ready to go. And when you get your final draft done, you are finished with the story.”

She looked at me, again with those eyes seeking approval.

I smiled and looked at her white board, at the way she had written out the four steps to writing and related them to getting up in the morning. I looked at her little image of herself and I couldn’t help but smile bigger.

“That was awesome, Chloe,” I said and smiled.

“Did you like it?”

“Yes. It was great. You did a wonderful job teaching me about writing and your examples were great… especially the revising/editing example.”

I sat on her bed for a couple minutes looking at the white board and thinking about what she said. It was all very basic, but all very true and she got it… my daughter got it. She understood the steps to writing—probably better than many of us do.

So, I leave you with this:

Writing has four parts and you can relate them to getting up in the morning and getting ready to leave the house:

Prewriting: Getting dressed
Sloppy Copy: Brushing those yucky teeth
Revising: Putting on those shoes and making sure they’re on right and tied properly.
Final Draft: Eating

Let’s add a fifth one to that:

Submitting the story: Leaving the house.

My daughter taught me a lesson and it was painless, but rewarding…

Photobucket