Posted tagged ‘MJ Brewer’

Justine Case You Didn’t Know

June 28, 2012

The three girls board the bus wearing tight tank tops and tiny short while they chew noisily on their gum.   Their hair is a tangled hair spray mess, and they giggle as they walk past.  One of them gives her a cynical look before sitting in the seat across from her in the front row.  Violet knows what they’re thinking–she’s been here before.

“Finish your green beans before you leave the table, Violet,” her mother looks at her knowingly, “You know the rules.”  But as soon as her mother turns around, she tucks them into a napkin on her lap, where she can dispose of them undetected. 

A knock at the back door alerts them as her mother stops washing dishes, “Come on in, Barbara and Patrice, she’s almost finished.”  Violet hurries to scrape her plate into the garbage as her mother peers gingerly over her shoulder to ensure all the vegetables are gone.  Watching her exit the back door, she hollers at her as the screen door swings shut, “Make sure you’re back by eight!”

The three are off to see a matinee, it’s a big production about New York’s entertainers.  They’ve seen it before, but it’s a great escape from their families and it only costs a few cents.  The pennies the mothers usually opt to sacrifice in exchange from having to host all three girls, in case their house is the choice for the gathering.

“I like movies about dancers because I’m going to be one when I grow up,” Patrice says with conviction.

Barbara offers her input, “I am going to own a huge department store like Nordstrom, and I’ll be in charge of everything!”

Patrice pauses and asks, “What are you going to do, Violet?  I’ll bet you would make a great clothing designer.”

The truth is, Violet has no idea what she wants to be, so she changes the subject.   “I got the popcorn this go round.”  She hurries into the theater and her friends are close behind.

What the mothers don’t buy is the soda and popcorn so the girls usually pool their pennies together and share the treats.  While they count their change, one of the girls from school comes in with her mother.  Justine Case has unusually green eyes, stringy hair, and her legs are so thin a gentle breeze could break them.   Her mother has the same coloring, but is physically the opposite; everything petite on her daughter is colossal on her.  The only thing the two of them have in common is the stringy black hair dingy with dirt, and the ratty clothing probably coming from the same homeless bin. The larger-than-large woman is so fat she uses a walker to help her get around. The girls nudge each other and point as the woman attempts to carry the small box of popcorn and use her walker at the same time.

“Hey, Justine!” Violet calls to her classmate with her hands cupped around her mouth, “Help your mom get to her seat so she doesn’t starve to death!”

“Yeah,” Barbara adds, “If she falls down you’ll have to drop the food in her mouth!”  Patrice chuckles and carries on by imitating her, squishing her cheeks with her hands.

“I’m chubby, my mama’s chubby and my mama’s chubby.  One day my mama took me for a ride and I screamed, ‘Slow down mama, slow down’!”  Pulling her cheeks back as hard as she can, her mouth stretches tight like a thick rubber band across her face.  Her friends break out in uncontrollable laughter.

Noticeably embarrassed, Justine bows her head in shame and leads her mother down the corridor.  “Hold on there, sweetie!” her mother calls, “You’re gonna cause me to trip and fall!”

Quickly, Barbara squats and covers her head, “Earthquake!” she squeals.  Her friends join her as passersby look quizzically before walking around them while they all laugh hysterically, “Earthquake, earthquake!”

They skip into the theater and Patrice nudges Violet when their eyes adjust, pointing out the humongous woman squeezed into the seat by the aisle.  Justine is sitting next to her, craning her neck around to watch the girls come in, knowing there is nowhere to hide. 

Violet sees her and waves, grasping the hand of Barbara with one hand and holding her popcorn in the other.  She tugs her friends along as Patrice follows them behind Justine and her mother. 

“Hi, Justine!” Violet smiles, “Glad we found you.  We’ve been watching for you and your…”

Her mother turns her chubby cheek toward her as much as she can, rotating her head as far as she can.  “Justine, you didn’t tell me you have friends at school,” she smiles, her cheeks bunching up over her collar, “Aren’t you going to introduce me to them?”

Mortification wins as a blushing Justine raises her head, “Momma, this is Violet, Patrice, and Barbara.  They’re in my class at school.”

“Oh, well as pretty as they are, I don’t understand why you never mentioned them to me before,” she sweetly adds.  “How come you never told me, honey?”  Justine is quiet for a second and the lights dim down, with the speakers blaring music indicating the beginning of the show.  Relief sweeps over her as she revolves in her seat to see the show.

Throughout the movie, the three continue to giggle, blow their cheeks out and make fun of Justine’s mother who either doesn’t notice, or is so accustomed to it she tunes them out. 

When the show is over and the lights come back on, Justine’s eyes are puffy and red.  She wipes at them with her hand and her mother soothingly puts her meaty arm around her daughter’s shoulders, “Honey, that was a happy ending.  Let me explain …” 

Struggling to get out of her seat and hold onto the walker for support, she begins at the beginning of the movie, explaining each scene.  Justine doesn’t see the girls making jokes, but her ears focus on their cruel words as her mother’s voice drones on.  All that keeps ringing in her ears is ‘stupid, retard, loser, and fat ass.’

“Time to pull the big trucks in and open the double doors, boys!” Violet shouts.  The joyful cheers resume as the people file out of the theater.

The next day at school, it didn’t stop.  If anything, matters got worse for Justine as the girls begin following her around the playground.  They are pushing their stomachs out as far as possible and telling her biscuits and grits were ready for her at home. 

It isn’t long before Justine refuses going onto the playground.  Instead, she sits in the pea rocks and scrapes at the dirt with a stick.  Sometimes other kids would come and taunt her, throwing handfuls of grass or dry crumpled leaves in her hair. One day a boy found dog feces on the lawn, picked it up with a leaf and flipped it at her, laughing with the rest of them.  Every recess the same thing happens until one day it stops.

The children in the classroom didn’t seem to notice until the teacher announced Justine felt unwelcome and left.  On the playground, Patrice runs over to Barbara and Violet, “Did you hear what happened?”  The two girls stop jumping rope when their friend approaches them, grinning from ear to ear with pride.

  “What are you talking about?” Barbara asks, standing with her hand on her hip. Violet is standing behind her with an identical expression of impatience. 

Violet hates it when Patrice knows something first because she makes such a big deal about it.  But the truth is she can hardly stand it as she leans in close.   “That girl we were teasing, Justine, killed herself,” she blurts out, “Can you believe it?” Her friends stare in disbelief.  “We’re powerful!”

“What do you mean?” Violet asks, “She killed herself because of us?”  She anticipates Barbara stepping in behind her and reflecting the shock she is feeling, but that doesn’t happen.

Barbara brushes her hands together as if she’s just thrown something dirty away, “That’s less trash we’ll need to worry about next year, right?  We’ll just need to keep up the good work now, so we don’t let our public down.”

Barbara and Patrice snigger as they put their heads together, but Violet doesn’t know how she feels.  Before she has a chance to say anything, the bell rings to go inside.

As the bell rings in her memory, the bus chord rings and the doors flip open to let a man get out.  The three girls sitting across from Violet are checking him out and smiling a Hollywood cage as the next group of people begins to enter.

The trio points and laughs while they gesture all sorts of rude hand signals.  The last person to enter is a woman appearing to be a bit younger than Violet.   Her lustrous black hair flows down her back, stopping at her shapely waist as it reflects a silky shine.  Since the bus is full and begins to move, she takes the seat on the far side of Violet, next to the window.

When her stop is in view, Violet reaches her arm toward the side to hit the buzzer, but can’t quite reach it.  “Here, let me help you,” the woman says, her clear green eyes shadowed by thick lashes, as she pulls the chord.   Her gaze careens around Violet, concerned, “Do you have help at home?”

“That’s sort of personal,” Violet states matter-of-factly for she hates it when people get into her business.  When people feign interest, there’s always a buck changing hands somewhere, and it generally turns out of her pocket.  Grabbing the post next to her, she pulls herself to her feet and the bus driver sets the brake before heading out the door to the front of the bus.

People throughout the bus begin to grumble and the three girls snicker as they indicate the driver setting up the wheelchair.  One of the girls cracks up, “Transfer!” while she nudges her friend.

“Wide load coming through!” another yells as Violet struggles to get to the door, losing her balance and nearly taking out a passenger seated to the side.  A couple of young men at the back begin to yell about being on a schedule and having places to be, heightening her uneasiness.  A sweat breaks out on her forehead and she can feel it trickling down her neck as her legs are barely able to hold her upright.  The railing seems so far away until the young woman stands to escort her.

Climbing out of the bus, she assists Violet into her chair and pats her hands with a smile.  “I’m leaving, miss,” he says as he climbs into his seat, “you coming?”

“One moment, please.”  The woman reaches into her purse, pulls out a business card and hands it to Violet.  Looking at it, Violet sees Dis your Disability and chuckles.  But then she sees the name and almost passes out in her chair Justine Thyme.  Her bladder almost gives beneath her when she manages the courage to speak.

“I used to know someone named Justine years ago,” Violet pauses, feeling the guilt seep in about someone she and her friends enjoyed making miserable.  “Her name was Justine Case.  Sort of funny when you think about you having the same first name.”

“Now,” the stranger smiles, “It’s Justine Thyme.  Hello, Violet.”  Although her words could have had an ‘I told you so’ ring to them, they did not.  Justine seems sincere.

The bus driver honks the horn and shouts, “Miss, you need to get on, the bus is leaving the station!”

“Let’s just say I like to help wherever I’m needed,” Justine smiles as she turns to get onto the bus.

“Thank you,” Violet says, her eyes welling with tears, “I’m so sorry.  I thought you were dead.”

“My mother said she couldn’t handle it anymore after that day at the theater.  You see, she knew, Violet.  That’s what made it so hard for me.  She knew everyone was talking and pointing at her, making fun.  What’s more, teasing her daughter because of her disability.  No one could guess she had been a blond knock-out once.  She was a physically fit marathon runner when after a race,  a drunk swerved over the sidewalk and hit her.  She was in traction for months, and it was right after I was born.  My dad left and she raised me on her own, refusing to quit.”

The horn honks, impatiently, and the driver motions to Justine to get on.

Dumbfounded, Violet watches the nimble woman board the bus and put the window down, “Just call me, Violet.  I think we can help each other now.”  And then the bus drives away.

Of all the days in Violet’s life, this day is the most thought-provocative of them all, and now she finally has a purpose; not a dancer, a retail owner, or even a clothing designer.  “That would have been too easy,” she smiles into the heavens.

Birth of a Savage Garden

June 19, 2012

Salt Lake City was never like this when he was a kid; people bustling about, practically driving over pedestrians in an effort to escape the TRAX train impeding traffic.   The radio is blasting as Bristol Kirkland’s Jeep moves with the other cars until it comes to an abrupt halt.  The car in front of him has a bumper sticker ironically stating, “The only reason I’m speeding is that I really need to poop”. 

Bristol was born and raised here, watching the quaint town boom into the metropolis it is, and knows the people haven’t finished yet.  The goal seems to be to grow into another New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles, and it’s definitely happening.

The only difference seems to be the fault line that plows through the eastern side of the state.  It has always had him alert and prepared, plus the entire scout training he’s had growing up.  But no amount of training could prepare him thoroughly for the future, without the help of a psychic or seer.  Then again, he knows the mystery of the planet is nature and Mother Nature is as unpredictable as any other female expected to make up her mind.

Now that he’s an adult, a week never goes by that he doesn’t shake off the madness with his girlfriend, Scarlet, in exhilarating activities such as biking or hiking somewhere.  They know the mountain ranges like the backs of their hands, keeping track of the seasons and weather patterns in journals.   Being prepared is what Bristol focuses on in everything he does. He has no doubt this is the ultimate key to his survival.

When traffic comes to a halt, Bristol puts his window down and turns the radio off.  Groups of people stop to observe the numerous televisions sets in a shop window.  He listens to try to determine what is going on.  Suddenly someone yells, “We got eight minutes, just eight minutes and twenty seconds!”  A large portion of the crowd takes off running, another stands in disbelief, and a third stands disoriented in awe.

Horns begin to honk and people are chaotically thinning out.  An impatient driver decides not to wait, and goes careening through the crowd of people on the sidewalk, laying on the horn all the way.  Pure insanity.  Nevertheless, other cars follow and the people scatter like a colony of ants in a sudden rainstorm.  Apparently, they’ve all heard the news as well.

As if it will help him escape the chaos, Bristol puts his window up while he draws his own conclusion.  Sitting in relative quietness, aside from the occasional holler, he watches as the people move about him in a slow and unmethodical motion.  Desperation is everywhere. 

Flipping the radio back on, the music is blaring as he abruptly flips the station to the broadcast channel.  The announcer’s voice sounds urgent, “I repeat; we’ve got a little over eight minutes before the earth will be in absolute darkness as you heard Dr. Alan Nesh, one of NASA’s top astronomers, proclaim.  Is it the end of the world? Some would say…”  Bristol changes the channel while he steers his car into a neighborhood; his neighborhood to be more precise, and pulls into his driveway.  According to his watch, and everyone else, he has about five minutes before his world will go through an inevitable change. 

The cell phone feels warm in his hand as he dials his girlfriend Scarlet’s number.  She picks up almost immediately.  “Hey… I know, I know. Settle down and listen. Get your camping gear, flashlight and as many batteries as you can find,” he instructs her, “Just do what I said. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” 

After hanging up, he turns the television on to listen to while he gathers his belongings.  Finding a channel with a live broadcast is difficult, as most channels are producing a recorded announcement. “I hope you’ve all been keeping your food storage up-to-date, because no one knows how long we will be without sunlight,” the man chuckles uneasily on the set, “for some of us darkness might be a good thing.  My wife quit wearing make-up a long time ago.”  The canned laughter dwindles as Bristol hurries to the stairway.

Heading into the basement storage area, Bristol grabs his camping gear.  A curiously large spider scurries out from beneath the backpack and he steps on it, slinging the pack over his shoulder.  His other hand snatches the cooler’s handle and he totes them to the kitchen.  Making his way back upstairs into his bedroom, he grabs his coat, cash out of his top drawer and baseball cap, pulling it onto his head. 

Back in the kitchen, he packs the cooler with chocolate bars, fruit and bottled water.  Then he tugs everything into the garage to grab his emergency food supply consisting of dry goods in mini packets, a large container of jerky, freeze-dried raspberries, powdered eggs, a whole bunch of Ramen Noodles, and canned tuna and chicken.  Peering inside, he ensures he has two can-openers, in case one breaks.

Everything fits snugly into the back of his Jeep as he opens the garage door.  As the door rolls up, he can hear the neighborhood going crazy as if it is a henhouse upset by a fox, and they appear as much.  Children are crying, women are trying to guarantee they have everything, and the men are yelling at everyone to hurry up.  It’s amazing at how everything has changed in only a few minutes.   However, as he notices these changes, the light evaporates as instantly as someone closing the refrigerator door.  For a split second, silence envelopes the world until the birth of a savage garden arrives.

Blood-curdling screams ring out as he turns his headlights on to witness his neighbor’s attack by a couple of men.  Her face, etched into his mind, searches for help as hespeeds away striving to save his own girlfriend.  Time is of the essence and he knows that every second counts if they are going to escape safely.  In his mind, or perhaps in reality, he can hear his neighbor shriek again, but this time it stops suddenly in midair.  Suddenly thoughts of Scarlet needing his help drown out any sounds he hears as he speeds up in the chaos.  Tunnel vision takes over and the remainder of the journey is a blur.

Pulling into the driveway, Bristol sees the beam of a flashlight come bounding out the front door.  Scarlet’s duffle bag and backpack over one shoulder, holding the flashlight in one hand; and Maximus attached at the end of a leash.  He should have known she was going to bring him, even though they really couldn’t spare the room in the restrained area of the vehicle.  Her duffle bag and backpack are small in comparison to the size of the dog food bag she totes under one arm.  Despite the extenuating circumstances, he finds himself smiling.

“All ready?” he calls to her, flashing his light at her so she can see where she is going as he climbs out to help.  The Border Collie makes seeing where she’s going a difficult task, but with Bristol’s help, she manages to get into the passenger seat.  The dog jumps into the back, on top of their belongings.  The driver’s door pops open and a man begins to climb in as Bristol clutches his shoulder with one hand and hits him with the flashlight with the other.  He quickly knocks him to the ground. 

Maximus begins to lunge at the stranger and Scarlet lends a restraining hand, “Stay.”  Bristol steps over the man, granting him a kick him to his gut before he climbs in and slams the door.

“Now are we ready?” he asks.  Maximus barks and the Jeep starts up, squealing out of the driveway as they take off.  They can see the lights bouncing around as people are fighting amongst themselves.  He wonders if they’ll ever be back.  If so, the neighborhood will most definitely be different.

Zipping along the back roads, he is heading for the freeway when he recognizes the traffic stopping at the bottom of the entrance ramp.  The Jeep slows to a stop when a man jumps from his vehicle ahead of them.  In the array of headlights, he pulls a gun from his waistband.  He walks to a vehicle stopped in front of him and aims his gun.  He begins to fire while shouts and yelping ensue, similar to that of an out-of-control dog pound.  The gunman systematically follows up the line of cars, one after another, until someone returns the favor with a perfect shot to the head.  His body flies back to the car behind him and he crumples to the ground.

 There is nothing to say at this point, only securing their safety as much as possible, as Bristol makes a U-turn.  The situation is becoming even more dire as he drives against traffic down the outer edge of the ramp.  Scarlet leans over, as the tires hit the main road, and puts an old Sammy Hagar song playing, Three Lock Box in the stereo.

The Jeep rumbles along the Wasatch Front, coming up the River’s Edge resorts and east toward Bristol’s cabin, tucked away from the rest of civilization.   When his father died and left him the property, he kept it for the purpose of childhood memories, but never thought the purpose would be to hide from civilization.  With the insanity he’s been seeing, he’s relieved that it is so far away from populated areas.

The scene welcoming him gives him an immediate sense of security as he drives into the clearing off a familiar dirt road.  Bumping through the trees, he drives up to a two-story cabin.  Definitely not something the Hiltons would live in, but it is all his and paid for.  A wave of relief swathes him as the headlights shine on the front door and he cuts the engine to hear the sweet sound of nothing. 

“Here we are,” he breathes, “We’ll be safe here until this crazy crap blows over.”

“How long do you think it will take,” Scarlet asks with concern burning the back of her throat, “days, weeks, or months?”

“That isn’t my department,” he jokes, climbing out to begin to grab some gear, “I work in the science field, not disasters.  And this is a disaster.” 

“Fair enough,” Scarlet gets out and takes Maximus with her.  She grabs his dog food and kicks the door closed.  It takes several trips for the two of them to completely unload the vehicle, but when they are finished, they know they can finally relax.

When everything is empty and they have the kerosene lamps burning, a fire going and hot coffee, the mood is more than surreal.  It’s inviting.  “If I didn’t know better,” Bristol teases as he drapes his arm around her shoulders, “I’d think this was some scatterbrained idea to get me alone.”

“Maybe it is!” she laughs as she cuddles up and plants a long and inviting kiss on his mouth.

The scratching noise awakens Maximus who scrambles from his spot at the foot of the bed.  His hard nails tap across the floor as he trots down the wooden stairs.  The clattering stirs Scarlet awake as she sits up in bed and listens for any disturbance, hoping he hears the wind stirring tree branches against the window.  Those thoughts dash away as she hears her dog growl and begin to bark in an alerting manner.

A scuffle ensues, by the sounds of it, and she can hear thrashing noises of disrupted furniture, a couple of lamps crashing and a few thuds.  “Bristol!   Bristol,” she whispers as quietly as she can while maintaining urgency for his attention.

“What?” he stirs, rolling over toward her, but then she can feel him sit up when he hears the commotion.  The dog continues to snarl and rumble until he unexpectedly becomes silent.   The eerie and turbulent hush physically creep up the stairway toward their bedroom doorway. 

Within a fraction of a second, Scarlet can hear the nightstand slide open beside the bed before Bristol jumps from the bed and hustles behind the door.  A slow creaking reveals the door opening on its hinges.  Scarlet is finally relieved that Bristol hasn’t oiled them, despite her constant nagging. 

The pitch darkness doesn’t allow her to feel comfort in knowing that Bristol is behind the door, so she flips on her flashlight to shine its beam directly into the eyes of the perpetrator.  Startled, he screams and throws his arm up in front of his eyes, dropping his flashlight.   Bristol knocks his hands away from his face and pepper sprays him.  The perpetrator falls to the floor, wailing as Bristol begins to violently kick him until he stops fighting and ceases to move. 

A second intruder enters and Bristol turns to clock him in the jaw with his elbow, and then turns to spray him as well.  The man tumbles over his friend’s body and clambers to the floor where Scarlet shines the light on him and screams.  When he raises his head, Scarlet can see this one must have been the one that Maximus attacked moments earlier.  He has open wounds on his face where blood is dripping and if he could see his own face, he would be screaming too.  Baring his teeth, he lunges from the floor toward Scarlet.  The flashlight in Bristol’s hand crashes down on the back of her head and back several times.  When the man rolls away from Scarlet, Bristol sprays the cuts on his face with the pepper spray. 

The noise of his screaming is deafening as the man runs about the room, crashing into the walls until a shattering of glass his heard.  The flashlights in unison reveal the delinquent has fallen through the bedroom window as the country-made curtains flutter in the cool, dark air.

Scarlet clamors to the light switch and flips it on to see a bloodied knife, which was undeniably intended to be her fate.  She releases a breath of liberation as Bristol runs over to her and pulls her close while she sobs with relief. 

After Scarlet gathers herself together, she agrees to stay put until Bristol can take an inventory of the situation and pull the stranger’s body out of the bedroom.  The thudding on the stairwell does little to appease her fears.  She sits nervously on the bed waiting for Bristol to return.  Her cell phone sits on the bureau and she snaps it up to call the police.  The phone service is available and her phone is charged, but there is no answer at the 911 station. 

The sound of dragging weight, doors banging, and footsteps sound in the quiet night above the sinister hush.  “Ugh, damn!” Bristol scowls as he lurches over the body of his girlfriend’s dog, Maximus, hitting the floor on all fours. 

Afraid of luring wild animals to the property, or more would-be thieves and killers, he pulls the bodies into the trees toward the cliff.  Using all his strength, he pushes them over the edge, one at a time.  This feat takes a long time because without any light, whatsoever, stepping too quickly could happen once too often.  He’s grateful he is so familiar with this territory and feels as if he could complete this task blindfolded.

Bristol wipes his nose with his arm.  He props himself up on his thighs with his hands and takes in a couple of deep breaths.  Spent, he doesn’t feel as if he has any oomph left at all for anything but sleep. 

Returning to the cabin, he enters to the safety of a lighted room.  He latches the door, stopping to wonder if he had done so earlier.  He decides to leave Maximus and the mess here until morning.  At least the men are gone.  He’s exhausted and certain he’ll be up way before Scarlet to get rid of it then.  Nevertheless, he needs to ensure he has his gun ready from now on. 

Bristol looks across the room to the gun cabinet.  He opens the kitchen drawer to remove the keys from their nestled spot in the back.  The gun cabinet is one his father’s friend had constructed many years before.  The front of the oak cabinet resembles any other found in a sporting goods store, but the hidden drawer at the base of the cabinet holds a few “extra” handguns and ammunition. 

Although Scarlet feels as if she is strong, and she is for a female, Bristol feels uneasy about giving her a gun that could cause her harm, so he picks up a 350 caliber, loads it and stuffs it into his waistband.  Next to that gun, he finds a 22 pistol he deems appropriate for Scarlet.  Briefly, his memory takes him to the first time he had ever fired a gun, and this was what his father referred to as “the instructor.”  The bullets are sitting in the back of the drawer and he shoves a few into the gun.  He fills his pockets with more ammo and heads back upstairs. 

“It’s okay, Scarlet,” he announces to ensure her security, “It’s only me so you can chilax, baby.  It’s over.”

The room is quiet as he approaches, the flashlight in his hand, and he sees the door is partially closed.  A strange numbness lingers in the air, causing him to pause.  He listens and doesn’t hear anything, which doesn’t signify anything as Scarlet is probably shaking like a leaf in anticipation of his return.

“Scarlet?” he listens closely as he gently pushes the door open with his foot.  The door swings open, bounces and returns.  His vision skims across the blood-covered bed where his girlfriend is lying on her back.  Her dark hair splays down the side as her head dangles off the edge of the bed, eyes wide open as she stares through him.  The presence of another person nearby strikes him as he spins to see a face glowering down at him.

The rest happens slowly and surreal as his contender emerges.  His face is also sporting some signs of earlier turbulence with an animal, probably Maximus.  But none of that matters now as he feels a poke and something sharp glide out from between his ribs.  The sound of the knife sliding against the bone is unmistakable as he feels it go back in.  Blood is bubbling up his throat and out his mouth, rupturing from his lips.  The flashlight tumbles from his hand, and he raises the pistol to shoot his assailant’s throat.  Bristol feels is pop, but doesn’t see it happen for his world goes just as dark as his surroundings have been for the past sixteen hours.

A warm kiss on his lips awakens him as his eyes flutter open to see Scarlet leaning over him, her hair tied back is in a bandanna and she has on cut-off shorts and a tank top. The sun is brightly shining through the windows.  She crosses the room to push it open, allowing the singing birds to join in the day’s celebration.  “I’ve made you breakfast as a lure to get your butt in gear, Mr. Kirkland,” she croons, twirling about the cabin’s bedroom in her sing-song voice.  “C’mon, let’s go soldier!”

Bristol pulls himself up in the bed and runs his hands through his sweaty hair, “Did we have anything to drink last night?”

Her head flings back, showing her smooth neckline and the floating heart necklace he gave her for her birthday as she laughs heartily.  “No alcohol, if that’s what you mean,” she says, “but I believe you were intoxicated with love, if you felt anything like I did.” 

Opening his bureau, she removes a pair of his boxers, a simple shirt, shorts and socks, tossing them onto the bed before disappearing down the stairs.  Her voice is melodic as she hums loudly and he realizes he can smell freshly brewed coffee, eggs and bacon. 

After he finishes getting dressed, he energetically scopes out the stairway and floorboards, searching for damages but not finding any.  The radio sitting on the counter is playing old rock and roll as she sings along, jumping when she hears him talk.  “Where is Maximus?” he inquires as he enters the kitchen to watch her. 

Scarlet laughs, “Maximus is with my sister, where we always leave him when we come up here.”  Her voice lowers, “You said you can’t stand him watching us.  When we tried closing him out of the room he howled the whole time, remember?”

“Yes, I remember,” he agrees, turning to see her putting water into the pans she is no longer using.  Bristol crosses the room and wraps his arms around her waist, giving her a gentle squeeze.  Leaving the water running, she turns to him and puts her wet hands around his neck giggling.  He chuckles a bit himself as droplets of water trickle down his back, wetting his shirt.

The radio is playing “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” by Savage Garden and the couple begins to sway to the music, kissing deeply.  Partially through the song the music ceases playing and the emergency alert system begins blaring loudly, causing the couple to stop abruptly.  They rotate toward the radio, as if lips were going to move on the speaker, addressing them.

“We interrupt this regularly scheduled broadcast,” the recording states, “to bring you this emergency message.”  Afterwards the speaker is the regularly scheduled deejay, Justin Case, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am required to relay a message from the president of the United States.  NASA has reported a large hole in the ozone layer growing at an increasingly rapid pace.  We have been instructed to prepare immediately…”

The Birthday Curse – a slice of heaven

June 10, 2012

At the age of fifty-five, Benny drives home from his birthday party at Reyna’s Rules, a local comedy club.  Now that he’s a year older….nothing has changed.  Everything is exactly the same as yesterday, but he’s certain his wrinkles are microscopically deeper, a couple more hairs are grayer, and he’s a little closer to death. 

The girl next to him doesn’t seem to notice his age, even though she’s less than half of it with her taut young body and plunging neckline to prove it, as if anyone has any doubts.  Her blond hair hangs loosely around her bare shoulders and he imagines the tresses must be tickling her back around the halter. He wonders if she likes that, or if she even notices.

The next streetlight is red as he sees a man jump from the curbside, a bucket and sponge in hand, “Need a wash sir?”  Before he has a chance to accept or deny, the old man is busy washing the glass with dirty, dull water and a dilapidated sponge.

“Get off my car, you old coot!” Benny screams at him, laying on the horn.  It’s amazing the fool even considered approaching the Mercedes in the first place, much less beginning work without approval.

The old man flies across the hood of the car, almost as if he’s run across an electric circuit with his wet hands.  His back hits hard against the curb, taking his grungy clothes, scraggly hair and tattered beard with him into the ditch.  The blond laughs before removing her gum and tossing it out her window to bounce off the dirty asphalt next to him.

The changing light signals Benny to step on it, which he gladly does, peering into his rearview mirror at the vagrant.  He can see the elderly man struggling to get to his feet, his lips moving and his hands gesturing wildly in the air.   Of course, he’s much too far away to hear the infuriated cursing of the gypsy.

The three-thousand square foot penthouse welcomes the couple as they exit the elevator.  “Wow, you really live here?” the woman questions in awe, her thick southern accent nearly drowning her words.

“No, I got the key from the beggar back there,” without a glimpse of humor, but a shrug of his shoulders, “He’s letting me borrow it for the night.” Benny isn’t really shocked when he hears her response. 

“Really?” she allows her eyes to drift over the awards on his mantle before spinning around, “If that were true, you’ve either been lying about your name or you’ve put your awards and medical certificates on someone else’s wall.”

Bringing a couple of glasses with him and a bottle of Chardonnay, he takes a seat on the sofa.  “Nothing gets past you, I see.  Come and have a drink with me and we can toast my birthday again, um…”

“My name is Kristi,” she tells him casually, as if no one ever remembers what to call her.

“Right, Kristi.”

As the cork pops out, the aroma is oak and melon Benny notes, closing his eyes and drifting, if only for a second.  Opening them again, he pours each glass half full and prepares to take a swallow.  “Wait!” she interjects, “Have you even made a birthday wish yet?”

“No, I thought that’s what you were here for,” he raises his eyebrows, “to make my wish come true, baby.”

Her head lulls back and she laughs aloud, reminding Benny of the sound a very loud chicken might make, “I’m serious!”

“So was I,” he adds, “Now let’s celebrate my birthday.”

“Okay,” her serious tone comes back.  She holds her hand up in a motion to stop him, “But back home we always have three wishes for a birthday.  So, you have to tell me yours.”

The expression is priceless until he realizes the only way to overcome this obstacle is by giving in a little.  Besides, looking at those long and nimble legs, paired with that full breast, three wishes should be easy to come up with.  “Okay, okay,” he says allowing his gaze to wander into the night sky through the window reflecting the city lights below.

After a spell, he gets an idea, “I wish to become wealthy.”

“That’s it?” her eyes narrow as she shakes her head, tucking a curl behind her ear,”Everyone always wishes for that.  Besides, you already are, aren’t you?  I mean, I don’t know of any doctors who are poor.”

He laughs, “You’d be surprised!  Ever hung out at a golf course and really listened to…”  But then he stops because clearly this girl wouldn’t know which end of the club to hit the ball with, much less the difference between a driver and a putter.  A golf course is probably the last place you’d find this type of woman.  “Yes,” he finishes, “I would want to be so well-off that I wouldn’t know what to do with the money.”

“Hmm,” she says, eyeing the wine as she loops her arm around his with her wine glass.  “What’s your second wish?”

“I guess it could be the answer for the first wish,” he thinks aloud as he speaks, “I’d like to find the cure for everything.”

“Everything?  Isn’t that a whole bunch of cures?”

“No, I mean one cure for any ailment,” he sits forward in anticipation of the drink.  “You know, a medicine that can cure anything!”

“Okay, like some miracle drug, right?”

“Sure,” his wheels are turning, “a miracle drug…”

“Great,” and her voice becomes deep and sultry, “and lastly, your third wish?”

“My third wish would be for someone to love me, unconditionally.”  The words sound like a stranger saying them through his head, but not him at all.  Still being his third wish,  that the game is over with and he can finally collect what he’s been anticipating for the past two hours.

“That sounds like something a woman would say, ‘unconditional love’,” she makes her voice low and drawn out for the ‘unconditional love’ part.

“Yeah, whatever,” he chuckles, “Let’s celebrate!”

They celebrate, celebrate, and Oh!  Celebrate!

The next morning, Kristi is making coffee and has the television on when Benny wanders into the room.  “Hate to make you rush, but I’ve got a few things to do today.  I’ll have coffee, but we gotta hurry.”  He sits down at the table and grabs the newspaper sitting to the side, opening it in front of him.

The smile manages to hold its place on her face, despite her disappointment and she approaches his cup with the pot of coffee.  “I heard them deliver the paper, so I brought it to the table for you,” she offers, but gets no reaction.

“Oh my God!” he murmurs, getting louder, “Oh my good God! I won!”  He jumps from his seat and runs to the coat rack, removing his jacket.  He immediately rummages through the pockets.  Withdrawing a piece of paper, he clambers over to Kristi, hands shaking and legs jumping, “Look at this, one of my wishes is coming friggin’ true already!”

Kristi looks at the numbers and crosses to the table to read the winning numbers, and sure enough, they match.  Benny is now a multi-millionaire.  “That’s amazing!” she adds before he takes a drink of his coffee to calm him down and bring him back to reality.  “I wonder if the other wishes will come true.”

Without taking the time to listen to her, he snatches her purse, thrusting it into her arms and pushes her to the elevator, despite protests.  “Wait, wait,” she cries as the doors close and she disappears from his life.

Despite feeling like the richest man at the office, Benny needs to wait until the funds come in.  Even when he receives the money, he will not be finished with his work.  He determines he’s going to make his other wishes come true.

Over the following month, he goes over the experiment he’s been working on.  The goal is to find an antidote for the onset of life-threatening diseases, stabilizing the first symptoms, making the secondary and more life-altering symptoms obsolete.  He believes this is the secret to identifying the cause and eventual cure of the illnesses. 

“Perhaps,” he suggests aloud, “tapping into the human mind’s psyche is the secret to reversing any negativity due to the activity of the brain.  There’s got to be a way to reverse the brain, while still permitting brainwaves to continue normal functionality, the cure for everything!”

The cell phone ringing interrupts his thoughts and he dashes to the phone.  When he looks at the screen, he doesn’t recognize the number and wonders if the bank is calling to notify him the money has arrived.  Taking a deep breath, he says, “Hello?”

The other end of the phone remains silent before a southern woman answers, “Hello, Benny?”

“Yes, who is this?”

“Kristi,” she clears her throat, “Kristi Marcus, but you don’t know my last name.”

“Kristi?” he repeats, “I don’t know anyone named Kristi.”

“Remember your birthday last month?”   The dead silence reflects his memory of the drunken evening where he recited his wishes.  He never could remember that girl’s name, but here she is now nonetheless. 

“Listen,” he tells her, “I don’t even have the money yet, so whatever hare-brained scheme you have for cashing in on my winnings, forget it, blondie.”

“I think you’re going to be a father.”  There is nothing more as the phone drops to the floor and he collapses.

The light is so bright when his eyes open, it takes him a moment to recall what happened.  The operating table lights are even more intense than he could imagine, as he squints his eyes to see the doctors and nurses.  But there are no doctors or nurses here.  Only plumes of drifting mist for as far as the eye can see. 

“Where am I?” he asks himself, sitting up, and it echoes as if he’s screamed it at the top of his lungs.  In the distance, he can hear the tap-tapping of shoes as he sees a small man, hair parted neatly on the side and cut short, approaching him.  His suit is obviously tailor-made, with his silky black tie lying neatly on his chest.  The thin mouth cracks a diminutive smile while he pushes his black glasses up onto his bridge and pulls a tri-folded slip of paper out of his breast pocket.

“Clearly, the question you ask is rhetorical,” the man suggests, “as I don’t know how it can be any more obvious to you that you’re dead.”

The reality takes a minute to clear the fog in his head, as it seems as thick as the fog surrounding him now.  “Dead?” he questions, and then chuckles, “I can’t be dead.”

“On the contrary, you certainly are dead,” the man argues, “and you brought it on yourself, understandably, through your own ignorance.”

“I don’t get it,” Benny pinches his bridge and squints his eyes again, but the chap remains, even closer now.

Shaking the paper open, the man extends it toward Benny so he can have a look and what it reveals. The list is nothing more than the numbers one, two and three down the left margin of the page.  “Sometimes when dealing with the simple-minded folks, I find it takes me a bit longer to explain,” he begins, “Generally speaking, the simple-minded folks are the ones who think they are better, faster, or smarter than the average person.”  And then he whispers, ” In a word, you.”

“This is a dream,” Benny exclaims as he laughs, pinching himself quite hard on his arm several times.

“No, although it probably would be better for you if it was only a dream,” the courier stifles a giggle, “but on your birthday you made three wishes.  And those wishes have been granted.”

“Why would that be a bad thing?” Benny inquires, “All of the wishes I made were good wishes, right?”

“Well, normally that might be so, but you made them directly after nearly running over a gypsy.  The gypsy who, by the guided hand,” he motions upward, following with his eyes, “was doing his best to live an honest life.”

“So there’s a catch, big deal,” he climbs to his feet in front of the man who he recognizes is a third less taller than himself.  He puffs out his chest and for the first time notices himself wearing a dull cotton tunic and pants, as if he were at a hospital, less the vibrant colors.  “I’ll still take my wishes.”

The man empties his throat and looks at the list.  “First, you wished to become wealthy, is this not true?”  His eyes peer over the paper as he momentarily lowers his glasses.

“Yes, doesn’t everyone?” Benny is proud of himself, despite the gentleman replacing his glasses and lifting the paper back up.

“You won the lottery with those little numbers you picked, did you not?” the man lifts his chin as if he has just proven a point that’s not up for argument.

Receiving no answer, he continues, “The second wish was to discover a mystery cure for every ailment, correct?”

As if it was a trick of some sort, Benny ponders before answering this time, “Yes, I was just about to make the greatest discovery of all time which, by the way, would make me even wealthier still, right?  But I was interrupted!”  Benny’s anger is evident by now.

The man falls into hysterics before straightening up again, “No, silly.  The cure for every illness is death, and everyone discovers it eventually.”

Reality checks in with Benny and then he stops for he cannot remember what his third wish was, but surely after death, there can’t be anything more.  It is as if the little business man is reading his mind because he continues without being egged on, “You did have one more wish, did you not?”

“Yeah,” he slowly replies, “One more wish…”

“It was to be loved ‘unconditionally,’ wasn’t it?” the man presses his lips together as if he’s secretly proud of himself for making Benny uncomfortable.

Recognition envelops him, “Yes, I’ve never been loved unconditionally.  So it appears as if there’s been a misunderstanding.  If you could return me back to earth to finish my strange quest, I would certainly appreciate it.”  His swollen pride returns as he smoothes his shirt down with his hands.

“You are loved unconditionally,” the messenger delivers, “the baby, whom you fathered on your birthday will always be grateful to you for bringing him into existence.  He’ll be grateful for the talents he’s inherited, and he will love you for all the things you were attempting to do for mankind before you died.”

“But the baby isn’t born yet so there’s no way to claim me as his father,” comes the smug reply.

At this, the messenger laughs uncontrollably.  “You were a scientist with your DNA scattered about the place, were you not?  You died immediately following the announcement you were to be a father, so in order to prove it for her son, Kristi needed to do so immediately–and she did.  Besides, you’ve been here for a long time now.  The time difference is quicker here and your son is now in school.”  He motions toward a window that mysteriously appears behind him.

Walking with laden feet, Benny strolls over to the window to peer through and sees a young man, who is the spitting image of himself.   “Wow,” he murmurs, “wishes really do come true.”

“You are now the proud dead father of a very rich heir.  Congratulations!”

Fat-Free

June 6, 2012

“Teeny,” born with the name Tina, was born premature and is anything but small as she lies on her bed.  She’s  totally indulging in yet another paperback romance, and living vicariously through someone else’s imagination.  The picture is vivid when she closes her eyes to see the handsome and daring young man eager to win her love.  Ring.  Ring.  Ring. 

The phone startles her back into reality as she pushes up with her thick arm to roll off the bed with a thud.  Taking a deep breath, she exhales before she shuffles through her bedroom to the kitchen table where her cell phone is waiting, blinking, and nagging to get an answer.

“Hello?” she breathes heavily into the phone, wiping sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand.  But there is no answer and the identification flashes a number with which she is unfamiliar.  She sighs and sets it down, “Probably a wrong number anyways.”

The kitchen is clean and there is no sign of food, except for the cookie jar sitting back on the counter by the stove.  Ignoring the jar with the little elves tauntingly hanging off the lid, she briskly waddles into the living room. 

The remote, in the side pocket of her recliner, feels comfortable in her hand.  It’s as if the manufacturing company had her in mind when they made it.  All of the buttons are easy to press and brightly colored, just like jellybeans.  Laughing, she turns the television on and sits down, wiggling her buttocks between the arms of the chair until she settles firmly in the seat. 

Teeny likes to think of herself as an imaginative and resourceful dreamer, both in personality and action.  But for each dream, Teeny knows there’s a price.  Her price is undoubtedly her weight.  No matter what she’s drawing, writing, or even thinking, her body’s pastime is eating.  It’s no wonder she can’t get a real man of her own.  Instead, she needs to borrow one from a cheesy novel.

Sighing yet again, she inhales and begins to choke.  Choke?  Coughing as hard as she can, until her face is a crimson red, a piece of chewed red licorice shoots out of her throat and lands in a lump on the linoleum.  “Holy cheese,” she’s not in her living room with the remote in her hand anymore, but in the kitchen. 

The elves are lying on the counter and the cookie jar that was full is now empty.  The tell-tale signs of cookies sprinkled over the countertops, are the only clue.  “Bad, Teeny,” she shouts, “Bad, bad, bad.”  The disgust ravages her mind as she returns to the easy chair ready for the one-eyed monster to entertain her. 

Pushing the buttons, the screen pops on displaying a sultry woman’s lips wrapping around a piece of chocolate from her fingertips.  “Mm,” the woman is obviously under the spell of the smooth and silky candy as it melts in her mouth.  Teeny wipes the spittle from her chin and picks up a handful of M&Ms from the oversized bowl in her lap before popping them in, handfuls at a time.  Without removing her eyes from the screen, she takes a large swig of soda from an oversized cup.  “Where did this come…?” Teeny’s puzzled voice drops off. 

This is too much, she thinks, and something has to give because I don’t even notice until the food is gone.  That’s compulsive, and she remembers that from the diet club she attended over a year ago.  She worked her butt off, and worked out a lot too, dropping nearly a hundred pounds.  What does she have to show for it?  “This huge, repulsive body that no man would ever consider making love to,” she answers her own question aloud. 

Forcing herself up from the chair to take the empty bowl into the kitchen, she stops in her tracks as her jaw drops open, but not for food this time.  There are empty potato chip bags, microwave popcorn wrappers, candy bar packaging, and empty soda cans inundating the countertop.

Frantic and panicky, she trips, catching herself on the counter.   Her head swoons as she changes direction trying to regain her steadiness.  The restroom is at the end of the hall and she doesn’t feel like she’ll make it in time.  Nevertheless, she lunges toward the sea-green carpet-covered toilet.  Normally the bathroom is inviting, as it entices one to sit and stay for a while, but not right now.  Now it’s inviting her to kneel pathetically onto its matching sea-green rug and beg for forgiveness.

Throwing the lid open, she’s barely able to lean before a bright pink liquid comes shooting from the back of her throat into the toilet.  The pressure is so intense; her throat cannot possibly hold the pressure as her nasal cavity opens up to expel the excess.  She feels like an infinite fountain, as the vomiting seems to have no end in sight.

“Teeny,” a woman shouts leaning over the bed, giving her a shake, “Teeny, wake up!”

Not hearing from her sister Teeny for nearly a month, Sara became more than curious.  Despite calling at least ten times, she got no answer.  Out of sheer terror, she brought herself to drive across three states to check on her sister herself.  With the front door unlocked and Teeny’s car in the driveway, Sara became even more frantic.  No one would answer when she knocked and rang the doorbell, so she finally let herself.  The lights were off and there was no sign of anyone, but the feeling was uneasy.

Calling and searching, she found the house immaculately clean until she entered the bedroom where Teeny lay at 67 lbs. on top of the bedspread.  Out of her gaping mouth she whispers, “No thanks, I couldn’t eat another bite.”

Dinner in a Snap!

June 5, 2012

“I’m so hungry I could eat a humongous cake that’s huger than the universe, if it was chocolate,” she whispers as she cuddles up against her mother on the couch.  Little Teddy has a way with words that every adult seems to admire when they make her acquaintance.

“If it was larger than the universe,” Dylan corrects his kid sister, “it wouldn’t be able to fit in the universe, much less in your stomach.”  Although he is in third grade, he puts a lot of thought into scientific hypothesis and equations.   But this time it isn’t necessary.

“Could too, because I’d eat it one bite at a time,” little Teddy argues, wiggling even closer to her mom.

“That’s enough, you too,” their mother can tell the thought of eating a cake that large would be heaven.  The money she’s been saving for years is paying the rent, utilities and car insurance every month, but that just piddled away this past week.  The food stamps allow a little over a hundred dollars a week, which is not enough for three people to eat properly.  And if she thinks too hard about it, she’ll drive herself crazy.  She’s been there before and can remember the helpless feelings she had.

On the surface, she smiles and tells her kids she understands, but inside she’s screaming and wishing she could disappear.  Crumbling, however, is not an option because appearing weak in front of her children is the last thing they need.

“What are we going to eat? We’ve got cornflakes and some disgusting peanut butter in the cupboard.” Dylan opens the refrigerator and sighs, “There’s half a gallon of milk, some cheese and tortillas.  Hey, we can have cheese tortillas!”

A rustling of plastic wrapper from the kitchen before he continues, “The cheese has a little mold, but I can cut that off, right?”

But his mother doesn’t answer.  Teddy is sitting snugly in the corner of the couch, alone, a blanket wrapped around her body.  “She’s gone,” is her response, “and I’m really scared, Dil.”

Dylan approaches the couch and wraps his arms around his sister, comforting her, “It’ll be okay.  She’ll be back.”

The hopeless face stares up at his with huge brown eyes, “What if she doesn’t come back this time?”

“She will,” he reassures her, “She always does.  Mommy will never leave us, Teddy.  I promise, okay?”

Dylan gives his sister an extra squeeze and can feel her shaking while she cries.  He gently rubs her back while they wait.  “Want me to tell you a story?”  She nods and he continues, “Once upon a time …”

“Time to eat!” their mother chimes from the kitchen as the two children perk their heads up, unaware they even went to sleep.  The air is alive with the aroma of food cooking, and at first Dylan thinks he’s dreaming until he pinches himself hard, leaving a purple mark on his abdomen.  

Taking Teddy’s hand, after giving her a gentle shake, he takes her with him into the kitchen.  On the table are three place settings situated on the plastic picnic table and a glass of water for each. 

“Here’s yours,” their mother smiles as she places a dish in the center.  The kids pull out their plastic chairs to sit while she quietly stands to the side.  “Teddy, would you bless the food?”

Still unsure if he’s awake or not, Dylan pinches himself again, but decides he must be awake. The children bow their heads and Teddy gives a wonderful prayer.  She blesses her stuffed dog, and asks God that they all stay together forever because they love each other so much. 

The kids dig in and compliment the chef, stating these are the best chicken nuggets they’ve ever had.  Their mother is happy and afterwards they nestle together as she rambles off a bedtime story.  It isn’t long before the children fall into a deeper and more comfortable sleep.

Lifting her daughter up gently, so as not to disturb her sleep, their mother climbs out from under her. Over the top of Dylan, she searches for her sweatshirt in the pile of clothes by the wall.  When she finds it, she slips it over her head and creeps out of the room.

Even though she doesn’t receive an income or pay taxes, it is still a requirement to work because she has children who depend on her.  That’s what a mother is and her work is still not finished.

Her slippers are falling apart, but she doesn’t seem to notice as she slides them onto her feet.  The air is brisk, as it always is during the winter at night, but this is when she hunts.   The door is light as she swings it open and a gust of cold air sweeps past her.  The snow forms smooth outlines of her feet as the snow packs down beneath them.  Her toes are going numb in places where the ice is creeping in, but if she can concentrate on her task, she’s certain she won’t feel it.  Carefully, she searches the ground for miniscule indentations or disturbance in the snow. 

Fluttering snowflakes begin to fall, collecting on her eyelashes, and she remembers when she was a small girl.  Her meager beginnings were similar to her children’s now, and she’d sworn to herself she would never do this to her own children, no matter what.  But that was before the car accident.  The one that  took her husband’s life on the evening he was celebrating his kid brother’s wedding proposal. 

Long before that, after their own marriage, he explains he wants her to stay at home.  The kids need a mom until they are in school, rather than turn their upbringing over to strangers.  To leave him in charge of the finances seemed like the thing to do, but she didn’t find out about the lapse in insurance until after his accident.

Here she is now, trying to figure out how they will survive one more week when she hears the snap!   And then another.  She quietly circles the shed to the back and sees the lump in the snow beneath the tiny aspen tree.  On top of the bump is a piece of copper wire squeezing the head of a large rat.  His eyes stare blankly across the lawn, his mouth is open like he’s got something to say, and his legs lay crumpled in the snow.

“Hmm,” she speaks curiously to the night air, “a rat?” 

Not knowing if it will taste any different from the mice, she decides she doesn’t have anything to lose by trying something new and goes to find the other catches.   Snap!  Snap!  Snap!  They should have enough to tide them over now.  As long as she has peanut butter for bait and cornflakes, they can have nuggets every night.

The Gypsy’s Dream

June 2, 2012

In a place far away, a long time ago, a poor penniless lad wanders the countryside in search of shelter, for he no longer has guardians to care for him as they came to an untimely end.  On one particular day, in the thick of the woods, he hears a young man singing gaily beyond the clomp-clomping of the hoofs of the rider’s horse. Hastily, he dives into a nearby bush to observe. 

 At first, certain his hunger and exhaustion are causing hallucinations, he pinches himself in disbelief.   The exquisitely dressed lad could be his identical twin, save a good scrubbing behind the ears and a sharp blade for a haircut.  His curiosity overwhelms him as he steps out into the clearing.

“Hi-ho there!” he greets cheerfully, putting on his best smile to see the surprise on the other man’s face who undoubtedly makes the same observation.

“What Tom-foolery is this?” the prince demands, lifting his head haughtily as he peers down his nose, “a changeling perhaps to steal a prince’s soul?”

“Quite the contrary, my lord,” the gypsy corrects him and gets an idea at the words, “I am but a doppelganger sent by a fairy in order to allow you bits of well-deserved freedom, I am.”

“How so, doppelganger?” the interest sparks as the prince dismounts his horse to approach the vagabond, carefully eyeing him up and down.

“On the days you need relief from your mundane and orderly tasks, I am here to give you rest.  Meanwhile,  you may wander the land for as long as you like, relishing your freedom.  But, in order to mask your identity, we will need to switch clothing of course.”

The prince walks near the teenager and again sizes him up to be identical, except for the wafting stench emanating from his pores.  Pausing, he chuckles and turns to his steed, “Although the offer is but a tempting one, I shall endure the treacheries of my tedious life in order to escape the stink of being impoverished.  Good day.”

Before he can mount his horse, the destitute boy gathers a heavy stone and hits the prince in the back of the head.  Confusion racks the prince’s face as he turns to see his assailant.  Rubbing the back of his head with his hand, he brings it forward covered in blood.  “Why did you do that?” he asks before receiving his final crowning.

The pauper wastes no time cleaning up as best he can in a nearby stream and changing into the prince’s clothes.  He does his best to scrub the spots of blood from the bodice, yet finds he cannot, leaving him with only one painful option.  After disposing of the body, he crowns himself, but not as hard and with a rock quite a bit smaller.

“The prince!  The prince!” a woman screams as he enters the courtyard, “Praise the gods he’s returned!”  Before he could fathom what is happening, peasants and knaves surround him and help him from his trusty horse’s back.

“You’ve been gone for nearly a week, your highness!” a man tells him.

“Where have you been?” yet another throws in.  And soon he is drowning in questions so much that the fatigue, hunger and commotion get the better of him and he collapses.

When he awakens, he feels fresh and alive, and the reflection in his mirror as he rises in bed tells him why.  He truly is the prince’s doppelganger!  No sooner does he cross the room to inspect even more closely than the door to his room flies open.

“Your highness,” his servant addresses, “Despite your search of the countryside for the fairest maiden in the land, we’ve finally located her.”  And he sets off at once to meet the happily ever after to his already fulfilling life.  He smirks to himself as his life becomes better and better.

The new kingdom greets him as he enters the gates with his men at his side, as his people no longer allow him to travel alone and pray for the return of his memory.  This is a day long awaited as he dismounts and follows his hosts into the castle, up many flights of stairs into a room full of roses and ivy.

In the middle of the room is a chiffon-adorned bed with a velvet-embellished bedspread and pillows.   The most exquisite face he’s ever seen is sitting high upon the pillows.  The tresses of long, twisting hair stretch about her like the autumn rays of sunshine.  Her pale skin accented by her flush pink cheeks and ever so plump lips.  Her breast heaves slowly and rhythmically as his mind draws a blank, leaving him speechless.

“We’ve been searching for you high and low so you can awaken our princess,” the queen says from behind him.  “She needs but one true kiss from a prince to break the spell.”

Approaching the bed, he leans over the fair maiden while the rest of the royal families, from her side and his, surround him to watch.  Her lips are so inviting as he plants a long, wet kiss on them and tumbles lifelessly on the floor in a heap.

“He must still be exhausted,” says his father, the king, “He’s had a rough week.”

But when the king’s wizard approaches the boy and checks for a pulse, he turns sadly around, “Your son is dead.”

And so Princess Aurora slept for another hundred years before her real Prince Charming found her and this time, because he truly was a prince, and they lived happily ever after.

What Happened to the Eighth Dwarf?

May 31, 2012

Throughout history, there are many stories to teach us lessons by warning us of bad things that will undoubtedly happen should we choose not to change our ways.  One of the most devastating stories, fallen through the cracks of time, has one of the most valuable lessons of all.   It’s the story about the Seven Dwarfs, or the Eight Dwarfs as they were originally known, long before Snow White enters the picture with her ridiculously poisoned apple.

The dwarfs all grew up together because they have the same mom.   Winifred was not a dwarf, but the typical every day girl who typically did nursing chores in caring for the villager’s children while they cooked and cleaned for their husbands.   Her husband was a dwarf, but left her destitute when he found he was not only going to be the father of eight children, but of eight male octupulets.  Not a dream for any sane man.

As the boys tumble about in their crib, they roll around for days waiting for a name, and soon they each find his own through his actions.  Happy is always cheerful and giving; Sneezy always seems to have a cold; and Grumpy is never content no matter what exceptions are made for him, but some people are just that way.  Bashful never volunteers for anything and can turn more shades of color than the Northern Lights, which is especially fun to tease on the boys’ birthday.  Sleepy cannot stay awake long enough to finish an entire meal without falling into his plate due to an extreme case of narcolepsy.  Dopey has difficulty keeping a conversation straight, much less contributing to it in a meaningful manner and Doc, the leader of the bunch who was literally born with gray hair, always cares and worries for his brothers.  Being the first one born, naturally makes him the eldest of the brothers.  This leaves but one brother unaccounted for, the eighth brother, Greedy.    He didn’t live very long at all.

Every day the dwarves work for hours on end, mining for ore, iron, coal and on occasion even gold.  One day as they are walking home after a very long day in the mine, Dopey stops to grab a flower for his mother, but what he actually plucks is not a flower at all, but the feather of a chickadee’s tail.  The little bird cheeps loudly and makes such a commotion all of the dwarfs hear it and come running over to witness poor Dopey receiving “what for” from the bird.  Of course, being as lame-minded as he is, Dopey has no idea what is going on until Doc listens closely and interprets to the others. 

Doc reiterates to his brothers that if they can help it replace its feather, as he is off -balance now and will not be able to fly, he will take them to a mine far better than any they’ve ever mined before.  They are all excited, as can be imagined, except for Sleepy who missed the whole conversation.  They were anxious to begin and immediately set out to help the chickadee resolve its issue.  They try glue, string, wire and everything under the sun to attach the feather back to the tail end of the bird to no avail.  Finally, Doc invents a new way to balance out the bird’s tail with an array of leaves fastened onto a harness that cinches around the bird like a girdle.  Sure, it isn’t attractive, but we all know sometimes “form and function” don’t always complement each other, and we have to do what works. 

The bird is so grateful and forgiving of the dwarves that it tells them to meet tomorrow at the same place immediately after work to discover something so big, they will hardly have to work again.  The dwarves are really happy then, and even Grumpy smiles enough to prove he still has his own teeth.  (This was a running bet for a while between his brothers, but fell short when their mother found out about it and gave them a tongue-lashing.)

The following day, the dwarves go to work singing their Hi-Ho song, picks and shovels slung over their shoulders and work their little dwarf buns off.  About two hours before time to leave, Greedy tells his brother, Doc, he isn’t feeling well and needs to go home and get some sleep so he will be ready when they all meet the chickadee later.  Doc feels badly, but wants to ensure all of the brothers get to participate in the unveiling of their reward.   He tells him that if he doesn’t feel better in time, they will still gladly share the reward.  “Brothers are brothers!” he says cheerily, patting Greedy on the back.

Refusing to waste a moment’s breath, Greedy slips out of the cave and scampers off to the place they are to meet the chickadee.  He finds a bush and climbs beneath it, setting his pick to the side, and waits.  Not much time passes before the little chickadee arrives and appears puzzled as its little head cocks back and forth around the brush and grasses.  “They asked me to come ahead and meet you during the daylight hours so I could more easily guide them at dusk,” he explains, but the bird just cocks its head this way and that, peering at him through beady eyes.  Eventually, realizing the bird would never understand him, because unlike Doc, he has no ability to communicate in the bird’s own tongue, he stands to leave.

Just as he gathers himself and gets to his feet, the bird turns tail and begins to hop, instead of fly away.  It stops a few feet away and turns back as if to ensure its newest companion is close behind.  The chickadee flies and flits on branches as Greedy walks for at least an hour, before they finally arrive at a cluster of trees around a very large boulder.  The bird hops onto the boulder and begins to peck at it.  “Is that where the treasure is?” Greedy asks eagerly, and is pleased as the bird hops up and down emphatically. 

The opening has a large boulder in front of it and after leveraging his pick to force it open, several times, he succeeds in rolling it out just enough to squeeze inside.  He flips on his headgear’s light and finds himself speechless as he sees walls encrusted with diamonds!  Glorious diamonds of all sizes glittering about him.  He’s certain some of them would be too large to carry without breaking them up.  He is so surprised he almost forgets his plan before he turns to see the bird hopping along the floor searching for bugs.  With a swift arch of his back, he brings the pick down full-force right through the little bird’s back.  Its tail, they had worked so hard to repair, twitches on the ground before its legs stop moving and it lies motionless.

“I’ve worked my whole life for a find such as this,” Greedy cheerfully announces at the top of his lungs, jumping up and down like a mad man, and hooting and hollering for all he was worth.  A low rumble, soft enough not to be heard at first, creeps louder and louder until he realizes the predicament he will soon be in if he doesn’t hurry.  But unable to move as fast as he needs to, the boulder in front of the door trembles until leaning snuggly against the opening.  Additional rubble falls from the ceiling in front of the opening as a bonus sealant.

“My brothers will never find me, I’m too far away,” he sobs.  “The bird cannot tell them where I am for it is dead.”  He sits and thinks for a moment before aiming his helmet’s light about the cave in order to find his pick.  Relief sweeps over him as he walks over and gathers his tool under his arm, walking away from where the opening had been and back to the glitteriest spot of the cave.  “Just whistle while you work,” he sings as he chops with his pick.  He continues hammering away at the walls, collecting all sorts of diamonds until his light dims down and disappears.  “… forget your troubles, try to be just like the cheerful chickadee.”