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  There was no sun today. As I walked across the driveway to the barn and looked out over the fields and our farmhouse, I couldn’t see sunlight on anything. I watched the corn flutter in the breeze and it took me back to a day that seems like yesterday. I’ve been writing now for almost twenty years and though I’ve thought about putting this on paper umpteen million times; I’ve never had the courage. To this day, I don’t know if I was dreaming or if I actually had a real life miracle. One thing is for sure ... It felt real ... and it changed my life forever. Besides all that, I’m not too sure that anyone would believe me anyway. I know my Dad tried to believe me. The only real proof I have is my Papaw’s old pocket watch ... and the note.

  At any rate, I’ll tell this tale now and when I’m gone, maybe someone will get a kick out of it or maybe it’ll make them think ... the way it did me. I won’t even try to pass it off to my agent or my publisher. I like my job. I love working the farm to this day, but the income from writing keeps me from having to worry about what will happen when I take my harvest to market ... like my Dad did all too often. As did his Dad before him. As have all farmers for that matter. These men have gambled with their lives, farms and families for their very existence for far too long.

  It all started about a month or so before harvest, when I was fourteen years old. That previous winter, right after the first hard snow, my Mom and my Papaw were on their way into town to get candles and kerosene for the lamps. It had been especially windy that season and we were without lights more often than not. You see, our farm stood alone almost thirty miles from any other farm. At the time, we were also alone on our power grid. It was one of the first farms outside Sioux City to have electricity. One of the wires, legs as they’re called, that traveled out to our place from the power station was loose on one of the poles. So, whenever the wind got too high, it would shake the line causing a short and some of the lights in our farmhouse would flicker, sometimes popping a bulb or worse still, a fuse. The frustrated Power Company searched a whole summer in vain for the loose connection. While it wasn’t cost effective to check all sixty miles of poles, they found and replaced a questionable transformer with a newer model ... all to no avail.

  The very next time we had some big winds, we went through half a box of fuses. My Dad and My Pap went to the board of directors at Mid-west Power and Light to plead for a resolve, but they walked away instead with a mutual agreement. They weren’t too enthused ... but it was better than nothing. The Power Company agreed to supply us with a lifetime supply of fuses and a monthly allotment of bulbs. It was better than nothing ... I guess. Well, we had gone through all the bulbs that month already and my Pap was doing a lot of tinkering that winter. He wanted candles for his workbench. As he and my Mom were going down Route Sixty-three, they came over the hill at the railroad crossing and didn’t see the Noon train that was making it’s way into town. The police said that by the time he hit the brakes on his old truck, it was too late. The road was too icy and they slid right in front of the train. Christmas just wasn’t the same that year.

  I remember sitting in my Pap’s big chair, holding my Christmas stocking. I stared into the fire and listened to the cold Iowa wind outside. I wished that my Mom and my Pap would walk through the door and give me big hugs and kisses. I wished that I could wake up from this bad dream. But ... I was all too awake. The only thing that made that day bearable was the look on my Granny’s face when she unwrapped the cane I had carved for her. My Pap and my Dad were both carvers. I remember watching them carve everything from serving plates and furniture to tobacco pipes. We would all giggle after my Mom would give them what-for about all the shavings on the porch. I was just fascinated at their talent. When I turned ten, they gave me my first whittling knife. I started to carve a piece of wood and when I was done, I had nothing left to carve. I was just so excited to be carving like them. My Pap looked at the sliver of wood that was left from what started as a stick and he grinned from ear to ear. Looking at it as serious as he could he asked me kindly “What’cha got there boy?”

  I remember looking at it and then answering him as serious as I could “It’s a toothpick for my Mom!” I announced. He took it from my hand and began sanding it smooth. He smiled at me as proud as could be.
  “And a fine toothpick it is too ... A fine toothpick.” Well, four years and countless tree limbs later, I had become a wood carver almost on the level of my tutors. At least that’s what they told me anyway. I had worked secretly on my Granny’s cane in the barn until it got too cold, then I finished it on my Pap’s bench in the basement. I tapped, chipped, chiseled, sanded and painted until my hands were numb. She pulled the paper from it so carefully I almost screamed in anticipation. She never tore her Christmas wrappings; she saved them. “Waste not, want not.” She would say. She held my work up to the firelight and looked over the rims of her glasses at the intricate leaves and flowers I had worked so hard to inlay in the wood.

  The appreciation on her face made all those hours so much more than worth it ... and in those moments after she took it out of it’s wrappings, I felt the weight of my loss lifted from my soul. Adding to my joy, she handed it to my Dad. He inspected it with genuine amazement. He looked at me with a look on his face that I hadn’t seen before. When I look back now, I realize that it was his sense of loss ... for me. He told me it was the finest piece of whittling he’d ever seen. I felt like a man that cold Christmas morning, but it was the upcoming planting season that would usher in my manhood ... and my understanding of life ... Good or bad.

  My Dad and I had been out surveying our freshly planted rows of corn. The sun was warm that day and the breeze almost tingled as it drifted over the little beads of sweat on my forehead. I felt so proud to be my Dad’s understudy. Before this, I had been the “farmhand” of the family; feeding chickens and helping my Mom and my Granny doing the menial tasks that never seem to end around a working farm. I couldn’t wait for the day when I could go out and operate tractors and combines ... I just knew it would make me a man.
  Well, I got my wish, but as life usually does you, not in the way I’d imagined it would come. After my Pap died, I had to do both of the tasks, chores in the morning and working the fields in the afternoon. My Dad had taught me how to operate the tractor, as promised, right after my thirteenth birthday. As he and my Pap harvested the corn that year, I would follow the combine so that I could practice staying in between the rows. My Dad stood on the back of the combine watching the corn being sprayed from the hopper ... and watching me battling to keep the wheels straight. Learning was one thing, but now I was doing it for real.

   Satisfied that our crop was sound, we headed back to the smell of one of my Granny’s famous Pot Roast’s. The smell was like the call of a siren. After you’d eaten it once, you couldn’t control yourself if you smelled that smell again. Our walk from the barn slowly turned to a laughing foot-race as we got closer to that kitchen she was so effortlessly turning into a farm boy’s nirvana. My Dad beat me to the steps, but I jumped up the three steps in one bound and to the door in another, triumphantly sneering at him as I swung open the door and filled my nose with her roast beef heaven. She grinned at our competition and rushed us away from the counter to go and wash our hands.

  “Off with you, now!” She commanded, “There’ll be no nibblin’ ‘til yer hands is warshed!” Her Kentucky accent always warmed my heart ... I loved that woman in a way that can’t be described. Of all the people in my life, even my parents, I never felt like anybody could see through my soul like she could. She knew just how to make me smile when I was sad ... She knew just how to correct me when I was wrong ... But, most of all, she knew just how to praise me when I’d done something right. Making her proud was thee greatest feeling I’ve ever known ... When she squeezed me as she gave me approval, I felt like I could do anything. I also felt like I’d do anything to get that hug. There’s never been anyone else like her in my life.
  We were sitting at the table eating our supper; my Granny pulled my Pap’s old pocket watch out of her apron and pressed the crown to open it up. After she read the time, she looked at me with a grin, “So Jefferson, would you like to drive over to the feed store with me after dinner?” I was nodding with my mouth full, I knew what she really wanted to take me along for. “I had Ben leave us some chicken feed out on the loading dock and if we’re gonna have eggs next week we’ll be needin’ to go and pick it up.” True, she did need me to pick up the heavy bags of feed, but the real reason that she wanted to take me along ... was a driving lesson!

  My Dad wanted to wait to teach me to drive a car. He said that teaching me the tractor and the car in one season was more than his heart could handle. She saw my frustration ... as was her way ... and started sneaking me off for lessons every chance she got. But today, something else had caught my attention ... Something that I’d had in the back of my mind for some time now. I had admired that watch since the day my Pap had taught me how to tell time on it. After he died, I began to have hopes of some day having it for my very own. Today, I decided to try and reinforce my wishes by asking her if she remembered telling me that she would give it to me one day.
  Looking across the table at me,  my Dad told me, on no uncertain terms, that that pocket watch would be his long before it would ever be mine. I didn’t realize it then, but the reason she didn’t say anything to his statement was because he was teasing me. After I got up and ran away to my room for a cry, she chastised him for teasing me. He told her that if I was gonna grow up to run “His” farm, that I was going to have to have a lot thicker skin than that. She told me this as she gave me my lesson that day. I remember not totally believing her ... I also remember her trying to hide her nervousness at my inability to keep the car on the windy road. The fields were all fresh planted, so there was nothing to block the stiff, Iowa wind. Even though I knew she would never lie to me, I still felt like my Dad was really mean at the dinner table.

  When we got back, I put the feed in the shed and she let me park the car in the barn. As I got up to the porch, they tried to hide their spat about her letting me park the car. I pretended like I didn’t hear them. We went inside and I helped her get up the stairs so she could sit in her room and read. The wind was playing havoc on the lights as usual but in her room, they didn’t flicker. Actually, they only flickered in the entry hall, the kitchen, the dining room and the basement. Those circuits were on the bad leg.

  My Dad was in the living room rewinding a coil for one of the pump motors. We had found the south field dry that afternoon and it only took a minute for my Dad to find the problem. He told me he’d need to fix it tonight and have the pump going tomorrow or our freshly planted maize would wither and die. I knew he could fix it, he could fix anything. It was a trait that he’d picked up from my Pap. I hoped that one day I would inherit this great gift. He thanked me for helping my Granny up the steps, but he didn’t apologize for teasing me at dinner. I didn’t mind helping her though; I’d do anything for her.

  She had always limped, at least as long as I could remember. My Dad told me his mother had fallen down a flight of steps in her youth. Since that accident, she had always had a bum leg. I swear though ... I never heard her complain once. Even when it was cold and her face showed the extra effort it took for her to walk, she always smiled.

  I went into the kitchen to make some popcorn. As I shook the cast iron kettle, the lights began to flicker and then went out altogether. I pulled the kettle from the burner and ran down to the basement fuse box. I’d done it so many times that I didn’t need the flashlight. I fumbled across my Pap’s workbench for the paper box of fuses. It was the next to the last one. After I swapped them out, the lights came on in the basement.

  My eyes gazed across the dusty old bench and I pictured my Pap fixing my bicycle ... or my Mom’s toaster. He was amazing. When he wasn’t fixing something, he was baking cookies. He never cooked anything else ... just chocolate chip cookies. He said they soothed the souls of young and old alike. After he died, we didn’t come down here much; just to change fuses mostly. I ran back up the steps to the kitchen and went back to my popcorn. When it was done, I poured it into two bowls and headed back to the living room. I set my Dad’s bowl on the coffee table, then sat up on my Granny’s organ bench to watch him work.    
  When he finished, he put the pump-motor back together and ran me off upstairs to get a bath and go to bed. I had a lot to do before I went to school the next morning and four-thirty a.m. was going to come awful quick. I didn’t argue, I knew he was right. I gave him a hug and ambled up the stairs. When I woke up in the morning, I immediately noticed something was wrong. As I got to the top of the steps, something was missing. It wasn’t ‘til I got to the kitchen that I realized what it was. I didn’t smell my Granny’s biscuits ... Or her ham ... or her red eye gravy. My Dad was making coffee and I asked him where my Granny was. He kind of gave me a dirty look and shook his head. “Your Grandmother is seventy-four years old. Maybe she’s tired.” I didn’t say a thing. He always was a grump in the morning. I let out a long sigh and began scanning around the counter for some bread or leftover biscuits. He gave me another dirty look. I could feel his demeanor all the way across the room. “I s’pose you want someone to cook yer breakfast fer ya.”

  I acted as nonchalant as I could. “No, I’m gonna have me a peanut butter and molasses sandwich.”
I informed him. He poured me a glass of milk and reminded me of everything I needed to do before I left.

  As I fed the chickens, I kept my eye on my Granny’s window. I slopped the hogs, watered the dogs and checked the hen house. I took the eggs back to the house and was surprised to see that the light in her room still wasn’t on. I rode my bike out to where my Dad was fixing the pump and he gave me a ride to the schoolhouse. It wasn’t until they came and got me out of class that the funny feeling I had had in my belly all morning was explained. My Granny had passed away in her sleep. As I cried in the truck on the way back to the farm, my Dad told me that I had only today, and the day of the funeral, to cry. He said he wouldn’t stand for me to cry after that. He told me that I was too big to cry any more.

  I was so hurt and angry that I yelled at him through my tears. "NO“ ... " I screamed. “ ... YOU’RE the one that’s too big to cry!” I remember him looking over at me in amazement. I looked back at him and finished with “You DIDN’T cry when Mommy died and you probably WON’T cry now!”

  He whipped the truck over onto the side of the road ... but instead of the whoopin’ I just knew was coming; he looked at me in total silence. It was worse than a whoopin’. He shut off the motor and stared out the windshield. After a while, I just couldn’t look at him. He said, “Jefferson Robles ... If you think, for one moment, that I didn’t cry when your mother was taken away from us ...” He took a huge, deep breath and let it out with a sigh. “YOU are sadly mistaken.” He took his “Red Rose Feed” cap off and laid his head against the back window. His eyes were closed. "I’m a grown man ...” He said. “ ... I have a lot of responsibility ... I know it’s hard for a boy your age to understand now, but I just can’t be cryin’ in front of the whole world. It makes me look weak.”

  He was right ... I didn’t understand. That ride home was almost as long as the painful ride home from the funeral. The service was beautiful, but nothing was going to make me stop crying. I was waiting for him to come and tell me to stop, but he didn’t. He went up to his room without a word. I remember looking around at all my relatives as they flooded my house with stories about my Granny. I didn’t hear a word they said. I was in my own world ... and it was shattered. It was bad enough that I lost my Mom and my Pap both at one time. Even then, I had my Granny to help me through it. But now ... what did I have? My Dad didn’t even want me to cry. I shook uncontrollably as I pondered what my life was about to become and as soon as it dawned on me that I’d never see her smiling face cooking breakfast like I had every other morning of my life; something in me snapped. I felt like the whole world had ganged up on me. I never cried about her after that day. In fact ... I didn’t cry again until the day my father died.

  O.K., There was one other time, but I’m getting to that ...

  That summer, after my Granny left us, my father and I worked on the farm twelve to fifteen hours a day. He was different and so was I. I tried to make him happy and do everything he told me; but it seemed he was never satisfied. I remember going to bed filled with frustration many times that summer. I don’t think either of us realized how frustrated we both were and how much we were missing our family. Like father, like son ... I doubt either of us would have admitted it. Still, I felt hopeless. I felt like my Dad was taking his frustration out on me. I even told him one afternoon, in the middle of one of our arguments, that he should have taught me how to run the equipment sooner. That way, I could have been more help. He just looked at me and shook his head. I was too young to understand ... he was too old to make the best of the situation and have some patience.

  At the end of the summer, he and I were sitting at the table eating dinner. I was thinking about how much I missed my Granny’s cooking when he asked me what time it was. I looked into the living room at the huge Grandfather clock that stood between the fireplace and my Granny’s old organ. As I turned back to tell him what time it was, I had a flash of my Granny looking at my Pap’s pocket watch. My heart fluttered.
I looked at my Dad and he at me. He must have noticed the strange look on my face as I looked at him. I was trying to sum up my words. “What?” Was all he said. I bit my lip, gathered up my courage and popped the question ... “Dad, whatever happened to Papaw’s pocket watch?” His face grew puzzled. He looked down at the table and shook his head. “You know, come to think of it ... I don’t know.” My heart sank. His promise that the watch would be his before it was mine replayed in my head. My teeth gritted. I just knew he had that watch. I stared him down. “You mean you don’t know where it is?” He looked at his half empty plate.

  “No son, I don’t.” He moved his peas around with his fork then raised his eyes up to mine ...
  “We’ll look around for it after dinner.”
  I knew he was lying ... and I knew we would never find that watch.
  I was right ... Mostly ... But I’ll get to that too. We looked all through her room and then the rest of the house. We even looked in the car. I told him it was in her apron when she went to bed that night. He said, “Well, it’s not in there now, I washed that apron and put it away a long time ago.” Again, my teeth gritted. I hated him at that moment. I was sure that he had that watch ... My watch. I screamed at him that I knew he had it. I told him it was mine fair and square ... my Granny told me I could have it and that he had no right to keep it from me. I ran out of the house, jumped on my bike and rode all the way down to the railroad crossing. I didn’t cry though. I was too mad to cry. I sat at that crossing until I started to fall asleep. I was hoping a train would come. I could jump on it and just leave this place forever. My Dad, the farm, the corn, the chickens ... everything. I thought I could join the circus or maybe go into the Army like my Papaw did when he was fifteen. I listened to the wind blow through the rows of corn and the barbed-wire fences that were all around me. I looked up and down the tracks, finally putting my ear to the rail ... Nothing.

  After the moon started to set, I thought about my Dad getting worried. “Good!” I thought. “Let him worry; He doesn’t care about my feelings!” I didn’t want to leave anyway; I’d never seen the moon so big and so beautiful. Listening to the wind some more, I felt my eyelids start getting heavy. The ride home wore me out. I climbed up into the cab of the combine and fell asleep. A few hours later I woke to the sound of my Dad’s voice; he was calling for me. I jumped up and opened the cab door, calling back to him. He slammed the barn door and chewed me up one side and down the other. He told me that I was grounded until my first report cards came out. That reminded me that school was about to start and my life was going to get even more complicated than it had ever been before. It was more than I could bear.

  The second week of school, I got on a friend’s bus instead of my own and went to his house on the other side of the county. I stayed in his barn for almost two weeks, but it was starting to get cool at night. I knew that it wouldn’t be too long before it would be too cold at night to stay there. Besides, soon his parents would start their harvest of hay and my safe hiding place wouldn’t be so safe. One day, before his parents came home from town; he gave me his backpack filled with sandwiches and a blanket. I left his house and started heading south. I was going to go to Saint-Louis to try and join the Army.

  I had only made it about a mile and a half down the road when a policeman pulled up behind me and figured out that I was a runaway. He took me home and my father thanked him and then looked at me with a disappointed pain. I ran to my room before he could say a word.
I hated my life ...
I hated how my Dad was acting. He’d never treated me like this before my Granny died ...
I missed my Mom ... My Papaw ... My Granny.
I wanted that watch.
I wanted things to be the way they used to be.
I wanted my Mom to take me to school.
I wanted my Pap to teach me how to build a fly lure.
I wanted my Dad to finish my combine driving lessons ... but more than anything else ...
I wanted my Granny to cook me breakfast ...
I wanted to sit on the porch while she played her organ and sang until the dogs howled. The frustration filled my belly like hardening cement.

  My Dad didn’t speak to me for days ... weeks. I watched out my window as he and a few of my uncles began harvesting the corn. I wanted to help, but when I told him so ... he looked at me shaking his head. I swore he had tears in his eyes ... but he never cried ... not my Dad. “No, no you don’t, Son” Was all he said. I watched him as he turned away and went out to the barn. Soon, all the corn would be harvested and he would have to go to market for at least three days to sell his crop. Someone would have to stay behind and take care of the animals ... I knew who was going to get that job. I started to think out a plan. I could run away again. But this time, I could get my stuff together, practice my driving and then take off in the car before he came back. I could surely make it to Saint-Louis that way. I could call him and tell him about the Army. He could come and get the car. Everyone would be happy. At least that’s how I saw it.

  The day my father left for market, the winter was beginning to show it’s ugly head. The wind was blowing strong and steady. They left early so that they could take their time and so that none of the trucks would get blown off of the road. He and two of my uncles looked at the sky and wondered how long it would take them to get to the farmers market. I looked at the sky and wondered how long I was going to have to practice my driving. As soon as I saw the last truck become a dot on the horizon, I ran out onto the porch. A giant bolt of lightning blinded me and the following crack of thunder scared me half out of my wits. I ran back into the kitchen and leaned against the counter. It was getting darker by the minute. I heard the first few drops of rain hitting the window and my tummy was rumbling like the thunder that was passing over the fields of my family’s farm.

  After I made a can of soup, I went into the living room and fell asleep to the sound of the rain. When I woke up, I took my bowl into the kitchen. I dropped it in the sink and reached for the dish soap. My Dad and my uncles had left a few dishes after their lunch. I figured I’d do them and then go to bed. Just as I got the water temperature right and plugged up the sink; the lights flickered once and then went out. I rolled my eyes and ran down to change the fuse. It was the last one in the box. I shook the box and looked around my Pap’s bench. There, on the top shelf, was an old box of fuses. They looked to be as old as my Pap. As I ran back up to my dishes, I wondered if they were any good. I would find out soon enough ...
  For the next two days, as soon as the chores were done, I would take the car out and drive it around the farm. I was getting pretty good and by the end of the second day, I wasn’t stalling out on my take-offs and I was doing really good about keeping it in the middle of the road.  Backing up was a little more difficult since I couldn’t see very well over the huge seat of the old Dodge. I figured that as long as I didn’t have to back up on the way to Saint-Louis, I’d be all right. Soon, I thought, I would be leaving this all behind.

  I was sitting in the kitchen, waiting on my Dad’s nightly call when the light’s began flickering to the ever rising wind outside the window. My Dad had said he’d be home tomorrow morning. They were supposed to leave tonight, but there was a big storm heading through, with the possibility for hail. When he called, he told me to make sure the animals were put up and to close the storm shutters. He said that they would leave in the morning and be back home by supper. I remember thinking “He doesn’t even care if I’m all right, he just wants his blessed animals put up and his stupid farmhouse closed up.” I couldn’t wait to leave the next morning. I fell into a daydream of shooting machine guns, throwing hand grenades and getting a tattoo.

  I started cutting a loaf of bread for sandwiches. I was trying to figure out how many I would need for my trip when the flickering lights turned to darkness ... another fuse. The wind was howling something fierce. I could hear the big elm outside the front porch brushing against the house. The last time I had heard that, a tornado blew away our neighbor’s whole barn. I had listened to the radio while I ate my dinner, but they didn’t give a tornado warning, just a report of strong wind and rain coming in from the west. I sighed, thought about my sandwiches and headed for the basement. When I picked up the empty box ... I shook it and remembered. Now, I wished I had brought the flashlight.

  I felt across the dusty, wood chip covered bench and up the wall. My fingertips found the old box of fuses. I pulled it down and held it against my belly with one hand while I dug around in it with the other. Too young and stubborn to go grab the flashlight, I hoped the one that I picked out was not only the right size, but that it worked at all. I set down the box, pulled the old fuse and screwed in the one from the old box. The light in the basement flickered and my face was covered with a triumphant smile ... for a moment.

  The basement was filled with an almost eerie glow.
Instead of the usual blinding brightness of the sixty-watt bulb, I was standing in a dim, orange light.
I let out a sigh of disappointment, thinking that I had installed either a bad fuse or one that was too weak.
  I turned to start looking through the box for another one when a chill went straight up my spine.

  My eyes, first open as big as silver dollars, then blinking in disbelief, gazed across the now pristine workbench. I looked on the floor for the wood chips ... nothing.
It was spic-and-span clean.
The floor looked, even smelled like it had just been painted. I bent over and looked under the bench.
Where there had once been a bin full of dirty, rusted carving and cutting tools thrown in total disarray ... there were now just a few tools ... all new ... and totally laid out in order.
I stood up and looked around the basement. I started to shake. I still couldn't believe my eyes.
The whole basement was clean. There were no cobwebs ... I couldn’t even smell the mildew that sometimes was so strong that it could make me sneeze.

  The shelves where my Granny kept her homemade pickles and jams looked as spiffy as a shelf in Bruster’s market. I walked over and picked up one of my favorites ... it was marked “Grape Jam”. I caressed her handwriting on the white tape with my fingertips and I swear the jar felt like it was still warm. I was shaking my head in disbelief when my already strange experience became even stranger.
From upstairs, through the floorboards and joists that my Dad and my Pap had hand built and nailed into place all by them selves ... it came ...

  The sound ...
It drifted down over my body like one of my Granny’s handmade quilts ...

  The sound ...

  The sound that had soothed me since I could remember ... was now making the hair on my arms and neck stand straight up, like a stalk of corn after a day of hard rain.
I listened for a few more moments ... it couldn’t be ... it just couldn’t be ...
I looked up at the floor above me ... and shivered.

  Upstairs ...

  I could hear my Granny’s organ ...
At first, I thought maybe my Dad and my uncles were home ... and that they were playing a trick on me.
I started to laugh at myself ... but only for a moment.
The next thing I heard spun my mind into a tornado of confusion ...
As I listened, my lips instinctively began to sing along ...
It was my Granny ... singing “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

  For a moment ... I was scared.
But almost like my Granny was reassuring me with her voice, the fear fled my soul. I kept singing with her.

  I thought for a moment that maybe I had shocked myself to death while I was changing the fuse ...
Or that maybe I had fallen asleep in the kitchen while I waited for my Dad to call. I looked around the basement again ... still bathed in the weird, orange glow.

  The music stopped for a minute ... and so did my heart. I jumped up and listened with all my might.
The light flickered for a moment and I swore I could hear my Pap grumbling from the kitchen. I put the nail from my thumb in my mouth, bit in and tore a piece of it right off. I spit it to the floor. I wiped my sweaty palms on my shirt, took a deep breath and headed toward the steps. As I got to the bottom of the steps, the sounds of the organ drifted down to me once again. Before I got to the top of the steps, she was singing ... again.

  I sang along ... again.

“Yes ... Jesus loves me ... Yes ... Jesus loves me ... Yes ... Jesus loves me ... The bible tells me so.”

  When I got to the top of the stairs, the entryway seemed to be lit by the same dim light as the basement.
I took slow, short steps toward the front door. When I looked around I almost felt like I was lost.
The paint on the walls was different. It was green ... my Granny’s favorite color.
The old carpet at the front door was new. The knob of the front door was also shiny and new.
As I stepped on the carpet, I looked to my left into the kitchen ... My mouth fell open ...
There was my Papaw ... taking cookies out of the oven with a big grin. They smelled incredible.
I was about to go and have one of the fresh warm treats with him when the music stopped ...

  I spun around to look into the living room.
Now I knew what treasure hunters felt like when they found some old pirates buried loot ...
This had to be that feeling.
I wanted to scream and just run to her ...
But my legs ... and my voice ... were frozen.
It wasn’t fear ... I don’t know what it was ...
I just couldn’t move ...

  I watched as my Granny grabbed the cane I had so lovingly carved for her and then slowly spun around on her organ bench. She smiled at me and suddenly a calmness fell over me that made me feel like I had just woke up from a long, refreshing sleep. She leaned the cane on the bench and patted her lap. I knew just what that meant. The smile on my face as I crossed that floor to sit on her lap went from one ear to the other. As I climbed up there, she squeezed me so tight I almost cried with joy. I squeezed her too and I didn’t want to let go.

  She gently wriggled my arms from around her and then her eyes found mine ...
“Hello Sweetie ... you look good ... really good. Yer a growin’ like weed”
“I miss you Granny” Was all I could say ...
“Well we miss you to, Deary.”

  I squeezed her again ... She rubbed my back like she used to do when she tucked me in and put me to sleep. I closed my eyes and felt a tear of joy run down my cheek. She let go of me again and I leaned back.
She was holding me out almost at arms length.

  “Jefferson ... Honey ... I needed you to come here so we could talk.”
I was nodding my head and she smiled at me. The light in the entrance hall flickered with the wind that was still howling from the storm outside. She bit her bottom lip as her thumbs caressed my biceps.
  “Jefferson ... yer a big boy now ... an’ I know you can understand what I’m a gonna say to ya ... ”
I was still nodding.
“ ... You know how our lights is always a flickerin’?”
“Yes, Granny?”
“Well, you’ve lived with that all your life ... You know, most everybody else’s lights don’t do that.”
“I know Granny.”
“But you run down and change them fuses or climb up on a chair to change a bulb like it was nothin’.”
“I know Granny ... but it has to be done if we wanna see.” She smiled at my statement and nodded her head as she continued. “That’s right, but you don’t complain ... or rant and rave that it’s unfair that you got ta do that ... you just do it. I’ve watched ya and it makes me real proud.“
I was grinning.
“Thanks Granny, I love to make you proud.” She pulled me in for another hug as she spoke.
“Well, you do ... every day ... you do. But that’s not why I needed to see you tonight.”
She leaned back again and looked at me with that proud smile that so warmed my soul.
“And I’m proud of you too, Granny ... You never complain about your leg ... even when it’s cold.”
She had big tears in her eyes ... it made me cry too.
“That’s right Honey, we all have some kinda bum leg we have to live with ... you understand?”

  I told her that I did ... even though at that moment I don’t think I did ... completely.
“You see life ain’t always fair ... and life ain’t always fun ... And sometimes, it can hand you a bum leg. And whether it’s a bum leg of electricity or your own bum leg, you just have to live with it. But if you go around makin’ everybody miserable just because you ain’t happy, well then everybody’s miserable ... Sometimes you have to just bite yer lip and go on ... you see?”
I knew just what she meant. I was miserable ... And so was my Dad.
We were making each other miserable.

  “Yer Daddy loves you so very much ...”
My eyes widened as I interrupted her. “He does not!” I took a trembling breath as I finished.
”He took Papaw’s watch and he won’t give it to me ... I told him you said I could have it ... but he says he don’t know where it is.” As I spoke, she was shaking her head with tears streaming down her face.
Those tears broke my heart.

  “No Honey ... he doesn’t know where it is. You remember that night you helped me up the stairs?”
“Yes, Ma’am.”
“Well, that night I was feelin’ a little sickly ... I was worried my time was near. I wrote you a note and wrapped it around the watch, then I put it in my windowsill.” I looked at her rather puzzled. She grinned with a strange smile. “It’s my secret spot were I hide things from yer Papaw and yer Daddy.”
She leaned in close and whispered a secret. “Every woman has a secret hidin’ spot like that.”
She winked with her index finger over her lips and I just smirked.
“Well ... I put it in there and I went to sleep. The good Lord called me home that night and I didn’t have a chance to give you the watch ... You see?”
Again I was nodding.
“ ... Yer Daddy had no way of knowin’ where it was.”

  I didn’t know what to say ... Just then, the lights in the kitchen went out. I could hear my Pap cursing under his breath. My Granny told him since his glasses were upstairs that she would go down and change the fuse. She looked at me and then winked again.

  “Honey, I’m so glad we could talk ... I need you to remember that you and yer Daddy are all you got ... you gotta look after one another ... No matter what life a tosses ya.”
“I know Granny, it’s just so hard sometimes ...”
“I know it is Dear, but you gotta take it as it comes ... good and bad.”
“You’re right.” I said.
“Well Honey, you have to run along and change that fuse now ... “

  My heart sank ... I knew she’d be gone when I came back ...
I began to shake my head and pulled her in as close as I could.
Tears were streaming down my cheeks.
“No Granny ... I don’t want to leave you ...”
She eased me back so that she could look into my eyes again.
“No Honey ... you never leave me ...” She put her palm on her chest.
“ ... Yer always right here ... in my heart ... You and yer Daddy“
I told her that she was in my heart too. She bit her lip and lovingly nodded.
“If anything Jefferson ... I feel like I left you ... and yer Daddy.”

  I was shaking my head as I spoke.
“No Granny ... you didn’t leave us ... it was your time ... that’s life.”
“You see?” Her face was beaming with pride again.
“You do understand.”

  She pulled me in close for one last hug and kissed my forehead and my nose. “Now run along and change that fuse fer yer Papaw ... and don’t you go a forgittin’ what I said ... you and yer Daddy is all ya got ...”

  I kissed her cheek and turned to walk back to the basement. As I did, she began playing again ...
When I got to the workbench I picked up the box of fuses and fished one out. I was wiping my tears on my sleeve as I sang one of my favorite songs along with her for one last time ...

  “This little light of mine ... I’m gonna let it shine ... Let it shine ... Let it shine ... Let it shine.”

  I screwed in the fuse and the basement was bright as all get out. I listened for the sound I knew I wouldn’t hear. I sneezed at the pungent mildew and dust that filled the air. The wood chips under my boots crackled as I made my way to the stairs. I stepped into the entry hall and looked at the dingy carpet and doorknob. The wind was still blowing pretty hard outside, but the lights seemed to be holding steady.  

  I headed into the living room and stopped just past the archway. I stared at her organ. The cover was closed and her cane was leaning against the bench. I walked over and sat on it. I swore I could smell her ... Not her perfume ... Just her.

  Closing my eyes, I listened to her words over and over again in my head. The fire was growing a little dim, so I went over and put another piece of wood on it, then I plopped on the couch and listened to the wind and the rain. The next thing I knew, it was morning; I was waking up to the rooster crowing and my Dad coming through the door ...  
I jumped up and ran to him. I threw my arms around him and squeezed with all my might ...

  “Well ... it’s good to see you too son ... surprised ya did we?”

  I let him go and looked up nodding. “We couldn’t find a motel with an open room nowhere ... so we just drove all night and came on home.” He said. I smiled at him and he slowly smiled back. I think he was a little surprised at my actions. I thought about my visit with my Granny ... and how I was going to tell my Dad about it. I told him I missed him while he was gone and that I was real sorry for the way I’d been acting.
  To my surprise, he told me that he was sorry too. Not often you heard those kind of words from my Dad. I told him that Granny came to me in a dream and that she had told me where the watch was. He looked at me like I was crazy.

  “You still asleep boy?”

  I assured him that I wasn’t and took his hand to lead him up the stairs to my Granny’s room. When we walked in the room, we both went silent. The reverence that came over us as we looked around at her things wasn’t measurable. Here ... were all the earthly possessions of a person that meant so much to the both of us. The only thing I can compare it to is the feeling you get when you walk into a big empty church. The rich light from the rising sun just made it seem even holier. I squeezed his hand and silently led him over to the window. He was still looking at me like he thought I was asleep.

  “Daddy, did you know that Granny hid things in her windowsill?”
“No, Son ... I didn’t.”

  I reached down and began tugging and pulling every which way on the thin wooden sill. Suddenly, the front lifted up and there ... in a little hollow tray in the wall, was my Granny’s little hiding spot. My Dad’s eyes opened wide as we both looked down at the little wad of paper that sat in the middle of the tray. He looked down at me with a strange look on his face. “How did you find this, son?” I knew what he meant ... He thought I was snooping while he was gone.

  “I didn’t Dad ... I swear ... She told me in my dream where it was. She told me that we need to quit fighting and stick together ‘cause we’re all we got.” I felt like I was lying, but he’d never believe that I’d actually seen her ... I wasn’t totally sure I believed it.  He reached down in slow motion and picked up the paper. He bounced it lightly in his hand, feeling the weight. With his other hand he opened the paper and the sun glinting off of it’s shiny gold casing hit us both in the eyes. He pulled it out of the paper and then read what she had written inside. He smiled as he did and then handed the watch to me.
“What’s it say Dad?” I asked him.
He looked at it again and then smiled at me as he read it out loud.
It said simply, “As promised. Love, Granny”

  He folded the note and put it in his shirt pocket, then ruffled up my hair and told me that I’d better take really good care of the heirloom. He promised that he’d take real good care of the note.

  I did take good care of that watch ... as a matter of fact, as of this writing, it’s in my pocket keeping perfect time. I’m going to give it to my son this Christmas  ... I just can’t wait.
  He has told me that he’s wanted it ever since the day that I taught him how to tell time on it when he was just a little boy. I’d love to see him teach my grandson how to tell time on it. I fear sometimes in this day and age that tradition is becoming a lost practice.

  Who knows, maybe I’ll pass this story along to him as well.

  My Dad and I never fought again ... well, not about anything that was of any consequence anyway.

  He was called home by the Lord thirty-one years later in the spring of sixty-eight. A few years after that, I found the note tucked away in his old desk. It looked to me as though he had opened it up and refolded it many times through the years ... We never really spoke too much of my experience after it happened. But, by the condition of the note, I’m pretty sure that he thought about it as often as I did.
  Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I have never forgotten about those precious moments that I shared with my Granny ... Or the wisdom that she led me to on that windy fall evening.

  The Power Company eventually found the source of our farms bum leg ...
But  ... I have never found my wife’s “Secret hidin’ spot”.

Jefferson Royal Robles

Sweet Silk Farms, Iowa
September 16th, 1978
The Angels must all be taking a break
or this now-rotten world has them all busy somewhere.
And I am in fear for heaven …
as God seems so intent on calling you back there.

Such a better place it is …
this world here with you in it.
My life has found this blissful peace …
and an admiration because you never quit.

I've read he will never bestow upon you,
something that you can't handle.
I guess it's true, as your light seems to come
from an eternally burning candle.

It's flame has shown me images
of your life, loves and times.
Eloquent, beautiful, filled with memories
that flow like water through the rhymes.

Go there then, when your time comes …
Mary Gay Kearns.
Your candle will be shining ever so bright here …
as it forever burns.

You've given us all something …
to see and learn and feel.
You've lived a life that many would envy
and shared these scenes so real.

And when you are gone, you'll never actually be.
In my heart, you're alive, for ever more.
And some day I will touch your paintings,
when I, finally, again cross your shore.

Go, with that smile and be content.
God needs you ... even I can see.
For I am in fear for Heaven …
They must need you desperately.
For those of you that do not know Mary Gay Kearns, please, go to her page here:


Or read the last poem that I wrote about her here:


She is as wonderful and talented a poet as has ever been. Having been given a terminal diagnosis, she has stood strong fighting back and through it all brought us more and more amazing poetry.

But now, she has been given even more bad news and more severe diagnosis.  It saddens me so and when I learned of this, I thought that "Heaven must really need you", to be seemingly trying so hard to take you from us.

That was the inspiration for this poem as much as Mary herself. She is an amazing woman.
I come from sunlight,
      The sweeping of leaves,
      South London streets,
      Lurburnum seeds;
      Hot semolina,
      A spoonful of jam,
      Hands full of gooseberries,
      That's who I am.

      I come from rose petals,
      The sound of the fairs,
      The smell of candyfloss
      Mist in the air;
      I come from warmth,
      My parents hands,
      Outings to parks,
      Both small and grand.

     I come from knowledge,
     True and false,
     From nursery rhymes,
     And stories and pictures of God;
     I come from gentleness,
     A quiet afternoon,
     From visions of loveliness,
     Sewn on a spool.

    I come from two worlds,
    With different ways,
    A threaded pearl necklace,
    And sensible soles
    A mother and father,
    I think I knew,
    I came and I wandered,
    I looked at the view.

       By Mary xx
Poem inspired by the Slam poets on BBC
>>> This is the forth-ever "NoPo at HePo" (Non-poetry at Hello Poetry) upload and has the distinction of being the first fiction one, as well. It is a new way to share your writings here, Fiction or non. I hope you enjoy it. If you choose to join in, PLEASE place the notice ">>NOPO@HEPO<<" so that folks that look for them can find them and folks that wanna skip them, can skip them! ) <<<

The sun lit up the inside of Stan Kryzyk's eyelids like a bright red police beacon He cursed his wife under his breath for opening the blinds. After all, she knew better. He hated to wake up to blinding light. But today, she was being particularly rude for one reason or another; he didn't really care. She hadn't performed her “wifely duties” in months; he wasn’t worried about it though ... after all ... he had Erica for that.

  He groaned the groan of an old tired dude as he rolled out of bed. Still keeping his eyes closed, he shuffled over to close the blinds; it was too early to pick up his feet when he walked. With a painful thud, he stubbed the middle toe on his left foot. It was the King Louie chair she’d bought at the auction the week before. "AH! SHIT!" he shouted hopping and dancing in pain around the room.
"The bitch probably left that monstrosity there on purpose!" He thought.

After closing the blinds, he plopped into the chair to inspect his foot. He looked like a pouting child with a fresh boo-boo. He pulled his lower lip back in as she walked in the room to see what all the commotion was about.

  "What the hell are you doing up here Stanley?” She asked. “A Jig?"  

"NO!" came the harsh reply of a spoiled brat who was having a bad day.
"I stubbed my toe on your piece of shit chair ... "
He paused to massage it and his lip stuck back out instinctively, then he looked up at her with a scowl.
" ... While I was trying to close the blinds that YOU left open!"

  She rolled her eyes and reminded him that it was he, not her, who had opened the blinds last night before they went to sleep. She also backed up the defense with the fact that he had done so to point out to her that “ ... tomorrow we would have a full moon.”
She breezed out the door shaking her head ... it was pointless to argue with him.

  Rebecca Kryzyk's life was coming apart before her very eyes ... How could this be? Stanley was such a great guy, he always had a smile and a kiss for her and he was usually up to some sneaky act of kindness. He loved to see the look of surprise on her face when he brought her flowers or a present.
At least that’s what he had always told her ...
At least that’s what she liked to remember ...
Now, it seemed ... he didn't have a heart at all.

  Rebecca fought back a tear as she arranged the flowers in the huge, hand-painted vase on the landing of the staircase. The kids wiped them out, without fail, every morning on their way downstairs to breakfast and she wouldn't want him to see a bad flower arrangement. She had loved him since childhood in their small neighborhood across town. That seemed like light-years ago and ever since he had bought this old mansion, she’d never felt like things were the same. She couldn't figure out if it was the fame and fortune, or the removal of himself from his old surroundings but, something had changed in him for sure ... and it was not good.

  She hurried the children along with their breakfast and noticed with motherly concern that both hadn't said much this morning. In fact they hadn't even fought amongst themselves, a sure sign "Somthin' was a brewin'”.
  Stan ambled down the stairs and bumped the flower arrangement in the huge hand-painted vase on the landing of the stairs. He brushed and inspected his sweater for foliage remnants as he mumbled something about her putting that there on purpose too. He slowed as he passed the fish tank and tried to see if this Beta was the new one or the old one. He hadn't had time to finish watching the "Battle Royal”, as he liked to call it; He had to get upstairs and catch his nightly call from Erica.

  It seemed the new blue Beta he brought home last night was giving the old one a run for his money.
“How stupid to put such a small "feminine" fish in such a large tank. ‘Becca had to be out of her mind". He thought.  Stan fought the idea tooth and nail until she explained what kind of fish it was ...
"Rumble Fish, Huh?" He replied, and from that day forward his evil game of dropping in opponents in her absence was one of his greatest delights.

  “She's so stupid, she's never even noticed! "He thought to himself as he started to limp his way into the kitchen. When he saw that no one was paying attention, he let out a suppressed "ooooo, aaaaah" in sync with his over-dramatized limp. "You o.k. Stanley?" Rebecca inquired.
"You KNOW I'm not!  ... I think I broke a couple of toes on that damned chair! I can hardly walk!"

  The children got up in unison and headed for the garage door.
"We'll be waiting in the car for you Daddy." Angelica said in a somber, little tone that showed her fear for her dad’s apparent mood. Her eyes never met his. Little Stan was even quieter as he spoke on his way out the door, "I hope your foot gets better Daddy."

  "Damn it ‘Becca!" He spewed slapping his hand on the table. "I've got to take them again?" She spun around with a fire in her eye and proceeded to give him a full two-minute piece of her mind. Meanwhile, he rubbed the sting from his tender hand. "Stanley Archibald Kryzyck!" she began ... He didn't hear much of the next part as he drifted off into a daydream about how much he hated his name ...
And he hated it when she reminded him he had the same middle name as his great grandpa ... he hated the whole name. He remembered all the bullies in grade and middle school who made fun of him constantly ... "Sad Sak!"(A takeoff on his initials)
"Staaaan-lee!" ...
He’d heard them all ... and he heard them a lot.
Why did his Great Grandpa have to have such a geeky name?
Why did his dad have to give him such a curse?

  He so much preferred his pen name ... Stan Priest.
It had such a nice ring to it ... Romantic ... mysterious ... it fit him he thought ... But just then, her lecture came back into focus when she stepped in front of his face and asked if he'd heard a word that she had said.
                                                           ­                                                                ­ ­                                                                ­ ­                                                                ­ ­                        
  "How could I not?" he shot back at her ... "The friggen' fish in the pond up the road could hear YOU yellin'!" She started to say something else, but he cut her off ...
"Can't you just be nice to me in the morning?" he pleaded.
"Nice?" she interjected. "You mean like getting our kids up, dressed and fed while you sleep?"

  He opened his mouth but she was already speaking again.
"Not to mention the fact that I do this after you shut the alarm off instead of hitting the snooze bar ... By the time I wake up, I'm running late for work!"

  He knew what was coming next ... You learn these things when you get into the same fight over and over again. He stood up and began to shout while he lightly tapped his palm with the back of his other hand. "We've been through this time and again ‘Becca, if we put the alarm on your side of the bed and you're not there to shut it off, then I have to roll all the way to your side of the bed to get to it ... and I HATE that!"
  But she had also been in the same ring with the same opponent many times before, and she wasn't going to let him off that easy.

  "Well if I didn't have to drive an hour and a half to work every day ... EACH WAY ...!"
“Here it comes again.” he thought ... Her words came off in a cadence like she'd said them a thousand times before ... She had.
"I still can't believe that I worked so hard to make my decorating business a success to put you through college!" She pleaded.
He interjected to the best of his ability ..."And I told you I'd pay you back one day, didn’t I?"

  She blew up at his statement because he made her lose her train of thought and then, in frustration, she began to scream ..."MY FAMILY! YOUR FAMILY! ... MOST OF OUR FRIENDS!... "

  This was the part he hated most ... "They all told me your writing career would never amount to anything!" The veins in her forehead were bulging out a little more with each word.
"Did I listen? ... NO!!  
I believe in you I said ...
He's gonna be wonderful I said ...
Eight YEARS later ...YOU GET A BREAK!
And was it some grand novel that'll be turned into a movie?
Was it a literary masterpiece reveled by scholars the world over?
Or was it even an award-winning children’s story?
NOOOOOO, my husband writes trashy dime store novels that he's so ashamed of, he had to CHANGE HIS NAME to do it!”

  This is where she usually took a breath and he dove on the opportunity to try and save himself ...
"You know those agent people made me do that ... "

  He gave his most pitiful sad look ...
"They said no one would buy a book from "STANLEY ARCHIBALD KRYZYCK!” He looked pitiful.
"I hate using an alias and you know it sweetums!" ... He was doing his best to act like the old Stan but she just wasn't buying it today.

  "So is this the part where you try and tell me you bought me this house as repayment for my efforts?"

  She paced around the kitchen and wrung her hands as she struggled for the perfect and yet new line that might make him see her side of things.

  "I didn't want this house and you didn't hear a word I said that day you called from the bank."
She stopped pacing and stared straight at him ... she felt she might be on to something.

  "You wanted this house just so you could take that stupid road to and from town ... Couldn’t you have found another road ... on OUR side of town? "If she was on to something, she lost it ... She was out of breath and felt overwhelmed with futility as she spun around to hide the tears welling up in her eyes.

  Never one to miss a shot at a downed opponent, Stan came back full force with, "Swee-pee ... You know I write my best stuff on that romantic old road ... I wrote my first published piece on that road!"

  She took one last shot at him just to make him hurt a little ...
"Piece? PIECE? "Fields of Sin"? You call that a piece?”   She laughed as mean as she could, then finished her attack with; "Oh, it's a piece alright ... A piece in the hayloft ... a piece in the basement ... a piece in the cab of a combine ... a piece in the old church house for crying out loud!”
  She was so exasperated; she was losing her breath. Her words got farther and farther apart as she finished her brutally truthful attack ...
“You took a bunch of your perverted sexual fantasies and you put them to work on a farm!
You took six years of schooling and you tied all the characters together with a really cheesy story line that let them have sex every four pages!"

  She had said so much she wondered for a moment if he had tuned her out like he did so often.
He said nothing and she didn't give him one moment to do so ...

  "A seventeen year-old with his hormones all a raging could write that drivel!” She screamed, palms up,  
“When are you going to make me proud and write something we can show our families?" She pleaded.
  Stan had heard enough ... he turned without saying a word and went out the garage door ...
How could she not appreciate what she had? He thought.
Why was it so bad to make his money this way? She had everything she needed.
Big deal she had a great business ... couldn't she think of him for one minute?

  He loved that road ... it let his mind wander. When he talked his first sleazy story into the mini disc recorder that she had bought him for their anniversary, he was on that road. That road let his mind wander just far enough from reality to let his creative juices flow. Big deal they were dime store novels ...

  He had made over three million dollars on selling only five manuscripts. A good agent, four or five scripted, risqué' radio interviews and VOILA! Instant best-selling author! So what if he spent almost two million on buying and fixing up this old place. He could sell the back half of the property for that matter. The kids didn’t need all that room to play anyway ... besides it would be a lot less wear and tear on his new riding lawnmower. If he sold just a few more manuscripts, he could stop writing such fluff and get on to his biggest piece yet ...

  Or not ... Perhaps he would just grab Erica, drain most of the savings account and head down to Costa Rica or Jamaica maybe.

  Hell, with that kind of money ... why would he be worried about pleasing the wifey anyway?

  O.K. so he hadn't sold a 'script in two and a half years ... the old bags and trailer trash were bound to buy his next one, he dreamed.

  As they rolled up Gloucester Avenue, the tires of the shiny new Caddy hissed over the wet blacktop ... They sounded like sizzling bacon to little Stan. "We sure have been getting a lot of rain, haven't we Dad?” His timid voice was lost in the cavernous backseat. Stan wouldn't have heard him anyway. He was checking his voicemail on the cell phone. He wanted to hear when he was going to meet with Erica tonight. He wanted to hear from his agent that he had sold again. He wanted to hear from his secretary that a royalty check had arrived at his office. Anybody that would bring him good news or cheer and make him forget about the morning he was having.

  The only message there though was from his old grade-school pal Roy on the county commission.
He never really cared for Roy ... but, he was the ticket for Stan’s latest pet project and he was calling to confirm their breakfast appointment for nine-thirty. Stan looked at his watch and then shook his head and sighed as he California stopped at the sign he hated so much.
A small smirk crept across his lips as he stared at the stop sign in distain.
"All in good time my little pretty ... All in good time. "He thought.

  Stan winced at the splash of muddy water that covered the hood and windshield as he drove through the puddle in front of Angelicas school. "Ahhh, Christ!” He said under his breath.

  "When I come home tonight I want you two to wash Daddy’s car inside and out, you hear?"
There was a long silence in the car as the siblings pondered the last three-hour car detailing fiasco.
"Do we get twice the allowance for doing it twice in one week Daddy?" Angelica said in her best little angel voice. For her appearance, her name fit her like a glove. But Angelica Kryzyck was approaching that age where you begin to see through the smokescreen adults confuse children with all too often.

  When his reply came back as a command that they will do what he says, WHEN he says it, she turned her eyes out the window and thought of her mom.

  Angelica took a deep, hopeful breath and began the plea she had practiced the entire evening before ...

"Dad, I need some money to get a prom dress ... It's coming up in two weeks and if I don't go, I'll feel like the biggest loser in the school."

  He turned to her impatiently and retorted "There's a “help-wanted” sign on the door to Sally’s diner, why don't you go fill out an application and see if you can get a job there after school or on weekends? You know, nobody ever handed me anything when I was your age."

  She started to reply but she was afraid he would see her crying.
He had no patience for tears ... and he usually only got madder at the first sign of them.
"Thanks for the ride Dad." was all she said closing the door and running into her school as the rain, like her tiny tears of frustration, began to fall hard and fast.

  Stan looked across the street at his son’s school and then let out a long impatient sigh as he looked back at little Stan. "I guess you want me to drive you over there ... besides if you caught a cold your mom would kill me in my sleep!" After checking his watch once again, Stan muddled the Caddy though the traffic jam of school buses and doting parents. When he realized that the drive around the circle to the drop-off point would take a while, he turned to him in the rear-view and said in his most convincing voice,
"I think the rain let up son, you think you could make it up there without getting TOO wet? "

  The little guy could barely make out the front of the school through the rain. He shivered at the thought of running through it. He tried to prolong his warm dry ride with a question of his own.
"Dad, you remember you said I could play football?"
He didn't wait for a reply and he followed right through with the meat of his query.
“They told us in gym class yesterday that if we want to play football in Angelica's school next year that we have to go to summer football camp starting the second week of vacation. I was hoping ..."
Stan looked at his watch and shook his head, interrupting the boy.
"Can you get to the point there kiddo, I've got an important meeting to get to."

  The young boy’s hopes fell into the pit of his stomach as he uttered the punch line he too had practiced all morning in his head to deliver. He felt defeated even before he spoke ...
"I need a hundred and nine-teen dollars for tuition, insurance and equipment ... If I don't go to the ..." Stan’s voice rattled the vents in the car as he proceeded to explain to the boy how much he’d paid in taxes last year and how THAT should pay for his gear to play football. He said that they could discuss it later, but the little man knew it would never happen. No one could play the "I'm busy right now, Son" game, like his dad. He opened the door without warning and made a beeline for the front of his school.  

  Stan looked puzzled yet relieved as he watched his son run towards the school and vanish in the deluge that was now blanketing the schoolyards like a fog. He turned onto the main drag and headed for Sally’s.

  All the parking spaces that were anywhere close to the diner’s awning were taken. Stan cursed under his breath and looked at his watch again ... "Shit-nine-forty! ... If he's not in here I'm gonna scream!  ... I waited three weeks for this meeting! If I missed him because of those snotty-nosed little brats I'm gonna kill someone!"
  He whipped the car into a handicap space right up front and hopped out of the car like the rain was going to make him melt. As he walked through the door, the first thing he noticed was the absence of his favorite little hostess  ... Erica.

  He scanned the whole room, then the hallway leading to the restrooms. She was nowhere to be seen.
“Ah well, maybe that’s why she hadn't called yet ...” He thought. ” ... She probably stayed home sick.”
Sally took a look at Stan and snatched up the cordless phone as she went behind the counter and disappeared into the kitchen.

  The diner seemed awfully busy for such a dreary day and the smell of bacon grease and coffee filled the air. Roy waived his arms frantically and Stan forgot about Erica as his other major motive kicked into play. "Well, HEY there Roy ole buddy, how's the wife and kids?" His voice couldn't have been more plastic if Tupperware had made it.

  Roy Justice was a strapping big man, a farming man, and he looked a little uncomfortable in his dark blue store-bought suit. He fidgeted with the tight collar almost constantly. The bright red tie was just a little too thin for a man of his girth. It looked like it had been tightened and loosened far too many times today.          

  "Well, I've spoken to my colleagues on the council and we're pretty sure we can make this thing happen for you there, Stan." He spoke while he shoveled another forkful of biscuits and gravy into his mouth.
"Pretty sure? ... What do you mean ... Pretty sure?” Stan snapped, as he motioned the already busy Sally to his still empty coffee cup.
"You said if I took care of you, you would take care of me ... didn't you?"

  Roy swallowed a big gulp of coffee to wash down his b&g and then held out his coffee cup to Sally just as she got to the table. Stan looked at him like a greedy kid who just watched the bully get the last piece of apple pie. Sally then turned, filled Stan’s cup and asked if he'd like his usual.
"Not today baby, but your phone number would be nice."
  Stan’s grin was as perverse as his tone of voice. She left the table without wasting her breath on a reply. Roy set his fork down and grabbed five packs of sugar from the bowl. He stacked them up in his hand and tore them open all at once. As he poured them into his cup, he began to speak again.
"Well now you know Stan, changing stop signs and whatnot takes city planners and traffic engineers and then there’s the ..." Stan’s morning had gone bad enough. This was not what he wanted to hear.
"Roy, can you do it or not?" He interrupted; it almost killed him not to shout.
"Like I said, if you hold up your end of the bargain; I don't see any problems. BUT ... "
He stared up at Stan." ... You know how politics go ... nothing’s guaranteed."

   Stan reached in his coat pocket and retrieved the five crisp, new hundred-dollar bills that he had withdrawn from the bank the day before. He placed them neatly in the menu and slid it across the table. Roy, still chewing his next bite of b&g, nodded his head while he placed the bills in the inside pocket of his jacket.

  "Tell me something Stan." He asked, "Why is it so imperative that you get this sign swapped around?"
Stan reached out with a mischievous grin grabbing Sally’s leg. She slapped his hand and threw the bill on the table. She motioned like she was going to pour hot coffee on him and then turned away to another table.

  Stan picked up the check and looked at Roy; this time like a guy who’d just won the football pool.
"I do my best writing on that road. You just wouldn't believe how many story lines I've lost pulling up to that stop sign. It breaks my concentration. Now imagine the stories your wife could read if I didn't have that stupid thing there, you know? ... Besides, Gloucester is over ten miles long ... And Winston Street is less than a mile ... Why make someone on the LONG road stop?"
  Roy shook his head in amazed agreement and then asked Stan if he'd remembered the other part of their deal ...

  He hadn't ... until now.

  "I'll tell you what, the day they switch the stop sign, I'll be out to your house with an entire set of my books for your wife." Roy cocked his head to remind Stan that he was still forgetting something ...  
"And, of course, they'll all be autographed."
  Roy stood up grinning and shook Stan’s hand, then started to dig in his pockets.
"Oh no, my friend, this ones on me" Stan said, as he waived his platinum Visa around in the air.
"Well, let me get the tip then." Roy said, still rummaging around in his pockets.
"I wouldn't hear of it big guy. Now, the rain has stopped; why don't you head on out before it starts up again?" Roy nodded and headed for the door. Stan turned and threw eight singles down for a $7.44 bill.
His only thought was “How could Roy eat so much?”

  Stan felt his day go from bad to good to worse when he saw the ticket on his windshield.
"AWWW CHRIST! Can you BELIEVE this? We don't even HAVE handicaps in this back-ass country town!" He looked back at Sally just in time to see an evil grin leave her face. He scraped up the soggy ticket and threw it on the passenger’s seat, then peeled out as he left the diner parking lot.

  His mind was brewing up a way to get even with Pete the cop for picking on him.

  "Well, I only have two more fires to put out and I'm outta here for the day!" He thought out loud to himself as he turned down the alleyway behind his offices. He always parked back here because it was less of a walk than from the parking garage. He looked down the alley and saw a bag lady scrounging around a dumpster. Suddenly, he had a flash for his next piece ... "Lust in the alley".

  "Not bad. Not bad" He thought. In the elevator, he flailed his arms like he was having convulsions ...
His face in a tight grimace like he’d just won the grand prize ...
“I can write in this down and out actress/model who shows the bums that they can get some lovin' too!”

  His ego was feeling rather inflated as he blew into his office like a storm.
His thick, perverse wind swirling around his latest secretary.

  Heather was a sweet looking blonde that Stan had hired in a bar on her looks alone.
Who cared about her office skills if he could get in her pants? But, that day had not come in weeks and, like the last poor girl he had hired, then fired; he had given her the ultimatum ... put out or get out.

  She looked at him nervously from her chair and told him, in her best professional voice, that he had three messages. He took the messages and grabbed her hand rather firmly.

  He pulled her face close to his and reminded her of the talk they had yesterday and how she had better make up her mind by the end of the week ...
He let her go and she turned her eyes away from him and began to type.
Neither one noticed that there wasn’t any paper in the typewriter ...
  Stan sauntered off to his office whistling a strange, eerily happy tune.
He was looking over his messages as he walked ...
Rebecca, ten A.M... . He tossed it on the floor ...
His agent, ten-twenty A.M ... He tossed it on the floor as well ...
ERICA! That was what he was hoping for!
Maybe this day would brighten up after all.
  The message read simply: "Sorry I missed you at breakfast. My car wouldn't start this morning. Please call me." Stan plopped into his high-backed, winged, leather office chair and began to spin around in it like a child on an amusement ride. He stopped spinning only when he noticed he hadn't closed the door all the way. He jumped up and kicked the door shut. He danced over and hit the speed dial on the cordless as he returned to his desk.

  "Hello?" Came the breathy voice of the young redhead on the other end of the phone.
"Hi my little lovin's!" Stan spouted in his best baby voice. "Did your car go broke-broke?"
There was a short silence on the other end, and then she came back with the same type of baby voice ...
"Yes, and I'm very saaaad ... It made me miss my wookwooks ... Will you come get me so we can play?  I suuuuuure miss my wookywook."

  She purred like a cat for about ten seconds and Stan started to come unglued.
"I miss you a whole lot too, my babes ... Would you like to go out for some din-din a little later? "Sorry." Came the reply "My Mumsie’s already making me din-din ... But I'm going to have YOU ... for deeee-zert!" Her statement ended in an evil, knowing laugh.

  The mention of her mother reminded Stan of her age ... Twenty-one ... Half his age. He had met her at the diner and she was so enthralled by his writings ... They were, it seemed, her first encounter with erotica and she flirtatiously told him how sexually talented the author of such steamy stories must be.
In less than three hours he had her at the small inn on the west side of town.

  She was too inexperienced to notice just how untalented he really was.

  They agreed to meet at the old railroad yard just around the corner from her house.
He was already trying to think of an angle to get in her pants before they went to the drive-in.
She would never put out there anyway, he thought. She was scared someone would catch them and they had had that discussion many times before.

  "I'm gonna go home to get all fresh for my baby-cakes and then I'll see you at the rail yard at say ... 7:45?” This would give him more than an hour to get some pre-movie action. "Ooooo ..." She came back all breathy again. “ ... It's all so ... so ... cloak and dagger ... God this makes me so hot ..."

  Stan heard his door squeak and looked up to see his agent standing in the doorway ... He hadn’t heard him knock ... twice.
"Hun, I've got an important meeting to attend to ... I'll call you back ... "
He hung up without hearing her say good bye.

  "And to what do I owe this pleasure, Mr. Cook?"

  "Save it for the chickies Stano, this is business.”

  He stared at the floor as he almost cautiously made his way over to the small plastic chair in front of Stan's desk. He hated coming here. He had met with Stan many times before ...
He didn’t like his writing ... or him.

  "Listen," He continued, " ... The publishing house is telling me that they are going to have to drop us if you don't deliver some sell-able product here soon."

  He sounded like a dad trying to explain to a child why they were selling his puppies.

  Stan spent the rest of his afternoon telling the agent about the new story he had written and how he could read it just as soon as he proofed it. The agent didn't feel any better as he left the office ...
But then, he never felt good in the presence of Stan Kryzyck anyway.
  He looked at his watch and calculated that he needed to leave now if he wanted to:
Get home ...
Have the kids clean the car ...
Eat his dinner ...
Get a shower and get out to the rail yard in time ... in time to maul her before the movie.

  "There's a call for you on line three." The voice on his intercom almost made him jump out of his skin. "MMMM, line three huh?" He knew who that was.

  He only gave that number to little hotties and since he had no other irons in the fire ...
It must be ERICA!

  "How come you didn't call me back, pumpkin? I’ve been missing my James Bond all day ..."  
"Me too, my little Mata Hari ... And when I get my hands on you ... oooooo there's gonna be fire in the sky! But I still have some fires to put out ... 7:45 right ...?”
"I'm counting the minutes!" She replied.
"I'm gonna go now! Kisses!” She couldn’t hear his pathetic insincerity.
Stan thought he heard her say “Kisses!” as he hung up the phone. He sighed and bolted out the door.

  He cupped Heather’s breasts from behind in one firm single motion, holding them so tight it almost hurt. Then he bit her right ear as he reminded her through his teeth that she had two more days to decide how things were going to be around here ...

  She tensed up as hard as a board and didn’t say a word. She was frozen in fear.
He bopped out of the office smelling her perfume on his chin, thinking how sweet it was going to be when he finally had his way with her ... The dream flashed in his twisted thoughts all the way down to the alley. He picked up the mini-disc recorder and plugged it into the lighter socket as he began to steer the Caddy towards Gloucester Avenue.

  Stan set the cruise control and began to ramble his new story onto the mini-disc. This one would have to be built fast ... His agent’s ultimatum echoed in his head. He started babbling the story by having the main character, "Heather" getting nailed by a movie producer on a casting couch ...
"When she reads that I used her name in one of my books, she'll be so flattered, there's no way she'll resist me then." He thought to himself. An evil grin was beaming across his face.

  Stan stared down Gloucester Avenue and kept rambling his twisted smut like a kid enjoying his favorite song. The road was almost perfectly straight and surrounded by the most beautiful rolling farm and pastureland this country has ever tossed up. He could see the stop sign in the distance and almost lost his place when he concentrated on it a little too long.

  He rambled a segue of the young actresses descent from rising star to street bum and couldn't believe what was about to happen ...

  He stabbed the brakes and cursed a slew of epithets at the old woman in the full size pick-up truck.

  "Damn you, you old bag!" He shouted. "Why don't you watch where you’re driving?"

  It wasn't her fault ...
He had done one of his infamous California rolling stops ...
She was just driving along on a through street, minding her own business ...

  Stan didn’t notice that she had to pull over to regain her composure ...

  His concern now was that when he played back his disc-recorder to the voice recognition on his computer, he would have to stop both machines to edit out his tongue lashing of the elderly driver.
He rambled on and on all the way to his driveway.
As he turned off the mini-disc, he had more lurid thoughts about his meeting with Erica this evening ...  
That would be just what he needed  ... to inspire the rest of his new seedy tale.

  When Stan opened the garage door and limped into the kitchen, he looked around and began to huff and puff ... He was looking around for someone to coddle him ... his lower lip protruding like a thorn.

  Something wasn't right ...
He couldn't quite pinpoint it.
But ... one thing was for sure ... he was alone.

  With his hands on his hips and a stomp of his left foot, he cursed out his displeasure at the empty house.

  "She must have taken the little terrors to their Gramma’s house for dinner." He saw the l.e.d. flashing on the answering machine but there was no time. He had to hurry if he was going to have enough time to shower and get back to the all night car wash before his tryst with the Redhead.


  He could wave some hot dogs for dinner, but the car wash was going to push his time envelope to the limit. He bounded up the stairs two at a time. At the top of the stairs, Stan noticed that his computer had been left on all day ... He had left it on after checking his e-mail.
  "Damn those brats!" He cursed, "I swear to God, I'm uninstalling those stupid games TOMORROW!”  
He continued huffing, ”Computers are for work and if they think they have time to play games then they're in for quite a shock when they see next week’s chore list! I’ve told them a thousand times to shut this thing off when they’re through!”

  He simmered down only long enough to fire up the voice recognition program and start it to recording what he’d "written" on the way home.

  He returned to his grumblings as he hopped into the shower.
Again ... he felt something strange as he showered, but he still couldn't quite pinpoint it.
No matter how he twisted and writhed under the stream of the shower ... he didn’t feel clean ...
It was strange ... like the water didn’t feel right ... Even when he opened his mouth and filled it, then spit it back out ... It didn’t taste right. It was dry and when it hit his tongue, instead of feeling soft and warm, it felt like stinging little pinpricks.
The sound of the water on the tile and granite floor was muffled ... like he had water in his ears.
The seemingly deadening of his senses made him realize that it was an instinct he was never aware of before. For a moment he felt like he wasn't alone ... or maybe that he was too alone ...
He quit thinking about it and turned off the shower.

  Stan mimed his own words as he listened to the playback of the disc. He hurriedly toweled off and began to vigorously dry his now balding head with a different towel.
He sat on the edge of his desk, hovering over the player as the moment of the cursing approached ...
He stared at the recorder as the sound of skidding tires filled the room ...
In shock, he listened to the sound of himself saying; "Oh my God ... NOOOOOO!"
The unmistakable terror in his voice was all too real ...
His shriek was instantly followed by a tremendous, booming CRUNCH.
The sound of breaking glass and twisting metal was finally silenced by the sound of escaping steam.

  He fast-forwarded  ... and soon found the sound of approaching sirens ...
Listening in terror, he heard the ambulance drivers footsteps get closer to the microphone.
"Hey Phil ya think we can get him out?
"Naaah," Came the reply, " ... there’s no need just yet, I checked his vitals ... I doubt he felt a thing."

  There was a moment of silence and then the other voice said; "Yeah, this one too ...” Stan could hear more steps on the broken glass ... “She looks like she didn't have much time left anyhow ... What a shame."

  There was a long pause and then, as the sound of steam started to dwindle, he heard the two voices discussing how well the Caddy had held up to the impact with the large white pick-up truck.

  Stan’s heart was in his throat and his breaths were getting shorter and shorter. The beads of moisture were not from his shower but from the sweat that was accompanying the panic attack he knew was about to hit him like a baseball bat. "What is happening to me?" He thought. "Am I dreaming?"

  He looked at his shaking hand as he began to hear the sound of an approaching siren again.
One of the ambulance drivers was saying something ...
But all Stan could make out was "Maybe Pete could tell us what happened here."
His partners reply came across somewhat sarcastic "What are you kiddin' me? He ran the stop sign!
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out ... JEEEEZ!"

  There was a moment of silence then the other guy came back with ... "Yeah, but why?"
By this time the approaching siren had stopped and Stan could hear the sound of a slamming car door, then the sound of Pete the cop’s voice calling in a tow truck.
"W’atcha got fellas?" He inquired ...
"Well we're gonna need the coroner for both I'm afraid." Was the only reply.

  The sound of footsteps on broken glass was all he could hear for about thirty seconds.
He strained to hear every sound on the disk ... He thought it odd that the sound wasn’t muffled like it had been in the shower. Then, Stan heard Pete calling for the coroner on his radio ...
"That's right John ... TWO body bags!"

  The words and sounds echoed in Stan’s head like an approaching clap of thunder.

"How can this be real?”  

“How can this be happening?"

   He felt the panic well up inside his chest and he got up to look around for some shred of sanity.
Then he thought about Erica ...
A sly grin crossed his lips and for a few moments, he let his anguish go. Then, just as he took his first easy breath, he heard the sounds of someone fumbling around with the recorder ...

  "W’addia got there Petey?" Said the first paramedic.
"It's a voice recorder ... this one is that writer from up the road here ... He bought the old Levy mansion.
Sorry ... I thought you knew who he was." There was some discussion on the merits of his writings and then Pete's last words made Stan's blood run cold ...

  "Ah, no great loss anyway ... The guy was a jerk to my wife, Sally, at the diner all the time  ... and a lousy tipper too. The way I see it, if he'd paid more attention to the road and not work, he'd probably be home by now ... Well, I guess he won't be needing this any more."

  There was a soft pop on the disc ... and then silence.
  Stan fast-forwarded through the rest of the disc; desperately seeking the rest of what he had "written" ...  
Nothing ... but dead air.
In panic, he threw the recorder into the wall with a crash ... Pieces went flying in every direction.
He grabbed a handful of hair with each fist and looked at the pieces strewn around the room like trash in the stands after a hockey game. He took a few deep breaths, but he could not stop the frightening confusion that was slowly overtaking him.

  He looked at the clock ... "7:02?! ... SHIT!”
Desperate ... He tried to go back to his plans.
"Well, I better let the mutt out since no one else is here to do it.”
He was trying to ignore what was going through his head.

  He ran downstairs, relishing in the moment that he was able to let go of what he had just heard.
The thought of Erica spread across his front seat was a reality break he needed very desperately.
  As he passed the huge hand-painted vase at the landing of the stairs, he noticed that the flower arrangement was gone ...
"Isn't that strange "
It was a statement ... not a question ...
As he really didn't care if ‘Becca took the flowers to work or what ... it just SEEMED strange.
He called out to the dog, but got no response ...
He searched the whole house and decided that the dog must already be in the back yard.
When he opened the french double doors in the back of the house ...
He noticed something almost immediately  ... There was no wind.
The weather fronts that had been moving through the area for the last few hours were blowing up a storm, “ ... not minutes ago.” He thought.

  He looked around for, and called out to, the dog. But still, he got no response.
It wasn't until he had gotten back up on the porch that he had his second jolt of weirdness ...
He couldn't hear any birds ...
Or crickets ...
Or planes ...

  In fact, in all his life, he had never experienced such total and utter silence ...
He looked up and was suddenly covered in goose bumps ... There wasn't a cloud in the sky!

  Stan ran back in the house and tried to collect himself.

  His head was beginning to throb as he bolted for the front door.

  "That stupid mutt probably dug another hole under the fence!" he whined,
" ... And if they think I'm gonna bail him out of the pound again, they're nuts!"

  He was trying to not think about the last few minutes of his life, when he noticed something else that made him feel one step closer to panic.
There were no fish in the fish tank ... not dead ... not alive ... no fish at all!

  He wiped the sweat from his face and glanced around the room ...
Turning pale as he noticed that ALL the flowers ... ALL the family photos ... Were GONE!
"Did she up and leave me?" He screamed as he squeezed his head tight from the pain.
That was almost what he hoped for as he began to reason with just what was happening to him.
"But why would she take the flowers?" He thought to himself. He opened the front door and again experienced the same strange and eerie calm of the back yard ... He called out  ... but still no dog.

  As he was about to close the door in silence, he noticed his car was gone from the driveway ... Another jolt of reality. As much as he loved that car, it was a welcome sight ... He could call 911 and they would bring him back to the real world. Slamming the door, he dashed towards the phone.

  He felt almost comforted. He fumbled for the numbers and stared out the front picture window hoping to see his wife ... his kids ... his neighbor ... the mutt ... ANYONE coming up the drive.

  He had just about drifted into one of his trances when he heard a woman say something on the other end of the line ... He didn't listen; he just blurted out; "Yes ... I'd like to report a stolen car ... !”
There were a few moments of silence ...

And then she replied; "I'm sorry Mr. Kryzyck ... We don't have cars here ..."

  He held the phone in front of his face and yelled angrily; "But, how did you know my name!?”
He paused for a moment ... holding the phone out in front of his face. For the first time since he could remember, he felt tears in his eyes. He had forgotten what they felt like. He blinked them away and stared at the receiver. His hand was shaking uncontrollably.
He shouted at the phone ... “I didn't tell you my name!”

  He stared at it ... like it was someone he was about to fight ...
Then all the expression left his face.

  He dropped it with a thump on the new Berber carpet and walked back towards the front door.
A strange calm overtook him as he began to accept this new reality.
The handle was now searing hot as he closed his eyes and opened it ...
He didn't need to look ...
He knew what was before him ...
Stanley Archibald Kryzyck took his first steps into Hell ...
And closed the door behind him.
My first ever Fiction NOPO@HEPO.

This is the first time I had ever manipulated characters on paper. I'm rather fond of it for that reason.
  6d Jeff Gaines

Rivers of darkness
Flow deep beneath earth's surface
In viscous currents

When I feel that first tipsy running through my veins.
Jeff Gaines Jun 15
>>> This is the third-ever "NoPo at HePo" (Non-poetry at Hello Poetry) upload. It is a new way to share your writings here, Fiction or non. I hope you enjoy it. If you choose to join in, PLEASE place the notice ">>NOPO@HEPO<<" (so that folks that look for them can find them and folks that wanna skip them, can skip them! )  If you'd like to read the second one, entitled “The Listening Bridge”, just find it on my page or click the link in the notes section below.


   In the last hours of April fools day 1999, I was driving to a local pub for a pint of Guinness when I drove up on some cars parked close together, with their headlights lit, on the other side of the road. In the median dividing the four-lane road was another car, stopped kind of crooked and unintentional. I could see the silhouettes of about fifteen people in front of the first car on the far side of the road. While I knew it was some kind of accident, not even the car in the median seemed to be damaged.

  Just as I passed by it, I saw a man lying face down on the other side of the road. He was just in front of the silhouettes and this vision told the whole story:

  The car that was now haphazardly parked in the median, had hit him.

  What had taken me aback, was that no one was anywhere near the poor soul laying in the gravel and grass on the side of the road. At first, I thought that maybe he was dead and they knew it, so they were keeping their distance. But a strange instinct told me to do a U-turn and go to that guy ...

  For whatever reason, it told me that he was not dead ...
That instinct was correct ...

  As I walked through the faceless people standing in front of the first car, I could see him lying there. He was taking short, deep, labored breaths. I bent over him and heard a gurgling sound. He was choking on fluid and in the lights of passing cars, I could see the thick, red puddle that his face was almost drowning in. I ran to my truck and retrieved a towel. After I wiped the bloody fluid away from his nose and mouth, his breathing eased and the gurgling stopped.
I looked at the people around me and I felt as though I was in a dream. They all seemed to be looking at the whole scenario as though it were on TV. in their cozy little living rooms at home. For a moment, I felt a rage at these all too familiar "Rubberneckers". I just couldn't believe that these vultures had stopped and gotten out of their cars to look, and yet, not one had raised a finger to help!

  But, when I looked back down at him as he took another breath, the rage went away as fast as it had came. I turned and bent over him and touched his bare, blood and scratch covered back with my fingertips. Every few seconds or so came another deep and yet short breath. They were almost like spasms, as though he were having to force his lungs to take the air.
  I began to talk to him, even though I’m not sure why.

  I just wanted to reach out to him somehow … to let him know some one cared.

  As I spoke, I looked at his injuries and assessed that they were numerous and damaging. His left leg was a compound fracture and there were a lot of scrapes and scratches from his post-impact tumble down the road. But worst of all … was a large dented wound to the top, right rear of his shaved head. It wasn’t bleeding very bad, but it was at least four inches wide and an inch or so deep. Another thing that shook me a little was his age … He looked to be in his late teens. Maybe his early twenty’s at best. I thought it strange that he had been walking alone.

  I spoke to him in a voice that I would use if I were speaking to a friend I had bumped into on the street and I told him to concentrate on the sound of my voice. I told him to hold on and to keep taking those breaths for me. I really believe that he could hear me because he seemed to be taking these heaving breaths more often. I promised him that if he could do that for me and not go to sleep until the ambulance arrived, he would be o.k.

  He stopped taking them for a moment, my lips closed together and my breathing stopped for a moment as well. I bent down over him and when I put my fingertips on his back again, he took another breath. I started talking to him again and assured him that I was still here. I again asked him not to go to sleep on me, because he was going to be alright.

  Just then, I could hear the ambulance coming up the road. As I spoke again, I could hear the excitement in my own voice.

  “You hear that my brother?” I said. “You’re home free … just don't stop taking those breaths for me. I know it's hard, but they're almost here and you’re gonna make it, I just know it.”

  He took a few more breaths, but just as the ambulance pulled up ... he stopped.
  I know it's incredibly pretentious of me to assume the thoughts and feelings of another person, but I really felt like it was all that he could do to take those breaths for me ...

  For him ...

  But now that the ambulance was here, he felt that he could rest. My heart sank.

  As the three rescue workers, two men and a woman, piled out of the van, I stepped away. The deputy, that had arrived only moments after I had, coerced everyone else to the back of the last car ... but not me. He said not a word to me and I wondered if he had the same instinct about me being there as I had had when I first saw the poor fellow lying alone on the side of the road. I truly felt that I was supposed to be here and, it seemed, the deputy thought so too. When I looked at him, he gave a blank stare and turned to call the trauma 'copter on his radio.

The first paramedic, who was now leaning over the pedestrian, stood up and yelled out:

"Has any one seen this guy breathing in the last few minutes?”

  My heart sank even deeper as I told him, with all the urgency I could muster, that the pedestrian had been breathing right up to the moment when they pulled up. He nodded at me but didn’t speak. The others were busy opening boxes of emergency gear and I don’t think they heard me at all. When I looked back at the first one, he was kneeling down to join his co-workers examining the injured youth.

  They looked at his wounds and, after they put on their rubber gloves, they rolled him over onto a backboard and then placed a foam collar around his neck. I watched as the third EMT put a set of electric paddles on his chest and I waited for the familiar jolt ... but it never came. They looked and mumbled to each other and then removed the paddles without even giving it a try.

  I wanted so badly to scream out "Go for it Dude! If he's gone, what have you got to lose?"

  But … the words were just not there.

  The situation had overwhelmed me …

  Again … I felt like I was dreaming.

  They put the backboard onto a gurney and lifted it up so that the wheel assembly fell with a loud squeak to the ground. For the first time, I could see the pedestrian’s whole face … I was amazed to see that his eyes were now open.

  He seemed to be staring, with a peaceful smirk, into the cool, star filled sky and I wondered if he could see or hear anything at all. I looked out in the direction of his stare, but all I could see was the dark outline of the trees on the side of the road … and stars.

  I watched the second EMT, a woman in her mid-twenties, turn towards the deputy as the other two lifted the gurney into the back of the ambulance. Her face was expressionless, though it seemed to me that she working very hard to hide her emotion. Her eyes were wide and she never blinked as she spoke. Perhaps she was new, I thought. The deputy didn’t seem to notice, he never looked at her face. In a monotone voice, she told him not to bother with the 'copter ...

  "This one's code", she said.

  For someone who's so full of emotion, I can't say that I've ever felt like I did at that moment. I looked at the deputy and he gave me the same blank stare that he had given me minutes before.

  Without saying a word, I picked up my towel and my keys and I walked back to my truck.
  My head hung in a daze.
  If this was a dream, it was a nightmare.

  I threw the towel into my truck-box and climbed into the drivers seat. I held the ignition key in my hand and watched the ambulance pull away with its flashing lights on … but no siren. I sat there for a minute or two, trying to chase off the malaise that had overtaken me. When I finally did leave, I quickly caught up to the ambulance. Not that I was speeding really, but that the ambulance was in no hurry. Through the rear windows of the large ambulance, I could see two of the EMT’s sitting over him, talking. Their faces were somber and calm.

  As I turned on my street and headed to my cottage, I watched it drive on into the darkness. Its silence was painful. I’d forgotten all about the beer. When I got home, I sat at my computer desk and wrote this piece.

  I don't imagine that I'll ever know why the pedestrian gave up his fight by the side of the road on that clear April night.

  I know he was trying, I could feel it.

  I like to think that in those last few moments, he heard my concern for him … that maybe he could feel it too ... and that he didn't die alone.


  For the next thirty days, I called the morgue to see if I could find out the pedestrian's name and then maybe get in touch with the his relatives. I’m not sure why I felt this compulsion, or even what I would have said to them, in such a horrible moment in their lives. I guess I just wanted them to know that somebody was there with him. Maybe, I hoped, it would help ease their sorrow.

  In those thirty days, I learned that he had had no identification on him and, because no one had claimed the body, that nobody knew who he was. As the thirtieth day approached, they actually asked me if I wanted to try and claim the body for burial since I was the only person who had shown any interest in the pedestrian. I sadly … and respectfully … declined.

  He was never identified ... As far as I know, no one ever came to claim him. This frustrated me as much as that fateful evening. I was told that he was cremated at the Pasco County Animal Control incinerator and buried out near Dade City as a “John Doe”.

-Jeff Gaines

11:43 PM
April 1st, 1999
After reading this, a friend of mine asked me if I thought I might be an Angel.
I was so taken aback, I couldn't even answer her. What on earth do you say to a question like that?

  Jun 14 Jeff Gaines

On the tips of toes
Long necks stretch to kiss the sun
Sultry Sunflowers

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