A Splinter in Time

A real job at last! No more Call Center crap; what losers there, on either side of the phone line with their yack, yack, whine, whine. My new boss Bernie didn’t just run a sanitation company, but a Cadillac Service specializing in garage, shed and basement cleanouts. He said the last outfit these guys employed were run out of town or something. Too bad for them, great for us coming into a new territory and all. ‘Basement cleaning could reveal bad infrastructure and other perils’ according to the training video. Got it.

Apparently, the client told Bernie to have the pallet of supplies sent to the basement because that’s where the note stuck on the heavy iron front gate said to go. Who leaves their basement door open? Anyway, I found the sorry-half-busted pallet with splinters all around it and got my mop and bucket. No hauling out trash bags as the place was empty except for the long pulpy drip lines on the walls and a big pile of sticks under the stairs. I’d just bundle the sticks up and put them on the pallet before I leave.yellow drips

The basement was more like a huge tub with a drain at one end. The cleaning challenge was what must be drips from rust because it was that deep brownish red. And good grief, the constant echo of buzzing flies! That’s what they get leaving that door open, I could’ve told them. I got the hose hooked up and filled my bucket. After checking out the darker end I walked back to see my own footprints. Crap! I’d have to hose my boots off good to keep from tracking up my car.

cleaning upI gloved up and tried the soapy stuff first. It hardly made a difference on the drips but sure made the floor slick. The bleachy stuff did better, and the strong odor overcame the rotten smell. I got a couple spots mopped off to gage the amount of effort I’d have to put into this job and turned to the bucket for a reload. There stood a pale guy in a black suit.

“Sir, I estimate four hours minimum to get this done. Did you recently have a flood to cause …”?

In a second, he stepped up and backhanded my head; I fell to the floor and felt a sharp pain in my left arm. Crap! He towered above me and leaned far over to bare the most awful fangs at me. Holy Crap from Kingdom Come!

reach 001

I grabbed for the biggest splinter I could reach while kicking at one of his shins. He landed on his butt and tried propping himself up with his hands. Ha! My rubber gloves didn’t slip on the soapy floor! I landed on him with a knee in his gut. I reared my arm back and saw his bloodshot eyes bulge as I drove the splinter into his heart.

I sat back and caught my breath. Would only a couple inches of such a skinny stake into his chest be enough? Should I go ahead and clean so I can get paid? I glanced over at the sound of slow steps on the stairs. I ran out the utility door cradling my arm. Those complaining callers seemed not so bad, comparatively.

A Difference of Opinion

OoooH! A Free Preview of the New Book Pull Aliens, Pull!

Cartier walked up to Marta at the dining table for the executive offices and passed her a lemony nutrition drink.”Elise, my dear, how are your preparations for tonight going? I see all the maps scattered, and this looks more ambitious than chromium alone.”

“That’s right professor.” She tipped the drink toward him and nodded thanks before chugging a good portion of it down. Smacking her lips, she continued, “When Mr. Wing called to say he’d pack six ore cars in there, he based that on getting a really low yield ore. The Amigos can get the equivalent of refined ore through whatever means they use to pull the metals up. I’m trying to get my head around how they can dissociate the oxides and other chemical compounds and pull up only what they want. I mean, won’t that leave a crapload of free oxygen?”

Elise mentally switched off external communication and switched on concentration mode. In a minute’s time, she switched back suddenly to give Alain a quizzical look. “Professor, they do what the Breaker does, but a heckuva lot more efficiently! I mean, they did it some on the way here, but they can do it over vast areas.”

“Elise, you mean you think this mining business will release oxygen into the atmosphere as a byproduct? The Breaker employs pyrolysis at a couple thousand of degrees, there can be no comparison.”

She shrugged. “How can it not release oxygen? The Amigo process obviously uses some other method than pyrolysis to dissociate the oxides, but in the end if you break up oxidized magnesium feldspar for the magnesium, you get free ox out of the deal. Maybe they’re living fuel cells, or no, that’s backwards because a fuel cell recombines hydrogen and oxygen to make water. They’re more like the catalysts. I saw them do this up close in the pod on the way in, but never did quite understand it. I could always ask TaaTaa directly about it, but finding the right words is so darned hard.”

“You know it’s after dark, so they’ve all headed off to sleep or whatever else they do when the sun goes down. My guess would be that they’ll need the rest before the dark-thirty roll call; they altered the atmosphere in their dome for a reason, you know, and he said they needed to prepare.”

“Yeah, I hope going back out in the higher ox levels won’t hurt them. Remember the bad ammonia smell when the pod opened up? I hadn’t wee-weed all over everything; it was from them dissociating water from the bladders to produce air we could breathe. The excess hydrogen kept finding the nitrogen in the air and making ammonia compounds. Stinky, stinky and no way to vent!”

“Ronnie Sue said the best guess was that you’d tapped the troop air supply.”

“I did until we docked back at Frankie. Man, oh man, what a panic when it cut off! As it happened, the small volume in the pod allowed for my buddies to hydrolyze what I needed from those big water bladders we had in there and they must have done something with the CO2.”

O2 001

“They made your air?”

“We had plenty of air; we concentrated on increasing oxygen and decreasing carbon dioxide. TaaTaa asked what I needed and woke up his kin to do it. I worried that my air would be too high ox for them, but he said that while 15% to 17% was their ‘comfort zone’, they could accommodate a variance. Less than that they could hydrolyze water internally, but more started irritating them, and too much was poisonous, about 27% he said depending on age.”

“So the high 19’s are on the low side of our tolerance and starts to poison them?”

“TaaTaa said he’d been to many places mining where they had no air and where they had other poisons, I read that as sulfurous and methane atmospheres. We didn’t have the vocabulary then to go into it any further, but I gather they have air reserves in that carbon husk of theirs and are pretty resilient overall. He maintains they could stay out a while and be okay, but was evasive when I tried to pin him down on how long.”

“Hence the portico established in the front end of the pod for them.”

“That’s it, I know I slept better when I got here, in an atmosphere that suited me, and figured they would too. Maybe they’ll be able to recharge every night. TaaTaa seemed pleased with it.”

“I am more at ease now knowing you have retained your customary thoroughness. I see with these maps you have a long way to go to get everything. How long will this extended trip take you?”

“We’re at the mercy of the terrain for many of the sites, although we should be able to get to each one safely.”

“How recent are the maps? The desert is a sea of sand, with the dunes swelling in the winds. You have contingency plans for your route getting blocked?”

“Uh, I have up to date info and we’re going on that basis, with the easiest course and an alternate marked.”

“What about landmarks? You won’t find many, and once you get disoriented and without Topside assistance all you have is a compass. Direction is not location.”

Elise began shuffling and collating maps. “I think we have that settled to our satisfaction.”

He stepped closer and slapped her desk. “I thought you and Barto said no GPS? That any signals in the outback could be traced?”

She looked over and agreed. “That’s right. He’s not taking his tablet and our cells will be turned off. I want to introduce our companions in style, not out away from any support.”

She wished he would find something to do somewhere else, but he didn’t budge. He pursued with, “So you got updates from here and can get to your first site. Then the further you go, the less reliable your data. You could disappear in the sands on the way back and no one would ever find you!” He picked up a map. “Look at this! This is dated last year! What’s the update frequency? How much change occurs between updates?”

She took the map from his hand and laid it back down. “I started to do a trend analysis of the last three years and found these maps and the so-called updates don’t go into enough detail to be worth printing, except for the major topography like mountains.”

He crossed his arms authoritatively. “You’re not going out there with no better plan that this, little lady, no you won’t. I will not risk you, Barto and all of them. I’m amazed at you!”

“Why does everybody continually doubt that I know what I’m doing? You all thought I stayed behind on Van Damme, then you thought I had no air on the way here, then you thought I’d be a sitting duck in the wilds of town. When do I get a reputation for executing a well-laid plan? When will my track record start speaking for itself?”

He jabbed an emphatic knuckle at her. “A reputation does not guarantee the next project will run successfully on its own and this seems like just that. You came out all right before and have the conviction you can do it again as if charmed. It doesn’t work that way dear, the desert is hostile and can kill you all. They depend on you. How are you going to find your way all over creation and back?”

She reached around for her satchel. “Here are my annotated maps, and I’ll update the route to the next destination at each stop.”

“How?”

She hesitated, trying to find the words to explain that didn’t sound like hocus-pocus. “I dowsed for the information.”

He leapt up onto his toes in surprise, looking like a rooster about to challenge a rival. “You dowsed? Good grief! You risk all your lives on parlor games? You’ve been in low ox high cox too much, and your reasoning is addled.”

“Stop! Just because you don’t know how it works doesn’t mean it’s not a real phenomenon!”

He plunked into a chair and leaned far forward on his elbows, right forefinger in her face. “Give me a set of equations I can follow and get a repeatable result, a result that is meaningful and accurate.”

“You aren’t an equation kind of guy and wouldn’t know what you were looking at if I gave them to you. I can show you how to do it.”

“No! I want to see peer-reviewed literature that proves the premise is sound and useful for each application you want to use it for, including divining road conditions!”

Dr. Trogden wandered in with a dishtowel and as she dried her dishwater-wet hands. She asked, “Guys, what’s the matter? I heard you from the kitchen!”

“Oh, Ronnie Sue, I’m beside myself with this girl! She thinks she can water witch her way through the desert!”

Doc looked over to Elise. “You’re going out there for water? I thought you were going to bring all you needed with you.”

He barged in, “Ronnie Sue, it’s the route she’s dowsing. She’s rolling the dice for all of them by hoping her stick points the right way!”

“Alain, please calm down.” Ronnie Sue pulled up a chair on the side between Alain and Elise. “Elise, honey, please tell me what this is all about.”

“Doc, he asked how I was going to get map updates without alerting Topside. I told him I’d dowse for them. Then he went berserk and wrote me off as a lunatic.”

“Wait a minute!”Alain was a master at displaying indignity.

Doc gave him a hard look. “Shush. You calm down like I told you or you’ll get a sedative.” When he sat back with a deep frown and arms barricading his chest, Ronnie Sue turned back to Elise. “Now, what kind of dowsing? Surely not sitting on the rover hood with a forked stick, right?”

Calmly, Elise replied, “Map dowsing, with a pendulum.”

“Alain, now see?”

He continued frowning silently.

Doc Trogden appeared to be having excessive mirth at her expense, but Elise listened when she laid down the discussion rules. “Now, Elise, Alain, I want each of you to make one point at a time in turn, civilly. No immediate retorts! Make every turn count, because ranting is empty of value. Age before beauty. Alain, you go first.”

Alain: “Elise, you are a scientist, why this magical business?”

Elise: “Is it magic solely because you can’t explain it?”

Alain: “No, it’s because it’s not verifiable by scientific means, it depends on some secret power.”

Elise: “That is not true. Nearly anyone can access the communication. It is not a thing I do, some occult art, or a particular talent I uniquely possess. It’s more a sense like sight or hearing, but most of us ignore it.”

Alain: “How is it transmitted and from whom? I want to see the equations and perform an independent test. That’s peer review, if you recall. Many have tried with this trumpery and failed.”

Elise: “I can show you right now! Doc here can arbitrate!”

Alain: “No! I want to see it disassembled into known terms; what forces at what magnitude, what charges, what chemical reactions. I want to understand it.”

Elise: “What would that really prove? You have had all of that for fusion power for nearly 200 years and we still don’t have significant fusion reactors or propulsion beyond basic research. My method is not so clearly documented yet, but it is repeatable and does provide a usable result.”

Alain: “If it were finding water, I could understand it better, but damn it! You twiddle your fingers over a map and say abracadabra for something that’s supposed to be a thousand kilometers away and say you’re ‘communicating’? With some entity? Science does not depend on some distant ‘guiding hand’.”

Elise: “I do ask questions as if there is someone on the other end of the conversation. I admit I do believe in a continuum for our souls, that when we die our soul is recycled into a babe to learn more lessons. I believe our souls are the most important part about us, and the soul uses a physical body as the means to interact and grow. I believe I talk to the ones at the plane our souls go for recycling.”

Alain: “I am stunned, I am totally stunned. You think you can ask the angels where the gold is and go get rich? Why all the mumbo-jumbo, then? I suppose you never have to think about anything, you can let this entity do it all for you? Preposterous!”

“Alain,” Doc warned, “You stray from the subject for the sake of scorn, please abstain.”

Elise: “Thanks, Doc. Professor, say we are way overdue and you want to take a rover out a little way to see if there is any trace. You stop and get out to scan the empty horizon. You look down and see the corner of a little blue case sticking up out of the sand. You dig it out and it’s an odd-looking phone. You turn it on and a friendly voice says, ‘there’s an oasis south-southwest two kilometers from here, over two low ridges; you can save your friends if you reach them by noon.’button 001

She held out a hand to count off on her fingers. “One, you can take the advice, find the oasis and us, complete trust. Life wins. Two, you can believe you knew of the oasis yourself and deny the assistance, like innate intuition, yet still reach us. Life wins again. Or three, you can ignore the phone because you don’t know the Patriot number of who told you the information and grind it underfoot as you walk away while a guy in a black hood shakes a scythe. The phone was a communication tool, no more, no less. Instead of asking me who gives the instructions, think about who you want to win.” She whammed her right fist into her left palm with a sharp crack and whispered hoarsely, “Pick up the phone yourself or keep your locked mind out of my business.”

Excerpted from Pull Aliens Pull, a Sci-Fi Adventure!Pull, Aliens! Pull! Ecover

 

The Last Day

Hello! I thought I might share a chapter from The Might of Defiance. Today 7/14/17 is the last day it’s free; don’t miss it!

Chapter 54

The Last Day

At the first glimpse of dawn’s rays, Cedric came to the Ag bench to find complete disarrayCabin 20130721 051 and nobody present. He wanted to get an early start with his investigation of the crash site and came to ask San Luis along to spite the Commander. The whole cabal of them was missing from the Portico, but those odd trees were blocking his way to check the pod; the door stood ajar but he saw no sign of movement. Did they bunk in there last night? He scanned the tree line, unwilling to wander around in there on foot on the chance of finding someone. Without Marta or anyone, the tree things worried him; he couldn’t shake the idea they knew he’d spoken out against them.

“Mr. Crannog, you look confounded.”

It took Cedric a second to separate the voices in his head from an external one, to realize a soft, treble voice spoke. “What?” He shifted to find the speaker, but had trouble picking him out from the shadows of stacked equipment and materials.

Thao stepped into Cedric’s sight, off to the side and still in partial shadow. “I hope I do not unwisely intrude.”

“Tomlinson? Confounded? I surely am, but I am unclear of your interest in it.” He crouched to see the man eye to eye, but regretted it as he thought about how to stand up again.

“I have many interests. One that applies now is that you are at a crux of the fervid beliefs of the two factions among us. In common parlance you ride the fence that divides two camps and when you finally choose a side, you will impact the balance in a far greater degree than your current status would suggest.”

“I am aboard with you for all this time and the first thing I hear you say to me is an embroidered commentary about my balance. What do you mean by this, sir?”

“I mean to unbalance you by my intrusion,” he said, with a fluting lilt, “and so help you to choose the side you fall into, instead of watching you fall by the whims of circumstance.”

Cedric was more confounded than before, which irritated him. “What business are my choices to you?”

“I am not accustomed to civility, so I will forge ahead to ask you what your plans are toward the Lady’s project.”

“I would not have expected you to discuss such a matter on the comm.”

“I appreciate your discretion. The communication signals are disrupted in this area. We may speak freely.”

“Fine, then. You mean Marta and her disastrous scheme of bringing trees and Heaven knows what to Tenembras? No good can come of it. Authorities will shut that down before any potential contamination can reach the biosphere. I have told her that. What, were you lurking in the shadows then, too?”

“Sir, do not confuse your hostility toward my appearance or style of communicating with the line of inquiry. There are important issues here that go far beyond my part.”

“You think I’m wrong about the trees? I could tell you I’ll reconsider, but the fact remains that the deal is dead before it begins and that doesn’t even touch the ‘other’ issue.”

“If so, why do you struggle with your conscience?”

“Whoa, who said anything about conscience? My conscience is clear.”

“You could have the aliens exterminated like so many vermin, crushed underfoot and maintain your fine sensibilities?”

Cabin June 2015 059“You don’t believe that rot about some of the trees being aliens? Come on, man, there are some freaky trees that will be cleared off with the rest. Period.” He looked nervously over to the trees that seemed more unsettling in the growing light, seeming to stir out of time with the breeze. How did they come to gather around the pod?

Thao did not reply, but stared implacably at him at him steadily, silently.

He refocused on the enigmatic Thao. “You believe they are intelligent aliens? That changes nothing. The fate of humanity is at stake and the authorities will not take a chance.”

The little man remained silent, gazing through the shadow.

Cedric fidgeted, becoming more and more anxious to get into the waiting buggy and be off. “No one knew about any of this alien business before we arrived, so this has to be some kind of one-off speculation. If they are aliens, they aren’t native to here and this isn’t a civilization.” He spoke aloud to prioritize the line of thought that sought his inner motivations, the voice in his head that was so often drowned out, the one that grew from his own self. It was proving elusive. “You’re a linguist, what is your interest in this in the first place? This is a straightforward biosecurity deal that you need not become involved with.”

Thao faded back into the long shadows with Cedric unable to follow by sight or sound. He shuffled around to face the pod and fell forward, palms to pod, so he could walk his hands up the side to stand. Then the pod door at the end opened wider and the tree-things parted for San Luis to pass.

“Hello, San Luis, have you seen Marta?” The moment he asked that he was vexed for not asking San Luis to join him on the investigation.

Si.”

Miffed at the man’s clearly obstinate stance, Cedric decided he would not invite San Luis along after all; he could well do the job by himself. He might have a quick word with Marta, though. Might she like to join him? A basic part of him warmed to that concept, bringing her to the wreck site so they could peruse it together and he could make amends, discussing what clues they could tease from the debris could allow them to at least speak to each other again. “Well, sir, which way is she, I’d like to talk to her a moment.”

“No.”

“What do you mean, ‘no’? I want to see if she’d like to accompany me on a survey, I have use of the buggy.”

“No. She has not the time or the energy to fight with you today. Go fight with the trees and try to hurt them. They too will soon be gone forever and I know you would be sorry to miss the chance.”

Cedric stood dumfounded with anger boiling up. “You sonuvabitch, you get out of my way.” He tried to slide between a bench piled with parts and his adversary.

Barto picked him up, mashing Cedric’s forearms against his ribs, and threw him bodily against the pod, his back impacting hard and his helmet clanging loud. He slid down and landed hard on the packed sand.

Dr. Cartier tore around the door, hand gripping the door edge to maintain equilibrium. “What is this? Stop it this instant!”

“Dis flaco always come here to fight. I say no, not dis time, Marta is busy.”

Cedric pushed his back up the hull and raised himself on shaky legs. He shook his head as briskly as he could with the damned helmet to settle the reverberations in his skull. “Dr. Cartier, there is no reason for this person to …”

“Stop! Mr. Crannog I have to agree with Barto. Every time you leave Marta she’s distressed if not in tears. I won’t have it sir, I will not. I’m sorry, but please go on your way right now.”

Cedric stopped the impulse to brush off and sneered at the staring fools. He pushed his hands out, arm muscles tensed hard as if trying to fend them physically until he got by them; with clenched fists and jaws he marched back to the Portico to get the buggy.

He saw the Portico’s comm monitor blinking red ‘incoming’ as he entered and saw Olivia Might of Defiance eBook coveron screen the next second.

“Cedric, why so upset?”

“Sorry it shows. I had a dust up with that San Luis.”

“Why on Earth?”

“It’s not Earth, is it? He can push anyone around here he pleases. All I wanted to do was talk to Marta.”

“And her bodyguard wouldn’t let you. I’ve seen some things on this monitor here. See?” She split the screen and showed triple-speed scenes clearly showing the moving trees around the Ag area. She inquired sweetly, “What are they doing back there?”

Even with the altercation hot in his mind, he could not freely expose them more. “I could explain some things personally, but not over the comm.”

“See that purple button on the right side? No, higher up. Yes, press that and hold it down. Now it’s just you and me.”

Either he trusted her or not; his control over his reason was tenuous. “I think Cartier is helping her get specimens against the express orders from Ms. Jones. San Luis is egging her on. The aliens are helping load the trees. I tried to get her to desist before she gets into trouble but she won’t listen!”

“Now, Cedric, she’s a smart girl.” Olivia’s voice cajoled him, trying to exert a calming influence. “Don’t you think she’s considered her risk and decided whatever she’s doing is both possible and worth it?”

“They won’t let me back there and they won’t allow me to talk to her.” He worked at keeping his jaw loose enough to talk and concentrated on keeping the purple button down.

“You have greater success finding out more by being sweet than antagonistic. Have you listened to her logic? To understand what she’s trying to accomplish?”

That hit him harder than San Luis’s blow. Part of him cried out but another part beat it back. Cold and acute, he told her, “I am amazed you are siding with her without even knowing what she’s into.”

She seemed taken aback. “Crannog, I am amazed you are siding against her without even knowing what she’s into.”

He released the purple button and turned away.

From The Might of Defiance get it on Amazon today! You may need to copy and paste the link…

The Might of Defiance: Elise t’Hoot Book One
by Mary Ellen Wall
Amazon Kindle Link: http://a.co/1TKrMMw

Cats with Clothespins

t'Hoot Book ListLest you think my writing muse escaped to the hinterland, I assure you folks I have been diligently working on the word. The stories that have been eating up my time are the ones I trying to publish! I’ve written a series of ten books about space and an exile planet and aliens and  about how a furtive refugee becomes a real leader. All hinges on the first one getting all the way through the process.

This time I’m attempting to run my own publishing imprint, with my own cover design and everything. You see with my last book, I farmed out nearly everything. The covers for those books are beyond sorry. Those first books were not a waste of thousands of bucks (not totally anyway) because I learned much in many areas. I thought I was doing pretty well this time.

These books are much tighter and better edited than the last ones. Instead of 500 brick-weight pages, these are about 250 pages each, more straightforward. I designed several covers and settled on one for the series that I think is striking. I bought interior format and cover templates ; that’s my words and design on their layouts. I bought my own ISBNs.Might of Defiance cover

You cannot snap your fingers and make an EPUB or MOBI file for an eBook. It took time to research programs, get one, find out it wouldn’t do what I needed, get another one, learn it, go to Amazon and get the book for it, yippee I have an EPUB and MOBI file! Oh the cover template is a Word file… it took a while to figure out how to turn that into a jpg.

Somehow using high resolution pictures and a bona fide professional template I still got the low-res gavel ponding when I submitted my print cover to the printer/distributer. I spent some more time on the cover and resubmitted it. I set off the ‘it’s too big’ siren. They said use OUR template. I downloaded it. It’s a PDF and I can’t do anything magic with a PDF unless I spend more cash every month as it’s a stupid subscription. That’s like a cow with the milking machine always hooked up and sucking. Poor cow – MOO.

I fixed the spine width and resubmitted the cover; the cover should be perfectly sized now. Three days later, SIRENS. “Your file is 12×15 and it should be 6×9!” Please account for the cover being on a 12 x 15 white page. I verified I signed up for print and the standard 6 x 9 with the typical front and back. I asked via customer service what the hay? A week later, no response except for another copy of the PDF template I cannot use.

Frustrated, I left that for a weekend and started putting the next volume into the Barto short legstemplate. It took all weekend. Using a template does not mean the works will trot into place into the correct spot all on their own like obedient little doggies. It’s more like cats with pinchy clothespins on their tails. Put you hand in there and see feel what you get.

Enough! I just wished to explain my bloggish absence! Perhaps next week I’ll have a spiffy new book to wave around with a cheesy grin. I did go to Wisconsin last month and came back with a couple pounds of white and orange parcels of wonder.  I have the cheese, will I have the published books?

The Arch

Bored with the beach already, Randy threw another beat-up shell into the surf. Movement to the side caught his eye. “Hey, you look just like me!”beach-rocky

“Nuh-uh, you look like me.”

Randy very quickly decided this could be fun, so he magnanimously allowed, “We look like each other.” He held out the super-sized bag of animal crackers to the other boy; he had to be a second grader, too. “You wanna have fun? We can freak Daddy out!”

“I want go home.”

“Aw, come on. Hey, I didn’t see anybody come down here, we thought this place around the big rocks would be only us. Where’d you come from?”

The kid pointed back to a rocky arch. “Through there. Why do you want to freak him out?”

“I wanted to go explore and he said to stay close and not get into trouble. Let me tell you my plan.”

About half an hour later, George woke up to hear Randy calling him from way the hell over on the other side of the creek that divided the scrap of beach in half. “Ransom David, you get your butt back here!”

“I found a spaceship and I’m going up!”

George heaved up from his chaise lounge and picked his shirt from the sand and shook it before pulling it over his head. He didn’t see Randy now. This boy would get a spanking he wouldn’t forget. As he toed his sandals on, Randy’s look-alike walked up from the other direction.

“Daddy, Daddy, can’t catch me!” He ran down toward the arch.

George pursued him right through the arch.

beach-sandyRandy saw it all and laughed until snot ran out. He wiped his nose on his t-shirt and looked for his Dad on the far side. He didn’t see him or the look-alike kid, just water. He started making his way back. Across the creek, he saw a colorful hat bouncing toward the beach. “Mom! Wait for me!”

“Hi, Tiger. I bought you a new hat. Here you go.” She screwed the ball cap on his head. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing. I smell cheeseburgers. Let’s go find Dad and eat.”

They arrived at the empty lounge chair and did not see another soul.

She looked in the cooler and got two sodas out. “I wonder where he went? The fries are no good cold. Here, we can go ahead, he won’t mind.” She started gobbling her fries.

Randy had lost his appetite. He took the offered burger and bit into it to please her. “There’s a cool arch over that way. Want to see?”

Randy and his Mom walked over to see the tide coming in. The arch sat lower and the water already came half the way up it. It seemed smaller now. “I think Daddy went through there.”

“Honey, there’s nothing on the far side, it’s the ocean.” She called, “George! Are you around here? I brought lunch.”

“There was beach through there. A kid exactly like me came from that way.”

“No, silly, I had a good view from up the hill. The spit of land here is all there is.” She walked back.

He stared at the remaining arch. He wadded the burger wrapper and waded down. He tossed it into the arch. It should have floated. It vanished.

They waited on the hill for an hour or so. Then Mom, crying, called the police. They searched. They called the Coast Guard. Randy never saw his Daddy again.

 

Dreaming of Better Days

green-paper-fileTamika Lamar keyed in and trudged to the same desk she’d written the factory’s procedures from for four years. What a dead end job. The place seemed to attract pale faced automatons like a robot magnet; the image of an electromagnet on a crane at a junkyard flashed in her mind. Opening her satchel wide, she filled it with her bag of Dove chocolates, her various lip glosses, her ink pens that looked like Crayolas, refills for the pens and her personal box of tissues. Her satchel wouldn’t fasten, so she put the tissues back.

Gaither Crumb, her boss, rushed up. “You’re late! Where is the zip seal application instruction? I sent you the pictures for it yesterday.”

At the anxious, reddened face she replied, “I dreamed a clear lake beckoned me and I drifted across it in a baby blue boat. I saw a golden trunk and opened it. A walnut tree popped out and a duck gave me walnuts to eat. They were really good. A young, handsome fella popped out of the trunk and we ate some of those giant campfire marshmallows. You never sent me any pictures.”

Crumb held his phone out and searched for a number. “Lisa, I got Tamika down here, she needs a drug test. Yes, Tamika Lamar. On a trip right now, or drunk or something. Well as soon as you get in; I’ll keep her here.” He looked back at her with his bottom lip poked out. “You sit tight. I’ll get Marvin to do up that procedure. I did too send you those pictures.” Hands in pockets, he stalked away.

“Tammy, why’d Old Ugly act like you took his teddy bear out of his sweaty hands and set it on fire?”

“Hi, Bev. I had a really lucid dream last night. I drifted across a peaceful, clear lake in a tiny blue boat and a white duck gave me walnuts to eat. Then me and Hambone ate some of those giant campfire marshmallows.”

“I think the new ones are too big, like they have a whole cup of sugar in each one. I thought you were allergic to walnuts.”

“No, I just said that to deter the awful coffeecake Crumb’s wife makes; it’s gaggable.”

“I know, I always wish there was a dog under the lunch table. Are you high?”

She sighed, letting her shoulders sag. “Because I told you a dream?”

“Nah, because you couldn’t care less that Ugly called in a drug test on you.”

Crumb appeared, his arms crossed. “Beverly, get back to work and mind your own business.” He motioned with his chin, saying, “You, come with me up to the Dispensary.”

Nurse Lisa shooed Crumb to end of the room with the audio test booth. In a hushed voice, she asked, “Tammy, why does your boss want you to have a drug test?”

“I dreamed I came up to a lake with a little skiff. I got in it and drifted across it. I saw a trunk and a tree popped out and a fella popped out and we ate some of those giant campfire marshmallows. Oh yeah, I ate some of the walnuts.”

“Blow into this tube as hard as you can.” Nurse Lisa went to fetch a pee cup. “Here,dispensary I’ll take that. Leave your pack in here and take off your jacket. Pee into this cup and bring it out right away. Don’t flush.”

When Tamika came back out, Crumb shoved her satchel away and snatched the foil wrapper off the table. “Dear Mr. Crumb, if you wanted some of that candy, you should have asked.”

Crumb smirked. “You’re on company property and I have a right to search for contraband.”

“Nurse Lisa, how can you not burn bridges if your boss is an arsonist?” The Twilight Zone theme emanated from her satchel. “This is Tammy. Yes, imminently. Okay.” She slipped the phone back in the satchel pocket. She peered directly at Crumb. “You did not send me those pictures.” Satchel and jacket tucked under her arm, she signed the custody label on the pee bottle and left.

A lanky guy leaned on his classic Camaro. “Say all your good-byes?” He opened the door for her.

As he started backing out of the Visitor’s spot, she said, “I told them my dream about a beautifully placid lake on which I drifting across in a shiny blue single-bench boat and how I saw a trunk made of gold with thick leather straps. A full-sized walnut tree popped out and walnuts went all over the place like soda pop fizz. A really smart-looking duck floated right up and  gathered up lots of nuts with his wings. The duck gave me the walnuts to eat; he must have cracked them. Anyway, they were super good. Then you popped out of the trunk wearing a Tarzan loincloth and we ate up a whole bag of marshmallows.”

“You didn’t throw they bag in the water, did you?”

“You won’t see me trashing the environment.”

He grinned, showing lots of teeth. “Sweetheart, you won’t regret moving to Lexington. Us both getting jobs in the same area is some kind of Karma payback or something.”

iga-bag-002“And it will be easier for your folks to come to the wedding. Can we stop at the IGA up here? I can’t get that dream out of my head and think some rocky road might do the trick.”

“Nuts and puffs in a chocolate matrix.” He pulled into the lot. “I dreamed we were in spacesuits, ballroom dancing to Mozart. Decipher that one for me.”

“I think it’s good. Anything for you?”

“I want to share the dances and boats and ducks with nuts and all our dreams. Get enough rocky road for both of us!”

Missing Delphina

Oz reached in and grabbed the cord. He ran his hand down it until he came to the plug. Crawling further under the kitchen sink, he plugged the dispose-all in. He leaned out and back against the island cabinets. The floor needed mopping. He swatted the dispose-all box out of the way to find his coffee cup. That dispose-all had been sitting in plain sight on the shelf at the end of the island for close to two years. Maybe four, he’d bought the hardwire kind instead of the right kind and had to make it pluggable. Not doing that, not putting it in, is that why she’d left him?Copper Chicken

He made his way to his feet, not near as easy to do these days, dumped the cold coffee out and poured a fresh cup. Together for 39 years today. Together? The house was way too quiet, but damned if he would turn that old public radio on and run it all live long day. Car Talk forever reruns irritated the crap out of him; they was wrong the first time and now he got to hear them cough up the same wrong answers over and over again.

His eyes caught the big old clock on the wall. That Scottish music show would be on, so he pressed the button and there was Fiona Ritchey telling about some crazy Spanish bagpipe player. He looked up at the ceiling fan that would not come on any more. The good Lord knew why; he’d have to go flip the breaker off and bring up the ladder if he wanted to find out. Gosh, whoever was playin’ that fiddle sure had the blues.Cabin Checken Array

That job done, he put a cold hotdog on a stale bun and squirted that last of the mustard on it. He remembered Delphina making him say the word ‘listeria’ and made him promise not eat them raw. He stuck it in the microwave and nuked it for 44 seconds. He finished it in four bites. That was the last bun. He could run up to the store and get some kraut to put the last two in, if he felt like it later.

He rammed his shoulders back to make the recliner do right and set his Sprite on the side table. Putting his feet up sure felt good. Seeing a pair of cardinals flitting around in the yard made him miss her more. They used to sit under the poplar tree and make kraut so many years ago. He peeled the cabbages, picked off the worms and cut them in half while Delphina shredded them into a crock. While she poured on a layer of salt, he chopped the nubs she couldn’t shred and they’d do it again until they had two crocks full. They still had the two heavy white plates that fit perfect in the crock to weight it down, and the crocks, somewhere.Get Out of Kitchen

He blinked, awakened by Erica Brady saying she’d just played Bill Monroe. Dang, he’d missed it! The Lost City Ramblers was good, though, and anything with Rhonda Vincent in it. Barren River Breakdown really was a great show, homegrown from WKU. Delphina always was givin’ em money, and he guessed it was worth it. He would not shed a tear no matter how lonesome he got. He sipped his warm Sprite and wondered why, why, oh why? He needed her like a ship needed water and its sail needed wind. He felt aground and slack without her; shipwrecked.

The front door creaked open and he sat up rod-straight.

“Oscar, where are you? I got Irma back home and all. You know nobody else came to see her to visit or anything? That poor woman has got nobody at all when she gets dire sick.”

He got to the kitchen nearly breathless. There the pixie stood, setting her purse by the empty chili can he should have thrown away. “You’re home!”

“I had to get back to celebrate our 40th anniversary, didn’t I?”

“I thought it was the 39th.”

“You may be a wizard with most things, but you ain’t got a head for time. I’ll make that German chocolate cake you like, with plenty of coconut. That box I had to kick out the way must mean you got that garbage disposal put in. Thank you! No tellin’ what else Old Oz has been up to the last couple days.” She spread her arms out wide. “Here you rascal, give your girl a hug!”

Betsy, Stanley and Herb

blog june 012“I’ve had all I can stand from that old bastard; I’ll fix his wagon, I surely will.” She poked around the crowded kitchen counter for her wild herb book, a quarter at the Salvation Army store in town. “Of course not,” she mumbled, “don’t matter anyway. I read holes in the pages and ought to be able to find what I’m a-lookin’for.”

Betsy took her sweet time to traverse the steep gravel driveway, with tiny sideways steps on the steepest parts. She wouldn’t fix nobody’s wagon but her own if she tumbled ass over teakettle and broke her fool neck.

The woods looked a whole lot more weedy and crowded than the pictures in that little book. She could almost feel the turkey mites and spotted ticks crawling up her legs, urging her into the knee-high weeds at the edge of the great mess of sycamores. Stanley spouted off something degrading about those trees when they’d gone out to see Katie’s new baby girl – junk trees, 50 foot weeds. She didn’t care for them either, but didn’t believe it necessary to pour ugly all over every minute of every hour. He must not respect her at all to talk like that.

Cabin June 2015 030She waded into the weeds, and on into the forest. From the gang of sycamores, she angled around a big tangle of blackberries and headed for what seemed a likely spot. The gravel dust from a pick-up speeding up the road fell before it reached her, mostly. “With no regard for anyone,” she called after it, “Young heathens, think you own the road?”

She pulled the tablespoon from her pants pocket and dug up a Snail Flower, roots and all. She came up onto the porch, sweat pouring off her gaunt face. He sat there lounging without a care, reading some science fiction garbage, and didn’t look up. An hour later, she stepped out, clean and smiling. “Here Stanley, I made you some iced tea.”

He took it, nodded thanks, and went back to reading.

The next day, she scowled at the bookshelf where her herbal should be. What has she done wrong? Had she not steeped it enough? She was getting less confident of the book calling for leaves and stems and roots and all. Boil just the roots? She was sure sick and tired of looking for that book.

Her legs looked bad with a dozen red and intensely itchy spots on each one. She dabbed each with ointment and wrapped her legs feet to thighs in wide Ace bandages to fend off any more of them. She picked her way back down the driveway, in past the sycamores. Silverseal had to be the right one. There, behind that fallen tree. Out came the tablespoon. “Here, sweetie, I made you some iced tea.”

It rained all day the next day. She fidgeted, upset to be out of Tylenol again. Late afternoon, the showers slacked off to a drizzle. In a yellow slicker, she headed out once more. Badger Borage, right there, had to be.

“I made you some iced tea.” She held it out at arm’s length, not wanting to feel his body heat, not wanting him to detect her anticipation.

“No thanks.” He laid his open book on his lap and looked into her eyes. “What’s this sudden need you have to make me weird iced teas lately? Are you up to something?”

“Of course not. Can’t wife make her husband iced tea on a hot day without suspicion?”

She still had quite a bit of the Badger Borage potion, and made a half batch of oatmeal cookies withOaty close plenty of it in the mix. “Here, Darling, I made you cookies.”

He looked at the artfully arranged plate with an eyebrow raised. “Have a few with me?”

She set it down by him. “You want me to go into a diabetic coma?” She stomped away.

He walked into the kitchen about an hour later and caught her brooding at the kitchen table, an unopened National Geographic at her elbows. He waggled the plate and put it in the sink. As he passed her, she asked, “Did you eat them all?”

He pulled up a kitchen chair and leaned toward her. He moved a wisp of gray hair from her face, gently tucking it behind her ear. “You wanted me to eat them all, didn’t you?”

Her eyes started to water. “That’s why I made them.”

“Our 45th wedding anniversary is Thursday. Katie wants us to come over and have a big dinner. Will you be going?”

“What a stupid question. Why wouldn’t I go?”

“Will I be going?”

A tear fell down her cheek. More tears. He held her close and patted her back.

She leaned back from his embrace. “Let me up. I want to make me some iced tea. Then we’ll go together.”

“I put your cookies in the trash can. I want you to go to Katie’s with me Thursday and then again at our 50th anniversary.”

“Two places every five years, that’s about right.”

“I quit going places with you because you twist everything into something negative. I want to live a few more years and you make that into a negative. The last time I wanted to take you to a dinner and a movie and you said I don’t like your housekeeping and cooking. You didn’t used to be that way. Do you hate me that much?”

“No, I don’t hate you and I’m not always negative and you’re not perfect! My head hurts so bad and you don’t even know it cuz’ your head is always stuck in some book! You don’t pay attention to me anymore at all!”

He reached in his back pocket and handed her the missing herbal. “You refrain from poisoning me and I’ll get you to a doctor, okay?” He picked up her hand, kissed it and held it to his heart. “I love you and always have. I’ll not stop loving you no matter what. I want you to be well and will get you to the doctor as soon as I can. I Care. Okay?”

She blinked her wet eyes. “Okay.”

 

Huntin’ Frogs

1955. “Mama! I done struck oil! Black gold! Millionaires!”

Valerie stretched her kneaded dough balls into the bread pans, covered them with a tea towels and rubbed her hands on her apron. “A millionaire, is it? What have you been up to, Punkin?”

“Mama, Californy is the place we oughta be! Look!” Vicky thrust black, oily hands up to her Mama’s face.

Val grabbed a wrist and critically studied the oil, getting a smidgen of it between her forefinger and thumb. Feeling the slick consistency reminded her of motor oil. “Where did you find this, young lady?”

Whole Creek“I was walking the creek lookin’ for a frog to take to show and tell.”

“First, I warned you about water moccasins and copperheads in them woods, specially around the creek. You was around Snake Harbor, wasn’t you?”

“No ma’am. I was down where they put that great big old tile that you can walk through. I saw me one copperhead, but he was baskin’ on a rock and paid me no mind.”

“Baskin’ was he? Second, you got a month left before school starts back. How many times have I told you to quit draggin’ wildlife up here?” Val stopped a moment and looked at her daughter sideways. “How was you finding oil without digging, and why would you be digging for frogs? Fess up, Punk.”

Vicky shuffled her muddy Hush Puppies. “It was right there in a little pool, honest, I didn’t do no diggin’ at all. Cain’t we be millionaires anyhow? And move to Beverly?”

“Well, I am gonna get a shovel to dig with. Let’s go see what this came from.”

By the time she got back to wash up and fetch the tractor, her bread had overflowed the pans and had bubbles all over it. She slopped it all back into the kneading bowl and into the icebox. “I’ll deal with you later! I gotta find straps!”

Her small tractor chugged up the shallow creek bed toward the giant tile right at dusk. They had cleared a ton of matted leaves and dug through thick clay to discover a Desoto stuck there according to the hood ornament they’d busted off. Val slipped the end of as strap around the front axle by feel. It made a sucking noise as it came from the muck. The back bumper had to be tied back on. “This looks pretty good for being 30 or 40 years old, don’t it Punkin?”

Eddie had left all his tools behind when he traipsed of to Mexico with that tart. Val sniffed ‘good riddance’ in the southern direction and backed the rusty wreck , with both bug-eye blog june 081headlights still attached, into the shed where he’d always parked his fancy Chevrolet. While they waited for the mail order Desoto book to arrive, they did a monstrous lot of water toting and cleaning. They dug up the tail lights. They transferred the corked jugs from the trunk safely. They also solemnly buried a disorderly skeleton near the pet cemetery. It seemed the unlucky fella had been running whiskey and got caught in a flood before the tile was put in, it could have even been before TVA.

1965. Val sat on the porch rereading the Desoto book section on steering because some dreams never die. When the car rumbling down the gravel road slowed to turn up her driveway, she dropped the book in her lap and resumed shelling butterbeans. An angular Dick Tracy kinda man got out of the really flashy Studebaker Avanti and walked up the step. White with tangerine seats! A fleeting picture of her Desoto with that color scheme flew through her mind. Refurbishing that beast had not progressed very far the past year or ten.

“Mrs. Eddie Beauchamp?”

“Mrs. Valerie Beauchamp. What can I do for you?”

“I am Vince Padget, and I understand you found a wrecked Desoto.”

She kept shelling beans. “Who says?”

“I heard it from my sister who had a friend who’d heard it from a teacher at an educator conference in Louisville. She said your daughter had done a show and tell on it.”

She set the bean basket at her feet and rose. “I’ll let you see it if you’ll tell me your interest. I’m thinking it might be worth a thousand dollars or so, depending on the buyer.” The guilty feeling from naming such an exorbitant amount made her face flush.

As they stood by the heap, he laid a hand on it. In a hush, he said, “This could well be it.” He straightened and stated, “My father drove such a car and disappeared in these parts in 1930.” He turned to her. “There would have been whiskey jugs.”

“Over there under the hay.”

“There would have been bones.”

“Over yonder, see that green lump with the white cross on it?”

“I’ll give you $10, 000 for the car, jugs and bones.”

“Mr. Padget, if that was your daddy, you take all of that with my blessing. We had no twinklin’ that any family would come to claim any of it.” She held out the book. “You can take this too. I won’t need it.” She bowed her head and imagined the Lord smiling in her direction.

He went back to his Avanti and returned with a black leather case. “In our family businesses, we mainly use cash. I brought quite a bit of cash, thinking you might be difficult.” He passed the case to her. “Take it all, for your generosity.”

“I can’t take all this, sir. What do you think the car is worth just as an antique?”

“Adding the sentimental value, I believe the contents of that case will cover it.”

She figured Padget probably wasn’t his name at all. “Would bringing this back give yourthe_logo_of_de_soto_motor_company mama some rest, finally knowing what happened?”

“I know it would.”

“Then just take it!”

“My honor will not allow it. I see no car here; do you have one? Does that roof leak? Will that tractor last another season? That little girl on your porch, will she be able to go to college? All I ask is that you don’t go into detail about me or the family. I would advise putting a grand in the bank as payment for the car, as many people know you had it. Keep the rest private or you’ll give half to the government in taxes. That doesn’t seem right to me. The government doesn’t appreciate private, family matters.”

Shady money. Should she give that black temptation back and send him on his way with what he came for? Or could it be that case of his was full of gray money, like the gray water from the washing machine that bypassed the septic tank. Not everything has to be officially processed. “I will accept your money and keep mum about it, I promise you. God bless you and your family.”

She bought a barely bruised Ford pick-up out of state and got her kitchen done up all modern. She bought a sewing machine you didn’t have to peddle and steam iron. She traded in her tractor for a better one and had been getting good corn crops in. She planted fifty apple trees in the old cow pasture, had a deep well put in and swapped her wringer washer for the a new boxy kind. She spread all that spending out over a few years, trading at different places. The apple trees grew stately and bountiful.

1965. As the Kitchen Aide kneaded the bread dough, Val hugged Vicky and grinned. “Look at the mixer, ain’t it the cat’s meow? It’s all your fault, you know that Punkin? All we got now is your fault for huntin’ frogs.” She looked at her daughter sideways, adding, “You just keep getting them good grades and you can study biology at the college. I hear they cut frogs up and look in their innards.”

Vicky opened the fridge for a Wink. “Mama, that’s dissection and we’re doing it this year in High School. She leaned back on the kitchen counter and took a long slug of the citrus soda. “College is really expensive and I don’t know if my grades are good enough for a scholarship. How much of that gray money we got left?”

“None of it. All of it got invested around here and now it’s our farm and orchard bringing the cash in. If you want more than that, you’d best go frog huntin’ again.”

Vicky thought about all the sweat and toil put into the farm; the money helped but wouldn’t have stretched nearly as far without her Mama’s dogged determination. Taking a deep breath and puffing it out, she made the internal commitment to get that scholarship. Frog money already gave her an amazing start, now it was her turn to do the rest.

A Single Wild Blossom

Greta sweltered at the keyboard, trying to get one more article done. Just one more! Think! She worked full time plus at the factory at salary, meaning they didn’t pay overtime. She sold books from her mother’s outrageously huge library online and did copywriting for six Keysbusinesses. She also had to care for her increasingly senile mother and keep the house and property up, all hundred acres of it. In all her spare time, she tried writing articles to sell to magazines.

She put the laptop on standby and leaned back to wipe the sweat from her chin, under her nose and off the back of her neck. Though she felt guilty, she woke the computer up and opened her silly romance story. She knew it was plotless and didn’t care. This story came as close to holding the man of her dreams in her arms as she was likely to get.

He did not meet the ruggedly handsome stereotype. He appeared tall, pale with dark hair, and walked with easy, mindful grace. He proved strength did not required bulging muscles. He did not flaunt his intelligence or his advanced degree in some physical science.

Annoyed to find herself rereading this stuff again, she clicked her article on how the local town worked to support the Little Brown Bats that were having a hard time. Every time she went to laud the townsfolk for erecting a hundred gaily painted bat houses, her subversive mind veered over to why the bats were failing: Bulldozing the forests to sell off the timber and let a contractor build cheap houses. No snags, no natural bat houses. No forest with streams and life – no bounty of insects for food. What good would a million bat houses be when they nailed them up by heavily sprayed farms?

Single BlossomRicky had a fun sense of humor, witty, and he smiled often. He often simply touched her as he walked by. He never bought her an expensive, plastic shrouded bouquet of hothouse flowers; he would bring her a single wild blossom and smile with his blue-violet eyes.

Lawd, if she couldn’t get the damned article written, she should mow the grass. She wiped the sweat from her eyes and went to the front door. Heat shimmered above the car and the dog lay sprawled on her back in a scrap of shade. On second thought, she decided to keep her intended late evening appointment for that. A vision flashed before her and soon she had the bowl of rocky road cradled in her hands.

Ricky volunteered to make dinner and asked whether she preferred cheddar or Swiss in the soufflé. Swiss, sweetheart. He would use fresh eggs from their own little flock of Cochins. She scraped the last marshmallow from the bowl, remembering how some refugee predator from a cleared woodland had killed her four hens one at a time, one a week, never able to get the heavy birds over the inadequate fence. Ricky would put a fence over the top and fasten it well, he’d know how to do it right and get right on it.

A knock on the door made her jerk and her heart race. She stood and pulled her wet tank top from her body. On the front porch, the retreating brown van had left a box. She bought it in and unpacked her super tornado whirlwind fan. She plugged it in and plopped in front of it. She wiped the tears from her eyes.