Posts Tagged ‘Short Story’

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Freelace Friday: I Answered Yes

April 27, 2012

This is a story I wrote a few years back that recounts on of the major turning points in my life.  I often wonder how my life would differ had I made different choices back then.  Don’t get me wrong, I would not change a thing, just something to ponder at times.  I think most people have similar stories in their lives, but most will not take the time to write them down.  That is a true shame too, as seeing events others face helps us see we are not as alone in life as we might think.  Besides, it’s sort of fun for people to see a side that is not always visible in the adult version of us.  

 

I Answered Yes!

“Yes,” I replied after a moment of reflection.  The damage was done; there was no use in caving in at that point.  Now looking back, it seems strange that, even at seventeen, I understood how such a mistake would turn into a blessing.  At well past forty, I see it as the pivotal turning point in my life – I answered “yes” in a loud clear voice.

To say I was independent as a teenager is being kind.  The truth is I was horribly rebellious and self-centered.  Ok, all teens are to a point but what I ended up doing took it to a completely new level.  No one could have guessed that by the end of the school year, so much would change.  I had always been one to push the limits, this time I simply blew past the limits like an Indy race care driver rounding the last turn and heading for the checkered flag.  You have to keep in mind, this was a time before classroom shootings, and such horrible events would dwarf anything I would do.  It was the last days of innocence all the way around.

The year started off pretty well, I was a junior, and things looked bright.  No longer was I on the bottom half of the feeding pool.  High school does have its pecking order, not only within the grade you’re in but between grades too.  Being in the first two years just makes you all the more a target.  I did not run with the “in” crowd to begin with, so now at least, I had a few years behind me.

In school, I did not have to apply myself much to get by.  Studying was easy for me but I found it to be boring.  Boring was something I did not do; besides, I was just arrogant enough to think I knew everything there was to know by that point in life.  What I needed was excitement, something to make life interesting.  Soon I would have all the “interesting” I could handle.

On that first day, Katrina caught my eye.  She was tall, beautiful and spoke with a heavy German accent, which made her even more exotic to me, sort of like Marlene Dietrich.  She was an exchange student attending that year.  We only had one class together – chemistry with Dr. Lamb.  I made my mind up then to see if she was the interesting bit I was looking for.

Without question, Dr. Lamb was a fascinating man and one of the most influential teachers in my life.  As a young man, he worked his way though college playing jazz piano in New Orleans.  To look at him you would not think it as he was round, bald, with fat little fingers and covered from chest to knee in chalk dust all the time.  He was the quintessential “lab coat nerd” one would expect to teach chemistry.  That is until he sat behind a piano.  He blew us away one day at a pep rally.  At first, we could not believe he was really playing like that, but he was.  I heard him play many times after that and he never fell short of being perfect.  He was amazing.  Dr. Lamb was one of the few people I had any respect for then.  Seeing his abilities in more than one area of interest opened my eyes to my own possibilities, without regard to the boundaries other might set.  I mean if this overweight, nerdy, white guy could earn his chops with the hard-nosed jazzmen of Greater New Orleans, I figured the door for whatever I wanted was open too.

Back in Dr. Lamb’s chemistry class, with some quick maneuvering on my part, I wound up at the lab table with Katrina.  I knew that meant we would be lab partners.  Katrina not only was attractive, she was smart, smart enough to read me right from the start, that point notwithstanding, we soon became an item and she did look good in my letter jacket.  Katrina stayed with a family a few houses down from us on East Beach.  St. Simons Island back then was not the place it is today.  It had more woods than homes.  Children had the freedom to roam the island at will and there was lots of room.  The beach was a major travel route for teens and a good place to raise some hell and not get too much attention.  I loved living on the beach.

In chemistry, we all had to pick projects to take on and had to keep lab books we would turn in each week for review.  We had to do a write up on the project we wanted and have it approved.  My first idea was a chemical form of perpetual motion.  Of course, I knew it would work but Dr. Lamb had his doubts.  As he put it, “I don’t think it will work, but right now for the life of me I can’t figure out why so you can give it a try.”  Turns out, he was right, but it did start the ball rolling for later events.

As the year went on, I was constantly in trouble over Katrina.  More than once, we were caught in compromising situations at both her home and mine and one time on the beach by the police.  Of course, I was grounded but as I had a balcony outside my window, it was an easy jump to the sand and I was on my way down the beach to see her again.  It had gotten to the point where the school was going to send her home for fear of her becoming pregnant.  Then, Dr. Lamb took me aside and put some reality in my mind.  Rather than speak to me with authority, he simply laid out the facts and told me to make a judgment on how my behavior would affect Katrina the rest of her life.  This was the first time anyone left it to me to figure something like that out.  They agreed that she could stay, if I would stop seeing her.  Neither of us was happy about it and I do not think she really understood why I agreed to it.  I’m not sure I did either; I just knew I had to.

So, I was unhappy with breaking up with Katrina, unhappy with the school, pretty much unhappy with life.  That is about the time my chemistry project finally fell apart, Dr. Lamb suggested I look over all the research and see if any part could be used for other purposes.  He said most progress came from the ruins of other ideas.  For me, it was at least a glimmer of hope.  Not may people can put their finger on an even that changed their life.  Turns out, this failure was the starting point of an even that would drastically change mine.

One aspect of my research involved better energy transfer in chemical processes.  I thought there might be something interesting to look for there, the nerd in me coming out.  Soon, I had reshaped my project for such improvements.  All chemical reactions release some form of energy.  That is basically how nuclear power works, albeit with physics.  Reactors make heat, heat makes steam, and steam runs turbines to make electricity.  I was looking to apply the same logic to chemical reactions.  It did not take people long to understand that nuclear energy had another use, a darker use – nuclear bombs.  Nor did it take me long to come to the same conclusion about my work.

I was pretty impressed with how quickly Dr. Lamb figured out what I was up too.  I did not refer to chemical bombs, explosions, or anything like that in my notes but by the end of the first week of my reshaped project, he was giving me another talking to, this time, he forbid from even designing the equations for such things.  He warned me it was simply too dangerous.  In hindsight, that may not have been the best thing to tell me.  I started a duel project in secret.  I would apply what I learned in class and worked out the equations and formulas on my own.  In the end, I could only do the research as the materials needed for such things were under lock and key in the chemistry lab.

Again, there I was, seventeen years old, frustrated over the loss of Katrina, frustrated with the school, frustrated with being grounded (without Katrina, there was little point in sneaking out), and frustrated that the only thing that had my interest seemed beyond my reach.  Funny thing about frustration, it too is like a chemical reaction, it builds up energy until it has to be released.  That release came one night during a school basketball game.

Earlier that day, I had devised a plan to leave one of the windows open in the chemistry lab.  It was easy to make the window look locked while it was still open.  I did need an accomplice at that point, as I was too large to shimmy over the wall and through the dropped ceiling tiles between the lab and the locked supply room.  I will not name my accomplice here (you’re welcome, M-), but had he known what I was up to, I don’t think he would have gone along with it.  The stage was set.

During the game, we slipped into the lab, then into the supply closet and soon my device (let’s call it a device) was finished, all we needed – a place to test it.  I did not know just how powerful the device would be.  I mean I knew the numbers from my calculations, but to what end?  Numbers can only take you so far, until you put a tangible scale to them, numbers mean nothing.  That scale was coming.

We went to the near by pond and without much thinking, threw it in.  What happened next was beyond my wildest expectations.  The device went off with the loudest explosion I have ever heard.  Later in my military life, the explosions in combat came a close second to what I heard that night.  Of course, I was much closer to mine than I ever was in combat.  The blast took us off our feet, a water plume rose at least 75 feet high, there was a blinding light of every color possible, the percussion took the air from our lungs, and we felt like a boulder had hit us.  After the steam cleared and we picked ourselves up, the water level in the pond was down about a foot or so.  What was worse, we could not hear.  Thank God, that cleared up.  Later we learned the basketball game, some half-mile away, stopped to find out what had happened.

Needless to say, we did not get away clean.  It did not take long at all for the truth of the matter to come out.  So there I was, if front of a peer review board (that’s how they do it in private school, they gather your friends together and they throw you out!) of four students and four teachers.  I took the lion share of the blame as that was fair.  Besides, Dr. Lamb knew the truth of it and I dared not disappoint him more than I had already.  At my hearing, for lack of a better word, Dr. Lamb spoke in my defense.  He said it would be wrong to end my scholastic career for being overly exuberant.  Here’s where a difference of opinion came in.  Dr. Lamb and I saw it as simply an unauthorized experiment gone wrong, everyone else saw it as breaking and entering with intent to destroy.  Luckily, for me, it was a different time back then.  If today, I am sure the FBI would want to have chatted, as it was, school was enough.

In school, I had two teachers I really admired; of course, Dr. Lamb and the other was William “Wild Bill” Coursey.  I owe my interest in writing to him.  I had the pleasure of being in Mr. Coursey’s English and literature classes all thought high school.  His classes were anything but boring; he looked like Walt Whitman in his younger years and could bring the driest classic to life.  Shakespeare was even a hit with teenaged boys under his guidance; he referred to Bard as “Good ol’ Bill Shakespeare.”

It was Mr. Coursey who presided over the day’s events, somehow that made the whole of it tolerable to me.  After all was said and a short deliberation, Mr. Coursey delivered the news – I was no longer welcome as a student.  Rather than belittling me or trying to make some moralistic point, he simply asked me one more question, “Do you think it was worth it?”  After taking my moment, I replied “yes!”  Then explained that right then the answer was no, but I was sure as years past, it would be absolutely yes.

Now as my life has moved on to many wonderful places and adventures, I can honestly say being kicked out of school was the watershed event that made me whom I am today.  I would not trade it for anything.  Mr. Coursey, I was right, the answer is still a strong, loud, absolute “Yes!”

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Freelance Friday: The Bucket that Never Empties

April 20, 2012

As I structure my blog more, I need a place to put random thoughts and posts that just don’t fit in particular topics.  Friday is the day for that.  They might be short, little snippets or long, thought-out blogs.  It all depends on my mood.  

Of course, there is the danger that I have nothing of interest on a given Friday.  If that is the case, I will have to get creative with something to post.  While not sort on ideas, last night I was reminded of a short story I penned a few years back.  Is reads like a fairytale or parable.  Today, I am going to post it for my Friday offering.  It is rather short; I was limited to 1200 words.  I am thinking of expanding it.  Would love to know if everyone thinks I should.

 

The Bucket that Never Empties

Once upon a time, there lived a powerful wizard.  He traveled the world looking to find true love; he did not think it existed for it was the one thing he could not make with magic or tricks.  He had been told that to find it he first had to find the bucket that would never empty.  He searched and searched until it seemed the whole world had been traveled, but no bucket could be found.  He began to think it did not exist.

One day he walked into a small village he had never heard of before.  How is this, he thought to himself as he was wise and knew many things.  Yet, there it was – a town he did not know.  Walking up to the blacksmith, the wizard asked, “What town is this?  Why is it here?  I see no crossroad or river.”

Laughing a big laugh, “why we have no name here, we’ve never had the need for one.”  As the blacksmith continued fashioning a horseshoe he asked, “you must have traveled far to come to this place.  No one comes unless they are looking for something, what is it you seek?”

Feeling sure there is nothing to gain in this town, “I seek a bucket, a magic bucket that does not empty, it holds the only magic I do not have,” the wizard shares.

“Ah, the bucket!” exclaims the blacksmith with a knowing smile.  “Come have supper with me and my wife, we shall talk of the thing you seek.”  The blacksmith motions towards his house behind the shop.  “Come, my wife will make you a fine meal and we can talk.”

The wizard cannot believe this man knows of the bucket, he had searched so long and only the wisest men had even heard of it.  How could this simple man know of such things?  Waiting for a moment to think things through, “yes, yes I would be glad to dine with you – and talk!”  Entering the home the wizard feels warmth unlike felt in any other.  Surly the humble fire could not be giving such warmth, but yet he felt it.  There is something special about this place, the wizard thought, something special about these people.  Soon the meal was ready and they all sat down and enjoy it.

Watching the gentle way the man treated his wife seemed odd, him being a blacksmith and all, yet with her, he was quite the lamb.  And with the way she treated him, one might think him a king, the wizard pondered on it throughout the meal.  He waited all he could, “you say you know where this bucket is,” the wizard asked.

“Do you mean the bucket that will not empty?” the wife asked in reply, it seemed even she knew of it.

“Yes, yes, I have searched so long for it,” the wizard said almost begging to know more.

“Oh, I did not think one so wise believed in such things,” she said as she cleared the table.

“Pay her no mind,” the smith said as he too cleared things away.  “She believes in it right enough, we all do,” and with that he kissed her gently on the cheek.

All alone, the wizard began to understand.  They had true love!  He must have the bucket!  he thought.  No more talk of the bucket was had.  The wizard had formed a plan.  The couple offered to put their visitor up for the night and he readily agreed.  Perfect, he thought.  When they are asleep, I will search the house.  The bucket will be mine!

Soon as he was sure the couple was asleep, the wizard searched the house.  He looked at every bucket he could find.  Nothing seemed special about any of them.  It must be hidden, he told himself.  Allowing his frustration to get the better of him, the wizard gave no concern to the mess he made and pulled all sorts of things from their place.  He emptied drawers; he pulled out packing boxes.  He looked under the stairs; he looked in the root cellar – still no magic bucket. He was exhausted and sat down on the kitchen floor.  He was so tired, he fell asleep right there.

Before the sunrise, the blacksmith started his day.  Seeing his house in such a state, be began to look around.  Who did this? he thought.  Looking into the kitchen, he saw the wizard on the floor asleep.  “Friend,” he said and he shook his guest awake.  “Why have you done this?”

Looking around at what he had done, the wizard felt ashamed.  He told the blacksmith the truth, the truth about everything.

Rather than anger, the blacksmith laughed his big belly laugh, “Come my friend, help me put all this away and I will give you the secret to the bucket.”

As the two men put things away, the blacksmith explained, “the bucket is not a real bucket; it is a way to love.”  The wizard did not understand.

“You see love lives in your heart’s bucket.  You can never know just how much is in there or when it might run dry by giving your love away.  As you put yours into your lover’s bucket, they in return put theirs in yours.  That way neither ever is empty.  It is the secret to true love.  It is when love is not returned the heart is in danger.”  The wizard just smiled, it was so simple, he laughed at missing its truth all these years, he now understood.

Later that morning as the wizard left his friends, he looked back on the little town knowing he had the bucket all along.  We all have it.  We have to give love as well as receive it, only then we can know true love.  Only then will love’s bucket never empty.

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Sammie and the Goose

March 24, 2012

Sammie

When my brother-in-law is out-of-town, I take Sammie for his morning walk.  If you are not a “dog-person” you may not know the wonder of this daily event.  Dogs have an innate ability to brighten even the gloomiest of days, simply by being glad to see you.  Add to that, their own excitement and joy knowing they are going for a walk and you cannot help but be overcome with the pure joy of the moment.  Most dogs and dog people have keywords they share that let them know something good is coming.  In Sammie’s case it’s “want to go?”  You say that to him and you will see the embodiment of joy.

Recently, as my brother-in-law was out-of-town, I was going to take Sammie.  He is a creature of habit.  Throughout the day, he will remind you he gets to go outside at certain times, if you forget.  He likes his dinner between 5 and 6PM, things like that.  His walk comes in the morning between 7 and 8.  Forget that one, and as sure as shooting, he will be nudging you towards the door.

On this particularly nice spring morning, I asked him “want to go?” He did.  Boy did he!  It is short drive to the park where I like to walk him. His excitement grows with each turn as we get closer to the park.   It is right next to the Lehigh River and the Northampton Canal Park.  Most people use the paved path that heads south along the river, Sammie and I take the unpaved northern path that takes us down the jetty that separates the river from the canal.  It is sort of wild and secluded and provides a much more interesting walk.  As Robert Frost would say “the one less traveled by.”

In the winter, the path is snowy and the canal is iced over and the jetty seems the preferred sleeping ground for a good number of deer.  As we would approach in the early morns, they would break and crash through the ice in the canal, fleeing to the safety of the far shore.  It was quite a site for Sammie and me to see.

D & L Canal

As the weather has warmed, all the migratory birds abound.  Many like to make a pit-stop on the canal before heading off to their final destination; to summer around Hudson Bay most likely.  So here we were, heading down the path.  Sammie is not an aggressive dog towards birds.  Squirrels on the other hand seem to be his sworn enemy.  He sees one, lunges on his leash, barks his head off, then looks back at me like “that was fun,” all the while, the squirrel scampers off, snapping its tail, as if laughing at Sammie, to the safety of a tree branch.

There we were, walking along, playing our squirrel-hunt game, ignoring ducks and geese along the way.  I guess we had gone about a mile, maybe a bit more when all of a sudden, seemly out of nowhere, a big, mean, noisy, squawking, white bag of feathers  charged Sammie taking him by surprise.  It flapped and squawked and bit Sammie with its beak right on the neck.  Now, by no means did it hurt Sammie, I mean, how could it?  It was a goose for crying out loud, not to mention Sammie’s several inches of fur protecting him.  Still, it did give him a startle.  I jumped too, but that was just to make Sammie not feel so bad about it all.

Even when chasing a squirrel, Sammie has a happy bark, a playful bark.  Not this time.  Sammie seemed incensed by this unprovoked attack.  He lunged and snarled and was just about to bite that damned goose’s head off when I pulled him back.  I pulled with all my might – I had too.  Sammie was in a rage.  That stupid goose just stood there flapping his wings making that god-awful racket that they do.  For a few moments it was a Mexican standoff with the goose having the distinct advantage.   Finally, I was able to pull Sammie far enough away he began to settle down.  All the while that damned goose just kept squawking.  I had enough, Sammie wanted to continue the debate with his feathered friend.

We made our way back to the car, all the while poor ol’ Sammie looking over his shoulder.   To be honest, I was half-tempted to let Sammie put that goose in his place but thought better of the idea.  Sammie was none the worse for wear but the next morning my arm sure was sore.  Sammie is a pretty much a passive dog.  Mostly we think of him as the sort of dog that will show a burglar where to the good china is.  It is good to know he can handle things when the situation calls for it.

Old Dam D & L Canal

The next morning, it was time to take Sammie for his walk.  All seemed perfectly normal.  Sammie was back to his never-ending battle with squirrels and ignoring all the birds around.  Then something changed.   As soon as we reached the part of the jetty where the battle-royal took place the day before, Sammie’s mood became intent.  He was on the hunt.  He lowered himself as we walked with his eye fixed in the distance.  Then he saw him, he saw that damned goose from the day before.  It was uncanny.  We must have passed four geese that looked just like this one with no problem.  Sammie knew the difference.  This one was still under his skin.  Again, he barked and pulled like he meant business.  This time, the goose kept his distance in the canal. I guess he figured he pushed his luck far enough the day before.  He did not even squawk.  Sammie barked and pulled but soon calmed down. He stood there on the bank of the canal and just watched his nemesis swim away.

He may have felt he lost the battle the day before but now he knew he had won the war.  No longer hunting, no longer feeling slighted, Sammie and I walked back to the car.  All the while Sammie held his head high and bounced with a swagger that all could see.  He did not even bother with the squirrels; he was living in the moment.  It was Sammie’s day to be king.

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Ferdinand the Bull

March 21, 2012

 

ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive: Filmography: Ferdinand the Bull (1938)

This is a story I heard a long time ago. I thought I would share it this morning. With spring in the air, it seems a good time:

Ferdinand was a bull. Now he was no ordinary bull – he was a Spanish bull. Being a Spanish bull, he was a romantic bull and boy did he love cows. Out of all the cows in the world, Ferdinand loved heifer cows the best. When he was about two years old, it was his time to go to the market and get a heard of his own.

After much haggling between the two men, Ferdinand was on his way to his new home walking beside his new human. You see, the farmer that bought young Ferdinand was poor but seemed a nice sort so things looked pretty good. As they walked the man talked with his new friend.

“Now Ferdinand,” said the man, “I don’t have much to offer you. If fact I am just starting a new heard and all the cows are still heifers.”

Ferdinand’s ears perked up even more, you don’t have to worry about me, the young bull thought, I’ll do my part.

And that he did. A couple of years later, the farmer was looking over his fields one morning and could see cows everywhere. In fact, he now had more cows than he could feed. “That Ferdinand sure is one good bull,” he told his wife. “I will have to do something about it thought; we cannot afford to feed all these cows. I will build a pen for him, just until I can take some of them to the market.”

Ferdinand watched the farmer build the pen and even help out by pulling the wagon for him. It was not until he was inside his finished home he began to understand something was wrong. Walking around the pen, he found he could not get to any of his cows. All he could do is look at the farmer with a deep sadness in his eyes.

“Now, now Ferdinand, do not worry. You will be back with your cows soon. I just have to take some to the market,” the farmer reassured him. “After that, things will be back to normal.”

Thinking on it, Ferdinand realized the farmer had been very good to him so he would play along for a few days and then just knock the fence down and visit his cows. After about a week, he was feeling kind of frisky when he awoke and looked out to see a group of cows about two-hundred yards away. Yep, today is the day, he thought. I’ll just bust out of here and pay those girls a visit.

Ferdinand back up a few yards and trotted at the fence and rammed it. It did not move. Hmm… this is going to take some effort, he told himself. Now as he looked out, the cows where about one-hundred yards off and he really wanted out of the pen. Moving halfway across the pen, he snorted once stamped the ground and charged the gate with enough speed he thought would carry him through. BOOM! Ferdinand hit the fence, again it did not move. This time the bull had to shake it off and was now mad. “How could my friend do this to me,” he let out in one long, low moo. To make it worse, now the cows were close enough to dive him wild. He was determined to get out.

Backing up to the far side of the pen, Ferdinand snorted and pawed the ground blowing dust up and he dropped his head low. Just like his cousins that fight the matadors, he charges with everything he had, this time the fence will surly fall! A KABOOM rings out as Ferdinand hits the fence and dust and dirt clouds swirl about. As the air clears a bit, there is Ferdinand, flat on the ground. Coming too, and shaking his head, he sees the fence held fast.

The cows came over to see what all the fuss was about and now he could rub noses with them. This just made him beyond sad as he knew he was trapped. Poor Ferdinand just wandered over to a tree away from the cows and dropped in huff to the ground and hung his head. Looking back over at his cows, he was just about to loose all hope when he really started looking at the fence.

All of the sudden, Ferdinand formed a new idea. I can jump that fence, he thought as the smile returned to his face and he stood with new energy. He looked at the fence again, I am sure of it, I can just jump it. Backing up to the far end of his pen and this time with more speed than he had ever run before, Ferdinand charges the fence. Getting to just the right spot, Ferdinand jumps with all his might and barely goes over the top and lands right next to this cute little heifer cow.

“Hey, you must be Ferdinand the Bull!” she moos with excitement.

“Just call me Ferdinand,” he moos back. “That fence was just a little higher than I thought!”

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Thank You!

March 5, 2012

I wish to thank everyone for helping make my Amazon Kindle book promotion a success.  Over 300 people took advantage and downloaded In the Wake of Enchantress and Life’s About the Adjectives.  It is a wonderful way to gain exposure for work.  As a way of thanks, I am making my short story about my father’s battle with cancer available for free for a few days before it goes into the Amazon Prime program.  Just click on the picture below.  Of course, if you do not have a Kindle, you can simple download the free app for IPAD, Nook,PC or whatever you have.  It’s free and can be found at the same link.

 

Again, Thanks!

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