Category Archives: Short Stories

“Asleep at the Wheel”

 

Hector heaved a very big sigh and squirmed a little.  Well, he had asked for it.  He had wanted to go to this conference and now he understood why there hadn’t been much opposition. Three days in close proximity to 200 people who only wanted to talk about their product, their complaints, their . . .   He had thought that these things were to exchange ideas and commiserate with individuals who had been through the same obstacles, the same hurdles that he had.  Instead, it was just a long weekend to bitch, drink too much, eat too much and complain about everything.

Well, it was over, over and done with.  It would definitely be the last time Hector Alonso Salvatan ever volunteered for that kind of duty.  He had heard that conferences were fun, informative.  Of course, he had heard that from colleagues who were mysteriously unable to attend this particular conference.

He smiled.  It had been a learning experience and now he was safely ensconced in his car and headed home.  Home to Maria, Emily and the little name-sake, the heir apparent: Hector junior.  Hector senior smiled.  He was proud of his little family.  His little angel of 6 going on 26.  She was so caught up in fashion it was creepy.  What on earth could be fashionable about being 6 years old?

Hmmmm. Comfortable, that’s what I am, thought Hector, comfortable. So very comfortable.  He smiled again and slowly his comfort eased his eyelids closer and closer together, until only a small slit remained to tell his weary body how to drive.

Whoa! Shit! Okay, okay! I’m okay! Damn!  With a jolt Hector roused himself from the stupor that had threatened to careen his weary body into the ditch.  That was not good, that was really stupid.  Okay, how would that have looked? Christ! Salesman of the Year Falls Asleep At The Wheel.  Great headline.  Sleeping on the job.  Okay that is not going to happen again.

When his heart rate returned to a more reasonable rhythm, Hector tried to rationalize what had just happened.  He knew he shouldn’t have tried to drive home tonight.  It was past midnight and he had not had much sleep in the last three nights.  First, he had worried about his presentation at the conference and then there was just too much noise to actually sleep. He wanted to go home.  Sheesh thought Hector, I sound like a child.

With the return of calmness also came the return of complacency.  Once again, the comfortable car seat and the hypnotic thrump, thrump, thrump of the tires on the road worked their magic.  His eyelids became heavier, and heavier, his chin slowly arched towards his chest and his breathing became evenly spaced and quiet.  This time differed from the first in the distance the car was able to travel in a straight line.  The road didn’t curve for several hundred yards and as a result Hector’s car gave no outward sign that anything was wrong, at least not for several seconds.

**********************

When he awoke Hector was confused.  It was dark; his headlights didn’t seem to be working.  He was also uncomfortable, he felt like he was sitting on an angle and he was wet.  Why was he sitting in the water on an angle? He couldn’t remember, he couldn’t think.  His world was closing in on him and his mind desperately wanted to panic.

Hector squeezed his hands together forcing his fingernails into the palms of his hands and began to recite Santa’s reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, . . . . Prancer, damn it . . . ,Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Bashful and Sneezy.  With that he started to chuckle. An almost hysterical laughter threatened to erupt, but he forced it back down.  “I will NOT PANIC . . . I will NOT panic . . . I WILL not panic. . . I will not panic.  As he said the words out loud Hector began to regain his composure.

As his mind cleared, he started to understand with horrific clarity just what had happened.  He had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car and as a result he had driven off the road.  It was a secondary road and not well traveled. He had believed that it would take at least an hour off his six-hour drive home.  Now it looked as if that decision was going to cost him a whole lot more than an hour.

He needed to take stock of the situation.  He didn’t know how long he had been unconscious but the darkness was becoming a little less intense.  He could almost make out shapes.  It appeared that his car was covered with shrubbery, small trees perhaps that had broken off as he plunged down an embankment?

Once again Hector paused and tried to understand what was happening. He was alive, that was important.  He didn’t appear to be too badly injured, that was equally important. His body did ache in unusual places but that was to be expected in a car crash.  The car . . . it did seem to be in one piece, but Hector now discovered that he couldn’t swivel around to see out the back window.  In fact, his body didn’t seem to want to do anything he asked of it. His arms worked, a little, and there was no pain.  Actually, there was little feeling, at all.

Just beneath the surface of this otherwise intelligent man bubbled feelings and emotions that threatened to overcome him. He knew that panic killed more people than actual injuries did, he would not be one of those statistics.  He would not.  Maria, he would concentrate on her face, and Emily and Little Hector.  He wanted to see them graduate and get married and . . . .  Hector gave his head a shake.  Think positively and you will get out of this situation.  You always do.

**************************

With a jolt our hero realized that he had been asleep, again.  His eyes felt gritty and there was a nasty taste in his mouth. He tried to wipe the sleep from his eyes and only succeeded in slapping his nose.  Confused Hector looked down.  The light was filtering into the car and he could now make out more images and understand what he was seeing. He was wet.  Now he understood why and why he felt little pain.  Just about where Hector thought his pelvic bone resided there was a tree branch sticking out, or maybe it was an actual tree.  It had leaves and rough bark.  He could even see a few ants furiously traipsing back and forth.  He idly wondered why he did not itch and then smiled.  Little Hector would think this was so cool.

In the sporadic light he could also make out a pool of water that seemed to cover most of the front seats and the floor. With growing horror Hector realized that while it was indeed wet it was not water, it was blood.  Just at that moment the demons that lurk deep inside every one of us broke loose of their bonds and overwhelmed this mild-mannered salesman. If any person had been nearby, they would have been terrified to hear the blood curdling screams that seemed to split the air. Birds took to the sky in panicked flocks,  and deer quickly left to seek other feeding grounds.  Hector was alone, truly alone.

For each of us time passes in the details of our lives.  We get out of bed; we go to work.  We have tasks that we perform each day, some personal and intimate, others dictated by the requests of another.  But the one thing we all have in common is that we do things.

Hector did nothing.  He slept, he cried, he ranted, he screamed and he thought. He thought about himself, his family, his co-workers and he talked.  He talked to himself and he talked to God.  He didn’t try to blame anyone else for his predicament, it was his fault alone, he knew that.  He wondered how he would be remembered. Would it be as the idiot that got himself killed or the unlucky man with the misfortune to die alone.  He didn’t want to be forgotten. That’s what he wanted out of this life: to be remembered.  If it had to end this way then he wanted someone to benefit from this lesson that he had learned too late.

The sun slowly succumbed to the growing darkness.  As the moon rose in its gentle arc the creatures of the night ventured forth to feed and to investigate the strange metal beast that had intruded into their world. Some were able to touch the beast and taste its hard, cold flesh only to be frightened away by the strange noises from within.  Over time the noises became weaker until the cold beast no longer spoke. And over time the creatures from the night and those who walk by day, no longer cared about the stranger.  They had their own lives to live and to die as time inexorably lumbered on.

***********

“Hey Hector, wake up man, you gonna let them get away with that!”

Slowly Hector once again struggled towards a conscious state and was startled by what he found there: he was in a chair in the lobby of the hotel and a rather drunk, dishevelled behemoth was excitedly spewing spittle in his face.

It was a dream!  He was alive!  He hadn’t left for home as planned. He laughed out loud and threatened to kiss the surprised behemoth. “I’m ALIVE.”   He didn’t stop to explain his actions as he bolted for his room and a phone.  He was going to call Maria and tell her how much he loved her and the kids and then he was going to get at least 8 hours sleep before he drove home on the very busy main roads.

****************

“A Boy Scout troupe today found the body of Edward Hayes, 54, who had been missing for 5 months.  The search for Mr. Hayes had been concentrated on the main roads it was believed he would have travelled between his home and a conference he had been attending.  Unfortunately, it now appears that Mr. Hayes had been travelling a little used secondary highway.  It is believed he fell asleep at the wheel and drove off the road into a deep ravine.  No foul play is suspected. Due to the steep embankment and the abundant underbrush the car was virtually invisible from the road.”

“In other news . . . .”

Dream Walker

Have you ever awoken from a deep sleep with your lips pulsating as if from a lover’s kiss?  Have you ever been alone in the middle of the night and yet awoken gasping and wet as if from an intimate embrace? Dreams. In the middle of the night our defences are at their weakest.  We cannot protect ourselves from the dreams that enter our minds when we are asleep.  The experts say that we dream constantly, that our minds are solving complex problems that we cannot contend with when conscious. That would explain many dreams but not all of them.  Some people do not remember their dreams. Some awaken feeling as if something wonderful has happened but they have no recollection of what. Others awaken with the dream intact.

Dreams are not reality. Or are they? What if they are manifestations of a different reality?  What if dreams are engineered by a person or persons with more powerful minds than the average dreamer?  What if . . . . .

***************

Jeremy laid his head on the pillow.  He sighed.  It had been an exhausting day and he needed his sleep desperately.  Preferably eight blissfully uninterrupted hours of unconsciousness.  Then he could start this nonsense all over again.  His eyes closed, his body relaxed.

There was a gentle breeze wafting through the glen.  That seemed to keep the temperature comfortable although he couldn’t actually feel it.  He knew it was there by watching the long grasses moving as if to a gentle love ballad. Jeremy didn’t know where he was.  He did know that he was at peace here; the rest of the world was far away and unimportant.  And then he saw her.

A tall slender figure slowly materialized out of the dense forest.  They say that beauty is quantifiable, that there are certain effects that are the difference between beautiful and merely attractive.  They say that our visual understanding is predicated on our past experiences and that our interpretation of what we see is primal.  Jeremy had no words to speak or even to think of as she walked towards him.  His body betrayed him; he leaned forward as if to embrace her and she stopped.  Even the words she spoke touched his heart as if a gentle kiss brushed his lips.  He waited.  His breath came quicker as he watched her.  He wanted her.  He wanted to embrace her.  He wanted to rest his head on her lap like a child and feel safe.  He did feel safe.  He felt as if this is where he was meant to be.

***************

Anna didn’t want to fall asleep, yet she felt the strong pull of her bed.  She had been up too long, working too hard on too many projects. She needed the relief of nothingness, the mindless abandonment of sleep.  She turned out the lights and rolled into a more comfortable position.  Anna sighed.

The elevator doors opened quickly, she darted inside.  She had to be in time, she had to catch him.  With a slight jolt the elevator began it’s decent.  Ninety floors, it would take too long, she had to stop him.  Anna glanced at the floor indicator, it was moving as if in a free fall.  Bullet Elevator.  She remembered.  It was the new Bullet Elevator that moved three times faster than the fastest elevator in use.  She was going to make it.  Before she had finished her next thought, the elevator doors opened on the ground floor and Anna began looking for him, the man she cared for.  She knew he was headed for the parking lot and it was a bit of a walk.  There were two routes he could take: underground via a shopping concourse or outside across a courtyard and a street.  There was a turnstile ahead and a tall, slender woman taking tickets.  Tickets!  Anna didn’t have a ticket.  She looked down at her hand and at the necessary ticket.  The slender woman smiled as she accepted the ticket.  Anna moved quickly, she would catch John and everything would be all right.

***************

Car fumes, she could smell car fumes.  Madelaine tried to turn over.  She was lying on her side and she was painfully aware of the very hard surface beneath her. What the hell was she doing in a parking garage?  That’s where she was, an underground parking garage.  Sue.  She was here with Sue.  They were practicing with the sword.  Why?  Sue had purchased a very old sword of some obscure parentage and she wanted to practice with it.  Her apartment held too many breakables to risk swinging a potentially deadly weapon so the garage it was.  Kidnapped!  She remembered; Sue has been kidnapped!  She had to reach a phone, call the police, but there was still one of the kidnappers in the garage.  A woman, a tall, slender woman and she had a gun.  Madelaine was the target; she had tried to protect Sue and now she was in trouble. She was hiding beneath a car, she was frightened, confused.  There were footsteps coming towards her, they stopped.  Madelaine held her breath.

5:00 am came much too early in the morning to suit Madelaine but it was what her job required.  It hadn’t been a restful night.  She had a nagging head ache behind her eyes and she was exhausted.  Madeline sighed, someone had to be at the office first and she had been nominated. Oh well, it paid the bills.

***************

Do you ever awakened from a dream and wonder about the people you have just met? You swear you have never seen them before and yet they are familiar to you.  Does the same person show up in many of your dreams, sort of a recurring figure and yet you don’t know them, or do you? Is it a tall slender woman with a warm smile or perhaps a solid, stocky man with a glint in his eye?  Maybe both.  What actually happens in our dreams? It is almost like entertainment.  Entertainment for whom?  Is it for our benefit or for someone else’s, someone with the ability to insert themselves into our minds and follow or perhaps control our dreams?  Interesting thought.  Oh, and pleasant dreams.  Maybe I’ll see you there.

 

 

 

After the End   

         It was over, the end.  It was the end of shopping malls and ice cream cones.  It was the end of School Prom Nights and High School football games.  It was the end of late-night television and microwave popcorn.  It was also the end of high-speed car chases and that singing purple dinosaur on children’s TV.  It was the end of TV.

         No one knows what happened.  No one knows how it started. Everyone knows when it ended and when a new beginning began.  It was last night and today.  Today is the first day of the rest of my life.  Let’s hope it isn’t the last as well.

         My name is Ana Elizabeth Evans and I am . . . well I am here.  I know  what I was yesterday.  Yesterday I was a secretary, a good one.  Today . . . well today I am alive and I don’t think that is all that common. I don’t even know if I can explain what happened.  When I went to bed everything was fine.  This morning everything is not.  Something happened in the night that changed everything.  The world as we know it, ended.  There was a horrible explosion, the earth literally moved.  I thought it was an earthquake but I have never felt one before and I don’t live where they happen.  Power is out so I can’t check the news on the radio or the TV.  I haven’t seen anyone since I woke up.  The sky is a funny colour, sort of like putty, old cracked putty.  And there is a smell about, not offensive, just odd.  Like hand cream, sort of.  I can’t place it but it seems familiar.  And the quiet.  I have never heard such quiet.  There are no birds, no insects, no cars.  Creepy.  I have to wonder if perhaps it is not the world that has gone strange but maybe it’s me.  I have read stories where people are hit by cars and are in a coma and they actually live a whole life in their heads while their body rots in some hospital bed.  I’m not sure I like that thought.  Fiction.  Either way I am alone.  All alone.  I should be panicking, screaming, going crazy.  But I’m not.  I am calmly writing in my journal as if it’s just another day.  I am also hungry.  And there is nothing in my cupboard.

There used to be a variety store a couple of blocks down the street.  I wonder if it’s still there?  I wonder if they have anything to sell?  I wonder if I will need any money?

         Well, the store was there, the people were not.  I picked up a few things to eat and a paper, yesterdays.  Everything is so quiet.  And that sky, so odd.  There is no electricity so I can’t cook anything.  Cereal, that doesn’t have to be cooked.  No milk.  Bread and peanut butter.  Bread won’t last forever, so I had better eat it now.  I’ll feel better once I’ve eaten.

         I don’t feel a lot better.  I just don’t feel hungry. The paper didn’t enlighten me.  Just more of the same, politicians angry because  someone said something nasty, it was probably true, people stealing and killing and invading, and, and, and. . .  We live in a very nasty world.  Did live in a very nasty world.  I have to find other people.  There must be someone else around, I can’t be the only one left.

* * * * * * *

         Ok so I am not the greatest walker.  I doubt if I have walked two miles.  But this is, was, a very busy town, there should be people around.  There doesn’t seem to be any damage to the buildings.  An earthquake would damage buildings, wouldn’t it?  There should be some kind of sign to explain what has happened.  The stores aren’t locked.  At least the ones I’ve gone into.  I read once that there are bombs that will kill the people and leave all the buildings intact. What about bodies?  Why wasn’t I affected? I’m hungry again.  There is a deli just down here somewhere . . .

         Ok I’m not hungry anymore.  This really can’t continue, food is going to spoil and then I’ll get sick if I eat contaminated stuff.  I should pick up some non-perishables.  Of course, if no one is around and the stores are open . . .

         In some ways this is way too much fun.  I can shop without anyone nagging me or looking over my shoulder.  I don’t have to stand in line.  I don’t have to pay! The downside is I don’t have anyone I can tell about it either.  Funny, I don’t really remember other people.  I mean my boss, my co-workers, friends.  That’s silly.  Isn’t it?  My boss was Mr . . . Ms . . .  I must have a concussion.  That would explain a lot. I must have fallen out of bed when the earthquake, or whatever it was, happened and that’s why I can’t remember things.  Whew, good explanation.  Life is easier when it makes sense.  Or at least enough sense that I can understand it.  I wonder if I could change my apartment? If no one is around, who is going to complain? Definitely ground floor, no elevator.  I guess air conditioning is not going to be an option, or heat.  That could be a problem. The temperature is pretty comfortable.  Not too hot, not too cold. Weird, there isn’t even a breeze.  I feel very . . .safe? I wonder what happened?

* * * * * * *

         It has been a couple of days since I wrote in my journal.  I guess I should try and write everything down so I can attempt to understand what is happening to me.  I found a nice apartment on the ground floor and moved.  It’s near the harbour so I can look out on the water. No boats of course, or rather lots of boats, no one in them.  This place is strange, there are no pictures or clothes, no personal items at all.  It’s almost as if it was just sitting here waiting for me to come looking for it.  It’s exactly what I would have wished for; lots of windows, big kitchen, big bedroom.  There are no lights of course.  I guess nothing is going to work until someone figures out what happened and fixes it. I know I am not alone, there just isn’t anyone near me.

         I had a funny dream last night.  Not ha ha funny. but odd funny.  Someone was looking over me, perhaps trying to help? I was in a lot of pain and then the pain stopped, just stopped.  Dreams are supposed to mean something.  As if your subconscious is trying to sort things out.  If that is the case then maybe it was God looking down at me wanting to help.  The pain could be the confusion I feel at not being able to find anyone or explain what has happened.  The pain went away which could mean I will find someone to explain everything to me.  There is an easy answer to all of this.  I will find a library and get a book on dreams.  Books still exist outside of computers.  See, now if we relied solely on computers our world would cease to exist.  No electricity, no computers.  Score one for low tech.

         I found a supermarket and brought back lots of bottled water and crackers and stuff that won’t rot.  Naturally that means mostly junk food.  I will eat the fresh stuff as long as it lasts and then I’ll have to think of something else.  People survived quite well before refrigeration and microwaves.  I’ll look for a book on early settlers while I’m in the library.  I should start making a list of all of the stuff I need.  Eventually I’ll need blankets, but not yet.  I have to find a hardware store, a camping store – a propane stove, then I can have hot stuff.

         When you think about it, it’s not so bad.  I have food, not high class, but edible.  I have water, I have a roof over my head, I can walk around naked if I want to.  Okay maybe not naked.  I can read for as long as I want to, I don’t have to share the bathroom.  Interesting device still flushes, just uses lots of water.  I don’t really miss television, or subways, or morning rush hour, or . . . I miss people.

 * * * * * * *

         I am going to get myself into shape.  I have decided that I have to have something to do that does not involve pampering myself.  Pampering is only nice for a few days.  I am going to do this.  I will walk for two hours each day, I will do fifty sit-ups, I will . . . Who do I think I’m kidding?  I am lazy by nature.  The only walking I’m going to do is to the store and back.

         I wonder why I never tried to get my car to run.  Silly.  That concussion must have knocked too many marbles loose.  One doesn’t need electricity to run a car.  But you can’t gas one up at the pumps without electricity.  There are lots of cars around, I can siphon gas from them to put into mine.  I need to find a book that tells me how to siphon gas.  I am going to need a cart to carry all these books back to my apartment.  Maybe I’ll just read them there and make notes on what information I need.  So now I need some pens and some paper.  This list is getting long.

         People are funny.  When they are around you day in and day out all you want is to be left alone.  What is it they say ‘be careful what you wish for, you may get it’?  Well, I got it.  I am alone.  I have the necessities of life, but I have no life.  I am alive but I am not living.  It has been long enough now that I am sure there is no one else left.  I look out on this beautiful world and I am ashamed.  We take so much for granted.  We abuse what we have and then cry foul when it is taken from us.  Maybe we don’t deserve this paradise we were given.  Maybe our time here is over.

It would be interesting to know how future scientists will explain what happened to Homo sapiens.  They won’t be able to use the meteor theory.  I hope people are remembered for the beauty that does exist, did exist.  The paintings, the sculptures.  If the buildings survive, then we as a people will survive in our literature, our galleries, and our homes.  Our stay here was over too quickly but maybe we didn’t mature as fast as our technology.  That was the mistake.  We became slaves to the very things we invented to make our lives easier.  But we were good.  I hope who ever occupies this world next will learn from our mistakes and remember us for what we were at the core.  As a people we were fallible but essentially good.

         I’m tired now.  I have written for too long, and thought too much. Yes, I will go to sleep now. Maybe the pain will go away again tonight.

* * * * * * *

         “The explosion that occurred last week in a downtown apartment building is believed to have been caused by a faulty furnace.  The final victim died this evening.  She was a secretary with Ellerton and Fitch, a prominent investment firm.  One of the partners, Mr. Robert Ellerton stated that Ms. Evans was the best secretary he had ever worked with and that she will be missed.  Ms. Evans died at 8:07.  In other news . . .”

         The nurse gently pulled a sheet over Ana Elizabeth’s head.  Perhaps now she was in a better place.

The End

Sweet Valentine

Madeline stood across the street for a moment thinking about what she was about to do.  She had always considered herself an intelligent woman; she had a good career and a lovely new home.  She believed that she was mildly attractive.  And yet, she was lonely.  Her divorce had come through a few weeks ago, just before a job offer here, in what for her was a new town.  She had no family and no friends nearby.  Essentially, she was starting her life over. Alright, she thought.  Change is in the air.  Let’s do it! She squared her shoulders and crossed the street to the Pet Adoption Agency.

When Madeline entered, a young woman behind the desk immediately looked up and smiled.  A huge, tabby, feline-like creature also looked up, yawned and promptly went back to sleep.  Upon closer inspection, it was indeed just a very large cat.  He sat, or more correctly sprawled across the top of the desk.  It seemed to be a generous desktop, but underneath this huge feline it almost looked small.

“Hello,” said Madeline, “I’m looking to adopt a cat.”

The young woman’s smile became even more pronounced.

“Well, we can certainly help you with that.  Are you looking for any particular breed, sex, or colour?”

As the two women spoke, the huge cat raised its head, yawned once again and stretched out a paw to Madeline. Almost without thinking she scratched behind his ears, and smiled for the first time in days.

“He likes you, and he’s available for adoption.”

“What exactly is he?  He’s so big. It’s a he, isn’t it?”

The young woman behind the desk chuckled.  “Yes, he’s a cat.  He’s a Maine Coon; they’re an extremely large breed. But they’re very gentle, curious and they like people a lot.  He would make a great companion.”

Madeline thought about it for a moment. “Why is he here? He certainly seems well fed and content. Is there something wrong with him?” She wanted someone to share her new life with, but she wasn’t sure she was ready to take on any complications.

For the first time since Madeline had walked in the door the young woman lost her smile.

“It’s sad. He was abandoned, left alone in an empty apartment.  Someone just packed up their belongings and left. It’s awful that anyone would do that to such a beautiful creature.”

The anger on this young woman’s face was obvious. Madeline shared it. Cruelty to animals was one of her pet peeves.

“Does he have a name?”

“He was found with a name tag: Valentine.”

Madeline’s heart missed a beat. Maybe she was too much of a romantic. Valentine’s Day was just a few weeks away, maybe it was a sign that she should take this abandoned cat into her heart.  At least he wouldn’t steal her blankets in the middle of the night like her ex-husband used to, well, hopefully.

Several hours later, after filling out the paperwork and the cat having one final check-up, Madeline took her new roommate home. It wasn’t a long drive and Valentine was surprisingly calm throughout. She was curious to see what his first reaction would be to his new lodgings.

The condominium Madeline had recently purchased was quite comfortable but not overly large.  She didn’t think a cat would take up that much room.  Of course, that was before she met Valentine.

When she set the pet traveling case down on the floor,   Valentine refused to venture out. She peered inside but he didn’t look afraid, he was quite comfortably curled up at the back of the carrier.  With a little coaxing he did amble out and for the next hour he investigated every corner, every nook and cranny in the apartment.  Madeline made herself comfortable on the couch and watched.  Of course, there were a few times she had to get up to go and open a door or cupboard because Valentine could be quite insistent. His meowing was surprisingly loud.  He wanted to see it all. Fortunately, in his wanderings he had found his water dish, his food dish and his kitty litter.  Everything had, apparently, been deemed acceptable.

Eventually Valentine returned to where Madeline was sitting, jumped up onto her lap, turned around twice, curled up into a sizeable a ball and went to sleep.  Madeline smiled and figured there was going to be a substantial part of her life that would now be spent not moving so as not to disturb her beautiful tabby roommate.

Valentine continued to explore over the next several days.  He had to get used to his new home, and both of them had to get used to a new routine. When Madeline looked into the eyes of her newly-acquired companion, she saw intelligence and perhaps a little mischief.  His eyes were liquid gold with flecks of amber.  White and black whiskers stood out at a sharp angle from his all-white mouth.  Evidently a trait of the Maine Coon cat was a long and full coat. Valentine had that in abundance. Curling up with him on a cold winter’s night was going to be like cuddling up with a warm blanket, one that purred.

It seemed that Valentine had behaviours more in common with a dog than with a cat. He liked to be a part of whatever Madeline was doing.  He found it necessary to go through her clothes and the drawers they were in.  He wanted access to all the cupboards and he was not shy about telling her so, loudly.  He also liked to be fed at particular times.  Madeline felt that she should have a sign made:  “Humans Trained Here”.  Valentine was a great coach.

There was something else that Valentine insisted on: physical contact. He would sit on her desk as she worked, just within reach.  If Madeline didn’t pet him, then he would reach out a paw and touch her, repeatedly. He was by no means an aloof cat; he liked attention. And when he got it, he purred like a small outboard motor.

Valentine became her salvation.  He needed her. She came home from work every night tired, and every night he was waiting for her at the door. He greeted her with bright eyes and a welcoming purr.

Over the next several weeks things went well for Madeline and Valentine. Then, early one evening, the phone rang and everything changed.

A deep, strong voice identified himself as Martin Gordon.  “A mistake has been made and I believe you have my cat.”

Suddenly, Madeline’s world turned upside down.  Valentine was a part of her now, an important part.  She could not imagine having to give him up.  He was her Sweet Valentine.  She also knew that she had to listen to this man, to hear what he had to say.  The Pet Adoption Agency would never have given him her number had he been a flake.

When Madeline opened the door an hour later, she was presented with a well-dressed gentleman, tall, and extremely attractive. His hair curled up just behind his ears like a little boy’s. His shoulders were wide.  He obviously took care of himself.  It was almost funny but he did have his hat in his hands.  He also had a story to tell.

Madeline invited Martin in and he began to speak as he moved towards the couch and sat down.

“My mother is widowed and lives alone in England. I received a call stating that she was gravely ill. She wasn’t expected to live.  I was the only one who could take care of her affairs, her estate.”

He paused for a breath and continued.

“I immediately made arrangements with my next-door neighbour to take care of Valentine while I was away.  I thought I was only going to be gone for a few weeks.  And while I didn’t know her well, I believed Valentine would be safe with her.”

Martin went on to explain how his mother had miraculously survived her illness. She didn’t want to come and live with him so he was forced to make arrangements for a live-in companion. He couldn’t leave her until he was certain she would be well cared for.  As a result, he was out of the country for more than three months.

Madeline sat pensive and sombre on a chair across from Martin, waiting for him to continue.

“I made the mistake of trusting the wrong person.”

Madeline could see the pain on his face.

“She was a young woman and I had only known her for a few months but Valentine seemed to like her.  While I was in England, final arrangements were made for a house I had recently purchased and since Valentine was going to be living in my neighbour’s apartment, I felt it was a perfect opportunity for the movers to come in and pack up my apartment. Unfortunately, the woman I trusted with Valentine proved to be irresponsible.  She moved.  She didn’t want to take Valentine so she just left him. She didn’t even try to contact me. According to a neighbour, the superintendent found a cat in her empty apartment and called animal control.  I never thought an indoor cat needed an identity chip.  Obviously, I was very wrong.  Now I regret that decision.”

It was starting to rain outside, Madeline noticed.  Perhaps it was appropriate for the mood she was beginning to feel.

“I was devastated,” said Martin.

When he returned from overseas, Martin was in a state of panic.  The young woman had not returned any of his calls for several weeks and he had imagined the worst. The superintendent didn’t know about his cat. Another neighbour told him about her move and about animal control picking up a cat.  He spent the next few weeks trying to find Valentine.  Unfortunately, there is no central database for animals and he was forced to go to each individual agency, veterinarian’s office, and pet store in his search. What he discovered was that animals were not kept for long.  They are sometimes given to other agencies in the hopes of adoption and sometimes euthanized.  It was several weeks before he happened on the right agency.  They remembered Valentine.

Martin looked around the apartment.  His eyes grew large.  Valentine wasn’t here.

“Please tell me you actually have Valentine,” he said, a desperate tone in his voice.

“I have him.”  Madeline’s voice was low.  She had to accept that Valentine belonged to this man.  But she didn’t want to believe it.  She had grown to love her Sweet Valentine.  The thought of giving him up brought tears to her eyes.   But as she looked at this man, she could see that he also felt as she did.  They both loved the same cat.

Madeline stood.  A second later, so did Martin.

“I gave Valentine to a neighbour,” whispered Madeleine.  , “I needed to be sure, I needed… I’m sorry.  I’ll get… I’ll get Valentine.” With that she left the apartment.

Martin continued to stand, waiting, unsure what to do.

A moment later Madeline returned hugging the large cat tightly in her arms.  When Valentine caught sight of the visitor he jumped down, raced across the room and leapt into Martin’s arms.

Madeline could only watch as the two companions became reacquainted.  Martin had tears in his eyes. She could hear Valentine’s purr from across the room.  They belonged together.

After a moment, Martin raised his head.  “Thank you,” he whispered, but the message was loud and clear: she had lost Valentine. Unable to watch the two any longer, Madeline set about gathering Valentine’s belongings.

“I have… I have some food… and toys… and… and…”

She was trying very hard to maintain her dignity.  She would not cry in front of this stranger.  But he was taking her Sweet Valentine!

“Please, Ms. Bellamy—”

“My name is Madeline.”

“Please, Madeline, please sit for a moment.”  Madeleine sat as requested, but she couldn’t look Martin in the eye.

The moment she was seated, Valentine left Martin’s embrace and jumped into her lap.  He now wanted her attention.  And his purr was as loud as it had been for Martin.

“It seems we have a dilemma.”  She could hear the smile in Martin’s voice before she looked up to confirm it.

“We both love Valentine.  And he obviously loves both of us.  I think we need to have joint custody.”

Madeline could not believe her ears.  She wasn’t going to lose her Sweet Valentine!

“As I mentioned, I have bought a house,” continued Martin.  “It’s only two blocks from here. I’m often away on business and I am sure Valentine would love to spend any time he doesn’t spend with me, with you. We’re going to be neighbours; we could also be friends.”

Madeline hugged Valentine even closer.  She didn’t want Martin to see her tears falling.  Her Sweet Valentine was not leaving.  She could share him, especially with this very attractive gentleman standing in her parlour.

“Thank you.  I do love my Sweet Valentine and I’d love to share him with you.”

“It’s going to take me a few weeks to get settled in my new home.  Would you be willing to keep Valentine here and let me visit him every day?”

Madeline didn’t trust herself to speak again; she just smiled and nodded.

On her lap the object of their mutual affection looked from Madeline to Martin and purred.

Ah yes, thought Valentine, washing his immaculate whiskers with his paw, humans are so easily manipulated.

 

 

 

The Last Christmas Gift

Elsie looked around the room. There was carnage everywhere. A tornado passing through would have left less damage. Bodies were strewn throughout the mayhem. She chuckled. Just another Christmas morning with children.

One of the bodies stirred. A little fist came up from beneath the wrapping paper it had been curled under. A pile of boxes sneezed. Another child was stirring. Elsie thought perhaps there were a few more to come. But she knew the fresh smell of coffee would probably wake all the adults up. Sure enough, the love of her life wandered into the room, his hands wrapped around a hot steamy mug. With no hesitation he handed it to Elsie and returned from whence he came to get another.

A few more adults showed up with coffee at hand and a tray of hot chocolate for the children. It was Christmas morning. It was after the frenzy of opening gifts. After breakfast. Everyone had been up so early for the main event that the naps became inevitable. The children slept curled around their newfound bounty while the adults found more comfortable settings. Elsie didn’t need a nap. She wanted to watch her charges. There is nothing more spiritual then the breath of a sleeping child, safe and secure in her surroundings.

There was a different feeling in the room as everyone gathered once again. They all knew what was coming. Except for one. Malcolm was new to the group, to the family. He was still getting used to the Western dynamic. He had been born into soul crushing poverty in another country. His family had been killed in a local war that no one understood.  He was alone. But he had been found by people who cared and so began his journey to this moment.

“Malcolm,” send Elsie, “There is one more Christmas gift for the family. That includes you. But you don’t know the history so I’m going to tell you how this all started.”

Malcolm set up straighter, he was interested to know how things worked here and he was curious about his new family. So, he listened very carefully.

Elsie continued: “When my Great, Great, Great Grandfather came to this country he was very poor. But his parents believed they could find a better life, a better future in the New World. They risked everything. The first few years were hard but they were a hard-working family. That first Christmas looked like it was going to be pretty bleak. There was barely enough money for food let alone presents. But there was a wise patriarch and he refused to be sad. He said the goose had wandered across the street and died. His beloved wife said nothing as she picked the buck shot out of the breast of their Christmas goose.

They said grace and gave thanks for their bounty. The light was dim and the curtains were thin but they knew that others were worse off so they gave thanks. And that’s when my ancestor brought out the Last Christmas Gift.”

Elsie sat back in her chair and smiled.  She looked at the faces around her beaming with anticipation. She loved this part of Christmas.

“Ever since then we have honoured the tradition that was started so many years ago.”

As if by magic a small beautifully wrapped package appeared in her lap. There were many ooohs and aaaahs from her audience. And not just the children!

With studied patience Elsie peeled back the wrapping paper. And then with a flick of her wrist a small wooden carving appeared in the palm of her hand. It was a little drummer boy.

Elsie smiled. “Would anyone like to tell me what gift this is?”

Malcolm looked confused. He didn’t know the story of the Little Drummer Boy. And then something miraculous happened. A little tow-hair girl stood up and walked to Malcolm. She wrapped her little arms around him and said:

“His gift is to us all. He was a little drummer boy who had no presents to give the newborn King, Jesus Christ so he played his drum. He gave all he had in his heart and it was the most precious gift of all. That’s what we all need to do. And it will be precious.”

 

The end

 

 

 

 

The Open Road

Fresh air, open skies, freedom.  One can lift up their head and howl at the moon and no one will care.  Yes, this was the way to travel.  Breathe deeply the pristine air.  Well pristine if you disregard the diesel fumes, acid rain and manure mist.  At least out here you can’t see the air in front of you.  In the city not only can you see what you are breathing, it leaves a film on your nostril hairs. Breathe deeply in the city and you’re liable to cough up a lung.  Out here in the wide-open spaces there’s a tang in the air.  Of course, that tang is 10,000 years of rotting plants and animal excrement.  Yum!

When you walk down the open sidewalks of a busy city you can hear the sounds of laughter from small children.  You can smell the tantalizing aromas from diverse cultures; fresh bread, sizzling sausages, and a myriad of spices.  It is the smell of success and of life.  People live here and people work here.  It is the smell of comfort and love, of laughter and tears.  It is the city.  But the city has another side.

The laughter of small children often comes from bodies full of nothing but hunger and loss.  The tantalizing smells simply reinforce the feelings of desperation from those that need but do not have the monetary means to fulfill that need.  There are those who have and will not share.  The city was built on the backs of the poor for the comfort of the rich and they do not wish to share today. Perhaps tomorrow will be a day to share, perhaps. There is success here for a privileged few and there is life here for those who work hard enough to support the fragile infrastructure. There is also death here for those who aren’t smart enough, or strong enough, or rich enough to succeed.  Life rewards those who have and disposes of those who have not.

Away from the city the sounds you hear are the birds flitting from tree to tree, cross pollinating and snacking on the nectar of the flower.  The wind rustles the leaves of the trees, gently showering you with bugs and their teeny tiny excrement.  The rustling of the leaves distracts you from the rustling at your feet which may just turn out to be an annoyed rattlesnake out for lunch.  It never pays to get between a snake and his version of a tasty snack.  Yes, there is life here, lots of it and chances are it is not all that impressed by your big feet and your insatiable appetite for nature.  You are in their home and you are most likely unwelcome.

Finding a spot where one can commune with nature, far from the lights and noise of a modern city is a challenge.  Just finding a spot that is not already spoken for by realtors is one thing. One must have a permit to stop, raise a tent or build a fire pit.  Heaven help anyone who builds an open fire without first obtaining a permit filled out in triplicate and filed with God.

The first night spent beneath the stars is magical.  The wildlife that abounds in the forest is vast. From predatory birds to carnivorous canines and the most pervasive of pests: the mosquito and friends.  Sounds are amplified and smells are close.  The babbling of a brook can sound like a rushing river, but soothing.  The stars are bright, almost surreal.  There is life all around you, just out of sight.

The first night spent beneath the stars in the city is also magical, a different kind of magic.  The light from the stars is obscured by the neon lights of the city night life. The life too is abundant and varied, from pest to predator. People are dressed in their version of finery, and often act accordingly. Beautiful swans can be seen walking gracefully outside fashionable restaurants with appropriately obsequious entourages. Then there are the weasels who will try to sell you watches that don’t tell time or bad toothed ferrets hawking the latest in pirated DVDs. And of course, there are always the ever-present motor vehicles. There are the little ones that scoot too close to the sidewalks and splash you with questionable liquids or the mammoth conveyors of multiple personalities that meander ponderously. There are also the pimpmobiles and muscles cars that spew forth noxious fumes just for the fun of it.

Go down a darkened alley and you just might find a seller of a different kind of magic. It is the kind of magic that can be sniffed up your nose or injected into a vein.  It is a magic that is ultimately costly and deadly, figuratively and literally.

Hidden close by is a malnourished, frightened child who has tried to escape from an abusive home and a cynical street walker who just wants to finish this night without getting her throat slit and take a long, hot bath to help to forget. Forgetting is necessary for some to stay alive in this unforgiving world. Also out this dark night is a tired nightshift worker who wants to go home and get some sleep so he can start this endless cycle all over again.

Even more strange are the tourists who flock to see the nightlife that abounds in the city in the hopes of seeing something dangerous and exotic. Pictures would be even better to take home to show the lads at the local ‘Weed and Feed’. Uncle Fester will be plumed amazed!

And the city is alive with sounds.  There is the hum of the traffic and the unexpected screech of a car horn, the loud reverberations of the boom box that is supposed to be the latest in fashionable music.  It is personal thing.  People are shouting and occasionally laughing or screaming.   The life around you is as noisy as it is bright and don’t you dare stop for too long or you might just be relieved of that loaded wallet you carry in your left rear pocket or run down by a slightly inebriated youth.

Ah yes, the city is alive and it is in your face.  Don’t wander down here unless you plan to play by their rules.

The woods are alive too but they are a little more reserved about it. The inhabitants are watching you, trying to decide if you are edible or just annoying.  Communing with nature can be tricky since they would really rather you did your communing elsewhere.  Unless of course you do turn out to taste good with a side of shoe leather.

Choices, choices, choices.  Does one cavort within the perilous precincts of the city or meander through the beautiful byways of nature’s potentially hazardous haunts?  It is a difficult decision to make.  Where to go, what to do?

***************************

Clang! Clang! Clang! “Get up you lazy excuses for human beings! Your mama is not here to bring you breakfast in bed and this is not a vacation resort! I said get out of your cozy bunks and present yourself for inspection! Do you hear me recruits?!”

The open road is temporarily closed due to reality incursion.  It’s expected to reopen shortly after lights out.

Ah yes, life in the army, the open road beckons still.

 

Trick or Treat

Juan’s hand gently caressed her cheek until his hand cupped her chin.

“I love you my darling Persephone.”

She closed her eyes, her lips pursed in anticipation.

Juan’s mouth hovered over Persephone’s; his breath warm on her cheeks.

“My darling,” he whispered as he placed his full, quivering lips against hers. In that moment the world ceased to exist. Her breath caught in her throat, her arms encircled his neck and she . . . “

“Penny, sorry to disturb you but I have got to have that report on the boss’s desk by noon and I still don’t have your numbers.  Wake up girl friend; you can’t daydream all day, work to do, work to do!”

Penny blinked rapidly.  She couldn’t quite grasp that what she had just experienced was a dream.  The reality was that she was sitting in an office in a cramped cubicle with a four-inch pile of work in front of her that needed to be completed by the end of the day.

“I’ll, I’ll get right at it.  I’m almost finished, I promise.”  She stammered her words as she tried to make sense of things.

Penny Elizabeth Foster was an ordinary woman, in an ordinary job, in an ordinary world.  What was extraordinary was her imagination.  As she went about the rest of her day Penny smiled at a secret memory.  Her Don Juan had taken her in his arms and made mad passionate love to her. The fact that that memory was actually only a dream was immaterial. To Penny her fantasy life was just as vibrant and vital as the real world.

So, the rest of the day Ms. Foster did as was expected of her.  She collated, she typed, she filed.  She filled the endless minutes with minutia and with deadlines.  Eventually the magical hour approached: the end of her day.

“Happy Halloween Penny!  Are you getting dressed up to give out candies tonight?”

“Yes, Eddy and no you can’t come over.  Besides you would scare the neighbourhood children. Say hi to your wife, Eddy.”

The last thing Penny wanted was to get involved with the office romancer. Or at least that’s how he saw himself. She packed up her purse and coat and made her way to her car.  It wasn’t a long drive home but it’s one she enjoyed because she didn’t have to listen to anybody else talk.  She could continue her fantasies as she wished.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special treat today: Ms. Persephone Foster is in the front line up for today’s race.  She is a world-renowned stock car driver. She has won both the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. Her mentor was the legendary Don Juan of car racing.  The let’s sit back and enjoy today’s race.  Gentleman and lady, start your engines!”

“Hey lady, the light’s green, move!”

With a grin Penny realized that she was still sitting at a green light.  She chuckled and continued on her way home.

She had always enjoyed Halloween.  It was a time when every one could indulge in their secret fantasies without being seen to be odd. Yes, there were the ghosts and goblins and the scary monsters but there were also characters from history and whimsical creatures.  That was the part Penny enjoyed most.  Besides who couldn’t resist a child dressed up like a bunny?  Yes, she loved this day in the year.

So, with her usual efficiency Penny set about getting the candy ready to be handed out to the children, or more specifically the ‘trick or treaters’. After all, the indulgence in fantasies or whimsy is not just for the children.

She had spent a great deal of time preparing her own costume.  It wouldn’t do to answer the door in jeans.  No, Penny was going to be prepared in a costume that was appropriate to her frame of mind at just this time. She had always liked the concept of a damsel in distress so she dressed herself in flowing garments reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty. If only her Prince Charming could come by tonight.

“Trick or treat!  Trick-or-treat!”

The first of the ghosts and goblins had made their appearance and Penny was ready.

“Oh, my goodness what very scary ghosts and goblins you are!”

As she handed out the candy to the multitude of children at her door Penny was reminded of her own costumes as a child.  There was the cat with the long tail that kept dragging in puddles, or the space alien with the javex bottle for a helmet that was spray-painted gold. There was even a gypsy one year with all of her mother’s costume jewellery draped around her neck and her arms.  Her mother had become quite adept at making costumes.  It was something new every year.

Each year saw its share of ghosts and goblins, bunnies, squirrels and cats.  It was exciting to see the wonder in the eyes of the children and the quiet fatigue in the eyes of their parents as they shepherded their children from door to door.  But this year everything changed.

No one had rung her doorbell or cried “trick-or-treat” for about twenty minutes so Penny was starting to clean everything up.  Another Halloween was over.  There was something very sad about that.  But then it just meant that one looked forward to next year.

BBBBBRRRRRRRRRRRRRINGGG

“Trick or Treat.”

The doorbell immediately got Penny’s attention but the quiet little voice that was saying ‘trick-or-treat’ was far more compelling.  When she opened the door Penny saw an adorable little brown bunny or more specifically a very small child in an oversized bunny costume.  As she leaned down, she could see incredibly huge pleading eyes that were almost in tears.

“Well, hello little bunny, here is some candy, but are you okay?”

Sniff, “I think I lost my dad. He doesn’t like to be lost in the dark.  Can you help me find him?”

Penny immediately looked up to see if she could find this errant father.  How dare he allow this small child to wander the streets without him!  She was not going to allow this youngster to stay out here alone any longer.

“You come inside little bunny.  My name is Penny what’s yours?”

“Miranda.”

Do you want me to call your mother?

“It’s only my dad and me.” As she spoke Miranda put her tiny little hand in Penny’s.  This small child needed comfort and she was going to take it from whatever adult was handy. Penny was touched.  She knelt down on one knee and embraced her.

“We’ll find your dad don’t you worry.”

Penny was trying to be comforting but inside she was angry.  What could possibly cause a father to lose sight of this precious child! When she found this man, she was going to give him a piece of her mind!  But first Miranda had to be reassured.

Within a few moments Penny was sure that her new charge was okay.  She was sitting at the kitchen table with glass of milk and a cookie.  Penny was preparing to call the police but she was hesitant.  She had heard stories about children going into foster care and essentially disappearing into a system that was not conducive to proper childcare.  So, she hesitated.

As she looked across the room to this lonely child, she felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility.  In this day and age, we are all responsible for our actions and we should never shirk that responsibility.  Sitting across the kitchen table was someone who was asking for her help.  She just could not drop that responsibility on someone else.

Penny was about to take the child out again into the dark.  She would find this man, the father of this child.

BBBBBBBBBBBRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGG

Once again, the door unexpectedly demanded attention.  When it wasn’t immediately opened, insistent knocking followed.  Penny approached the door hesitantly; someone was anxious to get in. A moment ago, she had been anxious to track down an errant father on a dark Halloween night.  But now?  Who knows what Spirits are walking in the dusky light?  Now she was afraid to open the door.  The knocking continued louder, and louder.  They say that on one night of the year ghosts are capable of taking form and interacting with the living. They say that on one night of the year evil lurks within reach of the innocent.

The knocking continued, louder.  A voice was added to the banging; “Miranda, I know you’re in there, Miranda!”

With a relieved sigh Penny realized who was at the door: Miranda’s father.

With no further hesitation she threw open the door and then stopped.  In front of her was the man that she had been dreaming about earlier this day, a man of strength, of character and a father.  Upon hearing her father’s voice Miranda ran to him.

“I’m sorry daddy, I’m sorry I ran away!  I’m sorry, I’m sorry!  But this nice lady took care of me and she doesn’t have a husband.”

For just a moment no one said a word. And then the man spoke,

“I’m terribly sorry for what my daughter has done.  She has caused both of us undo concern.  I would like to make it up to you, my name is Don.”

Penny opened her mouth to respond but found that she was tongue-tied.  In the doorway of her home was the man she had been dreaming about.  She would have to say something witty and intelligent, but for the moment her mind was a blank.

“Oh, geez did I disturb you?  The boss won’t like ya sleeping on the job! Look a bunch of us are going over to the pub after work, it’s been a rough day.  Why don’t you join us?  Nobody hands out candy anymore, the kids all go to each other’s homes for parties; parents are too afraid of serial rapists and poisoned candy. Penny are you okay?  You look like you’ve seen a ghost! If you want to come to the pub, we’re leaving in twenty minutes.

Penny blinked her eyes repeatedly. She was still at her desk; she was still filing and she was still single.  Trick-or-treat?

 

 

 

The end

April’s Showers

She hated her name, she hated this month, and above all she hated this rain!  April clutched her handbag a little tighter to her chest as well as her slightly damp newspaper.  It was just a few more steps before she could get out of this relentless rain and into her nice, warm coffee shop.

With a sigh April sat down at her usual table and smiled at the waitress.  She knew what April always ordered and she would bring her a coffee and a warm croissant just like yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that.  When her coffee arrived, April wrapped her chilly hands around the cup and breathed in the hot steaming aroma of freshly brewed coffee.  It was coffee, it wasn’t a Grande non-fat latte with soy milk and half fat hazelnut vanilla shavings or something else bizarre. It was just coffee: good old black, strong coffee. For the first time that day she sighed and allowed herself to relax.

This was the time-of-day April enjoy above all else.  She could sit and relax over her cup of coffee, she could read the paper, and she could think about the day’s events: what she wanted to do, what she should do, and what she had done.  As she was sipping her coffee and nibbling on her croissant the door opened and with it came a nasty, cold wet wind.  And all April could do was think about how much she hated this month and shiver.

The person that came through the door and intruded on April’s musing was a man.  Physically he was an attractive man: tall, well-built, muscular.  But he had one glaring imperfection: he was smiling!  The first words out of his mouth were the dreaded words that April had been hearing her whole life:

“April showers bring May flowers!”  The man smiled and shook his umbrella causing more drops of cold water to infest the room.  “I would like a cup of very hot, very strong, very ordinary coffee, if I may.”

April cringed; he was a happy man.

“I must admit I absolutely love the April showers.”  The man positively exuded well-being.  “The rain washes the world clean and leaves it smelling like spring.  What could be more uplifting than a rainy day in spring?”

The waitress behind the counter chuckled to herself.  She glanced over at April knowing full well that April was not a happy person in the morning and she didn’t enjoy other people being happy in the morning either.  It seemed to interfere with her most comfortable state of miserable.

If the gentleman in question had simply picked up his coffee and exited the café the day would have continued in exactly the same manner as it always had.  But this gentleman decided to stay and enjoy his coffee.  He looked around the room and saw only one customer.  Like a predator sensing fresh meat he moved towards April’s table.

“Excuse me Miss may I join you?”  He asked pleasantly enough.

Without raising her head, she replied, “I prefer to be alone, thank you.”  Her answer was curt but not impolite.

“Nonsense, no one should drink their coffee alone.”  And the man sat.

April looked up, too shocked to actually say anything.  For the first time in her life her mind was blank.  There was no witty retort on the tip of her tongue to spew forth and lash at this intrusive stranger.  All she could do was stare and hope that the disdain on her face was clearly visible.

“As I said no one should drink their coffee alone and certainly not a beautiful woman.”  He was still smiling.  “And my name is Bill.”

April couldn’t stop staring.  She knew that in polite company she should smile demurely and offer him her name.  But she couldn’t do it.  If she told him her name, he would say what a thousand other people have said to her in that same happy tone: ‘April showers bring May flowers!’  She hated her name!  She did consider coming up with an alias on the spot, something like Hermione or Persephone.  But she couldn’t do it.  She sighed, it was her lot in life and she was honest enough to accept the consequences.

“My name is April.”

As she said her name, April looked down at her coffee, her half-eaten croissant and her unopened paper. She didn’t want to see the look on his face as he said those horrible words she had grown to hate.  But one second turned in to two and then three and still he said nothing.  So, April raised her head and looked at him.

“I know what it’s like to have a name that is used in other contexts.  I get called the bill collector, or asked if I have heard the joke about the Billboard.  I could use the named William but it gives people pleasure to make silly little jokes about my name and it doesn’t cost me anything.  People need a little silly in their lives and I am actually quite honoured that I can put a smile on someone’s face.  It does get a little tedious sometimes but it’s still a smile.

April grimaced, “I find it tedious all the time!  The rain is unceasing.  The damp makes my hair frizzy; my clothes get wet; my feet are constantly cold and for someone to come up to me and sing that silly song about showers and May flowers it’s horrible!”

Bill took a sip of his steaming coffee and pondered what she had said for just a moment.

“Actually, I think it’s quite wonderful that you remind people of the beauty that comes about because of the rain in April.  You could say you’re an icon that helps people to remember the beauty that’s out there and that will soon be all around us because it’s the beginning of spring. I would think you’d be quite pleased.”

April heaved a sigh and shook her head.

“How can you be so happy with such horrible things going on in the world?  People are dying in other countries for political agendas we can’t fully understand.  People are getting mugged on the street for $20 in their wallet.  There are starving children in this city not just in other countries of the world and we sit here drinking our coffee as if nothing was wrong.  How can you justify that?”

Bill’s smile wavered just a fraction and he shook his head.  “You can never justify the horrible things that are going on in the world.  You can support the agencies that help those who are most in need.  And you can honour those who are fighting to protect our way of life. You can live your life to the fullest and never forget that there were those who gave up their lives so that you and I could sit here and drink a cup of coffee in relative peace and security.”

April grasped her almost empty coffee cup tighter, her croissant and paper completely forgotten.  “I can’t just shut off my mind with all the horrible things that are going on outside that door.”  April was exasperated that this man didn’t understand. What right did she have to be happy? 

Bill stared at this obviously distraught woman.  There was more wrong here than just a individual’s dislike of a song.  She was so caught up in what was wrong, evil, and hateful that she was missing the most important thing of all.  He couldn’t leave this woman wallowing in this state, he had to open her eyes and make her see.

“April, I have just met you.  Out of the blue I chose to walk into this café to sit at this table and to speak to you.  Don’t you find it interesting that I would choose to come in today?  I’ve walked by this café, a hundred times and never thought twice about coming in.  But today of all days, I did.  Maybe it was the rain that brought me in.  Maybe you and I were meant to meet.  Maybe in 50 years we will be telling our grandchildren about how I picked you up in a café.”  Bill smile was quite lopsided at this point.

At first April was too stunned to respond.  But somewhere deep inside her she did respond to this very strange, very attractive man.  Somewhere deep inside her a smile was trying to burst through.

“Grandchildren? Now how do I know you’ve got the right stuff?”

Bill’s smile became even bigger.  He knew he had made inroads.

“Is that a smile I see creeping up the side of your mouth?  If it is, it is, I know it is, April you are smiling!”

April was almost smiling.  Her hands were clutched around her coffee cup as if she was holding onto an anchor, trying desperately not to give in.  She took a sip, and then looked up at her table companion.

“I know I tend to see the negative side of things, but we can never forget that the negative does exists.”

For the first time since he sat down at the table Bill stopped smiling. 

“You are absolutely right April; we can never forget what horrible things are going on in this world.  But it’s also very important that we never forget what an incredible world we actually have.  There are good people here.  Everywhere you turn.  We should never turn a blind eye to what is bad in the world.  In the same token, we must never turn a blind eye or be afraid to acknowledge that beautiful things exist.  The simple act of the sun rising in the morning and its rays reflecting off the dew on a rose petal should make us give thanks.”

April looked at this strange man, this strange intruder, and she did smile. Maybe he was right.  Maybe we need to be aware of the bad things in the world and focus on the good.  It was raining today and it was cold.  Maybe tomorrow the sun would shine. Maybe today was not the best of all days, but tomorrow might be.  Maybe the showers did bring something good, something positive.  There’s another song that April thought of at that moment.  She didn’t remember the name of the song or who sang it.  But there was one line: “. . . accentuate the positive.”  That was a good thought.

Just at that moment, the rain stopped, and a ray of sunshine poked through the clouds.  The sun and the rain work hand-in-hand.  Just like we all should.

Two strangers met at a table in a café on a rainy April day, but parted as friends, smiling.

The Overlords

“Jerry you cannot do this!  You shouldn’t even think it!”

One man gripped tightly on to another’s arm trying to keep him away from the building ahead.  He was whispering through clenched teeth. At the same time his head swivelled back and forth desperately hoping no one was aware of them.

But they were observed.

The building in question was not imposing.  It was a century old structure with faded bricks and a sagging porch.  But if you looked very closely you would see incongruities. The lights above the front door were shiny and bright.  They also seemed a bit large for the task.  Were they more than just lights? There was no handle on the beautiful wooden door that guarded the entrance to the building.  And if you managed to get close to the windows you would realize they weren’t real.

What was real was the panic on Edward’s face.

“Please stop Jerry, we can’t do this without you!”

Something got through to Jerry.  He stopped.  For a moment he paused.  He appeared confused, unsure.  Then he quickly turned to his friend and dragged him away from the frightening building.  After some distance and out of sight of everyone, he spoke.

“Edward I am so sorry. I don’t know what came over me.  I don’t know what would have happened if I had made it to the door. Thanks to all that is good, you stopped me.”  Jerry was quiet but his face spoke volumes, he was afraid.

He stood beside his friend but Eddie was also afraid.  They had been seen.

With one understanding look between the two friends, they stood and without a glance towards the source of their fear, they moved further away.

In time they rested but still they didn’t speak.  Occasionally they grew wary as official looking vehicles passed by.  But the streets were quiet, too quiet.  People were staying indoors, away from Their notice.

In time the two men approached a small wooden building.  This one had a handle on the front door and its windows were real.  Several people could be seen through the glass, a few were crying.

With the front door safely closed and the blinds drawn, there was a collective sigh.  They were safe. Were they?

Jerry sat down and placed his head in his hands.  His shoulders shook as he silently wept.  The others stood by, uncomfortable.  People shifted their feet, clenched and unclenched their fists.  No one would look at another.  They waited.  Edward too sat down and he too waited.

“We did this.”  The voice that spoke was muffled, strained.  It was Jerry.  With a sigh he sat back in his chair, his hands dropped to his side.  He was defeated. He repeated his statement:

“We did this.”

He didn’t shout or throw his arms in the air.  It was a simple statement, delivered succinctly.

“We did this.  We wanted self-driving cars and smart homes.  We wanted computers to anticipate all our needs and fulfill them. Cash-less grocery stores and automated gas pumps.  We didn’t want to speak to each other.  We wanted to have control of everything through our phones.  But we didn’t want to actually do anything.  We didn’t need to think anymore, there’s an APP for that!

Jerry’s voice started to reflect his concerns.  As his voice grew louder, people moved further back from him.  Except for Eddie. He never moved.

“We put ‘chips’ in all out appliances.  Microchips are in our coffee makers, our watches, our door bells.  All those cameras we have to catch the bad guys are watching all of us and not by human beings!

Spittle formed at the corner of his mouth.  His eyes were manic.

“Planes and trains, banks, the stock-market.  The AI has control of it all and we created it.  The Artificial Intelligence is watching and listening. We are not alone.  We did this!  AI is in everything!”

There was a sudden silence.  No one spoke, no one moved.

Edward moved.  He stood; his shoulders still bowed.  As he raised his head a smile formed on his lips.

“Even me.”

 

 

The end

 

 

 

 

Lovers’ Lane

Adeline sat quietly, enjoying the warm sun on her face. It was one of those rare moments when she could sit on her porch with no interruptions and reminisce quietly.

“Grandma, grandma!”

“Gran!”

“Oh wait me!  Not fair!  Grandma I coming!”

The silence of a few moments ago was shattered by the arrival of three tow haired children of varying ages and variable vocal capabilities.  They had several things in common: hair colour, freckles, parents and an innate ability to force the world to focus on them.

Adeline may have been jolted out of her reverie but she looked with fondness on the three grandchildren approaching her at a run.  They arrived windblown and excited.  Once all three had wrapped themselves around their grandmother and kissed her at least a dozen times each, they settle down and with one voice asked one question: “Story Gran?”

The three children were not the only ones out of breath. Adeline smoothed her tousled hair and sat back with a grin.  She knew exactly where this was headed.

“Well now I don’t know if I should tell you a story.  I’m quite sure it would be beneficial to have an in-depth political discussion on what is happening in the world today.”  She looked at the puzzled faces in front of her.

“No Gran we want you to tell us the story of how you met grandpa.”

Adeline looked at the eldest of the three children.  She wondered how she had thought to ask that question.  Elizabeth was intelligent and very sure of herself.  It was an odd trait to have in a child that was only twelve years old.  Her sister Anne and brother Stuart were ten and five respectively.  And both of them were looking on eagerly waiting for their grandmother’s reply.

“Well now I don’t know . . .” started Adeline.

“Daddy said it was one for the books.  Did he mean you should write about it and let everybody know?”

Adeline eyes opened wide, “I’m sure that’s not what he meant!”  She whispered to herself.  To the children she spoke clearly, deftly ignoring the question.

“Well, I’ll tell you a story about your grandfather and me.  It’s about how we met, umm, but you know I can’t tell you everything.  Your grandfather and I have to keep some secrets from you three.  At least until you’re older.”  Adeline was smiling; she hoped the children didn’t notice that she was also blushing.

” Well, it all started when your grandfather arrested me.”  Before she could utter another word, the children erupted.

“Oh, Gran you were a criminal!”

“I’ll bet you robbed a bank!  Mama says they’re the criminals!”

“Grandma were you a prostate…, a prosta, a Protestant!”

Adeline smiled and calmed the children. She thought it best that she not tell Stuart the word he was looking for was a prostitute.

“Absolutely not!  It wasn’t that kind of arrest. Now if you want me to continue you must be very quiet.”

Three fair heads nodded vigorously.

“Your grandfather was a Ranger. It’s like a policeman.  He worked the local parks and made sure there were no criminals or any criminal activity.  He also made sure that those who came to enjoy the parks were not harassed.  Unfortunately, I was in the park to harass someone.”

It was at this point that Adeline stopped to think.  Should she tell the three rapt faces the complete truth or should she perhaps edit the circumstances to fit her audience’s age group?  Edit, it was the adult thing to do.

“I had recently broken up with my boyfriend.  Actually, I was about to break up with my boyfriend.  You see he was at the park with another girl.  She was supposed to be my best friend but she had stolen my boyfriend.  It was my intent to catch them together and embarrass them.  You see the particular spot they had gone to was known as Lover’s Lane.  It’s where everybody went when they were dating.  It was secluded and quiet.  Aaahhhh, it was a great spot to watch the stars.”

Adeline paused for a moment to remember the circumstances.  She had left out the bit about the can of black paint she had planned to pour on her boyfriend’s car.  That would definitely have been illegal so she really didn’t think it was a good idea to tell the children that part.

“Grandpa Oliver stopped me from making a very terrible mistake.  It was wrong of me to try and get revenge for my hurt feelings.”

“So, is that when he arrested you?”  Elizabeth always got to the point quickly.

“He really didn’t arrest me.  He just threatened to.  He let me tell my story and he let me cry and rant.  He bought me a soda and we had a wonderful evening just talking. We’ve been together ever since.”

Adeline sat back and wondered if she could get away with that being the end of the story.  The children’s reactions were typical for their age and sex: Elizabeth pretended to swoon, Anne made a declaration, “Boys are not to be trusted!” And Stuart was all curled up in a ball with his thumb firmly embedded between his lips.  He made the cutest little sucking noises that for a moment everyone concentrated on.

The moment was shattered when the front door was opened by the one person they had all been thinking about.  His booming voice roused even sleeping Stuart.

“And what are you all doing out here?”  His smile belied his apparently harsh words.

Stuart merely sat up and rubbed his eyes but the two girls attached themselves to their Grandfather’s open arms.

“Oh, Grandpa, you arrested Grandma!  Did you frisk her?”

“Did you throw her in the clink Grandpa?  Does she have an arrest record?”

Oliver looked at Adeline over the top of children’s heads.  He raised an eyebrow.  She quickly shook her head, blushed and looked down.  Oliver nodded his head and heaved a sigh of relief.

“I think it’s time all three of you were in washing your hands for dinner.  Otherwise I’m going to have to arrest you and put you in the shed without your supper!” Oliver smiled as he said the words.  No one believed his threats but all three immediately jumped up and ran into the house.

“You didn’t tell the whole truth did you my love?”

“Oliver there are some things that are no one else’s business.  Besides I think I would like to be arrested tonight. Are you up for it? I could meet you later in the shed?”

The two old friends sat side-by-side holding hands.  Forty-three years of marriage had not dulled their sense of fun and mischief.

 

The end