Tag Archives: short story

“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 . . . .”

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

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 True Spirit

Mary was angry. Here it was two days before Christmas, she was in a town she didn’t know, a new job she didn’t like, she had no friends and no family close by, and some dirty bum had his hand out looking for money.  And on top of all that, he had the unmitigated gall to be smiling as if he was happy.

Mary wasn’t smiling.  In fact, she was absolutely miserable.  Christmas was just another day on the calendar, it had no real meaning.  People went into stores and spent a ridiculous amount of money on gifts for other people that the other people really didn’t want.  Christmas wasn’t even for the children. It was just another way to teach them about how money makes the world go ‘round.  If you had money, it was a good life.  If you did not then you starved and were miserable, and you should look like you were miserable.

Mary approached the man that she called a bum.  She was frustrated, she was angry, and she needed this person to explain to her how he could be so damn happy! Maybe he was on drugs or maybe he was crazy, but Mary didn’t think so.  Of course, she did drop a twenty-dollar bill into his tin can before she posed her question.

“Are you alright? You are sitting here on a cold sidewalk asking for money.  All around you is obscene wealth.  How can you sit there and smile when you have nothing and so many people around you are spending money like it is water and on frivolous things? You look like you need food and these people are buying toys for people who really don’t want them.  How can you sit there and smile? I’ve seen you everyday for the last week and you smile everyday, you wish people a Merry Christmas, or Happy Hanukkah, or Happy Kwanza and I don’t understand how you can actually be happy.”

At this point Mary was almost in tears.  She felt so alone and so unloved that she felt jealous of this destitute individual.  She wanted to shake him to make him see what an awful place the world was but she didn’t. What she did do was pause for a breath and what she saw then took that breath away.

Just a moment before she had been looking at a dirty bum and now, he had taken on a dignity that belied her original perception.  He sat up straighter and his smile became wider.  Even his eyes seemed to twinkle with a secret knowledge. There was a beauty to his face that she had not noticed before. His voice, when he spoke, was strong and melodic.  The words he spoke were the truth.

“But I have everything.  Someone gave me a coat to keep me warm.  He gave me the gift of warmth. People stop and give me their spare change, a cup of coffee, or a sandwich. A small child gave me a penny.  A penny to a small child is like a million dollars to a billionaire. A beautiful woman gave me her scarf to warm my neck.  An old man gave me a warm pair of gloves.  All I have to offer them in return is my smile and my best wishes.  Some people are embarrassed and hurry on but others take it in the spirit in which it is given. Some people give of themselves, and that is what makes me the wealthiest of people.”

Mary thought about what this person had just said to her.  It was starting to make sense.  The importance of the season was not the gift; it was not the thought of the gift. That was all meaningless.  What was important was the giving of one’s self willingly.

The next day Mary went into work.  She felt a little lighter, a little happier.  She looked around her with a new perspective: people were giving of them selves; the gifts they were giving were simply an extension of their spirit.  Sometimes the gifts were expensive, sometimes the gifts cost only pennies and sometimes it was only a word and a hug.  But these people were giving, Mary saw that now.  And Mary started giving as well.

It was Christmas Eve now and Mary wanted to share with the homeless man what she had learned.  She stopped at the bank and took out one hundred dollars.  She placed the money in an envelope and tucked that into the pocket of her coat.  With a smile on her face, she went looking for the homeless man.

But he wasn’t there. Mary walked up and down the street looking for him.  She asked shop keepers if they had seen him but everyone was too busy and said they didn’t remember.  So, Mary continued on her walk home.  She was sad now that she couldn’t share with the man who had taught her so much.  She wondered where he had gone and what he was doing for Christmas.

Just two blocks before Mary reached her apartment building was a small church.  Mary had seen the structure before but had never ventured in.  Today her feet took her over the threshold and into the church.  She sat quietly in one of the back pews and looked up into the beautiful stained-glass windows.  She felt at peace.  As her eyes wandered over the beautiful paintings, a figure seemed to stand out:   it was of man who was seated on the ground and his hand was outstretched as if beckoning.  Her eyes widened in recognition and then she shook her head, it was not possible.

As Mary turned over in bed that night, she replayed in her head what she had learned and she smiled.  She had left the envelope with the money in the church; she knew it was the right thing to do. Never again would she forget just how valuable it is to interact with other people.  Giving of one’s self is as simple as smiling.  He had taught her that.

 

The end

 

 

Marvin: The Forgotten Elf

“Now you take care of your little brother and I’ll be right over there.”

Odelia was used to taking care of her brother for short periods.  After all she was nine years old and quite mature for her age.  Billy was only three and he needed a lot of taking care of.  They were standing in line waiting for their turn. Actually, Billy was strapped into a stroller and for the moment he was quite serene.  However, Odelia knew it would probably be 15 or 20 minutes before it was their turn. A few moments later it began. Like most boys his age Billy didn’t like to wait so he started to squirm and then to whine.

“I don’t wanna wait!”

Odelia had been waiting for this moment and hoping it would take a little longer.  She looked over at her mother but she was still deep in conversation with a sales clerk.

“Okay Billy, I’m going to tell you a secret.” That always got a child’s attention. “But you can’t tell anyone else, ever!”

As expected, the young boy stopped squirming and looked at his sister with rapt anticipation.

“Okay.” He said quietly.

“This happened a very long time ago and nobody knows all the details but this much we know for sure.”

Odelia was a gifted storyteller and she knew her brother very well.  His eyes were glued to her face and he hadn’t moved an inch.  So, she continued with her story. The tale she told was about an elf.

One of Santa’s elves was called Marvin.  He was young and as it so often is with the young, he seemed forgetful.  The other elves tried to instil in him the importance of what they were doing in Santa’s workshop but Marvin was too interested in playing with the reindeer and investigating how some of the toys worked.  Unfortunately, he also had a knack for breaking things.  Soon the other elves pushed Marvin aside and tried to forget about him.  When Santa heard about the troubles, he spoke to Marvin but it didn’t seem to make any difference to the young elf. However, what we think isn’t always what is.

It seems that Marvin wasn’t trying to break things he was just trying to understand how they worked.  He was only trying to help.  When Santa heard this, he decided to give Marvin another chance. He was told that if he broke one more toy he would be banned from the workshop.

Over the next few weeks everything went smoothly.  The toys were being assembled and made ready to be shipped.  Marvin did everything he was asked and nothing that he was not.  Eventually everyone forgot about him.  Now as it often happens, when you’re not watching, trouble will find you.

There was one particular toy that was new to the workshop.  It had bells, and whistles and it had an engine.  Usually that pretty much guaranteed that the children would fall in love with it.  Unfortunately, this toy kept breaking down.  First the wheels were falling off when the Packers tried to wrap it up. Then the steering wheel wouldn’t work when it was tested prior to packaging.  It even started falling apart on the line when nobody was looking.  People started wondering if Marvin was the culprit but nobody could find him.

After a few days it was decided that the toy would be put aside until further investigation could be done.  Obviously, there was something wrong and there was no time to correct it.  Everyone was working to a deadline that could not be shifted.  And still, no one could find Marvin.

The night before the deadline the last package was wrapped and put in place for shipment.  Everyone congratulated themselves on the fine work they had done this year.  There had only been one glitch and he seemed to have taken himself off the line.  No one thought about him, no one worried about where he was or what he was doing.  That was their mistake.

What the others did not understand was that Marvin was different.  He wasn’t one to blindly follow the rules.  He wanted to understand why the rules were in place.  The only way something could be improved upon was to first know its nature.  Marvin wasn’t trying to break things he was trying to understand how they worked.  If you know how something works you can make sure it doesn’t break down.

When the others had taken the cars that kept breaking down and put them in another room Marvin had gone to see if he could fix them.  In the days and weeks that no one missed him, Marvin had corrected every single issue in every single car.  He had also wrapped them and prepared them for shipment.  The others were very surprised when he presented them with what they thought were broken vehicles.

When Santa heard what Marvin had done, he called him into his office and sat him down.  What happened next is not known.  But after a few minutes, Marvin exited with a smile on his face and a lift in his step.  Obviously, he had been vindicated.  From that day forward Marvin had a new job.  It was his responsibility to test each and every item that passed through the line to ensure that it was not easily broken.  It was a task that Marvin took to easily.  After all, if it could be broken, he would find a way to break it.

“Are you next young fella?”

With everyone’s attention now on them Odelia quickly unstrapped her brother. An oversized man dressed as an elf lifted Billy on to the knee of Santa Claus and stepped back.

Billy looked into the face of the big fat man in the red suit and thought about what he had just learned.

“Ho ho ho!  Little man what do you want for Christmas?”

Billy leaned close to Santa to whisper in his ear.

“You were naughty Santa.  You should have been nicer to Marvin.”

With that Billy jumped off Santa’s knee and ran to his sister. He never looked back and he never forgot his lesson.  Did you?

The End

 

 

The Christmas Gift

Well, ‘tis the season! And I’m going to give you my Christmas gift early. This month on each Sunday I will post one of my Christmas stories. Those of you who do not celebrate Christmas please accept this in the spirit in which I give it as we all celebrate each other at this wonderous time of year.

 

These stories will be familiar to many of you but there are those, I’m sure, that have never read them. I hope you enjoy.

Jeremy was bereft. His feet were cold and he felt the sniffles coming on. And yet here he was on the evening of December 24 standing in a freezing parking lot looking at dying trees.  Why? Because his family insisted. He desperately wanted to tell the world to piss off and just go and get drunk in some dive bar.

He hadn’t always been like this. He used to love Christmas. But 11 months and 13 days ago everything changed. The woman who completed him, who made him laugh and more importantly who laughed at his jokes, died. Mattie loved Christmas.  She loved life. She loved him. Until some two bit gangsta’ wanna-be thought it would be fun to drag race on a snow-covered icy street. They said she died instantly. But he didn’t. Jeremy wanted to die or to kill, but instead he lived. He felt the tiny box in his pocket. He had planned to ask her that night. That’s why she was out. They were going to meet.

It had been a horrible few months but everyone seemed to have moved on. Except for Jeremy. Here he was standing in the cold with instructions to buy a lovely full tree for Christmas.  He shook his head, was about to turn around and leave when he heard an odd sound.

He looked around the parking lot but he didn’t see anyone. The sound was low, almost frantic. It was a scratching noise with a hiccup and a sigh. It intrigued him. He wanted to know what was making that sound. Jeremy took a step forward and the sound changed. It was a whine now and a huffing noise. It didn’t sound human and yet it didn’t sound animal either.

A back-firing car startled him.  He felt silly. It was probably just the wind stirring up some garbage. Jeremy shrugged his shoulders; he knew he needed to get on with his life. He could never forget her but maybe he should put her where she needed to be:  deep in his heart where she could be protected, her memory safe.  He would start by taking an active roll in this evening’s activities.

In that moment something else happened.  Jeremy seemed to swim up from the abyss of grief he had been living in for almost a year.  His eyes truly opened. He almost smiled. He was looking for a tree. Now there were tall ones and fat ones and ones that looked a little sad. But he couldn’t seem to find one that he thought needed a home with his family. And then something fell on his foot. It wasn’t very heavy, it was very small and it coughed.

Jeremy peered down at his feet trying to see what this thing was.  There wasn’t a great deal of light but he was pretty sure that he saw it move. Without thinking he reached down and scooped up the small ball of something.

The next thing that happened was unexpected. But perhaps given the day, appropriate.  With the small black bundle at eye level Jeremy poked it. It poked back! And then it opened its mouth and emitted a rather large meow. It was a kitten. It was a small, black, cold, abandoned kitten. It curled itself into a ball and started to purr. Jeremy smiled for the first time in almost a year. He tucked the sleeping bundle into his pocket and bought the tree it had been hiding under.

He got his tree. He didn’t haggle the price, he just paid it and chuckled. He was taking home more than a tree.  He had found the Spirit of Christmas hiding in the small body of a kitten under a tree.

 

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

OLi’s Tale

Some stories begin at the beginning. That is the natural way of things. But some stories begin before the beginning. And that can be the most interesting of tales.

 

Lizzy had just moved to New York City; she had needed a change and she thought she could find anonymity here. She wanted to wander silently through the crowds and soak up the beauty that was New York but she didn’t want anyone to rely on her or for her to rely on anyone else. Maybe just for a little while. And that is how Lizzy found herself in a small art shop buying a few supplies. She like to sketch what she saw but she didn’t have what she needed.  And of course, she needed something to carry all the supplies she would use. The shop offered perfectly sized canvas bags. It was great and it was, well, boring. But the shopkeeper had a plan. She supplied the paints so anyone could paint what they wanted onto the bag. Lizzy loved the thought but had no idea what to paint. So, she looked around the room and saw a book with a fierce picture of a dragon on the front and the words “MYSTICAL CREATURES”. She thought the idea of a dragon was great but he had to be a little less menacing so she put her head down and started to paint. Eventually she was happy with what she had done and she was just finishing off the tail when a small child approached her cautiously.

“I think he would like to have a purple ribbon around his tail.”

Startled, Lizzy looked up and then immediately looked down. After all, the voice had come from almost below the table from a beautiful little girl dressed in purple.

“I like your dragon but I think he needs a purple ribbon.”

The voice spoke with the confidence of innocence. Lizzy smiled and answered her.

“I agree.  And what is your name?”

“Olivia,” she said. And then with a sudden burst of shyness, she turned and ran from the store, her father in tow. He smiled a tired smile at Lizzy and followed his daughter.

Lizzy grinned. She wanted to credit the little girl with giving her the idea so she started to print her name on the ribbon. O L and then she thought maybe she shouldn’t because she didn’t have permission. She wondered what to do. And then a thought came to her. She already painted an O and an L and she would add an I but in lowercase to acknowledge the small child. And OLi was born.

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

In a time very long ago and in a place very far away, lived a tribe of dragons and a tribe of people.  The dragons lived on top of a mountain while the people lived in the valley far below. It was an uneasy truce but it had lasted for hundreds of years. And it was expected to last for hundreds more.

But what is expected and what actually happens is very often the exact opposite. In a nest on the edge of the cliff were several eggs. They were quite large. One of them was restless. It seemed to shake and roll about the nest. It really was disturbing the other eggs. Eventually the egg rolled to the edge of the nest and over it. At that point gravity took over and the egg began to roll down the mountain. Now dragons’ eggs are quite strong, they are tough creatures. But it was a very long way down the mountain. There were fields and forests and streams that had to be navigated and it all seemed to happened as if by magic. No harm came to the egg. In time it reached the valley and it started to slow down. Eventually it came to rest at the edge of a red barn at the outer edge of a farm. It wasn’t there very long before a young boy named Christian found it.

Now, Christian had never seen a dragon before but he knew exactly what the egg was. He had grown up learning about the mystical beasts.  They had been taught that they were fierce warriors and would eat little children if they misbehaved. Christian believed they were really just tall tales to keep the children from being naughty. The dragons had never ventured into the valley as long as he had been alive. But there were stories . . . .

Christian looked at the very large egg at his feet. He wondered what to do about it. He knew he couldn’t tell his Father because of course he would just destroy it. As he was looking intently at his latest dilemma, he noticed it start to shiver. It was cold. Without thinking Christian picked it up and took it into the barn.  At the very least he would keep it warm until he decided what to do. It was an old barn that was rarely used but it still had remnants of hay and it was protection from the wind. The egg would be safe here. Christian made a little hollow in a bale of hay and placed the egg in it.  He then wrapped an old blanket around it. He also wanted to make sure no one else could find it. Goodness only knows what would happen if he was found harbouring a dragon! It didn’t bear thinking about.

As he was eating dinner that night Christian was distracted. What did baby dragons eat? The tales never told you that. But he was enjoying his mashed potatoes and peas and he wondered if maybe he would just try to feed it whatever he was having for dinner. He figured he could sneak something into the barn. But of course, it all depended on when the egg hatched. That was something he was looking forward to.

Several days went by and Christian was very diligent about making sure he was in the barn as many times as possible. He found it gave him great pleasure to hold the egg and feel the life inside. It seemed to move, gently at first and then more vigorously. It was also warm, calm under his hand. And then one day it happened. It cracked. Christian wasn’t in the barn but he noticed it as soon as he did come in and he sat down on his hands and knees, face inches from the shell and watched.

Slowly, oh so slowly, the crack started to get bigger. Eventually a piece fell off and Christian looked in wonder and saw an eye. It blinked. He almost couldn’t contain his joy. But he knew that too much excitement might scare the new life so he clapped one hand over his mouth and hugged himself with the other. For a while nothing seemed to happen and then everything happened. A little face poked its way through the shell and shook furiously. A shoulder showed and then two small hands. Ah! Quietly whispered Christian… and then, Wings! Before too long the shell was gone. Or rather bits of it were strewn around a very small, miniature dragon.

Barely daring to breathe Christian put his hands out to the small creature in a gesture of friendship. The tiny dragon burped. Christian smiled. And then it made a noise that sounded a little like “Olly”! It really wasn’t much more than a squeak but now Christian knew his name. He put his hand on the forehead of the small creature and smiled. In return he seemed to purr and when he put his head in Christian’s hands, a friendship was born.

Christian knew he had to keep his young charge out of sight of the others. He was after all a dragon, albeit a very small one. They developed a routine that seemed to work for both of them. First thing in the morning Christian would arrive with fruit and nuts which the young dragon seemed to love. They would play for a while and Christian did bear a few scars from OLi’s teeth but he didn’t mind. The dragon was fed again after Christian’s dinner. Basically, whatever Christian ate, so did OLi. It was interesting to discover that the young dragon’s favourite food, was mashed potatoes.

One day Christian noticed that his little sister had put ribbons on her dolls. They looked pretty and helped her identify which one was which. So, without thinking he pinched one. It was a beautiful purple and he thought it might look good on OLi’s tail.  OLi didn’t agree. If you weren’t a young dragon snapping at a ribbon that is now dangling from your tail, you might find the whole situation quite funny. Christian did. OLi performed some quite amazing aerobatics trying to get away from this purple thing and from another’s perspective it was quite spectacular. Maybe he was learning something. When he finally came down to the ground, he sniffed at this purple thing hanging from his tail and he seemed to have a change of heart. This was his.

Unfortunately, time does not stand still. Even for young boys and their young friends. OLi was growing. He had learned to fly all by himself and while his takeoff wasn’t the best, he was pretty good in the air. He also hasn’t figured out the fine art of fire breathing, which, given that there was a lot of hay around, that was a good thing.  He rarely left the barn but it was pretty big so that was OK. Something else Christian noticed: there were no barn mice or rats. He thought he probably shouldn’t think too hard about it. OLi was in this barn all by himself a lot and he never seemed to be hungry.

The days and nights blurred for Christian. He loved his new friend desperately but he also knew that the valley was no place for a dragon. OLi was becoming quite big, although nowhere near as big as a full-grown dragon he was still becoming more than Christian shoulders could handle. It was time. The young boy had a plan. He would tell his family he was going to stay with a friend for a few days and he and his dragon would climb the mountain. OLi would go home.

It took it several days but Christian and OLi made it to the summit of the mountain. Christian dared not go over the top but he encouraged his young friend to seek his own kind. It’s almost as if the dragon didn’t want to leave. He butted his head into Christian’s arm and wrapped his wings around his hands, his version of an embrace. But he was intrigued by the sounds coming from the top of the mountain and the glimpses he could see of the full-grown dragons. Eventually he did go. And Christian stumbled down the mountain barely able to see with the tears in his eyes. He knew he had done the right thing and he also knew that he would never forget his friend.

As the years went by, Christian often thought of OLi. He wondered if he had been accepted by his tribe and how big he had grown. He would look up towards the mountain top and think of his friend looking back. He never forgot.

Over time memories change. Truths become myths and myths often distort the truth.  People remembered that once upon a time there were dragons. But the general belief was that they had died or left. No one had seen one in so very long. Except of course for Christian but had he kept his secret carefully hidden. The valley grew prosperous. People had time to indulge. And with that indulgence came complacency. Never a good combination. Young men started to wonder about the dragons that no longer existed. Eventually they wondered too much and decided that they would find out for themselves. They decided to climb the mountain. They didn’t make any preparations because they didn’t think there was anything dangerous at the top. They were wrong.

Seven young men in their prime left the valley that morning. No one knows for sure what happened because the four that made it back three days later were so filled with terror that they would not speak of it. But there was a growing concern that the myths were true. A gloom entered the valley. People looked to the skies more often and with trepidation. The air seemed to quiver with anticipation and it wasn’t a good kind.

Christian looked at the pitchfork in his hand. What was he thinking? How could you fight off angry, fire breathing dragons with a pitchfork? The minutes ticked by. He ran a hand over his eyes, shaking his head. He didn’t understand why it hadn’t happened. They had heard the dragons coming. The sky was black with them and red.  Fire. The children ran to the wells to get buckets of water. The adults ran for tools, weapons, anything to protect themselves. But at the last minute one dragon had broken free. He came straight at Christian’s farm. When the others turned to follow him, he took a stand. He breathed fire on his own kind! He protected Christian’s farm, his family!  Why?

The other dragons took flight. Perhaps they had grown tired of their sport and returned to the mountain. All except one. The one that had protected Christian landed in his field and stood there. He wasn’t menacing. He looked almost sad. Could it be? Is it at all possible? Christian put down his pitchfork and moved slowly towards the dragon. He heard the gasps behind him but he ignored them.

“OLi?”  He whispered, “Is it you?”

The dragon put his big head down just the way he had when he was small.  He used to invite Christian to rub his forehead. And now he did it again.

“OLi!”  Christian cried and he ran to his dear friend. It had been so long but he had never forgotten. And apparently neither had OLi. The dragon wrapped his huge wings around his friend in such a tender embrace that people wept. For a few moments they held each other. Christian felt something warm touch his hand and he instinctively grasped it.  Then OLi backed slowly away and with one more nod he took to the sky.  He glanced back just once and then was gone.

Tears streamed down Christian’s face.  “Goodbye my friend,” he whispered to the wind. He glanced down at his clenched fist and slowly opened it. There nestled gently in the palm of his hand was a faded and slightly scorched purple ribbon.

Fool’s Gold

 

“Mama, mama, it’s okay!  I gots summtin  mama! It’s okay!  You don’t got to cry no more!  I’s found  gold Mama!” Ell heard the screen door slam behind him and knew that he would probably be in trouble for it.  His mother hated it when the screen door slammed. But he also knew that he had found the answer to all their troubles.

“Mama, Mama I found gold! We is rich!  We can move Mama! Mama!”

The little boy was in such a hurry to find his mother that he rushed into their trailer without looking where he was stepping.  Within a few feet he became aware of the broken glass. He noticed the blood on his unshod feet before he felt the pain. All he could do was stand and stare. He stared at the overturned table, the broken glass, and his mama flat on her back, snoring.

Repeating something he had done many, many times in the past the little boy set about straightening the room and cleaning up the broken glass.  He cleaned up the blood and he cleaned up his mama.  Eventually she would awake and not remember anything.  Sometime she didn’t even remember him.

The next morning the young boy stood excitedly in front of his mother. In a very soft voice he said, “It’s gold Mama, it’s gonna be alright.” He stretched his little arms as far as he could and opened his fingers to present his mother with this precious find.

The woman in question slouched over their very tiny kitchen table.  She squinted through the smoke from the cigarette she clenched in her teeth at the newspaper front of her.  She had a pen in one hand and a chipped glass of a questionable liquid in the other.  When young boy spoke, she closed one eye and looked up.

For a long moment the woman stared at the item her son held out for her perusal.  When she finally spoke the fatigue in her voice told her story of hardship and sacrifice.

“Elliott that’s fool’s gold, it has no value, it ain’t real.  It’s just a pretty stone.  Why don’t you go outside and play, I need to find a new job.”

The little boy everyone called Ell put his prized possession in his pocket and backed out of the trailer he shared with his mother.  But’s gold mama, it’s gold.  He thought to himself. Everything is going to be all right now, you’ll see.

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

“Mr. Bellamy sir it is a great pleasure to see you, will you be dining at your usual table?”

“Yes Andrews I will thank you.”

Very posh restaurants understand the hierarchy involved in their clientele. There are those patrons who come in once or perhaps twice and are seated according to availability.  There are those patrons who while regulars, only dine there occasionally.  And then there are those clients who are favoured. They frequent the establishment and have developed a rapport with the staff.  As these patrons are usually wealthy, the wait staff is attentive and accommodating. After all favoured patrons are worth their weight in gold.  They may spend money but they also advertise a place that they like.

When Mr. Bellamy had been seated in his usual table and had been given his usual pre-dinner glass of wine it seemed as if the evening was going to progress in its usual manner.  He would dine alone as was his habit on Thursday nights.  He would have one glass before dinner of Cabernet Sauvignon and one with his meal.  Dinner would consist of steak medium rare, golden brown fried mushrooms, asparagus lightly sautéed, baked potato with all the trimmings and a small dish of vanilla ice cream for dessert.  It wasn’t a terribly high-class meal but Mr. Bellamy tipped well.

When he had finished his repast, Mr. Bellamy carefully blotted his lips with his napkin. He signed for the meal, complemented the chef and the waiters and prepared to take his leave.

“Excuse me sir, Mr. Bellamy.”

A young man had materialized out of the restaurant and had his hand on the chair opposite Mr. Bellamy.

“I am just leaving young man; you are welcome to the table.”

“Actually sir, I need to take a few moments of your time.  It is rather important.”

The gentleman in question motion for the young man to take the seat opposite him and signalled to the waiter for another glass of wine.

“Would you join me young man?  It is a delightful wine.”

As the stranger seated himself at the table, he nodded his assent.

Once the wine had been poured and both gentlemen had savoured the flavour Mr. Bellamy spoke.

“I am assuming that you are here to tell me you have discovered my sordid past.”

The young man sat with a stunned look on his face, his glass of wine frozen between the table and his mouth.

“Sir I, I just thought…”

“You thought that you were the first to discover my background and that it would make juicy reading for a public that relishes bad news.  You thought that I would be ashamed of my past.  I’m guessing for a modest sum you would be willing to withhold that information.  Am I right young man?”

“Sir, information like this can be quite damaging…”

“Really?  To whom?”

“Well sir you have a reputation, a position.  I hardly think this information…”

Mr. Bellamy smiled; he even chuckled a little at the perplexed young man sitting across from him.

“My poor disillusioned young man.  You judge everything based on a standard that does not exist.  I was not born into wealth, I did not win any money, I earned my wealth based on an ideal.  Unlike you who is looking for a ‘get rich quick’ scheme and thought I was fair game.”

Now the young man was starting to squirm in his seat.  This was not going according to plan at all.  He realized that his ploy to extort money from this wealthy man had failed miserably.  He wanted desperately to leave the table and hide but was afraid to even attempt it.

“Yes I had humble beginnings: I lived in a trailer park with my mother.  We were poor but we had but one thing that money cannot buy: we had love.  I know it sounds trite but we supported each other even during the bad times.”

At this point Mr. Bellamy’s eyes seemed to glaze over as he took a little jaunt down memory lane.  He remembered his mother and her drinking.  He remembered how she always tried to stay positive around him.  He also remembered the very first time he saw fool’s gold.  It was that shiny substance that was beginning of his journey.  And this poor young man thought he was ashamed of his past.  His mother had overcome her demons and was now a successful designer. He had built a large corporation that was varied and worth millions.  It just goes to show you what someone can do with a little hard work and sacrifice.

“By the way young man, did you catch the name of this restaurant? It’s called FOOL’S GOLD.  Now do you understand?”

 

The end