Tag Archives: short story

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

 

Santa Claus is Dead?

I wrote this several years ago and it has been posted on this site over the years.  But I like it and I thought I would share it again.  To those of you who remember it, sorry.  To those of you reading it for the first time, I hope you enjoy it!

‘Santa Claus is dead.’

When Sebastian Phillips finished writing that phrase on his bulletin board he turned around to see what the reaction had been on his students. He was not disappointed.   Because this was a first-year philosophy course he expected them to be a little green when it came to abstract ideas. After all they were just kids. Truth be told, Professor N. Sebastian Phillips looked like he wasn’t all that much older than his students.

When he looked around the room Sebastian saw surprise, humour and perhaps disbelief, it was also very quiet. Here he was, a college professor talking about a white haired, fat man in a red suit as if he were real. Well real and dead.

“When you signed up for this course I am quite sure you were not expecting to talk about a symbol for a religious holiday that has come to mean the excesses of commercialism that are rampant in our society.”

Sebastian looked out at his students. They seemed relieved, this was more like it.

“Santa Claus does exist.”

Now Sebastian heard a few giggles and was that a grunt?

“Professor, those two statements cannot both be correct. There either is a Santa Claus or isn’t there? I mean really! ”

Sebastian grinned, “Actually they can Adam. A thing can only be dead if it first existed. “

“Come on Professor there is no Santa Claus! That is only a marketing gimmick to get parents to buy more for their kids. Commercialism at it’s best: vulgar!” These words were spoken by a young woman with an earring in her nose and one in her belly button which flashed every time she turned around.

“Well Cindy, yes and no.”

At this point the room erupted in confusion. A great many of the students were arguing about the wisdom of using symbols, some about the evils of commercialism in general and the western world’s corruption of money in particular. Sebastian noted which students seemed to think he was demented and which students were curious. Curious minds are open minds.

Very quietly Professor Phillips spoke. “Amanda did you believe in Santa Claus as a child?”

The room was suddenly quiet. Everyone turned and looked at Amanda, eager to learn her answer. The professor had chosen to ask the one person in the room who appeared normal. She was conservatively dressed with no strange piercings throughout her body. She also preferred to observe any heated discussions without actually joining in.

“Amanda . . .” her professor coached.

“Yes.” Was the quiet response.

“And how did you feel when you learned that the jolly man in a red suit was just a marketing ploy.”

The answer was a few minutes in coming and it was not the answer everyone was expecting. “I still believe in Santa Claus and I do not believe he is dead professor.”

For the second time that morning there was complete silence in the room, a stunned silence.

And then there was pandemonium. Only snippets of conversations could be heard. “I always knew that woman was nuts!” Geez I wish I had taken a mathematics course, that would of made sense.” “It is going to be a very long day.” “Do you want to go to the pub afterwards I think I could use a drink?” “I don’t know who is more insane: that Amanda chick or that Professor?”

Professor Phillips let the arguments roll about the room for several minutes. During this time Amanda just sat and looked at her hands as if she was too timid to become involved in a conversation she had helped to create.

“Okay everybody pipe down, you have had your little discussions and each one of them has some sort of validity. Problem is you’re not listening. Does Santa Claus exist? Yes. Does he exist as a fat, old man in a red suit? Yes. That guy in the red suit is on every corner in the Western world ringing a bell and selling products. Something can exist in more than one embodiment. We see the jolly, old fella and we equate him with shopping at Christmas. Do you know where the idea for Santa Claus came from? Amanda might. Because she alone seems to understand what Santa Claus represents, and who he is. Let me tell you a little story.”

“In a coastal town called Patra, in what is now Turkey, in the year 260AD a child was born. His name was Nicholas. His parents were taken from him when he was a child and yet he still grew up with a generosity of spirit and a love of children. He was a rich young man who tried to use his money to give other people happiness. He did ‘good’ in secret. Eventually he became known as St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra and his generosity continued.”

“Over the centuries St. Nicholas has become beloved by many religions. Our Western tradition of Santa Claus and Father Christmas originated with St. Nicholas. His faith and his actions make remembering him more important even in our day and age. He is our Santa Claus and people need to remember him. In essence, it is his spirit of giving that is behind our traditions at Christmas. The spirit of Santa Claus is alive and well.”

“A beautiful character is more powerful and more memorable to more people than any marketing ploy or religious dogma. Santa Claus, even if he comes in the guise of a human being is still the loving spirit of the good Nicholas. Santa Claus does exist, and should continue to exist for as long as we remember what he stands for.”

There was total silence in the room. Not a single student had a humorous quip, or disparaging remark to make. In fact when Sebastian looked around the room he saw only understanding and awe. Finally, these supposedly well educated young adults had picked up on something that all children knew from a very young age: if you believe, it will endure.

“Class dismissed.”

Sebastian smiled to himself and started to gather up his books and notes. The class had gone well, better than he’d expected. But the year was getting on and there are places he needed to be so he was going to have to tender his resignation and move on. But at that point Sebastian realized that not every student had left the room. He looked up.

“Amanda, how can I help you?”

“Professor Phillips you haven’t been completely honest with us have you? I know that Santa Claus exists and not as the jolly, red suited man, but rather as St. Nicholas/St. Nick. You see my family can trace its roots back to that same town in which St. Nicholas was born. As a matter of fact we’ve kept a very close watch throughout the years on the descendents of that family. It has always been the responsibility of my family to ensure that yours is protected. I’m surprised you didn’t know that. What’s your first name Professor Phillips?”

“Yes I thought perhaps you did know,” Sebastian’s grin was even more pronounced. You know I won’t be here next week. I have a lot of preparing to do and Christmas is not far away. And yes I am Nicholas/St. Nick. ”

 

The end

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Error in Judgement

Underneath an azure blue sky the trees swayed in a gentle dance with the wind in attendance. It was a bright beautiful autumn day. It was the kind of day where children want to play outside and adults secretly want to join them. Except no one in that boardroom was paying attention to the beauty outside the window.

Twelve men sat to attention. Twelve men carefully watched the only individual who was standing in the room. To say you could have heard a pin drop would be an understatement. Lives were about to be changed, perhaps permanently.

”Is that your answer Stevens?” The question was asked gently, almost friendly. But those in the room knew the dangerous undercurrent that resided in those few words.

The man known as Stevens visibly blanched. He knew he’d made an error in judgment and he also knew that it could be the end of him.

He tried to sit a little straighter.

“Well, um sir . . . I thought . . . you always say . . . um . . .”

“Do you know why I chose you for this job Stevens?”

The proverbial pin hit the floor. The man who had just moments ago spoken with such compassion in such dulcet tones, erupted.

‘WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE! YOU’RE A IDIOT! YOUR JOB IS TO CONVINCE THEM TO SIGN NOT DISSUADE THEM!”

“But I thought the good will generated by . . .

Stevens stopped speaking. Perhaps he had gone too far but he was trying to help a young family. And they really didn’t need what he was selling. There was plenty of time to make decisions like that down the road.

The room was quiet, too quiet. Stevens raised his head and looked around the room. No one would meet his gaze.

“They didn’t sign the contract did they Stevens?”

A very small voice replied, “No, sir.”

“Then you will.”

Eleven men stood up from the table and stepped back. Eleven men did their best to distance themselves from the man known as Stevens. They didn’t want anything to tarnish them. They knew the job and they knew the consequences of failure. The Boss wanted signatures.

Matthew Stevens remembered. He remembered coming to the big city for work. He met and married a beautiful woman, the love of his life. It was hard to find work for a newly minted lawyer who was pretty much run-of-the-mill. He hadn’t passed the bar with honours, he had actually just scraped by on his third try. But he had a little piece of paper that said he was a lawyer. That’s what he thought he should be doing. So he found work in small low paying law offices. He was a paper pusher. Nothing seemed to fit. Until . . .

He had received a letter in the mailbox, hand delivered. It offered him a lucrative job in a mid level Corporate Law office. He jumped. His wife was pregnant with their second child. He needed this job. So Matthew accepted the position and proceeded to push more paper. He wanted to go out into the field to sign people up for their policies. He was impatient. In just a few months he got exactly what he asked for. This was his first assignment. It was also the first time he actually read the policy.

His job was to get the head of the family to sign the contract. Simple actually. It was to give the family security and insurance over the life of the policyholder.

 

Insurance for life

                             This policy entitles the signatory Health, Wealth and Good Fortune for the length of his/her life. Upon termination of said existence, payment for the above contract will be collected:

One (1) Soul.

 

 

                             _________________________________________

                                           Policy Holder

 

 

 

Thank you for your business!

Mr. S. Atan. Esq.

The Mists of Time

No one knows exactly what happened on that final day or even what actually happened during the preceding weeks. He was one of the countless summer visitors that would arrive from places like Toronto by steamship. As many as 3000 people would visit Oakville in a single day. They mingled with the local folk in the beautiful summer days of that year. His name was Aloysius.

Her name was Mary. She was born on the 15th of April in the year of our Lord 1881. Her father worked in the Carson & Sons Planing Mill. He worked there for 30 years and for half of those years he carried a secret.

Mary didn’t have a mother. Or rather she didn’t remember her. She died while giving birth to Mary’s younger brother, he didn’t survive either. When she was very young Mary learned to take care of the house and her father. It’s what women did in those days, they took care of things.

Jacob was a good man, was Mary’s father. But he didn’t know what to do with his little girl. She wasn’t a little girl anymore. She was a young woman, a young, beautiful woman. Like the youth of all centuries she wanted some excitement. So on that fateful day she left the chores in her home to go for a walk in George’s Square.

Mary was positively giddy. It was a beautiful day, bright sunshine, a gentle breeze, and the smell of flowers the air. She didn’t go far; there was a park very close to her father’s work. He used to take her there when she was a small child. It was a favourite place for people to congregate. It is believed that’s where she met Aloysius.

“Hello.”

Mary turned around. What she saw made her smile and blush at the same time.

“Hello.”

“Are you from around here?” The smiling gentleman asked.

Mary blushed again. “Yes I am. Are you lost?”

The gentleman breathed deeply and put his hands in his pockets. “I have just come up from the city and I’m wondering where are the best places that I should visit. I’m only here for the day.” He looked down at this beautiful raven haired young woman, he was quite tall, “Would you be willing to show me the sites?”

Mary had been feeling the need for little excitement in her life, and here it was standing right in front of her. He looked to be a gentleman from the city, perhaps a wealthy gentleman. She was at first a little nervous but it was a beautiful day and she was feeling adventurous.

“I would love to give you a tour of the town. My name is Mary.”

“And you can call me Aloysius.”

“That is quite an unusual name.” She tried to hide her smile, unsuccessfully. Then she thought that perhaps she had been impolite.

The gentleman in question simply chuckled out loud, “I was named after my father, by my mother. It is quite a moniker.” His smile deepened. “It’s nice to be a little different.”

As the two walked through George’s Square they became more comfortable with each other. He was a young gentleman well attired and well spoken. She was a young girl, barely a woman with a girlish delight in being free.

We can’t know what was actually said when the two met but Mary kept a diary. Years later it would be found and many of the questions surrounding their story would be answered.

Aloysius was indeed a gentleman. Actually he was a gentleman’s gentleman. He was in service in the city of Toronto. Every Sunday he was given leave to pursue his own interests, whatever they may be. Once he met Mary he spent every Sunday of that fateful summer in the small town of Oakville, on the shores of Lake Ontario. They would visit the strawberry market, walk along the shoreline and picnic under the trees. Their friendship grew and over the many weeks so did their love.

During this time Mary’s father was under the impression that she was helping out at their local church. As he was not one to attend services he never questioned her supposed attendance. So he was completely unaware of the growing relationship between Mary and Aloysius. He wasn’t the only one. While they never intentionally hid themselves from Mary’s friends, they didn’t frequent areas that the others normally attended. But eventually the summer ended and so did the steamship from Toronto.

“Mary I’m asking you to come back to Toronto with me. You can live with my sister until the wedding. I know I can find you work with the mistress of the house. She is always looking for competent maids or perhaps a tutor for the children.”

Mary held the hands of the man she loved but she could not look him in the eye. “I have told my father nothing. He doesn’t even know you exist. I can’t just leave him”.

“Beloved I have to leave. This is the last boat of the season. I have no means to support myself here in Oakville. I have a good life in Toronto. We have talked about this. Let me approach your father and ask for your hand in marriage. He must agree.”

Very slowly Mary withdrew her hands from the grip of the man she loved. She still had not looked into his eyes. “I will speak to my father and I will return here shortly. The boat doesn’t leave for several hours. You must trust me. I will return.”

Slowly Mary raised her head and looked deep into the eyes of the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. Her hand touched his cheek gently, no words were necessary. She smiled and left him waiting on the pier.

When Mary returned home her father wasn’t there. She knew he sometimes went into the plant on Sundays so that is where she went. It’s difficult to know what actually happened on that tragic day in Carson and Sons Planing Mill. What we do know is that Mary died in there. She may have fallen or she may have been struck down. No one knows or no one is speaking of it.

Mary’s father would not speak of that day except to say that there was an accident. Aloysius waited on the pier but his beloved never showed and he didn’t know why. He left on the last steamship of the summer.

The next year the steamships did not return to plying the waters near Oakville for passengers and Aloysius was unable to return to Mary. He tried writing letters but they were never answered. Many years went by, Jacob mourned the loss of his daughter but he never spoke of it to anyone. Some said they often found him sitting on a chair outside the Mill talking to himself. It sounded as if he was talking to someone else but no one was nearby. There are those who said he was talking to his daughter, or the spirit of his daughter. Perhaps he was trying to atone for what had happened. Jacob never said and he died the year the Mill was closed.

Aloysius eventually married. He had three daughters, the last one he called Mary. He was never a happy man; he rarely smiled and was never seen to laugh. After many years of marriage his wife died and his daughters married and had children of their own. In time Aloysius once again visited Oakville. It had been a lifetime and the town was no longer sleepy anymore. It was vibrant and alive. Aloysius went back to the places that he and Mary had once known. The shoreline was much more built up and the main street had more stores. The house where Mary had once lived was gone. George’s Square was still there and the trees were bigger and lusher. Aloysius sat on a bench and remembered how happy he had been so many years ago and he wondered if Mary was happy now.

It was dusk when a married couple out walking in the fresh autumn air noticed a well-dressed older man sitting on a park bench. When they returned from their constitutional the gentleman had not moved. The man stopped to inquire if there was anything wrong. That’s when he discovered that Aloysius had died. He had died in the last place that he was happy.

There are those who say that on a warm summer night just about dusk if you’re very careful and very lucky you can see the misty outline of two people sitting on a park bench. One shape is that of a well-dressed gentleman, a young man and the other is of a very young woman with long dark hair.

Perhaps what they could not have while they lived, they found together in the mists of the spirit world.

 

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

The end

An Error in Judgement

 

Underneath an azure blue sky the trees swayed in a gentle dance with the wind in attendance. It was a bright beautiful autumn day. It was the kind of day where children want to play outside and adults secretly want to join them. Except no one in that boardroom was paying attention to the beauty outside the window.

Twelve men sat to attention. Twelve men carefully watched the only individual who was standing in the room. To say you could have heard a pin drop would be an understatement. Lives were about to be changed, perhaps permanently.

”Is that your answer Stevens?” The question was asked gently, almost friendly. But those in the room knew the dangerous undercurrent that resided in those few words.

The man known as Stevens visibly blanched. He knew he’d made an error in judgment and he also knew that it could be the end of him.

He tried to sit a little straighter.

“Well, um sir . . . I thought . . . you always say . . . um . . .”

“Do you know why I chose you for this job Stevens?”

The proverbial pin hit the floor. The man who had just moments ago spoken with such compassion in such dulcet tones, erupted.

‘WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE! YOU’RE A IDIOT! YOUR JOB IS TO CONVINCE THEM TO SIGN NOT DISSUADE THEM!”

“But I thought the good will generated by . . .

Stevens stopped speaking. Perhaps he had gone too far but he was trying to help a young family. And they really didn’t need what he was selling. There was plenty of time to make decisions like that down the road.

The room was quiet, too quiet. Stevens raised his head and looked around the room. No one would meet his gaze.

“They didn’t sign the contract did they Stevens?”

A very small voice replied, “No, sir.”

“Then you will.”

Eleven men stood up from the table and stepped back. Eleven men did their best to distance themselves from the man known as Stevens. They didn’t want anything to tarnish them. They knew the job and they knew the consequences of failure. The Boss wanted signatures.

Matthew Stevens remembered. He remembered coming to the big city for work. He met and married a beautiful woman, the love of his life. It was hard to find work for a newly minted lawyer who was pretty much run-of-the-mill. He hadn’t passed the bar with honours, he had actually just scraped by on his third try. But he had a little piece of paper that said he was a lawyer. That’s what he thought he should be doing. So he found work in small low paying law offices. He was a paper pusher. Nothing seemed to fit. Until . . .

He had received a letter in the mailbox, hand delivered. It offered him a lucrative job in a mid level Corporate Law office. He jumped. His wife was pregnant with their second child. He needed this job. So Matthew accepted the position and proceeded to push more paper. He wanted to go out in the field to sign people up for their policies. He was impatient. In just a few months he got exactly what he asked for. This was his first assignment. It was also the first time he actually read the policy.

His job was to get the head of the family to sign the contract. Simple actually. The policy would give the family security and insurance over the lifetime of the policyholder.

 

Insurance for life

                             This policy entitles the signatory Health, Wealth and Good Fortune for the length of his/her life. Upon termination of said existence, payment for the above contract will be collected:

One (1) Soul.

 

 

                             _________________________________________

                                           Policy Holder

 

 

 

Thank you for your business!

Mr. S. Atan. Esq.

 

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?

Ah yes, the open road . . .

 

WiFi is Free!

 

Ben was paralyzed. He couldn’t move, couldn’t react. He watched in horror as his friend of 30 years was patted down, handcuffed and walked out of the bar in the company of four very official looking men. Four, there were five!

“You can say nothing about what you think you just heard.”

The warning was issued by a quiet, almost friendly voice. But as Ben raised his head to look at the speaker, a chill ran down his back. The man almost seemed to smile. He reached out his hand and picked up the thumb drive that Stan had dropped on the table. Snap, it was gone.

And with a slight tilt of his head, so was the fifth man. Ben inhaled deeply. He felt as if he had been holding his breath for far too long. He started to hear the regular sounds of the bar seeping back into his awareness. It felt as if time was reasserting itself and Ben was out of sorts. It had happened, here, with a room full of witness who had seen nothing. They didn’t understand. He had to tell them. But what Stan had said . . . Could it be true?

Ben reached for his laptop. A good reporter never went anywhere with out it. As he opened the screen and prepared to log on, Ben wondered . . . what if . . . He put his laptop away and reached for a pen and a pad of paper. Old school it is.

The day had stared routinely. Check correspondence, do a little cleaning, a little writing and then down to the pub for lunch. Saturday was Ben’s day to unwind, read the paper, watch a little sports on the big screen. Everyone knew it. So he was surprised when Stan burst into his reverie.

“Ben, Thank God you’re here! You have to help me! People need to be warned!” As he spoke, Stan threw himself into a chair across from Ben and dropped his head into his hands. He looked as if he hadn’t slept in days. He was obviously agitated and Ben got over being surprised enough to reach out to his friend.

“It’s okay, we’ll fix what ever is broken. Just try to calm down and tell me what’s wrong.”

The man that raised his head looked haunted. He reached out his hand and dropped a thumb drive on the table.

“He figured it out.” He whispered, “Then he got proof. He trusted me.”

Ben waited. He knew his friend. He knew he needed to tell his story in his time. But Ben felt a gentle unquiet seep into his mind. This was not one of Stan’s pranks, he was scared, terrified.

Stan slowly looked around the room. Only well known regulars were in attendance. He heaved a sigh.

“I don’t know how much time I have before they get here but you have to get the word out. The WiFi is free.”

Ben chuckled, “Well, yeah! That’s what we all wanted. Free WiFi for everyone!”

Stan shook his head. “Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand? They are listening!”

Ben lifted his glass of ale. “Okay, I’ll bite, who’s listening.”

“The computers.”

His glass stopped, mid air.   “What computers?”

Stan sat back in his chair.

“Have you ever wondered how Police can get to a bank robbery so quickly when the silent alarm isn’t triggered? Or how a traveller who jokes about a high-jacking can be so accurately pinpointed? How about those calls you get where no one speaks. It’s the WiFi. It’s everywhere. The computers are primed to react to certain word combinations in certain areas.”

Ben heard the words but it was what was not spoken that had him concerned. It wasn’t Big Brother watching, it was Big Computer listening!

Stan seemed to deflate. “I have a computer hacker friend who figured it out awhile back. He collected all his data, his proof. He wanted to take it to a reporter and I suggested you. He gave me a copy.”

Both men looked at the thumb drive. “Where’s your friend?” Asked Ben.

Stan never raised his head. “Dead.” He whispered.

An oppressive silence seemed to hang in the air. Patrons laughed and ate and drank. The big screen droned on about sports and the world continued to rotate. But something intangible had just happened and it was sobering.

Ben opened his mouth to ask a question when five large, official looking men appeared beside their table. Stan started to speak as he tried to stand up but a very forceful hand stopped him. Ben started to protest until a badge was place in front of his eyes. He tried to lean back to read it but it was snapped shut.

Ben was paralyzed. He couldn’t move, couldn’t react. He watched in horror as his friend of 30 years was patted down, handcuffed and walked out of the bar in the company of very official looking men.

The message was clear:

The WiFi is listening . . .

Alvin: Over Looking

 

“ALVIN, ALVIN WHERE ARE YOU? YOU ARE LATE FOR YOUR SUPPER! ALVIN YOU ARE IN SUCH TROUBLE YOUNG MAN! ALVIN!!!”

“I’m here mama, I’m here.” The quiet voice almost whispered the words he desperately wanted his mother to hear. But she could not. Alvin opened his eyes to a beautiful sunny day but could only feel the tear drenched pillow beneath his head and his very heavy heart. Alvin wanted to go home.

“Alvin are you awake? The sun is up and I found a really neat flower! Alvin are you awake?” The excited voice that Alvin could now truly hear belonged to a small chipmunk named Monty. They had met many weeks after Alvin had arrived in the New World from Ireland. They found in each other a kindred spirit: fun-loving and mischievous. Unfortunately Alvin wasn’t feeling particularly fun-loving this morning. He had had a dream about his mother and he was sad. He was a leprechaun trying to make his way in the New World without his family.

Alvin stayed tucked in his bed, his face hiding from the Sun. His friend Monty knew something was up but wasn’t quite sure what he should do. So he gently scampered over beside Alvin and sat down. He knew Alvin was sad and all he could offer was his friendship, so for the next several hours the displaced leprechaun and the wild young chipmunk kept each other company, the way friends do.

By the time Alvin was fully awake the sun was high in the sky. He still felt the remnants of his unsettling dream but things always look different in the full light of day. What was odd was the strange snuffling noise and occasional squeaks that Alvin could hear nearby. As he swung his legs over his bed they stop short of the floor. The squeaking became quite pronounced, more like a grunt.

“Alvin are you really awake now?” The voice and the grunting belonged to Monty. As he stretched and yawned, the young chipmunk picked up the conversation that he had started several hours earlier: “I found a really neat flower you need to come and see!”

Alvin smiled. He could always trust Monty to concentrate on the here and now. So he smiled and nodded his head. All he said was “show me.” And Monty took off like a shot with one quick glance over his shoulder to see if Alvin was following.

The unlikely pair made their way across the lawn of the big house to a large garden. It seemed that the strange flower was hidden amongst the hundreds of flowers planted by the owners of the big house. There were roses, and lilies, and daisies, and hundreds of other flowers that Alvin didn’t know the names of. He thought it amusing that somewhere in the midst of this beautiful flower garden was one strange flower. But Monty was convinced.

“Oh okay, it’s here, right around, ummmm, shucks, maybe it’s this way!”

Monty’s sense of direction was questionable but his passion was all-consuming. Alvin grinned and followed. He was still thinking about his dream. He missed his mother and his father and all the other leprechauns. Here in the New World he had not found another like himself. He was isolated. He didn’t know what was going to happen to him. There was no one to teach him how to be a good leprechaun. He had no one.

“It’s here! It’s here! See I told you!” Monty’s tiny body could barely contain his excitement!

As Alvin approached Monty’s find, he was sure he would see nothing more than an odd rose or two headed daisy. He was not prepared for what he did find.

There are no greater story tellers than those from Ireland. And there are no more strongly held legends than those of the leprechauns. Perhaps the strongest legend is that of the four-leaf clover. It is an uncommon variation of the common, three-leaved, clover. They say that such leaves bring good luck to their finders, especially if found accidentally. According to legend, each leaflet represents something: the first is for hope, the second is for faith, the third is for love, and the fourth is for luck. In a little patch all by itself stood a very singular four-leaf clover.

Alvin couldn’t move. He was overcome with sadness and with happiness. Monty stood slightly off to one side gripping his paws tightly. When Alvin did finally move he turned abruptly to Monty. The little chipmunk took fright and jumped back.

Alvin let out a laugh that caused the birds to fly off from the trees.

“This is a wonderful Monty! A little bit of Ireland is here with me! I am not alone. I just couldn’t see what was right in front of my eyes and you reminded me of that. I have everything I need right here! ”

Monty looked on wide eyed, he didn’t really understand what his friend was talking about but he knew his friend was happy. That was all that really mattered.

   A moment later Alan burst into song “I’m looking over a four leaf clover that I overlooked before . . . .” he danced around his precious clover and without any warning hugged little Monty.

Monty started to smile. The birds that moments ago had lifted off from the trees came back to watch what was happening. Other creatures from the forest were also starting to gather. Everybody liked a good party! When Alvin finally ran out of steam he lay down next to his clover and smiled at everyone.

“I may not be with my family in Ireland but I have my family here in the New World. Thank you Monty for reminding me of that,” and he continued to whistle:

I’m looking over a four-leaf clover
That I overlooked before.
One leaf is sunshine, the second is rain,
Third is the roses that grow in the lane.
No need explaining, the one remaining
Is somebody I adore.
I’m looking over a four-leaf clover
That I overlooked before

Monty looked a little bewildered, “I just thought it was a really neat flower.”

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 end

#writephoto Caretakers

 

They stood all in a row. Bowed with age. He was the last, the last of his kind. Those that had once stood proudly with him had slowly succumbed to time. It was their punishment: to watch the distance land flourish with the life they had tried to control.

Once they had walked the earth and then they ran with no thought of the destruction, the chaos, they left in their wake. They did not understand. They were caretakers and they failed, miserably.

They stood all in a row, the last of human kind encased in stone.

 

This is my submission for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo and her Thursday photo prompt. – Distant #writephoto. Usually I am content to enjoy the work of others but this time I was compelled to join in. You might want to look at her site, you won’t regret it.