Tag Archives: short story

Seasonal Changes

I know I posted this last year but I like this story and there are a few amongst you who may not have seen it.  So, sorry and enjoy!

Lea looked around her and smiled.  Life was good.  She felt as if she was on top of the world.  Which in fact, was not too far from the truth.  She was high enough to look down on the teeming masses and feel superior.

A gentle breeze moved around her and she shivered in delight.  With the sun on her face and the faintest wafts of air to keep the bugs at bay, there was no other place Lea would have preferred to be. Here she could while away the days in thought and feeling.  The whole experience was a hedonistic surplus of sensation.

It is dangerous to spend all of one’s time in the near-sighted pursuit of just one ideal.  With the passage of time comes change.

Lea woke one morning to a strange feeling of fear.  She really didn’t understand the sensation but she was sure she didn’t like it.  Carefully she glanced around her.  Everything seemed unchanged.  The people she could see were scurrying about their daily lives. The sun was in the sky, the wind was quiet but still there.  It had rained over the last few days but that was not unusual and it even made the world seem a little crisper, more alive.  But something was different.

Lea didn’t live in her little aerie alone, she had neighbours.  When she finally deigned to actually acknowledge them, she discovered that they had changed.  Perhaps they had spent too much time in the sun because they were definitely a different colour.  Not an unpleasant shade of red but it did depend on your tastes.  Once again Lea felt superior.  She wasn’t going to change, not her.

There are few inevitabilities in life, death and taxes not withstanding.  The passage of time can never be halted no matter how much we may want it to and with that passage also comes change.  We can rail against it all we want but change happens.

It had been a few weeks since Lea had first noticed the changes in her neighbours and she was horrified to see that they seemed to have accepted it.  It must be because they were old, past their prime.  Not like her.  Although, in the last few weeks she had been feeling a little tired, not her usual perky self.  It must be the weather.  The wind was blowing a little harder and the sun wasn’t nearly as warm as it had been.  Lea was sure that it would all pass and that one day soon everything would be back to normal.  It had to; she wouldn’t accept anything else.

The next day Lea woke feeling cold and sore.   She made the effort to look around her and noticed that all of her neighbours had gone.  She was alone.  The people below were fewer and those she could see were not enjoying the day like they used to, they seemed to be in a hurry.  It is hard to feel sanctimonious when you are alone.

A few days later Lea did not wake up.  The wind was blowing hard and crisp. The sun seemed lower in the sky, almost as if it too was finding it difficult to rise in the morning.  The warm days of summer had come to an end and the cool winds of change had brought the autumn.  With her many neighbours Lea now formed a blanket of leaves beneath her cherished trees.  The season had changed once more.

-the end-

 

 

 

 

Smuggler’s Cove . . . Again

 

Anita sat back; she was tired but she still smiled as she remembered.  Today was an anniversary of sorts. Thirty-one years ago today she was reborn.   She remembered the woman she had been, fondly.  Actually, if she had not been the woman she was then, she would not be the woman she was today.

With a quiet chuckle Anita stood up and approached the bed where the object of her remembrances lay sleeping.  She laid a gentle hand on his brow and he stirred for just a moment.  But his breathing was deep, he would not wake for some time yet.  So she sat back down and once again remembered.

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

‘John cupped her face in his hand, her beautiful face.  She wore no make-up; she didn’t need any.  There was no artifice to her.  Everything she felt showed on her face.  Right now, it showed her dismay at alarming people and something else.  John wondered what she was thinking, feeling. He took her elbow and helped her to stand.’

It was at that moment that the woman, who used to be known as Anna, knew her destiny.  This man was her future.  She once swore that she would never allow another man to get too close to her heart.  But John had sneaked in under her radar.  And she was glad.  John too was having an epiphany.  As he helped her to stand, he could feel the weight of her heart in his hands.  John knew that his future rested with this woman.

Anita sighed and shook her head.  It had all happened so quickly.  Without a word the two had gripped hands and decided to leave together. The woman who was Anna had never considered herself spontaneous.  But here in the blink of an eye she was running away from a life that she had, with a man that she barely knew.  But her heart was full and her conscience was clear.  John too was leaving behind nothing that meant anything to him.  He was not running away from life, he was running to it and taking with him all that had meaning.

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

All those years ago John had already been planning his escape.  He loved the park, he really did, but he could never escape who he really was. Jonathan Edward Bellamy III was a curse, an albatross that John wore around his neck.  So to that end, John had been preparing for his escape for many months.  Money had been secreted away, a temporary hideaway had been prepared, and all that was still needed was a push.  Anna provided the final reason.  So, the two left the park quietly in a canoe that John kept in Smugglers Cove.

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

Anita’s eyes flew open; she had heard a noise from the bed.

“John? John?”  The concern in her voice was evident, but there was no response from the object of her concern.  She felt his brow and it was cool, not fevered as it had been for several days.  Anita was sure the danger had now passed.  She wanted to weep as a release for her pent-up fears.  She had been so afraid she was going to lose him: this man she had loved for thirty-one years.

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

“Woman, you are starting to annoy me!”  The voice was gruff but the eyes still twinkled with love and with humour.

“The Doctor said you were to take it . . . “

“The Doctor can take his advice and . . .”

“John! Don’t you dare finish that sentence!”

On one side of the room was a slight, red haired lady with her hands firmly planted on her hips and a scowl on her face.  On the other side of the room was a tall, pale man who was still recovering from a recent illness.  The battle of wills was about to be waged and there was little doubt as to the victor.

“Okay, okay, you win!  I promise to avoid marathons and mountain climbing for at least a month.  Just remove the scowl from that beautiful face, please?”

“John. . .”  Anita spoke lowly and crossed the room to put her arms around her patient. “I was so very afraid; I can’t lose you.”

John raised his arms and encircled his beloved. “You will never lose me.”

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

Later that night Anita once again thought through all the years they had been together.

It hadn’t always been easy but the one thing they never lost sight of was each other.  That first night in the canoe had been amusing.  They were acting like high school students, running away.  It was a bit tricky canoeing with a cane and she would not give up her laptop computer, but they managed.  They only had to go a few miles by canoe and in some ways, it was quite exciting. Well, except for the almost drowning incident.  And of course, they had met Samson.  He was her constant companion for many years.

She never regretted what she had done.  She did always wonder what everyone thought about the two of them.  They slept for the first night in an old rundown cottage that someone had left unlocked.  Or perhaps John was just good at breaking and entering, she didn’t ask.  It had taken them almost a week of traveling to finally reach their hideaway.  John had planned well.  There was a vehicle, there was food, and there was a place to sleep. Of course, he had only planned on one person on the run not two, but they made do.

Perhaps the first month was the most difficult.  They had to discover each other and had to come to terms with the lives they had left behind. Anita felt that she had not left anything important behind but she thought John had.  After all he came from a family with money and position, how you give that up?  But John thought about it differently.  He hated who he had been and by definition the people who had forced him to be that person.  But he had prepared well.  They chose new identities and set about planning their life together.  But there was always one thing in the back in Anita’s mind: returning to Smugglers Cove.

The money John had saved only lasted a few months but both were prepared to work to support their new lives. Perhaps it was nostalgia, perhaps it was guilt but Anita chose to write children’s stories that were quite successful.  John once again took a position in an out of the way park.  They had what they needed in life and they had each other.  It was a good life.

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

‘He saw clearly in the sand the imprint of a man’s feet and right beside them a smaller pair: a woman’s.  He looked out into darkness, they were here . . . again.’

Smugglers’ Cove . . .Between

 

The surface of the river was still, almost glass like.  Looking deep you could see the current running swiftly down stream. Hungry birds circled overhead, looking for a meal.  A small fish leapt above the safety of the river narrowly missing becoming lunch. For a moment the world was quiet.

And then chaos. . . .

“John!  Help!  I can’t . . .” For only a few seconds a woman’s head broke the surface before she was dragged back down into the darkness.  The unforgiving depths do not like to give back.

“Oh, my God!  I’m coming! Please God don’t let her drown!  Anna!”

Mere seconds behind the struggling woman was a man in a canoe.  The terror on his face spoke volumes.  More time went by as he searched for any sign of this woman that had enchanted his heart, his soul.  He had to find her!

“Anna! Anna!”  He shouted loudly.

“ Please God, save her.”  He whispered to the universe.  “Please!”

Two gentle souls had found each other in an out-of-way park and without meaning to, had fallen in love.  John could not believe they would be separated so soon after finding each other.  He felt the tears at the back of his eyes welling.  His shoulders ached from the desperate paddling, his eyes searching for his heart.

“Please, plea . . .  Anna!”

He spied her flowing red hair glistening in the morning light.  The only movement was with the water’s drift trying to tug it free from a branch.

Another foot and he could see a shoulder.  It was deathly pale.

“Please . . .”

When the canoe was within reach John jumped out next to the body of his beloved.  Immediately he felt the water dragging at his clothes, determined to pull him down.  The canoe, caught by another branch, floated nearby.  John’s hands trembled, unsure, desperate to know.

“Anna…”  He barely breathed . . .

As he turned her body over an eyelid flickered.  She was alive!

With that almost imperceptible movement John reacted.  His training took over his actions. He checked her pulse: strong.  Breathing: shallow but steady.  Pupils: reactive. Small contusion on forehead.  She was safe to move.  She needed to be warm and monitored. He needed to check for other possible injuries.

The next few minutes became a blur.  John was able to disentangle Anna and get her to shore.  It may only have been a few feet but it felt like miles.  He made sure she was safe and returned for the canoe.  Those supplies could make the difference between living and dying.

When John and Anna made the decision to run away they left behind their lives as well as their cell phones.  They were on their own now.

It took a little time but John was able to make a fire, make Anna comfortable and put water on to boil.  He cleaned her wounds.  They were minor and should pose no future problems.  Her breathing was stronger but still she slept.  John agonized over whether to leave her to find help or to stay.  A little tea should help.  While he busied himself with the mundane tasks of finding the tea and cups he was able to calm down.  They would survive this.  She would survive this.

His head was down, diligently measuring tea leaves into a strainer when he heard a sound. He quickly looked to Anna, still she slumbered.  He raised his eyes to the forest a few meters away.  His heart stopped.  There, just beside a very full tree was the largest wolf he had ever seen. John had seen hundreds in his years in the Parks Services but never one this close and this . . .alive. He was afraid to breath!  And then it moved.

Wolves have a reputation as true killers, vicious animals that maul the unwary for fun.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Wolves are intelligent pack animals who care deeply for their young and avoid people as much as possible.  And yet here was a magnificent specimen silently staring at . . .Anna?  Normally an adversary keeps his eyes on an opponent but that didn’t seem to be the case here.  Why? Before John had finished his thought the wolf took a step forward and then another. Then it did the strangest thing:  it sat. With its head cocked to one side and its tongue hanging out it look just like a family pet.

John sat back on his heals.  The movement didn’t disturb the wolf at all.  It’s gaze never left Anna.  It didn’t seem to be aggressive, more . . . supportive?  Was John dreaming? After what seemed to be hours the wolf slowly returned to the forest.  At that moment the water started boiling furiously. John was reminded of his duties and returned to them.

The hours did pass. John tried to stay awake to tend to the fire and to worry about the wolf but the inevitable did happen. The stress, fear and fatigue took hold and John slept.

He was dreaming.  He felt cool water on his face, he was drowning! With a yell he force his way up, clawing for the surface!

“John!”

With blinking eyes the man in question came awake. He was confused.  He quickly looked to where Anna lay and she was gone!

“Anna?”

“I’m right here John, I’m fine. Look someone’s dog has come for a visit.”

Someone’s dog?  John came awake in a hurry with that comment.  He looked towards the sound of his beloved’s voice and saw her with the huge wolf gently accepting her ministrations. She was petting him and tugging at his ears and he seemed to like it!

“Anna, Anna . . that’s a wolf!  A wild animal!  You have to get away from him!”

Anna didn’t move except to give her newfound friend a hug.

“I had such awful dreams and then I felt this warmth embrace me.  I felt such love. Then I felt a wet tongue on my face and it was Samson.  He sat by me while you slept. I think he was keeping an eye on us both.”

“You named a wild animal Samson?”

John started to laugh.  It was so abrupt that both Anna and Samson were startled. Then they both joined in.  Or, at least one did, the other gave the impression he was enjoying the process.

When the laughter died down the release was apparent. Then both John and Anna started to speak at the same time …

“I’m sorry!”  “I’m sorry!”

“It was an accident.  We’re both ok and we seemed to have gained a companion.”

Anna smiled at their new friend who promptly rolled on his back and presented his stomach for a rub.

John grinned at the two of them. A wild animal and a beautiful writer. What could be more incongruous and more appropriate? Perhaps Anna would write about a tame wolf named Samson in their new life.  He would find an out-of-the-way park in which to work and Anna would write stories for children. All would be well. They had each other.

The end

 

 

 

Smuggler’s Cove

I’m not quite prepared for my weekly post so I thought I would share something from a few years ago.  This started out as a single story but grew into three due to very strong opposition. Seniors can be quite scary when they want something!  So I complied.  This is the first of the three. I will post the second and third on Monday and Tuesday.  I’ll be back to regular viewing on Wednesday.

Pamela

Jonathan Edward Bellamy III.  A name destined to sit in the Supreme Court after a spotless career as a criminal lawyer, or perhaps the head of a multi-national banking conglomerate with a profit margin in the tens of millions.  Well perhaps Jonathan might have gone that route but not John.  John was sitting in a ten-year-old truck wondering if his rent cheque was going to bounce, and that truck was sitting on a mountain pass that overlooked a pristine national park which that Supreme Court judge would kill to see.  John figured he was the wealthier of the two.

Being born into a wealthy and prominent family brought with it a great many obligations that John had always balked at.  People who knew he came from money were either anxious to be his new best friend or hated him for his presumed privileges.  It had been hard trying to fit into that world. John didn’t like the phoney debutants or their mothers trying to make ‘good’ matches for them.  He just didn’t belong to that world. He belonged here, where the air was fresh, the people were real and where one worried about rent cheques.  When John walked away from the privileged life he also walked away from his wealth.  That was fine with him. Money should be earned not inherited.

Today John was thinking about that rent cheque but he was also thinking about the tourists.  Today was the first day of summer vacation and it had always been a trial in the park.  High School kids brought booze, which was banned, and College kids brought drugs, which were worse. Parents brought small children and expected the Rangers and Park Attendants to be babysitters.   Couples brought their pets and were indignant when they were turned away.  They didn’t seem to understand that this was a Wild Lands Park with wild animals, animals that might mistake ‘Spot’ for lunch.  It had happened.  Not often fortunately.  It really was amazing just how dumb some people could be.

It was almost time.  The Park opened at 10 am and it was almost that now.  John turned his ignition on and started for the main gates.  It wasn’t all bad; there were a lot of good, decent people who genuinely wanted to learn about the bears, the deer, and the other inhabitants of the forest.  They were the ones that made everything worthwhile.

As John approached the main gates, he could see the people waiting patiently for the gates to open.  Not everyone was waiting patiently of course: he could see a couple of cars of what appeared to be college students. We had better flag that group. Maybe they will turn out to be biology students with a real love for the forest and it’s inhabitants, and maybe not.  John heaved a quiet sigh; it could be a long summer. 

He watched the cars entering the park. Movement near the lodge caught his eye.  Red.  Specifically: red hair, long silky, red hair.  It belonged to a single woman who had booked a month at the lodge that was adjacent to the park.  She was quite a looker Miss Anna Wilson. Now there was an interesting story.  Young, attractive, women did not spend a month at an out of the way park alone.  She didn’t seem to be meeting anyone and she wandered the forest trails quite often. Always alone.   She used a cane and carried a laptop computer. Why?  Jessica at the lodge said she was a very nice, quiet woman. She seemed sad some how.  What was she running from? She had been here a week and John had spoken to her often, going out of his way to do so.  She was intelligent, but not forthcoming about her past.  Everyone was entitled to their privacy.  Except John was curious.

* * * * * * * * *

It had been a very long week.  There was the two-year-old who had burrowed underneath the showers rather successfully.  That took a couple of hours and several staff members to bring to a satisfactory conclusion.  Mom wanted to go home NOW.  Then there was the diamond necklace that went missing.  Why anyone would bring an expensive bauble to a park went beyond dumb.  It was located in the husband’s jacket pocket.  He was playing a trick on his wife. As for those college students, they really were here to study the local flora and fauna.  Unfortunately, they were also studying the effects of some of their own personal flora, which was definitely illegal. They agreed to leave quietly, without the illegal plants.  Another one for the burn pile.

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

John stood at the top of the trail and looked down.  It was steep, an awkward climb even for him.  There was no way a woman with a cane could manoeuvre down to the cove.  It was one of John’s favourite spots.  Here, alone, he could think without any interruptions from tourists.  He scanned the small beach and started to turn away.  Out of the corner of his eye he caught a shape that did not belong.  It was a woman. A woman with red hair and she wasn’t moving.  Her hair was splayed out behind her as if she had fallen backwards. John started to run.  It took him a full minute to reach her but she didn’t move.  He looked for signs of an injury and softly called her name once, twice, three times.  She stirred; eyes sleepy. She stretched like a cat.  John sat back on his heels and pulled out his cell phone.

“Central, this is John.  The package has been located and verified.  All is well.  Out.”

Anna sat up, confused.  “What are you doing here?”

“Looking for you.” John snapped.  He was angry.  This blasted woman had the unmitigated gall to make him fall in love with her, to disappear for a full day and then not even have the decency to be injured or, or, whatever.  He had been worried sick and she was fine.

The object of his silent tirade was completely unaware of the effect she was having on him or the situation away from her little cove.  For that is how she thought of this idyllic spot, as hers.

“John, did you know about this spot? It’s wonderful!  It is quiet and serene. I have been able to write here so easily; it is almost as if . . .. John? What’s wrong?”

Anna had finally noticed the look on John’s face.  The anger was apparent, and something more, concern?

“Anna you have been gone for almost 7 hours. Jessica is worried sick.   Rangers have been out looking for you ever since you failed to show up at the lodge for lunch.  And how the hell did you get down here anyway?”  As he spoke John’s voice grew in volume until he was almost shouting and his teeth were clenched.

Anna smiled.  She tried to hide her grin but failed miserably.  Of course, this made John even angrier. She stopped listening to his lecture on the dangers of the Park and instead watched his face.  It was a good face, clean-shaven with a slight nick under his jaw line.  He was probably distracted this morning, thinking about the latest batch of tourists.  He was always concerned that each individual reaps the most from their stay at the campgrounds.  He wanted everyone to love the park as he did, just as she had come to do.  Anna had come to the park to escape her life.  She didn’t want to end her life she just didn’t want to live it any more. Yes, John had a good face, strong, his eyes were brown, a deep inviting brown. And his body, well….  Yes, he was definitely nice to look at and his voice, well he could read a phone book out loud and still enthral a crowd.  At least a crowd of one.  Anna stopped smiling.  Was she falling in love with this paragon of manhood?  She could not allow that.  That was a dangerous trail she would never venture down again.

John noticed the change in Anna’s face.  Had he been too hard on her?  Dammit he worried about her!

“Anna?”

“I.. . I’m sorry I worried you, I lost track of time.” Her eyes were downcast, her voice cracked slightly.

John cupped her face in his hand, her beautiful face.  She wore no make-up; she didn’t need any.  There was no artifice to her.  Everything she felt showed on her face.  Right now it showed her dismay at alarming people and something else.  John wondered what she was thinking, feeling. He took her elbow and helped her to stand.

Anna looked up the path.  “It wasn’t so hard coming down, really, just slow.  But it was definitely worth the effort.”

John looked at this woman that he had come to care for.  They were both lonely people looking to escape their lives.  Perhaps they were both here on this spot for a reason.

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

Coach Adamson wondered if he was doing the right thing bringing these boys to this park for the weekend.  They didn’t know what had happened here, on this spot, thirty-eight years ago.  Actually no one really knew what happened.  Two people were gone. What they had found all those years ago was an abandoned truck and a sweater that had belonged to a park visitor.  His father’s little sister.  Had two lonely people run away together or had an accident claimed their lives? Coach looked out at the river, now shrouded in darkness.  He had been warned that the currents near the centre of the river could be deadly.  Had they been thirty-eight years ago?

“Hey Coach, does that Ranger want us to put out the fire?”

The Coach turned back to the bonfire and his charges, “What Ranger?”

“The Ranger you were just talking to with that hot chick.  Wow I guess there are perks to working in an out of the way Park like this!  The boys laughed and turned back to their fire and their questionable jokes.

The Coach turned back to look at the water’s edge.  He saw clearly in the sand the imprint of a man’s feet and right beside them a smaller pair: a woman’s.  He looked out into darkness, they were here . . . again.

A Single Cardboard Box

Eloise sat back in her chair and sighed.   This would be her final move. It was a hard one, leaving so much behind. But it was time. She thought about her husband of 61 years, Elliot. He’d been gone for a while now but she was managing. He’d always loved that about her:  her ability to adapt.

Hands clasped loosely on her lap, legs demurely crossed at the ankle. She had been taught to be a lady but she also knew when not to be. Something else Elliott loved about her.  She smiled to herself. As she raised her head her eyes caught the single cardboard box resting on the edge of the bed.  How is it possible for 92 years to fit inside one single box?

There were so many memories. Dipping her toes into three oceans over her lifetime. That midnight buffet on the cruise ship. The smile became a chuckle as she remembered poor Elliot looking for his shoes in a strange motel after a very long night. He eventually found them in the refrigerator! They had laughed all the way to Albuquerque. Good memories.

There were camping trips with four active and insatiably curious children. And then the children’s children, there seemed to be so many of them. She remembered the strange noises a sleeping child makes and the wild-eyed wonder when they saw something for the first time. Learning to read, learning to walk, learning to slow down. That was always the hard one. But they did it together. Eloise and Elliot. It had lovely ring to it. What a great partnership they had. And that partnership didn’t die when he did. She slept with a pair of his gloves under her pillow. He was never far from her.

She relaxed a little more in the chair, resting her tired shoulders. And she cast her mind back over her 92 years. She had earned her rest. Her memories of her childhood were all good. She’d had loving parents who had taught her to love the world and to respect what it had to offer. She had grown up with wonderful pets who had taught her humility and selflessness. She had friends who taught her the art of compromise and acceptance and French kissing. Yes, she had learned how to laugh early.  And she laughed often.  She had reason.

They had traveled the world together. Elliott was a wonderful traveler. Except for the shoes.  When the children had come along they too were initiated into that world. First traveling near at home and then farther and farther as they grew older and more capable of appreciating it. And then they too caught the bug. The world was theirs to explore.

As time inexorably moved on so did the children. And then she and Elliot rediscovered the wonders of each other. It was like a second honeymoon and they had enjoyed it for many years. Oh, the children came back to visit. In the beginning it was quite often but as their lives became more and more complicated, that too dwindled off.  That was to be expected.

Most of the children and grandchildren made it back for Elliot’s funeral. It was good to see them, to get reacquainted. But they had their own lives to get back to and in time Eloise was again alone.  That was okay. She had much to occupy her. She had quite a vibrant social life and plenty of friends to keep her company. But there were adjustments. She moved to a condominium and hired a cleaning service. There were even a few male companions who were interested in more than just companionship. They were proper gentlemen when she refused. Her heart still belonged to Elliot. Besides he hadn’t been gone that long. But it was nice to have a man around to escort her to a dance.

The box caught her eye once again. It seem to beckon to her and to mock her. It was her box of treasures, precious memories, tokens worth more than any precious jewel ever could be. A single tear escaped her eye.  She felt sad and more than a little proud. She wondered about the next step in her life. What was still to come? She closed her eyes.

 

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

 

The door burst open! A tall, young; man, strode aggressively into the room.

“Where the hell is the damn thing?”

A few seconds behind him an equally tall woman sashayed into the room somewhat less aggressively.

“They said it was on the end of the bed and you could pick it up at your leisure.  I think it’s important. What do you plan on doing with it?”

The man became a little less forceful as he spotted the single cardboard box just where he had been told it would be.

“It’s just some old trinkets. What possible value could it have? “

 

 

the end

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Irish Eyes Are Watching

Father John Murphy stood back and looked at his church.  He was quite pleased with this tiny but perfect building that was his first very own parish.  He knew it was a sin but he felt great pride.

“Top of the morning to you Father Murphy.”

As he started to turn around Father Murphy ran through the list of names in his head that might belong to that voice.  “Ah yes, good morning Miss O’Dell.  It is indeed a lovely morning.”  The voice belonged to the ancient and diminutive local gossip. There were some who said she had been around for more than a hundred years.

“Are you settling in now Father Murphy?  Have you made peace with the locals?”

“I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean Miss O’Dell.  The local what?”

“Why the wee folk Father Murphy!  Don’t you know the truth?”  Before he had a chance to answer, Miss O’Dell answered for him.  “Oh, my goodness you don’t!  You’re from the ‘Americas’ and you don’t know!”

Without another word Miss O’Dell put a hand to her throat and turned away.  She was muttering to herself as she hurried down the main street and was quickly gone from sight.

Father Murphy was surprised at the reaction but he had too many other things on his mind to worry about.  So, he dismissed the incident and turned to go back into his office.  He still had Sunday’s sermon to write.

Kilkenny was a small village on the northernmost point of Northern Ireland.  It is said that the old ways are still practiced in Kilkenny and people guard their privacy well.  Father John Murphy was indeed from the ‘Americas’ but both his parents had been born just a few miles down the road from this tiny village.  He had been raised hearing stories about this idyllic section of the world and when he joined the church, he had let it be known that he would love to someday have a parish here.  It took many years but his wish came true.  Unfortunately, his parents didn’t tell him all the stories about Kilkenny.  But then, he didn’t know that.

Several hours after his encounter with Miss O’Dell, Father Murphy was working on his sermon when his housekeeper entered his office with a cup of tea and a few biscuits on a tray.

“It’s time for a break now Father Murphy.  You canna work your fingers to the bone.  You need sustenance.” She spoke as she placed the tray on his desk.

Father Murphy looked up from his work a little confused.  He had been working intently and hadn’t heard Mrs. Finnegan come into the room.

The woman who had interrupted the good Father’s work was formidable.  She had been involved in the upkeep of the church for the last 47 years and it was doubtful she was ever going to retire.  She knew how things were to be done and made sure everyone else knew it too, including the resident priest.

“I heard you had a wee chat with old Miss O’Dell,” continued Mrs Finnegan. “They say she has the second sight.  You would do well to pay attention to her words.  Do you want more than two biscuits now?”

“Um, yes, no, I think two biscuits will be just fine Mrs. Finnegan.  How on earth did you hear about my conversation with Miss O’Dell so quickly?

‘Now Father Murphy you have to understand that there are very few things in this village that I don’t know.  I have a network you see.”

“Well then maybe you can tell me where my pens are.  They all seem to have disappeared.  I’m down to using pencils that are much too dull.”

“Did you say all your pens are gone?” Mrs. Finnegan studied the young priest for a moment.  “Well now, they’re starting early with you.  You would do well to make peace with the locals.”

Before he had a chance to react Mrs. Finnegan flicked her cloth at an imaginary piece of dust and left the room closing the door behind her.

Father Murphy sat back in his chair and shook his head.  “What locals!”  He burst out.  But there was no one there to hear him, or was there.

Absentmindedly he reached out for one of the very delicious biscuits.  Mrs. Finnegan made them fresh every morning and he looked forward to them with his tea at just about this time every day.  What his hand closed on was not a biscuit.  It was wet and soft and quite unpleasant! He quickly dropped it and stood up, staring at the offending item.  It smelled too.

“Mrs. Finnegan!  Mrs. Finnegan! Could you come here please!”  He tried to keep the panic out of his voice.

Mrs. Finnegan must’ve been right outside the door as she was there within seconds. “Ewwwwwww they gave you a mud biscuit!  You are lucky, the last priest they gave him a dog turd! You’d better make peace in a hurry because it will escalate from here.”

Ever the efficient housekeeper Mrs. Finnegan picked up the offending item and made to dispose of it outside.

“Wait”, said Father Murphy as he wiped the mud from his fingers.  “I need to know what’s going on.  I keep hearing cryptic comments about making peace with the locals.  What does that mean?”

Mrs. Finnegan smiled.  “I’ll be right back.  Sit down and I’ll explain everything.  I just want to get rid of this first.”

Father John Murphy sat down behind his desk, in his first parish in the village of Kilkenny and wondered just what he’d gotten himself into.  He had heard stories but he’d always thought they were just that, stories.  They couldn’t possibly be true.  Not now, not today.  Such things just didn’t exist except in myth and legend.

“Oh, we exist.”

It was a tiny voice and Father Murphy wasn’t even sure he actually heard it but when he turned around, he saw a flicker of movement just at the edge of his peripheral vision.  He wasn’t even sure he had actually seen it.  But if he had, then that meant . . . it was the locals.

Mrs. Finnegan bustled back into the room with a fresh plate of biscuits.  “If you don’t take your eyes off these you will actually get to eat them this time.”

“It’s true then?  I thought it was only in legends and myths”

The housekeeper made herself comfortable in a chair across the desk from the priest and helped herself to a biscuit.  “You really didn’t know then?  I thought your parents were from near here?”

“They never told me.  They did act a little strange when I told them I was taking a parish here.  Why do you call them locals?”

“They were here first.  We come and go, but they are always here.  And they are always watching.  My advice to you, don’t make them angry.  They’re cute and adorable in stories but the reality is much different. Farmer Bellamy had cows that didn’t give milk for three weeks because he made a crass comment about the locals.”

All Father Murphy could do was shake his head.

Mrs. Finnegan continued, “You said you mislaid all your pens, have you noticed that your shoes aren’t where you put the night before and your toothbrush is always upside down in the glass?  They’re giving you a warning.  Be nice to them.  And they’ll find you fresh blueberries every morning.  They might even clean your shoes when you’re not looking.  And one more thing, St. Patrick’s Day is coming up so you might want to be extra special in your sermon.  They like that, the leprechauns do.  Because you know they’re always watching.”

The end

“He’s Dead!”

 

Two young men stared at each other, mouths open.   The erudite individuals in question were loitering outside the home of an elderly man who had recently died. Perhaps they were remembering the life so recently passed. Or perhaps . . .

“Cool!  What the fu. ., .sh . Aw man, I promised my girlfriend I’d stop swearing!”

“Wait, Boondog, you got a girlfriend? When?  You didn’t have none yesterday!”

“Yeah, man.  We’re in looove.  She just ain’t met me yet.”

The two erupted in gales of laughter.

Boondog was actually Alfonse.  He was a high school drop out who fervently believed that he would one day be a multi millionaire.  He just needed the rest of the world to recognize his genius.

His companion was Edgeley. No one knew his real name, probably not even Edgeley himself.  He didn’t seem to live anywhere in particular.  He just kept showing up.

The two young men gravitated to this spot most days.  Each day they would spend time smoking a particular illegal substance.  This was the perfect spot.  They were hidden from the road but were still quite close to the house.  Ah, yes, the house.  It had been built in the early 1900’s.  It was three stories tall and had a veranda that encircled the main floor. It was an imposing abode that had seen better days.  More than a hundred years had wandered through the rooms of that house. What had been said and done on those solid wood floors?

Our intrepid adventurers were deep in a metaphysical discussion.

“This Burrito is the bomb!’

“Hey, you got burritos?  I like Mexican food!”

“No, man, the Ganga is good!”

“Huh?”

“Dope, weed, pot, grass! Boondog, don’t you know noth’n?

“Aw.”

For the next few moments they said nothing. The smoke whirled above the heads as they inhaled the noxious weed.  Oblivious to the medical consequences of the drug on their brains, they breathed in even deeper.

Time seemed to stop.

Edgeley was the first to speak.

“Do you think his cats ate him?”

“Did he have cats?” asked Boondog with something akin to excitement on his face.

“I dunno.”

Silence.  Time barely seemed to pass.

“They said he was rich.  I bet he’s got cash stashed all over.”

“Cool.”

Our two geniuses continued to stare at the once opulent house. After some time they both managed to stand (after a few mishaps).  Then came the giggles.  Two grown men trying to keep each other from falling and fumbling up the decrepit steps might have been funny to watch but no one saw them enter the house.  Almost no one.

As Boondog reached for the front door knob, the door opened.  He didn’t seem to notice.

“Hello . . “  He shouted, as if he had just returned from a long day at work.

Edgeley slapped the back of his head.  “Shhh!  You wanna wake the dead?”

“Is he here?”  Boondog’s panic was very apparent.

“Nah, man. I’m just messing with ya.”

The front door opened into a huge foyer with an even larger room off to one side.  They headed there. The two men started to wander around the room. Edgeley immediately started to open drawers in the cabinets, methodically working his way from one side of the room to the other. Boondog couldn’t take his eyes off a painting of an old woman. There was a name at the bottom, his lips moved as he read what was there:  Daniela Winslow, died 1893.

As he stepped back, he looked directly into the eyes of Daniela Winslow . . . . . only to see Daniela looking back. Boondog gasped!

The front door closed, violently, the bolts thrown. The shutters on the windows slammed shut. Within seconds the air became cold, too cold. Edgeley stopped what he was doing and looked up. A mist started to rise from the floorboards. It seemed to caress Boondog, who was frozen in place. It then moved on.  Gently, oh so gently it touched the furniture, stroking the wood of the cabinets.

Edgeley looked at Boondog.  All the effects at the previously smoked marijuana were gone. Neither man was at all unaware of their predicament. Any thoughts of looking for stray cash had gone.  All they wanted now was to leave, quickly.

Almost as if it was choreographed, both moved as one towards the front door. Grasping the handle Boondog tried desperately to open it.  The door wouldn’t budge.

“Hello boys. . . “

The voice was low, soft and ominous. They couldn’t tell if it was a man’s voice or a woman’s. Or even where it had come from. The two boys turned back from the door, fear emanating from every pore.  Boondog started towards the steps to the second floor. He just wanted to get away from the voice. Before he could reach them, the mist descended and formed a barrier. There was no going upstairs.  He returned to stand beside his friend.  This couldn’t be happening!

Edgeley hadn’t moved. Sweat started to soak through his clothes. The sweat of fear has an acrid, pungent smell, it smelled of death.

A fireplace they hadn’t noticed before, burst into flame. The cackling sound of the flames seemed to break the spell and they moved.

They huddled next to the fireplace as if for comfort. There was no warmth from the flames.  They seem to mock them, rising and dancing as if to music.  There was no music, then, no sounds. It became oppressive, the silence. The men, so brave and bold mere minutes ago, reverted to their childhood fears.  They were terrified.  And then . . . she screamed.

“I am hungry!”

Edgley started to whimper.  “I’m sorry . . . I’m so sorry . . .

Alfonse started to mutter unintelligibly. He raised his head. His eyes had changed. He grew larger.  Then he smiled. His voice changed.  “No one will miss you Edgley.  And we will all feed!”

 

 

                                    The end

 

The Christmas Gift

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 forever. 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

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 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