The Power of Story, by Carole Howard

The joy of story-telling is more-or-less always on my mind because my granddaughter and I frequently make up stories. They usually involve playgrounds and dinosaurs and they’re always a hoot.

I recently saw a more serious kind of story, though (lucky me!): Pierro della Francesca’s “The Legend of the True Cross” in Arezzo, Italy. I was awe-struck by the 15th century frescoes’ power to tell a story to a population who, largely, couldn’t read or write. The story told is how the wood from the Garden of Eden became the cross on which Christ was crucified.

From an art history point of view, I learned, the frescoes are remarkable for their geometrical perspective and the elegance of the Biblical figures presented. From a religious point of view, the series is important because of the way it integrates various parts of the narrative.

Queen of Sheba Meeting with Solomon, from The Legend of the True Cross Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Queen of Sheba Meeting with Solomon, from The Legend of the True Cross
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

For me, even with my limited knowledge of art history or the Bible, it was a breathtaking moment.

There I was, in the Basilica of San Francesco, surrounded by 10 beautiful and enormous paintings with exquisite detail and glorious colors telling an oft-told story in a new way. “Wow” doesn’t do it justice, but it does capture my reaction.

 

 

 

 

And I got to thinking about the power and uses of story-telling – and not just the ones with playgrounds and dinosaurs.

Some stories deliver a message, like the one my mother told (and re-told) of my grandmother, in Poland at the end of the nineteenth century, coming to America. Her parents were against the idea, but she persisted. (Parents of 16-year olds can relate to this.) The rabbi advised them that she only wanted to leave because they didn’t want her to. If they gave her permission, even provided the money, she’d never leave. (Reverse psychology, way back when!) You know what happened next. The rabbi was wrong.

Tragically, her father followed her to America to bring her home and, while here, had a fatal heart attack. My mother never added, “The moral of the story is that if you go against your parents, dreadful things can happen.” She didn’t have to; the story did the work.

Others package up a universal truth (Emperor’s New Clothes, Boy Who Cried Wolf), introduce us to endless variations of characters and situations, transport us, sell a political candidate (don’t get me started!), or teach us about history. Often, the narrative becomes the truth.

(I hate to admit it, but my husband has been saying this for years. Every time he tells a story and I point out that it’s not exactly the way it happened, he insists it doesn’t matter.)

For example, what did George Washington say after he chopped down the cherry tree? Not so fast. He didn’t say “I cannot tell a lie.” In fact, he didn’t even chop down that tree. It’s a great story to demonstrate his integrity and courage, but it didn’t actually happen.

And many of my religious friends tell me they don’t think biblical stories need to be taken literally, as history. Maybe the Red Sea didn’t actually part, they say. It doesn’t matter. The story resonates. The story tells a truth, they say, more important than the historical truth.

Is that why we write? To tell a story that conveys a truth, whether literal or not? Even if it’s “only” our own personal truth?   And is that why we read, to hear others’ truths? Or is it more about entertainment?

And what stories have particular resonance for you, whether they’re literally true or not? For me, there’s the story of the prodigal son (aka my brother), which showed me a helpful way to interpret a family dynamic. And then there’s the forever-haunting story told in Sophie’s Choice. And, of course, there’s the story of my magnolia, which is absolutely, positively 100% true!

And many more. How about you?

* * *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, published by Second Wind Publishing.

 

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Excerpt from A SPARK OF HEAVENLY FIRE by Pat Bertram

ASHFborderStraight from today’s headlines! In the novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire by Pat Bertram, hundreds of thousands of people are dying from an unstoppable disease called the red death. In an effort to stop the disease from spreading beyond the state of Colorado where the disease originated, the entire state is quarantined. In this dangerous world, Kate Cummings struggles to find the courage to live and to love. Investigative reporter Greg Pullman, is determined to discover who unleashed the deadly organism and why they did it, until the cost — Kate’s life — becomes more than he can pay.

Excerpt:

After an uneventful day at work, Kate hurried home through the silent streets. More than half the houses she passed had fluorescent orange dots splashed on their front doors indicating that someone had died within. Beside some of those doors were small shrines or memorials—artificial flowers, crosses, dolls, teddy bears. Other houses were unlit, mute testimony that entire families had died.

A white unmarked delivery van stopped in front of a house that already had one fluorescent dot on the door. When two men jumped out of the truck and ran up the porch steps, she knew that soon another orange mark would appear next to the first.

She could hear the men lamenting the loss of the Broncos while they waited for someone to answer their knock. It seemed strange that they spoke of such a prosaic matter. Shouldn’t they be crying, “Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead,” as their counterparts during the Black Death had done?

As she neared the house, she could see the door open. An old woman with bowed head and trembling shoulders stood aside to let the two men enter.

Kate had passed the house by the time the men emerged with their burden, but she could hear the thud of the body when they threw it into the van.

She thought of Greg and how he had cradled Mrs. Robin’s body in his arms as he carried her down the alley and how he had gently laid her under a tree.

And how he had said he liked her, Kate, very much.

***

Until November 23, 2014, A Spark of Heavenly Fire will be available at 50% off from Smashwords, where you can download the novel in the ebook format of your choice. To get your discount, go here: A Spark of Heavenly Fire and use coupon code ST33W when purchasing the book. (After you read the book, posting a review on Smashwords would be nice, but not obligatory.)

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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The Secret in Whitetail Lake 5th Installment

An old Dodge Charger with the remains of two victims has been recovered from an area lake in the latest Winnebago County Mystery. This entry picks up where the last one left off.

Doctor Patrick shook her head back and forth. “This is my first experience with remains that have been submerged for decades in a vehicle. I have two assistants who are on their way with gurneys and body bags.” She grabbed a pair of gloves out of the lab coat pocket, pulled them on without a downward glance then made the sign of the cross on her head and chest with her right hand.

“The team assigned to major crimes this week happens to be two of the guys that got called out on the dive. They’ll get here before long,” Matsen said.

“Is that Mason and Weber?” Smoke said.

“Yup.”

“You might want to put on coveralls. I got a good supply of the impervious ones that will protect your clothes from possible contamination,” Matsen said to Smoke and me.

“I’ll take a pair, also. I have some in my van, but didn’t think to grab them,” Doctor Patrick said.

Smoke and I followed Matsen to the supply closet on the back wall of the garage. He handed us each a plastic bag containing a coverall. While we tore into the bags then slipped on the suits, Matsen carried one over to Doctor Patrick. When we were all outfitted, Smoke, Matsen, and I closed in some feet behind the doctor. She turned and visually surveyed us. “Are we ready?”

I was touched by the significance of it all. “Smoke, they were your friends; maybe you should do the honor of opening the door.”

Doctor Patrick frowned and Smoke explained what Matsen meant.

She nodded. “By all means. Go right ahead, Detective.”

The Charger was a two-door model with push buttons on the handles, similar to the ones on my GTO. Smoke tried to push the button of the driver’s door with his thumb, but it didn’t budge. He put more weight behind it, but it still didn’t move. “I guess we need to try a spray lubricant and some tools. If that doesn’t work, we may have to break the window.”

“I’ve got some spray and a screwdriver and hammer right over there. We’ll give it a shot,” Matsen said and went to get the supplies. When he returned he handed Smoke the tools, and then aimed the nozzle of the lubricant at the area around the opener and gave it a generous shot of spray. When he was finished, Matsen took a step back. Smoke moved in, set the screwdriver against the button, and tapped it with the hammer. After a few tries, it went in. “Bingo,” he said. He handed the tools to Matsen, depressed the button, and pulled the door open.

I braced myself for whatever stench the vehicle might release. A fishy, lake and mud smell spilled out. I was used to it from many hours of fishing with my Gramps. Since it was tied to great memories, I actually found the smell pleasant. When the car dried out, any number of other odors would likely make themselves known. Leather, mildew, rust: from the car itself and from the shoes, clothing, and other belongings left behind by the victims.

Doctor Patrick got a phone call from her assistants saying they were outside, and requested we open the garage door. I jogged over and pushed the automatic opener. Doctor Calvin Helsing, assistant medical examiner, and Karen Sherman, a pathology assistant, were waiting with the necessary equipment. They were wearing the same type of coveralls we had on, with elastic closures at the wrists and ankles. They pushed in their gurneys with supplies and body bags atop.

I had met both of them the previous fall at the autopsy of a woman we worked diligently to identify. It was a couple of days after I’d met Doctor Patrick for the first time. We’d called her out to scene where the victim had been found, lying on the floor of a woods. Another unusual, difficult to explain, death.

Dr. Helsing was an attractive man about my age of American Indian descent whose pupils dilated when he looked at me. The same thing had happened the last time we’d met. It seemed he found me attractive. Karen was a few years older, on the plump side, with a flawless complexion that no makeup could enhance.

They both said “hi,” and joined their boss on the driver’s side of the car. Smoke and Matsen went to the passenger side and opened the door using the same spray and pounding method. With both doors open it was easier to view and assess the inside and its contents. Matsen snapped a series of photos, and I captured image after image with my mind’s eye.

I picked out a men’s leather shoe lying near the gas pedal and its mate close to the driver’s door. A leather wallet had made its way out of a pocket and was partially visible under the pelvis of the larger skeleton. A large leather purse was lying on the backseat bench. Articles of clothing clung to the bones, but items made of leather had survived with the least deterioration. A belt and bit of rusty buckle was around the larger skeleton’s middle. Leather sleeves clung to his arm bones.

“Looks like he was wearing his school letter jacket. I mentioned earlier that Tony was a standout athlete. Lettered in football, basketball, and baseball,” Smoke said.

“Their clothing no doubt helped hold them together, but be prepared that they may not stay that way when we remove them. We’ll go slowly and carefully, but it’s going to be a challenge,” Doctor Patrick said.

Doctor Helsing rolled a gurney close to the vehicle. “If we move the seats back as far as possible, it’ll give us more room to work,” he said.

“Good plan,” Smoke said. He struggled for a moment with a lever under the driver’s seat, and when it depressed, he held it down with his right hand and pushed the seat back with his left.

Doctor Helsing worked on the passenger seat, and got it moved back. Karen picked up a body bag from the gurney, revealing what looked like a giant plastic-coated bread board. She laid it on the other gurney, opened the body bag, spread it out on the gurney so it was ready to receive a body.

“Is that your version of a backboard?” Matsen pointed at the board.

“Yes, it comes in very handy at many of our scenes,” Doctor Patrick said.

Deputies Todd Mason and Vince Weber came into the garage quietly, observed the progress we’d made for a minute, then helped themselves to coveralls.

“Anything else of import turn up on the bottom of Whitetail Lake?” Smoke asked

“Nope. Warner took a couple of laps to be sure he didn’t miss anything,” Mason said.

“He’s kind of itching to get out on some of the other lakes, after coming upon that major find.” Weber nodded at the Charger.

“Mason and Weber, why don’t you help Doc Helsing there. If that’s okay with you, Doc Bridey?” Smoke said.

“Certainly,” she said.

Karen handed Doctor Helsing the board and he positioned it under the remains of the passenger’s remains. “One of you deputies can hold the end, and I’ll work to get the victim on it. Then we’ll move the gurney in, and slide her on.”

Weber and Mason took a quick glance at the other and by silent agreement decided Mason would be the one to do that. Mason had a slighter build than Weber, and wouldn’t take up as much space next to Helsing.

They worked slowly and carefully. And as Doctor Patrick figured would happen, some bones separated from their mates and made the process more tedious than I could have imagined. But we were all committed to be there, assisting in whatever way we could until the job was done.

Captain Clayton Randolph, next in command after Chief Deputy Kenner, who was next in command after the sheriff, paid the investigative team a visit as soon as he could break away from his duties. He watched the progress, but stayed in background.

Before he went back to his desk, he sidled over to where Smoke and I were standing. After talking about the impact of finding the Charger and its human remains, he changed subjects. “No one seems to know where Denny Twardy disappeared to. It is the damndest thing. It’s been four hours since anyone in the office has had contact with him.”

Smoke’s face tightened. “It’s got me pretty keyed up. Something’s not right.”

Randolph nodded. “I’m going to have communications send a message to all the road deputies asking if they’ve seen his car parked anywhere.”

“Good idea,” Smoke said.

Randolph looked at me. “You’ve talked to your mother about it?”

“I did, a few hours ago. She’s so easily alarmed that I just asked if she’d heard from him. She must be really busy at the store because she hasn’t called back to check if I’d talked to him yet.”

“You’ve sent someone to check Twardy’s home, right?” Smoke asked.

“Yes, and no luck.” He shook his head. “We all know what to do if we hear from Twardy,” Randolph said then left.

Yes, we needed to communicate any news to rest of the department.

Through the next hours, deputies and other sheriff’s department personnel came into the garage to witness the historical find. Pulling an old car out of Whitetail Lake was not a secret, but the word of who it belonged to, and who may be inside of it, was to be kept as quiet as possible until the victims were identified and the families were notified.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series

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Buddy and the Bear — by Norm Brown

I think for most people, the early years of life before they were old enough to start attending school are mostly a blur. Now, at the age of…let’s just say pretty old…I can only actually recall a few brief scenes from those years with any detail at all. On a recent vacation trip to Glacier and Yellowstone national parks in Montana, however, a brief encounter brought back one of those memories from long ago with amazing clarity.
My brother and I were returning to our camp from exploring the “Road to the Sun” and other beautiful sights in Glacier National Park, when we encountered a small black bear sauntering along the park road in front of the cars of other tourists. We pulled over and got a few snapshots through the car windows.

Black Bear Glacier NP

Black Bear Glacier NP

It was thrilling to see this beautiful wild animal up close. Oddly, it also got me thinking about a similar encounter so many years ago. I am amazed at how clearly I can recall those few moments as a terrified little boy. My family, including grandparents, uncle, aunt, and cousins were on a camping trip to Yellowstone. I don’t know the exact year, but I was probably five or six years old. Early on my older brother had trouble pronouncing Norman, so back then I was known as Buddy to all my relatives. I’m not sure I even answered to my real name yet. Today, I don’t remember seeing all the geysers and other amazing sights of the park as a kid, but I definitely remember bears. In those days they were allowed to roam around the park as they pleased among the tourists, who often fed them. This was during the 1950’s. Yeah, I’m old; I think I mentioned that.
On the morning of that one specific day I recall from that trip, my dad and big brother headed across the campground to fill a water jug at the single faucet provided. I decided to tag along, but soon got distracted by something and fell behind. When I looked up and noticed that I couldn’t see them, I also discovered that I was not alone. A black bear was walking straight toward me. To a little kid the animal looked huge, but it was probably about the size of the one in the photo above. I started walking quickly in the direction my dad had gone. To my horror, the fat furry monster turned and walked along beside me. I quickly sped up. So did the bear, matching my pace. Screaming for my dad over and over, I ran as fast as I could. To my right, the bear easily kept up. Looking back on that so clearly remembered scene, I know now that the animal wasn’t exactly chasing me, but running along with me. Then it happened. The bear growled and bumped up against my right side with its shoulder, lightly at first, but then with more force. I remember stumbling and falling—then looking up at the animal’s face right above me. In a panic, I just stood up, totally convinced that I was about to be eaten, or whatever it was that bears did to little boys. The furry creature didn’t attack, but growled in an annoyed sort of way and slowed down as it crossed right in front of me and casually sauntered off to my left. Ahead, I could see my dad and brother coming back toward me. I took off. At some point, I looked back and saw that the bear had made it to his actual destination. The garbage can was partially buried, supposedly to make it bear resistant. The bear was contentedly pawing at the lid. I guess I had simply gotten in its way. I didn’t hang around to see if he managed to open it. In fact, the memory completely stops right there.
I have no other memories from early childhood any more detailed than that one. I can still see that black bear as clearly as these somewhat fuzzy new photos taken behind the safety of the car windows a couple of weeks ago.

Black bear 2014

Black bear 2014

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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A World Without Music: Now Available from Second Wind—J. Conrad Guest

A fourth excerpt from A World Without Music, another Reagan-Tom Wallach exchange.

Twenty-six

 

“The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides!”

—Artur Schnabel

 

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

Reagan’s eyes fluttered open; he felt as if he were being watched. He glanced at the window: it was still dark. Sarah was breathing softly beside him. She was still asleep. His eyes moved about the room—there, on the corner chair, sat Tom Wallach.

“You’re a light sleeper,” Wallach said.

“I’m still a marine.” Reagan sat up.

“Never goes away, does it? Especially in times of stress.”

Wallach watched Sarah roll over; then he stood, motioned Reagan to follow him, and made his way to the door.

Reagan rolled out of bed and stepped toward Wallach; halfway across the room, Sarah muttered, “Don’t leave me.”

Reagan turned toward the bed, but Wallach spoke first. “It’s okay, Reagan. She’s only dreaming. Come on.”

Reagan followed Wallach to the living room, where they sat, facing each other, in two high-backed chairs.

“How do I know I’m not the one dreaming?” Reagan whis­pered.

“You’re not.”

“But how do I know?”

Wallach shrugged, and, grinning, said, “Pinch yourself if you don’t believe me.”

Reagan refrained from doing just that; at some level he knew this was real: across from him sat the ghost of Tom Wallach.

“Death is permanent,” Wallach said.

“Don’t I know it.”

“I’m sure you do. Aren’t you glad now that you didn’t pull the trigger on your Glock? You were so convinced that you’d lost Sarah forever, but it was just a bump in the road. She needed time to realize what you meant to her. Had you pulled that trigger—”

“I know,” Reagan said, looking away in shame.

“No, you don’t, Reagan. You have no idea what that would’ve done to Sarah.”

Reagan sighed. “Suicides rarely understand the ruin they leave behind. They’re lost in their own pain.”

Wallach nodded and said, “Not pulling the trigger was an act of courage. Your work here is not done.”

“And you know this how? Are you omnipotent?”

“All knowing? No. Let’s just say I have night vision.”

“You can see the future?”

“The future is made up of myriad possibilities, all predicated on the choices we make, or fail to make, each and every day.”

Reagan thought about that for a moment, before asking, “So is there an alternate reality, one in which you came home from Kuwait?”

“There is only one reality; but I am attuned to all possibilities, including the one of which you spoke.”

“How do you bear it?” Reagan said. “Knowing what might’ve been?”

“It brings me much comfort.”

“Don’t you feel cheated?”

Wallach shook his head. “No. My life played out as it should have. My widow and daughter would not be the people they are today had I come home from Kuwait.”

“How do you know they wouldn’t be better off?”

For the first time since he’d begun haunting Reagan’s dreams, Wallach looked uncertain, as if he didn’t know how much he could, or should, share with the living.

“My death set something into motion.” And then, as if he couldn’t—or wasn’t allowed—to say more, Wallach changed direc­tion. “Why did you sleep with Rosary?”

Reagan could only hide his shame behind both hands.

“There is no need to feel disgrace, Reagan. I still understand the drive of the loins, the lure of a beautiful woman, although I was never tempted by one as beautiful as Rosary.” And then, as if he were privy to Reagan’s thoughts, he added, “We enter the afterlife as we exited life. The essence of what I am lacks what made me a man in life. It’s unnecessary to me now, but I still recall what it is like to be a man.”

Reagan removed his hands from his face. “You seem to know all. You should know why I slept with her.”

“I know what you told Sarah, but there is more.”

When Wallach didn’t go on, Reagan said, “So now you’re my shrink?”

Wallach chuckled. “No.”

“Is it so important, the why?”

“Not to me.”

“I was angry,” Reagan said.

“Yes, you were angry, because you blamed yourself for Sarah divorcing you.”

“Are you telling me I wasn’t at fault?”

“You gave her reason, but you were not to blame.”

“What’s the difference?”

“She never blamed you. You assumed blame because you couldn’t allow yourself to see her mistake. That she came back to you is proof that she was, in her own eyes, misguided in leaving you.”

Reagan said nothing.

“When you thought she’d abandoned you once again, you made certain to assume blame for that, too, by sleeping with Rosary.”

“I thought it was—”

“Polyphemus,” Wallach said, grinning. “Yes, he was drawn to Rosary, to be sure. But you would not have acted as you did had you not thought Sarah had once again forsaken you.”

“Are you blaming her?”

“No.”

“Why are we having this conversation?”

“Because you need to understand what was set into motion.”

“I already understand,” Reagan said.

“But what you don’t understand is that Mimi is destined to be a part of the outcome.”

“Does she have to be?”

“Yes.”

“What if she gets hurt?”

“That possibility exists.”

“I won’t assume that responsibility.”

“You have no choice.”

“Do any of us ever really have a choice?”

“We always have choices, Reagan, and this is Mimi’s choice. She feels a connection to me through you.”

“But she doesn’t owe me anything.”

“Does she have to? We are all connected. To love is to give without expecting in return. The greatest sacrifice one can make is to forfeit one’s own life for another.”

“Are you telling me that Mimi will die?”

“It is one possible outcome.”

“And how am I supposed to live with that?”

“It will be just one more choice—the choice to honor her sac­rifice, her memory. Like a choice to embrace happiness, or to cling to the past.”

“This isn’t about us—you and me—and our past,” Reagan said.

“Oh, but it is, isn’t it? You don’t understand how the choices of others affect you because you grapple with your past, choosing to hold onto it—one defining moment.”

“I am what I am today because of that past.”

“Because you’ve chosen to allow it to define you in the manner it has. You must let me go.”

“What if I can’t?”

“You must, Reagan. You do me no honor, pay no homage, by keeping alive the image of what was done to me.”

“Can you at least tell me if you know how this will play out?”

Wallach looked thoughtful, as if he might be communing with some higher authority about what he might be permitted to share about events to come. After a few moments, he nodded and said, “Sarah fears you will leave her again, as you did before.”

Reagan recalled Sarah’s words of a few minutes ago, talking in her sleep: Don’t leave me. “But,” he said, “it was she who left me.”

Wallach shook his head. “You know that is not true.” Then he added, “I can tell you only that the past repeats itself, unless we choose change—”

“Who are you talking to?” Sarah said from the entrance to the living room, and Wallach was gone, as if he’d never been there.

“To myself,” Reagan said. “A habit I picked up from living alone,” he added with a grin.

Sarah sat on the arm of Reagan’s chair, putting her arm around his shoulders. “I thought I heard another voice.”

“You’re sleepy,” Reagan said. “It was just me.”

“I woke up to find you gone.”

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t sleep.”

“The nightmare?”

“No,” Reagan said, taking comfort in that that was no lie.

“That woman?”

“Yes.”

“Well, she’s not here now, so come on,” she said, taking Reagan’s hand, “let’s go back to bed.”

Sarah quickly drifted back to sleep; but Reagan only stared at the ceiling, considering Wallach’s words: the past repeats itself, unless we choose change.

It seemed that he and Sarah would survive Rosary; but at what cost to Mimi he couldn’t know. Wallach’s warning was about Reagan’s connection with Wallach. Any hope to find contentment with Sarah was doomed to fail, unless he could let go of his past.

Reagan groaned and rolled over onto his side. But sleep was a long time coming.

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Sea of Destiny – Part 28 by Dellani Oakes

sea of destiny coverAfter talking to Dr. West, Kyle puts the children to bed and tries to get some sleep. Unfortunately, sleep is hard to come by. Carmelita brings him a beer and the two of them chat for a few minutes.

 “Really?” He laughed, shaking his head. “That explains what Adam said.” He continued laughing softly. “Walked on like she owned it….” He took a sip of his beer, setting it against his forehead. “What am I doing, Lita?”

“We talked about that already.”

“I mean really? I’ve got no business falling in love with someone else. I’m here on vacation with my family. I’m not looking for another relationship.”

“That’s when love finds us, Kyle. Don’t you know that by now?”

“No, I don’t. Shit, Lita. I was nineteen when I got married. I was married almost half my life. I don’t know how to be single. When other guys my age were cruising the beach, I was home changing diapers. I loved Margo dearly, she was a wonderful woman. I really got lucky that the one major mistake I made turned out so well. But I’m lost here. I don’t know how to proceed.

“Until she collapsed today, I was having more fun than I’ve had in over a year. I was laughing and happy, feeling good about myself. I was enjoying a woman’s company—a woman who wasn’t my wife. I sat there thinking, ‘This isn’t so hard, this whole dating thing. I could get used to this.’ And then….”

“Then she collapsed.”

“Cindy asked me not to get involved with her. She begged me not to fall for a woman who’s probably dying. How can I put my children through that again? They already like Emily. Have you seen Mindy with her? She’s so animated. I can’t get over the change the last couple days have made in her.”

He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, sniffling loudly. “I’m a wreck.”

Carmelita put her arms around him. “I think you need to go talk to the chaplain tomorrow. I think he could give you a lot of comfort.”

“I may just do that.”

“In the meantime, baby, you pray. You open your heart and tell God everything that’s inside you.”

“I’m not sure I even know how to pray right. I prayed for Margo to get better and she died. What if I pray wrong again and Emily dies too? I can’t do that. I can’t be responsible.”

Carmelita drew herself up, smacking him hard on the arm. “You stop that right now! Don’t you even think that God does that! He doesn’t go killing people off because someone else doesn’t pray right. God listens to everything. He hears all our prayers, no matter how we say them. And He answers everything.”

“He didn’t answer me with Margo. She died anyway.”

“Do you give your kids everything they ask for?”

“No, of course not.”

“Okay then. Sometimes you have to say no for whatever the reason. Sometimes God does too. We can’t know why, not unless He tells us. It was Margo’s time to go, so she went. It’s not Emily’s time, or yours or mine. But when it is, not a damn thing on this Earth that will prevent it. So keeping that in mind, you ask yourself if you’re making any sense at all with that whole, ‘I don’t know how to pray’ thing. If you ask me, that’s just selfishness and self-pity.”

Kyle wiped his eyes, sniffling again. “Have I ever told you how much I hate when you’re right?”

“Pretty much every day for the last ten years.”

“You’re my best friend, Lita.”

“You’re mine too, baby.” She kissed his nose. “Now you finish off that beer, brush your teeth and go to bed.”

“I will.”

“Goodnight, Kyle.”

“Goodnight, Carmelita.”

After she left, he did just what she told him. He had just enough alcohol in his system that he was able to relax. He slept deeply, dreamlessly, until Mindy woke him the next morning by jumping on his bed.

“Daddy, Daddy! We’re at Mexico! I can see it out the window!” She ran to the drapes, pulling them aside.

Bright sunlight lanced through his eyes leaving a shimmering trail behind. Prone to migraines most of his life, he wasn’t too excited about the sunlight blasting his eyeballs, so he got up and went to the bathroom. He looked grim. He realized he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days and decided that was his first order of business after a shower. Mindy tried to join him in the bathroom, so he sent her back to Carmelita.

© Dellani Oakes To Buy Dellani’s Books

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Just A Fairy Tale?

My one reason for reading regency/historical books is because they resemble fairytales and Cinderella stories, those of impossible loves but some how they manage not to turn into Romeo and Juliet. There is a certain virginal and yet rakish tune to it that you can’t help dance to. The sway of emotion takes you places you wished you could live in, praying for a time portal to send you back to a time when the words ‘I love you’ and fighting for love meant something. Where people were more shocked by the confession of not being a virgin unlike today declaring virginity was like declaring you spotted a unicorn in the streets.
All that kind of gets destroyed when some authors decide to add a little modern spice to it. Some don’t ruin it completely but others… it’s like drowning puppies!

We love the heroes in these books because they are the original bad boys, RAKES, SCOUNDRELS and yet we pant after them as do the book characters! So yes, we expect them to hop from one bed to another even cheer it on before he is finally shot by cupid and as he battles his way to the realisation that he would never know true sexual satisfaction ever again unless it was with the one who held his heart.

But when it’s the heroine? Dear Lord why! Why do you have to make her this ditzs who can’t decide who’s bed she likes spending time in? Miss loose panties is the one we don’t like, the supporting character that makes us love virginal Mary more because she understands true love, body soul and mind and she wouldn’t dare dance the naked dance with either one of her suitors until she was sure which one her heart beat for. In this modern day and age, whatever–and in fact I’ve seen some authors like their heroines to have very little sexual experience if not none at all– it’s a different time with different rules. But when you’re writing about the fairy tale times, it should be sighs and tissues for those stray tears and of course the quick heart beats when the love birds steal private moments to kiss and hold hands knowing their taking major risks before they finally make love, and the readers heart explodes with emotion!

For a romance author, i’m not much of a romantic about many things but when it comes to regency/historical romance? Some people believe in Cinderella stories, Romeo & Juliet. Historical/regency romance novels are my fairy tales.

I-just-want-my-fairytale

On that note, watch out for A Lady Unbecoming (Slave Bound Series #2) the sequel to Trial Of Love to be released in November.

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Happily Ever After by John E. Stack

Stories. We hear stories everyday about people who were down and out, and they turn their lives around. They become successful and often wealthy. What about the stories we don’t hear? Are those lives successful? Do they pull themselves out or are they even capable of success?

We read stories where everyone lives “happily ever after.” Again, this isn’t always the case. This story about a kid is true. I’ll call him Calvin. This kid’s name may not be Calvin, and he could be either male or female. But, it is a true story all the same.

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

It didn’t matter where he was or what school he attended, in his mind people always disrespected him because of his clothes or the way he looked. Life really sucked when you were thirteen and stuck in middle school where no one knew anything about you. Nor did they even care!

“I said get out of my way,” yelled Calvin, as he pushed the boy against the locker. The boy slammed against the metal lockers with a loud bang.

“Calvin, in my office, now!” said Principal Stern. “I’m really tired of your attitude. We probably need to call your mom. These outbursts really need to stop.”

“Foster Mom,” replied Calvin, a little louder than necessary. “I don’t live with my mother.”

“I said – to my office, Calvin!” responded Mr. Stern.

All of a sudden Calvin was near tears. “Go ahead. Call her.” he replied in an almost angry tone. “If I get into trouble again, she will just call the social worker and have me put with a new family. So what does it matter if you call her. You won’t have to worry about me anymore either.”

Calvin was a kid in the system. Yeah, one of those foster kids. Those are the kids that the state has to pay money for someone to take care of them. Maybe you think that you’ve never seen one before, but you have. There are usually two types: one that you never notice and one that you can’t miss. The one you never notice usually blends in with their current family. They are dressed nicely and they are treated like one of the family. They get to go shopping at the mall and get to go on vacations with their foster family.

The other type of foster kid usually doesn’t match the family they are with. They might look kind of dirty, or they need a haircut, or maybe their clothes don’t fit quite right. Their pants are either too long or too short. Shirts are almost always second hand, stained or too big. It’s obvious that they don’t belong to the family they are with. They are treated differently, like when the family goes on vacation, the kid gets to go into respite care with another family. Life is definitely not fair.

Calvin’s story was typical. He didn’t know his birth dad. Brandi, his mom, never really had it together. She was really wild in school – bad boys, alcohol and drugs. She liked to party and it finally got to the point that partying became more important than anything else, even him. His mom was fifteen when he was born. Brandi’s dad told her mom, “She needs to keep the little brat, so she can see what it’s like to raise a child on her own. That will teach her a lesson to not go sleeping around.” They had helped out a little bit, but kicked her out after a while when she didn’t follow their rules.

Calvin was three when he was taken away. Calvin lived with the first foster family until he was six. The second liked kids with problems because the state paid them extra money. There were many others. But few really cared. His current foster mom really cared, but didn’t know if his anger problems could be controlled.

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

I don’t know if Calvin’s story will have a happy ending or maybe a real-life ending, but it will have an ending. Kids in foster care have a very slim chance for success. Often circumstances push them toward drugs, alcohol, prostitution, or some form of abuse. Those chances get better when they have someone in their lives that care.

In North Carolina there is, as I suspect it is in other states, a shortage of foster parents. This results in over-crowding of good foster homes and the outgrowth of lots of bad foster homes. There is always a shortage. Right now in NC there are 5 to 7 thousand kids in foster care.

Being a foster parent is a tough job. My wife and I have been foster parents for seven years and haves had 20 kids in foster care. We do new-borne babies and keep them until adopted. We fall in love every time. Of the 20, we adopted one, and wish we were 20 years younger so we could do more. I said it was a tough job, the toughest job you will ever love.

In November we will celebrate adoption Sunday. Check it out. There may be a life out there that you can change and give the gift of a “happily ever after.
***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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After a trip to Foyles in London, by Sheila Deeth

Will you walk the streets of London

to a bright and shiny store?

Will you open up the volumes

that are waiting there? And more,

Will you drink a cup of coffee;

Something stronger to your taste?

Will you line up for a meeting

on a wide book-lined staircase?

Staircase in Foyles in London

Staircase in Foyles in London

Will your Zeroes be Divided

on those shelves the whole world knows?

Will you take them to the teller?

Will my fame and fortune grow?

Divide by Zero, print proof

Divide by Zero, print proof

But infinity is waiting

in those poppies by the Tower.

And my London is remembering

a longer darker hour.

There’s forgiveness and there’s sorrow

and there’s hope in every flower.

There is peace if we will see it

and true balance in true power.

Poppies at the Tower of London

Poppies at the Tower of London

If you walk the streets of London

think of them instead of me.

 

Sheila Deeth has recently returned from a trip to home and family in England. She is the author of Divide by Zero, coming soon from Second Wind Publishing.

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The Old Dane by Chuck Thurston

My father-in-law was born in Denmark, died in the U.S., and never let much grass grow under his feet between those two events. He was an incurable and restless dreamer, and always convinced that something better than what he had at the time was out there somewhere — his for the taking — if he could but find it. He joined the Danish underground in WWII, and got a medal out of the experience. For years afterwards, he traveled to Denmark to march with his old comrades until their ranks dissolved with the passing years. He sailed the seas in the Danish merchant marine, and later worked in the American Embassy in Copenhagen. Well traveled, and with an ear for language, he could communicate with almost anyone of any culture. After his second wife died, he used to wow widows and others in his cohort with his tales of underground exploits. We in the family had heard them all, of course, but fresh ears were too much for him to resist.

Like many father-in-laws, he was convinced that his future son-in-law was not worthy of his daughter — an only child — and our relationship was often prickly over the years. He was a committed “fixer,” and would not be in the house for two minutes before he was looking for something to work on. Miraculously, he often had his own toolbox in his car when he arrived. Since he had a job as an apartment superintendent in one of his earlier occupations, his knowledge of wiring and plumbing outdid my own. I suppose I should have been grateful, but I often seethed as he repaired something that I had not gotten around to — or was perplexed about.

He and my mother-in-law divorced some years later. He eventually remarried and moved out west. “California Dreamin’” probably applied. We lost track of him for many years and did not reconnect until his second wife was dying of cancer and they returned east. When she died, my wife and our family were nearly all he had left. The years had taken their toll on him. He had experienced heart attacks, aneurisms, lousy circulation and a life-long love of unfiltered Luckies. Still, though, he was a font of repair advice and tall tales. He and I became closer, and I got the chore of driving him to and from his many doctor’s appointments. He had only to climb three steps to the parking lot from his ground floor condo. I would sit in my car and watch him struggle — pausing after each step for breath – and clutching the handrail to pull himself up. I knew better than to offer help to this proud old Dane.

I was with him the day he got the news that one of his legs would have to go. When we left the doctor’s office, he asked me to go to a small local cafe. He needed a drink, and I couldn’t quarrel with that. I felt I had to break the ice somehow, as we sat, each pondering this awful news. I don’t know what possessed me, but I said, “I suppose you will be wanting to get an eye patch now.”

He gave me a strange look. “What for?” he asked.

“Well, it seems like the thing to have, what with a peg leg and all…”

He looked at me as if I had gone nuts, and perhaps I had, momentarily. He remained silent for a bit; finally took another sip of his drink and said: “Perhaps two…one with rhinestones — for formal wear.”

He did not last long after the leg came off. He knew that his weakened system would not permit much more than life in a wheelchair. Not for him. He had one good day when he laughed and contemplated the future with his newly found family, but his mind was made up. That very night he slipped into a final coma. My wife and I quickly summoned a favorite niece from Denmark – one of his few living relatives. We made the painful decision to disconnect life support and held his hands as the Old Dane departed on his final journey.

Epilogue

At a memorial service, a grandson said farewell for us with Stevenson’s Requiem:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
“Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.”

But we knew that the Old Dane would not be content to lie still very long under any starry sky. His ashes were divided. Half now repose in a country churchyard near Denmark’s blustery Baltic coast. The rest were given to the sea off a North Carolina beach – on the evening of a lunar eclipse – a touch he would have appreciated, I have no doubt. We stood in the ocean’s surf as his mortal remains were scattered — to go where the currents will take them.

Viking Ship Inkist2

“Requiem” by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894); from Modern British Poetry, 1920; Louis Untermeyer, ed.

The Old Dane appears in Chuck Thurston’s Senior Scribbles Unearthed, available from Second Wind Publishing or Amazon.

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