THE HAUNTED WIND

This was the second story I ever wrote back in 2017.

Monastic specters floated seamlessly between the leafless trees of the old forgotten cemetery. Round-eyed owls hooted from crooked branches while huge black crows swooped in and perched on weathered headstones. Sensing their imminent demise, the blind field mice scurried to and fro, frantically searching for safety. Alas, not fast enough for that one pathetic rodent chasing his own tail. The crow snatched him up and carried him off into the darkness. The weak and small have no rights in this most dreaded of places. 

It wasn’t always this mist-enshrouded wind-swept graveyard; many years ago the cemetery was a pastoral spot surrounded by blossoming trees and shrubs.  It was lovely and visitors would come by frequently to pay their respects and linger for a while on a nearby bench. 

High on a hill above the cemetery stood the Old Dutch Church. The property was expansive with an outstanding view of the Hudson River. The focal point of the church was the belfry with Its majestic wrought iron weather vane that could be seen for miles. 

One stormy night in late October while parishioners were awaiting services for the feast of All Hallows’, a giant thunderclap boomed, followed by an enormous lightning bolt which struck the weather vane. The lightning coursed its way down to the belfry, instantly setting it on fire. Within moments the entire church was engulfed in flames, imprisoning all inside. Horrified townsfolk who were still outside tried valiantly to save their friends, to no avail.  

The wind blew sparks into the cemetery, setting the trees ablaze. The smoke was black, the air thick with an acrid stench. Those outside the church fell to their knees crying pitifully, covering their ears to block out the agonizing screams of the tortured. Finally, after what seemed an eternity in hell, the screams stopped and an eerie silence followed. 

Suddenly what was left of the church came crashing down, leaving nothing but a mountain of ashes and the grotesque twisted remains of the once glorious weather vane. 

Forty-seven souls perished that ghastly night. No bodies were found to be buried and the church was never rebuilt. Eventually people stopped coming to the cemetery. The only denizens there now are the interred – the owls, the crows, the blind field mice and the forty-seven specters seeking final rest. 

The haunted wind is eerily unsettling this Halloween night … or is it the wind? 

NAR © 2017

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS

Papers and leaves were snatched by the gusty autumn wind and scattered about the street like so many pieces of flotsam and jetsam.  It was getting dark and Frederick knew he had to find his wife Helene before something bad happened, before she hurt herself – or worse. Helene had been terribly distraught this morning – more so than usual – and judging by the quantity of bourbon missing from the bottle, she was also probably quite drunk. Another horrible fight with his mother, Frederick assumed. 

Shoving his hands into his coat pockets, Frederick hunched his shoulders against the cold harsh wind. As he searched the streets for Helene his mind began to wander back to a time years ago when things were better, back to when Helene was whole. How happy they had been, just the two of them so in love. They bought a cute brownstone soon after getting married, living there blissfully by themselves, making plans for the future. 

When Helene learned she was pregnant they were ecstatic; she even began knitting a baby blanket. Then the miscarriage happened, followed by three more. Four babies lost and a multitude of dreams crumbled and forgotten. Helene had to have a hysterectomy and fell into a depression. No babies ever for the young couple – only the two of them alone in a sad, empty house. Frederick urged Helene to consider adoption, but she refused and her depression deepened. How could one woman bear a sorrow so heavy?  

A few months later Frederick’s father committed suicide, due in no small part to his mother’s constant badgering and belittling. Not wanting his mother to be alone and despite Helene’s protests, Frederick moved his mother in with them. He thought Helene and his mother might provide some companionship for each other but the two women soon began arguing. Helene could do nothing right in Frederick’s mother’s eyes. She even went so far as to flaunt Helene’s inability to have a baby, taunting her by saying she was a dried up empty vessel, a disappointing failure. 

Now, as Frederick walked rapidly through the streets, he tried to figure out what had happened earlier. He had arrived home from work to find the door wide open and the house in disarray. Dishes were shattered on the kitchen floor. The phonograph had been knocked over, his mother’s favorite record smashed. Frederick had called out but no one answered. He’d frantically raced through the house, stopping at the entrance to his mother’s room; her door was slightly open and he could see she was asleep, curled up in her bed. Helene’s coat and purse were hanging on a rack by the front door but she was nowhere in sight. 

Suddenly Frederick snapped back to the present as he spied Helene at the train station; she was standing perilously close to the edge of the platform. Cautiously he walked toward her and whispered her name. Helene whirled around and Frederick was shocked to see the crazed look in her eyes and the cuts on her face. Helene tried to run but Frederick caught her. He cradled her in his arms as they walked home. 

When they reached the house, Helene began giggling like a little girl and told Frederick she had a surprise for him. Bewildered, he followed her up the stairs to his mother’s room. Helene motioned for Frederick to be quiet as she tip-toed to the bed. She threw back the covers, revealing his mother’s bloody body, knitting needles deeply embedded in her neck. Frederick recoiled in horror. Helene grabbed her knitting needles and lunged at him, stabbing him repeatedly while screaming maniacally “This is your doing! You brought her here! This is your fault! ALL YOUR FAULT!!” 

Gasping his final breath, Frederick collapsed to the floor in a bloody heap. The last thing he saw was Helene plunging out the bedroom window.

NAR © 2019

SCREAMING OUT FOR HELP

It was 7:00 AM when Jason Peterson’s cell rang. Reaching for the phone he saw the call was from Dr. Philip Zane. Jason froze. How long had it been since he last heard from Dr. Zane – twelve, possibly thirteen years? He hoped never to hear from him again. With great reluctance he answered the call.

“Dr. Zane. It’s been a long time. I assume there’s been a development.” Jason said with a strange combination of indifference and dread.

“Yes, Jason. Your father is showing signs of coming out of his coma. Considering the circumstances, I thought you’d want to be here when he wakes up” was the doctor’s response.

The only news Jason wanted to hear was that his father was finally dead. But no! The bastard refused to give up without a fight, damn him! Calming himself, Jason said “Thank you for the update, doctor. Please let me know when my father is fully conscious. ‘Considering the circumstances’ as you said, I want to be the first person to see my father when he‘s conscious. I’m sure you understand. Goodbye.”

Gregory Peterson had been in a coma ever since Jason bashed in his head that night of unspeakable horror in the Peterson house.

Jason was only fifteen when he called the police in a state of panic screaming out for help. His family was dead, butchered by his father, Gregory. When the police arrived at the house, they discovered four people savagely murdered, an unconscious man crumpled on the floor and Jason locked in the basement. The victims were taken to the morgue, the injured man transported to a high security hospital and Jason brought down to the police station.

The detectives sat in stunned silence as Jason described the events of that night:

“I was at Mike and Dan Kelly’s house smoking weed. Mike and Dan got really stoned and passed out around 1:00 so I left. When I got home I found everybody dead. My grandma and little brother Jake were tied to chairs. They’d both been shot in the head. My mom and sister Janice were on the sofa. They were naked and beaten so bad I could barely recognize them. They’d been raped, too. My dad just stood in the middle of the room, staring straight ahead like a crazed animal. He was clutching a huge bloody wrench.

Then he saw me and snapped to life. He came at me like a wild man swinging that wrench. All I could do was run, try to get out of his way. I stumbled and fell on top of Janice. Her blood was all over me and I scrambled away as fast as I could. I saw the gun on the floor and dove for it. I pointed it at my dad but it jammed. I threw the gun at him and he lunged at me but the wrench slipped out of his hands. I grabbed it and swung at him. He was gonna kill me, too, just like he killed all of them. I had to do something to protect myself so I bashed him over the head. I hit him pretty hard and he went down. I dropped the wrench and ran to the basement. I locked myself in and called 911. It was horrible, a nightmare. How could he do something so awful?”

And he broke down, sobbing.

After checking out Jason’s story with the Kellys, the police saw no reason to detain him. The dead were buried, Jason moved in with relatives and Gregory languished in a coma. The years went by.

Three days after the call from Dr. Zane, Jason heard from him again. Gregory was conscious and speaking but repeating only one word: “Jason”.

It was evening at the hospital, that twilight time when patients sleep and hospital staff chat quietly. A bored policeman sat outside Gregory’s room, dozing. He checked Jason’s visitor’s pass, did a cursory pat-down and told him he could go in. Gregory was asleep, neatly tucked in and handcuffed to the bed rails. In the dim light he looked old and frail. Jason flipped the switch flooding the room with light.

Abruptly awakened, Gregory mumbled his disapproval. Approaching the bed Jason could see the apprehension in his father’s eyes as he focused on his son’s sneering face.

Bending close so that their faces were just inches apart, Jason whispered menacingly “I wish you died that night, old man, just like everyone else. I should have finished you off. That was sloppy of me. Think how much easier if would have been without having this to deal with all these years. Well, we can’t have you spilling the beans now, can we?” Jason removed his cell phone from his pocket, the same one he used to call the police that grisly night. Smugly he thought how stupid the police were not asking to see his phone. It was laughable but then again his performance down at the station was magnificent. By the time he was finished every cop wanted to hug him and make all the terrifying images go away. Smugly he showed his father one selfie after the other; each one was of Jason standing over the bodies of his family, his victims. The final images were graphic videos of Jason raping his mother and sister. Too bad their mouths were taped shut; he would have love to have heard their screams.

With each photo Jason grinned as Gregory became more and more agitated, his breathing labored and his eyes bugging as his face turned crimson. He opened his mouth to cry out but only silence filled the room.

What a shame to remove such works of art” Jason said as he deliberately deleted each photo, unfazed by the fact that Gregory was in extreme distress. He smiled coldly as his father died before his eyes. If only he could have bashed in his head just one more time.

Slipping into character, Jason strolled to the door of his father’s room and flung it open, screaming out for help.

NAR © 2021

MISS JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE

Their house sits high upon a cliff
With water and rocks all around.
But something stinks, just take a whiff;
You don’t need no bloody bloodhound.

Such a lovely couple when they were out;
Good looking and dressed oh so fine.
There was never a reason for people to doubt
Their union was anything but sublime.

However, one thing could not be denied:
The young lass she never did smile.
With eyes often red as if she’d just cried,
A certain fear one could sense for a mile.

As fine as they looked, one dared not approach;
They were cloaked in a dark shroud of danger.
She seemed to annoy him and he would reproach
With words filled with malice and anger.

She was prim and proper, always quiet and shy,
While the blade acted pompous and proud.
It was obvious to all; we soon found out why:
He liked mocking her in a voice overloud

A week or two passed with nary a sight
Of the couple we called Jekyll and Hyde.
We all had our theories which gave us a fright,
A feeling Miss Jekyll had horribly died.

Some folks say our claims are nothing but folly,
People getting carried away with their thoughts.
But Hyde came to town like a peacock so jolly,
To pick up a large jar he just bought.

Now on Hyde’s arm is a red-headed floozy
As flashy as the peacock himself.
Her perfume smells cheap while he is all boozy.
And a jar with Miss Jekyll’s head sits on a shelf.

NAR © 2021

The 5 Stages of Grief for the Struggling Writer

This guy. I’ve been following him for a few months now and I’m not even sure what his name is. He’s dark yet funny, mysterious, complicated, strange, quite brilliant and always entertaining. And he’s got me hooked. I decided to share this piece because it spoke to me; hell, I could have written it! I think it will speak to anyone who blogs and/or writes and wonders why they bother to do it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (In case you’re wondering about those rather large apostrophes, it seems the WordPress theme I have won’t allow me to get rid of them so I apologize for their presence. Please try to ignore them and just read the post!)

Intellectual Shaman

1.

(Denial)

“I have talent, but nobody recognizes it but me.” –said by an Anonymous failure.

I was here, at one point, years ago, although, I don’t know if I thought I had talent, or not. I was watching movies about genius writers and submitting mediocre English papers to my high school teachers. They would give me advice on how to improve, and I would promptly ignore it. Afterall, they just couldn’t understand my genius. Needless to say, I did poorly in my English classes. I watched Finding Forester, and believed myself to be like Jamal Wallace—hated for my abilities.

2.

(Anger)

Anger occurred after college, when I decided to write a fantasy novel of over 200,000 words. I couldn’t understand why Stephen King was getting published, and I wasn’t. I wasn’t even getting rejection letters in the mail. Any response that I got, was an automated email. I…

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A LIVING NIGHTMARE

Covered by what felt like a plastic tarp, Stanley Collins tried desperately to figure out where he was and what had happened. All he knew at this moment in time was that he felt colder than ever before. It was claustrophobic and there was something dangling from his toe. But, perhaps the most terrifying realization of all was the fact that he was completely paralyzed. Even his eyes and mouth refused to open but his mind raced on.

Gotta think, gotta think! Why am I here and how did I get here?” 

Suddenly he heard a voice. Was it real or in his head? Stanley’s brain strained to hear – “Ok, let’s see who we have here. A John Doe and Stanley Collins, both for tonight. Damn! Two autopsies. Looks like I’ll be getting home late again. Let’s start with our John Doe.”  

Stanley’s brain screamed frantically “Autopsy?? Wait, I’m alive, I’m alive!!” 

“Think, you fucking jerk!” Stanley’s brain admonished him. “Just calm down, count to ten and think.” Some thoughts starting wriggling around his brain. He remembered working for a used car dealership. What a laugh that was! The entire time he worked there, he never sold a single car and jokingly called himself “the non-commissioned salesman”. Of course, he was fired. 

After that he applied for a job at a casino. He had no experience so the only job he could get was sitting in a back room sorting poker chips by denomination. That turned into a fiasco, too, when he was caught pocketing a couple of $100 chips. “You asshole!” his brained screamed. Fired again AND he had to return the chips! 

Two jobs down the toilet. His wife Betty called him a loser and she was right. 

“But what happened  after that? How did I end up in a refrigerated morgue drawer awaiting an autopsy … and I’m not even dead?! Think, Stanley, think! “  Stanley’s brain raced inside his unmoving, unfeeling head. 

“Wait a second. I remember! Betty kicked me out. I couldn’t get a job. I had no money. I had nothing … nothing but my house key. So while Betty was out I went to the house. All the furniture gone, my clothes weren’t there and all Betty’s things were boxed up. There wasn’t even anything I could pawn! I walked into the kitchen, turned on the gas stove and knelt down, resting my head in the oven. And that’s how Betty found me … dead from gas inhalation. Only I wasn’t dead! The mother of all fuck ups, I couldn’t even do a good job killing myself!”  

Just then Stanley’s drawer was pulled open. He was wheeled to an ice cold metal table, all the while his brain screaming “Wait! Stop! I’m not dead! Can’t you hear me?? “ 

Suddenly the screeching sound of an electric saw jolted Stanley’s brain. He screamed in agony as the saw tore through his chest. Was it his brain screaming? Was he screaming? Could anyone hear him? 

The only sound was the piercing squeal of the saw.  

NAR © 2022

*Originally published in 2018

SOMEONE WILL PAY

Roger Newcombe was a nasty, mean-spirited man; his only companions were his little Welsh corgi Magpie and his wheelchair. Roger had no family or friends; over the years he had alienated everyone who ever cared a whit about him. Even the postman fell victim to his bitter tongue and resorted to delivering the mail as quickly as possible, his hat pulled down low over his eyes. 

The only things Roger had plenty of were bad memories and schemes.

It wasn’t always like that for Roger. True, he was a plain-looking man, never handsome, but he was a trusting soul and kindhearted. Roger felt out of place at his parent’s extravagant dinner parties and never wanted to attend but as the only heir of the richest man in the county, it was his obligation to make an appearance.

That’s when he saw the alluring Loretta Spencer, a new serving girl with a tiny waist, long legs and shocking auburn hair. Roger was smitten at first glance but was too shy to stare let alone talk to Loretta.

Kindness and a trusting nature went only so far and the young single women who came in contact with Roger were not attracted to him. Only Loretta paid him any attention with a barely perceptible wink of an eye and a shy but innately sensual smile. One fortuitous day Roger happened upon Loretta preparing the table for dinner; the two struck up a conversation which developed into a flirtatious friendship which in turn blossomed into a romance. Roger’s parents were livid about the relationship but Loretta encouraged Roger to be a man and speak up for himself and their newfound love. His parents were too stunned by Roger’s sudden display of courage to respond.

No one was more surprised than Roger. He had always been resigned to life as a lonely bachelor; now he’d fallen madly in love with a servant in his parent’s employ and he didn’t care who knew. He was enthralled by Loretta’s bewitching ways, intoxicated by her erotic education in lovemaking. Roger could not believe someone as beautiful, beguiling and seductive as Loretta could love him in return. They were married within a year and went on a grand honeymoon to Wales. Upon their return, they settled into the Newcombe’s lavish estate. 

Roger accepted a job in his father’s company, sitting in his office all day doing very little and making a great deal of money which Loretta freely spent. She was a happy and pampered wife. Her relationship with Roger’s parents was estranged and she saw them only at dinner but being married to Roger made all her dreams come true.

That peaceful scenario was suddenly shattered when Roger’s parents were killed in a plane crash while on vacation. Roger was devastated by the loss of his mother and father but that was not the end of the shocking news for Roger and Loretta.

At the reading of Mr. and Mrs. Newcombe’s wills, Roger was struck dumb when he learned his mother’s last wish was for their home to be renovated into a rehabilitation facility for children with disabilities. In his father’s will, a new president was named for the company; it was Jonathan Whittaker, the current vice president. Roger was spitefully and embarrassingly overlooked, being left only an insignificant amount of money. 

As the only heir, Roger fully expected to be left the Newcombe fortune and named president of the company. He didn’t really want the job – just the prestige that came with it. He could delegate his key employees to do all the work while he sat back and watched the company flourish. Now he and Loretta had no home and very little cash. Roger deeply regretted giving Loretta free rein to his money, buying so many expensive and unnecessary items. He loved her and was blinded by her charms. He was also too proud to try to return or sell the items to recoup his losses.

Loretta, being as smart and clever as she was beautiful, wasted no time setting her sights on Jonathan Whittaker, the new president of the company. Like a tigress on the prowl she hunted him down, dazzling him with her seductive ways. She finessed her way into his head, whirled her way into his heart and squirmed herself into his bed. Loretta convinced Jonathan to relieve Roger of his position at the company which he did immediately. While Roger was out of the house one afternoon, Loretta stealthily cleared out what little money he had stashed away in his safe and quickly served him with divorce papers. As soon as she was free of Roger, Loretta would marry Jonathan and she would once again be the wife of a wealthy man.

Roger was reeling; he could not believe how his life had completely fallen apart. His parents were dead, the only home he knew was no longer his, he had no job, no money and no wife. In a desperate plea to Jonathan Whittaker, Roger asked for and was granted a pension from the company – just enough to get by each month. He begged his father’s lawyer to intercede on his behalf and was given permission to live in the small annex house next to the Newcombe estate. Roger felt there wasn’t much more that could go wrong in his life.

He was mistaken. 

One day as Roger was entering the annex house, he looked over at his old family home and saw Loretta pass by one of the upstairs windows. “What was she doing there?” Roger wondered. He went to the house to confront her; Loretta was packing the last of her things when Roger showed up. After a heated conversation Loretta brusquely walked by Roger, her suitcase smacking him in the back of his knee. Roger lost his footing and fell down the stairs. Loretta slowly walked down the stairs, looked at Roger not knowing or caring if he was dead or alive, and stepped over him. She calmly walked to the front door and left the house, closing the door behind her.

The next day Roger was found lying at the foot of the stairs; he was alive but he was paralyzed from the waist down. Now Roger Newcombe felt nothing in his heart but bitterness, anger and resentment. All he did was sit in his wheelchair by the window of the annex house with Magpie on his lap. With every stroke of the little dog’s soft fur, Roger thought “Someone will pay.”

That was the only thing that kept him from losing his mind.

NAR © 2022

LITTLE BEAN

I was on my way home from my daily walk this crisp October morning. The sky was a startling blue with the sun burning so brightly it could have been August in Vermont. Only the brisk wind that swirled through the red and orange Autumn leaves reminded me that it was Fall. I wrapped my favorite wooly scarf around my neck, tucking my long hair inside, and instantly felt a welcoming warmth.

Earlier in the week I spotted a group of white-tailed deer and hoped I would see them again today. I never go out walking in the woods without my old Nikon – a rare find at a local tag sale. It was in surprisingly good working condition. Now the walls of my little cabin were strewn with framed black and whites – memories of my treks throughout the changing seasons.  

As I made my way down the trail toward my house, I noticed droplets of blood on the dirt – a sign that the white-tailed does were in estrus. By May the fawns would be here. I instinctively patted my belly where my own “Little Bean” was beginning to grow. I was just twelve weeks along with the most precious gift from my husband Jeremy, no doubt the result of his recent shore leave in August. My baby and the fawns would arrive at the same time.  

Rounding a bend in the trail I spotted a white-tailed buck and doe under the trees. They were rubbing the sides of their faces together, possibly whispering words of affection. As quietly as possible I slid open the front of my camera case and began snapping photos. When the deer noticed me, they leapt away as gracefully as the falling leaves.  

I continued down the path to my cabin which was now in sight. I stopped to pick up a few particularly beautiful maple leaves; even now, nearing the end of their lives, they were perfect creations. I thought again of the fawns and “Little Bean”.

The house was chilly; I lit a fire and prepared myself a cappuccino. I was certain I was able to get a dozen photos of the deer which I would develop later in the afternoon. There was something I needed to do first. After placing my things on the table, I sat down to write to Jeremy. He’ll laugh when he reads that I finally captured the canoodling white-tailed deer. I kissed one of the red leaves and tucked it into his letter. I smiled as I read my closing line: “My darling, be home soon! All our love, Maggie & Little Bean”.  

NAR © 2022

 FFFC # 189, hosted by Fandango

ACT NATURALLY

Couple in the Forest – Image credit; Shahzin Shajid @ Unsplash

Hand in hand, the two ran quickly and quietly from the main house until they were far enough away to feel safe. By now it had gotten quite foggy and they had trouble seeing, which was okay; if they couldn’t see then they couldn’t be seen. They slowed down to a walk and then found a secluded spot where they could be alone.

Daphne plopped herself onto the soft, thick blanket of moss, pulling Henry down with her. They laughed, then remembered this was all hush-hush. “Shh” they both said, giggling, fingers pressed against their lips. “We could get in serious trouble if we’re caught” Henry warned.

They had been waiting for weeks for this chance to be alone and now that it was here they were both feeling a bit nervous and unsure; it was, after all, the first time for both of them. But they were determined.

“So, were you able to, you know, get some?” Daphne asked shyly yet excited, wide eyes staring at Henry. 

“Yeah” Henry replied, “but it was more difficult than I thought. I drove to Pelham and tried to buy some there but no luck. I saw a vending machine in a 711 but it was empty.”

“So where’d you get them?” Daphne asked, engrossed in Henry’s story.

Henry lowered his voice and whispered conspiratorially “In my father’s nightstand” and he softly laughed while Daphne gasped and put her hand over her mouth.

Won’t he miss them?” Daphne asked, concern in her voice.

“Nah, he had a whole bunch and I only took a couple so he probably won’t even notice. I was surprised to find them; I didn’t think he and my mom did it anymore.”

Daphne looked deeply into Henry’s eyes and whispered “I’m ready. Are you?”

“Definitely. I think we’re the only ones of all our friends who haven’t done it” and the twosome drew a little closer. 

I can’t wait to see what it feels like” Daphne said softly as Henry reached deep into his jean’s. 

They got comfortable on the mossy blanket and Henry slowly took it out. Daphne laid back and whispered “I want you to put it in my mouth, Henry, just like they do in the movies” and Henry smiled. He withdrew one packet and carefully opened the foil wrapper. His hands were shaking a bit but tonight was the night and nothing was going to stop them.

Daphne stroked it lightly, enjoying the feel of her fingers around it, excited by the new sensation in her mouth.

Remember, nice and slow at first, ok Daphne?” Henry said and she nodded slightly.

Henry leaned closer and struck a match, igniting the joint in Daphne’s mouth. She took a drag and immediately began to choke and cough. Handing her a bottle of water, Henry took the joint from Daphne and took a drag. He, too, convulsed in a fit of coughing.

I think we need to take smaller hits, Henry. At least that’s what I’ve heard” Daphne suggested and it didn’t take long before they got the hang of it.

They smoked about half the joint and Henry started laughing. Daphne had no idea what was so funny but she started laughing, too. Before they knew it they were rolling round on the moss laughing hysterically. Henry managed to get the words out while gasping for air. “My parents are still getting high!” 

Daphne thought that as the funniest thing she’d ever heard and coughed out the words “Yeah, and they tell us not to”. The two sixteen-year-olds laughed and made little snorting noises as they shared a few more hits off the joint. “You stole your father’s stash” squealed Daphne, barely able to talk straight. And they cracked up again.

When the hysteria died down a bit, Daphne asked “Jeez, Henry, I’m starving. You got anything to eat?”

“Oh, shit. No, I got nothing and I’m hungry, too” Henry mumbled. “Let’s go back to the house. They must be serving dessert by now. But be very quiet and remember to act naturally.”

“Yeah, I’m cool” Daphne slurred. 

And the two somehow found their way back to the house, stumbling and giggling the whole time. They were acting anything but natural.

NAR © 2022

Written in response to: Sadje’s What Do You See – #155

https://youtu.be/vJYyKxgmL0k

CROSSROADS

There he stood at the crossroads of his life. He was 56 years old and made more career changes than he cared to remember. He never seemed to find his niche, his place in society. He was adrift, never knowing which direction to take.

Now he was unemployed again; it was not for lack of trying. He was an indecisive man. The only true and clear decision he made was marrying his wife. She was his anchor when he began to drift, his lifeboat when he was drowning in the sea of life.

On this crisp autumn day, he was suddenly consumed with the urge to take a walk, clear his head. His wife offered to go with him, but he declined saying thanks, but he needed this time by himself to think. He wouldn’t be gone too long.

His wife suggested he wear his new yellow windbreaker; if he lost his bearings, as he was often wont to do, he’d be easily visible. And so he donned his yellow jacket and took off to find himself.

Now here he stood at the crossroads of his life, literally. He had a terrible sense of direction and had no idea where he was. As he looked around, he realized he was truly screwed for he blended in perfectly with his surroundings – bright yellow and golden autumn leaves were everywhere and he was in the midst of them.

At that moment he cursed his wife under his breath. He wanted to wear his beloved purple jacket but no, she suggested he wear the yellow one. Because he could never make up his mind, he did as he was told. And now he was lost without a clue which way to go, surrounded by bright yellow and golden autumn leaves.

And to think he went off to find himself. Now he wondered if anyone would find him.

NAR © 2022

Written for  FFFC # 188, hosted by Fandango

Flashback Track Friday #88

Hey! Look what I just wrote!

Songshine Sounds

Welcome once again to Flashback Track Friday. Each week, one of us will present a song to you, and out of that song, will prompt you with a question.

A special treat for you this week, as The Sicilian Storyteller has agreed to take time out from her busy schedule, and to write a guest post for us. And she even has a double-whammy this week, two blinding track by one of our favourite artists. So, without further ado, over to you, Nancy.


John Lennon, whose anniversary we celebrated only last Sunday. One of the most well-known and recognizable people of all time and founder of the legendary Beatles, John was a singer, musician, songwriter and peace activist. His songwriting partnership with Paul McCartney remains the most successful in history. That is an incredible achievement.

Starting with the world-famous “All You Need Is Love”, his songs were adopted as…

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BROKEN GLASS

Today was a very bad day for me and I came this close to going to the emergency room. That was the last way I wanted to spend a lovely Sunday afternoon in the fall. Has anyone noticed emergencies seem to crop up at the most inconvenient times – in the middle of the night, on the weekend or holiday – whenever it’s impossible to track down your doctor?

“What was the cause of this emergency?” you’re wondering. I shall tell you: intense stabbing pain in my lower back causing my legs to tingle and radiating down to my knee and up to my neck. The slightest move caused unbearable pain. This was not the first time something like this has happened but it definitely was one of the worst and it threw me for a loop; I had been recovering nicely after a recent flare up.

I have advanced arthritis from my neck down to my knees, spinal stenosis and sciatica. With the incredible work of my physical therapist, I had gotten to a point where I was feeling great and no longer needed to take any pain meds. Now I’m back on the meds and I hate their side effects but I must weigh my options.

This has been with me in various degrees since 2003 when I had a botched meniscus repair. In 2008 I fell three feet off a deck and landed full force on my left hip, badly fracturing it. The impact was so tremendous that I must have been stunned because I felt no pain … until I tried to move. I had no idea my hip joint was totally severed. I needed emergency surgery and a hip replacement. The operation went very well and rehab was a breeze, but the broken hip and the meniscus repair were likely the beginning of my other ailments. It was all downhill from there.

The pain from the meniscus repair was ever-present and arthritis had set it. It was determined I needed a total knee replacement which was done in 2011. I went into that surgery expecting a full recovery; after all, I’d seen advertisements in health magazines and posters in doctor’s offices showing people playing golf, tennis and going skiing after a TKR. I was not one of those people who sprang right back into action. After months of rehab I was still feeling pain. I had to take the stairs one at a time and every so often my knee would buckle. It was no cake walk. In fact it was a complete failure and a few years later I was back in the hospital for a total knee revision. If you never heard of a knee revision and decide to Google it, I suggest you watch the video on an empty stomach.

Have the surgeries improved my life? Yes, but not to the degree I’d hoped. I know I’m better off having had the operations but one would think my leg would be bionic after four procedures. 

To add insult to injury I developed spinal stenosis; sometimes the pain in my back was so intense I could barely walk or sit up straight. It worked its way up to my neck and made itself at home. I underwent multiple epidurals and nerve blocks, to no avail. How the hell could all these medical procedures not help? It’s frustrating and despairing; I fell into a depression and started having anxiety attacks. I lost weight, lost hope and lost the will to live. I didn’t want to do anything or see anyone, not even my precious grandchildren. 

My husband was by my side constantly; he became my support system, my coach, my shoulder to cry on and my shadow. He drove me to every session with my psychologist, took me to physical therapy and prepared my meals. He did all the shopping and laundry. He was there to sooth me during a crying jag or a panic attack. The man was a saint. If it wasn’t for him and my physical therapist I don’t know where I’d be today or what condition I’d be in. Going for deep tissue massage twice a week for months was the only thing that brought me relief and I still go to physical therapy once every week. Fortunately I am no longer depressed nor do I have anxiety attacks.

So what was the cause of today’s day from hell? I saw my pain management doctor on Tuesday, October 4; she gave me a series of trigger point injections in my lower back – something I’ve had many, many times before. The next day I noticed a slight pain in the left side of my lower back. By Thursday that pain had intensified; it wormed its way up to my neck and wrapped itself around my hip, down to my knee. By the weekend I was absolutely good for nothing. I wrote this post today to take my mind off the pain; it was horrible and memories of when I was at my lowest came flooding back.

Usually I have very little pain and feel good. I’ll have a flare up when a procedure goes wrong or the weather is bad or I trip on the rug or I lift my granddaughter onto the toilet or I just do something stupid which I know I shouldn’t do. I am like a broken glass that’s been glued back together. Every time someone tries to use the glass it crumbles and breaks into pieces.

Well-meaning friends tell me to rest up, take it easy and I’ll be fine. Give yourself time to heal, they say. What they don’t understand is this is not a broken toe that will mend itself and be healed forever. What I have will never fully go away and I will never be completely healed. What they don’t know is how difficult it is for me to get into and out of the bathtub, to stand under the shower to wash my hair, to dance with my husband or to find a comfortable sleeping position.

Today was a bad day but the pain will slowly fade and I will feel better again. No one has to tell me how much worse my situation could be; I know there are multitudes of people who have it far worse than I do and there are times when I am ashamed for feeling sorry for myself. Everyone’s pain is their own and everything is relative.

We all have our crosses; this is mine. I take nothing for granted. There are days when I’m walking on sunshine and then there are those days when I feel like I’m walking on broken glass.

I wish you all good health. May you never have to endure the pain of broken glass.

NAR © 2022

A WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE

She was one of those high society girls, confident and accomplished in many things. Her mother made sure the hired help taught her how to provide for herself and maintain a proper house should she ever find herself in a position where she needed to do so. 

“You must never totally rely on a man to do things for you” the girl’s mother admonished. “Your father was a weak man and a drunk. If I hadn’t found a publisher for my memoirs, we’d be destitute. I managed to write and tend to everything around the house while your father was off chasing daydreams. Because of that I learned to become a strong woman and you shall be one also.”

She remembered her father; how she adored him. If he was ineffectual, she never saw that side of him. All she saw was the fun-loving man who loved her beyond the moon, sang silly songs, made her laugh and bought her penny candy. He took her to the carnival and picnicking by the lake, tilting at windmills and searching the sky for clouds in the shape of dinosaurs or butterflies or whatever his imagination created. 

If he was drunk, she didn’t realize. Once or twice she asked why he wasn’t at work and he would laugh saying he’d rather spend his time with her; work would always be there tomorrow. But work was not there the next day and he drank himself into oblivion.

When he became sick from too much liquor, she knew something was terribly wrong. The house was quiet except for the sound of his wet cough. Then one day he was gone and it was as though he never existed. It was just her, her mother and the hired help in the large house. Her mother was busy with her publisher and it was the kindly household staff who taught her to be resourceful.

And so she grew into a self-assured, self-sufficient woman. She was the perfect combination of a woman of substance able to fend for herself but one who also delighted in the company of a gentleman who could well and ably provide for her. Her mother said she must learn to tell the difference between an honorable, well-respected man and a foolish dreamer with no goals in life. She must be vigilant not to become attracted to a man like her father who was full of empty promises.   

She was wooed by many young men – those belonging to the polo club who knew how to sail and play croquet and turn heads at garden parties. There were others who caught her eye as well – the ones who labored on the docks or skillfully shoed horses and dabbled in boxing in the back rooms of the local pubs where people shouted out their names and placed bets on who would win.

The dandies from the yacht club were pale and thin; they wore foppish clothes and were sparkling clean and looked down their long pointy noses at anyone who did not meet their standards. Their lives were empty and shallow and they didn’t even know it.

The hirsute boxers and dockworkers with tanned faces and rough hands wore patched pants and frayed shirts and had perpetually dirty fingernails. They worked hard and played harder; they drank beer in the pubs, sang songs and told bawdy jokes. They were happy with a lust for life and love despite having just a few coins to rub together.

One group of men was strong with twinkling eyes and roguish smiles while the other group was flaccid, dull-eyed and mealy-mouthed. And when time came for her to choose between one or the other, she chose one from her station, her peer, a seemingly substantial gentleman – the peacock who lived next door who gave the appearance of being his own man but was simply another empty vessel with nothing to offer. She soon learned he was a callow, selfish fellow with an overbearing mother and a useless father.

The girl’s mother did not approve of the lowly blacksmiths and boxers but she knew the insipid gent who claimed to adore her daughter would amount to nothing and she warned the girl: “I see your father in him – an inflated, aggrandized ne’er-do-well.” But the daughter would not listen. She was accustomed to men treating her with kid gloves. The thought of rough hands with dirty nails against her pearly white skin made her cringe.

How ironic could it be that the domineering mother of this man-child did not approve of her, the one he fawned over? “She may play the role of a woman of substance but she is only a pretender after your wealth. Her father was a nothing, a drunk, and she was tutored by the blacks who worked in the kitchen. You, my son, can do much better.”

But he couldn’t do better for he was a fool and he could not hold on to her. He cried into his pillow every night and cursed when he saw the one he cherished about town with a boxing dockworker who was ten times the man he was.

The pugilist treated her like a queen at all times – in the presence of others as well as in the privacy of their own home – and the woman of substance found she quite liked the feel of calloused hands on her spotless breasts.

NAR © 2022

GUEST POST: LOST IN A SWIRL

One of the most beautiful poems I’ve ever read,
this deeply touched my heart.
By my friend Paul Griffiths, The Birkenhead Poet –
I’m sharing for all to enjoy and
so I’ll always have it no matter what may come my way.

She is lost in a swirl of emotions, yet she dances as tears fall from her eyes.
Lost in the moment, as the world takes little notice and passes her by.
Spinning slowly in circles lost completely, she is engrossed in the dance.
Caught up in the silence of the moment, totally entranced.

Staring straight ahead into the nothing she sees what is and isn’t there.
As the world goes spinning around her, she is lost in her feelings too numb to care.
A vortex of mixed up emotions tumble around, in the spin cycle of her mixed up mind.
Cutting loose from the reality of her day to day existence and the ties that do bind.

Wrapped in a soft black silken sheet of the night she dances away.
The times getting late but she chooses to stay.
She has danced herself into tomorrow, she’s danced til her poor feet are sore.
Passing the point of exhaustion, she can’t dance anymore

Like the little ballerina atop a music box she starts winding down.
As she looks out for someone to come to her rescue but there’s no one around.
She screams a scream so loud her lungs almost burst; it’s a cry full of pain.
Because she knows the dance is over and it’s back to the reality of her life once again.

PTG © copyright.

PRECISION

John Black always kept his implements in the finest condition, each one hanging on the rack with incredible precision like soldiers standing at attention.

His tools were always lined up by size, depending on his needs. They were clean and sharp at all times, at the ready whenever he needed them.

There were saws that could cut down the largest tree and mallets meant for pounding huge spikes into posts. He had screwdrivers and files of every shape and size, pliers to yank out the largest of nails and wrenches to loosen pipes rusted together for years. His planes could shave off the thinnest slice of wood and his blades could cut through the toughest leather.

John Black scrubbed his tools clean after each use; they were gleaming, just waiting for his next job. Whenever the call came, he was ready.

The calls came every day and into the night; John Black was a busy man. No one ever called him; he found his own clientele. 

John Black was not a carpenter or a plumber; no, his job was of a different nature and his instruments were weapons meant to inflict the most pain a human could endure. For you see, John Black was a psychopath, a stalker of the innocent, a torturer and a murderer.

Oh, yes, his tools served him well, sated his sadistic needs. His victims were so easy to find for John Black was an unassuming man. 

John Black lives everywhere so keep your doors locked and never go out alone, even to check your mailbox for he could be living right next door. And October is his favorite month, his time to spill as much blood as possible.

Scary business, isn’t it?

NAR © 2022

Written for Sadje’s What do you see #154

WHAT A HAM!

P.S. 78.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the abbreviation, P.S. stands for ‘Public School’, a tax-supported US school providing free education. That’s where I attended kindergarten. I was there for only one year but some things about that year I will never forget. 

My mother would walk me to the red brick building every morning and greet me every afternoon when school was over. Mom was the no nonsense type and it took us less than 15 minutes to walk to school. It wasn’t much fun during the cold or nasty days but then Mom got her new Ford Fairlane 500 and going to school got a whole lot better.

Sometimes we’d stop at the Post Arrow – a mini amusement park/restaurant right on the corner that catered to regular folk by offering simple items such as hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches and ice cream. I’d get ice cream and go on a couple of rides; it was a magical place. My family always ate our meals at home but once in a while Dad would get a craving for a hot pastrami sandwich on rye bread and we’d zip up to the Post Arrow.

Being just a small kid, a place like P.S. 78 could be intimidating with so many other older and bigger kids but after a while, just like everything else, I got used to it. My classroom was on the first floor and I can still picture it. Low bookcases just tall enough for a bunch of munchkins hugged the walls all around the room. Short round tables which seated 4-6 kids were strewn about and there was a giant chalk board on the right side of the brightly painted room. Old metal casement windows took up one full wall while the other walls were covered with drawings, the alphabet and numbers. But the pièce de resistance was a vintage upright piano diagonally opposite the classroom doorway positioned catty-corner as opposed to being flush up against a wall. Today we would say the room had a very feng shui feel about it and the angled look of the piano was extremely appealing. Back then we just thought it was a happy room to be in.

We kids loved that classroom and felt comfortable from the very first day. Our teacher’s name was Mrs. Merchant; to this day I have no idea what her first name was. Mrs. Merchant was tiny in both height and weight; she always wore dresses with sweaters, had short wavy salt and pepper hair and wore glasses. It was impossible to tell her age; in the eyes of a small child she could have been anywhere between 35 and 65. She was a very sweet, patient woman who clearly enjoyed teaching kindergarten. She would play the piano during song time and she’d often read a book and play the piano simultaneously, making the stories pop to life. We’d all sit on the floor near the piano, our eyes glued to Mrs. Merchant as she dramatically read to us while she played.

There were so many wonderful times in kindergarten. Mrs. Merchant focused a lot on music and singing; I’m sure that was where my love of music first began. We would have musical parades around the classroom every day, each child playing a different instrument, and once each week one of the kids would perform for the class.

I remember every detail about one of my performances – my song, my little dance and most of all my costume. I was a little pig. 🐷

My mother, ever the creative seamstress, bought a child’s pair of pink one-piece Dr. Denton footed pajamas with a rear flap for “easy potty time” (if you don’t remember Dr. Denton pjs, you’re really missing out on something!). Mom brought home some pink felt from the shop where she worked and used it to make little pig ears and a curlicue tail. She covered one of my plastic headbands with felt and attached the ears to it. My piggie nose was made from stiffly starched fabric covered with felt; Mom cut two little holes on each side for the string which she tied around the back of my head keeping my piggie nose in place like a mask. For the tail she curled a length of a wire clothes hanger, covered it with felt and sewed it to the little rear end flap on my pjs. I was told I looked absolutely adorable but sadly, no photos were taken of that momentous occasion – at least none that I’m aware of.

I was always a “ham” when it came to performing and never shied away from the opportunity to entertain. Even as an adult at our fabulous choir Mardi Gras parties I would be front and center serenading everyone with one standard after the other. Gimme a mike and I’ll sing you a song! 

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to record and upload a few of my stories for a prominent UK broadcasting corporation. I even had the chance to sing during one segment but I’m pretty sure that didn’t make the headlines. Let’s check the News. Nope, nothing there.

My dream was to be a professional singer; I think I’d look pretty good sprawled on a piano a la Michelle Pfeiffer! Instead, here I am happily entertaining you with my stories. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll surprise you with a song.

Once a ham, always a ham! Stay tuned. 🎤

NAR © 2022

THE PINGBACK SYNDROME

How many of you know what a pingback is and how to create one? Let’s see a show of hands. 

Wow! Looks like quite a few of you are in on the pingback secret … except for me.

Now, I am not a stupid woman and I’ve learned a lot about computers since I started my site in 2017. I’ve also wiggled my way out of some tough jams and solved problems the Happiness Engineers at WordPress were unable to do. Hell, I even found the solution to an issue that an Apple technician couldn’t help me with. I also taught myself to record and upload some of my stories for a prominent UK radio station – something I’m very proud of. I can figure out most things on my computer or learn something by seeing it done once or twice but this ornery pingback mosquito keeps evading me.

Some of my fellow septuagenarian friends on WordPress who still split logs and milk cows know how to create a pingback. I cannot. What’s the secret? And while we’re on the subject, what purpose does a pingback serve? Why is everyone pingbacking all over the damn place? 

So, to recap, the questions on the table are 1) what is a pingback; 2) how is a pingback created; 3) what purpose does a pingback serve?

Just for fun, let’s see how the dictionary defines pingback: “an automatic notification sent when a link has been created to a person’s blog post from an external website, allowing a reciprocal link to that website to be created”.

Hmm. Ok, what does Google say about pingbacks on WordPress? “A pingback is a notification WordPress sends to other blog owners when linking to their content. It will appear in a comment and only bloggers who activate the pingback feature will receive the notification”.

Confused yet? Me too. Try this on for size:

What??

When I told one of my friends I thought I didn’t do a pingback correctly, he asked me if I remembered to “lock it in”. No, of course I didn’t! I wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to “lock in”. Another friend explained creating a pingback like this: “To do a pingback: Copy the URL (the https:// address of my post) and paste it onto your post.”  Yet another friend posted a similar message: “To execute a pingback, just copy the URL in the address bar on this post and paste it somewhere in the body of your post.”

Now, those explanations sound pretty clear and easy and in my head I know exactly what they’re saying; however, when it comes to actually copying the URL, I can’t find it and when I think I’ve got the right URL, it turns out to be the wrong one! So far I don’t think I have successfully completed one single pingback. Pretty dismal, isn’t it?

I need someone to explain to me in easy-to-understand language how to do a pingback and show me where to find the elusive URL address I’m supposed to copy and paste. Speak to me in one syllable words if necessary. Observe the KISS Principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. I promise you; I will not be offended.

Somebody help. I’m terribly confused!

NAR © 2022

BALL AND CHAIN

Jim at Song Lyric Sunday has asked us to share our thoughts
about musicians who are members of legendary “27 Club”.
My contribution today is the one and only Janis Joplin.

Janis Joplin, one of the most successful and widely-known female rock stars of her era, was born on January 19, 1943. On the evening of Sunday, October 4, 1970 Janis was found dead on the floor at the Landmark Motor Hotel by her road manager. The cause of death was a heroin overdose; she was only 27 years old. Janis was cremated and her ashes were scattered from a plane into the Pacific Ocean. Hard to believe in two days we will observe the 52nd anniversary of her death. 

The passing of Janis Joplin stunned her fans and shocked the music world, especially when coupled with the death just 16 days earlier of another rock icon, Jimi Hendrix, also at the age of 27. Music historian Tom Moon wrote that “Joplin had a devastatingly original voice” and music columnist Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote that Janis as an artist was “overpowering and deeply vulnerable”.

I think you will all agree that is true as we listen to one of her most famous songs – Ball and Chain.

Lyrics

Sittin’ down by my window
Honey, lookin’ out at the rain
Lord, Lord, Lord, sittin’ down by my window
Baby, lookin’ out at the rain
Somethin’ came along, grabbed a hold of me
And it felt just like a ball and chain
Honey, that’s exactly what it felt like
Honey, just dragging me down

And I say, oh, whoa, whoa, now hon’, tell me why
Why does every single little tiny thing I hold on goes wrong?
Yeah it all goes wrong, yeah
And I say, oh, whoa, whoa, now babe, tell me why
Why does everything, everything
Hey, here you gone today, I wanted to love you
Honey, I just wanted to hold you, I said, for so long
Yeah! Alright! Hey!

Love’s got a hold on me, baby
Feels just like a ball and chain
Now, love’s just draggin’ me down, baby, yeah
Feels like a ball and chain
I hope there’s someone out there who could tell me
Why the man I love wanna leave me in so much pain
Yeah, maybe, maybe you could help me, come on, help me!

And I say, oh, whoa, whoa, now hon’, tell me why
Now tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me why, yeah
And I say, oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, when I ask you
When I need to know why, c’mon tell me why, hey hey hey
Here you’ve gone today
I wanted to love you and hold you
Till the day I die
I said whoa, whoa, whoa!

And I say oh, whoa, whoa, no honey
It ain’t fair, daddy it ain’t fair what you do
I see what you’re doin’ to me and you know it ain’t fair
And I say oh, whoa whoa now baby
It ain’t fair, now, now, now, what you do
I said hon’ it ain’t fair what, hon’ it ain’t fair what you do
Oh, here you gone today and all I ever wanted to do
Was to love you
Honey an’ I think there can be nothing wrong with that
Only it ain’t wrong, no, no, no, no, no

Sittin’ down by my window
Lookin’ at the rain
Lord, Lord, Lord, sittin’ down by my window
Lookin’ at the rain, see the rain
Somethin’ came along, grabbed a hold of me
And it felt like a ball and chain
Oh this can’t be in vain
And I’m gonna tell you one just more time, yeah, yeah!

And I say oh, whoa whoa, now baby
This can’t be, no this can’t be in vain
And I say no no no no no no no no, whoa!
And I say whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa
Now now now now now now now now now no no not in vain
Hey, hope there is someone that could tell me
Hon’, tell me why
Hon’, tell me why love is like
Just like a ball
Just like a ball
Baaaaaaalllll
Oh daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy
And a chain
Yeah!

Songwriters: Willie Mae Thornton

Ball and Chain lyrics © Kenwon Music, Cristeval Music

Song Lyric Sunday: Ball and Chain – The Elephants Trunk