BACK BEFORE YOU MISS ME

Rebecca Jameson couldn’t get to sleep. She shifted her body from side to side but just couldn’t get comfortable. Maybe she should go downstairs and watch The Tonight Show.

“Can’t sleep, Becca?” Danny asked groggily.

Sorry, honey. I didn’t mean to wake you!”

Danny flipped on the nightstand lamp. Rebecca glanced at the alarm clock; it was very late and Danny had to get up early for work. She felt terribly guilty but this last month of her pregnancy was rough. She got up and waddled to the bathroom, then settled back in bed cradling her substantial belly. Danny propped himself on one elbow and rubbed Rebecca’s tummy.

“Well, I’m up now so what can I do for you, babe?”

Rebecca looked at him sheepishly and Danny grinned. “Rocky Road with Gummy Bears and rainbow sprinkles?” he asked, knowing her cravings so well.

You don’t mind?”

“For you and Danny Jr? I’d do anything, Becca. Thank God for the 24-hour Dairy Princess!”  He kissed her forehead, grabbed his wallet and bounded down the stairs. “Back before you miss me!”

That was the last time Rebecca saw Danny.

When Danny didn’t return after 30 minutes, Rebecca wasn’t worried; late Friday nights at the Dairy Princess were always busy. One hour later and she was starting to get a little anxious. After two hours she was a nervous wreck. She tried calling Danny; her calls went straight to voicemail. When she called her dad Frank, a detective with the NYPD, he answered immediately.

“Becky! Are you OK? Is it the baby?”

The baby and I are fine, Dad. It’s Danny. He went for ice cream two hours ago and hasn’t come home yet. Daddy, I’m scared” and she started to cry.

“Sweetie, Mom and I are coming right over. Try not to worry; I’m sure everything’s gonna be alright.” Frank hoped he sounded confident but he knew Danny; this was totally out of character.

Rebecca and Danny knew each other all their lives. They were childhood sweethearts and never dated other people. Rebecca was a kindergarten teacher and Danny managed Jameson’s Deli. They had the same friends and spent all their free time together; they even shared the same Facebook page. There were no secrets between them.

Danny was thrilled when he and Rebecca found out she was expecting a boy. He started calling him Danny Jr. and talked non-stop about the things they’d do together. With just two weeks to go, Danny was eager to be a dad.

When Rebecca’s parents arrived, they found her nervously looking out the window. Her mom Betty made a pot of tea while Frank talked soothingly to his daughter.

“Listen, honey. I called the station on the way over here and my guys are out combing the area. I know you’re scared but there’s got to be a logical explanation. People don’t just disappear, especially not Danny.”

The hours ticked by without a word. Rebecca became more and more agitated, certain something terrible had happened. Betty convinced Rebecca to get a little rest and she managed to doze off. When she got up to use the bathroom, Rebecca’s water broke and Frank drove them to the hospital. They went straight to the ER and a few hours later, Danny Jr. was born. He was perfect but Rebecca’s world was never the same.  

Seasons came and went without a trace of Danny. Frank and his team never stopped searching; every trail led to a dead end. It was as though Danny Jameson never existed.

Rebecca never accepted Danny’s disappearance. How could someone simply vanish and why? She took solace in caring for Danny Jr. which was a double-edged sword. He was a happy, well-adjusted child who gave Rebecca much joy but he was also the spitting image of his father. Whenever Rebecca looked at Danny Jr. she saw Danny. It was difficult.

Danny Jr. asked about his father and Rebecca explained as best she could. At first the boy seemed content with the answers his mother gave but as he got older he heard people talking about how his father “just up and left”. He asked Rebecca about that which she vehemently denied; there was no way Danny would have walked out on them. Still, restless thoughts occasionally visited Danny Jr. It didn’t help when people would comment on how much he looked like his father.

A missing person case eventually turned into a cold case. Rebecca refused to have Danny declared legally dead. As painful as the unknown was, that closure was too much for Rebecca to handle.

When Danny Jr. was in his late teens, Rebecca was diagnosed with breast cancer. Whenever Rebecca went for a chemo treatment she’d say “Back before you miss me”. She struggled for 8 years, finally succumbing at the age of 52. Danny Jr. was 26 years old, happily married with one daughter.

On the day of Rebecca’s funeral, Danny Jr. and his family stood near the side of his mother’s grave. His mind was whirling with memories of his mother and questions about his father. Would he ever know what really happened to Danny?

As the priest recited the final prayers, Danny Jr. stared straight ahead, his eyes filling with tears. Just then he noticed a man standing across the street from the gated cemetery. Danny Jr. was shaken to the depths of his soul by the appearance of this man; their resemblance was uncanny. At that moment Danny Jr. realized he was looking at the face of his long-lost father. Even at a distance the men’s eyes locked and Danny Jr. began to slowly walk across the cemetery.

As he drew near to the man a large bus rolled by, momentarily obscuring his view. When the bus had passed and Danny Jr. had a clear view, the man was gone.

In his heart Danny Jr. knew that man was his father. He would have given anything for just one hour with him.

NAR © 2022

RED STAR PINES

The sun was just beginning to rise over the Sangala Valley and the day was already warm. Ekon, a middle-aged widower and his son Mosi sat outside as they did each morning eating their breakfast before beginning their long day in the fields. It had been just the two of them since Ekon’s wife Bisa died from a fever several years earlier.

The Sangala Valley is very small but a good home for Ekon and Mosi. There is an abundance of sunlight for growing crops and copious amounts of fruit trees to provide much needed shade during the hottest times of the day. Mosi goes fishing daily in nearby Lake Caballo; he has become quite proficient but Ekon is the hunter, always keeping them well-fed with rabbits, pigs, deer or fowl. They also keep roosters, chickens and have a female mule for milk.

Three other families live in the valley and share the area peacefully, frequently trading with each other. Ekon and Mosi are fortunate to have a variety of foods to eat; however, they have had no luck growing wheat or other grains – something Bisa excelled at. Sometimes the women bring them flatbread and loaves of Green Mealies, a fluffy corn bread, in exchange for various items.

Forests of wild pine trees grow in the distance and the view from the valley is magnificent. One evening as father and son relaxed by their campfire after a long day, Mosi expressed his greatest desire: “Father, one day I shall visit the Red Star Pines.”

“One day?” exclaimed Ekon and laughed heartily. “My son, the pines are thousands of miles away, a rigorous and dangerous journey of many months. It is a quest, not a day’s adventure.”

“But how can that be, Father?” Mosi questioned. “I can see them as clearly as I can see Lake Caballo.”

“Mosi, the wild pines are enormous and tower over everything” Ekon explained. “Their closeness is a mere illusion.”

“But Father” Mosi argued. “Look across the lake. The pines are plainly visible and the land is flat. We can get there in half a day!”

“That is true, my son, but they are just saplings. There’s much more to the pine woods than meets the eye. You must give up this fantasy. Now, off to bed for both of us.”

Mosi did not mention the Red Star Pines again for a long time but he never abandoned his dream. One morning during breakfast Mosi told his father that he had decided he would not be able to rest until he traveled to the woods – or at least tried. Ekon’s first reaction was to once again talk Mosi out of his idea but as he looked at his son he realized he was no longer a child and his mind was made up. Ekon told Mosi he understood the need that drove him and they would make the trek together.

Mosi was thrilled and immediately began to prepare. Ekon said they must bring only the barest of necessities, their fishing and hunting tools and their mule Shiga. There was also one priceless object which Ekon would never leave behind, a treasure handed down from generation to generation – a tiny vial containing the Tincture of Jal’mboor. One small drop on the tip of the tongue would allow the user to speak in any language chosen and the spell would remain until no longer needed.

They set out the following morning, reaching the woods in a few hours. Mosi was shocked to find he was taller than the saplings. The terrain was flat and easily passable until the fifth day when they came upon a vast, swiftly-moving river blocking their path. Having no craft, the duo consulted an old map and chose to travel east. This would take them out of their way but is was the safer route. After many days of walking they reached a shallow section of the river which they crossed safely.

The new terrain was steeper and difficult. The forests were dense and hardly any light shone through. They were keenly aware of strange sounds and Ekon kept his spear by his side. Without warning the trees began to quake; suddenly hundreds of birds flew out and disappeared. A second later a massive tiger appeared. He stared at Ekon and Mosi, slits of amber eyes observing their every move. He snarled, exposing razor sharp fangs. Ekon whispered for Mosi to stand perfectly still but Shiga was spooked and whinnied loudly. In an instant the tiger leapt but Ekon was ready and felled the giant cat with his trusty spear. The duo dined that night on sinewy tiger meat, refilled their water skins from a babbling brook and went to sleep. They would start fresh in the morning.

However, when Ekon and Mosi awoke they were not in the same place as the night before. They were in a higher elevation; it was colder and there were traces of snow. They were comfortably covered in blankets next to a small fire under a giant pine tree. Shiga happily munched in a nearby trough. Besides the change of location, there was a much more obvious and disconcerting difference: both men had aged approximately five years! Mosi looked to be about 25 years old and Ekon had some grey in his hair and beard.

A group of men emerged from the woods; immediately Ekon reached for the vial in his wrap and placed one drop on the tip of his tongue. Quickly Mosi did the same. The leader of the group spoke rapidly, explaining how his men found Ekon and Mosi unconscious near the brook five years ago and brought them back to their village. The brook had been poisoned years ago by after a mysterious storm and an antidote had yet to be found. The men were members of the ancient San tribe, learned men of science who assured Ekon and Mosi they meant them no harm. When Ekon answered in San, the men were surprised but quickly deduced Ekon possessed the power of the Jal’mboor. As they spoke some San women approached with food and clean clothes. Mosi immediately caught the eye of a beautiful young woman called Tayla and they smiled shyly.

Ekon and Mosi learned much from the San people. They knew how to preserve food in such a way that it could be dried, shrunken to a compact size and last for years. They developed a shield of invisibility to disappear at the first sign of danger thus avoiding any conflict or violence. They were philosophers and great thinkers but lacked basic skills such as carpentry. Even their tents were falling over!

Mosi and Ekon told the San people of their quest to reach the top of the Red Star Pines. Many had tried but very few succeeded. It was a treacherous journey but the San could help if Ekon and Mosi did something in return for them: teach them to build huts. The pair agreed and spent the next two years working with the San people. During that time Mosi and Tayla fell in love and he promised to return for her after they reached the summit.

The San warned Ekon and Mosi about the Sanguine Precipice, the Eikae Dragon Den and the bloodthirsty Madosu Gorillas. The San said they would provide Mosi and Ekon with a map to get them safely passed the precipice and presented them with the invisibility shield to evade the monstrous dragons and gorillas. Mission now complete, Ekon and his son prepared to leave the next morning.

Shiga was loaded down with new flasks containing safe water, bundles of food, blankets and the invisibility shield. Bidding Tayla farewell, Mosi and Ekon followed the San people until they were safely on the other side of the poisonous brook. At the last minute, Mosi fetched a few old water skins and filled them with poison water. Now they were truly on their own, prepared but anxious. The higher they climbed the colder it became and they blessed the San women for their gift of warm clothing.

The pair hiked forever, sometimes not uttering a single word. Their silence was soon disturbed by horrifying screeches and savage bellows. They knew they reached the first hazard: the Eikae Dragons. The sound of huge flapping wings filled the sky and Mosi quickly grabbed the invisibility shield just before catching a glimpse of the nightmarish creatures. They covered themselves just in time and the Eikae hovered over them, sniffing the air suspiciously with gargantuan nostrils, then angrily flew away. Mosi and Ekon remained where they were until they were sure all was safe. They carefully retracted the shield and secured it onto Shiga’s back.

At first Ekon kept a record of the passing number of nights but eventually lost count. They walked for what seemed an eternity and Mosi questioned himself a thousand times over. They came to a divided path but the San map was unclear so they chose a path with no particular reason in mind. It proved to be the wrong choice. Rounding a bend they found themselves face to face with the Madosus. They were hideous beasts, a combination of a gorilla and a hippopotamus. Ekon froze as the savages slowly came closer, snorting loudly and beating their breasts. But Mosi thought quickly and placed a drop of the Jal’mboor potion on the tip of his tonge.

To the bewilderment of the gorillas Mosi began speaking in fluent Madosu: “We are travelers. We seek no trouble. All we wish is to pass by safely.”

One of the gorillas asked: “How is it you can speak our language?”

“We are magicians. We can offer you whatever you desire. What is your greatest wish?” Mosi asked, covering his fear.

“TO EAT YOU!” shouted the Madosu.

“But you can do that any time” countered Mosi.

“ABSOLUTE POWER!” roared the gorilla.

“If that is what you desire, I can provide it. It’s as easy as drinking the supernatural waters in these skins” and Mosi tossed the sacks to the gorillas. They greedily drank the brook water and were poisoned within seconds.

Elated with their great success over the Madosu, Ekon and Mosi quickened their pace and moved on. Their relief was short lived, however, when they reached the Sanguine Precipice. Never before had they seen such a narrow path nor so steep a cliff. Mosi checked the San map and saw a widening in the path about four feet ahead. Crossing those four feet would be crucial. They could not make one false move. Mosi believed he and his father could do it but he wasn’t sure about Shiga. The men decided to lighten Shiga’s load by dividing it beween them. She stood a better chance without the extra weight. Slow as snails they proceeded, placing one foot before the other, Mosi leading Shiga and Ekon gently pushing her rear.

Just as they safely reached the clearing, Shiga lost her footing and landed full force on top of Ekon who howled in agony. Working quickly Mosi got Shiga upright and tied her to a tree; then he returned for Ekon. As soon as Mosi tried to lift his father, Ekon screamed and lost consciousness; Mosi immediately knew his father’s back was broken. Mosi carried Ekon like a newborn baby and laid him in the shade of a Red Star Pine; it was only then that he realized they had made it to the summit. His quest was complete but at what cost?

Slowly, Ekon opened his eyes and whispered “We made it, son!” Then quietly he exhaled and died. Mosi cried out in sorrow, the mountains echoing his mournful wail, and Shiga softly nudged him with her head. Mosi buried Ekon on the summit of the Red Star Pines, laying his trusty spear, bow and arrow across the grave. Snow lightly began to fall as Mosi packed all their belongings and securely placed them onto Shiga’s back. Now knowing the safe route Mosi and Shiga began their trek back to Tayla and home to the Sangala Valley.

NAR © 2021

SINS OF THE FATHER

Twenty years had passed since Danny Cameron had seen his parents. Perhaps he would have handled things differently had he known this estrangement would be the outcome. He asked himself that question every day and the answer was always “no”.

Danny excelled at football and had a shot at going pro but his real passion was music. His dream was not shared by his father, Donal, who constantly pushed Danny in the direction of professional sports. Night after night Danny was subjected to the same diatribe:

What the hell kind of musical career do you think you’re gonna have?
If you think you’re gonna be the next Paul McCartney you can forget that pipe dream!
Danny, you can be a great quarterback on any pro team you want,
make millions and have women beating down your door.
You’d be a damn fool to let that opportunity pass you by!”

Danny couldn’t stand another lecture and the dam burst. He yelled at his father in frustration:

Dad! Enough! Football may be your dream but it’s not mine.
I know it won’t be easy but I’m determined to pursue music.
Forget the money and all the women. I’ve met someone and we’re moving in together.
It’s time I started living my life on my terms.”

Before Donal could respond, Danny’s mother Fiona chimed in excitedly:

Danny! Why didn’t you tell us you have a girlfriend?! This is so exciting!
What’s her name? How did you meet?
We must invite her to dinner. I want to hear all about ……..”

STOP!” Danny shouted. “I don’t have a girlfriend. I have a boyfriend. His name is Richard. I’M GAY!! Mom, Dad – I’m gay.”

And there it was – not exactly what Danny planned but the words were out and there was no taking them back. Donal was enraged; he lashed out, slapping Danny’s face so hard he almost fell over.

GAY? Call it what it is, Danny – you’re a fucking queer! You make me sick!
Get out of my sight! Get out and don’t come back!!”

Grabbing his phone and car keys, Danny stormed out. He moved in with Richard, a law school student by day/valet parking attendant by night. Danny had a couple of gigs in a bar but that didn’t last and he eventually got a job as a singing waiter. He hated it but it helped pay the bills.

Fiona secretly phoned Danny from time to time and managed to get his belongings to him, but father and son never communicated.

Richard passed the bar exam and landed a great job. Danny had written several “damn good songs” as Richard called them but he just couldn’t catch a break. Richard encouraged him to be patient and keep trying.

Friday was a busy night at the restaurant. Danny was singing “Something” to a newly-engaged couple when he saw Richard come in with a group of people. When Danny’s song was over, Richard motioned him to the table and said “You have a great voice! Do you sing anything other than Beatles songs?”

Thinking “What game is he playing?”, Danny followed suit saying he had written a number of songs.

Well, how about singing one of your own songs for us?” Richard asked.

Wondering where this was all going, Danny sat at the piano and sang his heart out. The restaurant erupted in applause. One of the men at Richard’s table handed Danny his card and said “Call me tomorrow”. The card read ‘Bob Ludwig, Gateway Mastering Studios, Inc.’. Feigning calm, Danny expressed his thanks but his heart was pounding and his head was exploding; Bob Ludwig was a mega recording producer!

Later that night at home Danny couldn’t stop thanking Richard for his introduction to Bob Ludwig. Richard hugged him and said he deserved it.

Danny’s career took off and he became a sensation. Then the call came from his mother; his father was gravely ill. Fiona said Donal was asking for him. After all these years Danny knew it would not be easy seeing him again; he reluctantly acquiesced.

Danny returned to his childhood home where Donal was being privately treated. Waving Fiona and his nurse out of the room, Donal beckoned Danny to come closer. He could barely speak and Danny bent down, his ear next to his father’s lips.

Donal rasped, his breathing labored:

I hear you’re a star, a real big shot. You’re famous!
You’re living the life you always wanted, aren’t you, Danny?
Everyone adores you but to me you’re still nothing but a disgusting queer!”

Danny looked into Donal’s cold, unforgiving eyes full of loathing and revulsion. Staring emotionless at his father, he reached for Donal’s oxygen tube and squeezed it as tightly as he could, cutting off his air supply. Wheezing, Donal’s eyes bulged and his face turned blue; then he stopped breathing.

Danny straightened the crimped oxygen tube and walked out of the room without looking back. Hugging his mother, he whispering “It’s over”.

NAR © 2020

I WANNA ROCK!!

“‘Cattle Decapitation‘?! What the hell kind of music are you into now, Colin? Sounds like another really depraved rock band from Sweden or Britain – that’s what you’re listening to these days, isn’t it? Like that other group you worship – ‘Liquid Graveyard’. What the hell does that even mean, Colin? Your mother and I have had it with this heavy metal music, if you can even call it music, which you insist on blaring throughout the house. You play it at all hours of the day and night and we’re losing our minds. You have absolutely no respect for anyone else. Your poor grandmother is afraid to come out of her room and eats all her meals behind her locked door. Frankly it’s nothing but head-splitting noise and I can’t blame her one bit for keeping herself locked away from you. I mean it was bad enough when you were into ‘Motörhead’ and that Lemmy freak but we kept our mouths shut; kids go through phases, I know that. Then you started getting into some pretty disturbing stuff, groups like ‘Autopsy’ and ‘Cannibal Corpse’. Really, Colin! It’s damn upsetting to the whole family and we’re seriously on the brink of kicking you out of the house. What do you have to say for yourself? What do you want to do with your life?!” Colin’s father, Mark, was apoplectic with rage.

I WANNA ROCK!!” Colin wanted to scream at the top of his lungs but he wouldn’t give his father the satisfaction. Instead, he looked up at his father from the recliner in his basement bedroom and calmly asked “Are you done spewing your uninformed and ponderous statements, Dad, or do you have more to say? If you’re done, I’m gonna ask you to leave my room and let me enjoy my music. If you’re not, feel free to continue your rant. You don’t mind if I put on my headphones, do you?” Colin knew he was adding gasoline to the fire but at this point he didn’t care any more. Obviously his father had been going through his stuff; he never takes the time to listen to what he has to say and has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. Actually comparing ‘Cattle Decapitation’ to ‘Motörhead‘ – what a pedestrian misconception!

“Why you little son of a bitch! You’re telling ME to get out of YOUR room? This is MY house; I just let you live here! We fixed up the basement for you when your grandmother moved in. We could have easily had you share a room with Kyle but we realized you needed your own space, being five years older that your brother. And how do you repay us? By turning this place into a shit hole! Look at your crap – magazines, posters, CDs, video games, boxes of God knows what spread out all over the place. No wonder your mother practically has a panic attack every time she has to come down here to use the washing machine. She’s almost as scared as your grandmother! It breaks her heart seeing what you’ve done to this room. You know, she always wanted to make this her arts and crafts area but gladly gave up the space to accommodate you. Have you ever shown your appreciation, even once? No, you haven’t! You’re such a selfish and spoiled ingrate!” Colin stared at his father, fascinated as he watched his eyes bulge with every word and the throbbing veins in his neck looked like they were going to explode.

“Since we’re talking about me, Dad, other than my taste in music and the fact that you think I’m a selfish ingrate, have I ever done anything youre ashamed of? I’m a good student and I’ve got a job. All the stuff you call “crap” – I bought everything you see here with my own money. I never asked you for a dime to buy CDs or video games. That’s a lot more than you cay say about other kids my age but you‘ve never acknowledged that. You just constantly browbeat me about my music.”

Mark was momentarily caught off guard; he’d never heard Colin talk like this before. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time they actually had a civilized conversation; they always just screamed at each other. Who was this kid?

Dad, let me ask you a question. Didn’t you have your favorite groups when you were my age, maybe even some your parents didn’t approve of?” Colin asked.

“Of course we did, Colin. We listened to lots of different groups like ‘Guns N’ Roses’, ‘Mötley Crüe’, ‘Whitesnake’ and ‘Quiet Riot’, among others, but that music is no comparison to the crap that’s out today, especially this garbage you listen to. Yeah, maybe my father gave me some grief now and then – it’s a father’s job to keep his kids in line – but back then the music we listened to was really good. You know, your mother still loves The Beatles? You can’t get any better than that.”

Colin inched to the edge of his chair. “Dad, do you honestly think you’re telling me anything new? I know all about those groups you used to listed to. You think I’m only aware of what’s popular now? Give me a little more credit than that! At least my mind isn’t closed off like yours. I like ‘The Beatles’, ‘Stones’, ‘Led Zeppelin’, ‘Deep Purple’, ‘Iron Maiden’, ‘AC/DC’, ‘Metallica’, ‘Rush’ – should I go on? I accept the fact that my music isn’t for everybody and you should at least acknowledge that and try to be a little more broadminded instead of sticking it to me every chance you get. Did you ever think the reason I stay down here listening to my music is because you and I never just sit and talk about stuff?”

Mark exhaled deeply. “You make some valid points, Colin, you really do but at least the names of the groups we were into weren’t twisted. Tell me, what the hell kind of name is ‘Cattle Decapitation’, for crying out loud? It’s not normal! What the hell am I supposed to make of that?”

Come on, Dad. It’s just a name. Didn’t you listen to ‘Poison’ and ‘Fine Young Cannibalsand ‘Nine Inch Nails’? And since you mentioned “twisted”, what about ‘Twisted Sister’? What kinds of names are those? Besides, you don’t know the first thing about ‘Cattle Decapitation‘” Colin replied.

Well, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out what the name means, Colin. It’s repulsive!”

And there you go again, making a judgment call with no real information to back it up! Dad, can you cool down long enough to give me a minute to tell you something about them?”

Mark sat down heavily on the side of Colin’s bed. “Go ahead, Colin, but it’s probably not going to change my mind.”

‘Well, you might be surprised, Dad. And I’m not making any of this up. It’s all on the internet so Google it if you don’t believe me. ‘Cattle Decapitation’ is an American group, not Swedish or English. That’s rightfrom right here in the US of A, just like your good old boy Ted Nugent! And they aren’t famous for cutting off the heads of innocent cows or sheep. Their music isn’t heavy metal – that’s what you listened to. Their music is called ‘death grind’ which I know you think sounds really sick; it’s like a fusion of death metal and grind-core, not that I’d expect you to understand that but it wouldn’t kill you to look it up. You just might learn something. Their songs actually protest the mistreatment and consumption of animals. the abuse of the environment and other subjects such as misanthropy and genocide. Much of the band’s music is based on putting humans in the same situations that animals are subjected to like animal testing and brutality. And I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear” Colin continued “that the members of the band are vegetarians, just like me – or haven’t you noticed I gave up eating meat two years ago? They aren’t savages. When you think about it they’re not all that different than ‘that fab little group’ Mom loves so much; they’re just expressing themselves in a different way.

Mark looked at his son with skepticism. “I don’t know, Colin. That just doesn’t make much sense to me. I mean, listen to them; that lead singer sounds like he’s possessed by demons!”

“That’s because they’re angry about the situation of the world and they’re trying to get our attention! Their song ‘Bring Back the Plague’ is all about COVID-19 and is the painful, truthful humor we all need right now. And it was filmed responsibly on cell phones while the band was in self-isolation. Do us both a favor, Dad” requested Colin. “Forget the music for now and just read the lyrics to their songs, then compare them to the groups you listened to. That’s all I ask; think of it as a compromise. After that, if you still want to kick me out of the house, that’s your right.”

Ok, Colin, I’ll take a look but I can’t promise anything.”

Mark went to the fridge and grabbed a Bud Light. He climbed the stairs to his den, flipped on ‘Metallica‘ and started Googling ‘Cattle Decapitation‘, death metal and grind-core.

Well, I’ll be God damned! he said after reading for half an hour. “The kid actually knew what he was talking about.” Mark switched off ‘Metallica’ and searched YouTube for ‘Bring Back the Plague’. Putting on his headphones, he took a swig of his beer and for the first time in ages he actually paid attention.

NAR © 2020

Submitted on this day in 2022 for Fandango’s Flashback Friday — September 16th

FISH OR CUT BAIT

When I was a toddler my family moved to City Island, a little place in the Bronx, New York. And when I say little, I’m not kidding – 1.5 miles long by 0.5 miles wide. There was one main street and the houses were on the narrow side streets, each with a small beach at the end. Just about every day we would play for hours on the beach at the end of our street. As far as I’m concerned there was no better place for a kid to grow up. 

My Granddad “Pops” was a retired commercial fisherman and he taught us the ropes. We learned how to tie knots, cut bait, fillet a fish and just about everything there was to know about boats. Every weekend we’d row over to Sullivan’s Marina where Pops’ fishing boat “Sea Devil” was docked and spend the day fishing … mostly. I can still remember him scolding us when we dawdled: “Hey, you clowns! Fish or cut bait!” 

When we were first learning how to cast our rods there wasn’t a single time that Pops didn’t get stuck by an errant hook. Our collection of his favorite curse words grew on a weekly basis. So many memories of days on the “Devil” like the time my brother sliced off the tip of his finger while cutting bait or when the anchor chain snapped and we drifted until someone gave us a tow. 

But nothing compared to that Saturday in April. The sun was blazing and it was extremely hot for a Spring morning.  My Dad had the rare Saturday off because it was Easter weekend so he joined us. It was me, my two brothers, Dad and Pops crammed into a rowboat headed for Sea Devil

I don’t know if it was the heat or the dormancy of the day but the fish weren’t biting. We were sweating bullets and out of bait. That’s when Pops noticed the dark clouds in the distance and figured we better just count our losses and head home. 

We climbed into the rowboat, Dad and Pops manning the oars. The sun was obscured by clouds and there was an eerie stillness around us. We heard roars of thunder and Pops and Dad rowed faster. We heard it before we saw it … pouring rain, strong winds and swelling waves. They rowed like madmen but not fast enough. Suddenly we were engulfed in a raging storm and a giant wave crashed into us, picked up the rowboat and flung us into the water. 

The fast-moving rains headed toward shore and the waves quickly subsided. By some miracle we were all alive and the boat was floating upside down. Pops and Dad scooped us up in their arms and swam to the boat. Uprighting it was impossible so they dove under it to find that precious pocket of air.  

Hold onto the seats, boys, and keep your heads above water. Dad and I are going back out and we’ll push this boat to shore” instructed Pops. We clung to the seats for dear life while Pops and Dad struggled with the boat. After what seemed like an eternity they felt the sand beneath their feet and the air pocket became bigger. Eventually we also felt the sand beneath our feet and we all carried the boat to shore … to safety. 

That was almost 65 years ago and I’ve never forgotten that day though it didn’t stop me from going back out to sea. I have a boat and love fishing. And every time I’m cutting bait I’m thinking of Pops. 

NAR © 2020

CRIME OF THE CENTURY

Monday after school my friends and I are in our usual hang out .. Carroni Brothers Grocery store. We go for snacks, gum .. typical things 10 year old boys like. I want chips but I forgot my money. My friends don’t have any to loan me so I just walk around the store .. but those chips keep calling me. Next thing I know, I snatch the bag of chips and bolt out the side door. Instead of running as fast as lightning, I toss the bag into a nearby milk crate and squat down next to it. Whew! I made it! Suddenly Mr. Carroni is looming over me. He grabs the bag of chips and snarls at me “Get out of here, you little thief, and never come back!”  

That night I prayed Carroni’s would burn down. No such luck.

Every day that week I gazed longingly at the store from my school bus. 

One thought kept haunting me: Sunday morning .. when Dad and I take our customary walk to Carroni’s for fresh Italian bread, a box of macaroni, cannoli and the newspaper. Maybe I should just run away from home. 

Sunday arrives and Dad’s calling for me to “get a move on!” I keep making up excuses why I can’t go but he’s not buying them. 

Dead man walking. I’m dilly-dallying the whole way .. watching caterpillars, kicking pebbles, stopping to tie my shoelaces … again. 

“C’mon, kiddo! What is this…a funeral?” Yeah. Mine! I start crying, blubbering gibberish. Taking hold of my shoulders, Dad looked me square in the eye and said “Ok, what’s going on?”  

Sobbing pathetically, I told Dad the whole sordid story. Taking out his handkerchief, he wiped my face, held it to my nose and said “Blow. Listen, kiddo, what you did was wrong but it’s over. Now we go apologize .. and not a word about any of this to your Mom. This stays between us guys.” 

We walked into the store, picked out our usual items and walked up to the counter. “Mr. Carroni, my son has something to say.” I managed to squeak out “I’m sorry, sir. I’ll never steal anything from you again” and extended my hand. An eternity seemed to go by but to my shock, Mr. Carroni took my little hand in his meaty one, gave me a solid handshake and nodded in agreement. 

Anything else?” he asked my Dad.

“Just this” responded Dad as he tossed a bag of my favorite chips onto the counter. 

To this day I don’t think Mom ever knew. 

NAR © 2018