Category Archives: Stories

Grotto Falls

(Author’s Note: Sometime truth is best expressed as fiction. Your lost loved is always with you, even if just in a dream.)
“I don’t think I can make it.”
“Of course, you can.”
“No, really,” the wife said. “I have to sit down for a while.”
“But we can’t say we’ve been to the Smokey Mountains if we haven’t hiked up to see Grotto Falls,” the husband protested light-heartedly.
“Yes, but the first time was forty years ago. We were young.” She paused. “Oh look. There’s a nice big rock. Come on, let’s sit down for a while.” After she sat, she made a face. “Yuck. It’s wet.”
“It rained this morning, remember,” he said. “Everything is wet. The trees are still dripping with rain. Leaves are a deeper green after rain, don’t you think?”
“Are you going to sit down or not?” the wife asked.
“Naw.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t want to get my butt wet,” he replied.
She laughed.
“Do you feel better now?” he asked.
“Not much. Why don’t you go on without me?”
“No. I have to have you with me so I can kiss you under the falls,” he explained.
“I tell you what,” she began her bargain, “you go up to the falls alone, and I’ll give you a big kiss when you come back.”
“It won’t be the same.” He took a moment to pout. “I think I can hear the falls from here. It can’t be too much further.” He sniffed. “I can even smell the water spray.”
“You know I can’t smell anything.” She took his hand. “Look in my eyes. Can’t you see I can’t take another step?”
He didn’t have to look. He knew. “All right. But you better have your kisser ready when I come back around that bend in the trail.”
“Absolutely. Now go ahead so we can get back to town for supper.” She smiled. “I tell you what. You cup your hands and fill them with water from the falls. Then you can splash me with it.”
“You don’t like being splashed.”
“Just this once. Just for you.”
He looked up the trail and started plodding along. “She’s always been a party pooper,” he mumbled. As he went around the bend he saw the falls. “I knew we were almost there.” He paused and glanced down the trail. She could still make it, he thought. He knew she could. Then he shook his head. “I think I’d rather splash her with the water.”
The falls were crowded with families. Children laughed as they dipped their feet in the cold mountain stream.
“I knew it,” he whispered. He didn’t want the others to notice the old man was talking to himself. “It’s not as much fun without her.”
He cupped his hands and dipped them into the pool in front of the falls. He began his trip back to his wife. When he turned the corner he saw the boulder where she was sitting. The water slipped through his fingers. She was gone.
“Where did she go? Where did she go? Where did she go?” He started running and tripped over a tree root.
As his old body crashed onto the floor he awoke and found himself in his bedroom. Lifting himself up, he crawled back into bed and reached over to the other side—her side—and found it empty.

Valentine’s Day

He sat across from his wife of 40 years in their den and wondered what to get her for Valentine’s Day.
Way back in the old days, he bought the biggest heart-shaped box of chocolates he would find, with all the fancy ribbons and bows on top. And if he could find one, he would get it in orange, not red. Orange was her favorite color. Often she kept the boxes, saying they were too pretty to throw out and she just knew she could find some use for them. She never did, and when the colors faded and the closet filled with old heart-shaped boxes, she threw them out.
Candy was always an easy choice. She loved chocolate. He loved chocolate. She let him eat her chocolates. What wasn’t there to love? After 40 years, though, they couldn’t eat as much chocolate as they used to. They still had candy left over from Christmas.
For a while he bought her roses. She liked those, especially when he could find orange ones, but now her allergies were worse and fresh cut flowers made her sneeze.
“Do you want to go out for dinner on Valentines?” he asked her.
“I don’t know. What day of the week is that?”
“Tuesday,” he replied.
“We eat breakfast out with our friends on Tuesday,” she said. “That would be eating out two meals in one day.”
“Would that be so bad?”
“Sometimes I eat so much for breakfast I don’t want anything else the rest of the day, except maybe a chunk of cheese.” She had her nose stuck in the newspaper.
“Well, I can’t give you chocolate. We got way too much chocolate left over from Christmas.”
“Yeah, I don’t know why, but I haven’t been in the mood to eat chocolate lately.”
“Would you like to go to a movie?”
“On a Tuesday night? Aren’t the theaters crowded on Tuesday night?”
“Why would the theater be crowded on Tuesday night?”
“I don’t know.”
He felt his blood pressure rising. “Well, maybe I shouldn’t get you anything for Valentine’s this year.”
“Well, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”
“Of course, I want to give you something for Valentine’s Day. Why do you think I asked you if you wanted to go out for dinner?”
“I don’t know.”
“You do this to me all the time, and it drives me nuts.”
“I’ve already bought you something.”
He decided to go ahead and buy her fresh cut roses for Valentine’s Day. He didn’t care if she sneezed her head off.
“I was in Wal Mart today. They had the nicest selection of roses I’ve seen in years. They had them in all colors. I also picked up a new allergy prescription.”
Okay, he would get the orange ones.

Actually….

When we moved to Florida about 20 years ago, my family and I exposed ourselves to family dinner conversation dominated by my wife’s Uncle Sydney.
My mother-in-law retired to Florida a couple of years earlier to be near her relatives and suffered a heart attack, which is why we transplanted our children and ourselves here to be closer for the next medical emergency. This meant when we all gathered to sup together, for whatever reason, we had to brace for Uncle Sydney’s “Actually…”
This happened when one of us made a statement, any innocuous statement, and Uncle Sydney would correct us with “Actually, that isn’t so.” And off he went uninterrupted because my mother-in-law thought it was impolite to interrupt her brother’s exercises of enlightenment. At one meal, someone mentioned how much they enjoyed a certain current song.
“Actually,” Uncle Sydney began, “no good music has been written since the 1940s.”
I believed Uncle Sydney was full of gas, but had the good sense not to say so in front of the family. Both my mother-in-law and Uncle Sydney have long since passed on, but recently I learned something from the internet that might actually explain why there hasn’t been any good music since he was a young man.
Several websites have been discussing the theory that all musical instruments, as dictated by the British Standards Institute, changed the official tuning pitch of music from 432Hz to 440Hz at the request of the corporate entity of the American Rockefeller family and—grab your hats, folks—Adolph Hitler.
The great classical composers wrote in 432, and Stradivarius developed his violin to resonate at 432. Tones of 432 are beautiful, warm and relaxing. Tones of 440 create anxiety, anger and aggression. One supposes a capitalist institution could more easily convince a disgruntled buying public into adopting new spending patterns. One could also see how Hitler’s inflammatory oratory could incite an already dissatisfied public to support a war against its own citizenry as well as the world in general.
After the war, the British Standards Institute continued its support for 440Hz by voting to keep it, the last vote coming as late as the 1970s. This could explain why the generation which grew up listening to music to the 432Hz frequency found the new rock ‘n’ roll sound attuned to 440Hz to be awful noise. Come to think of it, hasn’t the general public been generally ticked off the last 60 years? Don’t political movements begin because, as the man said in the 1976 movie “Network”, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore?”
Granted, all this can sound a bit paranoid, and there are no conclusive scientific studies to confirm the connection between the dissonance of music’s 440Hz and the general malaise that hangs over the world. Dr. Leonard Horowitz wrote in his investigation of this phenomenon that the effect of 440Hz goes beyond mere mood but to harming physical and mental health to the point of subduing spirituality and creativity.
To be fair, the British Standards Institute cannot legally dictate what frequency is used to tune musical instruments. If you own a violin or piano, you can tune it to anything you want. You can calibrate your tuning fork anyway you want. But in general the music establishment around the world uses 440Hz.
A good measure of how the general public has reacted to this bit of information can be found in the comments section following the internet article. One person wrote, “These articles are too superficial to be taken seriously.” Another writer wrote than from his own experimentation with 432Hz, he found it to be more soothing and harmonious, urging people to contact radio stations to go back to the original frequency.
Am I personally ready to jump on a 432Hz bandwagon? Do I want to believe there’s an international conspiracy to manipulate our emotions? Am I willing to accept the fact that Uncle Sydney wasn’t just full of gas?
Actually…

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Fifty-Six

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. Wallis divorces, David abdicates and they marry. On their honeymoon they derail a train. Leon is now a spy par excellent.
Leon watched the sun set from the balcony of the Hotel du Palais on the beach at Biarritz in southern France. He had a newspaper tucked under his left arm. Taking one last puff on his cigarette, he flicked the butt over the railing. Senor Battisti and his two bodyguards should be leaving his penthouse suite at any moment. Leon waited for them outside the elevator. When the doors opened, Leon stepped aside to allow the other three to enter first. After he stepped in, he opened the newspaper and began to read. The Spanish guerrillas were making new inroads in their insurrection against General Franco. However, the dictator blocked funds from being deposited in Spanish banks. This action infuriated Soviet Russia officials and leftist sympathizers in the United States.
When Battisti and his guards exited on the ground floor, Leon stayed on the elevator to go down to the parking garage and kitchen level. He walked into the waiters’ locker room where he had arranged to rent an employee’s uniform.
Leon slipped into the spare waiter’s uniform, and slipped his contact a couple of bills. “Anyone else new on the staff?”
“Oh no, monsieur,” he gushed. “I would have noticed.”
“But of course.” Leon smiled. “Many years of service, I imagine.”
“Mais oui, monsieur.” The man chuckled. As he looked away.
“And well paid for it.” Leon eyed him carefully as he extended another bill which the man grabbed.
“Gracias.
Leon smiled in mild amusement. “Por nada.”
The man looked down, bowed and walked away. Leon stopped in the locker room door to tie his shoe laces so he could keep the waiter in his line of sight. Leon’s contact stopped at the servants’ elevator to the casino level, holding the door for a blond waiter who cocked his head as the man whispered to him as the doors closed. Leon took his time, looking into the mirror counted to the locker room door. He made sure the two servers had time to separate on the casino floor. His hand slid into the top of his right shoe to touch his stiletto. He then checked himself again in the mirror to ensure his one-shot revolver did not make his jacket bulge. Leon sauntered to the service elevator.
When he reached the casino a buzz already circulated on the floor that Senor Amletto Battisti had won two spectacular rounds of blackjack against the house dealer. Leon paused to take an order of martinis and deliver them before making his way over to the corner table where Battisti sat and his bodyguards stood behind him. The stolid Latin rarely moved but Leon could tell he searched the room with an unrelenting regularity. The darker guard shifted his weight from foot to foot and wiped sweat from his brow. The dealer, a small man with thick silver hair, hunched over and from time to time his left shoulder twitched. An unfortunate tell, Leon decided.
Leon also observed the blond waiter place a Cuba Libre in front of Battisti who slid it out of the way. When the waiter deftly pushed it back, the Latin bodyguard intervened. He handed the drink back to the waiter who retreated into the crowd. As the guard resumed his place, his dark companion leaned in to whisper. The Latin shook his head. His partner moved to track down the blond, but the Latin stopped him. The Latin was smart not to dilute his defense by chasing down an assassin who had already failed in his mission.
After taking a couple more drink orders, Leon felt a manicured hand clutch his right buttock. He turned to see a smiling red head.
“Hey, handsome,” she slurred. “You look like you need a break.” She held up a drink.
Leon saw a Cuba Libre with slightly melted ice.
“You’ve had a few drinks yourself,” he replied. “I can’t quite make out your accent.”
She smiled. “Does it make any difference?’
“Why are you being so nice to me? I’m just a regular working guy.”
She held the drink to his lips. “I think us working types should take care of each other.” She glanced at his crotch. “Looks like you could take good care of me, say, after midnight?”
Leon took the drink from her and sniffed it. “Is this Cuba Libre made with “Coca Cola?”
“What difference does it make?”
“It reeks of Royal Crown Cola.”
“Like I said, what difference does it make?”
“I wouldn’t be caught dead drinking Royal Crown Cola.” He pushed it toward her mouth. “You drink it.”
Her eyes widened. “I’m not thirsty.”
“Oh come now.” Leon reached around her neck with his free hand and clutched her nape. “Your friend blondie will be very upset if someone doesn’t die from the drink, and it’s not going to be me.”
“Please.” Her heavily mascaraed lashes fluttered. “I don’t even know him. He paid me to give you this drink.”
“I usually draw the line at killing women, he whispered, “but in your case I’ll make an exception.” He forced her mouth open and pulled back on her neck, dumping in the drink. Half of it trickled down her ample bosom, but enough made its way down her throat. “I detected the poison when I smelled it. Unfortunately for you, the bartender used the cheaper Royal Crown Cola instead of Coca Cola which, by the way, would have covered the odor of the poison.” Leon put down the glass, removed the handkerchief from his pocket to wipe her lips dry. “You have time to make it to the powder room before you drop dead. After all, I don’t want you to lose all your dignity.”
As she staggered away, the crowd around Battisti’s table broke into applause. A bald man with an immaculately trimmed moustache stumbled up to Leon.
“I take it Senor Battisti has won again,” Leon said to the man though he kept his eyes on the red-head who had reached the casino door.
“Yeah, I’m downing a Cuba Libre each time Amletto takes a hand.” He pointed at the glass on the table. “Does that belong to anybody?”
Leon put it on his tray and began to turn away. “I think you’d be better off ordering a fresh one.”
“You’re right. Tell the barkeep I want a Cuba Libre—oh, and make it with Royal Crown Cola.”
The red head crashed into the casino door. Blondie must be really hard-hearted. He didn’t even look her way when other waiters carried her body out. Leon would have helped carry her out, but he had an order of Cuba Libre—with Royal Crown Cola—to place with the bartender.
“I saw what you did,” a child-like voice whispered.
Leon turned to see a brown-haired, fair-faced young man smile at him. He looked like he should have been in his late teens but his manner made him seem young. And the voice sounded familiar. Leon had an ear for peculiar accents.
“You just killed that woman.” The boy had the good sense to keep his voice subdued so no one else in the casino crowd would hear his secret. “Oh, don’t worry. It doesn’t bother me. I killed my own father. I admire people like us who can get away with murder.” He smiled. “But I still like to stir up a little trouble, just to be mean.”
The boy reached out to flip the tray from Leon’s hand. With the skilled agility of a dancer, Leon kept control of the tray, grabbed the glass before it could reach the floor and shatter and delivered a swift knee to the boy’s crotch. Leon leaned over in solicitation. “Don’t mess with me, kid. If I could kill the broad, I could kill you too.”
He doubled over in pain and emitted a high-pitched moan.
Leon walked away and behind him heard an old woman cackle. “Jimmy, are you getting into trouble.? I swear, I can’t take you out around decent people without you making a fuss. Now come over here and stand by mommy and tell her which cards to keep.”
Another couple of hours passed without incident. Leon kept surveillance on the blond assassin who from time to time tried to become intimate with Senor Battisti, but both bodyguards kept him at bay.
If I had this assignment, I would try to take out one of the bodyguards to improve my odds of getting close to the don. Leon considered the two guards. The Latin, like his boss, had a bladder made of iron. On the other hand, the fidgety dark guard looked like he was about to leak massive amounts of urine at any moment.
T
he guard in question leaned over to his partner. As he whispered, the Latin nodded and looked around. Hurrying through the crowd the dark one left the casino floor and headed for the men’s room. Leon noticed the blond waiter wasted no time following him, and the mercenary was soon in tow.
When Leon entered the toilet, the guard hugged a urinal, and the blond waiter slipped a knife from his jacket. Leon spun him around, stuffed him in the nearest stall, took out his pistol and shot the man between the eyes. As the body slumped down on the commode, Leon dropped the gun into the water tank.
The black guard had his own revolver pulled out and twirling around the room trying to figure out where the shot came from.
“Hold on, cowboy,” Leon said as he stepped from the stall, pretending to be zipping his pants. “Haven’t you ever heard a car backfire before?”
“Not from inside a damn john.”
Leon nodded toward the door. “The street’s just out there.”
“Oh. Yeah.” He cleared his throat and shook his shoulders. “Well, you better get back to work.” He sniffed. “You don’t want to get into trouble.”
“You got that right, boss.” Leon straightened his bow tie and left.
By the time he returned to the casino, a man with a Van Dyke beard and slicked back pepper-gray hair and wearing a handsome tuxedo stood next to Senor Battisti and raised his arms.
Mesdammes et monsieurs, s’il vous plait. I have an important announcement.”
The room went quiet, and the black guard stumbled into the casino.
“The casino has closed as of this moment.” The man paused long enough for the murmuring to dissipate. “Senor Amleto Battisti has broken the bank of the Biarritz Hotel de Palais Casino.”
The customers broke into applause. Battisti’s Latin bodyguard pushed the crowd aside as the successful gambler walked out. The other guard merely fell in line behind him.
Leon unobtrusively headed to the service elevator down to the waiters’ locker room. He had changed into his white linen suit by the time the other waiter–whom he had paid for the uniform–showed up. Leon slipped to the door to see if anyone else were coming. When he was certain he would have a few minutes alone with the waiter, he walked up behind the man who had opened his locker door.
“It seems you were wrong about new staff,” Leon whispered.
“Huh?”
Leon rammed his stiletto up under the waiter’s rib cage.
Gracias.” He shoved the man’s body into the locker and shut the door. “Por nada.”

More Than Just Toilet Paper

Billy enjoyed his daily walks with his grandpa. Most children didn’t have an old man in the family whose sole purpose was to entertain and protect little ones.
Mothers were too busy having babies, cleaning house and cooking to spend time with their daughters and sons. Fathers were rarely home. Mothers explained that the men had to go out hunting, gathering nuts and berries and protecting the family honor by killing anyone who looked like he was going to hurt the women and children. Fathers also killed anyone who owned some special object which the fathers decided rightfully belonged to them.
For the longest time Billy and his grandpa would take long hikes upon cracked concrete paths that led to fascinating places. In particular Billy enjoyed the tall mountains that his grandfather told him people from long ago built. Sometimes they went exploring inside the man-made mountains. Some were like hanging gardens with all the pretty vines which covered everything. A few times the light would go away too soon so Billy and his grandpa had to sleep inside the marvelous mountains. Lately, however, his grandpa walked slower, rested more and remembered less about what his grandfather told him about the world they lived in.
“Now what is that big bright thing in the sky?” Billy asked.
“Let me see.” Grandpa paused to think. “The sun.”
Billy wrinkled his little brow. “But I thought I was the son.”
“Well, the same word can mean a lot of different things.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Why didn’t they go ahead and come up with a different word for each thing?”
Grandpa smiled. “My grandfather told me they were just too lazy.” He shrugged. “I just think they were stupid.” He put his hand on Billy’s shoulder and headed him in another direction. “We got to get some toilet paper before the sun goes away again.”
Now Billy knew what toilet paper was. That was one of the most important things in the whole world. Soon they walked up the steps to a stone two-story building and entered. Stacked all around them were toilet paper sheets bound together and covered with two sheets that were thicker and stiffer than the rest of the toilet paper. He picked one up and leafed through it. Billy found them fascinating. Some of the pages had pretty pictures and others were covered with markings with crosses, dots, and squiggly lines.
“Why did they bother to make them look pretty if it was only toilet paper?”
“Like I said, they were stupid,” his grandpa replied. “Well, bring that one with us. We don’t want to get caught in the dark.”
As they walked back home along the broken concrete path, Billy pointed at the rusted little houses with four circles in each corner. “And what were those things?”
“I told you once before they were called cars,” his grandpa said rather impatiently.
“I’m sorry. Sometimes I don’t remember things too good.”
His grandpa patted his shoulder. “Neither can I. I wish I could remember everything my grandfather told me. He said people were powerful a long time ago. Then great flames leapt from the sun and all the…the machines—that’s what he called them—didn’t work no more. Eventually they forgot everything they knew. Grandfather called it history.”
“History? What is this thing called history?”
“History is a grandfather’s stories. His story. Get it?”
“I guess so.” They walked a while before Billy thought of another question. He liked to ask them over and over again to make his grandpa feel better when he could answer them. “What was the toilet paper building called?”
His grandpa shook his head. “I know my grandfather told me, but for the life of me I can’t come up with it.” He then snapped his fingers. “I remember now. It was called a library.”

Happy Holidays!

I am taking time away from the blog during the holiday season. Please check through my archives for old stories and novels you might have missed. I’ll be back after New York’s with more stories about Abe and Mary, David, Wallis and the mercenary and the Man in the Red Underwear. Enjoy your festivities and I hope your home at Christmas is filled with giggles!

The Last Halloween

I was in the sixth grade when I celebrated my last Halloween. That is to say, the last Halloween as a child who enjoyed the Halloween Festival at school and trick-or-treating.
Each classroom was transformed into a special treat. One was a haunted house, another a cake walk, a fishing pond, white elephant sale and many more, each costing a dime or quarter to participate. At the end of the evening was a variety show put on by the parents who all acted very silly. The kids loved it. All the proceeds went to the PTA.
When I was selected as one of five boys to be the “spook” in a Hit the Spook with a Marshmallow game I was thrilled. My mother drove me downtown to a five-and-dime to buy a mask. She stayed in the car while I went in to get something to protect my face from all the marshmallows that were going to be thrown at me. When I reached the big table in the middle of the store with the Halloween masks, I froze.
My mother had a way of criticizing every purchase I ever made. I picked up a mask that I liked but put it back because it cost too much. I looked for something really cheap but they looked like something a first grader would wear. Finally I picked out a face paint kit that cost very little. Pleased that I was going to escape my mother’s wrath for wasting money, I ran out to the car where my mother had been waiting.
“Where have you been?” Her tone was withering. “I thought I was about to die in this heat. (author’s note: we lived in Texas which is still very hot even in the last week of October) I thought you were going to just run in, grab something and be right back out! How long does it take to buy a silly Halloween mask anyway?”
I showed her the makeup kit and tried to explain how cheap it was when she interrupted me.
“Now how is that going to protect your face from those marshmallows? I thought the whole idea of getting a mask was to protect yourself.”
Back home I sewed together some old sheets into what I thought looked like a ghost costume. I use the term sewing very loosely. I used an old treadle machine which my mother and threaded for me. At Halloween sunset my mother told me she was too tired to drive me back to school and I would have to walk. It wasn’t that far so I didn’t mind.
Halfway there, however, I remembered I had not brought my money which I had carefully put aside for the past month just for spending at the festival. It was too late to go back home to get it and be at the school on time.
When I did arrive I found out none of the other boys had shown up so I had to be the only “spook” getting pelted by marshmallows. It was that night that I realized I really wasn’t that popular at school. Too many of the boys were way too thrilled in throwing marshmallows at me. This went on for an hour.
Finally the teacher closed down the attraction and said I could go enjoy the rest of the festival. Only I couldn’t. I didn’t have any money to pay to play. I couldn’t even see the variety show.
One woman—I can’t remember if it were a teacher or a parent—who asked me what I was dressed up as. “Are you supposed to be a little girl.”
“No,” I responded weakly. “A ghost.”
“Well, you look more like a little girl.”
When I walked home I didn’t even feel like trick-or-tricking at the neighbors’ houses. The bloom was off the pumpkin, so to speak.
The next time I remember having a good time at Halloween was when I had small children and chaperoned them around trick-or-treating. We decorated the house with fake cobwebs and jack-o-lanterns. Now the kids are grown and the local parents sent out emails asking if everyone was participating in trick or treating. I’m old and tired so I replied no.
Ah, but in the early years, that was fun, before the last Halloween came along.

A Dark and Stormy Halloween Night

It was a dark and stormy Halloween night, and the trick-or-treaters stopped their visits early because it was about to rain. At first I was pleased that I was going to have all those bite-sized Snickers and Three Musketeer bars to myself. Then, after a particularly loud clap of thunder, my eighty-pound Labrador retriever jumped into my lap, causing me to scream in agony. She jumped and spun around to stare at me which meant her huge paws dug down deeper into my crotch.
“Arghh! Get off me!”
Before the dog could move, another clap of thunder shook the house. Whimpering she shuffled her feet in the exact same plan and spun around to gawk out the window.
“Get off!”
She whipped her head when I yelled at her again. Her large head crashed into my nose. Anytime I had ever been hit in the nose, my eyes filled with tears. This was especially embarrassing because the last thing a little boy wanted to do in front of the other guys was cry.
My dog forgot about the storm when she saw the tears roll down my cheeks and leaned forward to lick them away. Crack! Another thunder eruption made her lunge forward, bumping into my nose again.
“No!”
She backed up, her paws unfortunately pushed down into my crotch another time. I did not know which hurt more—my nose or my crotch. I started whimpering which, I think, confused my dog because I sounded just like her. When she got confused she lifted her left paw to high five me. It was a trick I taught her when she was a puppy, and whenever she began to feel unloved she high fived me for reassurance. I was so obsessed with not crying that I did not see her big paw coming right at my nose.
“Dammit!”
The fourth round of thunder was too much. She lost control of her bladder and wet herself. Because she sat on my lap she wet me too. Blubbering, I tried to push her away but she pushed back and put her paw up for another high five. I hadn’t been this frustrated since I found out I couldn’t climb out of the crib. Or maybe I just dreamed I wasn’t able to get out of the crib; anyway, I knew I was frustrated and started stomping my feet. What I didn’t realize was that the movement of my legs under the dog scared her even more. She peed on me again. I thought she wouldn’t have had any more urine after the first gusher. I was wrong.
“Stop it!”
Neither of us needed a fifth clap of thunder, but it burst out on the scene nevertheless. I would have shrieked again when her paws dug in deeper, but I was distracted by the sudden warm droppings on my pants. Oh crap. When the dog started howling, I thought my eardrums were about to burst. Right at that moment my wife walked into the room.
“Will you please stop screaming? You’re scaring the dog!”

Heather’s Ghost Nanny

Heather was a very precocious little five-year-old girl. She knew how to smile and giggle and always get exactly what she wanted. She and her family, mom, dad and brother, recently moved into a nice house with a swimming pool in a new town. She heard how her parents were very excited about the good price they got for the house, much lower than they expected. Heather’s bedroom and her brother’s bedroom were across the house from the master bedroom, so she thought she was going to be able to get away with a lot of naughty things after her family had gone to sleep.
That was before the first night she slipped out of bed after midnight to turn on the television to watch the shows her mom and dad didn’t want her to see. After she punched the on button and turned to sit on her bean bag chair, the television promptly turned itself off. Hmph, she thought to herself. That never happened before. So she stood and went back to punch the on button again but it went off even faster than it did before.
Frowning, Heather decided that wasn’t any fun so she went back to bed. A few days later a nice lady from next door came to welcome the new family to the neighborhood.
“Of course, you know about the Andersons,” she said.
“The couple who lived here before us,” Heather’s mom said.
“Yes,” the neighbor lady said.
“All we know is that their children seemed eager to sell the house,” Heather’s dad said. “They lowered the price very fast.”
“That’s because they both died in the house.”
Heather wasn’t really paying attention. She really wanted to go out to play but she knew she had to make a good impression on the neighbor. She might be giving out freshly baked cookies one day and Heather wanted to get one.
“Oh,” her parents said in unison.
“He died in his sleep in the master bedroom,” the neighbor said. “His wife died a year earlier.” She paused. “In the swimming pool.”
“What?”
“Mrs. Anderson was a sweet lady but she had a drinking problem. Went to AA meetings but it didn’t seem to do much good. When she went on a bender her husband could not stand to be around her. One night she was particularly out of control, so Mr. Anderson left the house and just sat in the car, waiting for her to pass out on the floor so he could go to bed. An hour later he heard no more banging about inside so he figured it was safe to come back in. It was then he saw her floating face down in the swimming pool. Evidently she had staggered out to the patio and fallen into the pool and was too drunk to get out. I don’t think he ever forgave himself. For the next year he just sat in a lawn chair, staring at the pool and smoking a cigar, until he finally died.”
“So that’s why we got the house cheap,” Heather’s dad said.
Heather was only vaguely aware of what all that really meant to her. After all, she was only a five year old girl. That night she got up after midnight to turn on the television again, and again it promptly turned itself off.
“Mrs. Anderson, is that you?” she whispered.
She could swear she felt a dripping wet hand firmly but gently pushed her toward her bedroom. Heather never tried to watch television again after midnight. As she grew up, however, Heather seemed to forget about Mrs. Anderson from time to time, until the dripping wet ghost decided to become her nanny.
When her girl friends came for a sleep over, Heather was never able to get the refrigerator door open so they could sneak ice cream. No matter how hard the girls tried, the door was stuck, until morning, that is, when her mom easily opened it to get out milk for the girls.
By the time Heather turned thirteen, all the boys in the neighborhood knew the way to her house. She had parties all the time but when she and one of the boys wanted private time in her room, the door would never shut. Each time they tried to close it, the door would swing open and stay open.
By the time she was eighteen, Heather had started going steady with one boy after another. She was always the one to call it off and always had another boy willing to be her plaything for awhile. One night, on the front porch when Heather was saying good night to her latest boyfriend, he decided to get a little closer than she wanted.
Suddenly he felt a hard slap, right between his shoulder blades.
“How did you do that?” he asked, wincing in pain.
“Do what?” Heather asked.
“Slap me on the back,” he said.
Heather told him to turn around and, sure enough, there was a wet hand print on his shirt.
“Oh that’s my ghost, Mrs. Anderson. She thinks she’s my nanny.”
Needless to say, she never saw him again. A couple of years passed and finally Heather met a nice young man. One night he shyly started talking about marriage. He jumped and Heather asked what happened.
“I could swear I felt someone kiss me.” He felt his cheek. It was wet.
“My nanny ghost, Mrs. Anderson, must like you very much.”
By the next spring, Heather married her nice young man and had the wedding reception by the swimming pool. When the pictures were developed, there stood the beautiful bride and her groom, and standing behind them, very clear in the photograph, was an elderly woman, drenching wet and chugging on a bottle of gin.

The Turtledove

Everything was looking up on our farm just outside Cumby, Texas, during the Great Depression. Pa, Ma, me and my brother Bill worked hard to keep the homestead going. Finally, that fall a big crop of cotton was about to pop open. On top of that, Ma had just had a baby, a little girl just like she always wanted.
For the first time in a couple of years Pa had to hire a family to help bring in the cotton bolls before they rotten in the fields. The Jones family had worked for us before. The father was a big strapping man, somebody you wouldn’t want to sass. The mother was short, kinda rolly polly with a big bosom and a big heart. And, boy, did she love to talk. She could practically talk the cotton bolls off the stalks. Which was good because it made the day go by faster under the hot Texas sun and it made you forget how much your back ached from dragging that long cotton bag all day.
The Joneses had two boys that we used to play with but they were almost grown up now and didn’t look like they’d care to bother with a couple of li’l ol’ boys like Bill and me.
Anyway, one day, halfway through the cotton fields Miz Jones finished one long story about the sickness her boys had been through but they were just fine now ‘cause they was big strong healthy boys and she worked hard to keep them that way. Fed them good food, made sure they got plenty of milk, meat and greens.
“And, of course,” she added in a low, secret-like voice, “you got to keep them away from the magic.”
“The magic?” I asked.
“Oh, there’s all kinds of magic in the world,” Miz Jones said. “And all of it is bad. Some folks says there’s good magic out there to protect the babies but I says all magic is bad. If it ain’t come from the Lord it’s bad.”
“Is that so?” Bill said. I could tell he was busting a gut trying not to laugh out loud. “Like witches and such? Potions and voodoo?”
“Well, there’s bad folks out there. I don’t say that. They can do some mighty hurt with them poultice bags, but the worst magic comes from old Mother Nature herself. She’s done got tricks up her sleeve, ooh. You gotta be on your guard day and night.”
“Like what?” Bill hung his head low so she wouldn’t see his smile.
“There’s a lotta bad magic out there but I say just about the worst has to be from the turtledove.”
“The turtledove?” I asked.
“Now I tell you, if you ever have a turtledove get in the house, nestling in the rafters going, ‘Coo…coo,’ you done had it. There’s going to be a death in the family for sure. No doubt about it. Once you hear a turtledove cooing in the house, boy, it’s all over. Somebody’s gonna die.”
Bill and me, we thought we done real good in not guffawing at Miz Jones. Ma had always said it wasn’t nice to laugh at somebody to their face. Besides, those Jones boys looked like they could beat the tar out of us if we made fun of their ma.
The next day Pa pulled us aside. “You boys been working so hard in the fields that you deserved a day off to go hunting.”
So Ma packed us a lunch, we oiled and polished our .22 rifles, and off we went through the woods. We got us some squirrels and rabbits. Mostly we just lollygagged about, joking and laughing about anything and everything. The day was just about over when we heard it:
Coo…coo…
Bill and me looked at each other and smiled. The best joke of all. We stalked lightly through the brush until we spotted the nest. Mama turtledove had just flowed off, looking for food. There they were, three babies cooing their heads off. We gently stuck out our hands into the nest and scooped up one of the chicks. We hurried back home before the others came out of the cotton fields. We snuck into the field hands’ cabin and placed the baby turtledove up in the rafters.
We grinned during supper.
“Well, you boys must have had a good time hunting,” Ma said as she ladled out the squirrel and rabbit stew made from our catch.
“Yes, Ma,” we mumbled.
“That’s good.” She cuddled our baby sister on her lap as she settled in to eat. “Good times. We’re having good times right now.”
Just then there was a loud rapping at the door.
“Mr. Cowling! Mr. Cowling!” It was Mr. Jones. “Come quick! Miz Jones is terrible upset!”
“What on earth…” Pa muttered as he pushed away from the kitchen table.
“Can we come too, Pa?” Bill asked.
“I guess.” He looked at Ma. “Is that okay with you?”
“Sure. They done finished their supper.” She stood holding the baby close to her. “I’m putting the baby down to bed.”
So Bill and me scampered behind Pa to the Jones’ cabin. When we walked in Miz Jones was waving her arms, her eyes wide with fright.
“Oh, Mr. Cowling! Somebody’s going to die!”
We tried not to smile because those Jones boys was watching us mighty hard. Mr. Jones was trying to put his arms around his wife but she wouldn’t have none of it.
“There’s a turtledove in the rafters just cooing away. I swear somebody’s going to die, Mr. Cowling, I just know it.”
Pa stood tall and held up his hand. Miz Jones got quiet right away.
“If someone who is not a member of the family takes the turtledove out of the house, the curse is broken.” Pa then climbed up in the rafters and retrieved the little turtledove.
“Oh, praise the Lord!” Miz Jones said, her hands going to her cheeks. “Thank you, Mr. Cowling, thank you, sir. You done saved our lives.”
With much pomp and ceremony Pa held the turtledove, which was still cooing, in his hands high above his head.
“Hallelujah, Mr. Cowling. Thank you, Mr. Cowling,” we heard Miz Jones say we closed the door behind us.
When we got back to the house Pa placed the cooing baby turtledove in the kitchen sink. The bird began cooing again. He turned to stare hard at Bill and me.
“Are you boys behind all this?” he asked. His jaw was tied up in a knot.
“It was just a joke,” Bill mumbled.
“These are good, hard-working people,” Pa lectured us. “We’re lucky to have them working for us. They can’t help it if they’re superstitious. If you pull anything like this again I’ll—“
Ma came running into the kitchen from their bedroom. “Pa! Come quick! The baby’s not breathing!”
He ran into the room and leaned over the crib. As he put his mouth over the baby’s mouth trying to breathe life into her, Ma fell to her knees sobbing.
Then Bill and me, we heard something behind us.
Coo…coo…
We looked at each other.
Pa glared at us and shouted, “Get that turtledove out of this house right now!”
Bill and me grabbed the turtledove and just as we crossed the threshold of the front door, our baby sister sucked in a lot of air and started crying loud. Ma and Pa cried too, picking her up, kissing all over her little face. Bill and me didn’t say nothing, just stared at each other.
Coo…coo…
Maybe Miz Jones knew more than we did about the magic of Mother Nature.
The cooing of the turtledove.