Shadows and Shrouds…A short story.

Silence is an answer.

The older I get, the less I want to deal with people and their baggage. We all come with baggage and drama, but some folks make it an art form. The view from my cell is hindered by a tree of some kind. I mark time in this prison by watching this tree grow.

When I first got here it was being planted. Now it towers over twenty feet in the air. Either the tree is a fast grower, or I’ve been here a long time. In prison, you can adjust to certain things, because you know it will never change. An example would be my guards. Regardless of the time I’ve spent here, the guards love to pummel this earthly vessel.

At least they’re consistent.

Still, some things are more annoying than others. My new roommate is the human personification of annoyance. His rants against the government, the Blacks, the Hispanics and the Jews are tiring. Nightly, I dream of drowning him in the toilet.

Today, he is wailing about the chow and how he had better food in Iraq. “Jesus, it’s prison chow.” I sit on my bunk and think of ways to end his ceaseless prattle. So far, I considered choking him, stabbing him with a fork, and bashing his head against the wall.

“Look at this crap, they didn’t even cook the eggs.” Angrily, he hurls the plate of food. The runny eggs slide down the wall. I watch as he paces the cell.

“I’m not an animal, we should have decent food to eat in this dump.”

“Nah, you aren’t an animal. You’re a racist, a killer, and a rapist, but thankfully you’re not an animal.”

“Why don’t you say that to my face, redneck?”

There is an old saying which says, “if you argue with a fool, you only prove there are two of them.” I smile to cover the madness I feel. I want to break his nose and then twist, while his screams serenade me into peaceful bliss. The thought brings me great comfort.

Instead, I look at the tree. Warm sunlight filters through its branches. Birds flutter and perch on the barren limbs. It appears winter is going to come in early this year. Of course, it’s winter here year round.

“You know so much about me, tell me why you’re here.”

I look back at my roommate. The fury shining in his eyes warns me of the calm before the storm. “Looks like I’m going to be missing a roommate soon.”

Just a bad case of mistaken identity.”

“Right, mistaken for someone else, huh. How did that work out for you?”

I gesture around the room. It should be apparent how my excuse worked, but some folks need a push in the right direction.

Like a caged animal, my roommate begins to pace back and forth. We meet eyes and I give him a small grin. When you go to kill someone, they should at a minimum feel good about themselves.

His pace quickens and on his last pass, he pulls his shank from his waistband. I stare in amazement as he walks toward me, an evil smile on his lips. I laugh and wait for him to come to me. 

“It ain’t nothing personal, I just don’t like you.”

“It’s alright. Everyone has to die sometime.” He keeps coming, and as he draws close, he swings the blade in a wide arc.

I wait until the last moment to move. I duck and the blade swings over my head, his forward momentum propels him past me. As he passes, I slam my knee into his groin. He grunts and goes to one knee. The blade skitters away. I grab his head and smash his face into the bars.

A little giggle escapes from me. I slam his head into the bars until he is gone. The guards seem a bit shocked at all the blood, but I explain it is just the way of head wounds. 

“Whatever you say, tinkerer.”

I look out the window and the tree seems to be a bit taller but maybe it’s just the shadows.

A glimpse at the past, a glare at the future….AWID

I stand in the middle of the road, fighting for the last good thing in my life. It’s hopeless. The church where we met is going to be the graveside witness of my last attempt to piece together my life.

“Let me make sure I understand this correctly. You have no interest in pursuing anything with me at this point? Not even a friendship? Because even friends communicate.”

“At this point, it’s not important to me-”

I put up my hand to stop her. “Words and actions match, this is over.”

I’m too old for this playground psychology. You want out, here’s your out. Goodbye-”

I turn and walk toward my truck. In the distance, I can feel her eyes upon me. Walking away is the last hard thing I will do. 

“You’re going to throw away a good friendship because I have no interest in pursuing a romantic relationship with you?”

“Yep, I told you I would.”

So goes another failed attempt at trying to piece together my desire to have something meaningful with another person. It collapses into a burning pile of rubble.

It’s time to cut out the desire to be with someone. I did it before, I will do it again. Besides it takes two to try. I am singular in my feeling to build a life with someone. 

The walk to my truck is painful, the drive home is worse. Being rejected is a most painful experience. To know that you could have something great with someone and then watch them discard you like last week’s garbage is heartrending.

So it goes.

I pull into my dark driveway and sit in the truck for a moment. It feels as if my entire world has been doused in gasoline and lit on fire with a broken match. The moon has come out from behind Pikes Peak. It’s a beautiful sight, but the moon looks lonely.

My marriage is over. I tried, I failed. It’s just another victim of exigent circumstances. The moon in its fullness appears to be shedding a tear for me.  

“Funny, I would cry but I can’t, but the moon has me covered.”

Little did I know, this process would be the end result of every relationship I attempt to have in the future.

A bleak future indeed.

An ugly justice…A short story.

Sometimes, I want to board a spacecraft and travel through a wormhole. Life on Planet Earth is great at times. Other days, it seems to be a circus in the sub-levels of hell.

I scratch my beard. “Why did I even run the numbers? You can’t trust data anymore. With the constant evolution of technology, data is as susceptible to corruption as anything.”

Still, numbers only paint one part of an incomplete picture. I wouldn’t even be running these numbers if my family wasn’t impacted by the violence. The stats cause my blood to boil. I stand to my feet, and walk through my living room. 

“How can someone claim to love you, and then break bones, crack your skull open, or even kill you?”

No one is immune to violence at the hands of their partner. Women are generally the victims, although men are also victimized by domestic violence. Of course, none of this knowledge makes me feel any better. “Who cares about the numbers when you’re daughter is in the hospital with a small chance of survival?”

My daughter Emilia has been married for nine months. As a parent, I always told my daughter to protect herself. “You can’t leave yourself open. Until they prove they can be trusted, don’t trust them.” My last words to my daughter was, “I don’t like him.” 

Now she lies dying and he is nowhere to be found.

I shut off my laptop and close the lid. My cedar desk holds my tv, game console and laptop. Hidden in the large drawer is my .357 revolver and Blackhawk holster. I pull the pistol out and open it.

Normally, I keep the revolver loaded with rat shot for the poisonous snakes which are found in abundance around my neck of the woods. I remove the rat shot and load full metal jacketed hollow points into the cylinder.

My phone rings and I am hesitant to answer it. I look at the screen, it’s the hospital.

“Hello?”

“Mr. Freeman? This is Doctor Shannon, I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

I know, deep down in my heart, I know what is coming next. “I should not have to bury my children.”

Go ahead, Doctor Shannon.”

“Emilia passed away at 1300.”

My heart hits the floor. Tears fill my eyes and a cold rage fills my heart. Anger chokes off the words in my throat and I sit on my grandmother’s love seat.

“Mr. Freeman, are you still there?”

“Yes, I’m here. When can I pick up my daughter’s body?”

“You’re daughter has been moved to the morgue.”

After receiving the news, I called the funeral home and made arrangements for my daughter’s service. The voice of my drill sergeants run through my mind. “You never act when you have a reason. Be the hunter, wait for the right moment.”

It’s a cloudy day as I stand alone at Emilia’s graveside. The clouds hide the sun, and, I struggle with my emotions as the preacher reads the familiar passages of Scripture. After a few words, I bury my daughter. “Emilia, I promise to catch the piece of garbage that killed you. He will rue the day his mother birthed him.” The pile of dirt slowly disappears as I throw dirt on my daughter’s coffin.

Two men make their way toward my position. I watch them approach, my brothers from basic training give a small wave as they draw near.

“Brother, I’m sorry for your loss.” Raymond Paine slaps me on the shoulder. Paine is my best friend and the best tracker I know. He is a good ole boy from Tennessee. As usual, Thor McGinty is at his side. Thor is an ex-Pathfinder, and the best long distance marksman I know.

“What can we do to help?”

“Find him. Don’t do anything until this cools down. Just keep tabs on him.”

“Will do. One of us will make contact in person with you to keep you updated.”

“I appreciate it, brothers.”

Six months pass very slowly. Emilia’s temporary husband didn’t bother to skip town. He moved two blocks from their former residence and the only change to his appearance was the addition of glasses. Paine and McGinty give me my final update.

“His routine is simple. He goes to work, then he comes home. He never leaves after arriving home. We will grab him at midnight and take him to the shop. Then it is all on you.”

“Roger.”

At 0030, a black van pulls up to the abandoned Sierra Foods warehouse. Emilia’s murderer is dragged into the warehouse and thrown at my feet. No words are spoken, my friends leave by the same door they entered.

“Why am I here?”

I step from the shadows, my black tool bag in hand.

“Oh dear, God. I didn’t mean to kill her. I didn’t mean it, she pressed my buttons. Please have mercy….please…”

A lone desk sits in the middle of the room. I lay out the blacksmith hammer and the doctor’s report.

“Did you know, when you punched my daughter in her stomach, you killed your child? Did you know she was pregnant?”

“Oh, God.”

“I will take that as a no.” I lift the hammer and smash it into his ribs. The collision produces a satisfying crunch. “Let me tell you what is going to happen. I am going to break every bone in your body with this hammer. I am going to beat them into dust. Because, that is what you did to my daughter and grandchild.”

His sobs fill the air as I lift the hammer. “Justice is sometimes found in the unlikeliest places.” 

Troubles…A short story…

Why does it take trouble to bring us home? I ponder this question from my couch. A red blanket covers my legs, and the quiet morning encroaches upon my presence. As a writer, I like to think I can find the words to explain most anything. 

This seems to be a question destined to remain unexplained. 

“A man is of a few days and full of trouble,” Job said. I think Job couldn’t have said it any better. As I type these words, trouble is with us when no one else is. It follows us around like some lost puppy. 

I watch as my niece tears down my driveway. Her red Honda Accord is coated with yellow pollen. “Here comes trouble.” Janice is 16, her sole focus isn’t her future career, nor is it her grades. She has no intention of going to college, she figures her life will develop into a bountiful garden without any labor on her part.

“Hiya, unc!”

“Howdy. You attempting to set the world speed record in my driveway?”

“Nah, just in a hurry.”

“Where ya going in such a rush?”

“Nowhere.” She exits the pollen mobile and we walk into the house. She seems fidgety, but I keep my observation to myself.

Janice looks around my cabin, aimlessly she wanders from room to room. She pauses in my kitchen and looks in the cabinets. Her blue eyes drift over every part of the house, but she doesn’t appear to see anything. Finally, she plops down on the couch and begins to watch NCIS.

“What’s on your mind, Janice?”

“Nothin’, just looking around.”

“How’s your mom and dad? I don’t get out much anymore. My blog keeps me busy. You doing okay in school?”

“Yeah.”

We sit in silence and watch Gibbs and his team solve another crime in under an hour. Janice looks at me, and I meet her eyes.

“Unc, do you believe that when we die, we will face God and give an account of our sins?”

“Yep.”

“Why do you believe that God will judge us? Do you think suicide is a sin?”

“Yes, I believe it’s a sin. I believe God will judge us because Scripture backs up that belief.”

“How is suicide a sin?”

“Mind you, this is my belief, Janice. Life is precious, and God gives it us. It’s a gift from heaven. To take your life, in my opinion, is to spit in the face of God. Besides how does one ask for forgiveness if they are dead?”

Janice’s brow furrows as she mulls over my answers. Gibbs, Tony, Ziva and McGee are on to another case. We watch in silence as Ducky makes his observations known to Gibbs.

“My best friend killed herself today.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I didn’t know. Do you know why she took her life?”

“She was pregnant at 15. Her parents attend church and participate in all the church functions. She didn’t think they would understand, plus, the daddy of the baby told her to get an abortion. I think the stress was too much for her to bear.” Tears fill my niece’s eyes and she looks at the floor. 

What can I say? How do I comfort her?

“You want a tomato sandwich? I am getting hungry.”

“No, but I would like something to drink.”

“Okay.”

I turn to walk away but something sticks in my craw, and I have to get it out of my system.

“Janice, God isn’t a mean kid on the playground. He doesn’t stomp around in steel toe boots and carry a stick to beat you with. We humans can forget that sometimes. God is love. I’m sure He is heartbroken over the loss of your friend. In His infinite wisdom, He created us and called His creation good.”

I stand there for a moment and finally, I walk into the kitchen. My weekend was spent in Tennessee, so I have plenty of fresh vegetables and bread. I pull out two tomatoes and slice them. Janice bolts from the couch and rushes into the kitchen. She throws her arms around my neck and sobs.

For a moment, I’m unsure of what to do. I put down the knife and put my arm around her.

“I miss her so much.”

“I know.”

In the background Johnny Lang sings Lie to Me and the irony isn’t lost upon either of us.

A lifeless dream….

Sleepiness has vanished from my body this morning. I’m awake, and I don’t see any sleep on the horizon for me. I was asleep, tossing and turning, and dreaming. Vividly dreaming. Most of my dreams are of war or some other thing, but tonight it was of me and my internal struggles.

To be a gung-ho soldier, who didn’t want to come home, if I didn’t come home whole of body and spirit, I am a frightened child this morning. There is no doubt who was speaking to me in my dream.. 

All to often, I’ve allowed little things to cause big harm in my life. Looking back, the little things appear to be microscopic. Their impact on my life has been has been everything but minuscule. It’s time for me to get right, stay right and realize now is not the time to focus on anything but salvation. Step one is to unburden my soul. Pardon me, while I use my blog as a sounding board.

I love writing. It provides me focus and engages my brain. By nature, I am an over-thinker All I have wanted since my return from the sands of Iraq is peace. A moment to breathe and to shun the chaos which came from my time there. 

Y’all buckle up, you’re going to get a firsthand look at the wreck which is my life. For so long, peace has been a anemic dream which has never came to fruition. I chase it with my whole heart, and just as I reach for it, it disappears. It reappears and disappears so often, I don’t even know if it is true anymore.

I am so tired of fighting. The war is over for me, but it rages on in my mind. I’ve fought so long, it feels like my natural state of being. Everything sets my world on edge. I try to hide the pain of my internal war with a smile, but all too often, I fail to cover it up. Now, here I am crying about it in a post for my blog.

Still, I have to get it out before my internal struggle has eternal consequences.

More now than at any point in my life, I want to love and be loved. I watch the world implode around me with hatred and bigotry. Warped perspectives abound. I have never seen so many people with a hunger for blood gleaming in their eyes, like I see it today.

No, not even in Iraq did I see this level of hatred and bloodlust. The greatest enemy facing our nation is ourselves. We hunger and thirst after things which brings us misery. An unfulfilled life is rooted in the pursuit of things which are meaningless in the long term. If we pursue money, when we die we can’t take it with us. Love dies when we pass. In the end, all appears to be futile, save a relationship with our Savior. 

I don’t want to stand on a soapbox and bellow to the masses, if I sound preachy-it’s only to myself.

I’ve invested in everything but my own spiritual health. It’s my fault. Sure, it would be no hard thing to find someone to blame for it, but why would I do that? The long and short of it all, is I have been too busy accomplishing nothing to secure my spiritual well-being.

It’s cost me. I asked my dad yesterday, “can you imagine the world if I live to be 70?” I don’t think this rock will be spinning but it could be. I may not know peace in this life, but I don’t want to spend all of eternity in this state of frustration.

I would like to rest and know peace for once in my life. It would be nice to know peace isn’t a smoky dream, seen but never obtained.

A revelation….

I never thought I would experience heartache again. Yet, at 47, I still feel the sting of love like I did when I was 16. Ah, the bitter of chalice of unreciprocated love.

An unfulfilled life stems from a few things, a love which isn’t returned is often one of them. It is almost two in the morning, and instead of sleeping, I am writing.

I have received a warning, a premonition, a vision, or a dream. A call to return to the fold, regardless of the pain which awaits me. Time is running out.

And I don’t want to die lost.

Gather your friends and family close, it appears that things are going to get worse before it gets better.

God bless you all.