Rise…A short story….

I sit and wait, for a sign that never comes. To rise above my station that I’ve been assigned is no simple task. My future appears to be as bleak as my present or as non-descript as my past. Train cars lined up one after another, off load people to work the mine. Hope is vacant in the eyes of the miners. There is nothing in the mine but coal, and eventually, death. My pick leans against the wall, and I wait for the announcement that my shift is about to begin.

“Shift 3, report to the mine. Understand comrades, if you do not meet your quota, there will be no time off for you. It behooves you to put forth maximum effort in achieving your quota.” I stand and secure my pick. The walk to our section of the mine is just a minute jaunt from where I was sitting. Our passage is dimly lit, and I find a nice part of the wall to work on. Swinging the pick, I slam it into the wall. Over and over, I punish the wall with merciless blows. Chunks of coal fall to the ground, and I continue my assault. As my shift and I continue to work, carts are filled with coal and taken out of the mine. I glance down the line of workers and they appear to be carbon copies of me. I am thin, some would say gaunt. My skin appears to be sickly because of the unnatural paleness of it. The brutishness of light hurts my eyes, a symptom of living in the dark for too long.

“Break time. Shift 3, you have ten minutes to eat and use the latrine.” Our supervisor, Maxine Walcott, is relentless in her pursuit to appease the state. The state gives its workers 15 minutes for a break, but Maxine shortens it to increase our productivity. Between my shiftmates, we call her Mad Maxine. Her skin is darkened by the sunlight, she once explained her station in life is elitist. “You are all drones. When you die, we bring in more and they continue your work. The state could care less if you pass away, you’re replaceable. I’m not.”

 I don’t like Mad Maxine.   

“Break time’s over, drones. Get back to work. The state needs it’s coal, and you animals have nothing else to live for, so get to it.” She turns and walks away. We continue to bust coal. As we work, slamming picks and loading carts, one of the workers passes out from exhaustion. He is an older man, but the state doesn’t care about your age. “What does this layabout think he is doing? Cheating the state, eh?” Mad Maxine grabs the pick and slams it down into his skull. We all stop working and look at the corpse lying at the feet of Mad Maxine. “Oh no, it looks like Shift 3 has lost a member of its team. Keep going, drones!” Wordlessly, we continue to chip away at the coal. Due to the mortal wound our fellow slave attained, some of us now do double duty. To help the cart pushers out, I pick up the coal I have broken and carry it to the cart. A dirty woman nods her head at me and sighs. “You’re a good one, Jay. Thanks for helping.”  I grab my pick and continue chipping away at the wall. At the end of the line, Maxine watches me.

“Come here, drone.” The clank, clank, clank, of the picks covers my sigh. I walk down the line to where Maxine is waiting. “Why are you helping the other drones?” I shrug my thin shoulders. “Ma’am, I’m trying to keep the line productive. We are down a man; someone must pick up the slack.” With the flip of her wrist, Maxine whips out a baton and slams it into my jaw, and I crumble to the floor. Towering over me, Maxine shouts, “You are not an elitist, I am. You do not think, I do.”  She stomps on my ribs until I black out from the pain.

I awaken in the infirmary. My ribs have been taped up, and my jaw wired shut. “Your supervisor, Maxine Walcott, said you were in a horrible accident, comrade. She brought you in and possibly saved your life. You should thank her when you’re able to speak again.” I force a smile and after signing the appropriate documentation, I am released. Shuffling through the dimly lit mine, I secure my pick. “Well, well, if it isn’t the thinking drone. How’s your ribs, comrade?” Maxine walks out of the shadows. I look at her, and she glares back. “There will be no time off for you to heal. You will work until you die, and then I will nail your corpse to the wall as a reminder of why drones shouldn’t think about rising above their station.” Smirking, she turns to walk away. I lift the pick and swing it in a wide arc. It slams into her spine and she crumbles to the ground. I pull the pick out and swing it overhead, burying it into her chest. Shift 4 watches as I crumble to the ground. Leaning against the wall, I dip my finger in Maxine’s blood and write for all to see, “you’re not drones but, free men. Remember who you are.” Shouting, the shifts grab their picks and run out of the tunnels.

My eyes slowly shut as the revolution begins.

Saving Grace….A short story….

Sitting at my desk, I stare down my driveway. As usual, I am writing, correction, attempting to write my first “good” short story, when the door behind me explodes open. “Dad, where are you?” I turn halfway around in my swivel chair and look toward the living room. “In my office, what’s going on?” My daughter, Anna comes tearing into my workplace and throws herself into a chair. Crossing her arms, she glares at me. “I can’t stand Aunt Wilma! Or cousin Jane!” I swig some Mountain Dew and wait for her to get to the meat of the matter.

“Unh-huh.”

Anna pats her foot and continues to scowl in my direction. “You can’t have a conversation with them about politics. I said something about immigration and suddenly, I am a bigot or hate junkie, a xenophobe or uncompassionate. It’s the most frustrating thing ever. I can’t believe I’m kin to these people!” I stop proofreading and turn to my daughter. “Have you ever considered they’re people? They have their own likes and dislikes. People vote for candidates which match their own personal beliefs. Arguing over what the president does or doesn’t do is futile. At the end of the day, the President, whether male or female, is only a human being. They make decisions which impact our world, but they aren’t given the answers to all things. Cut your family some slack. If it bothers you this much, don’t talk about politics.”

Instead of comforting Anna, my words enrage her. “I am not going to quit talking about politics. It’s that mentality which led us here in the first place. They need to change their way of thinking and stop being stupid.” She leaps to her feet and stares at me. “I can’t believe you’re on their side. I’m you’re daughter, for God’s sake.” Spinning around, Anna storms out of my office. I hear the front door slam and then the rumble of the Mustang as she speeds away. Pushing back from my desk, I walk into the kitchen and take out pork chops for dinner.

As the sun eases down in the western horizon, the door opens. I watch as Anna comes up to the island and sits down. “Dad, I’m sorry I yelled at you.” I flip the pork chops over and turn the heat down to low. “Don’t worry about it, Anna. You’re passionate. I would caution you about giving in to your passion and allowing it to block your common sense though. No party has all the answers. Emotion doesn’t trump logic. When you’re starving to death, no one cares how much virtue signaling you do on social media. If a crisis develops, no one cares that you are a Republican or Democrat, the people who elected you, want you to act on their behalf.”

“But dad…” I shake my head. “No buts, Anna. When hard times hit, you can only count on your family. If your neighbors are kind enough to pitch in, then that is even better. In troubled times, such as the ones we live in now, all of us need to lay aside our political affiliation and be there for each other. It’s the only way we will pull through. Otherwise, we run the risk of losing our freedom, our personal liberty and our God-given rights.”

Anna shakes her head in disbelief. “I don’t believe that, dad.” I stand and remove the pork chops from the pan and put one on each plate. I spoon mashed potatoes on each plate and cover them with gravy. “I know, Anna. Wilma and Jane are good people, they have always been there for you. Regardless, of your personal belief sweetie, they love you and would do anything for you. Is it so important to be right that you isolate everyone who disagrees with you?”

Through a mouthful of mashed potatoes, Anna nods her head. “I’m not apologizing, dad.” I shrug. “Okay. John Wayne once said, “Life is hard, it’s harder when you’re stupid.” You may want to consider those words of wisdom.” Anna looks at me, shocked at what she just heard. “You think I’m stupid?” I shake my head. “No, but I think if everyone has the same attitude as you, we might as well wipe out humanity and start over again.”

This is it….A short story….

I am seeking, but not finding.

Staring from my cell, I watch. The inevitability of my torment approaches with every tick of the clock. Guards, short and tall, thick and thin, pull prisoners out of cages and escort them to interrogation. In my mind, Huey Lewis and the News sing, “This is it.” The dimly lit cell houses my bunk, a toilet and sink. On occasion, the odd guard makes a sarcastic remark.

“Don’t worry, you’re time is coming.” Sinister grins, a quick flash of teeth and then they are gone. As a prisoner, we are seldom fed, watered, showered or medicated. It is almost as if the guards want us to go mad. In my nine weeks at this facility, I haven’t had my medication. To burn off the rage, I do various types of pushups.

It doesn’t help. My mind floods with images of my past. Soldiering in foreign countries, carrying out various attacks, the corpses left behind in my wake, all of it flashes through my mind. I shadow box, when light filters through the barred window in my room. “Left, right, left, right, hook, cross…” I throw punch after punch into the concrete wall. The bones in my hands break and then heal. Repeatedly, I break and heal until pain is nothing more than an afterthought.

The unwanted weight drops off my body, and I become a lean, mean, fighting machine. As the weeks progress, the remarks from the guards cease. They watch as I break my hands on the wall. Slack-jawed, fear shows on their face. I give them a sinister grin. “I’ll see you soon.” The weeks pass, and I am left alone. I continue my training and prepare for my interrogation.

Down the hall, I hear the screams of the prisoners. To a sane man it would horrify them into submission. It’s too bad, I’m not sane. Years in the killing fields honed me into a weapon. Prison sharpened my edge and now, I’m a weapon with no war to fight. The shuffle of guards in riot gear catches my attention. Six men, armed with batons and shields, covered in armor from their heads to their toes, walk toward my cell. A cruel grin stretches across my face. Instinctively, I flex my fingers and prepare for the showdown.

Without a word, the shields take the front row, and the batons line up behind them. One of the guard’s smirks and removes his helmet. “I tell you what, Ghost. Let’s see what you’ve got. You’ve been training. These other guards will stay out of it, this will be a dance between you and me.” He unlocks my cell and waits for me to walk out. The other guards make a loose circle around us.

“I will kill you here, Ghost. Why waste time taking you to interrogation? Consider this a favor for your service to the government.” He assumes a boxing stance and I shift into a defensive position. Laughing, he throws a jab at my left eye, and steps in to throw a hook to my body. As he steps in, I avoid the jab and stab two fingers into his eye. I cackle with madness, and shove them all the way in, up to my knuckles. He is dead, before he hits the floor. Grabbing a rag, I wipe off my fingers and turn to face the other five guards.

Lifting my hands, I gesture and smile. “Well, that was easy. Whatcha say boys, a little tit for tat? Or do you want to live?” The guards throw down their equipment and slowly back away. “Alright then, see you at dinner time.” I walk back to my cell and shut the door.

In my mind, Huey Lewis and the News sing, “This is it.”

The gift…A short story….

“Pawpaw, I’m sorry you’re sick. Is it the “super-virus”?”  Thad looks at his granddaughter Thelma and shakes his head. “I don’t know, doll. The hospital is too far away for me to get there, I will tough it out here at home.” Thelma dons her mask and enters her grandfather’s room. “You shouldn’t have to tough it out, poppy. These idiot politicians should be fired for holding up the necessary medication, our seniors need to survive.” Thad smiles. “It has been said, you never let a good crisis go to waste. It is the perfect opportunity to hold people hostage until they give in to your demands.”

Angrily, Thelma slams a fist into the wall. “Poppy, that’s murder. They can’t do this too us! We live in a free country.”  Thad’s hands tremble. Reaching out, Thelma puts her gloved hands on his to comfort her grandfather. “Poppy, please don’t leave me.” Thad closes his eyes and Thelma watches his chest rise and fall with each breath. Tearfully, Thelma sits down in a chair and waits for the end. The hum of the ventilator is the only sound coming from the room, until the cordless phone in her lap begins to ring.

“Hello?”

“Ms. Cordell? This is Nurse Mayhew. How’s your grandfather today? Is he speaking?”  Thelma clears her voice and wipes her eyes. “He’s still breathing. We talked for a moment before he closed his eyes.”

“Okay, I will be out in the morning. The hospital is backed up, so we have nowhere to put him. Hopefully, tomorrow will be better.” Thelma finishes the conversation and hangs up. Thad is looking at her from his bed. “Hey, can you put my pillows behind my back, so I can sit upright and talk to you?” Nodding, she props her pawpaw up.

“Was that the nurse?”

“Yes, she is coming in the morning.” Thad nods his head. “Well, I need to say some things to you, Thelma. Don’t interrupt me, just try to understand. I love you very much. When your mom ran off, and your dad abandoned you here with me, I never thought I would be able to care for you the way young ladies need to be taken care of. Somehow, we managed to get through those tough moments together. I’ve never been prouder of anything, the way I’m proud of you.” Thad puts his hand over Thelma’s and looks into her eyes. “I won’t be here in the morning when the nurse comes by. A man knows when he is dying but I’m glad you’re in my corner.  Under my bed is a trunk. The house, vehicles, and land are paid off. It’s all been put in your name. In the trunk is a key. It’s to a safety deposit box at Heartland Federal.”

Rasping breaths fall silent as Thad departs this world for his eternal reward. Thelma buries her face in her hands and cries bitter tears. Struggling to compose herself, she calls 911. The blare of an ambulance siren cuts through the quiet, night air. She watches as her grandfather is put on a bed and rolled to the ambulance; a sheet covers his small frame.

The rest of the night passes slowly. She walks into her grandfather’s room and reaches under the bed. Sliding the trunk out, she twists the knob and the latch loosens. Inside, is a solitary key. At nine A.M. she walks into Heartland Federal. A young woman stands behind the counter and beckons for her to approach. “How can I help you, today?” Thelma clears her throat and pulls out the key. “I’m here to take possession of my grandfather’s safety deposit box.” The teller forces a smile. “Do you have paperwork showing he gave you control of it?” Frustrated, Thelma pats her foot on the ground. “I would tell you to call him, but he died last night. Thanks in large part to the inaction of people like yourself.” The teller shocked by the viciousness of Thelma’s remark, gestures for her to follow. “I’m sorry for your loss, his box is in the vault.”

The teller opens the vault and pulls out the box. Box in hand, they walk to an unoccupied office. “If you need anything, please let one of us know. We will do what we can to make this painless.” Thelma nods and waits for the teller to leave. Inserting the key, Thelma opens the box. Each deed for the house, vehicles and property is stacked on top of each other and secured with a red rubber band. A copy of her grandfather’s updated will rest inside the box. As she starts to open the will, her cellphone rings.

“Ms. Cordell? Hi, my name is Timothy Whaler. I was your grandfather’s attorney. I need you to get here ASAP. Your father has shown up to take possession of the entirety of his estate. I need you here to read the will and make your grandfather’s wishes known.”

“I’m on my way, give me five minutes.” Thelma hangs up and shoves the deeds back into the safety box. On her way out she hands it to the teller. “I’ll be back, I must go take care of something.” Driving hurriedly Thelma rushes to the office. She slams on the brakes of her Honda, in front of the office and jumps out of the car. She runs into the building and her father stands up to greet her. “Hey, darling. Its….” Thelma puts her hand up and shoves past him. “Mr. Whaler, I’m here.” The attorney comes out of his office and prepares to read the will. “This is all rather unorthodox, but it was Thad’s wish for all of his fortune to be given to one person.” Smiling, Thelma’s father edges toward the lawyer.

“Thelma, you are the sole beneficiary of your grandfather’s estate. His net worth of 4 million dollars is yours, this includes all assets pertaining to the estate.” Thelma’s father slams his hands into the wall. “How could he do this to me? I’m his son!” Whaler shrugs. “Thad said Thelma would be there when he died, and she was. Your dad said blood wasn’t nearly as important as loyalty. According to your father, he and Thelma were more than blood, they were family.” Thelma nods and accepts the will. Walking out of the office, Thelma sobs. “I would give it all away, for one more moment with you.”

Onions….A short story….

Tiffani Jensen stands cutting onions at the kitchen bar. Slicing through the yellow onions, she tries to find words to comfort her son, Eric. “I don’t understand it, mom. Belle and I are a good match. She even admitted it, and now it’s like she wants nothing to do with me.”  Tiffani nods and keeps slicing. “Son, it’s better you find out now, than for ya’ll to get married and find out years later.” Scrapping the onions into a pan, Tiffani shakes the onions evenly across the bottom. Placing it on the stove top, she turns and goes to the sink.

“I know, mom. We were good together, you know. I like spending time and money on her and she acted like she felt the same. Then it went from that, to I can only see you on weekends, to I can only stand to see you for a few hours on Sunday.” Pressing her lips together, Tiffani shakes her head. “You have been friend-zoned.” Eric stares at his mother. “How can you say that to me, mom? I’m hurting.” Wrapping her arms around her son, Tiffani hugs him. “I know, Eric.” Tears form in Eric’s eyes, and he tries to blink them back. “Then, how can you….”

Tiffani sits across from Eric and puts her hands over the top of his. “Son, some people think they like you. Then, they would rather do other things, but they don’t want to “hurt” you. They’re trying to protect you, but in the end, they do nothing but cause you pain. Some folks don’t want to lose you, but don’t want to be with you either. There are a multiplicity of reasons, why people do this to others.”

“So, what do I do?” Tiffani shrugs. “You can keep hoping things will get better, that one day you will be enough. It’s not what I recommend, but it is an option. You can break it off and burn the bridge. Again, I don’t recommend that course of action either. You can limit your interaction with her, and just be her friend. I know it’s not what you want, but son, you will never be nothing more than her friend. She has made that abundantly clear to you.”

“Things might turn around, mom. She might love me again.” Tiffani forces a smile. “Yeah, she might Eric.” She stands and smiles at her son, “so, are you okay now? Do you know what you’re going to do?” Eric nods, “yes ma’am, I’m going to wait for her to love me again.” Tiffani smiles. “Okay, if you need me, I’m here for you son. I have to get back to work, this chicken will not cook itself!” Eric nods and hugs his mother. “Thanks for listening, mom. You’re the best.”

As Eric walks out of the house, Tiffani watches from the window as he gets into his car. “Why couldn’t I tell him it’s better to be alone, than to live your life as an option?”

Game on….A short story…

Joe Steele, coffee in hand, leans back in his recliner and watches the news. Per usual, the news is filled with horror, mysteries, and multiple examples of humanity at its worst. “Welp, there is no hope for us. If there was, the politicians would sell their souls out to buy it for themselves.” A Senator, Sydney Quillbatter, takes the podium to deliver remarks on the current crisis facing the country. As she walks to the podium, she stumbles and giggles. Burping loudly, she bangs on the microphone and burps again. She waves at a few of her friends in the media.

“Hey, how’s your momma? Please, excuse me. We are all here on serious business. Our land is facing a horrible crisis, and our colleagues refuse to cooperate with us on our new rewrite of this piece of legislature.” Two gorilla-sized men come in bearing the 2,000-page document. “The sooner they participate in assisting us with the labor on this document, the sooner we can act on behalf of our citizens.”

“Holy God. This idiot wants a new document written. What is the purpose of this insanity?” Joe fumes as he pours another cup of coffee. As he walks back to his recliner, another Senator takes the podium. “I would like to add to Sydney’s remarks. Yes, we took a week off for recess, but we spent our time coming up with our own plan. This entire rescue operation would go smoothly if our fellow Senators would just pass our bill.”

More and more excuses are made for the destruction of the old bill. Joe, who has grown tired of the circular logic and double speak, changes the channel. “Tonight, and tonight only, there is a town hall meeting at the City Hall. Senators Quillbatter and Chester Frankel will be present to answer your questions. The event starts tonight at 6.” A wicked grin stretches across Joe’s face. “Looks like I have plans for this evening after all.”

Joe arrives to City Hall at 530. Walking through the door, he is escorted through a metal detector/X-ray machine. The agent beckons for him to exit. Extending his arms, Joe follows suit. Another agent runs a wand over his body and then he is given clearance to enter the room. When he arrives, an intern hands him a card. “Sir, if you have any questions to ask, please wait until you are called upon. Also, you have been selected to read the question on the back of this card.” Joe nods his head. “Okay, is there any chance I will be able to ask Senator Quillbatter a question that’s not on the card?”

“Sure, it’s a possibility.” Without another word, the intern turns and walks away. Joe takes a seat on the front row and waits for the meeting to begin. Senators Quillbatter and Frankel enter the room and take a seat. Scatterings of applause are given when they are introduced. “It’s important for our citizens to have access to their government officials, hence the reason for our appearance tonight. We are here to put your fears to rest.”

Joe listens as the Senators take questions and responds in kind. As the last person reads from the cue card, Joe stands to his feet. “Yes sir, do you have a question?” Clearing his throat, Joe nods. “Yeah, I have a question. Our countrymen are dying. You and your cronies are playing games and wasting time for political gain. My question is this: Who did you sell your soul to, and why do we have to pay the price?”

“How dare you speak to me in such a manner? I’m a United States Senator!”

“By what standard? You and your fellow Senators have sold us out and now the country is burning. You and your colleagues don’t care about this country as long as you rule the ashes.”

Quillbatter and Frankel both exhibit symptoms of rage. Frankel leans on the podium and shouts, “what do you think the odds are of this little stunt making television?”

Joe smiles. “I would say about the same odds of you not having a busted lip.” Frankel’s eyes are the size of half-dollars as Joe’s right hand smashes into Quillbatter’s mouth.

“Game on.”

Favors and questions…a short story….

“Is it intolerant to be narrow-minded of other people’s views, uncle? Is it racist to accuse someone of racism without proof?” Angela Thrayson gulps down Mountain Dew while questioning her uncle about these tiny questions that formed in her 14-year-old mind. Derk Dickinson shakes his head. “Where do you come up with these questions? What does it matter in the long haul?” Twirling her naturally curly black hair around her finger, Angela peers at her uncle. “You were in prison. Are there racists in prison?”

“Yes, but we didn’t walk around accusing them of being racist.”

Angela ponders her uncle’s answer. “Well, then how do you know they are racist?” Derk shakes his head. “You know by their actions, kiddo or word of mouth.” The Mountain Dew is almost gone, so Angela removes the lid and tips the cup back and begins crunching on the ice. “I know a racist. He disagrees with everybody.” Laughing, Derk shakes his head. “Disagreeing with folk don’t make you a racist. It makes you disagreeable.” Crossing her arms, Angela pouts. “It does not. Every time somebody says something to him, he just disagrees. He claims to not care about the emotion and wants facts.” Derk turns his head to keep from laughing at Angela’s pouty mug. “Darling, why are you so hung up on this subject? Why don’t we talk about something else?”

“You don’t think racism matters?” Derk sighs. “Sweetie, the world is more than racism, or any other ism. It’s bigger than fear or love. People are going to do, what they do. There is no triumph over human nature. We all have one and we all succumb to it.” Angela tosses the cup into the garbage bin. “Is that why you went to prison? You succumbed to your nature?” Derk gets to his feet. Shaking his head, he walks out of the trailer and heads to his vehicle. Angela isn’t far behind him. “Uncle, I’m sorry. You don’t deserve to be treated like that. Come on back inside.” Derk whips around, his hand forms a knife point and he jabs it in her direction. “You’re too young to remember, but I went to prison saving your life, and your mother’s. You weren’t even born yet, and I loved you enough to make sure you came to no harm.”

Shocked by the sudden fury showing on her uncle’s face, Angela steps back. “I’m sorry,” she sputters. “Will you come back in? Mom will be home soon.” Derk shakes his head no. “It seems I have overstayed my welcome. Tell your mom, I came by.” Angela runs to him and throws her arms around his neck. “Please don’t go. Mom will be angry if she finds out I ran you off.” Muttering, Derk kicks at the ground. “Fine.” Together, they walk back into the tiny mobile home.

“Mom never talks about why you went to prison, or why we didn’t visit often.” Derk leans back against the plush leather back couch. “I asked her not to come. Prison is no place for a woman or a child to visit.” Angela moves to her mother’s desk and opens a drawer. “She keeps this picture of you. One night I asked her why she kept it, and she said it was a picture of you at your best.” Derk takes the picture from Angela. The black and white photo shows Derk in fatigues, his face painted in a woodland camo pattern. “It was a long time ago. Before…”

“Why did you go to prison?” Derk stares at his niece. “You’re like a dog with a bone. Can’t you just let it go?” Angela shakes her head. “No. I want to know.” Clenching and unclenching his fists, Derk looks at the floor. “I was on leave. Your mom sent me a letter telling me she was pregnant with you. She said your father was beating her. Sometimes he used a belt, other times he used his fists. I came home and confronted your father.” Derk’s words trail off but after some time, he continues. “We met outside of this Mexican joint on 3rd Street. He was drunk and belligerent. I told him to keep his hands off your mom.”

“And…?” Angela stares at her uncle, this man she hardly knows suddenly seems larger than life. “What happened next?”

Derk shrugs. “Your dad pulled a skinning knife and came at me. He said when he was done with me, he was going to cut you out of your mom. I killed him.”

Angela shudders. “Wow…” Derk nods. “Yeah. Do you think I was too narrow-minded concerning his views? Maybe racist due to our disagreement?”

“No. I think you did the world a favor.”