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.

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.

Silke Waters…A short story…for now.

In the humid swamps of Fredericksburg lies an untold secret. Among the moss covered cedars, hidden in the black water filled with alligators and water moccasins, Silke Waters waits for a sign.

Covered from head to toe in camouflage, Silke watches the birds flutter among the branches. Squirrels leap from limb to limb, while gators slip out of the water and sunbathe on the banks of the marsh.

Still, Silke doesn’t move. One spastic twitch would send the wildlife running for cover, the whole point of the training exercise is to see while being unseen. Silke’s toes begin to cramp, her hands damp from the humidity, begs to be wiped. She doesn’t move.

Silke is of singular mind and purpose. After four years of training, she is almost done with this phase, all she has to do is be still. Slowly the sun descends into the western horizon, the sky is painted orange by the hands of God, and still Silke doesn’t move. 

Darkness falls. Silke closes her eyes to allow her eyes to adjust to the darkness. She cracks her eyes open and slips out of her spot. She moves silently through the marsh, slipping through the black water to her next objective. In the distance, a light cuts through the night, hushed whispers break the solemn night air.

“Where is she?”

The exercise is terminated if she is caught by her trainers, otherwise, it’s a three-day exercise. Silke creeps behind a fallen tree and watches the pair look around her destination. Each person carries a sidearm loaded with simulation ammunition. If Silke is discovered, she is to escape and evade capture. From her hidden position, Silke waits. Her blond hair, dampened by the humidity, falls into her eyes. She doesn’t move. One of her trainers looks at the tree. Slowly, he moves the beam toward the tree and Silke sinks into the black water. 

“Come on, she ain’t here. Let’s get out of here.”

“Yeah, we have a few other places to check out before we get a chance to rack out.”

The lights click off and Silke watches the two men leave. Silke waits in the water until she is convinced that she is alone. Silently, Silke emerges from the water. Leeches cover her torso, with her knife she removes the parasites. The next two days pass without incident and Silke begins her journey from the marsh.

Halfway to the base camp, she happens upon a Hummer. Her blue eyes scan the distance for threats. A young man walks from behind the vehicle. 

“Hiya, Silke.”

“Hey, Josh. What are you doing out here?”

“I’m waiting on you. The Commandant sent me out here to pick you up. You ready to head back?”

“Yeah, I could use a shower and hot meal.”

“Sure, sure. Yeah, I gotcha. Come on, let’s hit the road.”

 Josh and Silke travel the dirt road in silence. Josh Harrington has completed his training, he now is the errand boy of the Commandant. Silke watches the trees zip by as Josh keeps his eyes on the road, finally Silke breaks the silence.

“How did I do, Josh?”

Without removing his eyes from the road, Josh ponders her question. Finally, as they turn onto the goat trail that leads to the camp, he answers her. 

“No one found you, so that is good. They came back and said you were a ghost. No one has ever beaten every test posed to them. You’re something special.”

Josh pulls into a parking spot and gives the key a turn. Silke and Josh disembark and make their way to the lone building standing among the cedars. 

The doorman, Herman Wainwright, stands ready to help Silke if she should need it, but she waves him off. 

“How you doing, sir?”

“Ms. Silke, you don’t got to call me sir. I’m just the door man.”

She grins wearily and nods her head. 

“Okay.”

“Mr. Thunder asked you come straight way to him before anything else. He is in the library.”

The house is dusty, benches and chairs line the hallways. Dark stained glass conceals the purpose of these training grounds. Silke makes her way to the library, most of the house has corners but the library is a perfect 360 degree circle. Stairs lead up to the higher levels, the shelves are lined with rare and first edition books. Mr. Thunder, the commandant, waits on the third floor.

Silke climbs the stairs and walks to where Mr. Thunder sits. She stands at attention until he recognizes her presence.

“Have a seat, Silke.”

Mr. Thunder is bald, his horn-rimmed glasses sit precariously upon his hawkish nose. A scar runs from his left jaw line to the middle of his chin, his black eyes appear to be dead. His skin tone is darkened by the sun, the only paleness is the scar which marks his face.

Silke takes a seat across from the commandant, she can feel his dead eyes follow her every movement.

“Congratulations are in order. You have passed every test we have given you. You’ve been trained in Kenpo and various tactics to disable your opponents. You’re a superb marksman. You’ve been trained in the art of surveillance and counter-surveillance. Your trainers came in the first day and said you are a ghost. Both men are trackers and they couldn’t find any sign of where you had been.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Do you know what we do here?”

“We train our body and spirit to be ready should our nation need us.”

Thunder smiles, “that is the textbook answer, Silke. Give me your answer. Why do we train?”

“We train to kill our enemies.”

“Yes, our enemies may not be the same as our country’s. Never forget this fact. If they’re trying to harm you or this organization, they deserve nothing more than death. Understood?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good, then here is your first assignment. Study it, the assignment must be completed Friday night. You have four days to prep. Get some rest and make sure you’re prepared. Welcome to the Assassins Guild.”

The madness….A short, short musing….

“This is egregious! It reeks of conspiracy! You know what conspiracy smells like dontcha? It smells like rotten cheese and dirty socks.” 

Maddening.

I am in a locked room with a swirl of incoherent thoughts. Black, white, anger red, my thoughts are not my own. Sing song, upside down, there must be some rhyme or reason to this insanity.

Imagine a world where people live normal lives. What a horribly boring place that must be. Down the tunnel of madness we go, just as Alice did in her Wonderland.

Well, I haven’t seen the cat yet, but still…

Madness, what a wonderful feeling. The plush back of my chair is the perfect perch to watch the world burn. “Lookit, they’re nuts too!”

The whine of bullets, the roar of explosives, this horrendous ritual to bring the dead back to life, it’s all in vain. No one here has resurrection power. 

I don’t think they care, but what do I know? I’m succumbed in the madness.

Madness is sticky, and a wee bit chilly. My perch with a birds eye view of the unchecked chaos doesn’t serve me well. Sure, I watch the world burn, but what I really want is to fly away.

Fly, fly, fly. I want to flap my wings and leave the madness.

Far from the insanity which has overtaken the world. To a place where people don’t burn down their neighborhoods, or destroy property. Where a human life, born or unborn, has value.

I can’t.

The madness weighs on my feet and I’m stuck on my perch. All I can do is watch the world burn.

At least I have a front row seat.

It’s the end of the world….A short story.

The rain falls from the broken clouds turning my yard into a small marsh. I am at my stove cooking eggs to go with my biscuit and bacon. In the living room, my television is set to the local news. “In other news, the Speaker of the House has called for a proxy vote, which would allow one representative to cast numerous votes on behalf of others.”

I can feel my frustration growing. I reach for a glass, and slam it down on the counter. Shards of glass fly in every direction. Pain throbs in my right hand, I turn it over and look at it. Glass protrudes from my palm. 

“You okay, uncle. I thought I would come by and check on you.” I never heard the front door open. My niece Sara, standing behind me, has a look of shock that covers her face.

“Yeah,” I grunt as I pull the shards out of my hand with tweezers. “Why doesn’t that idiot just tear up the Constitution and use it to wipe her butt?”

“Why don’t you like her uncle?”

“Besides the fact she is nuttier than a fruitcake?”

“Yes, besides the fact you think she is insane.”

“Well, there is the fact she does all she can to tear apart the Constitution and Bill of Rights at all turns. Granted, most of the idiots in Washington are egotistical, whiny, thieving pieces of garbage but she makes it an art form.”

“You ever think maybe you’re just old and crotchety?”

“I know I am old and crotchety. It’s a perk of being older. It doesn’t excuse these out of control lunatics running our country into the ground.”

“I don’t see it that way uncle. If she is so horrible, why do people keep electing her to office?”

“Are you trying to get me in trouble? Votes can be added to or taken away. With the constant evolution of technology, it is a simple process to cheat an election.”

“So, you think she is going to cheat the upcoming election?”

“I don’t know anything definitive, but, I’ve lived long enough not to put anything past anyone. The problem with power is that once you get a taste, you will do anything to keep it.”

“Well uncle, I guess we will have to agree to disagree. I think she is just doing her job.”

“Sweetheart, we can disagree and still love one another. Just because we disagree politically doesn’t mean that we can’t be friends. Nothing in life is so drastic that a disagreement should sever the ties that bind. Hand me that iodine and bandage, please.”

I pour the iodine on my palm, the sting causes me to wince. I wrap the palm and turn off my oven, my eggs are burnt beyond edible. 

“Will you please make your old, grumpy uncle a cup of Joe?”

“Talk to me, unc.”

“What do you want me to say, Sara?”

“Tell me how you feel. You worry me when you get like this.” Her green eyes bore into mine, finally I relent to her request.

“Sara, when I went to war America was this great place. Sure, we had our problems but we still knew right from wrong. When I came home in 2005, I didn’t recognize the place. I had my own problems, and I was barely keeping it together. Then I went back to the Middle East. I left Europe, and came home. I felt like a stranger lost in time, I was the redneck version of Doctor Who. Now, all I can do is watch while these idiots destroy everything that I love.”

“Maybe things will turn around.”

“No, this the end. All we can do is hope we land on our feet.”