The face of the enemy…A short story….

“Please, stay indoors. You’re being quarantined for your own protection. We will let you know when its safe to leave your home. Thank you for complying.”

Joe Thunderfall listens to the emergency broadcast and shakes his head. “I didn’t fight over there to be imprisoned here.”  He walks into his living room and sits down at his computer. As he pulls up his blog, he is bombarded with news articles and headlines. This new “super-virus” is spreading fear with every new day. A group of Senators have brought forth a bill to help stymie the bleeding of the economy and Joe chuckles.

“Let the game begin!”  As Joe places his fingers on the keyboard, there is a knock at his door. “Yeah?” Bursting into his house, his 16-year-old niece throws her arms around his neck. “Hiya, unc. What’s good? You hear about the virus? The Senate is going to end this thing with a vote tomorrow!”

Joe snorts. “Oh yeah? That’ll be a first.” Anna looks at her uncle and scrunches up her nose at him. “You have no faith in the government, do you?” A mirthless grin stretches across Joe’s face. “I believe this, Anna. There is nothing they can’t make worse. Anything they fix is completely broken. Tell you what, they’re voting on it tomorrow. You come over and we will watch it. If it goes through, you can throw it in my face.”

“Deal!” Anna and Joe shake hands and the deal is done. “Until tomorrow, Anna. I need to get this post done.” Anna smiles and nods her head. “Just so you know unc, I am looking forward to telling you, I told you so.” Joe laughs and begins typing.

As Joe finishes his post, the news interrupts Five Finger Death Punch and the lyrics to “Wash it all away” is cut off. “We interrupt this broadcast for breaking news.” Joe listens as the reporter explains why the bill which would keep the economy from completely tanking, has been killed on the floor of the Senate. Laughing, Joe gets ready for bed. “Poor Anna, she has so much to learn about life and the government.”

The smell of fried bacon, potatoes, and hot coffee stirs Joe from sleep. Stretching, he can see Anna standing in the kitchen. “Hey kid, what are you doing here so early?” Anna looks down the hall and then puts sugar in his coffee. “There is no school today. Everything is closed. You were right. The bill never stood a chance, did it?”

Joe walks down the hallway, his GI Joe pajamas are almost too small for his enlarging belly. “Well Anna, you must understand this fact about the government. It is comprised of two types of folk, givers and takers. One group of people worked on the bill and understood we should come together in this time of crisis. They are the givers. Then the other side decided a crisis is a prime opportunity to stuff the bill with things they want for themselves. Their motto is, “screw the little guy.” Guess who they are?”

Anna looks at the countertop. She sighs and mutters, “the takers.” Joe puts his arm around his niece. “Yeah. In times of crisis, our elected officials should work together. Instead, they would sacrifice us all on the altar of greed and political gain. When you reach 18 understand this Anna. Hold the government accountable for what they do. Do not, under any circumstance, surrender your personal liberty for any reason. Because once you give it away, you will not get it back.”

Anna nods. “Why are you so bitter, uncle?”

Joe sighs and sips his coffee. “Because Anna, I have seen the face of our enemy and it is us.”

Madness…A short story…AWID

I dream of snow. Wading across the painted desert landscape, my boots press into the soft powder. “Ugh, what a horrible smell. It smells like someone died here.” The crumbles of powder crack and fall from the faces of innocent women and children butchered in the name of tyranny. Gasping for air, I fall out of bed and land on my knees.

“It’s okay. You’re not there anymore.” My throat is clogged with the taste of blood, and I run into the bathroom. Leaning over the sink, I cough until chunks of bloody phlegm are dislodged from my larynx. “Regardless of how long I’m home, I can’t escape that horrible place.” Tears of pain dot my cheeks, and I wipe my eyes bitterly.

“I don’t know what’s killing me quicker, the alcohol or the burn pits.” Night after night, I struggle with dreams of sand, bullets, explosions and broken limbs. My mind is fractured. In some ways, I’m not sure if I remember it correctly or if somehow, I managed to get it all wrong. Whichever the case, it all seems real to me.

Angrily, I slam my hand down on the counter. “Well, come on with it already. If you’re going to take me, let’s get it over with. There’s no point in prolonging the inevitable.” The mirror tells the tale of a broken man. A man who went to war to set things right, only to lose himself in the process. It’s safe to say, I’m bitter about how things turned out. Turning the light off, I walk out of the bathroom and into the kitchen.

My one-bedroom apartment is sparingly decorated. The state flag of Mississippi hangs on the front door along with a sign informing intruders that I don’t call 911. A sofa bed, recliner, a 47” Vizio television, PS4 and laptop make up my earthly possessions. Jameson whiskey bottles litter the top of the fridge. “I’m living it up. There are no strings on me.”

The smell of lime poured on the bodies lingers in my mind. I can see the broken bodies, whether it’s a hallucination or dream, I can’t tell you. Children are gathered nearby, their eyes devoid of hope. Soldiers smirk, their only defense against the chaos, dark humor. The darkness encroaches ever closer.

I’m lost in the darkness.

In the dark, I can hear the footfalls of my enemies drawing near. The inky blackness smothers any hope I have of finding my way out of it. My depression and anxiety restricts my ability to formulate an escape plan. In the purest sense, I am sinking into the pit of misery. “God, help me. Where are you when I need you the most?” The maddening cackle of my tormentors ring out in the dark. My heart beats with the fury of a thousand waterfalls.

“Where do I run to? How do I get away?” These questions have no answers, they are as vacant of possibilities as the eyes of the dead-yet-living children, I saw that day in Iraq. In many ways, I wonder if my mind broke from seeing the thousands of bodies laid side-by-side, knowing the torture their lives held until their untimely deaths swept them from this plane of wretchedness. Either way, I’m sure it didn’t help.

From a distance, the lime scattered on the bodies to keep the smell of decomposing corpses down, looked like pure snow. It wasn’t until you drew close that you recognized the horror it hid. “The same could be said for my life. I’m devoid of hope, slowly decomposing into nothingness. All I want is to go home and forget about this crap.” Being at home hasn’t helped me, the war has followed me home.

“Mr. Freeman, how are you today?” I look up at my nurse as she brings in my medicine and a tiny cup of water. “Can you loosen the straps, so I can take my medication like a big boy?” She smiles. “No, just tilt your head back and swallow.” She shoves the medicine into my mouth, and I swallow the pills.

In my mind, I can hear the cackle of madness and it frightens me.

Dark Places…a short story…

“You know, sometimes my mind just wanders off to visit places I never should have been. It don’t ask, it just leaves, and there I am stuck in some third world dump, fighting for my life, wondering if I will make it home to my baby girl.” Alexa Kinder looks at Tom Briarberry and smirks. “It just wanders off, huh? You sure it ain’t running away from its owner?” Tom shakes his head. “I don’t wanna go to these dark places, but it’s like I can’t control it. There’s a fighting side to me, and it wants loose.” Alexa puts her arm around her friend. “My mind wanders too. It’s an affliction we all have. It’s a curse of being human.”

Tom looks into Alexa’s black eyes. “Where does your mind go, Alexa? How did you get them black pupils?” Alexa giggles. “The pupils are because of genetics. We aren’t going to talk about where my mind goes, okay?” Tom pushes himself to his full height of 5’7 and leans on the wooden fence bordering Alexa’s grandfather’s property. “Why not? I told you where mine goes.” Alexa blushes and turns her head. “Because, I don’t want to talk about it. Can you respect my wishes, Tommy?” Nodding his head yes, Tom ponders his friend’s sudden defensiveness.

“You ever get back on that horse what threw you?” Alexa shakes her head, her blonde French braid shakes with the motion of her head. “No, Tom. It hurt me. I am frightened to get around him now.” Scratching his beard, Tom spits on the ground. “You were peerless, Ms. Alexa. Straight up, you were the greatest I ever seen. Is that accident with that horse, where your mind goes?” Alexa’s eyes grow cloudy as she leans close to Tom. “I said to let it go, Tom. Please, don’t keep asking.”

“Okay. I won’t ask no more. Did you know I got hurt over there in the Middle East?” Alexa looks at her friend. He is shorter than her 5’10 frame, but there is something about Tom that makes him seem gigantic. Brown hair, brown eyes, and a tan that borders on red clay, Tom fit all the makings of a stellar mate. “No, I didn’t know you got injured. What happened?”

Tom scratches at his beard. “We were escorting trucks back and forth, bring supplies in an out. Traffic backed up on the supply route, and we had to dismount. We trying to get an opening so we can get through, but nobody was listening. A loud bang came from behind me, and I saw my friend fall. I run to him, but he’s gone. I never heard the second bullet. Doc says it went through my helmet like butter on a hot roll. My head stopped it. “

Her blue eyes fill with tears as her friend recounts what happened. “Is that why you sometimes slur, when you speak?” Tom nods. “Yeah, that and the VA took my teeth. I told ‘em I had one bad tooth, but they wanted the rest. It’s why my mind goes to the dark place. I want to get my hands on the guy who killed my friend. He didn’t do nothin’ to nobody. K.C. was a cook, not a grunt. The Reaper got him. You know what we did?”

“No, what did you do Tom?”

“I got on that horse what about killed me. My friend deserved to be honored, I needed to prove I was capable of moving past the pain.” Alexa sobs and throws her arms around Tom’s neck. Tom pats her back and pulls away. “You can’t hide forever, Alexa. Someday, you gotta confront the pain, and only then can you heal. Riding ain’t the pain, it’s the fear you aren’t as good as you used to be. The bones heal, but the mind fractures.”

“How did you get out of your dark place? Did you get out, Tom?” Tom grins, his mouth stretches into a mirthful smirk. “I walked. The dark is always a part of you. Put one foot in front of the o’ter. You know that fortune cookie, Facebook wisdom about two wolves? Be careful what you feed, darling.” Glancing at his watch, Tom nods at his truck and Alexa waves goodbye. Alexa turns back to watch the horses work.

As Tom gets in his truck, he watches Alexa walk toward the homestead. “Some lessons can only be learned from personal experience; they can’t be taught via an instructor.”

The End….

“What is the point of living, when you’ve lost the will to live?” The television sets scattered around the restaurant floods the area with the same news. There is some new strain of virus going around killing people. It’s no joke, this strain doesn’t just affect the elderly, it doesn’t care what gender you are, nor does it skip you if you voted for the popular candidate. Age doesn’t excuse you, once you have this new “bug,” you rapidly decline. Joe looks up from his crawfish and alligator fajitas, to watch a medical expert give their report on this new “super-virus.”

“We ask that everyone please stay in your house. Wash your hands, practice good hygiene, and if you must cough, cover your mouth. Disinfectants such as Lysol, baby wipes and other tools can be used to fight this infectious disease.” The waitress brings Joe’s check and he points at the television. “She forgot bleach.” The waitress giggles, and Joe carries his check to the cashier. While standing in line behind an elderly couple, he listens to them discuss the virus. “Well, if you don’t believe me hon, ask the young man behind us.” A small, elderly lady turns and smiles at Joe. “Son, do you think this is the beginning of the end?” Joe shrugs and grins.

“You mean the end of time? I’m sure, I am not the one to ask that question to, ma’am. It does seem, humanity may have run its course though.” She nods her head and turns around to her husband. Using her elbow, she nudges her husband in the ribs. “He doesn’t know anything either.”

Joe pays for his meal and walks out to his truck. “Is it as bad as people are saying? Everyone is panicking, and they seem to be losing their minds over this thing.”  As he pulls out of the parking lot an ambulance races by, narrowly missing his truck. Sirens blaring, two cop cars follow right behind it. Joe pulls out of the parking lot and drives down to the marina where his boat waits for him. “Hiya, Joe. How are things?”

“Not too bad, Matt. Do me a favor will ya? Put my truck back in storage, I am going down to my cabin and won’t be back for some time.” Matt slaps Joe on the back and chuckles. “You going to hide from this virus?” Joe laughs. “Nah man, it ain’t no thing. I’m going to do some fishing. My goal is to rest and relax.” He walks down to the boat launch and gets into his small aluminum boat and pulls on the cord of his outboard motor. The engine rumbles to life and he eases out into the river until he gets past the “no-wake zone.” Joe twists the handle and the engine responds. The miles pass quickly, and Joe can see his cabin in the distance. The cabin stands on stilts, less than 100 yards from the river. Joe cuts the engine and glides up to his pier and hops out. He ties off the boat and starts up the stairs which leads to his porch. As the sun sets in the western horizon, the sky turns blood red and foreboding.

In the dark cabin, Joe lights a few lanterns and the soft glow of the lamps trim the edge off the darkness. Joe owns one thousand acres along the river, out here there is only him and the creatures. For food, Joe hunts and fishes, on occasion, he traps small game. In his “normal” life, Joe is a writer. However, here in the woods is where Joe excels. His survival skills are pushed to the limit, and there is no tv, internet, and no convenience. “If I get infected with this disease, no one else will catch it. I am on my own out here.” He dims his lanterns and dozes off in his recliner.

Bright rays of sunshine filter into the house through the blinds in the living room. Joe stretches and yawns. Standing, he walks out onto his porch. The river flows gently by, and he wiggles his toes. “I love it out here. No virus, no humanity, just me and the critters.” There is no cell reception here at the cabin, instead, Joe turns on a short-wave radio. Only static fills the air waves. “Better check in with Matt and let him know I made it.” The call sign for the marina is Mike-X-ray, Joe presses the mic. “Mike-X-ray this is Kilo-1, how you copy, over?” No sound emits from the radio. “I say again, Mike-X-ray, how you copy?” Again, white noise is the only sound coming from the radio. “Eh, it might be sunspots. I’ll try again later.” Joe grabs his tackle box and heads down to the pier.

Sitting in the hot sun, Joe burns easily through his shirt. The fish are biting, and he quickly stocks up on catfish, bream, perch and the occasional turtle. Joe takes his haul back up to the cabin and starts the cleaning process. He keeps out three filets for dinner, puts the rest in bags and puts them in the deep freeze. After taking a shower Joe sits back in the recliner. There is no television, Xbox or tablet, so to pass the time, he pulls out Robinson Crusoe and begins to read. As his eyes get heavy, Joe decides to try the marina one more time before bed.

“Mike-X-ray this is Kilo-1, how do you copy?” There is a squawk on the other end, and a voice breaks the silence.

“Please help…”  

Then there is only silence.  Joe presses the hand mic and again hails the marina. “Mike-X-ray, this Kilo-1. Please respond, your last transmission came in broken.” Silence is his only answer. Joe turns and walks swiftly into his bedroom. Reaching under the bed, Joe pulls out a large chest. He flips the lid open and pulls out an NBC contamination suit, and a M40 gas mask with extra filters. On the bed he sets a Tarsus 9mm equipped with a silencer, and a 5.56 rifle with a red dot scope and suppressor. Joe gets in the shower and washes his body clean of any germs and contaminates which may be lodged in his pores. Drying off, he dresses and then dons the contamination suit and mask. The 9mm is shoved into a hip holster, and the 5.56 is carried on a three-point sling to free his arms for use, while maintaining control of his weapon.

Loading into the boat, Joe cranks the engine and heads up toward town. As Joe makes his way toward Withering Falls, his mind keeps making up scenarios he may confront upon his arrival. “It could be nothing. Then I show up like I am armed for Armageddon. That would be embarrassing.” However, in the back of Joe’s mind, he knows this is not a fluke.  Joe can make out the marina in the twilight, and he cuts the power off and coasts in toward the pier. Slowing down, Joe picks up a fiberglass paddle and finishes the journey manually. The boat bumps against the pier and Joe disembarks, paddle in hand. Tying off the boat, Joe takes the 9mm into his right hand, and a small tactical flashlight in his left.  Quietly, Joe creeps down the pier, bodies litter the ground. Stepping over the bodies, taking great care to not disturb them, Joe makes his way to the office.

“Oh dear, Lord.” Matt lies on the floor, his thin body shot to pieces. Brass litters the ground and the hand mic has been ripped from the radio. “This is 5.56 ammo, NATO rounds. This is military or at a minimum, police action. Why did they kill Matt?” Outside the office, a noise startles Joe. Moving through the shadows, Joe looks quickly out the glass opening. “Nothing. It must have been the wind coming off the water.” Before heading out, Joe looks around the office for any clue as to what caused such extreme measures to be taken. A leaflet, stained by Matt’s blood, is protruding from under his corpse. The leaflet invites the citizens to a town hall meeting to discuss the virus and possible precautions that could be taken to combat the disease. “Obviously, someone’s cure was to blow away the town. It’s time to leave.” Joe cracks the office door open and creeps backs down the pier toward his boat. As he steps over the last body, a wet, clammy hand grasps his ankle. Joe turns and fires two rounds center mass. The gun shots sound like cannon fire over the open bay and in the distance, floodlights wash over the shoreline.

“We have survivors, FIRE!” Joe hurls himself into the icy waters of the Tennessee River as his world explodes into gunfire.

The dilemma….A short story…

Earl Johnson dips his sponge into the bucket of soap and lovingly wipes it down the side of his ’71 Barracuda. The black paint shines in the sunshine as he rinses the soap from the body. His granddaughter Maddie, Mad to her friends, watches as he washes the car. “He must love that car.”

“Hiya, Pops!” Startled, Earl flings the sponge onto the car hood and whips around. Maddie giggles, and her grandfather puts a hand on his chest to compose himself. “Child, you know better than sneak up on an old man. What are you doing?” Drawing close to her grandpa, Mad drops the sponge in the bucket. “I came by to check on you. Did you go vote today? I did.” Earl scratches at his white beard and pulls off his glasses. “No, I didn’t go waste my time standing in line. Who was I gonna vote for anyhow?”

Mad watches as her pawpaw wipes his glasses. “Well, I voted for Hendrick. He’s nice looking, he isn’t white, and he speaks very well.” Earl puts his glasses back on and looks at his car. “None of those things you mentioned are qualifications. Did he serve in the Senate? What is his record? What did he vote for when he was a Senator? Does he have a backbone, or does he flip-flop on the issues? These are questions that you need to have answers to before you vote. Skin color, ethnicity, and pretty words do not qualify you for a position in a company much less allow you to run the most powerful nation on the planet.”

“I hate the other guy, there was no way I was going to put him in power for another term.” Maddie crosses her arms and sits on the bucket. Earl smiles. “Well kid, you did your part and that’s important.” Maddie shakes her head, her curls jiggling with the motion. It was enough to make Earl dizzy. “Pops, I don’t understand why you don’t vote. You tell me I did my part, but here you are washing your car instead of doing your part.”

“Come here Mad, let’s go sit in the shade.” Together, they walk into the garage. “You see that flag in that shadow box? The Army gave it to me for my retirement. You see those medals and marksmanship badges? I earned those during my time in the Army. Those photos in that shoe box is photos of friends who died for this country.” Maddie looks around, astonished that she has never seen this side of her grandfather. “I came home from my time in war, and I didn’t even recognize my country. People are meaner than they have ever been. Where goodness once abound, now there is nothing but hatred, jealousy, and vileness. In all my time away at war, I never met a politician’s kid in the thick of it.”

“So, you don’t vote because some people don’t go to war. That’s silly, Pops.” Earl smiles. “It’s only silly to you, Maddie.” Maddie snuggles close to her grandfather and scrunches up her nose at him. “Hendrick’s kid served in the military.” Earl nods his head. “Yeah, he was dishonorably discharged for abusing women, abusing drugs, going AWOL, and multiple other infractions under the UCMJ. He sounds like a stellar soldier.”

“Uh, you’re being difficult. What would it take for you to vote? Can’t you see how important it is to our democracy?” Maddie tugs on a curl and releases it. Violently, it springs back into place.

Earl sprays some orange degreaser onto his hands and lathers them up. Rinsing his hands in the sink, he dries them with a shop rag. “First, we live in a Constitutional Republic. We are not a democracy. Secondly, yes, I realize it is important. Third, it’s none of your business what it takes for me to vote.” Leaning forward, Earl kisses Maddie on the forehead. “I gotta pick up your grandma. Come over later and we will con her into making peach cobbler.”

“Okay, Pops.”

Earl climbs into the ‘Cuda and fires it up. Punching the accelerator, Earl whips the car into a tight spin and races off down the road. While driving, Earl considers Maddie’s point. Stopped at a traffic light, Earl looks across the street at the diminishing crowds casting their vote. Signaling, Earl pulls in on a cross street and disembarks from his ride. Earl steps quickly to the small building and peeks inside.

“Can I help you sir?” The lady behind the table smiles and beckons for him to come up. “Yes ma’am, I would like to cast my vote.” As dusk approaches, Earl walks out to his car.

“If you’re going to live in the world, you might as well shape it into what you want it to be.”

Apocalyptic Dreaming….a short story….

“Will the world right itself again?” Tara Wisp looks at her mom in befuddlement. “What do you mean mom? Is there something wrong with the world as it is?” Eva Wisp wipes the sweat out of her eyes. The hot rays of sunshine darkens her skin, as she covers the roots of her new plants.

“I’d say there is Tara. It seems everyone has lost their mind. People get mad if you help them, then get mad if you don’t.” Tara shrugs her narrow shoulders. “My professor says its all the previous generations fault for messing things up.” Eva sits down in the shade and tries to catch her breath. “Oh, I’m sure we did our share of the damage, but it is not just one groups fault. We all live on this rock, we all want more stuff, and we all do damage to the planet.”

“Well, if the rich would pay their share in taxes, we could fix some of this. It’s the rich folks fault the poor and middle class can’t rise above their troubles.” Tara throws her shovel to the ground and puts her hands on her hips. “Furthermore, people need to check their privilege at the door. Until we are all equal, there can be no common ground. We must all fight injustice.”

“Hold on a second, Tara. I will go get your cape, when I go get the tea.” Tara shakes her head, her blonde curls whip left and then right. “She looks like an angry Cabbage Patch doll.” Eva leaves Tara frothing at the mouth, while she goes inside to make tea for them. Staring out the window, Eva watches Tara storm around the backyard.  Taking a glass in each hand, Eva steps outside. “Here is your tea, sweetie. Let’s sit down and catch up.” Still fuming, Tara takes her glass and pours it on the ground. “I don’t want your stupid tea, or your company.” The backdoor bangs loudly as it is slammed shut, and Tara peels out of the driveway.

“Lord, help my daughter.”

It is almost dusk when Tara returns home. She walks inside, her mom is sitting at the bar in the kitchen. “Sweetie, I’m glad you came back. I have something to tell you, but first, I owe you an apology. It was not my intention to upset you today.” Tara sits across the bar from her mom and pats her hand. “I know, mom. I overreacted a bit.” Eva smiles and pushes back from the table. “Would you like some tea and some company?” Giggling, Tara nods. “Yes ma’am. I think I would like that very much.”

Tea is poured, and both women walk into the living room and sit on the couch. “I’m very proud of you, Tara. You are smart, well-spoken, and driven to be an agent of change in the world. These are all good things.” Tara smiles broadly. “I had a good example at home, mom.” Eva shakes her head. “For so long, I’ve been bitter at the world for the way things worked out between your father and I. Both of us were workaholics back in our younger years. We always had to have the nicest house, the best car, the finest clothes, and there is nothing wrong with achieving these things, but what we didn’t realize is that we filled our lives with stuff and not memories.” Tara shrugs impatiently.

“And? What’s wrong with that?” Eva wipes a tear from the corner of her eye. Tara is a carbon copy of her mother; she could be a clone of Eva when she was that age.  Tara is tall, fair-haired, green-eyed, and quick to smile. She is quick to catch on and popular with all classes of people. Eva shakes her head. “Sweetie, you are so much like me and your father. When we didn’t have anything, we blamed the rich. If other people had a hard time getting ahead, someone was surely oppressing those poor people. Who are we to judge other people, when we ourselves could fail at any moment?”

“You and daddy could never understand what I am communicating to you. How could you? You’re one of the rich, you just want to hoard your wealth and screw the little guy!” Eva picks up the cups and walks into the kitchen, Tara follows closely behind. “We worked ourselves to death, Tara. Your dad, God bless his heart, died at work. He refused to take a day off to relax. Through his hard work, we built the empire you will inherit. What is wrong with enjoying the fruit of our labor?”

“People are sleeping on the streets, mom! What about slavery? Do you not care that black people were slaves? In America, no less! I will gladly give away this family’s fortune if it helps one person.” Eva sighs in frustration. “Fine. When you inherit it, you can do what you want with it. Yes, I care. Your father and I gave generously to several charities, and I still do. Ask yourself this, Tara. There are approximately 170 billionaires in America. When we run out of money, who else is gonna foot the bill? Try listening before you engage your mouth. Your father and I thought money would make us happy. It didn’t. Sure, we could buy whatever we wanted, but in the end, all we wanted was peace.”

Flipping her curls over her right shoulder, Tara pushes the button and the virtual conversation between Eva and Tara disappears. The board members sit in silence, as Tara peers out the window. “Ma’am, what do you want us to do?” Tara turns and stares disapprovingly at the member. “You can start by firing our workforce.” Sputtering, the man gulps loudly. “You want me to fire 15 thousand people? Today?” Snarling, Tara slams her hand down on the redwood table. “Are you incompetent, or do you think I am? Fire them all, and then board members will vacate their positions. You have one hour to exfil the premises.”

The other members shocked into obedience stand and begin filing out of the conference room. Tara picks up her phone and dials her accountant, Ted. “Sell off all my stocks, liquidate my assets. Call me when it’s done.” Sitting in the corner, Tara pulls out a leather-bound photo album. Slowly, she takes the few things she wants to keep and places them in her bag. Walking to the console, she turns off the fire suppression system.

“The world is burning mom. People have gone nuts. We can’t overcome the constant bumbling of our representatives; we can’t fix the world without a new disaster popping up to take its place. The world isn’t the problem mom, it’s humanity.”

Tara’s phone rings as she walks down the hallway past the pictures of her mother and father. “Tara, it’s Ted. Everything is gone.” Hanging up, Tara takes two cans of gasoline and pours it down the hallway. She shoves a flare into the flare gun and fires.

Walking through the ashes of the greatest nation on earth, Tara seeks the peace her family’s money couldn’t purchase her.

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.”