Bob James is a native of the Chicago area, growing up in Oak Park, Ill. He currently lives in Corpus Christi, TX. He recently retired after 25 years in the education business—one year as a sign language interpreter followed by 24 years as a teacher in the fields of Special Education and Technology. All of his work can be accessed through his website called "Bob James – The Author." He writes daily devotionals, Science Fiction and Thrillers, and is also working on a book about the journey that he and his wife went through during her battle with breast cancer. Bob has been married to his wife Lucy since 1979. They have two sons, one daughter, two granddaughters, and one grandson
Jason Riordan looked at himself in the mirror, using an eyeliner pencil to make the last adjustments to his makeup. He had to support his right hand with his left to quell the shaking. “That’ll work,” he said out loud, even though no one could hear him. He still had a private dressing room, in deference to his past greatness. He might not have the starring roles anymore. He might make more mistakes in his lines, but he still commanded the respect of audiences and directors because of his reputation and his perseverance in the face of Parkinson’s. There was a knock on the door. “Ten minutes, Mr. Riordan,” the assistant to the assistant director called as he opened the door just a crack to deliver his message. Jason smiled. His timing on getting his makeup done was still perfect. Ever since he’d started in theater, he had done his own makeup. “It helps me as I become my character,” he had told countless makeup artists. And now, his routine to get into character would continue. He stared at the mirror, inspecting his makeup one last time. Satisfied, he slowly closed his eyes and went over the play in his mind. He muttered softly, reciting his lines, and telling himself where to make his entrances.
He wanted this performance to be perfect and got so wrapped up in his preparation that he realized he must have missed the underling’s five-minute call. As the first notes of the overture sounded, he cursed silently. His routine called for him to be ready in the wings before the overture started playing. Now, he rushed to get to his place, so he could take his centering breaths a few seconds before his entrance. His first starring role ever was with this director as “George” in Our Town and now, knowing Jason’s condition, this same director had made a special accommodation to allow him to begin this version of Our Town, as the Stage Manager, with the freedom to look back on his career and give the audience a chance to acknowledge their appreciation for the retiring actor. They had flocked to see the once-great Jason Riordan in his last performance. Those who had acted alongside him including the first Emily and Stage Manager were in the audience, actors who had worked with him in the performances that had earned him his Tony nominations, and various assorted fans who wanted to pay their respects to one who, even in his ongoing illness, showed grace and respect to his fans. He got to his spot on the wing with a little over a minute to spare, and he took a couple of cool-down breaths. Then, he did that which he had never done before in his career, he pulled back the curtain and peeked at the audience. The stage lights kept him from seeing much, but the memories he had made with those people he saw and recognized overwhelmed him and left him with a slight case of stage fright. He closed the curtain and took another deep breath, and then, he was on. From that first, special monologue to his final line, he was perfect. He didn’t suffer from the dropped lines or cues that had plagued him in recent years. His swan song performance was amazing, and the audience recognized it. Decorum was thrown to the winds as his fans screamed his name and he took bow after bow. The stage hands picked up flowers that were thrown in congratulations. He left the stage triumphantly after one of his finest performances ever. He walked back to his dressing room accepting handshakes, hugs, and pats on the backs from the cast and crew. He kept looking at the floor, lest they see his tears. He arrived at his dressing room and lay his head on the makeup table to rest for a few minutes before taking his makeup off one last time. He didn’t want to take it off just yet, because that would make his retirement final.
The assistant to the assistant director knocked on Mr. Riordan’s door. “Five minutes, until you go on Mr. Riordan,” he said, opening the door just a crack to deliver his message. He waited for the customary acknowledgment. There was none. He knocked harder and called out louder. When he got no answer, he ran in and saw Jason Riordan slumped with his head down on the makeup table. He checked for a pulse. When he didn’t get a pulse, he ran out in the hall and looked for a stage hand. “Get the director!” he yelled.
“That is how you found him?” the director asked, trying to find a pulse. He teared up a little when he realized that Riordan was gone. He walked behind the body to get to the other side and looked at his face. He wiped away his tears and smiled himself when he saw Riordan’s smile. It was that shy, after-performance smile that he used when he’d look at the director and ask how he’d done. “It would have been one, great, last performance,” he said as he closed Riordan’s eyes.
copyright Bob James
Read more great writing like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology
Cynthia Breeding often wonders if she was born in the wrong century. She has a love/hate relationship with technology and has an avid interest in medieval history. Most of her books are historical romances with a bit of paranormal thrown in now and then. She also loves sailing and horseback riding. Cynthia is a well-established romance writer with 49 novels and novellas available.
21st century history teacher Elizabeth O’Malley wakes up in a Texas barn in 1849 wearing only a black silk negligee. When she’s discovered by Texas Ranger Miguel de Basque, he thinks she’s a prostitute from a Fort Worth brothel…perhaps suffering from amnesia,
given her wild tales of where she’s from.
Elizabeth O’Malley was falling, gliding through mists, hurdling downward, the air getting darker until all was pitch. She reached for something to grab onto, but met only swirling vapors as she spiraled on. A speck of light dawned ahead, silhouetting the shape of a flame-haired woman dressed in white leather. The vision became engulfed in a web of blue and green strands as Elizabeth rushed forward. She put her hands out to brace herself and swept right through the mesh, landing with a solid thump onto a floor, bumping her head in the process.
“Ouch!” Rubbing her forehead, she slowly opened her eyes. She was lying face down in a pile of fresh hay. Her nose twitched. The smell of horses filled her senses. A stable? She must be dreaming, but this felt so real.
Behind her, a horse gently nickered and stamped a hoof. Elizabeth rolled over and sat up in front of a box stall. The dappled gray who looked at her had large intelligent eyes set in a broad forehead and well-placed small ears, cocked forward as he leaned over the half-door to nuzzle her.
Trembling, she stood and stroked his muzzle. The horse felt real, but she often dreamed of horses, or at least she had until sexy men began appearing in her night visions, and she always dreamed in vivid color.
She looked down. She was still wearing the Victoria’s Secret black bra and thong with the chiffon wrap her traitorous fiancé would never see. She certainly did not need to relive finding Edward in bed with a Barbie look-alike. Not that she should have been surprised, she grimly reminded herself. Edward was drop-dead gorgeous and had enough Bad Boy attributes to make him alluring to any female. Better she had found out about his promiscuousness now than later.
Elizabeth fingered the leather strap on her wrist from which a Native American wood-carved fetish dangled. Her history students had given it to her yesterday, before the start of the Chirstmas holidays, along with a beautiful dream-catcher. The kids loved to tease her about her passion for the Old West, but they’d gotten caught up in the era after she’d brought in vintage John Wayne films and Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns. The fetish probably wasn’t the right accessory for her black lace, but she had not wanted to take it off. Just as she started to close the chifforn wrap, not that it covered much, she heard a sound. She whirled around and gasped.
A half-naked Indian teenager stood not two feet away, close enough for her to see a slight bead of sweat on his upper lip. It was uncanny how authentic this dream felt—probably the result of seeing too many of those western films. He wore a breechclout and leather leggings. Colored beads hung around his neck and his bare chest. A hawk feather was braided into his long hair and he had the blackest eyes she had ever seen. He looked like a hungry wolf stalking its prey. Instinctively, she took a step backward.
The Indian took a silent step forward. “I could have counted coup, you know,” he said. “Touched you without your knowing I was here. But I wanted you to know.”
Elizabeth drew another shaky breath and tried to cover herself more fully. Why in the world would she be nearly nude in her own dream? The Indian’s glance traveled from her face to her breasts and a small smile played on his mouth. A hard mouth, thin-lipped and straight-lined. She took another step backward and bumped against the wall of the stall. Trapped. The wall felt real, too. Some dream.
He came closer and reached over to touch her copper hair. “Fire Woman. You must have much magic. Your eyes are the color of our forests—a blessing from the Earth Mother.” He touched the diamond solitaire at her throat with a finger. “A shining star from the heavens. Yes, you have much magic.”
Elizabeth held herself still, hardly breathing. This would be a really, really good time to wake up. “I don’t have magic. Where am I? Who are you?”
Drawing himself up, he said proudly. “I am called Swift Hawk. My father is a Comanche chief.” He twisted a strand of her hair around his finger. “To my people, a woman with flaming hair has much power. Many even fear her.”
She smiled weakly. Good Lord, a Comanche? She had conjured someone from the fiercest of all the Plains Indians to dream of? The finest light cavalry in North America, some said, and the most dangerous fighters. They loved to fight and feared nothing. Well, except maybe a woman with red hair. Feeling ridiculous to be so deep into the dream, she raised her chin.
“Take your hand off me if you don’t want to feel my wrath.”
Swift Hawk laughed and his hand dropped to her shoulder. “I said many fear you, Fire Woman. I do not. I am the son of a chief. I will claim you as my woman and have much honor and power among my father’s people.” He grasped her head in his hands and leaned forward to kiss her. She pushed against him, hard.
“Don’t you want to know where I came from?” she asked, trying to stall him.
He looked surprised. “The Great Spirits sent you. I do not question them.” He glanced down at her breasts again. “I like what they’ve clothed you in, too.” His hand slid down to stroke a breast.
She needed to something to stop this—closing her eyes, she screeched at the top of her lungs.
Suddenly, he was yanked away. Elizabeth felt cool air surrounding her. Slowly, she opened her eyes and then quickly closed them again. She could not have seen what she thought she had. Clearly, her mind was bent on fantasies tonight.
Tentatively, she peered out from behind her tousled hair. The man—her rescuer, she assumed, for the Indian boy was gone—was breathtakingly handsome. Far too good-looking to be real and very much like the delectable man she’d encountered in her sleep a couple of nights ago. She might still be dreaming, but this was much, much better. The stranger’s blackish hair curled just above the collar of the open neck of his shirt and a part of it fell across his forehead, giving him a roguish appearance. She almost reached out to brush it back for him. His eyes were warm brown and deep-set above high cheekbones and a straight nose. He had the most sensuous mouth she had ever seen. Definitely kissable. Well, of course he would. She was dreaming! He was tall, well over six feet with broad shoulders. With the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up, she could see tan, well-muscled forearms. Her gaze traveled to his tight fitting jeans and she tried to ignore the bulge lodged there. She focused on his well-developed thighs. Big mistake—better to look down. The boots were hand-tooled. Cowboy boots. Real ones. She really had to stop reading romance novels about the Wild West. Cowboys and Indians. Her students would get a real laugh!
“Who are you and how did you get into my barn?” His voice was deep and resonant and held a note of authority. A man would think twice about crossing him, she thought and almost giggled. She certainly had conjured up her perfect cowboy. And all man. She couldn’t resist extending her dream-fantasy just a little longer…
“Elizabeth O’Malley,” she said and gave her dream man her best smile, the one her best friend, Brooke, said made her look alluring. “And you are one hot fantasy.”
The man blinked and let his gaze travel slowly over her body and back to her face. A corner of his mouth twitched. “Happy to oblige. My name’s Miguel.”
Elizabeth became uncomfortably aware of how much of her body was exposed. She drew her wrap closer which caused her fantasy to grin. It was a lopsided grin, giving him a definite Bad Boy look. Obviously, her dream-mind hadn’t quite learned its lesson about Bad Boys. But it was only a dream—
“How did you get into my barn?” he asked again. “You don’t look like you’re from around here.” His glance lingered on her breasts. “Are you a working girl?"
Working girl? Did he mean prostitute? This dream was taking an ironic direction given the fact at twenty-four she was the oldest virgin she knew. Her fantasy man sounded dangerously real. She could almost feel the heat radiating from him. She crossed her arms over her breasts. “I’m a teacher.”
buy Catch a Dream on Amazon
Excerpt from Bedroom Blarney
“Vodka martini, extra dry. Two olives.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Coming right up.”
As the bartender moved away to get her drink, Eve O’Connor closed her wet umbrella and plopped it alongside her satchel on the empty barstool next to her and pinched the bridge of her nose to relieve tension. TGIF had never sounded so good. Her art classes had been crap today. Not one high school kid had taken notes on value and hue in color and they certainly had not cared about line and space in composition.
Given the array of video games on smart phones and tablets, it was getting harder to get her students interested—let alone keep them interested—in something as mundane as classical art. Little wonder newbie teachers lasted less than two years in many cases. She had even contemplated changing careers herself, but Joe, her worthless ex-husband, had gambled away her savings before she’d caught him and she was still paying off the cost of the divorce. Besides, she had almost ten years invested in Deer Hill High School.
“Why so glum?” a male voice asked behind her. “It is Friday, after all.”
copyright Cynthia Breeding
read more of this story in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology.
“What if?” Those two words all too easily send Devorah Fox spinning into flights of fancy. She is the author of the best-selling The Bewildering Adventures of King Bewilliam literary fantasy series. This includes The Lost King, awarded the All Authors Certificate of Excellence 2016 and The Redoubt, voted #35 of 50 Self-Published Books Worth Reading 2016. She also wrote the mystery minis, Murder by the Book, a Top Book of 2017, One Bad Apple, and the Fantasy/Sci Fi Mini Lady Blackwing, a Top Ten Short Story in the 2017 Preditors and Editors Readers’ Poll. She co-authored the contemporary thriller, Naked Came the Sharks with Jed Donellie and contributed to several SciFi/Fantasy anthologies. Her thriller, Detour, finished in the Top Ten Thrillers in the 2016 Preditors and Editors Readers’ Poll. The Zen Detective, a mystery, was voted #34 of 50 Best Indie Books of 2017 and was named a finalist for the Golden Book Award Contest 2017. Born in Brooklyn, New York, she now lives on the Texas Gulf Coast with rescued tabby cats ... and a dragon named Inky. Visit the “Dee-Scoveries” blog at http://devorahfox.com.
See her on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/devorahfox
She unlocked the door to the business office, housed in an old, wood-framed cabin separate from the main resort building. The inn’s owner felt that there was no point in wasting expensive showy real estate on mere staff so no highly polished wood floors, no roaring fireplaces, or sparkling crystal chandeliers for them. Instead, Candy's storm boots squeaked on a worn linoleum floor. A balky fluorescent light sputtered overhead and the steam radiator clanked and wheezed.
That wasn't right. The lights should be off, the heat turned down. Normally Candy was the first one in. She turned everything on. Someone else must have gotten here first. Certainly, it wasn't any other member of the staff. No one but she ever came in early, ever spent a single minute more than necessary here.
The door to her boss's office was ajar. Sleink himself in early? Incredible, Candy thought.
“Good morning, Sir,” Candy called. No response, but that didn't surprise her. It was appropriate for her to greet him but he wouldn't lower himself to return the gesture.
Candy sat at her old desk in the reception area, pulled off her boots, and slipped her heels on. She stuffed her gloves into the pocket of her winter coat and hung it on the back of her chair. There was coffee in the pot by the door. Noticing the lack of aroma, she touched the pot and found it cold. Leftover from last night, she decided. Heaven forbid Sleink should make a fresh pot. After all, that was her job, along with handling the phone, typing, and filing, if that all didn't get in the way of her primary duties, like fetching ink from Greenfield.
“I'm going to get some water for coffee,” Candy called. She took the pot down the hall to the ladies room. As she rinsed it out in the sink, she made a face at herself in the mirror. “You gutless wonder, Candy Wadsen,” she scolded herself. “If you had any spine at all you'd tell Sleink to make his own coffee. Shouldn't be beyond his talents.”
The face in the mirror frowned back at her with anger in its brown eyes. Oh, but it might interfere with his precious work was the retort. Or to be more precise, his precious hobbies. Sleink was a collector. First it was pocket knives. Next it was scissors. Then it was letter openers. Lately, he was into fountain pens. Just yesterday he had almost giggled with something approaching glee when a new catalog had arrived with the office mail.
“Hold my calls,” he had told Candy then retreated into his office to revel in glossy photos of deluxe writing instruments.
“Coffee's on, Mr. Sleink. Can I get you a cup?” Candy poked her head into his office. “Mr. Sleink?”
He was slumped face down on his elegant mahogany desk.
FROM Book One in The Bewildering Adventures of King Bewilliam
Moo? King Bewilliam frowned. What was a cow doing in the throne room?
King Bewilliam no sooner had set his gaze on the Bell Castle’s richly-veined marble floors, the opulent woven tapestries, the straight lines of courtiers resplendent in their gold-braided uniforms than it all vanished.
His heart jolted and he felt a pervasive icy chill.
I’m asleep, the King thought. I’m dreaming. I need to wake up. He opened one eye. He had been dreaming but what vanished was not the cow but the throne room. Instead, the sight that greeted him was another eye: big, brown, and deep.
King Bewilliam opened his other eye and found himself face-to-face with a large Guernsey regarding him with mild curiosity.
"Moo, moo," said the cow although to the king it sounded distinctly like “Who, you?” which, it seemed to him, was an excellent question given the circumstances. Was he not King Bewilliam, ruler of the Chalklands, master of Bell Castle? So what was he doing here staring down a cow? He shook his head to clear the fog of slumber...
copyright Devorah Fox
Read the rest of this chapter in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology
Joel Jay Ortiz has been reading, writing, and performing poetry since 1991. He started at various open mikes, reading poetry with musicians, and then continued when open mike with spoken word began appearing. He has been published in various indie zines and been the guest poet at readings in Austin and Corpus Christi. He also hosted open mikes throughout the years. His poetry tends to be literary with literary allusions and pentameters that agree with music, due to his love of music and ability to play guitar and piano. He wishes the world read more poetry and loves to hear poets express themselves, especially in a venue where poets can be themselves.
Spying UFOs in the desert
While this Mescalero Indian
Chews buttons in the dry valley
Sewing patches over bullet-riddled skin
Taking arrows out of skyscrapers
Blood raining on painted faces
Cannibals in the Gulf reliving
Forgotten lives in friendly times
As much as you try, you will never leave
The dry mesquite trees burning
Bluebonnets littering the paved roads
Don’t Mess With Texas
Played on a slide guitar,
Psychobilly noise on a turntable
And us Tejanos drinking late in the morning.
(i wrote this one, behind the annex some 13 years back, and i remember the good man Robb Jackson, an English teacher at Texas A & M University Corpus Christi, he was the only person in this part of the world who would go visit the lowly inmates of Nueces County and help them express themselves through the written word. he was looking for a diamond in the rough when he was out there, i was already a diamond, i just like to live rough, all for sake of art, and somehow i got lost in all roughness,
i was there initially for different reasons, but along the years, the substances just got more and more under my skin and i could not do a damn thing without any substance inside of me. nowadays, doctors would say, oh you just self medicating, and i said, yeah, whatever, gimme a new scrip.)
Every once in a while I can look near the edge of my pupil, and in that brownness, i can see a pin prick of light emanating from the inside of my eye, so I look in the mirror, and sometimes, sometimes I can see a whole other world, a different world, much like this one, but with a few differences, similar in the sense of having the same names, same people, difference being, I'm left-handed, no I'm right, sometimes I get lost in the crack, trapped in this eye, I'm here, I'm there, i am, i think?
And I'm running, running out of time, running to lose weight, running from my problems, running towards happiness, blessing those around me, wanting to change, late in life, sometimes undecided, out of money, wanting more out of life, whoa, slow down, this is too much, this is not what I wanted, was this what I really envisioned, who are you, who am I, where do these questions come from, i want more, no one wants to give, i have so much to give, but no one wants anything but harm, i don't have harm I don't have fear, i have love, love of undesirable...
THE CHUPACABRA OF SAN DIEGO, TEXAS
It was a night like this, with a steady flow,
The fog was deep, ever thick in San Diego,
Busy hunting, driving my truck around,
The moon it glowed,
Driving through back roads with my windows down.
Going through thick brush, walking to my deer blind,
All my clips, left in my truck behind,
Hearing the critters, in the brush scurrying around,
In the moonshine,
Not paying attention, to all the glorious night sounds...
sometimes you're just damned
books, that spine I love, curving at the right
pages. Her dog ears I flip in my mind, kissing
each sentence I injest into my system.
I've given it all up so I can enjoy a few
paragraphs of intelligent chatter
I've ignored many possibilites many lives so I could
stick to those dirty words
i've taken ferries to countless libraries
and devoured each lover from its brain and secluded
many covers i just blew away
in my own i have stolen unmade masterpieces
and gave my full attention to such minds games the best
of the race have created
to be seated in rooms of your brain, you move so subtly from
reading to writing. what you read becomes the very word you
write. These fictions, these tigres de los suenos, as that
educated prick so rightfully wrote
life is very much like a book
you can either take your time and inject the wisdom
or enjoy it fast & move on to other works of pulp
in the end it comes from someone's library, it was somebody's book
it was my book but now i see that the mending department doesn't
even want to put together my torn book
i'll just let it fly off in all directions, my pages fly away like icarus, with no
destination can be substituted for destruction
a reconsctruction of tales with no heads
for we dread what poetry can give birth to
oh poetry, i'd die for you
POETRY!-----OPEN YOUR EARS FOR WE'VE GOT TO RECITE THE TIMES
POETRY!-----KEEPS US TIGHT AS SHRUNKEN SWEATERS
POETRY!-----HOW I WANT NOTHING ELSE BUT POETRY.
Copyright Joel Ortiz
read more great poetry like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2018
John Meza writes poems -- and builds bridges. Most Sundays he helps feed the homeless people in Artesian Park in Corpus Christi. He believes in tacos, not bombs
I walked across
Of colonial blood
From a land
With an American
Coup d etat
To a forgotten God
When I arrived
At the border
I pressed myself
Against the wall
Trying to knock it down
With the beating
Of my heart
By One Deep
copyright John Meza
I once wrote a poem
On a pillar
Beneath a bridge
In Bishop, Texas
By dipping my finger
In mud repeatedly
As a pen
It was about a star
On my tongue
Throat of comets
And how I danced
To save my soul
Erased it a week later
At the time
The poem and I
By One Deep
Copyright John Meza
John Meza adds, "This is a true story about a poem I wrote on a pillar beneath a bridge, with mud as ink. It happened in November of 2016 in Bishop Texas when I was building bridges there, on hwy 77. I never wrote the poem down, other than on the pillar that day, but remember it was an amazing feeling when I wrote it, knowing it would be washed away.
copyright John Meza
John Swinburn called Corpus Christi home from the time he was five years old until he graduated from Richard King High School in 1972. Corpus Christ was where he developed a framework for understanding the world. He earned his Bachelor of Art’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and eventually formed an association management company with his wife. Since his retirement, Swinburn has used his time to write, relax, and restructure his world view and perspective on life, a work in progress. He and Janine live in the Ouachitas in central Arkansas. Swinburn posts regularly on his blog at www.johnswinburn.com. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” he says of his blog. “One day I may use it as a journal, the next as a repository for my fiction or poetry, and the next an outlet for an odd mixture of left-leaning and libertarian political rants.”
Poetry did not die with him, but it
might not have lived without him.
Bud Kenny loved poetry almost as
much as poetry loved him.
Absent Bud’s unapologetic shoulders
upon which to sit and proclaim its
fierce entanglement with the head
and the heart, poetry might not have
become the emotional anchor for a
thousand men and women who needed
an outlet to express despair and passion,
rage and affection, sorrow and sympathy.
But he taught all who crossed his path that
poetry, as both a shield and a sword, demands
justice and metes out healing love with
phrases that capture all of life’s complexity.
Bud transformed poetry’s reputation from the
weak baby brother who hid behind the
power of prose to the ferocious big sister
who extracted every ounce of raw emotion
from each beautifully sculpted syllable.
He taught Hot Springs to love poetry
the way a parent loves a child; as a
gentle coach, always urging offspring
to become their best and most beautiful selves.
In Bud’s eyes, we were his lyrical children.
And Bud Kenny loved poetry almost as
much as the poets, his lyrical children, loved him.
Early that morning, at daybreak, a shallow, nearly opaque layer of water-hugging mist flowed in through the quiet marina. Faith watched it roll in, a slow-motion wave of dense wax sliding in from the open water. It was an odd fog bank, low and creamy, just a few feet above the surface. The masts and decks of boats in the marina were visible, but everything below deck remained hidden. That impenetrable layer of light grey concealed the boardwalk, too, leaving only an orderly cluster of boats rising from a dull, fictile grey cloud.
No one would be foolish enough to venture out in that fog, Faith reasoned, so she thought she could safely assume hers would be the only boat on the open water. She could see the lights of only one other boat. She slogged through the knee-high cloud along the wooden planks between the slips, blind to the boardwalk, so she judged her position by staying equidistant from the boats on either side, safely away from the dock’s edge.
On a clear day, the loud chatter of seagulls would have broken the stillness of the early morning air. Small flocks of pelicans would have glided a few feet above the surface of the water in search of breakfast. The air would have been heavy with the scent of salt water and seaweed. But on this foggy morning, the birds were waiting for better visibility. Silence enshrouded the boats and the marina and beyond, where open water slept beneath a heavy veil. The sweet aromas of salt and fish filled Faith’s nostrils, though the fog muted those scents of the sea.
Until she had moved to the island a decade earlier, Faith had never set foot on a sailboat. In ten years’ time, though, she had become an accomplished sailor, learning much of what she knew by watching other people sail, reading, and watching YouTube videos. Repetition of the sailor’s art, too, contributed to her skills and built her into a strong and powerful mariner. Open water represented liberty to Faith, freedom from the stifling regimens she associated with life back on the U.S. mainland, the boredom she had so loathed that she had abandoned it, at age forty-six, for the island life.
Her boat’s slip was at the far end of the marina, the very last one on the northwest side.
As she climbed aboard Norteña, her 28-foot Catalina, she heard a voice. “Miss! Miss! You goin’ out now? Too much fog, Miss! Better wait.”
She couldn’t see him, but she recognized the voice as Lucius Labade, the de facto manager of the marina who possessed neither the official title nor salary that would normally accompany the role.
“Hi, Lucius! Nobody else is going to be out in this fog. I’ll be careful!”
“Oh, Miss, you never know ‘bout that water. Better safe, Miss. Better safe. I think you wait until fog lifts, okay?” His voice was closer now, but she still couldn’t see him.
“I appreciate your concern, Lucius, I really do. But I’ll be fine. Don’t you worry.”
Suddenly, the little man appeared in front of her, his face directly in front of and level with her breasts.
“Miss, please listen; wait just awhile, okay?”
His hot breath, which she felt through the mesh fabric of her bikini top, startled her. He was just inches away, close enough that he had to raise his eyes and tilt his head to see her face.
“Lucius, you know I’m not going to wait, don’t you? I promise, I’ll be fine.”
“Oh, Miss, I know you one hard-headed woman. I wish you listen to Lucius this time. This fog not like normal. This too thick.”
“You’re a sweet old man, Lucius. I love you for worrying about me! I’m going to be just fine. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
Lucius, at sixty-four, was not much older than Faith. Sixty-four years of salt water and sun had stolen the youth from his skin, replacing it with ragged ancient leather and black dots, lesions of unknown but apparently benign origin.
Faith stood in stark contrast to the island native. Her toned body commanded hungry stares from men. Their undisguised lust was the only truly unpleasant aspect of island life. Though rarely did any of them continue making overtures once rebuffed, they did not hide their lechery. That open display reminded Faith of her ex-husband’s unrestrained carnal desire—for her in the early years of their marriage and for anyone else younger and firmer in its waning years.
Lucius acknowledged defeat. “Okay, Miss, but promise be careful. And when you back you tell me, okay?”
“Yes, Lucius, I’ll let you know when I get back. I’ve got my radio with me, too, so if I need help, you’ll hear me calling.”
Faith untied Norteña, coaxed the diesel motor to life, and maneuvered her out of the slip toward open water. Until she could catch a breath of wind, the diesel would be the Catalina’s only power.
Lucius stood, his eyes fixed on her boat, as Norteña slid almost silently away from the marina, the diesel barely growling as it thrust the boat forward. He continued watching until the vessel became a speck in the distance. As he turned his gaze away from the disappearing boat, Lucius noticed another craft slowly move out from the far end of the marina, the only other slip with a light. He squinted to see which boat it was, but it was too far away. He walked in the direction of the slip from which the boat had come. Finally, he determined that the light belonged to the empty slip for Abrázame, a boat owned by a relative newcomer to the island, Drake Pool.
Lucius had overheard Pool making a pass at Faith. Pool, who was in his sixties, thought of himself as a lady’s man. During the two months he had been on the island, he had been involved in several unfortunate incidents in which his “dates” had abruptly left his company after, according to their reports, Drake had groped them. Faith had been one of the women Pool attempted to seduce. Lucius remembered what happened.
“I have no interest in, nor patience for, men like you,” she had said to Pool after he suggested, during a party at the island mayor’s home, that they retire to an empty bedroom. Unwilling to accept her response at face value, Pool continued his pursuit.
“Listen, honey, you know and I know there’s a shortage of men like me on this island and you already know I find you attractive. Do us both a favor and dispense with the obligatory objections because, you know, I don’t take no for an answer.”
Faith’s eyes flashed and a brilliant red fireball ignited her cheeks. “Your conceit is astonishing, especially in light of the fact that neither your intellect nor your looks are doing you any favors. I am absolutely delighted there are no other men like you on this island, because we islanders loathe dealing with trash! Now, you will take no for an answer, Mr. Pool, and if I must give you that answer again, you will regret moving to this island! Do I make myself clear?”
Pool smirked. “Oh, yes ma’am. I know exactly what you’re saying. Enjoy the rest of the parry, uh, I mean party.”
Lucius hadn’t heard the entire exchange, but he had been at the party and heard enough of the words and the way they were exchanged to know of Faith’s displeasure with Pool. Lucius hadn’t liked Pool from the moment he met the man. Pool had always been mean to Lucius, talking down to him, belittling him. Lucius glanced back at the slip where Faith’s boat had been, then turned again toward Pool’s empty slip.
“Best see about this,” he muttered, his brow furrowing. He looked toward the slip that held his own boat. At first, his movements were measured and slow, but as he continued along the boardwalk, he picked up speed. By the time he reached the section of the docks where his boat was moored, his pace was as close to a run as his old body could do.
“Dammit, this not good, I just know is not good!” he said aloud. He unwound the ropes from the cleats on the port and starboard sides of his boat, both stern and bow, then pushed away from the dock with a long pole. His little boat, half the size of Faith’s, drifted a few feet into the pea soup fog; he started his electric trolling motor and steered the craft around the protective jetty and into open water, following the disrupted fog bank like a river.
Twenty minutes later, Lucius began to see signs that the fog was lifting, or perhaps simply melting into the surf. The morning sun was high enough to burn off the top of the bank. A light breeze, the sun’s gift every morning when air began to warm, blew away the remnants of the fog is short order.
Though he welcomed the breeze, Lucius wasn’t happy that the disrupted fog, which had left a bread-crumb trail to follow Pool, evaporated. The only way to follow him would be by sight. He pulled a pair of binoculars from a tray beneath the wheel and scanned the horizon in front of him. Initially, he could see nothing but sky and water, but after another scan he saw something that looked the size of a gnat, a mile or two in front of him. He steadied the binoculars against a wooden brace and looked intently at the gnat.
“Both of ‘em; they both way in front of me.”
Lucius hoisted a single sail and set out in the direction of the gnats on the horizon as fast as the sluggish breeze would take him. Though he knew it probably wouldn’t help, he kept the trolling motor going full blast, as well.
He was surprised that he caught up to the two boats as quickly as he did; in less than forty-five minutes, he was within shouting distance of both vessels, neither of which was under sail. As he neared the two boats, he saw Pool drop anchor. From Norteña, Faith, whose boat was already at anchor, also watched Pool.
When Lucius was just a few hundred feet from the two boats, Pool turned toward him and scowled at his approach.
“Hey, Lucie, what are you doing out here?”
Faith turned in Lucius’ direction, a quizzical look on her face.
“I came to make sure everybody okay; fog bank really bad and could come back. You go back in now, yes?”
“Lucius, don’t you worry about us, we’ll be fine. Mr. Pool seems to want to spend a little time out on the open water with me.” Faith’s smile suggested to Lucius that she was, indeed, fine.
Pool glared at Lucius. “Yeah, Lucie, you don’t need to worry. Go on back to the island. We’ll be fine. We just need a little privacy out here, you know?”
Lucius looked at Pool’s smirk, then at Faith. “You sure? Miss, better if you go back now, okay?”
Pool’s face turned red. “Listen, goddamn it! Get the hell out of here, Lucie! Got it? We want some privacy!”
Lucius looked at Faith again, a deep wrinkle in his brow and his head cocked in disbelief.
“Miss? You sure?”
“Lucius, you’re a sweetheart, but I’ll be fine! I really appreciate you coming all this way, but I’m just fine. I just want a little time with Mr. Pool, away from the prying eyes of the islanders, okay? And, please, let’s keep this between us, all right? No need to start the gossip mill.”
Pool sneered at Lucius. “Go on, Lucie! You heard the lady!”
Lucius started to open his mouth, but clinched his jaw, instead, and began to maneuver his boat away from the two at anchor. As he departed, he shouted back to Faith: “Miss, you tell me when you back, okay?”
“I will, sweetheart! Don’t worry.”
Lucius looked back again. When he saw Faith in the water, swimming toward Pool’s boat, he grimaced. Tears filled his eyes and rolled down his cheeks.
Three hours later, when he saw Norteña come around the jetty, Lucius hurried toward Faith’s boat slip. He waited as she approached the dock, waving at her as she coaxed the boat into the slip.
“I so glad you back, Miss!” he shouted. “I was afraid for you out there with Mr. Pool. You okay?”
“Of course, I’m fine, Lucius. You’re so precious to have worried.”
“I don’t see Mr. Pool boat; he on his way back?”
“Lucius, I asked you if we could keep this to ourselves, right? Can we keep it to ourselves that you saw Pool out there?”
“Yes, Miss, sure. But where is he?”
“You never know what to expect out on open water, especially when you can’t see what’s right in front of you. Lucius, I learned my lesson. I won’t do that again.” She paused and said, “He won’t either.”
Lucius was confused for a moment, but then he began to understand, and the edges of his mouth turned up. She nodded, almost imperceptibly and returned the smile.
“Thank you, Lucius, for looking after me. I’m sorry I sent you away, but I needed to deal with Pool.”
“You my good friend, Miss. Always look after you.”
“And I truly appreciate that, Lucius. Yes, you are my good friend.”
“Mr. Pool not gonna bother you no more.”
“No, Lucius, I don’t think he will,” Faith said, and wrapped her right arm around his shoulders with a squeeze.
copyright John Swinburn
Read more great writing in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology
Joshua Hamilton is a Louisville, KY native who migrated to Corpus Christi, TX with his family. Between Kentucky and Texas, he has traveled and lived in several places, including Spain, Appalachia, Panamá, Peru, the Philippines, and the Colorado River. He teaches Spanish at TAMUCC, has published a chapbook, Slow Wind, with Finishing Line Press, and has poems appearing in or forthcoming from Driftwood Press and Windward Review.
Desiccate splintered forest
ground up and spat out
under the feet - accumulated
bits of growth, decay, sun-
light worded into leaves
and chainsaws articulated
into kindling - like
the devastation of a bad life
ground up and strewn
in an attempt to soften
the inevitable crash
Copyright Joshua Hamilton
Read more of Joshua Hamilton's poetry in Corpus Christi Writers 2018
Born in Corpus Christi and raised somewhere between her grandmother’s Arabic kitchen, the public library, and the Padre Island National Seashore, Kailey Morgan Hamauei still calls the Coastal Bend her home. She put herself through school to study literature at Del Mar College and is currently pursuing her equal passion in animation. She has pursued other creative work, most recently as a comic book artist and actress in a film produced by the locally based Night Creature Productions. Her passion is storytelling in any medium.
Off Ocean Drive in the old neighborhoods the homes have all been through the cycle: growth, stability, decline, and revitalization. Some have been through the cycle more than once. Most are pier and beam, many with original wood exteriors, some covered with asbestos siding so old it’s crumbling off in toxic chunks, and some with vinyl slapped on top of the asbestos.
The pale amber liquid swirled around in Sam’s highball glass, the dark color of the whiskey diluted by the melting ice cubes. A cacophony of conversations and laughter passed by him; the men in tuxedos and women in glittering evening wear drifted back and forth between the dance floor and the bar. Glasses, gleaming golden and filled to the brim with champagne, clinked together in toasts he could not hear over the music. Occasionally someone would clap him on the back or stop to exchange some quick banter, but with the exception of moving to get another drink, he had stood all evening fixed to his position near the bar.
He drained the last of his drink in one swallow. The back of his throat seized up and burned a little in protest but he relished the feeling. Cate had not finished her drink yet. In fact, she had probably only taken maybe two sips from what he could see. She looked older now than she had, not so much in features, but in the distinguished and deliberate way she carried herself. From where he stood and because of the dim lighting he could not tell how the details of her face had changed through the years, but he knew there had to be changes. His own face had changed a little more than he liked to admit. He had to shave every day now to keep his face smooth. There was a large crease that appeared between his eyebrows now when he moved them and that lingered even when he didn’t. He couldn’t remember having that as a teenager. He also couldn’t remember the little lines around his eyes or when they had appeared.
He wondered if the red of her hair simply looked muted because of the lighting, or if it had lost its fire and begun to tame with age. He wondered if the kid had red hair too.
copyright Kailey Hamauei
read the rest of this story in Corpus Christi Writers 2018
Mandy Ashcraft lives in Corpus Christi with her husband Dustin. She is a psychology student, pursuing a career in neuropsychological research. Her favorite authors are Douglas Adams, Orson Scott Card, and Kurt Vonnegut. Mandy’s first full-length novel Small Orange Fruit is available on Amazon for fans of humorous science fiction.
Learn more at MandyAshcraft.com
Therapy does not help you become the person you “used to be”. You unravel in therapy, you disassemble who you were; the miscellaneous parts are there for you and your therapist to observe and process, in raw form. You feel fragile but understood, validated. It takes time. It needs to. You work together to build a new self with the same materials, and this one doesn’t struggle to remain intact. It’s solid. This new person doesn’t break down when faced with things that would’ve shattered the old one. That person isn’t you anymore. You still identify certain memories as being painful, but feel them differently, as if they have been stored in another format. As if the pieces aren’t sharp anymore. Therapy isn’t to restore what was, it’s to create what could’ve been
She was on her way to the funeral of a family friend who had passed away peacefully in his sleep. He was 117. She drove the speed limit, as she always did. Everyone always did; it was considerate. Her dress was long, form-fitting, and black, as if she were wearing her own shadow in hand-sewn lace. She smiled to herself. The funeral was not to be a somber event; he had lived a long life, free of complaints, free of regrets. She figured his body was merely exhausted from 117 years of laughter and champagne toasts.
from Chapter 44:
A humming sound came from outside of the Department of the Afterlife, and continued to get louder; if you were to dissect the swarming sound, you’d find hundreds of individual Aleyan voices asking questions in various arrangements of “What’s really going on with the afterlife?” and “We demand answers!” and “Inkle owes us an explanation!” and a few “What is Cheerwine?”
It hadn’t taken long for the leaked document to ooze further into plain view, given that it was sent to both friends and rivals of Inkle, Inc. and threatened the souls of even those that might have stepped up in his defense. Those very allies had not thought to question the legitimacy of Inkle, Inc.’s bold proclamation, they’d simply witnessed it being proclaimed in all of it’s glory, and linked arms with it’s powerful figureheads. They were a paper chain of distinguished members of society, and when one caught fire, they either severed themselves or they all went up in smoke. Everyone wanted answers from a man who was suddenly very glad he was deceased.
Inkle’s fax machine coughed and wheezed as it worked harder than it ever had in it’s mechanical life, while his prestigious office in the afterlife was suddenly hit with an influx of question marks. Angry question marks. Bold, italicized, underlined sentences. Lots of capital letters. Even more question marks after that. Someone even appeared to have spit on theirs before faxing. Inkle stared at the pile, racking his vocabulary for a nice soothing, appeasing arrangement of words that might buffer himself from scrutiny. Once he settled them back into a lucrative state of compliance, he’d take care of the source, which he’d narrowed down to be either Suzan or Gilbert. He would sweep this mess under the rug, and he’d bury them with it. He wasn’t about to lose everything he’d worked for.
Janie entered his office looking concerned, and wasn’t unbuttoning her blouse which was further indication that something was awry. The fastened buttons seemed almost threatening; things were at risk of change. Inkle didn’t like change. He also didn’t like fastened blouses.
“Mister Inkle,” she said. “God’s secretary just called. He wants to speak to you in person.”
“Uh—tell him I’m in a meeting.”
“The gods are all-knowing, Mister Inkle. No disrespect, sir, but I think all-knowing means all-knowing of whether or not you’re actually in a meeting.”
He dismissed her and her rigid buttons.
Every term served by an Aleyan-elected god was, of course, out of the largest most godly of office suites in the afterlife. As it should be. However, it was an unwritten rule that you were never to visit that office. You weren’t really even supposed to look directly at it, only accidentally or in passing, out of respect. That part wasn’t unwritten; it was etched into marble in front of it. Presumably you were allowed to look at those rules and nothing around them. It took careful effort to comply.
Inkle approached the secretary’s desk outside of the office, none of which he was supposed to be looking directly at so he figured he’d just blink excessively and hope it balanced out at only 50% disrespectful.
From Chapter 21:
At the entrance of the Botanical Gardens, Gilbert smoothed his rented jacket and watched a steady flow of eco-conscious society elites pour through the event doors that swallowed them like glittery pills. Soft music leaked through to the passersby, and warm lights were woven through the gardens. It was undoubtedly a prestigious event, and he felt even more foolish for asking that beautiful girl if his denim-plus-corduroy ensemble was within dress code. He also began to feel foolish for considering that he might just walk on in, without a ticket or anyone to consider him their +1. His graphic design career, while currently on sabbatical, had afforded him many champagne-popping event invites, sometimes ironically having designed the invite himself before receiving it in the mail. If that experience had taught him anything, it’s that he probably wasn’t going to waltz in with his red pen, condom, mint, or any sort of MacGyver-ed combination of the three. He’d polished up his image for nothing.
“Ah! I see you’re a guest of the Department of the Afterlife,” said a much older man, as Gilbert’s badge caught his eye. He wore a tailor’s masterpiece of hand-sewn obsidian fabric so expensive that it would’ve been personally offended to have been referred to as a “black suit”. It was a reallynice black suit.
“Yes, sir. From Earth.”
The man’s eyes seemed to brighten to the point of near-luminescence.
“Earth! I’m a big fan.”
“Really?” Gilbert was genuinely surprised. “I’m just visiting for a few more hours. I was curious about this event; I think someone I know might be attending. Do you purchase tickets at the door?” He inquired with the confidence of anyone trying free samples at a grocery store and putting on an Oscar-worthy performance of a person that was going to come back and buy it all later.
“Nonsense, come in with me, I’ll get you a drink. Tell me about life on Earth.”
There were 25 hours left on his wrist watch, and it ticked away cufflink-adjacent as Gilbert was led into the most exquisitely beautiful event he’d ever seen. Elegant wooden furniture boasted native plant life and flowers that Earth knew to bloom only in science fiction. If James Cameron decided to host a black tie event that combined his vision of “Avatar” with “Titanic”, but with more string lights, he would’ve hired the same event stylist.
The two men approached a bar that held an array of liquor bottles and fresh fruits and garnishes. A bartender picked a small orange fruit out of a bowl, shaved a piece of it’s peel into a glass, and muddled it. He squeezed the fruit into the glass and added a splash of something bubbly. Pouring something darker over the concoction, he handed it to another party-goer.
“I’ll have that,” Gilbert said, as the small orange fruits, whatever they were, reminded him of clementines and his house on Clementine that no one seemed to be able to remember the name of.
The bartender peeled, muddled, squeezed, and splashed once more.
“Dawn, Dusk, or Dark?” he asked.
Gilbert had been asked many questions at many bars but that wasn’t one he was familiar with. “I’m sorry?”
The bartender looked at his badge, his get-out-of-condescension-free pass for the day, and explained to the planet’s unfamiliar visitor.
“This drink is an Elixandria. It’s named after our sun, that’s why it’s this nice orange color. The brown liquid on top is dark rum, and we pour it over to represent a setting sun. Little bit of rum? Dawn. Little more rum? Dusk. You looking to get drunk? Dark.” The bartender grinned. “It’s our official drink on Aleya. We voted on it.”
Charlie Mathis took satisfied sips of his morning coffee as he looked out over his cabbages, seeing cabbages and only cabbages which is ideal when you’re a cabbage farmer. His gaze stopped on a strange arrangement of concentric circles burned into his field; the kind you’d see in a tabloid story about UFOs. There was surely a less tabloid-worthy explanation for the symbols left in his field, his personal comfort zone insisted as he scrambled to connect a few logical dots. “Those damn teenagers!” he shouted, not referencing any particular ones as there were none living within 20 miles of his Texas property; just damn teenagers in general. Charlie was in his late thirties but his isolated cabbage-soup-rich lifestyle left him one creaky porch rocking chair short of being a crotchety old man. He didn’t like to be bothered, by anyone or anything.
The optic nerve spasmed in his left eye as it landed on something else. Movement. But it wasn’t teenagers. A small humanoid figure was casually shoving one of the cabbages into a --spacecraft. Why couldn’t it just be teenagers?
“Who are you? I’ll sic my dogs on you! Or shoot you!” he called as he grabbed his shotgun and ran towards it, stopping suddenly when the figure turned to face him. Rather than run, it dropped to its knees and began tugging at another cabbage in the dirt, which in its small hands was comparable to a large watermelon in the hands of a man. It seemed to disregard the farmer, not in a menacing way, more of a “kindly leave me to my task of stealing your crops” sort of way. Another leafy ball was lugged to the craft; shoved into it like the carry-on bag of the last passenger to board a regional plane. The creature wasn’t in a hurry. Charlie would’ve sicked his dogs on it if he had any dogs; the threat alone was usually sufficient, but it appeared that this time he would need actual dogs. He made a mental note to adopt a few beagles, or whatever breed would best respond to “get ‘em boys!” In the meantime, he would have to “get ‘em” himself. He couldn’t risk anyone finding out about such a bizarre encounter; media ridicule could add red ink to his struggling finances. If profits were any lower than they already were, he might have just climbed into that spacecraft and buckled up.
“I’ll shoot you!” he repeated, to no response. Not that he figured an otherworldly being would have taken English as a Second Language; Charlie wasn’t a brilliant man but he wasn’t exceedingly dense either. He just figured the large shotgun would pole vault over the language barrier. The figure stared at him, at the gun, and slid its slender arm into the ship to retrieve something. Charlie reacted quickly to the possibility that it was groping for a weapon, some kind of laser or anything that could send his house up in flames, and pulled his trigger. A nearby cabbage exploded. He shot a second time successfully, or unsuccessfully from the point of view of the one inhaling buckshot. It didn’t scream, or try to escape. It didn’t wield a weapon of its own after all. It didn’t pop or fizz or explode. Another alien didn’t erupt from its chest cavity. There were no lasers involved. It merely sighed, and rapidly withered to the ground, with nothing but a small notecard in its hand. A 4x6 white index card. Charlie pocketed it as he rolled the craft into his barn, and masked it with an available out-of-sight-out-of-mind shield from reality that could also be identified as a tractor cover. It wasn’t as if he could recycle it. He looked at the card, covered in symbols, one of them the exact symbol that had been burned into his field a year prior. He wondered if it might be a list of directions, and if it was, his seemed to be the last stop before it reached its destination. As he dug a shallow grave for the extraterrestrial sack of Earth bullets, he wondered if he might have eventually been able to communicate with it, or if he’d have been the one being buried if he’d ventured to try. It was too late to find out; at least he was on the winning side of the dirt. Padding back to the house, he decided that what had just happened had never actually happened at all. Maybe it was a dream? The coffee grounds expired six months ago, this could be a bad reaction. Or is there such thing as a hallucinogenic cabbage fungus? He attempted to overwrite his memory of it with the words “it never happened” on a loop. He would adopt some dogs, though, in case it ever happened a second time.
He nearly heaved his expired liquid breakfast onto the index card as he scanned the front page of the newspaper. “Crop Circle Leaves Local Corn Farmer A-Maize-d” was the headline his local paper had decided on, where he just knew they’d genuinely delighted in the idea that their maize joke was also corny, and an acquaintance of his smiled in black and white. In the photo he pointed toward a charred field. An overhead view showed a peculiar symbol Charlie recognized; it was also on the index card. He felt panicked, sweaty, like he’d eaten too many jalapeños after drinking too much caffeine and his organs weren’t sure what to make of the combination without resulting in something biologically volcanic. Charlie walked to the barn and pulled the tractor cover from the small craft. He pressed the door and it opened outward.
“Maybe there’s something else in here, something to explain what’s happening,” he said aloud. He wasn’t sure what he’d do if he found an answer; business aside, going public about alien contact would mean every cashier and waitress and damn teenager in Texas would ask him if he was probed for the rest of his life and it would probably even be whispered at his funeral. Here lies Charlie, who might have been probed by aliens. I wasn’t probed, I was robbed, he thought to himself. The metallic spacecraft was the size of an industrial washing machine, and could accommodate the small humanoid being and about 5 of his largest, most profitable cabbages comfortably. Of those there were two, and also what appeared to be several bunches of carrots. Regular earth carrots. There wasn’t a single useful piece of evidence in the craft; no maps, light sabers, or anything to probe anyone with. Unless the carrots…? No, he decided, that’s not what the carrots were for. It was odd. Cabbage, carrots, and now corn? Were they studying human sources of food? His nerve endings sipped a paranoid cocktail of images depicting humans in a zoo, being fed harvested plants from their native planet, zoologists working had to recreate the human diet to toss at abductees for entertainment. He’d buried one of them, whatever they were, but the newest crop circle meant it had friends. Or at least co-workers. For the first time in a long time, he felt afraid.
“Gary,” he said into his cellphone; Gary was the smiling face who was, that very morning, a-maize-d. “Gary this is Charlie. Can you talk privately? It’s urgent.”
There was a small bar a few miles up the road that also sold terrible burgers. They agreed to meet for drinks and possibly a terrible burger, depending on how many drinks it took for that to sound like a wise decision, gastrointestinally speaking. That day it took both men exactly two beers before taking their wise decision with extra cheese.
“Charlie, why are we drinking at 10:30 in the morning?” Gary asked, pulling at something in his burger patty that looked to Charlie like a band aid. “Are you upset about that article in the paper? It’s not going to affect local business—”
“Gary, I had the same thing happen in my cabbage field. It was a different symbol, but I—” he took a swig of beer to loosen gristly meat bits wedged between his teeth, “—I saw the creature that made it. I shot it. And I took this card from it.” He unfolded the index card from his front pocket. Gary reacted all too calmly to the card and the shooting, even for their level of mid-morning intoxication. “Gary, what else do you know?”
It wasn’t a band aid, fortunately, in the meat patty. It was just a piece of plastic wrapping likely peeled from a cheese slice. Not exactly palatable, but certainly more hygienic, and Charlie called that a win. The old corn farmer plucked it from his burger and continued eating. “This has been happening to all of us ‘round here,” he said. “The Jeffreys grow those big fat radishes; their fields were covered in triangles a while back.” He looked at the index card. “These actually, fourth one down.” He pointed. “And those big round circles at the bottom were way out west of town in some tomatoes I think.”
“So this is…a list?”
“Seems to be.”
“Each crop circle or symbol was left with a different type of crop. So they were going down this list and taking some of each thing. Why?”
“Hell if I know,” said Gary. “I only let the paper know so I could get that girl JoAnn’s attention. You seen her around lately? Last I saw she was selling some kind of candles—”
“Don’t you care?” Charlie was not a patient man.
“‘Course I care, JoAnn got a boob job.”
Gary was a dead end. But he’d figured out one thing from their conversation; the creatures burning symbols in their fields were following a list, marking the items they needed, and then simply hauling them off later. He flashed back on his earlier idea of human exhibits. If they were taking things they needed to sustain human life elsewhere, the next logical action would be to take the humans themselves. Or had they begun that already? Come to think of it he hadn’t seen the town’s only attractive female JoAnn in a while; she was worthy of being beamed up for display purposes. This human comes with enhanced features!
Parting ways with Gary and his regrettable plate of crumbs, Charlie headed out to the Jeffreys’ property. The ones with the triangles and big fat radishes. They lived at the edge of town and everyone knew their name. A massive wrought iron gate with JEFFREY welded into it and solar-powered accent lighting ensured you weren’t accidentally unaware of them being the fanciest growers of radishes in all the land. It was unlike anything else in their humble hometown, and the locals had taken to pretentious whispering about their alleged pretentiousness. Turns out, the flavor of irony is masked well by beer. Charlie pulled up to the gate and found it open, so he continued up the dirt road that ended at the house that root vegetables built.
A middle-aged man in shorts and a bathrobe sat on the front step reading their local paper. Gary’s smiling face looked up at Charlie in black and white from the front page as he approached the man, presumably Mr. Jeffrey. He didn’t look especially fancy. Maybe his robe was cashmere? Charlie wasn’t sure he knew what cashmere would look like.
“Can you believe all that? About the crop circles?” Charlie asked. The man looked up at him. “Name’s Charlie Mathis, I live across town. I don’t mean to bother you.”
“Sure I can believe it. I had crop circles. Actually I had crop triangles,” he sighed. “Is that a thing? Crop triangles?”
“I suppose they could be any shape. The things making them left this card, and these symbols on it.” He extended the index card. “It seems to be a list. I came to see if you had any more information.”
Looking at the card, Mr. Jeffrey bit his lower lip, perplexed. “I wonder if they got all of these things yet, if it’s a list like you say? Maybe they’re not done?”
“You mean maybe they have other things to get on this list? Maybe some of the symbols mean— I dunno, weapons? Cows? People?”
“Could mean anything. Maybe weapons, cows, and people.” Mr. Jeffrey laughed. “Or maybe the last symbol means ‘you can only destroy the human race after you eat your vegetables’.”
“Doesn’t this worry you?” It was beginning to seem like the meeting with Gary all over again; a cholesterol-free version.
“Oh sure it terrifies me. But I’m not about to go to war with them, whatever they are. Let them have the crops. They grow back.” There are always options when faced with unusual circumstances, and Jeffery seemed to have taken the “horse blinders” approach to facing this one. Don’t look at them, don’t look into it, and water your big fat radishes; ostentatious gates don’t pay for themselves.
After about fifteen minutes of small-talk about radishes and cabbages and the weather, and also a brief mention of JoAnn 2.0, Charlie convinced Mr. Jeffrey—whose first name was Jeff which was unfortunate but easy to remember—to assist him with one thing. He asked that he simply help him make a list of what symbols locals had already quietly mentioned and strategically downplayed or, in one instance, had photographed for the front page of the local paper. They spent the afternoon calling around and drawing symbols based on verbal descriptions. The too-early beer and too-terrible burger Charlie had consumed that morning made his brain feel like it was marinating in lukewarm drippings from the meat patty.
“It looks like everything on this card matches up with something grown around here, except one. Four circles in a row. No one has seen that one, at least no one in this area that anyone’s talked to.”
“So there you go,” said Jeff, “the symbol that means blow up the cows or whatever you said earlier.” He smiled.
“You won’t be laughing if it means blow up the cows.”
“So long as it doesn’t mean blow up the radishes. Come on Charlie, what are you trying to do here? Stir things up? Leave it alone, maybe they’ll go away.”
“I want to know what’s happening in this town. They seem to have targeted us for a reason. What if we could warn people?” His previous concerns of negative press and/or having to watch his CPA keep the subtract button warm on her calculator had been dropped the moment he’d realized he wasn’t alone in his experience. The town in which he was born, and the one he hoped to die in but not too soon, could be under attack. It was hard to tell; what he did know was that their properties were in something’s scope. There was even a handwritten list. So what was their next move?
Jeff Jeffrey tied his potentially-cashmere bathrobe around himself as he walked quietly to the kitchen. Charlie could hear him slide a wooden drawer open. He returned with a long rectangle box labelled Aluminum Foil.
“Here’s your hat,” he said. He tossed it down in front of his visitor. “At least that’s what the rest of the country will say. You gotta let it go. We can’t be known for stuff like this.”
“They could be dangerous! And they know how to find us!”
The man in the bathrobe sat down. He sighed, heavily. With his right hand he picked at a label on a jar of pickled radishes. It took him several minutes to respond, in an uncomfortable silence for Charlie who was also desperately wading through a hangover.
“Do you really think we need to warn people?” he asked, finally.
“I think we do. So that maybe we can find out what it all means before it’s too late.”
“Warn people about what?” said a female voice as it entered the room, carried by a woman who promptly booted JoAnn off of her pedestal in Charlie’s mind. Mrs. Jeffrey sat down next to her husband at the table. “I’m Mila, by the way.”
“We were talking about the triangles. Charlie here has had some crop circles himself. He thinks it’s a list of things they’re taking. He thinks they might take people next.”
Mila looked ravishingly alarmed. Beautifully terrified. Exquisitely fearful. Charlie decided he shouldn’t think of her that way. She was Mrs. Jeffrey and should be merely alarmed, terrified, and fearful. “We’re going to be abducted!?”
“No. We’re just taking precautions. Letting people know it could happen, so they’re not caught off-guard,” Charlie tried to soothe her with something equally frightening but re-worded. Like putting a big orange safety cone in front of a toxic spill.
It didn’t take 24 hours to ignite their quaint farm town with worry. Worry of alien invasions. Worry of abductions. Worry of probing. People never forget to mention probes in regards to anything coming from anywhere that isn’t Earth, where a vast universe of possibilities seems to be whittled away to human colorectal exams. The local paper accepted Charlie’s compiled information and evidence in the same quiet and understated way that a famished lion accepts a zebra. Not only had their a-maize-d farmer had this experience, much of their town had similar ones. Their town was the target of something, or someone, from another planet. Fear was rolled neatly and bound with rubber bands, tossed at the front doors of the unsuspecting locals. The zebra was picked clean.
It had been a week since the breaking news and Charlie sat with Jeff Jeffrey at the same bar he’d first met with Gary, once again eating a terrible burger. Jeff didn’t have one, because he was pretentious. Or maybe because they were terrible. On an old television set, a local woman revealed to a journalist that her carrots had been dug up about eight days prior, with four circles burned into her land, and thus the last mysterious symbol on the card was identified.
“Mila wants to move,” Jeff said. “Doesn’t want to sit around and wait for them to come.”
“That’s a little extreme, I think.”
“Extreme?” Jeff looked at him. “We just told the entire town to be afraid for their lives. And now it’s ‘extreme’ if they’re afraid for their lives?”
“We don’t even know if they’re coming back. We just told people to watch for them.”
“Yeah, but you tell people to watch their backs and they panic,” said Jeff as he watched Charlie mop his wet plate with the last piece of hamburger bun. “We weren’t even sure we were in danger at all.”
“Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?” Charlie felt a pang of guilt, scrambling for the comfort of a classic phrase generally held in high regard. Was it not always better to be safe than sorry?
“But what if we’re safe and sorry?”
Two thousand light-years away, a small humanoid creature shuffled through a box of index cards, pulling a few out and glancing over them, and every time replacing them in the box.
He sighed, annoyed. He rifled through cards again.
“I guess 86 the imported cabbage salad,” he said to his sous-chef in their native language, who took a dry-erase marker to a white board in their kitchen to notify the waitstaff that it would be unavailable. “We never received the cabbage of Earth.”
He pulled another index card from the recipe box.
copyright Mandy Ashcraft
read more great writing like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology
Mona Schroeder is a writer and former librarian who lives in Corpus Christi, Texas. This excerpt is from a novel called Random Acts about Cecilia Kendall, a woman struggling to put her life back together after a great loss. Determined never to be hurt again, her solution is to shut out the world until a chance encounter forces her to reconsider her choices and to wonder if one random act might begin to be healed by another.
Cecilia Kendall watched the mid-morning El Paso sun slip through the closed blinds in her breakfast room. It was determined, always trying to sneak in where it wasn’t wanted. She poured herself another cup of coffee—black. She took it that way now – strong, black Colombian coffee, unpolluted by milk or cream or sugar or by international cream substitutes that were supposed to spice up one’s life by drinking them.
She sat at the table and thumbed through the mail without interest. Richard had brought it in for her one last time before packing his bags and leaving. She supposed she would have to retrieve it from the mailbox herself from now on which would mean changing out of her bathrobe, something she was reluctant to do. She wondered if she could persuade the mailman to shove it through a slot in the door if she had one put in. Or would she have to put in a whole new door?
Cecilia made a mental note and resolved to check into it later. Groceries, too. She could have them delivered – not that she needed many. Coffee and some frozen dinners perhaps. There was a certain morose appeal to the thought of her self-imposed solitary confinement – at the idea of mail being silently thrust through the door, of hermetically sealed frozen dinners forced through the mail slot one at a time. The coffee might present a problem, but that could be worked out, she was sure. Maybe Juan Valdez could schlep it over on that donkey of his.
Schlep. Where had that word come from, she wondered? She wasn’t Jewish, wasn’t anything really. She hadn’t been to church in years. “Schlep,” she repeated aloud, rolling it off her tongue slowly. It was not a word she would normally use, but today was not a normal day, not the morning after her husband of seventeen years had left her.
Yet the knowledge that Richard would not be coming home to her today or perhaps ever again did not move her, not in the way she would have thought a year ago. A year ago everything in her life had changed with one single act. Another drive-by shooting. Only this time the victim hadn’t been a stranger who died. This time a gun had claimed the life of someone she loved, her fifteen-year-old son Josh.
It should be a law of the universe that no parents be forced to survive their children, Cecilia thought. Without Josh, she felt as if a part of her were missing – the best part. What was she now? She wasn’t a mother, no longer a wife either. She had quit her job, her friends, and her husband had quit her. She had no close living relatives. She wasn’t someone’s daughter or sister or aunt or niece. What did that make her? She was 37 years old and had no label, an unsettling thought.
Cecilia reflected on all the ways she had tried to fill the hole that Josh’s absence had left in her life. Alcohol. Xanax. Valium. Even, unbelievably for her, an affair. Although “affair” was a rather grandiose term for the experience. Would 30 minutes in a cheap motel count as an affair? Nothing had transpired that night worth a scarlet letter. She’d had more interest in the brightly wrapped condoms the man had produced – and certainly more contact. Latex lust in the 21st century. Safe sex. Was sex ever really safe? Was any contact with another human being completely safe?
She hadn’t thought of the affair as an act of betrayal or even of revenge, more as an unsatisfactory attempt to hold the memories and the awful emptiness at bay for a few moments. An act of survival. The knowledge that Richard had been having an affair for some time had not failed to penetrate her otherwise dulled consciousness, but it hadn’t been a motivating factor for her. Cecilia couldn’t blame Richard, not really. Their own love-making had become almost nonexistent in the past year, and so when she had detected all the signs of an unfaithful husband – traces of lipstick, a hint of unfamiliar perfume on his shirts, his socks worn inside out as if hastily put back on – she hadn’t been shocked. Disappointed maybe, in a philosophical way. But was it disappointment in Richard or the fact that he didn’t bother to hide his indiscretions any better than he had? She could accept infidelity but not carelessness?
After Richard left, Cecilia hadn’t cried or asked “Why me?” She knew that long before he left her, she had left him. She hadn’t made it a physical separation, but it had been there nonetheless. As the door closed behind Richard, she had felt sadness, tinged with a certain relief. She felt free, but from what she wasn’t exactly sure – free from obligations perhaps, from unspoken demands, free from the guilt she felt every time she looked at him, wishing that she could love him again but knowing that she couldn’t.
Richard would probably ask her for a divorce soon. One thing generally followed another like that, like a child’s game of dominoes careening wildly across the floor. Impossible to stop once started. Cecilia wasn’t afraid of divorce, but she didn’t like the sound of it, the finality of it. The “ever after” without the “lived happily” part in front. Now it was simply “lived.”
Looking down, Cecilia realized that she had sorted the mail by habit – bills in one pile, personal letters or cards in another, and junk mail set aside for recycling. She shuffled through the bill pile again – gas, electric, two phone bills. Two? She examined them more closely. One was hers, but the other was to a Meryl Stephenson at 224 Flynn, instead of 244. The mailman had made a mistake. Wondering if there were more, she thumbed through the mail again. Sure enough, more envelopes addressed to Ms. Meryl Stephenson or Charles Stephenson, same address – a card, an application for a credit card, and an envelope from a doctor’s office. She wondered how long she had been getting this Meryl person’s mail. Should she return it? Would Meryl or Charles be worried, waiting for their phone bill, wondering what could have happened to it?
Cecilia sighed. She supposed she would have to return it. It would mean changing from her bathrobe into street clothes, putting on shoes, running a comb through her hair, but she would have to do it. All that trouble because of a simple mistake. A nagging sense of decorum forbade her from taking the mail down the street in her bathrobe and slippers. It would give new meaning to the word “schlep.”
copyright Mona Schroeder
Read more great fiction like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2018
Roberta Shellum Dohse hails primarily from California. She is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley. After a stint on a farm in northern Minnesota and time in Oregon, she moved to Texas in 1980. She attended law school at the University of Houston and has practiced law in Corpus Christi, Texas since 1997. She was formerly a flight instructor and a college professor. She has always loved to write, and conveys her love of the land in her poetry. She’s been published in the Austin International Poetry Festival Anthology (2018) , and Poetry at Round Top 2018 as well as Corpus Christi Anthology 2018.
I once read a book about a woman who ran away from her life,
changing her name to that of towns through which she passed,
names so unique and different
that no one would think them the name of a woman.
She cut free her tethers and floated into a new world.
There are still times when I wish to pull up stakes, leaving behind all that is
I still thirst for new challenges, new mountains,
different faces of the sun.
What am I searching for?
The old tree where you first pulled down a branch
to pluck me a sweet blossom,
where you first gazed so deeply into my eyes,
it is leaning so wearily into the wind.
The old gas pump is still standing at the edge of town,
though the station is now long abandoned.
It was there you first put your hands on my shoulders
and drew me close, just to smell my hair.
And just up the hill is the old barn
where we had our first dance,
swaying so slowly to the rhythm of the band.
I still remember the deep musky smell of you.
There is music! And despite my best intentions,
I am drawn in to gaze at the big dance floor,
at the band at the far end, up on the stage,
just getting started.
People filter in to sit at the rough wooden tables,
and I lose myself in the lively tunes.
I can almost taste the beer.
A smile steals across my lips.
Then a loud commotion erupts at the door,
and you burst in,
your bigger-than-life laugh filling this space.
You move through,
greeting old friends, eyes sparkling,
legs twitching with the pulsing rhythm.
The very air has come alive.
But you are not with me,
and the tears spill unbidden from my eyes.
I stifle my sobs, fade back into the shadows,
then out into the twilight.
Still, I cannot keep from looking back as I drift
slowly down the hill, and,
like Lot’s wife, I am rooted to the spot.
The last rays of the setting sun
arc through the gaps in the walls,
through the places where the roof has crumbled,
where moss and leaves have tumbled in.
And, with a great a flutter of wings,
a covey of dove bursts out into the cooling air.
Shadow and color mingle, and glitter in my tears.
When am I and where are you, my love?
copyright Roberta Dohse
read more poetry by Roberta Dohse in Corpus Christi Writers 2018
Robin Carstensen was a medic and Orthopedic Surgery technician in the Air Force. Now she directs the creative writing program at TAMUCC where she teaches and advises The Windward Review, a literary journal of Texas Coastal Bend, and is co-founding, senior editor of the Switchgrass Review: literary journal of health and transformation focusing on women and lgbtq. Her first-place chapbook-winner, In theTemple of Shining Mercy, was published by Iron Horse Literary Press in 2017.
Beyond the Buena Vida Senior Village
sprawled across the old grain field,
your cloud nearly touches his hovering
over the desk, where you’ve both made it
after all to this last office down the hall,
far end of Del Mar West, the outreach campus—
edge of the oil refinery city, South Texas
Gulf Coast, where you finally finished
your own heavy lifting, defended
your dissertation after playing medic,
dishwasher, short-order cook, pizza-hut
deliverer, now trying to catch a new
break, he lifts his draft—essay one—
above the shaft of afternoon dust,
gauzy thick like revision-talk for making
clear and academically sound his life
on the industrial edge, the drug lords
who track him to every address,
tempt him with rolls of bills—favor
for his father and brother behind
Beeville’s bars, whose sealed mouths
and flared eyes command him to stay
his course. The vapor from their locked-in
dreams beating like the Royal Tern’s
wings heavy with metal residue
lifting against the chemical sky
has gathered in the atmosphere
of his face and yours when you look
into the large, black shades that veil
his eyes, you freeze, hear the distant
pierce of an engine’s gullet full-throttling
down Old Brownsville Road, or urgent
call of gull. The sound is closing in,
and now it strikes you—here, escaping
his throat. His brick shoulders shake,
his lips are wet, and the issue at stake
is cracking the surface, beyond the point
of saturation, his life, and yours, dark
chambers in the cold room about to break.
Copyright Robin Carstensen
read more poetry by Robin Carstensen in Corpus Christi Writers 2018
Scott Wayland Griffin has traveled internationally and lived in other parts of the U.S. He returned to his hometown and works as an industrial mechanic. Hobbies include medieval re-enactments, blacksmithing and creative writing.
While I was working in the shop last night, an opossum decided to come visit. (I was certain that it was an opossum even though it was larger than my neighbor's yapping dog.) I did not share his desire for companionship and defended myself with the weapon in hand . . . a full can of green exterior spray paint.
He escaped but now I must warn my neighbors. . .
Beware of the Green-Tailed Opossum!
The green-tailed opossum (think I'll refer to it as the GTO) is still lurking in my shop at times.
It seems that spray painting its butt did little to deter these visits. He smells terrible and is using my shop as his own personal latrine. He's definitely got to go.
I set out a small game trap (attached with cable to a heavy shop stand) loaded it with sausage and the GTO ate the sausage without setting off the trap.
I set out a rat trap loaded with cheese, it ate the cheese, set off the trap (which is wired to the cable) and I never heard a peep.
Moshadoe & Mohirae quickly learned the finer arts of hunting with the pack under the watchful eye of Garoun. They were allowed to follow the hunters at a respectful distance at a much younger age than usual.
Sadly, not all the older wolves appreciated having two pups tagging along. One in particular, named Badu, took every opportunity to snap at the young pair. He wasn't very bright himself and he'd had a tough time learning the skills of a hunter. When he was young, he'd been picked on by Garoun for making mistakes that usually cost the pack a missed kill.
Badu's mistakes were pretty serious and as such, he deserved a little nip on the nose or a bite on his ear because that's the way wolves treat idiots who lost the pack a meal. Garoun wasn't being mean about it, he was just handling the situation in the traditional manner.
Some wolves hold a grudge however and Badu was one of them. In his dim memory, he remembered the bites and nips being much worse than they really were and he also imagined that his mistakes were not so very bad. So, when Garoun brought the pups along, Badu took much pleasure in biting them every chance he got.
If Mohirae breathed too loud, Badu would snap at her and loudly tell her to stop being too loud, "You'll scare away the rabbits!" Of course, Badu was much louder than her little puppy breathing would ever be. If Badu was scratching an itch and he saw Moshadoe scratching too, he'd stop scratching just so he could bite Moshadoe's ear & tell him gruffly, "Stop scratching! You'll scare away the deer!"
All this the two pups endured and more, but the worst thing that Badu would do came after every successful hunt.
When a pack brings down a deer or elk, the older hunters get first turn at eating. Once they have grabbed what they wanted then the others could come take bites, according to each wolf's status in the pack. The youngest and smallest always had to wait till the last to get a small bite and Moshadoe & Mohirae knew this. They almost always waited to take their rightful turns, but Badu would bite at them and drive them away, snarling that he still wasn't finished eating. He would eat slowly, sometimes not really eating at all, only gnawing noisily on a bone as he tormented the pups by announcing how tasty this deer or that elk was.
If Garoun noticed he would shake his head in disgust with Badu. He would sometimes still have some scraps left from his part of the kill and he'd let them finish it, but he couldn't stop Badu because that wasn't how things worked. If he tried to force Badu into letting the pups eat before all the other wolves were done, it would cause a terrible fight. The tradition of taking turns according to one's status in the pack was not a thing to interfere with and if Badu said he wasn't done then the pups had to wait. The trouble was that by the time Badu grew tired of his game, one of the other wolves would resume eating and the pups would still be sitting there, waiting with rumbling bellies. Several times the pups would get nothing at all to eat from the pack's kill.
One day the pack had brought down a deer that was too small to feed all the larger wolves so the pups knew they wouldn't even get a bone to gnaw on. Moshadoe turned to Mohirae and said, "Let's go see what kind of food we can hunt on our own. There might be some rabbits near the frozen lake."
As they made their way along the path, they noticed several other wolves were hunting up mice and rabbits in the area. "Let's go farther, we don't want anyone telling us we scared away the mice by making too much noise" said Mohirae.
The two traveled on until they reached the very edge of the frozen lake. At the same instant, a large old rabbit emerged from his hole right in front of them. They stared at each other for a second before the rabbit leaped, heading away on the icy surface of the lake with the two hungry wolf pups hot on his tail. They slipped all over the place but finally managed to trip up the rabbit and then the hunt was over. The pups began to sing the song of the pack to celebrate their kill, but the rough growls of Badu made them stop. Turning around, they saw him coming towards them over the ice. "Don't be singing over that rabbit, he's mine" growled the older wolf.
It looked like he'd be taking their dinner, until the ice broke from under Badu and sent him into the freezing water below. He paddled around in circles trying to pull himself back onto the ice. He called to them, "Help me out you little runts, my tail is frozen." Moshadoe told him, "We will gladly help you, just as soon as we're done with this tasty little rabbit."
As the two pups ran off with their rabbit, they could hear Badu snarling at them as he tried to pull himself from the water. "I'm going to have that rabbit, it's mine I say!"
The pups went back up the path a little way before they began eating near a thorny cactus. They'd almost finished when a very unhappy and frozen Badu caught up to them. Moshadoe dropped the rabbit remains and it landed on the cactus. He snarled in his little pup voice, "Leave us alone. That rabbit is so small that a big hunter like you could swallow it whole. Well I won't let you, it's ours!"
Mohirae looked at Moshadoe in shock, she couldn't believe he had just talked to an elder in that tone. He whispered to her, "Just watch, he'll eat it now for sure."
The pup's torment worked. Badu was so angry that he pounced on the rabbit and indeed, he tried to swallow it in just one bite. That was all it took, for in his greed he had grabbed the small cactus in his mouth also. As he felt the long thorns stabbing at the insides of his mouth, Badu went cross-eyed and his ears went up in surprise. He tried to push the evil thorny rabbit from his mouth with his tongue, but the needles pierced that as well. He managed to pry the cactus and rabbit from his mouth with his paws, but they too suffered injury. Now he had thorns in his paws, his mouth, and his tongue. He was in no mood to cause trouble for the pups as he slunk away with his tail tucked between his back legs in shame. In fact it was days before Badu was able to eat anything and he never again tried to stop the pups from eating with the pack. He no longer snapped at them or bit their ears, for he had learned his lesson and had lost his taste for rabbits, all in the same day.
copyright Scott Wayland Griffith
read more great writing like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology
William Walton grew up on a ranch in the Texas Hill Country. He graduated from Bandera Texas High School, then from Yale University. A dissolute youth, William tried later to become a deep, sensitive person. It was a waste of time. He spent the rest of his life getting in touch with his innate superficiality, a surprisingly easy task. Except for his work with troubled adolescents, voyaging under sail, and his writing, William never deviated from that path. His stories have been published in An Honest Lie, vols. 2 and 3, anthologies of short stories by Open Heart Publishing, and in Angels on Earth. His collected fiction is available in Madmen and Fellow Travelers
Jake sat on the shaded porch of his Texas Hill Country home well into his second six-pack of the afternoon. The porch overlooked a lush green pasture, backed by a thick grove of trees where half a dozen cows grazed lazily in the shade. Putting his feet up on the rail, he leaned his rocking chair as far back as it would go, crushing one of several empty cans strewn about the porch floor.
“Hey, Ellie!” he shouted. “How about bringing me a cold beer? I'm almost out.”
“Oh no, not out of beer. Anything but that,” Ellie answered from the kitchen. “I'll bring you one when I've finished what I'm doing. Or you could just get it yourself if you can still walk.”
“Okay, fine, just bring it after you do whatever is so damned important.”
“I'm preparing your dinner. Is that important enough for you?”
Great, but why do you have to give me such a hard time about bringing me a friggin' beer? He took another swig.
Turning his attention back to the field, Jake noticed a white light, distinct even in broad daylight, emerging from the trees. The cows began milling around, bellowing fitfully. As the light drew closer, their commotion ceased as abruptly as it had begun. The cows, lowing quietly, seemed drawn into its glow. Docilely, almost in formation, they kept pace as it continued its slow, steady movement toward the house, expanding as it came.
When the light moved so close it obscured everything else from view, Jake saw a figure standing in its midst. He closed his eyes and tried to compose his thoughts, focusing on the smells coming from Ellie's kitchen.
Crap, I've had way, way too much to drink.
When he opened his eyes, he fully expected to find the vision to be gone, but instead it appeared nearer, much too close for comfort.
The figure wore a white robe, which merged with the surrounding light. Its face was that of an older man, but one whose posture was very erect. His long hair and beard were shaggy and unkempt, and he wore a straw hat with its wide brim turned down in front. In his hand he held a gnarled staff with what appeared to be a Harley-Davidson logo on the handle. Despite the almost four foot elevation of the porch, the figure towered head and shoulders above Jake.
“Howdy,” said the apparition.
Jake sprang to his feet.
“No, don't get up,” said the figure, thrusting his arm forward, the palm of his hand toward Jake. Jake sat back down.
“Who...?” he asked incredulously, his hand trembling so badly he was barely able to hold onto his beer. “Who or what are you?”
“I'm God. Who else?”
“You look more like an over-sized Willie Nelson to me.” Jake immediately regretted his remark, hoping he hadn't angered the apparition.
“How'd you get to be such an expert on how I'm supposed to look?” the figure replied. “Besides, now that I think about it, you look a lot like John Belushi. Hey, just joking with you, fella.”
“Yeah, very funny. And why should I believe you're God? You could be the friggin' Wizard of Oz as far as I know.”
“Well, for openers, who else could appear before you bathed in a bright light? Not your Aunt Emma I'll bet. You ever see a light brighter than this?”
“Okay, yeah, I'll grant you it is pretty damned impressive,” Jake said, regaining his composure. “Great special effects. Got any other miracles up your sleeve?”
“Well, it just so happens I have a few. Here's a very minor one, just for illustrative purposes. Better put your beer down.”
“Just take my word for it.”
Jake set his can down on the table next to his chair. The chair began to vibrate, slightly at first, then more roughly.
“Well, Jake, what do you think about that? Not so good on the old hemorrhoids, eh? Yeah, I know you've got them.”
Jake burst out laughing.
“Who put you up to this crap?” he said, looking under the chair. “Okay, I don't see any wires. I'm curious how do you do it, but it doesn't really knock my socks off.”
Suddenly the chair started rocking so violently Jake had to grip its arms with all his might to keep from being thrown out.
“Yippee! Ride that sucker!” the apparition shouted.
Just when Jake was losing his grip, it stopped.
“I call that my 'Rodeo Cowboy Deluxe,' simple, but effective. Not feeling so skeptical now, are you?”
“N.., no,” replied Jake, struggling to catch his breath.
“Good. Unless you want to experience another of my little attention-getters, and believe me I've got some doozies, maybe we can get down to business.”
“What do you want from me? Am I in some kind of trouble? Oh, crap, I'm not dying, am I?”
“No, you are not dying, Jake. And you are not in any kind of trouble, unless you've done something I don't know about. Oh, wait a second, I know everything, don't I?”
“Then why would you appear before me?” Jake asked, oblivious to the joke. “I'm nobody special.”
“Quite the contrary, you are very special. I have chosen you to demonstrate a love for me, a faith in me, so absolute it shall be spoken of with reverence until the end of time.”
“Until the end of time? You gotta be kidding.”
“No, not at all. The Book of Jake, your book, will be the first one in the Third Testament of my Holy Bible.”
“Book of Jake, my ass. Now I know you're messing with me,” Jake said, relaxing slightly. “How are you doing this white light thing anyway? And why aren't you doing it in Vegas for big bucks instead of out here in the boonies? You're every bit as good as that ventriloquist guy who won America's Got Talent. Better maybe. You really had me going there.”
“Oh, you think so, do you?” The apparition, without warning, tossed Jake his staff. Jake grabbed at it, lost his grip and fumbled it, but it remained in his hand as if affixed by glue. Jake tried to shake it loose, but could not.
“What the— how the hell did you do that?” Jake asked. The handle of the staff had transformed into the image of a snake's head, turned up with its mouth opened wide. The roof of its mouth was as white as the surrounding light.
“Never mind. Just toss it down on the ground.”
“Uh, okay.” To Jake's surprise, it fell easily from his hand onto the grass where it turned into a living snake, a very big one. He didn't know what kind it was, but it moved menacingly toward him. Its tail vibrated so rapidly that it made a rustling sound in the leaves. It appeared fully capable of climbing the porch steps. He leapt to his feet.
“It's a water moccasin,” the apparition told him. “Cottonmouth. Every bit as poisonous as a rattler.”
“Holy friggin' shit, that's...No, I mean, crap, that's one big mother snake.”
The apparition chuckled. “That might actually be an understatement.” he said.
“Sorry. I was just caught by surprise.”
“Forget it. I had to do this with Moses when he doubted his ability to lead his people out of Egypt at my command. Believe me, it got his attention. Have I got yours?”
“Freaking-A, I mean, uh, darned right you have!”
“Good, now grab its tail, pick it up, and toss it back to me.” The snake's tail started vibrating again.
“Pick it up? It's a friggin' snake for God's, sake!” Jake caught himself, realizing he had taken the Lord's name in vain. “I'm sorry, I, I didn't mean to blaspheme.”
“That's okay. Almost everyone blasphemes when asked to pick up a snake.”
Jake smiled feebly. “But you're kidding, right? About picking it up?”
“No, not in the least,” the apparition replied. “I’m deadly serious.”
“Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of.”
“Jake, I command you to pick it up now! I don't think I can put it much more plainly than that. Now!” The air became warmer.
Heart pounding, Jake descended the steps, grabbed the snake by the tail, and it immediately reverted into the rough-hewn wooden staff. He lobbed it back to the apparition who, he was beginning to believe, might indeed be God. Weak-kneed, he stumbled up the steps, and sank into his chair. He gulped down the remnants of his beer, and dropped the can to the floor.
“Ellie,” he shouted, turning his head toward the door. “How about bringing me that beer now? Please!” Not only did he badly need one, but he hoped her presence would wake him from this delusion, if that's what it was.
“For God's sake, Jake, I'm trying to fix dinner,” Ellie hollered from the kitchen. “Why don't you get off your butt and go fetch it yourself? Not that you haven't already had enough to drink.”
“Damn it, Ellie, I don't need you ragging on me right now!”
Ellie came and stood in the doorway. “I'm not ragging on you. I'm working my tail off cooking your meal.” Without taking any notice of the apparition, she stepped onto the porch, picked up several beer cans, then walked back into the house.
“Okay, don't get all bent out of shape,” Jake shouted after her. “I'll get it myself. Sorry for asking.” He didn't know whether to be heartened or shaken that she didn't see the apparition.
Jake reached down, picked up his can, and turned toward the visage. “I gotta go get myself a beer. I suppose I'll have to get you one, too.”
“That won't be necessary,” the apparition replied, waving his staff. Jake's beer can was instantly full. The unexpected increase in weight startled him, almost causing him to drop it.
“Nice recovery, Jake. Didn't spill a drop. Pretty good reflexes you've got there.”
“Yeah, sure. Thanks.”
“Don't mention it. I've been filling your beers for years. Haven't you noticed how long it takes you to get through them sometimes? And how you drink better quality beer than you used to?”
“I thought my taste in beer had just evolved. I suppose you were teaching me?”
“Yes, and I am still teaching you. Now maybe we can get down to my business.”
“Okay, but first tell me if Moses led his people out of Egypt. I think the Bible says he did, but I'm not sure.”
“He did as I instructed. And even when my chosen people strayed and worshipped a false god, I forgave them and delivered them to the promised land. You, too, shall do my will.”
“What are you asking of me? I don't have anything in common with Moses,” replied Jake, confused.
“You are being way too literal. I only related Moses’s story to make a point about certainty of faith. So before I tell you what I require of you, we need to talk about the strength of yours.”
“It's pretty strong, I think. I believe in God, I mean you I guess, and all.”
“And do you believe that God would ever ask you to do anything wrong?”
“No. Of course not.”
“Suppose I asked you to steal food from a convenience store to feed some starving homeless people living under a freeway?”
“Then, I guess I would do as you tell me. But what about the Commandment 'Thou Shalt Not Steal?'”
“I see things that you don't, Jake. You would just have to trust me. Do you think you could do that?”
“I think so, but I wouldn't be comfortable with it. Is that what you want me to do, steal to feed homeless people?” Jake shifted in his seat uneasily.
“No, Jake, but I do require you to demonstrate that your faith in me is absolute.”
“I don't have to explain myself to you. I'm God. Just trust me. Now, are you ready to demonstrate your faith?”
“How?” Jake asked, warily.
“I command you to sacrifice your wife, Ellie.”
Jake bolted upright from his chair.
“Holy shit! You want me to what? What do you mean, sacrifice?”
“I want you to slay her.”
“Slay? You mean kill her?” Jake began trembling uncontrollably.
The apparition waved his staff and a large knife appeared on the table next to Jake's chair. Jake flinched.
“Yes. Do it now. You can use that knife right there.” Jake recoiled from it, backing away several steps.
“Why, in God's name, would I do that?” he asked, wide-eyed.
“To demonstrate the absoluteness of your faith and that your love for me is limitless, as mine is for you.”
“I just said I have faith. I never claimed it was like Moses and all those big Bible guys. I'm just a regular person.”
“Not anymore. Your testament of faith, as inscribed in the Book of Jake, will be remembered and venerated for all time.”
“I don't want to be vener..., venerated.”
“Well, you shall be, Jake. Just do as I require of you.”
“Please don't ask me to do this!”
“Ask? Did I say ask?” The air got warmer again.
“No. No, I won't!” Tears welled in Jake's eyes.
“You would defy me?” The apparition's tone was now quiet and menacing. It got still warmer, and Jake began to sweat profusely.
“I don't want to disobey you, but I can't do this.”
“Yes, you can, Jake. Have faith that God would never lead you astray.”
“No, I can't. I'm not killing anybody, and Ellie is the last one on earth that I would harm,” Jake said, his eyes narrowing. “The Bible is supposed to be your word, and it says 'Thou Shalt Not Kill.'”
“Yes, and it says 'Thou Shalt Not Steal' too, but you were willing to do that. You either have absolute faith in me or you have none at all.”
“Then I have none. No, that's not true, I do have faith, but I don't believe you are God,” Jake said. “God would never ask such an awful thing of me.” He took several gulps of beer, then set down the can.
“Haven't you read your Old Testament, Jake? When I asked a similar sacrifice of Abraham, the life of his only beloved son, Isaac, he did not refuse. He did not hesitate. He was certain in his faith.”
“I don't give a rat's ass what Abraham did. You're not God. I don't know whether you're Satan or just voices in my head, but you sure as hell aren't God. And, if it's voices in my head, I'm not crazy enough to listen to them.”
“Abraham had the faith to do as he was told. Now, you shall do the same!”
“No, I won't do it!”
“Jake, obey me now! Your life depends on it. Your eternal one as well.” The heat became so intense Jake's shirt was instantly soaked.
Although the sky was perfectly clear, a bolt of lightning struck the ground a few yards from the porch, followed immediately by a tremendous clap of thunder. The pungent smell of smoke filled the air. It was then that Jake had his epiphany.
I'd never do that. I'd rather die than kill Ellie.
Immediately, his fear was lessened to the point that he was almost unaffected by the lightning strike.
“No way,” Jake said, picking up his beer. “Get off my property. Now!” Without realizing it, he'd squeezed the can so hard he’d crushed it.
“Defy me at your peril,” the apparition said in a quiet, ominous tone.
“Obey you at my peril, you mean, for I would surely rot in hell, or at least state prison, if I did as you command.”
“I'm going to say it one last time.” The apparition paused. “Trust me,” he urged in a less threatening tone.
“Well, then, you have determined your own fate, Jake.”
The apparition put on his hat and began walking away. A few yards from the porch, he stopped, turned back, and tipped his hat to Jake.
“Know I shall always love you, Jake,” he said in a gentle, almost sad, tone, then resumed walking toward the woods, the light receding with him as he went, until he disappeared.
The light continued to fade until it, too, was completely gone, the air cooled, and Jake could see his surroundings again. The cows grazed contentedly, the sun was low in the treetops, and the sky was beginning to pick up the colors of the immanent sunset. He was relieved to see the knife was gone.
Jake needed, really needed, another beer. He stared at the ground where the apparition had stood.
“Okay,” he said, picking an empty beer can off the floor and hoisting it. “Make it a Guinness this time.”
Nothing happened. Jake realized he'd have to get it himself, that he probably wouldn't get any more freebees. He was fine with that, and got up on wobbly legs to fetch his own. As he opened the front door, Ellie called out to him.
“Honey,” she shouted, “dinner is ready. We're having my mother’s chicken stew, your favorite.”
“Okay, that's great. I'm coming.” He struggled to control his trembling as he made his way into the dining room.
“Dinner looks, uh, really good,” he said. He held on to the edge of the table, steadying himself for a moment, then, sat down.
Ellie sat down, unfolded her napkin and placed it in her lap. “Do you want to say grace, Jake?”
“No, not tonight.”
“I just don't want to tonight.”
“Are you drunk again?”
“I don't know, but that's not it. I just don't want to. I can't.”
“Honey, what's wrong?” she asked, her brow furrowing. Jake noticed her eyes were glistening and regretted his earlier unkind remarks had hurt her.
“Nothing I can talk about right now. Just bear with me. I'll explain later.”
Jake knew he wouldn't explain later, but with the passage of time he'd be able to say grace again because he didn't believe the apparition had been God. His was a loving and forgiving God. But it might take him awhile. He also knew he would do what he had to if what he experienced had been voices in his head. If they returned, he'd get his shotgun, go into the woods, and shut them up for good. Nothing was ever going to hurt Ellie. Not on his watch. A wave of tenderness washed over him, and he looked across the table at her as though for the first time.
You are the only grace I will ever need, Ellie.
Jake gingerly took his first small bite of her special chicken stew, but his encounter with the apparition had left him with little appetite.
You, Ellie, not any damned chicken stew, are my real favorite dish.
He had hurt her feelings enough today. Things were going to be different from now on.
Jake took a few more bites, pretending to relish them, when he noticed tears running down Ellie's cheeks.
“Ellie, sweetheart, what, what's the matter? Are you, are you...all right?”
Jake felt a sudden tightness in his chest. He struggled, gasping, to catch his breath.
“Ellie, something is, is...very...wrong. I...” Jake stumbled over each word.
He couldn't breathe. The tightness in his chest became a searing pain. His fork fell from his hand, clinked onto his plate, and bounced to the floor. He tried to reach down to pick it up but couldn't move.
“Oh, Jake, I'm so, so sorry,” Ellie whispered, wiping at her tears with her napkin. “Please forgive me. I had no choice. God commanded me.”
The colored rays of the sunset streamed through the dining room windows and reflected against the opposite wall. The colors seemed first to envelop him, then fill him, and his breathing became less labored. He closed his eyes, a calm came over him, and the image of Ellie's face filled his consciousness.
It’s, it’s okay, Ellie. I forgive...
THUS ENDED THE BOOK OF JAKE.
read more great writing like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology