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 new site, 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, one granddaughter, 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.
copyright Bob James
Read the rest of the story 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
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
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.
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
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.
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...
copyright William Walton
read more in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology
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.
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...
copyright Scott Wayland Griffith
read the rest in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology
"What if?” Those two words all too easily send Devorah Fox spinning into flights of fancy. Her best-selling The Bewildering Adventures of King Bewilliam epic historical fantasy series includes The Redoubt, voted one of 50 Self-Published Books Worth Reading 2016, and The Lost King, awarded the All Authors Certificate of Excellence. She also wrote the historical thriller Detour, co-authored the contemporary thriller, Naked Came the Sharks, with Jed Donellie, contributed to Masters of Time: a SciFi/Fantasy Time Travel Anthology, and Magic Unveiled: An Anthology, and has several Mystery Mini Short Reads to her name.
See her website at 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
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.
By the time you're reading this, I hope to know more than I did when I sat down to tell you about myself. As it stands, I graduated from California State University of Long Beach with degrees in International Studies and Chinese Studies. I moved to Corpus Christi and help run a business repairing vintage motorcycles. I spend my free time placing international students with volunteer host families. I also coordinate a local group, the Culture Exchange of Corpus Christi which promotes cultural connections and inspired conversations about community. I write regularly for myself and most recently I enjoy collaborating locally. I welcome change.
The valley knew that it would change my life forever. The longer that I spent in it, the more sure I was of where I needed to be. Nothing could be the same after that summer in the desert.
I met Jay in the three days that I spent at the end of spring in the Joshua Tree dessert. I would not leave for good until the come and go of a year of seasons. If I was once a seed I had grown into a mesquite, and I was finally enjoying my shade. Before, I had wandered content, well-nourished from the freedom of decisions that had led me to this event. When I reached the desert, I gave in to a restful time and listened, for once, to the message of a music festival. If “music is the soul of life” then the desert is the body from which energy might manifest as humming, the vibrations as song. I met my Jay in Joshua Tree, and, one day, I flew away with him.
My first winter with Jay was a high-desert January and a world of wonder. I drove the three hours from Los Angeles, as I had done so many times throughout the summer, to reach our paradise in the desert. The last hour of the drive, heading up the mountain after a windmill valley, was hard on the car but easy on the mind. I passed the small but popular Joshua Tree city, catering to the tourists that came from around the world to visit the national park, the businesses boutique with faux-desert facades. Farther up the road Twentynine Palms -- an even smaller bucolic town that most only know if they have heard of the military base. Two different cities, like two very different beasts, feeding on that which keeps them growing. Turning off the main street there, I drove for a quarter of an hour more as the asphalt turned into dirt road. Not too far in the distance, with its red stripe around its side, the 1970’s El Rey camper was my minds favorite sight. I imagined that I could hear Jay's small dog panting as he listened for my tires driving up the property. I was moments from Jay's smile and feeling the weight of the wine glass in my hand.
The sky in winter matched Jay’s eyes -- a crisp and clean bright, blue grey. By morning, I was happy to be in the El Rey, warmed by the closeness of our bodies. If this had been August, the camper would be empty by midday, and we would be somewhere else searching for shade. Winter called for a noontime wandering. When the morning freeze had melted under the sun, we set out from our cozy home. Imitating the flower buds of the cacti around us, we wrapped up in layered bundles, bursting with anticipation for spring. Vast and limitless, ours was the most beautiful backyard in the world. Except for the few trails we had worn around the property, we explored in a new direction every day. There was every shape of twisting branch discovered for each pairless shoe found. When the afternoon warmed enough, we stopped anywhere in a greasewood bush field to drink wine, laugh, and watch as the stars appeared.
The Joshua Tree seemed the greatest teacher, the desert the greatest classroom. For it to survive, the Joshua Tree gave parts of itself to the desert; fruit for the sloth (extinct to humans) and seeds for Yucca Moth larvae to eat. When the flowers bloom in spring, the appreciative moth pollinates other trees. It is a thousand year old dance of coevolution. The philosophy of the Joshua Tree was simple; keep only that which you need to survive and a partner to help you grow- the rest is too heavy to carry.
Jay had a bird’s eye view of the world, and could see farther than I ever could alone. He could see where the wind would blow, dropping pieces of desert trash and treasures in a secret sand bowl. It was a long valley, hidden between a row of small mountains and sand dunes. Burnouts and storms and time had turned parts into pieces and sections to shreds. Collecting our favorite fragments of broken plates, plastics, and metals, Jay and I spent afternoons creating our mosaics. Longing for a body of water, the sound of a crashing wave, or the salt saturated spray of ocean mist, he brought a sea creature to life in the dry desert. With teeth of glass and shotgun shells for scales a devilish angler fish appeared from the sand. Once, a friend, stopping in our desert on a roadtrip across the country, painted a monarch over a wide boulder in our secret mosaic sand bowl. Before him, that boulder had looked like an abandoned Volkswagen bug in the distance. Then, it was as if the butterfly had flown swiftly into the side of the boulder and left her color splattered all over the sand. So vast, in fact, was this mosaic valley, that when we returned to find the massive monarch, with a wingspan twice as large as mine, she seemed to have flown off. Perhaps the Volkswagen had suddenly driven away.
Nothing dies in the desert. A seemingly dry greasewood, when its bare branch snaps, reveals a jade green center, ready to feed the new leaves of spring. If something begins to lose life, it crumbles over the sands' surface and smooths to preservation becoming an important particle of the ever growing land. Everything becomes the desert again.
The first time I crashed a motorcycle I fell into the soft embrace of the desert. The deep trail behind me snaked its way more sharply the closer to where I lay. Jay hadn’t seen me yet. I didn’t want him to think that I was hurt. I unburied myself from the sand and, despite the pain in my shin, walked over to the other side of the little red Honda to pull it up. By the time Jay had noticed, I was loading onto the bike again. I only fell once more that day as we were leaving the mosaic valley, burying my front tire into the side of one of the dunes. Again the snickering snake led to exactly the point where I was splayed across the sand.
Summer had gone months before but the grab of its rays still burned like yesterday in our memories. Each blazing day of that season, when the rocks and the trees and the mountains began to see their shadows, we set off on another ride. The buzzing motorbikes echoed through the canyons we explored. The world hummed to the tune of our adventures. Eager for curious visitors and luring us in with their shade, we rode up to the mouth of the hungry caves. Abandoned mines that had no notion of time. It would be weeks before the next desert riders would find them again. Leaving behind the cold and burning superheated summer surface world to the lizards, we walked into the earth and entered the cool, endless darkness. Deep blue turquoise streaks lined the inside of the otherwise rough earth; perfect lines of oxidized copper led us deeper and deeper inside.
Like Plato's allegory of the cave, I wondered if my high-desert stories made sense to many city dwellers or the strictly social media savants. Would they see the value in the voids or the expanses of the desert? How might I convey the worth in the woe of an abandoned mine? After allowing our internal temperatures to drop, and our inner thoughts to cool and calm, we wander back to see how the sand of the summer had changed. Time is measured by the sun, and it waits for no one.
We were never lost following the cooing and whispering hints of the wind, then the allure of the light. Emerging from the mine, we were enveloped in a warm embrace by the two; the sky and the sun welcomed us again. Unlike a city, where the alleys at night should be avoided, this world would not punish me for walking into the darkness.
Regardless of the season, each morning my eyes were opened by the gentle kiss of sunrise, calling for me to come outside to face the rising Ra. These 2,700 feet above sea level are pure -- similar to starving the muscles for oxygen, so does the elevation strengthen the soul. There is little room for the toxic smog of my mind that I bring with me from the city each drive and soon it is all taken away by the very same wind the urges me forward. I must have followed that very wind to that Spring festival that took me away with Jay forever. Each day in the desert since then, we did as the animals did and looked to find shade at noon otherwise, we would be bake in that retro and aluminum camper. We had to move or risk withering away as I once did on the third day that I had met my Jay.
I was falling in love with a blue Jay, and distracted I forgot to drink water, to eat, or to sleep under the stars. So, I unknowingly was fading away until I finally fainted. Catching me, as if I were a seed, Jay took me under his wing and placed me in the shade of my desert realty; there is no room for toxicity, remember the lessons of the Joshua Tree; only take what you need, and he chose to take me, the rest was too heavy to carry.
While in that daze of those days, I remembered the day Jay firmly dodged the first time I reached for his chin. In a tent booth full of precious gems and crystals, he was the most captivating -- the most valuable thing. Resonating over the entire Joshua Tree valley, the festival music enveloping the tent seemed muffled and low to the mocking Jay’s song. Would he believe that we would spend so many sunrises together in this very desert? Or riding home each sunset before the darkness could envelop the two of us on our motorbikes? One day, although it was sudden, we would fly away. We were unlike the valley’s ephemeral blooms, destined instead to flower forever. Nothing was the same after that summer in the desert and, after a year of seasons, we flew away together, my desert Jay and I.
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.”
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.
copyright John Swinburn
Read the rest of this story 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.
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
Mandy Ashcraft lives in Corpus Christi with her husband Dustin. She has worked as a Registered Dental Hygienist for eight years, and her interests include baking, science fiction, and black tea lattes. 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 and iBooks for fans of humorous science fiction. Buy Small Orange Fruit
Learn more at MandyAshcraft.com
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.
copyright Mandy Ashcraft
read more in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology
Neesy Tompkins was born in San Antonio but left for Port Aransas as soon as she graduated from High School. She and her then-husband ran a shrimp boat for several years. Later, she was employed in the restaurant and bar industries where she met many colorful characters that are reflected in the stories she writes. It wasn’t until attending college, which was possible because of a Hurricane, that she was acknowledged as a writer by her winning of a National Essay Contest with her story entitled “The Gift.” She graduated with a degree in Mass Communications and a Minor in History in May 2017, which is utilized in her current self-employment as a social media manager and advertising agency for local Port Aransas businesses. Along with writing, photography of the Island she adores is a passion.
It was like any other day, the day my father died. Oblivious to the crying and runny noses on the other end of the phone line, it seemed surreal, like the way talking sounds through the fog across a ship channel, muffled. With shaky voices, they talked of arrangements.
Voices repeated that he was really gone, as I tried to comprehend how I was supposed to act. And this huge sense of nothingness overcame me, like trying to stay adrift through a dark sea of bitterness and disappointment, blindly searching for an answer that is not there as I attempted to feel what they were feeling.
After the funeral, after the law books and business had been divided and before returning to the Island, my share of possessions resulted in a cardboard box filled with ships that my father had collected throughout his years, always on his credenza shelves in his law office collecting dust. Some metal, others bamboo, and even an oil painting in cobalt blues of a Spanish galleon tossed upon stormy seas.
The box went into the storage room of my old mobile home, in the place I stored things that I didn’t care to see. A junk room, cluttered with bird feathers and seashells, a rusty ironing board and old photographs of a life long ago known that had somehow changed so drastically to have tossed me here on this Island known as home for so long.
copyright Neesy Tompkins.
read the rest of the story 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 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
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.
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