The Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Learn is Just to Love and Be Loved in Return

The first tape I ever bought was Nat King Cole’s Greatest Hits. Natalie Cole had just released the song with her father called Unforgettable.  It was my favorite song at the moment.  I liked love songs back then. I liked old AMC movies about love. Especially the black and white movies like Roman Holiday or any of the kodachrome Elvis movies or anything with Cary Grant. I liked everything to do with love. I was a typical young girl full of heart and dreams. So, I went to the store when I was maybe 12 in 7th grade and I bought Nat King Cole’s tape.  I still can recall that day at the mall store.    

I learned every love song on that tape, laying on my bed with my Walkman and listening to the songs with my eyes closed and smiling.  His songs were so happy and promising and full of optimism. I played the tape over and over and over again.  I wore that tape out.  His voice was amazing.  The songs I loved the best were Walking My Baby Back Home and L-O-V-E.  A lot of people today reference Nat King Cole and probably don’t even realize it.  The phrase “to love and be loved” comes from a little known song from Nat King Cole called Nature Boy.  It actually goes like this…. “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”  This song is also in the movie, Moulin Rouge. 

There’s an urban legend story about Nat King Cole’s wife.  Some say it is true.  Some say it is not.  Here is the story, irregardless.  This woulda been in the year 1965:

“An African-American woman is stranded on an Alabama Highway in a rain storm. She flags down a motorist who turns out to be a white man who takes her to where she can get a cab. She’s in a big hurry, writes down his address, and leaves. A week later, there is a knock at the man’s door. It’s the delivery of a giant console color television with a note from the woman he had helped on the rainy highway. She thanks him and says that because of his kindness, she was able to make it to her dying husband’s bedside. It is signed Mrs. Nat King Cole.”

There are other firsts in my life for different types of music playing.  The first 8-track tape I ever remember hearing when I was a little girl in the 80s dancing at my grandma’s house with my cousins was the Beegees.  I remember dancing to Stayin’ Alive.  It was a very happy moment. I must have been four or five.

My mother had a record player and to this day it is in her attic.  We only had three records we would play over and over again.  They were Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Joan Jett’s I Love Rock and Roll, and then Olivia Newton John.  I can’t remember the specific album from Olivia Newton John but I remember her singing I Honestly Love You. My mother liked her a lot.

My first CD, well, that was Wrecks n Effect or maybe Guns n Roses Appetite for Destruction.  To this day, Sweet Child of Mine is still one of my favorites. 

Once streaming came on board, it was pretty easy to access all sorts of songs and I honestly can’t remember what were my first ones then.  But I remember the tape of Nat King Cole the most of all. 

How about you?  What are your fondest memories of music?  What was your first 8-track or your first tape or CD?  What songs meant the most to you as a kid? 

Phenomenal

I read that Maya Angelou will appear on the U.S. quarter. That’s pretty cool. This is my favorite poem by her. I think I read it first in my 20s. It is called Phenomenal Woman and talks about an alluring woman verses a physically beautiful woman. Here is the full poem at the Poetry Foundation. A good and introspective read for young women:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48985/phenomenal-woman

Another great one is the poem And Still I Rise. It has a universal quality, referencing the human condition and tenacity of spirit.

https://poets.org/poem/still-i-rise?gclid=Cj0KCQiA8vSOBhCkARIsAGdp6RQLUwmra2CFqmqFVp-VWGU8HX03J8QeF3VrissVOVTsr3pX1M-CdCQaAqo3EALw_wcB

The Opportunity to Help Heroes

I just work HR. It’s not very glamorous. All day long I help the company process paperwork. Today, I did 3 leave forms, payroll, helped with tuition reimbursement for 2 nurses, put in schedules for traveler nurses, and filled out lots of forms for helping medical staff with work comp in case of Covid quarantining. I help to ensure they get paid and get their benefits to support their families. Sometimes I screw up. But sometimes I am glad I am there to help.

All across America and the world, the medical staff are getting hit hard by the pandemic. It is not just the disease. It is the long hours, the double shifts, the struggles between work and family. It’s working extra to make sure the patients are okay. It’s holding hands. It’s not just meeting medical needs but psychological needs and basic needs like feeding and hygiene for the people they care for. It is wearisome to say the least.

I see it everyday. I see the exhaustion. I see the burnout and frustration. But I also see how hard they are working. I see how much extra they do with no thanks. I see the risks they take every day. I see them gowning up and getting N95 masks on that are really uncomfortable to wear. I see them working together to keep patients safe and bringing food trays to rooms and locking down facilities and screening visitors endlessly to try to keep the covid out. I see them getting through the winter snow to work. I see them playing music for the patients to cheer them up or doing all sorts of activities to keep the patients happy.

It’s not the big things. It’s the little things. It’s the little choices they make every day that make the medical personnel and medical admin heroes. It is getting up in the dark in the morning and getting scrubs on even though you want to call in. It’s showing up and clocking in and going through all the testing requirements from upper management. It’s showing care and compassion when they could easily turn a blind eye because they are overwhelmed. It’s a thousand little decisions made over and over day after day after day after endless day to stick it out for better or in this case, worse and worse and far worse.

It is an endless battle with an invisible enemy that keeps morphing over and over again and again. It would be easy to give up hope….and so many have. But I see in my own workplace, folks that just keep going and keep hoping and keep scheduling and keep administering and keep nursing and keep feeding patients and keep watching over them at night.

In Batman, the Dawn of Justice, there is a scene when Batman runs towards trouble while everyone around him is fleeing. You can watch it here if you want. I think medical people are like that but on a grander scale, a longer time scale. There is no fantastic explosion. Instead, it is decision after decision after decision to treat and maintain and prevent.

The choice to be a medical hero is not that simple. Watching it from the sidelines, it’s way harder than I had any idea of.

It’s countless endless decisions to not give up even through Delta, even through Omicron, even through this new Florina. It’s the internal decision to soldier on. It’s the decision to stay positive amidst adversity, as one of my colleagues said to simply, “Take one day at a time.” He said the key is to not look at the big picture but just focus on the day, getting through the day. That is the best advice I’ve gotten since working this job.

I’m honored to help them. I know I make mistakes sometimes with the paperwork and sometimes the procedures and processes can frustrate or seeing the medical staff burdened can make you feel god awful. But overall, I am glad I took this job.

I work with heroes. Real heroes. Not the kind that wear spandex and capes. And that’s not just rhetoric. It’s true. These are the real kind. I wonder what stories we will tell of them many years from now if we all make it through this pandemic.

Tonight, if you just google hospitals, you will read countless articles about the hospitals and other nursing facilities under siege. My own cousin came down with Covid in Kansas. All the hospitals were full up and they were considering life-flighting him all the way to New Mexico to a hospital there. That is how bad it is for the medical facilities right now.

If there was any time the medical staff in America could use your thoughts and prayers, it’s now.

Heroes run towards trouble even when others run the opposite direction. It’s a gut decision, a split second decision. They just do it. That’s how you know someone is a hero.

As they say in the St. Jude’s hospital commercial, “Hope is when you never give up.”

Remember, the stars shine brightest only on the darkest of nights.

A Frosty Christmas

We drove to Manchester airport to pick up Mom and Dad for Christmas. We drove northwest through the White Mountains in the thick snow and ice. 2 interstates were closed nearby but we continued slowly onward. Nonetheless, we took the road less traveled to Franconia and the snowy path led uphill to Robert Frost’s home.

Robert Frost is considered the quintessential American bard or poet. He lived from 1874 to 1963. Right before his passing in Boston, he delivered the inaugural poem for JFK.

Robert Frost won 4 Pulitizer Prizes and the Congressional Gold Medal. He was born in San Francisco but moved alot. He lived primarily in New Hampshire and England where he was influenced by Ezra Pound, Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, and Robert Graves. Frost went to Dartmouth and Harvard. He first published in 1915. He published 2 books called North of Boston and A Boy’s Will. His poetry quickly amassed a great following and by 1920, he was known all over America and beyond.

Pollyanna

We went to Littleton, NH to see the nation’s oldest ski shop called Lahouts. We bought some cross country skis as an early Christmas present to each other.

Littleton is also famous for being the town where Eleanor Porter wrote Pollyanna.

Pollyanna was a Disney movie with Hayley Mills. The original book is a children’s classic and was published in 1913. It tells the story of a very optimistic orphan girl who goes to live with her dour aunt in Vermont.

Today, you can visit her statue in front of the little public library and rub Pollyanna’s boot for good fortune and a glad attitude.

At Pollyanna Gateway, there’s a pretty array of colorful umbrellas and lights setup too. Here’s some pics of the main road.

Also, there’s a fantastic covered bridge in Littleton. It is long and has gorgeous views.

Outside of town is the Franconia State Park region. Mountains and hiking are plentiful here. Not far away is Franconia, home of Robert Frost, the famous New England poet.

And you can go see a marker for the nation’s oldest ski school or see Polly’s Pancake Parlor for maple syrup and pancake mixes outside Sugar Hill.

Trending on Netflix

This article is about the first episode of the #1 trending show on Netflix called The Squid Game. Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the show, go ahead and skip this article. I don’t want to ruin it for you. It’s a pretty good show.

I wanted to write about the red light/green light game in the show. This is a game many of us have played as children. Perhaps it was part of our pre-conditioning to the game of life itself. In the show, the premise of the game is simple. When the rule maker calls green light you run towards a finish line. When the rule maker says red light you must freeze. If you move during the red light period you will lose. In the Squid Game episode, you don’t only lose but are “eliminated.”

There is a timer. You got 5 minutes to make it to the finish line and win. If you don’t, you also lose or are “eliminated.”

Red light/green light is the game of adult life. It is also the game scenario of any major battle in war. There are many important things you can learn from watching The Squid Game red light/green light game and I encourage you to think about it carefully.

Imagine The Squid Game red light/green light game was put in a different story. Imagine the American Civil War and the game players are required to make it across a field to the “finish line” or past the enemy. Imagine Union soldiers in uniform in battle. The red light/green light game is the story of what can happen in that battle and the quick assessments and decisions that must be made. Remember, the field of victory is won by the man of action. The field of defeat or failure is given to the man of inaction or the coward who retreats. I’ll talk about this later. There are really only three groups of people on the playing field: men or women of action, men or women of inaction (those who are frozen), and men and women of retreat (those who succumb to panic and fear). In life, it is really just the doers, the dreamers, and the cowards.

If you are young and you are reading this, which one will you choose to be? I’ll explain more in a moment.

Ok, so studying the red light/green light game carefully from the beginning, we see that the players are conditioned with fear, panic, anxiety a little before the actual game starts. They are put in a strange new environment together. They are assigned numbers and taught a few things ahead of time. They are given some time to interact together which makes them collectively question things. Right away, we see who the super villain is of the group and we see the one who is being bullied by the super villain. This will come into play later.

The contestants are run through a strange new environment that appears to consist of standing in long lines and going up levels and having to take photos to be identified. Right away, we also meet the cocky sure-fire and comedic fools who will attempt to lead right off the bat in the red light/green light game and fail completely while the others watch. Their “elimination” will drive a pivotal moment in the game when the players all realize the true stakes of the game and must decide to either freeze, progress forward, or run back to the starting line.

I would argue that this red light/green light game is like the game of adult life. Instead of 5 minutes, you are given 5 decades to get to the finish line of winning, or retirement. You must progress through the green light moments and be cautious and smart and stop during the red light moments. You must not get caught. You must not get disabled. You must not run back to the starting line of returning back home to parents after failure or returning too much to school for degree after degree or professional studentship after failure in employment or returning back to your hometown in the face of shame……etc. etc. you get the point. You only got five decades. You need to be progressing through each decade steadily like a turtle….not like the fools out front or like the hare in the Aesop Fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. Stay in the middle. Don’t be at the front. Don’t be at the end.

It’s a little bit like that other game from our childhood, that board game called Chutes and Ladders. In Chutes and Ladders, you got 100 spaces to move up to the end. You spin the wheel. Some spaces you land on will have small ladders. Sometimes you hit the jackpot and get on a tall ladder all the way to the top. But there are also slides or chutes. Some of the slides just go down a few levels. There is one terrible dreadful slide that goes all the way down to the beginning. It is super frustrating……but you can still win the game if a lot of luck is on your side and you are smart and take very good calculated risks.

So back to red light/green light….you should be making slow and steady progress like the turtle throughout the decades but there are some players who freeze in inaction early on or later throughout the game, perhaps they can’t make up their mind about life goals or perhaps when they see a loved one down on the ground either eliminated or almost eliminated. Those people can still win the game but it is much much harder for them and they need lots of luck, brains, and moxy. They gotta take big risks.

Ok so what are the other very important things we learn about the Squid Game red light/green light game as it correlates to the game of adult life. We learn that the pre-game of being in a strange new environment, standing endlessly in lines, going up levels and such…..it’s very similar to childhood or schooling. It also, whether intentional or not, serves to place panic, anxiety, and even dread in the players.

The word “panic” itself comes from the mythological creature Pan. He was said to play strange music. Panic originates from ancient times when during battles between two opposing forces, one or the other or both sides would announce their presence far before being seen on the battlefield through the use of sound or music. Imagine being a Roman soldier encountering the Barbarians of the Germanic tribes and over the crest of the opposite hill while you stand in file for war, you hear the loud beating of ominous drums. These drums are intended to scare you or make you panic long before you actually see the faces of the soldiers on the opposing side. The Barbarians would use other similar tactics to instill fear…..such as war paint or carrying creepy totems or human skulls on stakes, or carrying terrible weapons with spikes and chains and stuff.

The whole point of panic is to get half the players retreating and giving up before the action even starts and then there’s a good portion of the players that are just frozen in terror between retreating or pressing forward.

Ok, so we’ve already established that there is a pre-game that intentionally or not will get you scared and adrenaline coursing through your body ahead of time. We’ve established that on the field of play, the greatest problem you face is fear, panic, or anxiety. We’ve talked about how bad retreating is or moving away to get a fresh start in the fight or flight response or perhaps giving up on a goal and heading back to your hometown. We’ve talked about the importance of slow, steady progress that is smart. We talked about the fools out front of the pack who only serve as lessons to the rest of us of what not to do and drive the pivotal moment of intense fear or dread when they fail or are eliminated horribly. And lastly, we learn that prisoner 456 freezes in inaction for a large portion of the 5 minutes on the timer but he resumes moving forward. We learn that he can still win and cross the finish line but he needs a lot of luck, smarts, and to take risks.

But what are the really smart and strategic things we learn from watching The Squid Game red light/green light game?

We learn that family, friends, neighbors…..community or rather other people who feel devotion to us……this is very important. Remember that prisoner 456 is the older brother to the younger man in the game who convinces prisoner 456 to stop freezing and start moving forward or he will be eliminated by not crossing the line in the 5 minutes deadline. The younger brother who feels a devotion to the older brother because the older brother helped him go to college and helped raise him, returns the favor by taking a calculated risk to hide behind another player and tell prisoner 456 two important things. First, he tells him to move or he will lose or die. Second, he tells him to survive, prisoner 456 should hide behind the body of another player as he progresses forward. This is very smart.

What does this mean in the real world game of adult life?

Don’t be the fool at the front nor the sloth at the back. Hustle. Find a mentor. Find someone to get behind that can help you progress forward. Keep moving behind them as long as you can whether it’s a parent or boss or supervisor or teacher or coach. Also, stay to the middle. Be smart. Move fast on a green light. Watch for red lights and be prepared to stop long before the red light is called. Red lights in the game of adult life can be jail, bad jobs, divorces, etc. There are many avoidant behavior paths too that inactive people or retreating people engage in that can make things way worse like substance abuse or procrastination activities.

So prisoner 456 starts moving forward but he is hindered by someone that is shot and on the ground pleading for help. Also later in the game, prisoner 456 himself trips and almost falls but is saved by prisoner 199 who takes a calculated risk to be altruistic and save his life. For this, prisoner 456 will owe prisoner 199 a favor.

Calculated risks of altruism are good in the game because they can help us later when others pay back favors to us. But too much risk for a person that is really in trouble can lead to our detriment or demise even. In the red light/green light game, prisoner 456 determines the first time to ignore the bleeding man on the ground. He is already too far gone. He can’t be helped. Whether in war or life, you have to triage and do a quick assessment of who you can help and who is too far gone. Be altruistic. Develop good karma that can be repaid. But sometimes it is necessary to cut losses. I know that is harsh to say, but this viewpoint is from the perspective of winning the game. There are so many people in life that stop to help a loved one and just self-sacrifice knowing they are going down with the ship and that is their conscious choice. Eventually, they will lose the game.

In the Squid Game red light/green light game, there is a super villain and his bullied victim. As the game starts the bullied victim realizes how she can even sabotage or destroy the super villain but doing so will expose herself to potential elimination. She can easily move the super villain and she lets him know that. In life we can sabotage or out bad guys but it is important to realize that we should not lose ourselves in the process and get ourselves in trouble or develop bad karma as a result as well.

Now the most interesting player in the game is player 1. At the start of the game, it is established that he has a brain tumor and not much odds of living long. He has early trauma at the start of the game. Also, his will to win is stronger because he has less to lose and sorta a cavalier stance towards life. He probably thinks to himself, well it can’t get much worse. He leads the others in the game moving forward and he is cunning and steady. He also has almost a smile or half-crazed look about him that is sorta creepy.

What does this teach us about the game of adult life?

The best players are the ones that experienced early trauma in the game and feel like they have less to lose cause heck, it couldn’t get much worse, and their will to win or determination is very strong with almost a crazy tenacity. You will see these type of folks leading the pack in life. They went through bad, bad stuff early on. They learned a lot about life. They had to go through it to get to it ….so to speak and they have very strong drive and discipline. These are the people that grew up in terrible poverty or fought back from horrible illness or accidents or disability, etc. etc.

So morale of the story? Don’t pamper your kids. You may say to yourself, you are giving them a break and you are being kind to them. You are sheltering them from hardship. No, you’re not. You are making it way worse for them as adults when that pivotal fight or flight moment sets in and they might turn around and flee or freeze in inaction. Teach them early. Teach them while their young. Maybe you’ll give them a fighting chance. I don’t really recommend private schools and such cause they just pamper and protect kids. Put them in public school if you have too. I think Kevin Hart says it best in his new comedy show that private schools turn out soft, scared adults. To quote him directly, “private schools breed bi*****.” And well, he’s sorta right.

I think that covers everything I learned from watching the first episode of The Squid Game red light/green light game. It’s pretty fascinating psychology actually. Oh, and I guess one last point is that whatever actions you make, you will be observed by others. So make sure you make the right decisions…it may come back to help you or hinder you in the future.

So, if you’re young, please watch this part of the show and think about this admittedly long-winded review on the psychology of it. These tips can help you later in life whether you are a soldier on the battlefield or a worker at the office, etc. etc. Remember,

  1. Keep moving forward.
  2. Work steadily towards one goal….the finish line.
  3. Don’t be the first to lead the fray.
  4. Don’t be the last to follow.
  5. Find a mentor or guide to follow.
  6. Slow and steady wins the race like the turtle.
  7. Don’t forget you are on a deadline.
  8. You can freeze momentarily but don’t give up or retreat. He who hesitates is lost.
  9. Stop before the red lights. Be smart. Anticipate the moves of the rule makers.
  10. The only thing you really have to fear is fear itself. Panic, anxiety will ruin you. Stay calm when all hell breaks loose.
  11. You can start over later in life but you better have a lot of grit, good luck, and brains to cross the finish line.
  12. Don’t let the pre-game get to you and psych you out.
  13. Don’t be pampered in your youth and don’t pamper your own kids.
  14. Be altruistric but also triage who you can help and who you cannot.
  15. Stay away from avoidant things like alcohol, drugs, too much social media, video games.
  16. Those people you help in life will one day return the favor. Support your friends, family, neighbors when you can.
  17. If you face trauma, use it as fuel to move forward not as an excuse to be disabled.
  18. Victory comes to the men and women of action. Failure/defeat lies for the men and women of permanent inaction or permanent retreat.

Good luck and I hope you catch a lot of green lights in the game of life.

Someone I Admire

She was my General Science teacher in High School. I remember her as sorta quirky and fun. She was brilliant in Science and really knew her stuff. She wore a long braid of hair and everyday she dressed comfortably but not too fashionably.

Her name is Suzanne Arruda.

I went on through High School and graduated. I went to college and continued life. Decades later, I found out she had started writing after teaching for years.

You can find her books on Amazon and sold in libraries and bookstores all over the world. She published with Penguin. She wrote a whole series of books about a female heroine who solves mysteries involving ancient artifacts and exotic animals in Africa. Her books are like an Indiana Jones action adventure series but with a female protagonist and involving a lot of Science.

I wanted to introduce you to her. Here is a link about her work:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzanne_Arruda

I think it’s great to write one book but it is a whole other level of amazing if you can continue into a long series involving the same character. It takes a whole other level of creativity and imagination to keep the original story going and going.

When I wrote a book, I reached out to her to see if she would go to the book launch. She said she’s retired from writing but she wished me the best of luck. She’s a pretty cool person like that.

These are the books:

https://www.amazon.com/Suzanne-Arruda/e/B001IOBL6O?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1631762632&sr=8-1

Red M&M

A decade ago, I was in a new relationship with a boyfriend I was starting to like a lot. One night, we went to the Quapaw Casino in Oklahoma. We drank at the bar with a group of friends and sat together.

My date got pretty drunk and started talking about “variety being the spice of life and how men love spicy foods.” From there the conversation went off on a tangent about the TV show 2 and a half men. He continued by saying that he admired that TV character because he chose variety.

He said imagine you got a bag of M&Ms. Now do you enjoy the variety of the whole bag of M&Ms or do you just eat the red M&Ms for the rest of your boring life? That’s where things got a little awkward in the conversation considering I was his girlfriend and the only redhead sitting at the table.

I didn’t know what to say. There was awkward silence and then the conversation picked up on something more lighthearted. I drank my drink. Eventually I excused myself from the table and made my way to the bar restroom. I looked in the mirror a bit at my reflection then went to a toilet where I barfed in the stool. I washed up, went back to the bar but didn’t go back to the table.

I wandered over to the end of the bar where a woman was trying to romance an attractive Cherokee bartender. She kept trying to flirt with him and get his number. I could tell he felt as awkward as did I. He welcomed my presence right away as I was extremely glad for his company too and we all shared a few more drinks that night as I watched him continue to deflect her advances.

Eventually I went home with my boyfriend but we broke up shortly after.

Ten years have come and gone. I saw him a few times through the years. He remained a bachelor. I got married and raised a family. At one point, he asked me to come back. I didn’t really answer.

Yeah.

10 years.

That actor from that show ended up with HIV. That boyfriend never found a woman to stay very long with him.

Variety may be the spice of life but too much spice in one’s diet can lead to unfortunate longterm consequence and illness.

We each have our own little M&M in our life. Chose the boring path or the fun and flirty. Just be prepared for the longterm outcome.

The Locket

By J. Speer

Photo by Bruno Castelli on Pexels.com

(This story was written for a dystopian writing challenge. The short story had to be 600 to 2,000 words and involve a silver heart locket.)

Part One


It wasn’t supposed to happen like this…


That was the last thought entering Dawn’s mind as her shocked eyes pulled away from the rearview mirror. In the reflection, she could see the slow pool of blood flowing out from her sister’s abdomen. Liz was crumpled in an unmoving heap on the ground 15 yards behind her. That was as far as Liz had gotten before the robots fired lasers at her fleeing the vehicle.


LIz was dead for certain. Dawn knew this already in her shattered heart. The shadows of drones flew overhead targeting her renegade F390 truck.


Her eyes darted to the glove compartment briefly and then drew back to the gathering robot border patrol guards. Dawn thought of the only weapon she had, an ancient Colt 1911 that had belonged to her father before he was euthanized by the People’s Republic in 2064. This was 17 years prior to this moment….her Dad euthanized at 50 to fertilize soil for the republic crops……euthanized by state mandate like all the other 50 year olds that surrendered their bodies for the greater good. State survival…it was necessary.


The laser sights flickered briefly to show the robots were on to her movements, armed and deadly. Dawn swallowed harshly.


A brief text appeared before her.


“You know what to do.” scrolled the incoming message left to right above her briefly on the digital windshield.
There was another pause as she considered the weight of the silver heart locket on her heaving chest.


“You know what to do.” the message repeated only this time it was followed by a slight command strong enough to stop her beating heart.


“Remember your family back here in Teyhanna.”


A solitary tear fell down Dawn’s right cheek as she continued to stare at the border crossing now filled with reinforcing robotic sentries. No more messages appeared.


Dawn reached quickly for the heart-shaped locket with her left hand. The laser lights flickered again. Four robots forcefully came forward.


“Halt!” They ordered. “You are in violation of ordinance 517.”


She thumbed open the tiny clasp on the locket. Her eyes were glued to the robots coming forward now, fast approaching the vehicle.


She felt the small pill fall into her cupped hand. She remembered what the cartel man had told her. You can’t allow yourself to be captured. If you do fall into their hands, you will wish you were dead anyway. They’ll never let you go. Slavery…prison….fertilizer….worse. You know what to do.


The robots slammed their fists into the hood of her car. Dawn closed her eyes and brought the little pill to her mouth. Then, she swallowed it down. Cyanide. He had said it was cyanide. It will be quick he had said as he had handed her the lockets and walked away from her little brother’s graveside in Teyhanna, the brother that was executed by the same cartel. He had gotten in over his head with the wrong sort of people.


Minutes later, robots yanked open the locked driver side door of the truck. Dawn’s limp, lifeless body fell in a crumpled up heap onto the dry, parched desert ground. When her head hit the ground, her soulless eyes stared towards her sister. A sort-of bluish foam pooled out from Dawn’s breathless lips.

Part Two


One week prior, Dawn was heading out the hatch door of her apartment flat in Drose. She was going to be late for work if she didn’t hurry. She activated her truck from her watch and noticed an emergency alert intercept from her older sister, Liz. Liz – the wise and strategic one who had married into wealth and fortune despite her upbringing…..despite the days of their youth trudging illegally across the desert wasteland between Drose and Teyhanna to reach the promised land. Days without food and barely any water…..days they survived by each holding tight to the hands of their father who kept the little girls safe, alive, and kept them going.


Drose, or rather The People’s Republic of Drose established in 2036 after the nuclear wars and eventual climate change desertification of 3/4 of the Earth’s top soil, depletion of the fresh water sources, and final death, destruction, plague, and general famine of the Great Eradication of 2041 through 2043. It took 3 years for nearly 7 billion people to be wiped off the planet.


Gone.


Drose had survived and so had the badlands of Teyhanna, south of Drose through the searing hot desert. Anything goes in Teyhanna…so they say. It was the wild, wild west of drugs, prostitution, murder, mayhem, black market deals and so on. Teyhanna fueled the abundance of Drose. Drose, for its part, drove the decisions of the overlords of Teyhanna.


Drose, The People’s Republic of Drose, on the otherhand was a model of thinly veiled democracy underlined by totalitarian extremism. There were no families, so to speak, in Drose….not according to the state. Bioparents birthed children who were sent immediately to boarding schools of advanced technology, science, and medicine. Rules were strictly enforced. Slavery and debtor prisons were re-introduced. From the age of 10, all were expected to work together for the greater good of survival and all were expected to help the crop cultivation and soil/water conservation through all means necessary…ALL means necessary.


It was a harsh reality but one much better than life in Teyhanna. Dawn knew this, so she grew up to service the plant industry cultivating seeds in labwork. She was a hard worker…like her father. LIz, on the other hand, due to beauty and charm…caught the attention of one of the higher class. She was not completely like Dawn, a proletariat citizen.
Dawn checked the message. Liz seemed upset which was rarely her outright nature, given that she was quite guarded emotionally.


“John has……I’m sorry to say this, Dawn……John has passed away.” There was a pause on the line. “Mom…she wants us to come home, to come back to Teyhanna for the funeral and to see the family. The funeral is Wednesday.” Another pause on the line followed.


“He was executed by gunshot. Bullet to the head. I’ve decided to go….to go back. I know it’s dangerous. I know this already. I’m going anyways. It’s been years. We need to be there for Mom and the others.”
Liz sighed. “Dawn, I want you to come with me. I need you to come with me.”

Part Three


She could see them from the graveside, the men in black. Everyone was dressed in black at the funeral but they stood out from the rest, these men that had murdered her brother. They had pulled up their entourage of vehicles 100 yards away from the little service among the crowded tombstones of the clustered graveyard. The preacher gave a brief sermon. Others cried tears of hardship and loss feeling the injustice of a life taken violently and too soon.
But Dawn watched the men quietly.


They eventually approached. They offered their condolences to the grieving mother and family. Dawn and Liz looked cautiously at each other as the leader of the group motioned them to follow him to a more distant spot to converse. Knowing this was Teyhanna, knowing the way of life here…..they reluctantly followed. The others from the family were leaving group by group back to their little homes and little lives in the barren, crowded wasteland slums of Teyhanna.
“My condolences to you for the loss of your brother,” he offered in feigned respect. “We had concerns regarding this situation…your brother’s allegiance and fealty to our….operations.”


Dawn felt a rising anger inside herself that she knew not to expose. Without missing a step, the two women fell in line with the overlord’s assistant. He walked a ways in silence and then turned abruptly.


“Our needs have not been met yet,” he said deliberately, cocking his head to one side. “When you return to Drose, you will be required to carry something onward for us….a gift for the magistrate….a package. Do you understand?”
The women said nothing.


“Consider your brother’s debt to the organization cleared when and if you cross the border successfully,” he stated.
He continued to walk and they followed.


“This package will come to you,” he said in a low voice as he motioned to one of his bodyguards holding an assault rifle near the vehicles.


Then he smiled. “You will deliver. Your family here will be counting on you. Understood?”


“It’s simple really. Just deliver the item. If however, you face….opposition…,” his voice trailed. “We will need you to wear these.” He gave the women each a silver plated locket. “There will be no compromising of the course of action. Come, follow me further and we will discuss in more detail.” He motioned once again to his men.


Liz and Dawn continued to listen quite carefully as was to be expected in a violent, notoriously black market place like Teyhanna. A few days later, the package arrived at their mother’s house. Shortly afterwards, the two said their goodbyes and made their way with the package to the border of Drose. Both women had a deeply unsettling feeling of fear but they did exactly as they were told.


They just didn’t anticipate what would soon occur. The package was hidden carefully in the truck undercarriage. But it was not secret enough to avoid exposure to the vehicle imaging scans of those silent, deadly drones overhead.

The Little Turkey and The King Cobra

by J. Speer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There was a little barn, alive with activity, in southern India. In the shade of this delapidated, old, red barn, 10 or 12 little chicks gathered near their hen mothers. They were beautiful, little fluff balls of yellow and black and deep brown. They chirped constantly. The mother hens gathered them here and there around the free range barnyard throughout the day as they all pecked for food, drank cool water from the farmer’s bucket, and sat around gossiping about the other barnyard animals.


In the barn, the grey mule stood sullenly. He was an old miserly sort of fellow with a rather sharp tongue. He harrumphed loudly and cleared his throat. His name was Inesh.


In the stall beside him lay a few goats named Pranjal, Sanat, and Vedant. They were a gaggle of goofballs. Their antics were quite known around the barnyard and legendary.


Then there were the 2 horses with their new spring pony. The farmer’s daughter loved the black pony and called her Bhavna.


No other animal of note was really associated with the barnyard other than a few dogs and the rather ordinary and plain looking turkey. She was an odd old lady often left out of the usual hen gossip circle.


The turkey had managed to escape the farmer’s axe through the years but not the sharp tongues of the other barnyard occupants. As a result, she tended to keep quite to herself, mild-mannered and soft-spoken. Her presence caused very little real annoyance but she was different and different, as we all know, is not always tolerated.


The little brown turkey was named Binita. She had no partner and so had accepted her childless fate through the years. She doted on the little chicks instead, offering them kindness and smiles from time to time as she clucked and fretted alone around the barnyard generally mumbling to herself and doing the daily activities that a turkey will do.


It was a beautiful Spring day and so it came with much surprise, that a dangerous King Cobra was slithering quietly along the side of the old red barn towards the little baby chicks. The gossipy old hens had gathered in the northeast side of the yard and so, the king cobra noted with secret chagrin that he would have to cross the yard for a slight moment or two out in the open exposed to attack and kill the baby chicks.


His hunger for the taste of little chicks compelled him forward nevertheless. His shiny black charcoal reptile scales glistened in the sun as he paused momentarily to survey the barnyard scene. The dark scarlet tongue darted in and out rapidly from his mouth. He dared not rise up yet. Clearly, his path to his prey was blocked by the mother hens but also before that, by a rather, odd-looking and quite pathetic old turkey.


“No bother,” he thought to himself. He would quickly pass by the turkey, surmissing that she would run in fear as they all did. He checked the air once more with his tongue before rapidly crossing from the barn wall diagonally through the yard. He salivated considering his prey, the plump fluffball baby chicks.


Binita was pecking for a worm in the yard. She was distracted and not paying much attention until she nearly stepped right into the path of the violent and cruel King Cobra. Her leg froze in midair as she suddenly realized with great fear who the new intruder to the farm might be. She shrunk back instinctively, ruffling her brown feather wings rapidly and squaked to sound an alarm to the other barnyard animals.


The exposed King Cobra raised up high in the air and flared out his neck and face. He hissed sharply to frighten away the old bothersome turkey. Meanwhile the alarm had been sounded and suddenly the whole barnyard was shook with panic.


The gossipy mother hens ran for their lives abandoning their young in great fear of the giant, deadly snake. They huddled into the hay of the other barnyard corner trying to wedge themselves as close to the fence as possible. The old grey mule brayed and harrumphed loudly, stomping his feet to try to attract the attention of the farmer and his family. The goats leaped up from their usual munching and bahhed as well in unison. Nearby dogs barked. Even the horses paced back and forth, hiding their beautiful black pony behind them. They were all frightened and terrified for their lives…..all except the clueless and sweet little fluffball chicks chirping unprotected and unaware so innocent in the yard.


The King Cobra knew all that stood between him and a marvelous, tastey lunch was that old foolish hen Binita. And so, he flared his neck and face as much as possible and hissed moving and swaying dangerously before the shuddering turkey.


But Binita did exactly what he did not expect. Everyone, in fact, was surprised by what Binita did next. As the mother hens shrunk back crying in fear and terror, little Binita ran straight across the barnyard to the innocent chicks. She opened her wings as if to shelter them, and quickly gathered them all together into the farthest corner of the barnyard away from the King Cobra. Then, she turned to face him with her wings spread wide to keep the chicks behind her.


This drew the fierce anger of the hissing King Cobra. He lowered once more to slither within inches of the terrified turkey Binita. She stepped back in fear, looked behind her at the baby chicks, gulped, and then turned to face the King Cobra head on.


The other barnyard animals were certain Binita would be a goner.


The King Cobra drew up again to full height and flared his face and neck. He hissed his last warning and then moved to strike Binita with his fierce fangs in a rapid attack. But she flew back out of reach of his fangs. Not only did she parry him, but she flew in just as fast to peck him hard on the head.


He shook his head and drew back in shock. Now, he was getting really angry. Once again, he watched the hen and attacked. She flew back to parry and then countered again with one harsh peck against his neck. Again and again, he attacked. Again and again, she managed to escape the attack just out of reach and then flew in to peck him harshly. With great annoyance, he flared his neck and face wider. The more he attacked, the more she pecked him hard on the head.


The battle was fierce and very deadly but Binita refused to move out of his way. She would not let him advance on the little baby chicks no matter what. They huddled behind her in a pack now, sensing something. The othe barnyard animals watched in shock and awe.


For two or three full minutes the poisonous snake and odd little turkey faced off. Finally, she pecked the King Cobra extremely hard on the head. He was frustrated beyond belief but could not get past her for anything. Eventually, he gave up. Defeated, he lowered.


She stood now in front of the baby chicks with her wings spread wide to shelter them. The deadly King Cobra, in shame and embarrassment as well as angry hunger, slowly lowered further and slithered back across the yard. He slithered back past all the silent barnyard animals, even the hiding mother hens, and then out into the green pasture lands. Within moments, he was gone.


Binita stood sheltering the baby chicks and breathing hard from her chest. The little chicks, innocent and unaware of the danger, chirped happily behind her. They bounced here and there. The barnyard finally came slowly back to life.

The old stodgey mule Inish bowed deeply in gratitude to the little brown turkey Binita. The three goats smiled happily and high fived each other with their hooves. They went back to munching lovely lumps of hay happily. The horses all nodded their heads in great admiration to Binita and even the gossipy mother hens clustered around the once-neglected turkey Binita, to hug her and thank her tremendously. They even lifted her onto their shoulders chirping and squaking with tremendous cheer.


Binita, for her part, never felt alone in the barnyard again. From that day forward, she would always be part of the barnyard family, though odd and a little quirky. Her deeds from that day would also become quite legendary. And the cute, little baby chicks grew up to love her as their own.