It feels great to be published at the Chamber Magazine online! I love the artwork they attached to the story! The Chamber Magazine publishes dark fiction genre in the form of poetry, short stories, etc. I submitted a story named Stull based off the real abandoned church site near Lawrence, Kansas. According to urban legend, this place is considered to be a secret gateway to the underworld. The story was published on April 2nd. Another story related to this one will subsequently follow on April 9th and it is called The Cold Spot and features a haunting at the Strawberry Hill Mansion in Kansas City. Both places are believed to be hot spots for paranormal activity. The woman in the stories is a sensitive, or a person that has the ability to sense paranormal activity around her not through sight but through intuition. These two stories are works of fiction.
Check out the stories at their online site at https://thechambermagazine.com/. Disclaimer: The stories and poetry are for an adult audience. Also, if you love to write as well, consider submitting your own work to the magazine. They are seeking works from authors all over the world and have a global audience.
I am super excited today! I submitted 2 ghost stories about a young woman who is a sensitive, or someone capable of feeling the presence of paranormals. The first story called The Cold Spot will be published on April 2nd at 10:00 am. The second story will appear on April 9th in that next edition online. It is simply called Stull. Stull is the name of a paranormal mecca, a gateway to the underworld located outside Lawrence, Kansas. Both ghost stories are works of fiction but inspired by true locations in the Kansas City area.
Here is the link to The Chamber Magazine. They are seeking submissions like poetry or short stories that involve horror, dark subjects, gore, ghosts, monsters, etc. To learn more, check out their site:
This is my Valentine’s Day gift to you! I wrote a piece for a love contest. Here is the entry. It is supposed to be a heart-warming story about love in a Midwest bowling alley. Picture Kingpin meets Romeo and Juliet.
I hope you have a wonderful, romantic Valentine’s Day! Stay warm too, my friends!
Imagine Me and You
by J. Speer
In 2018, there was a little bowling alley in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It was a popular locals’ joint and featured 12 open lanes for 12 unique teams on league night each Friday evening. People loved going to the little bowling alley to unwind from a long week of work.
The bowling alley manager was named Bill Casey. He had owned the bowling alley since 1987, the year Patrick Swayze dirty danced with Jennifer Grey having the time of her life. Bill had three great loves in his life: the game of bowling, his deceased wife Maria, and their one daughter she had named Jennifer.
Jennifer worked the bowling alley counter. She also was the top bowler on a league team named I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gutter. Jennifer was a vibrant woman though still unmarried. For years, she had looked in vain for that one true love of her life. Her team of friends was several fun colleagues from diverse occupations who shared the one commonality of being from different minority groups. They all agreed on one thing. They disliked the other competitive league team at Lane 1 called Split Happens.
Split Happens consisted mostly of what some might call “a redneck hillbilly crowd.” They were dang good bowlers. The best player on the team was a handsome eligible bachelor named David Huxley. Every Friday night, the team at lane 1 and the team at lane 2 would spar good-naturedly trading continuous barbs or pranks at each other’s expense.
Every year, inevitably, these two teams would face off against each other in the annual Championship for the Big Balls trophy, a much-esteemed achievement. For the past three years, Split Happens had held the title of Champion on the grandmaster board. This was dedicated to all the great bowling league teams through the years since 1987.
There were other teams in the league too that stood a chance at winning a prestigious spot on the leader board. The group in Lane 3, for example, was a hardy team of independent feminists. Their team was named Got Ya By the Balls. In lane 4, likewise, was a team of fun-loving LGBT friends named The Sexy Strikers. There were other lesser teams as well, such as the comic book fan team called the X-men at Lane 7. They loved all things high tech.
David Huxley and Jennifer Casey had grown up together, attending the same classes at the same elementary school and high school. David had always admired Jennifer from afar. Jennifer, for her part, held in high esteem David’s ability to hit multiple strikes. He carried his team to victory again and again. They, however, were adversaries on opposing teams. For some reason, through all the years, the two had never really dated. But that all was about to change…
It was a cold, blustery Friday night in February just before Valentine’s Day. The league games had just ended. Split Happens and I Can’t Believe it’s Not Gutter both defeated their opponent teams. The sore losers for the night were taking off their bowling shoes and turning them in to Bill at the counter. They were heading out the door.
Jennifer wandered over to the old arcade that held the ancient Atari games and racing games. David was already in there with a few friends. She took some quarters out of her pocket. She eyed the old air hockey game to the side of the room. David looked over at her mildly with interest. He always seemed to notice her. She caught his glance and smiled. Cocking her head towards the air hockey, she asked him, “You up for a game of this? Haven’t played it in a while.”
“As I recall,” he said, “You used to be pretty good at this one.”
She laughed. “I’m a little rusty, I’m sure.”
They put the quarters in the slot and the air hockey game commenced a humming noise indicating it had started. The two squared off against each other on opposing sides. Jennifer scored the first point and grinned. David grinned back. He quickly scored the second point. Jennifer rolled up her sleeves to try again.
Several minutes of aggressive play continued with David scoring three more points to Jennifer’s frustration. She eyed him coolly at this point. She set the hockey puck down on the table ahead of her. She rapidly scored the next point.
David watched her more intently. He noticed every little detail about the way she bit her upper lip as a tell that she was getting ready to strike or the way she squinted when he would come close to scoring again. The hockey puck went back and forth more urgently. David noticed too that she looked quite pretty that night with her curly black hair tied back at the nape of her neck, her crew shirt, and slim jeans accentuating her appearance. She scored another point and he let out a slow whistle.
“Damn,” he said under his breath. The game continued. He ended up winning and smiled mischievously. Although defeated, Jennifer had to admit to herself that she loved that smile. David had always been handsome and loved to have a good time.
“Alright, I guess you won this time.” She admitted. They both shared a brief moment. She figured she needed to help clean-up so she started to turn away to leave the arcade. David frowned just a little. He finally said the thought that had been in his head through most of the air hockey game.
“You doing anything later tonight?” Jennifer blinked. She looked around at the others in the arcade for a moment.
“No, no plans. Why?” She said bluntly surprised.
They agreed that night to maybe go out to the local coffeehouse after she finished work.
Later that night, they sat together at The Bluebird coffee shop downtown and pretty soon were exchanging fun stories and engaging in entertaining banter. Jennifer felt comfortable with David, although they both worried a little that at any moment, they might be seen sitting at the same table. They agreed to go on a few more dates after that. The romance started out a little slow and then quickly picked up steam. One date was a dinner, another was a movie, and soon they were spending a lot of secret time together while still bowling as adversaries on League nights. It soon became obvious to both parties that they might be falling in love.
The secret rendezvous exchange continued. It led to passionate embraces and nights spent lovingly in each other’s arms. Neither one was sure what to say to their other team mates. They agreed to keep things hush for the time being.
Then, one night as fate would have it, they were discovered. Jennifer had another secret admirer, a pretty woman from another team named Leslie Shaw. Upon encountering the couple holding hands in the mall parking lot outside a local delicatessen, Leslie dropped her jaw in shock.
“Holy cow,” she muttered under her breath. This is interesting she said to herself with a slight twinge of jealousy.
Leslie Shaw wanted her team, The Sexy Strikers, to win the leader board position too. She devised a plan to blackmail the two lovers, threatening to expose them to everyone unless they both agreed to throw their games in the semi-final matches, allowing Leslie’s team to move forward to the Championship game. Jennifer and David reluctantly agreed.
Split Happens went first in the semi-finals and Jennifer watched sadly as David “accidentally” threw gutter ball after gutter ball forfeiting his team’s place and frustrating all his teammates to no end. They shook their heads in disgust. Some team members from Lane 2 scoffed at the losers with delight.
As the second semi-final game commenced, a sudden fight broke out in the nearby lounge room between Team 1 and Team 2 players. This spilled over quickly to an all-out brawl in the crowded league night bowling alley. All the divided teams were fighting and carrying on. David searched for Jennifer across the crowded room. Jennifer tried to keep her sights on him too.
Somehow in the midst of all the quarreling, David got hit by a thrown bowling ball. Jennifer called out to him in alarm over the ruckus. She rushed towards him. She quickly helped him back to his feet.
“You, ok?” she asked with concern and the two embraced. All around them, people noticed and the room went still.
“What?” she said defensively while looking around. She reached hesitantly for his hand. His fingers enclosed around hers too.
“What the heck?!” said a few shocked onlookers. David and Jennifer looked around awkwardly.
“Yes, ok, we’ve been dating…” David began. He then proceeded to explain the story of their relationship and what happened with Leslie. Leslie looked down embarrassed. She slinked off to the side a bit.
David looked around and back at Jennifer holding his hand. He smiled at her.
“I know we all have our differences,” he said hesitantly. “But the truth is I love this woman. Jennifer Casey, will you marry me?” He asked her as he started to get down on one knee.
The crowd completely stopped fighting. Everyone waited for the reply. When Jennifer said, “Yes!” her teammates were among the first to clap alongside the team mates from Split Happens.
Soon the folks that had been looking to start trouble were ashamed of their behavior. The whole room clapped then, even Bill Casey who clapped the loudest. It was decided that the couple would get married at the bowling alley later on that month.
Bill Casey disbanded the league teams. He took down the leader board which had caused so much animosity among the different groups. There would be no more league nights, no more winners and losers. Everyone would play as equals.
On the wedding night, David Huxley and Jennifer Casey married at Lane 5. He wore a tuxedo. She wore a white wedding dress. They kissed happily. She tossed the bouquet. Leslie Shaw managed to capture the bouquet too alongside a beautiful bowler named Sara. Leslie and Sara smiled shyly at each other. For Leslie, it seemed fated. That’s how Leslie found her new love interest in life.
That night, the bowlers at Bill Casey’s little bowling alley in Arkansas all bowled together as friends in a big diverse party. Bill Casey turned the lights down low. He set everything to Cosmic Bowling. He turned on the music. Happy Together by the Turtles filled the air and everyone was truly happy in that moment, especially David Huxley and Jennifer Casey.
A few years ago, my daughter and I developed this outline for a Grim Reaper story. It is an apprentice story with a love interest and involves an interesting figure from the Bible. I never got much further with this piece. Here’s what we developed thus far. Maybe some day we will get back to collaborating together on something like this.
Outline for story:
A young boy’s parents die in a car crash. They are coming home from vacation when the car is hit by a semi-truck and forced off a bridge and falls below into the forest. The boy is the only survivor of the accident but barely. He is really close to death. He witnesses a dark entity near his parents. It is the Grim Reaper. The Grim Reaper takes the souls of his parents. He thinks it is a hallucination and he is trying to focus but is in and out of consciousness.
The dark entity comes closer to him. The image is burned in the back of his mind and he wonders if he really did stare death in the face that night. Death chooses not to take the boy because he sees something special in him. The entity leaves.
Later on, the boy goes to a foster home. He grows up in Detroit. He later joins a gang in a bad neighborhood he lives in but he only joined the gang to survive on the streets. One night, one of the gang members goes too far and wants to steal from a shop. A cop comes to the store from out of nowhere. The gang member wants to shoot the cop but the boy says no and he jumps in front of the cop saving the cop’s life. He starts to bleed out on the streets. The other gang members run away. The cop is with him talking to him but the voice fades as he begins to feel the presence of some thing he felt so long ago……alone in the forest.
He closes his eyes. He is in his subconscious, in a Midwest field. Death is sitting there and offers him a spot. Death says, “Sit down, we have much to talk about.” The boy asks, “Am I dead?” The reaper replies, “Close, but not entirely.” Death gives him a choice to go and rest in peace with the other retired souls or to become the next Grim Reaper, his apprentice. In return, the Grim Reaper will retire.
The Grim Reaper plans to go where no man can find him until he finally passes on into nothingness. The Grim Reaper explains his origin.
He is, in fact, Abel. He is the first man murdered and betrayed by his brother, Cain. He was the very first person to die here and his spirit wandered in loneliness and despair until he found a place of respite for souls. He chose then to become a spirit guide to aide other souls that have passed on. He helps them to find this afterlife. He wears the dark cloak to disguise his true identity. He has allowed the horror stories of his alter-identity to perpetuate over the years in order to protect himself and the afterlife souls. He is actually a force for good in the world.
The Grim Reaper is, in fact, essential to our planet. There must be natural order in the world and he helps to preserve it against the evil deeds of Cain’s descendants. He needs a young apprentice to carry on his work though as he has grown weary.
If men could live forever, the world would be chaos……there would be overpopulation and the world would be run by old and hardened souls. It would be a place of darkness and greed. The world needs the younger people in order to keep the world full of light and hopeful, pure, and innocent.
The boy apprentices and Abel disappears into retirement. But there are men, these descendants of Cain, who want to live forever and they are plotting to destroy the Grim Reaper’s apprentice. A secret organization plans to eradicate the cycle of life and achieve immortality. They seek to capture death.
The secret organization wants to rule the world. They take the unwanteds in society – the homeless and the downtrodden and orphans – they harvest their souls in order to stay younger in this life. The Reapers, both the boy and Abel, have seen what they do but are helpless to stop it.
The secret organization goes after the apprentice. The apprentice meets a young girl from a house fire. Rather than reap her soul, he rescues her. Eventually, they fall in love.
They search for the retired Abel. They find him but the secret organization has been tracking them. Abel is captured and defeated. He begins to fade into the shadows and tells the young apprentice that it is his turn now and the world needs him.
The young boy and girl escape the secret organization but he is still not ready. He must learn more and acquire more skill and discipline. He must find a way to stop the descendants of Cain and in the mean time, he will continue his reaping and training. The girl has chosen to join him on his mission. In the final scene, the young reaper and girl head off together.
They decided on the trip together. Usually they always spent Christmas with family but this year they wanted to try something different. Christmas was usually spent listening to Aunt Gabby’s cat stories or watching the family open presents one by one slowly. Mom usually made a big buffet and Dad usually always got a hunting gift. The grandkids would run around the house and someone would setup Christmas music on the TV. There would be hugs and family photos with ugly Christmas sweaters or Grinch pajamas sets. Generally, there would be some games…board games, card games, gingerbread house competitions and such. It was always great fun but also a little awkward at times with the big family reunion. There were lulls in conversation or points where one had to be tactful and polite, particularly in regards to political topics. And, hectic…it could be hectic too as the family packed up all the presents in the car. She’d fuss over everything especially the smashed bows on the presents or whether the tree lights should be left on while they were away. She’d always be the last to the car. The kids would be crowded together and arguing, nit-picking each other. He’d get frustrated and beep the horn.
Christmas with family…..
This year would be different. They talked about this months ago when she had received a great price deal on roundtrip tickets. She had stared at her monitor at her sales cubicle. She studied the advertisement photo of a beautiful lit-up Eiffel Tower on a starry night. Come spend Noel a Paris, the breath-taking City of Lights…that’s what the picture caption read. Usually she skipped these promo ads but this one for some reason had caught her eye.
It had taken some convincing for him. A couple of dinners together at night. She approached the subject each time after their kids had excused themselves from dinner. She talked to him while cleaning up dinner plates and putting food back in the fridge. Eventually, with some reluctance, he was on board too. It was probably the cheap airfare price that did it as he was an accountant by profession and nature, preferring to limit extravagant spending.
The day they left the kids at Grandma’s, it snowed a heck of a lot. The kids wished them a great trip. They hugged each one and told them to be good. He struggled to get the car through the growing snowdrifts and she watched the kids with her parents through her rear view side mirror on the passenger side until they were too far away in the distance.
The ride to the airport was blustery and cold. He had to keep the wipers and heat going on high mode. In comparison, the climate in Paris outside the terminal after their excruciatingly long flight was sunny and much less calamitous.
They managed to get to the hotel through the kindness of Parisian pedestrians and a taxi driver that pointed the way in English. Their understanding of the local language was beginner level at best but they did manage “merci” and “bonjour” from time to time.
They stayed at a four story hotel off the Champs Elysee and close to the St. Antoine de Exupery street where she’d read the couture shops were located. They ate French croissants for breakfast and wandered the streets of Paris for a day or two. They visited art museums and strolled past trendy boutiques for fashion. They went up the Eiffel Tower together and took many beautiful pictures of all of gorgeous Paris, the statues, the buildings, the homes, and the people.
It was super fantastic until Christmas eve around five o’clock. Suddenly the bustling streets and walkways of Paris were very quiet and empty. Everything had shut down…the shops, the restaurants, and all the other businesses. They walked together in the growing darkness on the still streets. They passed many brightly lit homes. There were people greeting each other happily on front steps with packages. Inside some cheery and warm homes, they could see people happily gathered in comraderie. They began to feel homesick and that feeling grew as they ate cheeseburgers at Planet Hollywood, the only place in Paris still open. They wandered back thoughtfully to their hotel room. They each got their small gift for one another. They sat on the bed and exchanged them. It was nice but the moment ended quickly and they looked around the room wandering what to do next. They ended up watching TV together and went to bed early. As they changed into pajamas, he looked at her and said, “ I kinda miss Aunt Gabby’s cat stories..”.
She smiled, relieved he felt the same way she did in that moment. She laughed, “Yeah, I miss them all too…especially the kids. I miss them so much tonight. Christmas isn’t the same without them….without family.”
They smiled and sat on the bed together. They called back home to Grandma’s and were happy when one of the cousin’s picked up the line. They spent a good while wishing the bustling and noisy household at Grandma’s a very Merry Christmas.
And that was the last time they skipped out on family time at Christmas.
In college back in the late 90s, I worked at a large call center near the downtown shopping district and river. The call center was a large grey building with many small cubicles and monitors. There must have been around 200 telemarketers working there. The walls were covered with motivational posters and there were dry erase boards at the end of every aisle gauging sales performance of each worker group.
The entry level employees were hired at Christmas time for the holiday season of October, November, and December. Basically, if you performed well and made it through the holiday season, you would be hired on from the temp agency to work full-time at the higher levels of the call center. The second level was a phone repair line and the tiers above that were various cold calling projects.
The first level was an easy and fun job. Back then, we didn’t have a lot of online businesses and their websites. So, people would call us to place their Christmas orders in various catalogues that were sent to them in the mail. So the job went like this. A person would call in. You greet them and check their personal info as well as what catalogue they wanted to order from. Then together you flip through the catalogue and help them shop. Fun, right?! Who doesn’t like to shop??
Once they decided what they wanted, you placed the order on a computer (data entry stuff). Then you take their payment and process it. In the end, you wish them Happy Holidays and they hang up happy that their Christmas shopping is done.
A lot of times, you could also talk to the customers about their day or their job or home. Some were from NYC, some from California, some from Florida, etc. etc. You were also expected and encouraged to try to pitch a sale or two to the customer, recommending other items they might be interested in.
Around late October, all the telemarketers for this department were called together for a staff meeting to discuss ways to improve sales for the company. A large table was brought out displaying prizes you could receive for getting top sales.
I was in my second or third year of college and dating a ROTC cadet. On the prize table was a DVD set of military movies including Saving Private Ryan, a popular movie my boyfriend really liked.
I worked extra hard that Christmas season trying to get that DVD set. I took on more shifts and tried to do a couple of sales on each call. I really wanted to be a top performer just to get that DVD set and I told a couple of people including my supervisor that I intended to win that item from the table to give my boyfriend who was joining the Army.
Weeks and weeks of hard work and college went by. One day two days before Christmas, I walked into work and the prize table was gone. We were called together for a staff meeting. It was announced that the winners received their items they won from the table due to top sales performance. They thanked us for our hard work and wished us a Merry Christmas. The meeting was over and we got back to work.
I felt pretty down about it. I asked a couple of coworkers if they won and they said no too. We worked a long eight hour shift that day. I clocked out and bundled up in my coat and scarf to trudge out in the snow in the parking lot to my car.
It was dark outside and cold. I could see the steam from my breath as I walked out to my old Nissan Altima. There was someone standing by the back of my car. I recognized who it was. My supervisor was standing there. He was an older guy, good-looking and about 28 years old. He was from the coast, maybe Jersey or something like that cause he had an accent.
Anyway, I walked up to him and smiled but shivered some in the cold. I was curious why he was there.
He said, “ You’re a good kid. I know you worked hard this season and wanted this. Tell your boyfriend thank you for his service and Merry Christmas.”
He handed me a bag and started walking away in the snow. I looked in the bag and it was the DVD set. I looked up at him walking away. I said, “ I didn’t really win this, did I?”
He turned and looked at the building and he said, “ Nobody ever wins. They set that table out every year just to drive up sales.”
With that, he turned and kept walking. I hollered, “Thanks and Merry Christmas.” I had realized with a smile that somehow he had snuck the item off the table without others seeing. He lifted his hand to say goodbye and I got in my car and drove to my boyfriend’s apartment. He was pretty happy about the gift and I remember that we had a good Christmas that year.
(This a short excerpt from a story I am working on. It is based on true life. Happy spook-tober!)
“I have a story about ghosts,” Skylar said to Stein while trying to search for something meaningful to say in that awkward moment. “I mean…I never have seen… a ghost but…..I experienced something strange one time.” She looked at Stein and then looked around at the darkness of the forest outside their car and at the solitary rail bridge ahead.
“I was younger. I went to the city with my Dad. We went to a summer festival that day. There were festival tents all around this old Victorian mansion. It loomed above the wide lawn. It was all brick and three stories tall. I didn’t like the house. It gave me an odd vibe I couldn’t shake. Yet, my Dad asked me if I wanted to go on the historical home tour with him. I said yes. We got in the house and were ushered into the living room space. It was an elegant old home and well furnished.
The tour guide began explaining the history of the house to us. She talked about the owners and the number of times it had transitioned from family to family. In the early 1920s, it had been turned into an orphanage after the Spanish Flu epidemic, for kids who’s parents had died from the flu. It was run by nuns and priests. Then for a while, it was supposedly a psychiatric hospital. In the 1980s, it was turned into a historical home and they began giving tours and stuff.”
She paused and looked at Stein. “The tour guide began telling us about the hauntings there. Supposedly there is a Lady in Red that haunts the place, a young woman who had a botched abortion and died. She is crying and she begs at the front door to see a priest. There are some other ghosts there too…..children from the orphanage. And they say there is a very malevolent ghost there too on the first floor, a psych patient that committed suicide.”
She paused again, “That day, I followed the tour group into the hallway. I was standing in the hallway on the wood floor and I felt cold air coming up from the floor. It felt good cause it was summer. It was real cold like air-conditioned air. I felt it all around me but the others didn’t seem to notice it like I did. I remember looking down at the floor thinking the cold air was coming from a hole in the floor leading to the basement. I stood there for quite a while in the cold spot.”
“We continued to the dining room and I stood off to the left of the big table. The tour guide was talking but all of a sudden, I felt faint……..very very faint. Not sick but like I was gonna pass out. And I was having trouble seeing…. like the room was darkening before my eyes. I was so worried that I would faint on an antique chair and break it. So, I rushed over to the next room to the right. It was a library or den or something. My vision was getting worse and worse and I knew I had to get out of that house immediately.”
I stumbled my way to the front door, jerked it opened, and rushed down the concrete steps groping for the handrail. My vision was narrowing, the blackness was overtaking my sight. I bumped into a few people awkwardly and went around the corner of the house stumbling. With my hands in front of me reaching out to grasp air, I could barely see. My vision was decreasing to a tiny pinhole and then suddenly…… wham! I hit my face on the concrete sidewalk. I blacked out about one foot away from a tent spike sticking out of the ground and tied to one of the festival tents. I didn’t just faint like they do in the movies. I slammed my face into the sidewalk really hard as if I had been pushed by someone. When I came to, there was a crowd of folks gathered around me asking if I was okay. I was trembling and the whole right side of my face and neck was bruised, swollen, and bleeding from cuts.”
“I had barely missed putting my face through a tent spike. If I had hit that tent spike, I would be dead for sure.”
“The cops and ambulance came. They asked me what had happened. I told them about the cold air in the hallway. I told them I thought maybe there was some chemical in the air and maybe there was a hole coming up from the basement. I asked them to check because I was worried about it. Maybe it was carbon monoxide. They checked the entire hallway.”
“There was no hole in that hallway. There was no explanation for the cold air at all.”
“I didn’t think much of it. I figured over the years, I’d just blacked out but one day I told a friend that was big into paranormal TV shows about it. She said…..well, she said I might be something called a sensitive. She said maybe I was empathetic to ghosts, that I could feel things deeply…..more than others. Starla said I experienced a cold spot in the hallway that day because I felt the presence of a ghost standing beside me, lingering around me. I felt it but could not see it. And the others, could not feel nor see either.
My friend said it might have been the malevolent ghost. It may have been trying to hurt me intentionally and pushed me towards the tent spike on purpose…..” She trailed off. “To this day, I still don’t really know what happened. I have never ever seen a ghost but perhaps, I felt one nearby that others did not feel. My friend said this is a gift. That I should use it, to help others so I began researching more about the paranormal world.”
If anything, the pandemic has taught you to enjoy the little things. The parks are closed. The theaters are closed. Amusement parks and various forms of entertainment either closed or very restricted. You can’t really travel much. It’s a pain to go to the grocery store now. You’d rather just stay home. Thank god for the internet, right? It is nice to still feel some human connection as you toodle away on your computer looking at endless hours of YouTube video tutorials or maybe watch Netflix movies…..or rather…. the previews to the movies.
Does anyone else do this? You decide to watch a Netflix movie but you can’t really decide for sure which one and you know Netflix films kinda have either a hit or miss ratio……so you scour over endless previews searching for just the right and perfect one. Then, after about fifteen to twenty minutes, you hopelessly give up and switch over to regular cable. You wonder if you are the only one who does this?
So, anyway, back on topic…..enjoy the little things lately. Things like buying a parakeet at the local pet store to keep you company and speculating over whether to call him Sugar Ray, Steve Miller, or your son decides on the name Paco which means in Spanish the word “free.” And, you think to yourself of the Lynrd Skynrd song “Freebird.” Yes, Paco it is. Paco it shall be. Welcome to the family, Paco.
You don’t go out much anymore. Besides, it would be smart to save your earnings…you never know what might happen coming up. The local high school football game gets cancelled cause you hear the other team has half their kids in quarantine for COVID. Then, there’s your co-worker and his wife from work. Their whole family is in lockdown quarantine for having COVID. You heard he had trouble breathing for three days and you worry about them.
You realize you’re damn lucky to still be here…….to spend your evenings listening to endless hours of Def Leppard or Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin on YouTube. You love to watch the animal videos too. Can’t get enough of the funny cute stuff on social media and the endless corny memes.
You’ve gotten used to the solitude on the weekends. You’re not only enjoying the solitude now….you are extremely grateful for just the opportunity to have it.
So, crack open your favorite drink….whatever it may be. Find some goofy pick a card tarot reading or perhaps a makeup tutorial on how to overline your lips so you too can look like them sexy models (at least at home….your 65 year old mother would still get upset with you if you posted a sexy selfie on social media. Some things never change even during a pandemic.)
Find something at home to make you smile, to make you laugh, to make you feel alive, to make you truly grateful for being here in this moment on this circling planet.
Damn you, COVID. Damn you for what you’ve done to so many heartbroken families. Damn you for your cruelty and brokenness.
But thank you too, COVID. Thank you for making us realize we need to hug and cherish our loved ones as much as possible in this brief time we have here. Thank you for making us finally appreciate all those little, little things.
I had to write a 2-3 page scene for a class. I wrote the following piece. It is around the beginning section of a LGBTQ romance/drama.
Skylar sat on the end of the factory truck loading dock at 10:00 am. She had fifteen minutes to relax after two hours of welding. She yawned and rubbed her slightly red eyes. She had wanted to go back home an hour ago. It had been a long morning thus far already. The minutes seemed to drag on till break. She needed a little time alone.
The railroad tracks across the way behind the high fence were empty. She was relieved that no trains were going through at her break time. They always made such a racket, blaring the train whistles and braking through town, screeching metal upon metal. She picked a spot on the dock ledge where her feet could dangle and she could rest them a bit from working on the hard concrete floors.
She wore faded blue jeans and a Lynrd Skynrd shirt with a cruddy hoodie jacket. Her brunette hair was tucked under her dad’s beat up old Chevy hat with the netting on the back. It was cold outside and the breeze hit her straight in the face. She shivered.
So, she reached back and put her hoodie up over her ball cap. Then she dug into her right pocket pulling out a Marlboro Lights short pack. In her left pocket, she searched for a lighter and came up with one. She pulled it out and looked at it briefly. It said Duck Dynasty. It was one of her dad’s lighters she got off the counter earlier.
She pulled a cigarette out and bent over away from the wind to light it. She puffed once and exhaled long while glancing at the tracks again. She looked over the empty gravel parking lot, the dumpsters to the left and to the right, the commercial district street, and the cruddy cars of the manufacturing plant across the way. The metal overhang to the truck dock gave her a little shelter but she eyed the damn pigeons fluttering around in the lofty corner with suspicion.
“Don’t poop on me, you jerks,” she said under her breath.
She fiddled then with her music. She popped the headphones out of the jack since no one was around, and turned up the volume on her phone. She flipped through her playlist and settled on Al Green’s So Tire d of Being Alone and set it to play. The melancholy melody flowed out from the phone and seemed to match the grey sky above. She loved his voice, always had. When she was younger, she would listen to Let’s Stay Together on repeat. When she got a little older though she found this song more relatable.
She took another drag on her cigarette and flicked the ash off the end towards the empty grate in front of her below. The music lyrics filled the air around her.
I’m so tired of being alone
I’m so tired of on-my-own
Won’t you help me girl
Soon as you can
She was taking a few more draws from her cigarette and thinking to herself how she really needed to quit smoking again when the thick metal side door behind her opened loudly and closed. She immediately turned down the volume on her music. Then she looked back over her shoulder to whomever had come out of the side door. It was the new gal from fabrication, one of the new hires from last week. She was named Pam or something. Great Skylar thought to herself and looked forward slightly rolling her eyes and pursing her lips. She looked back at Pam over her shoulder.
“Hey” she said. “Whatchu doin’?”
She motioned for Pam to come over if she wanted but Skylar kinda hoped the girl would just go away. She probably had ten more minutes to her break. She sure as hell didn’t want to spend her free time with a newbie. Skylar looked forward, took a drag a little self-consciously, and slowly exhaled this one with her cheeks puffed out.
“I saw you came out here.” Pam began. “Can I join you?” She asked hesitantly and unsure of herself.
Skylar felt a slight twinge of compassion and said, “Sure.”
Pam came over to the ledge and sat some three or four feet away. Skylar reached into her pocket and got the pack of cigarettes and offered Pam one. She knew full well Pam would probably refuse. And she was not surprised when Pam shook her head to say no.
“No, thanks,” said the new girl.
Pam got down on the ledge and let her feet dangle too like Skylar’s. She watched Skylar sway them back and forth just a little and she did the same. Pam looked around the dock and didn’t know exactly what to do next.
They didn’t really speak much at first. Eventually feeling awkward, Skylar picked up her phone and started scrolling through her Facebook feed.
“Why do you smoke?” Pam asked curiously.
Skylar took a drag on the diminishing cigarette. She looked at it and sorta shrugged.
“I picked up smoking a few years ago. At first, I just was looking to fit in at the factory. But over time, well, hell, I guess I’m addicted now.” And she shrugged and looked at Pam under the brim of her ball cap.
“Yeah, it’s not good for you,” said Pam almost under her breath.
“Yeah, I know.” Replied Skylar and smoked again slowly. I don’t really care, she thought to herself.
Just then, the train whistles began blowing loudly from far off to the right and soon the train was thundering loudly across the tracks in front of them. They both looked in the direction of the incoming train.
Damn train Skylar thought.
“It’s so loud,” said Pam.
“Yeah, we’re right next to the track,” yelled Skylar over the noise. “Sometimes the trains come rushing through here and sometimes they hit the brakes so hard it makes you wonder if the train’s gonna come through the factory or something. They are noisy for sure but I kinda like ‘em too. They remind me of an old Johnny Cash song. You ever hear Folsom Prison Blues?”
“Nah, never heard it,” said Pam.
Skylar smiled at her under the bill of her hat. “You should listen to it. It’s a good song. I like Johnny Cash. Another good one is One Piece at a Time. You’d like that one too. Sunday Morning Coming Down or A Boy Named Sue……great songs.”
Skylar kept scrolling through her Facebook feed and Pam sat near her watching the disappearing train to the left screaming its whistle as it went. Skylar came across a Facebook post that made her smile. For some reason she decided to share it with Pam. She reasoned it was probably because there was a lull in the conversation.
“Check this out. This little kid here,” and she pointed at the picture in the post of a young boy holding a cat. “He’s got a cleft lip and one blue eye here. See? It reads that he doesn’t fit in at school. I don’t’ know why…it don’t say. So, for some reason, he goes to the humane society and here, look…..he finds this cat there with the exact same thing, a cleft lip and one blue eye and they adopt each other and become friends. Huh,” she said shaking her head and smiling, “What’s the frickin’ coincidence of that?”
And Pam looked at the picture and smiled at it too.
“It’s like…meant to be or something.” Skylar continued and smiled.
“Do you like Facebook?” Pam asked.
“Yeah, it’s cool…I guess” Skylar said. “Something to pass the time….speaking of which, it’s time to get back. We gotta go.” She flicked the dead cigarette into the grate, tucked her phone and headphones into her pocket, and got up to go back inside. Pam got up too.
“I think we’re actually gonna be a little late.” Skylar said. “My watch says 10:16. Shit.” She cursed.
So they hurried to the metal side door and back to the welding shop. Everybody was in there already working so they got quietly back to work.
Perhaps I’ve told you this story before. I have told it so often. But, it does bear repeating I suppose….
There are certain moments in our lives that have a significant impact and will forever shape our destinies like perhaps the birth of your first child, the achievement of a college degree, or the attainment of an important goal. Some of these moments may even appear out of the blue on days which seem quite inconsequential to our existence. This is the story of one of those moments in my own life. It is a true story.
I am not a great writer. However, if I am able to effectively convey this positive message to you, the reader, then it will be worth all the effort.
I can remember it like it was yesterday. It occurred nearly 20 years ago when I was in my mid-20s. America was at war in the Middle East. I was a military spouse and my husband was deployed to Iraq. Also, through some great fortune or twist of fate, I had landed a Department of Defense Government Service Level 7 job south of Washington D.C. Although the title sounds quite auspicious, I assure you that I was merely a secretary. However, I worked for two important people.
They were military Colonels and engineers, highly intelligent and dedicated to their roles. My tasks were simple really. Once or twice a week, they would travel to the Pentagon to report their management of military building projects at bases all over the world. I would arrange their travel plans. Also, I was responsible for maintaining accurately their reports on these construction plans. One large and detailed report I worked on daily was called the War report.
One day, I royally screwed up the War report. We had a meeting and it was noted. I was publicly reprimanded. After all, I worked for the military. Admittedly, I fully deserved the reprimand considering the importance of the document. I endured the discipline in silence but my cheeks got real flush and later, I broke out in hives. It was the first and only time in my life that I broke out in hives.
The next couple of days, I worked diligently at my desk and tried not to mess up again. But, I was pretty quiet and feeling bad. On top of that, I was itchy and I was considering leaving the job.
The other Colonel called me in to his office politely. I rose from my desk and walked over there. He asked me to shut the door to his office and to “Please take a seat.” He remained seated at his desk and I sat down across from him and well,… kept my eyes down a bit.
He didn’t say anything at first. Perhaps he was looking for the right way to approach a conversation. I had assumed he wanted to talk about travel arrangements. He was leaving the very next day for D.C.
We didn’t share much in common, him and I, except our work perhaps. He was much older. He was male. I was female. He was African-American and I was Caucasian. The list of differences could probably go on and on.
Eventually, he motioned to the wall to his left and I looked over at the wall. On the wall were many military decorations that had been awarded to him through his 20+ years of service to the country. Some of them were quite large and prestigious looking. He waited for a moment, then he pointed to a small white piece of paper, handwritten, and framed under glass with just a plain small gold frame around it. It was placed at the center of the wall and seemed unimportant compared to the other items. In fact, I had sorta skipped over it as I had looked at the other awards.
He said, “That one is the most important.” He remained pointing at the little framed paper.
Then he motioned for me to go and look at the item. I got up from my chair and wandered over to the wall. It was a poem, a little poem copied down. The title read The Desiderata and it said it was written by some guy named Max Ehrmann, some guy I had never heard of.
He told me, “Read it.” That’s all he simply said. I stood there at that wall for a while and really read the poem, word for word. When, I finished the last portion of the poem where it read, you are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here.
Well, I felt better and as I finished up the final section, I admit I got a little teary-eyed.
I sat back down across from him. We both looked at each other. He was a man of few words and he only really spoke when he had something important to say.
He said, “Go back and just do the best you can. That’s all you can do.”
In hindsight, that was probably about one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me whether he realized his impact or not. He didn’t have to help me but he did in his own unique and wise way. Perhaps this small story seems unimportant to you but it would go on to influence my future.
This poem has a special place in my heart because of that moment. Years later, I would buy a copy of it and I gave it to my children. I read it to them. Years later, I would tell someone here or there about the story. Years later, whenever I was down and out…I would read this poem and feel comforted and hopeful. Whenever I felt unworthy or not valued by others, I would remember the line about the child of the universe.
You have a right to be here.
And years later, today, I write this story to you with the intention that it will inspire you as well. The last few words of the poem are “Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” This is something as I grow older, that I firmly do believe in regarding attitude determining altitude.
I encourage you to take a moment and read The Desiderata. This world, despite all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, is still a beautiful place.