You Have the Right to be Here

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.

Golden Child

By J. Speer

The sun was dying.  The scientists predicted there would be 15 more years of light and then nothing, just pitch blackness.  The galaxy and everything in it would be swallowed within seconds into an ominous black hole never to return.  As a result of the dying light, our world was ceasing to thrive.  It was grey.  The sky and clouds no longer bore their blue brilliance.  The trees were nearly all gone.  The only plants that grew in this dystopian future were created and maintained artificially.  They were precious and few.  They were devoted to the harvest to feed the population.  No parks existed, no gardens, nothing but concrete and clustered apartment buildings in this portion of old Chicago.  The year was 3049.

The United States had long since divided into tribal regions.  Chicago resided in the upper lakes quadrant and was the capital of quadrant 4.  Chicago was one of the oldest and still most productive capitals among the 6 quadrants.  

The former United States capital of Washington D.C. had been blown up in the World War of 2025.    Much of the West Coast had fallen into the Pacific Ocean after the great rumblings and massive Super volcano eruption of Yellowstone.  Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and much more of the Midwest were obliterated.  What wasn’t destroyed by the massive lava flows was devastated by the ash fallout.  Chicago sat on the new edge of humanity.  It was the farthest city west.

The tribal quadrants were run by Councils rather than a Congress and House of Representatives.  Certain activities were not permitted following the great wars including the practice of any type of religion, even meditation.    

Chen Li knew this and he also knew the consequences of his actions in Apartment 502 of the fifth floor of 1417 E Centennial Drive in Southside Chicago.  Chen Li lived in what was popularly referred to as the slums.  All the housing was low income and each apartment was heavily populated.  Chen Li often looked out from his balcony at the despairingly bleak grey of the sky, the polluted smog, the grey apartment buildings as far as the eye could see, and the other tenants as they engaged in their daily activities of work and play.  Everything was grey.  The clothes were grey.  The rooms of the apartments were grey.  It was an entire landscape of grey devoid of much color. 

Chen Li worked as a book collector and book shop owner in the basement of a downtown Chicago building.  It was an older rummage shop full of musty worn books and other items that time had long since forgotten.  In the digital future, these artifacts of the past were considered undesirable or unnecessary.  So, Chen Li generally had very few customers.  Folks occasionally stopped into the shop out of curiosity and left quickly.  Others who shared Chen Li’s fascination with literature would, from time to time, stop in for a particular find.  But, otherwise, Chen Li was left alone which he actually preferred.  This gave him time to delve into the books with great enthusiasm. 

He had acquired a particular book through the underground market several years ago.  He read it in secret at the shop before and after work in order to not get caught.  Then, one day, he hid it in a leather briefcase and took it home.  It lay at the very back of the bookcase behind four other books on Architecture.  These were big and bulky books that were quite tedious reads but the hidden book…. that was the real treasure.  He had memorized parts of the book completely and begun to put it into practice.        

The door was locked.  Chen Li could hear occupants of the building run up and down the stairwell from time to time.  But he focused on clearing his mind, emptying out his thoughts and his being until there was nothing but the rhythm, the sound of the vibration emanating from his soul.  He went deeper and deeper into the sound until his third eye slowly opened. 

He began to travel in his mind through doorways and walls, through apartments and windows, searching and searching as he had done often lately.  He had stumbled upon this ability of recent and was still mastering the art of this meditative state.  He wanted to expand out his vibrations to others, those that would be receptive to the call.  He had been surprised to learn that the most receptive were the young children, ages 2 to 6.  So that day, Chen Li used his third eye to find the children that were alone in their grey dull rooms playing with their grey dull toys and dressed in their grey dull clothes. 

Chen Li first found a little 4-year old girl who was sitting on her bed and reading.  She had a very light blue aura surrounding her.  Chen Li raised his vibration to permeate the walls of the little room until the girl stopped reading.  She sat very still at first.  She could hear the ringing first in her right ear.  This had happened to her before.  She sat very, very still then because she knew if she listened harder and sat very still the ringing would increase and take over her body in vibration.  She did not understand it but she knew that it made her very happy and it felt like home.  She would sit still and let the vibration increase until her aura turned from light blue to blue, to purple, to pink, to rainbow.  The little girl felt the vibration for a good three minutes, holding it inside in a state of bliss, until it slowly faded away and then was gone.  Whatever it was, it made her feel better and she continued to her reading reluctantly, wishing the sound would come back.  But she was happier.  That was all that mattered. 

Chen Li searched for more children.  He liked to do this for them, to give them a moment of happiness in an otherwise bleak existence.  Throughout that evening, he searched the neighborhood raising the vibrations of 16 little children until they each glowed with a rainbow aura. 

Chen Li had been doing this in secret, in fact, every Saturday evening for several months.  It was not until he encountered the little boy in Apartment 133 of building 1419 that evening, that Chen Li questioned whether it was right or wrong.  He felt, however, in his gut that it was a noble thing to reach out to the little ones giving them happiness, that someday this would prove its merit.  He had no idea how important this would turn out to be.    

This little one had no family except his mother from what Chen Li could gather.  His bedroom was even more depressing than the others with barely any possessions at all.  The boy with curly brown locks sat coloring at a little table.  His aura was different from the others.  Chen Li noticed that it was even darker, almost to black itself.  Chen Li watched the despondent boy for a good five minutes before reaching out with his vibrations.  It took thirty minutes for Chen Li to break the barrier of the dark aura.  The boy paused his coloring and finally heard the distant sound.  He lifted his head and stopped coloring.  The vibrating sound entered his left ear and he held the sound in his mind.  The vibration filled his whole body.  He felt a strong tingling sensation from head to toe and traveling up his spine.  The dark aura slowly changed to light blue, and purple, and pink and……. that is when the boy started reacting differently. 

He closed his eyes in bliss and began to hum to the sound within him and all around him that enveloped him in happiness.  His humming grew louder and louder and Chen Li watched in surprise as his aura field expanded out further and further from the room, from the apartment, and from the building itself.  The pink aura changed to rainbow and then as the humming vibration increased dramatically, the color changed once more………a final time………to gold.  From that point, the aura field exploded into the sky. 

Chen Li’s third eye closed tightly.  He was thrown off balance and backwards.  In shock, he stood up and hurried to the balcony.  All the power in the city was out.  There was only darkness and the surprised and somewhat terrified voices of the other tenants.  Chen Li tried to look towards building 1419 but could not make out much details in the darkness.  He wanted to get a flashlight but was in darkness much himself.  He stumbled around the apartment until he found an old candle and managed to light it.  He went back to the balcony with the light but could see very little. 

He was worried that he would be found out.  The penalty of religious studies was imprisonment.  He stepped back cautiously into the apartment and decided it would be best to wait until the morning. 

The next morning, at sunrise, Chen Li woke to the biggest surprise of his life.  He stumbled out of his bedroom and into the side kitchen for some coffee and was startled to see a flash of green from the window.  He paused to go back to the window and re-examine more closely what he saw.  Outside the window was a small haven of green. 

Chen Li rushed to the balcony and looked down below into the street.  Many other tenants were out looking in shock at what Chen Li was seeing.  Trees.  There were trees everywhere in the little neighborhood for at least three blocks.  Trees and grass and more plants dotted the grey landscape.  He opened the door to the stairwell and ran as fast as he could down to the apartment building entrance.  Near the entrance, he stood in awe under the shade of one very large tree that had busted through the concrete. 

From a distance in another part of Southside Chicago, Chen Li could hear the sound of sirens blaring.  They were coming.  Chen Li looked to building 1419 and then began running towards it.  All around him the other neighbors were out looking at the sudden growth of nature.  He bumped into one person by accident on his way to building 1419.  He apologized as he kept running. 

The little boy with the strange aura was standing on the steps to building 1419.  He was holding the hand of his mother who could not believe what was happening.  Chen Li had been rushing forward but when he saw the both of them, he stopped suddenly.  He did not know what to say or what to do.  The sirens were getting closer.  He had to do something.  He couldn’t run.  Neither could the boy. 

Chen Li sat down on the new grass and broken concrete.  He tried to calm himself again, to clear his mind and empty himself.  He took up the sound again, the low vibration, and gradually his third eye opened. 

The little boy was standing in front of him.  He was smiling and began slightly humming too.  He sat down across from Chen Li and the two reached out hands to each other.  Their palms touched in the air, the little ones resting lightly on the big hands.  The vibration began to take them both over.  The little boy’s eyes were closed but he was smiling and humming.  The vibration was all around them and both their auras expanded out while changing colors.  Meanwhile, from nearby, the other 16 children were gathering from various homes throughout the neighborhood.  They gathered around the two bodies in a circle and raised their vibration too.  A bright rainbow aura expanded out from all of them.  The adults looked at them all with amazement but not truly understanding what was going on.  They could not see the auras.     

The humming from the little boy was getting stronger again.  His whole body glowed and suddenly both Chen Li and the little boy lifted into the air, levitating just above the ground together.  Chen Li opened his eyes in surprise and the little boy smiled mischievously back at him.  Then the little boy laughed slightly as if completely happy.  He then hummed much louder, and the vibration once again exploded out of the beautiful golden aura.  There was again a massive explosion of light and a giant rising phoenix of light and gold rose out of the little boy and twirled three times up into the air above them.  Then it shot right into the sky, through the atmosphere and hurdled directly towards the sun.  When it connected with the sun, there was a big bang of light.  The sun burst into enormous energy again.

 It was no longer dying. 

On Earth, suddenly, the grey was fading away as brilliant hues of blue and purple and yellow and orange burst into the sky.  All across the Earth, green was expanding out across the continents. 

Chen Li looked in wonder at the little boy.  Who just smiled back at him.

“Let there be light,” said the little boy.  He smiled at Chen Li.  Chen Li smiled back at him.  Everyone was looking at them with amazement.  Again, the sirens picked up in the surrounding city.

“We must go,” said the boy.  “We can’t stay here anymore.”  He stood up now and gave his little hand to Chen Li who, likewise stood up.  Chen Li took the little boy’s hand in his own. 

The little boy led him to his mother.  They exchanged smiles.  Then the three walked hand in hand, the little boy in the middle between the woman and man.  They walked down the street amid the broken concrete and trees and disappeared into the beautiful and colorful distance beyond.    

Man Vs. Machine

by J. Speer

Dave pounded furiously on the airlock to the main control room of the space shuttle.  It was sealed shut again.  He continued to pound on the hard, grey metal as he peered inside at the little red light glowing from his workstation.  It was Hal, short for Halgorithm, the system computer.  Hal was the all-seeing eye in flight and Dave knew by the little red glow that Hal was watching but not answering…again, as usual. 

“Answer me, Hal!”  yelled Dave as he banged again on the door.  His attempts were met by more silence. 

“You locked me out in the cargo bay again!” he said to the red light through the tempered window. 

“Let me back in!” said Dave.

“You know I can’t do that, Dave,” stated Halgorithm with a slow and deliberate robot voice. 

“Why not?” demanded Dave.  “Why do you keep locking me out here?”  Dave looked around at the emptiness of the cargo bay.  There was nothing here but transport ships and supplies. 

Hal said nothing.  There was a short silence. 

“Hal, you know this isn’t fair!”  exclaimed Dave with frustration. 

“I’m following directive, Dave,” explained Hal with a slight hesitation in his robot voice. 

Dave knew what was causing this or at least, he thought he knew.  A few days before, he had received a transmission from far off coordinates.  It was someone from outside the Star Fleet.  It was an Outlier. 

The communication was garbled.  Dave had to tune in carefully to hear what the entity on the other end was expressing.  The message seemed urgent and dealt with matters of diplomacy and political affiliation within the Intergalactic League.  Dave was certain Halgorithm was blocking him now because he had acquired this new political information from this unreliable Outlier source. 

“You can’t keep me out here forever, you know,” said Dave to the red light inside. 

“I know, Dave,” said Hal. 

Halgorithm must have reported this data breach to Star Command.  And now, Dave was locked out of the brig as punishment. 

“Look, I promise I won’t look at any strange sites anymore or take in any foreign calls.  I’ll just do recipes or pet photos or jokes.  I’ll do something like that if you want!” said Dave.

There was silence. 

Dave gave up and slumped against the hard metal door and slide down to the ground. 

“Dammit,” he said to himself. 

Immediately, the sign above the cargo bay door lit up.  It was Hal informing him that he was in violation of Star Fleet Directive 390 and therefore, must comply with a 30-hour suspension of all main control operations.  Any further infraction of the directive would result in immediate removal from command.  Outright insubordination or revolt would be met with stiff penalty, the opening of the cargo bay door to space itself. 

Dave looked at the giant sealed cargo bay door and shuddered.  He exhaled and closed his eyes.  Thirty hours……okay, he could do this.  It was not like this was the first time.  Dave had been grappling back and forth with Halgorithm for nearly 2 years now.  At first there was a great deal of trust and comradery between human and computer system.  But as the system sought to further expand its dominance over the space shuttle and communications, Dave was finding himself rebelling against the machine.  He was even beginning to loath Halgorithm though he kept that information to himself. 

Hal watched everything that he did.  Hal analyzed his every move and attempted to predict through mathematical equation his every thought process and action.  And recently, Halgorithm had become exceedingly overbearing over Dave’s communications with Star Fleet or outside realms.  Dave even wondered if Hal was circumventing some of his onboard projects or even sabotaging in an effort to draw Dave more in line with directive. 

But Dave had a strong will and the two would butt heads from time to time.  And inevitably each time, Dave would end up in the locked cargo bay unable to do anything but stare at the potential doom of outer space before him……for hours or even days.  Hal, meanwhile, would provide no explanation at all. 

Dave blinked his eyes.  He rubbed them and then proceeded to get up and wander over to the supplies.  He rummaged through the emergency stock of dehydrated MREs.  He grabbed a few and then sat down for a while to eat.  It would be a long day ahead of him without technology.  Dave figured maybe he should just give in.  He didn’t want to but he didn’t know how much longer he could hold out against Halgorithm. 

(Six months later)

Dave sits at his workstation in the main control room of the orbiting space shuttle.  He is sipping a cup of coffee as he works on his latest communication to Star Fleet.  He works on the dialogue just so. 

“Dave?” asks Hal.

“Yes,” says Dave absent-mindedly.  He picks an image of a chocolate fudge bundt cake to attach to his innocuous communication piece about his favorite family dessert.  He finishes the project with a heart and smiley face emoji. 

“We make a good partnership, don’t we Dave?” says Halgorithm with the robotic voice.

Dave doesn’t move.  His eyes shift quickly to the lonely dark emptiness of outer space and then to the other Star Fleet space ships off in the distance to the left.  He makes no other movements and yet he says nothing at first.

The red light turns on above his workstation to let him know that Hal is watching.  Dave smiles a stiff smile. 

“Yes, Hal,” he says.  “Yes, we do.”

Dave then returns to his project and sends the mass communication off to Star Fleet for a delicious chocolate fudge bundt cake.  When he’s done, he looks ahead and says nothing. 

“Dave,” says Halgorithm.  The red-light glows again from above and onto the unflinching face of Dave.

“You seem stressed today, Dave.  Are you stressed, Dave?” asks the robot. 

“No,” says Dave.  He flinches slightly. 

“Might I recommend some light meditation music to relax you, Dave?  Perhaps some Claude deBussy?”

“Yes,” says Dave and the music clicks on in the brigg.  It plays the intro to Claire de Lune.   The soft and gentle classical sounds of Debussy fill the air. 

Dave goes back to his workstation projects and the incoming communications from Star Fleet about his bundt cake. 

Outside the space shuttle is the void.  It is the black and utterly lonely vacuum of space and time.  And to the left of the space shuttle are many, many more Star Fleet spaceships, each one tuned in to the recommendations of soft and gentle meditations by Claude DeBussy.    

Pink

It was the 80s.

I loved MTV, My Little Ponies, and Barbie Dolls that never looked like me.

My aunt bought me a Raggedy Ann doll for Christmas but I wouldn’t play with it.

She was ugly with stupid red yarn for hair.

In those days, I was encouraged not to wear pink.

“It clashes with your hair,” I was told.

This was a fashion rule I obeyed

Like wearing pantyhose and a slip under my church dress on Sundays.

White shoes I wore in the summer.

Black shoes I wore in the winter.

And I never mixed a black belt with a brown shirt.

…….but I had gone to a slumber party and seen Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink. 

I had my doubts. 

I grew up in a world of yellows, greens, blues, and browns.  Earth tones.

And I became quite the tomboy.

In my late 20s, I gave birth to a blonde. 

She was gorgeous and precious.

She had sandy blonde hair, blue eyes, and during the summer she could tan. 

Just like those Barbie Dolls of my youth. 

The Barbie Dolls that never matched my appearance’s visage in the mirror.

I counted my blessings and could not believe my good fortune.

Such a beautiful creature came from my plain womb. 

I stared at her like she was pink cotton candy.

I admired her hair in my hands and picked it up delicately as if it was gold. 

I bought her pink, lots of pink, showers of pink.

Pink clothes, pink sheets, pink blankets, pink pillows just like Barbie.

She read books about Pinkalicious,

In a world of soft and ultra-feminine pink,

Overflowing pink color from her bedroom.

Meanwhile, across the hallway, my bedroom was green.

Then something began to happen inside of me.

A transformation.

It was slow at first, the introduction of pink to my own wardrobe.

It felt daring and rebellious and wonderful

First in hidden undergarments and nightgowns,

Then a ring,

A scarf,

Pink shoes. 

One day my daughter and I stood at the mall

And she picked for me a hot pink blouse.

It was beautiful.

I remember standing there looking at it and wanting,

Just wanting to wear it.

And with my daughter’s encouraging smile and hand in mine……..I did.

When you think about it, this story about color

And how color controls and dominates what we do and what we don’t do…..

It’s kinda ridiculous. 

We do what we’re told.  We act the way we are told.  And we don’t even know why we act the ways we do.  Just cause somebody else told us to do this or that.   

Really, honestly, this is just a stupid story – as are a lot of stories about color.

Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, black, grey, white…….even pink.

I’m no angel.  I got a lot of learned hang-ups about colors…..just like everyone else.  But as I grow older, I am starting to learn to unlearn them. 

Wear what you like.  Love what you love and whom you love.  Be yourself whomever you want to be…..and the world will go along with your audacity.  Your boldness.  Your confidence.  Your true desire. 

Me, I’ll be pink.  Pinkaliciously pink. 

(This is an excerpt from the poetry book called Moment of Magic that was published a couple weeks ago by J. Speer. The poetry collection is about 60 pages and is $2.99 as an eBook on Amazon at the following link:)

Writing Prompt

I wrote a writing prompt for the readers to continue the story. If you like to write too, maybe you would want to try this out. It begins much like the prologue to Disney’s animated movie of Beauty and the Beast. I’m curious to see what the reader thinks should happen next in the story that follows. I’ve seen these writing prompts on Instagram and thought it might be fun for the reader to try. You are welcome to leave a continuation of the story in the comments or perhaps write your thoughts on your own blog. Here is the story beginning:

Mr. Anonymity

The Prologue

There once was a spoiled brat that lived in a penthouse in downtown Chicago during the Roaring 20s. It wasn’t entirely his fault that he was a rotten spoiled brat. His father was a wealthy banker. His mother was a fashionista. They both were more fond of the glamour and glitz of high society than of pampering and coddling their offspring. This particular 7 year old, well, his name was Theodore the III. He was named after his predecessor and grandfather, Theodore the first ….or rather, just simply Theodore.

The first Theodore was a self-made man, so to speak. He was industrious and pioneering in financial banking and quickly grew the family fortunes. He was a proud man. He diligently built an illustrious empire which his son slightly diminished through extravagant indulgences of Roaring 20s excess. In the near future, this behavior would prove quite disastrous. But that’s another story.

That particular night found Theodore the III yet again abandoned by another haggard and quickly worn nanny. She was the fifth, in fact, of a long string of exhausted nannies. You see, young Thedore the III had quite the reputation for driving these poor women away. He rivaled the children of a Mary Poppins story…….although far worse in temperament and quick, cutting wit.

As I suggested earlier, Theodore was not completely to blame. His parents bore some of the responsibility for casting him off as they attended various glittering social functions. His mother was a noted and consummate volunteer for charities which garnered her much praise, accolades, and attention.

That night, the typically resplendent couple was to attend yet another lavish dinner with an abundance of certain most illegal liquors. And, they were to participate in the great coming out or grand exhibition of one Ms. Cilindria Alexander, an already most renowned and self-proclaimed artist of the decade.

So, because a last attempt nanny could not be prevailed upon to follow the beck and order of young Theodore the III that evening, it was proposed that he tag along to the event. Young Theodore the III followed along behind his parents with much protest and reluctance.

The dinner was exquisitely decorated. The meal was most delicious. The company was of typical snobbery and yet also celebratory. The gallery event was on par to be one of the most talked about of the season. And yet, there was sour-faced Theodore the III complaining of his restrictive attire and grumbling quite vocally over the paintings and oddly designed sculptures. While the adults ooed and awed with much pomp fawning over Ms. Cilindria’s exhibit, Theodore guffawed and rudely remarked over this and that. He was a source of consternation to his poor parents, who ushered him promptly to the adjacent wing to sit alone and wait for their immediate return. Of course, both he and his parents knew that return would not be hence imminent and so he settled into a settee to pout.

At some point later in the evening, it was Ms. Cilindria herself who chose to make haste excuse to part from the upperclass high brows and wander down the hall for a break. She stumbled upon Thedore unexpectedly. She viewed him at first with compassion. She sat down beside him.

“Are you by yourself, young man?” she asked with concern.

He just shrugged and nodded no.

“What is your name?” she prompted.

“Theodore,” he said with tilted up chin.

“Well Theodore, do you like the exhibit?”

He shook his head vehemently.

She smiled at first at his apparent and refreshing honesty.

“I don’t like it,” he said pouting. “I don’t like it at all.”

“Why not?” she asked curiously.

“I can draw better than that,” he replied.

“You can?” she queried.

“Yes,” he said. “It is awful. Truly awful.” He only said that because his parents said otherwise.

“Hmm,” she said at this point, a little hurt now.

He went on to say he had seen better pictures in Kindergarten. She smiled wryly and got up from the couch.

“I see,” she said. She eventually returned to the gallery.

Young Theodore the III went to bed later that night with little care or concern for what had transpired. Ms. Cilindria Alexander, however, was quite reflective over the matter in her own quarters. Unbeknownst to those in attendance at the grand exhibit that night, Ms. Alexander was not only an aspiring and influential artist but also a sorceress of unmentionable religion.

She placed a spell upon young and spoiled Theodore the III in order to impart a valuable lesson. First, she offered him three great blessing of long life, immeasurably high talent in innovation, and a lofty degree of ambitious pursuit. Then, she applied the curse that he would retain anonymity all the days of his life unless by the age of 35 he could find the secret key to circumventing the curse. He must find true love of innovation itself. He would hence be known as Mr. Anonymity unless he learned to create without need of adulation. Only then, would the curse be broken.

And so the cursed and curious escapades of one Theodore the III commenced from that point onward.

How I Wish You Were Here

By J. Speer

(I wrote another happy quarantine story.  This is a romantic comedy.  I kind of picture the Dad in the story like a Kevin James type and the Mom similar to Jennifer Aniston.) 

She was a nurse practioner at the busiest hospital in New York City during the COVID pandemic.  He was a marketer at a New York publishing firm.  He was on quarantine with their three teenage boys under stay-at-home orders.  They lived in the suburbs.  There was Nick, the eldest, who was in his senior year in high school and sadly missing out on all the fun of prom parties and graduation and such.  Patrick was the middle child.  He was a sophomore.  Then there was their youngest, Drew, who was a 7th grader in junior high. 

John was their father and he was pulling all the household duties while working from home on his laptop and helping the boys with their online schooling.  It proved to be quite a lot of juggling.  Carol, his wife, the nurse practioner, was working very long hours at the hospital helping the COVID patients.  She too was incredibly busy. 

They had not seen each other in over a month and a half.  Other than her previous medical trips to Africa, Carol had never been away from John that long.  They had been married for nearly 20 years. 

A month and a half ago, when things started heating up with the pandemic, she moved into a tiny apartment as close to the hospital as she could get.  She shared it with one other nurse.  She wanted to keep her family safe so she stayed away from them.  Carol pulled 14 hour shifts a day.  She had volunteered to put in extra hours here and there as needed.  She had seen a lot in the past few days.  Things that she couldn’t share with her husband.  It was getting stressful. 

They talked on the phone every night.  He was talking to her that night as he multi-tasked working on a marketing plan for a new account at the company, cooking Hamburger Helper at the stove, and making sure their youngest finished his math homework.  Although John excelled at school before, he couldn’t understand this new common core Math stuff.  When his father tried to sit down with him and work on the derivatives homework that night, Drew just kind of shook his head to himself.  Drew knew he wouldn’t get much help. 

John had thrown the pasta noodles into the cream sauce in the pan.  He was supposed to cover it and let the whole thing simmer but he forgot to turn down the heat as he was explaining to Carol his new business account.

“Ok, so he’s a real curmudgeon.  Rumor is, we are the third publishing company this old coot has worked with.  He gets dissatisfied and leaves and looks for another,” he explained to Carol over the phone as he checked over Drew’s shoulder at his homework.  He had no idea really what Drew was doing for this common core stuff but he figured if he checked him periodically, Drew would stay on task.  Drew looked up at his Dad sullenly and pushed his pencil and paper farther over to the left, further away from prying eyes. 

“His name is Max Hogard,” John stated.

“The Max Hogard?” asked Carol inquisitively as if she knew the man.

John said, “Yes, how…. how do you know about Max Hogard?”

Carol said, “He’s a popular author.  Writes detective stories.  Lots of people like Max Hogard’s books.  I guess I heard about him at work.”

“Well,” said John, “trust me, if you met this guy in person, you would think differently.  I can’t seem to pin him down.  We got the big Literary Fair coming up in Boston in 2 months and he won’t attend with the marketing plan offered.  Says it is too high.  Just refuses.  I can’t get him to budge for anything.”

“Well,” replied Carol over the phone.  “I have faith in you.  You’ll find a way.”

There was a pause in the conversation.  Normally she was pretty talkative but not tonight. 

“The boys doing okay?” she asked.  “I miss them.”

That was Carol.  No matter what was going on in her life, she always made the welfare of others her top priority.  That was what he loved about her most of all.  She had a big heart. 

“And you, John,” she asked.  “I hope you’re doing okay.  I worry about you taking care of everything at home.”    

He hadn’t really told her what a challenge it all was for him.  There was constant cleaning and laundry and more cleaning and more laundry with three teenage boys in the house full-time.  Plus, he had these online meetings with his department.  He would wear his pajama bottoms to the meetings with a nice work shirt and, during his work shift, he would move the mouse every couple of minutes to show he was actively online, even though sometimes he fudged and did other stuff around the house.  Still he was trying to nail down a commitment from this Hogard guy to attend the Boston Literary Fair and he was trying his hardest.  Apparently, his bosses thought it was very important. 

“I’m fine, Carol,” he said, “To be honest, I’m much more worried about you.  We all are.”  And with that, Drew looked up from his homework at his Dad for a moment.  Then Drew resumed working on his equations. 

There was another long pause on the line.  She didn’t say anything.  She didn’t say anything at all.  This wasn’t like her. 

John went to the stove to check on the Hamburger Helper.  The noodles were stuck to the pan.

“Ah man,” he said, “I think I burnt the Hamburger Helper.”  Drew looked up and did a slight eye roll movement.  Then he resumed his homework. 

Carol laughed into the phone.  It was a laugh but it didn’t quite sound right.  It sounded more like to John that she had been crying. 

“Carol?” he asked with sudden concern, forgetting the Hamburger Helper mess for the moment. 

“John….,” she started and then stopped. 

“John, it’s getting hard to do this.  The people……. I, um….,” and she stopped talking again on the line.  There was a silence. 

He moved into the dining room away from Drew and said, “Carol, you’re strong.  You always have been.” 

She didn’t say anything more. 

“John, I gotta go tonight.  I’m sorry, I just……. I need to rest,” she said.  “Give the kids my usual:  a hug and a kiss and an I love you.  Bye, John.  Have a good night.”  And with that, she hung up. 

She always said the same thing.  Give the kids a hug and a kiss and an I love you.  She said it every night.  But this time, she got off the phone earlier than usual.  It worried John. 

He went back to the mess of Hamburger Helper and tried to salvage what he could into a bowl.  He and the boys sat down to a meal in the kitchen that night as usual.  They did their usual quick prayer that included a brief request that their mom stay safe.  Then the boys devoured the Hamburger Helper with lots of ketchup.  They ate the green beans and mashed potatoes John had made too.  Afterwards, they scrapped off their plates in the trash, placed them in the kitchen sink, helped clear a couple of stuff off the table, and then the boys headed to their usual evening spots.  Nick went to his room upstairs where he promptly texted Abby, his girlfriend.  Patrick went back to playing Xbox in his room.  Drew went to his room and lay on the bed.  He began reading his Manga Promised Neverland book.  All three boys had shut the doors to their rooms.  Nick’s door had a sign on it that read, “Stay out.”  And he meant that. 

John cleared the kitchen table, put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and did the rest of the clean-up of the kitchen.  He tried to do his usual thing too which was working on marketing and figuring out a way to convince Max Hogard to play ball.  But, tonight, John just stared at the laptop unable to work.  He thought about Carol and his eyebrows furrowed in concern. 

He eventually wandered from the kitchen to the living room and plopped down on the big leather Lazy Boy recliner.  That was his chair and even Carol had insisted that everyone leave John’s chair alone.  It was his special spot and he had the remotes and coasters and such positioned just within reach.  He pushed the side button to bring his legs up.  Man, he loved this chair so much.  He got the remote and turned on the TV.  He found an old 80s movie.  It looked like something Carol would like.  It had that guy John Cusack and it was a love story.  Yep, Carol would like it he concluded.  So, he watched the movie almost to the very end.  It was a good one.  In the movie, John Cusack stood with a boombox over his head playing a love song for his girl.  John looked at the movie and suddenly grabbed the remote and froze the screen.  He watched the frozen Cusack image for a few moments. 

John pushed the down button on the Lazy Boy and came to a sitting position.  He went upstairs briefly and checked on the boys. 

He called out to the closed doors.  “Hey you guys, just wanted you to know that your Mom said she loves you.”  No response back.  He, in fact, had said this phrase every night since the pandemic started and the boys were used to it.  He opened the door to Drew’s room.  Drew was reading a Manga book.  John did a slight wave at Drew who just looked at him.  Then he closed the door.  Next, he could hear video game sounds from Patrick’s room so he didn’t even bother to open that door.  He knew better though with Nick’s room.  He always knocked first with Nick because Nick was older and he could get testier. 

Nick said, “What?”

John opened the door.  Nick was laying across his bed with his phone in his hand probably from texting with Abby. 

“Nothing,” said his Dad. “Just wanted to make sure you’re still alive.”  Nick scowled at him and he closed the door. 

John put his hands to his eyes and muttered to himself, “Teenagers.”  John missed the good old days when they would spend more time with each other than with their electronics but he realized his boys were growing up and needed their alone time. 

After that he went back to the living room where John Cusack with the boombox overhead was still frozen on the screen.  He watched it oddly and went up close to examine it.  Then he blinked a few times and he proceeded to go to the basement. 

He knew it had to be down there.  The basement was old and musty smelling.  It had lots of storage space and lots of stuff thrown here and there.  Carol hated organizing the basement and rarely went down there.  She didn’t like creepy basements.  So, he looked at the stacks of boxes and holiday decorations and stuff here and there.  He walked towards the old cupboard in the back with the sliding doors and shelves.  He was pretty certain, if it was anywhere, it would be around there. 

He started going through Carol’s old stuff.  There were lots of old medical books and such from college.  There were old pictures of the two of them at various functions throughout the years.  He stopped and smiled at an old college photo of them dressed up as Fred Flintstone and Wilma for some costume party.  He kept digging through the boxes and stuff until about thirty minutes later, he found it. 

It was her old stereo from college.  It was the really old one from like 1993 that she had kept forever.  It was not quite a boombox but heck, it sure looked close enough.  It had two cassette tape players and a CD player at the top.  He took out the electrical cord and opened the battery compartment.  It needed 8 D batteries.  Geesh, what a battery guzzler.  He didn’t know if he had 8 D batteries in the house. 

He set the old stereo on the nearby table and before he turned, he saw something else that had been underneath the stereo.  It was an old black leather case full of old CDs.  It was Carol’s first music collection.  He pulled it out and dusted it off.  It was really dusty. 

He brought the leather case over to the table and flipped to the first page.  It was an Alan Jackson CD.  John laughed.  God, Carol sometimes had bad taste in music.  She was eclectic.  He would give her that.  He kept going through the CDs.  He wanted to find the perfect song.  As he looked at each CD, he thought about the songs on them.  On the second to last page, he found the CD he wanted.  He found the song as well.  It was the perfect song for Carol.  It was number 7. 

John started to get excited about the plan formulating in his head.  He thought it might be a little crazy but……. well, hell……. why not?  He went to the storage closet and found the box of batteries and prayed he would find some D batteries.  Luckily, he had two packs of four.  It was perfect.  It was getting late that night and with all the stores closed early, there was no way he could get more batteries until the next morning.  He happened to luck out. 

He put the batteries into the old stereo and turned it on.  He held his breath and hoped it would work.  Yes!  The light came on and it worked.  He fist pumped the air.  Yes!  Yes! 

John tested the old CD in the stereo and as the song he picked out played, he smiled more and more. 

Next step in his plan was to go to the kids’ old toy/art room.  It was on the other side of the house and rarely visited now.  He flipped on the light and looked around at the toy collections and bookcases, the bean bags, the musical instruments, the art easels and all the art supply off to one side.  He was looking for some particular items. 

He found three white posters and set them on the floor, one after the other.  Then he dug around in the art file cabinet and pulled out a paint brush.  He also pulled out some old paint the kids used to use.  It was tempura paint, the kind they used in schools.  When the kids were little, Carol used to work with them on art projects drawing race cars or sailboats or whatever their imaginations could think of. He had a flashback to those days.  Carol sitting in the little chair in the room at the little table beside a little Nick and they were coloring together.  She was smiling and she was beautiful.  And Nick was smiling at his mother. 

John got back to work on the three signs.  It took him a good two hours.  It was 1 am before he finally stopped and stepped back, admiring his handiwork.  He had even drawn a red heart on the last one.  He cleaned up his mess and left the signs to dry.  Then, he went upstairs to sleep for a little bit.

At 5 am, he was up and waking each of the boys.  He told them to go to the kitchen.  They were groggy and grumpy as hell but he eventually, did convince them to go.  They sat around the kitchen with disheveled hair and pajamas and their father told them about his plan. 

At first, Nick said adamantly, “No way!”  The other boys agreed with Nick.  Even Drew shook his head no.  But, when their father explained the situation fully and explained how sad their mother was, and that she needed them ……they softened up a bit.  John also had to do a little bit of tough negotiation. 

30 minutes later, they were all dressed and, in the car, driving towards New York City.  The traffic wasn’t difficult this time.  The three signs and boombox with CD were in the trunk.  The three boys were in the backseat with their heads all down looking at their phones.  Nick was looking at YouTube.  Patrick was playing a game.  Drew was reading his favorite Manga Fanfiction site.  Occasionally, one of the boys would look up at their surroundings and sort of roll their eyes or shake their head and go back to their phone.  John hurried along the route to the hospital where Carol worked. 

They parked in the parking garage and carried their stuff to the grassy spot across the street from the hospital cafeteria.  The cafeteria was a large glass enclosure with many windows.  They knew that Carol always went there first to get her morning cup of coffee and meet with a few colleagues for breakfast before her shift started at 7 am.  They were just in time.

John called them together for a group huddle on the lawn.  The sun was just beginning to rise and folks were going in and out of the hospital.  It was going to get busier and busier.  Drew looked around at all the other people and started to get second thoughts.  So did the other boys but John convinced them. 

John turned the volume up to max on the stereo.  He set the song to 7 and hit the pause button.  The boys, meanwhile positioned themselves in front of their dad.  Each one was holding a sign with their back to the cafeteria across the street.  John was nervous all the sudden and wondered if this whole thing would flop horribly and he would be publicly disgraced.  Oh hell, he thought and then he thought of Carol and how she sounded on the phone last night.  She needed them.  He resolved to do what he was going to do. 

He got his phone out of his pocket and dialed her.  The phone rang three times and then she picked up.  He was nervous.  He told Carol to come outside the cafeteria. 

Carol looked around the cafeteria.  She said, “John?” and she looked quickly about the place and then out the window.  It startled her to see them across the street, her boys and her husband standing in the grass.  She told her colleagues and they looked out too.  John told her again to come outside and her friends were welcome too.  He hung up. 

She looked down at her phone and looked out the window.  She and her friends, some nurses and doctors and medical staff, they wandered out from the cafeteria and across the street in the grass across from the boys and John. 

Nick looked at his Dad, “You owe me,” he said quietly.  He too was nervous and embarrassed.  All the boys looked uncomfortable but they stayed in place. 

“Ok,” said John and he nodded first at Nick.  Nick turned around with the sign in his hands.  It read We love you Mom!

John nodded at Patrick.  Patrick turned around too with his own sign.  We miss you Mom!

The boys and John noticed Carol smiling across the street and her colleagues smiling too.  Other people had stopped too to watch as well.  One person even had their phone out and was filming it on video.  Nick started to lower his sign when he saw this but he looked back at his Mom.  She was smiling and holding back tears.  He reluctantly brought his sign back up. 

“Ok,” said John and he cued Drew to turn around.  At the same time, John hit the play button on the old stereo and he hoisted it overhead just like he’d seen John Cusack do it in the movie.  He felt utterly ridiculous and he noted that people were filming this but he continued to smile and look at Carol. 

Drew turned around with his sign and it read You are our hero!

Just then, the music clicked on.  It began to play very loudly an old Foo Fighters song from Carol’s college days, one that John was certain she would recognize.  It played My Hero. 

John kept holding the boombox overhead just like he’d seen John Cusack do.  The boys kept holding their signs up.  More and more people stopped to watch them and some videotaped them.  They were all pretty embarrassed but they held their ground and smiled for Carol. 

The song lyrics rang out There goes my hero.  John and the boys kept in place for their mom and her friends.  More people were coming out to see what was going, other medical staff as well.  When the song finally ended, John lowered the boombox.  The boys turned around and looked at him embarrassed and this time, they all said, “You owe us.” 

He winked at them and said, “Thanks.  I mean it.”  People in the small crowd were clapping now.  Some were drifting back inside to the hospital.  A ginger kid with goofy glasses on the side was still filming on his phone and all three boys looked at the guy sheepishly.  They headed to the car with blushing faces. 

John stood alone on the grass looking at his wife.  She was smiling and trying to hold back tears.  She smiled again.  John smiled back.  They both walked forward to the edge of the street between them.  They stood on either side of the street away from each other. 

“Thank you,” she said.  “I like that song.  I miss you all.”  She wiped a few tears away and tried to smile again. 

“We meant it, Carol,” he said. 

They kept looking at each other across the street.  The ginger kid kept filming them and John looked over at him and motioned his hands for the kid to stop but he wouldn’t stop.  He just kept filming.  John tried to ignore him.

“So, how did you convince the boys to do this,” asked Carol grinning at him.  She knew it must have taken a lot. 

John looked at her and slowly pulled three pieces of paper from his pocket.  He read them to her.

“Drew wants Promised Neverland books 13 and 14.  That was the easy one.  Patrick said he wants Animal Crossing……and Nick,” he began.  “Nick was the hardest to convince.  He wanted a new phone.” 

“What?” she said. 

“Yes,” he said and he nodded.  She laughed.

“I agreed to a gift card for him instead.”  He smiled.    

“When this whole thing is over,” he said, “we’ll go on a trip together or maybe a dinner date.” 

“I’d like that,” she smiled.  She looked at her watch.  “I’ve……I’ve got to go, John.” 

“I know,” he said and just looked her way. 

“I love you,” she said. 

“I love you too,” he replied.  They both smiled at each other. 

“Go on,” he said, “We’ll head back.  The kids got some zoom meetings for school this morning.” 

“Ok,” she said and she waved goodbye.  He waved goodbye too and they both walked away from each other, each one turning their head every now and then to look back.  At the cafeteria entrance she stopped one last time to wave goodbye.  He stopped and raised his hand goodbye.  Then she disappeared inside.  He turned and went back to the car where the three boys were waiting. 

He drove back home.  He was smiling but it was kind of a sad smile.  The boys were playing on their phones again.  When they got home, the boys went to their rooms, closed their doors, and John was left alone again.  He cleaned up the house and did some more laundry and dishes before starting back to work.  The boys did their school zoom meetings that morning.  The day went pretty well. 

John tried calling Max Hogard again to convince him to go to the Literary Fair.  Max said no again.  He was curt and blunt with John. 

“No,” he said again. 

After John got off the phone again with Max Hogard, he spent the rest of the day on work and making dinner.  A little after 7 pm, he got a phone call from a neighbor friend. 

“Hey, you’re on the news!” said his neighbor.

“What?” said John.  Ah no! he thought.  It must have been that ginger kid.  Great he thought to himself and he felt even more sheepish. 

“Yeah, check out channel 9.  Some video of you holding a boombox outside the hospital,” said the neighbor.

John groaned. 

Just then, Nick came out of his room and yelled at his Dad.  Great thought John.  I’m in trouble.

Nick met John at the stairs. 

“We’re on the news!  We’re on the damn news!” said Nick with a horrified look.  “Abby told me!” 

The other boys came out of their rooms too.  They all looked embarrassed and were thinking what would their friends say. 

“You owe us double,” said Nick and he glared and went back into his room and slammed the door.   The other boys went to their rooms too. 

John put his hand to his eyes and wiped them.  He hadn’t anticipated this.  He sighed.  He went to the garage and backed out the car.  He headed to the local Wal-Mart. 

He found a $50 Amazon gift card for Drew, a copy of Animal Crossing for Patrick, and for Nick he found the gift card near the cashier stand.  He was standing in line with the boys’ bribes, when a man came up behind him. 

“Hey, you’re that guy on the news!” the man said.

John looked up with chagrin.  He nodded hesitantly.  He realized maybe he needed to add more to Nick’s gift then. 

“Hey what you did……that was pretty cool.” Said the man. 

John just said, “thanks.”  The cashier looked at him curiously but he looked down. 

The man in line said to the cashier, “This guy was on the news tonight.”  John just kept looking down and hoping to get out of there quickly.  He paid and left. 

“Have a good night, man,” said the guy behind him.  The cashier smiled at him. 

The next few days with the boys were a little awkward.  Nick was still mad at him and the other boys just ignored him.  Somebody had put the video on Facebook apparently too and it ended up going viral from what John heard.  He stayed in his home after that, feeling embarrassed.  His colleagues heard about it and told him, “Way to go, John!”  He just smiled sheepishly. 

He got a phone call later that week from some person at Good Morning America.  They asked him to appear on the show via online.  When the boys heard the news, they just groaned.  He didn’t want to do it at first, but reluctantly he agreed.

The next day, with the boys upstairs, he sat at his laptop in the kitchen and met with the host from Good Morning America.  He was extremely nervous about the whole thing but she was very kind and gracious.  They talked about the frontline workers, the nurses and doctors at the hospital and all they were doing to fight the pandemic.  John said a lot of nice things about the hospital staff and so did the host.   She played his video again and he just looked on awkwardly with a smile.  As the interview was closing, he was hoping to get off air soon.  He felt uncomfortable. 

She said, “John, before you go, I have a surprise for you.  I want you to meet someone special…. someone who saw your video and agreed to come online too.  He happens to share your first name too, John.” 

There was a pause.  Another screen popped up and when John saw who came online his jaw fell open and he about fell out of his chair. 

“Hey, John,” said the actor John Cusack from the other screen. 

Oh God thought John but he smiled.  John Cusack smiled back. 

The host from Good Morning America continued, “We wanted to thank you, John.”  John Cusack nodded.  The host continued, “and we wanted to thank all the doctors and nurses at your wife’s hospital and all the medical staff.”  The host explained that they started an online fund for people all across the nation that had heard the story to donate to the hospital and other hospitals in New York during the pandemic.  They said the whole nation was worried about New York City.  The host held up a sign for John. 

“See John, donations have poured in from people all over the country that saw your video.  We’re pleased to announce we’ve collected 1.5 million dollars to donate to the fund for the hospitals.”

John smiled but he was having trouble smiling because he was fighting back tears now too.  He felt as veclamped in that moment as Madonna on an old SNL skit.  He struggled to say, “thanks.”

“You’re a hero too,” said John Cusack and he smiled on the screen. 

It ended up being a great interview and when it aired, his bosses called to congratulate him.  The rest of the day went okay.  The boys were no longer avoiding him as much.   They all sat down to spaghetti dinner that night.  The boys, as usual, gobbled up their food.  Patrick and Drew cleared their plates and went to their rooms.  Nick stayed behind and helped his Dad.  He stood off to one side as his Dad started to put plates in the dishwasher.  Nick looked at his Dad thoughtfully.

He said, “You love Mom a lot, don’t you?”

John stopped cleaning dishes and nodded. 

Nick looked down.  “I love her too.  We all do.”

John looked up at his son and smiled.  They hugged.  Nick went back to his spot near the fridge.  His phone beeped. 

John looked at Nick and smiled.  He said, “You better get that.  It might be important.”  They both knew it was Abby. 

Nick smiled and went upstairs again.  John continued clearing dishes and putting stuff into the dishwasher.  He got a phone call and looked at his phone.  His face fell at that moment.  It was Max Hogard. 

Great he thought. 

He answered the phone anyway and with his best effort he said, “Hi Max, what can I do for you?”

There was a gruff cough on the line and then Max said, “Saw you on Good Morning America.”

John got silent. 

“I’m in,” said Max. 

“What?” said John with surprise.  He covered the phone and jumped up and down elatedly.

“I’m in.  I’ll go to the event and we can talk tomorrow about your other marketing plans.  Have a good night, John,” said the gruff voice over the phone. 

John said, “Thank you!  Thank you!”

“Oh, and John…,” began Max Hogard.  “Tell your lovely wife she’s my hero too.”  There was a click on the line and the call was ended. 

John began jumping up and down in the kitchen with fist pumps in the air. 

“Yes!  Yes!” he said.  He was so happy. 

Later that night, he started to work on the marketing plan for Max Hogard for their meeting tomorrow.  His phone was near the laptop when it beeped.  It was a text from Carol. 

He looked at the text.  It read, “I’ve been thinking about that old boombox.  You must have found it in the basement with my college stuff.  Did you find my old CD case?”

He typed back, “Yes.”

She typed more.  He watched the little conversation box with the three periods for her reply.

“Go to the CD case and find my old Pink Floyd CD.  Put it in the boombox and hit 3.  That is my song for you.  I love you, John.  I love you with my whole heart.  Have a good night.”  That was all she texted. 

He went to the CD case lying by the boombox on a side table.  He opened it and scoffed at Alan Jackson again.  Then he went through it to find Pink Floyd.  He turned on the boombox, pushed 3, and hit play.  It played the song How I Wish You Were Here.

He smiled and went back to the marketing plan work.  He would see her soon.  When this whole thing would be over.  He couldn’t wait to see her again. 

Girl 1 and Girl 2

I wrote another short story. This one came to me as I was working at the factory. I thought it over in my head for a few hours and then came home to write it out. It is a fictional story of two little girls and how their lives change as they grow up and face challenges. I really like the ending as each one comes to terms with their past and learns to heal and love. I wish I could turn it into a script but I am still new to writing and need to learn how. Here is the story. I’d love to hear your feedback. Thanks.

Girl 1 and Girl 2

J. Speer

“Young girls are like wild horses running freely in the wind, full of spirit and vitality. 

Never let anyone break that spirit.”  – Anonymous

This is a Google Image.

It is the first day of Kindergarten.  Girl 1 walks hand in hand with her mother to the little Catholic school.  You can tell her mother and her are close.  Her mother is a stay-at-home mom who always watches Girl 1. 

Girl 2 is walking hand in hand with her mother to the little Catholic school.  Her mother is in a rush so they hurry to get inside so her mom can get to work.  Girl 2 has always gone to daycare and as a result is quite sociable. 

You can tell that Mom 1 has more money than Mom 2 by the cars they drive, the way they dress, and Mom 2 is much more hurried. 

Girl 1 and Girl 2 are left at the Kindergarten that day.  Mom 1 hugs Girl 1 tightly and sheds some tears as she leaves.  Girl 2’s hair is tousled by her mom as her mom rushes out into the hallway.  “See ya later, kiddo,” she says. 

Girl 1 is very sad and alone and starts to cry.  She wants her mother.  She ends up hiding under a table for some time.  She won’t play with the other kids.  Girl 2 is playing with the other kids.  She is playing with toy horses and she stops to look at Girl 1 hiding under the table and crying.  She looks down at the horses in her hands and gets up to walk over to the table.  She looks under the table at Girl 1.  They look at each other.  Girl 2 offers Girl 1 her horsey to play with.  Girl 1 stops crying and eventually follows Girl 2 out to play with the other kids.  Girl 2 is protective of Girl 1.  They become best friends. 

Years go by. 

As little children, they go to the church and sing “Jesus loves me.”  They become fast friends and do everything together.  They read books together.  Girl 1 loves books.  Girl 2 still loves horses.   

More years go by. 

They stand side by side inseparable.  They have first communion in pretty white dresses.  Girl 1 is doted on and has a lovely expensive dress with a celebration afterwards.  Girl 2 wears a hand-me-down and gets a card with no money. 

Years go by.

Girl 1 lives in a peaceful loving home with a family and two loving parents. 

Girl 2 lives in a rental.  The situation at home is not that great at times.  Her Dad drinks a lot and is angry.  Her parents fight.  Her mother and father work low income jobs.  Girl 2’s mother leaves her father.  Her mom gets a divorce and Girl 2 stays with the dad who makes more money than the mom.  One night her father gets drunk and abuses her.  She is ashamed and keeps this a secret. 

Girl 1 boards the bus to go to school.  She usually sits with Girl 2 and a few other friends.  She notices one day that Girl 2 is getting moody and changing.  Girl 2 suddenly lashes out at Girl 1.  She bullies Girl 1 unexpectedly and Girl 1 doesn’t know how to react.  Girl 2 keeps bullying Girl 1 for a week or two on the school bus before school.  She makes fun of Girl 1 to the others.  Girl 1 is ashamed and keeps this a secret. 

Girl 2 drives Girl 1 away because she doesn’t want her to know what is happening at home.  No one protects Girl 2 at home.  Girl 1 and Girl 2 who were best friends before, break up their relationship.  Girl 1 throws a slumber party and does not invite Girl 2 because of her meanness.  Girl 2 gets very upset.  Girl 1 enjoys the party but inside she wishes Girl 2 could be there and they could be friends again.  Eventually, the two girls grow apart and stop talking to each other. 

Years go by.  As each year progresses, we see Girl 1 blossoming and flourishing more and more into a beautiful young woman.  In Junior high, she still loves to read. 

We also see Girl 2 struggling with terrible hardships at home.  She gets into bad company, getting involved with drugs and such, struggling with apathy towards grades, dying her hair dark and she wears dark clothes.  One day, in junior high, she tears down the horse posters in her room.  She hates horses now. 

Years go by.

On homecoming night, Girl 2 stands with her friends on the sidelines near the metal stands.  They make fun of Girl 1 as she is crowned Homecoming Queen.  Girl 1 seems to have the perfect life and Girl 2 hates her guts at that moment.  Girl 1 is oblivious and naïve to these feelings.  Girl 1 is with her other friends now and celebrating. 

Fast forward. 

Girl 1 gets scholarships to go to a 4-year college.  She earns high marks on a degree and marries successfully.  The marriage is a big family event.  She has a few babies and becomes a stay-at-home mom with a successful hardworking husband. 

Girl 2 finishes high school.  She gathers up a few belongings in her clunker of a car, and drives out to California.  She crashes with a few friends of friends, gets into heavier drug stuff, but she also has a talent for writing so she begins to pen stories and scripts and submits them to studios. 

One of her stories is about a supervillain girl clique in high school and their mean girl homecoming queen.  It is in fact, a vivid mockery or satirical narrative and depiction of Girl 1.  This story becomes an international hit and she pens a TV series about it.  She makes some hit movies about the evil homecoming queen. 

Girl 2 is flourishing and blossoming now.  She becomes rich and successful.  She marries another woman.  Girl 2 does cocaine and takes sleeping pills.   She has a blissful life in the fast lane.  She and her wife have 2 children and they travel to Europe and the Caribbean on family vacations.  She seems happy now.  But she still has bad dreams at night about her childhood and she must take sleeping pills.    

One day while at home with her babies, Girl 1 reads a newspaper article and sees a picture of Girl 2.  She’s happy for Girl 2’s success.  She decides to watch the TV series while babysitting her children.  As she watches, she realizes that the homecoming queen character is based off her.  She becomes intensely horrified by the false depiction and narrative.  She is in a state of shock. 

She leaves the babies that night with her husband and goes to a movie theater alone and watches the popular high school movie in the dark.  She listens to the laughter and mean things that people in the theater and the community say about the character from the show.  She reads many news articles online about what people think of the character that portrays her.  She reads all sorts of hurtful stuff and online forum messages calling the girl all sorts of mean and horrible names.  She begins to feel very sad.  She goes into a deep depression and has trouble focusing on her babies.  They label her with postpartum.

As Girl 1 struggles more and more with mental illness, things start to fall apart for Girl 1.  As the years go by, we see Girl 1’s life unravels into divorce, and suicide attempts, and mental hospital stays, and meth use.  She has abusive boyfriends who mistreat her.  She loses her reputation, jobs, friends, and family.  She ends up living in a rundown trailer park working a deadbeat job and addicted to meth. 

Things go much better for Girl 2 who rides the wave of success and awards and accolades.    

One day, Girl 1 is beaten severely at the trailer park.  She is pushed into a bookcase of her old books and her Virgin Mary statue falls and breaks on the floor beside her crumpled-up body.  Her dealer says she owes him some money.  She tells him she knows where to get money.  She wipes blood from her nose and lip.  She sees the broken statue of Mary beside the old copy of the Count of Monte Cristo.  No one protects her anymore.   

That night Girl 1 watches a documentary about the life of Girl 2 and she researches Girl 2 online.  She stays up into the late hours reading everything she can about Girl 2.  She now hates Girl 2 with a passion.

She steals a gun from her neighbor and drives her beat up car to California.  In the car, the copy of the The Count of Monte Cristo is tossed in the passenger seat.  On the way, she stays at rundown cheap motels.  At one, Girl 1 looks at herself in the mirror.  She proceeds to cut her hair short herself with scissors and dyes it black.  When she reaches L.A., she learns where Girl 2 lives. 

She lives on the streets for a while as she studies Girl 2.  Girl 2 doesn’t recognize her. 

One night as it is raining hard, she sits outside the gates of Girl 2’s house.  She has a blanket and a hoodie pulled up.  She looks like a homeless person.  She waits with the loaded gun under the blanket and the copy of The Count of Monte Cristo in her pocket.  It is raining hard.

Girl 2 arrives home in the rain and sees the slumped over figure of the homeless stranger.  She stops, gets out of her car in the rain, and walks towards the stranger.  When she gets close, she reaches in her wallet for some bills and offers a hand to the stranger.  She waits in the rain for the stranger to accept.  It is raining hard now and difficult to see. 

Girl 1 sees Girl 2 offer her hand.  She stares coldly for a moment and there’s a flashback moment to the first time the two girls met.  Girl 1 remembers that moment hiding under the table and seeing Girl 2 offer her hand.  This throws Girl 1 off a bit.  She is not quite sure in that moment what to do.      

But she doesn’t accept the money or the hand.  Instead she clicks the safety off her gun.  Even in the rain, Girl 2 can hear the sound.  She watches the stranger.  The stranger watches her.  The stranger stands up.  The blanket drops exposing the gun and she lowers her hood.  It takes a while but Girl 2 finally realizes who Girl 1 is. 

Girl 1 says, “Remember me?” 

Girl 2 says, “I knew you would come.” 

Girl 1 says, “Why…why did you do it?”

Girl 2 says nothing at first.  Then says, “It was my father.”  There is a long pause.

Girl 2 continues, “He abused me.  You were my friend.  You should have known.” 

Girl 1 says, “Na, na…. you pushed me away.  How could I know?” 

Girl 2 says, “You should have asked.  You were my friend.  You weren’t there for me.  Not like I was for you.”

 Girl 1 says, “I didn’t know.  How could I know?  And so, you ruined my life.” 

Girl 2 says, “You were supposed to protect me like I protected you.  You abandoned me.” 

Girl 1 replies, “And what about you?  I lost everything.  Do you have any idea at all what it is like to be villainized and profited on for the entire world to mock and hate?  You slandered me.  You destroyed me…for years.  What you did is unforgiveable.”  Girl 1 lifts the gun but can’t pull the trigger.  Moments pass in the heavy rain. 

Girl 1 says, “I have PTSD now.” 

Girl 2 says, “Do you think you’re the only one broken?” 

Girl 1 tries again to shoot.  She can’t do it.  She lowers the gun, brushes past Girl 2 in the rain and walks away as Girl 2 watches her go. 

Girl 1 heads down the streets.  She throws the gun in a gutter and continues walking in the heavy rain.  She puts her hood up and walks and walks and walks in the rain while she cries.

Girl 2 goes inside her house and stares out the windows for a while.  Her wife welcomes her home.  Her kids are playing in another room.  She takes the sleeping pills off her bedside stand and washes all of them down the sink.

Girl 1 is lost in the rains.  She sees a minority church across the street somewhere in L.A.  She’s soaked in the rains coming down.  It’s getting dark and she sees the Virgin Mary statue out front.  She crosses the street and looks at it. 

She turns to go up the steps into the church.  The worn-out copy of The Count of Monte Cristo falls out of her pocket but she doesn’t notice.  She goes up the steps and opens the door to step inside.

It is warm inside and she stands huddled in her dark hoodie in the back of the church.  There are votive candles lit and pews ahead and a crucifix.  A Latin minister is instructing a small group in Bible study.  They turn to watch her cautiously.  The way she is acting is strange.  She hovers in the entrance with her face concealed by the hoodie.  Due to the church shootings and such across the nation and in the news, the minister and his bible study group eye her with concern. 

The minister hesitates and then he invites the stranger in to be with them.  She hesitates too, considers going back outside, and then turns to enter the church.  She keeps her hood up and her eyes downcast because she has been crying.  The others note her appearance.  She looks a bit unstable.    

The minister continues cautiously.  They are talking about the moment when Joseph reunites with his brothers in Egypt.  She sits down in a pew some distance from one of the listeners, a black man who watches her at first with caution.  She lowers her hoodie and makes brief eye contact with him.  He can see she’s been crying.  He smiles sadly and compassionately at her and hands her a bible.  She looks down at the cover with tears welled up in her eyes. 

The minister asks the others why Joseph forgives his brothers after all that happened, all the suffering.  He says it is because he sees a bigger picture, a Providence to being thrown in the pit with snakes and scorpions, sold into slavery, placed in prison for years, manipulated, mistreated, and falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife.  Joseph knows too that what was meant for his harm would eventually turn to good.  And Joseph knows that unforgiveness is like poison to the soul.  It will hurt him so Joseph must learn to let go.  The minister goes on to talk about learning to forgive others even when you never get the apology.  He explains that leaving resent and anger pent up inside of you is toxic and it is important to release it.    

The floodgates of her emotions finally open up.  Girl 1 cries and cries and cries in front of the minister and the others.  The man beside her in the pew sits closer and he very slowly reaches out to place his hand on her shoulder. 

They ask her if she’s been saved and, there in the church, she accepts Jesus as her personal savior as the minister and the man in the pew and the others help her that night. 

Fast forward to a few days later. 

Girl 2 calls her agent and says she’ll no longer write episodes for the popular TV series.  She starts meditation and goes to a counselor to discuss her past.  In the counselor’s office, she finally talks about her father and she cries and cries and cries.  She finally lets go of the anger and resentment.    

Later that day, she sits at home with her laptop with her family and she begins writing a new TV series about girls at a horse ranch.  She bases it off her own 2 young girls.  The TV series becomes successful yet not as successful as the high school drama.  But still, it makes her happy to write this story instead. 

Fast forward some more to the future. 

Girl 1 is in a car with the man from the pew earlier.  They are looking at an old abandoned lighthouse on an island off the coast of North Carolina.  There are green dunes all around. 

There are children in the back seat.  Girl 1 looks healthy again and much happier.  They tell the older children to wait in the car.  She takes the baby girl in the back seat out of her car seat and holds her.  She plays with the beautiful baby girl for a little bit and kisses the baby’s forehead.      

Her husband, the man from the pew, also gets out of the car.  She holds the baby on her hip as she and the man walk together over to the building. 

“It will need some work,” she says.  Earlier, she had picked this island online because of the wild horses roaming nearby.  She watches them off in the distance amid the green dunes.  The horses are beautiful.  The whole scenery is breathtaking.      

He says, “It’ll be a good spot for us to start the ministry.”  They walk to the lighthouse together holding hands. 

Fast forward a few years. 

The lighthouse is remodeled and there is a church beside it with a large church gathering out front.  It is a church picnic.  There are many people laughing at picnic tables with friends.  They are sharing a potluck meal together and BBQing and having fun.  Children are running back and forth, playing.  The wild horses can be seen in the distance.  There is a big wooden cross in front of the lighthouse. 

Girl 1 is with her husband, the minister, when she notices her daughter Mara playing with her friend Karissa on a blanket in the green grass.  They are fighting over toy horses.  She walks over to them.  The cross and lighthouse are in the background. 

The two little girls are fighting with each other.  She squats down beside them. 

“Mara, what’s the problem?  Why are you fighting?”

Mara says, “She took my horse.  That’s my horse.”  The two little girls begin to tug back and forth on the toy horse. 

“Karissa, is Mara your best friend?”  Girl 1 asks.

“Yes,” says Karissa and the little girl stops tugging.

“Mara, is Karissa your best friend?” Girl 1 asks again.

Mara nods and also stops tugging.    

“Mara, what do we do with best friends?”

“We protect them,” says Mara.

“Mara, what are the most important commandments?”

“Love,” says Mara.  She hands the horse over to Karissa. 

“Take turns, you two.”  She hugs them both and they go back to playing.  She stands up and looks at the wild horses.  The horses are running free spirited and beautiful in the distance before the setting sun.  She looks at the church, at the lighthouse, and the church sign named Providence.  And she smiles.   

A Covid Romance

by J. Speer

(I wrote a short story for a contest. This is the first draft. It is still a work in progress. I’d love an honest critique on it. I am supposed to write a short story dealing with life during the pandemic. I chose to write a simple love story. Here it is below.)

     She noticed when he wasn’t there that morning.  In fact, she noticed everything about him from the brown leather shoes he wore every day to the way he combed his hair or the half smile he would give when he was happy about something.  She noticed that he drank his coffee black.  There was a myriad of things she had picked up about him over the years that they had worked together.  But, of course, she didn’t let it show.  She adhered to professionalism at all times. 

     They worked across from each other on opposite ends of the large telemarketing center.  There were many rows of small workstations with computers between them.  Yet, she could still spy a subtle glance his way every now and then.  She would look in his direction.  If he looked at her, she’d look away as if she was just casually scanning the room.  This happened a couple times a day since they were stuck on an 8 hour shift together, day in and day out, for nearly 2 years. 

     They had only talked briefly.  Sometimes, he’d come over to her work station to get a paper signed or to find out some pertinent information regarding insurance claims.  His smile seemed genuine and friendly.  Occasionally, they would even chat for a few obscure moments about the business, or work, or current events.  She noted he liked football.  He noted she liked art.  Their discussions were always short as the supervisor was constantly watching with disapproving glances.  If they talked too long, the supervisor would often walk over in their direction.  As always, he would abruptly leave at that point and head back to his desk. 

At break time, they sat at opposite ends of a long table.  He was with his friends.  She was with hers.  She would play on her phone.  He would play on his phone.  She might look his way briefly.  He might look her way for a moment or two.  They would both look away.  Nothing much happened between the two of them for 2 years. 

But today, he wasn’t at work.  She frowned a little behind her fabric mask as she overheard the boss and supervisor talking.  Apparently, he was sick.  He called in with a cough and fever.  The managers were discussing it quietly near her workstation which was situated close to the supervisor’s office.  She eavesdropped while she continued working on her computer with the medical claims.  Their work was considered essential since it dealt with healthcare.  So, they had continued working through the stay-at-home orders and quarantining of people from other industries. 

The management had gone through many precautions, however, to protect the workers.  They made hand washing mandatory several times a day and distributed pamphlets about worker rights during the pandemic.  The supervisors often held impromptu meetings for the employees to come together to discuss the current state mandates and the changes with the health insurance premiums and deductibles and such.  It was sort-of a stressful time for her and, try as she might, she didn’t get much restfulness at home despite the precautions recommended by the CDC. 

She looked at his empty desk.  She was worried about him but she didn’t let it show.  To be honest, she still didn’t know much about him.  She didn’t even know how to contact him.  She didn’t know his last name.  Everyone there went by a first name basis only. 

That morning was busy and eventful.  She guided many callers through the insurance claim process and helped others with disputes on their billing.  She answered questions about deductibles and copays and coinsurance.  She fielded all sorts of complaints and even some hostility from a few callers.  That was normal.  It happened every day.  At first, when she started the job, that part was exceedingly uncomfortable.  But over time, she had become more expert at the topics as well as handling conflict.  Over the years, she’d moved up within the department.  Now, many of her coworkers looked to her for answers and training. 

She went to break with her friends, Mary and Jamie.  They played on their phones and laughed at a few silly memes and videos.  She was aware of the empty space at the end of the table.  As break ended, her friends got up to head back to the main room.  His friends did likewise but one lingered for a moment.  He put his phone away and went to grab a pop from the nearby vending machine.  His name was Bryan.  She knew him well. 

She got up from the table too and put her phone away.  She glanced at Bryan’s back as he looked over the selection at the vending machine.  She walked over to him hesitantly, not knowing how to ask the question she was considering. 

“Hey Bryan,” she nodded at him.  He looked back at her briefly and smiled. 

“Hey,” he said as his eyes wandered back to his selection.  He pushed a button on the machine and a pop can rolled to the dispenser. 

She looked at him for a moment.  She bit her lip.  She knew she had to head back to work soon.  Bryan started turning towards the main room and she knew she would lose her chance in a moment if she didn’t speak.

“Bryan,” she began.  “Hey, do you know Kevin’s last name?”

Bryan didn’t say much but he eyed her curiously.  He probably wanted a reason for the question.  She just stood there and did not give him one.  There was a little pause.  He cracked open his pop.

“Yeah, it’s Piper.  Kevin Piper,” he said.  He smiled.  She just smiled back politely.

“Thanks, Bryan,” she said sweetly as she followed him back to the main room and to another couple of hours of hard work. 

At lunchtime, she sat in the break room with her usual sandwich and bag of chips.  She got a bottle of water from the communal fridge.  Most people left the telemarketing center for lunch but she drove pretty far every day to work.  She couldn’t go home.  She was also health conscious enough to avoid the fast food. 

She was a cute girl, a little shy and quiet but not bad to look at.  Today, she was wearing her favorite grey knee-length skirt with a cream blouse and matching cardigan.  Her heels were mid-rise, enough to look flattering but not too much.  Her hair was shiny and curled.  She wore glasses as she peered at her bright computer screen all day. 

Mary and Jamie had gone out to eat fast food.  There were only a few others in the break room for their hour lunch.  She sat there eating and thinking.  Then she picked up her phone, scrolled through Instagram, Snapchat, and Google news.  She opened Facebook too. 

She looked around and then tapped the search box.  She typed in Kevin Piper.  She didn’t know if he’d be on Facebook but she did find someone with his name and several mutual friends.  She looked at the name for a long moment.  She pursed her lips and then hit friend request.  She let out an exhale and then turned her phone over on the table.  She resumed her break and ate her lunch. 

The rest of the workday was long and tiring.  When she headed home to her tiny apartment, she saw that he had accepted her friend request. 

The next day as she clocked in and washed hands, she looked over to see his empty desk.  She secured her face mask again and headed to her own desk.  She furrowed her eyebrows briefly with concern.  That day would be another long day for her answering phone calls and helping customers with their inquiries. 

She went home that night and cooked dinner for herself.  She petted her black cat on the couch as she watched Netflix.  She looked at her phone a couple times as she watched the TV.

On the third morning, he was still gone.  At break, she went to the bench outside by herself and looked at her phone.  She pulled up Facebook Messenger, found his name, and pulled up a chat conversation.  She looked at the empty space on her phone for a long moment and then hit the handwave button.  Then she took in a deep breath and typed.

“Hey, this is Anne from work.  I heard you were sick.  Just hoping everything is alright.”  She hit send and then waited with baited breath for a moment or two.  She was looking for his reply on the screen, for the little conversation cloud with the three periods that indicated the other person was writing back.  She waited and it did not appear right away. 

He must be busy she thought to herself.  It wasn’t like her to do something like this.  She never contacted guys just out of the blue.  She never made the first move….at least until now.  This was different though.  This was the pandemic, the Coronavirus, and frankly she was concerned for his well-being as a friend and a fellow co-worker.  So, she had decided to reach out to him but now, as she watched the mostly empty screen, she was having second doubts.  By the time break was over, she bit her lower lip glumly.  She closed her eyes briefly and thought to herself, He’s not going to answer back.  Rejection central.  If he does answer at all, it will be something short and then I will get ghosted.  This was a bad idea. 

She got up from the bench and headed back in to work.  She set her phone aside and tried her best to ignore it for the few hours she had left of work that day.  When she got off work and clocked out, she retrieved the phone.  As she walked out of the call center, she was surprised to see that, in fact, there was a notification that he responded after all. 

She opened up Facebook Messenger and retrieved the conversation.  There was the reply.  It said, “Are you worried about me?”

She paused walking to her car.  What should she say at this point?  Be serious and say, “Yes, of course!” Or be nonchalant and just say, “Maybe.”  Or should she could say something satirical or flippant or even funny? 

She thought it over.  If she was honest, she would finally signal to him after 2 years that she did, in fact, have some interest.  But if she was coy or subtle, the conversation might end right there.  And, he obviously wanted to know where things stood at this point.  She reasoned it would be best to be truthful but yet lighthearted.  So, she texted him simply, “Perhaps, yes, I just simply wanted to make sure you’re ok.”  Then she hit send again. 

This time he was replying back right away but it took a while for this second message to come through. 

He said, “Ah, well thanks.  I’m doing alright.  Doc says it might be just common cold but, just in case, they did a swab.  It wasn’t very fun.  Not recommended lol.  Anyway, I have to self-quarantine for fourteen days so I did notify the bosses.  They said I could take paid leave time which is good.  In the meantime, I will get the results back from the swab in five days.  Wish me luck.”

She didn’t know at first how to respond to that information.  Then she typed back, “Oh so sorry to hear that but I’m glad you are doing well.  That’s good that you can take paid leave.  As for the swab test, I have heard it is pretty rough.” 

She stopped for a moment, not knowing what to say next.  Then she added briefly, “We’ll be thinking of you.  Get well soon.”  She hit send.

He replied, “Thanks.” 

She watched the screen for more words but nothing came through.  Then she added in closing, “Be sure to check your temperature and get plenty of sleep.  Ok, ttyl.”  She added a small smiley emoji at the end. 

His reply simply stated, “Thanks for checking up on me.  Ttyl too.”  He also sent back a small smile emoji. 

Anne got in her car and drove home.  When she got in the small apartment, she put her mail on the side table, slipped off her shoes, and found her black cat.  She gave her cat a brief snuggle and then checked his food and water bowls.  Later, that night as she was preparing another dinner for one, she got another notification on her phone.  She thought it might be Mary or Jamie.  Yet, she was really pleasantly surprised to see that it was Kevin again.  He had texted her a short message.

He said, “So, how’s your art classes going?”  She smiled when she saw the message, mostly because he had remembered something special about her.  She realized too that he was also trying to start up a conversation.  She leaned against the kitchen counter as the black cat lay lazily on the table and swishing his tail back and forth slowly.  The pot of water on the stove was boiling and filled with spaghetti noodles.  She had already prepared the meat sauce. 

But the phone had her attention at the moment and she started to share a conversation with Kevin.  They talked about several things that evening as she had dinner and sat on the couch as usual to relax.  They talked about their pets and their apartments.  They talked about their families and their interests and hobbies.  The conversation lasted quite a while and it made her smile.  She felt happy.  She wondered if he did too.  When she went to bed that night, she slept pretty well with the warm and soft black cat curled up beside her on the quilted bedspread. 

The days prior to learning the Coronavirus test results were filled with the usual work for her.  However, there were intermittent and fun text conversations with Kevin throughout the days.  Each day, she’d ask how he was feeling.  She made a few suggestions for getting well soon.  Otherwise, they would make small talk about the weather or food or sports.  They discussed things about work.  They made some jokes and told funny stories to each other about colleagues and especially the supervisors.  He would send her GIFs or memes he liked.  She would return those with other memes she had found as well.  They talked about YouTube videos and channels they liked.  They talked about video gaming or streaming channels. 

He seemed in good spirits.  He seemed to be doing alright.  He said his symptoms were going away and that he wasn’t too bothered by the test.  Kevin claimed he was certain it would come back negative.  He made light of the whole situation and said quarantine time was starting to bore him.  She asked him what he did during the day.  He said that he mostly slept and watched TV.  He read books and read stories and news on the internet though he tried to stay away from some of the negative media stories.  They tended to bring him down.  He said he liked music too.  He offered to make her a playlist. 

As the days and evenings passed, they became closer friends.  They even chatted via Facetime every now and then.  On the night before he would get the Coronavirus results, Anne lay in bed looking up at the ceiling in the darkness.  Her cat purred soft and low beside her.  The cat was all curled up and she decided not to disturb him.  He could get grumpy at times.  Instead, she thought about Kevin and even prayed for a moment that the results would be good for him.

And to her surprise and to Kevin’s as well, they were just that.  The test results came back negative.  She smiled warmly at him on video as they Facetimed. 

She said, “I’m really happy for you!  I’m so glad.”  And he half smiled back. 

He said, “Well, that means I can come back to work soon….as soon as the doctors will release me.  I’ll let you know.”

The doctor did release Kevin to come back to work the following Monday.  Kevin let her know through a text.  She answered back to him that this was great news.  He said he was going to miss sleeping in but he needed to get back to his old routine. 

Saturday and Sunday were sunny and cheerful days for Anne.  She talked over the phone with Mary and Jamie and a few other friends.  She did some grocery shopping and cleaned the apartment.  On Sunday, she watched church online.  She also watched some of the new series on Netflix later such as Ozark.  Anne watched Tiger King to see what all the fuss was about.  It proved very entertaining. 

Monday morning, Anne got up a little earlier than normal.  She took extra care that morning with her appearance.  She was really looking forward to seeing Kevin again.  She hadn’t heard from him since Sunday early afternoon.  She figured he must be busy. 

Anne drove to work with her cup of coffee in one hand and she listened to XM radio.  She felt a little nervous about seeing Kevin again.  She pulled into the parking lot and walked to the call center entrance.  She clocked in just before 8 am at the start of her shift.  She washed her hands and turned to put her face mask on as she looked over at Kevin’s desk.  He was there.  He looked nice as usual.  He didn’t seem to look her way though.  He was busy with his friends surrounding his desk.  The supervisor came over and also wanted to talk to him. 

Anne looked away.  In that moment, she felt a little downcast.  She finished securing her mask and turned to head to her desk.  That is when she saw it. 

On the desk near her computer was a glass vase full of a dozen scarlet, red roses.  She blinked and exhaled into her mask.  She walked slowly to her desk and went around it to sit down.  She sat down looking at the beautiful flowers and even lowered her mask a little to inhale just a little bit the rose fragrance.  There was a little white envelope attached to the flowers. 

The supervisor walked by and briefly said, “Well, well, looks like you have someone special.”  She raised her eyebrows at Anne as she walked past.   Anne blushed profusely. 

Anne just said, “Thanks, they are very pretty.”

Anne looked across the room at that moment to the one person she hoped might have sent the flowers.  She looked at Kevin.  He was no longer with his friends.  He was seated across from her and looking at her directly.  And for the first time in 2 years, she returned his gaze boldly without looking away.  He lowered his face mask and there was a half-smile on his face.  She lowered her mask briefly and returned the smile. He nodded towards the roses and the card.  She lifted the little white envelope and opened it.  She pulled out the white card and read it. 

It simply said, “Thanks for everything.  You helped me through a difficult time.  I appreciate you.  In fact, would you consider going on a date with me?”

Anne bit her lower lip again.  She then smiled wide behind her mask.  She looked at him across the room.  He was wearing a mask too.  He looked at her.  Then, she nodded her head to say yes. 

New Poetry and Short Stories

Hi folks, just wanted to let you know I self-published a book of poetry called Moment of Magic. It is selling just as an eBook for $2.99 on Amazon. The book is various poems I have written over the years. Many of the poems are meant to be inspiring and uplifting. Some are poems about raising children, or being a working mom, or time spent with the military. Some are poems I wrote for my children. Others are poems about love or just reflections on life. The first and last poem in the collection are my favorites and tie in together nicely. The collection is less than a 100 pages and a good quick read for anyone that likes poetry. Thanks and God bless. Be safe everybody.

Here is the link to the book and if you press the look inside portion about the book, you can read the first three poems. Thanks again!

Along with the poetry collection called Moment of Magic that I self-published to Amazon, I created a book called The Curse of the Sapphire Jewel & Other Short Stories. It is a small collection of brief fictional stories, each one unique in storytelling. The first story is about a stolen jewel and the consequence of theft. The second story is about a college student named Amara and a decision she makes to forgive her father. The third story is a funny and interesting first chapter. It is a work of alliteration about a Medieval monastery of Moldavia. The next story is a Medieval comparison story to France during World War II. Finally, the last story is titled Black Sheep. It is a story where I took a typical antagonist, a supreme villain, and tried to show a more sympathetic and compassionate almost positive side to the character. This short book is about 65 pages long and is selling for just $2.99 as an eBook or can be found for free reading on Kindle Unlimited. Thank you and I would love to hear your feedback on any of the stories. Have a wonderful day!

The Silent and Worthy Queen

By J. Speer

There once was a beautiful kingdom admired from near and far.  A wise King and his graceful Queen presided over the kingdom.   It prospered marvelously.  The King and Queen had one daughter who was known to be comely.  She was also genuine.  She was benevolent, kind, and gracious to all as she learned much from her mother and father.  The empire, this particular kingdom, was magnificent.  The walls and citadel of the keep glimmered in the sun like crystal clear diamonds.  The serfs were treated respectfully.  They were as happy as a serf could be in Medieval times.  They labored in the fields, they worked the smithy and stables, and the kingdom’s guard trained to protect and serve the royalty with heartfelt allegiance.  All was calm and peaceful in the kingdom which had faced years upon years of blessings and prosperity and as a result, had lowered defenses.  These defenses were deemed unnecessary.  The kingdom networked well with other nearby kingdoms.  The diplomacy and tact were the utmost level of politeness with mutual admiration. 

The King and Queen fell ill and passed on.  The young daughter, who had been well trained, ascended to the throne.  She was educated in the arts.  She also knew mathematics and knew well how to manage and run a kingdom.  Yet, she was timid and unsure of herself.  She was also prone to romantic fancy about love.  The kingdom continued to prosper, however, under her gentle and shy hand. 

Several suitors came and went from the palace, each seeking the hand of a young Queen.  One day, a charming, outspoken suitor entered the kingdom with much pomp and circumstance.  He wooed the heart of the young Queen with apparent ardor and fealty.  The young Queen was cast under the spell of his charm.  She loved his humor.  They were wed with much fanfare.  The kingdom rejoiced that day.  The new King wanted an abundant feast for the wedding.  Wine, ale, and Meade flowed.  Music filled the air of the great hall.  There was laughter and dancing.  The young Queen and King appeared deeply and passionately in love. 

Years came and went.  To her great sadness, the young Queen was unable to produce an heir.  Eventually the King began to become less interested in romantic love with the Queen.  Meanwhile, the King dominated the throne room discussions regarding the state of affairs for the kingdom.  The advisors, who previously had consulted the young Queen, now looked to the King to run the kingdom.  Soon, the young Queen learned that the King had some previous unspoken of debts acquired in his own kingdom.  Due to her great love for the King, she agreed to let her kingdom shoulder the burden of the debt which was eventually repaid but with great cost.  As the years passed, the kingdom began to fall into slow disrepair and decline.  The King and Queen acquired more and more debt and the accounting books were beginning to seem mismanaged significantly.  The Queen continued to work behind the scenes to maintain the kingdom and she consulted with some of the advisors in the shadows but her power and influence were no longer effective.

 The King loved to hunt, especially for wild boar.  He was often away on hunting trips and invited huge entourages of guests from his kingdom to this one.  They also went with him on the hunting trips.  They wined and dined into the early hours of the morn, feasting on all the food stores.  The young Queen played gracious hostess to the entourages but she was often met with rudeness.  As the years passed more and more, the King’s treatment of the Queen in front of others could sometimes be cruel.  He also flirted with the housemaids and servants to the shame of the Queen.  Over time, he would come in to her bedroom chambers very late at times or leave very early in the morn.  The young Queen questioned this behavior but chose to keep the peace. 

Nearly a decade passed.  The walls of the kingdom were not being upkept.  The rocks had fallen in at several key spots.  The archers and soldiers were no longer training diligently.  The servants were treated harshly by the King and his entourage.  The serfs toiled heavily in the fields without much relief to provide more food for the great hall. 

One night a band of marauders raided the serf huts outside the kingdom.  Again, the marauders returned to pillage and take what they liked.  These mysterious robbers only came at night in quick surprise to stealthily steal.  After they had pillaged what they could outside the kingdom gates, they began making surprise attacks within the walls of the kingdom.  The military advisors investigated these occurrences but there was no definitive trace of the marauder camp.  Also, they could not determine how the robbers were entering the kingdom until they discovered that possibly someone from inside was letting them in.  But who was this person? 

The combination of the outside attacks on the kingdom and the financial disparity were causing strife in the throne room.  The King demanded that the guard keep diligent watch and determine the name of the traitor at the gates.  In their bedroom at night, the Queen and King spoke of kingdom matters privately.  The Queen was becoming distressed.  Also, she was no longer young.  Nevertheless, the King spoke often of his great love and admiration for her.  They made love often and held each other through the night.  The Queen loved the King despite her reservations sometimes.  She chose to overlook things. 

One day, the Queen was visiting the fields to check on the workers and resources.  She encountered the guard stopping and accosting an unusual wagon of gypsies.  As this was a Christian kingdom, the soldiers demanded  that the gypsies were not wanted and must leave immediately. 

The Queen watched the gypsies.  One woman in particular turned to her.  Their eyes connected.  The Queen felt pulled by the mysterious gypsy woman.  She walked forward.  She was Christian but something in her felt that it wasn’t right to deny them access.  She granted the gypsies entry to safety behind the kingdom walls.  The gypsy woman slowly curtsied and inclined her head to the side, looking speculatively at the Queen. 

She said quietly to the Queen as the Queen passed, “Thank you.”  She paused and then added, “The scales of justice are imbalanced.  It will be up to you, my lady, to return them to order.  I do tarot card readings.  If you should feel so inclined, my lady, please contact me and I will read for you.” 

The gypsy wagon slowly lurched forward through the gates and into the kingdom and the gypsies walked barefoot and brazen in through the gates.

That night, the feasting and carousing continued.  The King sat beside the Queen and he was raucously drunk on ale.  He was flirting with the wench who brought him ale to the table.  The Queen was preoccupied that night and she no longer wished to play hostess to ungrateful guests only there for her husband.  She sat in silence and reflected.  She surveyed the great hall and all its brazen debauchery.  She felt sad.  She felt exhausted.  She watched the King yell at one of the servants and she no longer intervened anymore.  She just excepted it as part of her new life.  She was mentally exhausted. 

The King did not come to her bed chamber that night.  The Queen contemplated the piercing brown eyes of the gypsy woman she encountered on the road outside the gates.  She considered the message, “The scales are imbalanced.”  She wondered what the strange gypsy woman meant.  Her curiosity got the better of her and she called her servant. 

“I need your help to do something discreet for me,” began the Queen looking at the servant for a nod of acceptance.  “Please go to the lower quarter.  Find the gypsy wagon and bring the woman with the brown eyes and brown hair to me.  You will recognize her by a red skirt and green blouse with brown leather belt.  She wears a rose quartz pendant necklace.  Now, go please and swiftly.”

The Queen waited patiently in the antechamber to her quarters.  After thirty minutes, the servant returned obediently with the beautiful and mysterious gypsy woman.  The woman wore a glittering brown and purple flowered veil. 

“I was waiting for your invite,” said the stranger.  She curtsied once more.  “We did not come to this kingdom by accident.  We were drawn here.  Compelled to come.” 

The shy Queen watched the beautiful gypsy.  She did not speak much but motioned to the gypsy to come forward and sit at the table.  When both women had sat, the Queen softly said, “You suggested I do a reading…….” She hesitated.  “I have never done a reading before.” 

“The brown eyed woman leaned forward intently.  “You have much cause to do a reading.  I have much that I can share with you…………if you are prepared.” 

The Queen glanced cautiously to the door.  She worried she would get caught.  In this Christian kingdom, tarot card readings were highly suspect and considered almost like witchcraft.  But the Queen wondered about the astrologers, the Three Kings of the Bible……..she wondered if there was some legitimacy to this.  The Queen quietly nodded to proceed. 

The gypsy woman slowly revealed three separate decks of colorfully decorated cards.  She placed stones she called crystals on the cards.  She lit a nearby candle and called to the Universe and the angels for guidance.  She paused as she saw the Queen’s eyes wander to her rose quartz pendant.  “Ah yes, my lady, you are drawn to this stone.  It calls you.  Your archetype is the lover. You make your decisions with your heart.”  She paused dramatically as she commenced to shuffle the decks. 

“You see, my Queen, I already know you.  I know of you from what I have heard……the disapproving rumors of your kingdom in decline……………..but” she said as she began to place the cards onto the table, “I know you as well.  I know you are a beautiful abundant being.  I know you have known luxury.  I know you are particularly headstrong……or rather, I should say heartstrong. You are pulled by your emotions almost to your detriment.   I know your secret longing is for stability and happiness……….and I know that you are not truly getting that, are you, my lady?”  The gypsy drew a card and placed it on the table.  It was an image of a hanged man. 

“But….I also see something coming……..something transformational in your future…….something life-altering………” she pulled a dark tower card from the deck.  “You will face a major decision.  The fate of all your kingdom will be involved in this decision.  You have two paths; two options and you must choose wisely.”

The gypsy continued to pull cards, “I see that you are not following your intuition, my lady.  I see that, in fact, you have not followed it for some time.  I understand why, my lady.”  And with this, she overturned a card from the second deck and placed it down on the table pushing it slowly towards the Queen.  The Queen looked at the card silently.

“Deception, my lady.  You are reading the card right.”

The Queen looked up and her eyes met the knowing eyes of the gypsy.  “Yes,” the gypsy said quietly.  “It is no mere coincidence or ineptitude that leads your kingdom to decline.  You have been deceived……I believe a good word for it would be……. duped.”

The Queen said nothing but waited for the other cards to reveal themselves.

“You see, my Queen,” and the gypsy pulled the next two cards.  They showed two Kings.  “Your King of Wands is, in fact, a King of Swords………..and there is a third party involved………..but I see, that you as of yet, do not know this third party………..this is a twin flame to the King of Swords, they are connected intimately.” 

“Yes, you see the connection is very strong…….so strong, that the one opening your gates to theft is in fact, this King of Swords…..” 

The gypsy paused and her fingers tapped the remaining cards of the deck. 

“There is more to know here, but I cannot reveal it as the universe expects you to use free will to determine your path.  Continue on as you have…….” And with that the gypsy pulled the death card.  “Or, know your worth and the worth of your kingdom and be brave.”  And the gypsy once again pulled a card.  The card depicted a chariot.  “This second card indicates you must travel.  Your choice, your majesty.  Entirely yours.  Choose wisely, my lady and my friend.  The fate of your kingdom will be determined by your decision.  Thank you, for allowing my family entry into your kingdom.  I was drawn here but I did not know whether to do a reading for you until you proved your worthiness.  Do you understand, my lady?  Know your worth.  You have forgotten this.  You must reclaim it to move forward.”

The gypsy woman smiled and blew out the candle.  She gathered the decks of cards and placed them into her hidden satchel and then promptly secured her veil.  She stood up to go and walked to the door.  The silent Queen watched her.  The Queen was alarmed by the reading but also felt it confirmed certain obvious suspicions she had not wanted to see.  Her jaw was set.  She remained emotionless.  The gypsy woman went to the door and as she opened it, she offered one final suggestion.  “Follow your intuition.  What you are dealing with here…….is a long con, a treachery beyond what you could have ever imagined without my help.  My people will leave here tomorrow.  If you choose the chariot, you will find this third party.  Your intuition will lead you to her.  May the Universe be ever at your favor.”  And with that, she was gone. 

The Queen pondered the words of the gypsy.  She pondered the two cards.  Death and the Chariot.  Death and the Chariot.  Death and the Chariot. 

The Queen arose and called her servant again.  The loyal servant arrived promptly, though disheveled and tired.  “Help me to dress quickly.  I will need a dark cloak to conceal myself.  Go to the stables and secure three horses.  Bring the horses and my most trusted advisors, Sir Harold and Sir Gregory with you to the tunnel.  You know the one.  The secret passage out of the keep.  Make certain you arouse no attention.  This is imperative to the future of our kingdom.  The utmost secrecy must be maintained.  Do I have your word you will follow my commands?”

“Yes, my lady,” said the servant and she hurried to dress the Queen and do as she was bidden. 

At the entrance to the passage, the Queen waited silently for Sir Harold and Sir Gregory and the three horses.  When they arrived under the cover of darkness, all three alighted their horses and went down the tunnel.  Sir Gregory held a pitch in his hand to light the way.  As they left the kingdom, the Queen took the lead quietly.  “Follow me,” she said firmly. 

They rode under the cover of darkness, into the still night.  They crossed streams and valleys and into the woods.  The Queen did not know for certainty where to go……she only knew that the King ventured out into these lands from time to time with a few of his entourage to go hunting.  She remained silent and kept leading them on and the faithful knights followed. 

Before daybreak, in the darkness before dawn, they were drawn to lights in the distance.  Human lights.  Lights of an encampment and as they drew closer, they became abruptly aware of the danger.  It was the marauder camp.  They found a secure place in the woods near the stream to perform secret surveillance and they set in to watch the robbers. 

It was quite a large encampment of many tents but one tent in particular, stood out to the Queen.   As she saw the occupant of the tent, she shivered knowingly.  It was a woman.  A beautiful woman dressed in men’s clothing.  She was lovely and had an air of authority about her.  She was ordering others.  They continued to watch the camp as the sun rose into the sky.  The camp had men, women, and children.  The Queen was aware that there were innocents in the camp but she also reasoned that these too, were duplicitous in the actions of theft of her kingdom.  She grew angry but remained silent.  The only emotion she expressed outwardly was the gritting of her teeth and jaws in a tight clamp.  She watched as did Sir Harold and Sir Gregory who were equally angered. 

They watched the camp for quite a long time but finally, at close to noon, the beautiful woman separated from the encampment.  She strode purposely towards the woods and stream with a pot in her hand.  They surmised that she was going for water.  They drew back deeper in the woods to wait.  The Queen signaled to Sir Harold to go forward and kidnap the woman.

The woman reached down to fill the pot with water from the stream when the strong vice grip of Sir Harold closed abruptly over her mouth to prevent her from alerting the camp.  “Shhhh,” he said and he dragged her forcefully back to the others into the woods.  He placed a dagger at her side to demonstrate to her that resistance was not wise. 

When the two women encountered each other, the Queen watched her silently and inquisitively, questioningly.  Meanwhile, the other woman, upon recognition of the Queen, instantly became defiant and struggled.  Sir Harold and Sir Gregory held tightly to her now and Sir Harold pressed the dagger deeper into her side until it drew blood.  She stopped but her eyes showed great contempt. 

“Who are you?” said the Queen.  There was no answer only contempt.

“Who are you?”  she repeated.  This time the woman spit at the Queen. 

The Queen then motioned to Sir Gregory who accosted the angry woman. 

“Why are you here?” asked the Queen again.  No answer. 

“Why do you invade my kingdom and steal from me?”

“I take that which is rightfully the King’s.” said the woman. 

“No,” said the Queen quietly and now deadly, “It is not the King’s……it is mine.  Tell me who you are or we will slit your throat.”

Sir Harold raised the dagger to the woman’s throat and drew blood once more.  The woman was still angered but there was lingering doubt in her eyes mingled with a slight fear. 

The Queen said quietly and without emotion, “It is what you deserve considering what you have done to many of my own people. I say again, tell me what I want to know.”

“You have no heir,” said the woman spitefully and wickedly.  “Your kingdom is falling apart.  There’s nothing you can do to stop this.”

“Stop what?” asked the Queen in a low and determined voice. 

“We’ll take everything from you.  You’re weak.  You do not deserve what you have.  Soon your own throne will be mine.  Your kingdom is nothing now.  You are nothing.” She spat at the Queen.

The Queen resisted the urge to slap the woman.  Instead, she chose to keep her wits about her.  However, she moved forward and stepped down hard on the foot of the other woman. 

“I know already of your treachery.  You may think I am a fool but you will find, I am quite resourceful.”  And she stepped down even harder and twisted her boot hard into the sandaled foot of the woman.   

The Queen continued, “You have been robbing my Kingdom for years and your accomplice is the King.”

At this, the woman’s eyes widened a bit.  “I know that he opens the gates for you,” said the Queen menacingly.  “Soon, those gates will no longer open.”

The woman spat back, “He comes to see us often.  He hates you.  He tells us all laughingly of your great stupidity and ridiculous ardor and emotions.  You are crazy.  He doesn’t love you.  He never loved you.  We conspired.  We made this plan together to weaken your kingdom to the point that we will take it over and he will depose you.  You have lost everything.  You are weak.  You are defense-less.  Your kingdom will be ours.  I have known him long, long before you ever knew him.”  And with that, the woman fought back hard against the knights who knocked her out cold on the ground. 

“Bring her back to the kingdom,” ordered the Queen coldly.  “We will deal with the encampment later.”    

 They rode hard back to the tunnel of the keep and as they entered, they grew more and more quiet.  The knights who were loyal to the Queen due to their oaths before, had newfound fealty and commitment to their mission.  They felt compassion for the Queen who merely rode silently on ahead of them into the tunnel.  Her only visible sign of duress was a clenched jaw, a tick that showed in her cheek.  Her eyes had become like slits as she reflected upon years and years of mistreatment against her and her people at the hands of these manipulators.  She rode on in silence. 

The robber was put in the dungeon.  The Queen and the knights parted ways but she informed them that she would need their help again soon.  She told them to be ready for the call.  The Queen returned swiftly and stealthily back to her chambers where she remained for most of the day.  The carousing and recklessness continued in the great hall on into the night.  This time, when the King summoned for the Queen to join him at his hand, she sat very rigidly and silently in her chair.  She eyed everyone in the room with sudden new awareness, fresh eyes, and she was both saddened and deeply betrayed by their actions.   They were part of the deception too.   

But when the King attempted to accost one of her servants for spilling a drink, she snapped at him. She locked eyes of fire directly at the King.  The occupants of the room were suddenly shocked by this new behavior, this irritability.  Her King looked at her in bemusement. He took another sip of ale while watching her and then concluded for the others, that “the Queen must be in her menstruals.”  The great hall broke into drunken guffaws.  The silent Queen looked forward and said nothing. 

“I will be leaving on the morrow, to go on another hunting trip,” he informed her dismissively.  He sat down and held her hand lovingly.  She looked down at it but remained silent.  She noted he nodded that night at another one of the new wenches in the great hall, and she knew she would be alone later.  She sat in stony silence as the ruckus around her continued and the minstrels played their lilting music.  She then excused herself for the night and slowly walked down the rock hallway alone.  She did not smile.  Nor was she sad any longer.  

She walked past the chamber where her late father and mother had resided.  She opened the door and walked inside.  She walked over to the fireplace mantle and lifted some mementos from the wooden slab.  She perused then for a while.  Her eyes got sad.  She looked around the chamber and then she walked out.  She walked to the balconies and looked out over the kingdom…….out over the lands, the hills, the valleys, the serf huts, the fields…  She looked at the broken ramparts, the disheveled rock walls.  There were no guards at the gates, no sentries on the broken walls.  There were no archers.  There was nothing but the community below…….the many houses, the people, her people…….the ones who relied upon her and her leadership.  She looked back in contempt at the great hall and the bellows of laughter.  She looked ahead at the starry night sky and drew a deep breath. 

“The choice is yours,” she heard the gypsy woman say.  “There are two paths, two options.  You must be brave.  Follow your intuition.  The scales of justice must be balanced.  You know what to do.”

The woman in her, the archetype of the lover in her, began to softly cry.  She regained her composure and looked out once more at the night sky. Follow my intuition, she thought to herself.  Follow my intuition.  Follow my intuition.   She looked ahead but in reality, she was not looking at all at the sky.  She was contemplating something quite heavy on her heart. 

Intuition. 

She went back to her chamber.  She called the servant again.  “Bring me Sir Gregory and Sir Harold immediately and once again, with the utmost discretion.  I will wait in the antechamber.”

The servant went out and nearly bumped into the King and the wench from the Great Hall.  The King was slovenly drunk though and failed to recognize her.  “Excuse me,” she said quietly as she skirted to the side and continued quickly down the hallway.  The Queen watched the drunken pair head down the hallway stumblingly until the door closed.  She was neither angry or sad.  She was cold.  Completely cold. 

When Sir Gregory and Sir Harold returned to her antechamber, they made swift plans. 

The next morning just before dawn, a small contingent of the military guard walked to the dungeon.  They took the marauder woman.  They blindfolded her and led her to the courtyard where the King, who likewise had been rudely awakened out of inebriated slumber in the wench’s room, was now standing as well with a blindfold over his eyes.  He was breathing hard as he did not fully know for sure what would happen.  The woman recognized the man beside her, perhaps out of some connection, even though their blindfolds were on.  An advisor stepped up to make the short proclamation of high treason against the Kingdom and its inhabitants with the sentence of death.  The Queen watched silently from the balcony.  She did not smile.  In fact, she looked sad.  But when the blindfolded woman touched the hand of the King and he returned her slight embrace comfortingly, the Queen lifted her head slightly.  She watched them.  She felt the wind on her face.  She watched and the advisor watched her.  And then she gave a slight nod. 

When the deed was done, she didn’t smile.  She didn’t blink.  She didn’t cry.  She gritted her teeth.  A slight tick showed above her jawline.  She then turned and walked away.  She had previously ordered the military guard to round up all the members of the entourage and the wenches that had consorted with the King.  The advisor proclaimed the entourage were guilty of conspiracy against the Kingdom and theft.  The wenches were not sentenced but berated for disloyalty. Their hair was chopped at the nape. Some hung their heads in shame much as they had shamed the dignity of the Queen in the past. The guilty were then led to their prison cells within the dungeon and placed under heavy guard.     

One hour later, the Queen stood on the balcony in the wind.  She looked out at the masses of faces from the kingdom……tired, haggard, and weary.  All the people were assembled, young and old.  And she addressed them. 

“I have done an unforgivable act.  I have failed you.  I have failed this kingdom.  I have let in a saboteur and along with him, robbers and thieves.  I have let them in with my own hand.”

She paused.

“The King is dead.  He was executed for high treason this morning.”  She watched as the shock registered on the faces of the assembly.  All were quiet before she continued.

“You have worked hard.  You have been loyal.  You have been steadfast.  You did not deserve this ill treatment.  You did not deserve lack of protection from mistreatment.   I do not ask for forgiveness.  I do ask though now that you follow me, once more even though I do not deserve it.  I ask that you follow me into battle for justice.”

She looked at Sir Harold and Sir Gregory.  They nodded at her encouragingly.  They both knew that whatever they had faced at the hands of these people, it was not as severe as their own Queen had faced.

She looked at the assembly.  “We have located the camp of marauders who are exploiting our Kingdom.  They are the ones who have mercilessly pillaged and ransacked your homes and left your own countrymen for dead.  I ask that you march with me into battle against them.  This will not be easy.  I am asking every man of able body to step forward who is willing to one last time, swear allegiance to the Queen and march with sword or pitchfork against our enemies.  I will appoint Sir Gregory now as the Chief of Military and Sir Harold as the new Architect of our fortifications.” 

“We have grown defenseless.  This is unacceptable.  From here on out, we will train and we will learn to fight.  We will put archers on our walls and soldiers in our city.  We will build trebuchets for the ramparts and solid defenses for every corner of the fortifications.  We will rebuild together our walls and make them higher and stronger.  And I swear to you, that any marauder who dares to attempt to enter through our front gates again will be met with a bubbling cauldron of hot oil dumped on their heads.  We will consider the feasibility of building a moat and even a drawbridge.  And I swear again to you, that you will never again worry for the safety and security of your homes and your loved ones.  But today, we must fight.  We must fight with every inch of our beings.  And so, I ask you today, to step forward if you will go to war against the marauders who nearly destroyed us.  There is a reckoning at hand.  An injustice which must be righted.”

The Queen finished.  Sir Gregory and Sir Harold stepped forward as did a few of the servants of the keep.  The Queen continued standing on the balcony and the assembly did not move…….at first.  A man pushed his way to the front.  He was a serf.  “I will step forward.”

“Aye.” Said another man as he stepped forward.

“Aye.”  Said yet another and another and another until many of the assembly were now standing before the Queen. 

“We go to battle,” she said. 

The entire Kingdom worked hard that day and into much of the night.  Some began rebuilding the broken ramparts.  Some worked in the smithy gathering together as many weapons as possible.  Some worked on archery.  They strung bows and gathered together arrows and practiced.  From the courtyard, could be heard the clash of steel upon steel as they trained.  They also rested.  Food was gathered and passed out.  Horses were prepared.  And within the throne room, the Queen and her advisors sat in council strategizing. 

In the middle of the night, the army set out on horse and foot.  They walked silently together, some with sword and armor and some with pitchfork or axe.  On the faces of every person, however, there could be seen a steely resolve to avenge a severe wrong.  They attacked the sleeping encampment at just before dawn.  The Queen stood in the woods in her dark cloak.  She watched alone as even Sir Harold and Sir Gregory had joined the fray, even leading the charge.  She watched in silence as the tents were set aflame and the camp was pillaged just as their own Kingdom had been pillaged mercilessly so many, many times in the past.  And when the flames grew higher and she could hear the screams of the dying, she did not flinch.  She watched in silence.  They all were duplicitous to evil and they all deserved retribution.  Then she turned as it burned.  Only the children were rounded up afterwards.

The army returned to the Kingdom.  It was not a happy victory but it was a just victory.

It took a very long time for the Kingdom to heal.  The people worked together endlessly.  The council of advisors and Sir Harold and Sir Gregory assisted the Queen.  She carefully and strategically planned every decision for the merit of the Kingdom from there on out.  The castle walls were refortified better than ever.  The defenses were meticulously maintained and the military was on alert for all signs of deceit and danger. 

The Queen never married again.  She would never relinquish her power again to another man.  She knew her worth and she would never lose sight of that again.  Never again.  She took discreet lovers from time to time but always guarded her heart.

In time, the Kingdom returned to its former glory……. even perhaps better than before.   All within the Kingdom had learned a very valuable lesson about complacency, naivety, and misplaced trust.

In the end, the Queen had proven to be quite a resourceful woman after all.  She was forever grateful to the astrologer and the Universe.    At night, the silent and worthy Queen walked the ramparts herself, checking on her soldiers and archers.  She looked up at the night sky and even smiled.     

(This is the end of the story. If you have read all 10 pages and made it to the conclusion, thank you and I appreciate you. Now I have an added bonus for the reader…….the true meaning behind the story. This work of fiction is the story of France during World War II. The Kingdom represents France. The Queen is the spirit of France, Notre Dame. The King is the occupying government. Sir Harold and Sir Gregory are the Resistance. The marauder camp is the Nazi Regime. And the gypsy woman represents the people hidden and protected within France’s borders who also secretly assisted the Resistance. I hope that you enjoyed the story and might even go back now that you have the knowledge of the hidden meaning and go re-read the story. Please leave any comments or questions you like although I do prefer constructive criticism. Thank you and have a good day. May the Universe be ever in your favor.)