He Walked Alone

16 long years.  Almost as long as Joseph.  A Via Dolorosa walk of shame.  Mental torture. Prison bars. Lonely cell. Alone.

He prayed a lot.

Didn’t stop the bullies, didn’t stop the violence perpetrated on his soul. 

16 years.  He wrote in prison.  Wrote alot.  Read alot.  When he wasn’t watching out for them.  On the constant up and up.  Watching everything, everyone, observing it all.  He watched stabbings and betrayals.  He watched yard fights and kingpins fall.  He took it all in.

He didn’t join the gang.  Walked the yard alone.  16 long years.

They opened the doors to the prison and finally let him out.  A new gang member had tried to shiv him 2 weeks before for initiation rites.

He didn’t really know what to do at that point.  Didn’t trust no one, not a single god-damned soul.  Didn’t know what the lesson was in all this.  It wasn’t about correction or deterrence.  It was brutal. 

He didn’t feel it taught him to be a better man….just a smarter one. 

Joseph was supposed to get his come uppance.  But him, he never got it.  What was the point of all of this? 

He walked down the street alone away from the toxicity and he vaguely felt that he was merely going outta the frying pan and into the fire.

Phenomenal

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

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

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

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

A Thanksgiving Blessing

On Thanksgiving Day…
May your pie crust be light and flaky.
May your family table be covered with delicious dishes.
May your favorite seat, chair, or sofa be cozy.
May you sleep in and be grateful for a day off work.
May your home be filled with light.
May the music in the background be soft and relaxing.
May your hearth be warm.
May your pets be happy and safe.
May your family be gathered from far travels.
May your friends always be near by phone or text or neighborly visit.
May your turkey be tender and your gravy not lump.
May eggnog or wine overflow.
May the laughter of children be heard.
May you enjoy the Macy’s Parade.
May your hearts be humble and glad.
May peace and joy be in the air.

Photo by Askar Abayev on Pexels.com

Thankless

By J. Speer

He had a thankless job.


Jerry realized this as he worked the toll road booth collecting change and dollar bills from travelers in a rush. It was Thanksgiving Day. The wind blew cold outside the booth. Snow flurries scattered here and there in the wind. He pulled his upturned collar closer towards his neck. Then, he blew warm air into his hands. He had gloves on but due to changing money, he just had the finger-less knit kind that could grip easily. His fingers were slightly numb.


The Oklahoma turnpike was unusually busy the days prior to Thanksgiving. For days, he collected tolls from this stranger or that stranger, from Minivans to Porsches or Teslas. He greeted each with a smile and sent them on their way with a good holiday wish. “Have a great Thanksgiving, folks. Be safe traveling,” he’d add with a short wave. Most zoomed past once they cleared the booth, so they missed his send-off. Some were curt. Most were pre-occupied. Yet, a few here and there wished him a happy holiday too.

Jerry was 44 years old. He had worked at the factory damn near most of his adult life until it shut down last Spring. He had seen the advertisement for the toll booth job on Indeed. It took him a while to put together a resume since he wasn’t used to job shopping but he did eventually. They called him right away. But he was low man on the totem poll, a new hire, which meant he would work through the holiday season. He bargained with another co-worker. Give me Christmas day and I’ll give you Thanksgiving and Black Friday. It took some hard negotiations but it worked. Besides, he had plans for Christmas. Palm trees and white sandy beaches……maybe a margarita in his hand or a mojito. Florida or Cancun maybe….if Dianne could go. Wishful thinking, he said to himself.


He’d been dating Dianne off and on for a few years now. It wasn’t too serious, just fun. He was a widower. His wife, Lee had succumbed to cancer 6 or 7 years prior. It was a harsh ordeal to go through and he decided to stay single afterwards for quite a long time. The kids seemed to like Dianne enough. His 3 boys and daughter thought she was alright but he knew deep down that Dianne would never take the place of Lee in their hearts. It was just casual. They were more like friends than lovers really.
The wind blew harder outside the booth. He looked over and waved at George and Lucy, the other toll booth workers. They all looked out in unison at the growing darkness outside and the thicker flurries coming down swiftly now.


It was pretty much dead…..not a lot of travelers around 5 pm on Thanksgiving Day. He figured everybody was warm and cozy inside homes celebrating and feasting on turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. His mouth salivated at the thought of it. He exhaled.


In the distance, he could see headlights making their way slowly in the heavy snow towards the booth lanes. The driver seemed cautious and moved from one lane to the other as if trying to determine which toll booth to proceed to. Whomever it was, they decided on Jerry’s booth.


It wasn’t a fancy car, just a 4-door sedan in navy blue with tan interior. Jerry leaned out his window prepared to smile at the passenger.


“Happy Thanksgiving! Hope you’re doing alright in this snow tonight,” he said.


He looked at the woman in the car. She was pretty and she smiled back at him.


“Thank you,” she said as she gave him her toll ticket.


“$3.50,” he said to her. He noticed she turned down the music and the heat in the car. She had been listening to the kind of music he preferred too. It sounded like maybe a Kenny Chesney song or Dwight Yoakem.


She dug into her purse and gathered the money. She dropped it into his hand.


“Not very busy tonight are you guys?” She asked him. He noted the curls framing her face and the dimple on her right cheek. She was lovely, just as lovely as his wife Lee had been.


“Nope, not at all. Glad to have your company actually,” he said.


“Ah, I’m traveling from my mother’s. Went to see her at the nursing home,” she said. Her eyes seemed misty a bit. “Is there a diner nearby? I missed Thanksgiving dinner. Due to COVID, we can visit the nursing home but not remove our mask near the residents. Can’t risk getting them sick.”


“That’s good of you,” he said. He leaned further out the window. Nobody was coming down the toll road, so he figured he had some time to direct her.


“Try Claudette’s down the road. I think it’s exit 42A. Should be on the right. Best food around this area. They should be open tonight I think for the truckers. Claudette’s good about that, always taking care of them guys and in turn, they keep coming back,” he added.


“Try the pumpkin pie. Best around.” He continued.


She looked at him a bit.


“Are you busy tonight…..I mean, after your shift?” She said hesitantly as if it had just dawned on her. “Maybe we could go together, seeing as how you gotta work for Thanksgivin’ and all.”


She extended her hand with a slight wink. “I’m Lisa.”


He took her hand gladly and paused a bit when she said her name. Almost like Lee, he thought to himself. Normally, he’d decline….but maybe.


She didn’t really know what had come over her either. Usually she wasn’t so forward with any guy but she had a rough day at the nursing home. It was hard to see her mother there…hard to see her decline and her mom seemed sad and depressed. Lisa had done her best to cheer her mother up. She couldn’t afford to have her mother live with her. Her mom needed a nurse’s care and 24 hr attention, around the clock care. She was worried for her mom.


The man in the toll booth had smiled when she drove up. He was a nice man and something about his kind eyes appealed to her. So she had asked him. Why not? She reasoned.


They went to Thanksgiving dinner at Claudette’s that night. They laughed and joked and had a good time together. He ordered the turkey dinner with turkey gravy and homemade mashed potatoes. She ordered the same.


A year later, that thankless job and that chance encounter led to a marriage. They went to the justice of the peace before Thanksgiving. Jerry had talked to the kids about it and they were on board. Earlier, in the year, Lisa had gotten her LNA license through a state grant and with Jerry’s help, had moved her mother back home. She took care of the kids and her mom during the week days. Meanwhile, Jerry had gotten a slight raise at work and was doing well. On the weekends, Lisa would pull a double shift as an LNA while Jerry stayed home to watch the others. She did this to supplement the family’s income.

Together, Jerry and Lisa put together quite a nice spread for Thanksgiving at his small home. He was no longer a newbie at work, so he was able to get off for both Thursday and Friday. The kids and Lisa’s mom had helped with the dishes. They had made Lisa’s mom’s best recipes. The group bowed their heads for prayer and each went around the table saying what they were grateful for. Jerry said he was most thankful for a thankless job which turned into a blessing in disguise by meeting Lisa. Lisa smiled and hugged him. She said she was so thankful for him and her new family and that her mother could join them. They all nodded and smiled.


In that little home full of heart, it really was the happiest of all possible Thanksgivings.

Protection

by J. Speer

Terrell had been working at the factory for fifteen years. He had seen a lot of people come and go through the years. He worked at the head table in assembly. Four weeks ago, the supervisor had clocked in another new hire as Terrell worked at his station on first shift. Terrell kept his head down and kept working but he noted the appearance of the new guy. Rough is probably how Terrell would describe him. He wore an old t-shirt and blue jeans with tears and holes in the knees. He was a white guy but had obviously been in the sun a lot. He looked weathered and old with tanned skin and noticeable wrinkles on his face. The guy wore a key chain from his belt. He looked like he hadn’t shaved in days or maybe a week or two.


Terrell kept working. The supervisor brought the new hire to his table and said the guy’s name was Mick. They started working across from each other at the table that morning. Mick was a fast learner, so it was easy to teach him the ropes. What Terrell liked about the guy was he seemed quiet and just did his work…..just like Terrell.


They had worked together for a few weeks now and barely spoke much to each other. There was an unspoken camaraderie though. Occasionally, when the background radio music lulled, they’d exchange small talk conversation. They didn’t talk about much but Terrell was pleased to learn Mick had an avid interest in sports. So they mostly talked about the Browns or different quarterbacks in the NFL. Mick seemed to like more sports than just football so they spent some time over the weeks discussing golf or basketball or even the Olympics. Terrell didn’t mind this much. It passed the time on the 10 hour daily shifts before he could go home to his family. He wasn’t there for a popularity contest. He was there to get paid and go home.


Terrell clocked out at 5 pm like usual and headed to the back alley door. He walked the 3 blocks from the factory district to the local subway station underground. He kept to himself mostly on the subway ride home. When an older woman entered from the platform, he got up quietly from his seat and offered it to her. She nodded thank you and he simply smiled briefly and looked down at his feet and then out of the subway train towards the tunnel walls of the subway system.


From station 26, he walked the rest of the way home to his apartment rental. He took the stairs up to the third floor, passing Ms. Davis on her way up with groceries. He helped her the rest of the way up the stairs to her apartment door with the bags. She smiled at him and said thanks. He smiled back and headed to his apartment door too.


The dogs greeted him at the door first. It wasn’t much of an apartment. The walls were not painted. The furniture was hand-me-downs from family or stuff bought off Craigslist. His wife was sitting at her laptop at the kitchen table. She smiled absentmindedly at him as he took off his jacket and headed to the cabinet for a glass of water. She went back to typing on her Nursing class project for school. She was in her second year at the local Community College preparing to be an RN.


“Dinner ready?” he asked.


“Yeah,” she said not looking up from behind her glasses. “It’s on the stove.”


She called the kids. They had three children ages 6, 8, and 9. Together, the family worked on setting the table. Terrell asked his kids how school was going. He kissed his wife briefly as she put away the laptop and notebooks. At the table, they all paused for prayer. The kids were in a pretty good mood that night. They had been playing Mario Kart on the Play station in the TV room.


After dinner, they cleaned up together. The kids went off to play. His wife sat back down to do homework and Terrell retreated to the bedroom. He took off his shoes, changed out of his work clothes, showered, put on some casual clothes, and then sat down to his small desk in the corner. He opened up his laptop too. By then, it was nearing 8 pm.


A few years ago, Terrell had started a YouTube channel. It wasn’t much. It wasn’t elaborate or fancy. It had grown a small following of steady subscribers over time. At first, he just wanted to share what he knew about Psalms and Proverbs and such from what he had read in his free time from the Bible. Over time, as the subscriber list grew, he would read the comments from his followers and found that some of them were in real need for guidance and help. So he prayed on this and he started writing out little prayers.


Each prayer was generally about 3 to 4 minutes long at most. He did prayers on marriage, on work, on job searching, on pets, on finding apartments, on whatever…you name it, he tried to write it….if the commenters said they needed it. Each night, he’d sit with pen and paper and come up with a good heartfelt prayer. Then he’d record himself saying the prayer and offering words of encouragement and inspiration for the folks that listened. He knew it wasn’t much but perhaps it could help here or there. He didn’t really see it as a ministry of sorts, just as words to help. He re-labeled the YouTube channel with the name, Protection Prayers.


Terrell opened up YouTube to his channel and saw the reaction to his latest video. It was a short piece on protection for one’s family. It already had 1,415 views and about 201 likes. Terrell frowned a little when he saw the few dislikes. He read through the usual comments. Towards the bottom of this video there was a bizarre comment. It was made by a viewer who went by the name Thanatos 669. The message was in another language Terrell didn’t understand.


Curiosity got the best of him and Terrell opened up an online translator. He cut and pasted the strange symbols into the translator and hit send. The words were in Greek. They read, “There was a pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth.”


Terrell sat back in his lamp lit bedroom at his desk. He looked at the words from Revelations.


“Bizarre,”he said to himself and shaking his head.


Terrell spent the rest of the evening going over the videos and comments and working on his next video script. As he did so, he checked every so often on the kids in the other room and on his distracted wife. He helped get the kids to their showers and helped get them to bed that night. They snuggled deep under the covers as he closed the door to their room across the small hallway from his own room.


That night, Terrell and his wife went to bed about 11 am. He woke up with a start around 2 or at least he thought he did. Perhaps it was a dream. He could not tell for sure. Yes, he believed it was a dream. It had to be. A nightmare.


Terrell slept on the right side of the bed by the alarm clock and light. In the darkness, in his dream he became instantly aware of imminent and very near danger. He felt someone or something was in his room. In fact, it was directly beside him….standing next to his sleeping body. In his mind in the dream, he thought a stranger was in the apartment and next, he thought of his sleeping children and wife. The presence, the entity….it felt like death, not the devil.


Then something even stranger occurred in the dream. He was lifted from a sleeping position to a sitting position in the bed by an unknown force. His eyes were closed but his mouth opened and from his throat came a voice that was not his own. It was deep and authoritative. It simply said the same phrase 7 times rapidly in a row. The wording was foreign and strange to Terrell. It was not how he normally spoke. Not how anyone he knew normally spoke. The words were simply, “I compel you to leave this house through the blood of Jesus Christ.”


The words were repeated rapidly over and over again 7 times. Then Terrell felt the entity. He felt it’s reluctance and anger. It got directly physically behind Terrell. Then it passed through the bed frame and through the wall itself and was gone.


Terrell opened his eyes in the darkness of the little bedroom. He was sitting up in the bed. He was fearful for his family. He looked to the left to his sleeping wife. Then, he pulled back the covers and headed straight to the hallway and to his children’s room. He pushed open the door quietly and peered inside. Nothing was disturbed in the room. All three children were asleep in their bunk beds. Terrell watched them for a moment. Then he gently closed the door again to their room.


He turned around in the hallway and looked left to the apartment door. He walked over to it. He peered out the peephole expecting to see something. Outside the door, there was nothing but stairs. He checked the locks again and the chain.


He padded back barefoot across the wooden floor to the bedroom doors. There was a small butterfly night light near the children’s door and by the slight light, he could see something tiny and white on the floor. He stooped down to pick it up. He held it in his hand. It was a small white feather…..must have come from one of the kids’ pillows he reasoned. He put the feather in his pocket and returned to his bedroom. When he went back to bed, he rolled over and held his wife. She sighed in her sleep and snuggled closer to his warm body. Eventually, Terrell fell back asleep.


The next day and the days that followed one after the other at the factory, seemed to drag a bit for Terrell. He kept his strange dream to himself. No one would believe him anyways about such a weird occurrence.


Mick kept at it, working across from him at the workstation. Mick didn’t say much. They talked about the Chiefs game and the Packers a bit. When it was time for breaks, Mick would head out for a smoke and Terrell would head to the break room to check his phone and such. Terrell noticed Mick smoked a lot but that was Mick’s business he reasoned.


The nights went on as usual with dinner, the kids doing homework or playing games, and the wife at the table working on tests or assignments. He would kiss her on the forehead every now and then. He helped the kids off to showers and bedtime as usual but Terrell had sorta stopped writing the prayers and creating the YouTube content for a bit. He still checked his channel and the comments from his viewers. He noted that he had lost a few subscribers in the past few days.


On the fourth or fifth day at work, about right before quitting time, Mick stopped working across from him. He started grabbing his stuff and putting on his jacket across from Terrell to leave for the day, or so Terrell thought. Mick eyed him for a bit.


Then he said, “I think I’m gonna be moving on. This job, you know, I got other things I need to be doing and it’s not working out.” Terrell just nodded. Retention was notoriously low at the factory so he was used to people quitting.

“It was nice working with you, Mick,” Terrell said and nodded. “I wish you well.”


“Thanks,” said Mick and he slung his bag on his side. “You know, Terrell…..you shouldn’t give up writing them prayers…….they’re helping people more than you’ll ever realize.” With that, Mick turned and started walking towards the clock out station.


Terrell stared at Mick’s back. He had never told Mick anything about prayers or his YouTube channel or anything. As far as he knew, no one at the factory even knew he did that on the side.


Mick stood in line to clock out behind the others. Terrell grabbed his stuff and went to stand in line too but he was watching Mick curiously. Mick clocked out. He headed to the back door opening to the alley way.

Terrell thought for a moment………Mick, Mickey, Mike, Michael…..


Mick’s hand reached the door knob, he turned slightly and grinned briefly at Terrell as Terrell’s mind was on the name Michael.


“Be safe, Terrell, and watch out for that beautiful wife and three kids of yours. God bless.” As he said this, he reached into his pocket for his pack of cigarettes. He grabbed his lighter and something small and light and white fell out of his pocket. He stepped out into the alleyway. Mick looked up as he lit a cigarette and the back door slowly closed behind him.


Terrell clocked out. He headed for the door too. He looked down at the floor and found the item that had fallen. He picked it up and examined it. It was a small white feather…just the same as the one he had seen in the hallway outside his children’s room nights before.


He opened the door to the back alley and stepped out. He looked left. He looked right. He looked all around but Mick was gone.

Finding Frost

I have begun my way down a path less taken.

We are moving East away from all we know and hold dear. 19 years of my life I have spent in this little Midwest town, 7 years as a girl and 12 as a woman with children. There are some that don’t understand our decision. The children are out of the nest now and my husband got a lucrative opportunity to move to New England to cover the Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine territory and to branch further into Canada selling windows and doors for major architectural projects. I am excited for him. He’s growing. He’s very good at what he does and he has a passion for it.

I hope to grow too. 6 years working in photography has made me consider an interest in side work photography. I plan to get a day job up there in the Northland. What I will do……I have no idea but it is thrilling and slightly scary to start fresh somewhere new.

We’ve sold the house we’ve lived in for years, spent endless hours searching for apartments, and begun the god awful process of relinquishing possessions that have been hoarded for years….downsizing from home to little apartment. I keep telling myself it is a good thing to travel lightly. It’s hard to let go of the attachment to stuff.

I spend a lot of time researching New England and in doing so…..I discovered Robert Frost.

We originally sought out an apartment in Littleton or Bethlehem, New Hampshire due to the picturesque covered bridge and mountains in the distance photos. Littleton has consistently ranked within the top small towns to live in America. It’s very hard to find apartments around that region apparently but according to the records provided at the Franconia farmstead of Robert Frost, he first rented in the Bethlehem (a small town near Littleton) region too…..probably seeking out the beautiful White Mountains experience as well.

This excerpt is from The Frost Place website in Franconia where Robert Frost lived with his family from 1915 to 1920:

“Frost first discovered this area of the White Mountains when he came there to seek relief from hay fever. He brought his family there and they fell in love with the area. The Frosts first rented rooms from the Irish farmer John Lynch in the late summer of 1907 outside of Bethlehem, N.H. Frost wrote to his friend and early editor Susan Hayes Ward, who had visited the family there, of the time spent at Bethlehem: ‘How long ago and far away Bethlehem is already. Our summer was one of the pleasantest we have had for years. . . . There is a pang there that makes poetry.’

Frost had returned from England and had grown romantic for New Hampshire and New England. He was searching for a farm in the Franconia area that had a view. He happened on one farm that he liked but it wasn’t for sale. The owner of the farm Willis E. Herbert was outside and the two men began a conversation. Herbert happened to be looking for more land and if Frost could pay a thousand dollars for the farm then he would be willing to sell it.

Frost showed the house to his family and they all agreed and he shook hands with Herbert on the price of a thousand. It wasn’t until Herbert began to see Frost’s picture in the papers that he decided a thousand was too fair a price for Frost to pay and he should pay one or two more hundred for the farm. Frost agreed and the family moved in June of 1915.”

— Francis McGovern, from literarytraveler.com

When I read The Road Not Taken again within this context…..I think of these White Mountains and the surrounding woodland…..of leaves in Autumn……orange, yellow, red, brown……falling gently and silently in the woods to the still ground. I wonder what the woods are like up there….if they are similar to the Ozarks or more coniferous.

I think of Frost in these woods pondering a divergence in foot paths.

I look forward to finding the solace of these woods… to visiting Franconia and Bethlehem and walking in them myself some day soon.

Red M&M

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah.

10 years.

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

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

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

The Little Turkey and The King Cobra

by J. Speer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

Capone’s Gold

By J. Speer

(This story was written for a summer writing contest on the theme of “summer vacation”. It had to be 1,500 words or less.)

It was summer of 1996. It was also Frontenac Homecoming, a weekend of wonder for little ones and a weekend of celebration, or rather, inebriation for adults. George thought of the carnival in that moment back at the outskirts of town. How he wished he and his friends could turn back. But a dare had been made to enter the old mine and a dare was a challenge kept.


The entrance had been found by Steve’s dad earlier in the Spring as he ventured out to the strip pits around Mulberry for some fishing. After school had gotten out in mid-May, Steve and his Dad had crossed by the mine entrance a few more times as they lazily enjoyed the beginning of summer break. Steve played travel team baseball and this was one of the few times in their family’s busy, hectic Spring baseball schedule that he could take a bit of a break.


The boys circled the abandoned entrance in the light of the moon. It appeared to be a deep shaft, a remnant of the pre-strip mining era of southeast Kansas in the early 1900s. Steve tested the wood around the entrance by kicking a board and it broke in half, rotted from the inside by years of weathering. The boys looked at each other hesitantly.


George had the brains enough to bring his father’s hunting headlamp on the excursion. There was four of them, standing with curiousity tinged with fear together near the entrance: Steve, George, Grayson, and Bill. Steve was the oldest and so dominated most discussions with confidence. George was the smart one. Grayson was the comedian and then there was Bill, the tag-along younger brother to Grayson.


“Is it safe to go in?” ventured Grayson hesitantly.


“Hell ya, it’s safe,” said Steve with a bit of bravado to hide his insecurities. He pushed back the rotted wood even further. George switched on the neon yellow glow of his headlamp. One. Two. Three clicks to the brightest beam. Then he placed it squarely on his forehead. The bright beam shone into the darkness beyond of the little mine entrance.


“Hasn’t been touched in years looks like,” confirmed Steve. There was nothing at the entrance just a deep hollow in the earth that disappeared into the beyond. There was a staleness to the air and a smell of old rocks and dirt. Steve stepped gingerly into the entrance, cracking the old wood and hoping he did not step on a rusty old nail. He didn’t relish the thought of a trip to the hospital for a tetanus shot. Nor did he want to think about a nail going through his beat up old sneakers.


The other boys one by one switched on their flashlights while looking around in the dark at the silent, thick woods and nearby water pits. Bugs of all kinds gravitated towards the lights and circled here and there in the dark evening around them. Bill swat at a chigger or mosquito on his bare leg.


Steve stepped further into the entrance, praying that his feet would not give way. He had a sinking nightmare image of falling into the deep earth and being buried never to be found again. He squelched the fear and pushed the bad thoughts from his mind.


“Come on in, it’s safe you chickens!” he motioned and the other boys promptly entered behind him. Bill was the last to enter but not out of effort, just that he was the runt of the litter so to speak and got pushed to the back. He was, however, bound and determined to show the other boys he was part of the group. He wanted to look brave.


“Dad said these mines are from the 1920s when Al Capone’s mafia ran Frontenac as a bootlegging operation,” Steve said with authority. “They used to distill liquor during the Prohibition here in these secret places….a place the cops would never look at. Pretty clever.”
“Al Capone used to come to Frontenac to hunt on his way down to Hot Springs for gambling. They said he’d eat at the little Italian restaurant nearby here. Chicago boss man in this little Kansas town….who knew?” Steve continued.


“They say..he buried his gold here too…..somewhere in this little Italian town.” Steve’s voice trailed off. Grayson and George looked around at the rock walls in curiousity while Bill just gulped peering into the dark. The boys began walking hunched over deeper and deeper into the shaft until the moonlit entrance nearly faded away. Steve led the way with his little headlamp. As they rounded a sharp corner and the entrance disappeared Steve stopped to look back at the others with a finger to his lips.


“We don’t want to disrupt anything or make any loud noises, ” he warned the others with a whisper. “You sure you wanna do this?” He pointed to the way back out. “Last chance.” The others said nothing. Steve half-hoped they would.


He turned to the cave ahead in search of Al Capone’s buried treasure. It was one heckuva a way to start the summer vacation of Steve’s 14th year…the year that he would forever remember as Bill’s last.

The Chamber Magazine

I am super excited today! I submitted 2 ghost stories about a young woman who is a sensitive, or someone capable of feeling the presence of paranormals. The first story called The Cold Spot will be published on April 2nd at 10:00 am. The second story will appear on April 9th in that next edition online. It is simply called Stull. Stull is the name of a paranormal mecca, a gateway to the underworld located outside Lawrence, Kansas. Both ghost stories are works of fiction but inspired by true locations in the Kansas City area.

Here is the link to The Chamber Magazine. They are seeking submissions like poetry or short stories that involve horror, dark subjects, gore, ghosts, monsters, etc. To learn more, check out their site:

New Stories, Poetry, Interviews, and Articles