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

Cars

We visited Galena, Kansas yesterday. It is along old Route 66. Galena was the town that inspired the Pixar Cars animated movie with Lightning McQueen. When you visit the town, you can see Luigi, Towmater, and all the gang from the beloved movie. This is a great place to see with family and also is just a short distance from the Joplin waterfalls. Remember the waterfalls scene in Cars? Here are some pictures from our trip:

It Has Been 10 Years Since the Joplin Tornado

The Joplin tornado hit in Southwest Missouri on May 22, 2011. I can still remember it like yesterday. We were living 20 minutes drive from Joplin. Everyone was in shock at the devastation. The walls of the Home Depot collapsed inward. The Walmart was just a torn up mess of debris and dangerous wires everywhere. A huge swath of the Rangeline shopping district had been ripped apart. The St. John’s Hospital was completely destroyed. Cars were crushed and tossed here and there. People were stuck in their basements trying to get out. Homes were wiped out. Bodies were here and there. It was bad. Unlike anything I’d ever seen since 9-11.

My friend Jordan and her husband Dr. Fox headed down there immediately to help triage patients. My husband Dennis drove as fast as he could to Joplin to help Kelly, his brother-in-law. Their house was obliterated, all but the bath tub pretty much. They survived. Alot of people did not.

There were stories told. Awful stories like a mother that heard about the tornado too late and went to get her daughter who was playing outside only to find the girl had been swept away by the winds. Then there was the story of the boy that was sucked through the sunroof of his car while his Dad tried desperately to cling to him to no avail.

Yes, I have lived in tornado alley most all my life. We sorta scoff at them naders as we call em. Ain’t scared a no nader. But the truth is we all remember Joplin. It will be something we will never forget. Some of us still can’t even communicate our feelings fully about that day.

Tornado season is approaching. This weekend, we’ll clean up the basement a little and put pallets down in case of too much rain. We’ll put the usual chairs and table in the storm shelter and leave the back door open for any neighbors that need to seek shelter underground quickly with us. The storms have grown more frequent and harsher than I remember as a kid. Perhaps it has to do with climate change.

I, myself, have only encountered a severe wind storm tottering near level 1 tornado. But it was enough to scare the heck outta me. There was no time. It came up very fast. The lights went out. I ran from my bedroom to my children’s room. Things were hitting the house. Lots of things. Very loud. I pulled my sleeping children off their beds. I put them underneath me in a pile. We were all suddenly scared. I remember the sound of the wind in the dark as I looked up at the popcorn ceiling. There was no time to pray or for sirens. There was just a tremendous sucking noise as if something was gonna lift the roof clean off. My only thought was, “This roof is gonna come off us.”

It lasted maybe thirty seconds. I heard the timbers busting in the roof. I heard stuff hitting the house. Big stuff now.

And then it was gone. Just like that. We sat in the dark huddled together and in the distance a lone tornado siren began to sound a few minutes later. It was eerie.

The power came back up the next day. My Dad came to our house about 2 am with a lantern. He said, “Don’t go outside until the morning. You’ll step on something.” I don’t know how he managed to get through all the debris to us. The first thing he asked is if we were okay. I nodded. The kids had gone back to sleep.

The next day I saw the neighborhood. Whole trees were uprooted and tossed into homes or sheds. Trampolines were all bent and twisted up and thrown around. Alot of roofs were busted up, including ours. We had several broken timbers in the roof and there was a dent in the ceiling above my bed. The mall was a mess. Signs were thrown everywhere or toppled over. Even stuff was busted up in the cemetery. I had never experienced a night like that before and I hope to not again in the future. They say when you might die, your memories flash through your mind but all I could think in that moment was “dang, this roof is about to come off.” Anyway, we moved from that place. Found a place with a basement shelter and we love living here. If we can just only get through that dang tornado season….

I have one more tornado story to share. A few years later, we were heading to Colorado in an old RV bumper pull. We had two flat tires back to back. It was getting dark in the sky and the winds were picking up. We were on our way to Dodge City. We had to limp the RV slowly into a little town called Kinsley, a place I’d never heard of. There were tumbleweeds blowing strongly across the road as we made our way there. We stayed in the only spot we could, a little park on the outskirts of town where the Farmers’ market would be held the following day. That night the winds really picked up strong and rocked the RV back and forth. We eventually fell asleep.

The next morning we opened the door of the RV and the people from the Farmers’ Market were set up with tents and wares all around. They helped us get the tires repaired and gave us breakfast. They were very kind to us, especially my children. They told us we were lucky to find Kinsley. Some semi trucks further on down the road to Dodge City had been picked up and thrown off to the sides of the highway overturned. We asked why Kinsley was important. They said it was an old Indian settlement surrounded on three sides by a ridge. It was near Greensburg. They said tornadoes hit all around Kinsley but never hit the town. It was protected. It was a special place. I guess those flat tires were a good thing after all.

Here’s some old footage of the Joplin tornado. It will be 10 years this May 22nd.

The Firefly’s Secret: A Story for Children

By J. Speer

The firefly was once merely a little bug who loved the sun with all his heart. Every day he flew through the valley. He greeted his friends in the sunshine. Wally the water buffalo would say, “Hi!” Then, he would continue munching lovely green grass. There was also Greg the Giraffe who tottered high and tall near the trees. The little bug would fly past the lion, the cheetahs, and even the hyenas. He would skim across the waters of the river and visit the hippos, the crocodiles, and fly over the rhinos. The little bug loved his valley. He loved the river, the trees, the rocks. In fact, his home was a big rock on the biggest hill to the side of the valley. It was a perfect place where he could see all, including the sun which he loved most of all.

Every day, the sun rose with beautiful light. The sun burst light everywhere onto every inch of the land. It glowed. It radiated. The sun was brilliant. The little bug admired the sun. When the sun was around, the fly was happy.

But every evening, the sun had to go. The little fly did not understand why. He wanted to play in the light of the sun. The sun would lower toward the horizon and the little bug would look at it sadly. It was time for the sun to go.

The little bug would fly back to the big rock where he could look over the valley. His friends all went to their places to sleep too. The little bug sat on the rock and sighed. He was very sad. Night after night, the little bug would sit on the rock and wait for the sun to return. One night,in the glow of the moonlight above him, the little bug began to cry.

The moon watched the little bug, sad and alone on the rock. The moon lowered in the sky to glow a soft light onto the big rock. The little bug looked up at the moon and sadly smiled.

“Why do you cry, little bug?” Asked the moon.

“I’m sad. I want the sun to come back,” said the little bug.

The moon looked at the little bug with compassion. She lowered closer to the big rock and glowed a beautiful night light.

“I have a secret to tell you. It is the secret of the sun and the secret of the moon and now it will be the secret of you…if you are ready,” said the moon.

“I am ready,” said the little bug.

“One time, a long, long time ago, the sun was all alone in the dark. He sat in the darkness and he was very sad just like you. He longed for a friend. He wanted someone to help him. He was very sad. Then, one day, he grew tired of being sad. He started to focus inside himself. He created light, a tiny spark made of self-love in his heart. He focused on that tiny spark and it grew to be a bigger spark. He kept fanning the flames of the spark within until it became bigger and bigger. Now he shines with the most brilliant of lights. His light of love shines everywhere and makes everyone happy around him. That is his secret. He had to create it within before he could shine it outside.”

She continued, “Shining the light within can be exhausting though even for the sun. So he must leave to rest and recover so he can continue to shine it the next day. The sun doesn’t want to leave you, little bug, he has to leave to rest.”

The moon looked fondly at the little bug. If she could hug her little friend, she would.

“I was once like you. You remind me of myself. I too missed the sun at night. We all did, the stars and I. One day, the sun told us the secret of his ability to shine. The stars and I tried very hard to find the spark within, the light of self-love, and slowly one by one we began to light up the midnight sky. I glow for me. I love my glow. It is soft and dreamy. I have a beautiful light within…and you will too now that you know the secret of how to shine for yourself and thereby, for the world.”

She smiled, “Goodbye, little bug. I wish you the best. Shine on.”

The little bug sat on the rock alone in the dark and thinking of the moon’s words. He sat on that rock for many, many days as he tried to find a spark of love inside his heart too. He finally found it and the spark grew and grew and grew until he glowed all over with a soft, pretty light.

“Wow,” he said. He flew over the valley shining his beautiful little glow everywhere for himself and thereby, for his friends who admired it.

He passed down the secret to his children who passed it down to their descendants.

Today, as the sun starts to sink into the horizon, the fireflies come out over all the valley to glow soft little lights. They light up the valley. They are so beautiful.

Now, also the fireflies are all over the world too. Little children love and admire them. They chase after the gentle, glowing bugs. They laugh when a little firefly lets them catch them. They open their hands in wonder to stare in awe at the glow of the little firefly.

How do they glow? The children ask themselves this question.

What is their secret?

Now you, little one, little child…you know the secret of the sun, the moon, the stars, and the fireflies. The secret is within you. The secret to shining for all is self-love.

Now, how will you shine your little light inside. Focus on it. Find it. Help it to grow and you too will soon learn how to glow. And when you glow, the whole world will be a happier place.

Rejection is Just Redirection

Have you ever experienced an online troll?  What about a “hater” or even a “group of haters”? 

(By the way, this is a great song about the whole “haters gon’ hate” vibe.  To go off on a short tangent, I really love this song.)

What about someone in your environment who, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get them to treat you right?  Or maybe just someone or something that leaves you drained?    

Here’s some simple tips:

  1.  Take time out for you and practice self-care/self-love. 
  2. Be wise to the negative behaviors of others but hold yourself to a higher standard and do not stoop to that level. 

“I am sending you out as sheep among wolves, so be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”  Matthew 10:16.

  • “Do not cast your pearls before swine.”  Matthew 7:6.  This is not to say that other people are necessarily bad.  Perhaps they are not at a point in their lives that they are willing and able to receive you with love and respect.  If this is so, do not waste your energy and time trying to prove your worth to them.  Life is short and precious, it should not be wasted continually trying to be perfect for someone else’s expectations of you.  Make your own expectations.  Meet your own goals.  Dress the way you want.  Think the way you want.   You are not unworthy.  You are enough.  They just fail to see the treasure that you are, even if you may appear to be a diamond in the rough.  Remember, in this life, we do not know who God treasures either.  Some people would be the least you would expect.  Treat people fairly and stand up for yourself when you feel in your heart that you are not being treated fairly by others. 
  • Let go of bitterness and get your spirit back.  Bounce back from hardship like you’re Walter Payton.  This is extremely hard.  First, learn to take the L.  Second, learn to forgive.  Third, vow to not let the pattern repeat itself.  Respect yourself enough not to allow it to happen again.  Fourth, understand that what others meant for your harm, God may have intended for your good.  This is called providence.  It was providence that made Joseph a powerful influence in Egypt to prevent the famines despite all he went through.  Providence worked in his life and it works in your life too.  It’s just hard to see when you’re in the trenches.   You just got to believe.  Sometimes, though, we pray and pray and pray on something and it still doesn’t happen.  That’s another life lesson right there.  The failure, the rejection, the divorce, the bad grades, the whatever is going on in your life…..it is teaching you to first lean not on your own understanding of things but on a spirituality, and second, it is teaching you to love yourself.  The full and total rejection moment will teach you to find value in you, to regain your self-esteem, self-confidence, self-worth.  Remember as Rocky says in this short motivational speech, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.  It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.  You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.  But it ain’t about how hard you’re hit.   It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

 Keep moving forward towards your goals.  If you have to, start very small.  Work on your hygiene first.  Work on the way you dress.  Work on your hair, make-up, style, etc.  Go back to the gym or church or wherever you find positive vibes and happiness from meeting goals.  Don’t let others tell you not to do these things.  Do them because you need to do them to improve your self-esteem.   Raise that bar first and then move out from there to your surroundings and your interactions with others.  Begin, at the same time, to strip away that which does not serve you.  Are there behaviors or traits you have taken on that are not good?  Substance abuse problems?  Addictions?  Unhealthy habits?  What about people you interact with that wear you down?  Begin to set boundaries not just with certain people but with things you do throughout the day.  Ask yourself, do I really want to do this thing or is this something I am doing because so-and-so wants me to do it?  Once again, this comes back to self-love and self-respect.  It is not selfish to say no.  It is awareness that you need to raise the bar on your self-esteem/self-worth.  Likewise, choosing to not date certain people or hang out with certain folks that bring you down…..that is not arrogance but self-awareness that you need to protect your energy.  Your energy is vital to your overall health and success.  So start small.  Take the baby steps which can turn in to bigger steps down the road. 

These are the things I am telling myself now.  I too have faced a personal setback and I am re-learning this now.  It is a thing I have to continually re-learn painfully.  You would think I would get it the first time but no, I keep having to re-hash it over and over as I believe a lot of people do.  One thing that really helps me is YouTube.  Here’s some video advice from folks way, way, way smarter than me about how to do it.  The first three videos are about self-love.  The fourth is Maya Angelou reciting, And Still I Rise.  The two other videos are inspirational pastor sermons.  These are my two favorite sermons of all time that I must admit, I have to go back to again and again when “my chips are low” and I feel myself entering that defeated mindset mode.  I highly, highly recommend watching these sermons!  However, they are each long but packed with valuable info.  I hope that you like these videos too (please share with me as well, any videos you think would help me) and remember that whatever I am going through and whatever you are going through, we are in this together and you are enough, you are valuable, you are worthy.  Think like Walter Payton and bounce yourself back up.  Let’s get to it!    

Coincidence

In his book, Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey talks about love. He compares it to archery. He says, “The arrow doesn’t seek the target. The target draws the arrow.” He was probably talking about romantic love.

Many of us spend much of our lives chasing romantic love like Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner. It evades us when we force it. But if we go with the flow enjoying life and the present moment, if we stop to “smell the roses” so to speak….that love will come sit down right beside us and we don’t even have to try…much like the Roadrunner going “beep beep” to get Wiley’s attention.

Bottomline, as I get older I don’t chase love as much. For one, my knees are bad. Chasing is exhausting and makes you want to drop an anvil on someone’s head with frustration when you fail. For another reason, there’s no point in it. Policing a man or woman gets you nowhere. Love will come to us when love is ready.

Beep, beep….

But tonight, I talk of a different kind of love…the love from pets. There have been only a few times in my life that I have been drawn to something or someone like a strong magnet. One of those times is the day I first encountered my second dog.

When I saw him, I knew in my heart I wanted that dog. I didn’t go to Petsmart to get a dog. That was the last thing on my mind. I was there to get fish food. I had brought my son and one of his friend’s along to the downtown shopping district. We were just enjoying the day.

Do you believe in random occurrences or are our steps ordered in some way as if predestined? Why do I say such gibberish? I will tell you why in a moment.

This is my second dog. I took him home from the pet store that day as a spur of the moment decision. I said I’d take him the moment the volunteer said his name.

Slushy.

Such an odd name for a reddish brown border collie like this:

Slushy was his name.

Why would that name make me instantly buy him?

This picture right here:

A 1982 Slushy doll on sale.

In 1982, my grandma bought me an Avon toy called Slushy the dog. I carried Slushy everywhere. I slept beside Slushy. I ate beside Slushy. Slushy never left my side….for years. He was my favorite toy comparable to a favorite blanket. I loved Slushy with all my little girl heart.

Slushy.

How is it possible that years later I would encounter the real life look-alike to my favorite childhood toy friend? Coincidence? Random fate? Or something more…

Today, I type this by the fireplace as Slushy sits beside me napping. The fire is warm and toasty. He is resting. His eyes are closed but I know if I shift just a little, he will open them to peer at me curiously….my toy brought to life in later years, just when I would need him most. I would need his friendship once again.

I sleep beside Slushy curled up near me sometimes. I eat beside Slushy. Once again, we are inseparable. And we will probably be inseparable to the end of the road for one of us, whomever that might be.

The Unconditional Love of Dogs

Man’s best friend.

On Valentine’s Day, we celebrate romance. But what of the other types of love, including the love for our pets?

I have two dogs. One is a mix of different breeds, probably Italian Greyhound and Jack Russell. That’s what my vet said. To me, he’s just a little white dog I got at the pound.

I tore my ACL in my knee and was limping around. In a few weeks, I planned to have surgery to repair it. It was a Saturday afternoon when the kids and I drove out to the Humane Society.

I did not pick the little white dog at first. In fact, no one seemed interested in him.

He sat in a steel cage alone in the small dog room. He looked miserable. He didn’t seem excited by my arrival like some other more bouncy dogs. He didn’t bark nor make a noise. He lay with his back facing me. I bypassed him and went to a cuddly little black furball dog and a few other cute and energetic ones.

We played with the others and were set on the black furball pup. Then one of the volunteers brought the little white dog out of his cage to clean the cage.

That’s when I realized exactly why everyone bypassed him…..he limped around on three legs. There was something wrong with him. I looked down at my own busted knee.

“What happened to his leg?” I asked the volunteer curiously.

“He needs a minor surgery on the ligament. Sometimes some breeds of dogs like Chihuahuas and such can be born with a leg problem.” She said sympathetically.

His leg was messed up. So was mine. We seemed fated to be together I suppose. We took the quiet, little white dog home that day. We named him Gizmo.

He had surgery for about $170 at the vet clinic. My knee surgery cost much more in the thousands. I shoulda had the vet fix my knee.

We walked together a lot in the weeks that followed. I hobbled along behind him grimacing in pain every now and then while he still hopped around on three legs. My knee got stronger every day with his help. Eventually he figured out too that he could step down on that fourth leg and it would work. I remember watching him that moment. He gingerly placed the leg down as if afraid of the pain but soon found there to be none. Now he bounces around the house. He runs and plays and wrestles with our other dog.

Nothing makes me smile bigger after a long day of work than to be greeted by the dogs at the door. I do believe all dogs go to heaven. They seem to bring out our better nature. Over the years, these dogs have greeted many visitors to our home with equal measure of love. Young and old. Pretty or not so much. Thin and thick. It doesn’t matter to them. And I think that’s what I like about dogs best. How unconditional their love and support can be. They treat every person like a good friend.

Yes, cats are softer and fluffier and easier to take care of. But a dog will lay beside you when you’re feeling blue. So this Valentine’s Day, remember not just the romantic love but also the love of companionship, an unconditional love mastered by dogs.

Castle Frankenstein

In 2002, I was working with the Department of Defense Finance & Accounting Service. About once a month, I would travel from Grafenwoehr, Germany to DFAS headquarters at Kaiserslautern to hand-deliver financial records for the US Army Transportation Management Center for Europe.

On one trip, I finished early and took the autobahn back home. I saw a sign around the Mannheim and Darmstadt area for Burg Frankenstein. This immediately piqued my interest. I had time to spare so I took a short excursion to the castle said to inspire Mary Shelley to write her gothic novel, The Modern Prometheus, in 1818. Today, we know this story through Halloween and classic hit movies as the story of a monster come to life by a mad scientist through the channeling of a lightning bolt.

But did you know that there really was a mad scientist?

Castle Frankenstein is all mostly in ruins now. In 2002, it was still quite large and stunning, however. I remember the stones being almost red. I remember walking through the ruins alone and up the stone steps to the towers. The place is supposed to be haunted.

The castle was built around 1250. It was sold in 1662 and used as a hospital for a while before falling into ruins. By the time Mary Shelley may have seen it in 1814 when she visited the Rhine region and a small town called Gernsheim, 10 miles away, the castle would have been in pretty bad shape. No one knows for sure if Mary Shelley went there but it is believed her stepmother, who was a translator for Brothers Grimm stories, had first heard the story of the mad scientist and passed the story on to Shelley.

Who is this mad scientist?

His name was Johann Konrad Dippel. He lived at the castle or near the castle sometime around 1673. He invented what he called an “elixer of life” that was said to cure many diseases. Johann was a professional alchemist, a medieval term for a chemist. According to rumor, Johann also did anatomy and some even speculated that he exhumed bodies for his research.

There are other fascinating and mysterious stories associated with the grounds around the castle. Supposedly, there is a fountain of youth nearby that turns old women into young girls on Walpurgis Nacht. There is also a story of a knight fighting a deadly dragon.

The most interesting story I found is located on Mt. Ibes. This is the location of a collection of magnetic stones. Compasses do not work on Mt. Ibes. It is a place supposedly where ancient rites, rituals, traditions take place according to the old ways of the Franks, the previous Germanic tribes that lived in this area. Frankenstein literally means “stone of the Franks” which could be related to this magnetic stone circle phenomenon. Mt. Ibes is supposed to be a sacred and respected place.

Sadly, I did not take pictures of the trip. This was 2002 prior to the arrival of the smartphone. and it was just a side excursion from the autobahn. It was one of those “spur of the moment” decisions that I will never regret. Some day it would be great to see the Castle Dracula too.

There is another place close nearby there along the border with France. The paranormal story from this place was called The Bleeding Nun and it is featured in another gothic classic written by Matthew Gregory Lewis called The Monk. The bleeding nun is an apparition that appears at Castle Lindenberg and warns you of giving in to lustful desires as it must have led to her demise. The Monk was published in 1796.

The only other story I really love from the Rhineland region is probably The Lorelei. She is a beautiful apparition that sits on the rocks just above a dangerous turn of the Rhine River. She was jilted by a faithless lover and committed suicide by casting herself into the waters of the Rhine at that spot and drowned. Now, she seeks revenge on sailors or other male travelers on the Rhine river. She sings a wondrous tune just like a siren. She is said to be exquisitely beautiful and also…..deadly. Men who see her, generally swim towards her….only to drown in the treacherous rapids below her. She became the inspiration for a portion of the small adventure book I wrote, Searching for Fire.

Here is a nice link to a BBC article with pictures of Castle Frankenstein. Thanks for reading this and have a gute nacht, freunde.

http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20161018-germanys-most-monstrous-castle

Love amid the Lanes

This is my Valentine’s Day gift to you! I wrote a piece for a love contest. Here is the entry. It is supposed to be a heart-warming story about love in a Midwest bowling alley. Picture Kingpin meets Romeo and Juliet.

I hope you have a wonderful, romantic Valentine’s Day! Stay warm too, my friends!

Imagine Me and You

by J. Speer

In 2018, there was a little bowling alley in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  It was a popular locals’ joint and featured 12 open lanes for 12 unique teams on league night each Friday evening.  People loved going to the little bowling alley to unwind from a long week of work. 

The bowling alley manager was named Bill Casey.  He had owned the bowling alley since 1987, the year Patrick Swayze dirty danced with Jennifer Grey having the time of her life.  Bill had three great loves in his life: the game of bowling, his deceased wife Maria, and their one daughter she had named Jennifer. 

Jennifer worked the bowling alley counter.  She also was the top bowler on a league team named I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gutter.  Jennifer was a vibrant woman though still unmarried.  For years, she had looked in vain for that one true love of her life. Her team of friends was several fun colleagues from diverse occupations who shared the one commonality of being from different minority groups.  They all agreed on one thing.  They disliked the other competitive league team at Lane 1 called Split Happens

Split Happens consisted mostly of what some might call “a redneck hillbilly crowd.”  They were dang good bowlers.  The best player on the team was a handsome eligible bachelor named David Huxley.  Every Friday night, the team at lane 1 and the team at lane 2 would spar good-naturedly trading continuous barbs or pranks at each other’s expense. 

Every year, inevitably, these two teams would face off against each other in the annual Championship for the Big Balls trophy, a much-esteemed achievement.  For the past three years, Split Happens had held the title of Champion on the grandmaster board.  This was dedicated to all the great bowling league teams through the years since 1987. 

There were other teams in the league too that stood a chance at winning a prestigious spot on the leader board.  The group in Lane 3, for example, was a hardy team of independent feminists.  Their team was named Got Ya By the Balls.  In lane 4, likewise, was a team of fun-loving LGBT friends named The Sexy Strikers.  There were other lesser teams as well, such as the comic book fan team called the X-men at Lane 7.  They loved all things high tech.   

David Huxley and Jennifer Casey had grown up together, attending the same classes at the same elementary school and high school.  David had always admired Jennifer from afar.  Jennifer, for her part, held in high esteem David’s ability to hit multiple strikes.  He carried his team to victory again and again.  They, however, were adversaries on opposing teams.  For some reason, through all the years, the two had never really dated.  But that all was about to change…

It was a cold, blustery Friday night in February just before Valentine’s Day.  The league games had just ended.  Split Happens and I Can’t Believe it’s Not Gutter both defeated their opponent teams.  The sore losers for the night were taking off their bowling shoes and turning them in to Bill at the counter.  They were heading out the door. 

Jennifer wandered over to the old arcade that held the ancient Atari games and racing games.  David was already in there with a few friends.  She took some quarters out of her pocket.  She eyed the old air hockey game to the side of the room.  David looked over at her mildly with interest.  He always seemed to notice her.  She caught his glance and smiled.  Cocking her head towards the air hockey, she asked him, “You up for a game of this?  Haven’t played it in a while.”

“As I recall,” he said, “You used to be pretty good at this one.”

She laughed.  “I’m a little rusty, I’m sure.”

They put the quarters in the slot and the air hockey game commenced a humming noise indicating it had started.  The two squared off against each other on opposing sides.  Jennifer scored the first point and grinned.  David grinned back.  He quickly scored the second point.  Jennifer rolled up her sleeves to try again. 

Several minutes of aggressive play continued with David scoring three more points to Jennifer’s frustration.  She eyed him coolly at this point.  She set the hockey puck down on the table ahead of her.  She rapidly scored the next point. 

David watched her more intently.  He noticed every little detail about the way she bit her upper lip as a tell that she was getting ready to strike or the way she squinted when he would come close to scoring again.  The hockey puck went back and forth more urgently.  David noticed too that she looked quite pretty that night with her curly black hair tied back at the nape of her neck, her crew shirt, and slim jeans accentuating her appearance.  She scored another point and he let out a slow whistle. 

“Damn,” he said under his breath.  The game continued.  He ended up winning and smiled mischievously.  Although defeated, Jennifer had to admit to herself that she loved that smile.  David had always been handsome and loved to have a good time. 

“Alright, I guess you won this time.” She admitted.  They both shared a brief moment.  She figured she needed to help clean-up so she started to turn away to leave the arcade.  David frowned just a little.  He finally said the thought that had been in his head through most of the air hockey game. 

“You doing anything later tonight?”  Jennifer blinked.  She looked around at the others in the arcade for a moment. 

“No, no plans.  Why?”  She said bluntly surprised.

They agreed that night to maybe go out to the local coffeehouse after she finished work. 

Later that night, they sat together at The Bluebird coffee shop downtown and pretty soon were exchanging fun stories and engaging in entertaining banter.  Jennifer felt comfortable with David, although they both worried a little that at any moment, they might be seen sitting at the same table.  They agreed to go on a few more dates after that.  The romance started out a little slow and then quickly picked up steam.  One date was a dinner, another was a movie, and soon they were spending a lot of secret time together while still bowling as adversaries on League nights.  It soon became obvious to both parties that they might be falling in love. 

The secret rendezvous exchange continued.  It led to passionate embraces and nights spent lovingly in each other’s arms.  Neither one was sure what to say to their other team mates.  They agreed to keep things hush for the time being.    

Then, one night as fate would have it, they were discovered.  Jennifer had another secret admirer, a pretty woman from another team named Leslie Shaw.  Upon encountering the couple holding hands in the mall parking lot outside a local delicatessen, Leslie dropped her jaw in shock. 

“Holy cow,” she muttered under her breath.  This is interesting she said to herself with a slight twinge of jealousy. 

Leslie Shaw wanted her team, The Sexy Strikers, to win the leader board position too.  She devised a plan to blackmail the two lovers, threatening to expose them to everyone unless they both agreed to throw their games in the semi-final matches, allowing Leslie’s team to move forward to the Championship game.  Jennifer and David reluctantly agreed.    

Split Happens went first in the semi-finals and Jennifer watched sadly as David “accidentally” threw gutter ball after gutter ball forfeiting his team’s place and frustrating all his teammates to no end.  They shook their heads in disgust.  Some team members from Lane 2 scoffed at the losers with delight.      

As the second semi-final game commenced, a sudden fight broke out in the nearby lounge room between Team 1 and Team 2 players.  This spilled over quickly to an all-out brawl in the crowded league night bowling alley.  All the divided teams were fighting and carrying on.  David searched for Jennifer across the crowded room.  Jennifer tried to keep her sights on him too. 

Somehow in the midst of all the quarreling, David got hit by a thrown bowling ball.  Jennifer called out to him in alarm over the ruckus.  She rushed towards him.  She quickly helped him back to his feet. 

“You, ok?” she asked with concern and the two embraced.  All around them, people noticed and the room went still. 

“What?” she said defensively while looking around.  She reached hesitantly for his hand.  His fingers enclosed around hers too. 

“What the heck?!” said a few shocked onlookers.  David and Jennifer looked around awkwardly. 

“Yes, ok, we’ve been dating…” David began.  He then proceeded to explain the story of their relationship and what happened with Leslie.  Leslie looked down embarrassed.  She slinked off to the side a bit. 

 David looked around and back at Jennifer holding his hand.  He smiled at her. 

“I know we all have our differences,” he said hesitantly.  “But the truth is I love this woman.  Jennifer Casey, will you marry me?” He asked her as he started to get down on one knee.

The crowd completely stopped fighting.  Everyone waited for the reply.   When Jennifer said, “Yes!”  her teammates were among the first to clap alongside the team mates from Split Happens.             

Soon the folks that had been looking to start trouble were ashamed of their behavior.  The whole room clapped then, even Bill Casey who clapped the loudest.  It was decided that the couple would get married at the bowling alley later on that month. 

Bill Casey disbanded the league teams.  He took down the leader board which had caused so much animosity among the different groups.  There would be no more league nights, no more winners and losers.  Everyone would play as equals.    

On the wedding night, David Huxley and Jennifer Casey married at Lane 5.  He wore a tuxedo.  She wore a white wedding dress.  They kissed happily.  She tossed the bouquet.  Leslie Shaw managed to capture the bouquet too alongside a beautiful bowler named Sara.  Leslie and Sara smiled shyly at each other.  For Leslie, it seemed fated.  That’s how Leslie found her new love interest in life. 

That night, the bowlers at Bill Casey’s little bowling alley in Arkansas all bowled together as friends in a big diverse party.  Bill Casey turned the lights down low.  He set everything to Cosmic Bowling.  He turned on the music.   Happy Together by the Turtles filled the air and everyone was truly happy in that moment, especially David Huxley and Jennifer Casey. 

The Reaper

A few years ago, my daughter and I developed this outline for a Grim Reaper story. It is an apprentice story with a love interest and involves an interesting figure from the Bible. I never got much further with this piece. Here’s what we developed thus far. Maybe some day we will get back to collaborating together on something like this.

Outline for story:

A young boy’s parents die in a car crash.  They are coming home from vacation when the car is hit by a semi-truck and forced off a bridge and falls below into the forest.   The boy is the only survivor of the accident but barely.  He is really close to death.  He witnesses a dark entity near his parents. It is the Grim Reaper. The Grim Reaper takes the souls of his parents.  He thinks it is a hallucination and he is trying to focus but is in and out of consciousness.

The dark entity comes closer to him. The image is burned in the back of his mind and he wonders if he really did stare death in the face that night.  Death chooses not to take the boy because he sees something special in him. The entity leaves.  

Later on, the boy goes to a foster home.  He grows up in Detroit. He later joins a gang in a bad neighborhood he lives in but he only joined the gang to survive on the streets.  One night, one of the gang members goes too far and wants to steal from a shop.  A cop comes to the store from out of nowhere.  The gang member wants to shoot the cop but the boy says no and he jumps in front of the cop saving the cop’s life.  He starts to bleed out on the streets.  The other gang members run away.  The cop is with him talking to him but the voice fades as he begins to feel the presence of some thing he felt so long ago……alone in the forest. 

He closes his eyes.  He is in his subconscious, in a Midwest field.  Death is sitting there and offers him a spot.  Death says, “Sit down, we have much to talk about.”  The boy asks, “Am I dead?”  The reaper replies, “Close, but not entirely.”  Death gives him a choice to go and rest in peace with the other retired souls or to become the next Grim Reaper, his apprentice.  In return, the Grim Reaper will retire. 

The Grim Reaper plans to go where no man can find him until he finally passes on into nothingness.  The Grim Reaper explains his origin. 

He is, in fact, Abel.  He is the first man murdered and betrayed by his brother, Cain. He was the very first person to die here and his spirit wandered in loneliness and despair until he found a place of respite for souls.  He chose then to become a spirit guide to aide other souls that have passed on. He helps them to find this afterlife. He wears the dark cloak to disguise his true identity. He has allowed the horror stories of his alter-identity to perpetuate over the years in order to protect himself and the afterlife souls. He is actually a force for good in the world.

The Grim Reaper is, in fact, essential to our planet.  There must be natural order in the world and he helps to preserve it against the evil deeds of Cain’s descendants.  He needs a young apprentice to carry on his work though as he has grown weary. 

If men could live forever, the world would be chaos……there would be overpopulation and the world would be run by old and hardened souls.  It would be a place of darkness and greed.   The world needs the younger people in order to keep the world full of light and hopeful, pure, and innocent.   

The boy apprentices and Abel disappears into retirement.  But there are men, these descendants of Cain, who want to live forever and they are plotting to destroy the Grim Reaper’s apprentice.  A secret organization plans to eradicate the cycle of life and achieve immortality.  They seek to capture death.  

The secret organization wants to rule the world.  They take the unwanteds in society – the homeless and the downtrodden and orphans – they harvest their souls in order to stay younger in this life.  The Reapers, both the boy and Abel, have seen what they do but are helpless to stop it.

The secret organization goes after the apprentice.  The apprentice meets a young girl from a house fire.  Rather than reap her soul, he rescues her. Eventually, they fall in love.  

They search for the retired Abel.  They find him but the secret organization has been tracking them.  Abel is captured and defeated.  He begins to fade into the shadows and tells the young apprentice that it is his turn now and the world needs him.    

The young boy and girl escape the secret organization but he is still not ready.  He must learn more and acquire more skill and discipline.  He must find a way to stop the descendants of Cain and in the mean time, he will continue his reaping and training.  The girl has chosen to join him on his mission.  In the final scene, the young reaper and girl head off together.