The Law of Grace

Synopsis:  In the future a Government supplies peace and prosperity in exchange for the loss of some freedoms. In the shadows the government has been using its people for enhancement and other experimentations. An act of violence, which has been all but extinct, threatens the security of the government and could lead to their secrets being brought to light as well as a revolution.

CHAPTER 1

Parker awoke early, enjoying the sun warming him as he strutted down the hallway towards the rear of the house. He stopped short of the milky glass door to the bedroom; it was ajar. He peered at his reflection with the sun shining in. If he’d had an opinion he’d likely think he was handsome. He pushed through and hopped onto the bed. His light footfalls didn’t wake Anne. Parker stepped on to Anne’s chest looking straight down upon her face, a light purr that rolled into a meow. His front paws alternated pressing down, contracting and relaxing his rounded black nails. His eyes narrowed to relaxed slits and then blinked, his sign of affection and trust that he’d shown to Anne every morning since she’d rescued him. As far as cats went, Parker was a dignified, although needy, gentleman.

A cool light breeze blew in through the open French doors of the bedroom. The early morning sea air combined with Parkers’ greeting woke Anne. She sat up and Parker put his feet up close to her shoulders driving the top of his head into her cheek, rubbing it back and forth. She said “Good morning to you too.” Anne thought that the sunrise, the breeze and Parkers’ morning ritual made her morning perfect.

Anne, dressed in a white silk sleeping gown, made her way from the bedroom to the living area. Parker trotted alongside. He purred and sauntered around her ankles in a figure eight, pressing his head into her legs and rubbing his cheeks against them. She paused, caressing his silky grey fur stroking him from his ears to the base of his tail. “Let’s get you some breakfast, shall we.” Anne filled and placed Parker’s silver dish down on the honey-colored bamboo flooring. She thought the colors were a gorgeous contrast against the dark grey fur of the cat, and she smiled at the simple beauty. She retreated back to her room for a few minutes, emerging again in simple khaki pocketless pants and a white t-shirt.

She headed out the side door towards the shared garden between the houses. Mrs. Kusta, the widow, as usual was at her dining room window that looked on this space. She was like clockwork, every morning sitting there alone with her old-fashioned white ceramic mug, taking in the view over the water. Anne liked the consistency that this neighbor had provided, as she herself was consistent, someone who ran on routine. Anne picked a handful of lavender, pulled a few weeds and watered the garden. Mrs. Kusta came outside.

“Anne,” she said with a smile “I can’t thank you enough for taking care of the little garden. I know you’re a busy woman but I can’t tell you how much I have appreciated all your help over the past few months since my Arland died.”
“It’s my pleasure.” Anne replied. “And it really hasn’t been a bother at all. If it weren’t for this little garden that you started we wouldn’t have our lavender, now would we?”

“Dearie, if it weren’t for you, this garden wouldn’t have survived, to say nothing of the odd jobs you’ve done for me either. Especially fixing the latch on my dining room window! I don’t know what I’d have done without you, and I just want to tell you how much I appreciate it.”

Anne smiled and stepped through the garden to give Mrs. Kusta a hug. The old woman smelled of a sweet perfume, something like jasmine.

Anne said; “Don’t forget to close that window this evening. It’s likely to be chilly.”

Anne leaned down and clipped a bit more lavender, handed it to Mrs. Kusta and bid her farewell with a warm smile. Mrs. Kusta then slowly shuffled back to her kitchen table calling out “Anne, dear, you take such good care of me.” Anne smiled and retreated inside her home. Mrs. Kusta lived a simple life, she was a quiet little old woman who minded her own business.

Inside, Anne tapped the control to the blinds that faced Mrs. Kustas’ home, then checked her holo-pad ensuring all the blinds were closed except those facing the water from her small dining table. She used the pad to unlock the front door as well, then sat and looked out over the water. She sat motionless, absorbing the view and the sounds of the gulls being carried on the breeze. The blue of the water, the small white gulls that flew above and the soft light of the morning helped to keep her relaxed, carefree and certain. After some time, noticing the clock, she stood and called for Parker. He came trotting to her, the bell on his collar jingling. It reminded her of the old-fashioned tricycle from her youth: whimsical, musical and pleasant. It made her smile. Alise gave her the little red collar with the bell. While Alise said she hated cats, Patrick would always sit on her lap when visiting. Alise never shooed him away.

She took Parker in her right arm, grabbed a few of his favorite cat treats and the catnip plant from the counter. Parker began swatting at them with his paw. She carefully placed the plant in the spare room on the bedside table, the treats on the bed and Parker next to them. She checked the attached bath, ensuring the litter box was clean and that the small water dispenser was flowing for him. On her way out of the room she stroked Parker and scratched under his chin. He purred loudly. She took the collar off; holding it in her hand, left the room and shut the door. Anne walked around her small but comfortable home, ensuring everything was as it should be. The rooms were neat and tidy, the few hand-written notebooks she’d set out upon her long marble Kitchen counter were open to specific pages, and documents that needed to be passed along were set out for the messenger, Molly, to scan and reproduce for work. She wanted to leave nothing unfinished. Her life’s work was here, or at least the copies she wanted to ensure were found today. The rest, well, it would be available soon enough.

As Anne walked back towards the kitchen and her view, she checked the plants to ensure they had enough water, straightened the mat in front of the glass doors to the rear deck, then went into the sitting room. She reached into a small antique wooden box, with the name “Montecristo” burned into its lid. This antique was one of her most treasured. The feel of the old wood and the aroma of lemon oil used to ensure its continued beauty, the old-fashioned metal hinges that creaked slightly when she lifted the lid. The lid had the Montecristo logo, a triangle of six swords surrounding a fleur-de-lis was worn, but recognizable. These little details made her feel alive, so different from the sterile and cold offices of the R&D lab where she spent her days with its holo-screens and grey uniforms. She grabbed some handmade paper and an ink pen from under the lid, as well as a small, but moderately weighted canvas bag. This, after all, was no job for the holo-terminal voice dictation program. This was an occasion for the old-fashioned written word. This was personal, and timing was important.

She sat at the small bistro style dining table, the marble countertop covered with her work. She took a moment to look over the items before her, contemplating their textures and the way the light was reflected or absorbed by each. She let the sunshine on her face, feeling its warmth, inhaling deeply to etch the odor of the salty ocean and decaying seaweed inside her lungs, then exhaled and felt peace. With two taps on the holo-pad the patio doors and blinds closed. Another tap and a single dim light shone over the table, an almost romantic light that cast a warm glow. Anne carefully uncapped the pen, its weight felt nice in her hand, not like the weightless instruments used on the holo-screens at work. The sensation of the paper with its ridges and imperfections of color delighted her fingers and eyes.

Anne wrote; “My name is not important, but what I have done is. When you proceed with the retinal scan you will find I am a registered citizen in good standing. What I do now, I can only hope will have a wide and deep impact upon my fellow citizens. In the time it takes you to enter my home, scan my retinas and begin the investigation, the damage to the Amerist Government and the hand that leads it will have begun. I ask only one thing: when Ms. Pearce arrives, please apologize to her for any inconvenience she suffers due to the time you detain her for questioning regarding my death.”

Once finished, Anne opened the canvas bag and pulled out the matching neuro-stim bolts. These were antiques, heavy in the hand and smooth except for the small ridges at the center of the rounded ends. The military had stopped using these years ago due to the fact that the needed effect was much less than these bolts were designed for. The bolts, once activated, would destroy the circuits in the brain where thought was processed. While the body could be kept alive, if necessary, there was never a chance of recovering any information. Even with the algorithms that Anne had created to read, decode it and translate electrical activity, once the neural pathways were destroyed there was nothing that could be read or retrieved.

Anne pressed the cold smooth bolts to her temples. The adhering compound worked; it was the one thing she’d worried about, as the compound was very old. She folded the canvas bag neatly in half, placed the newly inked paper on top, then the pen as the weight to keep it all together. She heard a small thud in the backroom, like a small weight hitting the bamboo floor, and Parkers bell jingling. She imagined Parker had found and gotten a hold of the catnip, and it made her smile. She gently touched the emergency alarm on the holo-pad.
“What assistance do you require?” the pleasant feminine voice chimed.

“This is Dr. Anne Augustine, please send a SOaC team to my home.” Her voice and hands were steady, as she pressed the disconnect button, cutting off the human voice that was just breaking into the holorecording. She then pulled up her messages that had not yet been sent out, each to a different contact but containing the same documents and research. She said slowly, in a quiet but strong voice, “Send all,” then lightly set the holo-pad on the table. She closed her eyes, exhaled, and simultaneously pushed in on the bolts attached to her temples. Her eyes turned crimson and her nose abruptly began to bleed, her jaw locked and a throaty deep momentary grunt arose. Her arms grew rigid as the electrical impulses batted around inside her head from one side of her skull to the other.

Once the electrical impulses had stopped, her head fell forward striking and cracking the glass top of the bistro table. The blood from her nose flowed slowly through the cracks in the glass, creating red channels that reflected the light above. Her arms fell to her sides, lifeless, and dangling. What remained were the faintest signals from her brain stem, short with long pauses between, causing the false appearance of breathing; they would call it “agonal breathing” on the incident report. Her body had only to wait a short time before the Social Operations and Control Officers arrived to begin the retinal scans. She greeted them with a deep chestnut lifeless gaze and the faint smell of the burned flesh at her temples.

End of Chapter 1

By Jennifer Schmidt

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Moon

Like to say forever
Maybe before that
Sun has had no rival
Double check the stat
Shines so bright
Flaunts its heat
Cooks the sand
Burns your feet
Then there’s mr moon
A cool and welcome light
Always so damn chill
Not spoilin for a fight
Rarely thought of daytime
Couldn’t give two fucks
Time to dip and slumber
The sounds of rooster clucks
But then they say that word got back
Mars and his big mouth
A peaceful planetary friendship
Was quickly headed south
Sun was boasting, not that strange
“Moon freak ain’t so hot”
“Whose a mighty, giant-ass flame
And whose a scrawny dot?”
“Burn his ass!” said Venus
“Stay cool, bro” from Mars
“Thanks so much dear planets,
I’m the king of stars”
Once the plot was planned out
Moonboy zipped it tight
21st of August comes
I will make things right”
Crowds began a forming
A hundred million, maybe more
Toe to toe and arm to arm
From Chuchtown to Port, OR
The day for Moonies sneak attack
Had dawned this day, alas!
The dark turned dark as night and then
Ol Moonboy zipped off fast
He headed home and tried to hide
Lay low till things cooled off
But Sun Kings heat, it hardly waned
Would Moony broil like broth?
But rest assured this all ends well
And cooler heads won out
The prankster made a solemn vow
To steer clear of Sun’s route
Now everything is normal
But one day that will change
And Moony will appear once more
To share the daytime stage

by Acy Burnes Crawford

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Wait

I Sit Like Stone
Upon Stone
I Wait Without Think
You Sit To Listen
But Stone Won’t Say
Get New Stone You Say
You Pray
Stone Don’t Talk
Maybe You Walk
I Sit Like Stone
I Wait
Sunsets Down
You Hear Now
In My Dark
I Sit Like Moon
Above Sea So Dark
You Pray
Now I Say
Now You Hear
See Your Fear
I Sit Like Stone
Upon a Moon
And In My Ear
You Howl Croon
Your Moon You Say
I Go Away

by Nicholas R. Nashick

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To My Wife

Norma Jean

When I say “I Love You” I mean I love you absolutely

I will not Love you more tomorrow …
Because of your noble and magnificent works
Nor will your failings cause me to love you less …

I love you not for the title that you bear in this world
Nor for what you may do or have
Though all that is a part of you …
I love you for the deep down hidden part of you that is real …

The part of you that knows joy and laughter …
and pain … the part of you that knows fear …
and hunger … and loneliness, the you that knows grief
and loss of love … ecstasy and exhilaration …

I am moved by you … I am touched by your need …
your vulnerability …
and I am inspired by your courage
your willingness to go on, your great capacity for love

I know who you are and I am in awe …
My love for you is complete
There is nothing left
to make it better, or more …

Now you know how it is that I love you …
know also that in that way I know you love me
It is finished … our love is perfect …
Let us now simply live and enjoy it!

My Darling, I will love you forever … 

by Alan Wills

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Birthday Gift

A friend’s father gave him 20 gold South African Krugerrands for his 21 Birthday.  He stuck them in a drawer and forgot.

The value then was $35 each = $700.

Now he’s retired and only has Social Security!

Remembering his father’s gift of 20 Krugerrands on his 21st birthday, he found the bag and took it to a coin dealer in Los Angeles.  The coin dealer valued the coins at $1,519.99 each.  This totaled Thirty Thousand Three Hundred and Ninety-Nine dollars and Eighty cents.

What a nice 21st Birthday present!

Me and Sharon – Age 9

“Peter,” Miss Derico, my teacher in the Fourth Grade calls. “I want you to team up
with Sharon. Sit across from her, right here on this part of the grass.” I do as she says.
Cross my legs and sit facing Sharon. Miss Derico puts everybody in the class in pairs, and
makes them sit the same way, facing each other. Our class is outside on this small grass
area near the playground at school. While she places other people like she did us, I just
stare at Sharon and say nothing. But my mind is very happy. You see, I fell in love with
Sharon from the first day I saw her, a couple of months ago when the class started.

I have trouble breathing. She is so pretty, I don’t really know how to describe … but I’ll
try. She looks like this little Chinese doll. She has black, black eyes like some kind of big
cat, like a panther or something. And like an animal, they never show any feeling. Like I
don’t know if she’s happy, or sad. or peaceful or angry. But her eyes which sort of point
up, like a V, are like, how can I say? They like sit on her cheeks, bright, like lamps on a
table. She is so pretty. Her hair is as black as her eyes are. It makes her white face look
whiter. like it’s in a black picture frame. She’s a tiny thing, but would fit great with me
because I’m small for nine years old. I’m always in front of the line in class cause I’m the
smallest.

Once when I first saw her, I tried to talk to her, but she’s just not friendly. Like I said,
maybe she was afraid because she was the only not American looking person, but I don’t
know. When I talked to her, she just seemed to want to get away from me. Not friendly at
all. So, of course I kept away from her till today with this thing the teacher’s doing.

I just sit by her now waiting for instructions. I’m so nervous. I can look at her from up
close with no problem because she doesn’t see where I’m looking. She never looks at my
eyes. She looks there, away, everywhere but at me. Those black eyes that cut into
everything they see like one of Buck Rogers’ Space guns.

Then Miss Derico starts. ”Okay boys and girls. What we’re going to do today is learn
how to really, really listen when people talk to you. Most people that talk to each other
are thinking of what they’re going to say, or want to say, and really don’t hear what the
other person is saying.”

“So today, we’re going to take turns really listening to whatever the other person says.

Okay? Any questions?”

Someone asks who goes first. The teacher answers, “Boys. Now I don’t want any
horseplay. This is serious stuff. Talk about whatever you want, but when I stop you, the
listener has to tell her partner everything she heard him say. So pay attention. Begin.”

Sharon looks down. When I begin. She is not nervous like me, it seems. It seems like she
doesn’t care. “Sharon, I want you to know that I liked you from the first day of class.”
She looks at me really quick, but I can’t tell anything by that. “I mean I liked you like
grownups. Like boy, girl, men and women like each other. I don’t know what it is. But
right now, I have trouble breathing right. It’s like I’ve run for ten blocks.

“Can you tell?” She shakes her head, yes. I’m glad that she’s listening. Then I think,
that’s the assignment.
“Anyway, I can’t really describe what’s happening to me. There’s
changes in my body that I can’t really talk about though.

I want you to to know I would give you any of my toys, or Comic books, or whatever I have, if it will make you happy. That’s what I feel. And I ain’t lying or anything.” I make the Sign of the Cross. “Swear to God. If l could just hold your band and smell your smell. That’s special. I would probably faint. I hope I haven’t embarrassed you or make you hate me. I’d never want to do that, but I … ”

Miss Derico’s voice stops me. “Okay, everybody. It’s now time for the girls to tell their
partners what they heard. Ready? Begin.”

Sharon picks her head up and seems nervous. She’s almost shaking. She pushes her
perfect hair back away from her face, takes a fast look at me. Before she begins, she takes
this deep breath then looks into my eyes. It’s the first time she is really looking at me.

She scratches her face with her first finger, then says. “Peter,” I think she said my name.  Like a song from an orchestra—Peter. She continues, I feel the same about you.

This whole semester, whenever we were in the same class, I constantly looked at the back of your head, or your face when you turned around.” Her eyes are stabbing through mine like, like Superman’s X-ray vision. “I was always afraid to talk to you because you have so many friends around you all the time and I wouldn’t know what to say. I just didn’t want to feel like some idiot. And anyway, Chinese girls are never supposed to talk to boys unless it’s about an assignment or something. ” I can’t believe how fast she‘s talking. Like she going to run out of lime and die, or something.  She changes position. Instead of staying cross-legged, she’ extends one leg straight out like an open scissor. I feel very hot down there.

Then she sounds like she’s been running. “I want you to hold my hand too. You can
smell me too, and I want to smell you.  I think you’re the most,” she raises her
eyebrow and looks away, thinking. Then she reaches out and touches me with two fingers of her right hand. “The most handsome boy in the whole school. Even better than the bigger Juniors and Seniors. Let’s spend more time alone somewhere … ”

Miss Derico breaks up this nice time between Sharon and me. “Okay boys and girls.

That’s good. Now boys, tell your partners what you heard. Ready begin.”

I feel like I have lots of water in my eyes. Thank God I’m not crying tears down my
cheeks. “Oh Sharon. I’m so happy that you like me. I wonder if this is what grownups feel
when they talk about love. All I know is I want to hold you tight and even kiss you if you
let me. I want to do whatever big people do when they love somebody. Let me know if
you want any of my toys or anything. You can have them all. You can talk to me
whenever you want no matter who I’m with.” I begin laughing because I’m so happy. I
can’t talk because I’m laughing so much. Sharon is laughing too. For no reason.

Miss Derico says out loud. “Look class. Look at Peter and Sharon. They’re having such
a good time.

“Do you see what can happen when you listen to others. Those two have not said one
word to each other this whole term.  Now look at them. Good work.”

The End

P.S. Sharon and I touched every chance we could when no one was looking. We even
kissed and things. I did love her, I’m sure, but what did I know at nine.

by  Peter Bruno

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Vietnam War Protest

I’m sitting in the Police car, four levels below the street. There are about one hundred
other officers scattered about waiting. President Lyndon Johnson is across the street, and
up the block inside the Century Plaza Hotel. He is the keynote speaker at a Democratic
Fund raiser. In 1966, during Vietnam, everywhere the President went, he attracted
protesters, mostly loud, and rancorous. Occasionally, depending on the venue, the
occasion, and the Press coverage, the protests turned violent. If the TV crews showed up,
the organized explosive protests followed. It was a premeditated: The “Stop the war,” and
“Get out now,'” mantras of the times.

The cops, of course, were the defenders of both sides. Sandwiched between – keeping
the peace, and protecting the Civil Rights of the demonstrators.

Problems of course exist for the police. To keep the peace, and protect the Rights of
the Demonstrators, what takes priority: Safety, or Rights? The answer is simple, of
course: Safety. So the police have to make the decision of when to act, to use force, if
necessary, and how much. It becomes a basket of snakes.

I’d been at these things before, the front lines of organized anger, sincere, or
otherwise. All the officers in this gopher-hole, four levels beneath the street, have been
briefed, and assigned to specific duties. I’m a member of a skirmish line that will quell
rioters from moving in on the hotel, should it come to that. We uniform guys are
accessorized with helmets, and gas masks; bullet-proof vests, optional. There is lots of
milling around, waiting to be called out. Breathing becomes labored, as the air is thin in
this underground warren, slightly ventilated.

“Hey, Bruno,” my partner Brooks calls from across the aisle, “You want to get into this poker game?”

“Nah, I’ll just hang.”

If you’ve ever been around a group of men waiting, virtually for anything, it’s nerve
racking. Men aren’t waiters, they’re doers. They receive stimuli, and act. In combat, or
adversarial conditions, waiting is debilitating. Men get bored, weary, or worse than that,
nervous and edgy. Husbands in a Maternity Waiting room know the feeling. Before long,
minutes turn into an hour and so forth. Voices of the men lose their vibrancy. Card games break up, and a general malaise creeps in.

Reports and updates indicate that the demonstrators number around two hundred, but
so far, are obeying the various barricades keeping them at bay across from the hotel.
They’re in a huge grassy area as the burgeoning of shopping centers, office buildings, and theaters are still on the drawing board.

The Commander of the response force gets on a bullhorn. “Okay men, listen up.” The
volume is too loud. It screeches and bounces off the walls in the garage. It gets adjusted.
“We just received a report that the people out there are getting really active. Intelligence
reports that they’re planning something big and nasty. So I want,” he looks at some notes
in his hand, “Platoons one and two to deploy and hold your positions. Now everyone hear me, HOLD YOUR POSITIONS. I don’t want you advancing into them for any reason. I
don’t want anyone to retreat and give up a fuckin’ inch of turf. You must keep the line
intact. Somebody goes off half-cocked and weakens the line, we could be overrun.” He
looks around the group of men. “Any questions?” Pause. “Okay, platoons one and two
fall in with your squad leader.”

I’m it. I grab my gear from the car. Put on my helmet, attach the gas mask to my Sam
Browne belt, sheath my baton, and fall in. A bus unloads us across from the hotel and we
form a line behind the barricades, facing the protesters. A platoon consists of about forty
men plus a supervisor. Eighty of us line up about three feet apart. The people shout the
usual things like, ‘Nazi’s, Pigs,’ and other epithets. Many signs are in evidence.
(Virtually screaming in large letters to: Get Us Out– End the War– Johnson is a Killer.)
America the Beautiful, I think. As always, the organizers put women and children
toward the front. It’s a ploy they frequently use. No surprises, so far. Except the number
of demonstrators isn’t a few hundred as reported earlier. It’s swollen to at least a
thousand. Screaming and sobbing pervades the crowd. Little children are terrified of the
noise. They’re in carriages, strollers, in parents’ arms. As the sun gets lower in the sky,
more platoons of officers are deployed.

The President appears on a balcony about ten stories up and waves to the throng.

He’s immediately recognized. The demonstrators get louder. Boos. Jeers. Curses. Isn’t
this a great country?
I think. He shortly disappears from the balcony. Minutes later, the
Presidential helicopter rises from the far side of the hotel whisking away President
Johnson.

My eyes are all over the place. I’m in defensive mode, because I know what’s coming. They dart left, right, up, sweeping the area. Sure enough, as the sun sets entirely,
a pop bottle flies over my head and splatters in the street behind me. Shards fly in all
directions. Rocks and ball bearings soon follow. Officers duck and juke to avoid them.
Some are struck, but hold their positions. We can’t see who’s throwing, but we have spies
in the crowd looking for them, and hopefully arresting them. Of course they’re not dumb,
know of the spies presence, and take counter measures to avoid detection.

The Commander stands on a vehicle and with the bullhorn, announces an “Unlawful
Assembly.” He allows ten minutes for all the demonstrators to clear the area, or be
arrested. TV news crews are getting all this dynamic footage. Every network and local
station has people covering this. The more they cover, the more inspired the crowd gets.

Subsequent to announcements of dispersal or arrest, the order is given to make
arrests. Batons unsheathed now, we advance on the non-believers. Arrest teams, using
plastic handcuffs, do their thing. My partner, Brooks is bleeding from a cut on his face.
We didn’t have face guards in those days. He’s really pissed off. I try to calm him, but he
isn’t listening. He picks out the big young man. “You’re under arrest. Turn around, hands
behind your back.” The guy starts to protest. Before he has three words out of his mouth,
Brooks flails the baton across his thigh. The guy goes down in pain. “I said put your
hands behind you back. NOW!”

The man does not comply. – Whap – another strike across his other leg. The guy
screams in pain. I grab Brook’s arm. “What the fuck are you doing, man? Are you crazy
like these assholes? Stop it.”

“Fuck you, Partner. He’s the asshole who got me on the face.”

“You can’t do this, Brooks.”

“I’m doing it.” He raises his baton again.

I grab his arm. “If you do it, I’m turning you in. He’s defenseless. He’s not attacking
you.”

He pulls his arm from my grasp, kneels and handcuffs the arrestee. “You fuckin’
coward. Piss-ant. Teach you to hurt people and hide. Get your ass up.”

The man writhing in pain says, “I can’t.”

“You can’t? You’re telling me, you can’t?” He waves his baton by his face. “How about I stick this up your ass? You think that would help you get up?” The guy scrambles,
scrambles, and gets to his feet, all with his hands shackled behind his back. “Move, you
puke.” I tag along till we get to the Arrest bus to sort of chaperone.


Forty or so demonstrators were arrested that night. I had none, which was all right
with me. The riot was squashed, along with some egos, and feelings, amongst other
things.

As I watch the news on TV that night, I am amazed at the reporting. It’s like I was
never at the scene. The slants of the news people were like from another planet. Were
they there? Was I there?

“Boisterous crowds showed their disdain of the President. ” “Police were nearly
overwhelmed by the protesters. ” On and on.

My mind could not comprehend the hate and fury many of these people had.

Subjecting children to it was criminal, in my mind. Go ahead, exercise your freedom to
protest, it’s what we’re all about. But let a few ringleaders lead you like sheep to the
slaughterhouse?

The Police were just as guilty in some cases. Hostility leads to bloodshed. For what? Is
that what we’re all about. .. being an American?

The End

by  Peter Bruno

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We Lost

(the day John Lennon was murdered)

Four tiny insects, came from afar
four hairy Beatles, one day would be stars

One was named Paul – the joker was he
one was named Ringo – a Starr you see
one was named George – quiet he be
and one was named John – for peace was he

They all sang together and opened our eyes
with music called Rock, men screamed, women cried
Hero revolutioners because they created
a sound most applauded, a sound some debated

You see they grew out of reach
and they grew far apart
we all regretted hearing
about the Beatles depart

But we remembered what they did
and we remembered who they were
and we prayed for that day
we’d see them together once more

Those reporters and promoters
who had tried to secure
but like Humpty, who remained parted
we never saw them anymore

Cause they exited to their own lives
but we still held a torch
for that one day they would surface
but on December 8th, WE LOST

By Robert Solomowitz

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Sheila S Moss

Born in the midwest, Sheila claims California as her adopted state.

Her parents ran a weekly newspaper in Sun Prairie, WI. She received her BS degree in journalism and education and a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she met her New Yorker husband.

Upon graduation, the couple moved to California where she did PR for the Los Angeles Community College District and the PKU Newsletter for Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

Sheila returned to teaching and retired in 1992, after more than 20 years of teaching. A member of California Writers Club, San Fernando Valley Branch, she enjoys the spirited Friday Critique group.

She’s the mother of two adult sons, Aaron and David and four precious grandchildren ranging from 10 to 12.

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Abilities

I question, where do our abilities come from? Some are learned as academic subjects in school, which most of us use to earn our living.  However, there are people who it seems are born with talents, inherited in their genes passed down from prior generations.  For example:  art, music, the ability to learn multiple languages, just to name a few.  I understand these natural abilities can be improved by great teachers, and hours of practice. However, not so with me! It just seems to happen!

I have two natural abilities!

  1. Thinking on my feet. This was a must in my sales career. It is an ability which dates back to my first school days, whenever the teacher asked me what I was doing? I always had a quick answer.  It may not have always been true, but it kept me out of trouble.

In my mind, I also did sit-coms, seeing pig’s ears and a snout on the teacher for fun!  Nobody taught me this? It just seem to come to me!

  1. Telling outlandish stories, with a straight face, just for fun.  Also, just came to me!

For instance:  At 23 when I came to America I was invited to a party high on Lookout Drive in Hollywood.  Starlets, mostly in their twenties, outnumbered men 5 to 1. My English accent was a big plus with American girls, and soon I had a bevy of beautiful young women paying me lots of attention. One in particular, who looked like a young Marilyn Monroe, separated me from the group and took me outside to show me the view of the Hollywood lights.

“So, Alan, what do you do for a living?”

With a straight-face, I said,  “I’m a Brain Surgeon.”

“Aren’t you very young to be a Brain Surgeon, Alan?”

“I did it as a correspondence course, my dear!”

“How do they do that?”

Wondering how far I could go with this empty-headed beauty,

I answered, “They send a head through the mail!”

As suspected, she bought the whole story.  By the time I left the party I had a hand full of phone numbers. I guess they all wanted to date and be seen with a rich young English Brain Surgeon!

Dog Story:

A few years later while still single, I had two large dogs:  A German Shepard    and a Collie.  I discovered that while walking them in parks, it was a great way to meet girls!

Our local Grocery Store had a special on dog food. I loaded the shopping cart with five cases of caned dog food, with two huge thirty-pound-bags of kibble on top. The cashier, who looked less than five feet tall, had to stand to one side of the loaded cart to speak to me.

“What type of dogs do you have?” she asked.

“A Chihuahua!” I answered nonchalantly.

“Do you think I’m stupid?” she said pulling a quizzical face.

“Oh no! Not at all, miss! It’s not an American Chihuahua! It’s a 350 pound   Chihuahua from the Southern Borneo Jungle.”

I paid the checker, who had a very confused look on her face.  Then I pushed my loaded cart forward, allowing the next person to stand in front of the cashier.

I heard her tell the customer. “That’s what I like about this job. I learn something new every day!”

Here’s another Example:

My wife and I decided to take our Thanksgiving Dinner to a friend’s cabin at Mammoth Mountain in the Sierras. Driving into the village she remembered she had forgotten peas and ice cream.
“Norma, let’s stop at that little convenience store.”

On entering the store, we were greeted by a huge woman, who must have been four-hundred pounds.

You know Wills? I think. I bet this woman has been on every kind of diet!

I put the frozen peas and ice cream on the counter in front of her.

She sneered, saying, ”That’s not much of a Thanksgiving Dinner!”

I couldn’t resist “Oh no miss! It’s a new diet I saw in the L.A. Times!”

Norma, put her hand over her mouth, to hide her laugh, and with watery eyes, said “I have to go to the car, Alan!”

When I got to the car Norma was still beside herself. ”Why do you do that? And with a dead-pan face yet!”

“Just a little fun, my love! However, I bet she takes home frozen peas and ice cream to start one more diet!”

Now in the autumn of my years, having worn out many outlandish stories with a straight face on my wife! I am on a mission to disarm the annoying salespeople who always call at dinnertime. I have written scripts for most of their phony pitches.

The carpet cleaning sales pitch: “I’m so glad you called!” which usually  leaves the person on the other end speechless.

I ask, “Can you get blood out of a carpet?”

“No problem sir!”

“The blood covers about six feet by twenty-two inches!”

This always brings silence, from the other end, followed by a hang-up!

Any product, sales call: “Can you speak up?” To which they usually double their volume. “I’m still having trouble hearing you!” By now they are shouting.

“You don’t have to shout. I’m not deaf you know!” The now familiar click ends the call.

Another, any product call: “Look feller, we just sat down to dinner! I really want to hear about what you are selling! Give me your home phone number, I’ll call you tomorrow at your dinner time, I promise!” Once more the now familiar click ends the call.

I have at least a dozen scripts memorized, which make dinner time fun!

I have no talent for Music or Languages! However, I thank the Lord for blessing me with my ability to think on my feet, and with my somewhat strange sense of humor! Therefore, I believe God must have a sense of humor!

By Alan Wills

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Tug of War

 If we pull together, we can do it …

It was to be held behind Duke’s Place at 1:30PM. The time came, we hustled into the truck from PW.

Driving there was uneventful but there was anxiety all around. I could feel it.

Left over from the earlier meeting, the sounds and the sights of our guys with fists clenched, pumping in the air, “We will win,!!, We will win!!”, kept popping in my head as we proceeded.

When we got there, the whole block looked like the typical CBC grounds, grassy and adequately cared for. Is there, I asked myself, a big enough spot for this, here? After we parked, the first impression was that there was something festive going on nearby.
Today was the annual Seabee Day. Families and kids, casually and colorfully dressed, were all over the place. From the looks of things, I knew we were going to have fun. But I also knew, we were there to take a part in a competitive event. But have fun, nevertheless. Win or loose….

It seemed as if everyone knew where it was going to be held. I followed the crowd. On the left side, I noticed many mounds of loose dirt, as high as six to eight feet placed in a single file, bordering the place on the north. I thought, maaann, these contractors! When will they ever stop digging? There was a lot of activity on these mounds though. Kids were all over it. Up and down. Then up again and down again. I remembered my kid-hood and the mounds of dirt I used to climb upon. I also remembered my “tape worm” incident. The doctor told my dad not to let me play in the dirt any more. – Gee, the stuff you remember at the oddest times- As I approached the ultimate location, the corner of my eye caught this sizable, bare spot in the middle of the field. Closer examination revealed a large mud pit filled with water. Oh my God, what was to become of us? I screamed silently, “I’m not getting in there!! No way, in hell, am I gonna fall in there!” I looked around to see if anyone else had a similar panicky look. I met some indicating eyes that; yes the reaction was mutual. Are we all crazy?

Yes, we were and we were going to go through with it. There was no turning back. Now, one could see the opposing team members. You knew who they were just by looking at them. They were the CB’s, with the bulging muscles and thick necks. Spouses and girlfriends helped them limber up while our guys practiced stretching, and flexing. Then, the thing that was to tie the teams together for each match, the rope, appeared within my sight.

It stretched across the mud pit. I thought, oh man, there is enough rope here to hang every one of us if we should lose. Get rid of your sneakers and wristwatch before you get out there, I reminded myself. Before I knew, the stuff was off and given away to a friend for safekeeping. Then all of a sudden, I found myself standing against the rope trying to grab it as tight as I could.

You could only see a couple of guys before and after yourself. I prayed and hoped that there were more guys on that rope on our side. Anxiety was building up. You could hear the short and sharp gasps of air and clearing of throats as usually heard in a lecture hall. This was the “river of no return”. We were the first to go against a mighty opponent.

Finally, the rope was alive, stretched and hard. There was no time to think or rationalize, but to grab and pull, grab and pull, together, with all the might we had. It would inch away in one direction and then, the other as if it made its own decisions. The air was hot and getting even hotter with the sounds from the deepest chambers of the throat, blasting a single word, puuuullll, puuuullll. Spits and sweats were flying in the air, as the heels sank deeper and deeper into the earth. One cared about nothing.

There was nobody except you and the rope. Puuuullll, puuuullll. The body shook and shivered under the duress. You had to keep your eyes half closed to keep the eyeballs from jumping out. I felt my popping ear drums and fingers swollen with blood and taking an ameba shape. I was hallucinating. There was no pain except the pain one gets from being pulled apart.

All body joints cried in unison. I grabbed the rope and pulled again and again coordinating with the panic stricken scream, puuuullll, puuuullll. Mentally, I had a fix on it. It was allowed to move only one way, towards me. There was a yearlong moment, so it seemed, when the rope stood absolutely still. One never exerted so much stress in the body only to achieve absolute stillness of the thing you were tied to.

Finally, The stillness broke, the rope moved in fractions of an inch. Soon, it started to come in a hurry dragging the opposition into the mud pit.

We ran so far back only to stop short of hitting a tree directly behind. My team was up in the air reaching the heights in triumph. It was hard to distinguish the cheers from yelling of pain. The Public Works team had won the first go around. Shortly, the yelling and gasping sounds subsided. We began the process of recovery and realization of a win.
It was absolutely, positively exhilarating!

The Public Works team won two tug of war matches and lost one match on that Seabee Day in 2 May 1997.

By Tall Fellow

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Escaping to Freedom Through the Eye of a Hurricane

Introduction

Decisions, Decisions…

I am in a difficult position. I have been urged to write my story for teenagers, and the idea seems the right thing to do.  However, I am having a real hard time getting started. Even writing this is a difficult exercise. Where to start? Do I start by giving a background of who I was at the time when my life was turned upside down? Do I tell how a 12-year-old girl faces the hard reality of war? The subject of war was never discussed at home. It is true that I heard about people being displaced. I even went to school with German refugee children who had moved from Germany and Austria because their parents were afraid for their life.  Yet somehow in my child’s mind, it never occurred to me that it could happen to me.

Yet on May 10, 1940, at 6:00 a.m., I was abruptly awakened by my father and told to hurry into the basement for safety. It is only then that I was told that the Germans were attacking Belgium. My father was very cool, calm and collected when he announced what the situation was and what we had to do.  He took charge of what had to be done. He was very confident and definite as to what had to happen. No sooner were we able to get to the first floor that he informed us we would be leaving that same day for Paris. It was as though he became a different person. All he did that day, as I recall, was give us instructions as to what had to happen next.

At the time, I was totally befuddled by the events and suddenly realized that Friday was not at all going to be the kind of day I had anticipated. That particular day was to be a festive day to honor our mothers at school. We had planned to sing songs from Hansel & Gretel. I was going to stand by the pianist and turn the pages of the music. I was so thrilled by the opportunity. I was hoping that my mother would be proud of me. Also, I had worked really hard on a handmade napkin for a tray. It was really beautiful. The night before I had bought some sweet pea flowers for my mother. All that was not going to take place and I was really sad about it. Instead, I managed to hand my mother the napkin I had made during the previous month. All I was told was to pack and be ready to leave that day.

I think this was really the first time that I had to pack for myself and I did not know what I should take. Before I knew, it was time to leave for the train station. My father informed us that we were leaving that day at 4:00 p.m. He was going to stay a few more days to get his taxicab business ready. What he did not tell us was that he had offered his services to the Belgian army. They refused his help. So instead, he took it upon himself to save as many people as he could so that friends could leave Belgium, easily and travel away from the main routes being attacked by the German air force. My father knew the back roads of the country because at one time he used to drive a motorcycle and never traveled the main roads.

In the meantime we were waiting for him, hidden in the outskirts of Paris getting his whereabouts known to us through a friend who was in contact with him. He was risking his life every day. He stayed in Brussels until the last minute, twenty minutes before the Germans arrived in Brussels.

By Dina Klayman

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Dina Souchotinsky-Klayman

Born in January 1928, Dina Souchotinsky-Klayman was 12 when Hitler sent his troops into Belgium following the outset of World War II.

The invasion on May 10, 1940, started her family on a seven-month journey across France, Spain and Portugal, on the way to the relative safety of England.

Dina Klayman recently completed a biography about her father and World War II memories, and she’s seeking a publisher to print the book called “Escaping to Freedom in the Eye of a Hurricane.”

In the years before the war, Dina’s father, Voulf Souchotinsky, turned in many spies to the Belgian authorities, and he was active in getting German Jews over the border so they could escape to unoccupied countries in the west.

 

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CHUMBA

The tall grass that surrounded the house rustled softly as the last of the night breezes faded away and the warmth of the day seeped in from the open windows.  With night gone the heat arrived, accompanied by the sounds of children playing in the open field beyond the perimeter of the house, and as the last blades of grass fell silent with the dying of the wind, the yells and squeals of the children rose up in a crescendo.  The occupant of the house much preferred the muted sounds of the wind.

Chumba was eighty-six years old, although he wouldn’t have known that.  He knew only that he had seen many years go by, that after his wife had died each year seemed far longer than was normal, and that he had no more friends left.  In reality, however, he never had many friends, and those few that he had known belonged to a time long ago, when his wife was alive; everyone after that was no more than an acquaintance.  He sometimes wondered why he was still here when everyone he knew had departed this world.  Chumba would ask God why he was still alive and not residing with Him so that he could be reunited with his old friends and especially with his beloved Abadeet.  He would ask the question, slowly and deliberately framing it in his mind, in a manner which he thought would indicate to the maker that he showed the proper respect, that he did not overstep his position as a humble man still among the living, but that he merely thought his age and the fact that he had lived what he considered to be a good life entitled him to a response.  Then he would sit and patiently await an answer.  He usually fell asleep.

In spite of the fact that Chumba thought that he had led a good life, there were many who would not agree with him.  A life as seen through the eyes of the individual living that life often takes on qualities and aspects not at all seen or appreciated by the objective observer.  And for those who come in contact with that person, their view is often quite contrary since they see the other’s life through their own equally flawed eyes.  In point of fact, Chumba had led a good life, at least until his wife, whom he had loved with a singular devotion, died of Malaria many years ago.  Inconsolable for a full year after her death, he sat outside their simple dwelling, letting his family and friends bring him sustenance and take care of their two young children, but refusing all efforts to involve him once more in the life of the village.  He would disappear for days at a time, much to the consternation of his family, and walk alone through the heavy growth and wooded plains that surrounded the small settlement.  Finally, thirteen months after his wife died, Chumba picked up his children, packed their few belongings and said goodbye to family and friends.  Although by most people in the large cities of the world this would not be considered at all unusual, it was quite extraordinary by the standards of his culture; and the people of the village, after futile attempts to change his mind, only looked at him with sad eyes, shaking their heads and whispering to each other.  It was due, they thought, not merely to the grief that he suffered, but to a certain arrogance, a flaw in his personality that allowed Chumba to believe that bad things should not happen to him because he was better than other people.

None of these thoughts occurred to Chumba.  He knew only that he needed to be away from the memories that haunted him and, as so many do, mistakenly thought that the repository of a life now gone could be in a physical place.  And so, early on the morning of his departure, he set fire to their wood, mud and grass house, leaving everything that belonged to his departed Abadeet inside.  The once familiar objects only served to rekindle the hurt, loss and anger that flamed within him, even as the fire now destroyed what he took to be the physical incarnation of that overwhelming hurt.  The smoke slowly spiraled upward in the calm morning air, an occasional light breeze carrying the smell of burnt memories to him, stinging his eyes.  When only a smoldering circular pile of debris remained, he turned, and taking his children in tow, walked out of the village without once looking back.  Although his nostrils were soon free of the smell of smoke,  the memories of his past life were still inexorably enmeshed in his mind.  He left the village with more baggage than he knew.

Chumba walked for many days, shunning the villages where he knew his relatives lived, preferring instead the anonymity of the small cities or the isolation of the open plains.  If it were not for his young children, he would never have stopped walking and might very well have become one of those perpetual wanderers that one encounters from time to time, carrying their meager possessions from village to town and on to the next village, in search of some undefined mark, a nebulous goal that even they could not define.  After two weeks Chumba passed through a small enclave of huts where the villagers knew his tribe from past trading and were on good terms, but where he had no relatives.  Passing through this little village he continued for several kilometers until the wooded terrain opened up to a pleasant meadow, surrounded on three sides by thick stands of trees.  The fourth side was bordered by scrub and young saplings and offered a view of the wide expanse of plain beyond, where large herds of  wildebeest and topi shimmered in the afternoon heat.  Here he would make a new home for himself and his children.

The months spent building their house were the best that he had known in quite a while.  The hard work was a distraction; and as often happens when a cure is not available, a distraction must suffice.  Just how successful this strategy became was attested to by the size of his house, for it was easily five times larger than any of his neighbors in the nearby village and certainly larger by far than any he had known in his own village.  And the quality, too, surpassed that which was known in the region.  Chumba built a house, not a hut, a house whose walls were made of wood rather than the woven and staked twigs of most dwellings in the area and whose floors were finely smoothed planks.  If it were possible to make the boards any smoother he would have, because the untold hours spent concentrating on evening the surface of that wood pushed his demons further into his unconscious and led to a state which he interpreted as tranquility, but which would be better described as denial or, perhaps more appropriately, ignorance.

In any case, he had provided his children with a house; and if he was not all that a father should be, at least he made sure that they were protected from the elements, had food to eat and clothes to wear.  He saw to it that they attended school, impressed upon them the importance of learning, and encouraged them to play with the other children.  Recluse though he was, he knew that his children’s place in the world should not be held to that of an out of the way house at the fringe of the African plain.  And so they grew, both in body and mind, and as their outlook expanded, so their father’s contracted.  Although they lived in the same house, they inhabited different worlds; and when the ebb and flow of life, the happenings in the world around them, beckoned to them, they left the eddy of their father’s insular existence and were quickly swept into the current of society.  Chumba was not happy to see them go for he knew that one of his last ties to the world around him would now be severed.  He did not, however, hold them back in any way, but rather, offered them encouragement and assurances that he would be all right.

On the day that they left, both bound for the town 10 kilometers away where the bus would take them to the city and the university, Chumba said farewell, told them again not to worry, and, after watching them until they were out of sight, turned his chair away from the direction they had taken and sat staring out at the African plain.  As the sun approached the horizon and took on hues of red and gold, he still sat, slowly rocking himself in his chair.  Off to his left the movement of a group of reticulated giraffes caught his eye, and he shifted his gaze to them as they moved majestically across the plain to the next acacia tree.  In a small town along a dusty main road, he had once seen a postcard outside a shop, that pictured a giraffe at sunset with the golden orb of the sun behind it.  The beauty of it stopped him in his tracks; and he stood there, transfixed, staring and wondering why he, who had lived here all his life, had never seen such a sight.  Chumba looked back at the setting sun as the giraffes began stripping the leaves that made up their evening meal and he thought how nice it would be if they were set off against the backdrop of that blazing sphere, but he did not think they would oblige.  He wanted very much to see with his own eyes what was pictured on that postcard years ago.

Time passed, the years became decades, when one morning Chumba awoke to a ripping sound and upon throwing open the shutters of his bedroom found he was staring at a rather large hippopotamus pulling up great clumps of grass from the meadow that reached to within several meters of his house.  Now this both amused and puzzled Chumba for it was most unusual to see a hippo so far from water, but even though he could not comprehend why such a thing had occurred, it was, nonetheless, funny to see such a large beast calmly munching on his grass, as if it were a breakfast guest curbing its appetite while it waited to be invited in.  After his amusement passed he became worried because such a large and powerful animal could easily demolish his house if it set its mind to it.  However, Chumba had nothing to fear.  After twenty minutes or so the great beast lumbered off into the forest, presumably, he thought, returning to the river about a kilometer away.

Spending little time thinking about the unusual event of the morning, he went about his chores and began cleaning the rooms of his two children.  He straightened them up and started to think that he should store away most of the items left behind because he knew in his heart that it was unlikely they would return, except for a rare visit and, perhaps, upon his death.  However, something welled up inside him, some emotion that he did not understand, neither in its origins nor its meaning, a feeling that was nevertheless strong enough to stay his proposed action.  He did not understand why, but he simply closed the door to each of their rooms and turned away.  The rest of the day he sat in his chair and stared out at the plain.  When he retired for the night, it was with a sense of anticipation and apprehension.  Again, emotions whose origins he could not fathom.  Restlessness and strange dreams dogged his sleep and Chumba woke up tired and apprehensive the next morning.

Throwing open the shutters he wondered if he would see the hippo again.  Perhaps worry about the animal had been the cause of his uneasiness.  With both relief and disappointment he scanned an empty meadow.  Busying himself with the preparation of a breakfast that was far more elaborate than his wont, he passed much of the morning.  When, finally, the last of it was consumed or put away for later, he made his way to the porch to begin the lonely vigil he kept, sitting in his rocker and staring off into the plain or the nearby forest, the solitary observer of he knew not what.  Chumba opened the front door and was stopped in his tracks by what he saw.  A lioness lay in the tall grass, not twenty meters from his door, and calmly licked her paws, grooming herself, with only an occasional glance in his direction.  One hand still on the doorknob and the other pressed against the door jamb, Chumba stood there in disbelief and amazement for quite some time before slowly shutting the door.

He noticed that his knees felt weak and his hands trembled slightly and it was only then that he became consciously aware of the potential danger of this killer that sat outside his house.  For calm as the lioness seemed, and as graceful and elegant as it appeared, it was, nonetheless, the supreme hunter of the African plain.  He slumped in a nearby chair to try to think this out, his breathing still heavy.  Suddenly, he jumped up and closed the shutters on all of the windows and, as an afterthought, bolted the front door before sitting again.  No sooner was he settled in the chair than he arose again and began pacing back and forth, occasionally peeking out between the shutters at the lioness, still at its leisure, enjoying the cool quiet of the morning.  What was it doing so close to the village, not to mention the fact that it was right in his front yard?  He pondered this for several minutes, unable to come up with a reasonable explanation.  The animal, by its behavior, was not in a hunting mode, nor had it just completed a kill, and also unusual was the fact that it was alone; there was no sign that he could see of a nearby pride.

Chumba was still lost in thought when he heard a loud snort and the trampling sound of something big treading on the tall grass.  Hurrying to the side window he peered out, his pupils dilating and an audible sucking in of his breath coinciding with his recognition of the hippo from the day before.  The large animal slowly ambled to within ten meters of the house, glanced up briefly at Chumba, then lowered it’s head and began tearing clumps of grass from the meadow, idly chewing as its ears twitched to fend off insects, moving rapidly and erratically in contrast to the almost slow motion of its giant mouth.  As Chumba stared he noticed another set of legs visible just beneath the belly of the great beast, quite small compared to the stump like legs of the hippopotamus that filled much of his field of vision.  “This is just not possible,” he thought.  Quickly moving to another window for a different vantage, Chumba threw back the shutter without any attempt at discretion, and confirmed what he thought he saw.  Behind the hippo was its young calf.  As each unlikelihood followed another it became easier to accept a new unusual event, but the casual presence of a young hippo and a lioness almost within spitting distance of each other was just too much to believe.  He hurried back to the front window to see if perhaps the lion had left but, sure enough, it lay there, occasionally licking its paws and looking serenely content.

Chumba sank into a chair, quite perplexed and out of breath although he had not done anything physically taxing.  He stared blankly as a myriad of thoughts raced through his head.  “Who can I tell?  Will they believe me?  How can I leave the house without being killed by the lion?  Why is this happening to me?”  The last question turned around and about in his head, seemingly with a throbbing urgency and Chumba began to think that what was happening was not a random quirk of animal behavior but something much more significant, something that was in fact happening to him for some specific, as yet unknown, reason.  As he pondered this, slowly rocking in his chair, he heard a faint high pitched noise and cocked his head to one side, turning his best ear toward the window.  The sounds grew louder and he recognized the laughing and squealing of the young children from the village.  “Damn them,” he thought, “they’ll scare away my animals!”

In the blink of an eye he appropriated the animals and their unusual behavior as belonging to him and the children as interlopers in his private world.  Chumba dashed to the door, threw it open and began yelling at the children entering the meadow surrounding his house.  It was only after the children had fallen silent that he realized the hippos and the lion were nowhere to be seen.  He turned left, then right, then peered around the corners of his house, then turned completely around.  To the children this was a funny sight and they looked at each other and at the old man and began giggling.  Chumba yelled at them again and stormed back into the house, but not before scanning the area again for “his” animals.  As the door clicked shut behind him, the children advanced into the meadow and began to play.

For the past year or so the children of the nearby village had adopted the meadow surrounding Chumba’s house as their own playground, since all the ground closer to the village was too wooded to allow them to play any kind of decent game of soccer or even to just run around aimlessly with the apparent purposefulness that only the young can bring to such an endeavor.  Chumba did not like them playing there and would yell at them; but after an initial retreat the youngsters would return and after a few weeks it became apparent to all concerned that the perseverance of the kids far outweighed the determination of Chumba to evict them.  And so an uneasy truce prevailed, the children keeping what they considered a respectful distance from the house and by and large ignoring him.  Chumba would yell at them from time to time but, for the most part, did nothing more than that, except perhaps occasionally shaking his fist.

While it was true that almost all of the children ignored him, there were two that did talk to him from time to time although their encounters were more often confrontations than anything else.  Juji, ten years old, with a quick wit and a bearing beyond his years, was the acknowledged leader of the group.  When the children first began to play in the meadow and Chumba would run out to yell at them, it was Juji who paraded up to the porch and stood, arms akimbo, not two feet from him and said, “Old man, why are you so angry?  You should not yell at us!  We are not hurting you; we do not steal from you or damage your property.  We just want to play.”  Chumba had stood there, quite taken aback, the color rising in his face.  Then he began to yell and shake his fists and, as brave as he was, Juji nonetheless took several steps back, contemplating whether a full retreat was in order.  It was then that his younger sister, Elumbu, strode right up onto the porch where the boy and the man stood facing each other.  She walked between them and in an exaggerated stance that only a five-year-old can assume,  planted her legs widely apart and held each arm straight out to her side, palms facing outward.  She looked like a drunken police officer stopping traffic at a busy intersection.

As she shook her head slowly from side to side Elumbu said in her most parental voice, “Play nice or you’ll have to sit by yourself!”

In earlier years Chumba would have burst out laughing but now his anger suppressed any such lightheartedness and he shouted at them, “Just go away and leave me alone!”  Turning his back on the children he stormed into his house and slammed the door.  Looking at each other with puzzled faces, Juji and Elumbu slowly walked down off the porch and, along with the other children, retreated to the edge of the meadow, and continued their games.

Over the ensuing weeks more and more animals appeared in the early morning hours in the field surrounding his house.  Grazing animals and predators.  Birds of all sorts.  A conglomeration of African wildlife that had no business being together.  Later each morning, as if on cue, the animals would walk off into the surrounding woods and brush, the birds would take wing and the meadow would fall silent.  After a brief interval the sounds of the approaching children would penetrate the quiet and soon their laughter and squeals filled the air.

This pattern continued for many months until one day, near the beginning of the new school year, the early morning quiet was broken not by the noises of the usual menagerie, but by the penetrating clamor of an approaching jeep as it loudly ran through its gears.  Chumba stood in his doorway, holding the handle of the partly open door and watched the approaching vehicle, his gaze alternating between the jeep and the dust cloud it left in its wake.  His eyes moved from one to the other as if following a tennis match.  After a few moments he found himself staring more and more at the dust, watching it swirl up, float lazily in the air and then slowly dissipate.  He became lost in a memory from a time long ago, his eyelids fluttered closed and the smell of smoke seemed to fill his nostrils.  He was jerked back to the present by the honking of a horn as the army green jeep, bearing the insignia of the Ministry of the Interior, came to a stop in front of his house.  It was driven by a sergeant wearing camouflage fatigues as well as a bored, somewhat irritated expression, as if this drive to a distant house near a remote village was an intrusion on some project he had planned for the day.

In the back seat sat a young man wearing a light-colored suit that seemed a size too big, and rimless spectacles that seemed too small.  A thin leather briefcase was on the seat next to him, its metal clasps glinting in the morning sun.  The young man hesitated a moment, expecting that the sergeant might open the door for him; but since the driver sat almost motionless, staring ahead with a disinterested expression and thinking of all the more useful things a man of his obvious talents could be doing, the representative of the Ministry of the Interior sighed, opened the door and slid his six-foot-one-inch body out of the vehicle.  He reached back to retrieve his briefcase and then walked in a rather stiff, almost military posture to the porch and up the steps, stopping in front of Chumba, who still stood holding on to the door.  The Second Assistant to the Sub-minister of the Interior, for that was his official title, was quite thin in addition to being tall, and this combination, coupled with his youthful appearance, made his movements seem somewhat awkward, an attribute made worse by his poorly fitting suit.  However, it was his voice that was most striking, for the deep resonant sounds, almost lyrical in quality, that emerged were in such contrast to the physical image which he projected, that a listener, meeting him for the first time, was quite taken aback.  “Good morning, I expect that you are the one called Chumba.”  He held out a bony hand.

Chumba, almost as amazed by his current visitor as he was by the appearance of the animals months ago, stood staring for a moment, and just before the pause became awkward, replied, “Yes, that is my name.  I am Chumba.”  He accepted the skeletal hand.  It was cold and dry.

“Well, sir, the Ministry of the Interior has something important it must discuss with you.  Can we go inside?”

They sat by an irregularly shaped low table, about a meter in greatest dimension, fashioned from a single piece of a fallen acacia tree.  Its top was bare except for two small carved animals, “Chumba’s animals”, the first two of the many that visited his property each day and which were the first in a series he planned to whittle.  The Second Assistant Subminister sat in a simple chair, made of mangrove wood, its various members held tight by twisted reeds, rubbed smooth and polished with acacia oil.  He placed his briefcase flat on the table, careful to avoid the wooden animals.  Chumba pulled his inside rocker across the table from the young man and nervously rocked back and forth.

Placing his hands on his knees, leaning forward slightly, and under the watchful eyes of the hippo and the lioness, the ministry man began, “The land where you live, where this house is located, is very special.  It is special to all of the people of our country, and, in fact, to all of the people of the whole world.  For this reason the Ministry believes it must be preserved and protected.”  Here he paused and leaned back, as if this brief prologue had sufficed to impart all the meaning, significance and consequences of this edict from the Ministry of the Interior.

Chumba continued his rocking and stared expectantly at the suited man, waiting for him to go on.  The deep voice, preceded by the merest of sighs, continued; and when, after several more minutes, the real significance of what he was saying became clear, Chumba continued to look at him although he no longer heard what was said.  For what he presented made Chumba weak-kneed and ill.  The land around his house, the woods, the meadow he looked out upon and the plains beyond were all to be part of a new game preserve being developed by the Ministry.  Of course, no private dwellings could be allowed and even though the boundary of the new park was to be just one hundred meters to the south of his house, Chumba would have to move.  No exceptions could be allowed the young man from the ministry emphasized; everything must be done strictly according to the laws of the land and the rules of the Ministry of the Interior.  There would be some sort of compensation from the government for the loss of the house; but the economy being what it was, it would not amount to very much, certainly not enough to have a new house built, and that was what would certainly have to be done since Chumba was too old to build another house himself.

The agent from the Ministry talked for what seemed to be a very long time, then reached forward and released the latches of his briefcase.  The crisp staccato snap as they popped open caused Chumba to blink and refocus his attention on the man sitting opposite him.  “Here is the order from the ministry of the Interior, signed by the Minister and the President himself,” the agent said as he removed a small sheaf of papers and placed them almost reverently on the table.  “And here is a statement that everything has been explained to you–and a place here,” pointing with an extended finger, “for you to sign your name or make your mark, indicating that you agree with and accept the order.”  A brief pause.  “Not that you have any choice, I’m afraid, but still, everything must be done properly.”  Still holding the papers in front of him in his left hand, he reached in his jacket pocket with the other and produced a pen which he offered to Chumba.  Chumba made no move to take either the pen or the papers; and finally, after an awkward clearing of the throat the young man put down the papers on the table and returned the pen to his pocket, making sure that the clip was properly engaged on the front of the pocket.  “I will return in ten days to pick up the signed statement.”  “You must be out of your house in 60 days.  Bulldozers will begin demolition on that day.”  He closed his briefcase, his thumbs moving in synchronized arcs as they shut the latches.  He stood up, thanked Chumba for his time, walked to the door and down the steps to the waiting jeep.

Chumba continued to rock as the sound of the car receded in the distance.  Holding on to the two figurines he had carved with such care, he shut his eyes and a silent tear welled up in his eye and rolled down his grizzled cheek before it was swallowed up by the dry air.  For the next several days he did even less than usual, spending almost the entire day sitting in his outside rocker on the porch and staring out at the plains.  He ate little, slept only briefly and fitfully, and barely noticed the animals that still surrounded him each morning, or the children that surrounded him each afternoon.  Usually a man of action, Chumba did not know what to do.

Finally, after a week, Juji walked hesitantly up the steps and over to where Chumba sat in his rocker staring out at the plain.  Chumba seemed not even to notice his approach, and it was not until Juji said his name twice that he turned to look at him.  “What is the matter with you, old man?  You don’t even yell at us any more.  Are you sick?”

A fleeting, melancholy smile crossed his face as Chumba thought about his life during the past months; and at that instant he realized how much the spirits of the children and the animals had in common and how, in his surprise and joy over the unusual appearance of the animals, he had resented, ignored and taken for granted the more familiar miracle of children playing.  It was, indeed, a miracle, he thought.  These noisy, running, laughing children were the world’s inheritance from those who had gone before; it was like looking into the future; and with that realization, paternal thoughts, long dormant, welled up in him along with regret for his behavior towards the children.  Chumba reached out for Juji, wanting to take his hand or touch his shoulder to let him know that he now understood, but Juji, startled by the movement, took a step back.  Sadness suddenly overwhelmed Chumba and tears formed in his eyes.  No sooner had this emotion surfaced when Elumbu, who, on silent feet, had followed her brother to the porch, stepped out from behind him and took Chumba’s hand in her two small hands and said, “Don’t cry, grandfather, everything will be alright.”

“He’s not our grandfather,” Juji stated.

“Yes he is!  He’s everybody’s grandfather,” she said emphatically.

An emotional dam seemed to burst in Chumba and his tears flowed freely as he attempted to stifle his sobs.  Juji, obviously discomforted, took another step back, but Elumbu moved even closer, enfolding both her arms around his outstretched forearm and resting her head on his shoulder.  Not willing to yield control of any situation to his younger sister, Juji stepped forward again.  “OK, you can be our grandfather.”

“Everybody’s grandfather,” she repeated.

“OK, OK, he is grandfather to us all.  He is the grandfather of the world!”

Chumba looked at them both and smiled broadly through his tears.  There was so much he wanted to tell them.  Where to begin?  He laughed out loud and Elumbu joined in while Juji hesitated, looking from one to the other, and then his mouth curled up and he, too, laughed.  For a moment, Chumba felt lighter than he had in many weeks; but then his current problem intruded, like the heavy dark thunder clouds that sometimes formed over the plains at the beginning of the rainy season and he was once again enveloped in melancholy.  Juji noticed the emotional change and said, with the sound of genuine concern in his voice, “What is wrong, old…”  A quick reproving look from his little sister.  “What is wrong, Grandfather?”

“Tell us,” she said.

Chumba looked at the two innocent faces looking expectantly at him and wondered if he should burden them with his problem–wondered, too, if they would even understand the enormity of what would happen to him.  But who else could he talk to?  There was no one.  So, with a deep sadness in his voice, he explained what had transpired during his meeting with the representative from the Ministry of the Interior and that he would have to leave this house and this place, both of which he loved more than he had suspected.  The children looked at each other and unspoken thoughts must have passed between them because when they looked back at Chumba, they both spoke in unison, “We can move your house!”

Nodding his head, Chumba said, “If only you could.”

“Oh, we can,” Juji intoned.

“Don’t worry,” Elumbu added, as they turned and walked down the porch steps to rejoin and confer with the other children.

He smiled as he watched them hurrying across the meadow, while he silently chastised himself for all of his past anger at these young wonders that might have provided so much of what had been missing from his life for so many years.  “Truly, I am a foolish, old and sad man,” he thought.  He sat, alone and lost in thought, until the onset of the cool evening breezes roused him.  Chumba stood, scanned the darkening plain stretched out before him, slowly directing his gaze from the far left to the far right, as if looking for something, then turned and went into his house.  After a light supper he retired for the night.  He slept soundly that night, and more deeply than he had in many years.  If dreams intruded, they were of the most gentle kind; and a peace, unknown for years, filled his slumbering mind.

The next morning, Chumba was jolted awake.  Somewhat confused, he sat up in bed and looked around.  He could tell by the sun coming in through the window that he had slept much later than usual.  Suddenly his bed seemed to lurch forward and he noticed that the carved hippo he had placed on his night stand was shaking.  When he got out of bed he could hardly keep his balance and as he staggered towards the front door he could think only that this must be a major earthquake.  Moaning softly, he rushed down the steps and when he looked back at the house, his jaw went slack and he stared, opened mouthed and wide eyed, for his house was indeed shaking and lurching.  But there was no earthquake.  Chumba stood on solid, unmoving earth and watched as his house slowly, in fits and starts, receded inch by inch.  He now became aware of shouting and yelling, high-pitched orders barked out from every direction mingled with snorts, trumpets and assorted animal noises.

Tied to his house were numerous ropes, perhaps hundreds, all stretched taut.  Hurrying to the side he saw that these all led into that part of the meadow to the south of his house and there, tethered to the lines, was an army of animals.  Every beast imaginable.  Every animal that had ever come to visit the meadow and many more besides.  If this collection was like an army, then Juji was the general, standing out in front and urging on his troops, with little Elumbu running from the hippos to the elands shouting encouragement.  Even the children held tight to one rope and strained to contribute what they could.  It was too much for Chumba.  He sank to his knees, slowly pitched back to a sitting position and watched, completely dumbfounded, as his house inched its way south until it came to rest beyond the boundary of the new park.  The ropes went slack and a collective sigh of relief arose,  animal and human voices mingling together.

Juji strode over to where Chumba sat, followed by several of the children and a few of the animals.  “I told you we could move your house.”  A big grin, seemingly larger than the small face it inhabited, spread out as he continued, “Now, you don’t have to move and we can all come to play each day.”  The lioness stepped out from behind Juji, brushed past him and walked over to Chumba.  She slowly nodded her head, then turned her face towards Juji and, looking back once more at Chumba, turned with feline grace and walked off into the meadow.  Elumbu rushed up to Chumba, took his hand and tried to pull him up to a standing position.

“Let’s go into your new house, Grandfather.  It is a new house, you know, because it’s in a new place, so we must go and see if it looks any different.”  With her brother’s help they walked Chumba the hundred or so yards to the house as the army of animals disbanded.  On unsteady legs, his mind a spinning vessel of half formed and confused thoughts, he let himself be guided by the children to his new home and when he walked into his once familiar house and sat in his well-worn rocker, running his fingers over the arms, feeling all the well-known curves and imperfections in the wood he was, nonetheless, overcome by the sensation that he was indeed in a new and somewhat strange place.

The children stayed with him the rest of the day and just before sunset Elumbu prepared a light supper which she left on the table for him.  She and her brother said good-by, and with their concern for him visible on their faces, asked Chumba once more if he would be OK, before turning and starting the walk back to their village.  “See you tomorrow,” they shouted back in unison as they headed across the meadow.

Chumba sat for some time further in his rocker, and it was not until the moon had risen high in the night sky that he eased his exhausted body up and went to the table to eat his evening meal.  He felt somehow troubled.  He noticed a strange new feeling and tried to concentrate in order to identify it and perhaps find its cause.  Suddenly, fork in mid-transit, he paused, and as the new feeling washed over him in rolling crescendos, he realized that what he now felt was peace.  And as the realization struck him full force, Chumba began to cry, great heaving sobs of joy and relief, the kind of tears known only to those who, fearing the tragic death of a loved one, are thankfully surprised to find him alive and well.  Chumba had found himself again, after many years, alive and, yes, still well, although certainly showing the effects of the passage of time.  Peace.  Peace with the children, with the animals and, at long last, peace with himself.

That night he slept deeply.  When he woke, there were several animals as usual in the meadow, as if nothing at all had happened the day before.  Chumba knew, though, that things were different now and in fact, would never be the same again.  Later that day when the children came he sat on the porch and watched them, waving from time to time, and once, even going down the steps to join them in a game of catch.  Over the ensuing weeks, children would come up the porch to ask him a question or just to talk to him and soon he knew them all, but Juji and Elumbu remained his favorites and they would often talk for long periods, Chumba truly becoming the grandfather neither had.  The peace and lightness that he felt not only lifted Chumba’s spirits but seemed to imbue him with renewed physical strength and a sense of well being.

This halcyon time went on for many months, a year passing in the blink of an eye.  Soon thereafter, however, the children noticed that Chumba descended from his porch less and less until one day in early autumn Juji realized that he had not ventured farther than his front porch for several weeks.  Chumba, too, noticed a difference, felt the vitality ebb, only to be replaced by an ever more pernicious fatigue and he sensed that he would soon be leaving this world which, until recently, had been only a source of anguish and pain. This did not frighten him, nor did it sadden him, but whereas he knew that several years ago he would have faced death with a heavy heart full of guilt, anger and regrets, he could now confront his own mortality with a calm acceptance that would have been unknown to him in years past.

When the day came that he could no longer leave his house to sit on the porch, the children would take turns keeping him company as he sat in his chair and looked out the window, often falling asleep for much of the day.  His weakness increased noticeably, day by day, until his time was finally at hand.  Little Elumbu gently rocked him as he sat in the worn cane rocker and, standing on her tip toes, reached up and touched his head each time the chair reached the apogee of its backward motion.  His slow easy breathing mirrored the contentment and peace that he felt.  Slowly turning his head, Chumba gazed out the window at the setting sun and paused in his rocking.  As he stared, his lids felt heavy and the scene at which he looked occasionally blurred, although, to tell the truth, the old man never noticed this.  The last sounds he heard were the voices of the children rising above the soft noises of the approaching night, Juji’s voice louder than the rest.  Chumba smiled.  And the last thing he saw, through fluttering lids, was a giraffe walking with infinite grace across the red disk of the setting sun, a shining golden glow outlining the animal and expanding, seeming to fill the whole orb, as if the sun, in setting, was reborn.

The End

by Alan S. Bricklin

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Robert Solomowitz

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Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Rob works as the Clinic Director of a reversing Diabetes clinic in Sherman Oaks. He resides in Calabasas, CA, not far from his two grown kids who are the inspiration of his life, since he lost his dad when he was only three.

Rob started writing poetry in his teens. Most of his early writing was inspired by his relationships with girls and the feelings he had in nature. He graduated from Manhattan based Baruch College and moved to Los Angeles the day after his college graduation because of a girl.

Rob has won poetry contests and been published over the years and after writing hundreds of poems, Rob started writing children’s stories in rhyme, because it was more of a challenge. Rob’s favorite author was Dr. Seuss and to this day, Rob feels there’s a little Dr. Seuss in everything he writes.

And Rob will continue writing poetry and children’s stories because he feels…it is his passion.

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A Heavenly Pizza

I couldn’t lose in despair, I wouldn’t beg in defeat
As I set out to find the perfect pizza to eat

Searched the high seas, even sailed Down Under
Hired a private eye, but that sure was a blunder

No it had to be me, me by myself
No expense would be spared, not even my health

If I were to find the perfect pizza to eat
I needed to focus on one miraculous feat

To amass enough wisdom which I could empower
As I searched for the pizza that I would devour

I rode cars, boats and buses, trains and I flew
To the White House and Buckingham Palace too

No oven unopened, every chef would be checked
Stadiums, commissaries, lakes where teens necked

I was dying to find the perfect pizza to eat
Nothing would stop me, I could not be beat

Days turned to weeks, then to months, then to years
A taste of that pizza would end all of my fears

Then one day I was stunned, it was hard to perceive
That incredible aroma, I just couldn’t believe

I died as I knew that I had found my true love
A Heavenly Pizza, a gift from Above

By Robert Solomowitz

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