Saturday, October 25, 2008

Shattered Lives

In response to the most recent Word Catalyst Prompt:

The wild graffiti depicting goblins, ghouls, and skulls personified the spirits that supposedly roamed the Olsen Mansion. Newspaper articles had detailed the original crimes committed there and the vigilante justice that followed. When the mob came for him, they found Manfred Olsen standing on the front porch, still in possession of the hatchet that dripped the blood of his own family. Manfred found justice dangling at the end of a noose, while the mutilated bodies of his wife and his infant son were still warm.

Over the following decades there were many claims of mysterious happenings, but none could be substantiated. There was no disputing the horrific things that had happened here, but those murders had been almost a hundred years ago; long since forgotten Jack supposed. Jack’s friend Michael was not completely convinced and this Halloween night Jack intended to prove to him the foolishness of such tales.

The breaking of windows in the mansion seemed to stir the restless spirits that lingered within the decaying walls. Michael reached in his pocket, retrieved three smooth stones and handed them over to Jack. A young boy had to have pretty good aim these days as few windows remained. Jack carefully took aim at the third story and with a grunt released the rock. The projectile entered one of the bare openings and hit the floor with a thud.

“Dang it, I missed.”

Michael handed him another and this time Jack’s efforts were rewarded with the shattering sound of glass as it broke from the pane and fell inside the home.

“I told you those stories were a bunch of crap!” Jack exclaimed. “Did you see anyone at a window; the door swing open and close; Manfred standing on the porch with a noose around his neck? I didn’t think so!”

Michael handed his friend the last rock. “Try one more time—unless you’re chicken, of course.”

Jack ripped the stone from his friend’s hand and whirled it at the third story. Again shattering glass broke the silence of the still night. Jack watched intently for any sign of life for approximately two seconds. That was how long the four inch shard of glass took to fall from the third story and pierce his brain.

Unsure of what had caused him to drop so quickly Michael rushed to his dying friend’s side. Jack’s eyes were wide with terror as he pointed towards the window. Michael looked to third story window where he saw a man casually tossing and catching the rock Jack had thrown. Michael would never forget the man’s satisfied smile or the rope hanging from his neck.

Friday, October 24, 2008


A table set for guests
yet only empty chairs.
Missing invitations
explain my dark despair.

What use is a fist-full of todays
if tomorrow never comes?
Uninfluenced by the sway
of a distant setting sun.

Opportunities expire
like a feast in the heat.
Nutrition turns to poison
on the heels of timid feet

Words remain unspoken
deeds mere infant thought.
Alone I bear the burdens
of this lesson time has taught.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Casting Stones

Bobby Miller struggled as he waddled from side to side, his arms wrapped around a large rock, fingers interlocked beneath. The weight of the stone quickly transformed his arms into jelly, but with one final heave he launched it into the pond.

Bobby inhaled so deeply the cool air burned his lungs, but he insisted on being heard.

“Are you deaf? Did you hear that!?”

He was satisfied with the terrific splash it made, sufficient enough to chase a Mallard hen and her ducklings from the cat-tails. After all of these years he supposed the bottom of the pond looked like a rock quarry. The stones were used to get God’s attention, before praying for something they really needed. His father explained, “The larger the rock the more urgent the need.” A five-year old boy’s mind is always grinding and the first question was why God lived underwater. Randy Miller explained to his young son that nature was God’s back yard and he could be found in the willows, the water, and the wildlife, practically anywhere. Back then Bobby’s father had all of the answers, but not so much any longer—not in the last year.

Since the day his father sincerely knelt on this very shore and begged God to spare his wife’s life. It was as though his father’s words and sobbing disappeared into thin air. Maybe God had gone fishing that day too, but either way Bobby’s mother died less than a week later.

Bobby ran his finger along the stainless barrel of the revolver. He didn’t feel the urge to pray, not even once, as he dropped each round into the cylinder. If God was truly there, he knew what he intended to do. He could conceal the torment no longer; the hopelessness he wrestled with each day had finally gotten him in a stranglehold. He was tapping out—giving up. How could an all-knowing being be oblivious to such things?

He rocked the pistol to the right and the cylinder locked firmly in place. Bobby rehearsed the scenario countless times on an empty chamber, but now battled against the quickened pace of his heart. Logic dictated he wouldn’t even hear the blast and at super sonic speed there would be no chance to flinch, as long as he remained steady through the pull of the trigger. The coldness of the barrel against his right temple caused his body to shudder.

“One last chance, God. If you have even a remote plan for my future you better speak up load and clear!”

Even as the words came Bobby felt awkward in his demand. He had extended his last bit hope and waited for something—anything. In the absence of such, he commanded the muscles in his trembling index finger. Halfway through the quarter-inch pull that lay between life and death he heard faint giggling.

He tossed the revolver in his backpack and turned to locate the source. On the path leading toward the pond he could see blonde curls bobbing just above the weeds and a bright red and white fishing bobber leading the way. As the young girl entered the clearing she stopped dead in her tracks and stared at him for a moment.

“Who are you?” she asked inquisitively in a tiny voice.

“I’m Bobby, what’s your name—and do your parents know you’re down here alone?”


Her curly head tilted downward and she kicked at the dirt for a moment.

“Daddy’s up in heaven now—but I’m very lucky to still have Momma. She’s parking the car.”

Bobby understood the difficulty of such a loss and could see the discomfort in her reaction.

“That’s a mighty pretty dress you’re wearing—just to go fishing.”

Her tiny hand stroked the red velvet cloth and then she twirled the ribbons holding her pigtails.

“It’s a very special day. The first time Momma could leave the hospital in a long, long time. I wanted to show her the place me and Gramps came and prayed for her.”

Bobby fought valiantly to control his frustration, but tiny, young ears should not be subjected to such things.

“So you’ve been here before?”

“Lots and lots of times. Me and Gramps catch fish here, but there’s lots of rocks to get snagged on. Sometimes Gramps cusses when the hook gets caught, ‘Damned if he knows how there came to be so many rocks.’”

She took a deep breath before continuing and her blue eyes grew wide in anticipation of her words.

“While we prayed an angel touched my Momma.”

“An angel…really? It’s my understanding angels are quite rare.”

“Yeah—and they’re hard to find too.”

Miranda’s mother joined her along the shore. She appeared to be early thirties, consistent with what Bobby had expected, but strikingly vivacious, which he had not.

She extended her hand towards him and smiled warmly.

“Sorry if Miranda has been talking you to death. She’s never met a stranger, and the excitement of being here—well, has put her over the edge.”

Bobby barely heard any of the words she spoke and continued to cling to her hand. She was younger than his mother, but reminded him so much of her; the bubbly reception and the quick unnecessary apology.

“Sorry about the handshake, it was very out of place. I really should be going now.”

Bobby gathered his backpack and as he started up the path he heard the pitter-patting of tiny steps behind him. He turned and knelt in order to come to her level.

“It was very good to meet you Miranda and I hope you catch lots of fish.”

The curls above her forehead wagged as she nodded and spoke again.

“Mom says her angel’s name was Katherine Miller. Kinda of a funny name for an angel ain’t it? She couldn’t use her heart no more, but it still had beats left in it, so she gave it to my Mommy as a gift. If you ever see the angel down by the pond, because all angels really like water, please thank her for saving my Mommy.”

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Jeune Fille Vert by Tamara de Lempicka
The designer had to be proud. Only an artist with imagination could transform a sheer piece of lime cloth on a bolt, into such a magnificent display. Green was perhaps the perfect choice, inspiring envy among the crowd that had gathered to ogle. While women recoiled and hissed, the gentlemen envied the dress itself, clinging so closely to her dangerous curves.

Soft lines of an innocent face seemed to contrast a body that knew much more. Those full lips had surely experienced more than daddy’s cheek. Perhaps the white hat was selected to add a touch of sophisticated elegance or was it merely a feeble attempt to tame her ferocious bedroom eyes? Was this the beginning of an endless day spent under searing lamps and clicking camera shutters, or had she slinked from an alley after a lust-filled night serving the perverted needs of a community?

No one knew for certain from which side of town she came, but she had unquestionably arrived and stirred passionate reactions. There was no doubt the mannequin in Neiman Marcus’ window had never looked finer.

Monday, October 13, 2008


(Painting by by Edouard Manet--Bar at the Folies-Bergere-1882)

Sweet Molly, with recent knowledge
I regret this awkward retraction.
Perhaps it best you forget my face
and continue your life of distraction.

Drunken patrons and friendly breasts
I believe shall make for discontent.
Only a fool would offer to buy
the goods so many cheaply rent

My dear Charles, you are but a fool
with these haughty words you speak.
At the risk of sounding semi-cruel
your offer is my third this week.

Spirits and breasts; a smashing combination
that fill my coffers right proper.
Perhaps it comes as stark revelation
I’ve no use for a snob or a pauper.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Future Investments

In our relentless pursuit of an uncertain tomorrow we often trample the blessings of today

Frank listened with horror as the closing bell rang and the Dow tumbled six-hundred fifty seven points again today. His stomach was in knots; the overpowering urge to vomit did not pass quickly. He reminded himself of the foolish thinking; losses had only occurred on paper. As someone who scraped for a lifetime in anticipation of a few good years it felt more like a hatchet buried in his skull.

His financial adviser had been wrong in prematurely predicting the market’s bottom, but in all fairness, so had many others. “You have to ride this thing out, give it some time,” he would say; sage advice for the thirty year old executive with a 401K or parents saving for a toddler’s college fund. For Frank and Maggie Wilhelm, time was the enemy. An impatient visitor had arrived unexpectedly, easily crushing every defense mounted against it. In his heart, Frank knew there would be no negotiations, and little delay. The evil marauder would only depart if he possessed what he came for.

Frank waited for the teller’s return to the window. Apparently a witness was required for such a transaction. A short, rotund man in a white suit accompanied her return. The fluorescent lighting did little to prevent the glare of his polished scalp as he waddled to the counter. The obligatory handshake was nearly as ineffective as his explanation of bank policies. In an effort to make his position crystal clear, Frank grasped the knot of the little man’s tie and drew him close.

“Look, Boss Hog! I’ve just about reached my limit of cartoon-like characters in my life. I’m graciously willing to forego the thanks you owe me, as I’ve allowed you to profit from the use of my money long enough. As your pathetic sign indicates, I am one of your valued customers, and would appreciate your prompt cooperation in retrieving my funds!”

With eyes the size of flapjacks the man muttered under his breath about pre-notification for such large transactions, but nonetheless retrieved a pen and added his signature to the withdrawal paperwork. The bank officer flinched nervously as Frank’s hand reached across the counter again, but this time in an effort to smooth the wrinkles he had created.

“I apologize for the rash behavior. If Mrs. Hog would be so kind as to forward the cleaning bill I’ll gladly compensate you for it.”

Frank shared equal glances between the busy road he traveled and the receipt he gripped in his hand, which reflected an account balance of $0.00. The strangeness of the moment can only be explained as an epiphany. Within arms reach lay what remained of fifty years of obsessive behavior. Every extra penny had been squirreled away, and now precisely for what? For a half-century he had cursed himself for even briefly considering tapping the funds, while precious needs had gone unmet.

Maggie’s eyes were closed as she rested peacefully upon the couch. Frank realized in her weakened state just how valuable a few moments of rest had become. He placed the box gently alongside her and quietly slipped from the room.

For several days following a chemotherapy session, Maggie showed no interest in food, even the smell of such things caused violent reactions; upheavals of epic proportion and duration that were painful even to listen to. For the last several months Frank remained content subsisting on takeout, eaten in the car, or a cold sandwich that created minimal odor.

He tried to remain neutral and supportive in the very personal choice of treatment. Had it been him, he would have allowed nature to take its course, but perhaps that was the easier way out. Maggie wanted to experience each phase of life in its entirety. He recalled her words with admiration; ‘Without raw, excruciating pain how will one realize the value of inner-strength? Dark thunderheads that spawn raging, tumultuous seas would have no purpose except to give a deeper appreciation for the sun that overlooks placid waters and provides warmth to the very core of our souls.’ Maggie’s words were often profound and thought provoking, even to a simplistic man such as Frank.

“What’s the special occasion?” Maggie asked curiously, as she smiled from the doorway.

“Just an extremely belated gift, my dear—open it up.”

Maggie eyes brightened as the wrapping fell to the floor in shreds. She flipped open the velvet case and recognized them instantly. She held them to the light; the pair of marquee cut diamond earrings she had long given up on. She swallowed determinedly against the obstruction forming in her throat.

“But, you always said they were too expens…….”

Frank wrapped his arms around her and with his thumb gently brushed aside a tear.

“Forget everything I’ve said in the past, Maggie. I’ve been a damn fool! Far too long I’ve been a dark cloud in your life, and if it’s not too late, I want to be a ray of sunshine.”

Against her wishes, for more than two weeks Frank showered her with a gift each day, many of which she had forgotten she ever desired. Yet the final presentation, she had waited a lifetime for. Even as young girl dreams of such fantastic places filled her head.

The beauty of Italy and France transcended all expectations. A soothing violin melted the cares of the world from her mind and carried them away on the notes of a sweet melody. Fine Italian wine felt like velvet to her tongue. A simple crescent moon held a particular fascination when viewed from beneath the Eiffel Tower. While marveling at the dome of the Sistine chapel, they foolishly considered Michael Angelo’s possible inspiration for such perfection.

But memories of Vienna, above all other, would stand eternal. As they floated effortlessly down one of the many canals, the dark blanket of night came to life with lunar expression. The orb surrounded itself perfectly with shattered fragments of sparkling brilliance.

Frank took her hand firmly in his, and with renewed conviction repeated his forty-three year old wedding vows; none of the words more meaningful and heartfelt than on this particular night. In an anonymous gondola, with the moon shimmering softly against their silhouettes and souls undeniably entwined as they had been forever, they shared one final passionate kiss.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Masquerade at the Red Rooster Cafe

Harry knocked as much of the dried hog manure from his boots as possible; outside the restaurant this time. Being forced to sweep the entire floor, with Ma Jones taking an occasional swipe at his backside with a wooden spoon, wasn’t something a wise man wished to repeat. He still had trouble seeing the fuss; the Red Rooster Café had a dirty old wooden floor anyhow, but she did have a point. Between glancing blows Ma muttered something about raising pigs ain’t no excuse take on the manners of one. Her love for the rundown restaurant she owned could never be questioned.

He removed his Pioneer seed cap and hung it on the rack with a heavy sigh. There were three crusty, old caps already hanging and he knew what that meant. The ‘Nothin’ Runs Like a Deer’ belonged to Bill, Ernie wouldn’t be caught dead with anything that didn’t have a Caterpillar insignia on it, and Clyde, he never was right, least not after the lightning strike; a diehard Cubs fan.

According to such nonsensical ethics by which old men are bound, Harry’s late arrival meant he was on the hook for the tab. He ignored the snickers as he passed en route to the table in the corner. It seemed like as good a day as any to kiss a crisp twenty dollar bill goodbye.

Clyde looked the froggiest of bunch, and decided to leap.

“It’s 6:40 am. Hell, we was ready to call the coroner—just knew you was dead. Had most of your funeral planned, but we come to an impasse on the floral arrangement—didn’t know whether you’d prefer foxtail or cocklebur on yer casket. I told ‘em shoot the works, and throw in a lovely spray of ragweed—if it don’t cost too much!”

Harry grinned as he drew up the last empty chair at the table, “What if I was layin’ dead somewhere—smashed under a tractor, eyes all bugged out, just like last Sunday when Jeff Gordon eased passed Dale Jr. at the checkered flag?

“We was ‘bout to plan on orgnazin’ a search party—right after we finished breakfast. What’s it matter if we found ya, stomachs a growlin’ or with sausage-gravy drippin’ from our chins—dead’s dead, ain’t it?”

Harry couldn’t let the set up line pass, “Speakin’ of dead—how ‘bout them Cubbies, Clyde? I tell ya what, smart money’s on your dry streak with the ladies endin’, ‘for that sorry excuse of team wins a playoff game. Best I figure….both prospects is cursed; one by an old goat and the other, according to spinster Johnson, that’s hung like one!”

The table erupted in laughter just like every day, the only variable seemed to be who lay on the ground skewered, and which of his pals stood over him holding the spear. Among the four aged farmers there were plenty of insults to be passed around and in the effort of fairness, none of them escaped. This ritual had gone on as long as any of their foggy memories could recall. Although the physical gathering place had changed, the four cantankerous old men would not be displaced easily. Perhaps the respectable townsfolk had hoped to drive them away by removing the ‘liar’s bench’ from in front of the now defunct local feed store. The benches demise had been the end of era, of which they’d seen many, and was celebrated as such. For several days and for no apparent reason they gathered on the sidewalk, huddled together like lost puppies looking for a home. The seat was gone, but the stories lived on.

None would forget the morning Ernie danced and hopped about wildly and eventually shucked his overalls. He could find no team players offering assistance when he announced with a wince, a large splinter had burrowed its way in a very inappropriate region. Poor old Clyde; never went anywhere without that pouch of Redman tucked in his front pocket. One morning he found himself so preoccupied with telling a story he hadn’t factored in the brisk breeze. Between pauses he let loose with a long stream of brown juice that immediately took a liking to the front of his white shirt.

Time has a way of moving things along, even in tiny, little farming communities. There were reasons to leave the bench, but none more convincing than Trisha Steinmeyer’s backside. Ron Propiel didn’t have anything on Bill. He swore if somehow he could wedge a walnut between those cheeks it wouldn’t stand a chance of surviving more than a step or two. A half hour late he continued to fuss with the details of somehow attaching a device to her fishnet stockings that might catch the cracked nuts once they fell. We decided to save him from the embarrassment, by warning that if he was so bold as to ask Trisha’s permission, the cracked nuts might be his own.

Around these parts, at least among the men-folk, Trisha’s figure was the ninth wonder of the world. Her curves had spurred more inspiration, as well as lustful thoughts, than the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls ever would. Like the Canyon, an air of mystery surrounded her. She had given birth to two children, although some of the older women claim to hold proof she adopted. Surely there was stage in New York that would welcome something as fine; if not a Broadway stage, a pole in gentleman’s club. On the off chance it was the latter, they’d agreed in preparation to schedule a poker night.

Seeing the last straggler arrive, Trisha made her way to the corner table to take orders. Somewhere in that pretty head she had memorized the preferences years ago. The only challenge was to determine which of the delusional fools would try and help themselves to a handful of her skirt.

“Mornin’ fellas.”

She filled their cups and sat the cream and sugar nearest Ernie since he was the only one who didn’t drink his coffee black. The kind gesture did not go unnoticed, and Ernie was the first to flirt. The other three disguised snickers behind their coiled fists.

“Had a dream about ya last night, Trish.”

She continued setting the silverware beside each place, knowing that pretending she didn’t hear him wouldn’t deter him completely.

“You was in bad shape—oh yeah, in fact I figure I saved your life. Pulled ten inches bone out of ya, I did!”

She abruptly stopped pouring coffee and turned to face him. The three others secretly hoped she might be so disgusted that she slapped the taste from his suggestive mouth.

“Ernie, honey, you must have dreamed that twice; five plus five is ten. Spinster Johnson comes in here to eat too, and she’s been talkin’!”

It was one thing to get hacked on by the boys, but even Trish was whaling on him. Over the laughter, he could be heard pleading his case, loud enough for the entire restaurant to hear.

“She had bad lightin’ out there—and besides the water in that pool was ice cold!”

Harry felt badly for Ernie; a man couldn’t much change what he was endowed or not, so he proceeded to change the subject on his friend’s behalf.

“The market’s crashin’, price of seed and fertilizer’s doubled, hate to think of home heating cost this winter, and a damn flat tire on my truck cost me ten minutes. Now I gotta pay for a bunch of old coot’s breakfast! How’s life mistreatin’ the rest of ya?”

Harry directed his inquiry toward Bill, who had not been heard from this morning. Bill was crafty; in the company of such folks it paid to be silent, but finally he caved to the pressure of three sets of beady eyes fixed upon him.

“Well, I almost hate to tell this—but, Momma decided I needed some culturin’ so she sets to draggin’ me from in front of the tube; perfect timing as usual, just when I settled down with a beer to watch an episode of wrastlin’ that I haint never seen before. ‘Fore I knowed it we was in the car headed off somewhere in Iowa. Get this….for a wine and cheese tasting. If that kinda experience didn’t kill a man—four hours in the car listen’ to how they ain’t so romantic anymore, would. Turns out, musta had too much cheese and not enough wine. Got myself all bound up….went through three issues of Woman’s Day this mornin’ on the toilet, and still not a cloud in the sky!”

Ernie didn’t have to say anything. A man would have to think long and hard to find something more degrading than people funning about his business.

Clyde barely broached the most recent failings of the Cubs. Harry supposed Cub fans and the mascot representing them were much alike; all fiery and hungry in the spring, but when fall rolled around they were looking for a hole to climb into, content to spend the playoff months in hibernation. The disappointment of his team had become predictable, just as his rocky relationship with his wife. Seems they was on the outs again. Clyde spent the night on a familiar couch. Sometime during the night he had to relieve himself, as shrinking bladder can attest. On his way there he stumbled over the cat. Half asleep, and apparently dreaming of an encounter with Bigfoot, the battle was on. Ole Mitsy didn’t give an inch; to hear Clyde tell it, he ended up on the floor with that cat goin’ for his throat. A powerful mule punch finally sent the feline sailin’, but it was too late. Not only had Mitsy remove the first several layers of hide from his nose, Clyde spent the remainder of the night in soaked boxers.

Behind the masks they choose lie normal men. Despite Ernie’s rumored shortcomings he remains a lonely man. Clyde has become a peaceful old soul who accepts defeat easily, simply because it has become the norm. Besides constipation, Bill suffers from a variety of physical ailments, much like the runt of the litter, and during these rough financial times, Harry hovers dangerously close to losing the family farm.

The whole scene is enough to make dr. Phil bury his head in his hands and cry. (we’ll leave the ‘d’ in lower case, since Oprah’s the only one convinced he’s a real doctor). The Red Rooster Café serves as a type of Redneck therapy.

“Time we get out and ‘hit a lick at a snake, ain’t it’? See y’all back here tomorrow mornin’!”