Category Archives: Short Stories

Taking Christian Simpson on a Hike

It was just a short hike, no more than an hour round trip.

We meet at the trailhead and he says, right off the bat, “Is it OK if I come with you?” Well, this is silly; I invited him. I say, “Of course,” and we head out.

We’ve gone about 15 feet and he says, “What an amazing blue that sky is! How would you describe it?”

“Um, blue?”
“Where have you seen that color before?”
“We were in Glacier Park and it was early in the morning.”
“What made that memorable?”
“We’d arrived at the park late the night before, about 11 pm, got the tents up and had a really late supper. My kids were experts at getting the camp set up by the time we got to Glacier and it took only 15 min to get the tents up, the sleeping bags unrolled, the fire started, the ‘kitchen’ set up and the water collected from the pump. I don’t remember what we ate that night, but the next morning we had a big breakfast. It would have been about 6 AM. The sun rose about 5.”
“How did that feel?”
“Cold, but peaceful. It seemed like everything was right with the world.”
“How was this feeling more memorable than earlier in the trip?”
“We were traveling without my husband. He had to work and didn’t have paid time off. It was just me and the five kids, and it was a bit stressful. I was trying to instill in them the feeling of adventure I used to get when I went on vacation with my parents. Growing up, that was a special time for me. It took a while to feel like a united group with my youngest being 5 and the oldest being 17. But that night, without prompting, without complaining, the camp had gotten set up and the fire started in record time, and I got the feeling that we were starting to gel into a working organism.” I smiled at the memory.

We walked along for about 30 seconds in silence. Then he said, “What’s that over there?”
“Over where?”
“By that structure over there?”
“Brambles. I never go there.”
“What keeps you from going there?”
“The brambles? They poke and they scrape and get caught on your clothes.”
“What’s in the shelter?”
“I don’t know because I never go there…Brambles remember?”
“If you could find a way around the brambles, would you explore it?”
“I guess. I might, I might not.”
“Let’s go look around the brambles.”
“Oh, all right.”
“When was the last time you were at the brambles?”
“I wasn’t very old. It was late in the day and when I got home, I was dirty and disheveled and crying. I remember my mom trying to pull all the thorns out and comb them out of my hair. It seemed like it took forever!”
“They hurt?”
“Yes, and I’d never seen brambles like that before. I hadn’t planned on going there, but my curiosity pulled me. I didn’t get very far and they scratched and poked and caught in my hair and tore my clothes and I couldn’t find my way out. I was by myself so I was scared.”
“How do these compare to the ones you saw when you were little?”
“OH! They’re raspberries! I didn’t know that before! They seem smaller. I can see over the top. The thing about raspberries, you bite them and the seeds get stuck between your teeth. But if you don’t bite down all the way, you can squish them with your tongue.”
“How did you learn that?”
“I don’t exactly remember, it could have been that girl scout trip I went on…”
“How did you find the door to the building?”
“I didn’t. I couldn’t see over the top so I just went straight in.”
“There wasn’t a path?”
“There might have been. I wasn’t looking for one.”
“What would have been different if you’d found a path into the structure?”
“I suppose it might have led to a door, a way through the brambles. Somebody living in the building would have had to have a way to get past the brambles to get to the door, I suppose.”
“Where would we find a path?”
“We could circle the building and see if we can see a door, and the path would be leading away from the door.”
“What do you want to do if you find the path?”
“See if someone lives there?”

We walk around the building and find the door and sure enough, there’s a path and a fence with a gate. It isn’t locked so we go in. We knock on the door and a big burly guy answers the door. He looks like he could star in a western. He greets us with a big smile and a “Howdy!” It smells glorious in the cabin. Something is cooking. He has a wood stove in the middle of the room, a dining table near the wall, and handmade chairs. There are fresh flowers in the window well. He grabs a towel and pulls out a pie. He says he was out hunting this morning and saw us come into the tourist area. He had canned some raspberries and just threw them into a pie.

Now, this is weird, we’ve only been hiking for about 10 min…oh, hmm. We’ve already been hiking for an hour? Where did the time go? It must be subjective on this hike! In a blink, the pie is cut up and put on metal plates like you’d get in a camping set. Our host tells us about the area and some stories, and then he puts some raspberries and blackberries in a box so they won’t squish when we carry them.

I decide that I want to head back to the trailhead and so we head back up to where the cabin path meets the main trail. Every few steps, Christian is asking, “What’s under that rock?” and we have to look! Sometimes it’s worms, sometimes it’s roly-polies, we found an arrowhead under one and discovered that one of the rocks was a corn grinder. Then he’d say, “Is that water I hear?” and we’d have to go see the waterfall and the cute little stream.

So, we didn’t get even a quarter of the way to the end of the hike, and yet uncovered so much fascinating and beautiful and curious stuff. The distance we traveled in 1 hour should have taken no more than 10 minutes, and instead of finishing the hike, we took two hours to discover the area. But I had been on this path countless times and had never seen any of this stuff. This trail was just a way to get from the trailhead to the destination where we’d look and say, “Now ain’t that pretty!” take some pictures and then turn around and come back. I had missed all these interesting things, and I’d never met the guy in the cabin.

The purpose of the hike is not to ARRIVE somewhere, but to enjoy the journey. The journey is part of a process, and when you stop (because you never finish!) you have become more. More aware, more conscious, more curious, more adventurous, and more brave.

If you have a coach, you are giving the grand tour of your inner world, taking a hike with someone who’s never seen it before. If you have a really good coach, he asks you about everything, including some things you have never explored. You learn things about yourself; you clarify your thoughts and feelings; you keep what you like and discard what doesn’t suit you. You explore like a child and you grow into a much better person.

I would take Christian Simpson on any hike again!

Last week, across the street…

Last week, across the street

They were moving in.

Trucks, dollies, strong men

Strong women with boxes

Children unpacking toys

between the truck and the house

Last, week across the street

They put up the curtains first.

The children didn’t want

to go into the house.

Nobody was smiling.

I grabbed my casserole dish and

put the standard ingredients in–

Mac and cheese and hotdogs,

plastic forks.

Last week, across the street

the trucks left and the children were

still on the porch.

A white car pulled up

The driver walked to the porch but

he looked around the neighborhood–


The children were quiet

They moved out of the way.

Last week, across the street,

I saw him leave.

He lit a cigarette then

walked slowly to the car.

I took over the casserole.

The children kept playing quietly

I rang the bell.

Last week, across the street

She answered

with tears in her eyes and

a fresh bruise on her face.

She asked if I had a first aid kit.

I left the casserole and went home.

Last week, across the street

I took in the bandages and ice

And applied them to the unrecognizable face

of her husband.

His picture was in a box

He was a policeman.

Where are you going?

When you’re in the car with us and you ask, “Where are we going?” whoever’s driving points out the windshield and says “That-a-way!” It gives immediate direction but doesn’t tell you how fast or what the ultimate destination is. Not Helpful, but it’s technically correct. If you are in the car and not driving, will the ultimate destination be something over which you have control? Will the speed and the options for the quickest route, the one with the least traffic lights, the one with the least traffic, the scenic route, the one where you don’t get lost or anything else about the actual travel be anything you can influence? Maybe, if you whine loud enough. Most likely, however, you, as just a passenger on this madcap adventure, have no part in any of the decisions.

For the sake of perspective, let’s say we all get together to discuss traveling to a State Park for a weekend. You and your friends decide on the weekend and one of you gets assigned the task of reserving a spot for you all to stay. Some of your friends have tents, some have campers, some want to rent a cabin. You can’t agree so you all pick a landmark to meet together at a specific time. You, intrepid leader, LOVE this park and you want to get there early and stay in the park, but your son decides he doesn’t want to get up that early and opts to ride with his best friend who’s leaving after work that day. You don’t believe that’s a good idea because you know what his friend’s car is like and do not trust it or the driver to get to the right place in a reasonable time. Your son argues that he’s perfectly capable of handling anything that comes up and is familiar with all the ins and outs of getting to this park as he’s traveled with you on numerous occasions. Finally, you agree.

You arrive at the campsite and set up and have a wonderful lunch. You fly kites and think, “My son would love this! But he’s not here.” You go on a short hike and take pictures of the beautiful views, and note, “My son would be telling me where to stand to get the best framing.” You get back to camp and start supper. “My son would be recalling all the crazy adventures we had trying to cook on some of our other trips.” At the appointed time you go to the meeting place. You wait, and you get a phone call from one of your friends. “We decided to stay in the motel tonight and were so tired we took a nap and can’t get there for another hour.” The wife gets an IM from her friend, “We couldn’t fit all the stuff in the car and had to rent a trailer and it took us three hours to get all the paperwork done and the thing packed. We should be pulling in some time in the morning.” Nothing from the son. You wait another hour, and none of the rest of your group shows up, so you call them and text them and IM them. One rings and rings and informs you that their voice mail is full. Another replies, “Was that this week?” Another just doesn’t answer the message. So, disappointed, you go back to your campsite. Still nothing from your son.

You inform all the people on your current list, the one that includes all the people who say they are still coming and even your son whom you assume is coming that you will meet at the big dining hall at the welcome center for breakfast. The next morning, you go to the dining hall, and you reserve a table for 10 and sit and wait. After an hour’s worth of waiting and 3 cups of coffee, you decide to order anyway. You finish your breakfast and still no one shows up. You contact them all again. The one in the motel decided to have the continental breakfast since it was free, and were unable to find the campsite so they went back to the motel. The one with the trailer pulled in to discover that there wasn’t a reservation in your name or theirs. They had traveled to a different RV park with a similar name. You tell them it was a State Park, not an RV park, and they’re mad and frustrated and decide not to waste any more time on this and head home. Still nothing from the son.

You go to see the bow and arrow demonstration. Then you go horseback riding, and then head to the main event with the old-time melodrama followed by fireworks. Still nothing from the son. The next morning, you enjoy watching the sunrise, have a great breakfast of pancakes, bacon and eggs and coffee, clean up, and leave the park with fond memories and some amazing pictures.

You get home and there’s your son. He’s lying on the couch, his arm in a sling, bandages around his legs and face all swollen up.

He got to his friend’s house and nothing was packed, but he didn’t know that. He threw his go-bag into the back of the car and they headed off. “I had never traveled to this park in the dark, so none of the landmarks looked the same. He didn’t have a map, and the gps kept sending us down unpaved roads that bounced the signal around. At one point we were near the town, and it bounced to fifteen miles on the other side of the river and kept telling us to return to the route. We turned down a gravel road that turned into a rock road, that turned into a suggestion of a road and ended up axel-high in mud. We had to go to the farm house and have the farmer pull us out with his tractor. I wrenched my shoulder when we were trying to get the car out. We got back onto a paved road but had no idea where we were and started to argue. He confessed that he didn’t care if he met up with his parents and didn’t want to go on the trip in the first place. I said I’d promised you I’d be here and he kicked me out of the car!!!! About then is when I noticed that my phone was out of charge. I headed off to where I thought I’d last seen the town.

“I was hungry so I got some stuff out of my pack to snack on and sat down on the edge of the road. I ate some and since I was exhausted from trying to move the car and walking, just fell asleep next to the tree. I was awakened in the middle of the night to hear these weird sounds. Raccoons had gotten into my snacks. I wasn’t thinking straight and I tried to grab them away and the raccoons were not happy and wanted to bite and scratch me. I didn’t know they could run that fast. They tore my legs up some, but not as bad as the raspberry bushes I crashed into. I fashioned a sling for my arm as the shoulder was really hurting then, and then grabbed the ace bandages and wrapped up my legs. Does blood come out? I got to the town about 4 in the morning, and found a motel. As I looked like some sort of hobo, he didn’t want to rent a room to me. I reached for my credit card to pay for the room and realized my friend had used it to fill up his car and STILL HAD IT. I had $12 in my wallet. The guy sent me to the police station to see if they could help me get my card back–meaning, they’re not going to do anything to help you or let you sleep in the lobby!

“I went down to the police station, and they didn’t believe the credit card story. They sent me to the homeless shelter. I had to fill out all sorts of paperwork and they wanted to know if I was abused and did they need to send CPS over. That unknown number that called you about 6 this morning was them and they didn’t even leave a message. I got a few hours of sleep, but I didn’t want anyone to touch my wounds as I wasn’t sure they had any medical training at all. There was no place to charge my phone. I borrowed one and called my friend, Bobby to come and pick me up, and he came for me about noon. We went to the city park for lunch, and he discovered, you guessed it, a bee hive. It was in the slippery slide and he decided it wasn’t safe for little kids and he was going to knock it down. No amount of screaming on my part made him change his mind, and then suddenly both of us were screaming. The cops came and recognized me and told me in no uncertain terms to get the heck out of their town as I was a trouble maker. Bobby dropped me off here and went to his doctor for the bee stings he got on his arms, torso, and face. Can you take me to the doctor?”

We all have free will. Had the son gone with his you, his family, he would have enjoyed some wonderful experiences. But even though his plans were to go to the same location, his means of transportation was not reliable. The timing was off causing him to travel this well-known route in the dark. His friend wasn’t motivated to go and had not made any preparations. The difference in the perspective caused the boys to argue and may have ruined the friendship. All these unpleasant experiences were associated with a destination that the son had previously thought was a fun place to go. None of the things he was expecting came to fruition. The joy he sought was time without stress with his friend, and he got time with a lot of stress instead. He thought separation from his parents would give him more autonomy and yet he was subjected to the same powerlessness because his friend was driving. His friend, being young and inexperienced, did not know how to prepare, how to plan, how to set a goal and reach it. He was expecting his friend to be as knowledgeable and calm and cool under pressure as you.

When we go our own way, and it’s not God’s way, we may get to the same destination, but not in the same shape.

Be Careful what you wish for

From Julie’s diary dated 10/30:

I can’t take it any longer.

The noise. The yelling and the sound of breaking furniture and glass. I just can’t. How long must I put up with this? I wish…I wish…I wish for absolute silence.

Every weekend, he comes home drunk and mean. Sometimes he just sulks in front of the TV. But sometimes…he continues to drink, then he throws things. The plate that hit my little boy caused 6 stitches in his eyebrow. The bruise on my little girl was from the book he sent hurling across the room because she walked in front of the tv during the game. I have had 16 trips to the hospital for concussions, broken bones, stitches. I told him I am sending the kids to grandma’s house on the weekends so they can have a little time with her and we could have a little “time to ourselves.” So the kids aren’t bruised and broken, but he’s raised the bar on me.

We had to eat on paper plates yesterday because all the glass ones have been shattered. He was furious and yelled at me and threw the food on the floor. Then he forced me down on my knees to clean it up but not before he bashed my head into the mess. I have an egg-sized bruise on my forehead. We eat take-out so I don’t have any heavy cooking implements in the house. I keep one knife under my side of the mattress, but the rest of them are at Mom’s. She says the kids cry buckets when it’s time to come home. So do I.

Every time I think I’ve got some money saved up so we can leave, he finds it and spends it. He made a down payment on a truck we can’t afford. He bought a 72” screen TV, then he put a chair through it when his team was behind. He skipped paying the electric bill and took all the money he found and went to the casino instead of going to work. He told his boss I was in a mental institution and he had to come visit me! He had the gall to yell at me when the power was turned off! And when he isn’t sulking, he’s yelling. All the time! He won’t let me go running, or take a walk, or go out with what used to be my friends.  He said they were no good! He said they were trying to turn me against him and he threatened to beat them up if they ever contacted me again. He used to go bowling with his friends on the police force until the owner threw him out for launching a bowling ball at the team in the next lane. The police should have seen the red flags, but they said, “Naw, Sarge had been drinking so it wasn’t his fault.” He won’t allow me to go to the hospital closest to our house because some of his friends might start asking questions. Uh oh, he’s home. I have to hide this.

Found on a notepad under the pillow on the hospital bed.


He found my diary.

He said nothing for a while, just stared at me with pure hatred on his face.

Very calmly and coolly he asked if I really wished for absolute silence. Then he boxed my ears. The doctor says he broke both my ear drums.

He’s coming in to pick me up before I can get discharged…before the police can ask any questions.

He brought my diary and ripped out a page: He wrote, “Now you won’t hear me when I come to kill you.” Then he tore it up and put it in his pocket. He was laughing as he left the room.

I hope you find this message.

There were 7 of us

I don’t know how we all crushed ourselves into that van, but we were 1/2-drunk so it didn’t matter until one of us got sick.

She almost didn’t make it out of the van in time. She really shouldn’t have had all those brats during the party. Heartburn and booze? Bad combination. Meredith (Merry) was always trying to impress people. She was kinda awkward, but she was a good kid. She joined us in the van at the last minute and none of us had the heart to tell her she wasn’t invited. She wasn’t the youngest of us…she was a retread. Yes, we were sophomores in the same Lit class, but she started back to school after her divorce.

“He just up and left! No note! No explanation, or a call! He just LEFT me!” she’d sobbed. She said it took her almost 5 months to gather up her courage to start back to school. She didn’t have any kids, thank God, but she was devastated. She said she cleaned him out in court! Turned out he’d been having an affair for years, so she took his retirement, his house, 1/2 his income… And after she’d paid off all his gambling debts (that he’d made in her name!) she had money left over and decided to go back to school.

Teddy, the driver, stopped and let her out and then he and the other guys went to water the trees. Stewart was a loud drunk and described everything from the bushes, and Leroy, the angry drunk, kept punching him and telling him to shut up.

Laura was squirming, but wouldn’t pee in the woods. She was afraid of poison ivy! Magda was going to wait until the guys got back, but after a couple of minutes, she too ran out of the van to the woods on the other side of the road.

“She’ll be SORRY!” said Laura. I wasn’t quite as drunk as the rest, I hadn’t had more than 2 beers and went to the bathroom before we left on our “adventure.” Meredith crawled back into the van, flushed and embarrassed. The guys got back, and finally, Magda crawled in.

“Merry? Where’d you get sick? I didn’t see anything when I went out.”

Leroy turned and gave her a puzzled look. “Why would you even LOOK?!”

Everyone thought it was funny.

Teddy said the cabin was just a couple miles down the road. We hit a rock or something and the tire went flat. Of course, Leroy, Teddy, and Stewart thought they could change the tire while all of us were in it. In the dark. On the dirt road. We got out of the van and started Kibbutzing on the side.

Nobody could find the jack. We followed Teddy toward the cabin because he thought there might have been some tools in the shed. It was farther than he thought. Or maybe he was lost. I turned around and Meredith was gone. I called out for her and she said she had to throw up again, and then we heard gagging noises. Well, THAT was disgusting! Magda went back to hold her hair, but none of the rest of us wanted to stick around. They were afraid that the sound and the smell would cause the rest of them to hurl, and I didn’t see any reason why Magda would need help. Dang that Meredith, trying to impress people with her iron stomach and then spewing all night.

Finally found the cabin. NO ELECTRICITY! We’d all used our phones as flashlights on the way up, and Stewart and Laura had been playing games all the way up in the van. They were nearly on 0 power. I turned mine off. Teddy went in back to see if there was a generator, but it was gas-powered, and we had no gas. Then he went to the shed to see if there was a jack. There wasn’t one, but there was an ax and some firewood stacked up. He brought in the firewood, and of course, we couldn’t find any matches. Teddy’s phone gave out. Leroy passed out, but we couldn’t use his phone. His was one of those password-only phones, so no fingerprint, no face ID.

It had been a while and Laura asked, “Where’s Meredith and Magda?” I texted them to see if they were ok. Meredith replied that they’d gotten a bit confused and were trudging up the road now. Magda replied that Merry was a mess and wanted to clean up first. Magda doesn’t usually care how people look. She’s a bit of an emo. She likes the black fingernails and the pink hair under the black…you know so when she flips her hair, you get that flash of color. But she never makes comments on how people look. Laura, on the other hand, has no other thoughts going through her head…fashion, hair, makeup and image take up the entire space between her ears.

It was getting cold. Teddy found some blankets and we all cuddled together. Wow! Did those things smell! Mine brought tears to my eyes. And, they itched! Of course, Leroy had to complain, LOUDLY. Stewart yelled at him, “Yeah? and do you have any better idea?”

Leroy said, “Well, dumbass, we could go back to the van and start it up. At least it had heat.”

Teddy remarked that the gas wouldn’t last all night and if they did get the tire fixed, we wouldn’t be able to get back home.

Leroy gave him this evil look. “You mean to tell us you didn’t fill up before we left?”

“Where was your gas money? Oh yeah, you spent it on the beer!”

Teddy and Leroy shared a room, and apparently the gas for the van. Teddy’s van, Leroy’s gas if he wanted to go somewhere. Lately, he had not been contributing, saying that since it was Teddy’s idea to go places, he should also pay for the gas. This was a bone of contention most of the semester. Woohoo! I used “contention” in a sentence! Doctor Will would be proud. (Doctor Pressledge loved Shakespear and peppered all his lectures in Lit with quotes from the Bard. What a dork! So we called him Doctor Will.)

Suddenly Laura jumped up and asked Teddy if the toilet was indoors or outdoors. He pointed her to a small building behind the shed.  She ran out as if her bladder was about to burst. She was not concerned about toilet paper at this point. I was about to pass out when I heard the scream.

We all ran out to see what was the matter, and there was Laura–sobbing and shaking. She’d heard some scrabbling on the roof of the outhouse and when she got out there were these weird, glowing eyes staring at her. Teddy started to laugh.

“It was probably a possum!” he said, and then laughed some more.

“So? Did you pee?” I asked under my breath. “How’s the smell?”

“The smell isn’t bad. I guess it hasn’t been used much, but I didn’t get inside. You know, alien on the roof…”

We shared a bit of a laugh. She went in, and I headed for the cabin.

I lay down again and was almost asleep when I heard Laura make a yip. The wind blew the trees around and some leaves were hitting the windows. I drifted off.

Stewart shook me awake. “Hey, the girls aren’t here,” he whispered.

“Huh?” I said, verbosely. (Haha! another bonus from Doctor Will!)

He looked me straight in the eyes and I could tell he was scared.

“The. girls. aren’t. here! Magda, Meredith, Laura…they’re not here.”

“What time is it?” I asked.

Stewart checked his phone, then remembered he had no juice.

“How the hell should I know?”

Well, shit. I got out my phone and turned it on. “2:37”

“They should have been here by now right? And did Laura fall in, or is she afraid to come out of the outhouse?”

The wind was still blowing the leaves around and it looked like we were going to get wet. There was lightning. It was in the distance, so you couldn’t hear the thunder.

“You wanna check it out, Stew?”

“Yeah, I’ll head down the trail for Magda and Meredith, and you check on Laura.”


The temperature had dropped a bit. It was in the 60s and the wind had picked up. I grabbed my blanket and wore it as I headed toward the outhouse. I figured I could kill 2 birds with one stone and get some “business” taken care of while I was there. I got to the outhouse and called Laura’s name. Nothing. I knocked on the door. Not a sound. I went in and sure enough, there was a catalog for use afterward, but no sign of Laura. It smelled slightly sweet…Laura’s perfume and something else. Baby powder? And of course, the usual stuff you smell in an outhouse. I remembered my grandma always told me never to use the glossy pages in the catalog, and now I know what she meant. I thought it was metaphorical…”Never use something fancy to do a plain job…” or something else along that line. Wrong again. I got out of the door, and then looked around to see if there was any sign of Laura. I called out her name and walked about 20 yards around the outhouse, and then around the shed. The shed door was open, but there wasn’t anyone inside. I headed back to the cabin, but Stew wasn’t back yet. Teddy and Leroy were snoring like loggers, but I was so tired, I just fell asleep on the couch.

The thunder hit with the suddenness of a bomb. I swear I hit the ceiling. Teddy and Leroy were cursing. The rain came down in torrents and it was accompanied by lightning and thunder. We couldn’t talk at a normal volume and be heard. The wind had picked up and we were hearing branches hitting the cabin. Teddy looked around and yelled, “Where IS everyone?”

It was just Teddy, Leroy and me. Stew was now gone too. I explained that Magda and Meredith never came up to the cabin and neither was answering my texts. Laura hadn’t come back from the outhouse, and there was no sign of her outside, so I had gone to look for Laura and Stew had gone to look for M & M. I tried to turn on my phone, but apparently, I hadn’t shut it off. It was now 4:45 or thereabouts. Laura and Stew’s phones were dead, and Magda and Meredith weren’t answering texts. My phone call went directly to voice mail. We decided we’d wait for the storm to pass, then when it was light, we could look for something to patch the wheel, or call for a tow or something. I supposed that Stew had gone all the way to the van and just stayed there to wait out the storm.

I went back to a fitful sleep. The storm made everything creepier.

About 7:30, it was lighter out, and though there was some drizzle, it wasn’t raining cats and dogs. There was no lightning or thunder either. It was time to make another hike to the outhouse. Still no sign of where Laura would have gone. I was rather worried now. I went back to the cabin and Teddy said that Leroy had gotten a text from Magda that Meredith had gotten them lost and they were at the van. Leroy went ahead and Teddy decided to wait for me so we could go down together. Teddy said he hadn’t found a jack in the daylight either, but he had found some matches. They were all wet. There was a leak near the fireplace.

The road down to the van was muddy and slick. You could tell Leroy had taken the scenic route. There were slide marks that went into the ditch and we couldn’t tell where he came up again.

“God, he couldn’t still be drunk could he?”

“Well, hungover at least!”

“I’ve never seen him so plastered!” said Teddy with a snort.

Then, we heard it. It was a moan. It seemed to be coming from the ditch on the other side of the road. We walked over and called out Leroy’s name. There was the moan again. There weren’t slide marks or anything so we kept going down the road, calling his name. I grabbed a downed branch and stripped off the little twigs. Now I had a proper walking staff. If we had to go down into that muck, I wanted to make sure I didn’t get Stuck there. We heard the moan, slightly louder up ahead. There were still no slide marks or footprints.  Teddy started down into the ditch. It was pretty steep, and on the other side of the ditch, there seemed to be quite a drop-off. I was glad I had my staff! I was about five yards from Teddy, and the underbrush was thick. There didn’t seem to be a path.

Suddenly, Teddy lost his footing and slid down, out of control, about thirty feet! Then he yelled! He must have broken something… his arm, his ankle. I thought, “I’m NOT going to carry his sorry butt up the hill to the van!” I thought I saw him through the trees, but when I got there, it was Leroy! His shirt was bloody and his face was squashed like he’d hit every rock on the way down. His hands were seriously malformed and bloody. There was a rock not far from his head that was all bloody too, but it was downhill from where Leroy had landed. It was clear that he was dead. But…who was moaning then?

I heard movement behind me and just as I turned, I felt a slash on my arm. The adrenaline was pumping at high speed when I looked and saw Meredith. She was looking at me with this insane grin, her clothes all bloody and torn. She had a very big knife and was screaming, “You weren’t supposed to have a stick! You bastard!” She lunged at me and I dodged. I swung the staff to catch her in the side. I heard something crack. The wood was kinda green, the twigs had been hard to pull off, so the crack must have been a rib or two. She screamed again. Then she started to laugh. That must have hurt with the bruised or broken ribs because she caught herself and grabbed her side.

“What’s funny Merry?”

“Age and Treachery, you son-of-a-bitch! Age and Treachery!”

I was bleeding profusely, but I couldn’t think about that now.

Teddy moaned again and I turned my head for just a second. She rushed me again and was inches from impaling me before I clocked her in the jaw with my elbow. She went down hard. I landed on her back and tried to wrestle the knife from her. She lifted her hips and I started to tumble down the hill. I dropped my staff to keep my balance with my hands and she stabbed my leg. I started rolling down the hill and she followed me. I hit a tree on the way down and it bruised me in the chest and knocked the air out of me. I scrambled over to a fallen log. There were bees in the log. There was a big rock and I grabbed it, I backed off from the log and she spotted me. She ran at me like a crazy woman and stepped on the log just as I threw the rock with all my might into the beehive. The log splintered where she stepped and the rock frightened the bees out of the hive. She was covered in seconds. I backed off. She lost her footing fighting off the bees and started to roll down the hill. She disappeared into a hole and I heard a splash.

I carefully maneuvered my way down and saw she’d fallen into a water-filled cave. She wasn’t moving. I slowly made my way up the hill to the last place I saw Teddy. Sure enough, his ankle was at an odd angle, but he had a knife wound in his heart. I would call 911 and, oh no! My phone had fallen out in the struggle. I checked for Teddy’s and though he hadn’t lost his phone, it was in pieces. I had to rest. I was bruised, cut, stung, and exhausted. I tore a part of my shirt and bandaged up my arm. I took the sleeve of Teddy’s shirt and bandaged up my leg. I grabbed another stick I could use for a staff and plodded up the hill to the road. I got to the van and discovered that the flat tire was flat because there was a hole where the air nozzle was supposed to be. Meredith must have cut it when she said she was throwing up. Magda’s body was thrown carelessly to the side of the road. Her phone was missing. Meredith might have used Magda’s phone to send the message to Leroy.

I took stock. No Stew, No Laura, Teddy, Leroy, and Magda dead. Meredith would have taken both her phone and Magda’s into the cave. I knew I couldn’t go down there to retrieve them and they’d be ruined by water anyway. Teddy’s broken. My phone was missing. Leroy might still have his. I was sweating and weak. But this was my only chance. I headed back to Leroy. I had to stop every 2 or 3 minutes because of the pain and I was getting dizzy. I finally found the place where we’d gone down to look for Leroy. It wasn’t as easy this time. It seemed farther than I remembered. I found myself wondering how I was going to get back up the hill. There was Leroy. I sat down beside him and started to look for his phone. He HAD it! I picked it up, and it showed some life. I tried to open it, but I was suddenly faced with the realization that I had no idea what his password would be. I started to cry tears of frustration. I wanted to just lie down and die. I crawled painfully over to a tree so I could sit. I closed my eyes just letting the life drain out of me.

Then, this damned squirrel dropped a nut on me. And then another one. And then ANOTHER ONE! I looked up at him and he chattered at me. I looked over at poor Leroy and saw something shiny near the rock that had killed him. The squirrel chattered again and I replied, “OH, ALRIGHT THEN! It’s not like I’m Ace Ventura or Dr. Doolittle.” In serious distress, I dragged myself over to the rock and there, covered in blood and leaves and dirt was my phone! Was it broken? Nope. Did I have a signal? 2 bars. I called 911. Two hours later, the ambulance and the police showed up and I told them where Teddy and Leroy were, and where Meredith had fallen. I’d lost nearly 2 pints of blood by then and I don’t remember the ride to the hospital.

What I didn’t know was that Magda was an undercover cop and had discovered Meredith’s secret. Merry, or whatever her real name was, decided that if Magda died, the rest of us would have to die too, and since no one knew Merry had gone with us, she could disappear and pop up somewhere else.

What she had done was kill Magda and use her phone to let us know everything was OK, and then had spent a little time in the van.  She headed up to the cabin to see if she could catch anyone else by themselves. Laura was grabbed just as she stepped out of the outhouse. Merry didn’t see me go into the outhouse because she was dragging Laura into the woods. She followed Stew as he came down the road calling for them and came up behind him and stabbed him just a half-hour before the rain started. She hurried down the road as the wind started up and the lightning and thunder got closer. She held up in the van and sent the text from Magda’s phone to Leroy. She waited for him to come down, but then the storm started in earnest. The next morning, she waited along the road. Leroy was pushed down the hill and when he didn’t shut up, she slashed his throat. She hadn’t ever slashed anyone’s throat and didn’t know how loud it could be if she did it wrong…and she did it wrong. So she beat him with the rock. She heard Teddy and I calling out to Leroy and talking about his moaning, so she continued to moan to lure Teddy and me into her trap. She’d reached out and tripped him with a branch and caused him to fall down the hill, then stabbed him in the chest. Then she saw me over by Leroy. I was her last obstacle.

I understand she’d never been divorced, she’d had her husband declared dead after 7 years and had collected on the life insurance. They found Meredith’s husband, stabbed and cut up and buried under her vegetable garden. She had beautiful tomatoes, though.  After a little digging, it was discovered that this wasn’t the first time she’d murdered her way into money.

I don’t go to parties anymore. I hate lightning storms. And a relaxing vacation in a mountain cabin is not in the cards. Ever.




There’s always a Bloody Ghost

The new Christopher Moore book came out…Shakespeare for Squirrels. There is a character, Fool, that he uses in the Shakespearian stories he writes and the plots are basically perversions of the plays. One was King Lear, and the other was Merchant of Venice although he incorporated some of the other plays and characters. When you’re doing a play, especially without a public address system, you can’t really do voice-overs to tell the audience what the character is thinking or feeling. In that case, Shakespeare employed a ghost to express the thought process, to further the plot, to show the emotional and mental state of the character. In Moore’s books, the protagonist often has arguments with the ghost, and the ghost has an agenda as well. It leads to some very silly dialog.

So Shakespeare would write–

Ghost: Murder most foul, as in the best it is. But this most foul, strange and unnatural.

You could expect this from Moore:

Ghost: Murder most fowl, as in the best it is, especially on Sundays when the cook visits the hen house. But this most fowl, strange and unnatural that the victim’s neck was throttled and all his clothes ripped off and the victim deep-fried past crispiness.

It got me thinking. What if the ghosts were just consciences personified? And random?

Scrooge:  Are you the ghost of Christmas Future?

GoCF: … ( he never talks in the play, he just points)

Scrooge: I fear thee most…

Ghost of DeNiro Future: You talkin’ to ME? I don’t see anybody…oh Sorry George, I’ll just wait for you to say your lines.

GoCF: …Looks menacingly at Ghost of DeNiro…though it’s difficult to tell since you can’t see under the hood.

Scrooge: His name’s George?

GoCF: …Returns his gaze to Scrooge

Ghost of DeNiro Future: *whispers off stage, “lines?”* Loud whisper from stage Left, “He doesn’t have lines, he just points.”

GoCF: *Smacks forehead. Forgets he’s carrying a scythe.* Ow!

Scrooge: He speaks!

Both Ghosts: Shut up!

What if random ghosts just showed up during the performances? 

Hamlet: Alas, poor Yoric.

Yorik’s ghost: WHAT!  I was just getting to sleep

George’s ghost: Wait until you see Dicken’s ghosts!

Hamlet: I knew him!

Yorik’s ghost: *Trying to scowl without his head*…You knew me?! Where were you when they yelled duck?

George’s ghost: Didn’t you duck?

Yorik’s ghost: I thought they were asking me to do an impression, so I quacked

Hamlet: I wasn’t there when he died. But here’s his head. Where’s the rest of him?

Gravedigger: He couldn’t afford a casket…

George’s ghost: Cheap bugger.

Yorik’s Ghost: Is that Dickens guy the one that’s looking for a fool? Auditions maybe?

George’s ghost: A Fool’s Ghost, or a Ghost for a Fool?

Hamlet: Dickens for the first and Christopher Moore for the second?


Though it would be cool to have the ghosts in the courtroom telling everyone what the witnesses are thinking during their testimony.

Perry Mason: Isn’t it true that you went to the house with the intention of confronting your ex-wife?

Mr. Hughes: I knew for a fact that her Tai Chi group met from 2:00-3:00 on Thursdays and I just needed some stuff from my home office.

Mrs. Hughes’ ghost: Yes, truly he speaks because every time I went for Tai Chi, he would ask me where I was going. Every. single. time. And every time He said, “How long have you been going at 2:00?” And I would say, “You forgot to change the clocks from daylight savings time, it’s 3:00!”

Perry Mason: Let the records show Mr. Hughes arrived at his house at precisely 2:47 PM.

MHG: He never does anything precisely…

Perry Mason: Mr. Hughes, how did you get into the house?

Mr. Hughes: I walked in.

Perry Mason: There were no impediments to your entry?

Mr. Hughes: There was a mop near the stairs.

MHG: “See? I was paying attention! I’m not the jerk you make me out to be to your girlfriends!” Did you have to walk around the bucket?

Perry Mason: Did you have to walk around the bucket?

Jury: Is the ghost feeding Perry his lines?

Mr. Hughes: I didn’t notice

MHG: Why didn’t you fall on your ass on the slick floor?

Perry Mason: Did the floor look freshly cleaned?

Mr. Hughes: Um

MHG: That was a witty answer… Now he’s thinking, “I could say I went to the kitchen and checked the water temp and it was cold so it had been sitting there for a while.” Wait for it. Mason’s not going to give him the chance…

Perry Mason: Mr. Hughes, isn’t it true that you tracked in dirt on the freshly cleaned floor and went directly up the stairs to your wife’s room where you saw her changing into her Tai Chi clothes?

Mr. Hughes: Um

MHG: Ya, couldn’t be bothered to mop up the footprints on the Clean Floor!

Perry Mason: And when she saw you and she screamed, isn’t it true that you rushed to her and threw her through the window and into the garden on the tomato towers?

MHG: and thinking to yourself, “Ooo! fertilizer! AND mulch!”

Mr. Hughes: Shut up!

Perry Mason: I beg your pardon!

Mr. Hughes: Not you, you blowhard, the fricken Ghost!

MHG: You said that out loud, didn’t you!

Jury: Yup he did.

Mr. Hughes: Wait…you mean you guys are hearing the ghost too?

Everyone in the courtroom: Yes.

Mr. Hughes: oh…shit.

Yes, ghosts would make an interesting addition to our world.





He looked into the Abyss.  It looked back.  He leaned in a bit closer and it spoke.

“Come,” it said calmly. “You needn’t jump, just lean in and glide.  It isn’t cold or hot.  You won’t feel the wind rushing past your face.  It will not suck the air from your lungs.  You will feel enfolded like a child with a blanket.  You will feel soothed.”  It had a woman’s voice.  It was cool and unhurried.  At the same time it was warm and inviting.

He leaned in a bit more.  He felt big, strong hands ready to catch him, welcoming him, holding him close, and he didn’t fear the dark.  He knew if he leaned in just a bit more, this pain of life would just melt away.  He understood that his life wouldn’t end unless he ended it, and he could do that any time.  But for now, just slide into the abyss.  Remove the anxiety.  Let the loneliness float away.  Let go of the panic.  Quit fighting.  Just be.

It started to feel like sleep–weightless and care free.  When you sleep, all you see is what’s in your brain…and if you don’t like what you see, you wake up and change your picture.  Wait, no.  Your brain is against you.  It brings up painful memories and twists them into nightmares.  Your brain tackles an impossible task and keeps working and thinking until you’re more exhausted from your sleep than you would have been wide awake for that time.  It remembers all your failures and throws them in your face until you jerk awake with tears in your eyes.  Real Life sleep isn’t weightless and care free…it is a descent into madness.  But the abyss…  The abyss is like sleep should be:  nothingness and rest from life.  He smiled to himself.  “Now I know what Rest in Peace really means.”

He leaned in a bit closer.  He felt his consciousness rising like dust in the sunlight.  He felt the harsh heat of failure begin to fade.  He could feel individual hairs on his arms.  He could truly experience his breath going in and out and feel the blood whoosh from his heart to his fingertips and find its way back.  But then he felt tethers, as fine as spider’s silk holding him.  What were these?  He located one and felt along it, following it to its source.  It was an unfinished book.  He couldn’t read the title, but he knew by the bookmark that he hadn’t finished it.  He followed another tether and its source was a person.  She (he was pretty sure it was a she because her hair was long) had red hair but he didn’t get a sense of what she looked like.  Her facial features and her body shape were fluid and changing.  She laughed and he recognized her, his childhood friend.

There was another tether leading from his chest.  It seemed to pulse in rhythm to his heart beat and appeared thicker than the others, though still fragile and fine as sewing thread.  He followed that one.  It was very long and seemed to rise above him.  He was beginning to wonder if it had a source and was becoming less and less interested in its source when he felt something cool on his face and could see brief glimpses of color.  He looked at the thread and noticed it wasn’t a single thread, it was twisted.  There were multiple strands, but they were too fine to see how many.  He continued to follow the thread.  There was something hot on his face.  It wasn’t painful.  He reached up and brushed at it and realized it might have been a tear.  There was another glimpse of color.

The color flashes were coming closer together.  He looked down at the tether.  It didn’t look as fragile as it had.  Were there more strands?  He stopped to ponder this.  As he looked to his chest, the tether was fine and hair-like.  The one in his hand was almost the weight of crochet thread.  Why did that description come to him?  What was it about crochet thread that he thought was important?  Why not wire?  Why not dental floss?  He looked at the tether and realized that now it seemed to be taking on a color, pale and vaguely yellow.  It sparked a memory.  Memories are bad though!  They made him think of bad things he’d done, people he’d hurt with unkind words, missed opportunities, unfinished jobs…  This memory though, it seemed different.

He looked at the tether again.  He pictured a hand holding cloth, and the thread, vaguely yellow, being pulled by a needle.  He heard the conversation:

“What are you sewing?”

“It’s a sun.”

“It isn’t round.”

“That’s right.  It’s just that particular color in the sun.”

“The sun is yellow.”

“The sun is many shades of yellow.”

“But it isn’t round.”

“It will be when I finish.  As in everything in life, you must see with your eyes and your heart, not your head.”

“I remember, draw the space between the leaves first, then draw the dark green and the other greens and all the shades of brown, one at a time.”

“Then you will see the tree as it is and not as you know it to be.”

He felt another tear forming and brushed it away.  It was a comforting memory.  Then he looked down at the tether and decided.  He continued to follow the thread.  He looked at the tether that had led to the book.  He grasped the book and put it into his pocket.  His childhood friend laughed again and whispered in his ear, “Let’s go on an adventure!”  Her voice echoed through his body.  She wasn’t with him, she was in him.

The abyss whispered, “Why follow the thread?”

He replied, “To see where it goes.”

Then the abyss seemed a bit agitated, though still in a calm voice it asked, “But don’t you already know where it goes?”

He stopped, floating in time and space, looking for the source of the abyss’ voice.  “How would I know where it goes?”  There was no answer from the abyss.

“It goes back there.  It goes to where the pain and the loneliness is.  It goes back to the hopeless situation I’ve been avoiding.  It goes back to the impossible task.”  There were more tears.  He reached into his pocket and took out the book.  He broke the tether and let it float away.  He found his friend, hiding in a closet in his brain.  He opened the door and let her out.  Then he cut her tether.  She floated near him and started to cry.  Her tears didn’t move him.  She slowly started to fade away.  He felt helpless, then he felt hopeless and turned his back on her.  He could still hear her sobs.  Then he looked down at the tether from his chest.  The part in his hand was as big around as his little finger now.  He couldn’t cut it, let alone break it like he’d done with the book and the…girl?  He could hear no sobs now, but got the feeling of a presence near him.  He looked down at the broken tether that had gone to his…object, thing.  What was it?  Square.  He felt some regret.  Then he looked at the tether he’d cut to release that, um… person?  He felt some twinge of pain like a pin prick.  He thought to himself, “Would I really like to cut this last tether?”

The abyss replied, “Does it tether you to something you love or something that brings you pain?”

He thought.

“Only those things you love can give you the deepest pain.”

The abyss then whispered in his ear like the hiss of a snake.  “You have to decide if you want to face certain pain with a small possibility of love or stay here surrounded by nothing that can hurt you.”

Then he heard another voice.  She laughed, and the tether from the person seemed to be growing back.  Not like a hair grows, not like a web strand, just…reappearing.  “She’s right you know.”  Then she laughed again.  She seemed to be rematerializing.  “Nothing CAN hurt you!  Absence of sound and light and color makes you disappear like I did.”  She let him think, and then she continued.  “Look at all these strands, how they’re twisted together, how strong they’ve become.  They don’t come from all different places, they come from one place.  It isn’t just one person, or many persons, one location or many.  That place is Love itself.”

He thought.  He couldn’t bring himself to speak.

The abyss insinuated herself into the conversation.  Her voice was lower, and it seemed it was sneering.  “How did you feel when you were outside the abyss?  How do you feel now?”

The friend stopped laughing.  He could see her face now.  She was smiling as if she knew she’d won the argument.  “Why does the abyss ask you how you feel if the purpose of the abyss is to feel nothing?”

It hissed and drew back.

Suddenly he felt afraid.  He looked to his friend in panic.  She held out her hand and indicated the tether he still held.  “We can go together,” she said.  They headed off, following the thread.  He started feeling like he was walking instead of floating.  He could feel solid ground beneath his feet and his friend’s hand in his.  He had the impression that something was coming up behind him.  He looked back to see…eyes closing the distance between them.  His friend seemed unconcerned.  “It is nothingness.  It can’t bite you or grab you or hurt you.  It is something that everyone sees and has learned not to fear.”

The glimpses of light were now a dull glow…reds, yellows, just a hint of green.  Colors were swirling around him like dust when walking down a country road.  He could smell the warm grass, hear the bugs and the bird calls.  He could hear the sound of the leaves in the breeze.  “Come,” she said, “It’s close now.”

“She takes you to a place of pain,” the abyss whispered.  It sounded more like a hiss than a voice now.

“Do you remember that trip to the mountains?” his friend asked.  Her name was… S something.  Sharon?  Shelly?  Sheri?  “What do you remember?”  He thought.  He didn’t remember the mountains.  “Can you picture the campfire?”  He did.  He remembered the crackling of the wood, the sting of smoke in his eyes.  There was an owl.  It was so quiet.  “I can see what you’re thinking.”  He was startled.  “How?”  “Remember that room you found me in your brain?  I opened the door.  I can see what you see and hear what you hear.  It’s nice in here.  It’s not a closet, more like a cabin with a porch and a view of a lake.  Where is this?”  He smiled.  It was a postcard he’d picked up.  “You’re smiling.  She said there was only pain there.  You don’t smile at pain.”

The abyss hissed angrily.  “She’s trying to fool you.  Remember the sprained ankle?  Remember the fight in the car?  Remember the sunburn?  Remember throwing up for 4 hours?  You never even went to a place like that post card.”  His smile faded, and he felt the dull ache in his ankle.  His sunburned shoulders started to itch.

Shelly said, “Did you feel that ache before you came into the abyss?  Were you sunburned before you came to the abyss?”  Shelly was her name.  He nodded.  Shelly continued, “Didn’t it fade away?”  He nodded again.  “With growth comes pain, right?” she went on.  “You Know that, but what have we learned about ‘knowing?’  He thought and then said, “You have to see things as they are, not as you know them to be?”  “That’s right.  So you know pain, but what is it really?”  He and Shelly stopped moving.  The glow was not as vague as it had been, and there were more colors.  He hadn’t even noticed when it changed.  He closed his eyes and felt his heart beat again and felt his breathing.

He pictured the campfire.  He pictured the postcard he’d bought on the trip.  He remembered leaning over a stump to empty his stomach.  He remembered having to sleep sitting up so his shoulders wouldn’t hurt.  He remembered his harsh words in the car.  Then he remembered drinking the water from the edge of the lake.  It was so cold.  He remembered the hike up the trail and the riot of color in the meadow…thousands of tiny mountain flowers.  That must have been when he got the sunburn.  He could remember feeling that he was getting burned but he couldn’t pull himself away from that beautiful view.  He remembered that someone had said they had to leave and he was mad.  He didn’t want to leave these smells, these sounds, these views.  He must have been very young.  Someone said it was good he wanted to stay, but he shouldn’t keep these experiences to himself.  He needed to tell his friends about them.  He remembered starting to cry.  Then a deep voice said, “Every time you repeat your stories, you get to live them again.  You can take this vacation any time you want by just telling someone about it.”  He remembered someone noticing he was very red in the face and asking him if he’d taken some water with him on his hike.  Then he remembered getting out of the car and running to the stump.  He must have been dehydrated.  That was the cool on his face…the wash cloth.  The ice chips.  It wasn’t the POINT of the story, it was just a detail.

She said, “That’s right.  It was a detail of the trip.  It wasn’t the point of the trip.  The view of the flowers came with a sun burn and an upset stomach.  Why remember the sun burn and throwing up and not remember those amazing flowers?”

He pictured the field of flowers.  Yes, he could see them any time he wanted without getting the sunburn or losing his dinner.  The growth was the vision, the vision would not disappear.  The pain was only temporary.  It was permanent because he chose to focus on it.  It was like looking at the trees and seeing green blobs on brown sticks.  He was seeing pain as he knew it instead of what it truly was.  He and Shelly with the long red hair and overalls and t-shirt started moving.  He pictured the wild flowers again and looked down to see tiny flowers along the path of the tether.  The tether now was nearly as big around as his wrist.  When did that happen?

The abyss was still hissing behind him.  Suddenly he felt something grab his ankle, the one he’d sprained.  It hurt.  He cried out in fear and pain.  The abyss’ voice was low and raspy now.  It didn’t sound like a woman’s at all.  “Boy?” it said harshly.  “If you think the worst pain you could have was a sprained ankle and a sunburn, you are in for a world of hurt.  People you try to love won’t love you back.  People close to you will die or leave you abandoned.  You will be rejected and mocked and hurt over and over and over again.  You cannot escape that pain once you leave the abyss.  You will fear for your life.  You will have so many regrets.  You will never have that ideal life you keep clinging to.  It’s hopeless.  Better to just slide into the abyss and feel nothing than to be tortured.”  He cried out.  “Stop!!!!  I can’t face it!  I deserve no love!  I will always be abandoned and left alone and in pain!”  He sat down and began to sob.  Sh… Sh…  What was her name?

She came and sat next to him.  She tried to hold his hand but he couldn’t feel her.  “Shhhhhh.  No one deserves love.  Love isn’t something you earn.  Think of how you love.”  He was still whimpering.  “Do you give someone a test before you love them?”  He shook his head.  The abyss said, “Maybe you should.  If they cannot pass this test, you know they won’t stick by you.  Don’t waste your love on those who do not deserve it.”  He started to cry again.  She patted him on the arm.  He didn’t feel it.  “There is no test for the heart.  There is a connection.  You can decide to love someone, but it has to be more than just a decision.  It’s the same for everyone in the world.  People love you because you’re you.  You don’t earn love. You earn respect, you earn admiration, you earn disdain and fear, but you don’t earn love.”  The grip on his ankle weakened.  “What does she know?” the abyss whispered.  He said, “Shell?  Do you love me?”  “Of course,” she answered quietly.  He hugged her and she hugged back.  She was solid again.  The grip weakened.  He pulled his foot free.  They stood and started walking again.

There was a pool.  It was upright like a mirror, but it was liquid.  As he got closer he could hear laughter beyond the surface.  Shelly was smiling.  She had one thumb in her overalls strap and she was barefooted.  He looked down and saw he had one shoe on and one off.  “Where’s my shoe?”  “Oh!” Shelly laughed, “the abyss grabbed at it like that deep mud in the little creek.  You wore your creeking shoes so you don’t have to worry about losing it.”  He looked at the pool and there were two hands reaching through it, one man’s and one woman’s.  “Should I grab their hands?” he asked.  “You don’t have to,” replied Shelly.

“They can’t have you.  They don’t love you or you wouldn’t be in the abyss.  You’re MINE.”  The gravelly voice seemed quite close.  He felt jerked away from the pool and from Shelly.  “Do you really want to go back there?  How could you?  It’s just as dark there as it is here, but you don’t feel it here.  I can cut that tether for you.  I have the edge that will slice that.”  He looked at the razor edge, then he looked at the pool and Shelly.  The razor edge was easing closer and closer to the tether.  “Don’t,” he thought.  The edge moved closer.  Then instead of cutting the tether, it started slicing his arm from wrist to elbow.  He looked in horror and screamed.  Someone grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him through the pool.

He was on the floor.  The room was too bright and he closed his eyes.  His arm was on fire.  “Make it stop!  Make it stop!”  In his head, he was screaming, but his voice was faint.  “We got you, we got you.  Help is on the way.  Don’t go.  We love you!  Come back!”

The faces he saw as he opened his eyes were all sad and worried.  All but Shelly.  She was smiling.  Then Shelly started to melt away.  “SHELLY!”  “We’re here, hon.  We’re here.”  “Where’s Shelly?”  “Don’t worry about that now, hear the sirens?  You’ll be ok soon.”  He closed his eyes.  The abyss said, “You’ll be back.  I’ll always be here.”

He woke.  He was in a bed with a long bandage on his arm.  His mom and dad were sleeping in the chairs next to him.  They both had their hands on his chest.  “Mom?  Dad?”  They woke up and smiled.  “Welcome back sleepy head.”  “Where’s Shelly?”  “Oh, honey.  She’s been gone for years.”  “What happened to her?”  “Don’t you remember?  She was in that accident?”  “It wasn’t an accident was it…”  “What?”  “I could tell.  She seemed too comfortable in the dark.”  There was silence.  Then his dad said, “She…she took some pills.”  There was more silence.  “You saw her in the dark?  Was that yesterday?” asked his mom.  He nodded.  Then he started to sniffle.  “How am I going to make it without her?  If the only way I can see her is when I’m in that…that…abyss?”  His dad, nearing tears himself, wiped his eyes and asked, “Remember the trip to the mountains?  You were 5.”  “What about it?”  “Remember that I said you could go on vacation anytime you wanted by just repeating the stories?”  “Yes?”  “Tell us about Shelly.”