Who Was Counting?

He’d driven down the road hundreds of times. More, actually, but who was counting? It was funny how driving the same route, the same distance, the same speed day after day was so much a part of his routine he didn’t even think about it. He saw but didn’t see the sign posts or the dips in the road. His foot automatically tapped the break before the turns he barely noticed. It was a little like life: going through motions once carefully considered and now unconsciously carried out.

One morning, though, he’d caught something out of the corner of his eye that seemed out-of-place. He’d whizzed past it before he could make out what it was. It bothered him a bit. Not that it should. Why should some little change, some barely noticeable something or other catch his attention and hold it?

He slowed down the next morning and peered off to the side of the road, looking for whatever it was that bothered him. There. There it was. A sign. No, more like a marker. Just a small post really. With a number: 636. It wasn’t a mile marker. It was on a simple piece of wood – sturdy, but small. And each day he passed it, he noticed it until he began to notice something else. The number changed every day. Every single day the number increased by one.

He mentioned it at work, covering his unsettled feeling by making it into a joke. Everyone dutifully chuckled. Well, not everyone. An intern looked alarmed, but what intern didn’t have that look on her face at some point every day? Later, she poked her head into his office and asked if he had a minute. Annoyed, he motioned her to enter. She stood resolutely as though she’d made some important decision which she was about to announce. He looked pointedly at his watch.

“There are stories. Maybe you haven’t heard them.”

“I’ve no idea what you’re trying to say. I’ve lived enough years to have heard every story to enter your young head.”

She turned to leave, then turned back.

“It’s just – something – I don’t know why I’m telling you. It’s probably nothing.”


“There’s a story that every Halloween someone somewhere in the world sees a sign post that keeps count of – I don’t know. No one does I don’t think. But it keeps count, and shortly after they’re never seen again.”

He shook his head and smirked. “Somewhere in the world. How well-traveled you are. What are you? 22?”

The intern’s face crumpled and she walked out.

The next day he looked at the sign. 646. He felt slightly queasy. Okay. This was ridiculous. He’d start taking a different route, end of problem. And the next day as he drove the slightly longer route, he spied the post somewhere around mile marker 10. It read 647. He took a different route still the day after that. And after that.

“You’re late again today,” his secretary remarked.

He swallowed the coffee she held out to him. It was lukewarm. He was tired of lukewarm coffee. He’d go back to his preferred path. What difference, at this point, did it make?

By the time the sign turned to 665, he’d begun to chill as he neared the spot and could feel a trickle of sweat run down his temple. Something had to be done.

The weather was turning. It always did this time of year. Like a clock. Tick, tick, tick. He felt like he was going a little bit crazy. He couldn’t stand it.

The next morning looked like twilight and a misty rain spit down on his windshield whisked away by wipers, an ineffectual remedy to persistent rain. He pulled to the side of the road and put his coat collar up against the wind. Walking over the the post, he knelt down and read the number: 666. He kicked the wood. Stupid, stupid marker. He gripped the post with both hands and heaved. It wasn’t so sturdy that a few tugs couldn’t pull it out. He pulled again. Once more should do it.

And his hot coffee grew warm, then cold.

Image: pexels-photo-561201 Maizal Najmi

Something Like Friendship

He would rather have been in a small river in an out-of-the-way spot, casting a fly line for trout. It was that sort of evening, he thought vaguely. A warm breeze fingered his black hair; the musky scent of dry leaves infused the night air; the sky, black above the treetops, was beginning to show a few stars, the rest hidden behind heaven’s heavy blanket.

He had always preferred the strength and silence of the outdoors to anything else. A small-time outfitter, though, didn’t make much money. He knew that, and acknowledged, too, that life held limitless possibilities.

The sound of voices grew greater and the crowd thicker as the soft notes of a piano danced outside to greet those making their way up the wide cement walkway to the hall.  It was a simple affair: an alumni dinner of a small college.  Through the double doors, Tab could see long tables set with white paper cloths. Squeals of happy recognition punctuated the steady undercurrent of voices. He hated these things, but had promised to come. He stepped inside and scanned the room for someone he recognized.

“We’re sitting over here.”

The nearby voice was inviting and familial.

Tab looked into the eyes of a tall man who was his double, aside from a twenty-five year difference in age. Max’s hair was graying at the tips and the lines in his face revealed that he was not exempt from life’s hardships, but everyone they passed hailed him and he hailed them back in a mild, relaxed manner.

Walking together they sat across from a pretty woman with sparkly eyes who was chatting up a storm with the young girl next to her.


She reached across the table and squeezed his hand.

“Hi, Mom,” he said to the woman others thought pretty.

Such a thought had never occurred to him. She was always there, always making friends. There was something in her expression that told she was one who didn’t take life too seriously. Her crow’s feet were her signature, witness to an easy and ready laugh.

“I want you to meet Jessica. She’s interested in languages, too.”

This last statement was spoken with an unmistakable emphasis, and Tab caught his parents glancing at each other.

He looked into the round face of a girl close to his age. Her brown hair that hung in a blunt cut below her jaw line exactly matched the deep brown of her large, wide eyes.  She wore a pretty, delicately flowered dress. He reached out to shake her hand as she quickly put her hands in her lap.

“Hi, Jess.”

He pulled his hand back, and offered her an uncertain smile instead.

Jessica thought to herself that she had never seen eyes sparkle so. They were the color of the sea at its deepest point, and she wondered if that said anything about the man across from her.

Her mouth went suddenly dry – unusual for her. She sipped from her water-glass

“It’s nice to meet you, Tab.”

The music suddenly sounded too loud. It seemed a mere ten minutes had passed and it was time to go.


It was nearly 11:00 by the time Jessica pulled out of the parking lot. There was little traffic this time of night. She found herself in her room remembering little of the drive back. Quickly readying herself for bed, she pulled up the covers and stared at the ceiling, wide awake.

The Day He Left

Evening was just barely touching the late May day. A tangy, sweet scent drifted lazily on the breeze like a sleepy teenager floating on an inner tube, dipping his toes in a quiet river. It reminded her of the flowers he had brought to her the day he left. They were an inexpensive bouquet of daisies, chrysanthemums, and baby’s breath – sweet, innocent, and tender, like the kiss he gave her before he turned and walked away.

She closed her eyes, playing with the ring on her finger as she let memory have sway: The funny thing that happened the day they met, their first tentative gifts to each other, quick lunches and long dinners, walks down a familiar country road, the surprise of comfortable conversation, and values and thoughts so in sync they could read them in one look of the other’s face.

“Mother! We should be going!”

Waiting at the car was her daughter, now grown, who knew her father through others’ stories, but not through her own.

How many years would it take to loosen the knot located somewhere underneath her heart? She had thought it would be gone years ago. She realized now that it never would be. She knelt and brushed her fingers over the name engraved in stone, engraved in memory, engraved in time.

She whispered three words: Duty. Honor. Country.

Then she picked herself up and walked away.


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A Form of Godliness

He had always prided himself on his thoughtfulness of others; or maybe when they didn’t deserve it, at least his consideration of humanity. There was so much hurt in the world it blinded him. It made his heart ache. There were so many paths people walked and so many starting points, all different, how in the world could one human being judge another? How could one person speak to good and bad, right and wrong for someone else? How? He would not be one of those: one of the stiff-necked people who put all their little beliefs into organized little boxes and made judgments about wrong and right. That was one thing he knew. One thing he felt right to judge. Those people were wrong.

He worked hard to educate himself about all that was going on in the hurting world. He listened to trusted voices, lights in the darkness. He read essays by lauded thinkers and books by highly regarded writers. There was a cacophony of voices, but these voices – these voices were the right voices, the correct thinkers, the trustworthy ones who carried the torch. He acknowledged with humility that he was an intellectual. At least more than some.

Things weren’t nearly as cut and dried as some wished them to be. In fact, it was a rarity. Issues of law were just that: issues. What he knew was that law was made by humans – fallible humans. Obedience to a man-made construct seemed questionable at best. It wasn’t like law was written in stone. Take stealing, for instance. Sure, it could be seen as wrong; but it could also be seen as needful if the thief (a term used only for discussion here) experienced great need. Actions were relative. Truth, in fact, was relative. Nothing was static. Everything was fluid.

And when He learned of a person who had admittedly harmed someone else, he knew of one response. To consider the pain that person, himself, had experienced at some other time in his life. Surely hardship must be brought into the mix of criminality, blended together with forgiveness until there was no criminality at all; only sadness and loss. Responsibility should not equal guilt, and, even if it did, it should not equal consequence. There was no place in the world for harsh consequence because there was really no evil, only unfortunate circumstances. The Old Testament with its commandments must be seen in terms of mercy. The judgment of God had surely changed with time. God was love – the Bible said so. Whatever else He was didn’t matter.

Just today, for instance, someone had been sentenced to death. For what? Did it matter? Sentencing someone to death was taking a life, a life the same as every other, the same as the act of abortion those foolish people criticized. (And what of abortion? They knew nothing of the hardship of the poor woman seeking help to remove the thing that troubled her.) So putting to death a murderer equaled putting to death an infant. It must be so. The lauded voices asserted it was true. He knew they were to be trusted.

Sometimes . . . sometimes he caught himself wondering about it all, turning over equivalencies in his mind. What if one wasn’t enough like the other to merit the voices’ assertions? What if lack of consequence didn’t uphold life’s value, but diminished it? What if God was multi-faceted? What if consequence mattered for some reason he hadn’t thought of? But, no. The voices were trusted voices.

And the victims of the murderer and the innocents whose lives were taken with clinical precision called from the grave. But no one listened.

Image: wikimedia – commons.jpg; context: Exodus 34:4-7

A Seat of Power (conclusion)

A chill when through the woman in her chair, though her eyes were closed heavy in concentration. The man’s heated breath grew cool. His eyes blazed with anger and his breath warmed again. It cooled, then heated with his anger, and back and forth they went; the woman in her chair and the man at her door. Morning turned to noon and noon to afternoon.

The woman’s breath grew heavy, then fast, and she faltered. One more blow and the screen dissolved. She was so tired, so very tired. The woman blinked, and looked beyond the windows to the houses on her street. She thought of the distracted man of great influence, of the young mother and her baby, and of the rudderless young man. And she shook her head. She might be frail, but she refused to be weak.

Five more minutes and the screen’s wires reconnected, and the angry man she alone could see evaporated in a puff of coal black smoke to wait for another day. She let out a long breath. The expression on her lips was full of years of trials and triumphs, of heartache and hope.

She shuffled over to the window and looked out. Sure enough, there he was, the man with his collar up and his head down examining his phone. The old woman tilted her head and Acer_tataricum_twig wikimedia commonslooked up at the sky. A twig on the walk cracked under his shoe and the sound diverted the man’s attention. Looking up, he noticed the cardinal across the street. A memory lit his face and he crossed the street just as the young man walked out of his door to go once again to the night job that made money and nothing more. Hellos were exchanged, then tentative conversation turned the corner as the two men sat on the young man’s steps and imagined a future day.

And the old woman gripped her walker and headed to the kitchen to make herself a victory supper of soup and toast and tea. Peppermint might be nice.

Image: Acer_tataricum_twig wikimedia commons

A Seat of Power (continued 2)

Twenty minutes passed as mother and infant watched two squirrels chase each other up and down a tree while a third rummaged around in the dirt. A cold wind blew, the mother hastily swaddled her baby back in the stroller and hurried down the street. A frown crossed the old woman’s face and her eyes flew open. She reached for her walker and shuffled hurriedly to the window.

She had seen him before, the man standing in the middle of the street. Oblivious to his presence, cars drove past without slowing. The young man who had moments before begun thinking about his life more deeply than he had in years, abruptly rose and went into


his house. And the woman stared at the man who she had seen before as he glared into her window. In several steps he was at her curb, in a couple more he was at her steps and with a few short bounds he was at her door. He did not ring the bell. He did not knock. He stood defiantly, his hot breath melting the screen.

The old woman grabbed her walker and hurried back to her chair. She tripped, and just as she began to fall, regained her balance. Breathing a prayer of thanks, she reached her chair, adjusted the pillow behind her back, and closed her eyes. Not to sleep. No, not that.

to be continued . . .

Image: publicdomainpictures.net

A Seat of Power (continued 1)

He turned up the sound on his device. Nothing. Plugging the ear buds back in, he switched from Spotify to Pandora to a generic radio station. His pained expression grew as he went outside to see if it was a connection problem. The phone’s silence turned to static. He switched it off and closed his eyes as the late autumn sun warmed his face. He opened one eye as a cardinal chirped above his head.

The old woman breathed an amused sigh and, gripping the arms of her chair, rose to pour herself another cup of tea. Peppermint might be nice. She gingerly placed her cup on the seat of her walker and shuffled to the window. She sipped the strong peppermint, then put it back on the walker seat as she watched the young man who was now lying in the grass looking up at a bird in the tree overhead. A soft laugh erupted from her lips as she walked back to her chair, adjusted the pillow behind her back, and closed her eyes. Not to sleep. No, not that.

The little one in the stroller exclaimed at a busy squirrel next to them on the sidewalk. As she checked on her charge, a breeze blew and the pages of the book the young mother was reading fluttered with it. What?! She flipped the pages back and forth. Finding her lost place shouldn’t be this hard. Reaching for her water bottle, she dropped her book and, as she bent to retrieve it, locked eyes with her little one. They exchanged smiles, and she picked up her little girl instead as the little one pointed and chattered.

to be continued . . .

A Seat of Power

Her hand, blue-veined and small, pushed open the creaking front door, and she sucked in a fragile breath of the brisk, morning air. Her eyes searched up and down the street.

There he was. The thirty-something man in his black dress coat with the collar turned up passed by every morning. His morning walk was first on his to do list every day. He would say it was first on his list because it cleared his mind. As usual, he walked with quick detachment as he scrolled through something on his phone. He had important work to do. He was an influencer of many and held great power.

Across the street a younger man by a decade or more strolled home from his night job, his479px-cardinalis_cardinalis_-columbus_ohio_usa-male-8_1-cc-attribution-2-0 ears plugged with his chosen mind-numbing sound. He did not see the cardinal to his right that swooped past nor the golden splendor of the large walnut tree ahead. He’d spent the night making a buck, and had made his usual stop at an all-night diner for breakfast. It was good enough for him, and now he deserved a morning’s sleep before doing it all over again.

Farther down the block a young mother pushed a stroller, reading a book, while her blanketed toddler looked wide-eyed at leaves stirring on the sidewalk beneath. They both glanced up at the click of a door as they passed.

The woman closed the door and locked it. She turned slowly until both hands grabbed her walker, and she made her way to her chair. The T.V. loudly announced the latest news of tea-commons-wikimedia-orgcrime and peace talks and weather and sports while she sipped some tea and munched on toast with orange marmalade. What was that? A president or prime minister? She really must get her hearing aids fixed. She leaned forward and turned up the sound. Finally she clicked off the television, dabbed at her lips with a napkin, adjusted the pillow behind her back, and closed her eyes. Not to sleep. No, not that.

Five  minutes later the sound went out in the young man’s earbuds. He frowned, pulled them out, and examined his phone.

to be continued . . .

Images: 479px-Cardinalis_cardinalis_-Columbus_Ohio_USA-male-8_1-cc-attribution-2.0.jpg; tea-commons.wikimedia.org_.jpg

The Choice

These were dangerous times. Her father had warned her, and he was right. Her eyes moved from the glowing numbers that were quickly counting down to zero to four wires. Only four. It wasn’t as though there were multiple wires tangled together. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Which one to clip? Which one to stop the bomb?

She reached back into her memory. She was pretty sure the middle two, the white and the yellow wires would do nothing. They didn’t have enough power one way or the other. A bead of sweat trickled from her hairline and hit her eye. She wiped it away with a shaking hand. What was it she had heard back when something like this wasn’t real, when times were safe and life was good? Which wire needed to be cut to prevent the current from setting off an explosion? Was it red, you’re dead or blue, you’re through? Red, blue, red, blue, hmm. Thirty-eight seconds. She was pretty sure it was the blue one. Yes! That was it! Except there wasn’t a red or blue wire. There were only purple and orange wires left.

She hoped it was the purple one. The purple wire looked pretty sketchy, but what wire didn’t? It wasn’t about pretty, it was about power. Thirty seconds. She bit her lip. A nagging intuition told her the orange wire was the one to clip to stop the bomb. But the orange one hardly even looked like a wire! Shouldn’t the wires look at least similar? She peered more closely. Ugh. It had something on it she didn’t like. It was sticky and smelled to high heaven. If she cut it, she might get some of the sticky stuff on her hands, and who knew if the stench would fill the air and for how long?

She looked around her and wondered about the power of the explosion. If the bomb went off, the little church on the corner could be blown to bits or maybe compromised by the blast and fall bit by bit through the years. Of course, churches didn’t need buildings, so did it matter? Twenty seconds. The newborn cradled on her mother’s lap on a nearby bench would be killed. But who knew what the infant’s mother was like anyway? Maybe she would be spared a lifetime of sorrow. Maybe it would be okay if she died so young. A couple of army buddies’ laughter momentarily punched the air and she shifted her gaze. The singular reporter nearby, the one who refused to march lockstep with the others, would be a goner. Their eyes locked for a brief moment and she looked away. Ten seconds. Her eyes searched the street. Would the people walking and chatting and dining and shopping even know what hit them?

She looked again at the orange wire. No. She couldn’t bring herself to touch it. No one would know she had had this chance to stop the bomb anyway. Why did it have fall on her shoulders? Five seconds. If the orange wire would actually stop the bomb, and she couldn’t be certain that it would . . . but no. Any consequence was better than clipping orange. She just DID NOT want anything to do with the orange wire. It was a matter of principle. She squinted up at the sun, then clipped the yellow wire with one second to spare.commons.wikimedia.org

And the sky grew dark with dust and debris while a deafening sound filled the air.




Image: commons.wikimedia.org


Not Wanted, But Not For Sale (continued)

It was silly really. The minute he’d opened his eyes the thought came to him like a character from a forgotten dream: a ridiculous dream, a dream of nothing but unrelated thoughts and images. He ignored it, but it returned as he whipped two eggs for his Saturday morning omelet and hung around as he buttered his toast. By the time he’d washed his last dish, he’d given in; if nothing else than to make the thought go away.

shallow-dof-flower-publicdomainpictures-netNow here he was, standing in front of the unwanted, unvarying house with a tiny plant he’d purchased for 89 cents at the grocery store. He exhaled, walked past the spot in the yard and the tiny plants at the side, walked up steps, and rapped on the door. A moment of silence was followed by the sound of a scraping chair and barely perceptible footfalls. The door squeaked as it opened.

Her uncombed hair fell over a brown tee shirt. She tucked one hand in the pocket of her jeans as a confused frown flitted over her face.

He pushed the plant toward her.

“Here. I . . .” He scuffed a shoe against the porch floor and cleared his throat.

“I noticed you were trying to fix up your yard.”

She looked at the plant.

“I thought maybe you might like this to add . . .” his voice drifted off and he shrugged.

The hint of a smile crossed her face and she took the tiny flower.

“Um. Thanks. You’re the guy who walks by every morning at 7:30.”

He nodded.

“And walks past every evening at 5:15.”

He pressed his lips together, searching for something to say.

“I . . . When I eat breakfast and supper I can see you from the window. There’s not much else that happens around here. Nothing changes. Except you. You started walking past here.”

“I started walking past because you started working on your yard. Or at least someone did,” he defended himself.

She took a step back, then looked at the floor in thought.commons-wikimedia-org

“Would you . . . would you like to sit on the steps? I have some sweet tea inside I can bring out for us.”

He nodded quickly. They settled on the steps and sipped their tea.

“My dad lived here. He got sick, so I moved back. He died a couple of months ago,” she volunteered by way of explanation.

The man shook his head. “I never saw anyone around this house.”

She stared ahead.

“No, you wouldn’t have. He was very private. I take after him.” She flushed. “But, you know, he had some second thoughts those last few months. He told me to plant some flowers in the yard after he passed. He told me it would be a start. Of what, he didn’t say.”

His gaze was drawn to the yard.

“His house, your house, it looks cared for with flowers. Like it’s wanted maybe. Do you think you’ll sell and move back to wherever you were?”

She shook her head.

“No. This is my childhood home. Maybe it doesn’t – didn’t – look wanted, as you say. But I don’t sell memories. I’m stayin’ “.

“To second thoughts,” he said as he held up his glass.

“To new beginnings,” she added.

The clink of their glasses caught the ear of a passerby and she smiled.

Image: shallow-dof-flower-publicdomainpictures.net_.jpg; commons.wikimedia.org