Innocence Lost, Courage Found – Nonfiction Short Story by T.L. Conrad

To What We Lost – T.L. Conrad

I was overcome with emotion in this story of of intense hardships and impossible choices. T.L. Conrad displays incredible strength through her experience and her wise decisions made through love are inspirational.


Innocence Lost, Courage Found
By: T.L. Conrad

Abigail looked up at the azure blue sky as Max loaded the last suitcase into the trunk. Max walked over to Abigail and wrapped his strong arms around her, pulling her close to him.
“It’ll be alright; we’ve got this.” He placed a soft kiss on her forehead. He knew long car rides were no longer an easy task for her. Abigail held tight to her husband, accepting all the strength he was imparting to her. Over her shoulder, he watched as Henry opened the door and walked towards them.
“Ready to go?”
Henry rolled his eyes as he walked past them and opened the car door. “Yeah, something like that.” He got in and slammed the door shut.
Abigail jumped, startled by the loud noise. “It’s going to be a long day. We better get going.”
Max waited while Abigail got in and closed the door for her. She sat sideways in her seat, keeping an eye on Henry, who was currently slouched and staring out the window and glanced at her son. Henry was slumped in the backseat, staring out the window. Max got behind the wheel, started the car, and began the long drive across the state.
Pop music played quietly on the radio, but it didn’t seem to do anything to ease the tension in the car. Abigail watched in the rearview mirror as Henry reached into his pocket.
“What?” Henry asked mockingly. “I’m just getting my earbuds.” He held them up as he caught his mother’s eyes in the mirror. In that brief second, Abigail remembered the first time she looked into her son’s eyes.
Henry was six years old the first time she met him. He was tiny, malnourished, and dirty. He stood in their driveway; a little red car clutched tightly in his fist. The foster parent he had been staying with handed Abigail a plastic grocery bag with everything he owned. Henry stood with his back to Abigail and Max, watching his foster mother’s car drive away. He didn’t move until it was out of sight.
Abigail had stood frozen behind him, taking in the heartbreaking scene. She knew that coming to them meant that someone else was abandoning him, leaving him to start over with strangers again.
When he finally turned to them, Abigail’s breath caught in her throat. Henry was breathtaking, blue eyes like the Caribbean. His blonde hair was overgrown, falling into his face. He had scratches, some old and some new, from the half-broken glasses balancing precariously on his nose. One second, she was smiling down at him, and the next, he was off, running. Max chased after him through the neighborhood. At first, he wouldn’t come near either of them. It took a few weeks until Henry warmed up to them, until they established a routine, until they started to feel like a family.
Where did that little boy go? She looked at Henry, now a 16-year-old young man. He put his earbuds in, rolled his eyes, and turned to look out the window.
Max reached out and took Abigail’s hand. She laced her fingers with his and gave him a sad smile.
Interstate 76 cut across the state of Pennsylvania. Max and Abigail had never traveled this road. They were in awe of the scenery around them. The further west they went, the larger the mountains grew. “There’s a rest stop in two miles.” Max pointed out. “How about we stop and grab a bite to eat?”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Abigail answered.
Max looked in the rearview at Henry. “You hungry back there?”
Henry didn’t even bother to look at his father. Max looked at Abigail, who simply shrugged her shoulders.
A few minutes later, they were pulling off the interstate and into the parking lot. Max held Abigail’s hand as they walked. Henry stayed behind them, scuffing his feet along the pavement with each step. Once inside, there were a variety of food options to choose from.
“What do you want to eat?” Max asked Henry.
“I don’t care.”
“Alright, pizza it is.” Max ordered a tray of pizza and three drinks. The family sat at a table to eat their lunch. Abigail and Max attempted some light conversation. Henry refused to remove his earbuds, clearly not wanting to be a part of the conversation.
“I have to use the restroom before we leave,” Abigail told her husband.
“No problem. Henry and I’ll wait here.”
“I’ve got to go too.” Henry finally spoke.
Abigail and Henry shared a nervous look.
“Umm…okay…I’ll wait out here,” Max said nervously.
A few minutes later, Abigail came out of the restroom and saw Max standing alone. “He didn’t come out yet?”
“Nope.”
“Max, there is a second exit on the other side of the restrooms.”
Abigail looked at Max, concern marred his face. Henry wasn’t a little boy anymore. He didn’t need his daddy to go in the restroom with him, but standing and waiting put the couple at a disadvantage; they didn’t have eyes on Henry. The minutes ticked by slowly as Abigail remembered another day when she had waited for Henry, but he never came.
It was a Thursday afternoon, one she would never forget. Henry went missing. He was ten years old at the time and attending special needs classes. Autumn was beginning to take hold; the air was crisp. Red, yellow, and orange leaves lined the sidewalks. Abigail had been sitting on the porch swing reading a book while waiting for the school van to drop Henry off. Her phone rang with an unfamiliar number. “Hello?”
“Mrs. Anderson, it’s Mr. Sal, Henry’s driver.” He was out of breath as he spoke. “I was driving. Henry jumped off the van.”
“He what?” Abigail’s heart began beating frantically in her chest. “Where is he?”
“I couldn’t go after him. I had other kids in the van. I called the police. They’re searching for him.” Her world screeched to a halt.
An hour later, a searcher grabbed Henry as he was about to run onto a busy highway. She rushed to the school. When she arrived, she saw Henry, wildly combative, being handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car and was on his was way to the emergency room for a psychiatric evaluation. Abigail didn’t remember the drive or the wait or Max arriving. She didn’t remember anything until a nurse placed a warm blanket around her shoulders. Later that evening, Henry was declared a danger to himself and admitted to a psychiatric facility.
Abigail placed her hand on Max’s arm. “You need to go in and─”
“Here he comes.” Max breathed a sigh of relief. He felt his wife’s legs begin to give out. He grabbed her and held her tight. “It’s okay. He’s right there. See?”
She nodded her head, unable to speak as Henry sauntered towards them.
“Ready to go, guys?” He smirked and kept walking.
Max’s hands balled into fists in response to his son’s bad attitude.
Abigail grabbed his hand. “Please, Max. Let’s just get back on the road.”
Max looked into his wife’s pleading eyes. She had already suffered enough. He wasn’t about to add to her trauma. Together they walked back to the car. Henry was leaning up against the door, waiting for them. They got in and got back on the road.
The last hundred miles of their journey seemed to drag on, even though Max was driving well over the posted speed limit. It was this part of the journey that had plagued her nightmares the past week. Nightmares were something she had gotten used to since that day in the kitchen with Henry.
It was six weeks ago yesterday. Henry had just arrived home from school and went straight to his room, slamming the door. I don’t have the energy for another fight. She thought silently. If he doesn’t get his homework done, oh well. After six years of living with Henry, Abigail was all too familiar with the eerie feeling that began to permeate the room. As she reached for her coffee cup, the hairs on her neck stood on edge. Pausing for a moment, she heard footsteps coming towards her on the tiled kitchen floor. She began to turn around but froze when she felt something cold and sharp pricking the back of her neck—the area between the vertebrae where the neck meets the spine.
“Don’t move, or I’ll put this knife through your neck,” Henry’s voice was devoid of emotion.
He’s going to kill me. She slowly removed her trembling hands from the coffee cup and placed them in her lap. She found herself unable to take a deep breath, her body beginning to shut down. Compose yourself, Abigail. It’s the only way you’re gonna make it out alive.
She recognized the tone of Henry’s voice. He was in an altered state that didn’t include reality. In this state, Henry had no conscience. She couldn’t plead with him. Her only hope was to try a distraction; food was her best option.
“Do you want me to fix you a snack, Henry?” She tried to keep the waver out of her voice. “I have Hot Pockets.”
He simply applied more pressure to the knife, penetrating her skin. A slow trickle of blood began to run down her back. She saw visions of the blade sliding between her vertebrae, severing her spinal cord. Henry sawing until she bled out, and her head was on the floor.
The clatter of the knife on the tile floor startled her. Henry ran back to his room. Abigail remained paralyzed with fear, her lungs threatening to suffocate her. Then Max’s strong arms were around her rocking her trembling body, “You’re safe, baby girl, you’re safe.”
When the police had questioned Henry, he said he had stolen the knife from the teacher’s lounge to kill her. The police led a handcuffed Henry to their car. He stopped walking. “Mom, I promise you, I’ll be back. I’ll get a gun, and I’ll kill you.” That threat, his lethal gaze, the dried blood on her back. That was the last time Henry was ever in their home.
Max finally steered the car off the interstate. The rest of the ride led them on roads through Amish farmlands. Scenes of families working together in their fields filled Abigail’s view. Tears pricked the backs of her eyes as she realized her dreams for their little family of three had fallen apart.
“We’re here,” Max spoke softly as the facility came into view.
Tree of Life Center for Recovery was ranked as the best long-term treatment facility in the state for troubled teenagers. Abigail felt conflicted when she saw the facility was as beautiful as the pictures. It still felt wrong, but she knew they had no other choice. She was miserable thinking about leaving him yet so ready to have him gone. Beyond the entrance gates, horses for the equine therapy program grazed with quiet eyes, tails swishing. On the other side of the road, a group of teens played basketball. Peace and happiness. It was nothing like she’d imagined.
“It looks pretty nice here.” Abigail tried her best to sound optimistic. “What do you think, Henry?”
“It’s fine.” Henry’s stare focused beyond the sights around him.
“I think you’re gonna like it here.”
“I doubt it.” Henry met her eyes, piercing her with his hateful stare. Abigail stopped talking and looked to Max, who simply shook his head. After the day Henry stabbed her, Max gave up all hope. His primary goal was to protect his wife.
Max parked in a visitor’s spot. He and Abigail looked at each other and took a deep breath. The rest of the day would not be easy. Once again, Max and Abigail walked hand in hand while Henry lagged behind, still not speaking to them.
They entered the admissions building and were greeted by Dr. Bell, the lead psychiatrist. He ushered the family into a meeting room to meet the doctors, nurses, and residential staff who would be Henry’s treatment team. It was overwhelming, causing the all too familiar feelings of a panic attack to begin. Abigail’s hands started to go numb; her lungs refused to give her the air she needed. Max noticed his wife’s distress immediately and grabbed her hand, holding tightly, silently offering the support she needed to get through today.
“Excuse me, please,” Abigail spoke quietly. “Is there a restroom?”
“Yes, in the hall, third door on the right,” Dr. Bell replied.
Abigail got up and left the room. As soon as she was in the hall, the tears she had been holding back began to fall, she sunk to the floor. A young woman with dark curly hair came over to sit beside her.
“You must be Abigail,” She said in a soft tone. “I was just about to come in. I’m Justine, Henry’s therapist.”
“I’m sorry. I just needed a break.” Abigail tried to catch her breath. “This is all so hard.”
“No need to apologize. There’s nothing easy about this situation.” Justine handed her a tissue. “We can take all the time you need before we go back into the room.
The two ladies sat on the floor of the hall, neither saying a word for a few minutes as Abigail allowed the emotions she had been holding in to pour out through her tears.
Justine reached for Abigail’s hand. “We’ll take good care of him.”
“I hope you’re able to do what I couldn’t. I hope you can break down his walls and reach the little boy trapped inside.”
“I’ll do everything I can to help him get well. You ready to go back in there?”
Abigail closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Together the women walked back into the room.
Abigail returned to her seat next to Max. He gave her a loving smile.
Justine walked over, taking the seat next to Henry. “Hi there, I’m Justine. I’ll be your therapist.”
“Good for you.” Henry rolled his eyes and turned his body away. Justine smiled, unphased by his bad attitude.
Dr. Bell took the break in the conversation to excuse Henry from the room, sending him with the residential staff to get settled in at the residence. Once they were alone, Dr. Bell began to ask questions about Henry’s early history. They discussed what they knew of his past as well as their experiences with him.
Dr. Bell’s face became serious. “Is there any history of sexual abuse?”
Abigail looked at Max; her eyes still puffy from crying. They both knew these questions were coming, but it didn’t make answering them any easier. Max held his wife’s delicate hand in his large, steady hand.
Abigail turned her head and looked at Dr. Bell. “Yes, Sir, there is.” She told him about the night they learned about the man who violated Henry’s small body. “Henry was very matter of fact when he talked that night.” Tears poured down her face as she spoke. “He told us about the man, a caretaker from his past, who forced him to do sexual acts with him. He didn’t cry or show any emotion. The next day we called his caseworker. She told us that he didn’t need a therapist because the abuse happened when he was so young. If we only knew.”
“You did the right thing.” The doctor assured the couple. “None of what’s happened is your fault. The information you were told was wrong. You weren’t given proper support from the beginning.” His voice held no judgment. “I assure you both we’ll do everything we can to help Henry close the wounds from his past and gain skills for a better future.” With that, the doctor stood and shook the couple’s hands, leaving them with Justine.
“Let’s head over to the residence. You can see where he’ll be living and say your goodbyes,” Justine said. She led the couple out of the building and over to the residential buildings. Henry was sitting on a bench with one of the staff as they walked up.
“Are you all settled in?” Justine asked in a cheery voice.
“Yeah, all settled in,” Henry replied mockingly.
“Time to say goodbye to your parents.”
“No thanks, they can just leave.” He snarled.
Max was visibly upset by Henry’s attitude. “Henry, knock it off and say goodbye to your mother.”
Abigail’s throat was aching with tears as she placed her hand on Max’s arm. “It’s okay.” His body relaxed with her touch.
“Goodbye, Henry.” Max’s words held a finality to them.
Abigail spoke softly. “I love you, Henry. Please get well.” Henry turned away, without a word, following Justine inside.
Abigail remained rooted where she stood, unable to walk away until the door closed with Henry inside, out of her sight. Max, outwardly calm and steady, took her hand in that strong yet gentle way and led her back to their car. Her heart broke a little more with each step. The tears she was holding back fell freely. She wanted to have hope, but her gut told her this would be one of the last times she would see her son.
That first day back, there was something different about the peace; maybe it was more permanent. Abigail had her usual cup of coffee at the oak dining room table while she stared out the glass doors at the spring leaves and bouncing daffodil heads. She missed him. She didn’t miss wondering when he would try to hurt her again or having to live in a home that felt more like a prison; cameras in every room and doors and cupboards locked. Their whole family dedicated the past nine years of their lives to help him, and now her family didn’t feel complete. Did I fail him? Was he already lost when he first arrived? So many thoughts were running through her mind.
She had avoided it for so long, but she finally gave in. She walked to the shelf in the living room. She reached up, took the scrapbook she had made for Henry off the top shelf, carried it carefully back to the dining table, and sat down. With shaking hands, she opened it.
One of the first pages held two pictures: each of them of a woman, each a mother. On the left was the only photo they had of Henry with his birth mother, the mother he called “visit mom;” on the right was Henry and Abigail’s picture. Abigail smiled, remembering that memory. They were making pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.
“Here, Henry.” Abigail passed him a spoon. “You can lick the batter.”
Henry reached out and took the spoon. His eyes closed as his tongue lapped up the yummy pie filling. The pie mix smeared on his nose, causing Abigail to giggle
Henry looked up at her with his big blue eyes. “I love you, princess mom.”
It was at that moment she knew he should be her son. She glanced back at the picture of Henry and his birth mother. “I am so angry with you—visit mom.” This woman gave him life, then neglected and abandoned him. But Henry always loved her. He never entirely accepted he wouldn’t go back to her one day.
Abigail looked up when she heard the door close. Max had just walked in from work.
“What are you looking at there?”
“I took out Henry’s scrapbook. Come look.”
Max pulled up a chair next to his wife as they looked through the pages.
Abigail turned the page. They found themselves looking at the photos from Adoption Day. They stood next to the judge, while Henry sat in the judge’s seat. The picture revealed something that day she never saw or perhaps hadn’t allowed herself to see before─ Everyone was smiling, except Henry.
“Max, look.” She pointed to the photo. “Do you remember how upset he got when you told him I was going to be his new mom?”
“How could I forget?”
She recalled the day, shortly before they adopted him when Max told Henry Abigail would be his new mom. “I don’t want a new mother. I have a mother,” he shrieked and pummeled them both with his seven-year-old fists. From that day on, he had insisted he was going back to his real mom.
“Did he think he was going to court to go back to his birth mom?” Tears pricked Abigail’s eyes.
Henry had been to court many times in his young life while custody was being decided. When his birth mother seemed to be doing well, the judge, trying to keep his natural family intact, would allow him to return to her. She wondered if it was possible, despite the adoption preparation they attempted to do with him, he didn’t completely understand what was happening? Did Henry go to court that day with the hope he would be returned to his birth mother, only to realize he was going to remain with Max and Abigail forever?
For the first time, the pieces of the puzzle started to fit together. Neither Max nor Abigail said a word. Chills covered Abigail’s body as the realization that the very day they were celebrating their new family was the day Henry began to hate her. I guess maybe Adoption Day was the tipping point, she thought, rubbing her thumb over their smiling faces.
“I think it’s time to put this away.” Max closed the scrapbook and stood, and put it in its place back on the shelf. “Why don’t we go out for dinner tonight?”
Abigail smiled, pretending to put her thoughts away as quickly as he put the scrapbook away. “That sounds great.” She smiled at him.
As they drove to the restaurant, she was quiet. Memories of the weeks following the adoption played in her mind. She recalled how Henry became completely distant, especially from her. Henry started exhibiting behavior issues at home and at school. At the time, they felt it wasn’t anything they couldn’t handle, until that day, exactly one month after the adoption, when everything changed in an instant.
Abigail had been washing dinner dishes while Henry was drying them and putting them away. Max had gone outside with the garbage. The sound of Henry loudly clinking silverware into the drawer stopped. Abigail turned around to see what he was doing. She remembered hearing a blood-curdling scream and realized it was coming from her.
“Henry, oh my God, what did you do?” She was frantic.
Henry had taken a knife and cut his wrist open. She grabbed his arm, pressing the dishtowel as tightly as she could, trying to stop the bleeding.
“Max, help, I need help.”
Max heard her screaming and ran back into the house. He saw the knife on the floor and his wife holding a bloody cloth on his son’s arm. He called 911. The ambulance arrived minutes later.
“Can I please ride with him?” Abigail asked the paramedics through her tears.
“Of course, ma’am.”
She climbed in and buckled into a seat. She watched as they worked to control the bleeding. Max followed in the car.
In the emergency room, even though she was physically present, Abigail felt detached. She remembered feeling like she was in one of those out of body experiences, a wavering camera on the ceiling, watching this impossible scene. There was no way any of this was real. Four security guards were struggling to hold an eight-year-old child, a feral child who fought them, so they could administer a sedative. Eight years old. This wouldn’t be his last suicide attempt. But it was the first time he was committed to an in-patient psychiatric facility. That event was the start of a pattern of increasing violent behaviors and repeated hospitalizations.
Max brought Abigail to her favorite Mexican restaurant. She went through the motions of dinner, but her heart and mind weren’t there.
“Max,” Abigail set her fork down. “Do you think we missed signs of a problem with Henry?”
“Looking back, maybe, but we did the best we could.” He reached out and took his wife’s hand in his. “We cared for him and loved him. There was nothing we could have done differently.
Abigail nodded her head silently. She wanted to believe Max’s words, but she couldn’t. She felt like she had failed Henry.
Over the first six months at Tree of Life, Henry didn’t call and refused to accept calls from his parents. Abigail was going to therapy on her own. She had been diagnosed with PTSD and had frequent nightmares and panic attacks.
She was sitting on her living room sofa, trying to control her breaths when Max came in from work. He was startled to see his wife’s pale complexion and shaking hands.
He rushed to her side. “What’s wrong?”
“Justine called,” Abigail spoke. “We have to go visit Henry.”
“What?” Max raised his voice, startling Abigail. “I’m sorry I yelled. What do you mean we have to visit him?”
Abigail was numb as she spoke. “The insurance is requiring us to visit him this weekend, or they won’t approve further treatment.”
Abigail could no longer control her fear. She began to hyperventilate. Max held her tightly, rubbing her forehead gently, and whispered calmly in her ear until she fell asleep in his arms.
Early Saturday morning Max and Abigail once again got in the car and set out for Tree of Life. Abigail was so panicked she needed medication to get in the car. This time, Interstate 76 was familiar. As the mountains grew more prominent, so did the fear in the pit of Abigail’s stomach. When they arrived at the facility, the horses were there, and the basketball. Abigail was so terrified that she could see nothing but the hands she kept clenched on her lap. Max pulled into the same visitor’s spot that they were in six months ago.
“Take me home, Max,” Abigail’s whisper was desperate and begging.
Max turned and held her face in his hands, “You are my world, my everything. I won’t let anything happen to you. I’ll be right here next to you.”
Somehow, Abigail found the courage to step out of the car.
Justine met them in the visitation building, “Henry has had an incredibly positive day. He’s in a great mood,” she was practically beaming as she led them into a smaller visitation room. “He’s just finishing up creative therapy and will be escorted here any minute.” She seemed to hesitate, searching their faces for a positive reaction.
Max stood silent; Abigail was only relieved at having a few more minutes reprieve. Pushing on, she said, “What I’m hoping we’ll accomplish today is─” when they heard a commotion erupt in the hallway. Justine jumped up to check on the situation. “Stay here,” she said firmly. Abigail heard a lock click as she closed the door.
As they waited in the room, they could hear Henry laughing and yelling, “I was going to kill her. I was finally going to get to go back to my real mom!”
Minutes that felt like hours passed before Justine returned, her optimism dimmed. “In the pre-visitation pat-down, the staff found a knife tucked in Henry’s waistband,” she said. Listening, Abigail couldn’t understand why she was calm. Maybe it was the lock on the door. Maybe it was because she wouldn’t be forced to see Henry that day. Maybe because his actions affirmed their decision, no matter how hard it had been.
Max and Abigail explained their theory about Adoption Day and Henry’s disappointment.
Justine said, “I’ve explained this to him.” Then she looked at Abigail as if she would have the answer, “Why does he think killing you will let him get back to his birth mom?”
Abigail lifted her left shoulder in a “dunno” move and gave a grimacing smile to Max. He squeezed her hand.
They silently left the facility hand in hand, both knowing Henry would not be coming home.
August 23, 2017, nine months after the day they didn’t see Henry. Nine months after the day he stole yet another knife to kill Abigail. The couple was sitting in a meeting room with their attorney and Judge Smith. The judge was on a conference call with Dr. Bell.
Max held Abigail’s hand as she looked around the room. The posters caught her eye. They were filled with inspirational slogans meant for struggling parents. On the opposite wall, she saw the pictures of families who had celebrated their adoptions in this room; she knew their photo was somewhere in the mix. Heartache and happiness. She felt the weight of the two opposing emotions crushing her. Today, with the full support of Dr. Bell, they were petitioning to terminate their parental rights. Today, 16-year-old Henry would once again become a ward of the state.
The conversation between Dr. Bell and Judge Smith was difficult to hear. “Henry has attempted to run away from Tree of Life on multiple occasions, something that remains a concern. He displays violent behavior, attacking staff, and peers daily. To date, Henry has set two fires: one in his residence and one at the school, forcing the buildings to be evacuated.” Dr. Bell informed the judge.
“Has any progress been made on his therapeutic schedule,” Judge Smith asks, his kind and crinkled eyes a little sad around the edges.
“Henry has an intense therapy schedule, but he typically refuses to attend sessions. The few sessions we have been able to get him to, he was removed for disruptive behavior.”
Justine came on the line to read her notes. “Henry is completely obsessed with murdering his adoptive mother and holds the delusion that killing her will return him to his birth mother.” She paused. “He is still actively plotting ways to kill his adoptive mother.”
Max squeezed Abigail’s hand. Abigail was unable to meet his eyes.
“Then there is Henry’s history of sexual abuse,” Dr. Bell added. The judge had already read the full report and was familiar with the details. “He is exhibiting a significant increase in predatory sexual behaviors. For Henry’s safety and the safety of others, we’ve had to transfer him to the sexual predatory unit at Tree of life.” Dr. Bell’s voice was professional. He’d seen this kind of thing before. “That’s my full report.”
They could hear him tapping papers into a neat stack, finished with his evidence for the judge.
Thank God that is over. Abigail was overwhelmed by the conversation.
The judge took a long, deep breath, obviously weighing the gravity of the situation before he addressed the couple.
“You’ve been good parents. You’ve tried. But Henry’s diagnosis is serious. I’ve read his history. He has a poor prognosis. He needs to remain in a long-term placement.”
Max squeezed Abigail’s hand so hard it hurt. She wiggled her fingers, and he slackened his grip.
Judge Smith’s deep, gentle voice dropped and grew softer. He looked Abigail in the eye. “I’m concerned about his fixation on you. He is a danger to you.”
Abigail blinked away fresh tears. Someone else knows. This isn’t in my head.
The judge went on, “I know you are suffering, but I have to thank you so much for opening your hearts and your home to a little boy who needed a family. In the eyes of the court, you gave him not only your love but every opportunity for treatment. Treatment Henry refused to accept.”
A tiny sob escaped from Abigail’s throat. Her tears were flowing freely.
“Your petition to terminate parental rights is granted.”
Abigail’s emotions rolled through her. Relief. Heartbreak. Failure. That was the emotion. Failure. The worst failure of her life. She hadn’t been able to reach her son. He never accepted my love. I couldn’t save him from his trauma. I failed him. At that moment, the loss was so significant she didn’t think she would ever recover.
Max lifted his voice to Dr. Bell on speakerphone, “Thank you, sir.” He shook Judge Smith’s hand. Then he wrapped his arm around his wife’s shoulder and guided her out of the courtroom.
That afternoon, Max and Abigail sat in silence, neither able to express the intensity of their emotions. Abigail felt as though she were mourning a death, and in a sense, she was. The little boy she fell in love with was dead. Her thoughts returned to those first months when he would fix her with his Caribbean eyes and call her princess mom.
“I thought I could help that little boy,” She whispered. Maybe that little boy was only a figment of my imagination.
What she knew was that Henry, now, was the shell of a young man with no conscience, no feelings, and no future.
She looked at her husband, the man who displayed so much courage and strength, holding her and protecting her all these years, to see him silently crying, also mourning the loss of their son. She moved closer to him, and he wrapped her in his strong arms, holding her close. They stayed like that, together, wrapped in the security of each other, silently saying goodbye to the son they no longer had.
Abigail’s recovery from the trauma was not easy. Panic attacks threatened to suffocate her; nightmares haunted her. She believed she was broken. It was Max’s loving encouragement and support that sustained her until she was strong enough to stand on her own.
She sat on her porch swing, her coffee and journal in hand, Max’s words playing loudly in her head. “You are not broken. You were never broken.” His voice was full of love and admiration. “You have been through a battle and suffered wounds, but you did not break.”
She opened her journal and began to write about the most crucial part of her healing, accepting Henry wasn’t hers to fix.
“Adopting Henry was not a mistake. We had the opportunity to give him the love he never had but always deserved. Had we not adopted him, he would have remained in the foster care system, bouncing from house to house until he aged out. Max and I did our best. We gave him a home and the love his birthmother never gave him. We provided Henry with the services he needed to heal; he chose not to take them. I have made peace with Henry’s choice, knowing Tree of Life is a place where he is cared for and kept safe. Should he decide to accept help, it is there waiting for him.”
She closed her journal and took a sip of her cooling coffee. Given time and Max’s continuous love and support, her wounds have had a chance to heal, but she is left with scars. There are days when panic bubbles just below the surface, and nightmares plague her sleep. The battle may always lie beneath the surface, but she is strong and able to fight. She wears her scars with pride, knowing she stood before unimaginable fear, looked it in its face, and was unrelenting in her resolve. She lived through her own personal hell, not seeing a way out. Recovery has not been easy; it has taken courage─ something she didn’t know she possessed. She was forced to dig deep inside herself, accepting the remaining fear, but choosing not to let it rule her life.
She smiles as Max’s car pulls in the driveway; he is home after a day’s work. I am a survivor; I am strong. She stands and walks down the steps to greet her husband, her hero. She no longer allows the past to control her. She has chosen to live unafraid.


Author:

T.L. (Tara) Conrad lives in Pennsylvania. She’s mom to four adult children who make her insanely proud. She married her high school sweetheart and is living her happily ever after. Knowing her love of reading and writing, her husband encouraged the pursuit of her MFA. He is her biggest supporter in all of her writing pursuits. Tara writes about her experience with adoption and homeschooling. She is also planning to release a children’s book, co-written with her husband, in the near future.

Follow:

Visit her website www.tlconradauthor.com and her Facebook page to keep up with her latest news and releases.

Terminal Blue and Window Pane- Art by Mark Blickley, Amy Bassin, & Beatrice Georgalidis

Adorably Horror Series – Mark Blickley & Amy Bassin

-Mark Blickley & Amy Bassin


Photo by Beatrice Georgalidis

“Window Pane”

by Mark Blickley

It was time for Ralph’s first real haircut. Ralph’s mother said it was time, as did the next-door parents of his best friend, Emmitt.  The only person who did not think it was time for a real haircut was Ralph. He did not want to go to the barbershop.

Ralph liked having his mother cut his hair. Last month she was so tired after working a double shift at the hospital she accidently sliced his ear with the scissors.  There was a lot of blood.  On Sunday Mother announced that Bright’s Barber Shop had finally opened after being closed for nearly four months because of the virus. She scheduled an appointment for Ralph on Friday.

Thursday night Ralph could not fall asleep. Every time he shut his eyes all he could see was the huge window in front of Mr. Bright’s barbershop. Ralph hated that window. He had to pass it every week when his mother took him to the babysitter before she went to work at St. Ann’s Medical Center.

Even though Ralph hated the window, he would always look inside as he passed by. He couldn’t help himself. And what he saw truly frightened him. A large bald-headed man with a bushy moustache named Mr. Bright was always chopping off somebody’s hair.  Ralph remembered seeing men, boys, and even a lady tied to a chair, looking like prisoners as Mr. Bright danced around them waving sharp tools.

Friday morning Ralph was very very nervous and refused to leave the house. He felt as trapped as the frogs he stalked, caught and tossed into his pail. For the first time in his life Ralph wished he were a frog. Frogs don’t have hair.


Artists:

Mark Blickley & Amy Bassin & Beatrice Georgalidis

Murphy’s Ghost – Short Story by Steve Wheeler

Adorably Horror Series – Steve Wheeler 

 MURPHY’S GHOST 

I was not surprised at the shuffling of feet beyond the high wooden fence. It was Halloween night and I was working my first shift as night watchman in the old lumber company where my grandfather had worked for thirty years. They say, at the end, the owner would send a car for old Tom to take him, in comfort, the two miles each way he had walked for so long.  

     There were children and parents walking the streets outside the yard, sometimes explosions of firecrackers in the distance. 

     It was an old lumber yard, a throwback to the glory days of Bytown when timber was king. I walked around the perimeter wooden fence, checked that the big doors to the yard and garage were locked, wandered into the little kitchen for a cup of tea. I knew that drinking too much caffeine on graveyard shifts could have disastrous consequences when the lack of sleep eventually caught up to you, but this was my first shift, Halloween night and tea didn’t seem as dangerous as coffee. 

     I wasn’t one to be superstitious and all the leprechauns and little people and faeries of Irish folklore weren’t foremost in my thoughts except when I remembered my mother who was born in Galway and believed in it all. I had bad dreams about the freezecat but that’s another story. 

     There were three mugs set out in the kitchen at the back of the office. I dropped a teabag into one, plugged in the kettle and checked that day’s Sun girl. 

     The knocking at the office door sounded normal. Maybe some of the trick or treaters outside had seen the kitchen light. I walked through the dark office. 

     As I reached for the doorknob I heard the words 

     “No need for that” 

     I couldn’t believe my eyes when a man walked right through the door and shook my outstretched hand. 

     “Tom, Tom Wheeler, your grandfather, and you’ll know Murphy” 

      To my astonishment another figure stepped through the closed door and shook the hand which my grandfather had just squeezed. I felt it. I know they both squeezed my hand. 

     I recognized my grandfather by pictures I’d seen. He had a large head, a bald pate and a perpetual smile. My irreverent friends would have called him “wingnut” because of his large ears, but not to his face. 

     Murphy’s theory was the reason I was here in the first place. His theory of gambling on sporting events hit a few rough spots when I tried it after his death. Or maybe I didn’t get the full gist of it. Whatever happened, I lost my shirt over those bets and was forced to take this job. The last time I’d seen Murphy he was sitting up in his casket with my coffee cup in his hands and a brawl going on all around him. 

     They made their way through the office to the kitchen where my grandfather refilled the kettle and washed out an old teapot. He made tea while Murphy and I sat down at the table.      

     I wasn’t sure what to do about it and the manners of these two ghosts, for that is what they must be, were impeccable. 

     “I thought we came here to decide” said Murphy, filling his pipe. 

     “Yes, we can decide tonight, all right. Tonight’ll be the night we’ll decide” Tom said as he set the pot down on the table to steep and pulled up a chair. He too filled his pipe. 

     “You didn’t follow through on the system I told you about just before I died” Murphy said to me. 

     “What do you mean?” I piped up. 

     “A team usually loses at home the first game after a road trip. That’s part of it. There were a few more tricks of the trade which you failed to employ when you made those bets. You would have bet the opposite and cleaned up if you had” Murphy lined up the sugar and milk near his cup just behind the spoon. 

     “Hm” I grunted.  

     Tom poured tea into our cups and spoke to Murphy as he added his sugar. 

     “I think three” 

     Murphy took his time, measured his sugar carefully with his spoon, added milk and stirred the combination vigorously. 

     “After a lot of thought, I have to conclude that the answer is two” 

     A long silence broken only by the sounds of tea drinking and the unwrapping of a package of biscuits Tom had produced. Peak Freans. 

     “Maybe, if they were doing a proper Irish jig. But even then, with the footwork, you’d have to hope they were once Irish in order not to step on each other’s toes.” 

     “See, three is the superior number” Tom answered,” being half again what your number two is It could be easily done by three angels dancing a Highland fling on the head of a pin” 

     My grandfather’s father was a stonemason from Putney but his wife was a Ross from the Highlands and he defended the northern clan at every opportunity. 

     “We’re not talking about a needle here” Murphy proclaimed. 

     “The thick end with the eye in it. Only Irish angels could dance on the head of a pin and there’d only be room for two of them” 

     Tom disappeared for a moment behind a cloud of grey smoke from his pipe. Anger showed on his countenance when he reappeared. 

     “Three Scottish angels could do it” 

     Before I knew what was happening they had jumped up and were circling the table, Murphy with a large shillelagh, Tom with a battle axe. 

     I sat still and watched. 

     Murphy swung a vicious two hander which caught Tom in the neck. His head was clearly separated from his shoulders but just popped up and landed back in its spot. It was facing the wrong way, but Tom adjusted it and caught Murphy on the side at hip level thereby cutting him in two with the axe. 

     Murphy separated in the middle but his upper body, after popping up, returned to the bottom half at the waist. 

     I could hear laboured breathing as they sparred and clashed but no more than the sounds of two old men exerting themselves. 

     Finally, they put aside their weapons, drank tea, smoked their pipes and resumed the debate. 

     “Two is a balanced number, equal on both sides of its duality” Murphy declared out loud. 

     “Well, we could add them together to equal five or put them side by side and come up with thirty two” offered agreeable Tom. One of his brothers had been an accountant. 

     “Ihirty two would be a little crowded on the head of a pin” Murphy observed.    

     Both disappeared behind clouds of grey smoke as they contemplated the problem with newly fired pipes. 

     “The angels would have to step lively all right” Tom observed. 

     “Thirty two Scottish angels could do a Highland Reel on the head of a pin” he declared. 

     “Mind you, they’d need eight circles for the teams of four” 

     “Hm” responded Murphy. 

     “I could see putting them side by side and coming up with twenty three”   

     I was wondering if they would again arise to resume hostilities but all they did was wash and dry the cups together like an old married couple. I could hear them mumbling to each other as they stood at the sink with their backs to me. 

     My disbelief was in a suspended state.  Except that it wasn’t a trick in my head. 

     They sat down at the table again and looked across the office to the front door. 

     The knock on the front door came after a long minute of waiting. 

     I made to rise but Tom put up his hand to stop me and Murphy said 

     “Shh” 

     The door never opened but four little men carried a log fire with a bubbling pot slung above it through the office to where we were sitting in the kitchen. Behind them a mad cackle blended with the whooshing sound of a wild wind and a dark figure flew through the wall, did two circuits of the office and landed deftly behind the pot. 

     My mouth was hanging open when I looked at my grandfather and Murphy. 

     Both nodded and smiled at the woman in front of us. 

     “Hello, Zelda” they said. 

     “Boys” the woman spoke while her appearance changed like fluid before my eyes. First she was an old hag, then a beautiful maiden, then an ancient crone with a wart on her nose and finally she settled on a plump milkmaid who peered curiously into the pot. 

     “This is Steve, Tom’s grandson and an old friend of mine” Murphy spoke up. 

     “He’s on the other side, is he?” she stirred the bubbling broth with great concentration. 

     “Yes, he’s still there” Murphy nodded agreeably 

     “But not for much longer” 

     This conversation troubled me. 

     “And how’s tricks and treats tonight then, Zelda?” Tom inquired. 

     Zelda turned into a smartly dressed businesswoman while she surveyed the pot and the four little men. Were they elves or goblins or gnomes? I didn’t know and no one was telling. 

     “It used to be better in the old days” she said 

     “You can’t scare anybody any more. Then there’s all the white witches. Dogooders I call them. I mean you can be spooky without being evil” 

     She joined Murphy and Tom in puffing on a pipe. With all four of the little men smoking their pipes as well, we disappeared for a moment until the cloud moved on. There was no smoke from the fire under the pot though, I will say that.      

     As if on a prearranged signal, the little men picked up the fire and pot, waited till Zelda stepped out of the way, carried it through the office and the closed front door. 

     Zelda watched them go, an ever changing expression on her ever changing face. 

     “Goodbye, boys. I sensed you were in the neighbourhood and thought I’d drop by to say hello. See you round” 

     She did a high speed circuit of the darkened office, one second mounting her broom, the next a black blur, the next gone through the wall. 

      After this display my grandfather produced a pint of single malt Highland whiskey and Murphy found a pint of Black Bush in his pocket. 

     The tea mugs were used to share the shots. 

     “Tell you what” said Murphy “We’ll meet next Halloween night here and decide for good” 

     “Agreed” said Tom “Next Halloween night. That long enough for you?” 

     “Oh yes. By that time there won’t be any doubt. I’ll know by then” 

     “Same here” said Tom. 

     They stood and proferred their hands. 

     Each squeezed my outstretched one. 

     As I followed them across the office, Tom said 

     “Halloween night is over here now. But it’s just starting west of here” 

     They waved goodbye and walked through the door. 

     I opened it and watched them walk to the outer fence. They turned to me. 

     “I’ll say hello to your Dad” Tom spoke in a loud voice. 

     “And don’t bet on anything more than five to one” Murphy shouted 

     They turned west and walked through the fence. 

     Up in the sky, silhouetted against the full moon, Zelda flew by on her broomstick. 

     I walked back to the kitchen to turn out the lights. 

     I felt that glorious buzz which just the right amount of good whiskey produces. 

     It was time to do my rounds and make sure nothing strange was happening in the yard that Halloween night. 

MURPHY’S GHOST© 


Artist:

Steve Wheeler 

Lad of Fortune – Short Story by Chiedozie Onyeneho

Still Shining

When needing a rest during the midday slump, I have something for you to relax and read. Check out this wonderfully written short story by Chiedozie Onyeneho! He also has initiated an inspired FB group called Pride oF mY rooT where he encourages art, respect, and equality for all.


Short story by Chiedozie Onyeneho
LAD OF FORTUNE

“She is such a bad luck. I am sure something is definitely wrong with her,” said Mrs. Elliot.
Edna had been adopted since her age three. Her foster parents Mr. and Mrs. Elliot were peasant farmers who managed a small portion of land on the outskirts of Upavon, a small town around the countryside.
Few days after her adoption, Mr. and Mrs. Elliot were evicted from their two rooms apartment home in London because, they could not afford to pay off their outstanding tax owed for three years. Mr. Elliot had been dismissed from his railway job due to false accusation by one of his colleagues at work. Whereas, Mrs. Elliot was a full time house wife.
Their seven years of marriage without a child was becoming unbearable. Both agreed to go for an adoption at a nearby orphanage home, run by the Catholic sisters of the needy.
Edna was an adorable child, but most importantly, she had a strong instinct that always signaled her each time there was a looming danger. That night, while everyone had gone to bed, she was awakened by rustling sounds around the farm house. At once, she hurried to wake her parents up, but they hushed her and told her to go back to sleep, assuring her it was just the wind. By the time they had woken up from the bed, their entire corn farm had been raised down to dust.
“Calm down Mrs. Elliot,” said Sister Philomena, the matron in-charge of the orphanage home. The loss at the farm was so much that she could not keep the innocent girl under her custody anymore. She blamed Edna for their misfortune including losing their home back then in London.
Two years later, she was adopted by another family who had lost their only daughter by accident to a careless driver while trying to cross the road on her way back from school. Mr. and Mrs. Rogers loved Edna because of her slight resemblance with their daughter Emilia. Edna settled fast because of the care she enjoyed at her new home. Her new parents were both into real estate business and they were very rich.
One Saturday evening, while they returned from a short night out with their driver, they looked very drunk. They held hands and staggered while their driver retired to the guest room. Edna ran towards the door leading to the sitting room as soon as she heard their voice and opened the door, but they made their way into their bedroom, ignoring her greetings. She shut the door behind her and went back to continue her cartoon until she dozed off.
Some hours later, she was woken up by strange footsteps. “Oh no! Someone has broken into our home,” she thought.
“Wake up Daddy, wake up mummy,” she ran quickly into her parents room. “Someone has broken into the house.” But, they would not listen because, they were very tired.
She felt helpless and was about making her way into her room, when the stranger pushed her over by the side and hurriedly shot her parents inside their room and quickly ran out.
She saw the face of the shooter, but passed out after she hit her head on the wall due to the push.
The relatives of her foster parents took care of her health at the hospital until her bruises were healed. During investigation, the police detectives went very far to dig up Edna’s past records from the narratives of one of the sisters at the orphanage home. She was taken back to the orphanage home as soon as her foster parents’ relatives learnt of it.
When she had fully recovered from the shock, she revealed the face of the shooter, and her foster parents’ driver was found guilty. During the court case, she was invited to testify against the culprit. As she entered the court room with Sister Philomena, she was shocked to see her foster parents on bandages smiling at her. She felt relieved that they survived after all. After the driver had been sentenced to prison, her foster parents went to her and gave her a big hug. They took her back as their daughter and willed some of their properties to her name.
The police detectives praised her for her courage. “We all are proud of you, I must say. You are a lad of fortune miss Edna. You did a very good job. Well done,” the police chief said while he shook her tiny hands. And there was a round of applause inside the court room, as she shyly smiled and walked outside with her foster parents, the Rogers family.


Artist:

Chiedozie Onyeneho is a creative writer and designer based in United Kingdom. He is also the initiator of a creative page on Facebook “Pride oF mY rooT,” which promotes inspirational art works and ideas from across the globe. Chiedozie Onyeneho is a graduate of Biotechnology.

Follow This Artist:
Instagram page: johnpax4u

Facebook page: Pride oF mY rooT

Facebook: Afrowest wardrobe & cleaners

After/Word – A Short Story by Richard Oyama

A Dash of Whimsy Series –

Start your day off with the amusing story by Richard Oyama! Take a look at his gripping work below!


AFTER/WORD

The Book first came into our hands as a typewritten manuscript on 20 lb. bond paper. It was composed on an IBM Selectric electric typewriter as there were occasional misspellings fixed with correction tape. The footnotes were laboriously lettered in a meticulous hand with a Cross ballpoint pen. Though the date of composition is inexact, the end date is consistent with its method. If the period is accurate, it was a serendipitous disaster, following upon Ronald Reagan’s ascendance and in the same month as John Lennon’s assassination.

The reproduction of the Mark Rothko painting at the end of the novel was cut and pasted from a catalogue of the painter’s work published by Yale University Press. A search of the 42nd Street Public Library’s holdings disclosed that an image of the painting was removed from that volume; formerly stored in a spherical reading room; the defaced book was withdrawn from circulation.

There is no official record that shows this book’s author checked out the Rothko book; however, a marginal note in the library volume reads, “Use this,” in the cut-out page that a handwriting analyst said matches the tiny lettering in the manuscript’s footnotes.

Little is known about the author. This biographical note was included at the end of the manuscript:

David Shimamura was born in Brooklyn before it was “Brooklyn.” His parents, aunts and uncles are deceased that allows him an impossible liberty. He attended neither Harvard nor Iowa Writers Workshop. His college transcript has been redacted. He prefers the company of roofers, engineers and grips to other writers. He has been a private investigator, an undertaker, confidence-man and cutlery salesman. He has walked a country mile on a moonless night and urinated on a red maple, making jagged striations like a Clyfford Still painting, and on backstreets where the shadows are thin knives. His fiction has not been published in The New Yorker or Paris Review but in Yellow Peril, Irascibles, Mumbo Jumbo, Insurrections, Sound Dada, Lonelyhearts, Red Armies, Intersectionalities and Hybridities. He knows nothing about Schrödinger’s cat or deconstruction. He notes that dogs romp and are still. It’s all in the letting go. He does not live in the academy but clings to the gutter, looking at the stars. Secrecy, exile and cunning; abstention, renunciation and withdrawal. No model no doctrine no exemplar. He would be Urashima Taro the Fisherman who rides a five-colored turtle to the Eternal Mountain on an island of jeweled palaces beneath a sea of green. The gods sing and dance like the waves. Urashima and his maiden make whoopy. He rows his boat and returns to Tsutsugawa. It’s 300 years in the future. Everything solid melts into air. He intends to save himself from drowning in the image-world. The American century ended around 1974 but in our innocence we prefer the myth of the city on the hill. This is the coda. “Birth of a Nation” established the country’s narrative practices, the black body is to be feared and happiness is, after all, a warm gun. He sees the devil’s compact of technology and capital. He has no wife, no children and no significant other. He is a monster of the imagination, a phantom, a ninja, somewhere you will not find him, nowhere and everywhere—in the subway, the park, the library, the basement, the encampment by the river as polar caps melt and the sea-level rises—waiting for a false dawn.

The book was delivered in a certified manuscript box with no return address. Rumors persist that a mimeographed, samizdat edition of the novel circulated underground among a coterie of fanatical readers in New York and San Francisco, primarily poor, neo-bohemian metropolitans—yes, such people live amongst us—and that excerpts were published in multiethnic small presses and literary anthologies like Mazes and Dark Fire in the ‘70s under the pseudonyms D. Shim or Divad M. Ashiruma, implying that the author wanted to bypass essentialist notions of race,  gender and identity, to be known simply as an American writer, Brooklyn-born, riffing jazz-like.

    “Scribes take a secret oath,” Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “to omit, interpolate, vary.”

    Three months after receipt of the manuscript, I took a phone call from an

unidentified caller. Our conversation proceeded as follows. He asked whether I had

received the book. What book is that? A Riot Goin’ On. I had. “And?” the voice said.

With whom I was speaking? “The dead author,” he said.

    Since the novel was unpublished, I asked the caller to verify specific details and incidents from the book in order to establish his authorship. He did so, citing in its particulars the water tower scene. Having identified the caller as David Shimamura, I told him our house planned to publish the novel. “Fine,” he said.

As for the novel’s composition, the voice on the phone said that it consisted of “five years of very intense work and multiple revisions—perhaps twenty or so?—and thirty years of pain, repression, psychic and linguistic blockage, incoherence, dreams of murder and suicidal ideation, magic, bridge-burning, malediction and love, duende, brainstorms, priapic convulsions, hallucinations, a tricked-up ebullience and a grim determination to amuse myself, come hell or high water. Think of the book as a graphic novel, a dimestore pulp, a cable mini-series, a critique of representations. It’s a post-revolutionary, hybrid work. It was written under extreme duress. I’m just a regular cuppa joe.”

There has been some dispute about Shimamura’s origins. A microfilm birth certificate exists at Brooklyn Hospital, but the birth name David is penciled in, whereas two other names, Cal and Stephen, were typewritten, then X’d out.

Next to the box marked RACE, “American of Japanese descent” is written on that line, although a genetic mapping based on a sample of Shimamura’s DNA obtained from a hair follicle, thick and unruly, in the manuscript box showed traces of Senegalese, Navajo, Irish, Thai, Cuban and Ashkenazi Jew. The test results also detected lineage with Otzi, The Iceman (not to be confused with soul singer Jerry Butler), a mummified, 5,000 year-old man discovered in the Italian Alps in 1991 and, further, an association with a “ghost population,” the genetic link between Europeans and Native Americans.

As for the premonitory gifts of the character “David Shimamura,” one can only speculate what in the novel is quasi-autobiographical and what fabrication, imposture and misdirection. Responding to our house’s Twitter solicitation asking for biographical facts about the author, an email from a correspondent in Tegucigalpa recounted a conversation with a Sensei Shimamura in a Nicaraguan bar. The author is said to have told him about his ability to move playing cards with his mind, read the secret emotions of animals and of his belief in Vico’s cyclical notion of history in Scienza nuova (New Science, 1725), but this testimony is suspect.

As to Shimamura’s present whereabouts, sightings have been reported by correspondents in Baltimore, Paris, Gaza, Prague, Havana, Hanoi, Tlön and Athens. These reports are sketchy and fugitive. The only known author photograph is a medium profile shot of a slim man, slightly balding, outfitted in black—black hat, black shirt, black pants—with a studded Western belt and hand-stitched cowboy boots in a hall of mirrors, but the endlessly receding images grow smaller and more indistinct as they approach the infinite. An art critic once wrote of Mark Rothko: “It is true that to enjoy [his] paintings seems less a thinking than a feeling process . . . One tends to enter into his canvases—not merely look at them.” Perhaps the same can be said for this book. As for the author himself, one may well begin to question whether the shadow-chaser David Shimamura exists at all.

—The Publisher


Artist:

Richard Oyama’s work has appeared in Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry, The Nuyorasian Anthology, Breaking Silence, Dissident Song, A Gift of Tongues, Malpais Review, Mas Tequila Review and other literary journals. The Country They Know (Neuma Books 2005) is his first collection of poetry. He has a M.A. in English: Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Oyama taught at California College of Arts in Oakland, University of California at Berkeley and University of New Mexico. His first novel in a trilogy, A Riot Goin’ On, is forthcoming.

The Shot – A Whimsical Story by Mark Jabaut

A Dash of Whimsy Series-

Mark Jabaut has brought us today a story of whimsy! So, go grab your coffee, curl up in your comfy spot on the couch, and take a read!


The Shot

             My son Aaron called on Thursday to ask us out to dinner.

            “No can do, kiddo,” I said.  “Your mom and I are pinching pennies, saving money for the Shot.  Thanks for the invite.  Maybe another time, Sport.”

            I call my son Sport sometimes.

            We had been saving for what seemed like forever – but what was, in fact, just a little over eight years – not taking vacations, not eating out, renting videos instead of going to the movies.  We discontinued the newspaper and cut the cable down to basic.  Who knew you still got over a hundred channels with basic?

            The thing was, the Shot was not cheap.  It was the exact opposite of cheap.  On a scale of zero to one-hundred, where cheap was zero and expensive was one hundred, the Shot was about one-hundred-fifty.  It was a bitch saving up that much money, excuse my French.

            We had even cut down our food expenses to the bare minimum.  We bought dented cans of soup at Mack’s, the discount grocery store, and an oversized box of saltines at Costco, and ate soup and crackers for every meal.  Almost every meal.  Sometimes we had PB&J if we wanted to splurge.

            The thing about the Shot, though?  It was worth it.  It was a vaccine against all the known diseases of the world.  So if you got the Shot, you would never get sick again.  And that could add up to twenty years to your life expectancy.  So that was worth eating soup every day, three times a day, with the occasional PB&J thrown in for variety.  For eight-plus years.

            Imagine never being sick again.  What a life that would be.  What a world!  Never having to deal with having that clogged-head feeling, where your brain is in a fog, and you have to blow your nose about a thousand times every hour?  Never having to trudge down to the drug store with a sore throat, wearing your coat over your pajamas, to buy cough syrup because your wife forgot to buy some the day before?

            Not to mention all the horrible diseases that are out there, even though it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get them, since they are so rare, but still, it would be nice to know that you never have to worry about getting them.  Like Ebola!  Or that sickle-cell thing with the blood.  And cancer, or course.  Everyone worries about cancer.

            Of course, just because you couldn’t get sick didn’t mean you would live forever.  The body ages.  Cells die.  But I can tell you this – you wouldn’t be dying from malaria, or cancer, or TB if you got the Shot.  No way, Jose.

            Lots of old people, they get pneumonia and die.  But it isn’t actually the pneumonia that kills them, it’s other things that the pneumonia invites in.  The pneumonia weakens the body, and then those other things get in and kill the old folks.  Sad but true.

            So if you’ve had the Shot, you can still die.  Just not from disease!  But you can still get run over by a delivery truck, or get stabbed by a mugger, and that can kill you, so once you’ve had the Shot, it behooves you to be extra careful about crossing the street and walking in dangerous neighborhoods.  It would be ironic to die by getting hit by a truck after you had your Shot that makes you immune to all known diseases of the world.  And an ironic death is the worst kind (aside maybe from burning to death, which I’ve always thought was the worst).

            Or, how about this? – you get your Shot, and get struck by a truck as you leave the clinic and walk to your car.  Talk about irony! I have to think that a lot of people, maybe even most people, take a lot of extra precautions when they leave the clinic after their Shot.  Maybe they stand just inside the door to the street, and watch the traffic for a while, worrying about the best time to make that dash to their car and home.  Me, I’m going to hire some armed guards and an armor-plated car to get me home.

            Just kidding – we’re having a hard enough time saving the money for the Shot.  Where am I supposed to come up with enough to pay for guards and military-style vehicles?  I’m not, that’s where.

            But that’s okay.  Just being able to afford getting the Shot will be enough.  Everything will be gravy after that.
            So, the point is, the wife and I were working really hard to save the money, and we were doing pretty good.  We got out the old calculator and made some projections, and we figured out that we only had to save for two or three more months to have enough to get us both the Shot.  Which was pretty damn good, right?  Two or three months of soup and crackers.  It looked like all of the sacrifice – the lack of cable premium channels and vacations, the intermittent PB&Js, the scrimping and saving, all of it – would be paying off soon.

            Then the bad news.  Carrie, Aaron’s littlest, comes down with some auto-immune thingamabobby that makes her very tired and causes her three-year-old little nose to run endlessly, and of course, the crappy insurance that Aaron gets through his work is only going to cover part of the treatment.  And can we loan them some money, they want to know?  Well, of course we can.  I mean, what are grandparents for, right?  If we can’t step in to help out little Carrie and her auto-immune problem, then who is going to?  Who is going to make sure she grows up healthy and happy and not lacking in the immunity department but us?  Not Aaron and his wife, that’s for sure.  They’ve never saved a penny in their lives. 

            So we say, sure, no problem, and how much are we talking about to treat this suspiciously fake-sounding disease with no real symptoms except for a general feeling of tiredness and an incessant runny nose, which I contend is a normal and constant condition in children this age anyway?  And Aaron mentions a figure which, if I were to say it here, would cause my blood pressure to soar and would make me yell all the swears I could think of, so suffice it to say, the figure is almost exactly the amount the wife and I have put away for the Shot.
            And so, after a spirited and half-whispered discussion in which the wife repeatedly uses the term “stingy ass-wipe,” we tell Aaron to meet us at the bank the next day when we will get him the money he so desperately needs to help little Carrie recover from this dreaded condition.  Because that’s what love is about. 

            Despite the fact that I have agreed to loan this huge sum of money to my son and his family, and despite the fact that when I say “loan” I really mean “give” because both Aaron and I know that he will never pay it back, I am drowning in second thoughts.  I mean, I’m really wallowing, here.  I’m wallowing and drowning in regret and the knowledge that I will have to start over saving money and spend the next eight-plus years eating soup three times a day, and will probably even have to waive the infrequent reprieve of a PB&J because things aren’t getting any cheaper, you know, they never do – and this wallowing and drowning feeling is making me resent my son for asking for the money, and resent my wife for talking me into loaning the money, and even resent little Carrie who really doesn’t have any concept of what is going on or the thousands of dollars that are being spent for her benefit in order to make her less tired and slow the flow of snot from her nose.
            And it’s then, when I start resenting Carrie, my innocent, snot-nosed granddaughter, that I realize that maybe I am a stingy ass-wipe.  What is eight-plus more years of nothing but soup when compared with the health of a young girl?  What kind of heartless grandfather would begrudge his little granddaughter a hand up in the world?  What kind of jerk would want a three-year-old girl who never did anything wrong except for the time she got snot all over the new sofa when she spent the night to have a less-than-optional shot at life? 

            Not this grandfather.  Not this jerk.  At that moment, I resolve to lose all resentment.  Things happen for a reason, I tell myself.  It will work out.  I like soup.

            And at the bank, everything is all smiles and happy tears, and the bank representative kind of grudgingly hands over the bank check that I’ve had made payable to Aaron, and I hand that to Aaron and he hugs me.  And I know, right then and there, that this was the right thing to do.  And I feel a sense of calm.
            We leave the bank, and the thank-yous are still flying profusely from the mouth of Aaron as we head to our cars, and I’m nodding and picturing Carrie, healthy and dry-nosed.  I stop for a final handshake with Aaron as the wife goes to the street to unlock our ten-year-old car.  And as I’m shaking my son’s hand, there is a squealing of brakes and a dull thump, and I turn just in time to see a city bus rolling over the wife.  Aaron runs over to her, and passers-by are screaming from the sidewalk and someone is shouting into a cell-phone about an ambulance, and I take one look at the wife and I know that no ambulance is necessary.  She is not going to recover from that. 

            I stand there, still as ever, and watch the activity whirling around me.  I’m still calm.  In fact, if anything, what I feel is relief.  Because I realize that, now, it will only take me four years to save the money I need for the Shot.


Artist:

Mark Jabaut is a playwright and author who lives in Webster NY with his wife Nancy.  Mark’s play IN THE TERRITORIES, originally developed via Geva Theatre’s Regional Writers Workshop and Festival of New Theatre, premiered in May 2014 at The Sea Change Theatre in Beverly, MA.  His 2015 Rochester Key Bank Fringe Festival entry, THE BRIDGE CLUB OF DEATH, went on to be featured at an End of Life Symposium at SUNY Broome County and is listed with the National Issues Forum for those who wish to host similar events. Other plays seeing the stage in recent years include THE HATCHET MAN, DAMAGED BEASTS and COLMA!  Mark has authored many short plays performed by The Geriactors, a local acting group.   Mark’s fiction has been published in a local Rochester magazine, POST, as well as The Ozone Park Journal, SmokeLong Quarterly, Spank the Carp and Defenestration. 

Follow This Artist:

www.markjabaut.com

John Sheirer – Online Open Mic

Risk Management

The first time Bob saw the bear cub at the office was when he opened the bottom drawer of the file cabinet. The bear cub was lying on its back among the folds of a quilted blanket like an infant in a crib, looking up at him with cheerful brown eyes. The bear cub wiggled its meaty little paws at him.

“Whoa,” Bob said, quickly shutting the drawer.

Bob immediately forgot why he had opened the file cabinet. Was he getting something out or putting something in? He had no idea. By the time he walked back to his desk and sat down, he was beginning to talk himself out of the idea that a bear cub was occupying a bottom file drawer in the document storage room at his nondescript place of employment, which happened to be an insurance company specializing in fire and flood policies.

“Whatcha doin’ there, Bob?” Cindy asked from her desk next to Bob’s. She wrote the policies. Bob kept track of them. They’d been a work team for nearly a decade.

“I think I need to get a file,” Bob said.

“Okey-dokey, if you think so,” Cindy replied, her skilled fingers blurring over the computer keys.

Bob walked slowly back to document storage and stood before the file cabinet again. He studied the bottom drawer, which seemed to be moving in and out a fraction of an inch every few seconds, almost as if it were breathing. The drawer was labeled, “L – R.” Bob couldn’t think of a word for “bear cub” that started with L, M, N, O, P, Q, or R. Bob had always believed that things belonged in their appropriate places.

Bob sighed. “What the hell,” he whispered as he opened the drawer. Sure enough, the bear cub was still there, still wiggling its big bear cub toes and looking at him with what he could only interpret as affection. The bear cub was cute, no doubt, but Bob wasn’t ready to return its affection just yet. Bob knew that even cute things could be dangerous. Bob had seen many situations where being cute could be used as an excellent disguise.

Bob looked around the document storage room. He was alone with the bear cub. His twelve coworkers were in the main office only ten steps through the doorway. He couldn’t very well call out, “Hey, who left the bear cub in the file cabinet?” This wasn’t a moldy sandwich in the office mini-fridge.

Bob wasn’t angry about the bear cub. He wasn’t even quite afraid of the bear cub. The best word to describe the feelings the bear cub brought up in Bob was suspicion. He was suspicious of this bear cub. He questioned its bear cub purpose and its bear cub motives and even its bear cub existence. What right did this bear cub have to interrupt his workday? It was almost lunch, and he didn’t want to waste his lunch half-hour dealing with some random bear cub.

Bob got down on one knee suspiciously. Cautiously would also be an accurate term. This was a wild animal, after all. What if its mother happened to be in another drawer somewhere close by? Mama bears were most dangerous when someone got between them and their bear cub. Bob had read that on the internet.

The bear cub watched Bob’s kneeling approach. It seemed pleased to have company after being alone in the drawer for … for how long? Bob didn’t remember the last time he had opened this particular drawer, and he was the one who did most of the filing.

The bear cub gurgled deep in its little bear cub throat, almost as if it were trying to imitate a grown bear’s roar but didn’t know how yet. Bob had to admit that the attempted roar was the cutest thing the bear cub had done so far, but he still wasn’t ready to give the bear cub the benefit of the doubt.

“Hey, Cindy?” Bob called out, just loud enough for Cindy but not the rest of the office drones to hear. “You got a second? Something to show you back here.”

The small but insistent sound of Cindy’s fingers striking the keys stopped. “Coming,” she called out. Cindy’s heels clicked on the tile floor, and the alert little bear cub craned its neck a bit to look around Bob for the source of the sound.

Bob could see Cindy’s shadow move across the floor and touch the bear cub. She put a hand on Bob’s shoulder.

“Oh,” she said. “You found Little Honey!”

“Little Honey?” Bob asked.

“Yeah,” Cindy said. “That’s what I call him.”

Bob craned his neck to look up at Cindy. The overhead light haloed her face. Her husband was some kind of a teacher who often stopped in just to give her a random rose and a quick kiss. She was pretty, Bob knew, in a grown-up girl-next-door-at-the-next-desk kind of way. But at that moment, backlit by humming fluorescents, she looked like a literal angel right out of an art book that featured nothing but angels. Or maybe a television show about angels Bob had once seen as a child. The point is, she was glowing.

“Seriously?” Bob asked. “Little Honey Bear?”

“It’s a good name for him, don’t you think?” Cindy said, her words floating down to Bob as if from heaven.

Bob looked back at the bear cub. Little after-images from Cindy’s angel light danced around the bear cub in Bob’s field of vision. He had to admit that Little Honey Bear was a good name for the furry creature in the file drawer.

Bob started to stand, not the easiest maneuver considering his bad knee. Cindy grasped his arm and helped him up. Her grip was stronger than he would have expected. Once he was upright, Cindy kept her hand wrapped around his arm. Bob found her grip reassuring.

“How long has he been here?” Bob asked.

“Not long,” Cindy replied. “A few years.”

“A few years?” Bob marveled. “I file things here ten times a day. How have I missed seeing him?”

“Well,” Cindy explained, “he moves from drawer to drawer now and then. And not everyone can see Little Honey right away. Sometimes it takes a few tries.”

The two of them looked down at Little Honey like parents watching their first-born child.

“Who else knows about him?” Bob asked.

“Janice in HR. Phil the janitor. And LaDonna in marketing,” Cindy said. “You now Arthur from the bank? Comes for planning sessions every few months? It took him a few tries, just like you. He can be really serious sometimes, but Little Honey got him to open up a bit, relax, be himself.”

“Really?” Bob asked. “Arthur from the bank can see a bear cub in our file drawer? He seems so … sensible.”

“Yep. Last month, he stopped in just to see Little Honey with his wife and daughter,” Cindy said. “They could all see him. A family thing.”

“Arthur from the bank …” Bob repeated, mystified.

Cindy continued: “And, of course, my husband Ted can see him. Saw him the very first time I showed him. Bob even calls me his ‘little honey bear’ sometimes.”

Cindy blushed slightly. Bob stared at her.

“Here’s one that will tickle you,” Cindy mused. “My sister has a little cute little dog named Ruby. A Border Terrier. Great breed. She visited with Ruby one day last month, and that little dog went right for the file cabinet and scratched until we opened the drawer. She and Little Honey took to each other like they’d been family forever. Ruby sniffed and nuzzled and practically jumped into the drawer with that bear cub. Then she looked at us as proud as can be, like she was showing off her own big, hairy puppy. Damnedest thing I ever saw.”

“I just don’t know what to think of all of this,” Bob said.

“That’s how I felt at first, too. But now you can see Little Honey,” Cindy said. “which makes me happy.”

“Some people can’t see him?” Bob asked.

“Funny thing,” Cindy replied. “The smokers can’t see him. Dennis in IT. Eric the UPS guy. Rhonda from billing saw him the day after she quit and put on that big nicotine patch. Hasn’t taken a puff since she saw Little Honey that day.”

Bob found the information about smokers as baffling as the basic fact that Little Honey was there. But he was secretly pleased to know that the bear cub hid himself that way. Bob’s parents had died from smoking, and his last serious relationship before meeting his wife ended in large part because the woman had smoked and hid it from her children. If Bob really stopped to consider it, he might even say that his dislike of smoking was part of the reason he got into the insurance business—although he’d probably have a hard time explaining how.

“Why is Little Honey here?” Bob asked, now that he was coming to grips with the fact that Little Honey was really there and not the product of more imagination than he thought he possessed.

“No one really knows for sure, but I have a theory,” Cindy said. “I think he’s here to make us feel better about the world. It’s tough sometimes, what with work and getting old and dying and crazy people running the country. But Little Honey can take us away from that for a few moments each day. That’s his gift to us.”

Bob shook his head. He was just as amazed by what Cindy was saying as he was by the idea that there was a bear cub named Little Honey in the bottom file drawer.

The two coworkers watched the bear cub for a while, and then Cindy said, “Wait here a second.” She released her friendly grip on his arm and went to a cupboard on the far wall. From her tiptoes, she reached into the back corner of an upper shelf. She found a zip-lock bag and extracted something that looked like a doggie biscuit. As she put the biscuit in Bob’s hand and closed his fingers around it, Little Honey watched the exchange with intense interest.

“If Little Honey lets you give him a treat, he’ll be your friend,” Cindy said to Bob. Then her voice lowered to a whisper. “But if he bites you, you’ll never see him again and forget you ever knew about him in the first place.”

“Does he bite many people?” Bob asked.

“Remember that guy, Dave? He came with Arthur from the bank that one time?” Cindy asked.

“Vaguely,” Bob replied. “Kind of a jerk.”

“Now you know why he never came back,” Cindy said.

“Oh,” Bob said.

The bear cub’s eyes moved from Bob’s treat-holding hand to his face and back again. Bob drew in a deep breath and held it as he let the treat slip from his palm to a loose grip between his thumb and fingertip. Little Honey’s deep, dark eyes widened. Did he want to eat the treat? Or did he want to eat Bob’s arm? Bob had no way to know for sure.

Bob, (Robert James Mann, Jr.)—age fifty-one, married for twenty years, two teenaged kids, homeowner, the beginning of a bald spot, mows his own lawn, drives a six-year-old Honda Civic, B.S. in Business with a minor in Accounting and twelve credits toward an MBA he’ll never finish—had never been a man prone to fantasy. He filed documents by day and spent quiet evenings with his family. He slept soundly and usually didn’t remember his dreams. On weekends, he enjoyed quiet drives with his wife or going to the kids’ sports events where he cheered earnestly at half volume.

Bob wasn’t the kind of guy who took risks. But he slowly lowered the treat toward Little Honey, bending slightly at the waist, smiling, and cooing, “niiiiice bear, gooood bear,” ready for whatever might happen next.


Artist:

Bio: John Sheirer (pronounced “shy-er”) lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with his wonderful wife Betsy and happy dog Libby. He has taught writing and communications for 27 years at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Connecticut, where he also serves as editor and faculty advisor for Freshwater Literary Journal (submissions welcome). He writes a monthly column on current events for his hometown newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, and his books include memoir, fiction, poetry, essays, political satire, and photography. His most recent books are a flash fiction collection, Too Wild, and a novella thriller, Uncorrected

Follow This Artist:

http://www.JohnSheirer.com

Existential Ponders – Beverly M. Collins

Candle

Beverly M. Collins

            “This old guy left a lot of stuff behind.” Jason said to his co-worker Carl just as Carl let out a loud triple sneeze due to the dust.

“The owner claims the old man returned home from a trip, then vanished and left all his things, even his wallet. No-one has been able to locate his family.” Jason added, as the two of them placed down a large box and heard some small medal items fall near the sidewalk.

“Sounds like some nails fell, just leave ‘em.” Carl said and they walked back to the 1950s style 4-unit building that was in bad need of landscaping.

This day was not unlike most late-December-Jersey City days. A frigid breeze cupped Sandra’s face as she walked the two blocks to her apartment building from the Grove Street Path station after work.

            Aware of her surroundings but lost in thought, she caught a glimpse of silver stuck in a raised crack in the sidewalk. She hoped to add to her collection of old coins and quickly picked it up and continued home.

            Suddenly, Sandra heard footsteps uncomfortably close behind her. When she glanced back, she saw no-one. Though it was dark out, there were people walking across the street and not far ahead of her. She felt nervous but tried to shrug it off by telling herself the sound was probably a strange echo. She quickened her pace and heard the steps quicken as well.

            When Sandra arrived home, her hands shook slightly as she pushed the key into the security gate and sprinted her petite, fit, 26-year-old frame up to the 3rd floor and into her apartment. Once she was home, she paused-took a deep breath in quiet relief to be inside.

Her cat began to cry loudly as she walked into her bathroom. “Momma is going to feed you in a minute.” She called out to her 5-year-old cat named Ruby. Out of habit, she closed the bathroom door behind her and in spite of the brisk weather, opened the bathroom window halfway.

While she washed her hands, she rubbed the coin under the stream of warm water which cleared it of dirt until she could see the round disk had a candle printed in the center and beautiful cuts with an unusual design around its edges.

            She turned off the faucet and was attempting to read the small writing on the back of the coin when she suddenly heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps in her living room, the wood creaked as the steps slowly moved closer to the bathroom door. Did she forget to lock the apartment door?

            “No, no, no!” she answered herself in a whisper as her heartbeat sped up so fast, she could hardly feed her lungs enough air to satisfy it. For a moment, she looked in all directions; ran her wet hands through her hair-frantic for anything she could use as a weapon, she grabbed a large heavy bottle of bubble bath in her right-hand while she still gripped the old coin in her left.

Sandra was waiting for the door to open when she noticed the doorknob slowly changed shape like metal/wax it twisted, made a high-pitched grinding noise and gave off a smell like a cigar as it formed into a knob sized head and face. She was first frozen to her spot then dropped the bottle from her hand and it burst onto the floor.

            She scrambled back, let out small gasp of air as her bladder emptied into her jeans. Sandra was terror stricken; tears streamed her face then the knob/head tried to talk. It belched out words from what sounded like a strangled throat. “My…My” it pushed the words out (through pinched lips) in a whisper that grew louder. “Mine…Mine” Its pointy medal eyes looked at the coin in Sandra’s hand. Its strange face had no chin nor a forehead.

            In one quick thrust, Sandra tossed the large coin out of the open window. The face on the doorknob vanished as if it were pulled violently from the knob by her throw. Sandra suddenly recalled a memory of her 4-year-old self in a basement when the light bulb burned out and she searched alone in pitch blackness for the staircase while she heard strange noises that came from every direction.

On this winter night, in her apartment, she shook, cried and screamed to the top of her lungs until her neighbors who knew her, broke down the door and found her crouched on the bathroom floor; her blue jeans soaked in spilled bubble bath and urine.

            A tall slender young man walked through the courtyard of Sandra’s building, noticed the large shiny coin at the very edge of the walkway near the grass. He quickly picked it up and dropped it in his jacket pocket. The young man bobbed his head to music on his earplugs, as he continued toward the bus stop, he did not hear the loud commotion from the apartment above or the quick steps that suddenly joined him on the walkway…

The End


Artist:

Beverly M. Collins

Beverly’s poems have appeared in many publications including The Nightmares Anthology, Journal of Modern Poetry, The Hidden and the Divine Female Voices in Ireland, Poetry Speaks! Year of Great Poems and Poets, The Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine, The Galway Review, Spectrum, Altadena Poetry Review, The Wild Word, The Scarlet Leaf Review to name a few.