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Dragon Boat

Linh was six when she left Vietnam with the other orphans. Placed with the nuns when she was three, she remembered little of her life before and little more after, until she came to America where her kinky hair and green eyes would not identify her as the daughter of the enemy.

In high school, when she just wanted to look like everyone else, she was struck often with how different she was. She was an American, but she was also Vietnamese. Her history teacher once pointedly asked what she remembered of her homeland. The class suddenly looked at her and Linh knew she’d never really blended in.

Deep in the hazy vagueness of her childhood memories, she recalled the dragon boat.

In college her sophomore year, she saw the photograph of the dragon boat at a traveling exhibit on Vietnam. She sensed the limping man before she saw him, passing him with an odd feeling of knowing that she didn’t understand. She saw by the wrinkle in his brow as he looked at her that he felt it too. Linh smiled uncomfortably and left the exhibit quickly.

As he reflected on the photograph, Vincent thought of the world he’d come home to in 1969. He’d gone to Vietnam a rudderless boy and came home a man with a purpose. He’d gone to college on the GI Bill. He limped from his injury, but he had a wife, a family, a normal life. Vincent knew he was one of the lucky ones who’d survived physically and mentally.

In the picture was Hoa’s boat. He remembered how he’d wanted to marry her and bring her home. Then he was injured and in the stateside hospital, he knew that it had been unrealistic. Hoa would never have been happy married to a black man, living in a Southern town. His mother would never have welcomed a Vietnamese daughter-in-law. He never questioned his path, what he left behind until the moment he felt the physical pull that drew his attention to the young girl and he saw his own eyes in her face.
Dragon Boat

Henry

Henry knew by her smile that the lovely woman in line for the Ferris wheel was his destiny. He would have jumped into the car with her, but for his cautious nature.

She too was cautious, but her friend, Alice, nudged her arm in encouragement. “I’m Lily,” she said.

“I wonder if you would accompany me to dinner tonight?” he asked late in the day. “Both of you, of course,” he added.

Lily turned to him, staring deep into his blue eyes. He had been patient all day, but she was tired. “I’m sorry, Dr. Holmes. I must take a rain check.”

Henry’s smile was sincere and kind. “I wish you would reconsider,” he said. “I’d so like to know you better.”

Lily wondered. Maybe she could find the energy…

**************************

“Yes, that’s him,” Alice said, staring at the picture of Dr. H. H. Holmes, Henry, The Castle Murderer. “You were right, Lily. There was something off about him.”


Henry

The Moons

When he saw the telegraph poles, Thomas knew that civilization was encroaching. It always happened, he knew, no matter how far he rode. He’d first left civilization when he was 20 and looking for an adventure. He ended up at Camargo and Vera Cruz, an American occupier in a Mexican wilderness. When the war was over, his enlistment was up and he came back home to Virginia, civilization, to pound nails and shovel dirt. That lasted for two years then he could no longer stand the stifling of people. He went back into the Army, back to the wilderness of what was now American land for the next ten years.

He was stationed in Los Lunas, The Moons, as far in the wild as he was allowed. It was hot, dry, dusty, nothing like the lush greenness of his home in Tidewater. Thomas loved it. Back in civilization, there was the rumbling of war again, but this time the enemy was their fellow American. On The Moons, Thomas was friends with Mexicans and Anglos, Pueblos and Navajos, Mormons and Catholics. The wild seemed conducive to harmony.

Then he met Manuelita and became her Tomas, a civilized husband. The Army was no place for a tamed husband and Tomas was just as happy. He could be a husband, a farmer, a father. When he heard the coyotes howl in the night, he was happy in his safe house and safe world. But when Manuelita died and their child with her, Tomas decided he’d had enough of civilization.

So he left again, finding solace in the wild that he gave up once. He rode for decades, leaving The Moons behind for the desolation of the desert. But no matter where he went, the civilization crept closer, first the telegraph poles, then the railroad. He could keep riding, he knew, but he was tired and civilization no longer seemed so daunting.

Southside Journey

Chapter One
Eden

My father went to war in 1942. One of the last things he said to me was “You are the man of the house now, Charlie.” This despite the fact that I was only ten and I had a brother; but I guess my dad thought that a five-year-old couldn’t be the man of the house.

I didn’t get to be man of the house for very long. Less than a month after my father shipped out to the West Coast, what was left of our family, my mother, brother Thomas and I took a train west from our home in Norfolk. We were headed to my father’s hometown, Eden. My father was a major in the Army Air Corp and I gleaned from the conversations for over a year the possibility that we would go to war. After Pearl Harbor, it was a certainty and the only question was when. So they made plants to lease our house to group of young ladies newly hired by the government and before summer came, the three of us would live with his parents.

So I said goodbye to my friends. At that time, we said goodbye a lot-my friends’ fathers and brothers, our neighbors, store clerks, every man it seemed was enlisting and leaving for points north, south, east and west to fight the Japs and the Krauts.

Ella was my mother’s name. We lived in a house given to her by the Aunt Peggy who had raised her. My mother’s immediate family all died during the Great Influenza Outbreak. They were poor and could not afford the medicine or a doctor. The surprise was that Ella did not contract the disease that killed her mother, father and two sisters. The only relative in America was her Aunt Peggy who had married a wealthy man in Norfolk, but had no children. My mother always believed that if Aunt Peggy had known how sick the family was, she would have sent her sister the money for the family to get better. It was pride that had ultimately killed her family, acting along with the flu. Mom was a firm believer in not being too proud when it came to family.

Sometimes my parents would forget Thomas and I were around and that was how I heard Pop toss the words back at her. She didn’t want to leave Norfolk and go to Eden. She had her friends, her church, we had school. But my grandparents weren’t young, Pop said, and they were too proud to ask for help. “And I could concentrate easier on getting back home if I knew my family, all of you, were looking out for each other.”

Mom lifted her eyebrow the way she did when she knew she was beaten, but didn’t want to admit it.

So here we were on the train to Eden. In the 1940’s with gas being rationed, trains were the best way to travel long distances. This appealed to both Thomas and me; while we were sad to leave our home and friends, we were excited about our adventure. When you’re a kid watching the landscape change from city streets to plowed fields and eating a box lunch are very exciting. We met soldiers leaving for weekend furloughs and young men in their civilian clothes on their way to training camps. We knew we were approaching Richmond when the fields were replaced with factories belching smoke into the air. Our train stopped, took on more passengers and we waited for the scenery change yet again for our last leg.

“So where are you going, young man,” the soldier across from me asked as our train started to pick up speed. He had gotten on board in Richmond and wore a dark blue Marine Corps uniform with one strip. A corporal, I knew, from my father’s training.

My mother smiled and nodded indicating that it was okay for me to talk to the friendly stranger. “We’re going to Eden to stay with my grandparents until my Pop comes home,” I answered.

“He in the army?” he asked.

“He flies airplanes!” Thomas piped in.

The Marine’s eyes widened a little. “That must be exciting,” he said. My mother still smiled, but I could see the tightness in it that meant she was forcing it.

“Yeah,” I said. “He’s in the Pacific right now. Where are you going?”

“Back to my base in Florida. Then I get to go on a ship for a while and I’ll see where that goes!”

“Charlie’s the man of the house,” Thomas interrupted again. “Only he still has to listen to Mom.”

“Thomas!” I snapped, but my mother’s smile relaxed so I didn’t hit him.

The Marine laughed. “Well,” he said to Thomas, “It’s a big responsibility being the man of the house. I’ll bet Charlie likes having some help.”

“You’re correct, sir,” my mother said. “And Charlie is a big help. I’m Ella Haile,” she said, reaching out to shake the young Marine’s hand. His name was Christopher and he was from Philadelphia. He came from a large Polish Catholic family. He and my mother talked all the way to Eden about family, the war, and the South and how different it was from the North. I was a teenager before it occurred to me how lonely my mother must have been to open up to a total stranger, albeit a friendly one.

It was suppertime when the train finally arrived in Eden. By that time, the shine had worn off the trip. I was hungry and Thomas had fallen asleep. I helped Christopher carry our luggage to the platform before he jumped back on the train to finish his journey. Months later, when the Marines landed on Guadalcanal, I wondered if Christopher was with them.

I hadn’t seen my grandparents except in pictures, since I was younger than Thomas. It is odd now to think that they only lived half a state away. But traveling was more difficult back then. We had lived in Maryland before until Pop was stationed in Norfolk. They had never made the trip to see us at either place. But I recognized them from their picture and knew that the woman who threw her arms around me was my grandmother. She kissed my cheek and I fought the urge to wipe her stick lipstick off.

My grandfather was a tall man with a smile in his eyes. He no longer worked at the bank, I knew, but he still wore his suit. He reached for Thomas, took him out of my mother’s arms and kissed her cheek. “Ella, it’s good to see you. How was the trip?” His voice was deep, friendly and slow like my father’s. Thomas woke up in the transfer and stared at him for a moment before snuggling into his shoulder.

“It was lovely,” Mom answered, “Though a little crowded. But I suppose that’s what’s to be expected these days.” She adjusted her hat and reached for a bag.

“No dear,” my grandmother said. “Cody can take that.” Behind her came a little dark boy about my age who grabbed two of our suitcases. Not to be outdone, I grabbed the other two and followed him to the car. We loaded them into the trunk while my mother and grandparents walked toward us. It was too noisy to hear them, but I suppose they were talking about the trip and supper, I hoped.

“I’ll be getting now,” Cody said, slamming closed the trunk.

“I’m Charlie,” I said, extending my hand. Cody looked like he didn’t know what to do, then shook my hand.

“I’m Cody,” he said and looked very anxious to leave.

“Do you live nearby,” I asked, but before he could answer everyone else had arrived at the car. My grandmother handed him a coin.

“Get on home,” she said, without thanking him.

My grandfather, however, did thank him and asked if he wanted a ride home.

“No sir. I’m fine walkin’,” Cody answered.

“That’s a good idea,” my grandfather said. “Lily, you don’t mind driving, do you? Charlie and Thomas, won’t you join us?” And just like that, he handed his keys to my grandmother who looked too surprised to respond. He put my brother down, now fully awake and held his hand. “Ella, we’ll see you both at home. The boys and I have some catching up to do.”

My mother’s look was peculiar. Then she smiled as though let in on the joke and said, “Of course.”

My grandmother looked at him, then Cody, then my mother and said “Ella and I will see you at home.” And they got in the car and drove off.

I found that my grandparents lived six blocks from the train station on Randolph Street. On the way to their home, we passed neighbors on their porches. They stopped us to talk or simply said hello and waved and the four of us. Each time we were to someone new, he would say “I’d like you to meet my grandsons, Charlie and Thomas. And of course, you know Cody Litten.” And he would tip his hat while we said hello. It took us a half hour to walk those six blocks, but I soon understood that this was how one took an evening walk in Eden. You greeted everyone and took your time.

Dinner was on the table when we arrived and my mother and grandmother were already seated. Cody came in with us, but soon disappeared into another room. Thomas and I sat where we were told. I later found out Cody had eaten in the kitchen with his mother, Clara. It didn’t make sense to me since there was plenty of room at the dining room table. But I was too overwhelmed with everything new and too hungry to ask questions.

Later that night, when Thomas was asleep, I crept into my mother’s room to watch her brush her hair. It was long, dark brown like my own. She wore it like Rita Hayworth in waves. It was still warm in the house and even though the windows were open, it was very quiet.

“Come sit next to me,” she said, sliding over so I could sit with her on the bed. She put her arm around me and fiddled with my hair. “Your grandfather wants to show you and Thomas the farm he grew up on tomorrow.”

“Will you come with us?” I asked.

She shook her head. “I need to get us unpacked. And I’m sure your grandmother will have a task for me.”

We were quiet for a bit. “Why didn’t Cody and his mother eat with us? How come they had to eat in the kitchen?”

Mom sighed. “Well, I suppose since they aren’t part of the family.”

“Oh.” More silence. “Not cause they’re negroes?”

I felt her smile. “I’m sure that has something to do with it.”

I snuggled closer. “I like Cody. And Granddad treated him like he was anybody else.”

“That’s just how your Granddad is. You need to get some sleep,” she said. She kissed me and sent me off to the room I shared with Thomas. The night was cooling a bit and all I could hear was crickets, no cars, no planes. It took me a while to fall asleep.

Summer

Flash! Friday Honorable Mention:

A summer day, an abandoned car and three boys with vivid imaginations. A special shoutout to three of my favorite boys: Charlie, Thomas and Andy.

Thomas saw the car first. We left him behind, as usual, and he was the one who saw the shimmer of metal on the way to the creek. “Hey, what’s that?” he shouted. Andy and I turned and followed his arm. The three of us tore through the grass, oblivious to snakes, spiders and the other creepy things we ordinarily avoided.

The windshield was full of bullet holes. We’d seen enough Jimmy Cagney to know how it got here.

“Probably gangsters,” Andy said quietly.

“Maybe Dillinger’s,” I added.

“Think your grandpa knows?” Andy asked.

Granddaddy a gangster? Nah, he’d been a lawyer. “Doubt it,” I said. “Maybe the bodies are still in there!”

“Nope,” Thomas called out. He was leaning in the driver’s side window. “The steering wheel’s gone, though.”

“Probably took it out ‘cause it was full of blood,” Andy said, nudging Thomas aside so he could peer in.

“Wonder if there’s still loot in it,” I said. I kicked the trunk, but it didn’t budge.

“Maybe we could go through the back,” Andy suggested. But the only one who could fit was Thomas. Getting my little brother to eat a bug was one thing; my mother would kill me if he got stuck in a gangster’s car.

“We’ll sneak a crowbar from Uncle Jack’s shed,” I suggested.

“I’m hot, guys. Let’s go,” Thomas whined, heading back to the path.

“Okay, okay. Tomorrow,” I said to Andy and we took off leaving Thomas behind again. Tomorrow we’d look for gangster’s loot; today, the creek beckoned.

Premonition

“You’re saying that I can see the future, just by pressing here?” Doug asked.

“It’s a bit more complicated. It has to be the correct spot.” Frank put his middle fingers on each side of Doug’s head, adjusting and murmuring, “Just so…”

“Dear God!” Doug exclaimed. “I can see…war, we’re at war, with Germany again!”

“Can you see more” Frank asked, excited his discovery worked on another.

“Yes; we’ll win this one also, but the cost will be high. Now I see…how odd; a large white figure. It’s walking…on the moon! Yes, there’s our flag. We will soon be in space!”

“This is incredible, Doug! What else can you see?” Frank was holding the position, though the excitement feverishly coursed through him.

“It’s three women. They are related somehow. They are sitting on couches, talking about…well, that’s not appropriate,” Doug finished.

“What?”

“They are discussing things of an intimate nature. And how bored they are. One of them is named Kim. Oh, here come two more women…dear God, one of them has a frozen face! Sorry, that one is a man.”

“Doug, what are you seeing?”

“I think it is the utter destruction of our society. But I can’t tear my eyes from it!”

Ice

copy-ice.jpgSadie picked up the card on the flowers. “Welcome to your new home.” She tossed it back on the table, bare but for the silver roses. The room was as austere as the table, all steel and sharp edges. She checked the thermostat. It was set at 80 and she could feel the air moving through the vents, but the room was as cold as the frigid outside. She couldn’t remember the last time she was warm.

Outside in the glow of the orange light, she saw an image of her daughter, Caroline, her biggest disappointment. She insisted on following her own path straight into a low paying job, working with juvenile delinquents. The twit, Sadie thought, believing she could save the world one child at a time. Well, she hoped those losers could help keep Caroline’s heat on. From the corner of her eye, Sadie noted Caroline’s husband, whatshisname, as he gently brushed a strand of hair from Caroline and put his arm around her.

Further off, where the light was swallowed by the icy darkness, she saw Jared, the man she left her husband for, the man who had once been married to her best friend. She’d suspected there was a mistress. He didn’t even have the good sense to wait until Sadie was buried before he took her out in public. The mistress was wrapped in a blue fox fur. Her blue fox fur.

Sadie checked the thermostat again and rubbed her chapped hands briskly. Nobody had ever suggested that Hell could be so cold.

Courage

Once he barked, but pain and fear made him a coward and now the dog only whimpered. One day the chain was off his collar and he wandered away.

When he was brought to the shelter, he was malnourished, his pads torn from walking the rocky hills. He had no tags and no one came to claim him. He took to the female staffers, especially Lisa who named him Courage, because he reminded her of the cartoon dog. After several weeks, Lisa adopted him and brought Courage to his new home.

He was afraid of thunder, lightening, the vacuum, the doorbell, but he was most afraid of David, Lisa’s husband. He slunk away when David raised his hand to pet him, cowered if David elevated his voice.

Courage sat next to Lisa, his head on her lap, tolerating David on her other side as long as he stayed in his own space. Then one day, months after Courage found a home with Lisa, he put his head on her lap like normal. She absent-mindedly stroked him and he nuzzled in closer until his body was on Lisa and his head was on David’s lap. His eyes were raised to David who gently stroked his head. Courage sighed.

The Queen of Clean

It started out innocently as most games do. Boreas and Zephyrus were bored, it was a hot day and a speck of dust blew into Zephyrus’ sight. He blew it toward his brother who blew it back, picking up another dust speck. Around the heavens while Aelous was busy in another part of Earth stirring up a hurricane, Boreas and Zephyrus blew the dust around until they had a good size ball. Now the game was really challenging.

Their game gathered more spectators and participants. Eurus, who had the least control of his power, was a bad addition. Shu waved off his sister Askit because nobody wanted to play with girls. The ball grew until it was too dense for the heavens and it dropped into Earth’s atmosphere.

“Uh oh,” said Zephyrus as the ball, now free from the clouds gained momentum and threatened the mortal’s homes.

Eurus wanted to leave and pretend he knew nothing about it. But Shu knew it was time to ask for help. He found Askit with Frigga.

“Do you know why there is a giant dust ball in my atmosphere and on its way to Texas? Frigga asked Shu.

He couldn’t lie with Askit staring at him smugly. “We were, um, playing a game,” he began not looking at the annoyed goddess. “Borus and Zephyrus started it!” he shouted, throwing his friends under the bus, hoping from some mercy from Odin’s wife. “Can you help us?” Shu asked.

Frigga sighed. “Once it’s out of the heavens, it’s out of my control. We must pray that there is a mortal capable of defeating it.”

And there was. She was called Michaela Rowe, but her nickname was the Queen of Clean. She possessed the power to tackle the dirtiest jobs. As the dust blew into the cracks and crevasses of her home, she gathered her weapons and prepared for the time when the battle would turn.

She was only a mortal, but she would eventually pass her wisdom and weapons to her grandson Mike Rowe. He would give up a career as an opera singer to follow his true calling as the King of Dirty Jobs.

Treasure

1903-“What’s your story, child?” The old man was in a wheelchair. His name sounded like Christmas.
“My story?”
“Everyone has a story,” Mr. Chrisman said.
Kit was the only survivor of a house fire. His father sent him outside and returned for his pregnant wife. They never made it to the stairs, suffocating in the smoke. When Kit saw them, they looked like they were asleep.
“What’s your story?”
The old man gave a wide, toothless grin. “Well, my wife died and there was no one to care for me.”
They became friends. Kit pushed Mr. Chrisman around the grounds in his wheelchair so he could socialize with other residents. The nurses allowed this because it kept them both occupied and out of their hair. One day, Mr. Chrisman showed Kit a little snuff box.
“I have a treasure,” he said, opening the box. Inside was a bullet. “I should have died back in ’63. Gettysburg. But I had my prayer book in my jacket and it missed my heart. I don’t want it thrown away when I’m gone.”
Kit pulled out a marble his father found on the street. He placed the marble in the box with Mr. Chrisman’s bullet. Kit used his spoon to bury the snuff box, near the old oak tree.
Kit did not have a prayer book to save him from the bullet that entered his heart at Belleau Wood.
2013-The Home needed to come down. Between ghosthunters and teenagers, it was a lawsuit waiting to happen. A worker saw a glint in the dirt near the oak tree where the backhoe dug. “Stop!” he called out. He picked up a snuff box and brushed off the dirt. Inside were a bullet and a ball bearing. Junk. He tossed them in the rubbish pile. The snuff box, though, might be worth something.