©2014 Ken Finton

Clay said: You’ve heard about the type of guy who’s always gettin’ in trouble, just one fix after another without any in betweens––like the driftin’ cowboys on TV westerns, sort of tall and quiet, but trouble follers after ‘em like a friendly pup. Anyway, my life ain’t been quite the same since I  met up with him.

His name was Penrod Applehand. What God in the heavens ever saddled him with a name like that, no man knows.

It’s not that the trouble doesn’t really come to him from his own makin’,  mind you. It’s sort of like he drags trouble around behind him and every time he slows down it wheels up and cracks him on the back.

Tell you how I met him, now that I’m a-thinkin’ of it. I remember it was a dark night late last fall when the wind was a-whistlin’ through the trees like a teakettle a-boilin’ on the stove. The temperature had skidded down to nearly freezin’. The frost would have been on the pumpkin fer sure, but it was too late for pumpkins. All the pumpkins we had ‘round had been hollered out fer Halloween and was all dried up and rottin’ away on the manure piles. We live out on the edge of town near the railroad track, so we can keep chickens and an old milk cow without the town council or the health department complainin’ too bad. We got a few neighbors, but it ‘s just a stone’s throw from our place to the open country.

Anyways, I was a-sittin’ home that Fall evenin’, real tired and all snuggled up in my clothes with my feet on the stove when I heard this knockin’ come at the door. Right away I knew it was somebody there at the door because of this knockin’, you see.

I got up and walked out to the hall in my stockin’ feet, peekin’ through the darkness to see who I could see. Well, some danged fool had dropped as thumb tack and I stepped on the fool thing. 

The pain started up my foot and crawled over my knee. ‘Fore I knew it,  it come up into my lungs and come a-whizzen out in a whoppin’ scream that made Sis’s hair to curl. She ought to have thanked me for curlin’ her hair—God knows, it needed it—but she didn’t speak to me for three days after that, so I don’t know if she was happy about it or not.

Well, I went over to the door and there was this guy ‘bout my age, but a mite taller and a mite thinner than me. I told him to come in a second while I pulled the thumb tack out of my foot. He said ‘okay’ and stepped inside. I flicked on the light and sat down on the floor to tryin’ to pull that darned tack out. 

Sis came into the hall, her hair all curled and her face chalk white. This guy, he took off his hat. It was  one of those hats they use to climb mountains with–a big turned down brim and a big red feather that helps you to keep your balance when you’re a-roostin’ up there on them rocks. Sis smiled at this feller, but didn’t even look at me, so I said, “Christ, that hurts,” and she said, “Shut your mouth.” It made me feel better that somebody knew I was a-hurtin’. 

The guy said he had a flat tire and didn’t have a jack in his car. Now, I’m always ready to help a guy in trouble, so I offered to pull my car over, give him a little bit of light to work by and let him borrow my jack. He said he’d be very much obliged, so I started off to get my car while he and Sis walked out to the road.

His car was pulled off to the side of the road on a grade, almost tipped over. One tire was flat, but the others looked all right. Sis said she thought he could drive it ’cause it was only flat on one side. 

He laughed and thought she’d made a joke, only Sis wasn’t jokin’. She’s stupider than me sometimes. 

I pulled my car ‘round in front of his’n and pulled the throttle out a little so the battery’d stay up with the lights on, then I fished the jack out of my trunk. Lord, the wind got bitter all of a sudden.

We started jackin’ up the car, but the dirt was pretty soft and the jack kept a-slippin’ and a-goin’ crooked. Finally, though we got the car up and pulled the tire off. It had a nail stickin’ between the treads. That started as to thinkin’ ‘bout that thumb tack I ran in my foot and my foot got pretty sore just thinkin’ about it. “Christ, that hurts,” I said.  Sis said, “Shut your mouth.” She don’t say much other than that.

Right then the engine in my car started to pop and whinny a little, then it gasped one big breath and died. I tried to start it up again, but the starter just whined away and the motor wouldn’t take hold.  I looked at the gas gauge and figured out my trouble. I cranked down the window and hollered out: “Hey, you guys, I’m out of gas.” They started to laugh and I got a little hot under the collar. It wasn’t  that funny.

Just then I heard a crash like a sack of potatoes fallin’ off the kitchen table and onto the floor. I hopped out of the car and looked around. The jack had slipped off this other guy’s car and the car had come down. The handle of the jack was stickin’ up through the fender just as pretty as could be. It was my turn to laugh.

This other guy was a-laughin’ too. “It won’t hurt this car any,”  he said, but how do I get it back up?”

“Call a tow truck,” I said.

“I couldn’t  pay for it.”

We sat there a-laughin’ and tryin’ to figure out what to do until we got good and cold and had to go back into the house to warm up a mite. Later on we hammered the jack out from under the car and  got the car back up so as we could put the spare on.

He told me his name then, Penrod Applehand. I had a hard time keepin’ a straight face. He said he was new in town and worked in a factory over there across the railroad tracks.

Well, we got both cars a-runnin’ again and started up a real fast friendship. Sometimes I think there is a little bit of courtin’ goin’ on ‘tween Sis and Penrod, but I can’t tell for sure.  Still, I can’t get used to that name of his’n.  I’d shorten it to Pen, but it just wouldn’t sound right.

I saw quite a bit of Penrod after that. He was by our house off and on all winter long, but we really didn’t get out ‘til after the snow melted away and the sun started shinin’ warm again. Then, one day last Spring, Penrod had to take a trip over to Harding to see about a new job. Harding’s about a hundred and fifty miles, so he wanted me and Sis to ride along.

It was a real nice day for a ride, the sun a-shinin’ and makin’  everything golden.  An old man was  thumbin’ his way along the road and Penrod thought he’d do a once-in-a-lifetime good turn and pick him up. The old man sat in the back seat and for miles and miles he didn’t say much of anything. He was just a-lookin’ out on the countryside and smilin’ all inside his self. After we’d gone about a hundred miles, Penrod turned around and said, “Where do you want off,  Mister?”

The old man squinted his eyes and put his hand up to his ear and said, “Thank you, this will be fine.”

Well, there wasn’t nothin’ in sight, not a house or a barn or nothin’, just a lot of woods and fields and telephone poles. Penrod pulled his car over to the side, dropped the old man off, and we started up again.

Before long, we noticed that there was this car behind us. Penrod slowed down a little (I guess we was doin’ about seventy-five) and let the car catch up with us. It was one of those highway patrol guys, damn the luck. He flagged us over to the side and here was that old man sittin’ there in the front seat right up beside him. 

“You picked this man up,” the cop said, pointin’ back at the old man in the car.

“Yes, sir,” Penrod said. “We carried him all the way from Jasper.”

“Don’t you know kidnapping is a serious offense?”

“I didn’t kidnap nobody,” Penrod said.

“That’s tellin’ him, Penrod,” Sis said. “You tell him off good.”

I nudged Sis in the ribs so that she’d keep quiet.

“Get out of the car,” the cop said.

“Yes, sir,”  Penrod said. He started climbin’ out over Sis and me. The cop looked a little startled. 

“I said get out, not climb over on your girl friend’s lap.”

“I am gettin’ out,” Penrod said. “This door over on my side’s  stuck. It won’t open, see?”

“Well, get out some way before I get me a can opener.”

Penrod and the cop went over and sat in the cruiser a while. Pretty soon, he came back and said that the old man had walked away from a state hospital and the cop thought we were in on it.

Well, it took a mite of talkin’ to get out of that one, but finally, we got the cop to believe that we only picked him up because he was thumbin’ his way.

“It’s against the law to pick up hitch-hikers,” he said. “I’m gonna have to write you out a ticket for that. You’ll have to follow me out to the Justice of Peace to get it paid for. And while I’m at it, I’ll just give you another ticket for speeding.”

“I wasn’t speeding,” Penrod said. “This old car can’t go too fast. Listen here.” He started up the engine. He must of forgot about that broken muffler, ‘cause it sure sounded bad.

“Uh-huh… driving with a broken muffler, too.”

“It must of just broke while we was a-sittin’ here,” Penrod said.

“The way you was weavin’ all over the road, I’ll give you a ticket for reckless drivin’ too,” the cop said.

“But I wasn’t drivin’ reckless. My wheels are a little out of line, that’s all.”

“Maybe I ought to give this car a safety check.”

“Oh, no, sir,” Penrod said.

“It would never pass it,” Sis said. I nudged her in the ribs.

 “Follow me,”  the cop said.

Well, we followed him all right, almost twenty miles along those crusty dirt roads back to a log shanty stuck alone out in the woods. There was a little sign a-hangin’ in front of the cabin sayin’ Justice of  Peace.

Inside the shanty, there was this man, sort of crumpled up and fat at the same time. He had the worst case of shakes that I ever saw in a body. He could hardly raise his bottle up to his lips without sloppin’ some on his vest.

“Hank, I’ve got some more business for you,” the cop sald.

The judge didn’t waste no time. “Court is now in session,” he said, between sips.

“Speeding is one offense. Ninety miles an hour in a fifty mile an hour zone…”

“My car won’t even go ninety,” Penrod said.

“I can find somethin’ else wrong with that car if’n you don’t shut up.”

“… yes, it will, too,” Penrod said.

“Also,” the cop said, “he picked up a hitch-hiker, drove reckless and he’s  got a noisy muffler. What do you figure we ought to get off this one, Hank?”

“Well, John, I don’t know,” the Judge said, thumbin’ his way through a little black book. It looked like a Bible, but it was pretty wore, so I knew it wasn’t a Bible. It was prob’ly one of those law books. 

“I’d say that it ought to be worth fifty dollars.”

“I reckon so,” the cop said. “And then some.” 

“Seventy-five,” the judge said. “Seventy-five plus costs.”

“But I ain’t got seventy-five dollars,” Penrod wailed.

“You got somethin’ we could take in trade?”

Penrod looked at Sis. I did too. 

“Oh, no,” she said. “You ain’t tradin’ me.”

“How much you got, kid?” the Judge asked.

“Fifteen bucks.”

“Wait a minute, let me figure,” the Judge said, pickin’ up a piece of paper. Fifteen from seventy-five leaves sixty dollars. Sure you ain’t got any more?”

“Not a red cent.” 

“Sixty dollars and the costs are hereby suspended.” the Judge said. “It’ll cost you fifteen dollars.”

Penrod opened his mouth fixin’ to argue some more, but I nudged him in the ribs and said, “That’ll be just dandy, Judge.” 

That ended the trip to Harding. We didn’t have enough money to get the rest of the way. On the way back some old man was thumbin’ his way along the road, smilin’ all inside himself.

We went right on by.

Yes, sir, I believe ol’ Penrod finally learned his lesson about pickin’ up hitch hikers, but he’ll never learn about cars. Sometimes I believe, honest-to-God, that he has pistons in his stomach and fuel pumps as kidneys.

We got this neighbor that lives near the railroad tracks who buys a new car every year. He came home one day last week with one of those sleek, new, shiny red cars that caught everybody’s eye, especially Penrod’s.

“Do you think you could get Mr. Powell to let me drive his car?” Penrod asked.

“Well, I don’t know,” I said. “He don’t generally…”

“Listen. Tell him I’m a mechanic from Harvey’s Garage and we have to take the car out for a thousand mile test. That way we’ll be able to git it.” 

“That might work,” I said.

“That ain’t all,” Penrod said. “I know where there’s a car just like that, only it’s been smashed up a little. The whole front end’s all caved in, but it still runs. What we’ll do is this…”

The next day I went over to Mr. Powell’s place. He was out in his yard pickin’ dandelion greens. “Hello, Mr, Powell,” I said. “How are the greens this year?”

“Fine, Clay, just fine. A little ruffage for the stomach. Makes a body feel as frisky as a colt.”

“You’ve got to boil ‘em in two sets of water,” I said. “Pour the first pot off and boil ‘em again and then they’re pretty sweet.”

“Did you see my new car, Clay?”

“Yes, sir. By the way, I was down at the garage today and one of the guys was a-tellin’ me that they’re gonna send a man out to take it for a thousand mile test.”

“A thousand mile test?”

“Yes, sir. It’s somethin’ new that they just came up with. They always take a car out for a thousand mile test. That way they can tell if everything’s right—if the horn needs fixin’ or the fuel pump’s bad.”

“That sounds like good business,” Mr. Powell said. ‘That company is on the ball and that’s what I like to see. People on the ball. They make the world go ‘round.”

Right about this time, Penrod came a-struttin’ down the road wearin’ his usual faded jeans and grease-stained shirt. He came up into the yard lookin’ so innocent and serious that I couldn’t help but laugh a little.

“Mr. Powell,” he said. “I’m from Harvey’s Garage. It’s about time for the thousand mile checkup.”

“Yes, Clay here has been tellin’ me about it. Good business, I say. Very good business. You’ll find the key in the ignition switch.”

“Want to come along, Clay?” Penrod asked.

“You bet,” I said. I wasn’t about to miss this one.

Penrod revved up the engine and pulled out of the driveway. “It worked,” he laughed. “Just like a charm.”

“Don’t you think Mr. Powell will get the cops on you?”

“Nah, leave it up to me.”

We drove out Highway 26 to Ball’s wrecking yard. One of the guys from the yard crew was a-workin’ on a transmission out in front of the building. 

“You got the car ready?” Penrod asked.

“Sure thang,” this fellow said. He smiled and his teeth stood out against his greasy face and his gums showed somethin’ horrible. He opened a rusty gate and we follered him out behind the building where a new car just like Mr. Powell’s was a-sittin’. A guy couldn’t hardly tell the difference between Mr. Powell’s car and the one that had been wrecked.

“You’ll have to bring it back before the boss gets back from lunch,” the guy with the greasy face said. “The boss’ll really be burnin’ if he finds out what’s cookin’.”

Penrod got into the wrecked car and motioned me inside.

“Thanks, Toothy,” he said. I’ll be back ‘fore long. If your boss does get back, just tell him I’m thinkin’ of buyin’ this car and fixin’ it up, so you let me take it out to see how it drove.”

The front shocks was broke and so was one of the springs. The whole front sagged way down and the hood was crumpled clean up to the windshield.

We drove slow back to Mr. Powell’s. He was still out huntin’ for dandelion greens when we got there. His head was bowed down and he was cuttin’ away with his putty knife.

Penrod turned in the drive and the wheel rubbed on the fender. The bumper grated on the gravel. Mr. Powell looked up, his mouth fell open and he dropped his putty knife. We pulled to a stop and he just set there on his haunches with his mouth hangin’ wide open, big enough for a coon dog to hop into.

Penrod got out of the car. “I had a little trouble, Mr. Powell.”

Mr. Powell’s whole face just sorta sagged. I couldn’t help myself. I  started to laugh and had to cover up my face with my hands. Penrod, well, he didn’t even crack a smile. I don’t know how he did it.

“Your car’s in fine mechanical order,” he said. “Or–it was, anyway. You need a little body work, but I know where you can get somebody to do it right cheap. It’ll prob’ly only cost around seven hundred dollars or so.”

Penrod turned around to me. “Ready, Clay?”

I hopped out of the car and walked over to him, keepin’ my grin under my hands and pretendin’ I was a-wipin’ my nose.

“We’ll  see you when it’s time for your two thousand mile checkup,” Penrod said.

Mr. Powell didn’t say a word. He just stared at the car with his mouth open and kept pinchin’ himself every now and then.

Since my house was right next door, we went over to my place and ‘fore long I heard Mr. Powell slam the door and go into his house. We could hear him just as plain as could be. “Martha, pour me a glass of lemonade. I have a murder to commit.”

It all seems a mite funny now, but at the time it was somethin’ else. Penrod and I went back to the wrecking yard and picked up Mr. Powell’s car. We drove it back to Mr. Powell’s. There he was a-sittin’ out on his steps with his shotgun laid across his knees, just a-starin’ at the wrecked car.

Penrod pulled into the drive and drove the car out onto Mr. Powell’s lawn. “Oh-oh, you shouldn’t  have done that,” I said. “Mr. Powell’s awful proud of his lawn.”

Mr. Powell came up beside the car carryin’ his shotgun and Penrod just sat there behind the steerin’ wheel with that weird grin of his plastered all over his face. 

“You didn’t wreck my car after all?”

“No, sir. It was just a joke.”

“You pulled up on my grass.” 

“I’m sorry, Sir,  Penrod said. “I’ll back it out on the street.”

He put it in reverse and spun the tires, takin’ a big hunk of Mr. Powell’s lawn with him. Penrod got out of the car. “I hope there ain’t no hard… Eeeps!”

Mr. Powell fired the shotgun straight into the air and bellowed like a bull. He charged straight at Penrod, swingin’ that gun of his’n like a club. I shut my eyes and started a-prayin’. When I looked up, they were runnin’ down the street, Penrod runnin’ for dear life and Mr. Powell right behind him still swingin’ that shotgun. For an older guy, Mr. Powell could sure run. I watched until they ran out of sight and then went home and sat down to keep my knees from a-shakin.

Well, Penrod got out of that one without much harm, but cars are gonna be the death of him yet. Just last Sunday he dropped by while Sis was finishin’ up the dinner dishes. 

“Let’s take my car out for a drive,” he said. “I just spent every last dime that I ever had puttin’ new pistons, mains and piston rings in. Let’s see how the ol’ babe runs now. 

“That car of yours won’t get us nowhere,” Sis said. “It’s dangerous to even be in it.”

It didn’t take much persuadin’ to get Sis in the car. She took the same seat she usually does, right next to Penrod–leavin’ me by the window. We were all set, waitin’ fer Penrod to get in. 

“Everybody out,” he said.

“What for? Let’s go.” 

“You gotta let me in. That door on the driver’s side won’t open. Remember? It’s stuck.”

We got out and Penrod scooted over behind the wheel. The engine started hard, but we finally got it goin’ and pulled out onto the road. Trouble was that we didn’t get any farther than the railroad tracks. Penrod went to slow down and it stalled the engine right on the tracks. He pushed on the starter and the engine growled. “Darn new rings and bearings make the motor tight,” he said. “I don’t think I can I get it started.” 

“Well, this is a beautiful place to stall out,” Sis said., “right on the railroad track. What would happen if a train…”

Well, we didn’t have to wait long to find out. Right then, the two o’clock express hooted and came into sight about a quarter of a mile down the track.

“Get out,” Penrod said. “Get back real far and I’ll try to get this thing started.”

Sis and I  hopped out. Sis got back and I started, pushin’ on the car while Penrod kept a-pushin’ on the starter. It wouldn’t budge. The train was really a-movin’. I could hear the wheels hummin’ on the rails.

“Put it in gear,” I yelled, “and let out on the clutch. Maybe it’ll move by the battery alone.”

Penrod put it in gear, but the battery was too low by now. It stopped completely. The train was a-gettin’ too close for me to stay any longer. I ran back a little toward Sis. Penrod was still in the car pushin’ away at the starter. Before long, I  couldn’t hear the hum of the starter over the roar of the train. 

“Jump, Penrod!  Jump!” Sis yelled.

I ran up toward the car so I could holler better. “Penrod, you fool. Get out of there.” 

The train was only about two hundred feet away. Penrod gave up and jumped out of the car. Before he got as far as me, the train hit and the car sailed up in the air, the front part landin’ on one side of the tracks and the back part bein’ throwed a hundred feet down on our side of the tracks.

Penrod came up beside me all out of breath. “There went my car,” he said.

Sis came runnin’ up behind us. The train was a-slowin’ down and stoppin’. “Penrod,” Sis said, “are you all right?” 

“Fit as a fiddle,” he said.

“It’s a good thing that door opened when you needed it,”  she said.

Penrod had forgot about the door bein’ stuck. So had I.

“My God,” he said. “That was a close one.”

“Sure enough,” Sis said.

 “Somebody up there must love me,”  Penrod said.

That didn’t sound right to me. “I think somebody down there don’t want you,” I said.

“Oh, shut your mouth,” Sis said.

She don’t say much other than that.





THE Moth-Infestation-2010-A

©2017 Ken Finton

It is January 1962. Outside, winter’s icy breath heaves while little fingers of cold air find their way through the loose clapboards of the two-roomed hut. Inside, a man, a girl, and a young boy sit around a pot-bellied stove soaking up the warmth.

They hear a car door slam, then a pounding on the door, rhythmical like a carpenter’s hammer.
A large, graying man with three days growth of beard and hair growing far beyond his ears gets up to answer the door. “No,” the girl says. “It’s him again. Please, Daddy, don’t go to the door!”
A well-groomed man with a white shirt and dark tie steps inside the hut bringing the chill of winter with him. He leans against the wall, a soiled paper sack in his hands.
“Good morning, Mr. Taylor,” he says, his rat-like eyes darting around the room from comer to corner.
The girl stands up. Her face becomes taught, like a coil of rope suddenly spilled to tension. The man glances the room, his eyes roaming the squalid corners, smelling the slithering stale air. The window’s one solitary shaft of light is flashing on him, soon to be dimmed by the flow of darkness.
“I have a few more things,” the man starts to say.
“I hate you,” the girl screams. She runs into the other room and is swallowed by the darkness.
The man’s face drops. His falsified smile falls to the floor and he does not bother to pick it up. His hands tighten around the soiled paper sack as his eyes follow her running. It takes a while for him to regain presence of mind, but when it comes he is angry. “If this Is a token of your appreciation, Mr. Taylor…”
“She’s got her own feelings,” Holden Taylor says. “I can’t do anything about it.”
The man lays the sack beside the gap in the front door and steps outside.
Shivers of cold run through Holden Taylor’s back. His voice cracks with emotion. With anger? With humiliation? With gratitude? “Thank you, Mr. Adams.”
Adams shakes his well-groomed head and walks out into the fresh coldness of the outside air.
The girl is lying on the bed, her clothes soiled upon her youthful body. She looks unkempt but pretty––older than her sixteen years. Holden Taylor sits down beside his daughter and puts a gentle, work-knotted hand upon her bony shoulder. The smell of the damp mattress fumes in his nostrils. “Rose,” he says softly, “it won’t be like this much longer.”
“Won’t it,” she says, so softly that it shrieks.
“No, we’ll make out,” he says. “Just you wait and see. We just got to get back on our feet, that’s all.”
“They’re just rags,” she says, her eyes wide, the whiteness bulging. “They’re just filthy old rags that the Salvation Army wouldn’t even take.”
“Now, Rose,” her father says, “don’t take it that way, honey. Try and be grateful. It’s hard sometimes, but we’ve got to be grateful.”
“Grateful,” she mocks, lying down on the bed. Holden Taylor shuffles away. Rose closes her eyes. With sight blocked out, her father’s motions sound like the creaky, unsteady movements of a weak-kneed old man.
With her eyes shut, the light filtered through in violet shades. She tries to imagine how her father looked last July just before the layoff at the plant, but her father’s image was blotted away by the image of the drab factory brick with the barred windows, the large trucks backed against the loading platform, the sounds of clanking metals whipping through the windows. In her mind, she sees an image of the foreman stepping up behind her father, his white shirt blazing with the insolent brightness of authority. Around them, machines are grinding out the same song, the same refrain sung day after day without letup––tiresome, nerve-wracking, steel shattering machines that never stop. “Taylor,” the foreman says, his words swooping visibly from his mouth, “we won’t be needing you after Monday. I thought you ought to know.” The foreman smiles in Rose’s imagination, his teeth cutting in her head like tiger fangs.
Stamped upon the image of the foreman came an image of her mother and the house on Windsor Street, a fleeting glimpse at that December night just before Christmas…
“My God, it’s cold,” Holden Taylor said to his wife, flicking off the kitchen light. “Fifteen below.”
“And it is supposed to drop ten more degrees before morning,” his wife said.
The Taylor’s two-story frame house stood against the icy blasts––a shield of protection, their haven.
“Let’s go to bed, Honey,” Taylor said. “Hey, Rose,” he called up the steps, “is it warm enough up there?”
“It’s pretty cold, Daddy.”
“I’ll bring the heater up,” Taylor said. “Let Jimmy sleep with you. We’ll close the door to his room and shut off the heat.”
Holden Taylor plugged the heater in at the foot of Rose’s bed and little Jimmy climbed in beside her. Outside the mercury edged downward, like a snake worming deeper in its nest. They fell asleep to the rhythmic whirr of the heater fan. The coal furnace roared against the bitter cold.
And then it was warm. Rose dreamed that she was sitting on a stove when suddenly the stove began to warm up over the entire surface like a sheet of heated metal. For a while. it was pleasingly warm. Then the metal became hot and turned red. Rose could smell the burning and awakened screaming for the family against a wall of smoke. Awake, she threw back the covers and pulled Jimmy out of the bed. She stumbled toward the window, screaming for the family, but she could not hear her own voice over the roar of the burning wood. Her lungs began to burn and she tugged frantically at Jimmy’s arm, pulling hard toward the window. Her head began to swim and she was dreaming again, lying on a beach with the hotness of the sun pouring down upon her and Tommy’s loving fingers playing on her back. She was laughing and dizzy and all the world was a beach of sand and the ring of laughter. She could feel herself being dragged toward the water and said, “No, Tommy, not now,” but she was thrown into the icy water. It was fresh and cold and breathtaking. It felt good to be away from the sun, tucked away in the icy chill of cooling waters.

She awoke is a hospital. Her back felt very sore and hot. Her father stood in front of her. She could see his face and hear his words, but they sounded as though they had come from the stars, low and faint, from far away, like the voice of God might be.
“It’s all right now, Rose,” her father was saying.
“My back, Daddy. It hurts.”
“You’ll be all right,” he said. “Rest now and everything will be fine.”
“Everything will be Rosy,” she said. He smiled and whispered back, “Yes, Rose. Everything will be Rosy.”
Her memories of the earlier days in the hospital were sketchy as a badly exposed roll of film. Some parts were dim and unclear while others flamed forth with caustic brilliance. Her father stood by her bed with a glistening stream running from each eye.
“How badly is my back burned, Daddy?” she asked, “Will it leave scars?”
Tears were trickling down his cheek and running around his lip. She imagined that they tasted of salt.
“It’s nothing, Daddy,” she said. “What’s a few scars anyway? We’re lucky that we have only a few scars, aren’t we Daddy?”
“Oh, my God, Rose,” he said.
“Daddy,” she whispered. “Where is Mother?” She had known before she asked, though she was very calm as if she were talking about the weather.
Holden Taylor shook his graying head.
“And what about Jimmy and Richie?”
“Jimmy’s fine,” her father said.
“And Richie?”
Holden Taylor shook his head.
“Please, Daddy, I’d like to be alone,” she said. She held back the choking tightness that tore at her throat until he had stepped outside the ward.

* * *

Dismissal day finally came. It was a cold, gray sky day without color.
“We’re going home now,” Holden Taylor announced. He helped her into the battered 1947 Kaiser that looked as though it had fought the Korean war single-handed. Taylor had swapped his freezer for the Kaiser last November after the finance company took the other car.
“It’s not much,” her father continued, “but some of the folks around town got together and fixed us up with a place to stay until we get on our feet again.”
Holden Taylor closed the door and turned the key. “I just hope this thing starts,” he said.
The thick oil churned against the pan. The starter hummed a bit, then died out completely.
They walked back into the hospital from the parking lot. The phone booth in the hallway was open and Rose could hear every word.
“Hello, this is Holden Taylor. I’m out at the hospital, you know, and my car just won’t turn over. How much is a service charge? … Oh, it is?… Well, I just can’t spare that much cash right now… I wonder if I could charge it until… Oh, I see… No, I know you can’t… yes… All right then… Thanks anyway.”
They walked back out to the lot. Holden Taylor lifted the hood and took the breather from the carburetor. A man with a plaid cap pulled his car up behind them and gave them a shove. The engine sputtered twice, then started, and they were on their way.
“How long will it take to fix our house, Daddy, Rose asked as they rolled down the narrow streets towards the outskirts of the town.
Holden Taylor let his breath run out and pulled it back slowly. “I didn’t pay on the insurance, honey,” he said.
“Oh, Daddy, Rose cried, “why didn’t you tell me?”
“No use worrying you about things like that,” he said. “You’lI have enough anyhow with your mother gone.”
Rose sat in silence until they pulled up in front of a two-room hut that looked worse than anything had a right to look.
Her father pulled on her arm, but she screamed and stamped her feet on the torn rubber of the floorboard. “I won’t,” she said. “It’s a filthy hole. I won’t go in. I won’t!”
“But, Rose, Jimmy’s in there. It’s all we have right now.”
“Oh, Daddy, I just can’t.”
“Goddamn it, Rose, get out of the car,” her father said, softly.
One week later, a man came to the hut. Rose heard the pounding on the door, opened it half a crack and peeked through with one eye, keeping her face concealed in the dimness. The man stood outside, his hair shining like a film of oil spread to kill mosquito larvae. He forced the door open and stepped inside. Holden Taylor jumped up from his chair.
“It’s quite all right, Mr.Taylor, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Richard Adams. Quite a number of the good folks in our community have heard about your… misfortunes… and they’ve gotten together a few things that you’ll he able to use. I know you need clothing, food, pots and pans, and we’ve provided you with shelter. You need all sorts of everyday things, and I’ve taken the liberty of bringing some things out to you.”
“You’ve got something for us?”
“Of course,” Adams said. It’s the least I can do. After all, what are good neighbors but the one’s that help those in need.” Rose shied away to a corner and turned her face so that she would not be recognized.
“Would you help me bring these things in, Mr. Taylor?” Adams said. The way he pronounced Mr. Taylor turned Rose’s stomach.
The snow had drifted across the path that led to the driveway, seeping into Holden Taylor’s shoes, sticking to his pants leg, filling his cuffs. Adam’s new Chevrolet station wagon was loaded with sacks of clothes, cans, shoes and pans.
The door stood open and the hut cooled off with the gusts of cold air. Rose covered her shoulders with a blanket and put a tender hand on Jimmy’s head as the men piled the boxes in the center of the room.
“That’s it for now, Mr. Taylor,” Adams said, rubbing his hands together, wringing out imaginary germs. Lice? “I’ll bring some more in a day or so.”

He came regularly for the next two weeks bringing more of the–discarded sweaters, dresses too big, shoes with holes in the bottom and scuffed toes, old suits with cigarette burns and lapels six-feet wide, jars of homemade preserves with mold on top, month old eggs that smelled like the fumes from a chemical plant, cans of food without labels. This poured in regularly.

Yesterday, Rose met Tommy at Chive’s Drug Store. They sat back in a corner away from the others. It was very cold and the walk uptown had chilled her, even to the one filling in a molar on an otherwise perfect set of teeth. She saw Tommy gazing at her clothes when her eyes were turned, but he looked at the straw in his coke when she turned her eyes his way.
“What’s the matter?” she asked. “Is something wrong with me?”
“No, of course not,” he said. “What makes you think that?”
“You’re staring at my clothes.”
“I’m not either.”
“You don’t like my coat? Do you want to me to take it off? Do you want to my dress? Maybe that will look a little better to you. Or maybe it’s my back you want to see? That’s it, you want to see my scars.”
“Oh, stop it,” he said, “What’s the matter with you anyway?”
“It’s all changed, hasn’t it, Tommy.
“No,” he said, slowly, as though he weren’t sure himself.
“You don’t want anything to do with me.”
“Not if you keep on acting like some spoiled brat,” Tommy said in a burst of pent up anger. There are worse things than what you’ve been through, you know.”
“I know,” she said.
“What’s eating you, Rose?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. Not here.”
“Want to take a drive?”
“Yes, I’d like that,” she said.
He climbed out of the booth and walked out. She followed him obediently. She thought that all eyes trailed after her and I-knew-it-all-the-time smiles were hidden behind the dozens of youthful pouts.

It was their spot, their palace of memories, a pull-off to the side of a graveled road. She had seen it only in the night. It felt different in the glare of day, but everything looks different in the light. Tommy used to take her there frequently before the fire, back in the days when they had a date every Saturday night and Tommy wasn’t ashamed of being seen with her. She felt as though her respect had been burned away in the fire.
“Tommy, why isn’t it the same? Why does it have to to be different,” she wanted to say. Some things are communicated without words, with furtive glances sideways. “Keep the motor running,” she said as he reached toward the ignition switch. “It’s cold out here.”
They sat in silence.
“Remember the first time we came out here?” she asked.
“Sure,” he said. “It was the beginning.”
“And this is the ending,” she said. “Some little play without a plot. It all begins and ends in the same place.”
“Tell me about it, Rose,” he said. “Do I have to beg you?”
“There’s nothing to tell,” she said.
“There’s everything to tell. What is it? The way you have to live now? No money? What?”
“It makes a difference, Tommy.”
“The hell it does,” he said. I love you, Rose. I wish I could take you away, but we’re too young.”
“Let’s go back,” she said.
“Not until you tell me what’s eating you up inside.”
“Nothing but ashes,” she said. “Just ashes, that’s all. Everything is ashes.”
He said nothing.
“Do you know about ashes, Tommy? Ashes aren’t even remains. They’re just an alkaline powder that blows away with time. When you have ashes, you have nothing. I know an old woman who had her husband cremated and keeps his ashes in an old vase sitting on her piano. She thinks she has his remains, but she’s wrong. She has nothing but ashes and ashes are like space… nothing.”
Still, he said nothing.
“Look at my clothes,” she said. “They’re ashes. Things that are ready for the incinerator. Shoes with holes, maternity dresses, just like they expect I’ll be wearing one real soon. All we poor girls do, you know. The food they give us? Rotten eggs. What do they do with their trash? They give it to us, that’s what. I’m surprised that I don’t find cigarette butts and trash from somebody’s waste basket. The poor old Taylor family. ‘Hey, Mabel, let’s give them those cans of jelly that’s down in the cellar. The kids won’t touch them. All they have to do is scrape the mold off the top and it’s perfectly fine underneath.’”
She began to cry and he slipped his arm around her. She buried her face in the looseness of his open coat.
“And that’s not the worst of it, Tommy,” she sobbed. “Daddy has been taking all that stuff with smiles and a thank-you just as though they gave us a million dollars! I think he’s beginning to like it.”
She sobbed against his shoulder. His armpits smelled like deodorant.
Now the winds are howling like some ghost searching for his soul at midnight. The light cuts though into the hut where some semblance of order has been restored. Rose is mending a sweater and Jimmy is stoking the pot-bellied stove. Holden Taylor sits reading the newspaper.
The rap comes again to the door, the carpenter’s hammer, Mr. Adams of the smiling regiment and the putrified hair.
“Daddy,” Rose whispers, “don’t.”
Holden Taylor shuffles to the door, his weight creaking the floorboards, stirring up the smell of must and rot.
“Hello, Mr. Taylor,” Adams says. “I trust that everyone is in tip-top shape. You’ll never guess what I’ve got for you today. He turns and yells to someone outside. “Bring it in, boys.”
The door stands open, the wind freshening their senses with cold. Two men appear carrying a large chunk of yellowed enamel, a refrigerator.
“That’s it, boys,” Adams says. “Take it easy now. Sit it right there. That’s it, boys. That’s fine.”
He shuts the door. Holden Taylor runs his hand over the cold white metal. He feels the nicks in the enamel, then the chips where brown and gray primer shows through. Hc opens the door and looks inside. The box is stained from a hundred leftovers, he notices, but it will clean, he thinks.
“How’s that, Mr. Taylor,” Adams says. “You’ll really he able to use this, I know. It makes a man feel rather small when he thinks about how the community opens up its heart to the needy ones.”
Holden Taylor squats down on his knees and runs his hand under the refrigerator until he finds the cord. He tries to plug it in, but the prongs are bent the wrong way. He straightens them out and slips them easily into the socket, waiting for the purr of the motor.
Nothing happens.
He opens the door. The light is not on. He smells something burning in the motor. “Mr. Adams,” he says, “this refrigerator does not work.”
“Oh,” Adams says, “I hadn’t noticed.” The smile is still on his face––a chalky, plastered smile.
Rose speaks, her voice carrying above the wail of the wind. “If you really want to help us, Mr. Adams, help my father get a job.”
“I didn’t know you wanted to work, Mr. Taylor,” Adams says.
Holden Taylor stands with his head drooping, not answering.
“And you, young lady,” Adams says, turning to Rose. “You have no sense of respect. After all the things I’ve done…”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Adams,” Rose says. “All the things you’ve done. Take a look at me, Mr. Adams. I look like some lost refuge with all the clothes you’ve so generously provided.”
She walks over to the make-shift kitchen. “This pan,” she says, “has a hole in the bottom. It’s most useful. Of course, I must remember that you and the community have generously provided us with food.”
She picks up a jar of molded jelly from the food box and throws it at Adams’ feet. The glass breaks and splatters jelly on his shoe. “Molded jelly. Great for the digestive system. And now you bring us a refrigerator that doesn’t work. What are we supposed to do with it, Mr. Adams? Store our clothes in it? Keep the moths away? Oh, no, Mr. Adams, that wouldn’t help. The moths have already been here.”
She is speaking calmly, her voice a mere whisper that echoes far and deep.
Adams’ face is red, his eyes white with anger. “You piggish little hussie,” he says. “You ingrate…”
“Mr. Adams, says Holden Taylor, his voice unexpectedly piercing to the marrow of the bones. “That’s enough. There will be no more talk like that in my house. I think it’s better if you would leave now.”
Adams leaves with a wave of cold air. Holden Taylor steps over to his daughter puts his arm around her shoulder. “Now what good did that do us, honey?”
“I couldn’t stand it anymore, Daddy,” she sobs. “I just couldn’t stand it.”
“It’s all right,” Holden Taylor says.
“Oh, Daddy, I hate it all, Rose says, crying into his shoulder.
“I know you do, honey,” Holden Taylor says, rocking her back and forth. “All of us do.”

(originally written in 1963, revised 2017)
March 2, 1963
Ken H. Finton


by Kenneth Harper Finton © 2015


“Did you see what Fred got me for my birthday,” Wilma said. “A brand new pink pistol.”

“You are planning to shoot someone,” Betty replied.

“No, I am not planning to do that.”

“Then what will you do with it?” Betty asked.

“Target practice, I guess. It’s small and fits my purse and hand.”

“Same thing,” Betty said.

img-thing“What do you mean?” asked Wilma.

“Target practice is learning the skills for killing people.”

“Not to me. I enjoy it.”

“What do you think a pistol it for?” Betty asked. “A pistol is for killing people. They aren’t for hunting. Rifles are for hunting. Pistols are made just to kill people.”

“Or target practice,” Wilma reiterated.

“Targets are pretend people. Same difference.”

“Well, I don’t know. Fred got it for me to defend myself.”

5d85615878e42466ab0938cd823f429d“Defend against what?” Betty asked.

“You never know. Maybe a wild animal might attack me or some big guy might come for me in a dark alley.”

“Here in little old Bedrock? This is the safest place I know. The major crimes are jaywalking and spitting on the sidewalk.”

“I could be visiting someplace dangerous and need it. There are lots of dangerous places.”

“You could just stay away from them,” replied Betty.

“But I want to be free to go any place I want,” Wilma said.

“So you will walk into a war zone with a little pink pistol for protection?”

“Maybe not a war zone. It doesn’t have to be a war zone. I could be hiking someplace and a big bear comes at me,” Wilma said.

“Do you know what happens if you shoot that bear? I hear that It is a felony to shoot a wild animal. Uncle Tex just arrested someone for shooting a bear on the trail and that man is looking at several years in jail and a big fine.”

“Well, suppose I am out at night and this rapist comes at me. At least I have my little pink pistol to protect myself.”

“Unless he grabs you before you get it out of your purse or takes it away from you. That is what happens most of the time.” Betty said.

“I would just have to be quicker,” Wilma replied.

“But how would you know he is a rapist until he actually grabs you and throws you down? By then it would be too late to dig for it in your purse.”

“That could happen,” Wilma agreed.

“Besides, I saw a video online once about people who had a pistol in their hands when someone attacked them and they could not pull the trigger. It is a big decision to pull a gun and shoot someone. When it comes right down to it most people freeze up and hesitate. That is how the bad guy gets the gun and takes it away.”

“I could pull the trigger,” Wilma said. “I am sure I could do that.”

“But how do you know what this guy intends to do? How do you recognize a rapist?”

“Maybe they gotta bad look on their face or move at me too quickly.”

“You would shoot someone for that? I don’t think so, Wilma.”

“They could have a knife or a gun that I could see.”

“Could a…  would a … should a… there would not be time to react, Wilma.”

“Maybe not, but I would feel safer knowing my pink pistol is there,” Wilma said.

“Or you could do the sensible thing and not put yourself in such a position to start.”

“That is best,” Wilma agreed. “But I could wake up in the middle of the night when Fred is not there and hear someone in the house. I will have my little pink pistol to protect me.”

“You would go confront this intruder with your pistol and say, ‘Put your hands up?”

*Yes, I could do that.”

“I think you need lessons, Wilma. They could run from you or at you. Then you would have to decide whether to shoot or not. Do you think another person’s life is worth less than your own?”

“Well, that is not something I think about.”

“You’d better think about it,” Betty said. “What would Jesus do? What would Gandhi do? We already know that they would not want violence. They believed in civil disobedience, not violence.”

“Oh, Betty, you make it all so complicated.”

“It is complicated, Wilma. You have to think about the consequences of your actions.”

“Everyone has the right to defend themselves,” Wilma stated.

“Yes, they do and there are lots of ways to do that without a pistol in your hand. Pistols are for killing people. Do you know what pistols are mainly used for?”


“Target practice is for killing. No, most gun deaths are from suicide. Two out of three gun people who die by guns are people who kill themselves.”

“I have heard that, but I am not a suicidal person. Besides, Fred tells me that I have a second amendment right to be armed.”

“To be armed for what, Wilma? Killing somebody?”

“Well, the government could get out of control and we would have to take back our right and our country.”

“With a little pink pistol against drones and tanks and bombs and the world’s best fighting forces?”

“You make it sound futile,” Wilma said,

“It is futile. Convincing people with words and actions are the best way.”

“How do you do that with a burglar or a rapist?”

“You gave to be creative, Wilma. Ask them about their favorite song. Ask them to sing it to you and join them in singing.”

“Oh, sure. I can see them stopping immediately and starting to sing.”

“People always need convincing. That’s the one talent you really are good at. Sing them a happy song and see what happens.”

“Ha! That’s a crock.” Wilma said.

“Maybe,” Betty said, “but being you is your best defense. If anyone gets to know you, they will like you and not want to harm you. That is better than shooting somebody.”

“But Fred gave me the pink pistol for my birthday,” Wilma said.

“Tell him you really do not like pink and do not want to shoot anyone, Wilma. That is true, isn’t it?”

“Hmmm,” Wilma replied, lost in thought.







by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2014


Santa Claus


Claus checked his ledgers in Quickbooks. It was not a task he enjoyed.

He fondly remembered the days when the smoke encircled his head like a wreath. He quit smoking a pipe a decade or two ago, but he still missed the pungent aroma of his tobacco. What he did not miss was the sore tongue and hacking cough he would often get.

When Christmas was taken over by the corporate gift manufacturers he had shaken his head and withdrawn in total disbelief.  “How could they corner the market on gifts so quickly,” Claus remembered saying.

He had long since had to retire much of his elf force. The elves just could not compete with the prices the corporations charged for general gifts of all shapes and sizes. Soon metal toys replaced his home-made-by-elfen-hands wooden toys.

As if that were not bad enough, the metal toys makers cut back on production and the plastic toy makers flooded the market with every size and shape of plastic toys that were conceivable. The oil cartel would not sell the oils for making plastics to the North Pole Charitable Organization, St. Nicholas, Proprietor.

For Claus, these were perilous times.

One day a group of corporate lawyers met with Claus to discuss the possibility of his contracting for delivery for their orders.

“We will allow you to charge a delivery fee,” they proposed. “It could be a very big deal for you. Remember, you are not getting any younger. Long term care is expensive and we can sell you insurance for that out of the money you charge for delivery of our goods.”

Claus had to think about that: a delivery fee for Santa. Extraordinary, to be sure, but in step with the times. Tradition breaking.  But these are times to try a person’s pocket book.

When he examined his ledger on Quickbooks, he could easily see that he had been running at a loss for almost five hundred years.  “Why, then,” he thought, “would I need long-term care insurance? These men must think me to be a sucker.”

“If they keep it up, the way it is going,” Claus thought, “then I may as well retire. They do not understand that the gifts were not what I delivered. I delivered the love that made the gifts, not the gifts themselves. It has always been so, as long as my spirit has been around. If love no longer makes the gifts, then my delivery is in vain.”

The corporate lawyers did not agree with Claus. “Love” they said, “was a personal thing and the corporations are personal, therefore what they made was made with love, as Clause has admitted that love is what he delivered to persons like the corporations.”

Clause could not quite follow their logic.

Of course, the debate ended up in court.

The parties were forced to define some kind of argument for a favorable judgment. Who had been injured? Who had been financially cheated? What was the duty, if any, for Claus?”

Claus argued that because he had been working gratis of his own free will, there was no loss at all.

The corporations argued that Claus could not have a monopoly on love giving, that they were entitled to give love as well and could do it better than an old white guy that does not appeal to the Muslim and the Buddhist nor the Hindu faiths, among many others. We, they claimed, have a far better market share in love giving that is good for the world economy as a whole.

The court ruled that corporations were better fitted to distribute love than The North Pole Charitable Organization, St. Nicholas, Proprietor.

Claus retired, forced out by world non-opinion and legal issues.

Due to his eternal nature, he still distributed his love where it is most needed.

Let us hope he is not ordered to cease and desist.





Originally published at

Ken at Scriggler:

See also:



by Ambrose Bierce (Public domain)






“So you like scary stories,” her uncle said.

“Yes, I like being scared.”

“Why do you like to be scared, little one?”

“‘cause I do.”

“But why? Does being scared make you feel good?”

“No,” she replied.

“Then why do you like to be scared?”

“‘Cause it makes me feel different.”

“Different how?”

“Different than I am now.”

“Ah, I see,” her uncle said. “It makes you more alive.”

“I pay more attention.”

“That’s what fear does. You concentrate on it.”


“Then I have a scary story for you. It was written long ago about a monstrous thing that happened.”

“Goodie,” she replied. “Tell me now.”


Her uncle  picked up his book and began to read:




By Ambrose Bierce


The Dammed Thing first appeared in Tales from New York Town Topics on December 7, 1893





By the light of a tallow candle, which had been placed on one end of a rough table, a man was reading something written in a book. It was an account book, greatly worn; and the writing was not, apparently, very legible, for the man sometimes held the page close to the flame of the candle to get a stronger light upon it. The shadow of the book would then throw into obscurity a half of the room, darkening a number of faces and figures; for besides the reader, eight other men were present.

Seven of them sat against the rough log walls, silent and motionless, and, the room being small, not very far from the table. By extending an arm any one of them could have touched the eighth man, who lay on the table, face upward, partly covered by a sheet, his arms at his sides. He was dead.

The man with the book was not reading aloud, and no one spoke; all seemed to be waiting for something to occur; the dead man only was without expectation. From the blank darkness outside came in, through the aperture that served for a window, all the ever unfamiliar noises of night in the wilderness–the long, nameless note of a distant coyote; the stilly pulsing thrill of tireless insects in trees; strange cries of night birds, so different from those of the birds of day; the drone of great blundering beetles, and all that mysterious chorus of small sounds that seem always to have been but half heard when they have suddenly ceased, as if conscious of an indiscretion. But nothing of all this was noted in that company; its members were not overmuch addicted to idle interest in matters of no practical importance; that was obvious in every line of their rugged faces–obvious even in the dim light of the single candle. They were evidentlymen of the vicinity–farmers and woodmen.

The person reading was a trifle different; one would have said of him that he was of the world, worldly, albeit there was that in his attire which attested a certain fellowship with the organisms of his environment. His coat would hardly have passed muster in San Francisco: his footgear was not of urban origin, and the hat that lay by him on the floor (he was the only one uncovered) was such that if one had considered it as an article of mere personal adornment he would have missed its meaning. In countenance the man was rather prepossessing, with just a hint of sternness; though that he may have assumed or cultivated, as appropriate to one in authority. For he was a coroner. It was by virtue of his office that he had possession of the book in which he was reading; it had been found among the dead man’s effects–in his cabin, where the inquest was now taking place.

When the coroner had finished reading he put the book into his breast pocket. At that moment the door was pushed open and a young man entered. He, clearly, was not of mountain birth and breeding: he was clad as those who dwell in cities. His clothing was dusty, however, as from travel. He had, in fact, been riding hard to attend the inquest.

The coroner nodded; no one else greeted him.

“We have waited for you,” said the coroner. “It is necessary to have done with this business to-night.”

The young man smiled. “I am sorry to have kept you,” he said. “I went away, not to evade your summons, but to post to my newspaper an account of what I suppose I am called back to relate.”

The coroner smiled.

“The account that you posted to your newspaper,” he said, “differs probably from that which you will give here under oath.”

“That,” replied the other, rather hotly and with a visible flush, “is as you choose. I used manifold paper and have a copy of what I sent. It was not written as news, for it is incredible, but as fiction. It may go as a part of my testimony under oath.”

“But you say it is incredible.”

“That is nothing to you, sir, if I also swear that it is true.”

The coroner was apparently not greatly affected by the young man’s manifest resentment. He was silent for some moments, his eyes upon the floor. The men about the sides of the cabin talked in whispers, but seldom withdrew their gaze from the face of the corpse. Presently the coroner lifted his eyes and said: “We will resume the inquest.”

The men removed their hats. The witness was sworn.

“What is your name?” the coroner asked.

“William Harker.”



“You knew the deceased, Hugh Morgan?”


“You were with him when he died?”

“Near him.”

“How did that happen–your presence, I mean?”

“I was visiting him at this place to shoot and fish. A part of my purpose, however, was to study him, and his odd, solitary way of life. He seemed a good model for a character in fiction. I sometimes write stories.”

“I sometimes read them.”

“Thank you.”

“Stories in general–not yours.”

Some of the jurors laughed. Against a sombre background humor shows high lights.

Soldiers in the intervals of battle laugh easily, and a jest in the death chamber conquers by surprise.

“Relate the circumstances of this man’s death,” said the coroner. “You may use any notes or memoranda that you please.”

The witness understood. Pulling a manuscript from his breast pocket he held it near the candle, and turning the leaves until he found the passage that he wanted, began to





“…The sun had hardly risen when we left the house. We were looking for quail, each with a shotgun, but we had only one dog. Morgan said that our best ground was beyond a certain ridge that he pointed out, and we crossed it by a trail through the chaparral. On the other side was comparatively level ground, thickly covered with wild oats. As we emerged from the chaparral, Morgan was but a few yards in advance. Suddenly, we heard, at a little distance to our right, and partly in front, a noise as of some animal thrashing about in the bushes, which we could see were violently agitated.

“‘We’ve started a deer,’ I said. “I wish we had brought a rifle.’

“Morgan, who had stopped and was intently watching the agitated chaparral, said nothing, but had cocked both barrels of his gun, and was holding it in readiness to aim. I thought him a trifle excited, which surprised me, for he had a reputation for exceptional coolness, even in moments of sudden and imminent peril.

“‘O, come!’ I said. ‘You are not going to fill up a deer with quail-shot, are you?’

“Still he did not reply; but, catching a sight of his face as he turned it slightly toward me, I was struck by the pallor of it. Then I understood that we had serious business on hand, and my first conjecture was that we had ‘jumped’ a grizzly. I advanced to Morgan’s side, cocking my piece as I moved.

“The bushes were now quiet, and the sounds had ceased, but Morgan was as attentive to the place as before.

“‘What is it? What the devil is it?’ I asked.

“‘That Damned Thing!’’ he replied, without turning his head. His voice was husky and unnatural. He trembled visibly.

“I was about to speak further, when I observed the wild oats near the place of the disturbance moving in the most inexplicable way. I can hardly describe it. It seemed as if stirred by a streak of wind, which not only bent it, but pressed it down–crushed it so that it did not rise, and this movement was slowly prolonging itself directly toward us.

“Nothing that I had ever seen had affected me so strangely as this unfamiliar and unaccountable phenomenon, yet I am unable to recall any sense of fear. I remember–and tell it here because, singularly enough, I recollected it then–that once, in looking carelessly out of an open window, I momentarily mistook a small tree close at hand for one of a group of larger trees at a little distance away. It looked the same size as the others, but, being more distinctly and sharply defined in mass and detail, seemed out of harmony with them. It was a mere falsification of the law of aerial perspective, but it startled, almost terrified me. We so rely upon the orderly operation of familiar natural laws that any seeming suspension of them is noted as a menace to our safety, a warning of unthinkable calamity. So now the apparently causeless movement of the herbage, and the slow, undeviating approach of the line of disturbance were distinctly disquieting. My companion appeared actually frightened, and I could hardly credit my senses when I saw him suddenly throw his gun to his shoulders and fire both barrels at the agitated grass! Before the smoke of the discharge had cleared away I heard a loud savage cry–a scream like that of a wild animal–and, flinging his gun upon the ground.

Morgan sprang away and ran swiftly from the spot. At the same instant I was thrown violently to the ground by the impact of something unseen in the smoke–some soft, heavy substance that seemed thrown against me with great force.


“I was about to speak further, when I observed the wild oats near the place of the disturbance moving in the most inexplicable way. I can hardly describe it. It seemed as if stirred by a streak of wind, which not only bent it, but pressed it down–crushed it so that it did not rise, and this movement was slowly prolonging itself directly toward us.

“Nothing that I had ever seen had affected me so strangely as this unfamiliar and unaccountable phenomenon, yet I am unable to recall any sense of fear. I remember–and tell it here because, singularly enough, I recollected it then–that once, in looking carelessly out of an open window, I momentarily mistook a small tree close at hand for one of a group of larger trees at a little distance away. It looked the same size as the others, but, being more distinctly and sharply defined in mass and detail, seemed out of harmony with them. It was a mere falsification of the law of aerial perspective, but it startled, almost terrified me. We so rely upon the orderly operation of familiar natural laws that any seeming suspension of them is noted as a menace to our safety, a warning of unthinkable calamity. So now the apparently causeless movement of the herbage, and the slow, undeviating approach of the line of disturbance were distinctly disquieting.

My companion appeared actually frightened, and I could hardly credit my senses when I saw him suddenly throw his gun to his shoulders and fire both barrels at the agitated grass! Before the smoke of the discharge had cleared away I heard a loud savage cry–a scream like that of a wild animal–and, flinging his gun upon the ground,

Morgan sprang away and ran swiftly from the spot. At the same instant I was thrown violently to the ground by the impact of something unseen in the smoke–some soft, heavy substance that seemed thrown against me with great force.

prokletinja (1)

“Before I could get upon my feet and recover my gun, which seemed to have been struck from my hands, I heard Morgan crying out as if in mortal agony, and mingling with his cries were such hoarse savage sounds as one hears from fighting dogs. Inexpressibly terrified, I struggled to my feet and looked in the direction of Morgan’s retreat; and may heaven in mercy spare me from another sight like that! At a distance of less than thirty yards was my friend, down upon one knee, his head thrown back at a frightful angle, hatless, his long hair in disorder and his whole body in violent movement from side to side, backward and forward. His right arm was lifted and seemed to lack the hand–at least, I could see none. The other arm was invisible. At times, as my memory now reports this extraordinary scene, I could discern but a part of his body; it was as if he had been partly blotted out–I can not otherwise express it–then a shifting of his position would bring it all into view again.

“All this must have occurred within a few seconds, yet in that time Morgan assumed all the postures of a determined wrestler vanquished by superior weight and strength. I saw nothing but

him, and him not always distinctly. During the entire incident his shouts and curses were heard, as if through an enveloping uproar of such sounds of rage and fury as I had never heard from the throat of man or brute!

“For a moment only I stood irresolute, then, throwing down my gun, I ran forward to my friend’s assistance. I had a vague belief that he was suffering from a fit or some form of convulsion. Before I could reach his side he was down and quiet. All sounds had ceased, but, with a feeling of such terror as even these awful events had not inspired, I now saw the same mysterious movement of the wild oats prolonging itself from the trampled area about the prostrate man toward the edge of a wood. It was only when it had reached the wood that I was able to withdraw my eyes and look at my companion. He was dead.”





The coroner rose from his seat and stood beside the dead man. Lifting an edge of the sheet he pulled it away, exposing the entire body, altogether naked and showing in the candle light a clay-like yellow. It had, however, broad maculations of bluish-black, obviously caused by extravasated blood from contusions. The chest and sides looked as if they had been beaten with a bludgeon. There were dreadful lacerations; the skin was torn in strips and shreds.

The coroner moved round to the end of the table and undid a silk handkerchief, which had been passed under the chin and knotted on the top of the head. When the handkerchief was drawn away it exposed what had been the throat. Some of the jurors who had risen to get a better view repented their curiosity, and turned away their faces.

Witness Harker went to the open window and leaned out across the sill, faint and sick. Dropping the handkerchief upon the dead man’s neck, the coroner stepped to an angle of the room, and from a pile of clothing produced one garment after another, each of which he held up a moment for inspection. All were torn, and stiff with blood. The jurors did not make a closer inspection. They seemed rather uninterested. They had, in truth, seen all this before; the only thing that was new to them being Harker’s testimony.

“Gentlemen,” the coroner said, “we have no more evidence, I think. Your duty has been already explained to you; if there is nothing you wish to ask you may go outside and consider your verdict.”

The foreman rose–a tall, bearded man of sixty, coarsely clad.

“I should like to ask one question, Mr. Coroner,” he said. “What asylum did this here last witness escape from?”

“Mr. Harker,” said the coroner, gravely and tranquilly, “from what asylum did you last escape?”

Harker flushed crimson again, but said nothing, and the seven jurors rose and solemnly filed out of the cabin.

“If you have done insulting me, sir,” said Harker, as soon as he and the officer were left alone with the dead man, “I suppose I am at liberty to go?”


Harker started to leave, but paused, with his hand on the door latch. The habit of his profession was strong in him–stronger than his sense of personal dignity. He turned about and said:

“The book that you have there–I recognize it as Morgan’s diary. You seemed greatly interested in it; you read in it while I was testifying. May I see it? The public would like–”

“The book will cut no figure in this matter,” replied the official, slipping it into his coat pocket; “all the entries in it were made before the writer’s death.”

As Harker passed out of the house the jury reentered and stood about the table on which the now covered corpse showed under the sheet with sharp definition. The foreman seated himself near the candle, produced from his breast pocket a pencil and scrap of paper, and wrote rather laboriously the following verdict, which with various degrees of effort all signed:

“We, the jury, do find that the remains come to their death at the hands of a mountain lion, but some of us thinks, all the same, they had fits.”





In the diary of the late Hugh Morgan are certain interesting entries having, possibly, a scientific value as suggestions. At the inquest upon his body the book was not put in evidence; possibly the coroner thought it not worthwhile to confuse the jury. The date of the first of the entries mentioned cannot be ascertained; the upper part of the leaf is torn away; the part of the entry remaining is as follows:

“… would run in a half circle, keeping his head turned always toward the centre and again he would stand still, barking furiously. At last he ran away into the brush as fast as he could go. I thought at first that he had gone mad, but on returning to the house found no other alteration in his manner than what was obviously due to fear of punishment.

“Can a dog see with his nose? Do odors impress some olfactory centre with images of the thing emitting them? . . .

“Sept 2.–Looking at the stars last night as they rose above the crest of the ridge east of the house, I observed them successively disappear–from left to right. Each was eclipsed but an instant, and only a few at the same time, but along the entire length of the ridge all that were within a degree or two of the crest were blotted out. It was as if something had passed along between me and them; but I could not see it, and the stars were not thick enough to define its outline. Ugh! I don’t like this. . . .”

Several weeks’ entries are missing, three leaves being torn from the book.

“Sept. 27.–It has been about here again–I find evidences of its presence every day. I watched again all of last night in the same cover, gun in hand, double-charged with buckshot. In the morning the fresh footprints were there, as before. Yet I would have sworn that I did not sleep–indeed, I hardly sleep at all. It is terrible, insupportable! If these amazing experiences are real I shall go mad; if they are fanciful I am mad already.

“Oct. 3.–I shall not go–it shall not drive me away. No, this is my house, my land. God hates a coward…

“Oct. 5.–I can stand it no longer; I have invited Harker to pass a few weeks with me–he has a level head. I can judge from his manner if he thinks me mad.

“Oct. 7.–I have the solution of the problem; it came to me last night–suddenly, as by revelation. How simple–how terribly simple!


“There are sounds that we can not hear. At either end of the scale are notes that stir no chord of that imperfect instrument, the human ear. They are too high or too grave. I have observed a flock of blackbirds occupying an entire treetop–the tops of several trees–and all in full song. Suddenly–in a moment–at absolutely the same instant—all spring into the air and fly away. How? They could not all see one another–whole treetops intervened. At no point could a leader have been visible to all. There must have been a signal of warning or command, high and shrill above the din, but by me unheard.

I have observed, too, the same simultaneous flight when all were silent, among not only blackbirds, but other birds–quail, for example, widely separated by bushes–even on opposite sides of a hill.

“It is known to seamen that a school of whales basking or sporting on the surface of the ocean, miles apart, with the convexity of the earth between them, will sometimes dive at the same instant–all gone out of sight in a moment. The signal has been sounded–too grave for the ear of the sailor at the masthead and his comrades on the deck—who nevertheless feel its vibrations in the ship as the stones of a cathedral are stirred by the bass of the organ.

“As with sounds, so with colors. At each end of the solar spectrum the chemist can detect the presence of what are known as ‘actinic’ rays. They represent colors–integral colors in the composition of light–which we are unable to discern. The human eye is an imperfect instrument; its range is but a few octaves of the real ‘chromatic scale’ I am not mad; there are colors that we cannot see.

“And, God help me! the Damned Thing is of such a color!”








Ambrose Bierce was born on June 24, 1842 in a log cabin at Horse Cave Creek in Meigs County, Ohio. He was the tenth of thirteen children. His father gave all the children names starting with the letter “A”. When the civil war began he signed up. He participated in many battles in West Virginia. Ar the first battle at Philippi, he distinguished himself for bravery. Bierce was present at the Battle of Rich Mountain where he rescued a badly injured comrade. Bierce fought at the Battle of Shiloh in April of that 1862/. He was seriously wounded in the head at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and was discharged in January 1865. He served in an expedition across the Great Plains to San Francisco where he was promoted to brevet major. His then turned to journalism and criticism and he worked for the Hearst Company for many years. He spent some time in England and his first book was published in London. He wrote many short stories, the most famous of being “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. Bierce disappeared in Mexico around the end of 1913, after joining Pancho Villa’s army as an observer. Bierce’s disappearance has also been a popular topic. Carlos Fuentes’s novel The Old Gringo is a fictionalized account of Bierce’s disappearance which was later adapted into the film Old Gringo (1989), starring Gregory Peck in the title role. The film was not received well critically, possibly because Jane Fonda, the lead actress, was unpopular for her stance on the Viet Nam War in the eyes of many, and became a box office failure.


by Natasha DeSilva ©2014


Originally posted on Cup of Whimsy:

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Last night I said these words to my girl: “You’re driving me insane.”

She looked at me, taken by surprise. “If there’s something I have said or done, tell me what and I’ll apologize.”

Giving me the same old line. She’s got the devil in her heart.

I said, “You’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.” Should I fix myself a drink? I’ve hada drink or two. “I should have realized a lot of things before. You treat me badly. My independence seems to vanish… I have had enough.”

“I’ve just…Every now and then, I feel so insecure. Try to see it my way…”

Sigh. She’s old enough to know better. “Martha, my dear. I can’t help my feelings.”

She said, “You don’t understand what I said.”

“No, you’re wrong. I know that I’m ready to leave.”

“Honey…don’t.” She will turn to me and start to cry. “We can work it out.” My baby’s got me locked up in chains.

No reply. I nearly broke down and cried. And I’m the kind of guy who never used to cry.

“You’ll never leave me.” And in her eyes…no sign of love behind the tears. Cried for no one.

“I think I’ll take a walk.” I couldn’t stand the pain.

Summer night: The floating sky is shimmering. Bright are the stars; big and black the clouds. Tomorrow may rain .

I’ve been wandering around. Flowers of yellow and green, tangerine trees, strawberry fields. Blackbird singing in the dead of night. On the corner is a banker with a motorcar.

Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box, relax and float downstream.

I should be sleeping like a log. I may be asleep. But you know, I know when it’s a dream.

Now it’s time to say good night. I turn around.

Once there was a way to get back home.

“Mister city policeman, can you take me back where I came from?”

*   *   *

When I awoke, I was alone. This bird had flown, leaving the note that she hoped would say more. My life has changed.

I’ll remember all the little things we’ve done…but one thing I can tell you is you got to be free. Take these broken wings and learn to fly.

Fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head. Found my way downstairs and drank a cup.

“The sun is up. The sky is blue.” I just had to laugh. I need to laugh, and when the sun is out, I’ve got something I can laugh about. I feel the ice is slowly melting.

I took a ride. I’ll follow the sun. I didn’t know what I would find there.

Lovely Rita. Sitting in an English garden.


“Hello, hello!” She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere.

She said she’d always been a dancer. She never stops; she’s a go-getter.

“I’m happy just to dance with you. Just let me hear some of that rock n roll music!”

She was a girl in a million. Just a smile would lighten everything.

My head is filled with things to say. And though it’s only a whim, I’ve got a feeling, a feeling deep inside: She will always be my friend.

Two of us riding nowhere. Not arriving…On our way back home. We’re on our way home.






Cup of Whimsy

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my story composed completely of Beatles lyrics? It took me a while to write, will you take a look? Haha…I’m a big Beatles fan, and I felt inspired by this fun yet daunting challenge. Being limited to certain words and phrases was a struggle, but at least the Beatles had a lot of songs to choose from. I am not sure how successful the story turned out, but I would love to hear your thoughts!


Last night I said these words to my girl: “You’re driving me insane.”

She looked at me, taken by surprise. “If there’s something I have said or done, tell me what and I’ll apologize.”

Giving me the same old line. She’s got the devil in her heart.

I said, “You’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.” Should I fix myself a drink? I’ve had a…

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1. Mare’s nest: a complex and difficult situation; a muddle

2. an illusory discovery such as “the mares next of perfect safety”


©2017 Kenneth Harper Finton


When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.” -Mae West

   The child and the boy that Adam used to be was so foreign to him now. Looking over pages that he wrote years ago, Adam barely recognized his former self as the person who wrote them.

   Adam came from a conservative and opinionated small town in rural Ohio. Those who lived in his little town often claimed it was God’s country. Adam supposed that it might be good for the spirit to be content and proud of your community. God’s country seemed to be a stretch, though. So many wonderful spots in the world better fit that description.

   Life seemed to be so much more idyllic and simple then. Yet, it seems to Adam that this warmer view one has toward the past is never the case. Faded memories—the exclusive warm selections of chosen recollections—give the illusion that daily life was richer in the past than in the present. This is the mare’s nest. We are born in illusion and live most of our lives in a delusional fantasy with the blessings and approval of those who surround us.


   Religion and conservative politics were the mainstays of community belief when Adam was being raised. He was brought up to believe in things that were not real, but Adam had a problem with these beliefs. To suspend rational thought and dive into the unproven waters of belief was much easier when Adam was a child.

   Adam’s parents were good to him. They did everything they were supposed to do with a minimum of complaints and resentment. They were neither rich nor poor, neither too conservative nor too liberal.

   These were the days when a mother was expected to stay home and raise the children. The father was expected to bring in a paycheck and support the family. Yet, even then, the very ground of these expectations was trembling.World War II had shown women that they could manage without a man in charge. The experience of hundreds of thousands of years had proven to be false. The seeds of personal independence had taken root in even the most dependent of women. A new world was being born before Adam’s eyes. Only a very few seemed to realize that this was so.


Social taboos confuse men and women alike. A natural curiosity about the difference between men and women develops early in life. Adam remembered when he was four and took the train from Ohio to Colorado to visit his grandmother. He had little experience with the female sex. His curiosity got the best of him. His grandmother lived next to a family that had a daughter Adam’s age. She was deliciously blonde, wore a taffeta dress, and smelled of Ivory Soap. Adams’s play was often defined by guns and cowboys, trains, and fortifications. Society wanted him to grow up to be a good soldier. He was trained to defend his family and national interests while little Susie played with dolls and tea parties. It was the normal thing.

Adam had no idea who thought it up, but one warm afternoon they decided to explore one another’s bodies. Adam had no sister, so he was very curious to see what lay beneath that taffeta dress. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” he said.

She was every bit as curious as Adam. They went behind the shade of a weeping willow and she pulled up her dress. She wore white panties that were different from Adam’s jockey shorts. She eagerly pulled her panties down and Adam saw a vagina for the first time in his young life. How wonderful it looked to him—almost puffy and so very different from what he possessed. She took her hands and pulled the labial folds apart so that Adam could see the inside. He could see little curds of a cheese-like substance.

“I get that, too,” he said.

“Let me see,” she replied.

His penis quickly grew stiffer and larger. He pulled down his pants and showed her what he meant. Adam had never been circumcised, so he pulled back the foreskin and exposed the same little white curds that she had proudly displayed. “Do you want to touch it?” she asked.


“Well, you either do or you don’t,” she said.

“Yeah, I guess I do,” he said.

“Then go ahead. Touch me. I like it when I rub it right here. You can try if you want.”

Adam took his index finger and rubbed her there. It felt very good and he had a tight feeling come into his groin, the same feeling he had when he climbed a rope.

“See,” she said. “This is fun. Do you want to kiss it?”

“Not really,” he said. “Boys don’t kiss girls.”

“Yes, they do,” she said, “my Daddy does that to my Mom.”

“Well—what if I just touch it.”

“That’s okay, but I want to know what it feels like to be kissed down there.”

“How do you know your Dad does that?”

“I’ve seen them do it when they don’t know I can see them.”

“Oh,” I said. “My Dad doesn’t do that.”

“How do you know?” she said. “I bet he does. Then he takes his thing and he puts it into her and they wrestle around on the bed.”

“Why?” Adam asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

A voice from the house could be heard calling her name. “That’s my mother,” she said. “I gotta go.”

She pulled up her panties and ran off to the house. Adam had the feeling that he was in deep trouble. Something told him that he was not supposed to do that with her. Suddenly, he felt panicked.

He crawled up an apple tree as far as his limbs and legs could take him, Sure enough, within ten minutes his mother’s voice could be heard in the distance. “Get in here this moment,” she said. “Susie’s mother told me what you did.”

“What did I do?” he asked, knowing full well that he was in deeper territory that he had never before explored.

“You damned well know what you did,” mother said. “You were bad.”

Adam was totally embarrassed. His head hung low. If he were a dog, he surely would have put his tail between his legs.

* * *

Though childhood lasted more than a dozen years, Adam’s recollections of it seemed to reduce it to a few weeks. Almost all of it was learning and play and Adam loved both equally.

He had the best of many worlds. He lived on a couple of acres in the country, but his family was still close enough to ride his bike to town. Adam attended the city schools. He could ride his bike to visit friends and he could explore the creeks and wooded lands that surrounded his home. He felt so very much alive and so very happy to be.

Later, he would versify these feelings:

The Veils of Time

How often down these gravel roads my bike and I would roam.
Downhill like the lightning flash, up with winded moans …
Mapping streams and woods about me, finding spots where no one came.
Africa could be no stranger than the place in my dreamscape.

Ghosts of dead forgotten Indians, birch canoes and forest game,
hidden in the brambles forest, there beside the fields of grain.
Tadpoles swam among the minnows, dragonflies would dart and play.
Water bugs and prickly nettles, part of each midsummer’s day.

As it was in the beginning, so remain these things today,
in the places man’s forsaken, wilderness, ten feet away.
From a child’s imagination, pterodactyl seeks his prey.
Ages past still live forever when the veil of time is raised.


Adam was always in love. Girls were so pretty and different from the boys with whom he camped and hiked. Their skin was more clear, their hair so long and shining, their dresses rustling and clean smelling. Their grace seemed like music in motion.

Every day was a new adventure. Every person Adam met filled him with curiosity. Everything he learned about the land and customs around him filled with satisfaction. He has never experienced the like since.

In kindergarten, he met Mary with her striking long brown pigtails. Mary owned a pony. Even though she lived in town, she kept the pony in a shed back by the alley. Since cowboys and horses are inseparable and Adam was a young cowboy, she attracted him much as moths seek out the flame. Mary came to visit Adam often. When she could not come to see him, he rode to town on his bike to see her.

Mary and Adam never made experiments and explorations such as he had with his grandmother’s neighbor some years before. Neither the need, the desire or the curiosity ever arose. She made certain of that. Once when Adam had hitched a ride with her on the back of her bike, he reached up to hold onto the seat and she told him, “Watch where you put your hands.”

Her words, though, had the opposite effect. It called attention to her khaki-clad shorts that loosely held her shapely buttocks. Adam wanted to put his hands around her and hang on for life. To this day, Adam is left to wonder if that is what she wanted as well.

There was a television show in the afternoon in the 1950s that featured people being married before the camera. The bride, dressed in white and lovely as a sunrise, came slowly walking down the aisle to her betrothed. Mary and Adam would secretly watch it and play out the parts in front of the TV. He would spend many a lonesome night snuggled with his pillow and dreaming that the long length of her lay warm beside him.

Of her, Adam was later to write:

My love, she wore a gingham dress.
She wore her hair in braids.
Far too young for sweet caress,
our love was heaven made.

We spent a thousand idle hours
together in our dreams,
We wandered near the ancient oaks
and napped beside the stream.

I thought we might be married there,
and then, when time be lost,
side by side, eternally,
we’d rest beneath a cross.

But childhood washes from us all,
and dreams seek other fancies.
Soon she walked with someone else,
this lovely, freckled lassie.

Sure enough, I moved away
to seek some higher labor,
and to this day I’ve not returned
nor seen my long-lost neighbors.

When finally this childish love
grew up and found some others,
I know when I lay down to rest,
they’re one with one another.

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©2014 Kenneth Harper Finton

Warning: This is a story from 1961. It contains words and actions that can easily offend. It is a slice of time that was typical to most every small city in America. In the sixties, real estate brokers purposely brought blacks into all white neighborhoods to drive the prices down so they could get a bargain price for the homes, then sell to blacks that were hungry for homes of their own in a decent neighborhood, The practice was called “blockbusting”. Though it was illegal, the real estate agents made a common practice of telling the people in a neighborhood that members of a different race were moving into the neighborhood. It would depress and deflate the value of their property. The agents then sold the devalued homes to the minority group and gained a huge profit. 

Across the street in the cool of dusk it came, absorbed in the dirty air with the fumes from the refinery, the exhaust vapors and the laundry lint. A song in the twilight, a gentle ballad of people forgotten except in song – sung with the grace and feeling of a girl who has known life and the odious emotions of men.

Harry Johnson sat at the table sipping his coffee as the song slipped through the open window to his ears. He called to his wife with the voice of a bear, but entwined with the song it was the voice of a lamb. He didn’t notice the coffee stained table and the barren floor, the curtainless window and the peeling paint. He listened to the song, each painful note slapping his ears, the melancholy words playing on his upper lip.

His wife Marge was a big-hipped woman and the floorboards creaked as she entered the kitchen. “What now?” she asked.

Harry Johnson looked at his wife – her hair, once wind-swept lovely – was done up in a twisted knot, her face, once painted up with care, ashy and melted. 

“That song.” he said. “Where does that song come from?” he asked, pointing to the window. 

“How should I know? Am I supposed to he a mind reader or something?”

“It sounds like it comes from across the street,” Harry said.

“Might be. I heard we were getting new neighbors. It’s about time, too. It hasn’t been rented since the Talberts moved out.”

“Listen to the song,” he said. She listened with a wrinkle in her brow as the song blew in the window window with the sounds of passing cars, listened until it stopped and the sounds of the street were the only sounds.

“She’s got a good voice,” Harry said.

“She must be young,” his wife said. “No more than fifteen, l’d say.”

“It sure carries,” Harry said. “All the way over here from across to street and it sounded like she might have been sitting here at our own table.” 

“You could have bought that house, you know,” Marge said. “How would you like to be raised up in this place like Carolyn? How would you like it if you didn’t have a yard or trees or a house where you could stretch out and live? You could have given us something decent to live in for once. You could have bought that house, Harry.”

Harry’s face reflected thoughts and longings that ran deeper than his mind. “I know,” he said in a husky voice.

The cool of the evening was streaming in the window. “It’s probably the night that makes her voice carry,” Marge said, sensing Harry’s feelings. “Voices carry along towards night.”

“That must be it,” Harry said.

But now the song is gone and Harry notices the coffee-stained table and the drabness of the room. He was glad that it was Friday. 

“Tonight’s bowling night,” he said. “Where’s my ball?” 

“In the closet.”

Harry knew that the ball was in the closet. He always know where it was, yet every Friday evening be would ask, “Where’s my ball, for that was the way he asked if he could go bowling; and every Friday evening Marge would say, “In the closet,” for that was the way she would tell him he could go.

He went to the closet and picked up the brown canvas bag that felt heavy and worn in his big hands. He slipped on his jacket, for the night air would be cool. After he was gone he looked back at his apartment from the shadowed street, then looked over at the house across the street – the house he should have bought. It felt good to be away from the apartment. 

* * *

Harry Johnson saw his three friends waiting for him at the intersection. There was no use catching a bus for is was only seven blocks to the bowling lanes and it certainly was a fine night. 

He was glad to get away, glad to leave the apartment. He had always felt like a prisoner there with the dingy rooms and the burdensome voices and the evening when there was no peace. He would have bought the house across the street, but the neighborhood was becoming shabby and Harry was afraid he would lose if he invested.

“Hello, Harry.” 

“We’ve been waiting.” 

“Hello, Art, Dick. Joe.” 

They walked down the street toward the lanes. Art Richard was a tall man, half a cracker thin. He held his hands against his sharp and jutting chin. “Hear the news?” he asked. 

“What news?” 

“About the new neighbors.” 

“Across the street?” Harry asked. 

“Oh, you know then.” 

“Know what?” 

“They’re niggers.”

Harry looked hard at the tall man with the sharp chin and a mouth that spoke lies. “That’s nothin’   to joke about,” he said. 

Their strides quickened as though they wanted to leave a place where dirt and scum flowed into the gutter. “Moved in today,” Dick Marcus said. “A whole family of them.The nigger’s got a wife and two kids.” 

“It can’t be,” Harry said. 

“The whole neighborhood will go next.” Art Richards said, “I saw it happen over on 42nd Street. One nigger moved in and the rest started to come. It won’t be safe to step outside if we let them stay.”

“That’s a fact,” Dick Marcus said.

“We can’t let them get away with it. We gotta drive them out.”

“The way I look at it, we don’t have any choice,” Dick Marcus said. “We have our families to protect. Don’t you think so, Harry?”

Harry was thinking of a little Negro girl with a dark face, a song floating from clipped white teeth into the dark of night. “Sure,” he said. “Sure. It’s the only way.” 

None of the men bowled well that night. There were plans to make and wrongs to right. As the balls spun down the alleys and the pins clattered and the beer foamed in their throats, they talked.

After the match they stopped at the bar. Their voices stilled and they were silent. The bartender’s bald head glistened with as he asked them what was wrong. Still, they were silent.

Then they walked down the street. The night air was getting cooler. Art Richards pulled the zipper on his jacket clear up to his pointed chin, but the chill stayed in his spine. The city was enveloped with a hush that could only be surpassed by the silence that hung over a little town called Bethlehem, so far away and so many centuries ago. With the silence came a fear that that sliced the night.

Harry Johnson felt the fear, felt it crawling is his spine, felt it twisting is his stomach, felt its  macerations in his knees.

“Isn’t anyone going to do it?” he yelled. “Here, should I throw the first stone?” 

He picked up a stone from the deep, silt-filled gutter and hurled it with all his might. The crash of breaking glass slapped his ears. He dropped his arms and his mouth hung open wide. Suddenly, everyone was throwing rocks and stones end shouting curses, yet the house stayed dark and quiet. The air was heavy with an oppressive blackness. 

After it as all over, Harry Johnson stood at his kitchen window in his underwear looking out across the street at to house that he should have bought. He saw the yawning blackness and the broken panes, noticed that there was one window still unbroken, one window reflecting the twisting flames of the burning cross.


Tomorrow morning came as tomorrow mornings have a habit of doing. The untried light from the liquid sun found four men standing at a bus stop, waiting. Thee refinery was to run overtime today. The four men men were happy to make some extra money for themselves and their families.

Art Richards whispered – for he didn’t want the world to hear, “We sure got them last night, didn’t we?”

No one said a word.

“They had it comin’. Just wait ’til tonight if they’re still there.” 

“I don’t know if I want to do it again,”Joe Gantner said. 

“For Chrissake,” Harry said. “You don’t want your kids to grow up with a nigger for a neighbor, do you?”  

The words came out of Harry’s mouth, but he did not know why. 

“No, but still…” 

“Still hell,” Art Richards said. “We’ve got to get rid of them, that’s all.”

The bus came out of the morning and the four men went to work.

That evening after the factories closed and the men poured out like ants from their threatened castle. Harry Johnson sat over his supper of meat and potatoes, but he only picked at his food.

“Did you hear what happened to our new neighbors, Daddy?” Carolyn Johnson asked.

“Yes, I heard.”

“It serves them right,” Carolyn said. “Imagine the gall of them moving into an all white neighborhood. They have a daughter my age, too. How creepy!”

“That’s enough,” Harry snapped. “I don’t want to hear any more about it.”

He looked up at his wife’s face and saw the smirk on her lips. She knew.

After the last cup of coffee had been downed, after the dishes had been cleaned away to the sink and Harry Johnson was left alone with the falling sun, the song began. It was the same song, but ever so more haunting than before, scratching on the window, begging to penetrate the walls and bound into the heart.

He got up from the table and went to the window. Nothing seemed important except the song, for the song was life and life was important. But after the song ended, Harry felt the emptiness that he had felt before, for the song had lifted him to places he had never been before.

He went into the bedroom and took off his dirty work clothes and threw them on the bed on top of the sheets that looked like dirty handkerchiefs. He tried not to think.

“Going out?” his wife asked, as he walked toward the door. 

Harry shook his head.

“Do you want your bowling hall?” 

“No, I don’t want my bowling ball.

He opened the door, but behind him were words: “Harry?” He turned around. “Harry, be careful.” The look in her eye said ‘be careful’ and the sound of his heels on the steps rang out in his mind like a solemn chorus whispering the words ‘be careful’. 

Dick Marcus was already at the bar. They sat at a little table in a darkened corner and nobody saw them. In an hour there were six of them. They were Art’s friends. Harry didn’t care to know them.

He sat fingering his drink, but finally drank it. It felt good and warm in a hollow stomach. He had another and another, then another until he was dizzy and weak and nothing mattered anymore – not the blacks across the street, not the apartment, not his wife or daughter of the house across the street. 


It was nearly midnight when they walked back, the six of them. They thought they were an army. Six thousand strong they might have been and they could not have felt stronger of more fearless. They walked down the street on this Saturday night with Sunday morning a haze in a crystal ball. They walked under the stars that were blinking in the sky, under the moon that was an ocean moon like the ones that Harry had known and loved on a battleship is the South Pacific so may centuries ago.

Then they were is front of the house with the shattered glass. “Hey, you in there. Hey, niggers,” Art yelled, the liquor warm in his stomach. “Hey, you goddamned black-eyed son-of-a-bitch. We’re gonna get you. We’ll come back ’til you’re gone! You hear that niggers. Until you’re gone. Every goddamn night ’til you’re gone. We’re gonna get you, niggers.”

“Get their car,” yelled one of Art’s friends. “Get these black sons-a-bitches.”

The little army ran to the old, shabby car. One of Art’s friends drew a hammer and the glass was smashed. The tires were cut end the six were able to turn it on its side so that it lay dead with its tires spinning.

Somone had phoned the police and they heard the sirens cutting into their backs as the big black man and his daughter came running from the house.

“Get away,” the man yelled. “Get away from my car. Get away from my house.” 

“You black-eyed son-of-a-bitch,” yelled one of Art’s friends. “You black scum of the street, we’ll show you.” Four of them grabbed the big man and left him bleeding on the walk. 

“Get away from Poppa,” yelled the girl, pulling on Art. “Get away!” 

A fist to the face sent her reeling on the walk, her night dress was up to her waist. 

“Get her.” screamed the night. “Take her away,” but no one could tell who was doing the yelling. Harry saw two of them pick up to girl and run down the street under the street light and into to dark. “Run, you fools. Can’t you hear the cops?”

They ran into to alley and up to block. The sirens stopped, but the red lights flashed and shone orange upon to house across the street.


Harry awoke to to rattling of coffee in the percolator and to pungent odor of frying bacon. He could hear the floorboards creak as his wife walked over to to bed. “Harry?”

“Yeah, I’m awake.”

“Get up. You’ll be late for church.” 


“Get up. It’s Sunday morning.”

He opened his ayes and looked into the face of his wife, the ashen face with wrinkles he had never seen before. 

“I don’t want to go to church,” Harry said and closed his eyes. He could feel her staring at him and he opened them again.

“The girl, Harry. What about the girl?” There were tears in his wife’s eyes.

“What about her?” 

“What did they do to her?”

“Oh, hell, I don’t know. There were these two friends of Art’s. 1 don’t know.” 

“They raped her, didn’t they, Harry?” she said. Her voice was coarse and cracked. 

“I don’t know.” 

“I’ll bet they didn’t stop there, Harry.” 

“I don’t know.” He saw the tears stream down her cheeks and reached up to brush then away with the back of his hand. “Do you really think I ought to go?”


“To church.”

“Sure,” she said. “Oh God, yes. Oh, Harry…”

Harry stood at the window and looked down upon the street before he put on his woolen suit and the snap-on bow tie. He saw the broken glass and the blood on the walk, the peeling paint and the broken shrubs.

He thought of a song, a song in the dusk and the voice of a maiden ringing out like a bell in the twilight – a voice that made him forget. He looked around the room that was more dismal than it. had ever been before and he knew that he would never forget again.

Not ever.