DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing, was placed second in the Writing Magazine 'Mid-Story Sentence' competition and short-listed for the 2015 Carillon 'Let's Be Absurd' Fiction Competition, and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Sorcery & Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), State of Horror: Illinois (Charon Coin Press), and issues of The Literary Commune, Sirens Call, Tigershark and Carillon, as well as having a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).
DJ Tyrer's website is at http://djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk/
The Atlantean Publishing website is at http://atlanteanpublishing.blogspot.co.uk/
One Ray of Light
“Would you like to share my brolly?” I asked Liam. It was a typical British winter with rain falling in sheets and I was standing by his front gate. We were in the same class at school and regularly walked there and back together. For me, that was my favourite time of the day as we were alone together; I loved spending time with him.
“Thanks,” he smiled, slipping under its black dome. We were very close; I felt a thrill as his arm brushed back and forth against mine.
“It’s good to see you’re well again,” he said after we’d walked a little way in silence. I’d been off school for a week; I was prone to illness, unlike Liam who never missed a day. The doctor had suggested it was a physical manifestation of stress; my mum had been sceptical, but it made sense to me, but then she was unaware of just what pressures I faced at school.
“Yeah, it’s good to be back.” What I really meant, of course, was that it was good to be with him. I had the biggest crush on him.
“Will you be coming to the game tonight?” he asked.
“Yes.” We played D&D every Wednesday night; I enjoyed the escapism. “What happened last session?”
“Simon’s character was killed in an ambush by some orcs, but the rest of you made it to the dungeon. You’re going in tonight. Simon rolled up his new character on Friday. He’s going to play a sorcerer.”
We chatted on in that manner until we reached the school gates.
“Hi!” Simon had spotted us and gave us a wave; he was in another class to us. There wasn’t time to do more than return his greeting as the bell was ringing.
“Better get inside,” I commented, needlessly.
We headed inside and took our seats for registration. Next to us in the row was short, scrawny Brian who was also in our group. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was kind of glad to have him in our class, as he was a natural target for bullies, distracting their ire from me. Sometimes, I’d stand up for him, but more often I wouldn’t, grateful it wasn’t me being tormented.
I made sure that my gaze was fixed on anything but Liam: I didn’t want my crush to be noticed, mocked. Being in class could be torture: so close to him, yet unable to enjoy it.
We answered our names and I handed in my absence note: I hated to be called forward like that; there was always some snide comment.
The first lesson of the day was German for me; Liam was taking French, so I wouldn’t see him till Geography. I took my seat next to Lily Jones. We’d become good, if not close, friends over the last two years of sitting next to one another for this lesson. We were both shunned by the rest of the class, leaving us little choice but to sit and work together. She wasn’t the prettiest of girls and not very academic, yet an outstanding gymnast who’d represented the county in competitions; naturally, she was a perfect victim for those jealous of her success with plenty of insecurities for the bitches to target. She was the one person I knew who hurt more than I did; we’d discussed suicide as a means to escape the cruelty of the world and whilst I could see little help for myself, it disgusted me that her obvious talent was at such a risk of being wasted. Did the bullies understand just how much power they wielded? Did they care? Or, did they delight in the possibility of destruction? Perhaps...
Geography. That meant I was sitting next to Liam, even if steel-grey haired Mr Clarke was too strict to let us chat. Mr Clarke was the other reason that this was my favourite lesson: I had almost as big a crush on him as I did on Liam. He was maturely handsome, with a military bearing, and whilst stern was very pleasant when not engaged in a struggle of wills with a recalcitrant class. He always had my full attention: the only problem was that I was certain I blushed whenever his gaze fell on me.
Break followed and I made sure to stay close to Liam, Simon and Brian, who were discussing the latest D&D supplement Liam had bought. My bladder was full, but I held off visiting the toilets; the toilets were where you could easily fall prey to bullies unless you went with backup and none was currently available.
Maths was a nightmare. None of my friends were in the class as, for reasons I could never fathom and despite my many absences holding me back, I’d somehow managed once more to gain admittance to the top set. The hour felt more like a lifetime and the only aspect of the lesson I considered an achievement was that Miss Davies never called on me to answer a question. I was just glad Christmas was fast approaching and I’d soon have a break from the lesson.
Having struggled through to lunchtime, I scuttled immediately to the nearest loo, thankfully arriving and exiting whilst it was empty. I then caught up with the others in the quad for some lunch – we all brought packed lunches rather than waste time in the queue; we had other plans for our lunch-break. Once we’d eaten, we headed up to the library where we settled in a corner and Simon ran us through the latest instalment of a Savage Worlds campaign we fitted in most days. As long as we didn’t make much noise, our presence was tolerated. It certainly beat being outside where I always expected to be picked on.
After lunch was History and, once again, I was seated next to Liam. Mr Harris was more lax in his approach to teaching, offering some opportunity for chatting, which was enjoyable.
The last lesson of the day was English and, once again, I was on my own. Mrs Lewis was the sort of teacher who just droned and it was all too easy for my mind to wander. I was doodling on a spare piece of paper and, without realising it, had broken my golden rule: never let my feelings for Liam show. I was doodling one of those hearts with an arrow through it with his name in it.
“O-M-G!” exclaimed Natasha, one of the bitches, looking over my shoulder. “You fancy Liam!”
Reflexively, I attempted to cover the drawing with my hand, but already she’d torn the page away from me and was presenting it to those on her table to a chorus of laughter.
“You fancy Liam?” May shrieked with amusement.
“Shit, Jim’s a fag!” exclaimed Steve.
“I’m not a fag...” I mumbled.
Just then Mrs Lewis seized the paper from Blake who was scribbling something, doubtless obscene, on it.
“I’ll take that. And, you four can stay behind for ten minutes for being disruptive.”
I suppose I could be thankful I hadn’t had a chance to make a scene myself and so wasn’t kept behind, too: instead, I was being offered a chance to escape without confrontation. Of course, it would be all over the school the next day, so I was just delaying the inevitable. I could only hope it wouldn’t be too bad: after all, I’d been called a fag and a freak more than once. They were right about the latter, but I didn’t consider myself the former, no matter what they thought.
The bell rang a few minutes later and I bundled my things into my bag and ran as quickly as I could from the classroom, tears pricking at my eyes.
“Hey, Jim, you okay?” Liam had spotted me. I’d forgotten I’d be walking home with him, was desperate to just get home as quickly as possible and lock myself in my room.
I tried to answer and started to sob. I felt pathetic and confused. I sucked in a breath and managed to say, “I’m not feeling too well.”
“You still coming tonight?”
Damn, I’d forgotten about gaming. “No, I don’t think so. Sorry!”
I didn’t wait for his response, just strode away as quickly as I could. Liam would be waiting for Simon and Brian, and I didn’t want them to see me crying, didn’t want to be pestered for explanations.
“Fucking baby!” someone from the year above spat at me as I walked past them. Never let them see you cry; boys don’t cry, that was what I was always being told. Yeah, well I’m not, not really, and I do. I bit down on the urge to retort and just scurried away.
I’d managed to stop my tears by the time I got home and thought I might just get away with just saying I felt sick – not exactly a lie – as a pretext for why I was home without going to Liam’s.
I didn’t even have the chance to put my bag down before Mum had shouted out, “Get in here, now!”
Warily, I went into the lounge.
“The school has just rung,” she said and I felt a horrible lurch in my guts. “They said you’re being bullied.”
I crossed my arms and looked up at the ceiling. “I’m not.”
“And, they said...” Her voice choked and I thought she was going to burst into tears. I felt my tears returning.
Looking at her, pleading with my eyes, I whispered, “Please....”
“Jim are... are you gay?” she asked.
“I’m not gay,” I whispered, feeling sick.
“But, the school says you... fancy Liam.” The words were clearly distasteful to her.
I closed my eyes and admitted, “Yes, I do.”
“Oh, my... you’re gay...” She sounded heartbroken.
“I’m not gay!” I shouted. “I’m a girl!”
“What? What the hell are you talking about?”
That shocked me: Mum never swore.
“I’m a girl. In my mind, I’m a girl. I was born with a boy’s body, but I shouldn’t’ve been. It’s wrong; really, I’m a girl.” I was in tears now and thankful that I felt my Mum’s arms about me, embracing me. She was crying, too.
When we both finally stopped crying, we sat down together and talked and talked. Mum made tea; she was a great believer in the healing power of tea. I explained to her that I’d felt this way as long as I could remember, that it was truly who I was and not some sort of phase or fad. I knew it would be hard for her to understand, to accept; hell, it was not something I fully understood or accepted, and I knew it was true.
“It’s been destroying me.”
“Then, why not just be a boy?” She was talking as if it were just a lifestyle choice.
“Not that; the pretending to be something I’m not has been destroying me. Suppressing the real me, suppressing my feelings.”
“I should’ve realised,” she murmured, as if I hadn’t spoken. “You always were... well, girly. Deep down, I mean.”
She was right. No matter how hard you try to pretend, traces will leak through: when I was little, before peer pressure and parental assumptions pushed me to conform, I’d had my girly traits. Later, doubtless, aspects of my personality must have seemed at odds with the masculine norm. But, most of all, I’d always protested at having my hair cut and preferred to grow my nails long – despite mockery at school – in a minor rebellion against what was expected; I’d also always sought to wear jackets and tops that hung in such a way as to give a sensation of wearing a skirt. Nothing too noticeable without a context – after all, I’d often refused to admit to myself why I felt such urges – but, obvious in hindsight, I guess.
At least, Mum seemed to be accepting what I’d told her was true.
“But, you fancy Liam?” she still made that sound unpleasant. “Doesn’t that make you gay?”
“Mum, my mind is a girl’s mind and my heart is a girl’s heart. Don’t you understand? Girls like guys. I’m a girl and Liam’s a guy. I’m not gay.”
I could see it would take a while to sink in.
The big problem was telling Dad. I knew he wouldn’t be impressed. Damn, he’d even called me ‘girly’ in the past: he’d hate to have his abuse verified! Eventually, Mum agreed that she wouldn’t tell Dad until I was ready, although she made it clear that she expected the revelation to come soon. Unfortunately, until I admitted the truth to him, there could be no meaningful discussion of my adapting to my true nature. After all, if I started wearing skirts, he’d know something was up! I needed to get my head around the concept of coming out and had to make sure Mum would fully back me against the anger I was certain would follow before I took the step of telling Dad.
Mum would talk to the school: initially to put the issue on hold, then, once Dad had been told, to sit the Head down and explain all this.
Of course, none of that helped as regarded the fact that rumours would be all over school the next day.
“Do I have to go in? I don’t think I can do it; I feel ill.”
“You can’t let bullies rule your life.”
“Rule it? They ruin it!” If I stay off a few days, hopefully something else will grab their attention. After all, it was only the four of them who saw the heart.”
I wheedled and pleaded with her until she finally conceded that it might do to let things die down.
Of course, I’d not factored Liam into my calculations.
Liam knocked on my door the next afternoon.
I felt a sickening shiver of cold run up and down my spine when Mum called up to say he was there. I was in bed, reading a Gallagher Girls novel. I knew why he was there; he’d heard the rumour and wanted the truth.
Walking down the stairs, as soon as I saw his face I knew he was upset. This wouldn’t be good.
I went to the front door. The day was chilly and I shivered. Nervously, I played with the cuff of my left sleeve as I waited for him to speak.
“Is it true?” His voice was strangely devoid of emotion. “Is it true what they’re saying? That you fancy me?”
I did consider lying, but I couldn’t. Even though I knew the truth would hurt us both, I knew denial would be far worse.
Lowering my gaze, I said, “Yes.”
He didn’t say a word, just turned and walked away.
“Liam!” I called after him. “Let me explain!”
He paused for just a moment by the gate, then kept walking, ignoring me.
I fell to my knees, sobbing, clinging to the doorframe as if it were the only thing keeping me alive.
I felt my mother’s arms enfold me, lifting me back inside and carrying, half-dragging me to the lounge where she held me and comforted me until I fell asleep.
I returned to school on Monday and, although whatever wave of rumour had swept through it was past, there were the looks and the snide comments that would be expected. Worse was the fact that Liam was ignoring and avoiding me. Simon gave me a pitying look as he went off with Liam, but Brian seemed to share Liam’s feelings.
Without them, I was left alone at break and lunch and felt very exposed. Lily, though, did seek me out at the beginning of break to offer a few words of comfort.
“Hey,” she said, as she approached me. “You okay?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “People call me a lesbian and make fun of me. I’m not, but I think I understand a bit of how you feel.” She gave me a hug.
It wasn’t much of a pep talk, but it did leave me feeling a little better as she scuttled off to do whatever she did at break.
Lunchtime was worse as Steve, Blake and Ben cornered me in a stairwell and proceeded to give me a kicking for being ‘a fucking fag’. That was to become a regular occurrence over the next few weeks, whenever my attempts at evading them failed.
My Mum was livid at the beatings and my Dad, who’d noticed their aftermath, even if he had no idea why they’d happened, was insistent I should stand up for myself: easy enough to say, even if I had been anything of a fighter, when I was outnumbered three-to-one.
I had to tell Dad the truth. Mum wanted to talk to the school about what was happening and we couldn’t do that and keep Dad in the dark.
So, at last, we sat him down and told him.
“No wonder he’s having the crap kicked out of him,” he stated as soon as I told him. “He’s sick.”
It hurt to hear him say that, especially to say it as if I wasn’t there, but I could understand his reaction. It had to be a shock. I’d always, deep down if not always fully acknowledged, known that I was really a girl and I’d still felt the disgust, shame and self-loathing. He had none of that certainty, unlike Mum had probably never suspected I might be different: no wonder he was reeling. If I hadn’t been hurting, I might have felt sorry for him.
Over the next couple of weeks, he began to soften. I don’t know if he will ever be comfortable with the idea that he has a daughter rather than a son, but he doesn’t seem to hate me and I count that as a victory of sorts.
At first, so as not to rile him too much, Mum and I compromised on my new feminine look. My hair wouldn’t grow out until after the holidays began, helping give my Dad a chance to grow used to my transition from male to female and I agreed not to wear make-up until the holidays started, either, and then to keep it to a minimum around him. School uniform was straightforward for now as girls were allowed to wear trousers and a blouse looks exactly like a shirt beneath an ill-fitting jumper; wearing a skirt in the new year was something we’d discuss with the school. At home, I agreed to initially restrict myself to leggings and long jumpers or tops and sensible shoes, again so as to not force Dad’s tolerance too fast.
“You can dress more... feminine when the holidays begin,” Mum promised. At least I could call myself Jenny now.
Although Dad hadn’t been keen to acknowledge my femininity, having told him Mum felt able to approach the school and discuss my issues with them. They agreed that I would be able to attend as a girl and that they would ‘implement anti-bullying strategies’ which seemed to consist solely of an assembly just before the end of term telling everyone about me, attracting even more mockery and abuse my way. It became a ritual for me to be punched or spat at in-between lessons and I had to spend my breaks and lunches in a classroom with a teacher.
Worst of all, Liam still wasn’t speaking to me.
That last day of term was when it all came to a head. Someone, I never saw who, tripped me on the stairs between lessons and I hurt my wrist. Then, there was the usual spitting and punching. It was a half-day and we surged out when the lunchtime bell rang t calls of “Merry Christmas!” and choruses of School’s Out! I felt glad to be out of there and just hoped things would be better in the new year.
I was jolted out of my reverie by cries of “Get the fag!”, “Kill the tranny!” and “Bloody she-male!”
They were on me before I could react: Steve was among them and probably Blake and Ben, too, but there several others, including some older boys and, I think, a couple of girls.
I really did wonder if I was going to die, the beating was so ferocious and full of hate, but it finally halted and I was left lying there on a filthy pavement, my hair sticky with my blood and their spit, my nose gushing and my body feeling as if I must have bruises atop bruises. I could only be grateful that I wasn’t dead as I slowly pulled myself upright and staggered painfully homeward.
Mum was distraught when she saw me and insisted on rushing me to the hospital, then calling the police, who arrived a little while later and ferried me to the police station when the doctor was done. They took swabs and photos in a process that felt horribly intrusive. Finally, I was able to get cleaned up a little before giving a full statement. Not that I had much to say: I’d only seen Steve and couldn’t say exactly what role he’d played. Eventually, I was allowed home to shower and change. I had a broken finger and two cracked ribs, as well as plentiful bruising and a broken nose.
A few days later, a very nice policewoman arrived to say that although some DNA would remain on file ‘just in case’, nobody other than Steve had been arrested in connection with the attack and that he’d been given a caution.
“A caution? A caution! He could’ve killed Jim! Jenny...” shouted Dad leaping from his chair. I was grateful he made that emendation.
“Unfortunately, we have no evidence he was directly involved in the attack. He admits he was there, but it’s his word against... Jenny’s. That he didn’t contest the caution was a minor victory. I wish we could do more, but there was no CCTV and without suspects, the DNA is useless. Sorry.”
I could only hope that police involvement might deter any repeat performances.
After that, Mum was insistent I not go out alone ‘just in case’. To be honest, I didn’t mind: I was too scared to go out alone, anyway, and kept having panic attacks as memories of the attack resurfaced in my dreams and waking nightmares.
I was in quite a mess, anyway, and wouldn’t have wanted to be seen out: my nose was a mess from having been broken; there were stitches on my scalp where it had been gashed and there was a cut and an angry bruise on my left cheek and, to cap it all, my right eye was blacked. Beneath my clothes, there was a patchwork of colourful bruises across my body. My strapped finger was positively invisible in comparison.
But, there was one ray of light: being the holidays, Mum kept her promise that I could dress properly like a girl.
I’d already been nervous about the idea of going to a shop to try on clothes and definitely couldn’t face it now, so we shopped online. Mum measured me so that we knew what would fit and I ordered a selection of skirts and tops and revelled in being able to wear them and look as I’d always wanted.
“It’s for you,” Mum said, handing me an envelope that had arrived in the post.
I looked at it in surprise: it was addressed to Jenny, not Jim. Although the clothes orders were in my new name, I’d had no personal post addressed to me under it.
I opened the envelope slowly, a little scared that it would be some sort of sick joke, but it wasn’t: it was an invitation.
“Simon has invited me to his Christmas party!” I could hardly believe it.
“Do you want to go?” Mum asked.
“Yes, I think so... I’m a little nervous, but... I do want to.” That he’d remembered from that awful assembly that I wanted to be called Jenny had touched me more deeply than I would’ve thought.
“Then, we’ll have to get you a party dress, won’t we?”
I leapt from my seat and hugged her. “Thank you, Mum! Oh, thank you!”
The day of the party had arrived. I was in a sparkly, red knee-length dress that I thought looked pretty good; although short-sleeved, I wore a red cardigan with it to cover the bruises on my arms. My hair was back in a loose ponytail and I had a silvery alice band on my head. On my legs I had black tights and my shoes were lovely red ballet pumps.
“It’s good,” I said as I twirled before the mirror, savouring my look.
“Yes, perfect,” Mum said with a smile.
She helped me with my make-up: I was still a long way from perfecting my skills with it, especially as my bruises needed covering.
“Right, well, we’d better not dally any longer,” she said. “Dad’s waiting.”
I went down to the car and climbed in.
“You look... nice,” Dad said as he turned the key. I was surprised at the grudging praise.
“Thank you,” I replied, not trusting myself to say more. Maybe he would be able to accept me...
A few minutes later, we arrived at Simon’s house, which was decorated in a suitably festive manner and festooned with lights.
As I reached to open the car door, I felt my breathing begin to surge, my heart hammer, my head spin and my face grow numb; I was having a panic attack.
“You alright?” Dad asked, concerned.
I pulled a paper bag out of the small sequinned clasp bag I carried and breathed into it until I felt more normal.
“Yes,” I told him. He still looked concerned. “I’ll go in, now.”
I climbed out and nervously walked up the path before pausing at the front door. Taking a slow breath, I reached out and rang the doorbell.
A few seconds passed, then the door opened to reveal Simon with a Santa hat on his head. Last Christmas drifted out past him.
“Hi! Merry Christmas, J-Jenny! Come in!” He stepped aside to allow me to enter and closed the door behind me.
“A few people are already here,” he continued.”A few more are still to come.”
I knew there wouldn’t be too many: Liam and Brian, of course, a few other school friends, other geeks and gamers, and friends of his from the choir he sang with.
“Don’t worry,” he told me, “I’ve made sure everyone is cool with you being here.”
“Thanks.” I smiled with a shyness I hadn’t felt with him before.
“I’m glad you came.”
“I’m glad you invited me.”
“You’re welcome. Well, come on in!”
Just then, over his shoulder, I saw Liam standing in the dining-room doorway. I suddenly felt incredibly nervous, wondering how he’d react.
I walked over to him.
“Hi,” I said, eyes downcast.
“Hello.... Jenny.” He was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry how I reacted. I was freaked-out at the idea you were gay and hitting on me.”
“I’m not gay,” I responded. “I’m a girl.”
“I know...” He fell silent again. Then, he looked up and said, “We’re under the mistletoe...”
He leant in and kissed me on the lips and I eagerly kissed him back. In that moment, everything felt right and I suddenly felt as if I had hope. Perfect.
Author is a retired attorney having practiced for 35 years in Illinois who now lives in Texas and started writing stories about a year and a half ago.
Lucy Goosey was running for office. The office of representative of the fowl and stock of Farmer Dell. Through the years she had been in politics continually and had stuck her beak in everybody’s business and therefore deemed herself worthy of this job. But the truth of the matter was that she was just lumpy, dumpy, frumpy and grumpy. An old woman who had trouble waddling around the barnyard.
Her opponent was Cocky Red Rooster. He had never held any office before but felt himself qualified because he had clawed and scratched his way to the top of the pecking order. And besides his comb was perfect. Perfectly kept in place all the time, never falling to the right or left, always standing straight up.
Farmer Dell would let the animals vote but he would count the ballots, or in other words pick the winner, for no way was he going to let the animals rule his farm. The election was just for show, to let the animals think that they had a say in things.
Lucy Goosey’s co-campaign managers were Terry Bull and Penny Henny. She diversified her staff, half being fowl, half being beast, one a male, one a female for it was the animal correct thing to do. One day when Famer Dell was out reaping the North Forty she sneaked into his house and called her managers to discuss election strategy with them.
First she spoke to Terry Bull. “We need to spread the rumor that Rooster never paid any taxes last year,” she told him. “Everyone’s got to pay taxes even if it’s only chicken feed. Get on it,” she ordered him knowing full well that Terry Bull would horribullize the rumor to the fullest extent possible.
She then gave Penny Henny the same instructions for she knew that Penny would run around like a chicken with her head cut off squawking, “Red Rooster pays no taxes. Red Rooster pays no taxes.”
Farmer Dell lived a rural existence and thus his phone line was a party line. When the phone rang, it rang at the residence of each party member on the line, the call intended for the party whose number of rings had just rung out. Myrtle Turtle was on the party line that Terry Bull was on and recognized the three short rings as a call for Terry Bull. She had no business picking up a call not for her, her ring was long short long, but she picked it up anyway, and listened in. She liked to listen in. She heard it all. Minutes later she also recognized the call to Penny Henny who was also on the same party line. She listened to that call too for Myrtle Turtle was quite nosy even if she had a small one.
Myrtle had no vote in the election for she lived at the pond down the road. But she didn’t like Lucy Goosey who always brought all those messy, honking geese to her pond for their daily swim and gab sessions. She hated them because they were messy. Always leaving goose feathers and goose crap everywhere. She knew if Lucy got elected, things would only get worse so she decided that she would use her new ill gotten information to influence the election. She would sell it to Cocky Red Rooster so that he could use it to his advantage and get elected and she would get something of value from him in return. Rather than call him, for she knew that the line was not secure, she decided to walk to the farm and talk to Red Rooster in person. She got there a day and a half later and did so.
Cocky Red Rooster made a deal with Myrtle. He liked to make deals. It was the price to be paid for the info. So he promised her that when elected he would see to it that no barnyard animals would ever again invade Myrtle Turtle’s territory. He would build her a fence around the pond.
Soon the rumor got out that Red Rooster had not paid any taxes and some animals believed it but Red Rooster didn’t care. He had a plan. He was a clever individual. He knew what to do. He did not deny the rumor and in fact proudly admitted that he had paid no income tax, though he actually had, and thereby he let the lie become the truth. He even crowed about it and promised that if elected he would teach everyone else how to do the same, so that they too could legally pay no income taxes. The voters then, rather than think that he had run afoul of the tax code, now admired him for outsmarting the government and flocked to his side.
Lucy Goosey knew that she fowled up. She had used an unsecured phone line and had shot herself in her own webbed foot.
And Farmer Dell knew what was going on too for he had his spies everywhere. He neither liked or trusted Lucy Goosey because she was so slick. Nothing ever stuck to her, just like water off a duck’s back. And as to Cocky Red Rooster, well he was just plain repulsive to him. Always strutting around the barnyard like the cock of the walk or something. He had hoped that someone else would have run, someone like Sheri Sheep who he could have herded around without any trouble. These two would not do. So he asked his political advisor, his wife, what should he do.
“Well,” said his wife. “It looks like Red Rooster is going to win and your sister and her family are coming over for Sunday dinner this Sunday. There’s your answer.”
“Huh?” said a nonplussed Farmer Dell.
“Like the song says. We’ll kill the old red rooster when she comes.”
“But what about Lucy Goosey? What do we do with her?”
“Christmas is only a few weeks away. All my relatives will be here for Christmas dinner. Goose is traditional at Christmas. Problem solved.”
“Well that was relatively easy,” responded Farmer Dell. “Two birds with one’s family stones.”
Moral of the story: Politicians always foul up their nests.
NT Franklin - I write after my real job hoping one day to have it be my real job. When I’m not reading or writing short stories, you might find me fishing or solving crossword puzzles.
A Body in the Bay
The body floated into Razor Bay, but nobody noticed. It was early evening Sunday and the New England Patriots were playing the late game. The face-down body bobbed up and down with the tide and was clearly not watching the football game.
Since her retirement, Jayne had enjoyed being a full-time resident on Hilltop Street on the quiet side of Clam Harbor. The beautiful October day marked the tenth month of her retirement and the tenth month of the rest of her life. She started walking early spring and managed to lose fifteen pounds. The best part was her posse. As much as she didn’t like to, she started walking alone. Within a month, she had invited a neighbor who had been walking, to join her. Soon there was a group of three to eight active-retired women walking Monday through Friday. They walked the same route every day and the group became well recognized. Of course, Friday included a stop at “The Coffee Urn” for a coffee and Bismarck, a treat for walking all week.
They were known locally as the Hilltop Trekkers. Much of the problems of the town, state, and country were solved during these 3.7 mile walks. On Monday, about one mile into their walk, the group rounded the curve along the ocean and all the walkers stopped simultaneously. Not just walking, but talking too.
They all saw a body bobbing in the water. Mary called 911 on her cell phone because she was the first to have it out of a pocket.
“911. What’s your emergency?” came the practiced response.
“A body! A body! There is a body in Razor Bay! It’s floating face down and it’s dead!” Mary blurted out in about one tenth of a second. After the prerequisites of name and location, the practiced response returned.
“Please stay where you are. There is an officer enroute.”
Jed Calhoun, Clam Harbor’s sergeant detective, rolled up in an unmarked car in less than four minutes. Jed was a local boy, born and raised. He was average height, average weight, and average hair color. Never married, and by now assumed he never would be.
Mary had already decided what the circumstances around the death were in that four minutes. “Jed Calhoun, this is a drug deal gone wrong. This person was killed during a drug buy out to sea and just floated in. You need to get tide and current maps to determine where the drug deal went down.” Mary was adamant.
Jayne rolled her eyes. Mary watched every CSI, NCIS, and other police drama show and had decided that every evil was based on illegal drugs. That, combined with her being a major-league busybody, spelled trouble for Jed. The fact that Mary’s nephew was passed over for the promotion to Sergeant Detective in favor of Jed compounded the trouble.
Jed doubted the drug theory as the Coast Guard had stepped up patrols of the waters along mid-coast Maine all summer and fall. Drug transactions had been shut down to the point that suspicious boats had not been spotted in the area for almost three months. Jed knew that while this forced the transactions somewhere else, at least it was not in his jurisdiction and hometown.
“Thank you Mrs. Barter. We will look into that.” said the detective.
“Now Jed, you can call me Mary, we’re not in school anymore.” Mary taught Jed his multiplication tables in fourth grade. She seemed to think that somehow that put her in special standing with him.
The Monday walk was cut short as no one had any interest in continuing after the disturbing sight. It was the first dead body for all four Hilltop Trekkers present. The ladies were not sure if those regular walkers missing today would be disappointed or relieved. Jayne didn’t mind cutting short today’s walk because Mary was going on and on about Jed Calhoun. Her nephew should have the job instead of Jed. Her nephew has been a patrolman for 10 years longer than Jed. Her nephew… on and on. She can’t convince herself that her nephew is as numb as a pounded thumb and should never rise above where he is now.
It only took Jed two days to get the identity of the floater. Robert Cutler was a once-in-a-while deckhand on his brother’s lobster boat, but full-time trouble. His career started early as a juvenile delinquent and quickly progressed to petty crime and constant scrapes with the law. While Cutler would not be missed by many and mourned by fewer yet, it was still Jed’s job to follow up on the details of the death. Not a whole lot was known about Cutler as he lived off the grid in a cash society. Jed did not know how many of these people still existed but it couldn’t be that many.
Off-the-grid people tended to work for cash under the table, and seemed to be willing to do most anything, for a price. Lived wherever, paid cash with a Post Office box serving as a home address, that takes a special type of person. A special type of redneck. Not always hardened criminals, but they populate the gray area between legal and sort of legal. But if you needed something moved, fixed, or generally just taken care of, you called a redneck. He did know someone that floated in and out of that world and would have to reach out to him.
Jed parked the unmarked car around back between the vehicles he assumed were owned by workers in the bar. The Lobster Pot was not as fancy as the name sounded. In fact, it was a dive. Tourists never stopped there and only the bravest or those with stomachs accustomed to it could handle the food at the Lobster Pot, at least that was the rumor. Numerous visits had yet to close the place down. In fact, nothing illegal was ever found. Jed wasn’t sure if the constant irritation was the Clam Harbor Police Department or the Lobster Pot.
Jed slid into a grimy booth with his back to the door. Chipped paint on the walls, a broken chair in the corner, and a burned-out bulb in a fixture completed the view. Two of what could be considered “the usual suspects” were drinking at the bar. Nine AM beers for the regulars. The barkeep yelled over “No waitress service and I ain’t going over there. You wanna drink, you gotta come to the bar.” Jed waved him off.
If he kept to his time-honored schedule, Beaver Wilson, if he was in town, should be arriving within the next hour. Thirty-five minutes later, Jed saw Beaver strutting into the room in the reflection of the crooked mirror hanging behind the bar. Jed waited until he heard several noisy slurps of a beer before he sauntered up to the bar.
“Buy the next one, Beaver?”
“Why don’t you buy this one first?” countered Beaver.
A slight nod to the barkeep along with cash sealed the deal and Beaver carried a partial and a full bottle of Bud to the booth with Jed.
“Geezum crow, you look like crap, Beaver.”
“It’s all this good living, Jed, and it hasn’t caught up with me yet.”
“Don’t be too sure, Beaver. It looks like it’s gaining. Enough of the small talk. I need some help.”
“What’s in it for me?” Typical Beaver response.
“What do you need?”
“Nothing. I was just yanking your chain for old time’s sake.” Beaver and Jed had been inseparable as youth. Pete and Repeat their mothers called them. Playground buddies, fishing buddies, exploring buddies. Junior High football and basketball stars; they did everything together. That was until Beaver’s father got drunk and drove a car off the road killing Beaver’s mother. His dad walked away with hardly a scratch. Beaver never recovered. His father never seemed to care much about him or what he did before his mother died. He cared even less after she died. His mother never missed a game he played in, his father never made one. His father didn’t care if Beaver went to school. High school was as good for Jed as it was bad for Beaver. The spiral continues, Jed thought.
Jed explained the situation with the floater to Beaver, or as much as he could. The trail had gone cold. There was no motive for the death of Cutler, or at least no motive that stood out more than any other.
“I know a guy that might know something or someone that might be able to help. It’ll take a few days. Gotta ease into this. I can’t just show up asking cop questions. Some of these guys are pretty squirrelly, you know. I might have to disappear from around here for a few days.”
“I understand.” said Jed.
Jed left Beaver to his two beers and walked out of the Lobster Pot.
By the time Jed returned to the office, he had two messages from Mary. Three if you count the one from the day before he hadn’t returned.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Barter. This is Detective Calhoun returning your calls.”
After a pause, Jed interrupted, “Yes, Mrs. Barter, we are looking into all possibilities and as it is an on-going investigation, I can’t divulge any information about the case.” Phew, that’s done for the week.
But it wasn’t really the end of Mrs. Barter. The Barters and their clan had been established in Clam Harbor for so long there was both a road and a street that bore their name. The chief had received calls from no less than three prominent members of the Barter clan letting him know that their relative would have solved the case by now.
Jed’s folks had moved to Clam Harbor the year before he was born and no roads were named after his family. His parents were just average folk working in businesses that supported the tourist industry. Jed was summoned into the Chief’s office for an old-fashioned chewing out. Jed left the Chief’s office mumbling “Great, more pressure.”
The next day on their walk, Mary stated “I’ve got a good mind to go down to the police station and sit in Jed Calhoun’s office until he looks into the drug angle.” The rest of the Hilltop Trekkers just rolled their eyes. Any comment would send Mary on a rant. Jayne and the ladies thought that Mary watched way too police dramas where crimes were neatly solved in a one hour time slot.
“Oh look, there’s a Great Blue Heron in the tidal flats.” Jayne was hoping to quickly change the subject before Mary worked herself into a frenzy.
Jayne’s tactic worked because Jed did not receive any visitors on the floater case. Jed did visit some of the local lobster boats and talked with the boat captains. Even though Jed grew up in the area, lobstermen are a tight and closed group. The three captains he caught up with were respectful and answered his questions. But the answers were succinct and not very forthcoming. One old salt said something about his ropes but that was all Jed could get out of him. Jed thought that Maine lobstermen as a subgroup may even make the quintessential Mainer look gabby. Jed was focusing on the lobster connection with Robert Cutler rather than the drug angle.
Beaver had been gone for four days. This was really nothing new as Beaver was often gone for periods of time. “Doing business” is all anyone knew. At least it wasn’t being done in his jurisdiction thought Jed.
Answers to the inquiries Jed made to the Coast Guard arrived in an email. The best estimation of the Coast Guard was that the body was dumped 35 to 45 miles up the coast and two to five miles from shore. It was a start anyway.
Jed’s investigation was interrupted by a case about a small payloader stolen from the gravel pit and a suspicious fire at an abandon building, but not by Mary Barter. Jed assumed her energy was being directed to other pursuits.
As Mary Barter was announced at his door, he knew he had assumed wrong.
“Yes, Mrs. Barter, what can I do for you today?”
“You can stop crime in Clam Harbor is what you can do for me today.” Mary said. “My cousin Dana says that someone is messing with lobster traps.”
“Mrs. Barter, this is not the first time that Dana has accused someone of messing with his lobster traps. Are you sure he is not retaliating against the person seeing his ex-wife?”
“Not this time, Jed. He is really serious.”
“I will look into it and get back to you, Mrs. Barter. That is, if Dana comes in, talks with me, and fills some paperwork out.” Jed did not think Dana would come in.
Midmorning Monday, the barkeep called from the Lobster Pot and told Jed that he should stop in for a beer on his way home from work. “I think I can swing it.” Jed replied.
“I guess maybe you better be here. I don’t like talking to cops and I didn’t wanna make this call.” The barkeep stated.
“I will stop in for a beer at 5:30 today. Good bye.” Jed stated just as emphatically. At least that conversation is over.
Jed left the station at 5:20, almost caught up on paperwork. No cop wanted to be completely caught up with paperwork for fear that more would be assigned.
The Lobster Pot was as seedy late in the afternoon as it was in the morning. Jed wondered how long the chair had been broken in the corner and swore the same two individuals from his last visit were still drinking at the bar. Jed wondered if they ever went home. The barkeep did not make eye contact as Jed crossed the floor and slid into a grimy booth.
“Christ, is every booth here grimy?” Jed cursed under his breath. Ten minutes later and still killing time, Jed was getting antsy. He hoped this was not intended to be a funny incident set up by Beaver.
Just then, Beaver comes out of the bathroom and saunters up to the booth. “Afternoon, Jed.”
Jed was either too smart or not brave enough to enter the bathroom at the Lobster Pot. Now he wondered if the bathroom had a window large enough to crawl in or out.
“Mighty thirsty here, Jed. How about a beer.”
Jed knew the routine so he walked up the empty end of the bar, ordered and paid for two Buds. His tip was pushed back across the bar.
“I don’t take no tips from cops.”
Pocketing the bills and returning, he set the two longnecks in front of Beaver and waited.
After starting on the second beer, Beaver said “I got almost nothing for you, Jed.” At least not on this trip.”
“OK, what do you have?
“Not much. I’ve been helping an associate with some business about his lobster boat up the coast a ways. Things are going well for him, he hasn’t lost a cage and they all have bugs in them these days. I promised to go back in a few days. Odd thing he did say was that the lobstering is picking up for everyone since Cutler floated up on your shore.” That started Jed to thinking about the old salt that said something about his ropes. Knowing not to push too hard, Jed just waited a little longer.
“Something’s going on, but I don’t know what.” Beaver finally said.
“Beaver, I need to shove off. Thanks for the help and let me know when you are back in town.”
Jed started laying out his plans for the next day on his drive home. He would have to visit with the old salt that said something about his ropes. Maybe even talk with Dana about someone messing with his traps. He hated the thought of that as Mary would expect him to do her bidding all the time.
Next morning, first thing at his desk, Jed called his old college roommate, Edgar St. Onge. Edgar just happened to be a Maine Marine Patrol officer. After the prerequisite small talk, Jed asked Edgar about the boat captain he interviewed that mentioned ropes.
“What are his colors?” Edgar asked.
“Blue over orange from the top. Works out of Clam Harbor.” Jed had made a note of the colors of the buoys on each lobster boat he visited. The fact that lobster buoy colors have to be registered with the state just may turn out to be valuable. Jed heard the clicking of keys on a keyboard over the phone.
“That would be Ron Giggie. Need an address?” Edgar said.
“No, I know where he docks. Do you know what water he traps in?” asked Jed.
“I don’t, but I can ask one of the boys out on the water. I’m sure they have seen his buoys on the water. Give me a day.”
“Great. I’ll look forward to hearing from you, Edgar.
Edgar did not take all day. The call came in about 5 PM.
“Jed, this is Edgar. One of my officers said that Giggie traps up the coast from Clam Harbor, maybe twenty miles. I can get an exact location of Giggie’s traps next time my boys are in that water. He also said that Giggie is a tough nut and that things ‘just seem to happen’ around him. What is this about, Jed?”
“All in due time, Edgar.”
Later that day Jed was waiting at the lobster pound when Ron Giggie piloted in “Fair Lady” for unloading his catch for the day.
“You again.” Was the greeting that Jed received.
“Mr. Giggie, I need to talk with you.”
“There’s no mister in front of it and everyone calls me ‘Gig’.”
“Alright Gig, you had mentioned something about ropes. What about ropes?”
“A short while back I had two traps missing and later I found one of my buoys floating free, dragging rope. Still out two traps and one buoy. That’s it.”
“Do you think the rope was prop cut like from a recreational boater, or sliced off like vandalism?” asked Jed.
“Wasn’t prop cut and wasn’t sliced off. Too clean for one, too rough for the other. I need to unload, so if my local public servant would kindly move out of my way so I can pay his salary, I’d appreciate it.”
Jed rolled the conversations around in his head and knew he had to call Edgar again. Maybe even talk with Dana.
Jed called Edgar from his desk. Before he could say anything, Edgar started in.
“You asked for the exact location of the beginning and end of Giggie’s traps. The patrol officer just stopped by and said 24 to 29 miles up the coast from the eastern edge of the Clam Harbor township line.”
“Edgar, have any lobster thefts or vandalism around?”
“No more than usual but as there’s been a lull and we expect it to resurface.”
“Mostly up the coast, right?”
“Yup. Up the coast from you but not in your area. Interesting question. Now I’ve supplied information. Your turn.”
“OK. You read about the floater, right?”
“Yes, the ne’er-do-well no one seems to care about? Well, except you.”
“So it seems, just me, the Chief, and some locals hassling him.” Jed replied. “Robert Cutler. I think there is a lobster connection. He has a brother up the coast. I think he was dumped in that area and currents took his body to my jursidiction. First suspicious death in Clam Harbor in years and the Chief is all over me to wrap this up. Him and a patrolman’s busy-body shirt-tail relative Mary Barter of the Clam Harbor Barters.”
“Enough said. I’m on your side. Just remember me when you wrap this up. You know how the brass is all about public accolades.” Edgar said.
“Not a problem. I was told about a cut trap line. Not a clean cut like with knife, and not shredded like from a prop, but something in between. What would do that?”
“Grease on the rope and it looked a little crushed?” Edgar asked.
“I’d say it was from a trap hauler. Rope was pinched and cut off. Happens with inexperience, especially when hauling in hurry or in poor light. That help?’
“Absolutely. I think that Cutler was stealing lobsters and was killed for it.”
“Can you prove it?”
“Not yet, but soon. I’m going to have to talk to the brother. Have an address for a lobsterman named Cutler?”
With the address punched into his Garmin navigator, Jed was on his way out of Clam Harbor and expected arrive at 411 Backbay Road in Jamesboro in thirty-six minutes. Jamesboro was the “big” place people from Clam Harbor go for a special-occasion meal. It was the rich cousin to poor Clam Harbor with a huge grocery store, a Wal-Mart, a Home Depot, and a Lowes.
The door to Sam Cutler’s house opened in response to Jed’s knock. A middle-aged woman spied the badge Jed was holding up and spoke before Jed could get a word out.
“Is this about that damn brother of my husband?
“I’m Detective Calhoun of the Clam Harbor Police. I am hoping to speak with Sam Cutler.” Stated Jed.
“Sam is my husband and he’s fishing. Is this about his brother?” She couldn’t even say his name.
“I’ll need to speak with Sam Cutler. When do you expect him back?”
“He should dock by three today because we have a birthday party for our daughter today. Look for the ‘Beautiful Sally’ at the town dock. Please don’t delay him. This party is important to Sally.”
Jed had some time to kill; time for a leisurely lunch. He passed a fairly new-looking bar/restaurant called fittingly enough, “Downeaster,” on the edge of town. That place would do Jed thought. Inside was on the classier end of the usual places Jed ate. The Downeaster had a bar side and a restaurant side with servers walking up and down the imaginary division. It was quite a respectable place; was well lit and not all that noisy considering the hubbub of servers and customers. Jed enjoyed sitting amongst the activity and happy voices. The food was quite good, prices reasonable and Jed decided he would have to come back off duty and have a leisurely lunch, one of his few guilty pleasures in life.
Jed rolled up to the Jamesboro town dock about 2:30, lunch still a pleasant memory. The “Beautiful Sally” was in sight and was heading toward pier four. Jed waited for the working boat to tie up before he walked down the pier. As Jed started walking, the boat captain spied him. The captain quickly leaped on the pier and hustled toward Jed asking “Is this about my brother? Do you know what happened?”
Wow, I must broadcast “cop” more than I think.
“Sam Cutler?” Jed asked pulling out his badge and identification.
“Yes, I’m Sam Cutler. Are you here about my brother?”
“Yes. I’m Detective Jed Calhoun of the Clam Harbor Police. I’m following up leads about his death.”
“Well, I’m glad. He wasn’t much but he was my brother.”
“Do you know his last whereabouts?”
“To tell the truth, I’m not even sure where he was staying recently. The only trouble my wife and I have is about my brother. I decided that she and my daughter are more important to me than he is so I’ve made some changes in my life that don’t include him.”
“Understood. Know what he was doing with himself before his death?”
“I heard on the boat radio that he had been seen with Bill Murphy. ‘Murphy’s Law’ is his boat’s name. The least seaworthy boat in the harbor. Shady Bill is how most people refer to him. Do you think he might have had something to do with my brother’s death?”
“Don’t know, but I will look into it. If I need to talk with you, can I leave a message here for you? Might be easier all around for you.”
“That’d be great. Either the Harbormaster, that’s Roger Hirt, or Ben Ferguson at the lobster coop – that’s him there,” Sam said, pointing to a middle-aged man handling today’s catch outside the warehouse building at the end of the dock. “I would get the message faster from Ben than Roger.”
“I really have to go, it is my daughter’s 11th birthday today and I have to be home soon.”
“Enjoy your daughter’s party and I will leave a message with Ben for you to get ahold of me if I need to speak with you again.”
Jed introduced himself to Ben and asked about when the “Murphy’s Law” usually arrives.
“Can’t say Bill is regular about anything but his dogs. Seems to come and go at different times. He hasn’t been in or out for a week or more. Just doesn’t make sense. But his sled dogs, those two teams are his pride and joy and just maybe, the only thing Bill values and is kind to. Races them up north in the winter, you know.”
Jed hadn’t known that, but filed it away. Who knows when a tidbit of information would be of value.
After a radio call to dispatch, Jed had Bill Murphy’s address and pertinent information.
Jed pulled up to the house and exited the car to the sound of barking dogs. He identified himself to the man splitting wood.
“Yup, I’m Bill Murphy.”
“I need to talk to you about Robert Cutler.”
“Never heard of him.” Was the too-quick response.
“Are you sure? Radio talk was that he was on your boat.”
“Never heard of him. You may leave my property now.”
Jed nodded and left the property far enough to be out of sight. He made a mutual aid call to the Jamesboro Police Department. Two officers in a black and white were dispatched to pick up Bill Murphy for questioning while Jed made his way to the Jamesboro headquarters where an open interview room was waiting for him.
In the interview room, Bill Murphy looked small. Jed thought most people did as the room is not designed to be a comfortable place. After 45 minutes of questioning, Bill started wearing down.
Yes, he knew Robert Cutler. Yes, Robert Cutler had been on his boat. No, he did not kill Robert. Jed thought things were going right according to script.
“OK, back to the beginning.” Started Jed.
“Did you know Robert Cutler?”
“I already answered that question.”
“Great, shouldn’t be too hard to answer again. Just answer the question.”
“Yes, I knew Robert Cutler.”
“Did you kill Robert Cutler?”
“NO! Nobody killed him.”
Bingo. “If nobody killed him, what happened to him?”
“He’s dead, that is all I know.” Murphy was becoming very nervous.
“Bill, I hate to tell you this, but you are looking suspicious. You have already lied to me about not knowing Robert Cutler. You’ve lied to a police officer and impeded an investigation, neither of which are helping you.”
“I don’t know anything.”
“Bill, I can write up some charges and you will have to stay here or in lockup for quite a few days. If that happens, I need to make a call. I’m a dog person and I’d hate to see the dogs left alone for all those days. Animal welfare will pick them up. Who knows where they will end up.”
“You can’t do that. I didn’t do anything.”
“Can and will make that call. You don’t want to force me to make that call, do you?”
“It was an accident. Honest it was.”
“Okay Bill, let’s start over from the last time Robert Cutler was on your boat.”
“We were out lobstering in the dark when it happened.”
“In the dark? Any chance the traps you were hauling weren’t yours?”
“Yes, we were stealing lobsters from traps. Fact was Robert was a really bad deckhand. Couldn’t run the hauler. He pinched ropes and sometimes cut them off. We’ve been stealing lobster for a month but people were getting suspicious. It was going to be our last run. I was at the helm and Robert had pulled the first trap of the night. I was heading toward the second one, looked back, and he was gone. Had to have gone overboard. I spent the rest of the time looking for him but couldn’t find him. I headed back at daybreak. I couldn’t be out there looking for him when others would arrive. You’re not going to take my dogs are you?”
“Bill, write it out on this pad of paper, sign it, and I’ll see what I can do about your dogs. The death and lobsters are different issues. I’ll be back in about twenty minutes.”
On the phone, Jed told Edgar St. Onge he could have the lobster theft collar, wrapped up with a bow and a written confession. Fair is Fair.
The Chief was pleased with Jed’s effort on the arrest, but likely as pleased that local pressure would back off, for at least a while.
Sam Cutler called Jed after a message was passed though Ben. An accident is always easier to accept than foul play. Jed thought Sam was sad and relived at the same time. Jed was pleased he was able to provide closure around Robert’s death to Sam.
Closing the case was news in the weekly paper for only two issues, then it was gone. It did not last that long for the Hilltop Trekkers. Jayne brought up the successful closure of the case on one of their walks and Mary was uncharacteristically quiet. Jayne hoped it would be the end of “my nephew could do better comments” forever.
With the case solved, the Chief happy, Mary Barter quiet, Jed thought it was past time to treat himself to a leisurely lunch. He knew just the place in Jamesboro.
As Jed was passing through a nice new development on the outskirts of Jamesboro proper, he saw Beaver’s truck entering the road from an upscale house. The unmistakable vehicle looked like it barely passed inspection every year. Jed slowed down to allow a car to enter the road putting a vehicle between him and Beaver’s truck.
Beaver pulled into the classy bar/restaurant Jed ate at the previous week. Actually, quite classy by Beaver and the Lobster Pot standards. Jed drove by and after three miles, turned around in a shopping center parking lot.
Jed pulled up to the Downeaster, and with some difficulty found a parking place. He thought Beaver must have parked in the rear. Jed’s mind was racing trying to figure out what Beaver was doing inside. It certainly did not look like the kind of place Beaver would frequent.
The Downeaster had several families eating lunch and the bar side has groups of what looked like businessmen in booths and two pairs of blue collar workers sitting at the bar. Quite an eclectic mix, thought Jed. But no Beaver. Jed went to the bar side as he assumed that was where Beaver would be.
Jed sat at the bar looking at a menu and thinking of a Ruben sandwich. From the back emerged Beaver, looking good in khakis and a button down shirt. Jed wasn’t sure who was more surprised, he or Beaver.
“Yes sir.” Was the response when Beaver told the bartender to make sure Jed received the law enforcement discount.
“I saw you following me, Jed. I thought you might be in.”
“You manage this place?” Jed asked incredulously.
“Roger, bring this gentleman’s meal to the booth, please.”
Another “Yes sir.”
“Let’s sit and catch up for a bit, Jed.”
Jed followed Beaver to the booth, still reeling from shock.
“Jed, I manage this place because I own this place. And the Lobster Pot, too. I know people and I know what people want. This place would never make it in Clam Harbor; the Lobster Pot would never make it here. I run both places the same. Good to the workers and a safe place. All the visits the Clam Harbor police have made to the Lobster pot, never one ounce of drugs or any other contraband found. Not permitted. My employees may have a checkered past but they all want to leave it behind. I give them that chance, but under strict rules. No drugs, no violence, keep your nose clean in and out of work. It is working. I don’t have staff turnover. See that waitress over there?”
“Yes, she seems to be able to keep nine tables of customers happy.”
“I paid her child care for the first year so she could work. She now covers it and has a place of her own. I would have to hire two to replace her if she would ever take a day off. Every one of these people have a similar story, even the barkeep from the Lobster Pot that called you. He now can have his kids part of the time because he has a job. Trust me, he doesn’t want to quit.”
“Wow, I never knew any of that.”
“And you still don’t. Please, for my sake. A few lucky breaks came my way and I took advantage of them. “I keep my Mom’s old trailer in Clam Harbor and use it when I am there. It brings back the good memories I have for Clam Harbor. That and fireworks.”
“Fireworks?” Jed asked.
Watching fireworks with my Mom are some the best memories I have of her. Who do you think is the anonymous donor that comes through and funds the Fourth of July fireworks every year?”
Beaver rose and went into the back room. Jed finished his Rueben. It was surprisingly good, along with everything else that day.
Tatiana Raudales studies creative writing in Winter Park, Florida. She has not had any pieces published via online magazines. Some of her work is published on online writing forums such as Lettrs, and www.writerscafe.org
A Gift From God
“Where have you been? Andy has been asking for you all day,” I told my husband as he walked in through the front door, holding a small blue box. He pushed me aside with so much strength that I fell to the ground.
“I’m here now, aren’t I?” he said carelessly as he made his way to the dining room. Andy sat eagerly in his white hair-chair that was stained with remnants of old food. His face lit up with joy and he jumped up and down saying, “Dadda.”
“Did you bring him a cake, dear?” Instead of crying and staring at the ground like usual, I got up and walked over to join them. I looked over and saw he wasn’t wearing his ring.
“It was for work, I swear.” He caught on that I had noticed, but quickly moved on to place the box right in front of Andy. Of course, he had to help him open the box to reveal a small chocolate muffin with a white candle on it.
“Yay! B-birfday.” Andy struggled to find the words but still giggled cheerfully. He hugged my husband very tightly for a couple moments.
“Time to blow out the candle!” I brought out a match and took the muffin away from Andy, which caused him to squirm in his seat, before lighting the candle.
We sung a few rounds of Happy Birthday while Andy patiently waited with the biggest smile on his face.
Then, he squinted his tiny eyes, and blew out the candle. My husband and I clapped and cheered for Andy as he sat proudly in his chair.
“Cake,” Andy said, jumping up and down.
I gave him a small plastic spoon and helped him cut the muffin in smaller pieces. He tossed the spoon aside and dug right in with his grabby little hands. Andy proceeded by shoving handfuls of the muffin into his mouth.
That’s when it happened.
Loud coughs and groaned pushed their way out of Andy’s lips. Over and over again, he hacked and wheezed. I tried patting his back but he wouldn’t stop. I quickly ran to find my cellphone to dial 911, but my husband had stopped me. He shook his head and pulled the phone away from me. I frantically tried anything I could to stop Andy from coughing, but he soon ran out of breath in my arms.
My husband was never to be seen again. That’s all I will ever know him as. Just a “husband” who couldn’t fulfill any duties to his wife. Looking over at my finger, I caressed where my ring used to be. Anger boiled up inside of me, but I instead decided to fold my hands in prayer. Deep bellowing sobs clawed their way painfully out of my throat. A puddle of tears had gathered on the photo album. I held out that one picture in my hands and stared at nothing. My crippling melancholy was interrupted by a knock on the door. Sighing, I lazily got up and off the recliner and headed towards the front door. I walked past dozens of picture frames that had been covered by white cloths.
I opened the door and looked around but no one was there. There was nothing around but a large box with tiny holes all over it. A small note was taped to the top of the box. Before I could read the note, something moved inside the box. Scared, I carefully pulled the top off the box, revealing a small newborn baby inside wrapped in a pink blanket. She started crying, a beautiful sound I had missed.
Grabbing the note once more, I read it out loud. The note was written in the world’s most beautiful handwriting.
“This may not be exactly what you wanted, but your prayers have been answered.”
The author is a husband, hobby writer with no training and around ninety odd publications including memoirs, genre and drama, bookseller; hiker and snowshoer. He was a mathematician and actuary. After many years wondering in the wilderness he returned to the Portland OR area where he lives with editor Sharon and cat Kitzhaber.
It started in January of 1990, but the exact date is unknown. George Bush was the US president. The Soviet Union was disintegrating and its satellite states were going their own way. African American politicians experienced mixed success – David Dinkins was elected mayor of New York City and Marion Barry was arrested in Washington DC. A bright light was the beginning of the Simpsons on Fox TV.
The world was experiencing its normal quota of evil and not exactly evil.
No one knew it then, but cyanic had left Africa months ago. What made cyanic different from other plagues was that it had an extremely long latency period during which it was communicable, but showed no symptoms. The public had no idea how far the disease had spread until most of the world had been infected. By the time the disease was understood, there was no treatment and most people were doomed.
The first symptom of cyanic was a slightly blue tinge to the skin, hence the scientific name. Most people referred to the victims as “having the blues.” Within a week of the color change people started to act like the zombies from the George Romero films and lost cognitive function. Later research found that cyanic hit the higher brain functions first. Unlike movie zombies, cyanics had no taste for brains, or for any food. They just shambled pointlessly until they died.
Researchers determined that cyanic was spread by skin to skin contact. A grim humorist was quick to start the “Six degrees of cyanics” game. No one affected was amused.
Pundits noted that it was a case of life imitating art. There were comparisons to Captain Trips in Stephen King’s The Stand and the Wandering Disease in the old movie “Shape of Things” based on the works of H.G. Wells.
As usual, before the disease hit its stride, there were the usual conspiracy theories. Jews were blamed, because Jews are blamed for everything. It didn’t hurt that the Israelis were less affected than other areas. Sunnis blamed the Shias, the Shias blamed the Sunnis. Before being decimated, there was even more Moslem on Moslem violence than usual. Survivalists saw black helicopters everywhere. Some Christians saw it as God’s judgment on secular society and homosexuality in particular. A minority of the people believed the scientists’ explanation that cyanic arose as a mutation of the Ebola virus. The explanation was particularly derided by those who did not believe in evolution at all.
The more serious also played the blame game. Environmentalists said in essence “I told you so” as did the anti immigration people. Those from the more rabid animal rights groups said it was fair because we had been exploiting non-human animals for far too long. A man who had predicted the demise of humans in the next hundred years admitted to being a little optimistic.
Some of those who were exposed had natural immunity. Some, particularly isolated farmers, did not come in contact with the affected. At the other end, large cosmopolitan cities were affected the worst. All of the major world capitals were depopulated. Second tier cities and the “flyover” cities did much better. Portland Oregon, Salt Lake City, Kansas City, Des Moines, Knoxville and Pittsburg fared relatively well.
As the enormity of the plague became clear, disposal teams were organized. Huge pits were dug and crews in hazmat suits herded walking cyanics into them.
The plague started to subside after a few months and eventually stopped. The cause of cyanics died or mutated again. By that time most of the world’s population had died. By then the estimated world population had decreased from over five billion to well under a billion. Asia, Africa and South America were particularly hard hit, but no continent had over a quarter of its previous population.
Aside from the horror, life was horrible and wonderful. There were huge stores of food, petrol, cars, appliances and homes that inundated the remaining humans. As expected, liquor and appliance stores were looted. Because the world militaries and governments were disproportionately depleted, people could just take what they wanted. Eventually most people decided that there was little point in having five cars and three houses, and shared reasonably. This was after a few more million had died fighting over the spoils. As always a few thought that they deserved more, but there were no more African women walking ten miles to get water, the survivors just moved closer to the water, since there was no one there to chase them off. Various means in different communities were used to distribute desirable possessions of the departed. In some places lotteries were used. In other places, it was whoever got there first.
In most of the world, the remaining people gathered around city states and tribes. Such arbitrary borders in Belgium, the Middle East and much of Africa evolved over time. Ethnic minorities in Asia went their own way. China split into five different regions that didn’t acknowledged the others’ existence. English speaking North America formed a very loose confederation. A minor surviving official in the US claimed that he was the ruler, but was totally ignored. The world wide partitioning was much easier than the Pakistan – India split years earlier.
The loosely knit North America included Columbia consisting of the Northwest, Alaska, British Columbia and Northern California. It resembled Ecotopia in an old novel. A major product was cannabis. Mexicali consisted of Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and some of West Texas. The rest of Texas never got reorganized. Vast portions of the Canadian and US plains became Range. US upper Midwest states and Ontario became, after much debate Lake Land, although some chose to call it Heart Land. Louisiana, Utah, Florida, Quebec and Colorado retained much of their original boundaries. The South not a part of something else went back to Dixie. What was left of the US and Canada became New England.
The regions differed on abortion, minimum wage, anti-discrimination, but had no national authority to overturn their decrees. Utah at least tacitly accepted polygamy, but not same-sex marriage. Most of the former North America did the opposite.
These quasi-governmental areas evolved over a number of years and made a lot more sense than the original state and province boundaries.
Because of the fear of new plagues and a desire for self sufficiency there was much less trade than before. The former Soviet Union and the Middle East suffered greatly when the demand for gasoline and natural gas dropped like a rock in sync with the population. A positive side effect was that there wasn’t enough money to buy hordes of weapons. The major weapons exporters had quit manufacturing anyway. There was some minor scuffling over petty grievances and the need for arable land, but mostly people just moved to their own kind and found a way to feed themselves.
There were a few years when most people didn’t worry about work or how to survive. Car breaks down? Get a new one. Need food? Go to the grocery store and take whatever canned food you want. Don’t like your home? Move into a new one.
There were some occupations that were still necessary. Farmers had to grow food, trains and truckers were needed to move thing things, and people needed to operate utilities. With the much lower need for food, some farmers quit and moved to town, others continued as they had and some moved from marginal land to more fertile areas. In some cases people who got bored just picked up some of the required jobs. Jack Wiggins in London didn’t see any need to be a corporate lawyer, so he started being a railroad engineer. He was lucky not to kill anyone, but eventually he got the hang of it.
At the end of the plague, the largest cities in the North America were Calgary, Indianapolis and Portland OR in that order. All had a little over a hundred thousand people. Calgary continued to be the energy center, Indianapolis evolved into the lead manufacturing site, and Portland moved from being a minor player in entertainment and electronics to the leader in the Americas. The previously major cities were ghost towns.
Zero population adherents were pleased by the lower number of humans, if not how it had happened. Some traditional male Catholics, Muslims and Mormons saw the situation as an opportunity to dominate the world by rapid reproduction. The women were not as enthused.
Energy production and pollution were greatly reduced by much smaller use of the energy sources. For awhile a lot of people wanted to get the biggest Suburbans, Land Cruisers, Rolls, Bentleys and Mercedes they could find, but that got old after awhile. The energy needs of earth were scaled down roughly in proportion to the population drop. An added advantage was that there were plenty of sources for energy without using the more polluting forms such as coal.
Because entertainers and producers didn’t have much need for money and the stars were mostly deceased, local talent and local no talent took over television, radio and the stage. The results were mixed. There were Paul Newmans and Meryl Streeps who simply hadn’t been discovered, as well Joe Plum, who had a post plague short lived TV show in which he talked about his coin collection. There were all porn channels, golf channels, romance channels, run by amateurs or low level professionals. Into this mix, Janet Levitz from the Bay Area and Thane Gibbons, a Portland native, wandered into the mix. Their bright idea, concocted and run in Portland, was InVid, a video sharing service.
David Nelson Hilliard was intrigued by InVid. He saw it as his way to become a star. After he recalled that he had no talent, he revised his thinking to believe that he would become a world leader. To say that he had a Napoleonic complex would be an insult to Napoleon. His lack of looks was compensated for by his lack of height. He was, however, a forward thinker and saw a way to profit from the new world order and even attract some girls. After a few hours of intense work he had a plan to rule the world.
The next day he had his tall dark and handsome neighbor Duke Hanley record the Hilliard Manifesto on InVid as well as calling as many world state leaders as possible. From that day forward, all but a few people thought that Hilliard was Hanley.
“New Earth arises from Old Earth tested and improved. From this, the worst tragedy in human history, we gain our reprieve from impending disaster. For if the plague had not wiped out much of the earth’s human population, we would have soon done the job ourselves. Deforestation, ocean acidification, global storming, overpopulation, mass human caused extinctions and pollution were the stepping stones to human extinction.”
“Now we have to ask, will we repeat the same mistakes? I say no and I have a program to give us a few million more years of dominion on planet earth. The United Nations died with the pre-plague earth. Let us start a new organization consistent with the new reality. I propose World Harmony.”
“The states in World Harmony will agree to:
“National leaders may wonder what advantage you might gain from membership in World Harmony. You will get protection from aggressive neighbors and assistance in an emergency. The price that you pay is fairly small.”
It was a great speech. Hilliard, with his eighth grade education knew enough to have a college professor of political science and rhetoric write it for him. Hilliard at least learned what most of it meant.
For months there was no response. Then there was a trickle of positive responses. After a couple of years most of the post plague nations had signed up. Some of them remembered the United Nations as a positive, if not perfect institution and wanted a replacement. Others liked the simple set of rules. A number of states didn’t like their existing borders, and decided to stay out.
As the instigator, Hilliard set himself up as the first Governor of World Harmony in 1995. The headquarters was in an abandoned bank in downtown Portland. The World Court was organized the following year. The member states formed World Harmony military bases on each continent.
In 1997 World Harmony was tested for the first time. The minor states of the former Burma - Kachin, Karen, Muslim Region and others – were attacked by the majority Burmese state, Myanmar. World Harmony forces from Mumbai were able to restore order and expel Myanmar from World Harmony; with the promise that Myanmar could reapply for admission after proving that it had disbanded its illegal army. Thereafter, World Harmony was taken seriously.
Post-plague earth went along fat and happy for a few years using up the assets left over from before the plague. Governor Hilliard, in particular was fat and happy. His status had indeed gotten him girls or women – those with low esteem and those that wanted to get close to power. His favorite was Rose Reed, who knew how to flatter and please him. Just as some say you can’t cheat an honest man, manipulators are often manipulated. In June of 1999 Jacque Braque of New France called Hilliard and suggested they were living on borrowed time. It was fortunate that Braque spoke better English than Hilliard did.
“Governor Hilliard, you have done a great job so far, keeping the world peace. However, we have serious challenges ahead of us. At some point the old cars, appliances will break down, utilities will need maintenance and housing will fall apart. Something else that you may not be aware of, many computers will fail in January because they will not recognize the year 2000. Not only do we have a challenge, we have an opportunity, we can improve on our lives compared to before the plague. We have the chance for a do over.”
Now Hilliard wasn’t smart and he didn’t understand the implications of what Braque had said. Hilliard thought everything was fine because he had the love (or so he thought) of several resourceful and beautiful women, all he could eat and drink and the admiration of millions. He was, however, manipulative and lazy.
“Mr. Braque, you and I are entirely in sync. I was just saying to an assistant today, we need to plan for the future. The name that came up repeatedly to head up the effort was yours. Consider that you have a blank check written by me to plan for the future.”
“Thank you Governor. I already have tentative plans.”
Hilliard immediately put out the word that his assistant would be implementing Hilliard’s plan to improve the world’s future.
Braque knew that Hilliard would want all the credit, but was willing to proceed anyway.
In Braque’s mind engineering was the easy part, politics was the hard part. Towards that end, he asked for planners and engineers from all of the world’s states. After interviewing them, he knew which to use and which to work around. Whichever category they fell in, the contributions of all of them and their states would be highly praised.
After a get to know you party for all of them, he outlined his plans:
“As you all know we are currently living on credit. We can have a bright future or fall into darkness. It is up to us. My plan:
Those who live in dangerous places subject to flooding, hurricanes, drought or monsoons should move to safer available places.
Fishing and forestry must be sustainable. In fact, our forests and fish stocks must be replenished.
We should move to renewable energy sources such as tidal, solar and wind. I depend on all of you here to do the research and building as necessary.
Vehicles should be made to be practical and run by either electricity or something better if we can come up with it. As much as possible, they should be recyclable.
Each region should be self sufficient. If this is impractical in some cases, we should provide assistance as necessary.
We must avoid overpopulation, which was part of the cause of the plague.
Rivers should run free and with the depopulation, there should be huge animal reserves. Threatened African wildlife and buffalos in the US can make a comeback.
I know that there will be resistance to these ideas in some quarters. ‘What about my house at the shore? Will I still have a cell phone?’ There may be some sacrifices, but I think that we can sell a better future, and yes you can still have a cell phone. If you have a house at the coast, no one will insure it. So before we start, you have to sell the plan to your people, if indeed you are on board.
Questions or comments?”
“Yes Ms. Sebastian of Chile?”
“Your plan sounds good, but what benefits will my country get?”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that your country imported crude oil before the plague and now you are having difficulty obtaining supplies. We want you to be able to produce your own energy and fuels indigenously.”
“Mr. Kralic of Bosnia?”
“Will your government people interfere with our customs or government?”
“Depends on what you mean. In general, no. If your state should produce an unsustainable population, or over exploit your resources, you will not be in the program and you will not be receiving our assistance. Is that clear?”
“All too clear.”
“Now if you would, we have arranged for all of you to join tables with facilitors to answer your questions and take your comments.”
Several hours and bathroom, snack and drink breaks, the state leaders left with a fairly clear idea of what Mr. Braque’s plan was. Most were in favor, but there were a few dissenters. The somewhat diminished China was not sure about blowing up its major dams. The North America Columbia region was ambivalent about losing the dams that provided most of the region’s electricity.
Mr. Braque had his engineers draw up scenarios for the dissenters showing how they would come out ahead by moving their constituents to safer areas, letting rivers and forests return to their state before the industrial revolution, and replacing coals burning power plants by solar, wind and tidal power. They also showed how much the energy needs would be decreased by some simple changes, for example replacing much of the heating and cooling of houses by circulating water underground and then back through the houses. Most of the world states bought it. Some that distrusted anything smacking of Western culture were hold outs.
With most of the world on board, Braque made a five year timeline for what he was convinced was a way to keep the planet going for a long time. The next few years would see a modest beginning to a lessening of the extinction of flora and fauna and pollution.
The first step, replacing computer legacy programs before the year 2000 was easier than expected.
Rose was immediately attracted to Jacque’s intelligence and looks, particularly compared to Hilliard. What really intrigued Rose was that Jacque had no idea how handsome he was. He would go days without shaving or changing his clothes because he had no vanity and only cared about his job. The only thing that Jacque was missing was Hilliard’s power. She made sure that they bumped into each other, literally in some cases, from time to time. Jacque, whose wife had died in the plague, was interested.
The morning after meeting in a local motel, they discussed the future. They had been too busy to talk the night before.
“Tell me Rose, how that buffoon could become the most powerful man in the world. His World Harmony idea looks like it was taken from a cereal box, or an episode of GI Joe.”
“I think that it was a Cheerios box. Seriously, he had someone write it for him. He had three things going for him. He got the timing right. He had a feel for attracting the right people. He is a master manipulator. Oh yeah, four things – he was incredibly lucky.”
“Are you satisfied being his number one consort?”
“Hell no, it was just the best deal I could make at the time. I admit it; I was looking for my main chance. I know better, but I’ve been devalued all of my life. My father left early, and my mother died young. I’ve got a Master’s in Public Administration, but people, both men and women, only recognize me for my tits and ass. You tell me something. Are you happy letting somebody you call a buffoon treat you as his lowly assistant?”
“As you say, hell no.”
“I know with certainty that Hilliard will die in the next few months, are you ready to plan for his exit?”
“How do you know that Rose?”
“You’re better off if you don’t know. Here is my question for you Jacque, are you ready to take over World Harmony with me? I’ve already arranged to be married to him before he dies, that will give us some legitimacy from the get go.”
“I can’t think of a better team than you and I. How do you know he will marry you?”
“He’s so insecure. I just told him I’d leave if he didn’t. When he is gone, after a reasonable mourning period, we get married. Our ascension will be almost a coronation. I’ve already lined up support within the government. I’ve been running several departments for months. Can you get your engineering staff behind you?”
Fifty days after this conversation Hilliard was dead. As Reed had indicated, taking over was easy. Hilliard had been seen as a figurehead for at least a year, and people were used to working with Reed and Braque. Their marriage a month after Hilliard’s death sealed the deal.
A decade later there were clear improvements in land, sea and air. Many formerly endangered species were thriving. There were few conflicts between modern conveniences and the ecology. The world population had only increased only 2% since the plague. There were a few local conflicts, but nothing major. Reed and Braque had a son and a daughter, who were in training to run the world when the time was right. In a self congratulatory mood, Rose said to Jacque, “I was thinking we should declare a Thousand Year Reich, but that might not sound right.”
“Right, but we should get our PR people to work on that, see what they can come up with.”
“It is hard for to believe how this has turned out for me. I was always smarter than the other guys, but people only paid attention to my body. That’s where Hilliard screwed up. If he had given me more credit, he might still be around.”
“I had it tough too. I was always scorned as the French version of a nerd. Nobody wanted to hear me talk about anything, except other scientists. If she’d lived longer, my wife would have left me. Her main concern was what her friends thought.”
“And here we are at the head of a dynasty.”
The phone rang.
After listening for awhile, Rose blanched. When she hung up, she said “This is very bad.”
“I couldn’t be worse that what we’ve been through the last ten years.”
“It could and it is. An asteroid is heading towards earth.”