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BACK TO NORBAL

FurnitureRandall Smithwithers was coming home. Finally. It had been a struggle reconciling his thought toward coming back to the family manse. So many memories which with Randall just couldn’t come to grips. But the place must be so neglected, he thought. Coming back to Norbal took some doing.

Father had a stranger sense of humor. He had called their home, Norbal. As a boy, Randall had once asked why father had been saying normal wrong. The elder always proclaimed the end of family vacations as “Returning to Norbal” It meant time to go home. It was a stranger quirk his father possessed.

The drive up the boulevard gave Randall the sense that something was wrong. Things had changed, he thought. Different in a strange way. The cab driver kept glancing back at his passenger.

“You okay, Pal?” the hack asked.

“I don’t know. Are you sure this is Caufield Boulevard?” Smithwithers inquired.

“Look Buddy, I’ve been driving this burg for 15 years. I know my way…” the cabbie started.

‘No, I mean… it’s just that I don’t remember…” Randall interrupted before tailing of into an inaudible mutter.

Silence filled the car. The driver continued to look back at his suspicious charge. Turning into the rather long driveway of the address Randall had given, the cabbie saw Randall face again, looking rather puzzled…again.

“Here we are, Fella!”

Randall stepped out and paid the man and watched as he navigated around the curve drive toward the street. Then he turned back to face the house. Taking each step tentatively, the returnee took in every sensation that overcame him. Slowly, he turned his key in the lock. He dreaded coming back to restore the place to livability.

As the door creaked open he noticed that the slip covers were all removed from the furniture. Not a speck of dust to eradicate. He heard soft music. Randall smelled a wondrous aroma. Roast Beef. Placing his bag on the floor, Smithwithers went to investigate.

The music he heard was coming from the drawing room. He recalled the years of his youth sitting here with his rock and roll records, driving his father crazy with its volume. The furniture was arranged as he had remembered, except that father’s chair had been replaced by an overstuffed recliner.

He walked through the alcove to the library. He noticed his books were missing. The shelves were empty, save for the brick-a-brack and knick knacks. His books! Stories of adventures. Collections of poetic works. Encyclopedias and such. Gone. All gone. This was upsetting Randall.

He heard noises from the kitchen. There was no longer a staff on duty to care for things. He had been gone far too long. Puzzled now. Puzzled and upset. Randall peered around the corner into the brightly lit room. A woman, standing near the counter with her back to the doorway in which Randall stood. She was busy in preparation of a meal. He could not process what was happening.

Softly, Randall cleared his throat. The woman turned dutifully, not startled or afraid. It was as if she was expecting “visitors”. Reaching back for her apron strings, she untied the bow and acknowledged the man.

“Randy! Oh my dear. It’s wonderful to have you back home. I’ve prepared your favorite…” she halted in mid-sentence and rushed to the confused Randall.

She thrust her arms around him in an exaggerated hug. Smithwithers had no clue. His lack of response made the woman pull back and her sad look gave Randall a start.

“You’ve been gone for so long… don’t you remember?” she said wiping a single tear.

He looked at her, studying her features. Something was familiar, but he didn’t know what it was. But he did know something was amiss.

She started to cry now, loud sobs that touched Randall deeply. He reached to console her, but he didn’t know why. Her perfume, a gentle scent, triggered something. He pulled away to look at her. Something… in her eyes, something.

“Pamela?” he asked, almost as a whisper.

Tears streamed harder now.

“You’re remembering, aren’t you?” she cried happily.

He embraced her again more for purpose than comfort.

“The doctor said it would take some time. I’ll be patient. You were in the coma for so long!” Pam reassured him. “The amnesia is expected, he said. But, I’m here. I’ve always been here.”

Randall took consolation in her words. It made some sense now. He wasn’t sure what to expect. But he just knew he was returning to Norbal at the right time!

SUSPENDING ALL BELIEF

MakepeaceRandall Makepeace stood at the edge of the town of Craven. It was a strange hamlet, a glimpse of Armageddon long before the first volley of war. A hellish lot, Makepeace believed, not fearful of death or the wrath of God. He had plans to change all that.

There on the outskirts, his entourage set stake to ground and proceeded to raise the tents for the planned revival. It was a matter of their spiritual survival, Randall reasoned. He was sure he need to go extra heavy on the brimstone this time out. Standing at the top of Harding Avenue looking down the center of the town, he readied himself for the service.

The lack of curiosity of the town folk bothered Makepeace. Usually the looky-loos come out of the woodwork and he could “grease” the crowd; get a feel for their needs as he saw it. He wondered how to get into their heads. Randall decided to venture into town.

It seemed deserted. He could faintly hear the sounds of a radio broadcast coming from the General Store. Peering into the front window, he saw no signs of life. Strolling further up the main thoroughfare, he felt the uneasy feeling of being watched. It was starting to spook him out. In his head Randall searched for the words of Psalm 23. He couldn’t remember the passage; he just repeated “The Lord is My Shepherd…, The Lord is My…”

There, nailed to the telegraph pole he saw it. A handbill of sorts… a memo to the townsfolk(?). The memo was yellowed and faded, some letters stood out from the other as if highlighted for visibility.The entire text read:

THe town has ISsued a restriction on unwelcomed vISitors HEre. Leave us aLone!

Makepeace read the message and searched over his shoulder for a sign of some life. He found none. He heard a thumping sound emanating from his chest. His heartbeat was loud and rapid. Sweat beaded on his forehead. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of the memo again. Now all he read was:

THIS IS HELL

“In the name of all that is Holy, come out and be seen!” Randal demanded.

The sound of sinister laughter echoed from vacant doorways. Unseen eyes peered at him, seeing into his soul to view the hypocrite Makepeace truly was.

A thunderclap of a voice reverberated.

“GET OUT!”

“I CAN SHOW YOU THE LIGHT!” Randall Makepeace defied loudly! “IF HIS WORD DOES NOT SOOTHE YOUR HEARTS, MAY I BE STRUCK DEAD!”

The voice was silenced. The laughter resumed. Randall Makepeace should surely have made peace with his maker. His distorted body lay sprawled on the dirt, eyes wide and heavenward. His mouth grotesque and misshapen; a look of pure terror on his face, as if he had seen the devil himself.

Brother Jeppison came searching for his pastor. Strolling further up the main thoroughfare, he felt the uneasy feeling of being watched. The sound of laughter was horrifically familiar. Jeppison had heard it before. It was surely Makepeace.

“Pastor Randall?” he called.

The thunderclap of a voice resounded again.

“GET OUT!”

It was the pastor. Jeppison turned tail and ran for the tents.

“THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, THE LORD…”

THE SIMPLE THINGS

Lorraine Jenkins was tired. Between going to nursing school, and pulling a double at the nursing home, Lorraine had every cause to complain. But what purpose would that serve. Her ambition was driven by the need to help people.

She had come up the ranks the hard way, a slim black woman with manly features, but a very compassionate heart. Her mother had done volunteer work in the black hospital in Selma. A product of segregation, Floridine took pride in her work.She put all the compassion she had into caring for her patients. Lorraine recalled how tired and worn her mother looked after hard days. She was touched by how her mother would cry for hours when one of her charges has lost their struggle with life.

And here she was, a single woman dedicated to her work so much that she knew nothing of a social life. Her dream was to finish school and be the nurse her mother always strived to be.

But Lorraine was tired after an exceptionally hard day, Mr. Kettering in room 14 was fighting Pancreatic Cancer. He had been failing rapidly. Lorraine felt the end was drawing near. But Kettering had a spirit; he put up a fight. He was determined to survive to the new year. He promised his granddaughter he would be around for the Holiday.

Lorraine knew such promises were not his to make. But she smiled and nodded. And her eyes had met Mr. Kettering’s and the twinkle that lived there mesmerized her. Somehow, she knew he would not falter.

As she turned on the lights to her small Christmas tree, she sighed. It was one week to the dawn of a new year. Mr. Kettering had made it to Christmas. She smiled inwardly. The old guy was half way home. Lorraine took comfort in that fact. A monumental achievement. A “promise” kept. A simple thing.

GOSSELIN’S GALLERY – 5 JULY 1913

EXHIBIT #1 – THE COMELY WENCH

ComelyWenchCome hell or high water, she always gets her man!

Gwyneth Smulders learned young. The ways of her father were not lost on this striking lass. What she lacked in class, she made up for with her seductive glances and her handy side arm. Her wile with that revolver had resolved many a conflict and passed judgment on many an ill-advised suitor who thought her cuter that the mermaids of Clareon. Little did they know, that when this siren wailed, even Neptune swam for cover. Just over 5 foot tall, although small in stature, Gwyneth was a dynamo in a ship battle.

She had come by her skills as honestly as one of her ilk could. She inherited it along with all the booty her illustrious grandfather had pilfered and pillaged from his adventures in the “re-appropriation of bullion”! Blackbeard knew how to party. His granddaughter learned well.

Solomon Diggery would follow where ever her ship traveled. Revenge was an option Diggery always kept holstered, and bolstered by her almost apologetic glance as she left him bloodied after shooting off his jib sail, he had sought her favor. She had fancied the cut of his jib once and thought of cutting it off then and there, but a blast from her Galeon 357 handled that task with a bit more of distance between them, the way she liked it!

Gwyneth Smulders carried a torch for no man. She carried a loaded revolver for one. And come hell or high water, she always gets her man!

EXHIBIT #2 – “NIGHTINGALE’S SHADOW”

SilhouetteShipTerence Foxx had been dead, lo these many years. Pirates who lived hard and fast don’t last very long with a target on their backs. Foxx bore one that sped him toward that goal. And although his murder was neither celebrated, nor decried, it is recalled each year since his passing.

Foxx died on the third Thursday in September; an ominous and rare happenstance. It appears over the sullen horizon, a Pirate’s Moon, they call it. For in the misted evening, before the stroke of midnight’s toll you can see it balanced precariously in the distance. Round and bright and surreal, you can feel her burn. Her wrath is as fiery.

And in her brilliance you can discern the mast and trussed sails; a silhouette in the darkened skies. Foxx’s “Nightingale” sails once again, a captain-less wheel and nary a man on the rudder. A random path to hell, tacking the shadows to oblivion. Every third Thursday in September.

EXHIBIT #3 – JEPPISON’S CREST

compass1The trunk had been retrieved from the murky depths, waterlogged and in stages of deterioration. Salvage crews find the best “booty” when left to their own devices. But the Jamaican government had a strict policy. Any findings, unless direct ownership can be proved, become Jamaican historic artifacts, and that fact irritated Clavin Beauregard Jeppison. Clavin was heading up this search mission a mere knot into designated Jamaican space. One nautical mile stood between the treasure and some politician’s greed.

Jeppison and his crew had a plan. They would use tow lines and gently drag the chest across the ocean’s floor. But this was not an easy task the floor was ragged and uneven. There were wide depressions where the trunk, if sucked downward, would be lost to Poseidon. Slow and steady would be their only hope.

Clavin’s salvage boat moved methodically, as if trolling for snails. But the better part of madness would not allow him to relent when many years and dollars were exacted into this project. The submersible vessel monitored the move and all seemed on course.

But the jutting rocks hidden in the sands had other plans. A section of the rock pierced the wooden shell of the container. The only way out was up, and that would spell disaster to Clavin and his men. One last attempt to carefully coerce the box from it’s obstacle did little to dislodge it, it merely rotated it to the right.

“Hold it!” Clavin instructed. “I need a front view of that chest!”

The diver in the submersible circumvented the boulder to sit in front of their find.

“Hoo Hoo!” Clavin’s exuberance beamed. “Bring her up! Bring her up!”

The objections of the crew went unheeded. Jeppison had seen something that sealed his decision.

As they lifted the trunk to the surface, the crew remained puzzled. They did not understand why Clavin would jeopardize losing this treasure in a moment of excitement. Jeppison placed his hand over a casting emblazoned on the cover of this chest. It had the dull shimmer of tarnished silver. It was elaborate; ornate in a calamitous way. A crest. Clavin knew the crest!

The men gathered around their find, thinking Clavin has surely lost his mind. Oh, he was crazy all right! Crazy as a fox. Raising his hands to quiet the clamor, Clavin drew in a calming breath. Then, grasping his shirt he pulled it open to reveal a tattoo. A crest. The Jeppison Family Crest! It matched the adornment exactly. The chest was not a historic artifact. It was a Jeppison family artifact. Clavin had cause to celebrate. He had made the best discovery. He found himself. At least a small part of himself.

THE HISTORIAN

PencilpageShe held her ledgers closely, as if protecting their contents from prying eyes. But how can history stay hidden? She wanted the world to learn what life had been before the conflagration. But she had forgotten one important fact. A far as she knew, she was the only survivor.

They had called her “Historian”. That was a name that carried great import. And since the Great Truth Purge, Reconstruction history was punishable by death. Little did that matter now, but the Historian held ethics in high regard.

She had a sudden pain in her head, a stirring of thought in the guise of a memory. It needed to be recorded. She went to the case mounted on the wall. Sliding the glass panel to the left she exposed the object of her office. It was a primitive instrument unearthed in the battle. She held it in as much reverence as the ledger clutched to her chest. She had found mention of it in the earliest pages. It was referred to as a “pencil”.

She handled it gingerly; the tip of the nib was fragile. She knew that once it had deteriorated beyond usefulness, all history would cease. She was frugal with her words. She was not ready to die.

A SHOW OF SIGNS – DEMON DESCENT

tears3_preview

image courtesy of Digital Blasphemy

The Warrior knew.

Armageddon was at hand. Hell be damned.

He had seen the mark of Man left behind when He had descended, for this battle needed its Supreme Commander. Hell would be damned for sure. But not without a fight.

The agents of evil had infiltrated the gates, posing and passing as obedient servants of He who is to come again. The temptation is strong for those who are not prepared. Thankfully, Michael’s sword cut swiftly to separate the rebels from the Defenders.

The Warrior had been a Defender. He still was actually, But his “assignment” had been changed. He was to wait for the Coming and the Downfall. The mark of Man had affirmed the Arrival of Him. Now, the Warrior awaited the descent.

He remained vigilant; a sentinel charged to protect all that was Holy. His eyes were trained on the horizon. Tranquility took residence briefly, but he knew it was a matter of…

A thunderous rumble reverberated in the distant sky. A cacophony of screams and explosions; cackles and war cries. The sky became inflamed with the brightness of a million stars released from hope, each star a fallen soul discharged from the multitudes to avenge their infiltration. Plummeting to earth, scorching all that surrounded their impact to stand erect and strong; a combatant in the name of Darkness. The Warrior unsheathed his weapon; it’s glistening a signal to all.

The battle had begun.

The Warrior knew better this time.

Heaven and Hell be damned.

***

This is a continuance of one of my earliest FLASHY FICTION pieces. From “A SHOW OF SIGNS” (https://wallegories.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/a-show-of-signs/) Posted at FLASHY FICTION on 19 Jan 2010

GONE FISHING

Phil-bee woke up early. Before his mom. “Before the roosters”, like his grandpa used to tease. Actually, it was thoughts of his grandfather that enticed him to carry out this quest.

Philbin Barrett, Phil-bee for short, was grandpa’s pride and joy. Gramps was the only father Phil-bee knew, his own “a flash in the pan” as he heard his mother mention on the phone when she thought Philbin was out of the room. A mistake. A one-night stand, mom spoke in confession. Until then, Phil-bee had thought his father had died when the boy was three.

“The only redeeming quality of that man, was the little guy in the back bedroom” she was heard to interject.

So Phil-bee’s grandfather assumed the part as role model and teacher. A creature of habit was Jackson Barrett, and he taught his grandson the things Jack felt Phil-bee needed to learn in this life if he expected to go far.

All that changed as grandfather’s memory started to fade. Mom blamed some guy, an Al Shimer, for that. Ever since this Al showed up, grandpa just wasn’t the same. It was hard for Philbin to watch the only man who mattered in his life slowly become someone else. As Jack deteriorated, Phil-bee had to rely on the lessons learned from this good man. He tried to remember that man more than the person who did not recognize him any longer. Mom called it a “blessing” when Jackson Barrett had passed away.

“Gramps isn’t suffering any longer” she tried to explain to a tearful Phil-bee.

Phil-bee knew that along with being his grandfather and his teacher, Papa Jack was his friend. Phil-bee lost his BEST friend. If there was anything good in that revelation, it was that grandpa would live in his memory as long as Phil-bee kept him there.

The young boy’s mind was elsewhere as he stood next to his mom at Jack’s graveside. Philbin stared at the pile of dirt behind the square hole, watching the worms peek out and scurry back into the soil. The crowd of people that came to pay their respects was small. A few cousins, a couple of Jack’s friends from the service, Mrs. Burgess from their old apartment and the undertaker were Papa Jack’s only mourners.

Phil-bee remembered the talks he had with Jack as they sat at lakeside with their fishing line in the mossy green water. This was their classroom; where they had their best talks. Philbin needed to talk to Jack. But Jack was no longer there.

worms

“he reached into the tin can that held the wiggly worms”
(Photobucket)

Phil-bee dressed quietly, slipping his blue jeans over his spindly legs. He zipped his jacket right up to his chin and grabbed his ball cap. He gave the doorknob a soft turn and stepped out onto the back deck. Reaching down behind the deck chair, Philbin took the dented tin can that he had placed there last night.

The sun was coming up over the treetops as Phil-bee settled on the shore at their favorite fishing spot. The boy nestled into the moist grass as he reached into the tin can that held the wiggly worms that were distracting him at Grandpa’s funeral. With a shaky finger, Phil-bee hooked a fat worm. As he baited his hook (just like grandpa had taught him) Philbin started to talk out loud.

“Hey Grandpa Jack. It’s a good morning for fishing. I saved your spot…” Phil-bee started his long monologue.

In the early morning mist, a boy and his grandfather shared another moment discussing life and the future. Well, Phil-bee talked, and he was sure grandpa was listening. He had cast his line into the water a few times, but wasn’t having any luck. But it didn’t matter. Jack always said a bad day of fishing was better that anything he could think of.

Phil-be had talked himself out. He had told Grandpa Jack all he needed to say. He thanked Jack for being his Gramps and for teaching him stuff; for not being “a flash in the pan”. Phil-bee was honored to have been given time to be with Jack Barrett. He found peace there. Phil-bee forgave Al for taking Jack so soon.

“I love you, Grandpa!” Phil-bee tearfully whispered.

Philbin felt the tug on his line. He knew his grandfather loved him too.