by Kenny Paul Clarkson

Kenny Paul Clarkson is the pen name of
Kenn Gividen, author of The Prayer of Hannah.

Contact Information:
Kenny Paul Clarkson
PO Box 2012
Columbus IN 47202
1492@usa.com • 1-812-372-1663

Click on book cover to buy
Cool Water for the Thirsting Soul
(Vol 1)




This site contains a collection of fiction sketches for your enjoyment.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Edgar's Space

“It happens that way sometimes. When all is going well and the world, it seems, is at your command and then, Wham! It all falls apart.”

Erika James looked at Edgar as if he would understand. Edgar replied with an expression of sympathy. There was no real remorse on his part; at least not for Erika.

He cleaned out his space, dumping most of his meager belongings into a small cardboard box. As he left the office he turned to capture a parting glance of his boss — former boss. She was sitting behind her mahogany desk immersed in a phone call, making a deal. He didn’t care. Not any longer.

Edgar turned the key, heard the whine of his Volkswagen sputter to life and flipped on the heater; then the radio. He turned it off. He was in no mood for music. He took a moment to wipe the lens of his thick glasses with his shirt before pulling out of his space at the far end of he parking lot, then pushed the button to secure the door locks.

Jostling with city traffic was always a challenge. Today it was a place to lose himself; a small part of a steady stream crawling along an asphalt riverbed; one ripple in a flow of exhaust-spewing, rolling steel.


The drive back to his apartment was uneventful. Still, Edgar felt numb, nauseated and confused. Getting fired was becoming routine.

He wondered how he would pay his rent, then why Erika James was successful; why he was not. He pondered a decal on the back of a minivan. It was an image of a fish with feet and was wrapped around the name, “Darwin.” Evolution, he decided, explained it all. He was on the losing end of random chance, a victim of natural selection; genetically predisposed to failure. He pondered his place in the scheme of things, then concluded that he had no place. He was a mistake; a waste of space.

His cell phone rang. He flipped it opened, recognized his mother’s phone number and decided not to answer. Come to think of it, he concluded, “I just don’t care about anything.”

Edgar jammed his breaks and sighed in relief. He nearly rear-ended the bus. Traffic was stopped. The familiar aroma of diesel fumes permeated his little car. He clicked on the radio. Again. Happy Hal was selling furniture with no payments until July. Edgar paid little mind. He just sat back and considered the image of the familiar man staring from his reflection in a large store-front window.

In a melancholy moment of morose, he finally admitted what everyone else always knew. “I’m just a waste of space.” This time he spoke the words aloud. He rested his head, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.

“Do you feel as though you are a waste of space?” The voice of Happy Hal on the radio arrested his attention. At first he was startled, then amused. What are the chances, he thought, staring at the dashboard.

He closed his eyes again.

The deep baritone voice continued, “Yes, my friend. You see yourself as a loser. But have you considered that you are your own worst enemy?”

“The world hates me,” Edgar muttered with eyes still closed. “I’ve never hurt anybody and they treat me like . . .”

“Oh, yeah!” the voice said. “What about your mother. You hung up on her. How do you think that made her feel?”

“I didn’t hang up on her. I just didn’t take the . . . “

Edgar opened his eyes wide. Someone’s playing a joke. He was sure of it. How were they doing it? he wondered.

“You’re right about one thing, Edgar,” the radio said. “You are taking up space. So why not make the best use of it?”

“Okay! Who are you? Where are you? How are you doing this?” Edgar smirked. The voice ignored him.

“Be responsible for yourself, Edgar. Gotta problem? Look for the solution! When life throws you a hardball, don’t duck. Swing!”

The sound of a fireman’s axe crashing through the passenger window caused Edgar to stir out of his groggy haze. But only for a moment. An ambulance paused nearby, its lights flashing. A police cruiser sat behind Edgar’s Volkswagen. The officer was directing traffic. Paramedics pulled him from his car and laid him on a stretcher. An oxygen mask was strapped to his face. Someone noted the fumes could have killed him.

A fireman thumbed through Edgar’s wallet.

“Make space for Edgar Smith!” he called as they loaded him into the ambulance.

Monday, January 16, 2006

“Start now.” Smiley face. Send.


Jeff punched the button that booted his computer. He sat back and stared patiently at familiar images gracing the screen. The icon in the corner reminded him it was 2:37 a.m.

“Thought you’d want to see this,” he typed, then sent the e-mail with a photo attachment.

There were e-mail messages aplenty, none he cared to see. He inhaled deeply and deleted the spam, then on to his favorite news site. There was a drought in Oklahoma, a fire in Russia and two more G.I.s were killed in Iraq. The Dow was off 37 points, but he already knew that. He wished he could go back to sleep. But how could he?

“You got mail!” The widget flashed in the tray at the bottom of the screen.

More spam, he thought. He logged back on to his e-mail, intending to consign another pointless message to oblivion.

What’s she doing up? He was genuinely surprised.

“See you can’t sleep either,” the message read. “Big day tomorrow for both of us, huh!? Thanks for the pic. Who caught the fish?’

Jeff smiled.

“Hey Sheryl. Biggest fish Bob ever caught (or Bobby back then.) I think he was ten. His mom fried it that night. He’s changed a lot since then. Guess you noticed.”

Send.

“So have you!” There was a yellow smiley face.

“He got bigger, I got grayer.” Another smiley face and Jeff replied to Sheryl.

“Are you sure that’s his BIGGEST catch?” Sheryl’s emoticon was frowning.

“Lot’s of memories,” he typed. Send.

“And lot’s more to come,” Sheryl answered.

Sheryl didn’t wait for a reply. “Who taught him about girls?”

Jeff stopped to think. “Depends on the girl,” he wrote, then changed his mind and erased the text.

“I guess I did. But give his mom some credit. Far as I can tell he’s never kissed a girl in his life.” Send.

“He told you that?” she replied. The smiley face was back, but this time it was blushing red, not yellow.

“What else did you teach him?“ There was another message.

“How to throw a football, to fight off the bullies, how to pray, to walk like a man, how to dance, how to change the oil in the car and how to drive a stick shift.” Send.

“You taught him well. He’ll make a great husband. Can’t believe you taught him to dance!” Jeff read the message with a sense of gratitude. He was glad she felt that way.

“Tomorrow I’ll show you my best steps. May I be second in line? And, Sheryl, when I see you walk that aisle in your white dress there will be no one in the church more proud than me,” Jeff stopped to fight back a tear. “Of all the things Bobby has done, marrying you will be his greatest accomplishment.” Send.

“Sorry, Jeff, my father gets second dance. But third in line? You got it. So you’re saying I’m a bigger catch?” Jeff laughed out loud.

“The best,” he wrote. Send.

Jeff waited three minutes for a reply. “So when do I start calling you ‘Dad’?”

“Start now.” Smiley face. Send.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Canister Cousins

Canister Cousins was never one to spend idle time reading novels or knitting afghans. Rather, she was one who enjoyed a brisk jog in the park, a swing at a softball or a half-hour in the gym pumping iron.

It’s not that Canister lacked a feminine side. Her impish smile and chiseled proportions spoke volumes of the woman’s girlish pride, as would Bon, her husband of twenty-seven years. And there were the kids: all twelve of them.

The oldest was Jack. His cherished photo held a prominent place on the Cousins’ mantle. He was a handsome boy, Canister thought as she wiped the dust from the photo’s frame. The tassel dangling from the square hat seemed fitting for the lad’s square jaw and firm smile. And there were other graduation pictures, each taking its place in line. Only the twins were missing, and their photo would be added come June.

Canister brushed a strand of hair from her brow and turned toward the kitchen. There was tofu and yogurt waiting in the fridge. A cup of soy milk — exactly one cup — would round out the noonday fare.

The mirror on the wall captured her image but for the briefest of moments. She paid it no mind, but hurried past the sofa and down the hall. Canister did everything in a hurry. It was just her way.

But this time she stopped. The moment of reflection in the mirror had conjured a memory from her mind. Again in the living room, she pondered the figure of the woman standing there: sweat shirt, blue jeans; long flowing hair that had always been her husband’s pride. And it was gray. Almost. There was still a hint of the silk raven strands that first attracted Bon back in high school.

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” she whispered every so quietly. “But I do believe in memories.”

Soft wrinkles lined her face. She welcomed them: a part of life, she said. Canister never cared for makeup. She wore it, but only on special occasions; more as a courtesy to others than for herself. Not that she was untidy. She just loved the natural state of things.

“Good to see you again.” To the whisper was added a smile. And she wondered why she had never greeted the memory before.

Sundown came and Bon was in the den watching football. The twins were in their room — at least she thought they were in their room — catching up on the night’s homework. Canister twisted the key that caused the coal oil to burn even brighter. A spring’s breeze sent the lacy curtains dancing, but only for a moment.

“I saw Mom today,” she wrote, then sat back to revisit the moment in her mind. The eyes, the hair; the hurried expression. They belong to me, she thought. That was me I saw.

“I saw her in the mirror, but not really. For briefest of moments when I saw my reflection I could have sworn I saw Mom. She looked nothing like she does now. Rather, she looked as I knew her thirty years ago, when she was my age. People often said there was a family resemblance.” She continued to write. “And so I thought, Where else do I see Mom? I see her in the way I talk, in the things I do; in the way I raised my children. What a strange thing to suddenly realize, after so many years, the impact one’s parents have on their lives. If it hadn’t been for Mom and Dad, I wonder…”

Canister took a deep breath and considered the lines of ink. I’ll write no more, she considered, then lay the pen on the desk. Gently, she closed the diary and placed it in the drawer.

Pasadena was a long way from Kentucky’s hills. It would be months before she would greet her mother at the airport, chat with her over a cup of hot green tea; snap more photos at the twin’s graduation. It would be months.

Canister lifted the handset and touched the numbers on the pad. It was only ten in California, she reasoned. Mom always stays up to read. She smiled. I guess there are some things she didn’t pass along.

The phone rang in a little house; its walls graced with photos; many were the same photos that held their place on the Cousins’ mantle.

And there was a voice, more frail that it had been in Canister’s memory.

“Hello.”




Author's notes...

Never in my 53 years of living on this planet have I ever met a person named “Canister.” As far as I know, the name doesn’t exist. And that’s why I chose to use it.

The challenge with this essay was to present the key character as both unique and ordinary. Her uniqueness was illustrated by combining an unusual name — both for the character and her husband — a love for healthy living, and an abandon of the norm (long gray hair, no make-up and unusually large family). The strategy was to make a bold statement: This is an individual, a single unit of living humanity; a one-of-a-kind person — just like you!

Her uniqueness would encourage the reader to wonder about her personality. Certainly one would wonder why a mother would chose such a peculiar moniker. To offer an explanation would deprive the reader of wondering. What's more, an explanation would be a cumbersome distraction.

Why was she writing with the light of a coal oil lamp while electricity, suggested by her husband’s TV football game, was clearly available? What past influences created this woman’s personality? In the end, the reader learned the impact of her parents.

But to deliver that impact, the reader needed to identify with her. And so they discover that, in many ways, she is not so different. She has a family, cares for them and ponders the important things in life. Just like you.

Canister Cousins is a personification of the reader.

And as always, I applied a generous dose of implication, never actually saying Canister lived in Kentucky or that Mom lived in Pasadena. Nor was there any direct mention of a burning lamp or a telephone. All were implied, encouraging the reader to indulge their imaginations.





Wednesday, March 16, 2005

• God Saved the King



The wry sound of a disant brook offered little comfort to Seti. Nor did the hot desert breeze. Born in slavery, he had been abandoned by his Egyptian owner; left to die along the highway that leads from Alexandria to Damascus. His only possessions were a flask of water and a tattered robe to shield him from the sun. He would spend his final hours of life lying in a field of sand and stone; dreaming of a better life that never was.

•••


David stared into the darkness; drank in the familiar songs that echoed so faintly from afar. Fires of the Israeli army dotted the hillside; like shining stars in the night sky, he thought. He pondered the moment. The image of a man emerged in the darkness. Blinded by the black of night, David stared intently. But even at a distance, the figure was familiar. The man’s bold strides; the arrogance of every gesture — David wondered what thoughts possessed his mind.

The sullen sound of footsteps arrested his attention. David turned to meet the eyes of Achish, leader of the Gaths.

“Do you see him?” David pointed into the night. “Standing by his tent?”

“King Saul.” Achish bowed his neck in contempt. “The mighty King of Israel.”

“We will do battle at dawn,” Achish added, placing his strong hand on David’s shoulder. “Take a look, my friend. Never again will your eyes gaze upon this man, Saul. The morrow’s fate will be his last. An archer’s dart to pierce his breast? Or the thrust of a swordsman?”

Achish paused to smile. “Perhaps his heart will fail from fear. Only the God of the Hebrews can spare their king.”

He paused again. “But the giant slayer will not be among us.”

David offered a sigh of frustration.

“The council …” he began.

“The council fears,” Achish interrupted, “that in the heat of the battle you and your gallant men will have a change of heart; that you will turn your sword on the Philistines to regain favor with Saul. They will have none of it.”

David nodded, then returned his eyes to the figure of the man on the hill. “So tomorrow you die,” he whispered. “Tomorrow you will die.”

It was a peculiar sight. David, the man whose eye for accuracy had sent the Philistines to flight was now standing among the very army he defeated. Hardly a year had passed since he crossed into Philistia. Having befriended Achish, one of five ruling chieftains, David’s small army found refuge from Saul’s jealous pursuit in place called Ziklag.

Morning dawned.

The eerie sight of Philistine soldiers trudging though the early mist haunted David. He mounted his stead and mused as a brigade mustered for their march to Jezreel. Though farmers and merchants, they were also battle-hardened fighters. Today Israel would be defeated. The thought was disquieting; not that Saul’s army would suffer loss, but that David would have no part in the conquest.

A whip to the hindquarters; his stallion bolted. Six hundred loyal men followed on horseback. They were a noble band. Some were debtors, some thieves; some fearing for the lives. But all were bound by allegiance to David and disdain for the evil spirit of King Saul.

Hours passed with talk of home. Would Saul really be defeated? Hebron, David said, would be their new home. His captains savored the thought of crowning David king.

Ribbons of smoke billowed on the horizon. It was a welcoming sight to David’s brigade; a reminder of home. But thoughts of flaming hearths were soon driven from their minds. The rising plumes were too dark and much too dense. Without a word, David lashed the flank of his mount. The horse responded in kind and surged ahead at full speed. The hooves of six hundred stallions thundered across the countryside. David and his men imagined the worst.

What they found were ashes. Their homes were gone, their possessions stolen and their loved ones nowhere to be found.

“So you are the King of Israel?” the voice echoed in his mind as he knelt in the ruins that were once his dwelling. His hands caressed the ashes as he wept.

“There’s talk of stoning you.” This was an audible voice; the voice of Abiathar, the priest.

At first David said nothing. His mind was blurred by stark reality of defeat.

“But I’m not defeated,” he answered his own thoughts aloud; then turned to Abiathar. “I am a man of courage.”

“Courage?” his friend asked.

The prophet Samuel has died, he thought. Israel is defeated, the Amalekites have taken his family from their home; he owns nothing but his soul.

He marveled at David’s valor.

“Courage in what?” The question begged to be asked.

“Courage in that which will neither betray nor be stolen,” David stood and looked toward the south, the land of the Negev; the home of the Amalekites. “Courage in that which cannot be defeated, courage in He who is there when all else is gone. Courage in the Lord.”

“We can be at the brook of Besor by sundown tomorrow,” Abiathar advised. “The Amalekites can’t be far ahead.”

“It is the will of the Lord?” David asked.

“It is.”

No words were spoken; no command was given. David simply mounted and headed southward. His men followed.

The rippling sounds of the brook of Besor settled in David’s mind. Its cool waters quenched his thirst and refreshed his soul. He paced along its banks thinking, wondering; praying.

“Look,” Abiathar pointed.

David gazed toward the west. Nothing but the shades of evening shadows blanketed miles of fallow fields of sun-baked sand.

“And see?” he asked.

“There is a man.”

In the distance David could see the form of an arm extended upward. Someone was lying in the field. An Amaletkite? He wondered.

“An Egyptian slave,” someone offered as they brought the man to David. “He fell sick and was abandoned by his owner.”

“And what does he say?” David asked.

“He knows where the Amalekites camp,” another answered.

David considered the slave’s tattered clothes and worn body. He watched as the poor soul fed his hunger with a cake of figs.

“Imagine,” David said. “Today the Lord provided a slave to save a King.”

The slave gorged himself with a cluster of raisons; then replied, “Today the Lord provided a King to save a slave.”

Saturday, October 09, 2004

• ANGIE'S QUILT
by Kenny Paul Clarkson

.
"I'm cold."

Angie tugged her wrap snug against her chin and glared into the darkness. Distant shadows danced across the snow-covered valley; a tell-tale sign of a candle flickered from Old Cagney's cabin.

"Hyha!"

Willie whipped the reins spurring the mare to jolt forward dragging the black sleigh through the night air. The lantern swayed.

Willie didn't smile.

"It's cold," he quietly answered.

She was angry and her older brother knew why. They spoke little as, sitting side by side, their buggy glided them toward home.

Sixteen years old, he thought. She has a lot to learn. He jilted the reins again. I've got a lot to learn.

"It isn't fair." Angie brushed a snowflake from her face. Willie hardly heard her.

"It isn't fair," she repeated. "I made that quilt. And the time. I spent ages. Ages! Every dumb stitch."

He glanced sideways. There was that pout. He'd seen it a thousand times before.

"I like your quilt," he interrupted. "Every dumb stitch of it."

A ribbon of smoke could faintly be seen rising from Old Cagney’s cabin as the horse-drawn sleigh pulled them ever closer. It reminded Willie of the locomotives that barreled through the valley. And the horse’s breath as she trotted through the night air? Just like a little train, he smiled.

“So what are you going to with it?” Willie didn’t really care. He just wanted his sister to talk. It would help her deal with his disappointment.

“It should be hanging in the back of the church!”

Each year their little country church held a quilting contest for the teenaged girls; it gave them something to do in the winter months. Each week they gathered to sew, fellowship and talk about boys. The older women would select the best quilt of the year and the parson would hang it by the church’s entryway. There is would remain, a mute testament to the winner’s talent, for an entire year.

Willie had seen the quilts the girls had made. And quite frankly, he couldn’t tell the difference. He supposed the women just picked a quilt to encourage the girls to try again the following year. And tonight they selected the quilt lovingly sewn by Henrietta Henderson. Angie was more than disappointed. She was furious.

“She doesn’t even know to stitch,” she mumbled.

“So what are you gonna do with your quilt, Sis?”

“Feed it to the pigs!”

Willie couldn’t help but laugh — quietly — at Angie’s silly answer.

“I’m a loser,” she pouted again. “I can’t do anything right. I’ll never get married.”

Married? So that’s what this is all about, Willie considered. Having one’s quilt displayed in the church was more than a simple honor. It was a way of attracting prospective husbands. He offered a broader smile.

“Tell ya what let’s do,” he suggested. “Let’s give your quilt to Old Cagney. His little granddaughter could use an extra warm blanket. Better than feeding it to pigs, eh?”

Angie didn’t answer. He pulled the reins as the sleigh neared the cabin. The old mare reared her head and stopped. He gently pulled the quilt from Angie’s mittened hands. She offered no resistance.

“Hold this,” he handed his sister the reins.

One rap on the door brought Old Cagney shuffling to meet Willie. The door creaked open.

“For your granddaughter,” Willie handed the old man Angie’s handiwork.

One tooth smiled through Old Cagney’s rough beard. Though his words politely refused, his hands gratefully took the quilt from Willie’s hands. It was, indeed, a blessing.

We’ll be home in a few minutes. Back in the driver’s seat, he whipped the reins.

“Hyah!”

They were on their way once again.

“I’ll never get married,” she repeated, shoveling her feet toward to coals on the buggy’s floorboard.

And I’ll never see that quilt again. She was wrong.

Fifty years, twelve children and a slew of grandchildren replaced the memory of Angie’s quilt. And homecoming was a delight. The rickety carriages were no longer pulled by horses but driven by noisy engines. It was the same county town; but it was so different.

The druggist had gone; replaced, Angie was delighted to see, by a seamstress. Attracted by a lovely quilt in the widow, she entered the shop.

“Got started forty years ago when I’s ten year old,” the seamstress explained. “Someone gave my Papa that quilt when I’s just a baby.”

Angie turned to the window. That was her quilt hanging there. It had been there every year for forty years.

• BDEEP
by Kenny Paul Clarkson

.
Spring showers drummed a steady rhythm. It was a warm afternoon, a welcomed change to the usual cool breeze that chilled the Upper Peninsula. Corrie lowered her head to see above her spectacles. It was there, all right, the message from Brother Ben. With a click of the mouse the message opened wide.

“Corrie,” he wrote, “take a look at this.”

She scrolled down the screen to catch a glimpse of the photo. Look at what? She leaned closer. A boat on the beach. A smiling guy dressed in 1940s garb. Horn rimmed glasses. Big fish in tow. Big smile. Big deal. She didn’t get it.

She sniffed, then glanced toward beads of rain racing down the window pain. Her head dropped even lower as she peered beyond the tops of her bifocals. Her wondering stare gazed at waves of gray — a refection of the overcast sky — lapping the shoreline. Another day, another storm, she thought. The Lake Michigan Coast Guard had warned of stormy weather. And they were right.

She clicked her mouse yet another time. The face of the smiling fisherman doubled in size; then doubled again.

“Nice pic, Rev,” she typed. Then send. The email was returned.

At forty-two, Corrie had surrendered any thought of marriage long ago. Plump was not a word suitors often mentioned when looking for a mate. There had been beaus, but only a few; none she cared to pursue. Life was fine as it was.

She pushed away from the desk and sauntered to the Mr. Coffee brewing on the bookstand. Again, she peered out the window. The warm brew took the edge off the dank afternoon. Again, she stared at the lake.

Bdeeep. Another email.

This time she looked closer. She had to. Brother Ben had enlarged the photo. The fisherman’s horn rims filled the screen.

“What do you see?” he wrote.

The Reverend could have told her forthrightly. But he preferred she see it on her own.

“My eyes,” she said aloud. “Those are my eyes.” Unconsciously she touched the bridge of her nose. “And my mole,” she added.

“No doubt about it,” she tapped the words effortlessly. “That’s my uncle. Thanks, Rev.” Send.

It was a satisfying feeling. She sipped her coffee. No one has heard from her uncle since 1953. Something about the war, they told her. He was never the same, never came home; just wandered place to place until he disappeared.

To Corrie is was an interesting footnote of her past. And it was her lighthouse; the only home she had ever known. But her parents, now gone, had never bothered to transfer the deed. It belonged to her uncle, they said. And only he could transfer the ownership. The county said it belonged to them; and without proof that her uncle had even been at her home, she had little chance of proving ownership.

She breathed deeply. She knew it was coming. It was just a matter of time. An apartment in town wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe it was time for a change.

Bdeep.

Leaning forward, she opened Brother Ben’s next message. “Look again. Closer.”

She did.

It was there. She smiled broadly. Why hadn’t she seen it before? The familiar black stripes broadly wrapping the sun bleached column was unmistakable. My eyes, my mole and my lighthouse reflecting in his glasses. He was here! She looked again. The same reflection could be faintly seen in each of his eyes. But when? She wondered.

Bdeep.

“1964,” the Reverend wrote. He expected her query. “Your dad painted the lighthouse in 1964. You were two at the time. You uncle was there with you and your father. The pic proves it.”

“Slam dunk?” she asked. Send.

“We’ll ask Fred in the morning.” Brother Ben’s reply referred to Corrie’s attorney. “But abandoned property it ain’t.” Corrie chuckled at the Reverend’s unusual choice of words.

“Abandoned property I ain’t” she corrected. Then added, “Sounds like a sermon, eh?”

Send.


• TWO [Round Hill Series]
by Kenny Paul Clarkson

Darkness falls soft on Round Hill.

A golden glow faded across the horizon as daylight surrendered its final breath. Street lamps cast amber halos on avenues lined with Tudor homes tucked behind sprawling elms. The kickety kickety chant of sprinklers could be heard in the darkness as they dusted manicured lawns with tiny droplets of water.

Storefronts along Main Street hid their wares in blackened windows. Shopkeepers had called it a day. The pizzeria was one exception. The movie theater, malt shop and Bud’s 24/7 Laundromat were the others.

It was a cowbell, Eb supposed, that clanged as he pushed open the heavy glass door. A liberal whiff of bleach and laundry detergent fills his senses. There was a kaleidoscope of somebody’s laundry churning in a dryer. His spectacles fogged. Slightly.

Two quarters slid in the soda machine. Eb chose Sunkist orange soda. He always did. One punch of the big, plastic button sent a can of pop clunking its way down the chute to Eb’s hand. Four more quarters and a tug on a chrome knob bought him a Snickers bar.

“Hey!” Eb’s attention was arrested by the familiar feminine voice coming from across the room. He turned.

She was leaning forward in her chair to peek around the counter. Her generous smile and brunette hair were unmistakable. Eb hadn’t seen her in years.

“Rachel!” He raised his Sunkist as if offering a toast.

Her raised eyebrows said, “surprise!” Her smile broadened.

“How you doin’?!” he added.

“I’m home!” she shrugged.

Eb strutted the few steps toward his old classmate. She stood, offered a friendly hug — a bit awkward for a guy with a soda in one hand and a Snickers in the other — and he eagerly conceded.

“So,” she self-consciously slapped her hands to her hips, “how’s life. Been a while, eh?”

Eb squirmed. Inside. “Yeah. Too long. Would you like a bite?”

Her eyes laughed. “No, you can have your, uh, candy bar.”

“Ready for them?” Eb pointed his soda to the front window. Across the street was a noisy brood of teenagers in a souped-up pink Cadillac convertible.

“Ready,” she answered. “School starts Monday. Back to school.”

“English teacher,” Eb observed. He rocked nervously on his heals.

“So, uh, when’d you get back in town?”

“Moved in yesterday. Just around the block; up on Elm and Third.”

Eb wadded his wrapper, took aim and shot a three pointer into the trashcan across the Laundromat.

Humming fluorescent lights and the thumping of the drier filled an uneasy quiet. The teenagers had gone.

“Well,” he interrupted the silence, “lets get together sometime. Get caught up on …”

“Okay.” Her whisper was so soft Eb could only read the word on her lips. There was a trace of gray in her hair; lines in her eyes that were so unfamiliar to the schoolgirl he had known. Somehow he found it attractive.

“So, you need a lift home?” he offered.

“No, I walked. It’s not that far. One girl. Two big heavy loads of laundry. But, hey, I can handle it alone.”

He turned to leave.

“Bye!” she offered that cutesy finger-wiggling wave that women do so well. Eb acknowledged with a jutted lower lip and thumbs up.

He clanged his way through the glass door and had gone as far the mail box by the malt shop.

“Duh!” he said aloud. One girl. Two loads of — two heavy loads of laundry. He turned to go back. He didn’t see Sheriff Henderson coming until the last moment; he instinctively stopped dead in his tracks. The policeman walked square into him.

“Offensive foul,” Eb smiled. “My feet were planted?”

The cop gave Eb a peculiar look. “Well, I know you don’t drink. You in love?”

Eb’s smile melted to a thoughtful frown. He continued to walk.

Clang. The door opened. Rachel turned her head.

“Forgot to toss my can,” he announced, lobbing his can clear across the laundry; another three pointer.

“Later,” he said, faking a play for the door. He then turned to look at Rachel.

“Say, Do you need some help? Uh, carrying one of your laundry baskets?”

Her sheepish grin, sparkling eyes and nodding head provided the answer.

• LUST FOR MISCHIEF
by Kenny Paul Clarkson


With a lust for mischief and an eye for accuracy, Orville slung a rubber band between his thumb and forefinger. He loaded his makeshift slingshot with a paper clip, stretched it to maximum length and took aim at the back of Mrs. Hester’s head.

The sounds of humming fluorescent lights and chalk screeching through a proper prepositional phrase accentuated the silence. All eyes were on Orville.

With a sinister grin and flick of the wrist, he released his missile and, within a split second, smacked the teacher’s puffy ’60s style hairdo dead center.

The sixth-grade class roared with laughter.

Fortunately for Mrs. Hester, her big hair cushioned the blow.

She literally didn’t know what hit her, and she didn’t know why the class was laughing, until … Orville reloaded and this time aimed lower.

The shriek he evoked was heard all the way to the principal’s office. Mrs. Fox, accustomed to pre-adolescent shenanigans, burst into the classroom.

Dismissing Mrs. Hester, the silver-haired principal demanded to know what happened and who did it. No one would leave the room until someone confessed.

Once again, all eyes were on Orville.

Mrs. Fox laid down the law. From that day forward rubber bands and paper clips would be considered contraband.

Their very possession would be cause for expulsion. They were prohibited.

There was nothing inherently wrong with rubber bands. Paper clips in the hands of trustworthy teenyboppers posed no cause for prohibition. It was Orville’s misuse of these items that led to their banishment. Liberty was lost due to the character flaw of one individual.

• SCANNERS [Round Hill Series]
by Kenny Paul Clarkson


Uneven slate sidewalks, dating back a hundred twenty years or more, rippled along the streets of Green Valley as they gave way to roots of burgeoning elms. Eb knew every crack and crevasse along their path. As a boy he loved the challenge of riding his Schwinn down this very walkway.

“Watch you step,” he warned as he and Rachel turned the corner; each toting a basket full of freshly folded laundry. “Hard to see at night,” he added.

Auntie Mame’s perfect flowers safely grew behind the protection of a short picket fence; or so she thought. A ground hog startled Rachel as it darted from night shadows, stomping one of Auntie’s prize petunias along the way. Rachel smiled.

The blue glow of Amos Green’s TV illuminated his picture window. Eb took a glance at the retired miner sitting there watching professional wrestlers toss each other across the screen. A bug-eyed boston terrier perked her head from Amos’ lap as Eb and Rachel passed by. Amos flipped his stogie and sipped what Eb supposed was glass of beer; maybe iced tea.

They walked on.

“Well, this is it,” Rachel announced as they approached her modest home. It was, in fact, the smallest house in Green Valley. Eb politely followed her up the wood steps and onto the porch.

In the dark, she rummaged through her purse in search of the key. Found it. And, with a nervous twitch managed to unlock the door. A swift kick opened it wide. Rachel turned to take the basket from Eb.

“Thanks.” There was a sparkle in her eyes.

“Any time,” he answered. He wasn’t sure what to say.

“Any time?” Rachel teased. She backed into her house, and began to close the door.

“Well you know. Within reason.”

“Say when,” she retorted, then stared at Eb.

He smiled, nodded his head and wondered how to say good night.

“Good night.” He kinda waved and took a clumsy step backwards.

Rachel forced a smile. “Any time,” she repeated, trying to sound polite.

Eb nodded again. “Oh! Uh, hey, whattaya doin’ tomorrow?”

“Band practice,” she answered. “Sorry.”

“Band practice?” Eb’s mind rushed back fourteen years; the last time he asked Rachel for a date. She couldn’t make it. Band practice.

“Just kidding. Tomorrow night would be fine. Just say when.”

“Seven.” Eb was surprised at the anxious tone of his own voice.

“Five,” Rachel answered.

“Six?” Eb compromised through a toothy smile.

“Okay, see you at six.” Again, she wiggled her fingers as a goodbye gesture and closed the door.

Eb skipped the first two steps to leap onto the walkway. He hadn’t felt like this since he was a teenager. There was a spring in his stride and he made his way back down Oak Street toward home.

“So, when ya’ll getting’ hitched?”

Eb looked up to see Amos Green standing at the edge of his porch; an unkept tuff of gray hair and beer belly wrapped in a holey undershirt. The Boston Terrier watched from the window.

“What?!” Eb was almost shouting. He was a bit indignant.

“Nice girl, that Rachel.” Amos called as Eb walked on.

“And you do make the sweetest couple!”

This time Eb stopped dead in his tracks. Auntie Mame was leaning out her second story window.

“Auntie,” Eb cried. “We just met.”

“Yes, dear, I know.”

Eb hated being called “dear.” But what could he say. Auntie was over eighty years old.

“Good night, Auntie!” He stomped on toward home.

Sheriff Henderson’s patrol car slowed as he drew along side Eb.

“Evenin’ Eb. Got an announcement to make?” The sheriff held up the microphone of his police radio.

“Night, Sheriff.” He stomped on. The sheriff smiled and drove away.

Eb wrestled the front door open and crashed on his sofa. “Nosey people,” he complained.

The phone rang. “Yeah, this is Eb.”

“Congratulations!” the voice on the phone was Bob, Eb’s best friend. Eb said nothing. He just sat there thinking. Bob lived on the other side of town. How did he know…

Then Eb remembered. It’s Friday. Everyone in Green Valley owns a police scanner and every Friday evening at nine o’clock sharp Sheriff Henderson broadcasts the news; unless Deputy Blake is on duty. She usually talks about her favorite recipes. The Sheriff had been following Eb and Rachel, reporting their every move to all of Green Valley.

Eb shook his head, smiled and said, “Later, Bob,” then hung up the phone. Then he went to bed.

• IS THERE NOT A CAUSE?
by Kenny Paul Clarkson


“Move.”

“I can’t,” David was serious. He couldn’t move. He was lean and spry, but nowhere near as strong as the king. The armor was simply too heavy; too awkward.

Weary eyes scolded the teenager as Eliab pealed the breastplate from his young brother’s torso. Nothing more needed to be said. But, of course, it was.

“A battlefield is a dangerous place for even the most seasoned soldier,” Eliab tugged at a belt on David’s waist. “You could get killed out here.”

“How was the cheese?” David’s grin and evasive answer evoked little more than a scowl from Eliab. He yanked a little harder. The belt pulled loose.

“I’m not kidding, David,” you have no idea what you’re getting into. The final plate fell from his legs, clanging on the floor of the king’s tent.

“You’ve no idea what I’ve been into,” he replied. The smile had vanished.

“See this?” he pulled a leather strap from beneath his sash. “I’ve used it to kill rabbits from a thousand paces.”

“That’s no rabbit.” King Saul pushed through the opening of his tent to glare at David. His brow was furled; he pointed toward the valley Elah.

“And bears,” David continued respectfully. “And a few lions.”

Saul looked at Eliab. “He kills rabbits at one thousand paces? Very accurate with that sling, I’d say. And he kills bears?”

Saul pealed back the tent’s flap to gaze across the valley at the giant of a figure pacing to and fro.

“Ever seen a bear that big, David?” he asked. “Ever kill one?”

“Not one,” David corrected. “Three.”

There was a moment of silence.

“He’s your brother,” the king offered.

“He’s your subject,” Eliab countered, clearly uncomfortable with the thought of his young brother being ravaged by the Philistine’s mightiest warrior.

Another moment of silence.

The wail of the giant could be heard, albeit faintly, echoing across the valley. His words were Hebrew at times, Gathic at times, but always uncomfortably familiar to ears of Israel’s finest warriors. Goliath’s mocking laugh was unbearable. Each curse offended. He warned of their fate.

David broke the silence. “Is there not a cause?”

He stepped between Eliab and the king and through the tent opening. Eliab followed, as did King Saul. They paused to watch the teen confidently press past a league of soldiers, his leather strap dangling by his side. Eliab offered a quiet prayer, then took a deep breath.

All eyes were on the young Israeli, waist high in weeds, stomping toward the brook at the foot of the knoll. Goliath ceased his pacing, placed his hands on his hips and stared curiously at David.

Kneeling at the brook, he selected five smooth stones, then looked into Goliath’s eyes. The giant bowed with laughter.

“What am I? A dog that you would send a boy to challenge me?”

David stepped toward the Philistine army. “No, he whispered. Not a dog. Just another bear.” He whirled his sling. Goliath's smirk was brief.

The thud of the stone could only be heard by the giant’s armor bearer. But the crimson red that flowed from his brow — and Goliath’s astonished expression — were unmistakable.

Like a towering timber cut at its roots, he fell forward, crashing to the ground. The Israeli soldiers stood breathless, but only for a moment. Running to the fallen giant’s side, young David retrieved his sword. Struggling to lift it high, the teen let it fall, lobbing the Philistine’s head and evoking a deafening cry of victory from King Saul’s army.

No one gave the command. It wasn’t needed. The Philistine’s fled. The Israeli’s pursued. And Eliab exhaled.

• FROSTBITTEN
by Kenny Paul Clarkson


The cold breath of winter was cause enough for Justin to pull his overcoat tight. He ducked his chin, waiting for the pedestrian light to beckon “walk.” One face in a crowd of strangers he neither knew nor hardly noticed, he stepped from the curb on signal and made his way down the high-rise canyon to the newsstand on the corner.

“They call it the windy city for a reason,” the vendor smiled as Justin dropped a dollar in his hand. He nodded an acknowledgment, tucked the Chicago Tribune under his arm and hailed a taxi.

“The Eagle’s Club,” he announced. The cabbie said nothing at first, just accelerated, swerving into traffic. Justin shook the newspaper open and glanced at the headline. Storm victims say future looks grim. He turned to the financials.

“Big business deal, huh?” the cabby’s voice was familiar. Justin turned a curious eye to the rearview mirror hoping to catch a glimpse of the man behind the wheel. Do I know this guy? he wondered. A smirk crossed his lips. Not in my circle. The thought smacked of arrogance.

“Whatever,” he replied. Justin was surprised he even acknowledged the driver’s question.

The driver considered the man behind the newspaper. A businessman, he supposed. He knew the type well. Successful, confident; domineering.

But publishing was a tough game and at forty-one years old, Justin was particularly proud of his position. From copywriter to chief-editor to publisher in twenty years; he owned a piece of the pie, a seven-figure income and life-style to be envied.

The cabbie hit the brakes. “Sorry,” he said. “Some kid on a bike.”

“Should’ve run over him,” Justin recomposed himself. A look of surprise; accusation, was in the mirror. “Just kidding,” he quipped.

There was also a photo dangling from mirror. The jilt caused it to sway, capturing Justin’s attention.

“Who’s that?” he wondered aloud.

The driver looked back to see Justin's nod toward the picture.

“Oh, that,” he answered. “That my son, Andrew. Andy. He’ll be a freshman this year at the community college in LaSalle County. Yep, that’s my boy.”

There was a pause. Then he asked, “You got any kids?”

Conversing with a cab driver was beneath Justin, but he was proud of his son. “Yeah,” he answered, “Got one in Harvard this year, another next year.”

He stared at the photo. Incredible, he thought, the similarity. “Looks like Brian,” he said aloud.

“Whazat?” the driver asked.

“Looks like Brian, my son,” he answered. “Your son looks a lot like my son.”

The cabbie smiled. “Eh, maybe they're cousins?”

Yeah, right.

The car turned hard onto a flagstone paved drive. Limousines and sports cars — awaiting valets to whisk them away — spewed exhaust along the club’s entry. Yellow and black checkers looked conspicuously out of place. A white-gloved attendant in a crisp uniform snapped to attention and promptly opened the cab’s door for Justin.

“Good evening, Sir,” he said.

“Evening,” he retorted.

Justin leaned in the car’s window to hand the driver a fifty.

“Keep the change,” he said. Charity is a good thing.

“Hey!” The cabby’s voice was startling. “I know you!”

Justin looked away, more annoyed than embarrassed.

“I don’t think so.” He turned and headed for the massive oak entry doors.

The cabbie leaned across the seat to yell out the window.

“You’re my twin brother, Justin!”

The winter chill lost its bite. The words of the cabbie were arresting. Justin turned on his heels. The toothy grin framed by yellow and black checkers was more than familiar, it was a mirror image.

“Hey! I haven’t seen you since we was five! Imagine that. You gotta give me a call sometime. 555-0789!”

Unconsciously, as if in shock, Justin pulled a pen from inside his jacket and scribbled the number on the front of a check.

“Just think, if I’d been adopted instead of you, my son would be heading to Harvard.” The driver smiled even broader, then squealed his tires down the drive.

“And you, Sir, would be driving a cab,” said the attendant.

Justin stood frozen, not by the cold of winter, but frostbitten by reality.

• WOULD PARCHMENTS FADE?
by Kenny Paul Clarkson


Home, it was, to the frail old man.

The absence of life’s most basic comforts didn’t bother him so much. If anything, it was the loneliness. Not one soul with whom to speak. No one to share a tear; a laugh. Just the wind, the occasional rain; the incessant roar of the sea beating upon the shore at the foot of the crag.

Feeble hands clinched an earthen cup and trembling lips sipped sustenance brewed on an open fire. A boulder was his chair. And his writing desk? A rickety old table. It served him well. Sheepskins — that was his bed — stitched together by loving hands of an unknown sister in a far away land. There were no other furnishings.

The cup aside, John grasped, again, his quill dipped in ink. The parchment would be filled with words. For whom? He didn’t know. And who would know? he wondered — if life’s final breath would leave him now — who would know? Would his lifeless form lay enshrined in an island cave for none to see? Would his parchments fade and wither in the merciless ravages of time?

Another glimpse at the cave’s gaping entry; the sky was surrendering its sapphire hew to the onset of twilight. A star appeared. Stiff hands reached to a simmering fire. A candle glowed. He placed it firm on his table. Eerie shadows danced with a passing breeze. Not the rushing mighty wind he had known years before, but The Wind nonetheless. John knew it well. He breathed deep. There was stirring in his soul. A compelling he had known in those days gone by; a clear, unmistakable direction that swelled from his inner most being — to write.

His eyes closed and the door was opened. The words were clear, clarion and determined. “Come up here.”

What words could tell?

Voices thundered from around the throne; lightening, as it were, and voices like he had never heard. How does one describe the seven spirits of an Almighty God?

A spectrum of color, like looking into an emerald, he thought, enshrouded the throne.

Clothed in white and crowned with gold were four and twenty men. And beasts with eyes before and behind cried aloud, “Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” The four and twenty fell prostrate, casting their crowns before the One who sat on the throne.

Could a jasper describe his eminence? A sardine stone?

“Who is worthy?” the angel's voice echoed through the heavens, but none would answer. “Who is worthy to open the book? To loosen the seals thereof?”

Silence fell. An eternity passed. Still none would answer; none was worthy to open the book, or look thereon.

“Weep not, John,” one elder said, “Behold the Lion of the Tribe of Judah! He has prevailed!”

Was this the one with whom he walked on earthen roads and heard in fields of lilies? “The water into wine,” he lips moved, his voice was never present. “The withered hand, the Blood stained crown, the stone; the hollowed side. Behold the Lamb of God!”

There is place in the sea, an island forsaken, where the trembling hand of a godly man once penned sacred words. From heaven’s throne to earth’s barren shore, he ponders, rejoices; he remembers.

Write, Brother John, so we will know.

“And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”

• BAPTIST BEER [Round Hill Series]
by Kenny Paul Clarkson


Rapping on the glass with the knuckle of his forefinger, the preacher captured Wilhelm’s attention. With a friendly smile typical of the retired physics professor, he motioned them into the garage.

Besides a rake and a large green plastic trashcan, the garage was mostly empty. The obvious exceptions were R.J. Rittenbaurer, who was strapping on an accordion, Ted Edmond, who was fiddling with buttons on his clarinet, and Archie Harris, plugging his bass guitar into an amp. In addition, there was some guy sitting behind a heretofore-silent set of drums. Neither Eb nor his twelve year old companion, Orville, recognized the drummer.

The neighbors are going to love this, Eb thought.

“So, got ya a little polka band going, huh?” he asked, noting the obvious.

“Not just any polka band,” Wilhelm beamed with a sparkle in his eye. “A gospel polka band.”

“No kidding?” the preacher blandly asked.

“Yep. Far as I know, the first gospel music polka band in the world. Right here in Round Hill.”

Aren’t we lucky? Orville thought of saying. He wisely chose to keep his opinion to himself.

“You know the famous polka song, ‘Roll Out the Barrel?” Blake asked. “Well, our version is ‘Read in the Bible.’ Same tune, different words. Ya wanna hear it?”

Before Eb could say a word, Wilhelm answered, “Why, sure he does. Let’s hit it, boys.”

Without further ado, the guy at the drums slapped his sticks together four times to set the tempo and off they went. Blake stepped up to a microphone and began singing, “Read in the Bible - all about David and then - read how he killed that - great big old giant of sin. Read in the Bible - you too will have victory… ”

They abruptly stopped.

“That’s as far as we got,” Wilhelm explained. “After we finish the words to the first verse, we’re gonna write two or three more.”

Eb clasped his hands behind his back. “Gospel music polka band. What a unique idea.”

“We’re thinkin’ of starting a Christian beer garden,” Blake volunteered. “A place where folks can come and enjoy good gospel polka music while dining on sausage links and sauerkraut.” That struck Orville as hilarious, but he managed not to laugh.

“Uhuh,” Wilhelm confirmed. “We’ll serve alcohol-free beer. I wanted to call it Baptist Beer, but these other guys thought it would offend Christians who aren’t Baptists. So we decided to call it Brethren Brew. It has an ecumenical flavor.”

“I think we oughta call it Christian Lite,” Blake said.

Eb smiled. “Very appropriate.”

“Well, ya know, Preacher,” Wilhelm waxed philosophical. “I think the only way we’re going to reach a lost and dying world with the glorious Gospel of Jesus, is to speak in a language the world understands. And a lot of folks out there love polka music.”

“By the way,” he added, “We’re looking for gigs. We’d be happy to perform some Sunday at your church.”

Eb tried to imagine.

Orville asked what they called the band. They hadn’t decided. Wilhelm had wanted to take each band member’s first initial and spell a word to be used as the band’s name, but all they could come up with was The Straw or The Warts. Someone suggested The Straw Warts because it sounded like “Star Wars.” That name was voted down four to one.

Orville suggested they name the band "Joe."

“Then,” he explained, “you can call it 'Band Joe.' Get it? Like banjo!”

Wilhelm wasn’t sure if that was a good idea, until Orville explained that an unusual yet catchy name would be remembered. Then, he added, “‘Joe’ could represent the words ‘Jesus over everything.’”

The group liked the idea. The name stuck. Band Joe. “The world’s first and finest gospel music polka band” would be printed on their business cards, they agreed.

• I WANNA BE A BUG
by Kenny Paul Clarkson


Enchanted by the very thought of growing older, young Martha often sat in the bay window watching Andy and Angie trot off to school. She would watch; she would wonder. The big kids, as she called them, enveloped the brother and sister and then, together, disappeared in a big yellow bus. Someday she would be one of the smiling faces riding down the road.

Raymond, the milkman, lugged a carton stocked with Mom’s milk up the walk and onto the porch. One quart, sometimes two, were placed in a silvery-gray box by the door. Martha enjoyed sipping milk in the afternoon with her mother. She watched as the man in the puffy white uniform climbed back in his truck, wrenched his gears and chugged away. Maybe someday I’ll be a milkman, she considered.

Her eyes widened at the sight of Sir Hun. Pouncing on all fours, the wrinkled faced bulldog walked with an attitude. Pity the poor squirrel that captured his attention. Sir Hun would bolt; the squirrel would scram and shimmy up the leafy oak, then scold the barking brute for disrupting its day. Martha would never go there, she decided. She didn’t want to be chased up a tree. And she certainly did not want to be a bulldog.

The birds captured her attention. She didn’t know why. She didn’t want to be a bird. She wanted to have a bird. She would sit for hours staring intently as they sang silly choruses then flitted away into the air. One would leave; another would come. Martha continued her vigil until the warm sun flushed the room with robust warmth. She lay silently on her side, precariously perched atop the sofa, and fell quietly to sleep.

There was a scurrying sound in the corner. Martha’s eyes opened wide, her little head snapped to attention. She crouched low, eyes silently fixed on the a small brown thing across the room. It wasn’t a bird; it was a mouse. And that she could have. Now!

She launched from her perch and darted across the floor. The little creature disappeared somewhere, somehow, into the wall. Martha stood silent; a living statue of flesh, blood and fur. She crouched again.

Just then her mother walked into the room, arching her yellow back as she rubbed against the rocker. Together, they stared at the opening in the wall. Nothing was moving. The mouse was gone.

Within moments both mother and daughter were together, stretched atop the sofa. Basking in rays of warmth, they comforted one another with laps of their tiny tongues.

“Someday you’ll leave this house to have a home of your own,” Martha’s mother purred. “You be a fine mouser.”

“But I don’t want to be a mouser,” Martha complained. “I want to be a child and ride the yellow bus; or drive a white and yellow truck, or bring letters and packages to peoples’ homes.”

Her mother smiled; an expression of simplicity acknowledged her daughter’s naiveté.

“You can’t be a child, or a milkman or a postman,” her voice was deep and her tone confident. “You can only be what you can be.”

“And what can I be?” Martha rolled on her back to stare at a spider weaving an unwanted web in the corner of the room.

“You can only be a cat because that is what your are designed to be.”

Martha turned her head, again, toward the window. It was the birds. She just couldn’t keep from watching; wanting to pounce. But she turned her head too far and fell off the sofa with a fur-softened thud.

Her mother nestled her head against her paw, yawned and closed her eyes. “Be happy being what you are, Martha; not what someone else is. Be what God designed you be.”

Martha stood quickly, her eyes wide open from the shock of the sudden drop. An encroaching cockroach sauntered from under the sofa, six amusing little legs scampered toward the kitchen.

“I wanna be a bug,” Martha purred.

• NIGHT VIGIL
by Kenny Paul Clarkson


A hearth ablaze, a comforter for a wrap and a rocker slowly wasting away the moments — they were a haven from the winter night’s chill. Abigail’s eyes were fixated on the fire. The crackle. The mindless dancing of flames. Flying embers chasing upward through a blackened chimney. She was entranced.

To nature’s hand, each window pain was a canvas to cover in patterns of frost and every sill a suitable bed for blankets of snow. Eerie sounds of howling winds wound themselves through acres of woods and whistled through cracks in the cabin’s door.

An unseen hand gripped the edge of the door and opened it ever so slowly; ever so quietly. Suspicious eyes cast a wary glimpse into the room. A red-caped, gaunty frame slithered stealthfully in from the cold.

Such innocent prey. So easy, he thought, nudging the door, then silently affixing the latch. Abigail heard nothing as padded feet took measured steps approaching from behind. But the odor was unfamiliar, and that caused her to turn.

Her eyes were filled with the frothy figure draped in red. Her vision was dim, near blind in fact, but the cape was unmistakable. “You’ve come,” she said, a delight in her voice. “And in this storm? Oh, you shouldn’t have.”

An evil grin graced the countenance of the beast. His scheme was working as planned.

Bent and broken, Abigail grasped her cane and slowly rose to her feet. She looked at the wolf, squinted her tired eyes, then offered an assuring nod. “Yes, ‘tis stormy tonight.”

“Would you light that, dear,” she pointed the creature to a candle perched atop the mantel. He obliged, amazed at his own cunning.

Her feeble feet followed her cane, step by steady step toward the window. She took candle held it high, then leaned close for a better look.

“My, how you’ve changed,” she bent even closer. “I think your teeth have gotten larger! Yes, you are growing, my child.”

The wolf’s eyes brightened. Teeth to sink into your tender flesh, he thought.

“And your eyes,” she raised the candle again. “I think they too have changed.”

The wolf laughed inside; his wicked smile hidden to Abigail’s blindness.

Her flattering words amused the evil one. He could devour her in a moment, but so delighted, he was, in his own pride that he cared, instead, to engross himself in his clever ploy. Again and again the candle would raise and the candle would lower. The wolf was none the wiser.


The crash at the door startled the beast. He turned to see. The cold night air rushed through the gaping entry, framing the image of a tall and strapping neighbor. The woodsman’s eyes were perfectly whole and burned with rage. No words were spoken. He leveled his rifle as Abigail slipped aside. He took steady aim the heart of the thing. The laughter had gone; the smile driven by fear.

There was a blast. The wolf fell lifeless in a pool of blood. The woodman looked at Abigail. “I saw your signal in the window,” he said.

But she didn’t answer. She bowed to touch the bright red cape, now stained with blood. Tear filled eyes beckoned to her neighbor. No words needed to be said. He, too, recognized the wrap.

He bolted for the door and ran, as he could, through drifting snow, following the path of the predator. How far had he come? He didn’t know, but he would run as far and as fast as he could until he found the little girl.

Around the bend, upon a crag, a white dress could be seen. It was she, he knew. His heart raced and his brow furled as the woodsman imagined the worst. The still frame of tiny girl lay silent in the snow. He reached down, then pulled her close to the warmth of his chest; draping her in his own coat. There was no sound. He began to weep. But a whispered cry and a blink of the eyes turned his cry into joy.

Powerful arms embraced her as he trudged back towards the little cabin in the woods. Once there, he laid the slumbering Riding Hood in the lap of her grandmother. She, too, cried with joy.

The devourer comes. He never knocks. He’s clothed but to deceive. Just a simple prayer and a confident faith, brings the Savior to free the soul.

• AWAKENING
by Kenny Paul Clarkson

.
There was a jilt.

Jan instinctively grabbed his drink but let the peanuts fall. There was nothing to see outside but a flashing red light on the end of the wing — and the occasional burst of lightening.

Strange, he thought, seeing lightening glow in the clouds below.

He crossed his feet, rested his head and closed his eyes. Tight.

A toddler was crying in the back of the plane. A man across the aisle complained. That bothered Jan. Doesn’t that guy remember being a kid? The thought angered him, but his stoic expression revealed nothing.

Another jolt.

This time his drink dumped on his lap. A tiny napkin, replete with the airline logo printed neatly on the corner, dabbed his trousers. It wasn’t that much; no big deal, he thought.

The plane careened downward; the lights blinked off, then on. A murmur rumbled through the cabin. Jan cast a glance at the poker-faced stewardess buckled in the front seat. There was no sign of concern. She was trained well, he thought. He laid his head back again. The plane corrected itself.

"You know, they really need to fix these pot holes." Jan opened his eyes to see a fifty-something-year-old passenger smiling in the seat to his right.

"Yes they do," he returned her smile.

The guy across the aisle — an extraordinarily large man in an oversized blue shirt — offered his opinion. Jan pitied the passenger to the man’s left.

The airliner lifted again; dropped. It shuddered relentlessly through the night sky. At least three other little ones added their voices to a chorus of whining and crying. Jan cast another glimpse at the wing, wondering what held it aloft at 33,000 feet. 60 degrees below zero up here, he thought. He couldn’t help but consider the worst. What would it be like …

"I’m heading home to see my grandchildren," she smiled again, undaunted by the raging weather front. "You have any children?"

"Three." He nodded. Their faces emerged in his mind. Angela, Katie and the Bear.

"I bet they’re cute." She was still smiling.

"Yeah," he turned his head to show her his compassionate grin. "They look like their mom."

Lydia was thirty-three now. They had been married thirteen years. Hard to believe.

The plane dove. Straight down, it seemed. Jan’s body was forced hard against his seat. The fuselage tumbled helplessly; caught in the merciless grip of nature’s wrath. He tightly grasped the armrests, clinching the hand of the woman to his right. One last glimpse of the stewardess; her head bowed, eyes closed; her face tense with fear. The lights went out. The blackness was permeated with the haunting sound of two hundred human voices crying out from the pain of terror. It was deafening.

His breath left him; torn from his being by the sheer thrust of the downward spiral; by fear itself. Memories escaped their hiding places deep in the recesses of his mind. The images raced before him; his childhood, the wedding, his first car, Angela’s first steps, Katie’s violin, the Bear dressed for football, Lydia on the porch swing. Her face. Her smile. He began to cry.

Two minutes to eternity.

The big man in the blue shirt had bullied his way to the luggage rack. Most were quietly talking to loved ones. Some were crying; others simply hugging. Jan politely pushed through the crowd, dodging a uniformed man toting a cart laden with suitcases. Paramedics were counseling an elderly woman in a wheel chair. The routine chaos of the terminal was muffled by the sound of the intercom announcing a flight delay. Jan pressed toward the exit where glass doors surrendered as he approached.

He took a deep breath, impervious to drizzle-soaked taxis jockeying for position. Shuttles and limos darted around pedestrians and a cop kept vigil as passengers hurried along under the canopy.

He flipped his cell phone and punched the speed dial with his thumb.

Three rings seemed like an eternity.

"Hey." He fought back a tear with the blink of his eyes, relishing the sound of Lydia’s voice.

"Hey," he finally answered. "Just wanted you to know I made it."

The silence on the phone said, "So what?" In ten years of business travel, Jan had never called upon arrival.

"Ok." Lydia’s voice betrayed a tone of worrisome inquiry.

"So how are the kids?" he asked.

Another moment of silence.

"Fine."

"Let me talk to them," he hugged the phone close.

"Which one?" she asked.

"All of ‘em."

• EMINENT DOMAIN
by Kenny Paul Clarkson

.
There were the dreams, of course — and the memories. A dusty haze permeated the Victorian house; shallow strokes of sunshine seemed unwelcome through drawn shades and lace curtains. There was a cluttered feeling about the house; though everything was neatly in place — Agatha saw to that — a show place of antiques of oak and maple that few seldom saw.

She sat in her ornate rocker, frail white hands lay on a fat, lazy cat. One hand stroked it gently. Her dress was long and proper, neatly trim to her neck where a cameo spoke of a century gone by.

Times were changing, they said. She paid little mind. Life had already changed enough for her. It wasn’t over; just mostly in the past. Photographs of unsmiling faces stared tirelessly from their places on the mantle; a few were on the walls. The chime of the grandfather clock noted is was half past three with a single, smug gong. She didn’t move; she hardly noticed.

The chug-a-lug of a machine rumbled down the brick paved avenue. It was an unusual sound to Aggie; even a bit unnerving. Decent folks flitting about in dirty gasoline-driven carriages? They’ll never catch on, no doubt about that, she decided.

Electricity. Motorcars. Telephones. Some said they had seen pictures that could move; had seen them at the fair. She didn’t believe them. The world was going mad. It was insane.

The rap at the door caused Tobby to raise his furry head and cast an inquiring eye at the massive oaken door. Agatha inhaled deeply. She didn’t want to be disturbed. She never did.

The knock came again. Louder. The image of man in a buttoned- down suit bending over to peek in the front window appeared. She didn’t notice because she didn’t move. There was silence, then the rapping sound.

“Get up, Tab,” her voice quivered. The cat leapt from her lap the stood hunch back and confused on the fine Persian rug. Agatha pulled her cane close and stood, ever so slowly, then looked at the door.

There was another knock.

“Mrs. Holderstmith,” a male voice inquired. “Are you home?”

Step by measured step she made her way toward the voice. A fumbling hand grasped the knob, turned hard to the right and pulled the door open enough to see and hear, but no more.

“Mrs. Holdersmith,” he said, “my name is Richard Daniels. I’m from the city. May I come in?”

“What do you want!?” her voice was weak, but defiant.

“I’d like to talk to you about the new store they’re building, Mrs. Holdersmith. It’s very important that I speak with you.”

She stared into the eyes of a husky man with a bushy mustache and a proper hat. His suite was stylish, but needed to be pressed, she decided.

“Why do you need to talk to me about a store?” she all but mumbled. Only curiosity kept her from shoving the door back to its latch.

“It’s very important that I talk to you, Ma’am.”

She, then, tried to push the door closed, and would have, but the man had the presence of mind to place his foot on the threshold. He was experienced at such visits and was prepared for the worst.

“May I speak with you?” his eyes were determined.

“No! You may move your foot, if you please.”

“I need to speak with you,” he insisted.

“About a store? I don’t care about a store. Now go your way before I call the police.”

“They’re going to raze your home,” the man said, knowing she had no phone to call anyone, let alone the police. “It’s going to be torn down to make room for the new store.”

“No,” her voice was weak and tiring. “No one is going to tear down this house. My husband built this house sixty long years ago. It belongs to me and I will not have it detroyed. Good day, sir.”

“Sorry, Mrs. Holdersmith,” he feigned a tone of compassion. “I have orders to serve you with an eviction notice. You’re going to have to move.”

“Why didn’t someone tell me about this?” her voice gathered strength as she spoke. “You can’t just shew an old woman out of her house!”

Daniels placed an envelope through the door. Agatha stared at it.

“We sent you letters by mail requesting your response,” he said. “Many of them.”

Agatha took the envelope and held it like one would hold a burning ember.

“Go away,” she said. And he did.

There is a store at the corner of Elm and Fifth Streets. And there is a stone in the cemetery marking the grave of an old woman who cared for nothing in life but to be left alone.

• THE MAN IN THE BIG BROWN HAT
by Kenny Paul Clarkson

.
Strange eyes pierced the smoke filled room. Alice challenged his stare with one of her own, then winked. She didn’t smile. He looked away.

Some honky-tonk tune played on the jukebox. Quietly. Another patron sat at a table near the wall, cupping a drink; his eyes gazing into his own thoughts

“We close at three on Sunday morning,” she added. The stranger said nothing. “State law, ya’ know. Can’t serve liquor after three.” She paused. “It’s quarter ‘til.”

Alice finished mopping the bar with her terry cloth; then headed his direction.

“So what’ll ya have, Stranger?” She dislodged the pencil from behind her ear and held it to her pad.

“Coffee.” His distant tone was familiar to Alice.

“Black?” she asked, poking the pencil back in place.

The man looked at the barmaid; his eyes hollow; distant. Alice impatiently tapped her toe awaiting an answer.

“Yeah, black coffee. That’s all I want. Just coffee.”

“Ok, coffee it is.” She spun on her heel and trotted back to the bar. No tip from this guy, she thought.

“Hey, Mack,” she called. “You got any money?”

A gloved hand reached in a tattered, dirty over coat and retrieved some change; a dime and a quarter. He held his hand open on the table.

He inhaled the aroma of fresh brewed coffee as Alice returned. It was pleasing.

“That all you got?” she asked. “Coffee cost a dollar twenty-five, ya know. But ya get free refills. For a while.”

Embarrassment frowned from beneath the ruffled beard. One hand reached beneath his big brown hat, his fingers combing strands of disheveled hair.

“That’s all right, Mack,” she said. “So where you gonna stay tonight?”

Black coffee filled a porcelain cup.

“Dunno,” he whispered.

“Tell ya what,” she stopped chewing her gum. “There’s a room in back. You’ll just have to be out before nine tomorra.”

Their eyes met. “Ok?” She asked.

“Ok.”

Three o’clock came. Alice flicked off the Budweiser sign. The guy by the wall instinctively stood and shuffled toward the door.

“Time to go, Mack. Ya wanna see the room?” She grabbed her purse, clinching a key chain.

On his way to the door, the patron stopped briefly by the stranger’s side. He dropped a dollar on the table, but said nothing; just offered a sympathetic pat on the back.

The widow’s mite, the stranger thought. His eyes followed the donor to the door and watched as he pulled his coat tight and ducked his head into the night air.

“No," he answered. “I’ll be ok.”

Alice was surprised at the clarity of his voice. And the five-dollar tip.

Sunday morning dawned at First Baptist Church. Tolling bells scattered pigeons into a warm breeze. Shiny cars pulled into the lot. Well-dressed men smiled greetings and offered firm handshakes. Women chattered amongst themselves and a host of Bible toting children darted to their classes.

The pastor stood at the door, his warm words and friendly smile welcomed churchgoers as they filed into the vestibule.

None noticed the man sitting in the grass, leaning against the mighty oak. His tattered coat and big brown hat seemed out of place as the sun seasoned the atmosphere with the glow of spring.

None, that is, except one deacon. While the sounds of "Bring the Wandering Ones to Jesus" permeated the air, the deacon dialed 911.

Momentarily a cruiser pulled to the curb. The deacon offered a smug smile of satisfaction.

The officer sauntered around his car until he towered over the stranger sitting in the grass.

“You got ID, Bud?” he demanded.

The stranger was ready. He handed the cop his driver’s license, replete with a photo a smiling face, shaved; well groomed.

“Well, Mr., uh, Simpston,” the officer said, “seems you’re trespassing. You’ll have to leave. Now. Or I’ll haul you in for vagrancy.”

The man stood to his feet and smiled broadly.

“Oh, no,” he said, “I’m not trespassing. I’m an evangelist.”

The officer cocked his head and replied with a curious expression.

“Itinerate preacher,” the man explained. “This church scheduled me to preach a week-long revival.”

He dropped his coat to the ground. The officer was surprised to see a pressed three-piece suit. The evangelist pulled a silk tie from his right pocket while handing the officer his big brown hat.

“My sermon starts in a few minutes,” he added. “Would you care to come in? I guarantee. What I have to say will be very interesting.”

• PRECIOUS MEMORIES
by Kenny Paul Clarkson

.
Silence reigns. No words are spoken.

These are sacred moments. Broken hearts fail to search for words but speak, instead, through tender tears and muted tones; each tear a solemn testimony of love and every sigh a precious memory.

Look, if you will, at the Nebraska countryside. Feel the breeze and see wind swept fields of grain surrender in billowing waves.

Time stands still, but for the moment.

There is a schoolhouse standing there at the bend in the road. Its windows gone; absent shingles and grayed clapboard speak of other times long ago. A chalkboard still bears remnant words, though faded, scrawled by small hands of the past. And listen, if you will, to resonate sounds echoing from years gone by; hear her chanting childhood songs in the playground; repeating verbs at the stern bequest of the school marm. The pig tails, the ink well; the bully who went one step too far. A raven rests on the bell tower, and your mind awakens to the present. She is no longer there.

There is a barn down the road; majestic is its very presence in the afternoon sun. A fiddle plays. You can hear it if you try. A washtub adds rhythm to banjos and strumming guitars. Laughter fills the air and lanterns cast shadows of merrymakers dancing, twirling in the cool autumn evening. There is cider aplenty. Again, she is there. Pigtails have fallen to flowing brown hair and the freckled face girl has blossomed. A mighty oak defies the glow of yellow harvest moon with darkened shadows spread across an open field. She leans against the tree where Artimus Brown steels a kiss on the sly. No one sees, beyond the eyes of your mind.

You look again at the polished white stone standing nearby; its finely etched words bear memory of Papa Brown. Another white stone will soon be placed by its side.

Beyond the barn is a white house; a windmill twirls and a pick-up truck graces a graveled drive. The tractor is in the barn and a baby is in the arms of a young mother. More will come and share roasted turkey, black-eyed peas, Christmas gifts and birthdays. Strong hands turn to dab at tears and offer care to bruised knees. The voices change. The children grow and a house once warmed by hugs and heartaches is now hallowed by precious memories. And upon its walls and mantles a thousand photos cling to their special places. They are remnants of those precious memories that cling the hearts of loved ones.

The preacher opens a book. "Ashes to ashes." The words are heard, but no one really listens.

So that is life. Seems sully, even insignificant. Is that all there is?

One final rose is laid. Such a shallow token; a poor exchange for memories. But it was the love, you know, that made it worth the while.

And where are you?

Somewhere between the schoolhouse and a white etched stone we live our lives, even today, creating precious memories for those we love.

• IN CAMDEN'S CAVE
by Kenny Paul Clarkson


Donavan never took the dare. Good thing, one would suppose, considering his long legs and towering frame. But there were those who did. Sorry? Some were; some were not. But all remember the day in 1841 when Don and his friends took the plunge and found their fate in depth of Camden’s Cave.


It lies somewhere near Mystic, Connecticut. Poor Donavan, lanky youth that he was, had been left atop to call for aid should some unforeseen mishap occur. “If we ain’t back in two hours or so,” Raspin told him, “you go runnin’ for help.”

With those few words, four youths disappeared in the bowels of God’s green earth and Donavan took a seat on a rock for a long wait. It wasn’t more that a hole in the ground from where Donovan sat but rumor was the cave opened to a massive cavern of cathedral proportions. Somewhere down there, they said, was stowed the treasures from a British scooner, hidden from the Yanks back in 1812; fortune enough for a thousand men.

“I ain’t goin’,” Donavan told them. “Don’t wanna get stuck down there.”

“Have it your way,” Henry warned. “But who goes keeps the gold.”

Donavan agreed. There wasn’t enough gold in all Connecticut worth risking one’s life for, he decided. And so he sat gazing from the rim of the hill toward the open Atlantic.

It was so dark you could feel the black, said Henry, once they’d gone a few hundred yards. Latterns and a good stock of coal oil kept the dark away until Tanner decided to douse it just to see what it was like. That set the other three to howling. It took Raspin nearly half an hour to get enough spark to set the flame again. It was damp in that cave.

It was Camden's cave, he decided, figuring he had discovered it. “And if you help me find the Brits’ gold,” he promised, “I’ll give you all a half to share in thirds.” To that they agreed.

Watching the ships sail on the open sea was a past time Donavan cherished. He’d often make his way to the docks and watch half-drunken sailors tote barrels and wooden crates off the vessels, then load them up again with more cargo bound for some unknown destination.

Four bug-eyed boys had stumbled through a quarter mile of granite and sandstone. It was a sight to behold, they said. Like nothing they’d ever seen before.

With that they plodded on, holding lanterns high and dreaming of fortunes. Camden wanted a horse farm that would be the envy of the nation. Raspin figured he’d move westward and find a nice girl to marry, maybe buy a farm and raise corn and such. The other two told of similar plans. Henry wanted to give his momma enough money to quit her work as a seamstress and Tanner wanted to start a school for the Indians in the Ohio Valley.

It was forty years that passed before the boys met again. Camden hadn’t far to travel, he never moved away from Mystic. Found himself a job as a lawyer in town and wound up serving a mayor. Raspin found a nice girl to marry and had twelve kids to prove it. He moved westward, but no farther than Bridgeport. Folks there had a need for good footwear and his shop at the corner of Fifth and Main kept many in fine shoes for years. Henry loved his farm and Tanner got his school in Ohio, but it wasn’t funded by the gold in Camden’s Cave.

There was no gold buried behind some moldy bolder deep in the hills of Connecticut. But there was treasure in the hearts and souls of five young men who dared to dream and cared to find their ways in life to get that for which they yearned. Most of all was Donavan whose love for ships and commerce led him to build a business bringing goods to the likes of Camden, Rapsin, Henry and Tanner.

And there they were; in their fifties now, grateful for the dreams of gold they found on that sunny day in 1841.

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