First Class

first-classRachel watched as raindrops trickled down the pane of glass. The left one took a shortcut, veered to the right, and raced to the finish line at the bottom. These were the games of a bored six year old.

The temperature had spiked unexpectedly. The pristine blanket of snow that began falling on Christmas Eve was being slowly eroded by gloomy showers in the area. When the rain subsided to barely a drizzle, Rachel’s begging to play outside was met with little resistance.

She imagined herself as a frog, hopping between puddles, towards the safety of the next lily pad in search of prince charming. She always found the silver lining in everything. Everyone else saw the rain as a nuisance. Rachel playfully bounced through it. When she came to that coveted spot in the front yard, her cheerful smile transformed into an anxious furrow on her brow.

On the ground, in the same mound that she remembered depositing it a few nights ago, was the oatmeal. Rachel remembered Grandma telling her the reindeer liked it that way. It was easier to eat when it was in a pile. She scooped up the soggy flakes and scampered into the house.

“Mommy!” She screamed with dismay.

“What is it dear, what’s wrong?” Her panic subsided as she saw her daughter’s hands.

“Mommy, the reindeer must be sick. They didn’t eat anything at all.” Rachel held out her hand as pieces began to slip through her fingertips and fall to the floor.

“I’m sure they’re okay, honey. The neighbors must’ve put out extra this year. They were probably just full when they got to our house.”

“How do you know? They always eat. We should send them more, just in case.”

“Okay, sweetheart. Let’s do that.”

Grandma also said that oatmeal had magic powers that only reindeer could extract. In the right amounts, those oats would give them sustenance to last the entire time between their annual December journey.

Rachel’s mom pulled down the box of oats. Rachel retrieved the measuring cup. One quarter cup for each reindeer. An extra quarter cup for Cupid because he was Rachel’s favorite. They wrapped it up, and addressed it to the North Pole.

“Hurry mommy, he’s here!” Rachel ran outside.

Trotting behind her, Rachel’s mom called out, “Excuse me, we have a package.”

The mailman grimaced as the pestering rain dripped from the brim of his cap.

“Reserve oats. For the reindeer,” Rachel’s mom offered with a grin.

Upon inspecting the recipient’s address, the mailman promptly pulled the stamp from his pocket and branded the package with the words ‘First Class’. A proud smile appeared on Rachel’s face.

The two adults in Rachel’s presence couldn’t help but smile too. The drizzling rain caused both of them to blink. She found it odd that they blinked with only one eye, but Rachel was just happy to help those reindeer when they needed it most. Little did Rachel know that she was helping those adults even more.

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Silent Knight

silent-knightThomas lifted the hammer into position. He used all his concentration and skill to strike the glowing metal in the precise location. The yellow-orange shower of sparks sprayed in a circular pattern, some of them traveling back in the direction of his exposed skin. It was a minor sacrifice to endure for the sake of the village.

His father was ruler. The small town was nestled among the hills, midway between the forest and stream. Thomas knew he’d never be ruler. That lofty distinction was reserved for his older brother. Thomas still took great pride in his work as one of the village blacksmiths.

A conflict was brewing with the neighboring village on the far side of the forest. Recently, tensions had been running high over the unjust bartering agreements of the last several fortnights. It was always the same. Three bundles of wheat in exchange for two sacks of wool.

Somewhere along the way, greed began to infiltrate this covenant. Three bundles of wheat became two, and the sack of wool was packed less densely in return. When the trio of pigs disappeared from the neighboring village, however, it was an act of aggression that couldn’t be overlooked. A militant confrontation was forthcoming.

The men of the village gathered ammunition. The woman prepared meals. The elder leaders took asylum to strategize. Even though Thomas’ father was aging quite well, he was in no position to be on the battlefront. Thomas, however, knew his father’s stubbornness quite well. His father would be leading his village gallantly into a battle that was senseless, but nonetheless necessary.

That’s why Thomas remained tucked away in the dirty shop behind the house. The periodic clang of metal complemented the commotion around him. This was a time to prove his worth, if not to the village, at least to himself. The leaders congregated in the village circle, dispersing rations and distributing weapons to each of the warriors now prepared for battle.

As the battalion set forth on their journey, Thomas remained inside to finish his work. As the sun began to set over the horizon, he emerged from the shop and walked through the door into the kitchen. Seated at the table with her hands wrapped tightly around each other was his mother, trying to keep herself together.

His father’s stubbornness may have been courageous to the village folk, but it was also detrimental to his family. Thomas handed his mother the ornately crafted trivet. He knew that baking was her way to cope with anxiety. Thomas wasn’t the village blacksmith chosen to craft weaponry, but that never bothered Thomas. He knew his place and did whatever he could with the opportunities presented to him.

His mother had dozens of trivets lined up on the shelf above her stove. She probably didn’t need another one. The feeble grin curling at the corner of his mother’s mouth and the tight embrace that followed let Thomas know that perhaps this was exactly what both of them needed.

Secret Rendezvous

secret-rendezvousReilly had become a little too laissez faire with his correspondence concerning the matter he was trying to keep secret. He used to wipe the history clean from his phone after every message. It was getting too laborious to keep up with it. Besides, Kelli was never the techie type anyway. She could barely navigate the internet, let alone dig through his message log.

“Aren’t you going to check that?” asked Kelli from across the table. They were enjoying a meal at their favorite restaurant in the uptown district. Everything had been perfect up to this point in the evening. A few glasses of merlot, an oak grilled bacon wrapped filet, and a succulent pair of lobster tails shared between the two of them.

Reilly distinctly remembered his instructions not to call or text him at this hour. It was too risky. “Nah, it’s probably just someone phishing for me to come back into the office.”

As the lead prosecutor on the team of lawyers at the firm, Reilly was often called in for advice on lesser cases, but he knew that wasn’t the case this time around. The double chime originating from the phone in his left pocket was different from the single ding for all other senders.  Reilly knew it was her.

The signature chime beckoned again from his pocket. “Excuse me, honey.” Reilly stood up and retreated to the lobby of the restaurant and checked his phone. The message read “Meet me tomorrow, usual spot and time.” The second message had read, “Actually, an hour earlier this time.”

Reilly punched at the keys with aggravation, “Don’t text me anymore tonight. She will pick up on it eventually. Will see you tomorrow.” In haste, Reilly pressed the send button to quell any hint of suspicion from Kelli in his absence. To be safe, he deleted the message thread before quickly returning to his seat.

The message that arrived on Kelli’s phone before Reilly returned was unexpected to say the least. The message itself was disturbing, even more so when she realized the sender was her boyfriend, from the lobby.

As Reilly arrived back at the table, Kelli kept her cool. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, just as I thought. Someone from work. The nerve of people, right? On our one date night each month.” Reilly seemed irritable over the disruption. Kelli thought that perhaps he was unsettled for the wrong reason.

The next day, Kelli feigned sleep before sneaking out to tail Reilly on his route to work. If he was cheating on her, she would catch him red-handed. She had no reason to doubt him, but that message, it was damning.

Kelli watched from across the parking lot as Reilly rapped his knuckles on the door of room 312, peering left and right down the corridor with a suspicious look on his face. The brunette who answered the door let him inside. It wasn’t even three minutes before Reilly emerged from the room, got in his car, and drove away.

Kelli peeled across the road, came to a screeching halt in front of the hotel, and waited. When the brunette emerged, attaché in hand, Kelli confronted her.

“Who the hell do you think you are?”

“Do I know you? I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong person.”

“No, I’m pretty sure I don’t since my boyfriend just walked out of this room. You obviously know he’s already committed, or so I thought, based on the messages you two have been sending each other.”

The woman sighed with remorse as she realized their little secret was out of the bag. “You don’t understand, I …”

“I understand perfectly well, you promiscuous bitch. I should level you right here, right now, before I go give that deceitful excuse for a man a little piece of my mind.”

“You’d better think twice before doing anything else.” The woman reached into her attaché and withdrew her business card. “Here,” she sighed as she handed it over to Kelli. “My name is Gina Stewart. I was hired by your husband, yes. I flew in from the other coast because he heard I was the best. To custom design your engagement ring. It was supposed to be a secret.”

“I’m sorry, I mean, I didn’t mean to …” Kelli stuttered, looking for words that would help her backtrack, to rescind the occurrence of the previous two minutes. There were no words to excuse or conceal her jealous rage.

“Don’t worry,” Gina said. “Just know that you have a good man. There aren’t many guys who would go through as much as he has. Reilly obviously thinks the world of you.”

Kelli couldn’t help but feel the guilty weight pressing down upon her shoulders. The surprise that was forthcoming from her future fiancée was replaced by surprise at her own indignant temper.

She bit the inside of her cheek, looking for the courage to ask the unthinkable. “Please. Don’t …”

“I won’t say anything,” smirked Gina. “If your future husband is entitled to a secret, I suppose you are too. This little one will be ours.”

Perfect game

perfect-gameJayson was on the verge of an epic accomplishment. His team had overcome enormous odds. The shelves of the trophy cabinet outside the principal’s office were collecting dust. Now, the Titans were an out away from a state championship and that coveted first trophy.

Jayson toed the rubber. He shouldn’t have been pitching this game. He was a reliever, responsible for filling innings when their team was woefully behind. He had become a regular contributor, before this improbable season. With their ace pitcher twisting an ankle just minutes before the first pitch, Jayson was given the impromptu start.

It was agonizing. Each inning, Jayson had thrown up a seemingly endless supply of donuts. No runs, no hits, nothing. How long could his mediocre pitcher defy the odds? Everyone could sense the coach’s thoughts. He kept doubling down, and that’s how Jayson arrived at a different form of the baker’s dozen, twice over, twenty-six consecutive outs.

The single blemish was the batter he just pelted. Up by one run, a single out would earn Jayson a championship and a no-hitter, a holy grail for pitchers at any level.

Jayson saw Chloe in the bleachers. He’d always been smitten with her, but she was out of his league. He knew she’d come to watch Troy smack homers. Everyone did. Focus. Jayson exhaled before beginning his windup.

It took under a second for Jayson’s pitch to reach home plate, and even shorter to realize the consequences of his concentration lapse, the bat launching his offering over the fence. A perfect game had already eluded Jayson. Gone now was the no-hitter and the championship.

Jayson looked around, convincing himself this wasn’t real, that he hadn’t made that fateful pitch. The opposing team hoisting the trophy reaffirmed the reality of his nightmare. Chloe was walking towards the dugout, probably to console Troy. Jayson could see her make a mark on the dugout pole before strolling out to him still on the mound.

“Hey.” Smiling with empathy, Chloe leaned over and pecked Jayson on the cheek.

Spinning in an emotional maelstrom, Jayson was unable to grasp anything, so he returned to the last thing he remembered. “What did you do? On that post?”

Chloe blushed. “I made a mark, for every game I’ve come to watch you.”

“Me? I thought …” Honestly, Jayson wasn’t sure what he thought.

“I was waiting to see how long it would take for you to ask me out. I decided next season is too far away. How about some pizza?”

She stood on her tiptoes, removed Jayson’s cap, and slipped her ponytail through it as she nestled it on her head. With fingers intertwined, Chloe led them to a quiet table away from the celebration, two slices of pizza creating a small slice of heaven.

Numbers don’t lie. Jayson had lost his chance at baseball perfection. The once in a lifetime opportunity sitting across from him right now, however, reminded him this particular game couldn’t have ended any more perfectly.

Connection

ocean-connectionNestling his toes into the sand, Adam allowed the surf to encroach upon his space. The ebb and flow of the water was therapeutic despite its chilly temperature. He always came here when he needed time to think.

Adam had dedicated everything to Rachel and their relationship. And now, two days before their five year anniversary, she ended it most callously through a text message. She had decided to move in a new direction. In other words, I found someone new.

Adam was what most would consider a social outcast, holed up in his apartment paying more attention to his laptop screen than the world around him. When Rachel entered his life, everything changed. A new world had opened up that changed something at Adam’s core. Now, he felt like receding back into that sheltered corner of his mind where vulnerability and risk could be kept at a safe distance.

The morphing color from the setting sun, apricot to crimson, reminded Adam of a childhood memory. While the red balloon was inflated with helium, Adam finished scrawling his message on the paper. He allowed his imagination to wander. The belief that this vessel could travel across the ocean to some foreign land was a manifestation of the energetic hopefulness of youth. His balloon never made it far, but that never stopped him from believing in something more.

Lifting a handful of sand, Adam allowed it to trickle between his fingers. Where has the time gone? The thought came from his rational mind, but was quickly accompanied by a rumination from his emotional mind. Where has the hope gone? He wanted a return to his youthful dreams. The reality of adulthood was getting in his way.

As the water crested over into a wave that Adam would never forget, the surf enveloped him with its comforting arms. The bottle that washed up with this wave began to recede back into the ocean. Instinctively, Adam grabbed it. The top was corked with something inside.

The Asahi beer label had been peeled off and placed inside with a small heart-shaped pebble. Adam smiled, remembering that Asahi meant morning sun. Through the promise of a new day, a spark was ignited allowing Adam to recapture the boundless hope of his younger days.

On a similar stretch of sand, a continent away, a young woman sits, watching the sun peek above the horizon. The hope of something more had vacated her life too. She hoped that dropping that bottle in the surf, watching it be carried away, would bring her some solace. She had visited this shore countless days, for months, anticipating some sign from afar. The sunlight that filtered through the clouds and passed into her eyes on this day seemed to carry with it something more, the smile of another. The smile on her face spread wide. As if tethered by a strand of sunlight stretched across the miles, two souls were forever connected through the promise of hope and a shared smile.

Misfortune

after-the-rainMonday morning – the incessant buzzing from the alarm clock mocked Drew and the mundane work day that lay ahead of him. He aimlessly slapped at the snooze button three times before giving up. It was as if this inanimate object was dodging his attempts to secure a measly extra five minutes of shuteye.

Slipping from beneath the down comforter, scratching his head, he mumbled at the puppy curled up on the corner of his bed, “You could have chosen to sleep in on the day I had off, you know.”

Drew reached into the shower, rotated the hot water knob and waited for the steam to warm the cold bathroom. It never did. The tepid water matched his mood to begin the day. To make matters worse, the deluge outside pouring down upon his roof meant the commute would be a nightmare.

Darting out to his car, attempting to dance between the raindrops, it mostly worked save for the last step. The accumulating puddle of water did not resist the force exerted by his size twelve shoe. Water seeping through the soles of his shoes was accompanied by the spray northward onto his previously dry slacks.

As if one misfortune naturally led to another, the polite ding from his dashboard indicated that he had twenty miles to empty. Given his recent luck, Drew didn’t feel it wise to tempt fate. Filling his tank with ten dollars of mid-grade, the torrential rain had begun to blow horizontally ushered by the approaching squall line.

Departing the gas station while simultaneously flipping on his headlights and wipers, his redirected attention missed the warning signal from the brake lights ahead of him. Swerving at the last second, he narrowly missed the bumper of the vehicle in front of him. But, he did manage to find the perfectly positioned nail from the construction site adjacent to the gas station.

A mere hundred yards from the shelter of the gas station, Drew had now conceded to a fully saturated wardrobe for the day. After repairing the flat tire and continuing on his route, he ran his wet sleeve over his forehead to keep the water from dripping into his eyes.

Entering the lobby, he dejectedly entered the elevator and requested permission to be transported to his floor. About midway to his destination, the crack of thunder could be heard and felt at the same time the lights were extinguished and Drew’s upward motion ceased.

“Perfect.” Drew slouched against the wall and waited. The next forty-five minutes found him shivering, contemplating his series of misfortunes in complete darkness. It was only after power was restored, and the doors of the elevator opened four floors early that Drew understood.

The dimples in her cheeks as she smiled spoke a thousand inaudible words. The carefully aligned series of mishaps inserted into Drew’s day allowed the prograde motion of Mars to align with Venus – what would end up being the most fortunate set of misfortunes in Drew’s life.

Tunnel vision

tunnel-vision

The whistle from the steam locomotive was followed by an imperceptible tug on the couplers connecting the cars. The slow, but steady acceleration out of the station left the platform in the past, along with their worries.

She had convinced him that this was exactly what they needed, a relaxing ride across the countryside. Between the lost luggage, botched hotel reservations, and steady diet of inclement weather, this was not the ideal way to celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

He reached over to wrap his hand around hers, the wrinkles showing battle scars each had endured over the years. The memories of a child that was never conceived, despite their persistent attempts, was never fully purged from their weary hearts. A resilient couple, each took a turn to help support the other. It was her turn, after his perfectly planned getaway turned out to be anything but.

The gentle sway of the open car along with the cool autumn breeze assuaged his anxieties. With elevated pulse finally beginning to subside, he leaned over and planted a kiss on her cheek. She gazed into his eyes and smiled. No words were exchanged, but the message was clear.

The grating sound of metal on metal along with an abrupt deceleration pulled their attention from the silent conversation. The unrest exuded by other passengers was not unfounded. This unplanned stop found the train in enveloping darkness. The damp and musty smell of whatever was growing on these tunnel walls permeated the senses.

The murmur of voices in the black void escalated, along with the distressing cries from children and their vivid imaginations. Just to the right, he discerned a pinpoint of light that shouldn’t have been there.

Taking her hand, still intertwined with his, he led her confidently through the dark aisle towards the light. As the distance dwindled, the source grew more luminous, appearing like a portal to another world. Together, they stepped over the threshold, darkness transforming into radiant brightness reminiscent of a fairy tale.

tunnel-of-loveThe dirt pathway stretching out before them went on for as far as the eye could see. Framed by the arch of trees, limbs reached to connect overhead, creating a canopy of protection from adversity. With each step, the stale scent of stone walls was replaced with the intoxicating scent of blooming gardenias. In this world, there was no pain, no burden, only love.

Feeling the ground shuffle beneath her, she wrapped her free hand around his waist. She was dancing with him, swaying to and fro in the most glorious ballroom at the turn of the century. It was then that she heard the misplaced sound of a whistle, and sensed the emergence of natural light in the train car.

As the train continued forward, his baby blues locked on her hazel eyes, he tossed a smile in her direction. She returned one, as if bobbing a curtsy to thank him for the dance. The darkest tunnel would never dampen the light shining inside them.

Author’s Note: I composed this story through a weekly prompt provided by a new online writing community that I have subscribed to on Amazon. WriteOn is a great way for writers to expand their comfort zone by experimenting in different genres, incrementally releasing stories, and soliciting feedback on what is working/not working from other members. I highly encourage aspiring writers to check it out. I am presently pushing my own envelope by working on development of a short story in the thriller genre. Stay tuned, and as always, best wishes for an inspired day!

Wanderlust

Wanderlust Adventure
An enticing choice
We often dream about
But seldom resolve to engage

Hampered by the fog of uncertainty
The venturesome road
Leads nowhere
And everywhere

Cocoons give birth
Fluttering in our stomach
A barely audible whisper carried on wings
Nudges us forward

Encouraging us
Throw caution to the wind
Do something bold and daring
Unexpected

Into the darkness we plunge
Unaware and nescient
The initial fear dissipates
As the spark within intensifies

A seed is planted
We watch it grow
Ample sunshine and water
In the form of faith and love

Step by step
We trek forward
Hoping to discover
Meaning and truth

Wandering aimlessly
We stumble upon
The key to happiness
And contentedness

The decision to wander
Away from the comfort of familiarity
Carries us along a path
With many twists and turns

Accosted by fear, despair, and misery
We are rescued by faith, hope, and love
On an enduring journey
Back home

Author’s Note:
This poem is inspired by the short story with the same name. Wanderlust is now available in the Amazon Kindle Store. And for three days (Wednesday, May 27, 2015 through Friday, May 29, 2015), it is free to download. Experience the wonder of self-discovery as you follow the trail of adventure with Damon, Gryffin, and Jo. Included is a short passage from the author detailing the inspiration and thoughts behind the composition of this story.

Many thanks to my beautiful and talented wife for providing the stunning cover art for this story. Her photographic prowess has added depth to my words that I could not possibly have accomplished on my own.

If you found this short e-book enjoyable, I would sincerely appreciate any feedback in the form of a review at the book’s site on Amazon. To download the e-book, please visit the Shop link at the top of this page to see all books available by me, or visit Wanderlust. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, and best wishes for an inspired day!

Abandoned

abandoned

A black space
Where the door
Is supposed to be

A cloudy film
Layered on the windows
Obscuring the view inside

The splintered planks
From the facade
Evidence of neglect

Used to be filled
With effervescence and love
Now but an empty shell

Memories encrusted
In the weathered roof
And soot lining the chimney walls

Stationary
Unable to move
Begging to be noticed

She has no audible voice
To speak for herself
Not one that can be heard

Too many travel this road
Never giving
Even a passing glance

With time slipping by
She settles into
The depression in the ground

If only
Someone would shine a light
Inside that dark hollow

A hidden space
Would be revealed
Like a treasure

First
Just a glint
A tiny sparkle

Growing into
A luminous beam
Of warmth and fulfillment

The worn and tattered exterior
Dissolving in the radiance
Overflowing from within

Spilling through the crevices
Sealing the cracks
Irreparable damage reversed

Rescuing
A beautiful world
From abandonment

Ebb and flow

ebb-and-flow

Limitless
To the human eye
Stretching out
To eternity

A glimmer of light
Just beneath the whitecaps
Engulfing darkness
At its deepest depths

A tale of two worlds
Smooth and level on the surface
Craggy and jagged
Miles below

Pressure building
As one descends
The weight of the world
Resting on weary shoulders

Toes sinking
Into the grains of sand
On the threshold
Of this mysterious realm

Foamy tendrils
Outstretched, enveloping
Wrap themselves
Around my ankles

Luring me
With its captivating rhythm
First fear, then curiosity
Awakens me

The ebb and flow of salty waves
Cresting over my feet
Receding back from whence they came
Reminds me, I am alive

Encourages me
To feel
To love
To live