Inspire and Be Inspired

Head on over to the new davecenker.com, sign up to be a member of my author community, receive a free award-winning short story and continue the conversation! See you there!

DaveJen-BannerOne thousand days ago (hey, it just sounds better than 2 years, 8 months, and 26 days) I remember sitting down with a guitar resting on my knee.

Those malformed chords I was strumming were messy sounding, but the chord it struck inside me was perfectly in tune. I remember thinking … I should start a blog. It came out of the blue, and I wasn’t sure why I vocalized that thought. I had written less than a total of 500 creative words up to that point in my life.

If someone would have told me way back then that I would be composing this post today, I would have surely let out an involuntary chuckle beneath my breath. It’s not that I wouldn’t have wanted to be here, but I have this way of starting different things (lots of them) only to have them collect metaphorical dust as the initial excitement fizzles out along with my passion for it.

And yet, a thousand days and just a few more than five hundred words later, I compose this post with an anxious yet excited heartbeat. This will be my last post at this blog site. That’s the sad part, for me at least. This little corner of the blogosphere has been a sort of virtual private sanctuary for me to discover and share insights, thoughts, and stories with each and every one of you.

The exciting news – again, for me at least, and hopefully for you too – is that my writing will continue forward with as much, if not more passion than I have had up until this point. Today, I am launching my new author-centric website at www.davecenker.com.

For those of you that have been following along with me on this journey over the past three years, you will know my tagline by heart – inspire and be inspired.

Second ChanceI’ve written personal essays, flash fiction, short stories, and even a novella up until this point. During NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this past November, I set an ambitious goal to write my first novel, uncertain where that lofty ambition would land me. 50,000+ words and several personal revisions later, I have a draft of my first novel, Second Chance, that I am now ready to pass over to my editor. My plan is to have it published sometime later this year.

In an effort to build an author platform, I have migrated my online presence to www.davecenker.com. Along with promotion and news on the release of my first novel, I will be offering flash fiction, short stories, book reviews, and the occasional dip into non-fiction.

I have a feeling that pressing the publish button on this post is going to be more difficult than any I have pressed up until this point in my writing life. But, if you’re reading this, I suppose that I’ve been successful in overcoming that small hurdle.

I want to sincerely thank each and every one of you for all the reads, the likes, and most importantly, the comments that have helped me to embrace this role as an author. I know it sounds so cliché, but truer words could not be spoken – I simply couldn’t have done it without you.

HomecomingI invite each one of you to visit my new site and continue onward with me on this journey we have started together. As a small token of my appreciation, when you sign up to be a member of my author community, I will send you a copy of a previously unreleased short story titled Homecoming. I would be honored to share this story with you that has received an honorable mention in the 2015 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Contest.

You can join my author community by visiting my new site at www.davecenker.com and clicking the Free Story! link in the top right corner of the home page. I’ll still be checking this site for the next couple of weeks, so if you have any problems or questions, feel free to leave a comment here.

And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings. ~Meister Eckhart

Let the magic of new beginnings be with each and every one of you. Inspire and be inspired.

 

All In

all-in“C’mon, Sean. Just one more.”

Ray looked across the table. Shuffling the deck of cards, his eyes remained locked on mine. I knew his plea wasn’t referring to another hand of poker. That’s the way it was with Ray and I. We knew what the other was thinking without saying a thing.

A slight nod signaled my consent. When at an impasse, everyone else in the world turned to a quick game of rock/paper/scissors. For Ray and me, it was poker. Five cards were dealt to each of us. Fanning my cards out, the full house with aces high left me confident that I wouldn’t be subjected to Ray’s proposal.

Setting my cards face up on the table, Ray’s initial facial expression left no hint as to the outcome of our duel. The emerging smirk on his face along with the royal flush that followed suit secured my fate.


“Last time, right? I’m supposed to be on the straight and narrow once I’m married.”

“Last time,” Ray assured me. “This one will be a breeze. The super only wants a ten percent cut in exchange for the master key.” Ray slid the brass key across the table to me.

“Which apartment?”

“I’ll call you later.”

“Okay,” I begrudgingly consented.

It’d become an addiction, pilfering the apartments for small items that owners wouldn’t miss, but could be pawned for some decent cash. Ray used his position as general contractor to scout out potential targets. I’d sweep in later and snag the goods when the owner was not at home.

I was done with the entire thing. I’d be marrying Julie in two weeks. She’d changed me for the better. I’d always be grateful, even if I couldn’t thank her for it. I couldn’t expose that negative side of my being to my future wife.


Later that afternoon, my phone rang.

“Sean?”

“Yeah?”

“Unit seventy. Six o’clock. Got it?”

“Yep.”

It was that short. Like I said, we could easily complete each other’s thoughts.


I slipped through the hallway inconspicuously. Glancing left, then right, I slipped the master key into the lock.

Easing myself into the apartment, I quickly moved towards the kitchen. The high end utility knife was our most ambitious target to date. Its absence would be noticed. Since this was the last time, however, it was well worth the risk. It would pocket us nearly two Ben Franklins.

It wasn’t where Ray said it was supposed to be. Something wasn’t right. It was against our code, but I had no choice but to call Ray.

“It’s not here.”

“Yes, it is. In the drawer below the mixer.”

“What mixer?”

“Where are you exactly?” The tone in Ray’s voice was disconcerting.

“Unit seventy.”

“Not seventy. 7-T, on the top floor. Get outta there. You’re in the wrong place.”


Julie agonized over the decision. She wasn’t proud that her brother was a recovering drug addict. But, he was making amends and getting his life back on track. Julie was happy to watch James’ golden lab while he was helping at the halfway house for the week. She knew that Sean, her future husband, deserved to know the truth. She’d tell him everything this evening over dinner.


The envelope on the counter was addressed to James Reilly. Same last name as Julie. The picture resting beside the envelope confirmed my anxious suspicion. As the rightful key unlocked the apartment door, a realization of the circumstances about to unfold paralyzed me.

In poker parlance, I knew I was all in. My cards were on the table, and I had no choice now but to play them. I’d have that opportunity to thank Julie for all she’d done for me. Whether she’d believe me, or even be willing to listen, was a different matter altogether.

Author Note: Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read and comment. It’s in the sharing each other’s stories and thoughts that we become something more than the sum of the parts. The transition to my new author website is progressing and scheduled for going live in a couple weeks. To make sure you stay connected and continue to receive these (#FlashFictionFriday) stories to your inbox, please sign up to be a part of my author community. You will receive two previously unpublished stories as a small token of my appreciation (one now and another one once the new site goes live). As always, inspire and be inspired!

In the Dark

In-The-DarkI loosened my tie and sank into the sports coupe. It was Friday afternoon, the end of yet another sixty-five hour week. Despite the chaos of rush hour traffic, I willingly accepted the unpleasantness knowing that a cold six-pack and the Knicks game waited for me at home.

The chime interrupted the solitude inside the shell of my personal sanctuary. New text message from Kimmie.

Speaking in the robotic voice that I came to loathe, Don’t forget to pick up the pizza for family game night – smiley face.

Damn. I had forgotten that we moved family game night up by a day. And just like that, the chaotic traffic became an intolerable nuisance.


As I slipped through the front door with the two pizza boxes, I was promptly greeted by my six year old daughter, Lisa. Although I was disappointed about the change in plans that I should have remembered, the excited look in Lisa’s eyes immediately lifted my spirits.

“Hi Daddy,” she exclaimed while simultaneously jumping into my arms. I managed to balance the pizza in one arm and my little bundle of joy in the other.

“It’s my turn tonight … to choose,” she said proudly.

I didn’t need to ask. I knew exactly what she meant. At the front of her closet, in front of all the other toys and games sat Chutes and Ladders.

We played it every other evening, but it held special significance when played on game night. It began as a silly dare and had now evolved into a family tradition. If Lisa won, she could stay up as late as she wanted.

I always seemed to find more chutes than ladders. Tonight was no exception. On other nights, I might entertain the possibility of allowing Lisa to win. Not tonight. I was exhausted and ready to retire early.

I was three spots away from victory and probably a little too eager to win against a six year old. My tenacious attitude in the boardroom was leaking over into my family life. Kimmie kicked me under the table. I pulled my feet back. Just tonight, I thought, let me win. Nope, somehow I knew it wouldn’t happen.


“Yay! I’m staying up until midnight!”

I sank into the couch. My consolation prize was that I’d be able to catch the end of the basketball game. Flipping the television on, I was greeted by a blowout that wasn’t in my team’s favor. I flipped the power off and closed my eyes.


Sometime around 2AM, the duo dressed in black sidled up to the curb around the corner. The lights inside surprised them.

“What are they still doing up? We’ve been watching them for weeks. This doesn’t fit.”

Perplexed by the sequence of events, the accomplice suggested, “Let’s go for the house next door, it’s dark.”

Inside the house filled with artificial light, Lisa remained curled up with her dad on the couch, peacefully sleeping – one dreaming of chutes, and the other of ladders.

The Gift

The GiftIt appeared to be the most unfortunate sequence of events possible. In a moment of serendipity, however, I discovered what I had been aimlessly searching for in the emptiness of my world.

I didn’t tell Amanda about my plans. It would be of little consequence whether I told her or not. I had to work late. It didn’t matter that it had nothing to do with what I had been sinking every waking moment of my life into for the past two weeks. I was on the brink of completing negotiations for the million dollar sale of a highly sought after loft on the Upper East Side.

The bottom line is that I wouldn’t be home on time. That was all that was important. Amanda and Emma would be on their own for dinner. I knew that this was our weekly family time, and I did feel guilty about bowing out of my obligation as a husband and a father to my seven year old daughter again, but my hands were tied. I was the only one available.

Phillip had an urgent situation arise at the last moment that needed immediate attention. It was something about his son and wife breaking down on the way to his holiday chorus recital. He dropped off everything I would need in my office before darting towards the elevator.

I begrudgingly made my way to the bookstore around the corner from our office. I cursed this unexpected turn of events under my breath. I should have been etching seven digits into a ledger book in my quest for a successful real estate transaction, not reading about sugarplums and candy canes in this wretched getup.

It was a way for our business to give back to the community. I had successfully avoided involvement for as long as possible, until now. I slipped on the pants, pulled the jacket over the top of my white oxford shirt and tie, and made sure to remove the white semi-curly locks from under the collar.

I stuffed the down pillow under the oversized jacket before affixing the beard that scratched at the natural stubble I had accumulated over the course of a usual day.

“Ho, ho, ho,” I uttered monotonously and sarcastically.

“C’mon, Drew. Show a little holiday spirit. This is for the kids, after all.” The elf dressed in pointy shoes and a green felt costume was in a much more festive mood than me. I recognized her as an intern from the accounting department.

With hot cocoa in their hands, the pack of children congregating in the back corner were waiting for Santa to begin reading the Christmas story. I could be more useful to kids, and Emma in particular, if I could ink that deal still sitting on my desk. This certainly wasn’t the ideal way for me to help provide for my family’s well-being.

I put on a façade, enough of one at least, during the reading of the Christmas story. Now for the tough part. It was the children’s opportunity to come sit on Santa’s lap and express their deepest wishes for Christmas morning. The diminished distance between the children and me would make it infinitely more difficult to feign jolly tidings for the season.

The line of twenty or so children seemed to continue on forever. After about forty-five minutes of the same requests – PlayStations, iPhones, puppy dogs, and Barbie dolls, everything changed.


“How about some pizza, sweetheart? Daddy has to work late tonight.”

“Sure mommy, can I get extra cheese?”

“Absolutely, dear.”

They frequented the small mom and pop pizza parlor too many times to count. It had become their stand-in whenever Drew was otherwise preoccupied helping to support their luxurious lifestyle.

Amanda watched as Emma pulled the gooey cheese farther and farther away from her lips. Her arms weren’t long enough to prove victorious over the playful ploys of that extra cheese.

She smiled, watching the innocence of youth, before reaching over and helping to put an end to the struggle between the young girl and pizza slice.

“How about a chocolate chip cookie?” Amanda didn’t need to ask twice, and she didn’t need a verbal answer as Emma’s eyes opened wide and the smile spread across her face.

Amanda knew that The Book Nook was known for their freshly baked cookies. It would be the perfect treat to take Emma’s mind off her dad’s absence yet again.

After taking the first bite from her second gooey concoction in as many hours, Emma noticed the line of other children. Curious as always, she craned her neck and stood on tiptoes to get a better view.

“Mommy, mommy! It’s Santa! Can I get in line? Please?”

“Sure, honey,” Amanda replied as she wiped the excess chocolate that was left at the corner of Emma’s mouth.


I couldn’t believe my eyes. What were they doing here? Amanda was focused on her coffee. I assumed it was her usual double mocha latte. The young boy presently sitting on my lap didn’t receive full attention as I tried my best to grab Amanda’s.

Her eyes finally locked on mine. I could tell by her confused look that Amanda didn’t know why Santa was shaking his head while looking in her direction. She finally did recognize me as Emma began trotting towards the elf and hopping up to sit on my lap. It was a place that she hadn’t been for far too long. She seemed to be more comfortable on Santa’s lap than my own.

“Ho, ho, ho!” I bellowed in as disguised a voice as I could muster. The smile on this little girl’s voice was so genuine. I hadn’t seen it in such a long time. No, I guess that’s not the right way to put it. I hadn’t recognized it, buried in my own self-absorbed pursuits.

“What would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas?”

I already knew she wanted the new bike with training wheels we had looked at a few weeks ago. I also knew that she had several books lined up on her Santa list. She was an avid reader for a seven year old.

It should have been easy for her to express the contents of her list to Santa. She had been talking about it nonstop. But still, Emma sat there on my lap with a perplexed look on her face, deep in thought about something.

“Santa, you are magic, right?”

Uh oh, I didn’t like the direction this was going.

“Santa always tries his best,” I replied.

“Well, I already sent you my list. But, I’d like to change it. If I still can.”

Okay, this was magic that I could certainly handle.

“What would you like, sugarplum?” I became distracted by what might be forthcoming, probably the more expensive bike that was three price points above what Amanda and I agreed would be appropriate for her age. No matter, I’d find a way to make it happen. I always did.

“I was wondering,” Emma continued, “if you could get me a bottle of minutes.”

In a more confused tone than Santa should probably have in his voice, I offered, “What do you mean?”

The imaginative seven year old, wise beyond her years, continued with her Christmas wish.

“My daddy works so hard. Every time I ask him to play with me, he always tells me ‘give me a minute’.”

She paused before continuing. “I thought maybe if I could give him a few minutes, he’d be able to play with me more.”

Santa is supposed to be jolly. He isn’t one characterized by tears. This one came close to tears upon learning of this little girl’s Christmas wish.

“Santa will do his very best.” It was the only response I could come up with in the moment.

The look of elation and hope on Emma’s face as he hopped off my lap and bolted back towards Amanda was heartwarming.

“Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas, Emma,” I shouted out to her.

She stopped in her tracks and turned around.

“You know my name?”

“Ho, ho, ho! Of course I do. Santa knows everything. Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas, Santa,” replied Emma with a look of wonder and amazement on her face.

The last time I remember sitting on Santa’s lap was as a ten year old boy. I was convinced, however, that I had just been fortunate to visit with him once again in the form of a seven year old girl.

Maybe Santa didn’t know everything, but this particular one knew more than enough now.

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.

Fletching

fletchingThe crunch of autumn leaves beneath my feet meant two things. Time was dwindling before every last available piece of winter meat would disappear into hibernation. And, there was no wretched way I would get any of it with this amplified announcement of my presence.

I leaned against a maple tree, allowing the quiver of arrows to press into my back. It was a reminder that this life wasn’t easy, living in the wilderness, and fending for myself.

My bow and these arrows were supposed to be my livelihood. They’d provide sustenance as well as a challenge that had become stale in my previous life. And what a challenge it’d become, perhaps more than I’d anticipated. I was living off wild berries and sap from these trees. I didn’t know what was vanishing more quickly, my time to persevere through these adverse circumstances, or my resolve to do so.

I wiped my brow, smearing some of the charcoal camouflage on my sleeve. I was sweating. I suspected it had nothing to do with temperature and everything to do with stress. I could prosper in a boardroom, but I wasn’t sure I’d survive out here.

I exhaled. Move down by the stream, I thought. The animals needed hydration, and the sound of water meandering over the rocks would provide concealment for my noisy rambling through the forest.

As I tenderly placed each sole along the stream’s bank, I was more concerned about my audible footprint than my physical one. I kept my eyes peeled for any movement.

The twig beneath my foot snapped in two. Damn. It was then that I perceived motion in my peripheral view. I swiveled my head and locked eyes with a twelve point buck. He’d been drinking from the stream before looking up, now staring in my direction.

Slowly, but deliberately, I reached behind my back to extract an arrow while simultaneously placing my bow in the shooting position. Drawing back the arrow, I lined up my sights on what would be dinner for the next several months.

He remained there, staring at me, as if waiting and willing to provide his sacrificial offering. I tried, so damned hard, to release that arrow. His eyes. They reflected something back at me, a determined yet compassionate look that I didn’t think was possible from a wild animal. They spoke to me with invisible words. If I can survive, so can you.

I released tension in the bow, keeping my eyes locked on his. He simply nodded, as if in a bow of respect, and returned to drinking water from the stream. He had remained calm in the presence of danger and determined in the face of adversity.

The wise among our species say we each have a spirit animal. We don’t pick it. It picks us. Now, I know what they mean. That buck provided me with something more valuable than meat. Even better than the will to survive, he provided me with the empowerment to live.

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.”

Easy Money

easy-moneyIt was the same recurring nightmare, losing my job. Turns out reality was much worse than even my dreams could imagine. They use terms like streamline as a guise for the real message. We don’t want you anymore. Torn between feelings of resentment, anger, and self-pity, I found myself here, sitting in a bathroom stall at a theme park, far from home, on a frivolous vacation after the reduction in force.

It didn’t feel like a prudent decision at the time, but that would change. The scent of grilled filet wafted from the swanky French restaurant. That used to be my world, but overpriced hamburgers it was for me now. Tipsy from my one indulgence, a nightly margarita, everything changed.

After the fireworks show, I was staggering towards the exit when I bumped into her. I assumed her since it was a ladies wallet at my feet. Picking it up, I looked to return it to its rightful owner, but the throng of tourists was moving too quickly. So, I did what anyone would do who’d just lost their job. I tucked it under my shirt and disappeared to safety, my new business office, the bathroom stall.

One hundred dollars cash. I dumped everything else in the trash. It was so easy. Enticing and addictive, I returned the following evening, accidentally bumping into unsuspecting guests. All retained their possessions, until the middle-aged man netted my second score. When the leather bi-fold tumbled from his pocket, I scooped it up nonchalantly and returned to my office.

Fifty bucks. Not a windfall, but still easy money. I eased into a routine. I could clear around five hundred dollars an evening. I’d reached my quota for the night. One more, I thought greedily. I could see my target approaching. He looked loaded, dressed in designer clothes, sipping a glass of wine. The subtle bump while feigning attention towards my phone produced his wallet.

One last time, I scurried to my office. No bills. Just a slip of paper. Busted. The knock on the stall door was followed by, “Police, open up.” My latest victim displayed a police shield as I sat there, trapped in the stall.

“Five hundred dollars,” he said. My dumbfounded expression led him to elaborate. “Five hundred dollars, and I’ll pretend I didn’t see this.” It was my entire take for the night. But, I’d rather eat another overpriced hamburger over whatever they served in the local prison. I handed over the wad of bills, watching the officer disappear. I flushed the toilet beneath me. Somehow, it felt appropriate.


Clark had seen the man, countless times, entering the same stall. He shouldn’t have continued to dump the excess contents in the same trash can. That was his downfall. He didn’t expect the fake shield to work, but it was worth a try. The upscale clothes and glass of wine was worth the investment. As he rifled through the stack of twenties, Clark smirked. Not bad for a janitor. Easy money.

November Echo

november-echoMatt slipped into the noise sanitized environment without a sound, coffee cup in hand. “You know, those work better if you aim them the other direction.”

Logan had been caught red-handed. It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last. The binoculars on his desk were intended to pinpoint the planes aloft, not the people on the tarmac below.

“You could just ask her out,” Matt continued as he set the coffee cup down on the table, preparing to take over the next shift for his colleague.

“Yeah, I know,” admitted Logan. Even though it should’ve been a simple action, asking a girl out, Logan felt challenged. In an ironic way, he lived up to his name. Logan let people roll over top of him, like a log. He always seemed to be at the mercy of others, which was even more ironic since he served as a tower controller who was paid to give orders and enforce regulations in the airspace around the airport.

Nicole Evans. That was her name. Logan had found out that much. She was the newest flight instructor on the staff. The binoculars rose to his eyes every time Logan saw her feet hit the tarmac. Sometimes he felt like a stalker, even though he was the furthest thing from that. Logan just thought that if he could see her smile once more, like he’d seen in the parking lot when they had first met, maybe he could summon the courage to take the next step, ask her out. Their paths had crossed many times since, casual conversations shared between the two, but nothing beyond trivial nuances of the weather or flight conditions for the day.

Caught in a momentary lapse of concentration, a dangerous passivity for an air traffic controller, Matt’s urgent voice finally registered. “You have an incoming.”

“Tower, November Two Niner Five Oscar Lima, on base for runway five, over?” The panicked voice came through the headset with a little more emphasis as his first request was seemingly ignored. Logan scurried to the appropriate microphone switch, depressed it, and replied, “Niner Five Oscar Lima, cleared final runway five, winds zero four zero at five knots.”

Logan redirected his binoculars skyward, watching the Cessna Skyhawk bank left on to final approach, then scanning the adjacent area to be sure there were no obstacles interfering with the plane’s final maneuver before landing.

Matt continued to offer up words not requested, “Dude, you turn twenty-eight tomorrow. Why don’t you loosen up a bit, take a chance for once in your life?” Logan was thinking, but not answering. Matt continued, “I’ve known you now, for what, five years? I’ve never seen you on a date, let alone a steady girlfriend. I’ve never seen you so taken with anyone like you are with Nicole.”

Just the way her name traveled across the space between them and alighted on his being made Logan smile. “Dude, you’re caught, hook, line, and sinker. Just ask her out. If you don’t do it, I’ll do it for you. Consider it my birthday present to you.”

Logan considered letting his colleague do the asking for him, but something struck a chord in him at that moment, the commitment to his course of action solidified. It was that voice again. Not Matt’s, but the one echoing in his left ear. “November Four Two Niner Lima Sierra, at runway five, ready for takeoff, departure to the southeast.”

How could a voice spoken through a cheap headset with a deafening propellor sound spinning in the background be so intoxicating? “Two Niner Lima Sierra, cleared for takeoff runway five, departure to the southeast approved, good day.” He already knew the response, partially because Logan knew the rules, and also because he’d come to know Nicole better than she might know, even if they had never spent any significant time together.

“Two Niner Lima Sierra, cleared for takeoff, departure to the southeast approved, keep smiling.” It was required to confirm receipt of the commands given, and customary to reply with ‘good day’, an informal thanks for services provided. Nicole always took it a step farther, her ‘keep smiling’ reply was unique, just like her effect on Logan.

“So, are you gonna do it?”

“I will,” replied Logan, and he meant it, even if it wasn’t the most direct route towards his goal.

It was like it was meant to be. Her car was parked right next to his. Logan fumbled through his wallet, looking for any scrap of paper. Scribbling his message and number on the back of the grocery receipt, Logan tucked it under her wiper and departed, feeling victorious, yet anxious.

The drone of the plane’s engine lulled Nicole into complacency as her student navigated over the open waters to practice the required disorientation maneuvers. The final words she heard, ‘good day’, seemed to carry with it a tiny inflection that she wished, or hoped, was something more. That was it, she thought. If he didn’t make a move by tomorrow, she’d muster up the courage to do it herself. She knew it was his birthday tomorrow, and she had a perfect way to ask him out. Nicole smiled with anticipation.

“I’m sorry,” Matt humbly offered as Logan walked into the tower the next day. Logan parked next to Nicole’s car, still in the same spot, still with his note safely tucked beneath the wiper blade. No one could have predicted the wind shear that arrived in the most untimely moment, midway through a forty-five degree bank. There was never any way for the plane to recover with the limited altitude at the pilot’s disposal.

Months later, Logan could still hear her final words reverberate through his headset on that November evening, keep smiling. Logan forced himself to do just that, however difficult it was, in memory of the relationship with a different November Echo that never came to be, a reminder to live life and take chances while you have the opportunity.

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.