Mailbox

mailboxThe rumble of the mail truck rolling away from the curb sent the two of them in motion. Josh raced out his front door. The large ornate knocker cracked against the wood as he slammed the door shut to prevent his Dachshund puppy from following him. He ran across his family’s perfectly manicured lawn, and past the bed of thorny roses. He arrived at his silver mailbox a nanosecond before Billy next door. The chill in the air had nothing to do with the reading on a thermometer.

Billy’s mailbox used to be silver, but it was more rust colored now with the paint peeling off and accumulating on the ground beneath it. While Josh’s jaunt across his yard was effortless and quiet, Billy’s was characterized by the crunchy sound of dying grass. It took him a split second longer to reach his own mailbox – not because he was slower – but, rather because he had to pull the door shut tightly and double check it. The latch had never worked quite right since they had moved in.

Josh and Billy lived next door to each other. And yet, they lived worlds apart. They were friends, you could say. They were both fourteen years old – the only two teenage boys in a three mile radius of this small rural town. How they became friends was not much of a mystery – it was a relationship of convenience, maybe of necessity. The reason why they remained friends – now, that was more mystifying.

The two boys did not have anything in common save for one thing – the spirit of competition. Josh was the star pitcher on the high school baseball team in the next town over. Billy was nicknamed motor-mouth at the same school. This may have sounded derogatory to most teenage boys, but to Billy it was a compliment. He had earned this moniker due to his uncanny ability to solve math problems in his head and rattle off the answer before any of his classmates could even announce their name.

It’s was the glue that kept this friendship together – the rivalry of one boy outdueling the other in their own convincing way. They began to tire of the arguments of how a ten strikeout performance could compare to the swift and accurate process of successfully solving an advanced trigonometry problem – without pencil or paper. That was how this little competition that they mutually designed came to fruition. It was something on the minds of all teenage boys – teenage girls.

The moonlight ball was three weeks away. It was a school dance planned annually to take place on the last full moon of the semester before winter break. It was held outside in the school courtyard by the light of the full moon. The twinkle lights adorning the trees added atmosphere to the already enchanting mood. There was a twist to this engagement, however. You must arrive as a couple. And in order to be granted access into the school courtyard, the couple was required to provide two letters – one invitation letter and one acceptance letter. It was Ms. Hutton’s way of slipping the art of letter writing into her tenth grade English class. And it worked – hook, line, and sinker.

They had agreed that each would compose a letter to their invitee and drop it in the mailbox on the corner – on the same day at the same time. In that way, neither Josh nor Billy would have an advantage. The person who received a letter back first would be the victor. It was silly. It was misguided. It was unsuitable grounds for a competition. But, these were teenage boys, and to them – it was perfect. Almost.

Author’s Note: This is the first part of a two part short story. The second installment will be published next week. Thank you for reading and providing your thoughts – 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!

Shifting gears

mustang-50I sit at the traffic signal, eyes locked on the red light. My left foot is depressing the clutch while my right foot is hovering over the top of the accelerator pedal. With my left hand at the eleven o’clock position on the leather wrapped steering wheel, my right hand caresses the gear shift knob presently in first gear. The tunes are streaming wirelessly from the cell phone in my left pocket and I am perched at the starting line awaiting clearance to launch with the anticipation of a green light.

I have been in this situation many times before. The versatility provided by my car allows me so many choices. I can ease away from a standstill and revel in the low rumble of the engine as the RPM gauge cycles from 1,000 to 3,000 – back and forth through the sequence of gears.

I can punch the accelerator with my right foot while simultaneously releasing pressure on the clutch pedal and accelerate – to a legal speed, of course – faster than most vehicles on the highway. And it’s perhaps what I enjoy doing most, getting where I want to be posthaste, both in my car and in the things I set out to do in life.

I was prepared to do just that on this day when something happened. It’s another reason why I am so protective of the commuting time in my car. It’s like a personal sanctuary for me. Some of my most persuasive and compelling thoughts have come to me while nestled in the cockpit of the driver’s seat.

As the final chords of The Goo Goo Dolls Rebel Beat finished, there was a momentary pause while the software in my phone decided what would be queued up next. Once upon another time.

sara-once-upon-another-timeNo, this is not the beginning of a story. This was the song now streaming through my car speakers. The title track off Sara Bareilles’ EP album released in 2012 had been played so many times before. But, on this particular day, it provided me with something different than it had in the past – perspective. There is no logical reason why I heard the lyrics differently on this given day, why I paid them more attention, especially since I was focused on coordination of movements between feet, hands, and brain to accelerate quickly off the starting line. But, that is exactly why I have allowed logic to ride in the backseat more often these days. Situations arrive on our doorstep when we are ready to invite them inside for a visit. Today was that day.

Once upon another time
Before I knew which life was mine
Before I left the child behind me
I saw myself in summer nights
And stars lit up like candle light
I make my wish but mostly I believed

Something about the words resonated with me on this go-around. And I felt compelled to look up the meaning of these lyrics when I arrived into work. In an interview, Sara explained that this title track is really about loss of your childhood and letting go of your past, a part of her journey through life at the time she wrote the song. I sat and thought for a few moments. I was grasping for some connection. I was meant to hear these words in a different light for some reason. I just couldn’t figure out what it was. I had a good childhood. There was nothing I needed to let go from that past. And then, it hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks. There is more than one past. There are an infinite number of pasts that we are creating each and every moment of each and every day. And I did need to let go of one of those to move on towards my next big ambition.

rafiki-it-is-timeFor the past year, I have been publishing short stories to this blog. And it has been extremely gratifying – to tell stories, to share emotions, to welcome everyone who chooses to read them into my small corner of the world. It has become comfortable – like a warm blanket on a cold winter night. But, it is time for me to toss the comfy blanket aside and embrace the chilly air of doubt and uncertainty. You see, I have been encouraged, nudged – and eventually now – persuaded towards publishing some of my stories. I have a sense that it is going to require a fair amount of time, work, and growing pains to reach this ambition. But, as Rafiki proclaims in The Lion King, “It is time.”

Here I was, all ready to accelerate to 60 mph as quickly as I could, and instead I ease from one gear to the next as the captivating sounds of the harmonium echo in my ears. I am not going anywhere from a writing sense. In fact, I will probably be writing as many stories, if not more, than what I was writing before. But, they will now be in anticipation of publication in a book as well as on my blog.

Many of the stories that I have previously published on this blog will be made accessible, in the near future, via Amazon in e-book format. Check if one of your favorites is slated for release through the new Short Stories menu on the home page of my blog. If your favorite isn’t there, let me know and I will add it to my next wave of short stories to be published in e-book format. Each of the stories will be provided in their entirety with a short passage provided by me detailing the inspiration behind the story.

artist-easelIn addition, I will be releasing a new short story series titled Impression exclusively on Amazon. As a humble way of showing my appreciation for everyone who has read and commented on my stories to date, this new short story will be available to download for free during the initial days after release.

I will still be a regular contributor in the blogosphere – perhaps just in a different capacity now. I am not exiting the highway, I am simply changing lanes. I am shifting gears so that I can accelerate towards the next step on my own journey as an author. It’s a difficult decision for me, more than you could probably imagine. I have had this draft sitting on my computer and in the back of my mind for several weeks. Although things never seem to be black and white – except for my car, of course – the perspective provided by each situation helps us to discern the various shades of gray in between the two extremes. And even though it may not be easy or comfortable, it’s the process of choosing one of those shades of gray that adds depth to our perspective, and growth to our lives.

Big game

alarm-clockAuthor’s Note: This is the final part of a three part short story. If you would like to read the first two chapters, please visit Extra point and Night and day.

What was I thinking? Bryce was beginning to regret his decision. Returning to his apartment around two o’clock in the morning after his night shift left him with less than seven hours of sleep before he needed to be back in the museum lobby for his impromptu day shift. As his alarm clock buzzed incessantly from across the room, he had no choice but to roll out of bed and silence it. There was no sense in hitting the snooze button now – he didn’t have the time anyway.

Cobbling together the necessities of a routine that he was not accustomed to, Bryce brushed his teeth. He planned to grab a bagel and coffee at the corner shop on his way to the museum. As he snatched the keys and wallet sitting next to his alarm clock, Bryce caught a glimpse of the magazine still resting on the edge of his bed. He instinctively seized it in haste and placed it under the socks in the top dresser drawer.

Walking through the front entrance of the museum for the second time in less than twelve hours, the ambience felt quite different. Bryce was comfortable with the quiet solitude of the night shift. He was spoiled by the opportunity to roam the halls undisturbed during the still hours after the doors had been closed to the public. He was now greeted by preparations for the hustle and bustle of a Monday morning in the main lobby. Volunteers began to shuffle to and fro with a frenetic demeanor.

The cell phone in his left pocket vibrated. Retrieving it from his pocket, Bryce noticed the number as his supervisor’s. “Hey Tom, what’s up? I just got here – it’s like a different world in here during the day.”

“Yeah, you’ve probably been taking those night shifts for granted, huh? Listen, I forgot to tell you last night in the rush of things. Management has informed me that we received a special exhibit that is scheduled to open today. It’s in the small atrium off to the right of the lobby. That’s where you will be stationed today.”

Bryce had never even been in that exhibit area. The doors were always locked. He had just assumed that it was a storage closet. That was another reason he loved working here – there always seemed to be surprises waiting in the wings. Or, in this case – the right atrium.

“There’s a silver key on your ring with the letters RA inscribed on it. That should open the door,” continued Tom.

“Okay, anything else I need to know?”

“Nope, they are using some of the regular volunteers to help keep an eye on things elsewhere today. They just want to be sure to keep close tabs on this exhibit so that’s where you’ll be until closing at five o’clock.”

“Sounds good, will do.” As Bryce hung up the phone, he didn’t think it sounded good at all. With his feet locked in one location for the duration of his shift, it was going to be difficult to keep from wanting to wander at will.

Fumbling through the dozen keys on his ring, he found the one that would grant him access to the right atrium. Swinging the door opened, Bryce was greeted by a familiar sight – sort of. The Monet limited edition reproduction on display behind the red velvet rope dividers was similar, but not exactly the same as the one in the magazine presently resting beneath his freshly laundered socks.

houses-of-parliamentBryce figured that it must be the lighting. Or perhaps it was the difference between color on a canvas and that on the glossy page of a magazine. At the sight of his inanimate companion for the afternoon, Bryce was no longer all that displeased with his assignment. He would have the opportunity to keep an eye on the painting and visitors at the same time.

Over the course of the day, there were many footsteps in and out of the exhibit area. There were disinterested glances from onlookers. There were also gasps of exhilaration from patrons who witnessed the artistic mélange of colors and brushstrokes. As closing time approached, Bryce could hear the animated voices of several children in the lobby, growing louder with each passing second.

“Okay class, let’s keep our voices down and our eyes and ears open.” As if some proclamation had been issued from on high, the assembly of twenty some fourth graders instantly became silent. The shuffling of footsteps into the exhibit area was led by the young teacher with his class following like ducklings follow their mother.

As the boys and girls approached the rope divider, there was a mix of awe and confusion on the young faces. It was obvious, even at this relatively immature age, that something behind a barrier with a security guard standing near it must be important.

A young girl raised her hand. Once acknowledged by her teacher, she asked, “Mr. Brooks, what is it?” Her teacher responded, as best he could at a fourth grade level, “This is a painting by someone named Claude Monet who lived in France over a hundred years ago. He decided to paint the same scene over and over again at different times on different days. There are several of these paintings. They all look similar, but no two are exactly the same.”

At the completion of his response, another young boy raised his hand.

“Kyle, do you have a question?”

“Yes, what does it mean exactly, Mr. Brooks – the painting?”

The teacher paused for a second to collect his thoughts so that he could somehow disseminate the meaning of impressionism to his young audience.

“The time when these paintings were created was known as the impressionistic period. The artists weren’t as worried about showing people every little detail. Instead, they left things a little fuzzy and encouraged people to use their imagination. So, to answer your question, this painting can mean anything you want it to.”

Mr. Brooks paused for a moment, giving the gears an opportunity to begin turning. He greased the inner workings of these young minds as he continued, “That’s the wonderful thing about any art. There is no one way to look at it. Everyone has their unique perspective. There is no right. There is no wrong. There is only what we see – and feel. Sort of like a lot of things in life.”

right-and-wrongIn that moment, Bryce felt less like a security guard and more like a fourth grade student. He had just been provided a lesson that he should have learned so many years ago. There is no right. There is no wrong. There is only what we see and feel. He wondered how things might be different today if he would have had Mr. Brooks as a teacher. Would he have made the same choices? Would he have become a different person than he was today?

Bryce didn’t remember the walk back home after his shift. The warm, moist air rolling in off the bay brought with it a bank of thick pea soup fog. While the visibility was deteriorating outside, there was a sense of clarity beginning to wash over Bryce’s consciousness.

After laying his keys and wallet on the kitchen counter, Bryce grabbed the new bag of tortilla chips from the cupboard and poured them into a bowl big enough for six to pull from. His buddies would be here for the big game in a little over an hour.

Placing the bowl on the makeshift coffee table in front of the couch, he picked up the remote, clicked the television on, and tuned into the pre-game show. The energy levels were already beginning to rise in anticipation of this huge divisional showdown. But, there was something missing.

Bryce pulled himself off the couch and strode into his bedroom with a newfound buoyancy. He opened the top drawer of his dresser, slid his freshly folded socks out of the way, and retrieved the magazine hiding beneath them. He carried it back out to the living room and set it in plain view next to the bowl of chips. It will hide no longer, thought Bryce. What he really meant was I will hide no longer.

do-something-that-scares-youBefore his last shift at the art museum, calling this play would have seemed too risky for Bryce. It was better to run the ball up the middle – take the safe yardage – instead of throwing long and exposing the possibility for a turnover. He no longer feared the defensive lineman rushing from all angles trying to sack him. Those nightmares were a thing of the past. He was the star quarterback in the biggest game of his life – his own life – and he wasn’t going to let anyone keep him from calling the plays that would help propel him over the goal line and into the end zone.

Night and day

tortilla-chipsAuthor’s Note: This is the second part of a three part short story. If you would like to read the first chapter, please visit Extra point.

Beyond the raucous parties filled with alcohol, salty tortilla chips, and excessive testosterone levels, Bryce had a secret – one that he had been keeping close to the vest for years. As the final guest disappeared through the front door of his apartment, Bryce locked the door and turned the deadbolt. It wasn’t really necessary – turning the deadbolt – but, it gave him a sense of privacy that allowed complete immersion in what would come next.

He left the assortment of empty beer bottles on the counter. There had to be at least a dozen of them scattered about. The bag of chips, already beginning to stale, could wait for another fifteen minutes. Bryce marched in a straight line toward his bedroom. He opened the walk in closet and counted over three jerseys from the left. Pushing the hangar to the side, he located the two sets of sheets sitting on the shelf. Nestled between them rested Bryce’s secret in its coveted hiding place.

He retrieved the magazine and retreated to sit on the corner of his bed. He furiously flipped pages until he reached the foldout midway through the issue. He felt a surge of adrenaline course through his veins. The two page spread of the Monet reproduction was the feature piece in this month’s installment of Art Appreciation.

Bryce never really understood all the technical details. He didn’t comprehend the techniques or artistic elements that comprised the production of a painting. He just knew that when he looked at some notable works of art, something shifted inside of him. And he liked that. What he didn’t like was the sense of apprehension that accompanied his desire to feel that way in the first place.

Bryce was raised in a household devoid of genuine parental involvement. He wasn’t abused. He just wasn’t necessarily openly loved. His sense of pride and feeling of belonging came from interactions with his football teammates as well as the girls who ached to hang on his bulky biceps at high school social events. It was all he knew. It was all he was taught, not by his parents or teachers, but by his own personal experiences.

There was too much risk involved, for Bryce at least, in revealing a side of him that had remained hidden for so long. Bringing this fascination with art to light may disrupt the equilibrium that he had established. Surely, there was not a man alive today who would watch a football game in the afternoon, and then revel in the observation of art by night. What would his friends think? Would he be looked upon as weird? Abnormal?

Bryce was physically gifted. He had the six pack abs and chiseled calf muscles to prove it. But, he also had another capacity that wasn’t as obvious – a mental aptitude not related to academics. It had allowed Bryce to become one of the most accomplished high school quarterbacks in state history. It’s what some people refer to as street smarts. Bryce always had a strategy. The vibrating alarm coming from the cell phone in his pocket reminded him of his game plan that had nothing to do with Xs and Os on a football field. His nighttime shift at the local art museum was scheduled to begin in thirty minutes.

As a security guard, Bryce was able to maintain his image as a rough and tumble ball of testosterone while catching glimpses of the art work he enjoyed while on his evening rounds – all under the veil of it being his job.

Strolling through the double doors to the museum, Bryce always felt tiny. The size of the colossal front entrance leading into the massive central atrium certainly provided a dwarfing sensation. The daytime guard, John, was anxious to greet Bryce. “Hey Bryce, Tom asked you to call him before you start your shift.” Gathering up his keys and water bottle, John continued, “And by the way, what happened in the game?”

“It was crazy. The Titans pulled out the winning touchdown in the last minute of the game.” He was talking about football, but he was presently thinking about the painting hanging on the wall in corridor two on the third floor. The adrenaline rush of a football game wore off after a few hours. The one he experienced from a painting, however, seemed to be interminable.

old-dial-phoneAs John departed through the front door, Bryce insured the front doors were locked shut. Then, he sauntered over to the front reception desk and dialed *9 on the old style rotary telephone to reach his supervisor. “Hey Tom, this is Bryce. John told me you wanted me to call in? What’s up?”

The voice on the other end of the line had a pleading tone to it. “Listen, Bryce, I need some help. Frank called in sick for tomorrow’s shift and John has a flight out of town to visit family this evening. I need someone to cover for the day shift tomorrow.”

Bryce had become accustomed to the nighttime ritual. There was a quiet solitude in meandering through the dark corridors. The precisely positioned soft lights directed at each of the paintings accentuated their natural beauty. This time alone at night was a personal sanctuary of sorts for Bryce. He wasn’t necessarily thrilled with the request being pushed upon him, but he could tell that his boss was in a bind. And he figured that seeing the art in a new light might be appealing.

“I can do it. What time do you need me here?” replied Bryce.

“Eleven to five, and thanks a ton buddy. I’ll make sure you get an extra day off sometime in the next week or so.”

do-something-different“Sure, no problem.” As Bryce hung up the phone, he grabbed the keys in the desk drawer and began to make his first of three rounds for the evening. Little did he know that the difference between his two shifts, night and day, would be just that – night and day.

Author’s Note: This is the second part of a three part short story. The final installment will be published next week. If you enjoy these stories, please connect with me on Facebook to share more inspiring reminders throughout the week. Thank you for reading and providing your thoughts – best wishes for an inspired day!

Extra point

football-goal-line“Touchdown!” The cry of jubilation came in a wave of recognition from left to right across the small living room. High fives and fist pumps were exchanged as this group of grown men exhibited the uninhibited joy born from their youth. The only thing flying around more freely than the testosterone levels was the assortment of tortilla chip crumbs and salt remaining on their fingertips. And this wasn’t even the big game – that was tomorrow night’s prime time event – when Bryce’s fan favorite team would be vying for the opportunity to play the winner of this game in the division championship.

This was the routine at Bryce’s place every Sunday during football season. His apartment was the quintessential bachelor pad. It was clearly evident where the priorities resided in his living space. The sixty inch widescreen television overshadowed the second hand couch. Its plaid threads were baring to reveal the foam cushion beneath it. The dining room table in the corner was purchased to fill the space. In the span of three years, it had yet to be used – except as a resting place for beer bottles while scurrying to the bathroom during commercial breaks. The kitchen was spotless, most likely because Bryce had ordered take-out more times in the past week than he had turned the knobs on his stove in the past two years.

He had always wanted to play college ball, but he never made it any further than high school graduation. Bryce’s focus in the classroom was never as good as his prowess on the football field. The attention and notoriety he received from the ability to accurately throw a football thirty plus yards into the waiting arms of a wide receiver – well, that was much more enticing than the prospect of solving a trigonometry problem. He could never quite figure out what practical use there was in calculating the rate of change in a shadow’s length over time. If he knew, however, what those shadows were hiding, Bryce may have been persuaded to pay closer attention to them.

What he didn’t have in the area of academic acumen, Bryce more than made up for in the social realm. His cell phone was overflowing with phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and text messages. He was an outgoing guy, always surrounded by those pining to be in his position. Formerly the star quarterback on his high school football team, Bryce had frequently been provided with opportunities to attract new followers – on the football field, at the local pizza parlor, and during school dances. He was the prototypical chick magnet. His classmates were simultaneously struck with awe and jealousy at Bryce’s charismatic personality.

He would have rather been watched on the television screen instead of the one doing the watching. But, the cards had been stacked against him despite his magnetic charm. Adopted at the late age of nine, Bryce had spent most of his childhood inside the foster care system. His biological parents had always been a mystery to Bryce, never to be located. His adopted parents, although well meaning, never really forged a connection with Bryce. The lacking support system at home along with the persuasive influence of peer pressure at school found him where he was today, living vicariously through the life of a professional football player that he would never have the chance to become.

He was wearing a professional football jersey at this very moment while exchanging celebratory hand slaps with each of his football buddies. The black charcoal grease smeared beneath his eyes was unnecessary, but it was all part of the ensemble. Bryce had football apparel lining his closet that he brought out with pride each and every week. And yet, there was something else in that closet that Bryce never let anyone see. He had a secret. It wasn’t the creepy or dangerous type of secret that would make you want to steer clear of him. But, Bryce thought otherwise, for what he thought was a good reason.

With the call of “hike!” the ball was snapped between the center’s legs and spotted by the holder. The place kicker, in perfect rhythm, drilled the ball end over end through the uprights. The extra point was good, the game had been won – the football game, that is.

false-evidence-appearing-realThe game inside Bryce’s head, however, was still being played. There was that extra point of his own looming in his consciousness – a nightmare of sorts that visited him each evening after he closed his eyes to fall asleep. It was always the same. He was trapped in the pocket. Defensive lineman almost twice his size were closing in on all sides, threatening to pulverize the bones beneath his protective pads. Although this dream was presented in the guise of a football play, Bryce understood that it represented something completely different. And, he knew that there was no amount of padding that could protect him.

Author’s Note: This is the first part of a three part short story. The second installment will be published next week. If you enjoy these stories, please connect with me on Facebook to share more inspiring reminders throughout the week. Thank you for reading and providing your thoughts – best wishes for an inspired day.

Grace under fire

closed-doorAuthor’s Note: This is the final chapter of a three part short story. If you would like to read the first two chapters, please visit Choice words and Double helix.

For the second time in twenty-four hours, Quentin leaned against a closed door, seeking respite from the onslaught of personal accusations and their repercussions. The ensuing days left him feeling isolated and alone – physically and emotionally.

Taking offense to his outspoken opinion on the book ban petition, the town council had been persuaded by its constituents to expedite the removal of Quentin from his mayoral office. It seemed a rather nonsensical and knee-jerk reaction, but Quentin couldn’t be sure at this point in time. There were very few rational thoughts running through his mind.

He remained so self-conscious about the need to defend himself in public that Quentin sought refuge inside his home. He felt safe from any further public assaults, but the doubting voice of his internal conscience continued to swell in volume.

As days passed, the feeling of entrapment within his own house began to prey on Quentin’s sense of sanity. Although he still felt unprepared to confront questions from the community, the desire to escape from what felt like a confined box – its four walls seemingly closing in upon him – was overwhelming.

In what was a more courageous action than it should have been, Quentin picked up his attaché and headed out the front door. Making his way down the sidewalk and around the street corner, he mapped out the shortest and most inconspicuous route to the quiet coffee shop on the edge of town. Quentin felt this was the safest location to get some fresh air – and coffee – to collect his thoughts.

As he slipped through the front door, a bell overhead signaled his entrance. Quentin was pleased to see he was the only patron in the shop. Shuffling up to the counter, the owner seemed oblivious to the controversy brewing around town. Thank goodness for that, thought Quentin. Purchasing a double mocha latte, Quentin slunk to the back corner of the shop and stared into his cup of coffee, as if the steam rising from the surface held some elusive wisdom in its captivating tendrils. Alas, this hope evaporated from Quentin’s mind as quickly as the steam into thin air.

He felt guilt-ridden for expressing his opinion in front of town hall. Worse yet, he began to question his own ideals. If there were so many people opposed to his viewpoint, was it possible that he was off-kilter in the assessment of his moral values? These deteriorating thoughts brought along with it a domino effect of self-deprecating criticisms that left Quentin as nothing more than a fragile shell of his former self.

Setting his coffee cup to the side, Quentin reached down into his attaché and retrieved the object that initiated all the chaos over the previous two days. As he carefully creased the spine, he began to read the opening pages of American Dream. The first page was blank save for an opening quote that consumed his thoughts.

bell-above-doorQuentin thought he imagined hearing a bell inside his mind – signaling receipt of a message he was meant to hear at this exact moment. As it turns out, the ringing bell had originated from elsewhere. Whether he spent seconds or minutes staring at that page in the book, Quentin was pulled from his hypnotic gaze by two voices that had just rounded the counter. Two individuals, an older gentleman and a younger woman took up residence at the table next to Quentin, apparently unaware of his presence. There was something about the young woman that looked familiar. Not wanting to call attention to himself, Quentin quickly retreated behind the cover of his book. He wasn’t reading, however. He was listening.

As if in a collegiate debate competition, comments were fired back and forth between the two.

“Dad, why can’t you just accept who I am and what I want to do with my life.”

“Gracie, the front line of a battlefield is not the proper place for a woman.”

“So, tell me then Dad, where is the proper place for a woman?” retorted the young woman. Quentin was picking up on the general tone of this conversation as he hid behind the cover of his book – Dad thinks he knows best. Daughter disagrees and tries to prove otherwise.

“Now Gracie, don’t go and turn things around on me like that. You know that’s not what I mean. I just want what’s best for you,” pleaded Dad.

“Dad, you know I love you. But, I’m not going to let you steer my path through life like you did with Kelly. What’s best for me, Dad, is standing up for what I believe in – even if it means I stand alone.”

With the last statement, Quentin involuntarily let the book in front of his face drop below eye level. As if by fate, his gaze met that of Gracie. The long brunette hair, the distinctive jawline, and the penetrating hazel eyes – he immediately recognized the physical characteristics. Whether she knew what was held within the covers of that blue hardcover entitled American Dream or not, whether she even knew that her older sister worked as his secretary, Quentin could have sworn he perceived the slightest grin on her face. Quentin gave a slight wink and let a smile spread across his own face is if to say thank you.

Gathering up his belongings, Quentin rose from his seat. Passing the table occupied by Gracie and her Dad, he laid his copy of American Dream open to the page he had been so deeply contemplating before their arrival.

The mind is like a parachute. It works best when it is open. ~Dalai Lama

Quentin kept walking, past the counter and out the front door. He was a different man than when he entered. Slinking into this establishment less than thirty minutes ago, he now walked out with his head held high. He had not regained his position as mayor. Quentin had, however, reclaimed something much more valuable – a sense of self, a firm resolve to stick up for what he believed in.

to-be-yourself-greatest-accomplishmentThe gears began to turn as he strolled down the sidewalk. He wasn’t any more right or wrong about what he believed in as was Kelly, Gracie, their Dad, or – for that matter – any other member of this small, conservative town. What was wrong, thought Quentin, was denying someone the choice to believe in something that was meaningful to them.

With each subsequent step, the characteristic bounce returned to Quentin’s gait. His perceptive mind kicked back into high gear as he chuckled to himself and thought about the irony – grace under fire – he had so many reasons to smile, so much to believe in, and he wasn’t going to let anyone take that privilege away from him ever again.

Double helix

what-we-think-we-becomeAuthor’s Note: This is the second part of a three part short story. If you would like to read the first chapter, please visit Choice words.

Kelly was waiting at the front door to escort Quentin back to the relative safety of his office. She had spent three and a half years working beside the mayor, and it was obvious to her that something was amiss. She understood that the spilled coffee was a veil for some other underlying issue.

“What was that about?”

Running his hands through the thick black matte of hair atop his head, Quentin loosened his tie once again and exhaled deeply, “I don’t know.” Sinking into the high backed leather chair behind the desk, he stared up at Kelly, another uncomfortable connection made between the dots of this evolving puzzle. He just now recalled seeing Kelly’s signature on the petition.

Quentin learned his lesson, albeit a little too late, “I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

“Is this about that book?”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it right now,” replied Quentin, a little more agitated.

“You don’t actually support that gibberish, do you?”

This kind and compassionate woman who had stood beside him professionally for what seemed like an eternity revealed a side that he had not previously seen. Trying to regain some sense of composure, Quentin replied a bit more calmly, “Look, I just need a little time to process what just happened, okay?”

Kelly turned on her heels, like a soldier resolved to enter battle, and stormed out of Quentin’s office. He was wondering whether the woman who just walked out of his office was the same person who had entered just a few moments earlier – it was as though some metamorphosis had occurred in the previous two minutes.

The crass comments furnished by his secretary were just that, scolding and insensitive – on the surface. What these seemingly chiding remarks did not convey was the long standing and deep-seated regret in Kelly’s psyche. From her earliest memories as a child, she had dreamt of a career on Broadway. She had been guided – more like coerced – into taking a more sensible route. And that’s how she found herself working eight to four, five days a week – pushing papers, answering phones, collecting paychecks – while her dreams remained latent. If she didn’t have the freedom of choice in her life, why should anyone else? Nope, Quentin didn’t hear or understand these unspoken emotions.

Quentin reached over to the bottom drawer of his mahogany desk and pulled it open. Resting on its side was a book with the title American Dream. Running his index finger over the spine, he lifted it out and placed it on the desk in front of him. Placing his left index finger over his mouth, Quentin simultaneously ran his right palm delicately over the textured blue cover, as if to console this inanimate object for the injustice it had just been served.

As the furious scurrying of endorphins through his brain began to slow down, a semblance of reason began to reappear in Quentin’s consciousness. He had to admit that his objection with the long list of names on that petition was more than just a political stance. It was also an attack on his personal values and belief system.

reporter-pen-paperThe murmur of voices in the hallway began to escalate in volume until five individuals, four of them carrying a pen and pad of paper, entered through the doorway of his office. The fifth person, arms crossed over her chest, had a conniving grin on her face. “There are a few people here that would like to speak with you,” uttered Kelly in a most contemptuous voice.

It was one thing for Kelly to express her personal opinion, it was quite another for her to expose Quentin’s vulnerability given his present state. This was beyond cruel. It was bordering on sadistic. As if Kelly’s announcement concluded all formal introductions, the accusations disguised as inquiries began to suffocate Quentin, one fired after another like lethal bullets.

“Were your statements outside pertaining to the book American Dream?”

“What do you think about same sex marriages?”

“You aren’t married, are you?”

“Are you a homosexual?”

Attempting to remain relatively calm in the face of these probing questions, Quentin replied quickly, “Yes, no comment right now, no, and no.” Getting up from his chair, Quentin pushed with an invisible force on the reporters invading his space. As they recoiled out of the office, Quentin forced the door closed and secured the lock.

He felt trapped, physically and emotionally. He was pretty sure there was no way the people outside town hall would disperse anytime soon, especially with the fodder that those nettlesome reporters would feed the hungry crowd. Sinking back into his chair, Quentin resigned himself to holing up in his office until later that evening.

Thoughts from Quentin’s past filtered through his consciousness as the clock on his wall ticked – seconds turning to minutes and on to hours. At seven o’clock that evening, Quentin paused and listened for any sign of activity outside. It appeared as though his persistence had prevailed over the curious minds he addressed earlier in the day.

Gathering up his belongings, Quentin began to head out the office door before he paused. Returning to the desk, he picked up his copy of American Dream and slipped it into his attaché. The scene outside was thankfully serene. All that could be heard was the continuous chirping of crickets. The short commute home was uneventful. The same could not be said about the proceedings of the following day.

daily-newspaperQuentin felt grateful that it was a Saturday morning. Emotions had boiled over. Everyone just needed a bit of time to cool off. With a government holiday on Monday, the long weekend was a stroke of luck, a perfect opportunity for normalcy to return at the office on Tuesday morning. Quentin convinced himself of this probable outcome until he opened the front door. Greeted by the front page of the morning newspaper, his optimism vanished.

The headline title read “Mayoral Misrepresentation”. Aside from the poor attempt at alliteration, the story detailed a contrived stance on Quentin’s views. He had absolutely no idea where the substantiation for this article originated from – he had said all of eight words to reporters the previous afternoon. Quentin knew that this was a town populated by conservative folks. He didn’t realize they were prone to such libel, slander, and defamation of character.

Quentin stood there in his doorway, reading the contents of this article with an overwhelming sense of betrayal washing over him. It would only get worse. His good friend Ben, the local family practitioner, was strolling up the sidewalk to his front door.

“Hey Ben, not you too?”

Quentin could tell by the look on his face that this was not a cordial visit. “What’s going on,” inquired Quentin hesitantly.

“We need to talk,” responded Ben with a concerned tone in his voice.

As much as Ben desired a different outcome, his hands were tied. “The town council wants you to resign from your mayoral position.” Pausing for a response that he didn’t get, Ben continued, “They don’t think your representation is aligned with the views of the general population.”

“What? All this from one statement? You’re kidding me, right? Isn’t this a bit knee-jerk in nature?” asked Quentin.

“Unfortunately, no, this is not a joke. The motion passed by one vote yesterday evening.” Feeling the need to provide some semblance of solace, Ben continued, “For what it’s worth, I don’t support this decision.”

Quentin sighed deeply, resigned to the action now required of him. “I’m sorry Q,” offered Ben, “I know this isn’t right, but I don’t have a choice. I asked to be the one who let you know. I hoped it would be easier on you.”

Quentin wasn’t sure whether receiving this disheartening message from one of his closest friends made it easier or more difficult. Quentin always had the most peculiar and perceptive thought process during times of struggle. It’s what allowed him to be such an effective leader – until yesterday at least. The instinctive connection between Ben’s profession and his current predicament emerged through the murky cloudiness of his mind.

what-screws-us-up-the-mostThe self-replicating material in our human form – our DNA – is comprised of a double helix pattern. Two strands twist together like a vine to form a structure that is not easily severed. In his present situation, one strand represented the mainstream expectations of society, the other strand symbolized the general population of this conservative town. The last piece of this puzzle – the one that didn’t fit – was Quentin himself. He felt like an extra chromosome expelled from the equation for fear of some viral disease being caused by his mere presence.

Author’s Note: This is the second part of a three part short story. The final installment will be published next week. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day!

Choice words

botanical-gardenQuentin reached over to press the intercom button on his phone, “Kelly, can you bring me the items left to resolve this week, please and thank you.” Within thirty seconds, the mayor’s secretary appeared in the small government office. “Here you go,” replied Kelly as she handed over a stack of manila folders each about a half inch thick. “The most important ones are on the top. And don’t forget you have the press conference at three o’clock today.”

Quentin couldn’t possibly forget the press conference. That’s what he enjoyed most about serving as mayor of this small southern town. He relished the opportunity to be in the spotlight, to provide leadership for the citizens of his community. And he was mighty good at it too. The majority of folks living in town not only approved of his representation, most also considered him a friend.

The press conference was scheduled in order to share plans for construction of a new town park complete with a paved biking trail and five acre botanical garden. Quentin was excited for an opportunity to share this symbol of progress during his term.

Rustling through the items that required his stamp of approval, Quentin flipped open each folder in succession – increased fines for traffic violations, a new bingo night request for senior citizens at the community center, as well as a few financial and legal documents pertaining to improvements on the town streets. He had become numb to these common requests that always seemed to end up on his desk. He never liked the paperwork aspect of his job. He much rather preferred the face to face interaction with people.

Glancing down at his watch, Quentin realized there were ten minutes remaining before he needed to be outside – time to glance at one more item. As he opened the jacket of the folder, he expected to see some other mundane legislation request, perhaps a further restriction on the leash length for pets being walked in public.

What he found inside that folder left him numb once again, not due to a lack of interest, but rather from shock. Staring back at him was a request in the form of a signed petition to ban a book from the shelves of the public library. The book’s title was innocent enough, American Dream, but the synopsis of the book indicated otherwise. The main plot line of this fictional novel told the story of a young couple seeking the adoption of a baby girl. The caveat to this otherwise normal plot line was that the adopting couple was not what everyone considered to be traditional. The two partners comprising the adopting couple were both men.

Quentin could feel his pulse begin to involuntarily accelerate as he perused the long list of signed names scrawled on the petition. These were people he knew – or thought he knew at least. Needless to say, it was now obvious that these people did not share the same stance on some of the more controversial issues facing society. It wasn’t that Quentin either approved or disapproved of the story told within the covers of the book. He simply felt that everyone deserved a choice. Equal opportunity was more than a catch phrase to Quentin. He believed it. He lived it. And he felt as though he needed to fight for it.

As he tightened the knot on his tie and gathered the notes for his speech to the crowd gathering outside, Quentin’s attention was not where it was supposed to be. The contents of that last folder had jaded the congenial attitude he had been carrying with him all day. As he passed by Kelly’s desk, she had noticed the mix of anger, frustration, and confusion in his gait. “Everything OK?”

“Yes … well, no.” And then, recognizing that he didn’t have the time to get into a drawn out conversation, Quentin continued on, “I just spilled coffee on my notes, no big deal, I can still make out the major points.”

Slipping out the front door, Quentin approached the podium outside town hall, greeted by a few dozen members of the community. By the time the top of the hour had arrived, the numbers of attendees had risen to well over one hundred along with several reporters seeking content for their column in the next edition of the local newspaper.

town-hall-meeting“Good afternoon,” feigned Quentin into the microphone. Everyone could tell that he was not his usual exuberant self. The details of the new park that were planned to be filled with hope and excitement came off sounding flat and uninspired. The final planned sentence rolled off Quentin’s tongue in a rote manner, “This new addition to our community will give us an opportunity to share and grow together over the coming months and years, for our generation and those that follow.”

Quentin knew he should have let things sit right there. He needed time to collect his thoughts. He needed an opportunity to subdue his raging emotions before broaching the concern in the forefront of his mind. What we think we should do is not always what ends up happening. Our emotions can be extremely persuasive, and Quentin succumbed to their wishes in the heat of the moment.

“And speaking of community and growth,” continued Quentin with a bit more conviction. “I feel it is important to mention our duty as citizens to respect the choices of others. So long as they are living within the bounds of the law, every individual should have the freedom to choose, among other things, the books they would like to read.”

true-measure-of-a-manSeveral heads that had been lulled into a state of complacency by the mayor’s flat speech were suddenly at attention once again. One by one, the look on their faces were transformed to convey disbelief. Although not explicitly stated, the crowd in attendance knew exactly what Quentin’s choice of words meant to convey. And the murmur that began to grow among the crowd let Quentin know that he had now indeed reached the end of this press conference. Retreating into the safety of his office, the press members in attendance were circling like vultures, just biding their time before they had the opportunity to spring on their prey.

Author’s Note: This is the first part of a three part short story. The second installment will be published next week. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day!

Step by step

newfound-gap-sunset

Author’s Note: This is the fourth chapter of a six part story. If you would like to read the previous chapters, please visit Chapter 1 – The key, Chapter 2 – Plus one, and Chapter 3 – The seed.

With the sun hastily sinking below the horizon, Damon slipped the acorn into his pocket, giving it a small caress as a sign of appreciation for the wisdom it had recently bestowed upon him. He draped the brass skeleton key around his neck and placed the parchment back into the soil covered box that had just been discovered in a concealed burrow. Together with Jo, a waitress that he had befriended at a roadside diner less than forty-eight hours ago, Damon retraced his steps to his truck in the parking area. Gryffin, Damon’s loyal golden retriever, was following closely behind.

“What do you think those numbers mean?” asked Jo, referring to the three inscriptions on the parchment below the quote about new beginnings.

Damon knew the exact meaning of the first two numbers. Like the previous set of digits etched on the key now hanging around his neck, the numbers were coordinates to a new location, north and east of their present location. The third message etched below the first two, 811 E42F – 26, left both Jo and Damon befuddled.

Damon’s night vision had always been suspect. He had made every effort in the past to restrict his driving to daylight hours. This was one time when he was happy to have made an exception.

“Jo, would you mind driving us back into town. I’m not all that comfortable with night driving, especially on these mountain switchbacks,” Damon pleaded.

“Sure, no problem,” responded Jo. She had responded without really thinking, as if she was in some sort of hypnotic daze. Her thoughts were obviously elsewhere. Damon wondered where her preoccupied musings were leading Jo.

Damon had a secondary reason for asking Jo to drive. The night blindness pretext was just a veil to conceal his real motivation. He knew that Jo was on the cusp of diverging from their joint venture once they reached the base of the mountain. She had hitched a ride with him from her hometown in rural Virginia to locate her ex-boyfriend who had relocated – with a good chunk of her money – to the town just outside the park boundaries. Having Jo behind the wheel would put her in the driver’s seat, both literally and figuratively.

The signature chime originating from the dash of the truck spoiled Damon’s well laid plan. “Looks like you better get some gas when we get back into town,” offered Jo.

And just like that, the ball was back in Damon’s court. He wasn’t encouraged by her use of the word you instead of we. Maybe she would just grab a taxi from the gas station and disappear from his life in pursuit of her original objective. The thought of how he was going to handle the situation left him feeling quite awkward. He felt something more than a superficial companionship in Jo’s presence. He wasn’t ready for their newfound friendship to dissolve so quickly, but he didn’t want to appear desperate for asking what he really wanted – for her to accompany him on the next leg of his journey. As it turned out, Jo made the decision for him.

mountain-switchback“That quote, the one you found on that piece of paper,” began Jo. “It’s really made me think.” She carefully kept her eyes on the road ahead of her. With the road curving left and right every couple hundred feet, it was a prudent decision. However, she was doing so more because she wasn’t ready for the rejection that may come with her next request.

“I’ve always been one to go with my gut, and the quote on that paper you just discovered about new beginnings was a wakeup call. There’s something inside telling me that I should continue travelling with you, and forget about whatever story is unfolding as a result of my past decisions … if you will have me.”

Damon couldn’t help but smile, just a little bit. “It wasn’t I who discovered that piece of paper, it was we,” responded Damon. And right on cue, as if to take partial credit for the discovery, Gryffin echoed a bark of approval from the back seat. “And you are certainly more than welcome to join me. In fact, I would rather like that.”

With the emotional distractions resolved, Damon’s attention returned to the logistics of the hours that followed. “Maybe we can find a couple hotel rooms in town, get some rest, and start fresh in the morning?”

“Where to, though?” asked Jo.

“I think maybe we should find a hotel with a business center. With access to a computer, we can figure out where these coordinates are leading us,” responded Damon.

Upon reaching the outskirts of town, Jo pulled into the parking lot of a gas station with a convenience store attached to it. While Damon began to fill up the truck, Jo headed inside to get some local knowledge on a good place to stay for the night.

When he had finished topping off the tank, Damon had noticed that Jo had yet to return from inside the store. He gave Gryffin a reassuring scruff behind the ears, uttered “Be right back buddy”, and headed for the front door. Inside, Jo was at the front counter with a pre-wrapped sandwich, bag of chips, and soda.

“I thought maybe we could get a bite to eat and brainstorm about that last number,” interjected Damon before she passed her money over to the clerk. He wasn’t quick enough. Jo had already paid, but she responded back, “It’s not for me.”

“It’s for the guy sitting on the curb outside,” she continued.

homeless-signDamon hadn’t seen anyone outside. Who exactly was she talking about? As he craned his neck to see out the front window, he now noticed the disheveled man huddled over on the curb. Am I that oblivious to the world around me? thought Damon. He was slightly embarrassed, at himself at least, that he had filtered another human being out of the equation of his life so easily.

While contemplating these thoughts, he didn’t realize that Jo was already exiting the store. “You coming?” came Jo’s voice with one foot already out the front door. Following her over to the curb, Damon watched as Jo leaned down and offered the man her purchases. It would have been a mere snack to Jo or Damon. To this gentleman, however, it appeared to be a feast. And although the only two words that emerged from his mouth were “Thank you”, the genuine look in his eyes spoke a thousand words of gratitude.

“There’s a small hotel, up ahead on the right. The guy inside said it looks sorta like a dive, but it’s a great deal and they are pet friendly. And yes, they have a computer,” smiled Jo as they returned to the truck.

Sitting at the hotel computer, each was digging into a carton of take-out shrimp lo mein. “You know,” voiced Jo between bites, “I had a different idea in mind when I said I’d like seafood for dinner.”

Damon stirred through the sea of noodles with his wooden chopsticks, searching for the sparse shrimp which evidently had all been consumed. “Yeah, I’m right there with you. I guess beggars can’t be choosers. Seafood and mountains don’t necessarily fit in the same sentence now, do they?”

Placing his uneaten portion on the table next to the computer, Damon looked over at Jo who had found one last shrimp, and offered, “If we ever get the chance, I’ll treat you to some proper seafood.”

“Promise?” grinned Jo. Without hesitation, Damon responded with his own smile, “Yep, I promise.” Returning to the business at hand, Damon punched the new set of coordinates into the browser’s search engine. It felt like turning that brass key again, opening another treasure box.

welcome-to-dcThe map on the screen contained many familiar landmarks. It was obvious where they would be headed next – Washington, D.C. More specifically, the exact coordinates pinpointed a particular building in the District of Columbia – the public library. It was at that point in time, almost simultaneously, that both Damon and Jo looked at each other and shared a collective chortle of recognition. They immediately understood the meaning behind the third inscription on that parchment.

Author’s Note: This is the fourth part of a six part “not-so-short” short story about self-discovery. A new segment will be published each Wednesday in December with the closing chapter being posted on the first Wednesday of 2015. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day and new year!