Bewitched

bewitchedIt seemed like the perfect idea. And it turned out to be, if only for a different reason than I originally thought. We were new to the area. I’d accepted a job offer in the city. It would be a new start for us. Emma had begrudgingly left her well-defined social circles and vegetable garden from the rural town in exchange for an apartment in the uptown district. It was a difficult transition for her, and subsequently me, but we were becoming more comfortable. With the cooling temperatures and the leaves transitioning to a vibrant orange, it was easy to slip into the autumn holiday spirit.

“Let’s have a party,” she’d said. “We can have your co-workers over. Maybe a few of our new neighbors.”

It was a good idea. I fully embraced it. But, I decided to take Emma’s idea and add a little flare to it.

“Sure, but how about we spice things up a bit, make it a costume party? It’s almost Halloween, after all.”

“Great idea! I’ll go as a witch. You can be my cowboy.” I picked up on her suggestive cue.

“Well, those two don’t mesh, but I’m game.” I whipped up an imaginary lasso, reeled Emma in, and adorned her lips with a passionate kiss. It was set, a costume party, the day before Halloween.

Witches are a common sight around Halloween. And our party was no exception. Although I didn’t fault Emma for her lack of originality, it was clear that my colleagues, our new neighbors, were short on creativity as well. There must have been two dozen witches. It was like an enchantress convention. There were enough broomsticks in our living room to outfit an entire Quidditch match.

Emma spared no expense to make a good impression, hoping to establish a new set of friends in this culturally diverse city. The hors d’oeuvres and punch, lightly spiked, were also accompanied by festive decorations and music to set the mood.

About midway through the evening, I sidled over to Emma, and slipped my arm around her waist. “How you doin’ gorgeous?” The look of surprise on my face was reflected back at me when she turned around. It wasn’t Emma. It was Gina. I think that was her name. I had just met her. My new boss’s wife. I backtracked quickly, but safely. We both chuckled at my gaffe, and it was certainly an effective ice breaker.

It wasn’t until later that I learned Gina wasn’t the only witch whose identity was mistaken that evening.

As quickly as he approached Emma, the man had slipped back into the crowd of people. She couldn’t be sure who it was, but Emma would never forget what he had whispered in her ear, and that our future here in the city was already tainted.

“I found the spot. Behind the nightstand in the bedroom. I already have the first number of the combination figured out. We’ll have to work on the other two another time.”

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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.

Opening Night

opening-night“Michaela, curtain in five,” came the voice from behind the door. Callie stared at her reflection in the mirror with a tense look on her face. She could hear the reprimanding tones in any utterance of her given name, one she hadn’t heard in years.

Michaela Ambrose. The family lineage dictated by her surname meant one thing. She would be a lawyer, just like her father and grandfather before him. Her brother had accepted his fate graciously. Callie was the black sheep, obstinate and unyielding to the ploys of her shepherding parents.


Callie hadn’t known what she wanted to do with her life. She was only a junior in high school. Why should she be pressured into a decision so early? These arguments fell on deaf ears until Callie became a reclusive and rebellious teenager.

“Michaela, put something appropriate on. We need to leave in five minutes,” scolded her mother.

Another evening at the theater. Just great, thought Callie. More pompous and high falutin snobs, overdressed, and clapping ceremoniously at all the proper moments. It was all so fake. She hated everything about it. Callie knew she’d be forced to dress accordingly. It didn’t stop her from pressing her parents’ buttons. It was the tiny bit of control she seemed to have in her life.

It was about midway through the second act. Callie was disinterested, arms folded, scowl on her face. The actress was dancing delicately across the stage, belting out the signature note of her solo performance, when it happened. Whether it was the glint of bright lights off the reflective brooch in the front row, or simply a lack of concentration, she faltered.

The voice of the actress cracked as she fell to her knees, just a moment of imperfection. As quickly as she stumbled, the actress regained her poise. The collective inhalations from the crowd, however, were deafening. It was such a powerful misstep that even Callie found herself with a need to catch her breath. While everyone else had gasped in dismay, Callie had been drawn into her performance for the first time that evening.

Everything always felt so contrived about these productions. Now this? This was real. It showed the imperfections in humanity. There was a sense of authenticity and vulnerability in failure. Although Callie wouldn’t wish this type of misfortune on anyone, she had to admit that she felt fortunate that it occurred that evening. For the first time in her life, she could identify with someone. With something bigger than herself. The standing ovation awarded by the crowd at the completion of the performance was consolatory in nature. For Callie, however, it was genuine.


That actress had ruined Callie’s life. In her parent’s eyes, at least. The spark ignited on that evening so many years ago, however, allowed Callie to reclaim ownership of her young life. Michaela. She whispered the name to herself. The apprehensive face in the mirror morphed into a grin. It was opening night, in more than one way.

Exposure

exposure“C’mon mom,” urged the young boy. “It’s only five bucks. I’ll pay for it with my allowance.”

Alister’s mom threw him a suggestive glance. “You mean the allowance that will buy me my next coffee because the grass is still three inches high?”

The eclectic items on display at the estate sale were spread before them. She redirected her gaze to the man behind the table. “Three dollars.” It’s part question, part statement. He nods in affirmation. As she hands over the three bills, Alister’s mom addresses her son, “No pictures until the grass is cut.”

On the ride home, Alister examined the camera. “How does it work, and what’s this door? Is it for batteries?”

“It’s for the film. It’s how people took pictures before the digital revolution.” She could see the curiosity and sense of adventure radiating from Alister. “I know where to get some. You’ll have twenty-four exposures so use them wisely.”

Alister’s mom looked out the window as her son darted across the yard. Her three dollar investment was paying off huge dividends. The grass was being cut, and Alister was excited about something.

“Done!” shouted Alister as he burst into the kitchen.

“Wash up.” Five minutes later, he was hunched over the counter with a damp head, watching his mom load the film. She explained how to take a picture and advance the film.

As he flung the worn strap around his neck, Alister bolted towards the door. “Stay in the yard,” shouted his mom. “Yep,” he called back as he closed the door and disappeared into a new universe of possibilities.

The mailbox. A dandelion. An ant meandering across the sidewalk. He burned through the roll in ten minutes. “How do I download these?” he asked. That’s when she had to explain the process of developing, and patience. The ensuing two days moved at a snail’s pace for Alister.

He ripped open the envelope like it held a million dollars. He sifted through the photos with admiration.

“It’ll be a treasure trove for you, your first photos.” His mom smiled as Alister carried the collection to his room. Arranging them in chronological order, sliding each one into a sleeve, Alister noticed something. A small number was superimposed on the corner of each photograph. Must be something with this ancient technology, Alister thought.

“Where is it?” whispered the secretive man as he rifled through the items on the table with no display of respect. “The camera, where is it?”

“Don’t know,” came the voice from his partner as he searched the boxes below the table.

The elderly man behind the table, the one who didn’t speak, uttered a minimum number of words in a foreign accent. “Sold to young boy and mom. Three dollars. I did good job, that piece of junk.” He smiled with pride.

“Dammit!” The man pounded his fist on the table in disgust. The map to Montezuma’s Treasure had eluded their grasp, like dandelion petals floating on the breeze, yet again.

Deception

deception-skullI don an inconspicuous outfit, khakis and a white oxford shirt. Passing through the security gates of the museum, I smile courteously and retrieve a map. I don’t need one. I know exactly where I’m going. I’ve gone over this plan in my mind numerous times. Timing and attention are critical for success.

Left, two rights, up a staircase, around the corner into the atrium, and through the northwest corridor. It had become my mantra. I whisper it quietly now as I meticulously follow the directions. I glance at my watch. Right on time, perfect. There were more direct routes, but this one had been chosen for a reason. The museum’s placement of cameras left gaps in coverage that I could exploit.

Sitting on the platform, the skull was left unguarded, even though it shouldn’t have been. It was the oldest known cranium found to date, estimated to be a descendant of the famed Lucy. I ease up to the velvet divider separating her from me. Millions of years separated our existence on Earth. I wonder if she’d ever conceived something so mischievous in her lifetime?

One last scan before I spring into action. The stairway located on the eastern wall is my escape route. Ready, set, go. Deliberately, but not hastily, I hop the divider, grab the skull, and begin sprinting towards the door. Dodging left, then right, with the prize safely tucked away, I’m a running back, avoiding linebackers looking to tackle me.

“Stop!” the security guard shouts, and I know who his words are intended for. The museum alarm system is enabled, just as I push open the stairwell door. Still on schedule.

Skipping steps three at a time, I traverse the two stories with ease. Reaching the ground floor, I push open the exit door. The alarm is already going off. No harm in triggering another one. Placing the skull on the floor, I dart out of the darkened stairwell and into the sunlight. The backpack is waiting for me there.

I pick it up and make my way to the pub around the corner. I emerge from its restroom a new man, dressed in shorts, t-shirt, and sunglasses. I blend in with every other tourist as I sling the backpack over my shoulder.

The guards will be flummoxed when they discover the skull, still safely inside the walls of the museum. I’m sure it won’t make any sense to them. No matter. By the time they discover the handful of missing gold doubloons, the ones my partner has pilfered amid the chaos, we will have already collected our millions on the black market.

“Hey, stop,” comes the officer’s voice from behind me. Something isn’t quite right. Our plan has been compromised. It’s in this moment, however, that I realize it never was our plan. It was his plan. The plan for deception, as it turns out, was twofold. For the security guards, yes. But his first point of deception was yours truly. Damn, mission accomplished.

Jealousy

jealousyAuthor’s Note: This is the second part of a two part short story. If you would like to read the first chapter, please visit Mailbox.

Each day, like Pavlov’s dog, the two boys would race to the curb and pull open their respective mailbox with the hope of finding a letter. And each day, both Josh and Billy shuffled through the assorted flyers and coupons in search of an envelope that simply wasn’t there.

November 6. Billy would remember that afternoon. As if arriving at the mailbox first would cause a letter to materialize, Josh yanked open his mailbox a split second sooner than Billy. Still hopeful, Josh carefully slid the junk mail out of the way, but again found nothing. Billy, carrying out the same routine just a few short seconds later, filtered through the same assortment of junk mail. Shifting the flyers to the side, Billy saw something new – a stamp. It was on the corner of the envelope peeking from beneath the pile, just begging to be revealed. He could tell this was it. He pulled it out, raised it in the air and yelled, “Got it!”

Looking over at Josh, Billy could sense the feeling of aggravation and dejection written all over Josh’s face. And in that short moment, he suddenly felt sorry for Josh. This was silly – a competition over who could get a response from a girl first. The initial look of jubilation on his face disappeared as he brought the envelope down from its position above his head. His victory didn’t feel as good as he thought it would. And then, it got worse.

As Billy looked at the address on the front, he noticed that there was something amiss with the perfect penmanship in purple ink on the front of the envelope. It wasn’t addressed to Billy. It was addressed to Josh. Billy never liked roller coasters, especially ones of the emotional variety. He was on one now, plummeting into the depths of a deep abyss that had no perceivable bottom.

“It’s for you,” Billy said simply under his breath.

“What?” responded Josh, not recognizing the reality of the situation quite yet.

“The letter – it’s for you, not me. They messed up the address.” Billy plodded the few paces over his crunchy brown grass and into Josh’s lush green yard – a color that was figuratively all over Josh’s face just a few short moments ago in the form of jealousy. He handed the envelope over to its rightful owner.

A smile of victory began to spread across Josh’s face. As he confirmed what Billy already knew, he began to chant and partake in a victory dance, “Oh yeah, who da man? That’s me – uh huh.” As ungraceful as it was, Josh didn’t seem to care. He was top man on the totem pole now. Billy didn’t stick around to give Josh an opportunity to gloat any longer. He turned around and retreated to his corner.

As he was walking back up the steps to his front door, one of the flyers in his hand dropped to the ground. As he reached down to pick it up, he could see the reflection of Josh in the side view mirror of his dad’s station wagon. It had been knocked off by a kid riding his bike on the street some two months ago, and they didn’t have the money to fix it. Positioned just perfectly, it revealed Josh glaring over in the direction of Billy. Josh was watching him wallow in defeat. And although Billy was upset, he wasn’t sure that it was because he had lost this competition. He thought it had more to do with how he thought he would feel upon winning, and how he actually felt when he thought he had. The teenage hormones were running rampant, and he wasn’t sure what or how to think right now.

As he bent down to retrieve the pizza coupon that had fallen to the ground, the welcome mat – missing the O in welcome – revealed a hidden gem of its own. Sticking out from the corner of the mat was something pink. As he peeled back the corner of the mat, Billy saw his own name written across the front of the envelope. There was no stamp. This letter was hand delivered. As he flipped it over to open it, he noticed the lipstick impression where the envelope was sealed. Written around it was a message – “Sealed with a lick because a kiss wouldn’t stick.”

Josh was still looking over at him. Billy had won after all. But, this victory had nothing to do with receiving an envelope first. He glanced up at Josh, winked, and smiled. He pushed the door open and proceeded to close it behind him – making double sure it latched so no cold air from the outside could get back in.

Author’s Note: Thank you, as always, to all who take time out of their day to read and comment. It is sincerely appreciated. I will be releasing my very first original piece to the Amazon Kindle store on Monday, June 15th. The story is one of my personal favorites, and you can read the short synopsis at Impression. I will also be publishing an excerpt of the complete story here on my blog Sunday evening, June 14th to whet your appetite 🙂

As a humble sign of my appreciation, the complete short story will be available for free from Monday, June 15th through June 17th. If you find the story enjoyable, I would sincerely appreciate any feedback on the Amazon site so that other readers have a better chance of discovering it. Thank you once again to each and every reader who makes it so much more rewarding to be a writer – inspire and be inspired.

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!

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!