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My pens have gotten me through some times–happy, sad, moody, angry. Through the years, keeping a diary or journal, as well as writing fiction, has kept me semi-sane.

Here on Penz-O-Paula you’ll find blog posts, short stories and such by me. You’ll also find writing by others that I want to share with you.

Not everything here is sunshine and roses, but I don’t know of anyplace that is, do you?

I hope you’ll visit often, leave comments and follow me!

Beyond the Grid

Monitoring the city’s security grid, a shocked Megan blurted out, “What the….?”

The co-workers on shift with her quickly adjusted their monitors to see what Megan was watching.

“Oh, dear God,” Rebecca gasped.

Security Surveillance had been moved underground several years earlier, two levels  lower than the subway system. Just below the subway level, there were several shops for commuters and employees, offering almost anything they could purchase on the surface. Near the entrance to the security level, there was a daycare center for employees of the shops and security who had small children.

Megan and her husband had worked in the facility for years, and maintained a small apartment adjacent to the control room, as did several of their co-workers. It was simply easier; the city offered the pleasant living quarters for a song compared to city rental rates.

Enough people lived and worked “The Underground”, as they called it amongst themselves, that there was a healthy social life, and most people were content to limit their visits to the surface, often staying below the city for weeks at a time.

The exception was the small group of school-aged children who commuted out and up into the city to attend their classes. They were accompanied on weekdays by the few adults with jobs on the surface.

“What do we do?” Megan asked.

“Close the gates,” Ruben ordered.

“No! Rebecca cried. “My kids are up there! Jim is up there!”

Ruben stared grimly at the monitors. “Not anymore,” he said.

 

Author’s Note: Inspired by a prompt on Writers Unite!

A Sea Turbulent As Me

The sea was angry, hurling waves against the rocks as the salty spray stung my skin.

Pat always told me he wanted us to be on the west coast because the waters were calm, not like the violent waves we used to see in Maine.

You certainly couldn’t have proven that to me, not that morning.

Salt water mingled with my angry tears, and I couldn’t miss the fact that the ocean’s turbulent behavior reflected my mood.

I stood looking out at the water, almost in awe of the tantrum; waves battered the shoreline, slamming against each other in thunderous claps that resounded as loudly as cannon shots. I felt an odd desire to shake my fists and cheer it on.

Pat, reduced to ashes and residing in a blue and silver urn, rested in my arms, waiting. I could literally feel him waiting, I tell you. I could hear his voice, urging me to complete my mission: “Just open it, Betsy. Just let me go.”

Of course, at that point angry tears turned to those of pure sorrow. “Oh, Patrick, the sea will just toss you back!”

If only it actually could!

My anger wasn’t with Pat, of course, but directed at the mob who trampled him when he dared attempt crossing the street to push back against their rhetoric and hate-spewing. Being labeled a coward or a fool for trying to do the right thing was something my husband lived with no matter where we made our home.

Police, in spite of the bad reputations assigned to them by protesters and media reports, are by and large working for the good of all. Apparently, that means they have no rights, except the right to die while protecting others.

I took the urn, unopened, to await a calmer sea.

 

Author’s note: Inspired by a prompt from Writers Unite!

 

 

Revelation (continued)

“Picking our way through the rubble proved difficult.” Jess utter a strangled cough of a laugh. “I don’t know why we thought we’d be able to find Mom and Dad, after…”

Teri, her face pale, nodded. “We hid out in the drainage system for days before we decided it was okay to go outside and look around. We figured if the air was toxic… poison, radiation, whatever… we’d already be dead.”

We all–Vance, Dale and I–nodded encouragingly. “Why do you think the planes were ours?” Vance asked. That was a stunning revelation.

Jess sighed. “They were flying low. Even across the river, you could tell. Dad was retired military. We’ve been to so many air shows…”

“They were ours,” Teri asserted.

Vance looked scandalized, but Dale only nodded thoughtfully. “It’s what we feared,” he said. “It’s the reason we built this place.” He added, “Go on, son.”

“We were scared, but we came out because it was so… quiet. Like… dead quiet, you know? No traffic, no birds, no voices; just nothing!

“The bridge was damaged, but not so badly we couldn’t get across,” Teri added. “We pushed our bikes, mostly. It was slow, and every little creak made me want to… uh…”

“Nothing looked the same.” Jess took up the narrative, sparing his sister the need to articulate a need to pee her pants or jump out of her skin. “Our parents had gone to a walking mall downtown, but we couldn’t figure out how to get there. Roads were destroyed or buried;  buildings had collapsed or burned.”

“We wanted to find our parents, but…in the end, it was all about finding decent food and water–”

“While avoiding all the bodies–”

“And getting around it, and out.”

“It’s huge. It took us ages.”

Teri sighed. “And, yes. Alone.”

 

Author’s Note: Inspired by a prompt on Writers Unite!

 

Revelation

“No… what the—Mom and Dad are in the city!” Jess looked at us, his eyes wide and sincere. “That’s what Teri said, and then she started bawling. I mean…I almost bawled myself! Mom and Dad were over there, and…we couldn’t get to them, could we?”

Dale leaned forward in his straight-backed chair, hands clasped and elbows on knees. “So, what did you do?”

Jess grimaced. “We had our bikes, so we booked like hell for the culvert that drains into the river.”

“Across the river from the city?” I asked, just to be clear.

“Yeah. It was dry then,” Jess said. “No rain, no run-off. It’s big. We rode right in, because…well…it’s all concrete, and under the ground, and who knew when they might decide to start bombing on that side of the river! We were scared, man.”

Teri sat next to her brother, nodding in agreement. “We were too scared to go home,” she added. “Bombs were dropping on the city, and we could feel the impact, even though it was far off.”

Dale looked at Vance, then at me. Then he turned to Zack, who looked back at him with some measure of defiance. Leave it to Zack and his gang to bring strangers around, I thought. I wasn’t angry, but it was…disturbing.

“How did you end up here?” Vance asked. None of us had made it around to the other side of the city, where the river ran. The damage was immense. Driving around was too risky.

Jess narrowed his eyes in consternation. “No offence, sir, but we weren’t incapacitated. We rode our bikes, we walked–it’s taken us years to make our way, okay?”

Alone?” Incredulous.

I asked the real question: “Who dropped the bombs?”

Jess frowned. “The planes were ours.”

 

Author’s note: Inspired by a prompt on Writers Unite!

 

The First Riverview Avenue Bench

It was really nothing more than a footpath, wide enough for two people to walk side by side in most spots, and in the few wider areas, possibly a third person could squeeze in without straddling the edge.

As far as Meredith was concerned, the path had always been there. Her parents had walked that path, Meredith leading the way in her stroller at first, then on her tricycle. When she outgrew those, she walked, too, always ahead of her mother and dad, always on the lookout for friends and neighbors doing the same.

Meredith was about to go into second grade the first time she heard someone discussing the possibility of paving Riverview Avenue.

No one living had any recollection of the path being named; even Great-Grandpa Billy Dodge said it was already so-called when he was a little boy, and he didn’t know who was responsible for that. Billy Dodge was 96 the summer Meredith was 7, and she had a hard time picturing her dad’s grandfather as a little boy, but surely he had been one. No one was born old.

The great paving debate of 1967 was brief, hot, and quickly squashed by the locals.

Of course, it had been proposed by a transplanted resident who simply couldn’t comprehend the history of Riverview Avenue, and taken up by other transplants who didn’t like to get mud on their shoes when they walked after a rainstorm or during spring run-off.

Great-Grandpa Billy Dodge ended that city council meeting by suggesting that anyone afraid of banging mud off their shoes ought to go back to wherever they came from, and all the locals cheered.

Meredith thought the whole idea had been a silly one. There were tons of trees along the path, and they helped keep things relatively dry. The Parks and Recreations people spread pine needles and leaves after heavy rains or run-offs. It wasn’t all that muddy in the first place; certainly no one had ever lost a shoe.  That happened to her all the time taking the shortcut to school through the empty lot where the new library would eventually go up, and no one ever brought up paving there.

Riverview Avenue had been a footpath along the scenic riverside since the town had been established back in the early days of the 19th century. Over two hundred years’ worth of walking feet had worn the path down into the well-defined rut that the locals filled with fresh soil periodically so it wouldn’t end up being feet-deep and impassible. Sprinklings of pine needles and mulched leaves and twigs gave it a springy surface. No one came home from a walk with aching feet.

Pavement? No way!

“Dat path? ‘Twas a deer trail, I reckon,” Great-Grandpa told Meredith. “My pappy tole me it was dere when he was just a sprat, an’ dat was long ago.”

“Was it Riverview Avenue then, Grampy?” Meredith asked.

“Yup, always was, I reckon. Started as a joke, Pap said. Folks’d agree ta meet on the avenue, have a walk, share a picnic. Couples fell in love dere. Like your own mama and daddy.”

Meredith loved the stories of couples falling in love while walking the avenue. She especially loved her parents’ story, since they were the first couple to put a bench beside the path in the place where they shared their first kiss.

Dad had gone to work for Parks and Recreation while he was still in High School, and he’d gone on with them until his retirement in 1999. When he married Mom in 1958, part of his job was building park benches for the county parks and the various bus stops around the towns in the county.

He devised a little plan that summer. Newly wedded and happy as a lark, he used some of his own money to purchase materials and assemble a park bench. Getting permission to place it on the path was easier than he’d expected; his supervisor was deeply romantic and loved the idea. Dad built the bench and painted it, and placed it when the time came.

On their first wedding anniversary, Dad took Mom for a walk along Riverview Avenue. They slowed their pace as they approached the place where they had shared their first kiss. It was also the place where Dad had proposed.

“Why, Alan!” Mom exclaimed. “There’s a bench here!”

“Well, let’s have a look,” Dad said.

A plaque on the bright red bench read: “First Kiss–May 3, 1955. Proposal–May 3, 1957. Wedding–May 3, 1958. What a Lucky Day!”

Of course, Mom had cried some happy tears that May 3rd of 1959. No one had ever gotten their own park bench as an anniversary gift before!

Meredith was born May 3, 1960.

No one ever believed that was a coincidence. It was their lucky day, after all.

~*~

On May 3, 1978, Meredith and her parents took a walk on Riverview Avenue, and stopped to sit on the Anniversary bench. It was still bright red; Dad painted it every spring, and it had recently gotten its annual touch up.

They spoke of memories and plans for the future. Meredith would soon graduate, and be off to college in the fall. “I have celebrated every birthday on this bench,” Meredith said. “I hope next year, I will be able to be here.”

When next year came, her parents were there, but Meredith was not. Spring break hadn’t had the consideration to fall during that week. But when she checked her mail that morning, she found a birthday card from her parents. Inside were a generous check and a photograph of the Anniversary bench.

On May 3, 1980, Meredith was home for the weekend. It had been planned in advance; school was going well, and she didn’t have a Friday afternoon class, so she’d flown in the night before.

What hadn’t been part of the plan was Dad’s sudden gallbladder attack and surgery the night before. Mom and Dad were spending their 22nd Anniversary in the hospital, and Meredith had been sent home to take their walk on Riverview Avenue without them. “Take a picture of our bench!” Dad instructed. “I didn’t take one this year, because I knew you would be here.”

It’s my birthday, Meredith thought as she neared the curve on the avenue, the one where she’d be able to see the bench on the path ahead as soon as she cleared it. I’m alone on my birthday. My parents are sitting in a hospital on their anniversary. It doesn’t feel like a very lucky day today.

Ahead of her now: the bench. Someone was sitting there. A man.

As she got nearer, she thought the man looked familiar to her; but she was sure she didn’t know him. Should she stop? Keep walking?

Why should she? It wasn’t his bench. Who was this guy, and why was he sitting on her parents’ bench?

That was silly. Anyone could sit anywhere. Yes, there was a plaque, but it didn’t actually have their name on it. None of the other benches along the avenue had names; it had happened gradually, over time, that other people had placed benches with important dates all along the river front path. Some marked wedding anniversaries. Some marked birthdates. Some celebrated a graduation date, and some even marked memorials of long lives lived.

It was traditional these days to walk the avenue and read the plaques and try to guess the names behind the dates and celebrations.

The man looked up at Meredith as she paused. “Hi,” he said. He frowned thoughtfully. “Meredith?”

“Yes.” Meredith frowned, too. “Do I know you?”

He grinned. “Roger Burke,” he said, extending his hand for a shake. “I think I was a Senior the year you started high school. I liked hearing you sing in the musicals.”

Meredith blushed. She remembered the days of hoping to run off and sing on Broadway when she grew up. Now she was working on her teaching degree. Dreams die hard, sometimes.

“I like this bench,” Roger went on. “I think it has the best location of any on the avenue.”

“It was the first,” Meredith commented.

“Do you know whose it is?” Roger asked. “I was hoping I would run into the Anniversary couple today. I haven’t managed to be here on the right day, ever, since I started being curious about the benches.”

Meredith made up her mind, and sat down.

On that day, her 20th birthday, she shared the story of the first Riverview Avenue bench.

It turned out to be a lucky day, after all.

A year later, Roger proposed to her there. Her parents, healthy and happy, were there with them, celebrating 23 years together. They cheered.

A year after that, Meredith and Roger gathered on Riverview Avenue with all their family and friends, took their vows and celebrated with the biggest picnic supper the path had ever hosted.

Late in the day, it started to rain. Shoes got muddy. No one cared.

A little rain can’t compete with a lucky day.

~*~

May 3, 2022

Mom and Dad lead the way on the walk this morning, each seated in a wheelchair, pushed along by Meredith and Roger.

The bench, now a ripe old sixty-three years old, was waiting for them, freshly painted bright red. Riverview Avenue had recently been built up with fresh soil, and the ground under the bench had been renewed as well. It would never do to let it sink into the earth.

Meredith and Roger, both only children, had let the admonition to be fruitful and multiply go to their head. Their five children, along with their spouses and a dozen grandchildren, followed along, swinging picnic baskets and toting blankets and coolers with soft drinks.

Mom and Dad were helped out of their chairs and seated on the bench. Picnic goodies were spread all around, just off the path, and when everyone was supplied with a soft drink, aluminum cans were raised in a celebratory toast. “Happy Anniversary!”

Dad smiled and raised his soda can. “Here’s to the luckiest!” he cried. “That would be us.”

“Yes,” Meredith agreed. “That would be us.” She raised her own can and sent a silent cheer to Great-Grandpa Billy Dodge, who had passed at the age of 102. He had shared the story of the benches with her, and she had no doubt he was with them still, in his own way.

Happy tears were shed, but were soon interrupted when little Mikey cried, “Okay, okay. Let’s eat.”

After some good natured laughter, that’s exactly what they did.

What a lucky day, indeed.

 

Author’s Note: This story was inspired by a photograph on Writers Unite! and their Write The Story monthly prompt. Do yourself a favor and check them out, here: Write The Story, Writers Unite!

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden Places Part 5

I was amazed to be in this little place. Location: Middle of Nowhere. Little houses all in a row, seven on this street, the same on the next. Then a “Main Street” road, with a convenience store/gas station, and a miniature school building, and one more road, more a cul-de-sac with three slightly bigger houses.

The place was just a square. The front was warehouse and the lot surrounding it. Behind that, a cross road that passed by the three little streets and cul-de-sac. Then another crossroad in front of and empty lot, the church lot, and another empty lot. From the road, one had to climb several steps to get to the church, and I suppose once upon a time it had been cultivated with a nice lawn and bushes and flowers, but now it was crabgrass and weeds.

After exploring a bit at the warehouse, we had returned to the one house I had decided I wanted to see more of.

I saw the stack of papers on the table through the window when Sid and I made our first round through this little township, so it was really the first place I wanted to explore. But I knew those kids would want to see if there were things of use in the warehouse or the trucks, and there’s no sense arguing with teenagers. Especially when there are six of them and only one little old me.

I have to admit, it was worth it. I’m delighted to have a new toothbrush and real toothpaste. Yeah, baby!

Penny’s grandpa and his pals put a lot of thought into the camps we survivors live in, and they stockpiled a lot of things. But it doesn’t last forever. A find like this is a thrill.

I was an adult when this all went down, but a young one. Younger than Penny’s dad, Vance, much younger than Gramps. Military pronounced me 4-F because I’m a compact guy. I might have fought it — probably would have — but time ran out. And, too bad for them, because I would have been great, damn it.

Anyway, I was the old guy in this little expedition. I think the kids have always gravitated toward me because I am younger than the other adults in our camp. Plus, I’m super cool. Sid and Ash could have been taken in by one of the couples in camp, but they chose me to be Dad. I’m good with that, although I would have been about twelve when Sid was born, I guess.

The point I’m trying to make is, they look up to me, and that means I have a responsibility to make safe and sane decisions as far as they are concerned. I take that seriously.

I’m going to admit, right here and now, that when the quirky quartet came to me last evening going on about caves and culverts and a town with a warehouse, this wasn’t what I was expecting. I believed there was something to see, of course, but these are kids, and they are imaginative and prone to exaggeration.

Boy, was I wrong!

I was already making a list in my head, things I would want to bring with me next time we came. Lock picks and a new padlock for the warehouse door; a sledge or two to drag things back to camp; maybe Gramps and Vance. Maybe.

But for now, I had six kids staring at me, waiting. I sat down at the table and beckoned to Penny to sit across from me. There were only two chairs in the house, and a square table with a stack of papers sitting under an old coffee mug. Printed on the mug were the words, “Stay Calm and Drink Coffee.”

I grinned. Monica had a shirt, once upon a time, that said “Stay Calm and Kiss Morty.” I still have my own, which reads, “Stay Calm and Kiss Monica.” I have it folded and wrapped in plastic in the bottom of my steamer trunk. She had them made for us during the “Stay Calm and…” craze.

I could feel the grin sort of slide off my face, and my eyes stung. Thinking about Monica still hurts. The not knowing part of it, the unsolvable mystery of it — that’s what hurts the most. I know she got on the plane; she was coming home to me. I was there at the airport to pick her up, but the plane never arrived.

I talked to her just before the plane took off. She promised to call when the plane landed, and then put her cell on airplane mode.

I went to the airport and waited for her call, so I’d know where to meet her.

Nothing.

I checked the flight boards, and went to the luggage pick-up assigned to her flight.

Nothing.

I wasn’t the only one waiting. People began questioning airline personnel. No one could figure it out. The plane took off on time. There had been no reported issues, and there was no evidence anywhere in the country of a flight crash or emergency landing.

Flight 4826 had disappeared.

There was an investigation, of course. She was just one of many on the plane, and there were hundreds of inquiries. I reported her missing. I made dozens of calls, to police, the airlines, her parents and friends.

Then we went to rescue the kids on the base, and immediately retreated to the camp, and within days the whole world went straight to hell.

Through it all, I kept my cell charged and ready, praying for a call from her. Dozens of different scenarios played out in my mind, all of them hopeful at first. Emergency landing in a remote area. Phone got broken. No cell service. Something where Monica was alive and safe and simply inconvenienced for a while.

I went through a period of wondering if she had just decided she didn’t want to be with me, but a whole airplane full of people were missing along with her, so that was blessedly brief. She was coming home to me; I know it.

Then I just waited for any calls. Airline. Police. Hijackers. Anybody.

But…nothing.

If anything came of the investigation, I never found out. And once the world ended…well…

Penny leaned toward me, eyebrows raised inquiringly. “Are you okay?”

The concern in her voice snapped me out of my remenicences. “Yeah,” I replied. “Just…got hit with a memory jolt.”

Penny looked at Mae, and they both nodded at me with understanding. “It happens,” Sid commented. “Sometimes it’s good. Mostly, it sucks.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. I took a deep breath. “Let’s take a look at this. See if there’s information or just old bills.” I laughed a little, unconvincingly.

I scanned the letter on the top of the stack. Interesting. I handed it to Penny, so she could read it aloud.

“To the residents of Bolt Man Camp,” Penny read, “We regret to inform you that your employer and benefactor, Marvin Bolt, has passed away.”

“This is a man camp?” Ash interrupted.

“Shh,” Sid admonished.

Penny gave them a stern look and continued. “Given present conditions in the country, Mr. Bolt’s heirs do not wish to take possession of the company, and will be offering the holdings to the highest bidder. Any bids by you, as individuals or as a group, will certainly be considered. Otherwise, please be prepared to pack up your belongings and vacate the property within the next six weeks. Sincerely, J. Wilkes-Belding, Esquire.”

“What’s ‘esquire’?” Danny asked.

“I assume it means he’s a lawyer,” Penny replied, looking askance at me.

“Yes,” I agreed. I’d been skimming the next few pages in the stacks, and handed Penny another interesting find.

Penny looked it over carefully. “It looks like a copy,” she said. “Diary, maybe?”

I shrugged.

Penny started reading: “Bolt’s kids got a better bid than what we could offer as a group, so it looks like the man camp will be moving out soon. I sent their lawyer a letter, explaining the bid and the situation here, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference to them that they’re displacing a dozen families with children. I am leaving this note, and copies of correspondence for whoever next occupies this house. You should know what you are in for.”

“This doesn’t sound good,” I remarked, still skimming as I listened. I had found the bid proposal and the rejection of it by the Bolt heirs.

“The bid we proposed,” Penny continued, “took into consideration the road and bridge repairs that need to be done before operations can resume here. Bolt had been notified several times, and we had gotten bids from contractors who could have completed the work by now, but he ignored our recommendations.”

Sid said, “That explains the bridge, I guess.”

Penny nodded. “Whoever got the place — they’d have to pay for those repairs. It makes sense they would include that consideration in what they were willing to bid.”

I agreed.

Penny went on reading, and we learned that the trucks at the warehouse were still here because the drivers refused to take them back over the bridge.

Families had packed up their belongings and taken things out in small loads; the first load across the bridge had been the women and children, in small groups, on foot. According to the letter, 41 men, women and children had made Bolt Man Camp their home for the past decade. Now, each family had received a final paycheck, severance and vacation pay and a thank you note. They left, homeless and unemployed.

“Bolt’s heirs were sure some pissy people,” Mae declared. She was scowling.

We all agreed with that.

“If you’re here,” Penny finished, “you probably won’t dare to drive back out. The derricks and refining station are in good, clean condition. We have always endeavored to keep everything well maintained. The bridge and road would have been the same, had we been able to do that sort of work. I’m sorry you’ll have to be responsible for it now. We wish you luck.” Penny looked up. “It’s signed, Roger Parks, Bolt Refineries.”

Ash sighed. “Well,” he said, “obviously no one moved in here after the man camp cleared out. The bridge is worse than ever.”

“Derricks and refinery station…” Penny looked thoughtful. “We’re not done here, are we, Mort?”

“Nope.” I looked at Sid. “That dirt road just behind the church?”

Sid bit his lip, thinking. “Maybe,” he conceded. “I’m leaning more toward the one by the little store…” He frowned. “The one that curves past the big house?”

That would be the nearer side of the cul-de-sac, I thought. We crossed it in the woods behind the houses, and I hadn’t taken much notice to where it might lead. “Either way, we’re heading into the woods again,” I said.

Dawn, always the quiet one, spoke up. “We need to ride in,” she offered. “Horses would be best, but…” She trailed off, clearly distressed.

We don’t have horses. There are a few at one of the other camps, but that presented other issues, and I wasn’t willing to get into that before talking with Gramps.

“Dirt bikes,” Danny suggested.

Dawn nodded eagerly at that. “We need to be able to move more quickly. We could probably sleep in this house, if it came to that, but we don’t know how far we need to go to find whatever it is we’re looking for. We can’t be out there in the dark…”

I felt my jaw drop a little. This was a big speech from our little Dawn.

Penny agreed with her sister. “What if we couldn’t get back here before sunset?” she asked. ” Dawn’s right. We have to wait.”

No one here is scared of the dark, let’s get that straight. But no one is stupid, either. There are bears and wolves, coyotes and big cats. We don’t want to be on the dinner menu.

“We’re heading back to camp,” I said. As I’d anticipated, this decision was met with frustrated groans. “Shut it!”

Penny slapped her hands on her thighs and stood up. She handed papers back to me. “You’re right,” she conceded. “If we stay out all night, Dad will have a conniption fit. Besides,” she added, “we can do a sleep-over here later–with bedrolls.”

“Yep.” Sid grinned. “Vance will probably be a bear about it, even if Morty is along, but as long as everyone knows in advance–well, that should be fine, right Da?”

“Right.” My mind was racing; how much should we tell Gramps and Vance before we actually knew what we were talking about?

I know, I should probably have decided to tell everything we knew so far. I guess I’m not so different from the kids–I wanted to know as much as possible before sharing the secret. I was thinking, it could all come to nothing. Or, it could turn out to be wonderful.

“Are we telling?” Penny asked.

Did I ever mention I think she might be psychic?

“Not yet,” I said, making up my mind in that instant. “I’ll figure something out.”

Yeah, kids jumping up and down and clapping is pretty cool, especially when you’re the one they’re clapping for.

I gathered up all the papers and put them in my pack. After a brief considering pause, I took the coffee mug, too.

Monica would have liked it.

 

To be continued…

 

Author’s note: Morty takes over in narrating this time. Who might be next? Where are they going, and what will they find?

Your guess is as good as mine.

More of Penny and her gang’s beginnings can be found here: Starting in the Middle of The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lisa Criss Griffin: Choosing Freedom

I really enjoyed this. I could smell the forest, see the sunset. Lovely story. I’m sharing it here so you don’t miss out.

Writers Unite!

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Choosing Freedom

by Lisa Criss Griffin

The ever-present call of the beloved mountains of his childhood finally brought Jackson home. Home to the farm he grew up on, loved, and left for a greater opportunity. He had been reasonably successful in his white-collar job in the city. But it was all over now. His job was considered nonessential during the seemingly never-ending pandemic. He not only lost his source of income…

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Writing in Real Time

Over the course of April, I have written a few different things. One of those was meant to be just a short story, but it turned into more of a series in spite of my best efforts to make it stop.

It’s okay, though. What this has done is to give my readers a little taste of how novellas happen. Or full novels, for that matter. Sometimes an idea just continues to grow, and you’re left with the option of giving up or going on.

I chose to go on. I believe the next segment of story will complete the series, but that’s what I thought going into part 4, so I guess we will see what happens in the next couple of days.

My writing life has taken me over in the past few years. I found myself ill and unable to continue to work outside the home. I took an early retirement on disability, and suddenly –for the first time in years– I had the time I’d been missing to sit down and do what I love most: write.

Once I had done a few things, I was left with a few files, saved on my computer. My son is the one who pushed me into exploring the chance to self-publish my work, and that has led me to where I am today.

Where am I?

I am the seat-of-the pants type of writer. I get an idea and just sit down and start. Somewhere in the middle of things, it might dawn on me that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Where did a particular tribe make their home in 1860? Who were the men involved in the massacre in Lawrence, Kansas? Why would anyone choose to use human waste as fertilizer?

Unlike writers who “plot” their stories, I am a writer who stalls when a question comes up, does a ton of research on the fly, and adjusts things accordingly.

I’ve discovered that no matter what genre I write in, I run into things that do require some research. It’s all fiction, yes. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be credible. I want my stories to be something that a reader can look at and say, “Yeah. That could happen.”

I started this blog as a way to share some of my stories without having to go through the process of publishing on platforms like Amazon. Followers get to read free, so it’s a win-win. Readers like free. I get it. I’m a reader, too.

I recently published a book of short stories, many of which —but not all— had appeared previously on either this blog or others of my own blogs, and it’s not doing badly in terms of sales. But some readers got to read a few of those stories free first, and that’s what is happening now with “Hidden Places”. If I choose, at a later date, to put the parts together and publish the work as a novella–well, you all got to read them first.

A great thing about writing and posting in real time is that it is experimental in nature. Response on my posts may or may not lead me to do more. It may lead me to new genres–or not.

It won’t lead me to quit, though, so for heaven sakes, please read my stuff!

Thanks very much!

 

 

Hidden Places Part 4

I can’t tell you how frustrating it was, trying to keep track of Morty and Sid when they left us to check out the little town we’d found.

I’m no fool; I knew Morty could elude me. But I was hoping Sid would give them away. He’s never had to be as stealthy as this before; I was counting on him popping his head up once in awhile so I could catch sight of them.

Morty’s Zeiss binoculars are the absolute best I have ever used, but they didn’t help me a bit. Once they’d gotten out of my sight in the bushes and grass, I never saw them again until they were ready for me to do so.

Mae, Ash, Dawn and Danny all had their turns trying to catch them out, too, but it wasn’t long before we gave it up as a lost cause and just took turns checking the place out.

The warehouse building was nearest to us, and I was awfully curious about it. There were two big doors that I could see, and I suspected there might be doors at the back as well. It looked big enough to park several trucks the size of semis inside, and I hoped there would be something of value to us still inside.

I wasn’t going to hold my breath, though. The little town looked deserted to me. The houses reminded me of the base housing we lived in when we were little, although I didn’t see duplexes. I saw single-family houses, most of them on the small side. They had little yards, some with fencing, some without. Ash had estimated two dozen yesterday, but I didn’t count that many.

For me, the sign of an occupied home is curtains in the windows. I didn’t see any curtains; no blinds or shades, either. The yards were overgrown with grass and weeds. “I’ll be surprised if anyone is still down there,” I commented.

There was a little church on the far side, up on a hillside backed with trees. I couldn’t tell if there was parking anywhere up there, but I saw a small lot just off a road down below. Just to the left of that lot, there was a small school building. I was amazed to see that the windows facing me appeared to be intact. That made me uneasy; were intact windows good, or bad? I squinted hard through the lenses of the binoculars, hoping for some glimpse of what was inside, but the sun was glinting off the glass and it was impossible to see.

On the other side of the church, there was what appeared to be a combination gas station/convenience store. A sign, ruined by Mother Nature, read “H t hin  P st. Gas, Fo d, Dr n s”. It hung slightly askew. The windows there appeared to be whole, as well. They were also either filthy or had been soaped or otherwise covered; great binoculars or not, I couldn’t see inside.

Frustrated, I handed the binoculars to Mae. “What do you think that sign says?” I asked her, pointing down to the gas station.

Mae rolled her eyes and Dawn giggled. Some years back, Daddy had returned to camp with a board game called Wheel of Fortune, where you had to complete a phrase filling in the blank letters. I was wild about it, and made my sisters play with me all the time.

This wasn’t quite the same–I knew that some of the missing letters were already present in the words–but I figured Mae could make short work of the puzzle. She looked, and then let everyone else have a look, too.

“Do we have to buy letters?” Dawn asked, blinking up at me with doe-eyed innocence that let me know she was pulling my leg.

“Nah. Let me have it.”

“I think it’s ‘hitching post’,” she said.

“And?”

“Well, ‘gas’, obviously,” Ash pronounced smugly, and pretended to pat himself on the back.

“And ‘food’,” Danny added.

“And?”

“And ‘drinks’,” Mae finished.

“A plus,” I said. “You make me proud.”

Danny was searching, searching. “They’re good,” he said. “I can’t even see a weed wiggle, and there’s no breeze or anything.”

“No wonder he’s such a good bow-hunter,” Dawn added.

She meant Sid. I hadn’t thought of it, but she was right–he could sneak up on a deer so close he almost didn’t need to shoot–he could just stab, if he cared to.

They were gone a long time. Finally, I caught sight of them, coming out the front doors of the little church! They waved. We waved back. Sid made a come-along gesture and we went to the road and walked on into town.

“How did they get all the way over there without us seeing them?” Mae grumbled, and I shrugged. “I need to hang out with Morty more often.”

“Me, too,” Ash agreed.

I figured I’d just stick with Sid. He obviously knew what he was doing.

We met at the warehouse. I thought they were further away, but the town actually isn’t that big. Although, I have to admit the warehouse was a lot bigger than I thought it would be.

Size and distance relativity is one of the things that fascinate me sometimes. Like, when we go into the old city, you know some of the buildings are really tall, even when you see them from a great distance. But that height doesn’t really register until you’re in the street, looking up, up and trying to see the tops.

I didn’t feel little looking down at the warehouse, but I felt small now.

Morty held up his hand to stop me even before I could start talking. “I know you’re all chomping at the bit to go inside,” he said. “But I didn’t come as prepared as I thought. Right now, I need you, Danny.” He pointed at the tallest member of our group.

“Me?” Danny looked surprised, but I wasn’t. By now I had wandered over to the side of the building, and there were high windows all down the length of it. Too high for Morty or even Sid, but Danny was nearly six feet tall already and still had plenty of years ahead before he was full-grown.

Even so, he had to stand on his toes to look inside. He gave a low whistle. “What?” the rest of us demanded, simultaneously.

“There are a lot of boxes in there,” he told us. “Most are wrapped in heavy plastic, too.”

“Whoa.” Morty looked thoughtful. “Is the place full?”

“Nah.” Danny shook his head. “Not even close; it’s really big, Mort. But there’s still a lot of stuff.”

I was dying to know what was in there, but I knew Morty well enough to know that he wasn’t going to break the locks when he had tools at home to open the doors without doing any damage.

Sid, in the meantime, was checking out the trucks. “Look, Mort,” he called. “They’re not locked!” He pushed up on the bottom of the retractable door, and it slid up about three feet before groaning in protest. “Ugh. Rusty!”

Ashton and I were trying to peer into the dark cave of the trailer, and a few spiders scattered out, sending me back-peddling until I tripped and fell on my butt. Amiably, Ash offered me a hand up, and I thank him, both of us working hard not to laugh at my skittishness.

Sid missed the whole thing, luckily for me. He was working to push the door a little further up. Ash called to Mae for a flashlight, and the rest of the gang came around the building to join us. Morty was clearly deep in thought; he hadn’t responded to Sid’s first call, and he had that mulling look on his face.

Mae shone the light into the trailer. Toward the back, there were a few boxes, wrapped in heavy plastic and strapped together with thick cords. Through the plastic, it was impossible to read anything printed on the boxes.

I turned to Morty. He grinned at my pleading face, and said, “Yeah. This you can check out.”

He hadn’t finished talking before I made it to the boxes. I used my trusty Swiss Army knife to cut the cord and remove the plastic, taking care to preserve the materials as much as possible. Waste not, want not. So many things can be reused.

“Oh. Oh my God!” I gasped. Could it be? Oh, please, I thought. I opened the box–toothpaste! And the way it had been stored, it was likely not hard as a rock, the way most tubes we’ve found in abandoned stores.

Sid jumped up and opened a smaller box, his eyes dancing with hope. Toothbrushes! Good ones, by the look.

We were young, really just kids, and it was hard not to jump up and down and dance a little. So we did. Morty joined us. (He’s not that old, either.)

We emptied the two boxes, stuffing the treasures in our backpacks. Two dozen of each–we felt rich!

“Let’s not break open anything else just now,” Morty advised. We shut things up as tight as we could and joined him on the parking lot floor.

The sun was westering now, and we all knew we’d have to head back soon. “Come on,” Morty said. “There’s a house I think we need to get into now, before we say anything to anyone about this place.”

I looked at Sid, but his face offered me no clue, so I had no choice but to follow along and wonder.

Remember what I said about size and distance? I guess it’s not always true, because the houses were as small as I’d thought they’d be. This part of the town still remined me of base housing, too. Little houses in a row, all the same, at least on this short road. Four houses on one side, three on the other, and a lot with the remains of playground equipment that looked ancient.

Morty led us to the house next to that lot, and I looked sadly at an old merry-go-round that was leaning so badly that one side was partially buried in the sand. An old metal slide had fallen over, and the swing set had one length of chain dangling, a black strip of leather still attached and dragging on the ground.

I felt tears prickle the backs of my eyes and blinked rapidly to keep them from escaping and betraying the profound misery the sight brought to my heart.

We played in a place like that once, in another world. Mamma pushed us on swings while we cried out to her, “Higher! Higher!” We laughed and sang in the sun.

God, those memories hurt.

Mamma, so long gone, seemed very close to me now. I started slightly when Mae took my hand, and when I turned to her, she met my eyes with tears in her own. We nodded at each other, tightened our lips and followed the others up to the door of the house.

Morty deliberated on whether to kick the door in or try to jimmy the lock. “I don’t want to leave anything open,” he mused.

Ash reach past him and tried the door knob. It was unlocked.

Morty snorted, embarrassed.

We went inside.

There was nothing in the front room at all. “Why this house?” I asked, as we followed Morty through a doorway and into the kitchen.

There, someone had left a small, square table and two ladder-backed chairs. On the table, a stack of paper had been left with a coffee cup sitting in the middle of it.

“Saw this through the window,” Morty explained. “I’m hoping it…says something.”

“Information,” I whispered.

Morty turned to look me in the eye and nodded. “Information.”

Of all things in this new world, information was the hardest to find.

 

To be continued…

Author’s note:  Penny and her gang may make a discovery soon. Once there were people here. Where did they go?

If you want to know where Penny and her sisters and companions started out, you can find out here:

Starting in the Middle of The End