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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!

Hidden Places, Part 9

We hadn’t spoken much on the ride back up the hill, and kept pretty quiet once we got back to the house, too. There was a silent agreement among us that we would sleep inside, even though the tents were up and ready for us.

We were unnerved. There was something slightly reassuring about doors with locks.

We found a couple of brooms in other houses and used them to sweep out thick layers of dust, after wrapping our faces in bandanas. Regardless of the protection, we were all sneezing and red-eyed by the time the place was semi-habitable. We brought in sleeping bags and food, and locked ourselves in.

It was nearly dark.

Sid opened his backpack and pulled out a few cans of cola. “There were cases of these in the store room,” he said.

“They’re probably flat,” Mae commented. “Mine was.”

Sid shrugged. “That came out of the machine.”

“So?”

Morty said, “Drinks that have been refrigerated and then get warm again sometimes get funky. Maybe the ones that weren’t cold to start with fared better.”

“Worth a shot,” I said. I was trying to find a clean spot on my bandana so I could wipe my streaming eyes. Sid watched me. He pulled an old t-shirt out of his pack and handed it over. I took it gratefully and blotted tears away. I could feel my eyes re-filling with fluid in an attempt to rid themselves of the outrageous mess of dust I’d inflicted them with.

To my left, Dawn sneezed three times in rapid succession and sighed, “I have never been so dirty in my life!”

“Oh, yes, you have,” Mae told her. “You just don’t remember.”

“Humph. I’m not sorry to forget that, then.”

Danny was at the sink. He tested the tap and announced, “Hey! It works!”

Running water!

There was a quick interlude while we washed up and changed our shirts. We hadn’t thought to pack a lot for our little “camping trip”, but at least there was that. I gave my clean shirt to Sid; I had cried on his, so I thought it best if I wore it myself. He rolled his eyes at me, but didn’t argue.

Danny and Ash started building us sandwiches with the leftover turkey. Mort sighed, “Bless Marie and her bread recipe.”

“Amen,” Dawn agreed.

Finally we sat in a circle on our bedrolls. While we ate, we addressed the subject we’d all been stewing about since leaving the “Valley of the Derricks”. Yes, it had taken up residence in my mind under this name. I can be silly, sometimes.

The valley, however, was anything but.

Dawn hadn’t gone down with us. She’d stayed up on the ridge, drawing sketch after sketch of the scenery below her. She hadn’t been infected with the feelings of unease and distrust the rest of us had experienced as we briefly explored. She said, “I don’t understand why you didn’t like it. It’s so pretty.”

“From a distance, it is,” Danny agreed. “But I felt…watched.” He looked at the rest of us. “Anyone else?”

“Yes.”

“Me.”

“Me, too.”

Morty held up a hand. “I know what you all mean,” he said. “I had a definite case of the whim-whams myself. But the thing that bothers me is that there’s no refinery. At least, not there.”

“Do you think it might be down the other road?” Ash asked. “The one behind the church?”

“Would that seem likely?” I asked. “I mean, the transport from place to place would be just…”

“Ridiculous,” Sid finished. “The road was fine, but I can’t imagine big tanks being hauled up, through town and then down another road.”

Danny said, “The map shows another road on the other side of the valley. It leads out between those two hills.”

“It looks like you’d have to cross the river,” I said.

“What are you suggesting?” Mae asked. “I don’t want to go back down there.”

I shook my head. “I’m not suggesting anything,” I protested. I didn’t want to go back, either. “Just making an observation, for whatever it’s worth.”

Mort inhaled dramatically and let his breath out slowly. We all watched him as he frowned deeply and pondered. It was always interesting to watch his facial expressions when he was thinking things over. His eyebrows drew down over his eyes and his lips tightened.

Jeez, he was taking so long! Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. “Are we going to tell Grandpa?” I asked. “I mean, do we have to?”

“Those oil wells work,” Sid offered. “That’s important.”

“Is it?” Dawn asked. “If we’d never found this place, no one would ever even know the difference.”

Another huge inhale by Morty, and I stifled an urge to kick his ankle—I could reach easily. He looked at me, almost as if he’d read the thought in my mind. I bit my lip and then grinned at him. Guilty. Oh well. “Tell me what you really think, Penny,” he said.

“Ohhhhh. Well, crap.” Now it was my turn to take a deep breath. “I know working oil wells could be really important,” I said. “But that valley gives me the creeps, Morty, and that’s the truth.”

“I’m still focused on the refinery. More accurately—the lack of the refinery.” Morty pushed himself back up against the wall and drew his knee up to his chest. “All the paperwork suggests that it exists and was up and running.”

“I know.”

“It can’t be a small thing—we couldn’t have missed it if it was in that valley.”

“We’re going to tell, aren’t we?” I sighed.

“I think we have to. Don’t you?”

I swung my body around and lay on my stomach with my chin on my fists. I could feel my own frown forming on my face and briefly hoped it made my face as interesting as Morty’s was. My eyes teared up again and I brushed them impatiently as I thought about what sort of reaction Dad and Grandpa would have if they ended up discovering this place and realized we already knew about it and hadn’t told them.

We’d been at the compound for years, and no one had discovered it. But, still…

“This is not my decision,” I protested finally. “You’re the grown up. You decide.”

“Hey, I’m just saying,” Mort laughed, “you got us into this.”

“Terrific.”

Sid laughed. “Temper, temper.”

“For real,” Mae agreed. “That’s what started everything.”

“All right, you guys.” They weren’t wrong, but that wasn’t helping anything. “Let the record show, I don’t like it.”

“Ditto,” Mae agreed.

Morty nodded. “There’s something…I don’t know. I don’t care for it, either, but I think we’re going to have to explore further and find the refinery, find out where the road behind the church leads, and maybe find out what’s on the other side of the valley and the cliffs.”

Us?” Dawn asked. There was a panicked edge to her voice, and Danny put his arm around her.

“No,” Morty assured her—all of us. “Not us. We’re going to pack up and go home in the morning. I’m going to talk to Vance and Dale about what WE found. I’m going to try to keep you kids out of it—they don’t have to know you found it first, do they?”

“No!” I agreed. “Please, no. I think WE found it is a great idea.”

“Yeah.” Sid grinned.

“Rest assured, I will be holding it over your head for years to come,” Mort promised.

“Oh, great,” Ash groaned.

“Yeah, I’m making a chore list in my head.”

We laughed. We were relieved, though. Dawn and Danny were safe—they’d gotten dragged into it at the same time as Morty had. But Mae, Sid and Ash were with me when I went off the beaten path. Better chores for Mort than facing the music with Gramps and Dad.

“Anyway,” Mort continued, “Dale has people, you know. There’s at least one engineer I can think of with us. I’m going to show them this place, and then we’re all going to step back and let them decide what to do.”

“You’re not—”

“Hey, I’m fine here,” Mort said. “But if I never set foot in that valley again, I will be a happy guy. I don’t want anything to do with it.”

“What on earth did you see down there?” Dawn cried.

We all shook our heads. “Nothing,” Danny said. “But I felt watched, like I told you.”

“Watched.” Dawn stared at us, bewildered.

“It feels…wrong.” I shrugged. “I can’t explain it.”

“Then why would we tell? Let’s just go home and forget it.”

“Sooner or later—”

“So? Let it be later. Let it be someone else.”

We all stared at each other. Finally, Ash burst out, “Damn it! I don’t believe in ghosts!”

Dawn jumped. Thankfully, she didn’t burst into tears. She’s growing up, my baby girl.

“Shit,” Mort groaned. “I hate this.”

I folded my arms and used them as a pillow, no longer willing to look at any of them. What had I gotten everyone into?

Finally, Mort said, “Nah. That’s going to have to be the plan. I’ll tell Dale and he can figure it out. We’ll go hunting and stay out of the way. What do you say?”

“I think it’s haunted,” I said. “Even if it sounds stupid, that’s how I feel.”

“Let the grownups decide,” Sid said.

I’m just a kid, remember,” Morty told us. He laughed, but it sounded forced and insincere–a little scared, too.

“Okay.”

We’d let the grownups decide…

I sat up. I stood, grabbed my soda and marched out the door.

Sid followed.

It was dark. The moon was full. Nothing here felt scary, but…

“Are we really going to let the grownups decide?” I asked.

Sid was silent.

I popped the top on my soda. There was a tiny hiss. I sipped.

It was flat.

Is the “Valley of Derricks” haunted? What will the grownups decide? Penny’s sorry she lost her cool now.

Waiting for the End

As dark clouds gathered over the “City of Lights,” I wondered what the next twenty-four hours would bring.

I stared as the television screen showed scenes of the earlier world-wide rioting, and thanked God that this would be the last time I’d be alone in this house. Vance was on his way back from the compound to pick me up; he’d gone straight there with his girls after the rescue raid at base housing. The vehicles had been full of the rescued captives. There’d been no sense in returning to the city first.

The image of Paris under ominous clouds wouldn’t leave my mind. Until this moment, I’d convinced myself that there were other places we could go. Apparently, I was mistaken.

The picture filled the TV screen again, and I muted the voice of the news person speaking of unrest and rumors of insurrection. My heartbeat was rapid; saliva filled my mouth. I bolted for the bathroom and violently emptied my stomach.

What has happened to my world?

After rinsing, I loaded my toothbrush and vigorously cleansed my mouth. I started to put it away, and realized what I really needed to do was pack it.

“Good grief!” I cried aloud. “I almost forgot my toothbrush!”

Returning to the front room, I studied stacks of bags and boxes. Clothing; toiletries; blankets; food. Mostly food.

My laptop bag and accessories–a dumb packing choice, most likely. But I had selected a few favorite movies on DVD that I could watch even if internet was suddenly extinct. It was also loaded with music and book files. I had no intention of giving it up.

I changed the TV to an old western. I sat on the arm of the sofa so I could watch for Vance.

Time to get outta Dodge.

Inspired by a Writers Unite! prompt, and a little glimpse into Penny’s world before The End.

Get Out Now

Unexpectedly, my laptop rebooted and displayed an ominous image and a more ominous warning.

I stared at the screen, surprisingly unconcerned that the work I’d been doing had disappeared.

If this was real…who cared if I reviewed that new coffeemaker?

My chest tightened, a sure sign of an imminent asthma attack, so I took two quick pulls on my inhaler, grabbed a notebook and started making a list.

“Damn it, woman, you don’t have time for a list!” I dropped the pen and got moving.

Within the hour, I had packed bags for myself and my 2-year-old daughter, stuffed coolers with ice and food, bagged up dry goods and dog food and loaded the van.

Once the baby and the dog were aboard and strapped in, I started the van, raised the garage door and backed out. I expected to see my neighbors doing the same, but the street was quiet–not unusual for this time on a Wednesday. Pushing the control button, I watched the garage door descend before leaving.

“Where go, Mama?” Georgia asked in her tiny voice.

“Cabin,” I replied.

“Fishy, fishy!” Georgia clapped her hands.

“Probably.”

The gas station was busy, but not crazily so. Was no one else warned?

With a full gas tank and a giant coffee, I expected to see an exodus leaving the city, but traffic was light. The baby shared cookies with Rufus, her  Golden Lab “brother”. I searched the radio for news.

We arrived at the cabin several hours later. I fed everyone. We went to sleep.

Sometime during the night, the city exploded in a giant fireball launched from God-knows-where by God-knows-whom.

No warning on radio or internet. So who’d warned me?

I thought: Roy!

But he died before Georgia was born…

Once again, Writers Unite! ignites a tale with a prompt.

Hidden Places Part 8

It felt weird leaving Dawn on the road above us. She’s not one to come out of the shelter much, and certainly she’s not one to be alone anywhere. But I know her—when she needs to get something on paper or canvas, it’s so compelling to her that she is somehow able to overcome her inclination to hide away.

Once we’d gone around the twists and turns a few times, I was able to look up the hill and see her; her head was bent over her large sketch pad, and she had a pencil in each hand. She was using the handlebars of the dirt bike as a make-shift easel, and that made me grin. My Dawn is a resourceful girl!

I couldn’t blame her for the compulsion to capture this scene; the valley was breathtaking. Everything was green or golden, and there were wild flowers representing all the colors of the rainbow.

The oil derricks and storage tanks marred the view, in my opinion, but they were the real reason we were here. We could now also see, at the base of the road, a squat brick building with a sloping asphalt roof surrounded by a small paved parking area.

Two semi trucks were parked close to the building. They looked kind of puny with no trailers attached, I thought. It’s not that I have a lot of experience, seeing semi trucks, you know. But the tiny town above us had a couple parked at a warehouse, and with their attacked trailers, they’d looked massive.

Morty had slowed to a crawl, so we followed suit, easing our way the last few yards before stopping just shy of the pavement.

“I’m shaking,” Mae announced.

“Me, too.” Mort turned his bike off and dismounted. We did the same.

I looked up the hill, and couldn’t see my girl, so I started walking out into the field. Penny and Sid came with me, and we walked quite a way before we were able to see her up there. We waved. Dawn waved back. She was far enough away now that I couldn’t see whether she had a pencil in her hand, but I knew she did, just the same. “It didn’t seem that high when we were coming down,” Penny remarked.

“It’s a decent road,” Sid replied.

“Yeah, it is,” Morty agreed, joining us. “Curious, isn’t it?” He waved up at Dawn, who returned the greeting.

“Why would anyone let that bridge get into such bad shape?” Penny demanded. “None of this makes any sense.”

“Almost seems like it was done by design,” Mort mused. “I don’t like it. But it hardly matters now, does it?”

“It makes me nervous,” Penny muttered, and I agreed with her. The little town had been effectively blocked off by that impassable bridge, and this field didn’t appear to be accessible by any other route.

We studied the derricks, which were immobile—maybe forever. But I could see the hope on Morty’s face, and felt my heart speed up in my chest as my hopes soared, too. “I wish,” I said, “that I could tell for sure that there’s no one else around.”

“Yeah, well, there’s going to be some serious exploration later,” Mort said. “If there’s any reason for it.”

“What do you mean?” Asher asked. “We’re here; what other reason do you need?”

“If those derricks don’t work—”

“Oh, they’re going to work,” Penny interrupted. The determination in her voice was unmistakable. “It might not be today, but they will.” She started back toward the brick building. “I believe everything we’re going to need is inside.”

“Information is the real treasure,” Mae pronounced, and skipped a few paces to catch up with her sister.

We guys exchanged amused glances and followed the girls.

I guess you might expect Morty to be in the lead, but Penny’s really the one in charge. She got pissed at her dad and grandpa the other day and led Sid, Ash and Mae a bit out of bounds, which led to them discovering a culvert which in turn led them to the road to the tiny town above us.

I know she doesn’t mean for it to happen, but Penny has led the way to a lot of discoveries over the last few years. She’s got that “I’ll do it myself” mentality that makes her break boundaries and strike out on her own. She gets in some trouble, but usually manages to work things through.

Once we got to the building, though, she turned to Mort and looked at him expectantly. “Is it locked?” Morty asked, indicating the doorknob. Penny tried it; yes, it was locked. Morty grinned, and dug into the inside pocket of his jacket. He pulled out a small notebook and a ring of keys.

Penny smiled and rubbed her hands together. “I knew it!” she cried. “I knew you found something in the house besides all those papers.”

Sid leaned against his adopted dad, gazing at the keys. “How convenient!” he exclaimed. “They’re labeled.”

I turned and looked up. Damn it, my view of Dawn was cut off again. Stupid twisty roads, anyway! Ash nudged me with his elbow. “She’s fine,” he said. “Probably has three or four sketches done already.”

I frowned. “I don’t like it,” I said. “I’m going back out there, where I can see her.”

“You’re not going inside?” Sid asked, astonished. “She’ll kick your butt.”

“It’s fine,” Morty said. “We should have someone looking out. It makes perfect sense.” He picked through the keys, found the one marked “station 1”, and unlocked the door.

Penny frowned. “Look at this,” she said, taking the key ring from Morty. “It says ‘station one’. Did you see another building?”

We all shook our heads. We’d seen derricks; tanks; this building; other than that, grasses and grains and wild flowers.

Penny sorted through the keys, and then held one apart from the others, on display. “This says ‘station two’. So…is that another door in this building, or what?”

“Penny.” Sid’s voice betrayed his exasperation. “Why do you always ask questions no one can answer?”

Penny shrugged. “It’s my discovery process.”

“Well, knock it off.”

“Yeah,” Mae agreed. “Danny, I’ll go with you, if you want.”

“Nah,” I said. “I’ll go over there, where I can see the road and Dawn, the bikes and the building.”

“I’ll come out in a few and take over so you can get a look,” Ash offered, and I nodded my agreement.

From several yards away, I could see Dawn up on the road. She had waved again, and as far as I could tell, she was drawing. I could see our bikes, lined up on the edge of the parking lot. I could see the open door of the building; Sid had put a big rock up against it so it wouldn’t swing shut.

I guess I wasn’t the only one feeling uneasy.

Look, we hadn’t seen any indication that there were people around, but things just didn’t feel right to me. Things down here looked too…neat. Well kept.

I hated that I’d left Dawn up the hill alone. I was scared.

I was almost to my bike when Ash came out. “Danny?” he called. “You okay?”

“I’m going for Dawn,” I said. “I don’t like this.”

He studied me for a moment, and then nodded. “I’ll go get her,” he said. “You go in and take a look around.”

“I don’t—”

Ash had already mounted his bike. “It’s okay,” he said. “You should see it. Dawn will want to hear your impressions. You don’t want to get in trouble, buddy.” He started his engine and roared off up the road.

I watched until he’d gone around the first curve and into the trees. Then I started walking toward the building, fighting off the urge to just follow Ash instead. He was right; Dawn would want to hear my impression of everything. She claimed that even when everyone told her the same things I did, she could “see” through my descriptions more clearly. I don’t know what that means, really, but I did know that she’d be less than happy with me if I didn’t have an in-person report ready for her.

“She’s not going to draw a map of this, surely,” I grumbled, and then nearly jumped out of my skin when Penny stepped out the door. “Jesus!”

“Draw a map of what?” Penny asked. “The building?”

“Should she?” I asked, grateful that Penny seemed disinclined to give me any grief over being startled.

“Nah.” Penny motioned me inside, and then indicated a large map on the wall opposite the doorway. “There’s the floor plan, right there. And there—” she pointed at another map, further down the hallway and twice the size of the first—“is this valley.”

I walked over and studied the big map. I quickly became aware that overhead lights were on and brilliantly bright. I glanced at Penny. “Generator?”

She nodded.

“It’s quiet.”

“There’s a basement.”

“Wow.” I looked closely at the markings indicating another road on the far side of the valley. “I knew it,” I said, with some satisfaction. “There’s another way in and out.”

“Yeah.”

“So people are coming in here?”

“Mort doesn’t think so,” Penny said. “Everything is covered with dust. Look at the floor.”

She was right. The only obvious disturbance in the thick layer of dust on the floor were prints they’d left moments before. Still—“It feels wonky, Pen,” I said.

“Yeah, I know.” There was an audible click in her throat as she swallowed. Her voice was shaky when she continued. “I swear I feel someone watching me.”

I nodded. Penny wasn’t one to say something like that under most circumstances, and it actually made me feel a little better about my own trepidations. “What does Morty say?”

“Ghosts.”

“Oh, terrific.”

“I know.”

Sid appeared at the end of the hall. “Morty’s turning on the derricks,” he said. “I’m going outside to see if anything happens.”

“Cool,” Penny replied. “I’m going to walk Danny around so he can report to his boss.”

“Shut it,” I said. “So, is this the refinery?”

“No.” Penny was quiet for a moment, and I digested this information. “Morty says it must be one of the stations that provided crude oil to a refinery somewhere.”

“Maybe that’s where the road leads—?” We reached the end of the hall and turned left. This led us to a big area that I suppose could be called a break room. There were a few round tables with chairs and some vending machines. “Hey!” I cried. “Do those work?”

Mae appeared at the other end of the long room and grinned at us. “They do work,” she said. She held up a soda can. “Mort bought me a pop!”

“How?” I asked. I was examining the machines. The lights were on, exhibiting snacks and candy displays in one, soft drinks in another. The third had things like Ramen noodles, boiled eggs and sandwiches, but no one in their right mind would try anything but the noodles at this point. The packaged sandwiches were shriveled and black with old mould. I didn’t even want to think what the boiled eggs might be like.

Mae shrugged. “He still carries his old wallet. It has pictures in it, you know? He still had some money, too.”

“That’s funny,” Penny mused. “I get the pictures—I wish I had some to carry around. But the money? Weird.”

“The pop’s flat,” Mae declared. “Warm, too. But I like the sweet.”

“Ugh,” I said. I considered the snacks and candy, and decided they’d be stale and gross. “What is this place, anyway? ‘Station’ is kind of vague, Penny.”

We kept walking, and I glanced into office spaces still furnished with desks and shelves. Computers and other electronic devices were unplugged, but the lights worked when I flicked the switches up and down.

We came to another long room, much different that the break area. It was filled with gauges and screens, buttons and switches. Mort had managed to turn one of the screens on, and it displayed a view of a couple of the old derricks, which were now in motion in the field.

We heard Sid coming before he rounded the corner. “A couple of the derricks are working!” he announced.

“I know,” Morty replied calmly, and pointed at the screen. “Sorry. I didn’t know this would work.”

Sid shrugged. “No biggie.” He turned to me. “Ash is with Dawn up there.”

“Good.”

Morty flipped a couple of switches and the derricks stopped moving. “No sense in pumping anything until we know where it goes from there,” he said. He pushed back the chair he was seated in and stood up. “What I know about any of this you could fit on the head of a pin.” He stretched extravagantly. “Ahhhhh, shit.” He flapped his arms and slapped his thighs and rolled his head on his neck. I heard a couple of joints pop and wondered if he was older than he looked.

“Dude, you’re gonna break yourself,” Sid admonished.

Penny frowned deeply. “I don’t like any of this,” she declared fiercely. “Do we have to tell?”

Morty studied her for a long time. Sid, Mae and I moved closer to her—in solidarity, I believe. I didn’t like this place, either, in spite of the excitement we’d all felt about it earlier. “Well,” he said finally, “I think we have a lot to talk about, don’t you?” He motioned us to start moving along. “After we get out of here and back up to the village, I mean. Let’s go.”

At the outer door, Morty locked up and double-checked to make sure the door was secure. Then we all speed-walked to our bikes, mounted and started our engines. I don’t know about the others, but I had to force myself not to speed up the twisty road—I wanted out of there as quickly as possible, but there was no need to get myself killed.

When we reached Dawn and Ash, I dismounted and hugged my girl. I could feel myself shaking, and she didn’t fail to notice it. “What happened down there?” she demanded.

“Nothing,” I murmured, pressing my nose to the top of her head. (I’m a lot taller than she is.) “But it was…” I found myself at a loss for words. What was it?

“It was like walking into a haunted house,” Penny said.

Ash nodded. “There’s something…not right about that place,” he said.

“Yeah, we have a lot to talk about,” Morty agreed. “Let’s get back to the house and—”

“Go home,” Mae interjected.

“Can’t,” Sid argued. “The sun’s already getting low. We don’t want to be out after dark.”

“Damn it. You’re right.”

“Less talk,” Ash said.

“More ‘let’s get the hell outta here’,” I added.

So we headed back to the little town we’d come from earlier and a discussion of what to do next.  

Well, we finally got to hear from Danny. He’s shook up. What on earth is going on in the oil field?

Stay tuned for part 9.  

2020 Continues to Suck

My most appropriate ornament. I bought a few. Gave them as gifts. Not sorry.

And do I still HOPE? I suppose so. But…

Last time here, I expressed some hope and agreed with myself that I would do the annual “Who We Lost”, daunting as it was going to be. I completed and posted it yesterday on my other blog, MeThinks.

Today I learned that I needed to add a name to my list–which was outrageously long compared to prior years. The name has not yet been added, nor have I updated that blog post, because I haven’t seen an announcement from the family yet. But I am mentioning it here because… Damn it!

I’m not upset that I missed a name–I had no way of knowing until we were personally informed. It hasn’t made the local paper yet. I’m upset because I have known this person since childhood, and what killed him was the COVID-19 virus.

The other day I was asked if I personally knew anyone who had contracted the virus at all, suffered any level of illness or actually died from it. The person who asked me was being sarcastic–this person apparently does not believe that the virus is any more serious than the flu, and thinks the hype about social distancing, wearing a mask, etc. are all scare tactics designed to “control” her.

At the time, I was sorry to have to inform her that I did know people personally who had contracted it. Some had mild illness, some lost taste and smell sensations, some were very sick and a couple had died. She snorted derisively and said I was “part of the problem” and a “sheep”.

I DIDN’T punch her in the face. (Why would I? I certainly wouldn’t want to touch her mask-less face. She kept moving closer to me as she spoke to me, and grrr.)

This person was a stranger. She said I “looked at her funny” when I passed her at Walmart. Maybe I did. She didn’t have her mask on. She probably removed it as soon as she came through the doors. You know, where the sign saying masks should be worn in the store is posted. Maybe she was just feeling defensive after a few people asked her to put the mask she had dangling from one ear onto her face properly. I didn’t want to talk to her; she initiated it with “What are you looking at, sheep? Bah.”

Yeah. I got away as quickly as I could, went and used some hand sanitizer and finished my Christmas shopping.

People are lovely, you know it?

Anyway, now I sort of wish I HAD punched her in the face.

My friend is gone. People like her–that’s the reason.

Bitch!

So, anyhooooo…

Cheery little shit, aren’t I?

I am deeply saddened that my friend is gone. I pray for family and friends. I will cry some more.

I will update my post when it is public.

And I will beg you all–AGAIN–wash your hands. Wear a mask. Keep your distance. Wash your hands again. Stay home. Wear your f*&%ing mask.

Ta ta for now.

Happy 2021–I Hope!

(I got this image from the internet, as did quite a few other people I know. It perfectly sums up the past year, in my humble opinion.)

Well, we made it through another year. At least, some of us did.

Times past, I have done a memorial column at the end of each year, as a little tribute to the local losses. I have always found it difficult, but this year as I swept through obituaries, I found it so daunting that I decided I just could not do it.

I should probably do it. 2020, more than ever, deserves the tributes.

Sigh. Okay, I will do it. It’s going to be late, but it will be done. You’ll have to see it on my other blog, though. That’s the spot where I’ve always done it.

For me, personally, the biggest loss was my father, Paul Eugene Shablo. He lived a long and mostly healthy life. He loved deeply and steadfastly, and was loved in return. He was kind, generous and funny. He was the best father anyone could ever ask for. I’ve heard that it gets easier over time to accept a loss, but in the case, I will have to disagree. Every single day, it is hard. I still expect to see him when I come up the stairs, sitting in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and fiddling with one gadget or other. I still expect to hear his voice. I still consider his preferences when I plan a meal. Oddly enough, I haven’t been able to bring myself to make spaghetti since his accident nearly eight months ago. I know how weird that sounds. Sometime soon, I will give it a try.

Mom has had it rough this past year, more so than most. She lost her husband of sixty-three years. That final anniversary happened after the funeral, but I insist that it counts. That was quite bad enough, but then she lost a brother, too. He was a sweet and quiet man. He had a odd sense of humor that always took me off guard.

Along the way, 2020 took several friends from us, as well. You can understand me dragging my feet on the memorial tribute, I think.

What can we say about 2020?

Lost people. Check.

Lost jobs. Check.

Lost homes. Check.

Flooded basement. Check.

Hurricane Blizzard of September 7th and 8th. Check.

Let’s talk a bit about that crazy storm. Hundreds of trees were lost in Green River and Jamestown, and also in Rock Springs to a somewhat lesser extent. Power was out all over the county for days. But it was an event that pulled the community together, in the midst of the…

Oh yeah! Pandemic. Check.

We could talk about the blasted pandemic for days, weeks, months, and never finish the conversation, because it is still not finished with us. It has its own checklist:

Denial. Check.

Poor management. Check.

Misinformation. Check.

Defiance. Check.

And so many deaths that we passed the quarter-million mark before the holidays. Check.

I personally know people who have lost their jobs and face homelessness in the near future. I know people who are choosing between rent or food.

In the meantime, while the dread COVID-19 virus has swept the nation, we have still been faced with the other things that can hinder or take our lives:

Cancer. Check.

Car accidents. Check.

Flash floods. Check. Twice! Two vehicles destroyed.

That’s my family and extended family. If I included friends and acquaintances, this list of horrors would be endless.

2020. What a year.

Has it been all bad? Of course not.

We added some beautiful babies to the family this year. Thank God for new babies!

I had several publishing opportunities this year. I was oddly productive in some of my writing venues, while being completely off-balance in others. A novel that was on track for completion in the spring is still sitting here waiting for my attention. Sales were mediocre at best. No book fairs or signings were possible with all that has been going on in the world. Yet, I was able to place several stories in various markets which will earn me nearly nothing in the form of money, but will earn me a chance to get my work seen and remarked upon. Getting your name out there in this market is priceless.

We found new ways to keep in touch. I am getting more familiar with things like Zoom and Portal. I have also re-discovered the joys of sending a receiving real letters.

I got my Christmas shopping done and sent on time for the first time in years.

I am blessed with the ability to live with and care for my mother. Not everyone can do that, and it is a joy I would not miss for anything.

I do have hope for the new year, but to be honest, I have hope for every day I wake up to. After 2020, one day at a time makes more sense than ever to me.

So, let’s get after it, one day at a time, and have a better 2021.

Happy New Year.

Meet Me Here

The address written on the note said 153 Larkin Street.

Alice didn’t want to be there, but the note, which read “Meet me here,” and nothing more–besides the address–had also included a snapshot.

“Damn it, damn it, damn it!” Alice paced back and forth in front of the door, afraid to knock. She wanted to throw the envelope, snapshot and all, to the ground and stomp on it and run away. Far, far away.

Jesse would find her. There was nowhere she could go; he would chase her to the ends of the earth if he got his hands on this.

She pulled the photo out of the envelope and stared at it. There she was, standing in the window of Matt’s bedroom, wearing black silk panties and nothing else. The lacy curtains had not concealed a thing; it was very clearly her face, her self-satisfied smile, her bare breasts thrust against the window as she reached up to pull the cord and close the blinds.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid!”

Clearly, she was going to be blackmailed. Why else would anyone send her this note? Why else would she be in this seedy neighborhood, pacing and swearing and working up the nerve to knock on a door she had no desire to go through?

Whoever was behind that door was doomed to disappointment. She had no real fortune; the money belonged to Jesse, and he kept careful tabs on her spending. He was more interested in that, really, than he was in her whereabouts during the day.

Before Matt, she’d spent nearly all her time alone.

Well. It seemed she’d be going back to that–lonely days and nights. Matt would have to run, no matter what else happened here today.

She took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

When it opened, the first thing she saw was Matt, tied to a chair, gagged and unconscious. Then, the man moved into the doorway and glared down at her.

Jesse!

Knit One

“I am warning you, Isabella, say nothing.”

It was all I could do to keep from biting her fingers. How dare she put her filthy hand over my mouth? Who did she think she was?

I pushed her hand away and glared at her. “Don’t tell me what to do, Rachel,” I hissed. “You’re the one who can never keep her mouth shut about anything.”

She raised her hand as if to strike me, but she must have seen in my eyes the promise that if she touched me again, she would be sorrier than she’d ever been, and she lowered it quickly. “No one can know this,” she whispered urgently. “This is a secret I can easily take to my grave.”

“Oh, certainly,” I agreed. “It’s your ass on the line, after all. Stop–” I held up my hand, palm facing her. “If you raise your hand one more time, I will put you on the ground right next to him!”

If I hadn’t seen it then, I would never have believed she could go any paler that she already was. “I had to do it, don’t you see? He was coming for me!”

“Of course I see, you twit!” I snapped. “But standing around threatening me because I caught you in the act isn’t going to keep you out of prison!”

“Oh, God, Isabella!”

“Be quiet and go get a shovel!”

She was off like a flash.

I stared down at the body and wondered why some men had to be such despicable creatures. Rachel’s knitting needle had gone straight through his neck. How frightened did a girl have to be to find the strength to do such a thing?

I should have done it myself years ago…

Before I realized what I was doing, my kick landed in his groin. “Rest in peace, Uncle Doug.”

Never Again

“Never Again!” I grumbled, trying like mad to get all the balloons in the bin. They weren’t going to fit, I knew that. I also knew I should puncture them all and look up the recycling rules, but I had had enough for one day.

Never had there been such an ungrateful child, I thought. Yes, she was my sister, and I loved her, but it was getting more than a little tiresome knowing that no matter what she got, it would never be enough.

I had spent days planning and organizing. Mom hasn’t been able to do these things since the accident. She can’t concentrate; she forgets even the overall picture, let alone the small details. Besides, Nancy demands every second of her attention, milking Mom’s guilt over her confinement to the wheelchair.

The accident wasn’t Mom’s fault. But Nancy insists that nothing would have happened to her if she’d been allowed to stay home while our mother went to the grocery store that day. It’s not as if Mom could have known a drunk driver would slam into them when he ran the light at that intersection, but to hear Nancy tell it, our mother destroyed her life.

Honestly, what good mother would leave a five-year-old child home alone?

Nancy wears on my nerves. More for Mom’s sake than my own, I resent her narcissism. She blames her disability, but it’s not true. This is her personality, and she would be the same even if she had full use of her legs.

She didn’t get a dragon. She wanted a dragon. The party was ruined, and it was all the fault of all the guests who didn’t bring her a dragon. She screamed and cried her crocodile tears, pounding her fists on the arms of her wheelchair. Had she ben able, she would have kicked her feet as well.

Naturally, the guests fled. Who could blame them?

Knowing full well that I’d be returning in an hour to deflate them, (there are laws regarding the disposal of balloons, I’m sure) I left the mess at the curb and stomped into the house to confront my bratty sister and my poor, befuddled mother.

No more birthday parties for you, Nancy.