Friday, July 27, 2012

Awaken the Serpents of Eden - Chapter One

All I could feel in my first flickering of renewed consciousness was a sense of warmth and comfort while floating formless in utter darkness. Neither space nor time held any meaning and if there had been anyone around to ask me whether I wanted to rejoin the land of the living or continue my womb-like existence I would have most definitely chose the latter. Some very small part of my mind dimly remembered my deep stasis sleep training and that what I was feeling was just the nanny computer running a series of tests to find out if I still had a viable brain and body. It bothered me little to know that if either failed the computer would chemically force me back into stasis then turn off the support systems. When I began to feel my new awareness begin to evaporate, I figured the jig was up and that I would permanently slip back into oblivion.

It could have been hours, days, or months later but much to my surprise consciousness did return and when it did, so did sensation to my body. I felt very weak and only able to move my head, mild claustrophobia began to set in but I took deep breaths to control it and prayed the support systems were still operational. Somehow, the situation reminded me of the insects I saw as a kid stuck to the flypaper hanging in my great-grandmother’s house.

Thankfully, a small, weak light sputtered on behind my head illuminating the interior of my stasis cylinder allowing me to see that the preservative gel that had cocooned me for an unknown, but probably very long length of time. With my cylinder tilted at a forty-five degree angle I could see the gel had drained to a level just below my neck.

That at least answered the question as to why I felt so restrained. With the light, I now saw the feeder tube hanging down from the top of the cylinder and knew that if I wanted to get out of what was now a death trap I had to get a hold of it. I immediately lifted my head straining to get as close as possible, grabbed the end with my teeth, and began to suck on the high-energy concoction that in theory would flush my system of the chemicals that kept me in stasis and restore my cells to proper function.

Stuck in my cylinder in the middle of the recovery process I had no real ability to tell how much time was going by, probably a design oversight, but at some point I started to realize that this was not a general wake up for the twenty-two hundred other individuals in my group who were also in stasis sleep. If standard operating procedures were in effect, someone on the medical team would have long since made contact through the intercom. There were several possibilities associated with the silence but I would not learn anything until I was outside.  With the only activity available to me consisting of sucking on a device shaped uncomfortably like a dildo and drinking the thick slush it provided, I had a lot of time to review my predicament.


“You want to join those rich peaceniks going to Mars?” The good senator for South Carolina laughed aloud from across his very expensive and ornate redwood desk. “Son, that bunch of science eggheads and trust fund brats won’t have much use for an Army Green Beret on that airless dust ball of a planet.”

Despite the fact that the senator from my home state had long since told me to relax I still sat at attention in the chair across from him. “Well Senator Moore,” I said attempting to frame my response respectfully, “the Pax Consortium has an open call for five-hundred non-technical settlers. I hold an engineering degree from Duke University and more importantly, I am a fully qualified Special Forces medic. I’m completely on par with any physician assistant, hell sir, I can do basic surgery. I’m sure they could find some use for me.”

Senator Moore took several deep breaths and leaned back in his equally expensive chair examining me as if I was some sort of minor bug that had chose that moment to buzz around his head. It was clear I was irritating the man, which bothered me in a way since he was the first intelligent senator from my home state in nearly a hundred years. While he collected his thoughts I looked over his “I Love Me wall” which spanned all four walls of his inner office.

The guy not only took part in the Occupy Revolution back in 2028 but was a veteran of the North American War of 2042 and the Siberian Intervention of 2049. The last earning him a Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery surviving behind Chinese lines for two weeks before discovering a mobile Chinese tactical missile, killing the crew, then using the missile to destroy the headquarters of the Tenth corps of the Chinese Army. That one missile killed off the Chinese command structure creating enough chaos to allow beleaguered Russian and American troops to regroup. 

Before the Chinese High Command in Beijing knew it, five of their front line divisions were routed. Throw in four Chinese mega-carriers destroyed in the Battle of the Aleutians about the same time along with the majority of the Mongolian Army deciding to mutiny and China had no choice but to sue for peace. To this day, Senator Moore was considered a war criminal in Greater China, to annoy a man of his accomplishments and political power was not a good idea. Just when I was beginning to think I might need to leave the senator leaned forward and made me an offer I could not refuse.

“Listen Captain Logan,” he began, “you are a hero to the entire nation for saving those people at the Atlanta maglev train station from the neo-Confederate and neo-Canadian terrorists but this is 2078 and no one, not even me, has the pull to get those Pax freaks to accept a soldier on their crew manifest. As you well know, the Pax Consortium is an umbrella group made up of private and self-funded organizations from a hundred different nations that want to establish a permanent human colony on Mars. If you sort through the eggheads, idealists, adventurers and other nutcases everything boils down to the fact they believe terrestrial-based humanity is about to commit suicide.”

While my army physiological profile stated I had a strong desired to be on an open frontier like the American west of the ninetieth–century, hence the official reason for me wanting to be a member of the Pax mission. Truth be told, I also felt the multi-polar world of the late twenty-first century with its complicated geopolitical alliances and confederations was a bomb just waiting for a half a reason to explode. Back in the twentieth century when the world had a lot fewer people and more resources the politicians, always a near moronic bunch, could find ways to keep the nuclear genie in its bottle. But with the   heavily armed rogue nations of 2078 like fascist South Africa, the Corporate Republic of Korea , and Imperial Peru stirring up trouble amongst the major powers, who themselves were an unstable lot, a nuclear war seemed inevitable.

“Captain,” Senator Moore said, “there is no guarantee the Pax mission will ever get off the ground, in fact I know there are certain factions that will do everything possible to stop them before their first unmanned cargo rocket blasts off. Now what I can offer you is the American government’s version of the Pax mission and it has the benefit of not having to leave the planet. Its called Operation Rip Van Winkle…”
After he explained the top-secret program, I accepted on the spot. At the time, it seemed like a good idea.


After I sucked down the last of the recovery slush, a chemical was released at the bottom of my stasis cylinder turning the thick preservative gel into a watery substance that began to drain quickly. My mild case of claustrophobia quickly grew while I impatiently waited for the interior indicator light to turn green and for the top half of the cylinder to open up like a casket, which was what it was beginning to feel like. After several minutes, a sense of dread swept over me when the light finally turned green but I did not hear the sound of the locks popping.

During training, the instructors from both the Department of Defense and NASA informed us that the stasis cylinder assembly was rated for three-thousand years of life support operation. Somehow, visions formed in my head of my entire group successfully making it through the centuries because of the dependable stasis systems only to perish because some simple locking mechanism jammed. I was just about to give over to utter panic when my right hand brushed up against a handle. A quick check with my left hand found another just like it, it was then I breathed a deep sigh of relief while feeling rather stupid. I now remembered the government contractor had included an emergency release system, one incased in the preservative gel and after an easy turn of both handles, I was rewarded with the top half of the cylinder suddenly sliding down and dropping to the floor with a loud clang.

Despite the assurances of everyone supervising the project, I did not immediately feel like I could step out my stasis chamber and go for a ten-mile run. Simply moving my arms and hands to pull off the sensor wires attached to my body was a major endeavor.  Giving myself a few minutes to gather my strength, I looked around the huge chamber housing half of my group. Above me, the huge light emitting panels, activated because the computer had pulled me from stasis, were struggling to come up to proper illumination. In the twilight of the chamber, I was able to see the indicator lights on stasis cylinders near me. A little over half showed a green light indicating a working system, the others without any lights meant that the occupants were dead.

With so many possibilities about the fate of my cohorts and me running around my head, I forced myself to step out of the cylinder and fight my way over to the nearest control desk. I literally dropped into the plastic seat in front of it exhausted but was able to activate the monitoring systems.  

The central idea of the Rip Van Winkle project was to have six redoubts positioned in wilderness areas of the country that each could house twenty-two hundred healthy males and females in stasis along with everything needed to reconstruct human civilization. The crew of each redoubt would serve a fifty-year term in suspended animation then  be released back into the world if they wanted. My initial hope as I waited for the monitoring systems to boot up was that somehow the government had forgotten about us and once all the survivors were awaken we would emerge into a new world of peace and plenty.

Eventually all monitoring systems became active and the very first thing I did was get a time fix. My group spent four years in training before going into stasis in 2082. My redoubt received automated information updates for seven more years after that before everything went dead over the course of two weeks. I stepped back on the data about a month and watched the video feeds as the human race committed suicide.

After the nukes started flying modern global communications quickly collapsed leaving only old-fashioned ham radio operators living in very remote areas. One by one, these isolated and scared individuals went silent themselves leaving only static that to me sounded like death laughing. When I finally got around to calculating the current date I was surprised to find out we had been in stasis for twenty-seven hundred years. Long enough to be certain that since outside survivors or members of the other redoubts had not dug us out; we were probably the last humans on earth.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Epic Fail On The World Of Tomorrow

Really it should not surprise me that my kids view my childhood as something from the ancient past akin to the discovery of fire, invention of the wheel, or the dark times before the internet when most information was in book form. When I can get them into a library their delicate twenty-first century sensibilities are almost overwhelmed at all the books carefully organized on the shelves with people browsing the aisles hunting some sort of important information. Sadly, both my son and daughter feel that if something cannot be found using the great god Google it more than likely has no relevance to the affairs of daily life. Given his attitude I have never really had much of an opportunity to explain how the simple browsing of book, the leisurely reading of the words, and admiration of the illustrations held so much enjoyment and wonder for me as a child.

Back in 1969 when I was much younger than my children are now I could often found sanctuary in the collection of encyclopedias that occupied an old bookshelf in a corner of my parent’s house. Being from a family of modest means the encyclopedias I refer to were not the expensive Britannica series but the modest “Book of Knowledge” collection that were sold piecemeal at the local Piggly Wiggly grocery store. For every twenty-dollar purchase at the grocery store back then you could buy another volume of that year’s edition for about five dollars. While this might seem a strange way of purchasing a set of encyclopedias, I thought nothing of it at the time, especially as I stared in wonder at the section concerning the space program. It was filled with articles on the Brave Russian cosmonauts and the men here in America with the “Right Stuff” riding into the sky in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo  projects were my heroes “boldly going where no one had gone before.”

The summation of that endeavor was achieved forty-three years ago yesterday when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren set foot on the dusty grey plains of a dead world and looked back on the only place that even now we know harbors life. That summer of 1969 was for some reason one of the most vivid I can remember. I guess the energy and wonder of a child allowed such things when at that time. I remember driving the various librarians both at kindergarten and the county libraries crazy demanding new books on what we were doing in space then and what we would be doing in the glorious future.

As much as my home encyclopedias lacked the regal prestige of the more expensive sets they did allow an option to purchase yearly updates that would be shipped straight to a person’s home. The purchase of the update for 1969 was a foregone conclusion for several reasons. However for my grandfather it was mainly to satisfy the desires of a child still ablaze with the most incredible adventure in human history. The update for 1969 naturally came a year later and much to my surprise it had a future timeline of projects NASA wanted to pursue. For a kid already lost in space the illustrations and short explanations of future missions had me more than completely enthralled. Over the coming decades NASA wanted to get the shuttle up and running, a space station built, returning to the moon on a permanent basis, then on to Mars.

Not stopping there as the twenty-first century began would were suppose to see the establishment of bases on Mars serviced by nuclear powered shuttles running routinely between Earth and Mars. At the end of that timeline a couple of decades in the twenty-first century it was further mentioned of manned mission to the outer planets. It was a hopeful future, at least for me, and worthy of the people we were then. However, even during the glory days of Apollo voices could be heard saying that it was unfair to spend billions on space with Earth awash in problems such as poverty, famine, war, and prejudices. It was cheerfully offered by some of those voices that we should clean up our messes here then we would be free to explore. Even being as young as I was as the Apollo program ended my disappointment was tempered by the simplicity of the argument that we had much to do on this planet. Exploring other worlds was of little concern to someone who did not have enough food or water, a decent school, or access to a doctor.

With the anniversary of the lunar module Eagle landing on that barren surface and it set me to wondering not only far along how far we have come on solving the problems we faced back then but also on what sort of people we are now. Despite programs designed during the 60’s and 70’s to correct the problems of poverty and ignorance we have seen the America we were then devolve into a bizarre collection decadent fools on par with those living in the declining years of the Roman Empire. Many in this country these days have enthusiastically embraced a cold contempt for those less fortunate in our society and actively work to permanently prevent certain groups from participating in the democratic process.

It probably should not surprise anyone since American citizenship has been replaced with a concept called American consumerism where we define our lives by cheap imported goods paid for by the credit card whose terms take on the characteristics of a new kind of serfdom. This new serfdom is also personified in a narrow worldview where everyone else is “either for us, or against us.” Given this we completely fail to understand when a portion of the world weary of our pretentious meddling, refuses to go along with our imperial adventures in securing resources and even actively resists our chosen syncopates who cravenly do our bidding.

Feeling once again that our power and prestige should define the way the world works we paint those who disagree into boogeyman, some are very real and evil and others we conveniently imagine, or when desperate create.. Because of such a worldview, we have stumble into numerous quagmires, some physical like ill planned wars and others political and spiritual leaving us distracted and without the willpower to overcome.

So, after forty-three years the world that was supposed to be more fair and equal for all has been more or less permanently postponed. Although, we have sacrificed a large portion of our future for a lifestyle that we cannot support or hope, in the long run, to sustain. Instead of the country that in the 1960's looked to the stars and dreamed of things greater than themselves and expanding the avenues of human potential and experience to as many people as possible we have become a bunch of deluded and hopelessly self indulgent children. We are scared that someone might take what we have here at home and fearful of the perceived shadows lurking overseas. Such a people before long tend to tear themselves apart and are soon relegated to chapters in a history book.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

F3 Cycle 88 "Altering the Undiscovered Country"

 F3 Prompt: Tell us a story of lost treasure found in your own house. Is it luck or a curse? Fortune or failure? Heart warming or heart wrenching?
Genre: Any
Word limit: 1414
Due Date: Wednesday, July 18th at 9:00 p.m.


All my efforts have finally come down to one more horrific act of murder. The final segment in this surreal nightmare begins with me concealed behind a fallen tree; one of many in a small patch of woods next an old house. I have been waiting in my spot for hours with the freezing Indiana weather doing its best to sap my will and strength. Even with all my detailed planning, the one thing I overlooked in this particular case, the most important of all, was the weather.

The silence surrounding me is near total but I am somehow still surprised at the sudden sound of an old truck turning off the main highway. I raise my binoculars and focus on the driver of the vehicle. I sigh in both despair and relief when I see it is a young woman, her name is Traci Morris. She was born to an honest blue-collar family in 1962. Even after twenty years her dad still works on a Chevrolet assembly line while her mother does part-time secretary work for a minor law firm.

Traci is a pretty young lady of average height and build with brown hair and piercing blue eyes. I know her childhood and teenage years are unremarkable and after high school graduation like millions of other kids, she goes off to college full of dreams about building a better life for themselves. After completing three years of college she meets a fellow student working at bar just off campus and falls head over heels in love with the guy. Three months later, Traci tells him she is pregnant and after that, the butthole disappears into history leaving her all alone. With no other options, she goes home to live with her parents who will help her raise the baby.

This is where I come in; I have to kill her and the unborn child.

Traci parks the old truck under an open-air garage attached to the main house and after retrieving several plastic grocery bags from the back of the vehicle, careful not to bump her growing belly, walks around to the back porch and lets herself in. I know I have a total of three hours to perform my gruesome but desperately important duties before her mother returns home. If all goes according to plan, I will be in and out in less than thirty minutes.

Despite the cold, my body is energized and I rush the short distance between the woods and the house in seconds. My entrance point is a basement door I forced open an hour after Traci’s parents left for work. Once inside I cross the dark basement, go up the stairs, and listen at the door for some sound of Traci. I am rewarded with the sound of her echoing footsteps going down a hall.

Feeling my blood race I use a simple screwdriver to force open the locked door and step into the house. Pulling my ancient Colt .45 from my jacket pocket, I focus in on the sound on my innocent prey. I find her in her bedroom folding clothe from a laundry basket. She immediately sees my gun and instinctively knows her life will be ending.

“Please, don’t hurt my baby, I’ll do anything you want.” She pleads.

Bile runs up to my mouth and I desperately want to explain that I am sorry and that it is her baby that is the monster but I know how insane that would be. “I am sorry,” is all I saw before pulling the trigger. The spot of blood appearing from the hole in her forehead is a stark contrast to the explosion coming from the back. Traci falls to the floor as limp as a ragdoll. Knowing how close to term she is I empty the clip into the unborn child.

My final act in this monstrous crime has me attaching a small device to the incoming gas line going to the furnace in the basement. I walk back into the woods and at the end of my self-imposed thirty-minute time limit, I watch the house explode and burn to the ground. Once I hear the sound of sirens, I pull the small cube from my other pocket and enter a code on the side with the numeric buttons.


My office phone rings and but the equations on my whiteboard demand my complete attention so I let the caller go to voice mail but I still hear the message being recorded. “Daniel,” the familiar voice says, “this is your brother Roger, I’m at mom and dad’s house and found something totally mind blowing while clearing out the attic. Call me you sorry putz, oh yeah, I have a paper here that says to tell you temporal oscillations are inverse to the gravimetric disturbances induced by non-linear means in a one gravity environment.” He then went on to read off a series of numbers that corresponded with different factors. At first, none of it made sense but after several minutes, I realize the numbers were part of a long abandoned research project.

After digging up my old work and input the factors Roger mentioned over the phone into my computer I am dumbfounded to see the equation factoring out to a result that would easily win me a Nobel Prize, needless to say I call my brother back immediately. “Roger, where in the Hell did you get those numbers? That project has been a dead end for five years.”

 I am a meticulous and hopelessly analytical mathematician who works in the theoretical physics department of MIT. To have my brother seemingly pull numbers out of thin air that solves complex equations that seemed unanswerable defies all logic and common sense. My brother is totally opposite from me, he is a carefree musician who lives life on his own terms but he ignores my question and with a hint of panic in his voice surprises me yet again.“Listen Daniel, get home as soon as possible, I found an eBook in the old trunk dad had stored in the attic with gigabytes of newspaper headlines that are spooking the Hell out of me but this shit is straight up your brainiac alley.”

Feeling an uncomfortable Twilight Zone moment emerging I cancel all my appointments and drive up to Maine to see what my brother had found. The trip up to my childhood home takes all night but nothing can stop me from following Roger up to the attic.

The recent passing of our mother and the resulting desire to sell the house was the cause of Roger’s need to clean out the dusty and long abandoned items stored up there. He shows me the trunk that we had both seen countless times as children but our father had forbidden us from touching. Being very cryptic Dad always said we would open it when the time was right. Looking up at Roger, he smirks and says something about curiosity finally getting the best of him.

We both spend hours looking over the contents. Roger reading off the news articles stored in the eBook and me the paper with countless equations about temporal displacement theory. The final two items were in a smaller strong box stored in the trunk and after we pry it open, we find a small DVD player and an enigmatic cube. Common batteries return power to the DVD player and I am soon shocked to see myself speaking to me.


“Greetings from 2024,” this slightly older version of myself tells me, “I wish I had better news to relay from what is to you the future but all I have is despair and terror. The political environment in my United States has decayed to the point we stand on the brink of electing our first true dictator, a man named Glenn Morris. He is like the others all through history in that he is very clever and full of guile. This man and his supporters have carefully managed and spun events to their advantage. Even now it is dangerous to speak out against him and once he is elected the nightmare will become permanent.”

My older self stops and shows me a segment of this future tyrant’s speech promising to restore the country to the way the Founding Fathers intended. Something visceral is able to cross the barriers of time and space allowing me to feel both revulsion and fear at the individual displayed on the screen.

“There is one hope,” my future self tells me when he comes back. “My group and I have identified twenty-two individuals that make up the hardcore base of his support and organization. If they were eliminated before birth, this neo-fascist movement stands a high probability at being blunted if not stillborn. It is up to you but know you must begin before events begin to take hold.”

 After that, my older self explains the working of the cube and give me details on the people I have to kill. I refuse at first but eventually my brother Roger and begin to work out the finer points of the operation.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Guilt is for wussies

"Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain,
For strip-mined mountain's majesty above the asphalt plain.
America, America, man sheds his waste on thee,
And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea."
~George Carlin

To be honest none of this surprises me. However, to paraphrase a very old commercial, its not nice to mess with Mother Nature but when you do expect one bitching payback when she has had enough.  

Americans Least Green-And Feel Least Guilt

Saturday, July 7, 2012

F3 Cycle 83 "The Secrets That Bind Our Lives Together"

F3 Cycle 83 Prompt:  Write a story about a first crush, and include the outcome when the crush has been revealed.
Genre:  Any.
Word Limit:  1,500 words.
Due Date:  Wednesday, July 11, 10:00 pm, EST.

Whenever I go home to the Lowcountry of South Carolina there is almost an unbearable melancholy I have to deal with at seeing the changes reshaping the people and places of my childhood. I was born in Georgetown in the early 1960’s when it was still a small town kept alive by the paper mill built at the onset of World War Two and a motley collection of families devoted to pulling as much fish and shrimp from the sea as their nets and Mother Nature would allow. Now the entire area seems desperate to catch up to the insane pace and lifestyle the rest of the country keeps.

The church my father built in 1962 on the north side of town was no exception. My old man started the First Baptist Church of Maryville the year before on a rainy spring morning beside an ancient oak tree with twenty other people. My mom told me once the service lasted only fifteen minutes because dad had to rush back to the paper mill to finish his shift. As much as my father loved the Lord he wasn’t one of those fancy, professional preachers, he had to earn an honest living to feed his family.

The old church is long gone and a huge asphalt parking lot covers most of the property it was built it on. The ancient oak still stands, granted a reprieve but isolated in what the people in this age call a “mini-park.” It stands like a lonely sentinel just waiting for its chance to reclaim its domain. The First Baptist Church of Maryville still exists; several buildings have come and gone over the years and what now serves its members is a huge and gaudy modern construction of glass and brick. See, while my father passed away years ago, the new senior pastor has attracted a lot of the finest and upwardly mobile now living in the area to join his flock. I still come and visit from time to time and I like to joke with this charismatic man of God that the only reason he puts up with a poor slob like me is that he, his beautiful wife, and I were best friends growing up.

Years ago in a far simpler world Ben and I had met each other while walking to school. It was the second day of first grade for us both and with our dads trailing behind we joined the flow of other children to neighborhood elementary school.

As children, Ben and I brought out the best in each other. Right from the time I could walk, I had the knack of effortlessly getting into trouble. As time went on my antics increased to the point that I could certainly be called mischievous, headstrong, and downright disrespectful to authority. Because of my antics, my dad bent his knees in prayers many times in an effort to save my soul.

Ben, on the other hand, was always more cautious to downright timid. Ben’s father worked at a local garage and was a good-old-boy redneck, and while he loved his son, was often confused by his apprehensive nature. While I never told Ben this, I personally remember a time hearing his father confide to mine that he was worried his son would grow up to be, what was politely called back then, a “sissy.”

Together we proved to be patient and understanding of each others weaknesses. I got Ben to go into places, like the woods behind our neighborhood that would have otherwise terrified him. While Ben talked me out of throwing rocks through our elementary school windows. Our fathers encouraged our friendship, for the same reason, since it was easy to tell both dads viewed the other’s child as the perfect son.

Long restricted to our street, as Ben and I grew older our horizons in the neighborhood expanded.  Around the time we were in the third grade, our parents allowed us to move out into the wider community. For me I remember thinking Ben and I were intrepid explorers. After Ben got over some initial fears, we realized each day offering a new adventure. It stayed that way until the day we stumbled upon a young girl riding her bike. That was the day we met Jennifer.

Turning off the main road, I soon see the church and chuckle at the sight of the parking lot overflowing with Jaguars, BMW’s, Mercedes Benz’s, owned by the professionals that now dominated the area. A far cry from the beat up old trucks and cars of poor mill workers that made up my father’s congregation. Since I am a founding member of the church, I have my own reserved parking space mere feet from the front door. My old, post-divorce truck is a stark contrast to all the expensive imported automobiles spread out all across the lot. I have heard scuttlebutt some of the new parishioners, who do not know my history, take umbrage at having such an eyesore so close to the main entrance.   

Inside the church, I take a seat on one of the empty pews at the very rear of the sanctuary and watch the crowd. A primatologist would have a field day watching these folks who do everything but physically groom each other. On the other hand, when I come to visit I have my own less than honorable agenda and thankfully I remembered to control myself when Jennifer and her entourage enter from a side door. She walked in the sanctuary wearing a form-fitting purple silk sundress that somehow highlighted her raven black hair. Despite the crowd, those ice-blue eyes of hers caught sight me all the way in the back and she stopped momentarily to flash me a sphinx-like smile that suggested neither warmth nor annoyance.  


In those early years, Jennifer easily became the third member of our little pea pod, as my mother liked to say. In temperament, she was more like me but being more mature knew enough to make sure Ben never felt left out. In a way I was in love with her even then but I was too much into the little boy frame of mind to understand. On the other hand, Ben openly spoke about marrying her up until middle school when he finally realized such talk was extremely uncool. To Ben she was an exotic and carefree spirit who never failed to come to his aid, even when he embarrassed her in front of other kids.

There was never any competition between Ben and myself over Jennifer. To me, she was a sister, nothing more and I thought her feelings about me were similar. That changed when Sally arrived.

Sally entered our little group in the freshmen year of high school. Sally was Jennifer’s cousin and somehow she attached herself to me right from the start. Being older, I understood the dynamic that was being played out between the four of us. At first, Sally irritated me and I resented the friction she caused but as months went by my feelings for her began to grow. By the summer of our freshmen year, she and I were going to together forcing Jennifer to reluctantly pair off with Ben.


“Praise be to God,” Ben cried out from his raised pulpit clearly enjoying the unbridled adulation of his flock. The shy and scared little creature I knew so well as a child had long since become a man with an ego about as big as his church. Having oodles of carefully developed charisma, the crowd in front of him became utterly silent the second he said those words. “The prodigal son has returned,” he began again looking directly at me. “My lifelong best friend and the son of our founding minister Sean Harper has driven down from Greenville to see how much his father’s church has grown. Michael, stand up and wave to the good folks assembled here today.”

Knowing he would not let me escape with a humble wave of the hand I did as he said and watched the fancy mob look me over with cold, analytical eyes. It was especially bad coming from Jennifer who from her seat next the pulpit, she looked at me as if I was a curious bacterium.


By the senior year of high school, Sally and I were making plans to attend the University of South Carolina up in Columbia. Marriage was a foregone conclusion and during those years my father was as happy with me as a pig is in warm, wet mud. His plans had me returning home and taking over his ministry. Sally and I never said anything about that; our plans were more nebulous but had nothing to do with trying to run and grow a church. Dad refused to listen but none of it mattered anyway.

Sally and her mother were killed in a car crash coming home from Myrtle Beach a few months from graduation. For a week, I completely withdrew into myself and had to be watched twenty-four hours a day by friends and family. Ben was out of the country on missionary work for my father so that left Jennifer staying with me alone for several hours a day to allow my mother to get chores done. By that time, Ben and Jennifer were engaged but that did not stop her from locking the door to my room one afternoon and making love to me. And, while it may curse me to an eternity in Hell I willingly took what she offered.

“Michael,” she said looking at me as we both lay naked on my bed, “we need to leave this town today. I’ve never felt for Ben the way I feel for you. We can start a completely new life far away from these people. I know you feel the same way about me.”

It was way too soon for any talk like that, I looked at her like she was insane even though I wanted to do just what she suggested. Days later, I am in an army recruiting office and soon after that on my way to basic training. I stayed away from home for six years, in the mean time Ben and Jennifer got married, and when my dad retired, he took over the Maryville church.

I eventually married a woman I met in the service and we made the upstate our home. It took the passing of my parents and the inherited duties of administering certain church assets to bring me home every few months. Ben never found about that afternoon Jennifer and I shared or what she said to me about running away. I figure I owed my friend that much.


The service concluded in its regular fashion with Ben, Jennifer, and I dealing with paperwork after the church was empty. After that we pile into our cars and drive over to Murrells Inlet to eat dinner at our favorite seafood restaurant. It is a drawn out affair where our ancient friendships are renewed with me yet again being forced by Ben to promise I would someday find a good woman and remarry.

With dinner concluded, Ben and Jennifer excused themselves and return home while I drove to the motel I usually stay at while in town. It is a modern but quiet place situated on the edge of Georgetown facing the marsh with the waters of Winyah Bay just beyond. When I started coming back down to Georgetown after so many years away Ben would demand that I be a guest at his house saying we were family. It was truly a nice gesture but I always declined, at first it was because I felt the secret Jennifer and I carried was just too heavy an item to have all three of us in the same house. Luckily I was able to convince my friend that after so many years away I needed my space and solitude so he eventually stopped asking. Later on it was because the motel was neatly tucked away off the main highway offering excellent privacy from anyone just driving by.

Once in my lonely room the remaining afternoon bleeds over into the evening with my only company the flickering television. If I was an honorable man I would get in my truck and begin the drive back to my equally lonely apartment up in Greenville. Instead I lay on my bed and think about the two people who are the only remaining anchors to my hometown and a past that fades further away each day.

I know Jennifer is spending her evening relaxing and catching up on her reading. The demands of being a popular preacher's wife weigh heavily on her during the week and she jealously guards her Sunday alone time. On the other hand Ben does not have that privilege. The price he must pay for his fame and growing influence in the community requires that each of his sermons not only be thought provoking but dramatic performances worthy of the best professional actors. No matter how much Ben seems to have changed over the years deep down he is still the same scare little boy overly eager to please everyone. The first thing he did after arriving home was grab a bottle of bourbon and lock himself into his study to begin the process of writing next week’s sermon. Somewhere around midnight, he would pass out and not become conscious again until late Monday morning. It is a depressingly sad life we all lead but each of us are trapped by our history and love for each other.

A little after midnight I am pulled away from my morbid contemplations when I see headlights shining through the drawn curtains of my room, the knock on my door that comes seconds later is no surprise. While experience has shown we have little to worry about anyone seeing her I quickly open it to let Jennifer come inside. It is almost a ritual for us now, once inside she wordlessly deposits her pocket book and car keys on the small desk and then fall into my arms. The first kiss is always so deep it almost engulfs our tortured souls. Time is not our ally so our words are few but they generally fall into a familiar pattern.

“I hate you.” Jennifer she said that particular night pulling away so she could undo the purple dress she still wore. As it crumpled to the floor, I looked at her naked body hungry to pull her close again. The true love of my life was still as beautiful as the day she begged me to runaway with her and my thoughts raced to say something in response.

“Yeah, I hate me too.” Was all I said, after that thought the world outside did not matter. Hours later as we both lay together exhausted and spent I often find myself wishing I could get her to leave Ben and runaway with me like she wanted so many years ago. The irony in our little drama is that while Jennifer still loves me she has become use to the lifestyle only Ben can provide her. It is not a happy or healthy arrangement for any of us but when Jennifer walks out of my room in the morning all I can think about is how long will it be before my next visit home.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Fourth of July

Patriotism is a tough subject for me these last few years with everything that has gone on since 2001. When I was growing up in the late 1960’s and 1970’s most of the people I respected displayed a heartfelt patriotism that recognized both the good and the bad that made up the United States of America. As always, I knew plenty of exceptions to this rule with some people walking around spewing the mindless “love it or leave it” philosophy saying that total robotic obedience was the only way to show true allegiance to this country.

During the 60’s and 70’s when patriotism was typified in optimism and faith in the ideals and principles of the United States and that it could be improved benefiting everyone the country greatly prospered setting the stage for advancements in every walk of American life that echoed across the planet. This idea that everyone could be lifted up so influenced me I spent twenty-one years in the United States military believing such a place should be defended.

Where did this sincere and rational love of country come from? That is for historians and people much smarter than me to debate but hiding in the background were the mindless “love it or leave it” crowd always quick to whine about how certain groups were taking advantage of government assistance programs and moan about the waste of precious taxpayer dollars. To be sure, there were massive examples of waste and abuse but the dirty little secret in all human affairs is that such things cannot be completely avoided.  I have to believe it is far nobler to “waste” money helping people than claim it as a tax write off which is how corporations work the system to help themselves.

This era of rational patriotism ended in the 1980’s for reasons that will also be debated about for a very long time. What cannot be debated though is how the gap between rich and poor began to widen very fast during that time; how proper maintenance on our infrastructure became something increasingly difficult because of refusals of a narrow-mined population to pay for them; along with the basic mindset that greed, ignorance, and selfishness were character traits to be proud of.

It is nice to spend a day proud of our accomplishments as a nation. It is especially easy for those born on third base to be extremely patriotic since the social and economic status quo works exclusively for them. To abuse the baseball analogy even further those on second and first base fight and increasingly tough battle just to stay where they are, only the conveniently available credit cards keep the illusion that they can make to home base in their lifetimes.

So party on America, this is your day and you deserve a break from the economic sands eroding under your feet. The rich may be neglecting their own civic responsibilities but you can pull their weight and your own in such matter as taxes and fighting in the wars the powerful are so eager to start. This land is your land, until its not.