Monday, July 14, 2014

Chapter 5: The Shadow at Work

This is the final chapter of the preview of my work-in-progress, the novel "Your Pal Al."  The previous four chapters are here on my blog. If you want to start at the beginning, here's Chapter One.  I'd love to hear what you think. Please comment.
 

“We been running through trenches for weeks. It was raining hard, Burty, kinda like a hurricane, but it was too cold—way too cold. We got all turned around and had no idea where we was and to make matters worse, we got pinned down real good by a machine gunner. Being stuck there was bad, but the rain and the mud was much worse. We couldn’t get dry no matter what we did. You know how your hands and feets wrinkle up if you stays in the bath too long, Burty? Well, what do you think they’d look like if theys in the there for more than a week?”

Albert shrugged but not because he was bored or not interested. It was the only thing he could do. The stories from the War were his favorite and while Mr. Sam did seem to tell the same ones over and over, this was one he had never heard – not even the corners or edges of this story.

“Not a pretty picture, eh Burty?” Mr. Sam smiled just a bit and stared hard at him. It wasn’t a nice smile. It didn’t make Albert feel any better. It actually made him squirm just a bit. The squirming was just enough for him to see that Miss Lottie had stopped her ironing and was doing a bit of staring herself.

“Please, Mr. Sam.” Albert said in a very small voice. “Tell me what happened.”

The smile warmed up, but the edge was still there hiding in his eyes. “Well Burty, while we’uhs pinned down, we didn’t seem to be in too much danger. As long as we stayed down there in the trench, we’uhs safe. But our food was running low and we’uhs getting to acting like rats down there. People ain’t s’posed to stay in small, wet places like that Burty.  It makes ‘em do crazy things. A few of the fellas got into fights… mostly over silly things. Steppin’ on someone’s boots, laughin’ at someone’s song…things like that.”

The smile was back and so was the far away look in his eyes. Then they started rolling all around… it was the remembering look, the one that made him slip, but it didn’t last. “We’d been up past our knees in mud, water and worse for over a week and peoples was fussin’ about someone steppin’ on they boots! Like they could get any more messed up!  Heh, Heh, Heh…” Albert noticed it was his old laugh and he repaid Mr. Sam with a big smile of his own. Then Mr. Sam just licked his lips and took a sip of his iced tea. He slapped both hands down on his knees and he took a deep breath.

“So, Burty. Things is about to get pretty bad, son. Are you sure you still wanting to hear this?”

“Are you kidding, Mr. Sam? This is the best story ever!”

“Alright then. You listen up real good and you remember this.” Mr. Sam leaned in and gave him a look like no other—if it had hands, Albert was sure it could have reached down into his very soul. But it didn’t—even so, it certainly made his insides feel all runny. “You might think what I’m sharing with you is a great tale, but it’s real. And it happened. And I was there.”

“Yes sir.” Albert said because it seemed like the right thing to say. And Albert was rewarded with a nod.

 “So Burty, we been down there for over a week and we hadn’t eaten for two mornings before that. With all the rain, we had plenty of water to drink. We’d catch it up in our helmets but it had a bad taste to it. Cap’n Day figured that something had best be done and done quickly. And the Cap’n… well, he was a good man… a good officer too, mostly ‘cause he never would ask a man to do something that he wouldn’t do hisself. But he should have this time, Burty, oh yes. This time it was just too dangerous for our only officer to be risking his life. But he didn’t see it that way. So once it got dark he slipped out of the trench and started to make his way across the field with only one thing in his mind. He was gonna stop that gunner so we could get out of that trench and get some food.”

“You know what’s comin’ don’t cha Burty?” It wasn’t really a question but Mr. Sam answered himself, just the same. “Course you do. And it didn’t take long neither. If it hadn’t been raining and if the lightening hadn’t flashed he might have made it, too. But the lightening did flash and it was followed by thunder. And that thunder went on much longer than normal thunder’d do. And that’s ‘cause the gunner must have seen Cap’n in the light and turned his gun on and damn near cut Cap’n in half. I don’t think he knew what hit him, thank the Lord. Well, we didn’t know that at the time, so the next time that lightening flashed we all had to see if the Cap’n made it. But we knew the answer before we looked. There was nothing there. It was still dark, see, and the rain was still coming down so hard that we couldn’t see much even if it were full daylight. We musta’ had our heads out of that trench for too long ‘cause that gunner sprayed us with another burst. None of us was hit, or so we thought and all of us fell back in the trench. We just sat there in the mud real quiet like for a long time just listening… hoping that we might hear something that would tell us Cap’n Day was alive. But the thunder and rain was all we could hear. No one knew what to do so we just sat there staring into the darkness.”

“I think I was the first to wake up. I can’t believe I fell asleep but I wasn’t the only one. The whole ragtag bunch of us had been asleep. It was probably shock and the lack of food and I might have believed it was something normal if everyone hadn’t gone to sleep. But we all did. They’uhs something about that morning that just wasn’t right, Burty.”

“We didn’t know what it was, but somehow the day just seemed like no other day. All the fellas felt it. It was like someone pulled the curtains off the wall and let the sun shine in a dark room after you been sick and now was feelin’ better. Only no one was felling better. Like I said it was still raining hard but we had to look up to the sky anyway, just to make sure, ‘cause something sure was different. And you know what? We heard singing, and from real close, too. So some of us climbed a bit up out of that trench, just a bit and that’s when we we saw him. It was Jim standing up there starin’ up into the sky. At first I thought he’uhs up there so’s the rain could wash away all he mud. He had his arms stretched high.”

Mr. Sam began to slow down and spoke in a soft dreamy way and stretched his arms high for emphasis before he just stopped. Albert had seen Mr. Sam stop like this so many times before that he would have been scared that he wouldn’t get the end of the story, if Mr. Sam hadn’t slammed both of his outstretched hands down on his knees with a dazzling quickness that let out two sharp pops.

“Then I realized that he was the one doing the singing. And it hit me.” A snap of his fingers. “Jim had gone crazy!”

He made the same swirling finger sign at the side of his head that Papa Jack made when Grandmother said something that just didn’t make sense. But only when she couldn’t see. And it was always followed by a wink. Mr. Sam didn’t wink.

“He was lucky that he hadn’t been killed by that German gunner yet. ‘Jim!’ I yelled. ‘Get back down here now you crazy Injun!’ Now I know I shouldn’t have called him that but in the heat of the moment I just blurted out whatever was down in my mouth! ‘Jim!’ I yelled again. We all was. All of us but Alvin. He was still at the bottom of the trench with a bullet hole just above his left eye. He must have been hit the night before when we’uhs all lookin’ for the Cap’n.”

“So like I said, we ‘uhs all yellin’ at Jim to take cover but Jim, he just stood there.” Again he stretched his arms wide and looked up. Albert steeled himself for another quick jolt but all Mr. Sam did was slowly turn to him and say, “Now, I wasn’t about to let my friend die like the Cap’n did so I started up and out of that trench myself. But not too much. He was right by the edge so I didn’t have to get all the way out, ya’see? I just grabbed at his ankles and started pullin’. He didn’t budge and he didn’t say nothin’ neither. Not at first. But then, real slow like he looked down at me and said ‘Samson, the last thing you want to do right now is pull me back into that hole. It might make me angry.’ Something dark was crawling around his words that had power so I stopped the pulling.”

Mr. Sam licked his lips. Albert had never seen the old man so animated or agitated.

“I tried tellin’ him that he needed to get back here in the trench so’s he wouldn’t get shot. Then he looked down at me and extended his hand. ‘It’s all right Sam. I made sure that we wouldn’t be troubled by those gunners no more.’ And I knew it was so, Albert. I reached up and took his hand. He pulled me up out of that trench. He was a strong one, my friend Jim. He then turned his gaze skyward and just stared up into the rain. I was drawn to do the same and for what seemed like the longest time the two of us just stood there holding hands and staring up into the sky. It sounds kinda silly, don’t it Burty? But that’s what we did. Then it got all quiet. None of the fellas could figure out what was happenin’ but something took ahold of them too! And finally, the rain just  stopped and we-uhs greeted by the sweetest ray of sunshine that I ever did see. It came beamin’ down at us like somethin’ from heaven! And I guess it was too!”

“When that sun come out, the magic was gone. And you know what Burty? We realized that we was still holdin’ each others hands.” Heh. Heh. Heh. “Now that was something that it took a long time for the fellas to forget!” Heh. Heh. Heh. He laughed long and hard and laughed himself into quite the coughing fit. Miss Lottie was on him like a shot handing him his Nestea and gently patting his back. When the coughing let up, she took the glass from his hand and gently kissed him on the forehead. Then she turned towards Albert. On him was more like it because she now had fury in her eyes.

“I’m heading into that house to fetch my Samson another glass of tea. While I’m gone the two of you had best sit there quietly. No talking!” She pointed a chubby, well-worn finger at Albert and held it there for emphasis. Albert wanted to say that he had said maybe five words in the last fifteen minutes and that Mr. Sam had been doing all the talking… and that he was just being polite by being a good listener… but he knew better, especially when Miss Lottie said, “And if I catch either one of you not minding me, them words will be the last ones the two of you will ever share!” She didn’t wait for an answer. She didn’t have to. The two of them were just as she left them when she returned five minutes later with Mr. Sam’s Nestea. The surprising thing for Albert was that she handed him his own sweaty glass and headed back to her ironing board.

“I know you have your concerns Burty, but my Lottie really is an angel.” Mr. Sam said in barely audible words.

“I heard that!” Miss Lottie roared and Mr. Sam smiled, then turned towards Albert.

“Where was I, Burty?”

“You and Jim was holding hands and the sun had started to shine.”

“Right. So, one by one, the whole company emerged from the trench. The fellas sure was a sight! Heh, heh, heh. They sure was… all covered in mud… filthy. Heh, heh, heh.” He rocked his chair lightly, then brushed at his overalls and continued, “…but we was still alive and now the sun was shining. Shinin’ Burty! And for the first time we could see the lay of the land.”

He leaned forward and looked hard at Albert then spoke matter-of-factly. “You see, when we was forced to take refuge from that gunner in that ol’ trench, it was night time and it was raining, and we ‘uhs all turned around. We really did stumble into that trench and it saved our lives. So we didn’t know that there were buildings nearby. And they weren’t too far away either. Just across an old field… an old vineyard, to be sure. But we had to cross that field before we got to them buildings. Not that we was worried about getting shot… if that was gonna happen Burty, we’d have been shot dead already. No suh, that field was where the Cap’n was cut down. And after our initial joys of getting out of that trench and the rain stopping, we remembered our Cap’n Day and started to look for him. We could only hope… but I already told you what happened to him.” He took a deep inward breath and went on.

“We found him almost halfway to the farmhouse. We only stopped for a minute to pay respect. Some of us said a few words. ‘Course some had words for the Lord and some of those weren’t too good, neither. Well, we figured that we might find an old board or something in that house to get the Captain and Alvin back and hopefully find some food in there, too. So we quickly made our way to the house. And besides, we had to make sure that machine gunner was dead, so we left him there for a time… not alone, mind you, Jim stayed with him. Later he told me he he stayed with the Captain because he couldn’t ever go in that house. And because he told me after we’d already been in there, I thought I knew why.”

“That house was full of surprises Burty, and when we opened that front door we got the first one. And it was a doozy.”

He had that far away look in his eyes again and grew quiet.

“You just can’t stop there Mr. Sam!”

No change.

“Please, Mr. Sam!” Still nothing so Albert settled in against the wall, his feet up pulled tight and his head between his knees. Quietly, he said to no one in particular “It just isn’t fair…”

That brought about a faint “heh heh heh” and a little nudge from Mr. Sam’s dusty boot. “Burty, you ain’t gonna take a nap on me now are ya? This is just getting to the good part.”  He winked at Albert.

So, lucky for Albert it was only Mr. Sam having a little fun with him. It was also another break for tea. Albert was engrossed in this story. It certainly was a new one. And while he had come for the Shadow he was now quite happy with this tale. He couldn’t help but start wonder what the surprises where and how it would end. And that’s when Miss Lottie appeared out of nowhere. She usually did that when she blamed Albert for something he’d done. This time it was different. What he hadn’t seen before was the huge wooden spoon that she had in her fist… never seen anything like it. All of a sudden he was thinking about a cottage in the woods, very much like the Browne’s… far away from everyone like the Browne’s… and witch and huge black cauldron… maybe not a cauldron but Albert was certain that there was a witch…

SMACK!

It was Miss Lottie herself that brought him back to reality when she slapped that spoon into her hand…

SMACK!
“Samson, I know where you headin’ with this story and you best stick to what you told me.”

SMACK!

Mr. Sam actually jumped a little at that one. And with that, she turned and walked back to her ironing.

Mr. Sam took a breath breath and continued. “We could see that the front door stood wide open and as we got closer we could make out a big wooden farm table just inside. And you just cain’t guess what we found on that table, Burty.”

“I don’t know. Food?”

“Well o’ course they’uhs food, Burty! But they’s also a note. It read, ‘Eat up and don’t worry about the gunner, I took care of him.’ It was signed ‘Your pal, Jim.’ He must have been up all night preparin’ that feast. There was plenty of wine and roast chicken and fresh bread and cheese and olives and… well, I think you get the idea. We ate ‘til we couldn’t eat no more. The wine was making all of us sleepy but then we realized that we hadn’t gone to go see about that gunner.”

“At this point we knew there was no danger from Jerry, but opening that door at the top of the stairs was something that none of us wanted to do. Still… someone had to, and since the Captain was gone and Jim wasn’t with us, the fellas gave me the honor.”

Mr. Sam stopped for a minute and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. Albert thought that he should have wiped his upper lip off as well.

“I’ll tell ya Burty, my insides ran like iced water. And look here…” He held out a very shaky hand for Albert to inspect. “Why, I can still remember just how I felt to this day.”

“We stood to the sides of the door as much as we could just in case. We had Jim’s note after all, telling us that everything was taken care of but there was something about that day that just didn’t seem right.”

Miss Lottie coughed and then cleared her throat. Mr. Sam just kept right on talking.

“When you face these types of situations Burty, the best way to deal with them is to deal with them quickly, d’ya understand, son?”

Albert nodded because he thought he did. Miss Lottie had come back over and now stood by her husband. She placed her hand on his shoulder and nodded. Then Mr. Sam nodded as well.

“So I grabbed the latch on the door, lifted it and threw the door open. It slammed back against the wall revealing something that I just cain’t explain, Burty. And won’t. But I will tell you this, there was blood everywhere. It looked like a buzz saw went through that room. It took us quite some time to put all the pieces together and when we did, we found that there had been eleven German soldiers in that room.”

He stopped for a minute and rubbed his eyes. He was shaking much more now.

“That’d be enough Samson.”

“I’m gonna finish this. The boy may need it one day.”

She planted her feet and folded her arms. Normally, that might have been enough, but not today. Not now.

“We couldn’t leave them like that. It was war Burty, but even in war, there are lines you don’t cross. We spent the rest of the day collecting their remains. We took them downstairs and made a big fire and burned them and then we buried what was left.

“No one understood how Jim pulled it all off. And none of us ever spoke of it again.”

End of Chapter

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chapter 4: Man on a Mission

Chapters one through three of "Your Pal Al" have been  published here previously. I'd love to hear what you think. Please comment.


It is just before dawn and everyone is still asleep. A shadowy figure slips into the hallway and floats towards the heart of the house. It approaches the closed door at the end of the hall and waits. Until this moment, not a sound has been made, and then, ever so softly, a very small whisper can be heard. Albert can barely hear himself over the pounding of his heart. “Your mission, Jim, should you decide to accept it, is to make yourself breakfast, leave a note explaining where you will be, and sneak out of the house without being caught. Your objective, to obtain information about the Shadow. Make contact with Samson Browne. He is the double agent, but be careful. The evil Carlotta is ever present. As always, should you or any member of your I.M. Force be caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape will self destruct in five seconds.”

He pauses and listens again. If anyone is awake, they will be in the kitchen. The door swings open slowly, just a crack at first, and then, just enough to allow Albert to slip into the kitchen.

The coast is clear. He crosses the kitchen, again using his quietest spy skills. He quickly cracks the code on the refrigerator. It is just one of his specialties. The safe is full but he does not get distracted. He sees the milk and grabs it. He takes his prize over to the kitchen table and pours himself a big glass. Next, he grabs the last package of Pop Tarts. He always knew about Colonel McGrath’s secret stash in the back of the pantry but the time was never right. This morning it is. Oh yes! Today was his most important mission for the Impossible Missions Force and he is going to be successful. He didn’t bother to heat them up. He didn’t want to get caught. He hastily scrawled a note to his commander, the leader of the IMF, telling her that he was already out to play and that he and Bruiser were going to be gone all day. He leaves it on the counter and opens the screen door. He made it. It took all of his espionage skills but he made it and the day was now his.

BAM! Unfortunately he forgot about the spring and the screen door slammed.

They were shooting at him. He couldn’t believe it. Not to worry. No one had ever successfully hit him. He was far too good. He runs to Bruiser’s pen and breaks him out. The two must now get out of the country before getting caught. He begins to explain the mission to Bruiser as they head for the old state road.

His mother had been in awake in her bedroom and quickly heads for the kitchen. But no one is there. Then she sees Albert and Bruiser heading down the dirt driveway. She finds the note that Albert left on the counter. She reads it quickly and smiles. When she looks up, Albert is talking to Bruiser but she can’t quite hear what he is saying. He is quite animated. She smiles again.

“Albert?” she called after him. This time a little louder. “Albert?” But he must have been out of earshot. That was OK. He was growing up fast. He was going to be fine.

She loves the fact that he seemed to be having a good time. She wasn’t sure how he would like staying with his grandparents. It was the biggest concern she had when she and Leland discussed his plans to be gone all summer. The photo shoot in New Guinea was an enormous break for him but he wouldn’t leave her and Albert alone in Jacksonville all summer. He would only take the assignment if she would take Albert up to her parents and spend the summer with them. It was a difficult choice but the assignment for National Geographic would make her husband a respectable photographer. No more weddings or portraits of whiney kids.

The job could also be an end to their financial concerns. They might even get to move to Washington D.C. Happy thoughts were running through her head when her mother made her presence known to her.

“Abilene. You musn’t allow your boy to behave so. He needs to show you a little more respect.” The words were cold and emotionless.

“He’s just a boy, Mama.”

Grandmother just stared at her. Abby knew that look. It was the one that she reserved for her when the response was not adequate.

By this time Albert and Bruiser had already turned the corner. The first leg of his assignment was complete. “So Bruiser, how do you think I can get Mr. Sam to tell me about the Shadow?”

Bruiser wasn’t much of a strategist. He was all muscle.

“Well, Miss Lottie is going to be the tough one. If I could only get her off the porch, even for a minute, I bet I could get Mr. Sam started. And then…” Albert snapped his fingers. Bruiser looked up. Albert wasn’t sure, but he thought his body guard was smiling.

“What do you suppose it is?” Bruiser just loped along. This time he didn’t even look up.

“So, I know I asked you this before but you had all night to think on it and I thought, maybe, just maybe, you figured it out.” Still no answer.

“Why do you suppose it’s so important? And why won’t Miss Lottie let him tell me about it?”

“I bet it has to do with the CIA or the FBI or something. And Miss Lottie just thinks I ain’t big enough for it to concern me. She doesn’t know that I’m a real secret agent myself and can handle it. And I’m strong. Mr. Sam said so himself.”

“Maybe it isn’t spy stuff at all. Maybe it’s like something like The Twilight Zone or Scooby Doo… something creepy like that.” Bruiser gave a snort. “Scooby isn’t real Bruiser. He’s just a dog on TV and he’s not even a real dog. He’s just a cartoon dog!” Albert walked on in silence for a few minutes thinking about what he just told his dog. And while he liked spy stuff well enough, the idea of something strange and scary led to so many more possibilities. “I bet Kolchak would know.”

 “So, tell me Bruiser, how can we get Mr. Sam to tell us? That Miss Lottie is a tough one. She doesn’t EVER leave Mr. Sam alone on that porch for more than a minute or two.” They continued on in this manner for quite some time and then Albert grew quiet. Somehow talking about the shadow made put him on edge.

It was near eight o’clock when Albert and Bruiser came up on the Browne place. Albert couldn’t wait and took off running! Bruiser let him go. He never did seem to want to head up to the porch. The old hickory was close enough for him.

“Good morning Burty!” Mr. Sam was beaming.

“Hi Mr. Sam! Good morning Miss Lottie.” He launched himself onto the porch and hurried to get settled in his usual spot at Mr. Sam’s feet.

“Sweet Baby Jesus! What ‘choo doing out here so early, Albert?”

“Well…” he had to think fast although the words were coming out real slow. “Today is cleaning day, Miss Lottie…” He rolled his eyes, cocked his head and rubbed his chin. “…and Grandmother likes an early start.” There. It wasn’t entirely a lie. Saturday was wash day and Grandmother did like an early start.

“So why ain’t choo at home helpin’ yo’ Granny?”

His mind was wandering again.

“Burty! Miss Lottie was asking you a question.” He was smiling like he almost always did when Albert came to visit. And Miss Lottie was shaking her head. That was also something that happened a lot.

“Child, one day, that brain o’ yours is gonna get you in trouble!” But she was smiling too.

End of Chapter

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Chapter 3: This Conversation is for the Dogs

This is the third chapter of "Your Pal Al", my first novel. It is still under construction. Chapters one and two have been  published here previously. I'd love to hear what you think. Please comment.


The walk home was excruciating. It had been two days since Mr. Sam had first mentioned the Shadow and he still had no idea of what it was or why it was important. And it being important made him itch all the more to get at that story.

Albert stopped walking for a minute to think and the huge gray dog at his side just plopped right down at his feet.

“So Belvedere. I’ve been thinking a lot on this and I just can’t keep it up any longer. If you are going to come with me everyday — and I certainly welcome your company — we just have to do something about that name of yours. It just don’t fit your personality at all. Is that al’right with you?”

The dog just continued panting and sucked up a long string of drool.

“Good boy. So I know Belvedere is the name Papa Jack gave you but it sure does sound more like something Grandmother would have done. And it ain’t right. So from now one, I’m gonna call you…” Albert paused and thought and scratched his head.

“This naming business is right hard Belve… er, ol’boy, and I want to get it right. You don’t mind waitin’ just a bit so I can think on it, do ya?”

Belvedere was a Neapolitan Mastiff and easily outweighed Albert by fifty pounds or more. And he was all Papa Jack’s dog. Bringing that pup home had caused quite a stir with Grandmother. Normally she got her way, but he put his foot down on this. It was only a few weeks old when he just showed up on the porch. Papa Jack found him there and because they lived so far from town and there weren’t any dogs like him living nearby — let alone any mastiffs — he just figured that the dog was something special – ‘a gift from heaven‘ was what he had told Albert.

 “What do you say I think more on it while we walk? Hmm?” Belvedere wagged hius nub. “That’s a good boy.”

The two of them headed off down the old road. The shortcut would get them home far too quickly for Albert’s mind. There might be chores to do and he needed time think. There were just so many unanswered questions.

“So, how in the world am I gonna get Mr. Sam to tell me more about this shadow thing? And why its so important? Now, I don’t think Miss Lottie is gonna let him tell me much. Do you? Seems every time we men get to talkin’ about it she storms across the porch. What d’ya think I should do?”

The two made their way slowly home in the hot afternoon. Dappled light from a few ancient live oaks now their only escape from the sun. The road ran by farms mostly, a few reclaimed by nature – choked by tall weeds – but most were huge fields of green made up by sugar cane, corn, tobacco and cotton. Albert didn’t like the corn fields much, especially when the the stalks were dried up and left to rot after harvest. He imagined all kinds of things in there – things that would try to get him — things with scythes and pitch forks. Sometimes, he would cut through the fields, but never the corn.

From time to time Albert would stop to think about something important only to a nine-year-old and continue on. “So, we still need a name for you. I always did like the names Striker and Ranger but you don’t seem much like a Ranger. What do you think about Brutus?” He looked hard at the dog and for such a big, slow moving creature he perked up quite quickly and cocked his head to the side, the way dogs do when they almost seem to understand what you are saying. “You really like that one, do ya boy?” His head rolled to the other side and wobbled just a bit and then, just for a minute, Albert thought he was actually going to get a real answer. He leaned in real close just in case he didn’t want to speak too loudly. Afterall, dogs weren’t supposed to be talking. Belvedere wrinkled up his nose and sneezed. And then shook his head violently coating Albert with long, gooey tendrils. “Yuck. Dog germs!” But he laughed and reached out and scratched him behind his ears — his favorite place. “You’re right. That’s no good. He’s a bad guy… always after Popeye.” With that he took off running.

“Catch me if you can! Catch me if you can!” The laughter trailing behind just like the dog. Belvedere wasn’t known for being energetic and was content to let the boy run. Then Albert picked up a stick from the road and tossed it. “Get the stick. Get the stick, boy!” And he just couldn’t help himself. He was a dog after all and so he was off… huffing and puffing… “You sure are fast!” Albert lied.

“That Mr. Sam sure is something, ain’t he? I’ll bet he killed a bunch of them Jerries. Ratta-atta-atta-atta-tat!” And he drove in the tall grass at the side of the road. Belvedere dove in after him.

“Geez Louise! Whatta ya tryin’ to do? Kill me? You are some kind of bruiser. I don’t think the Americans or the French would have taken you in… too big and too dumb…” He laughed it out. Belvedere looked offended. Albert jumped up and took off again. “Big ol’bruiser dumb as a brick… Big ol’bruiser can’t do a trick…” Albert turned and wagged his backside at the dog. For a minute Belvedere just sat there then Albert spanked himself and the dog pounced… all 153 pounds of him. He knocked Albert to the ground and held him there. The wrinkles on his head slid forward as he moved his head down towards Alberts face. Albert shrieked. And was rewarded with a very sloppy mastiff kiss… but he didn’t let him up.

Even though they hadn’t been friends for long and Belvedere towered over him. Albert was’t scared.

“I give. I give. Uncle! Uncle!” He started gigling and reached up, started tickling the dog. He was certain that it was one of Belvedere’s favorite games and to sweeten the pot he would always throw a liitle scratching into the mix.

It didn’t last long. Soon they were back on the road heading for home. “Boy, ain’t that Grandmother a tough one? How ever do you manage to live with her? Now, don’t go tellin’ her I said anything, but she seems somehow… harder than she used to be. Does that make any sense?”

Albert grew quiet then and the two continued their walk. Every so often Albert would look over at the dog and almost say something, but Belvedere didn’t look back as he normally would have.

“I’m sorry I called you dumb. I know you ain’t no meathead” Albert finally managed. Then they walked together for a while in silence. But silence was not one of Albert’s friends and soon enough he was back to questions.  “Why do you suppose Mr. Sam lives all the way out there in the woods by himself? Do you think he ever gets up out of that rocking chair? Why won’t you ever come up on the porch with us? You seem to like Mr. Sam well enough. Is it that Miss Lottie? She doesn’t much like either one of us, does she? Luckily she mostly keeps to her ironing.”

And so it went for the rest of the walk back to his Grandparents house.

Papa Jack was sitting in his rocker on the front porch as usual. Albert figured that all old men spent their most of their days in a rocking chair on a porch. He figured that one day he would have to ask his grandfather about this.

Albert had just turned down to drive when Papa Jack boomed, “Hi there, kiddo!”

There was still quite some distance from the road to the house and when Papa Jack spied Albert and called out and Albert couldn’t help but head to him running. Of course, Belvedere trailed after him.

“Lookee here! It’s my favorite Grandson!”

“I’m your ONLY grandson, Papa Jack.”

“Still my favorite” he said with a smile.

“Well, your my favorite Grandfather and I got two of them!” The two laughed as they always did when this particular conversation came up — and it did come up often. Albert noticed that old people had a way about coming back to the same stories time and time again, but this was one of the ones that Albert loved so he did not mind so much.

“So, Albert, tell me about your day. What is it that you and Belvedere all day.”

“You know Papa, a little of this and a little of that…”

“…but mostly that!” The two finished together and laughed.

“You really like Belvedere don’t you, Albert?”

“I do. We get along great mostly. Why today, we just barely survived a German ambush.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes sir. It is. When the bullets started flying we took cover in the tall grass. “

“I see. Then what happened?”

“We walked home.”

“All the way from France?”

“Yes sir.”

“My, that must have been some walk.”

“It sure was.” Albert liked these games with Papa Jack but figured that he had better get right to it. “So walking home I figured that I’d call him Uncle Bruiser.”

“Uncle Bruiser?” Papa Jack was downright close to busting a gut but somehow managed to stifle the laughter. He knew Albert was serious. “Why Uncle?”

“Well, he’s far too big and old to be just Bruiser and he watches over me kinda like you or my Daddy. And, well… I already got ya’ll. And since I got an Uncle Toomey and Uncle Hank who ain’t really my uncles…” Albert fell silent. His gaze lost in the distance.

“I suppose that’ll be just fine… it’s a mouthful, but if you can handle it…”

“Maybe you’re right, Papa. It is a bit of a mouthful. Maybe it should just be Bruiser. I suspect I’ll have to ask him if it’d be OK.”

“You do that.”

“I will.”

End of Chapter

© 2014 Michael O’Connell. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Chapter 2: Another Story… Another Time

This is the second chapter of the story that I have been working on. Chapter one was published here on my blog back in January.


 

“They called me ‘Bean’ for a spell during the training. I s’pose it was because I was so tall. I didn’t mind it much… but later, when we was in France, some of the fellas started calling me ‘Mean Mr. Bean’.”

A small laugh escaped Miss Lottie and she eyed Albert. Most times when she eyed him like that, he knew he was in trouble. This time though, he cracked a big grin and gave her a wink to boot, just like Mr. Sam would do.

“Now I never did hurt no one that didn’t have it comin’ but when we was fightin’ in the trenches things got BAD. Miss Lottie don’t want me telling you exactly what it was like so you gonna have to take my word on it.”

This time Mr. Sam got the eye. And there was no smiling or winking. He just stopped and took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a minute. Then, he let out a long sigh and continued. “Well, what I can tell you Burty, is that some of them other fellas were the mean ones and the War only made them meaner.”

“How’s that, Mr. Sam?”

“Well, the War was something more than ‘us against them’, especially for us. Oh, we fought the Germans al’right, and we’uhs glad to do it. Not so much because we hated them or what they was doin’. It was more a way for us to prove ourselves as men.”

“You remember looking in that old wooden box Burty? The one with all those newspaper clippings? Do you know where they all came from? Well, I’ll tell you. When I was away, my Mama saved every single clipping she could get her hands on. She was so proud of her Samson. When I come home, she give me that box. And to me, those scraps of paper are the medals I never received from these here United States of America…” He stretched his long arms wide and gave Albert a sad smile. “I used to read through them news stories…” Mr. Sam trailed off. “…the newspaper men, they was doing they part… reporting the war… and I think we darn near surprised everybody with our heroics, but even when they was praisin' us they was keepin' us us in our place. Quick to point out that the heroes in they stories was just porters, elevator boys and whatnot… but at least they was writin' 'bout us, Burty! Heh heh heh! Yep, things didn't change much but I sure had.”

Albert took this pause to chance a look at Miss Lottie. She was still ironing. He had never seen Mr. Sam, nor Miss Lottie for that matter, ever wear anything but what they had on now and she was always ironing. And Mr. Sam was always sitting in his chair in his worn, blue overalls. Albert thought that they must have enough cleaned and ironed clothes inside their house to last them a lifetime.

Miss Lottie was a big woman. Almost as big as Mr. Sam was tall. And Mr. Sam was the tallest man that Albert had ever seen. At least he thought he would be the tallest. He had never really seen Mr. Sam get up out of his chair. His mind had begun to stray from his intended prize. Another quick glance and then, with the quietest whisper he thought he could use for Mr. Sam, said “The shadow, Mr. Sam. You said it was important.” And it obviously was by the way Mr. Sam’s eyes got real big and round. He shot a glance at Miss Lottie, then gave Albert a small nod.

“Not today Burty. Soon.”

Then he buttoned his lips as he eyed his wife again.

End of Chapter

© 2014 Michael O’Connell. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

When did it become the government's responsibility to create jobs? I always thought that the government was supposed to be there to uphold the Constitution—basically to protect our rights. What the government should be doing is creating an environment in which job creation can occur — livable, safe cities with an educated work force; safe, sound and responsive infrastructure; being a good, responsible steward of public lands for this, and future generations; and doing all of this on a level playing field for all.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Advice?

Advice? I don't have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you're writing, you're a writer. Write like you're a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there's no chance for a pardon. Write like you're clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you've got just one last thing to say, like you're a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God's sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we're not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don't. Who knows, maybe you're one of the lucky ones who doesn't have to.

Alan Watts (1915 - 1973)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Your Pal Al – Chapter 1: Mr. Sunshine

Below is the first draft of chapter one from my first novel, "Your Pal Al". One morning, I was out on my normal routine walking my dog. A song that I cannot remember got me thinking and I had it. I held on to the thought until I got back home where I sat at my desk and got it down for safe keeping--although I didn't stop there. That morning I was late for work. I also had about 500 words written. If you like it, please let me know. If you don't, tell me that, too,, but please tell me why. Thanks for reading. 

Chapter 1: Mr. Sunshine

“The sun is mighty powerful. It causes the wind and the rain. And it makes things grow! But… ” Mr. Sam paused here before going on and lowered his voice. “…it also makes shadows.” He drew out that last word and then he stopped for what seemed like forever. Albert waited and wondered. Something had to be wrong with Mr. Sam. His eyes were still open, but he wasn't moving much. He thought maybe he should reach out and give him a little poke, just to make sure he was still breathing. As Albert extended his finger to do just that, Mr. Sam quickly snatched him by the wrist. That startled Albert even more than the near dead Mr. Sam. He was much quicker than he supposed an old man should be.

"The good news is that when the sun goes down for the day, he takes all those all shadows with him." Another pause. “Well… almost all of them.” He stopped again and looked around as if he were searching for something. Albert looked around as well, but just to be polite. He really didn't see much. Miss Lottie was still at the end of the porch doing her ironing. The sun was still shining and making the wind blow around a bit. And his dog was either chewing on his leg and scratching his ear out in the yard by the old hickory tree. He tried to do both but couldn't quite figure out how to do that. Belvedere did that a lot, but then, he was a dog and that's what dogs did. Mr. Sam was still looking around and he still had Albert's wrist. His eyes were rolling all about, just like the marbles did in the Mason jar back home on Albert’s dresser.

Finally, Mr. Sam started moving again and pulled him in real close and whispered in his ear. "Listen to me Burty, this is important, real important. D’you understand? Sometimes… " and before he could finish a blue jay flew straight into the closed window right behind Mr. Sam's head. It hit hard, too, and almost hit him! It probably would have if he hadn't leaned in to get a little closer. Of course Albert couldn't resist and desperately wanted to see if the poor jay needed his expert help but Mr. Sam hadn't quite said his peace. "Burty!” He gave him a small but firm shake. “I said this is important!" Mr. Sam barked but all the excitement had drawn Miss Lottie’s attention and when Miss Lottie's ironing got interrupted… look out!

"Samson Lucius Browne! What kind of stories are you fillin’ that boys head with?"  The jay twitched once and was still.

"Burty, come here boy.” She slapped her leg like she was calling a dog. “Don't you pay him no mind. He thinks he is heppin' with all those old tales, but they just stories that folks use to get their kids to do what needs doin’. Now you run on home.” She stared at him real hard then cocked her head to the side. “Ain't that ‘cho Momma callin’?" Albert instantly froze to listen but was certain that he hadn't heard his mother. Besides, he was quite interested in what Mr. Sam had been telling him, especially now that Miss Lottie didn't want him to hear it.

"Miss Lottie, please… I don't have to be home until dinner time!" Albert pleaded. “That must be hours from now.” He knew that when Miss Lottie made up her mind, that was that, but he still had to try. Who knew when he could get Mr. Sam back to that story again.

Mr. Sam was old. Real old. Albert's mother told him that Mr. Sam had fought in the first World War. He had heard a lot about "Old Days". His grandmother and grandfather called them the "Good Ole Days" and while much of the stories were similar, Albert liked Mr. Sam's stories better. Maybe because his stories were older and more colorful.

"Please Miss Lottie, I want to stay!" By this time Mr. Sam was just sitting there staring out into the yard again. Albert knew it was going to take some kind of coaxing to bring him back so he played the sure ace. "Mr. Sam, tell me a story about the the 'Old Days'!"

Most times when he asked him about “the way it was” Mr. Sam would perk right up, but not today. Something had ahold of him today and it was going to take a bit more craftiness on his part. “Tell me about the War, Mr. Sam!” The second ace was on the table and Albert was quite confident he’d get his story now, but still Mr. Sam sat immobile, his gazed fixed on the old tree in the front yard. He tugged at Mr. Sam’s sleeve and begged him as only a ten-year-old can do. And still nothing.  “Please!” It was certainly a tricky situation that he found himself in that all too warm summer afternoon and Albert desperately wanted to hear more about the shadow. He thought if he could just get Mr. Sam talking again he could eventually get the story to come back around. But nothing had changed. He had tried not one, but two sure fired ways to bring Mr. Sam back but he was still staring at that tree and now…well, now he was almost out of ideas.

Albert plopped himself down and folded his legs up under himself – “Indian-style” was what his first grade teacher Mrs. Eaves called it. And then it came to him. He stood up and placed himself squarely between Mr. Sam and the tree. “Mr. Sam… tell me about your best friend Jim!” His third ace was on the table and he was now out of cards. Surely that one had to work. But Samson Browne just sat there—the steady moving of his chest the only proof that he was still alive.

“Mr. Sam… you promised! Please Mr. Sam! Oh pleeeeease!” And with that Albert once again took his place at Mr. Sam’s feet and waited. So it went for what seemed like an eternity to Albert. He stared at Mr. Sam and Mr. Sam stared at the old hickory. Belvedere even lent Albert a hand alternating his watchful eye between the three of them. And every so often Albert would tug lightly at the old man’s pant leg to see if anything had changed.

“Oh, I cain’t take this a minute longer! Samson, you mind me now. Young Burty here been waitin’ just as patient as you please. It hain’t right that you should sit there and not give him that story… after all you did promise him…”

She put the iron down for the second time that day and went over, placed her big, callused hands on each of his shoulders and stared directly in his eyes. She put some words in his ear that only he could hear. Then more loudly she continued, “but you best just stick to the story ‘bout Jim… you hear me Samson.”

And with that, Miss Lottie had broken the spell. In a million years Albert wouldn’t have thought that she would have been his wild card!

“Alright Burty. He gonna tell that story now.” And slowly, like an autumn stream, Mr. Sam did come back around. He licked his lips once and scratched the back of his head and slowly began.

"My Daddy was one of the few black men in Charlton County who could say that he owned his farm. It was a small farm, Burty, only 19 acres or so but we were able to provide for ourselves and still have enough left over to sell at market. Most often, everything was alright and people let us be. Then the War started. A lot of my friends saw it as an opportunity to show everyone that we was just as good as they was.” He smiled at that and continued. “But then they got the draft going… and then they’s a lot of us. Some folks didn't want black men serving alongside whites. And some saw it as a chance to get rid of some of us ‘troublesome’ black folk.’ Mr. Sam stopped talking. He often did that and Albert didn't always understand. This time though, he was pretty sure he knew. He had been told the stories about the the burnt crops and the lynchings. Miss Lottie had shushed her husband then too.

Albert took this chance to sit down and get comfortable against the wall. And then he waited. The silence didn't last long. “My Daddy made his ‘Declaration of Loyalty’ just like all the other farmers. Momma even planted herself one of them Liberty Gardens right in front of the house up by the road, but Daddy didn’t feel that was gonna be enough to keep his family safe. We could tell he was scared and that, Burty, was the first and only time I ever did see my Daddy scared of anything.”  He stared hard into Albert's eyes for a long minute then he gave him a big smile with teeth that looked like corn and he continued. “Well, as I said, the War brought the draft and that meant that all the men over a certain age was needed to go fight for our country and help them folks over in Europe. You know what the funny thing is? I enlisted.

“So why’s that funny Mr. Sam? If all men were going and it was good for the country and all…”

“Well, I enlisted because I had heard about these fellas up in New York that was actually going to fight.”

“Didn’t everyone fight that was in the war?” Albert was getting confused.

“No Burty… remember I told you that some white folks didn’t like the idea that blacks were going at all?” He stopped here and looked at Albert and waited. Normally, Mr. Sam stopped and didn’t expect anything and either kept right on talking or was pretty much finished for the day.

“All the men I fought with were part of the 369th regiment and all of them men was Black. Well all of them ‘cept for my best friend Jim and most folks wouldn’t’ve known he wasn’t a Negro. D’ya wanna hear something funny Burty? Now I know you study real hard in school so you should see the humor in this. His full name was James Laughing Crow… y’see? Jim Crow! Heh! I'm sure his Daddy had no idea! Heh heh heh… no'suh! Course Jim thought it was kind 'a funny and I guess I did too. Ain’t that a hoot Burty? Jim Crow serving real proud in an all Black regiment.

Well Jim was a Choctaw Injun. And at that time, Injuns wasn’t even allowed to be American citizens. But that didn’t stop Jim. He enlisted… how and why he made it to the New York National Guard I never did ask… never thought to. But he did so because he wanted to serve as a member of the Army's Signal Corps.  Nowadays they call them ‘code talkers’. Do ya know what a code talker is Burty?” Mr. Sam just kept on talking. But Albert knew alright. He had heard all about them from his Uncle Toomey. Uncle Toomey wasn’t really his uncle. But he was a Navaho and that was just one of the many stories he had told him. Mr. Sam pressed on. “Well they’s Injuns that used their own language to bedevil the enemy. Ya’see, when Jerry tried to listen in and find out where a supply drop was gonna be made or were our soldiers was being moved, they couldn’t understand a word. It was so successful that they used them again in the War to End All Wars. That’s what they were calling the Second World War at the time. And they used Navahos mostly then.” Albert felt a sense of pride at that. “Anyway, some of the other fellas from his tribe had already been asked to help out and he wanted to do his part. So he went down to enlist and signed up. There weren’t many Choctaws left in Georgia at that time. Most of them being run off their own lands years before. Well, Burty, old Jim signed his papers and the fellas at the recruiting station didn’t know quite what to do with him. They must have figured since he was so dark, they’d put him in our regiment ‘cause they didn’t want no “Dirty Injuns” fightin’ alongside all those fine white boys. ‘Course him being from Georgia and the rest of the tribe now in Oklahoma meant that there weren’t too many of his folks signing up from our parts and that probably had something to do with it too. At first some of the fellas didn’t want him in our regiment either but they did come ‘round.”

“Now Jim was a good man and a strong man… probably the strongest man I ever did know next to my Daddy.” Mr. Sam paused here for a minute and licked his lips.  “Now this is important Burty. He was strong. D’ya understand?” Albert nodded and was rewarded with a small smile before Mr. Sam continued. The atta boy kind of smile you get from your coach or your dad when he’s teaching you to ride your bike or throw a football. “No, Jim wasn’t strong just physically… Its important because of what happened to him when he come back… but the story started long before then. It started back in the trenches.”

Mr. Sam stopped again reached for his ever present iced tea. He took a long sip and let out a deep breath and cocked his head. “Ada?”

Albert had heard Mr. Sam say that name once before. And like that time Miss Lottie took notice.

“Mr. Sam, what happened to Jim? What about the trenches?” Albert tried hard to bring his friend back but he was old and Albert didn’t have the magic that Miss Lottie had.

Miss Lottie put her hand on Albert’s shoulder. “He’s slipping again Burty. Time to go. Mr. Sam needs his rest.”

End of Chapter

© 2014 Michael O’Connell. All rights reserved.