Archive for February 2013

WHEN DARK CLOSES IN – Flashback, Chapter I, Part 2

WHEN DARK CLOSES IN

Flashback

Chapter I – Part 2

1975 – Seattle, Washington

“Hey, honey, are you ready yet?” he asked, coming into the dressing room, grabbing up his car keys from the nightstand. “If you primp anymore we’ll be…” His whistle was the only approval she needed .

“You look spectacular! Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.” he added.

“Thank you. What ‘idea’?”

“Our being late, or maybe not going at all. We could stay here and have our own party,” he answered, wrapping his arms around her. “Do we really have to go?”

“Are you kidding? Miss a chance to meet my old school chums? Those girls are waiting to meet you. They would hate me if we didn’t show up. You can’t back out now.”

“Right. The enthusiastic, supportive husband parading through the gauntlet. I can hardly wait.”    

“Yes, I can see the excitement on your face. But, if you can suffer through Dana, and her boyfriend, I will make our time alone later, unforgettable.”

“Is that a promise?” he asked, a smile spreading across his face, his blue eyes searching hers.

“Yes.”

“So. Was she a bad girl in high school?”

“She was kind of…, how to say this…she was…”

“Easy?”

“Yes. But other than that, OK. The daughter of a rich Italian guy. She will try her wiles on you too I suppose, so don’t give her any opportunity to…”

“Come on to me? Gotcha. I’ll just wave my gold band at her, and let her know I’m a marked man. You have indelibly so planted your mark on me, that I couldn’t get it off if I tried.” He held up his left hand, wiggling his ring finger.

She laughed. “I’m glad to hear it.”

“And what’s the other one like?”

“Carolyn? Well, she is genuine, honest, but rather opinionated. The guys all called her, “nerdy and wordy,” an educated type, who often corrected our grammar in speech and English class, wrote poetry and essays with words no one else could even pronounce, and scored with the debate club.”

He laughed. “And then there’s you, in between. How did you get those two to even tolerate one another?”

“I didn’t. I just let them scrap it out, until one would walk away mad at the other. Scott was a couple of years ahead of us, and would just laugh at them, and try to mimic them when they weren’t around.” she said.

They were pulling out of the hotel’s parking lot when Marc flipped on a news station.

A returning war correspondent was reporting from his perspective on his assignment in Saigon. “Who would ever think life to take such turns in people’s lives? The world and its inhabitants does for certain contain volumes of history, wars won and lost, leaving still mysteries as to the fate of some, never a promised guarantee for the safe return of another…”

Jennifer reached over and turned off the radio, silencing the news correspondent. She grew pensive, quiet, and reflective.

No! Oh, God. What am I going to do? How can I avoid the questions, the gossip tonight?

She dabbed her eyes with a tissue.

“Honey, are you O.K.? You got so quiet and…” He looked over at her. “Are you crying? What gives? Jennifer! Look at me! Tell me!”

She just shook her head, cutting him off with a hand gesture.

How could she stop the dreams she had? The recent news stories just brought it all back.

They all have the same faces, but no names or recognition with the faces. She keeps seeing the back of a young woman walking through the shadows, her steps slow and halting. Body bags are filled with the corpses of dead soldiers, or their remains. A man is checking off names from military records, matching I.D. tags with identified remains using any possessions available to send home to families or wives. The woman looks through the possessions, I.D. tags, and finally the bodies and faces of the most recently found. She shakes her head each time to the military officer. She approaches the last corpse but cannot look. There is a premonition, a fear of the unknown. She hurries through the shadows of darkness trying to reach the light. But, the light is too far, the shadows, too great, the darkness permeating everywhere. The woman turns around looking for a place to run, a way out of the darkness.

_________________________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson

WHEN DARK CLOSES IN – Flashback, Chapter I, Part I

WHEN DARK CLOSES IN  

Flashback

Chapter I, Part I

Newspapers lay scattered across a table in the hotel room. The pages were opened to the stories running daily as one story followed another. On April 30th, 1975, headlines read, “Saigon Falls. U.S. Pulls Out,”  South Vietnamese Army and Marines Flee,  Helicopters Scramble to Lift off of Embassy Roof.”

Pictures covered the pages where print allowed space. People were hanging from the helicopter skids, trying to climb aboard the crowded aircraft. Desperate people, frightened for their lives and what was coming. Jennifer read it all. She couldn’t think of anything else when she did. Now, she tried to forget what she had read. She couldn’t. It would be an impossible feat to pretend to enjoy herself tonight. But she would try. She reminded herself she was happy.

It was May 20th, 1975. The war was over. No one had heard from him. No one.

She fluffed and sprayed her chestnut colored hair, applied the last of her makeup, lipstick, then scrutinized herself in the mirror. Looking hard at her reflection, she turned, checking for bulges, or creases in her dress.  She looked critically back at her young, five feet, four-inch frame. Twenty eight years old, she worked out daily to keep it fit.

She smoothed the clinging navy blue, silk dress that fell to mid calves. She hoped it would look right with the silver toned, high-heeled sandal shoes. The diamond necklace and earring set Marc had given her for Christmas completed the look. She touched the earrings gently. It reminded her of another night she would never forget, in 1966.

The moon cast a soft glow over the clear night sky looking like royal blue velvet, its stars winking on a still, glassy sea. They stood again on the pier at Puget Sound. Scott took out the envelope inside his shirt pocket.

“I got my orders from the Army.”

She was silent for a few moments.

“When?”

“Today. I report Monday at Fort Lewis. I’m sorry, Jen. I was hoping we could…make some plans for our future together.”

“We will someday. There will be time…later…when you’re back home. Everything will be alright. You’ll see.” Even as she said it, she didn’t believe it.

He placed his hands behind her head, pulling her closer, wiping the tears and streaks of eye makeup from her face. His thumbs brushed gently over the tiny star-shaped crystal earrings he’d given her a year earlier the weekend of the fourth of July.

“You’re not very convincing you know.”

The following Monday he told his parents and sister goodbye, and Jennifer drove him to the bus station. The mood was somber; the silence worse than a morgue. Just before he boarded the bus, he did an imitation from a line of his favorite actor, Humphrey Bogart in the movie, Casablanca, one they loved watching together, substituting the last word.

“Here’s looking at you, babe.” His kiss was slow, lingering as were her tears, then he pulled away and quickly hopped up onto the departing bus.

“Come back to us.” She whispered to the bus merging out into the flow of traffic, and out of sight. She ran, crying uncontrollably towards the car.

_______________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson

TRANSFORMED

TRANSFORMED

The homeless man crouched down under the bridge, hunched over, shielding himself from the cold. His mismatched, dirty pants and shirt hung loose on his thin, weathered frame. His shoes, stripped of shoe laces, were worn through till only the inner sole rubber made contact with asphalt.

After searching through dumpsters in alleys for something to eat, he was convinced he had arrived too late. They were emptied of their contents that morning after trash pick-ups. All that remained was the stench of the garbage they held. His stomach gnawed from lingering hunger. For longer than he could remember he’d hidden in the shadow of shame, losing all but the ragged clothes on his back, with no job, and or means to support himself. He slept on park benches, under bridges, in or between boxcars, wherever he found shelter or small spaces, not yet claimed. But, there were guarded areas few like him could dare encroach upon. Like seasoned night hawks they laid claim to their space and things. Weapons fashioned of things found like sharp tin can lids made into spears protruding from sticks were bayonets, and jagged cut bottles or jars with sharp edges they used to ward off newcomers. Their found treasures, protected and hidden behind the enclaves of discarded mattresses, sheets of cardboard, crates or boxes were coveted things he had yet to lay hold to, or confiscate from another. His body still held cuts and scars from his attempts to take what another one had found.

He watched a worm slither out from its crevice in the ground until free of its cold, dark domain. When it began its slow crawl across the walk he reached out for it, but a crow swooped down and snatched it up, the worm squirming from its beak as it lifted into the sky.

As night approached the void became darker, the air colder. But he fell asleep, weary from his struggle and despair. He saw sunrise creep leisurely across the sky, bright colors in orange and yellow. He felt warmth wash over him, a soft breath of one speaking his name. “John.” A wispy like flutter brushed across his nose. A butterfly flying around him as if unafraid, unfettered, remained. Lakes, ponds, green valleys, and gardens opened up before him. Birds sang incessantly from a forest of trees.

A man walked from the light to stand over him, stretched out his hand and pulled him up. Placing a clean, warm blanket over his shoulders he embraced the man, and led him away. There before him was a table spread out with all kinds of food, and containers with fresh water.

“Eat whatever you want, whatever you like, John.” People mingled around, jubilant with praise. At the head of the table, the man spoke to all those there, saying, “Transformation, a spiritual process of re-birth is not only one of the soul, but of the mind. Today, you will be transformed. You need never go hungry again, or be homeless, or in want again. God has a plan for your life.”

The man jerked, waking up. Everything looked the same, before he fell asleep. But, there stood the one from his dream, standing before him now, helping the homeless man up from the ground.

“Here, let me help you, John. We have a place near here where you can rest, and food to eat, a shelter for those who have no home, or place to stay. We have clean beds, food, and people who want to help.”

One year later, John stood, transformed from the man he once was, in the kitchen at the shelter cooking, and serving to the homeless. Smiling at each one, he filled their plates, and offered encouragement, hope. “Enjoy your meal. There are clean clothes, shoes and socks over there, and cots where you can rest.”

Ten years later, John became the director of a new shelter. The sign above it read, “TRANSFORMED,” It became a beacon to the community. Every day, he and a team of volunteers went out on the streets, inviting those in; the homeless, needy and helpless, even disabled veterans came through their doors seeking help.

__________________________________

Joyce E. Johnson – 2013


When Dark Closes In (Historical Fiction, Prologue)



WHEN DARK CLOSES IN

Surf and Shore Restaurant, Puget Sound

1966

The night started with the usual banter, kidding around, catching up on school and friends. Would they be able to pick up where they left off before college? The time away, seeing others, meeting new people had given them the opportunity to test their relationship. It all started here on Puget Sound at the Surf and Shore in 1966.

A swordfish and other fish types hung on planks of wood from old piers. Fishing nets, antique rods and reels, a whale harpoon, rudder wheel, port-hole window and other various artifacts gave the ‘Lobster shack,’ as it was known to the locals, its character.

“Does this bring back memories of our meeting here, when you came with your parents?” Scott asked.

“Yes. The place still looks the same. We sat over there facing the pier side. You were working that night, clearing tables.”

“Yep. Every day, I’d rush off after my last class, come to work, get off at 9:00, then drive home and study till midnight.”

Jennifer speared her lobster with knife and fork, and then cut into the shell ripping out succulent chunks of white meat dipping each into a tiny cup of melted butter beside her plate.

“This is good. What do you find so amusing?” she asked.

“I like watching the way your deft, manicured nails rip into that crustaceous creature dismembering it as if looking for some left in there.” He said.

“I guess it’s not a very proper way to eat lobster, but there just isn’t enough of it.”

“Would you like me to order another one for you?” he asked, teasing.

She threw a roll at him. Her aim was off and it bounced off his wine goblet, nearly knocking the glass over. His hand caught it in time.

“Oh, my g… Look what your bad influence makes me do,” she said.

“Oh, so it’s my fault? The manipulating, Irish Catholic daughter of a logger is blaming me for her childish behavior?” he said.

“May I refill your glass, sir” the waiter said, as he approached their table.

“Sure. Thank you. And, this young lady needs a glass of milk. She shouldn’t be drinking.” Scott said.

“Oh, I am sorry. I misjudged your age. Excuse me, I will bring you…”

Jenifer and Scot burst out laughing.

“Oh, no problem. It’s all right. Actually, she is the legal age. She just doesn’t act like it sometimes.” Scott replied with a conspiratorial wink. “We’re just kidding around. She really is nineteen.”

“Oh. Yes, sir. OK, then. I will check back in a few moments, and take your order for dessert.”

“Thank you.” Scott replied.

“He doesn’t enjoy your humor.”

“Now that you’re home from college, have you made plans for the summer? Or do I get to snatch you away from the girls? ” he asked.

“Oh, you mean Carolyn and Dana? We haven’t discussed any yet, except to ride the ferries around the islands, shop, and check out the cute sailors at Bremerton home on leave. I will think about you though while you’re at the garage sweating under a car hood with a wrench in your hand.” She smiled impishly.

“You would do that, while I slave away to save for our future?” His pretended hurt expression was all a part of the game he played with her.

“Oh? Is that what you’re doing? Have you considered that I might not accept your proposal?”

“I admit I have. I guess I would have to be very convincing, wouldn’t I? But, whenever we’re alone, you get that ‘uncomfortable feeling’ that I am expecting too much, and moving too fast for you.”

“And what is wrong with having that ‘uncomfortable feeling’? I am not a ‘fast’ kind of girl.”

“OK, then. I know your parents have raised you to believe in their old-fashioned Catholic virtues, but you can loosen up a little. We’re in the sixties now, and our generation doesn’t want to live by the same old set of rules our parents did.”

“Yes, I know. But, I still think trust and respect are necessary in a relationship. It isn’t because my parents are devout Catholics and hope I’ll choose to live by their set of values. It’s because I want what they have in a marriage one day, and that didn’t come about with ‘free love’ like so many are into these days. The kind of relationship I want can’t be rushed.”

“Right. The long, slow kind. I understand. Well, we may not have that kind of time, anyway. The military’s selective service is requiring registration now. Their upping the numbers of troops to ship off to Vietnam. Enlistment is down, so they’re pushing the draft to meet the demand. I had to fill out papers and send them back to the local draft board.”

“But, you don’t have to worry about that, do you? I mean, while you’re in college? Don’t students have immunity to the draft if they’re called up?”

“Usually, yes. But…”

“But, what?”

“But, I still had to register. And, I have to keep a 3.5 GPA, even while working at my uncle’s garage as a mechanic. I have to pay tuition debts, so need to work my way through school.”

There was a long pause; both of them quiet, thoughtful for the next several minutes.

After dinner they walked barefoot along the shore, breathing in the salt air. She felt safe, shielded from things when they were together. They stood looking out at the sea sending white caps thrashing against the pier. Scott wrapped a warm arm around her.

“A storm is moving in.” he said.

Jenifer could not help but feel there was a wave of the unknown coming, building, strengthening, preparing to break on impact as it came, just like the surf that rolled into shore, with a vengeance, then rolled back out to sea, each wave bigger, stronger than the one before.

_________________________

Joyce E. Johnson – 2013


Fiction, Historical Fiction, Writing, Creating Characters, The Daily Post, Weekly Writing Challenge: characters

The below post is my submission for this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge in The Daily Post.  It is based on a fictional character in my Historical fiction story, entitled, WHEN DARK CLOSES IN.

Character analysis: Scott is a soldier in the Vietnam War, who was drafted into the army while a student attending a college in Seattle, Washington. He writes this letter home to his father about his experiences during the war while stationed in South Vietnam.

Scene – Scott is in Vietnam writing this letter from his base camp.

_________________________

March, 1966.

Hi dad,

I’ve been in Vietnam now for six months and now know the basics in warfare tactics, survival and aggression. My instinct is tested daily when out on patrol with my unit. Those that can’t cut it are easy prey for the VC, and the NVA. My M-16 remains the only friend I know won’t leave me. Fatigue, exhaustion is my constant companion. My eardrums roar from the sounds of planes and helicopters overhead, gun fire, shouts and screams.

Sometimes, I have to force my stomach from heaving its contents when I see the dying lay helpless in our wake. Their blood soaks the ground. Bullets or shrapnel become imbedded inside their bodies, with open, gaping wounds. Flies and vultures swarm in to lay claim to their remains. Medics cannot help them all. Only the monsoons help wash the earth of their blood. But, nothing washes away the memory. Their fading cries linger in my head. I hear them over and over again. There is no time to grieve the death of friends I’ve made. I just watch the medics wrap them up and send them home in a transport.

Reports from home tell about the apathy for the soldiers here. Does anyone there care we are dying here? The guys have become numb to feeling compassionate, or committed to the South’s cause. This has become a political war. Those in WA., DC that decide our fate should be here. We would choose theirs. And they would go home in body bags.

Whether with, or without the U.S. help, the South Vietnamese will fight on, to keep their side free from the Viet Cong. More often the south unleashes its violence on mere villagers with the intent to annihilate and wipe out evidence of V.C. presence, or compromise. Yet, there is still infiltration in the South Vietnamese Army. It is hard to distinguish between the two. At times, we don’t know who we’re fighting. We just fire. The country has gone mad and crazy with war. There was some talk in our unit of an elite group called, SWARM, Specialized Warfare Against the Revolutionaries’ Movement.

I hope you get this. I don’t know when I will have time to write as things are getting intense around Da Nang, and our unit may be heading north. My only momentary relief comes from looking at Jen’s picture, and reading her letters from home. Dad, don’t let her or mom know about this letter.

I pray I make it back home. Give mom, and my kid sister a hug.

love, Scott

___________________

Joyce E. Johnson


‘Singing’ to a mixed audience

Singing, or writing to a mixed audience is sometimes a complex thing. We writers are vain. I am, I will admit. We want recognition for what we write, praise for the piece, and honest feedback if we value others’ input. But, humility? Yes, that is important to me too. As writers we thrive on inspiration, and enjoy writing in the process. A writer cannot write to please all. So, how to choose what is most important to them. An old rule some people live by: don’t discuss religion or politics, so those are subjects some writers will maybe skirt around. If one is a politician how can they not write about politics? It would be as natural to them as delivering speeches. Understood! And when one is a Christian, or has another kind of faith, or belief? Well, again they will want to share and write on what they believe or feel strongly about. Understood! But, I also care about how my writing voice is received, whether I write fiction, or just prose or poem of another genre. Since I have written both fiction and non-fiction I cannot say which area or genre is where my most potential lies, but fiction is what I love writing most. Yet, it is often the non-fiction works that carries more impact. It is what influences one into remembering what they read if it hit a chord or note somewhere. And so that is where I stand now; at a sort of intersection in my writing. Do I write only to entertain? Or write to deliver a message? And what message? Sometimes it is just best to change direction for a while, and travel down a another path to test the potential there. What to do. What to write. Needing new inspiration and direction. As a Christian, and a writer I strive for wisdom in whatever I do, whatever I write. But, hopefully there are those out there in the blogging/writing audience that enjoy, or do not mind the variety in the venue found here on my blog whatever tune I choose to sing to (speaking metaphorically). And, I hope there will be those who enjoy my ‘voice’ and the music (genre) I use to sing to, and will stay tuned to my channel, and I will try to not disappoint.  

_________________________

Joyce E. Johnson            

Posted February 10, 2013 by Joyce in Essays, Faith, Writing

Tagged with , ,

The Climb


The above photo was taken at a ‘lookout point’ on top of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

THE CLIMB

I gazed across

spacious peaks

To their summits’

Broad incline

Climbing with my eyes

Up towering heights

To heaven’s

Clouded skies

Then descending

Down I came

To stand upon

The tundra’s blowing plains

Of mountain meadows’

Lush, green carpet

After recent rains.

Where to behold such majesty

can one find this, and wonder

if there be any other

greater than all I see.

_____________________________

Poem and photo by: Joyce E. Johnson

 

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