Archive for July 2013

The making and telling of story: WHEN DARK CLOSES IN

Members of the military are attempting to keep...

Members of the military are attempting to keep Vietnam War protesters under control. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a story about young adults living in the sixties era of the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia, 1965-1975. It is about a ‘coming of age’ generation, across the country holding protest demonstrations against the war,  rebelling against the ‘establishment’ of rules and regulations, experimenting with pot, ‘free love,’ and illegal abortions. It is about those who swarmed to the Beatles concerts, danced and rocked to the tunes of popular groups and singers at rock concerts like Woodstock.

When Dark Closes In tells the story of Jennifer, Scott and their friends who lived, loved, fought and died during that time, succumbing to  the shadows of a dark period in history. But, from out of the darkness comes a light of hope and redemption for some whose lives will be forever changed from that moment on.

In two chapters posted Jennifer was coping with an unplanned pregnancy and considering an abortion. In 1966 abortion was illegal in every state. She was Catholic, unmarried, a college student, and her baby’s father waited to hear if he would be sent off to war in Vietnam. Those were traumatic times to live in. The choices and decisions made by the youth were often made in haste, with little thought to the circumstances. Other decisions made concerning the war, our military and troop buildup were made by our president, his administration, and congress. It caused division, unrest, war protests. Many dodged the war to run off to Canada where they could hide and blend in with the masses there, some never returning to the U.S. to face the consequences.

These characters, their lives and choices made are not a reflection of my personal views or perspective, although my husband and I were ourselves nineteen in 1966, living with our own choices, but instead they are those of the characters created for the story. All feedback and comments on this story, or any chapter posted are welcome. Comments are helpful to know the thoughts, opinions expressed and views of another, but do not influence my own on the way I tell the story. I hope you enjoy/have enjoyed reading it. It is a current work in progress, but also one I have been writing and editing for many years, recently renamed and revised with the posted chapters and prologue, all of which may be found under the category and menu heading of, When Dark Closes In.

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Joyce E. Johnson

Peaceful Waters


Peaceful waters flow

Lapping at the river’s edge

Calms spirit and soul

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Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

The Informant’s Agenda – Chapter I

English: A impression from the Donskoy monaste...

THE INFORMANT’S AGENDA”

Transnistria, Moldova

Chapter One

 The car was gone. Not a sound or sign anywhere of Irina. Just a dead, eerie silence. Like the graves I had just left.

After searching the grounds, the road, all where I had walked I pulled out my cell phone and checked for new messages. There were none, so scrolled my directory, punched her number and waited. It went to voicemail, so left a message. “Irina! Where are you? Where did you go? I’m walking back, southwest towards Grigoriopol, the direction we came. Did you go back to town, or look for a potty? Or did you decide it a good time to go for coffee? Look, I’m sorry I took so long. Call me! Please!” My phone showed weak signals, and needed recharging.

 “Ok, Irina, where have you disappeared to? This is not funny.” I said to myself. Thinking out loud was little comfort.

Stay calm. Think. Don’t panic.

A mile further down the road was an old pickup, parked on the shoulder.

Thumping! Clanging!”

What is that?!

The sound came from the direction of the truck.    

Feeling exposed, I moved over to the opposite side of the road. Because of me, I realized we would miss our four-o-clock appointment with the consulate of Odessa.

There was no one in the truck that I could see, but the noise boomed across the otherwise quiet steppes.

Banging! Pounding!” It resonated in my ears, pinging off the side of my brain.

Inquiring from a complete stranger about Irina, or her car did not seem a good idea, so I just walked on, hoping the invisible would not notice me. When I looked back there was only a shadow.

People warned me about traveling alone in this country.

Feeling as if there were eyes on my back at every turn did not help to establish a note of trust or confidence. Some, I think seemed too interested in me. Others stood stone still; looking as if they did not comprehend anything I said.

Experience taught me how to blend in, merge with the masses, not look like a lone duck in a big pond. It was easy to dress like a Russian. But speak like one? Without an accent or fluent dialect I was not very convincing. When I asked questions or needed directions I knew I sounded too much like an American tourist. But, dressed in my most comfortable ‘threads,’ – faded blue jeans, and tee shirts – I looked like everyone else here, except when wearing my red fleece jacket with the, “Go Big Red” logo advertising my alma mater, UN, University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Adding to my present predicament was the wheeled backpack I hauled around, loaded with notebooks, laptop, and cameras. Except for the video cams and digitized equipment that went with my job I looked much like a university student in the former Soviet Bloc countries.

A vehicle coming up the road behind me spewed gravel as it got closer.

Finally. It’s about time. Irina?

It was instead a late-model black sedan I’d not seen before. As it neared, the pickup now with its driver behind the wheel rumbled out onto the road veering into the car’s path at an odd angle. Rapid, successive beeps from the car horn came too late.

The sudden contact of metal to metal brought both vehicles to a crashing halt. The left front bumper of the old pickup smashed in the front right door and fender, headlight and trim on the car, leaving broken glass and bits of mangled parts scattered across the road.

The truck driver got out and ambled over to the sedan to survey the damage. The red pickup, rusty and dented looked no worse than before.

But, the car was a mangled mess of twisted metal and glass. The windshield shattered into innumerable tiny pieces spilling out over the hood. The air bag appeared to release on impact. Hands clawed at the inflatable device compressing it as if wedged in a vice. Soon after, the driver’s side door was pushed open and a man stepped out. He pulled off his dark glasses, massaged his nose and forehead, then began to curse and swear with words recognized in any language. He was dressed in blue jeans, black shirt and leather jacket. Something about him looked familiar. Then, I remembered where and when I’d seen him.

Watching it all from where I stood, I felt vulnerable, unsure what to do.

It was difficult to hear the exchange between them. But, there was no mistaking the anger of the sedan’s driver. When finished with his ranting, he pulled out a cell phone from his pocket.

Jumping down into a weedy embankment I pulled my wheeled bag down behind me hoping neither man would notice, or care, that their only witness was hurrying away from the scene of an accident.

The truck driver wore wrinkled worn pants cuffed an inch or so above old boots, a red plaid flannel shirt with sleeves rolled up on long lanky arms. Tall, with thinning gray hair he didn’t look injured, but rather agile for an older man.

Like a frightened rabbit I turned and headed down along the road on the uneven terrain. It was awkward with my bag, but I wanted only to get back to Grigoriopol, to my room at Olga’s Inn.

The road forked ahead about a half mile. When Irina and I came down the road earlier, I paid little attention to the turns she made as we traveled east into Transnistria. We’d headed northeast when we passed through old Colosova Village, before pulling into the cemetery grounds past the former collective farms. Now, they looked all but abandoned. Dry, barren fields, weeds growing wild, nothing graded: all looked like it had not seen a plow or grader in decades. No legible road signs or identifying marks remained.

My bag was bulkier now, with my discovery.

 Irina reminded me we had no time to spare. But, I protested.

“Monica, we don’t have time for another cemetery this morning. We can’t be late for our 4:00 appointment at the consulate’s office. We need to allow time to get back to Grigoriopol for you to change, unless you want to walk in smelling like the ground under those graves.”

“I know, but, I need more time to look for those on my lists, and photograph the graves. Can’t we reschedule the appointment?”

“Maybe. They just don’t want us to deviate from our itinerary. That is, if you want to get into the archives when they’re open for research. Besides, I am responsible for keeping us on schedule and for any changes made. As the official representative assigned to you I have to log in the places we go, the dates and times, and fill out reports for my superiors.”

“I would just like to look through this one cemetery. I will not be long. You can wait in the car, if you like. I’ll meet you back there in an hour or so. I promise.” I told her.

She sighed, looking clearly upset with me, checked the time on her watch, nodded and replied. “OK. I’ll spare you an hour. But, that’s all. And, remember that other section beside it is closed, fenced off and boarded up. You can’t be trespassing over there.”

“OK. Just the cemetery grounds, then.”

It was my job as an archivist to videotape, note and photograph what was here. But, I was determined to search once more for their graves. Her constant, annoying presence got on my nerves, so I just walked away with her waiting impatiently by the car, then headed for the old, iron gate.

Now, as the air turned colder, and graying clouds moved in, covering the late afternoon sun I realized I had placed myself, and maybe my assignment here in jeopardy.

Winds kicked up refuse blowing it across the Russian steppes. “And, here I stand, alone out on a dirt road with a map and compass looking for a way back to town.” I said aloud, again talking to myself.

As I trudged on with my cumbersome bag, my thoughts drifted back years earlier to

another place, another time, another gravesite when I stood with my family mourning our loss.

There was never a thought I would be the genealogist type, as I had no interest, experience or, ambition for such a job.

Then I read his letter, left for me. “Monica. It is not the erected monument of the deceased that is important, but the legacy they leave behind of the unseen that matters. It is what we can share with the next generation, and preserve what is found in those having lived before us.”

 It was his request that I preserve ours, and my promise to him to honor it.

__________________

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

Bridging our lives, together – Forty-seven years, today


Photo credit: Joyce E. Johnson


 BRIDGING OUR LIVES, TOGETHER

Like flood waters rushing beneath a bridge,

so too have the years, behind us raced by.

We think back to a moment in time, and say,

“Do you remember that? The place?

What we did, where we were, the day?”

Our children we raised together, and prayed

through every situation, the happy, and sad.

Albums and boxes are full of those times;

the photos and mementoes of places we’ve gone,

of our children born, grown, and raised,

the vacations taken, miles traveled and logged,

family dinners, holidays, grandchildren’s births.

Even the spontaneous and randomly unplanned,

those we look back as if they happened today.

All is recorded in the margins of our lives,

filled in the pages of journals, and poems.

So, it is on this momentous day and time

We stand here blessed on that bridge of life

Thankful we can remember all gone by.

_____________

poem by: Joyce E. Johnson (July 16, 2013)

Happy wedding anniversary to my husband, Wayne

with love, on our 47 years of marriage, today (July 16, 2013)

______________________


When Dark Closes In, Chapter IX, – ‘Scott’

WHEN DARK CLOSES IN (Historical Fiction)

Scott

Chapter IX

1967 – Saigon, Vietnam

“I could really jack up the cost of this job if I did it at home in my uncle’s garage. But here, I can’t collect, or set my own hours. At least the parts and coveralls are courtesy of the Army. You think they appreciate our expertise, Mac?”

A soldier hunched over machine parts, cleaning and oiling. “Hey man, we’re government commodities now. Dispensable and replaceable, you know?”

The Lieutenant’s voice boomed from across the road. “Bradley! You finished with that jeep, yet?”

“Almost sir.” he called back. Starting up the motor he listened to the sound. “Sounds better now, sir. She sputters a little, but still got some life in her. Till her sweet rump gets all shot up, and scattered to parts unknown.” he added.

“What was that?” asked the lieutenant.

“Uh, nothing, sir! Just thinking out loud. Do you think I could be relieved now to go get some dinner?”

“Yea, knock off.” The lieutenant looked at his watch. “Report back in two hours.”

“Thank you, sir.” Scott saluted and walked down the road to a café frequented by the military. Chopsticks and soy sauce were laid on a small table tucked in a corner. He ordered his food, propped his booted feet up on a chair and leaned back. While waiting for the food he rested his head against the wall and closed his eyes. A large ceiling fan circulated the humid air and smells that settled in the dim place. The weariness and drain of a long day took its toll and he was almost fully asleep when he felt a warm hand on his arm.

“You one sleepy soldier boy. Yes?” The girl said, smiling. She laid the plate of food down in front of him and he picked up the fork and started eating. She moved over behind his chair, hooked her long lithe fingers and hands into his muscled shoulders, and began to massage them; making deep penetrating circles, working down his back.

“I make you feel better?”

He had to admit the massage felt good, and she was something to look at with her long, cinnamon colored hair flowing down her back, locks draped over her bare shoulders. Her eyes were a translucent steel-gray. The tight, short red skirt crept seductively up her thighs as they moved in rhythm with her forearms.

“Just here for the chow, sweetheart.” he said, smiling. “You don’t look like other girls I’ve seen around here. Are you Vietnamese, or…?” He said between bites.

“My father. He was French man. Come here with French militia. My mother, part Chinese, part Vietnamese. My name, Suki. It …how you say in your country, nickname?”

“Yes. Cool name. Uh…Listen Suki, I didn’t come here for…well, you know, the entertainment.”

“What your name?”

“Scott. And thank you for the massage, but…I have to hurry and get back.”

“That O.K. Maybe, I see you again?” She glanced over towards the bar at the bartender ‘boss’ with the snarly, screwed up face, watching her.

“Bye, Scott. Have other customers waiting.”

He nodded, and watched her make her way back to the men hanging over the bar. She used her practiced approach on another, and minutes later they headed up the dark stairway to a room upstairs, his arms wrapped around her like an octopus.

There was a sense of longing and loneliness, an emptiness and deep ache in the pit of his stomach. He wanted only to be back home in Seattle with Jennifer. He hated this place, this war, the country, the constant monsoons, and stinking town.

It had only been a week since he last wrote Jennifer, but he would write again when he got back to the barracks. He hoped his letters were getting home.

Ten minutes later the soldier came down the stairs, rumpled, looking content.

As he walked back to base a transport helicopter touched down. The bodies of dead soldiers were being unloaded, identified and carefully placed into body bags, their personal belongings collected, and placed into smaller bags with identification tags. It all seemed so cold, so routine anymore. Unload, identify, match up, zip up the body or remains, and send home.

One soldier stood by, anxiously waiting, watching. Grime and grit covered his face and bloody uniform. His eyes looked wild, fearful, as if still out in the bush. He grasped the shirt of his friend.

“Smithy! We’re here. They’re going to fix you up. Hang on. I’ll make sure they take real good care of you. Smithy! Did you hear me?” Shaking Smithy, he pleaded, “Smithy?”

He looked up at the medic. “You will, won’t you? Work on him right away?”

Smithy’s body went limp, his eyes glazed over, staring up at no one, nothing. They just stared. His body was lifted off and laid with other still, lifeless bodies.

The medic turned to the soldier, and said, “Look man, he’s gone. I’m sorry. We have to get him unloaded so we can get to the wounded that need immediate attention. Smithy will be taken care of. Why don’t you help me collect his things and we’ll get him ready for the trip home. What’s your name fella?”

The soldier was quiet for a while. He wiped his dirty sleeve across his face, as if trying to wake up from a bad dream. “Rakowski. Sam Rakowski. Smithy always called me ‘Rack’. He said I could shoot the rack off a running bull moose. I like to hunt. We were good at it. Together, hunting the Cong. We got a lot of em, Smithy and I.”

The medic just nodded. All of them casualties.

Looking over at Smithy’s lifeless body, ‘Rack’ asked, “What am I going to do now? Who’s going to help me hunt the Cong?”

Scott was suddenly thankful he was not in that unit. He walked back to the broken down jeep. Maybe Mac was still cleaning engine parts.

_________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson

Daily Post – Weekly writing challenge – The Best Medicine – Bee Little, Bee Brave

Bee Happy

 BEE LITTLE, BEE BRAVE

There once was an old bee,

That stung where I couldn’t see,

Then he flew away

Returning that day,

And said, “You can’t catch me.”

***

I said, “Buzz off old bee.”

And sat down by the tree,

Then rubbed the welt

That hurt when felt,

“You’ll not again sting me.”

________________

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

Pulling ‘cold cases’ from out of the archives

Sitting in front of my desktop, nursing the inspiration that comes, slowly, I try to keep focused.  I crawl into my characters heads, and step once more into their lives, their world. Way back, when I was in school my drama teacher told us students a rule to not forget about acting. The actor first needs to spend about ten minutes, focused on the character they play, then step into his or her’s  life and live it on stage or screen. They become that person, not themselves or anyone else.

In writing fiction, I think it is much the same, or rule that works.  From a few words, a few sentences,  to paragraph, to page, chapter, revision, rewriting, to edited draft and manuscript, and on to a finished product, hopefully. A sigh of relief. And then what? What to do with it. Cover letter, synopsis, proposal? Submit? Where, and to whom? Traditional print markets, or electronic or self publishing markets? I had my share of rejections letters in the past as any writer would who continues to submit what he/she cannot give up on, believing it has merit and promise.  Instructors told me don’t give up. Keep it going. Send it back out. Encouragement, one needs. But, disappointment is inevitable. Rejections come for every writer who submits with traditional markets. Whatever the genre, I have had my share. So, at times I buried the story, and let it quietly fade  into the background behind all other more promising projects. When I got back into that old file again, and read what I’d written the characters were like strangers to me, and the story like a ‘cold case’ needing to be resurrected.

It has been that way with two long story projects, working between the two, switching between locations, characters and stories. Building plots, character profiles, adding page after page, editing along the way, to the end, then back again, almost too many times until finally I have it the way I want. When things seem too slow on the current story, I move to the other one for a while to break the monotony, or repetitive pattern. Then, it becomes fresh again, and I am back in my characters’ lives again, like an old friend stopping in for a visit, deciding to stay for a while. At times, when I want to put them both aside, I pull out some of my little flash fiction 100 word stories and begin developing a plot and story from them, or get a new idea altogether.

What have I learned from all of this? First and foremost:  stay with the one current project till it is  finally finished, then move on to number #2, and so on, working my way through the archives of  ‘cold cases.’  But, don’t be surprised to find another new string of chapters popping up sometime under another ‘cold case’, but with a new title. 🙂

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Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

Posted July 7, 2013 by Joyce in Writing

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