Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Hanging by a thread

I photographed the (second and present) jumping rope here at the jump site just off the walking trail at the Big Thompson River, Loveland, Co. The kids still use the rope and jumping site and have for years. To my knowledge there has not been a serious accident or one reported with the kids using the rope and jump site, but the dangers from the river during flood stage is real and has resulted in deaths, from the devastating flood of 2013.

 

“It’s just what kids do,” grownups said when kids met up at the river during the hot summer months, jumping into the water from the old rope that hung between two trees.

But, once again, the river rose higher, and the current ran faster through the Big Thompson from the rain with little letup. It could be a clear flowing stream at its lowest point, a murky green at its deepest, or a raging menace at its worst. Today, it was the latter. Yet, they paid little attention to the warning signs posted, ‘High water. Dangerous current. Potential for flash flooding.’

“Will this work? I found it in the garage.” Shawn asked, holding up a spool of plied rope.

“It isn’t going to be as good as the old one, but it might.” Nathan said.

“I bet that old rope was at least an inch thick. I wonder what happened to it.” Danny said.

“Don’t know. Maybe someone took it down. Or maybe it broke off and washed away in the flood.” Nathan replied.

The wooden ladder rungs were still there, nailed to the side of one tree allowing the kids to climb up and jump into the water from the top. Nathan climbed up one side, tied a length of rope around the tree and threw the other end over to Shawn, waiting on the other tree. He caught the rope, pulled it taut, tied that end, and each boy secured their side with double knots. Danny stood below with a longer section of rope and threw the loose end over. They tied it off, then made knots for hand holds.

“Done. Let’s try it out.” Danny said.

They took turns launching themselves out over the water. Long enough to jump to either side they grabbed the rope, swung out and landed on the opposite bank. Then, they dove off the trees lunging at the one swinging from the rope. They played the game of, ‘Catch me if you can,’ when Danny caught hold, hanging onto Shawn, but neither saw the loosened knots tied at the trees, or noticed the fraying threads on the rope, straining under their weight.

“Dudes. Stop! Get off! The rope…it’s…loose!” Nathan yelled, but they did not hear.

A tree branch cracked. The frayed rope snapped, and Shawn and Danny tumbled into the water. Their sounds and yells were not heard above the roar of the river as they were swept downstream.

It had been a month since the accident. Nathan stared down at the still water. He kept seeing Shawn and Danny as they fought against the current that threatened to swallow them up.

A park ranger walked over. “Your friends almost died that day, Nathan. If they hadn’t found that broken tree limb to latch onto they might not have made it out safely.”

Nathan nodded. “I know.”

“Using good common sense to make right choices is a better way to learn a lesson, don’t you think?”

“Yes, sir.”

_______________

Joyce E. Johnson (2017)

Footnotes:  The above story is a work of fiction, but the following scripture verses seemed appropriate to share in emphasizing the truth or lesson illustrated in the story above. Proverbs 8:34-36 on wisdom- “Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and draws forth and obtains favor from the Lord. But he who misses me or sins against me wrongs and injures himself, all who hate me love and court death.”

His Dad’s Tool Chest

“Why did we have to come? He didn’t care about us when he was alive. Why should I care now?”

“Because, he was your father. Show some respect. He deserves that much.”

“Why? He left us! He didn’t want us. I want to go home.”

“Ben, we can’t. These people want to meet us. They were…are friends of his.”

“Please, mom. Can we just leave after the service?” He swiped a sleeve to his moist eyes.

“I know this is hard for you. It is for me, too. But, we have to face what is, and…go on, like we’ve been doing all these years. It will be alright.” She gave him a tight squeeze. “I promise.”

They were stopped by a man as they headed back to the car after the graveside service.

“Excuse me. Are you Ben? And, you are Shauna, I presume?” He smiled and shook their hands. “My name is Edward Jennings. I was a friend of your father’s. I handled some of his legal matters for him, and he left some things he wanted you to have. Here’s my card. If you will give me a call before you leave town we’ll set up an appointment to go over his will, and discuss some things with you both. We can’t do that here. Would that be alright?”

Shauna looked at Ben, then nodded. “Sure. That will be fine. Thank you.”

The next day they were shown into an office at, ‘Jennings, Croft and Perry’, Attorneys at Law.

Ed greeted them, directed them to chairs, then brought out a large dark wooden chest. “Ben, your father wanted you to have this. It opens up with this key.”

Ben took the key handed him and turned the lock. The chest had the initials, B.A.C. Sr. carved into the front. The lid swung back easily on its hinges revealing the contents inside.

Ben went through the chest one item at a time, things he’d never seen before, tools of some kind, turning them over in his hands.

“Those are carving tools, Ben. He took up the craft after starting in construction and made this chest. He was quite good at it, actually.”

There were some pictures, a few of Ben when he was a baby, with his mother, then as a toddler, but none of Ben past the age of four. He read the notes written on the back. There were envelopes with some money and old coins, another set of keys, and a bible with scriptures written on the inside pages. He opened it up and found a quote, “Whatever worth building in life is only as good as its foundation.”

“What does this key go to?” Ben asked.

“It belongs to a safe deposit box in you and your mother’s name. I have another set here I will be giving you and your mother also. It is a set of house keys, to his house, also left in your names.” Ed replied, smiling at them both.

Ben looked over at his mom, noting the look of surprise and shock on her face.

He then opened a sealed envelope marked, “Private; to Benjamin Alexander Crowley Jr.,” and withdrew a single letter which he read silently to himself.

    “Ben, I have no adequate words to tell you how sorry I am for leaving you and your mother. I wanted only to hold you, close to my heart, but was afraid, too ashamed to show myself after being gone all those years. When you were very small I had a gambling debt and owed some people a lot of money. I did a lot of awful things back then, drank too much, wasted time and money on all the wrong things. The people I hung around with were wild, not the kind of friends anyone should have. So, to spare you both I just took off. I thought if I could get a decent job, clean up my act, pay off my debts, and get my head on straight, I would come home. But, I was afraid. Afraid I would not be welcomed. I regret all the things I did, but my biggest regret was leaving you both to struggle alone through the years, without me. Please forgive me. It is all I ask. What I want you to know above all else is that I love you and your mother. I always have. Treasure every moment you have with her and grow up to be the kind of man I wasn’t, so you won’t live with regrets. I’ve paid off my debts and owe no one anything anymore, except to you and your mother what I stole; the time and years wasted when I wasn’t there.”

Ben looked up at Ed and asked, “What did my father do, on his job?”

“He worked for a company that built tall buildings, skyscrapers.”

“How did he die?”

“They were working on a construction site project when the scaffolding gave way, and collapsed. He was crushed underneath.”

A year later, on Father’s Day Ben and his mother stood at the grave site of Benjamin Alexander Crowley, Sr., each bringing their gifts; a bouquet of fresh flowers from the garden at their house, the one now belonging to them, and a small wooden cross Ben hand carved with his father’s tools.

Ben had no special words to say to fit the occasion. He had no memories of Father’s Day times spent with his dad. All he had was the “now moment” his mother called them.

“Thanks Dad.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there,

Joyce E. Johnson (2017)

Stricken

They stood with others solemnly by

saluting the fallen and the brave

risking life and limb to bring about a promised peace.

Listening to the strains of, “Amazing Grace,”

flag draped coffins are carried under a guarded sky

across cemetery lawns to their final resting place.

Eulogies and names; so many to honor, too short a time,

families of victims pray their loved one’s story lives to remain

a memory, not forgotten, and why they gather today

because of terror unleashed like the rampant spread of disease.

Eloquent words gracing memorial walls and stones

don’t bring closure nor adequately explain

to those suffering loss with unfathomable pain

why a tragedy of this kind strikes with evil intent,

leaving more unanswered questions that remain.

How can there be those who choose

to live with such prejudice, and hate

towards others whose lives they count not

worthy of grace, mercy and love,

but think it better they not live at all.

In a world broken, where strife and anger exists,

rising animosity and distrust is given to believe

there is no hope, and people succumb

to the chaos and confusion that rises up like an ugly fist.

_____________

Joyce E. Johnson 2017

Footnotes; The story above is fictional, but the situation is real every day, here and elsewhere. There will always be hate and evil that rears its ugly head, even as we think things will, or might improve. The increased anti-Semitism and hatred towards groups in our country and others continues, even while our president works to set in place measures to stop that. Two years ago I posted fictional stories under the title, “Acid Rain” about two brothers, both having the same mother but different fathers. One brother took the path of a terrorist, and the other an officer with the Israeli Defense Forces. You can find their stories here under the Acid Rain fiction heading in the menu on my site. The prequel to this story series began with Brothers Divided. Their stories are fictional, but the one of Isaac and Ishmael are not which I used as inspiration for the stories of Sam, and Gamal. The recent events of increased vandalism and terror threats to the Jewish Community centers in our country and increased anti-Semitism throughout the world prompted the poetic fictional story above.

Silent Love

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No eloquent words, flowers, gifts or cards

could he give her, but just a token

gesture of his affection

with twisted smile, and memory all but gone.

Eyesight, hearing, failing too,

he tried to form his thoughts,

while expressing his love to her,

but his stroke had stolen from them so much.

Like the younger version of himself

with vibrant, baritone rich voice

when he once belted out old tunes,

are but broken phrases hanging on.

With faint muttering he attempts to sing,

to remember the lyrics, what he wants to say

like the day he swooned her heart with song.

But, she’ll treasure what they have today

for she fears the day when he is gone.

and prays to God it lingers on.

_______________________

Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

Joyce E. Johnson © 2017

A Shelter in the Time of Storm

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An old church I photographed while vacationing one year in the upper northeast (New England and Nova Scotia). I love photographing old white churches.

 

 

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The antique ‘Deacon’s bench’ I bought years ago from an antiques dealer. I don’t know its history, but the pew and intricate carving in the deep walnut wood is much like those used in old churches, and my inspiration for the fictional story below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It started with quiet, cloudy skies, the air so still not a bird could be seen in flight.

“A storm is coming.” Janetta said.

The grocer glanced out the window. “It will probably be just one of those late summer showers, then move out.”

“Maybe…Well, I guess that’ll be it. I’ll see you next week, Hank.”

“Sure thing. And thanks for the eggs. There’s none better than farm fresh, anywhere.”

“Yes. My hens have had a good year.” She smiled as she walked out the door.

The gravel kicked up, spitting rocks to the sides of the road. She watched the clouds turn an ominous gray. The ten miles home seemed to take longer, and the miles much further when she was in a hurry.

Sirens wailed as she spotted a black cloud, with its twisting, menacing tail swirling across the sky, dip low, then pull away only to come around again, this time from the direction she was headed. Her house. God, please get me home in time. But, the funnel cloud came right for her.

She turned her wheel sharp cutting through a field towards the old church, catching weeds and dried brush under the car, and slammed to a stop in front of the door. A window leading down to the basement was her only escape and means of protection. She broke it and climbed through. She and Bill were married in this church, faithfully attending until its membership dwindled, and people moved on. Now, it was little more than a hollow shell of memories, with relics from the past, left behind. With the swiftness of a rabbit she scurried under a pew.

Sounds like a freight train derailed from its tracks, cars crashing into each other was deafening. The twister struck like a cracking whip splitting open the church, exposing all to the sky as she watched in horror, crouched under the pew. It spun around, building in strength, then tore across the ground destroying everything in its path. Creaking beams snapped and toppled to the earth’s floor. Doors and windows blew out, shattered glass and objects were caught up in a whirlwind of debris, soil and dust, sucked into the cloud.

The storm was gone as quick as it’d come. When she crawled out from under the pew the church was reduced to a pile of rubble. But, the pew sat upright, untouched. An old hymnal hanging from the book rack behind lay opened to a hymn she remembered once singing; ‘Jesus is the rock in a weary land…a shelter in the time of storm.’

Both her and her husband’s lives were spared that day, when others were not. Bill found refuge in an underground culvert, their prayers sustaining them, giving them hope. They lost their home and their hens to the tornado, but not their spirit. They would rebuild, again.

__________________

Joyce E. Johnson (2016)

The Blessing of the Old Sewing Machine

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An antique sewing machine from the 1800s. It is one of my collected antique pieces acquired over the years. The photo above was my inspiration for the fictional story below.  I don’t use this machine for personal use, but I do sew, on my own Kenmore machine I have had for about fifty years.

The Blessing of the Old Sewing Machine

Bent over at the shoulders, her bones small and brittle she leaned in, head bowed to see clearly her stitches as the old sewing machine made a repetitive pattern on the fabric pieces, all of them cut from dresses she’d made her granddaughter when worn as a little girl. The machine made clicking sounds as it faithfully worked across each row, fed under the presser foot by thin, arthritic fingers. Her foot tapped with steady rhythm the large iron foot pedal below the machine. Her family tried to bless her with a new Singer sewing machine one Christmas, but she would not hear of it. Her old ‘Nelly’ had been with her for so long she refused to give her up, a gift from her long departed husband. Nelly was an old trusted friend, that would remain with her until its end, or hers.

Her eyes were failing her as she attempted to finish the quilt in time for her granddaughter’s dowry shower. Wire rimmed glasses rested on the indented straight nose. They helped little in gaining her vision acuity as she squinted. She looked for any puckered or uneven stitches. Ah, Nelly, you miss a few, too. We work hard to catch up, growing old together, and where will your grave be when my foot can peddle you no more? Soon, Darla will have her dresses again, reborn in this dowry quilt.

Ah…I remember this one, the dark blue damask. She wore it to her piano recital. Such a beautiful piece she played. A concerto, I think. Her fingers danced across the keys. And oh, this one, the red rose brocaded pattern. It was worn for the children’s Christmas program at church. They sang the Carols of the Nativity. Like an angel choir come down from heaven, they were. And this green striped plaid, she wore for her… ninth, or tenth birthday party? She’d spilt punch on it, and we worked to get out that stain. There’s just a hint of it left here, I can see, barely. Oh, the memories that child has given me. If I am not around when she has her first…oh, what a thought. I will be there to see her face when she opens her gift. Now, I am almost done. There, the blocks are all in place.

Aligning the front of the quilt to the back, the underside done in a flowered pattern with the batting between, she stitched up the sides. With short lengths of colorful embroidery floss and buttons stitched through the thickness she finished with little bows. She then folded the quilt and laid it between sheets of white tissue paper in a large box, sealed it up, and wrapped it in paper.

Feeling the weariness come over her, she laid down to rest, and went to sleep.

A month later, the wrapped box sat on an empty chair at Darla’s shower. It had been saved for last. As she pulled away the tissue from the quilt folded inside, her tears fell like a summer rain on thirsty ground.

“Mama! It’s my old dresses, all sewn into a quilt.”

____________________

Joyce E. Johnson (2016)

Brothers Divided

Hagar approached Abraham’s tent, Ishmael following after his mother with little concern for what was coming. Abraham had no choice if he wanted to keep Sarah happy. Hagar and his first-born son, Ishmael would be cast out, homeless and destitute in the desert of Beersheba with no promise of a future, and certainly none of the coveted inheritance. It would come through Isaac, Abraham’s second son, born to Sarah. He would receive God’s covenant blessing and favor, and all future generations of the Jewish nation after him. But, the God of Abraham did not turn away from Hagar and Ishmael. He heard her cry, and saw her distress. He would spare them both, provide for them, and through Ismael many nations would be born. (Paraphrased; Genesis, chapter 21 in the Old Testament Bible NIV.)

The above story is true. When I read about Sarah, Abraham, Hagar, Ismael and Isaac I think about the division, hate, and turmoil in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians, and people and cultures of other Middle Eastern countries with the ongoing conflict. One might think that what was written centuries ago and recorded of stories like Abraham’s might be of little consequence to us today. But, what was written back then by those who lived and recorded their stories is relevant to our lives today. It comes back, bigger, more profound. The two most basic things we need most are love and acceptance. They can unite and bind us, but. if we have neither only divide and separate us. The characters in the story below are fictional, but their situation and circumstances could be real. It is not just their story, but one in places all over the world.

___________________________

Tel Aviv, Israel – present day

“Why did you wait till now to tell me?”

“Gamal, your father deserted us. I never saw him again after that. I felt shamed, as if it was all my fault. So I left, moved closer to the settlements and just tried to blend in.”

“Like a Jew.”

“I had to find work, to support us…even though…” Sahar said, through her tears.

“Even though you were pregnant with a bastard’s son.”

Sahar shook her head, overcome with the emotion coursing through her like a hot iron.

“What about Sam’s father?”

“I was working in Jerusalem at a shop on Haifa Street when I met him. He was serving in the Israeli army then…At first I wanted nothing to do with him. He was Jewish. He came in often, was kind, and gentle…”

“And he married you.”

“Yes. We were married by a clergyman from another faith, because the Jews would not accept me, nor my people him.”

“So he captivates the pretty damsel, and off they ride into the sunset with her bastard son in tow.”

Sahar screamed at him. “Stop calling yourself that. You’re not! I never thought of you like that.”

“No? But, I was the curse that came with the shame of a sordid love affair with a man from Gaza…”

“We were a family. I tried to raise you both the same. I loved you. I never told Sam’s father anything…about your birth, or father. He accepted you and was willing to raise you as his own. He was not Orthodox so my past was not an issue with him. Then, one day…while on duty…with the military, rockets came. He was out there, trying to pull people from that carnage, but there were…Palestinians out there, shooting at them, and he was hit. He died, soon after.” Sahar’s shoulders shook, her cry intensified with every breath.

“And Sam? What does he know?”

“He only knows about his own father, how we met, how he died. Nothing about yours.”

“Then why tell me now, mother, after thirty years, making me believe I was Jewish, instead of…the son of a Palestinian?”

“Because your ties with Israel’s enemies affect your relationship with Sam, and his position in the army. You are brothers for God’s sake.”

“For God’s sake?” He laughed, sarcastically. “Your God does not care about us.”

“Gamal! What are you saying? The God of Abraham and Isaac is our God! We have no other. He is God to all.

“We come from different people, mother. Or have you forgotten that?”

“I don’t serve Allah!”

“But, I do!” He said, his eyes glaring at her, cold and dark. “Goodbye, mother.”

Gamal! She yelled after him, but he did not listen. He was gone, slamming the door behind him, shutting himself off from her, Sam, and all that he knew.

_____________________

Joyce E. Johnson © 2016

Footnotes: Last year I posted short fictional stories under the title, Acid Rain, the first one under the title of Brothers Divided where Sam, a Jewish Israeli defense officer comes against those in the Arab nations set on destroying the Jewish people and the country of Israel. You can find those stories here. The above story is fiction also, and the prequel to Acid Rain.

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