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Archive for the ‘Samples’ Category

The book I have been touting for the last month or two is ready for a peek. Take a read and feel free to leave comments….

The Excerpt
This was Larry, wasted by the struggle called age, a duel he hadn’t even noticed taking place until it crept up on him while he was just too darned busy fighting the reality to have seen time and infirmity racing up to engulf him. He rested his head on the back of the chair in defeatist reflection.

“It was just a time. Just a time, and then I had the rest of my life which bored me near to death,” he sighed. He offered me an early morning, expertly made Bloody Mary, full of I never figured out what special ingredients. I gladly accepted as I finished off the last of the Dewar’s.

“The days are in a hurry now. My memories are kept under lock and key never to escape. My mind recalls my ragged history with a reflex as natural as breathing so that I never forget the unpleasantries. As I think back to my life; I loved the farm but there are only certain things that can happen on the land, and one can only go so far there. Maybe I should have stayed to please the old man, or the ancestors. The farm was part of the family, and I’m sure I was expected to make sure it remained so. However, as it turned out I didn’t stay, and in all honesty it was not hard for me to leave. As a result, I am pleased I won’t die a bitter old man thinking of the dreams I wanted to chase but didn’t, because the tits of cows had to be pulled in order to relieve their stress and to keep the bank manager happy.

“I was determined never to go home again. I escaped grief, but also love to a point, and as I stand watching that old man struggling along past my home every morning, I wonder if I am torn with guilt, and if I am, why don’t I know for sure? Has time caused my recollections to dull? Life is full of strange mysteries and secrets,” Larry half smiled at his own summation as he stared transfixed onto Loi Kroh Road while he rubbed the stubble upon his face.

“Ah, but when the mysteries happen upon us we will gladly describe the experience to friends over a beer or two, but little secrets we prefer to keep to ourselves. It is often said that three people can keep a secret only if two of those people are in their graves. Another line is, ‘On the world stage, some of us have better seats.’ Odd things happen to us as we go about our daily life which later, after the dust has settled and we get back to some semblance of normalcy the road ahead is seen much clearer. It makes one wonder if what you experienced that moment was from some cosmic force aimed directly and only at you. I’m talking about the real things that end up changing your life forever. Are these happenings a coincidence, or are they planned by some higher spiritual force? He turned to me with answerless eyes as he asked his rhetorical question.

“Why do some people have the Sight, the ability to see ahead of time and deep into the past, while others cannot even see what is happening in front of their noses? I used to, and sometimes still do wonder if time is real, only to have had that pushed back into my face in my early thirties when at a party I latched on to this pretty thing in a bar and used the well worn line of, ‘Where have you been my entire life, darling?’ To which she, without a hint of embarrassment or hesitation replied, ‘Well judging from your looks, for the first half of it I wasn’t born.’”
~~~
Larry’s story is a strange one, with the added merit of being true. I witnessed much of it, yet even I have difficulty understanding how it all happened and why it ended the way it did, and why such an incident so late in the life of a man who thoroughly enjoyed his own company above all else, suddenly jolted him into the realization that life is possibly just an illusion, and that we do not actually exist. He came to suspect the people who live around him and those whom he believed were meant to be trusted based on their station in life or their profession might actually resent him for no other reason than because he was successful. He started to consider them parasites that, while sucking from the public purse, would desperately use him as a sponge for their own means. Then when they had used and abused him to satisfy their own insatiable greed and he found himself drowning, these same parasites would gladly throw him an anvil.

Such people held the ability to cause all sorts of problems for innocent people while they themselves disappeared into the eye of their own storms. Larry often recalled the old story of the new British Member of Parliament who, on being shown where his seat was located by the Whip pointed to across the room and said, “Is that where my enemy sits?” And the whip said to him, “Oh no, my boy, that’s where your opponents sit. You will be sitting with your enemy.”

Larry mistrusted the so-called elite and their self-bestowed authority, those who lived in their own worlds believing they had control over those they consider of the lower class. “I don’t have a law degree, I am not an eminent heart surgeon, and I can’t even fly a fighter jet, but I know what shit looks like. They should receive tumultuous applause in recognition for their ability to survive in their world of dishonesty, corruption, evil, lies and Absolut martinis at breakfast,” was one of Larry’s favorite lines when he got angry enough with the so-called elite.

In his time, Larry had been called many things by various groups of people; some descriptions were not very flattering, with their name calling changing in color to suit their mood of the day and whatever intensity was required to accommodate their own hidden agendas. However, one description they failed to attribute to him, was the truth: a caring person who was generous to a fault and did not ask for anything in return. There was jealousy and there was evilness in the intentions of those who concealed their own weaknesses. They saw what Larry had to offer and clamored to feast upon his carcass with the hunger of a glutton. They wanted to seize his power- that certain something he had that was indefinable. But, they failed miserably, for they did not know his secret, the secret of being aware, his personal spiritualism, for unbeknownst to them all, Larry felt the force of the spiritual energy from his past life, and he was guided by the spirits of those who had gone before him many years previously.

He was led on a life which was to be full of love for those less fortunate but, as Larry found out, even those to whom he devoted his life to help sometimes would unexpectedly turn on the very person who had saved them. So this is the story of Larry, who ended up not trying to save his soul but desperately trying to save his life.

As this story is told, please do not judge Larry too harshly, as he had no real argument with the establishment. Try having corrupt officials all with their own selfish agendas in your background, praising you, slapping you on the back with the right hand while in the left they hold a knife that flirts with the glint of its own sharpness. “Cold and calculating people to whom conscience is a foreign concept,” Larry called them.

Larry was a traveler like many before him, however, unlike most poor souls he knew, his path had been planned for him and he knew he was constantly guided by a powerful spirit, a spirit whose presence was revealed to him at an early age, a spirit to guide him and help him survive on the street where he eventually ended up. Larry knew that to survive on the street, the street must fall in love with you.

I know that from the day Larry walked onto Loi Kroh Road he never drew a sober breath again.
***************************

Co-authors, Taryn Simpson & Alan Solomon
http://www.MangoTreeCafe-LoiKrohRoad.blogspot.com
http://www.Musings-From-A-Writer.blogspot.com

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The caravan progressed slowly along the winding trail, the horses’ hooves thudding dully on the thick carpet of gold and yellow leaves. Lord Hampton, along with his youngest son, Richard, led the procession, each on their mount. Within a closed litter, Lord Hampton’s daughter, Gwendolyn, rode with two of her maids. Several in the lord’s personal army traveled beside and behind them to keep thieves and trouble at bay. The fall air sat in dank clumps of mist along the path through the forest. It chilled the travelers as they began their journey of several days to Lord Dewar’s castle. There, his son, Harold, would wed Lady Gwendolyn. The fathers would each be strengthened in their political dominion, and the House of Dewar would be enriched by Lady Gwendolyn’s generous dowry. Magicians, troubadours, and sellers of saints’ bones already assembled for the feasting and revelry a few days’ hence.

In the litter, Gwendolyn mentally went over her preparations. Just before leaving, as the dowry coffer passed through the great hall, she stopped its bearers and unlocked it. Searching quickly, she pulled the Hampton ring from among the jewels, closed the lid, and sent the chest on its way. When she returned to her room, she had one of her maids tie the ring on a ribbon, and then placed it around her neck, where the family heirloom lay hidden beneath her bodice. Now, as the wheels bounced unevenly, sending the litter’s occupants jostling from side to side, Gwendolyn clutched at the ring as she wondered about her future. She had only seen Harold Dewar twice in her life — once at the age of seven and again at thirteen. Finally, at the prime age of sixteen, she dutifully served her father’s house and agreed to the marriage.

A scream jerked her out of her reverie. Another scream of pain sounded close by. Yells and curses washed over her in a tidal wave of noise. Quickly parting the curtains, she dared to look. Arrows whistled through the air, puncturing men and animals alike. Ill-clad ruffians leapt from behind the bracken, brandishing arms and giving offense. Lord Hampton fell, mortally wounded. She understood instantly. Her father and younger brother were dead. Now only her oldest brother, Phillip, and she carried the Hampton line. Phillip, still at home, must be warned! In a blur, Gwendolyn ducked back in and unclasped the brooch that held her rich red cloak around her shoulders.

“Here! Trade me!” she ordered her maid. “But, my lady…”

“There’s no time to explain.” Gwendolyn thrust the garment at the frightened woman and grabbed the thin gray one in exchange. Taking the gold filigree crown from her own head, she placed it on her maid. Once the red cloak had been secured on her servant, Gwendolyn whispered, “God willing, I will see you again this day.” Before any other words were exchanged, she leapt out of the far side of the litter and ducked, crouching and unseen, into the welcomed invisibility of thick undergrowth. The sounds of the battle followed her as she ran, taking cover as she found it.

Swwiiisshh. Thud. A stray arrow embedded itself in her side, beside her left breast. Without time to moan, Lady Gwendolyn fell to the forest floor, unconscious, bleeding, and alone.

* * *

Remnants of the day’s light barely brightened the far western horizon when Lady Gwendolyn came to. At first bewildered, the pain in her side brought the horror of the day rushing back. With grim determination, she stood, swaying, and took a tentative step. Encouraged at not fainting in spite of the blinding pain, she ventured another. In this method, she finally reached the sight of the attack. No one of her party remained alive, not father, brother, soldiers, or horses. The litter was nowhere to be seen. “They’ve taken the dowry, then,” she muttered weakly as she held her side. The shaft stuck at an obtrusive angle, angering her. Reaching down, she retrieved a soldier’s large knife, then placed the arrow against a rowan, hacking at the arrow until it broke in half.

The searing pain brought her to her knees, trembling and crying. After a few moments, the spasm abated, enabling her to stand. By now, darkness enveloped her under the forest canopy. Weariness invaded her bones and muscles; the desperate craving to lie down and sleep overwhelmed her. But, sleeping among the dead proved too macabre. At least let me walk a short distance towards home before I sleep, she encouraged herself. Gwendolyn had taken no more than ten haltering steps when a noise stopped her. Peering over her right shoulder, she listened as the noise drew steadily closer. Instead of bringing fear, it lit her face with relief. Within a few minutes, a dappled gray steed walked out of the brush and stood before her, no doubt wondering what to do next. The gray wore the livery of her house, to her continued delight. She grasped at the stirrup and managed, through much travail, to mount the beast. With a click of her tongue, she turned its head for home.

* * *

Geoff sat with his feet toward the early morning hearth fire, a bowl of gruel in his hands. He had waited for today all of his eighteen years. Today, he was to become one of the House of Hampton’s guards. His new tunic of green lay on the bed while his wife Mary flitted around the small cottage, her nerves getting the best of her. “You won’t forget anything,” she asked for the third time.

“I promise, woman. I won’t.” Geoff sighed and finished his breakfast. Dressing quickly, he fastened his sword’s sheath to his belt and reached for his hat. “I’m proud of you, husband,” Mary said, wrapping her arms around his waist.

Geoff smiled into her lovely brown eyes and kissed her once. “Don’t make me late my first day.” “I won’t. But, I’ll worry about you while you’re gone.”

“Worry? There’s nothing to worry about. The Houses of Hampton and Dewar will soon be united, and we will be stronger than ever.” “I know. Still…” her voice trailed off as her wifely mind envisioned all manner of calamities.

“Quit worrying! I’ve promised you my life. You know that.” “Yes, but you’ve promised this House your death.” Mary shook her head and then patted him on his chest. “Off with you now, or you’ll be late for sure.” “I probably won’t be home for a week or so,” he reminded her.

“I know. So make this next kiss one that will last.” Her seductive smile made his task easy.

* * *

Geoff spent the day being shown around, even though he knew the castle grounds and the keep well enough already. That night, after a supper of bread, venison and cheese, Geoff helped lock the gate, and listened as the inhabitants settled in for the night. Curling up on the keep floor as near to the fire as possible, Geoff wrapped himself in his cloak, his thoughts turning toward home as he drifted to sleep.

“Open the gate!” A cry sounded in the night, hours later. Geoff’s captain walked by, nudging him in his side. “See to it,” he ordered.

Yawning, Geoff, threw his cloak around his shoulders and made his way outside. “In the name of all that’s holy, open this gate!” the voice cried again. Its urgency made his hands move faster.

When the gate finally swung open, a gray horse hurried through, its rider leaning far across the saddle. A woman! Geoff thought.

She half fell, half dismounted, and clung to her horse. “Murdered. We’ve all been murdered,” she moaned. Looking at her plain cloak, Geoff approached her. “What news is this, wench?”

Before she could answer, the woman fell at his feet, her humble cloak opening to reveal rich garments underneath. Black blood spread across the fabric, the arrow shaft still protruding from her body. As he leaned forward, the Hampton ring revealed itself as the ribbon slipped from beneath her bodice. “Lady Gwendolyn!” His alarm now trebled, Geoff knelt and picked her up. “Help!” he yelled to the keep. “Help!”

Soft rush light spilled from the open doorway as several guards ran toward him. “It’s Lady Gwendolyn,” Geoff quickly explained as he carried her to the trestle table, laying her upon it.

“Fetch her brother Phillip,” the captain ordered another guard. “And bring the physician.” Amid the tumult, Geoff tended to his lady, removing the cloak from her shoulders and placing it under her head. Her chestnut hair hung in its thick, long braid, golden thread woven with it. Her complexion, now too pale from loss of blood, would normally be fair. And hands far too delicate for their task of late, had blood encrusted under the nails.

Lady Gwendolyn moaned, sending Geoff’s hand pushing back the hair from her forehead. Her green eyes fluttered open at his touch. “Where am I?”

“You’re home, Lady. Rest.” As he watched her close her eyes, he determined that whoever had brought harm to the House of Hampton, to this beautiful woman, would pay — dearly.

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Here’s the first chapter of my upper-middlegrade novel, Mr. Touchdown, about the desegregation of a Southern high school in 1965. Hope you enjoy it!

C H A P T E R 1

NOT HEROES

A 15-year-old gray Ford hummed down Highway 61 heading southout of
Memphis, Tennessee. The Mississippi River rolled by a fewmiles to the west. If the two Negro men in their dark suits and hatshad kept driving the bullet-nosed 1950 Ford a few miles farthersouth, they would have dropped down from the bluffs around Memphison to the flat Mississippi Delta that stretched dead flat for hundredsof miles, a rich land of cotton and soybeans. Well, rich in someways. The soil was rich, a few white folks were rich, but most peoplewere poor in the Delta.But the two men turned left off of Highway 61 onto ChickalissaRoad, a two-lane paved road that cut between wide fields. Far off inthe shimmering June heat they caught glimpses of bent figures choppingcotton.

A mile or so down the road, the old Ford turned right ata small red brick church onto a narrow dirt street.In the middle of that street, Eddie Russell and his best friend, VernellCunningham, were throwing a football back and forth. Schoolhad been out just long enough for them to start to get bored. Theywatched the unfamiliar car ease off the paved road, raising a cloud ofyellow dust. The dirt street was barely wide enough for the car. Thetwo men inside stretched their necks looking for house numbers thatweren’t there. The neighborhood was better than a lot of Negroneighborhoods; most of the houses were painted, but they didn’t havenumbers. Everybody knew where everybody else lived.Eddie watched the car coming toward them, then raised his eyebrowat Vernell, who shook his head. He didn’t know them either.The bullet-nosed car inched closer to where they stood, between Vernell’shouse and Eddie’s Aunt Hattie’s house.Eddie threw the football hard into Vernell’s chest. Vernell caughtit and fired it onto his porch, making his sister and her friends in theporch swing shriek.The car stopped, nearly touching Eddie’s knees. He moved aroundto the driver’s side, while Vernell eased over to the passenger’s window.“Where you goin’?” Eddie asked, overly polite.“We are looking for the residence of Reverend Henry Russell,” thedriver answered, looking hard at Eddie like he knew Eddie was beinga smart-ass. The man sounded like a stuck-up Northern Negro.Eddie stepped back and waved a hand, allowing them to pass.“Three doors down on the right. Green house past the white house.”The car rolled forward and stopped three doors down. From theporch of Aunt Hattie’s house, Eddie’s sister, Lakeesha, commonlyknown as “Mouse,” got up. She’d been curled up in a wicker chairreading, as usual. Mouse never hung out with the other girls. She waswrapped up in books, zipping away down her hole whenever anyonegot too close. She annoyed Eddie. He wished she would act more likeeverybody else, hang out, laugh with the other girls. Mouse was justdifferent, but she was his sister, so he had to defend her.Lakeesha leaned over the porch rail and looked anxiously down thestreet at the Ford. Aunt Hattie, heavy in her porch rocker, gruntedand got to her feet, too.The men got out, walked to the door and knocked. The ReverendHenry Russell opened the door, shook both men’s hands, and beckonedthe visitors inside with a tight gesture. For a flicker of a second,Not Heroes 3Vernell went into his imitation of Reverend Russell’s stiff, robot-likemovements.

Eddie bit back his laughter, not willing to laugh at hisown father.“Who is that?” Eddie called up to his aunt. She was only a few feetaway. None of the houses had any front yards to speak of, just a bit ofbeaten grass and dirt.Aunt Hattie made a disgusted snorting sound. “I don’t know whyHenry thinks he’s got to do this,” she said and went inside, slammingthe screen door behind her.Eddie and Vernell looked at each other, puzzled. Vernell’s sister,Etta Lee, threw the football back to Eddie, an awkward dead-duckthrow that started somewhere down around her knees. Eddie caughtit and flipped the football, spinning, into the air.Eddie threw to Vernell, watching the cluster of girls on Vernell’sporch out of the corner of his eye, heard their light, high laughter.Vernell caught the ball, staggered back a few steps, exaggerating hisstumbling, gratified by the girls’ giggles.“Goofball,” Eddie said. Then they fell into a comfortable rhythm,a dance they’d danced for years. The girls went inside and for a while,the familiar thunk, thunk of the boys passing the football back andforth was the only human sound in the hot afternoon. A mockingbirdsang loudly from the tangled hedges at the edge of the cotton field.The front door of Eddie’s house opened, and Reverend Russell’scrisp voice called, “Son, come inside for a moment.”Eddie fired the ball one last time into Vernell’s outstretched arms.Vernell twirled and ran, darting this way and that down the street,evading imaginary pursuit.Eddie walked down to his house and followed his father into theliving room. The men had removed their hats. The shorter,darker-skinned man’s round glasses caught the light as he lookedtoward the door.Eddie heard the back door open, then close, and figured Mousehad gone into her room the back way, down her safe hole.

After the bright June sun outside, the living room was dark, the airstill and heavy on Eddie’s skin. Empty coffee cups sat on the tableamong the crumbs of Mama’s lemon cake. The tall man shut thebrown leather briefcase and snapped it closed.Eddie saw the two men recognize him from the encounter outsideand exchange quick glances.“Mel Collier from the NAACP,” his father said, waving a hand atthe tall man.NAACP? Eddie thought. What are they doing here?“Shelby Reed, from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee,”Reverend Russell continued, indicating the shorter, darkerman. “My son, Eddie Russell.”Eddie shook hands formally with the two men.“Eddie.” His father looked down at the floor, his hands clasped asif he was praying. Eddie heard his mother moving around in thekitchen behind the living room.

“Eddie,” Reverend Russell started again. “I’m going to ask you todo something very difficult. We want you to transfer to Forrest HighSchool this fall.”Eddie saw sparks, like he’d been hit hard on the football field andlost consciousness for a few seconds. He sat down on the couch.The two men studied Eddie as carefully as a couple of coaches,looking for signs of weakness. Reverend Russell lifted his glasses towipe his face with his handkerchief. Eddie looked at his father in disbelief,but Reverend Russell looked away.“What are you talking about?” Eddie asked the two strangers.Mr. Collier held up a long sheet of paper, covered with typing.“This,” he said, looking Eddie in the eye, daring him to say somethingsmart, “is a desegregation order.”“You’ve been handpicked, Eddie,” Mr. Reed said. “You’re a goodstudent, and you’ve demonstrated good self-control.”“And you’re an athlete,” Mr. Collier said. “That’s very important.”“What’s that got to do with it?”Not Heroes 5“It gives you a place, a wedge to achieve acceptance in an all-whiteschool,” said his father.Eddie opened his mouth, but Mr. Reed cut him off.“We’re not sure you can do this, Eddie. Your father has assured usyou can, but if you go to that school, you must be like Gandhi. Doyou know who Gandhi was?”Eddie shrugged, half nodding. He knew who Gandhi was, but Mr.

Reed rolled right on, not really looking at him.“Gandhi changed the world by refusing to accept injustice, but hedid it because he was absolutely committed to nonviolence.” Mr.Reed’s dark eyes bored into Eddie’s.Yeah, right, Eddie thought. That might have worked in
India orwherever, but here you’d get your head kicked in.“That’s harder than it sounds,” Mr. Reed said. The muscles of hisjaw rippled. “It takes a great deal of courage to take blows from whitemen and not fight back. More courage than it takes to hit themback.”“Eddie, you are a football player, a basketball player,” Mr. Colliersaid. “Those are violent, competitive sports. To be a star athlete youhave to have a world of fight in you. Can you control that off thefield?”Eddie didn’t answer.“Can you do that, Eddie?” his father asked.About a year before, in 1964, Reverend Russell had taken a busloadof church members to the March on
Washington. Eddie hadgone with him. Before they went, all of them had been taught how toendure taunts and jeers without reacting, how and when to sit downwhen the police told them to move, how to curl up and cover theirheads with their hands if they were beaten.But nothing like that had happened. They had been jammed inamong thousands and thousands of other black folks far back in thecrowd that day. The feeling of being pressed into that multitude ofpeople had stayed with Eddie. He’d felt the anger in the crowd. Otherpeople from the church had talked later about feeling hope rising up

in them that day, but Eddie had only felt like somebody was chokinghim.“Why didn’t you tell me?” Eddie asked.His father’s eyes gleamed behind the glasses. He ignored Eddie’squestion, as Eddie had avoided his.“Son, now is the time to find the strength to endure, to triumph.Nothing is more powerful than a righteous idea,” he said.Eddie looked down at his ragged Converse high-tops. Then he gotup to face the men. He refused to sit like a child in a corner being lecturedby adults.You’re not asking me to do this, are you? You’re telling me, hethought, looking at his father’s still face. For a horrible second hethought he might cry over the unfairness of it. His junior year, starrunning back, all his friends, everything familiar, gone in an instant.He would be nothing at Forrest. Less than nothing—despised, hated.All because of Dr. King’s damned dream.

The men watched him apprehensively. He tried to say, “No.” Hetried to object, to argue, to plead, but one look into his father’s eyes,and he knew it was useless. The train had already left the station.“What’s going to happen?” he asked.Mr. Reed and Mr. Collier looked at each other. Eddie caught aflicker of relief in their eyes.“You can’t expect even one act of kindness,” said Mr. Reed, “notone. If you don’t expect any kindness, it won’t bother you so muchwhen you don’t get it.”

“You must keep your head down, don’t make trouble, don’t bumpinto people, keep your distance and don’t expect to make friends,”Mr. Collier said.“And you must never so much as look a white girl in the face,” Mr.Reed said. “That will get you hurt faster than anything you can do.They don’t exist. Remember that. They are invisible to you, as youwill be invisible to them.”

They sounded like they had made this speech before. Eddie startedto tune them out.Not Heroes 7His father held up his hand, stopping the two younger men intheir tracks.“You must look into the soul of your enemies and find in themsomething to love,” Reverend Russell said, his eyes cold.Eddie looked from one man to another. How could his father havebroken it to him like this, in front of strangers, giving him no choice,no say in it at all? He might actually have chosen to go fight for Dr.King’s dream if he’d been brought into the decision, but his fatherhadn’t trusted him. He’d set him up, trapped him.“Can I play football?” he asked.✶ ✶ ✶ ✶Eddie sat on the couch. His heart pounded, and his thighs quivered.He wished he could get away. His mother had come in and nowsat beside him, patting his arm. Eddie looked in her face and saw thatshe too had submitted to the inevitability of his father’s decision. Butthe quick flash of understanding in her eyes comforted him.“Esther, we’d better get Lakeesha.”With a sigh that caught in her throat, his mother got up and wentinto the kitchen.“Lakeesha?” Eddie asked in amazement. “You’re not going to—”

His father held up a hand to stop him from speaking. Eddielooked at the floor, seething. The door to the porch opened, and heheard a rattle as his mother pulled aside the curtain that separatedLakeesha’s bedroom from the rest of the porch.“Keesha, baby? Your father wants to see you,” Eddie heard her say.Lakeesha stumbled into the living room, looking lost and sleepy,the way she always did when they pulled her out of her books. Whenshe saw the two strange men and Eddie, she stopped, stood upstraight, the fog vanishing from her eyes. Her whole body tensed.Eddie’s fists clenched. There was no hole for Lakeesha to disappearinto.“Lakeesha, daughter,” Reverend Russell began and then stoppedspeaking.Mr. Collier looked at him and quickly started speaking. “Lakeesha,this is Shelby Reed from SNCC.” He pronounced it the way they alldid, snick, like a lock closing. “And I am Mel Collier from theNAACP. We have obtained a court order to desegregate Forrest HighSchool this fall. You and Eddie, and two other girls, Lethe Jeffersonand Rochelle Perry, have been chosen to desegregate the school.”Lakeesha’s eyes darted from one man to another.Say, no. Say, NO! Eddie thought at her.“What’s ‘snick’?” she asked in a small voice.Eddie wanted to scream with frustration. Lakeesha hadn’t even forone second thought about saying, “No,” to their father. At least hehad considered it—for a second.“The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee,” Mr. Reedsaid. Eddie hated his condescending smile, like he felt sorry for anyonewho didn’t know what SNCC was. Lakeesha leaned back fromthe two men. She shot a quick glance at Eddie, then stared down ather feet.“What will they do to us?” she asked.Eddie swallowed and closed his eyes, images from television flickeringacross his memory. Screaming whites, their faces twisted, as

frightened children walked down the sidewalk to school guarded bywhite men holding guns.The adults were all silent, too. Everyone in the room held theirbreath.Then Mr. Collier stepped toward Lakeesha, bending down to getto her eye level. He took her hand.“Lakeesha, this is not
Little Rock. We’ve had ten long years offoot-dragging since then, but I truly believe there will be no troublelike that.”“

Selma broke the back of white resistance.” Mr. Reed’s voicegrated on Eddie’s ears. He talked too loud, too clipped, like he wasNot Heroes 9reading a proclamation. “We’ll have a Voting Rights Act before theend of the summer. We’re winning.”Mr. Collier looked at Mr. Reed with a frown. Eddie thought hewas trying to tone Mr. Reed down, warn him to go slow.“We will work with all of you for the rest of the summer on this—what to expect, how to behave,” Mr. Collier said, his voice soft andgentle, but Eddie didn’t trust him either. “You four and the Negrostudents who will be desegregating other white schools this fall—youwill be ready.”Mr. Reed handed Lakeesha a page from a newspaper.“This is Diane Nelson. I was with her at Fisk
University when westarted the lunch counter sit-ins in
Nashville. She’s gone to jail overand over again. Diane Nelson is a hero, Lakeesha. You will be a herotoo.”The faded newspaper clipping shook in Lakeesha’s hand.So! This Mr. Reed had been in the sit-in movement, Eddiethought. That had led to the Freedom Rides, to riots, to people beingbeaten and killed, to little girls about Lakeesha’s age being blown upat church, and finally to him and his little sister being “chosen” todesegregate Forrest High.Eddie got up and crossed the room to his sister, looked down atthe picture in her hand. Diane Nelson, this hero, a beautifullight-skinned, light-eyed Negro woman, stared defiantly at the camera,holding a baby in her arms.Eddie put his arm around Lakeesha’s shoulders, felt her wholebody shivering. His mother’s eyes were closed. She was praying, heknew.Eddie turned and glared at the older men, at his father.“You all want us to go to an all-white school, we’ll go,” he said.“But don’t expect us to be heroes.”

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Black Wolf is one of the series of books I’ve written.  The first book, Black Wolf: Lakota Man, is for sale on Amazon, but the second, Black Wolf at Rosebud, is still in editing and should be out this summer. 

The premise is about a family of four Lakota Sioux brothers who form an R&B band in Austin, Texas.  Here is an excerpt from the second book, involving a wild cow milking contest at a rodeo.

 ~~~~

Once the men quieted down, the starter gun sounded and the cows were let loose.    Eighteen men scrambled amidst cavorting hooves and tails. Two members of one team grabbed two different cows.  Seeing their mistake, they both turned loose and passed each other running for the other cow.  Laughter roared from the watching audience.

“Well, dogonit!  Pick one!” a frustrated contestant yelled.

Dan followed Kele, who was chasing a black and white cow.  They sprinted across the dirt, dodging the bucking, bellowing cattle and frantic men.  With their cow backed up against the fence, Kele lunged for her neck, throwing both arms around her and hanging on for dear life.  Chayton clutched his milk bucket tightly in his right hand while waving with his left, shouting instructions like some crazed traffic cop.

Dan ran behind the cow, trying to grab her thrashing tail.  He got hit in the face with her bristly whip and staggered backwards.  He could hear Kele cursing as the cow tossed her head, throwing him to the ground.

With bowing neck and kicking hooves, the cow refused to be handled.  The noise from the crowd and from the other bellowing animals made her nervous and angry. Managing to turn away from the fence, she trotted toward the middle of the arena.  Dan dodged two other men and leapt toward the tail again, but missed.  Glancing over his shoulder, he could tell other teams were having as much trouble.

“Keep the blasted thing still!” Chayton yelled.

“I’m trying!” Dan yelled back as he made a grab for the flicking appendage.  At last, he had it in his hands.  Planting his feet, he leaned back as hard as he could, holding on with all of his strength.  The angry animal wasn’t having it.  She bolted, jerking Dan headfirst into the dirt.  He refused to let go of her tail and tightened his grip, praying Kele and Chayton could stop her mad dash before he ate half the arena.  Dirt and manure packed into his nose, his eyes, his hair.  He could feel grit in his teeth.  Still, he hung on.  He’d never gone cow-dirt skiing before and swore he’d never do it again.  Somewhere in the frenzy, he and his cow ran into another team, sending them and their animal scattering.  The people in the stands roared with laughter.

“Kele, stop this thing!” Dan yelled.

“What do you think I’m trying to do?” Kele yelled back as he made another lunge.  With both arms locked around her neck, Kele plowed his boot heels into the dirt, slowing the animal down.  With the tail still in hand, Dan leapt to his feet, spitting dirt out of his mouth, and trying to shake the worst of it off his face.  Finally, the two men had enough torque on the front and back of the cow to get her to stand still.

“Now!” Kele yelled to his brother.  Chayton had already ducked underneath and began grabbing at the udders with one hand, the bucket ready to catch the first drop in the other.  The cow kicked, sending the bucket flying across the arena.  Cursing mightily, Chayton dashed through the melee to retrieve it.

Taking a chance, Dan glanced at Lainie in the stands.  She was rolling with laughter, wiping tears from her eyes.  When she met his gaze, he heard her yell.  “Get ‘em, Dan!  Get ‘em!”

Her encouragement turned his serious mood and he began to realize just how funny they all must look.  At the same time that Chayton returned, a roar went up from the crowd.  Looking over his shoulder, Dan saw one team running toward the judges with milk sloshing in the bucket.  Just a few yards away, another team’s cow bucked, sending one of the men sprawling backwards.  He knocked the pail bearer over, which sent the milk spilling into the dirt.  A collective groan from the crowd filled Dan’s ears, but he grinned.  They still had time.

“Hurry!” he shouted.

“I’m going as fast as I can,” Chayton answered as he dodged a hoof.  Dan could hear milk hitting the inside of the pail.

“How long will it take to get enough milk?” Dan asked.  No one answered.

Finally, Chayton stood up.  “Got it!”  He held up the pail.

“Go!” Kele shouted.  He and Chayton took off for the judges’ table.  Dan let go of the tail and turned to follow.  Across the arena, another team also raced toward the table.

“We can beat ‘em!” Dan encouraged his teammates.  He could hear Lainie screaming, “RUN!  RUN!”  The noise in the arena magnified as different people cheered on their teams.

The other team grew nearer, trying to run as smoothly as they could without spilling the precious liquid.  If this were football, Dan would have gone into a flying tackle and stopped them.  But, he could only run defense, keeping obstacles and animals out of Chayton’s way.

They were twenty yards away from the table.  Blue jean legs were swish-swishing in their frantic endeavor.  Both teams kept judging the distance from their buckets to the table and, out of the corner of their eyes, the proximity of the other team.

“RUN!  RUN!” Lainie screamed.

Now they were ten yards away, all six men grim with determination to reach the table first.  Chayton twisted away at the last minute from an on-coming cow, narrowly avoiding a collision.

“GO, DAN!  RUN!”

At the last few feet, all of them hurled themselves at the judges.  With a half-second difference, the other team’s pail hit the table first.. The crowd went wild as a third team raced to the table, making Dan jump out of the way.  Dan shot a regretful look at Chayton.  Leaning over, both hands on his knees, Dan tried to catch his breath, and then burst out laughing.  Even covered in arena dirt, even with shoulders he knew were going to kill him soon, that was the most intense fun he’d had in years.

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“Randolph.”

He calls my name. I still remember my name.

But my thoughts are receding and I’m becoming unclear of much of the detail of my life, like a crystal ball filling with soot. They’re all leaving me. The distant past was first to go—my childhood, what my school looked like, what I looked like, my family, my friends—all being absorbed into this death that swallows me. There are flashes of things before they disappear, though. Hand-me-down clothes two sizes too big, falling off of my skinny arms and legs. My hair growing long and awkward in places, due to home haircuts. Then flash again. Gone.

Flash. And then there’s college, now, at the forefront. Where I met my wife, Ella. I had friends whose names are now lost to me, but she is there. Special. Different. Beautiful. One of the rich riding through college on parents’ money, but she’s not like the other women, or even like me. Ella’s not looking for a husband or searching for what to do with the rest of her life; she’s there for a career. Her hair shines like cut diamonds, silvery white, long and even. Her body—the image of perfection, her breasts supple, her hips ample, her clothing always in style, her face symmetrical, save for the grin that loops to the side. She never had to show off. Attention was her birthright. And she saw something in me, she saw more than the letter jacket and goof. I never believed in love at first sight.

Dinner for two. Campus restaurant. Wind blowing her hair and forming a halo. She ruminates aloud about the benefits of the marketing world, the creativity and fluidity and organization combined. She is a critical thinker, a creative thinker, and marketing excites her. I am entranced. It is our first date; I listen, mostly, less interested in my tales of college high jinks…

My childhood, again. I can see myself as a kid drowning in clothes meant for someone twice my size. There is a backyard. More dirt than grass. Clothes and bed sheets hang from a line. Paint peels on a house, my childhood home. But my childhood self is oblivious. I run, kicking up plums of dirt. An abrupt halt. I am whispering. Then, clear as a zephyr, I hear someone whisper back:

“We’re brothers, right, Randy?”

Flash. Now the newer memories come. Fresh, undiluted, painful. She was having an affair. For how long, I didn’t know but I always suspected that it would happen eventually. My letter jacket had faded long ago and I along with it. She went to work, I stayed home. It was no big deal, we thought. I did odd freelancing jobs here and there. We felt it would work out great if we ever had children. And now…

The covering of death crawls up through my past, one or many memories at a time, snaking its way through my essence; still there are some things that it hasn’t gotten to yet—the circumstances that brought me here. I remember them clearly and they still pulsate with fresh rage. I remember that my wife was having an affair. I remember thinking that. I remember knowing that as well as the sight of the sun rising above the lake in our backyard and the impenetrable mesh of foliage strewn with long-dead branches still clutching to a few of the pine trees. Her infidelity had been obvious to me despite the subtle interjections from her co-workers, from her “friends,” her confidants, her flunkies. They didn’t know of my suspicions, but they frequently commented to me that my wife was a good woman, a loyal woman, the kind of woman anyone could depend on—like an old farmer’s truck or the evening news. Maybe they had suspicions of their own.

But why trust them, any of them, with their fancy jobs and their ornamental lives, their plastic ways? What did they know about anything outside of their blanched existences? Nothing. But I knew about them, I always knew. The stares, the whispers, how they hated me so, how strange they thought I was, sequestered away from the rest of the world, some worthless antique sitting on a dusty shelf of a life. Randy, the man with nothing. A poor boy with no ambitions, they said. Marry someone of your stature, they told her. How could someone, a man, shield himself from the outside world, they asked. How indeed.

Not long ago I discovered her secret. The rain came down unusually hot—the sun shone but there was precipitation and the drops were as tiny beads of liquid marble pelting the skin, and all I could think of was how much I complained when winter assaulted the ground with hail and snow. It was a damp heat, a time when the only thing any person wanted to do was sequester themselves within the confining comfort of cool, dry walls.

My therapist, whom I had bi-weekly meetings with via telephone, encouraged me to get out at least once a month so I would stop being afraid of the outside. The usual requests, always followed by the predictable assessment that injury occurred in the home as easily as outside the walls. And how many times—he said—have you as a child injured yourself while playing inside? He would assure me that my newfound security was only a figment of my imagination. As he said these things, reiterated his platitudes, I would recollect any incident that was on the news—how, for instance, a woman got shot accidentally as she was leaving work, or how a young child got abducted outside in broad daylight. These things were not figments of my imagination—they stood as testimonies to the sanity of my decision and yet I was the only one that could see that…

Portraits in the Dark websitehttp://www.portraits.bravehost.com

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After dinner and after sundown, Lana told Liam that she had a headache from all the noise throughout the day and that she wanted to turn in early.“I understand,” Liam sympathized. “I’ll try and be quiet so you can rest.”“Is that game still going?”

“Game?”

“Yeah. The one from last night.”

“It’s still going. Why?”

“You could go there for a while until you’re ready to turn in. It would certainly be less boring than sitting here being quiet.”

“You wouldn’t mind?” he asked, surprised.

“Not tonight. Really.”

“All right. I’ll only lose ten dollars. Tops. I promise.” He smiled when she smiled at that. Perhaps, after tomorrow, after Two Hawks was ‘gone,’ things would ease up between them. Kissing her once quickly, he grabbed his money and headed to the game. Lana blew out the lamps, plunging the house in darkness, and walked to the front window, watching Liam cross the compound. When he was inside his friend’s quarters, she put her plan into action.

After changing quickly into her nightgown, she twisted her hair up into a high bun. Next, she pulled on Liam’s uniform shirt and trousers over her gown, and then she put on his cap. Making sure the bed covers were turned down, she took the key to the stockade off his key ring. She raised the back window and carefully looked around. To her relief, no one was in sight. She climbed through the window and pulled it almost closed before she checked again for the sentry. One had just reached a far building and was turning the corner. Scurrying behind Officers’ Quarters, Lana ran from shadow to shadow until she made her way to the back of the stockade, where she knelt, watching again for the sentries.

Still kneeling in the shadows, she spoke in Kiowa in a low voice. “Two Hawks?”

Nothing.

“Two Hawks? It’s me.”

“Water Woman?” he whispered back.

“I’m here to get you out.”

“All right. How?”

“I have a key to unlock the door. You unlock it and give me back the key. Wait for a little while before you escape so that I have time to get back home.”

“I unlock the door. Give you the key and wait.”

“Yes.”

Hearing a soft noise, he looked at the bars and saw her hand waving a large key. He took it from her. “Do you have horses?” he asked.

“No. You’ll have to steal some.”

“All right.”

“Also,” she continued, “leave this nail on the floor by the door when you go.”

“A nail? Why?”

“There’s no time to explain. Just do it.”

“All right.” Two Hawks reached out a second time and took the bent nail. With the key and nail in his possession, he motioned to his band to be still. Going to the stockade door, he checked for guards. One stood at the other end of the stockade with his back to them. Two Hawks slipped his hand through the bars, quietly unlocked the door and then placed the nail just inside. When he came back to Lana, he simply dropped the key to the ground beside her.

She had planned to leave quickly, but couldn’t go without seeing him. Checking over her shoulder for the sentry and seeing none, she stood up. Two Hawks stood just inches away, his strong face in shadow.

“I love you, Water Woman.” His hand reached through the bars to caress her face.

“Still? After all that I’ve done?” She held his hand against her cheek.

“Yes. Always.”

“I love you so much — but I have to stay with my husband.”

“For now.”

She couldn’t risk staying any longer. “Goodbye.”

“Goodbye, my heart.”

He watched her slip away, wishing he could take her with him. It wouldn’t be just his escape. It would be theirs. Even though she hadn’t said, he knew she was in her own prison — a prison without bars. All those dreams of her crying in the night had told him so.

Lana hurried home, slipped in through the back window and closed it like it had been before she left. Taking off Liam’s uniform, she carefully put it away, and put the key back on the ring. Her heart raced, her throat felt dry. She needed to look like she had been asleep. Unpinning her hair, she slipped into bed, willing herself to calm down as she mentally went over all of her steps. No, she hadn’t forgotten anything.

Several minutes later, an alarm sounded. Lana heard the sound of shots and of men yelling. “The prisoners are escaping! Stop them!”

Lana closed her eyes tightly, hoping Two Hawks wasn’t hurt. The sound of hooves thundering crossing the compound filled the night. Lana’s heart jumped to her throat. What had she done? Had she sent Two Hawks to his death tonight instead of in the morning?

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The following is an excerpt from my new novel, The Thief Maker.

copyright 2006 by David H. Schleicher.

http://davethenovelist.wordpress.com

The Thief Maker can be purchased from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com or anywhere fine books are sold.

December 24, 1983
William Tells
        William Donovan was an eleven-year-old boy living in a cramped, one-bedroom apartment with his mother and two younger siblings in Camden, New Jersey, when his world ended. Had he been better equipped to piece the puzzle together, perhaps if he had been an adult observing all this and not the young child living through it, he would have seen the signs.
        For all intents and purposes, he thought he had led a relatively normal life up until then, living securely in a small, split-level brownstone not far from the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland. His family never wanted for anything. Both parents were from non-traditional backgrounds (his mother a type of American gypsy, having followed all the fads of free love and drug use through the late sixties and early seventies until she shacked up with his father, an ex-Navy man with bulging biceps, tattoos, and a penchant for hard liquor). But the parents were present and loving and affectionate. Growing up, William was keenly aware that many children had more, but also that many had less than they did. His parents weren’t big on gift-giving, holidays (his mother was a proud atheist from her counterculture roots), or furnishing their house with luxuries, but the children never felt they were at any loss or disadvantage. His mother and father were happily married, and the children loved both parents and one another. William at eleven, James at eight, and Susan at six all got along for the most part (as much as siblings so close in age can do), and they all cared deeply for one other despite the daily teasing and fighting.
        His father took seasonal jobs in construction that had him away from the family for months at a time, but for most of the year, he worked at the docks in Baltimore loading and unloading cargo from ships. His mother, always a bit flighty and still very antiestablishment, never could seem to hold down a job, and spent her time working as a temp in various offices. During a solid yearlong span when William was ten, she worked as a librarian. In that year, William spent almost all of his free time in the library, obsessively trying to read every book on world history, descending chronologically from modern times to ancient history. By the time his mother moved on to another job, he had gotten as far back at the Middle Ages. William, seeing no practical reason to return to the library once his mother no longer was employed there, never set foot in the building again. On his eleventh birthday, perhaps at his mother’s behest to encourage his now dormant love for reading, his father gave him a book on medieval English history. They never celebrated birthdays beyond receiving a favorite meal and maybe a cake, so William treasured the rare gift.
        His parents gave gifts in other ways. They never talked down to their children. It was almost as if they were in a partnership; everything was negotiable. Perhaps in giving their children reason to believe they had a say, their parents always got their way in the end. There always was a lot of reasoning and discussion even regarding the smallest details of the day, such as who should clean the dishes or take out the trash. They gave their gifts of time and affection, which seemed endless, their mother even more doting during those months when their father was away. Their father gave them all nicknames, rudimentary and simplistic, but showing a level of intimacy and care that not all men of his type showed their loved ones. William was always “Good Ol’ Willie Will.” James, the often forgotten and usually serious-minded middle child, was “Mr. Jimmie James.” Susan, the rambunctious little one was “Wild Susie Que.” Their mother, in stark contrast, always referred to them by their proper name.
        Looking back, there were indeed many signs of the end. Perhaps the first one was the black box. William was probably no more than seven at the time. His father was away on some job down south, and his brother and sister were being cared for by a relative who lived at the beach. He was alone with his mother in that house for the better part of the summer. One day, she told him about how she used to be a transient before meeting his father, and how it was important for him to know, as the eldest child, how to pack up and go in a moment’s notice if the time ever came for such action. William took it as a strange conversation, unable to fathom a moment when such a need would arise, and he had rarely heard his mother talk about her “life before.” She carefully showed him how to pack all the necessities (clothes, small mementos, a flashlight, some food, money, and a pocketknife) into one small backpack.
        “James and Susan are too little, but you’ll soon be a young man, and if something ever were to happen to your father or me, you need to know how to take care of yourself and them, even if you never had to,” she told him.
        “But I’m too little to take care of Susie and Jimmie,” William pleaded.
        “It’s important that you know how to do certain things, William, and you’ll thank me one day for teaching you. One day you might have to teach them.”
        She helped him pack his things, and then she packed hers, including among her belongings a small, metallic black box, not much larger than a jewelry case, with a silver keyhole. It made a jangling noise when she took it from her bureau and put it in her bag. Though small, it looked heavy, and William was mesmerized by how dark it was—dark like a black hole that sucked in all the secrets he never knew his mother had and locked them away in its tiny space. She actually took him out on the street and showed him how to hitchhike and how to spot out people from a crowd: people who were dangerous, people who might be helpful, and people to avoid or ignore. William thought that maybe this was all make-believe, as his mother was prone to play elaborate games that could last all day or even all week, where they spoke with funny accents or pretended to be carnival workers or politicians or explorers or whatever the kids felt like pretending to be at the time. These extended role-playing games generally annoyed their father and were saved for times of the year when he was not at home. William felt uneasy, though, that she was playing this game only with him.
        At the end of the day he asked her, “How will I know when I need to do this?”
        “You’ll know,” she assured him. “There will be signs.”
        They never spoke of it again. He was, however, allowed to keep the pocketknife under two conditions: that he never show it to his brother or sister, and that he only use it in self defense. On occasion in the ensuing years, William caught a glimpse of that strange, black box sitting out on his parents’ bureau or stuck up high on a shelf in the closet. He always had the unnerving feeling that it was omnipresent; it was always there, hidden away in his parents’ bedroom, taunting him sometimes at night, reminding him of his mother’s peculiar lessons and that strange day, reminding him that he might at some point have to do something about it.
        Probably the biggest sign—and even the little ones saw this as highly disturbing, since it could hardly haven been predicted and it happened so quickly—was the day in late November of 1983 when their mother told them, “While your father was away, he met another woman. He wants to marry her, and he wants nothing to do with us. We can’t stay here. We moving up to Jersey, where Aunt Mae lives.”
        The children couldn’t believe their ears, and they were stunned and hurt because there was no opportunity for reasoning or discussion, something that had always brought them comfort even in the most unfortunate of times. They couldn’t believe their father would abandon them. They had met Aunt Mae maybe once or twice, at a picnic somewhere in Delaware, that boring strip of highway between Maryland and New Jersey where all their other relatives lived. They couldn’t recall liking her very much.
        “She’s the one that smells like cat pee,” James was quick to remind them.
        At first they thought maybe this was another role-playing game, and their mother was being the consummate actress.
        “Yippee, we get to play orphans, and pretend like we’re moving,” Susan squealed.
        William was happy, albeit very skeptical, of this delusion, and he played it up even as they packed all their belongings and loaded up the old Ford station-wagon, as it seemed to keep the little ones calm and secure in the thought that Daddy would be home any minute to scold Mommy for playing another silly game. Three days had passed, and everything was ready to go, the little ones still gleeful and helpful, William growing increasingly distraught.
        “Why do we have to go to Jersey? Dad wouldn’t do this to us,” he said to his mother. “I’m old enough. You have to tell me the truth.”
        “Look, you know your father has been getting worse with his drinking,” she told him in the confidence of the now-empty parental bedroom, with that little, black box staring at him from atop a pile of suitcases. The drinking, was that true? William always thought his father was a harmless drunk, usually jovial, and if not, passed out where no one had to pay him any mind. Had it really gotten worse? He didn’t recall any heightened moments of screaming or fighting, but then again, it had been so long since his father was at the house maybe his memory was tricking him in its selection of moments. She continued in a hushed tone, the younger ones probably having their ears pressed to the door outside trying to see if the gig was up yet. “Sometimes two people just drift apart, fall out of love, meet other people.”
        “But Dad still loves us, doesn’t he? How can he just leave us kids?”
        “I don’t know.” She lowered her eyes and shook her head, as if she wanted to say more but couldn’t find the words. It was the first time William noticed some gray hairs among his mother’s dark auburn locks. When she looked up, there were dark circles around her eyes and wrinkles at the corners. Had his mother really aged so much without him even realizing it? “Please, William, you’re the man of the house now. Help me, and play along for James’s and Susan’s sake.”
        William placed his hand on his mother’s knee, for the first time not as child hungry for affection, but as an adult hoping to provide comfort. “Okay, Mom. Let’s go.”
        The next day they were moved into the cramped, one-bedroom apartment off Mickle Boulevard in Camden, New Jersey. Aunt Mae and two mysterious older men helped them move all their stuff in, but never came around after that.
        “She still smells like cat pee, and those men smelled like poop,” James was quick to point out, and the children were not sad at all that they never saw Mae or those men again.
        William wondered what was going through the minds of his siblings. Did they miss their father as much as he did? Did it build a yearning in their stomachs so painful they could barely eat? If this was one of their mother’s games, then it had gone way too far, and surely she had gone mad. Maybe their father was looking for them right now. Maybe William needed to show them how to hitchhike back down to Baltimore, back to their cozy brownstone, where their father would be waiting with open arms. If this was a game, then they hated their mother. If this wasn’t a game, then they hated their father, but their mother even more for allowing this to become the truth of their childhoods.
        Mom got a job at the Campbell’s Soup factory doing bookkeeping, and the kids were quickly enrolled in a public school even more dilapidated than the one they attended in Baltimore. The kids seemed even more brooding and ghetto here, though each of the siblings still managed to find ways to make friends with some of the schoolchildren out of necessity and for the sake of playing the game out to completion. Their mother’s rules for role-playing had always been: don’t be squeamish, and if you’re going to do it, go all out, and do it well. The continued keeping up appearances for one other in those following weeks, still playing games, laughing, teasing one other, fighting and pretending as though having to share their bedroom was “fun,” and all their new school friends were wonderful, and Camden was the greatest place on earth.
        The final and most disturbing sign came on the morning of Christmas Eve when their mother, the devout atheist and proud naysayer of all holidays both commercial and/or religious, brought home a Christmas tree. It was a huge monstrosity, alive and smelling piney, sprinkling hundreds of needles all down the sidewalk and up the front porch into the tiny living room of their first-floor apartment. William couldn’t believe she dragged it in all by herself with her small and increasingly frail five-foot-four frame. The thing had to be at least seven feet tall. It ate up the better half of the living room, and as William helped her secure it to the floor, one of the branches practically smashed through the window, which now was completely blocked by the all-encompassing tree. No one could see inside, and they could not see out. This thing had trapped them. It made William feel claustrophobic, since he knew they were also trapped in from the other side of the apartment by the tiny, black box now being kept in the bedroom closet.
        James and Susan looked up at their mother with equal parts bewilderment and scorn, as if their squinting little brown eyes were saying, “This is the last straw, Mommy. This game is over.”
        Their mother just looked at all three of them and smiled. “C’mon, I thought it would be fun to do it like other families, decorate the tree together, sing some carols. Huh, how ’bout it? Sound like fun? Let’s play the nice happy little American family for a change.”
        William stared at her deadly, and, without the least bit of teasing or sarcasm, replied, “I thought that’s what we had been playing all along.” For him, his whole life had become a lie right before his very eyes. He wished both his parents would disappear, not just his father. Living in those cramped quarters with these naïve little brats pawing at him constantly for some consolation or reassurance that Mommy wasn’t mad and Daddy was coming back, he could barely hold back his desire to strangle his siblings right there in front of that damn tree!
        “Aww …” his mother played it out beautifully. “Good Ol’ Willie Will, don’t be so mean. Mister Jimmie James, don’t look so serious. Wild Susie Que, don’t be so sad. We’re together. It’s Christmas Eve. We’re going to decorate this fucking tree, and we’re going to have a blast.” In equal parts shock and awe (Mommy never called them by their nicknames and never dropped the f-bomb before!), they did decorate that horrid tree with all the tinsel and lights their mother could muster at the Woolworth’s, and they all smiled, even James, but no fun was had. They went to sleep that night, Mom on the couch in the living room, the children packed into that tiny bedroom, William on the top bunk, James on the bottom, and Susan on the cot next to the dresser. Even after all that had happened and with all the signs that had come before, not one of them was prepared for their world to end that very night.
        It started with a loud knock on the door that awakened William suddenly from a very deep sleep. It was freezing cold in that bedroom. The heater must have broken again in the middle of the night, as it did last week. He could see his breath as he exhaled, and pulled his blanket up to his chin. The bunk beds were right up against the only other window in the apartment besides the one in the living room that was now eclipsed by that ridiculous tree. He could feel a bitter chill creeping in through the cracks where the window clung flimsily to the wall. He looked down at Susan on the cot, curled up tightly into a little ball under her covers, clearly not disturbed at all by the loud noise. It was silent now, like the secrets inside that black box. As he listened to the wind howl around outside and slip in through the windowpane while a light snow fell, William thought back to all the world history books he read on WWII and the Holocaust. He thought of how there must’ve been the same eerie quiet on Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, the calm before the storm, when the Jews were sound asleep before the SS raided the ghettos and smashed all their windows and dragged them out to meet their deaths by gunfire in the streets or in the cattle cars waiting to take them to concentration camps. He stared into the open closet opposite the bunk beds, into the inky black of night, and tried to adjust his eyes so he could see that black box staring back at him. It seemed to ridicule him for thinking about the Jews and for sitting there wide awake in his bed on Christmas Eve, freezing and scared that something horrible was about to happen.
        James screamed so loud and so high it could’ve broken the window. William turned his head so quickly he gave himself whiplash. He jumped back as he saw that man standing there, with the black ski cap turned up, the black overcoat, the black boots, and that face so pale and so empty, staring back at him like a ghost silently screaming from the Jewish ghettos. The phantom darted from the window. They heard some loud knocks on the wall, followed by a cascade of thumping out in the living room, and a faint scream from their mother.
        William leapt out of bed and almost twisted his ankle from the fall from the top bunk. He turned to his little brother, whose face was as white as that ghost in their window, and whose mouth was agape like some overwhelmed idiot. He placed his hands on the boy’s shoulders, and gazed upon him with a glare that bled right through his shit-brown eyes. “Don’t move, Jimmie James.” He let go and then turned to his little sister, who sat up on her cot with the same dumbfounded look of shock and awe she displayed earlier that day at first sight of the tree. “Stay right here, Suzie Que.”
        William walked to the dresser and opened the top drawer. He lifted up the baseboard and pulled out his pocketknife, concealing it in the palm of his right hand. With great command and authority, and a swift gate unhampered by the near twisting of his ankle, William marched into the living room ready to take charge. His mother was gone. The lights on the Christmas tree twinkled and flickered, but it was the wide-open front door and the army of uniformed men and blinding sirens from the tops of police cars just beyond their front porch that really disoriented him and knocked him right off his high horse.
        A man—a black man in a black suit and huge, black overcoat who stood by that open doorway—turned to William with piercing eyes. “You look like the man of the house,” he said with a smirk.
        “Who are you?” William demanded, as if in some strange role-playing game he had the upper hand in this whole horrific charade because this was his home; it was his mother who was gone and his brother and sister who cowered, scared shitless, in that back bedroom.
        “My name is Anthony, William. I work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I need your help. You have to stay calm and be strong for your mother and for James and Susan. They’re counting on you.”
        “Why should I listen to you?”
        “Well, if you look out that door you’ll see your mother being escorted in handcuffs into that car. There’s a chance you might never see her or your father again. But if you stand up and be a man, and listen to what I have to say, answer my questions, and do what I tell you, I promise you will be reunited one day.”
        William wondered if his mother had been able to turn back and see him, she would’ve given him some kind of sign to run back into the bedroom and pack up all his necessities into his backpack and take James and Susan by the hand and lead them out the window and run, run far away, run all the way back to Baltimore or to wherever, it didn’t matter. She could not, as she was already tucked away into the back seat of that police car. William was left to his own devices, and the only person he had to turn to was this stranger, standing before him, leering over him, inching closer, placing a hand on his shoulder, looking down at him with those piercing eyes, eyes that were brown and dark and deep but menacing, where his brother’s and sister’s were soft and welcoming.
        “Tell me, son,” Anthony said, “where does your mother keep that little, black box?”
        William hated that box, and at that moment, as scared as he was, he still hated his mother; he was glad to tell. “In the closest, in the bedroom.”
        “Be a good sport and get your brother and sister out of there. Bring them out here so I can go in and get that box.”
        William did as Anthony said, and he took Anthony on his promise, for he no longer trusted his mother or his father or even his own judgment. The life he had lived was over. After they took that black box, he stood there in that doorway with his little sister clinging to his waist and Jimmie, all stoic and serious-like, standing a few steps ahead in the snow on the porch. William watched as those men, those ghosts, like the Nazi Gestapo, marched down the sidewalk and the street into their cars and took his mother away forever.

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