The Complications of Fire (A Short Story)

Love, much like fire, can be a very dangerous thing. To some, it can even be deadly—or at least life changing. But can a soul survive without love?

I’m living a coming-of-age tale, and it’s one I wish to share with you. It’s a life story not uncommon to a few billion other souls that have trod upon this earth. And that means it must be lived—every single second. Nobody tossed a completed work in my lap and proclaimed the hard part had already been lived for me. After all, it’s the scars of life’s beatings that bring about a self-awareness needed to complete one’s own destiny.

That’s all anybody is really doing here: living out their destiny.

My name is Judith Zot. And honestly, I can’t recall a time ever hearing my father, in his own voice, tell me he loves me. Not even once. He just isn’t that sort of man. Feelings—or rather the expression of—isn’t part of his makeup. I’m his only child. The daughter he’d hoped would be a son. But love me, he does. I have never doubted this notion. It’s there in his eyes each night I step into center ring and thrill audiences across the United States.

I have a talent for archery. Some might even call it my one true passion. It’s just one of those things that came natural to me the very first time I picked up a bow fifteen years ago—on the very day I turned five. That bow, it had been meant for the boy my mother truly believed occupied her womb. A fortune teller even told her as much.

But that’s not how my story plays out. In my telling of it, my mother birthed a baby girl, then promptly bled out, leaving my father a widower and first-time parent.

My father is not the only man in my life. I have a husband. His name is Abel Zot. We were married two years ago, shortly after my eighteenth birthday. Three months later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and Uncle Sam drafted all those able-bodied young (and not-so-young) men. My father, well, he walks with a limp. An old elephant injury, he likes to say. The army couldn’t use him. Abel? They snatched him up in the first wave, sent him to Fort Hood for basic, before delivering him to the South Pacific to fight the very ones responsible for the mess our country finds itself in to this day.

pexels-golnar-sabzpoush-rashidi-3723862I didn’t mind seeing him leave—not to face death, mind you. He and I, we just never really clicked as a married couple. I like him sure enough, though I don’t know that I love him. And it’s nothing he did wrong, either. Getting married when we did, well, it just seemed like the right thing to do, taking that first big step in our recently acquired adult lives. We both understood it to be a mistake after that first week. He took to sleeping on a separate bunk in our Pullman coach.

I was born into a circus family—fourth generation. We travel the country by train, visiting places like New York City, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland. The Midwest and east, mostly, though we do from time to time reach as far west as Denver.

I’m sort of famous. Not like a movie star kind of famous, but darn close. I’ve even been featured in Life magazine—twice. Franklin D. Roosevelt himself requested my services for the first USO show in support of our Troops right after we entered the war. But even being known by the president isn’t enough to stave off tragic circumstances.

*      *      *

photo-1542675454-b3fbb8b41c18I’m the middle act in the circus—following right after my father and his elephants. Jimmy Hoke and I, we enter center ring for each performance at six p.m. on the dot. Jimmy, he’s like the little brother I’ve always wanted—ten years old, a face full of freckles, and fearless. That kid will do anything I ask of him. He puts a shiny red apple atop his blond head, and I run an arrow straight through it at fifty paces. He holds up the ace of spades in his left hand, and I pierce the card dead center. My favorite is when Jimmy climbs up top and walks the tightrope high above center ring, holding a target over his head while walking from one end to the other with perfect balance. I use a flaming arrow for that one. We’ve done these tricks a thousand times without trouble or injury. And the night in question, well, it began exactly the same as any other along the way.

*      *      *

“You’re the archer girl, ain’t you?”

He’d just been hired, the one asking the question. And from the looks of him, he ought to have been alongside Abel Zot, fighting the Japanese, on a ship in the South Pacific. But the United States Army didn’t figure into this boy’s plans. He stood taller than me by a full foot, had one of those lean and wiry frames, and arms a tangle of muscles and tattoos.

I shouldn’t have looked at him, but I did.

“I’m her,” I told him.

He shook my hand, said his name was Daniel. “Like the man in the lions den.”

That’s how it all began. Just small talk meant to pass the time, I told myself. But deep down inside, I guess I knew I wanted more.

Two weeks later, we’re laughing at each other’s corny jokes and having lunch together. Not alone, mind you. My father always ate lunch with me. So did Jimmy Hoke and his parents. The Hokes, they’ve been tightrope walkers since anybody with a memory could recall. Jimmy claims to be the seventh generation.

Lunches turned into afternoon walks or quiet chats during travel. My father took notice, decided to drop his own opinions of the matter into my ear.

“You have a husband,” he said. “And God doesn’t look kindly on those keen to adultery.”

“I’m just talking with the man,” I replied, hoping that would put such gossip to bed.

I will confess there are certain aspects to a relationship that I miss with Abel being gone—even if I’m not in love with the boy. A smile, a touch, a lingering kiss—all can be had without love being involved. This one here, the new guy, he already knew that about me. He’d read me like a dog-eared pulp novel. He began to eye me with mischievous intent—and I liked it.

He and the other men on the crew would raise the massive circus tent, always showing out for the gathering local girls. I’d catch myself watching him swing that giant hammer, driving stakes deep into the earth at whatever city we’d stop in.

It’s there that the fire began. A slow burner, this kind, lots of smoke at the source of it. Lunches together became late afternoon strolls out to where nobody would see. Kisses were stolen and saved and reminisced over late at night. Those very kisses soon became touch revealing heat in the midst of all that smoke.

We made love just once. And that’s all it took to throw the world out of balance. That it happened in my Pullman coach, well, that’s on me. I planned it out of yearning, a deep desire. I thought I needed that emotion, the lust part of it in my life.

“You sure you’re okay with this?” Daniel asked, seated on my bunk.

I read a certain nervousness in the man, like maybe he’d not done such things before—or at least not often enough to be comfortable with the whole ritual.

We were set up to perform in Cleveland, on the shores of Lake Erie. My father had slipped off for a drink with some of the crew, leaving me to my own devices. That usually meant I wouldn’t see him until just before show time.

The thing about Daniel’s kisses, they ran soft and slow and purposeful, as if he were savoring me and the moment we occupied together. His fingers searched out and found the buttons on my dress. Our clothing fell away like silent accusations lying on the floor. I pushed him onto his back and took up on top of him. And Daniel let me. It’s something Abel would never have allowed—this giving away total control of such intimacy.

Such an odd feeling once our heat became extinguished. In the afterglow we lay in silence together—him smoking a cigarette, me staring at the ceiling above. Simple conversation failed us.

I don’t recall when he left. I just remember Jimmy Hoke showing up at my door, ready for the night’s performance.

“You look flustered,” he said. “You mad at somebody?”

“Only myself,” I told him, leading the boy out toward the big tent.

We waited in our usual spot, out of sight of the paying customers. This is where we’d normally bond in our focus, Jimmy and me. A quick check of my bow, the arrows in my quiver, the props we’d take out there with us. There’s never much talking between us. Jimmy likes to think we’re psychic, that our minds are somehow working together in some strange mystical sense. And maybe that’s usually the case.

But this night wasn’t usual.

My father and the elephants danced their familiar routine, completed tricks I’d seen a thousand times before, and walked their slow wander from center ring.

The ringmaster shouted my name.

Fans took to their feet and cheered wildly. Some thrust copies of Life magazine in my direction, begging for autographs.

Jimmy sprinted toward the wide pole holding the big top high overhead—the way he’d done hundreds of times before. He leaned his back against it and set the apple atop his head. The boy trusted me to get it done. I’d never given reason not to.

I ambled over to where he stood, counted off thirty paces, and took my stance. It’s here that I should have called him off, feigned illness, and gone back to my coach. I’d only done such a thing once before—three years earlier in Atlanta. A touch of food poisoning laid me up for a few days back then.

A bad meal couldn’t be blamed this night.

My hands selected an arrow from my quiver.

Jimmy’s trustful gaze fixed on mine.

When I pulled back the bow, inside my mind Daniel’s hands found my breasts again, his kiss stole my breath, and my guilt threatened to expose me to every living soul beneath the big top.

Thwack!

My arrow split the apple atop Jimmy’s head. A clean shot—as usual.

On cue, the boy raised the ace of spades high above his head and held it perfectly still. A single nervous twitch would likely cost him a finger or two—maybe even a whole hand!

As I drew back the bow, my father’s words filled my head: God doesn’t look kindly on those keen to adultery.

Thwack!

The arrow tore through the very center of the card and lodged in the pole behind Jimmy and his still-intact hand.

While Jimmy worked his way to the top of the pole, I wowed the crowd with an assortment of bullseye shots on targets scattered here and there across center ring.

Atop the pole, Jimmy readied himself for the long walk on the high wire. Slow and steady he worked his way to the middle of the rope, high up where one misstep would most definitely be fatal. In his hands he held the heavy wooden target.

I found the last remaining arrow in my quiver, its point wrapped in gasoline-soaked gauze. A silver Zippo came to my hand—a gift from my father, given just before my first-ever performance. Sparks from the flint lit the wick. The crowd offered their enthusiastic cheers, knowing what would come next, daring me to see it through. I touched the lit Zippo to the arrow, set the tip alight.

Jimmy stood still at the center of the rope, held the cedar shingle target over his head.

I’d never missed before—not even in practice. The arrow always found its mark in the wood.

But this night, well, my father’s warning took away all of my focus: You have a husband.

The arrow sailed high and to the left of its intended mark, attaching itself to the very top, up there where the pole and canvas meet. Flames like wicked tongues licked at that thick covering. There’d be nothing to stop it from spreading.

Paying customers scattered for the exits as the orange glow magnified its intensity. Panicked voices of parents calling out for lost children competed with the cries of those certain death had arrived.

I’d lost sight of Jimmy in all that smoke. The last I’d seen the boy, he still stood on that tightrope high above center ring.

“What did you do?” my father demanded, yanking me toward the exit.

*      *      *

When the flames died out, the wreckage revealed three dead souls, each one a child under the age of twelve. Jimmy had been among them.

Life doesn’t just resume after a fire. It doesn’t just stop, either.

The circus shut down for the remainder of the season, putting the entire crew back at our winter home in Tampa, Florida. Nobody blamed me—at least not out loud. A dangerous trick, people would say. It was bound to happen eventually. Can’t play with fire and expect it to not burn once in a while.

Daniel didn’t follow us down to Florida. He’d never live with the aftermath and its heavy burden.

I never again set eyes on that man.

Abel, well, he returned to me a month after the conflagration. The one I called husband had taken a bullet in his left knee, thus rendering him useless to Uncle Sam.

He’d hobbled into the bathroom that first morning I got sick, held my hair back from the spew. “You okay?”

“Just fine,” I told him.

He sensed the thing growing inside my womb, understood the circumstances in its coming to be; the man made offers to raise it as his own.

“You won’t mind?” I asked.

His head gave a short left-right twist, a move meant to settle the thing right then and there. “I don’t even need to know the details.”

“I wasn’t offering any.”

“But you might—in due time.”

Abel’s arms went easily around my body. He hugged me close to him. His scent, both familiar and strange, carried with it a certain comfort, a reassurance of sorts. We’d be all right, me and him.

Love (like fire) can be a very dangerous thing indeed. And yes, to some, it might even become deadly—or at least life changing. But a soul, well, it most assuredly cannot survive without it.

© 2020 Beem Weeks

An Impressive Debut

Rating: ★★★★★

The Blurb

9781947893252_Ebook Cover, Crimes, Lippert 800wideLippert was thrown into the bowels of the Michigan Department of Corrections as a seventeen-year-old adolescent. He remained entrenched in a world of malfeasance for the next forty years. With astonishing honesty, he reveals the raw details of what a life of incarceration looks like from the inside. His observations of human behavior and his stellar ability to tell a story reveal the courage and resilience of a man who has survived horrifying and savage injustice. These are stories of miscreants and corrupt institutions. They are tales of men who have made poor choices and suffered grave consequences.

His tales of the criminal counterculture are sometimes tragic, but often humorous and redemptive. Through it all, he displays a sly sense of humor and the quiet wisdom of a man who is, ultimately, a survivor. Lippert’s journey has been one of an unrequited longing for freedom. This book is a resonant journey through the geography of a resilient soul.

My Review

Phil Lippert is a man who has lived a most unconventional life. Thrown into prison at the age of seventeen, Lippert, who served a forty-year stretch, has viewed the world from a position most people only know from fictionalized Hollywood treatments.

His collection of short stories offers readers a glimpse inside that world. Though mostly fiction, these tales contain a thread of truth concerning human nature. Lippert’s style is laidback and easygoing. He knows how to tell a story that holds the reader spellbound, waiting for something like redemption for these characters that might otherwise seem unworthy.

He narrates as Dude, an inmate who collects stories of life as lived by others. Some are humorous and hopeful. Others fall into a darker place where hope falters before it has a chance to find its own legs.

My favorite is the heartbreaking “Good Night, Ruby Slippers” with its darker shades mingled with streaks of light. “A Canticle for Frank” reads like a cold-war thriller mixed with prison intrigue. “My Summer Vacation” tells the story of a young bank robber. Each piece introduces unforgettable characters that often seem both familiar and other-worldly.

This is a solid collection from a promising writer with plenty to say. It’s one I’ll likely return to from time to time.

Author Interview on the Voice of Indie Podcast

Buy it Now!

amazon-logo

Country Music Hall of Famer Returns!

Country Music Hall of Fame and Fresh Ink Group member Mark Herndon is back to performing again with his wife, country/gospel singer Leah Seawright. Mark is the author of The High Road: Memories from a Long Trip, his memoir about growing up an Air Force kid who went on to live his dream playing drums with supergroup Alabama, selling out arenas worldwide for decades of #1 hits. Watch for Mark and Leah to appear on Fresh Ink Group’s Voice of Indie podcast with hosts Beem Weeks and Stephen Geez this summer, taking your calls and responding to your tweets. You can order inscribed and autographed copies of Mark’s book at MarkHerndon.com. Hardcovers, softcovers, and all ebook formats can be found at your favorite retailers worldwide, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Fresh Ink Group produced the book trailer below to help promote Mark’s fascinating behind-the-scenes story. Every country-music fan knows Alabama and likely has seen Mark perform in person, on TV, or at sites such as YouTube. What a terrific gift an autographed copy makes! How great is it that Mark and Leah and her terrific band are back on stage again, starting with small clubs in—where else—Alabama?Mark and Leah

Mark and Leah Closeup, Easy Street, June 2021

My First (and Only) Tropical Storm

I’m a Michigander, born and raised. I’m used to cold winter months where the temperatures dip well below zero and the snow piles up by the foot. Summers in these northern climes can reach one-hundred degrees—though that’s not often. The point is, I’m used to weather extremes. But nothing the Great Lakes state has to offer could prepare me for my Florida experience.

I relocated to Ft. Myers back in June of 1988. I’d needed a change of scenery, a new beginning, whatever you want to call it. A girl broke my heart—or I broke hers—and so the long trek from mid-Michigan to south Florida seemed the best remedy to soothe lost love.Hurricane-Hermine-Anclote-River-832x400

I had family there. My father, step-mother, and younger brother had made the move a year earlier. The journey made perfect sense to my 21-year-old mind.

Finding employment came easy. My father, having retired from General Motors, held a supervisor’s position in a concrete pipe factory. Ft. Myers in the late 1980s was transitioning from cow town to booming metropolis. This expansion called for lots of concrete pipes for sewer systems and water drainage. I operated a forklift, taking pipes off the production line, loading them onto big rig trucks to be shipped to destinations all across south Florida.

Flood Damaged HomeThe differences between Florida and Michigan are stark and immediate. Where Michigan is gray, cold, and snowy at Christmas, Ft. Myers offered 75 degrees and sunshine. In Michigan, we’ll see rain a few days each month. Grass and vegetation will often die and turn a brittle brown under the dry summer heat. But Ft. Myers sees rain pretty much every day—sometimes several times a day—which keeps the scenery green and lush. There were even moments where the sun would be shining and the rain would be falling at the same time. We don’t get that too often in Michigan.

Another thing we don’t get in Michigan is the tropical storm. These massive storm systems are the precursor to hurricanes. In late 1988, I experienced my first—and only—tropical storm. Called Keith, this storm system dumped rain upon southwest Florida in amounts I’m sure Noah himself could certainly appreciate. Powerful winds whipped through the area, ripping roofs off many structures.

I remember working in the factory yard that day beneath a light but steady rain. Yellow rubber rain slicks covered me from head to toe—and still I found myself soaked to the bone. Late in the day the rain picked up strength, pelting me in the face, causing me to put on safety glasses to protect my eyes. I worked until ten o’clock that night, doing a job that normally had me clocking out around six o’clock. It would be past midnight by the time I arrived home.

Keith_1988_rainfallAll through the night the wind howled its threats against our house, promising to remove roof and siding with barely a thought. Rain spilled from thick, dark clouds that swirled across the sky like menacing gods. The power abandoned us sometime during the night, leaving us to candlelight and a battery-operated radio.

By first light the following morning the worst of the storm had passed. We were expected to report to work, just like any other day. Seems unless it’s a full-fledged hurricane, it doesn’t count for much with the boss man. But our entire neighborhood was under water. In our backyard, we had a boat canal. Across the street flowed the Caloosahatchee River. These two entities rose together, flooding the area, leaving houses—ours included—stranded like dozens of islands. And still, we were ordered to work—though the boss man had given us a few hours to make the thirty minute drive.

We survived. We even made it into work just before noon. Nobody else at the plant lived on the river, so flooding didn’t hinder their travels, which made me and my father the only ones who were late that morning.

I’ve since moved back to Michigan. I missed those familiar sights and the people with whom I grew up. But I still have a head full of memories of the nearly two years I called Ft. Myers home. I intend to one day return to south Florida—if only for a visit—just to see the changes that thirty-odd years can lay on a city and its sights. And every year, right during hurricane season, when the storms begin their march toward dry land, I break out my story of Keith and the night I survived my first—and only—tropical storm.

Book Signing Featuring Fresh Ink Group Author B. A. Johnson

Today I am sharing a post written by Fresh Ink Group author B. A. Johnson. She shares details of her recent successful book signing.

Sassy Discovers the AME Church

Noted children’s literature author, Beverly Cleary, said, “If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf write it.” Barbara Johnson was looking for a children’s book that narrated the history of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in language children could understand. She did not find that book, so she wrote it. Sassy Discovers the AME Church details the founding of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in a story narrative that children can read and understand for themselves.

Book Signing, MeSassy seeks information about the AME church from her “Big Momma” who has been an AME all her life. She and Big Momma begin the journey of learning everything there is about AME history in preparation for Children’s Church. Along the way, Sassy learns why everyone is so proud to be AME.

Sassy, her brother Franklin, and their friends encounter issues kids deal with daily, such as bullying, inclusion, death, grief, and forgiveness. They along with other AME members must deal with the deaths of nine members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. No other story has been written from the children’s perspective regarding the deaths at Emanuel AME Church. Sassy and her friends share their feelings for the first time.

The book launch party for Sassy Discovers the AME Church was held on Saturday, May 1, 2021 on the grounds of historic, St. John AME Church. Church members, family and friends came out to purchase an autographed copy of the book and take a photo with the author. Everyone was excited to receive a copy of the book with a picture of St. John AME Church on the cover. All expressed great interest in reading the history of the church from a child’s perspective.Book Signing, Owens - Copy

Barbara Johnson is a retired educator and a lifelong member of historic, St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church in Huntsville, Alabama. She writes under the pen name, B. A. Johnson.

Sassy Discovers the AME Church is published by The Fresh Ink Group. Books may be purchased online at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and BooksAMillion.com.

Book Signing, Malone Book Signing, Tami Book Signing, Vazquez Family Book Signing, PKW

Who is My Neighbor?

Sure, the title of is a line from a parable Jesus used in teaching his disciples a lesson in treating even strangers with dignity and respect. But this blog piece isn’t really a religious lesson. It’s just an observation.

Pharmacist handing medication to customer

In today’s world, do we really know who our neighbors are? I’m not talking about the strange guy up the street, the one who talks to himself while sweeping the front walk. I’m talking about those people we cross paths with every day while going about our lives. You know the ones, like the little old lady in front of you in the grocery store check-out; or the young man walking along the side of the road, heading to who knows where. With the popularity of internet sites like Facebook and Twitter, we can connect with people all over the world. We can log on and learn that Reggie in West London ate crab cakes for dinner tonight, Tanya is Los Angeles broke up with her long-time boyfriend, and Danny in Sydney recently had his first novel published. We friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and make a connection on LinkedIn, but we never really meet these wonderful people.

And what of that little old lady in the checkout line in front of us? Chances are we won’t get beyond a polite smile or an insincere “Have a nice day.” The young man walking along the side of the road? We’ll ignore him—he might be dangerous.

young handsome bearded hipster man

Don’t misunderstand me. I believe social media is vital to those of us looking to promote our work while building an audience. It’s a great way to meet interesting people in corners of the world we’re not likely to ever visit in person. But the cost of this technology seems to have had a negative effect on how we treat the people around us. We don’t have an instant profile to pull up telling us that the young man walking along the side of the road is a father on his way to work so he can support his wife/girlfriend and their newborn baby; or that his car no longer runs so he has to make that 5 mile trek both ways each day. We couldn’t possibly know the little old lady in front of us in the checkout line is struggling to make ends meet since her husband of 56 years passed away last fall. Without that profile, we won’t bother finding this out the way we as social human beings once did—before the internet.taxi

One of my favorite episodes of the classic American television show Taxi has character Elaine Nardo receiving an invitation to a high-class party. She needs an escort. The obvious choice would be her co-worker and friend Alex Rieger. He’s a level-headed guy, understands proper behavior and good manners in these situations. But, for reasons I’ve forgotten, Alex is unable to attend with Elaine. So, after failing to secure a proper substitute, Elaine finds herself saddled with Jim Ignatowski, played brilliantly by Christopher Lloyd. Jim had once been a bright and near-genius young man—until LSD trips during college left him slow and somewhat addled. The Reverend Jim (he was ordained through a mail-order school) was prone to goofy observations and embarrassing behavior at times.

The thought of attending this high-class shindig with the likes of Jim proved too much for Elaine, so she lied and told the man she wasn’t going to attend. Jim eventually caught on and, despite having his feelings hurt, suggested Elaine attend alone. In the end, Elaine brought Jim along, having discovered a true fondness for her fellow cab driver.

screen-shot-2015-05-28-at-4-48-13-pmWhen the entertainment fails to show up for the party, Jim volunteers to fill in on the piano. Imagine Elaine’s shock and horror over what is surely to be an embarrassing moment, most likely barring her from future invites.

Jim sits at the piano and immediately begins playing “London Bridge is Falling Down” quite poorly. The room full of snobs begins murmuring complaints. Jim stops playing, says “Oh, the hell with it!” and launches into some beautiful classical playing that soothes the room. He stops again and says, “I must have had mmm music lessons!” before continuing his solo concert.

Elaine worked with the man and had no idea he was so much more than the college dropout with a fried brain. We’re all guilty of this on some level. We know more about the guy on the other side of the world than we know about those in our own neighborhood. While social media might bring the world together, it can also contribute to pushing people apart.

So take the time to get to know those who are closest to you. You’re bound to learn something.

Remaining Ruth: A Short Story

This is a short I wrote back in 2013. It’s about a girl trying to hold tight her grasp on self-identity. This one appears in my first short story collection Slivers of Life.

Remaining Ruth

I heard my mother say, “It could be she’s just that kind of girl.”

I knew she meant me because my father responded, “No daughter of mine will be that kind of girl.”

I’m an only child, so forget any misunderstandings. Besides, just what kind of girl were they debating me to be?

I slipped through the back door, just inside the kitchen, crouched low near the refrigerator, and listened to their talk in the next room. I’m either a lesbian or a drug addict, depending on their deciphering of my mood on any given day.

Okay. True. I do keep my hair cut short and dyed black. I also prefer jeans and T-shirts to dresses and skirts. But that doesn’t make me a lesbian. Of course, there is that other thing…

My father said, “Maybe we should send her to one of those Catholic schools.”

“We’re not Catholic, Fred,” my mother reminded him.

“But they know how to deal with these sorts of things, Miriam.”

What sorts of things? I wondered, angling for a closer peek into the living room. I didn’t need to see, though. My father would be parked in his recliner, newspaper open and held in front of him. My mother, she’d be seated on the sofa, watching the television with the sound turned all the way down.

I’d never get past them. At least not without a hundred questions tossed in my face.

“Maybe we should just leave her be,” my mother offered. “I had my own moody moments at that age.”

A low harrumph, is all my father managed.

As much as I hated the idea of confrontation, I despised even more the notion of hiding out in the kitchen all night.

He’s the one who caught me, came right up out of his recliner as soon as I entered the room. “Let’s see what’s in your pockets, young lady.”

I knew the drill. They’d been doing this since the end of the school year, when I’d been stupid enough to leave a joint in my jacket, where my nosy mother happened upon it.

“I’m not carrying,” I told my father. “I smoked it before I came in.”

“So disrespectful,” my mother lamented. “I never sassed my parents when I was fourteen.”

“Gonna let them nuns straighten you out,” my father threatened, searching the pockets of my jean jacket.

He found nothing incriminating. I’d learned to never carry anything on me—at least not where they’d bother to look.

“Can I go to my room now?” I asked, not really looking for that argument my parents seemed to enjoy so much.

My father gave up a subtle nod I’d have missed if I hadn’t been looking for it.

They took my phone—and my bedroom door.

But I still had the bathroom.

I closed myself inside, pressed the lock. They’d come knocking in a while, demanding to know what all goes on when they can’t see.

They’ll never see what they don’t really want to see, though.

Muffled voices trickled through the floorboards, putting them still in the living room.

My mother’s the one who caught me kissing Megan Vennerhull. That’s where the whole lesbian thing came from. But we were just practicing. Megan pretended I was David Skillsky and I, well, I too imagined Megan was really David Skillsky—I just told her I’d been dreaming of Michael Kranshaw to keep her from freaking out. Megan has been in love with David since the third grade. But so have I.

Can’t tell that to Megan, though.

My fingers worked at the buttons on my jeans; I tugged them off my hips.

My father never used those multi-bladed razors. “One blade is all it takes,” he’d tell the television, whenever one of those commercials touting three blades came on.

I agree. One blade is all it takes.

I twisted the razor’s handle, retrieved the shiny blade from its open mouth.

It’s not a suicide attempt. I’ve never wanted to die. It’s just something I need, something I dream about when moments of stress find in me an easy target.

And I never cut too deep, either; just enough for bleeding.

Just enough for a taste of pain.

They never look at my hips—or my inner thighs. Nobody looks there. Nobody sees or knows.

My mother’s voice disrupted my moment of pleasure. “Are you going to be long in there, honey?”

“Be out in a minute,” I assured her, knowing full-well my father would be beside her in short order, threatening to remove even the bathroom door.

A quick cut just beneath my stomach let go that crimson release.

Better than an orgasm, this.

My father intruded; his meaty fists banged against the door. “I’ll break this son of a bitch down, Ruthie, you don’t open this door!”

“Can I wash my hands first?” I asked, rinsing the blade before returning it to its proper place of honor.

They weren’t quick enough—not this time, at least. I still owned one secret belonging only to me.

One more day I could still be the Ruth I wanted to be.

© 2013 Beem Weeks

This story, along with 19 others, is available in Slivers of Life: A Collection of Short Stories. Find it at all online booksellers.

When We Were Kids: A Short Story

This is a short story I wrote some years ago. It’s about life and loss and the guilt of being the one who survives a tragic accident. It appears in my short story collection Strange HWY: Short Stories

When We Were Kids

I saw you again today. You were younger than the last time I set eyes on you. It happens that way sometimes. You were mowing the lawn in front of some house I didn’t recognize. I doubt you did either.

It’s the third time in a month that I’ve seen you cutting grass or jogging or playing in that park we hung out at when we were kids. You were always on the baseball diamond—even now. I suppose it has something to do with the uniforms. The colors are always different, but the style hasn’t changed in thirty-odd years.

Dana Rickleman still talks about you whenever I run into her at the Winn-Dixie. Well, she’s not Dana Rickleman these days. Neither is she hot anymore. She married Donnie Soba fifteen years or so ago, had a kid, put on more than a few pounds, and ended up deciding she’s a lesbian. But maybe we already knew that way back when. Remember how she used to say Becky Fordham was enough to turn her?

Speaking of Becky, her younger brother Todd is gone. He went to Iraq during the Gulf War and never came back. He stepped on the wrong spot and left nothing behind but his dog tags. Becky turned into a boozehound after that one. Last I heard she’d been in and out of Burnside Psychiatric Hospital.

The old neighborhood has completely changed. You wouldn’t recognize it now. All those families we knew back then no longer live there. Kids grew up and went off to college, got married, chased careers out of state. Parents became grandparents, got old, retired, moved to Florida, and died. I drove through there a few months ago. Not a familiar face among those I saw. Our old house is long gone. The family that bought it from Mom and Dad, after I moved out, lost it to fire. They rebuilt on the lot, but the house looks nothing like the original. And there are trees where there weren’t any before. Crazy how that works, huh?

I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m rambling. I don’t mean to. I’ve had a lot on my mind since, well, you know. I still struggle with things, Adam. It’s always there in the front part of my mind, where it often blocks out my view of the world around me. I think that’s why Mallory and I got a divorce. She saw those issues, tried to help me, but in the end, she just had to let it all go. It’s not her fault. Even Mom says she’s surprised Mallory didn’t leave me a lot sooner—and you know how Mom was always my biggest cheerleader.

I won’t lie to you. I’ve thought about it more times than I dare count. It’s usually when I’m driving alone, just as the sun dips below the horizon, taking the sky from pink to orange to purple, and that day smacks me in the face all over again, the pain growing only stronger with the passing of time. The way I’d do it, I’d aim my car at some far away tree, mash the gas pedal to the floor, race toward it, and be done. But then I’d hear your annoying voice calling me a selfish little prick—the way you always did when we were kids.

When we were kids. . .

There’s so much hurt wrapped around those four simple words.

When we were kids, we dreamed of playing Major League Baseball for the Atlanta Braves.

When we were kids, the only thing important to us was being able to stay outside for an hour or two after the streetlights came on.

When we were kids, we went everywhere on our bikes—and we never got tired of it.

Speaking of bikes, do you remember that time we decided we were going to be train for the Tour de France? We spent that entire summer riding all over hell’s half acre, thinking that’s all it took to win that stupid race. In your version, you and I would finish in first and second place. Of course, our versions differed as to which finished where. In my head, I was always the victor. And the prize money, well, that was spent a thousand different ways. Always on something foolish or needless—it would always be squandered on selfish desires. Mom would rein us in by taking charge of our fabled earnings. Into the bank, it would have to go. After all, we had college to think about.

I worry about Mom since Dad died. It’s not that I doubt her ability to carry on and live a productive life; she’s done that well enough in the three years since. It’s that profound sadness that envelops her when a birthday or anniversary or an old TV show worm their way into her cocoon, threatening to pull her out before she’s good and ready to deal with life as a changed species. She went out to dinner with Mr. Griffith from the church once—but that felt too much like adultery, essentially killing any notion of date number two. I just don’t want her to be miserable. It’s just her and me now, from our nuclear family. You always hated that term. You used to say it made you think that families could explode, taking entire cities with them. There’d be a mushroom cloud over our town—and it would mostly be Dad.

I miss his yelling about this and that.

Okay. So here’s the thing: I’ve never told anybody about that day. I never even told Mallory—and I told her a ton of major important things. I just can’t seem to make myself speak those words out loud. But I have to. It’s wrecking me, brother.

It was an accident. I swear on it.

I’m the one who locked you in the shed that day.

The day you died.

I did it. It was supposed to be a joke—a prank. I padlocked the door, expecting you to pitch a fit at being locked in. I’d leave you in there for a few minutes, before letting you out. Then you’d sock me in the shoulder and we’d have a laugh about it. But Donnie Soba showed up with a pocketful of firecrackers. I didn’t mean to leave you in the shed. I meant to unlock the door. I got sidetracked.

I didn’t know it could get so hot inside there.

I swear on it, Adam.

It was Dad who found you. He’d called the police after you failed to come inside once the street lights came on. He stomped around the living room, threatening to ground you for a hundred years, every so often yelling your name out into the night. Once Johnny Carson came on, the police were called. They drove the neighborhood, spotlights trained in the dark corners, searching for a wayward boy. I don’t know what it was that made Dad go out to the shed. It didn’t occur to me until he grabbed the key for the lock.

“I killed you, Adam.” There. I said it out loud.

It doesn’t make it easier.

I’m not just a killer. I’m the guy who killed his own brother.

I need to hear your voice, Adam. I need to know your thoughts on my transgression. Where are you? What do you see? What do you know? Have you been watching these thirty-odd years? Is everything I tell you already known?

Have you seen God?

Does He hate me?

Sometimes it’s like coming down with a cold. My body aches, my head throbs, and I can’t bring myself to get out of bed. It’s as if joy ceased to exist when you left. But I know that’s not true. Other people still experience joy and happiness and laughter. I’ve heard it. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. I’ve just never grabbed hold of it for myself—no matter how hard I try.

There really is no need for you to worry. Notions of wrapping my car around a tree are greatly exaggerated. I can’t do that to Mom. Neither can I put myself in front of God before my proper ending. For all I know, I’ll have to continue on well past the century mark, carrying the years as a burden.

Can you put in a word for me—the way you did when we were kids?

But would a simple word really count for anything?

I’m the reason you died, Adam.

Please forgive me.

Please.

Maybe it’s desperation that has me hearing your voice.

“Let it go, twerp.”

It comes audibly to me, as if you’re standing right beside me, speaking it directly into my ear.

My left ear.

“Is that you, Adam?” I ask it aloud, hoping for more.

But there’s nothing else.

“Tell me again—just once more.”

I think of Mom. Of telling her. Of unburdening my soul.

I won’t, though. I cannot.

It’s you I needed to tell.

It was always you.

And tonight, you heard me.

Of that, I am certain.

My burden isn’t gone just yet, but it sure feels lighter.

“Thank you, Adam.”

© 2018 Beem Weeks

This story, along with 18 others, is available in Strange HWY: Short Stories. Find it at all online booksellers.

New Look, New Groove: Grace VanderWaal Grows Up!

Rating: ★★★★★

The world has been a dark place for the past year—probably longer. But things are finally beginning to brighten up. Grace VanderWaal has dropped new music tonight. And when I say new music, I mean that in every way possible. The song in question is called Don’t Assume What You Don’t Know. It’s as much a statement as it is entertainment. This young woman has grown up and is putting the rest of the world on notice: she’s playing for keeps!

Those who follow her on social media know she’s recently made changes to her appearance. This has caused some to question her mental state—with some even suggesting a potential drug problem. A listen to the new track will reassure those gainsayers Grace is in full control of her faculties. She knows exactly what she is doing.

Don’t Assume What You Don’t Know is a major departure from what most FanderWaals may expect from the now 17-year-old songstress. But then again, this is Grace VanderWaal we’re talking about. She has a way of surprising her fans—and her detractors. She never settles into a safe comfort zone, travelling the same old familiar path. This has served her well—and will continue to do so.

On the new song, VanderWaal steps up her game in a huge way. Her voice comes at you with attitude, swagger, and full of confidence. Her words are sharpened to a point and will not be dismissed. Perhaps they are even a shot at her critics—you don’t know this young woman at all, so sit down and shut up.

The track’s music is what really has me hyped. I downloaded the song from iTunes at midnight and have already given it multiple plays on my iPod. Catchy as hell and stuck in my head, this one. It’s a new sound, a new groove—and heavier than anything Grace has offered to this point in her career. From the raw guitar riff cutting through the heart of the song, to the funky bassline traipsing buck naked underneath, this track proves VanderWaal is not just another pop flavor of the month. It shows the world the girl can rock. I am eagerly anticipating a new album or EP this year.

 

Crackles of the Heart: Divergent Ink Book 1! A #BookReview

Blurb:

Divergent Ink is the mesh of different frames of thoughts, various interpretations of one core question that yearns for universal expansion. Although the subject matter may change every year, the purpose of the Divergent Ink series will remain the same.

The first book in the Divergent Ink anthology series, “Crackles of the Heart”, centers around the following question: Can the hot, handsome guy fall for the average, awkward woman?

Six Divergent Inks exploring “Crackles of the Heart”. Will there be hearts rejoicing or hearts breaking?

Featuring

Da’Kharta Rising: A five word invitation sets the tone for an afternoon journey. Short, provocative connectivity sizzles “Inside Me”.

Queen of Spades: One look from Her was all it took to put a ladies’ man into early retirement. Yet, the very object of his affection has no clue of his reform. When he opts to take a huge gamble, will his fairy tale end happily ever after or be deemed a “Tale in the Keys of Drastic”?

Adonis Mann: The dark of night can be more than scary, it can be downright intoxicating. When pleasure meets stupefaction, a man with a secret whirls into rapture at the hands of an unknown force. To which end? Will his secret be revealed, or will he revel in the delight it brings? Nothing is as it seems during the wonderment of “Mystical Nights”.

Y. Correa: Steampunk Earth, set in the distant future. When an ambitious city guy meets a carefree country lady, what starts out as a getaway to finish an important project turns into a interesting journey. Steam intersects and hearts collide in “The Steam of Opposites”.

C. Desert Rose: Terah has the misfortune of being given news that puts an expiration date on her life. In her desire to get away from the chaos, she has a chance encounter with the very one that can put the turmoil to rest. Is “Serendipitous Mirth” dumb luck, or preordained destiny?

Synful Desire: Bette is a hard working small town woman with simple pleasures. When visually stunning Jesse comes into the store on what’s normally her day off, her mind accelerates into complex overdrive. In this small town, a lot can happen in seven days. Will one of those events serve to satisfy Bette’s “Seven Days of Stimuli”?

 

My Review:

Rating: ★★★★★

This collection contains some truly intriguing works by authors who are skilled in the fine art of storytelling. Six writers lent their talents here. They have each taken a core question and answered it in their own unique words.

Though there are different styles at work, there remains a thread that connects each of the tales in this book, like a well-groomed path cutting through a summer wood. I’ve read some of these authors before. I am never disappointed in plots or mechanics or inspiration. Good writers know how to pull the reader in and dazzle.

The stories are provocative, dark, and at times, steamy in their telling—though not in an over-indulgent sort of way. There is an order to the chaos. I honestly couldn’t settle on just one or two as favorites, so I’ll give applause to each of these writers: Da’Kharta Rising, Y. Correa, Adonis Mann, Queen of Spades, C. Desert Rose, and Synful Desire. Cheers for a job well-done, authors!

I am a fan of the short form of fiction. This collection will sit on my shelf along with the others I’ve kept and returned to time after time.

Buy it Here: