I’ll post them Anyway

I don’t think this is the right place for my stories. Facebook isn’t either. I get these ideas and I need to write them out. It all started when I got my first iPad. It’s my favorite way to write. I wrote two, over 400 page books using an iPad. If you’re interested in writing I’d try using one. Get Windows for iPad, it’ll make editing easier in the future.

Anyway, I’m proud of the short stories I write, but nobody much reads them. I think I’m going to collect them and put them in a book. I’ll write a few more too. Maybe someday when I’m dead and gone someone will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. That’s the worst think about writing. You can’t make anybody read what you wrote.

The Shadow Man

His life, or what passed for it had encompassed three tree covered acres of gravestones and monuments. He was the Watchman of the Night, the Guardian of the Dead. He hadn’t chosen the job, but it was his. They were good neighbors, the resting souls. Quiet, and didn’t ask questions.

How did he get there? He hadn’t been sure. According to any law written by God, or man, he should be in Hell. But he wasn’t. He was here at Redemption Park Cemetery. A restless spirit surrounded by hundreds resting in peace. It hadn’t always been this way, once there’d been Becky.

Was it a cruel trick of fate, or divine intervention, he wasn’t sure of which. Somehow he’d been interred in the same consecrated ground as she. The killer, and his victim, together forever. It was a sacrilege the ground couldn’t abide and it squeezed him from his grave like pus from a boil. Dooming him to wander the stone walled enclosure, unwelcome but unable to leave.

Redemption Park was old. It was surrounded by a city. Most of its plots taken, most of its inhabitants forgotten. But not Becky, her grave was tended. It was the girl who did it. The girl who wore black. She would sit next to Becky’s ornate stone and write in her notebook, or draw on her sketch pad and smoke. She spoke to Becky like she was alive. Always leaving one perfect red rose. Maybe that’s why Becky’s spirit was free when all the others were encumbered. Maybe it was the girl who made her real?

He was nothing but a shadow. A thin gray outline of what was once a human being. While Becky, well Becky was as she’d been in life. Brown haired and fair. A perfect little girl of seven. He’d watch her play with the animals that emerged at sunset. Deer, rabbits and even the fox were her playmates. The cemetery their sanctuary, their protectors the dead. Unafraid and comfortable with her inhuman touch.

He was jealous of her. Jealous of her laughter. Jealous of how real she was. But tormented too. She was the reminder of what he’d done, and he the reason she was there. It had taken years before he could watch her. More years until he asked why. Why was she here? He was a killer, he deserved Hell. But she, she was an innocent child. Surely, she could move on.

It was the girl in black who settled the question. Not that she tried to, or even knew that there was one. It was her actions, her desperation that provided the answer, and Becky’s crying that held the key. He’d only heard it once before, the night he’d raped her. The night he strangled her to death.

He raced to the sound and found Becky kneeling over her. She lying still upon the young girl’s grave. The girl in black. The girl who spoke to her. The girl who kept Becky real. He was just a shadow. A shadow of a man. But there was enough, just barely enough of a man to recognize the writing on the girl’s notebook, and the label on the pills.

He rushed to the girls side and felt the closeness of death. Becky screamed, recoiling in terror at his ghostly appearance. His world suddenly went silent. He couldn’t bare it. The girl in black was Becky’s only hope for staying real. Once she was gone Becky would fade. It would be as if he’d condemned her to the grave for a second time.

“No,” he screamed to the silent stones and mute trees. “No,” to the stars and the moon and the sky. “No,” to the only being that was listening. It wasn’t a prayer, just a word. But somewhere in the vastness of space, and the infinity of time, Someone had been expecting it.

He was a shadow. Then he was a man. He picked up the silent girl from Becky’s grave. Outside the cemetery walls a city lived. Outside there was help. Outside there was hope. The ornate gate that had barred his escape opened before him, and the world of the living surrounded him. It wasn’t chance. He knew that now. It couldn’t have been. Help was too close. A hospital just across the street. He placed the girl by the Emergency Room door.

He was just a shadow, the shadow of a man perched on a vine covered stone on a neglected grave. A forgotten grave in a little visited section of Redemption Park Cemetery. Her appearance took him by surprise. She’d never come this way before. Becky had always stayed away. Now she was here.

“I can never forget what you did,” she said, in a voice much older than her years. “But that girl in black was my family. My great niece. The only one who visited me.” Becky looked at the man who’d saved her. The man made of shadow. “I can never forget what you did, but I can forgive you.”

I looked at the girl I’d killed, and fell to my knees. Unable to weep. Unworthy of her gift. Becky transfigured into a bright light. “The gate is open,” her last words…and was gone.

I am the Watchman of the Night, the Guardian of the Dead. I am the Shadow Man. I have been redeemed. I have been freed from my Hell. I have been forgiven of my sin.

Because I have Too

Why bother putting your thoughts into words when nobody reads them? I’m not special. I don’t have any magical insight into life. But I know one thing. Life is rich, and life is full of life.

As I was watering the container plants this morning I noticed a small black beetle walking across the concrete driveway. It scurried out in the open in what to us would have been an area larger than a dozen football fields. Noticeably alive as it moved on the flat gray surface.

This is the only place in the universe this could happen. No other planet has anything living that we know. Yet here we have life on life. We have so much life we call them pests and kill them by the millions. A minuscule insect, or rodent that on any other planet would be heralded as a miracle, here we destroy with impunity.

Life is more than breathing and procreation. At least for we humans. Life is our chance to live. To grow, create beauty, search for truth and love. It’s also fleeting. Bordered on each end by inability, and only cherished when its time grows short. But why bother? A dog has a more grounded feeling for life than we do. It does what it does. What a dog always does. We drift around like a ship lost at sea. Though we’re the only creature that can actually steer our own course.

My 1st 4th

My youngest recollection of the Fourth of July was when I was a small boy in Cottonwood, Idaho. It was just my older brother Joe and I then. My sisters Lori and Lisa were just babies and not old enough for fireworks. The only fireworks I remember from that time were Sparklers, Snakes and Whistling Pete’s. Dad lit the Snakes and Whistling Pete’s while it was still light, but saved the Sparklers until it was dark.

When it was dark enough. Or, Dad couldn’t stand us asking, is it dark enough yet one more time, he gave Joe and I each a sparkler. He lit mine with a match and told Joe to touch his to mine. Now, I could be wrong because I was probably less than four years old, but once his sparkler lit Joe dropped it because he was scared.

Dad wasn’t happy, and probably said something totally inappropriate, like calling him a baby. It was different times then. Self esteem must not have been invented. It didn’t take Joe long to catch on though, and he and I were soon waving the sparklers through the air making designs until they burned out.

That was pretty much it. “Is that all?” I asked Dad. I’d seen pictures of fireworks in books and knew there was more to the Fourth of July than a few Sparklers.

“Well, you could watch the fireworks show in Grangeville, they always have a big fireworks display.”

My eyes lit up. “Really?”

“Sure. Do you want to watch the show too, Joe?” I think Joe nodded.

I headed to our Chevrolet Corvair Station Wagon. You know, the car Ralph Nader said was unsafe at any speed.

“Where are you going?” Dad asked.

“Aren’t we going to Grangeville?”

“Oh, no. You can see them from the curb out front.”

“Really?” I was picturing some massive fireworks because Grangeville was a long way from Cottonwood.

Hold on a sec. I’ll Google it. It’s 15.4 miles. Anyway, I think Dad gave us each a bowl of popcorn and a plastic glass of water with an ice cube in it. He walked us out to the curb and pointed toward the grain elevators off in the distance. “You keep your eyes on that spot and you’ll see them.” He nodded and walked back to the house.

It would be hard to describe how small fireworks look from 15.4 miles away. Joe and I ate our popcorn, drank the ice water and walked back into the house. Now you know the story of the first Fourth of July I remember.

Hedwig and the Hound from Hell

Wind howls, and rain splatters against Hedwig van Sweiten’s bedroom window. She finishes braiding her long blond hair, and peers out into the stormy night. These are strange days. She walks back to her bed. The storm came up fast, too fast. It isn’t natural. Rain pours down so hard she can’t see any of the houses around her. She may as well be on some desolate sea coast rather than bustling 1743 Vienna.

Glass cracks and wood splinters, light from her lamp shudders against the wall. Hedy spins. The window is a jagged hole, and a huge wolf with glowing red eyes bounds toward her. Her hand flashes up and blocks it’s advance, she twirls and kicks it off to the side. The wolf slams into the wall and springs back. Hedy lands a blow against the side of its fanged head and knocks it to the ground. It’s stunned, but quickly springs to its feet and stares at her.

Hedy glares back. “Look, I’m done messing with you. Leave now and I won’t call my dogs.” She stares at the wolf with steady blue eyes. The giant wolf peers back with his glowing red ones. Its brows twitch and it explodes off the floor leaping for Hedy’s face. She catches it by the throat. “You asked for it.” She heaves the wolf back against the wall.

“Donner, Blitz.” Nails clatter against wood, and two miniature dachshunds run into the room. One is red with a white lightning shaped slash on it’s chest. The other, black and tan. Both come to her side. Her hand makes a sweeping gesture. “Get him out of here.” Donner and Blitz touch noses, their eyes glow blue, and they advance toward the giant beast.

The wolf seems unsure of the little dogs. They’re obviously over matched, but they’re fearless. Hedy sees it lick it’s lips. She turns her back, walks to her wardrobe and opens one of its doors. You, Mr. Wolf, are in for a surprise.

The little dogs walk forward, their gleaming blue eyes locked on the wolf’s red glowing ones. The wolf springs. Lightning arcs from Blitz’s jaws and the wolf lands against the wall with a thud. Hedy smells singed fur and smiles. Donner and Blitz move closer herding the confused giant toward the demolished window. The wolf backs away until it’s tail and haunches are sticking out the side of the building.

“Frein, daughter of a Baron, van Sweiten. Are you alright?” calls Sister Adelbert, a Benedictine Nun and Hedwig’s quasi chaperone through the gap in the door.

“I’m fine Sister,” Hedy answers, pulling on a blue ankle length dress with a white bodice. “There’s a giant wolf in here so don’t come in, Donner and Blitz are just getting rid of it.” She turns back to the wolf. “This is your last chance dog. Disappear now, or we’ll hunt you down and hand you back to Satan as a pelt.” The wolf’s eyes slowly shift from Hedy, to Donner, Blitz, and back again. Hedy raises an eyebrow and shakes her head but the wolf lunges at the two little dogs.

Blitz opens his mouth to bark. Lightning shoots from his jaws and the smell of ozone fills the air. Donner’s mouth opens and the roar of thunder hits the cursed cur like a solid wall of sound. It launches the astonished beast through the window’s opening and over the walls of the enclosed courtyard into the dark city.

“You can come in now Sister,” calls Hedy. “The wolf’s gone. Good boys,” she leans down and pets the dachshunds. Sister Adelbert enters dressed in her robe and tight fitting night cap.

“My goodness Frien van Sweiten, we’ve got to get this window blocked. All this rain will ruin your beautiful home.” She drags the heavy curtains across the opening and tries to keep them from billowing inward.

Hedy turns from her dressing table. “I expect the storm will calm now Sister. I think it was all for effect.” As Hedy speaks the curtains slowly stop billowing, the sound of the rain quiets. Sister pulls the heavy wool fabric to the side and peers through the gap.

“Yes, I believe you’re right, Frein van Sweiten. I’ll get this water cleaned up now and fetch the carpenters in the morning to have it repaired.” She looks up from the puddle. “Are you going out?”

“I’m afraid so,” Hedy replies. “Would you please fasten the buttons on the back of my dress. The boys and I have to find that wolf. I gave him the chance to go back to Hell on his own. Now, it looks like I’m going to have to deliver him to Satan in person.”

Hedy pulls her long braid to the side and Sister fastens her dress. “You think the wolf came from Hell?”

She nods her head. “Oh, I’m pretty certain of it Sister.” She sits and puts on a pair of ankle high black boots.

The nun bends and strokes the dogs. “You be safe my little puppies.” Donner and Blitz whimper softly and lick her fingers.

Hedy fastens her last boot, gathers a brown cloth bag, throws a blue hooded cloak over her shoulders and fastens it around her neck. “Come on boy’s. I want to catch that beast before he does anymore damage.” The little dachshunds walk away from the nun and heel at Hedy’s side.

“You take care Frein van Sweiten,” Sister directs. “You’re not invincible you know.”

“I know, Sister.” Hedy lights a candle from her bedside lamp and guides the dogs and nun through the dark house to the back door. “We should be back before dawn.”

“I’ll have this mess cleaned up and hot coffee and fresh rolls with butter when you get back. I’ll have breakfast for you puppies too.”

Hedy hands her the candle, opens the door and steps out into the night.

Sister watches from the doorway, candlelight flickering on her face. “God be with you, Frein van Sweiten.”

“Thank you, Sister. I promise we’ll be careful.” Hedy glances down at her dachshunds. “Ok boys, find that wolf.” The little dogs sniff the air, touch noses and run toward the courtyard’s open gate. Hedy pulls up the hood of her cloak and follows.

The downpour that foretold the wolf has slowed to a drizzle, and the wind calmed. Clouds race across the sky leaving gaps beams of moonlight burst through. Around her the city is quiet, and her mind wanders.

The angels are busy tonight. Angels swoop in like giant birds through the ocean of clouds. They perch on rooftops, and watch through windows as their charges sleep. Some soar skyward calmly guiding the newly deceased to their final judgement. While others, more or less drag souls to a reckoning with God that will surely lead to eternal damnation. Realizing to late they’ve wasted their lives.

To most fräulein, this would seem impossible. But to me it’s normal. Hedy thinks. It’s all I’ve ever known. How many 18 year old girls talk to God? Well, I guess anyone can talk to You, but how many do You answer back? She takes a few steps. And how many have a relic they wear around their neck that lets them see angels, or allows them to channel Your limitless power? It all started the day I was born with my Mother’s choice. Well, I guess I got to choose too. She sighs, and looks again at the cloudy sky and the angels watching over humanity. I’m definitely not a saint. . . I’m just the girl You chose to save the human race.

The howl of a wolf echos in the darkness. Donner and Blitz start to run. Here I go again. Hedy races after the dachshunds past the House Under the Blue Bottle, her favorite coffee house. She runs through Vienna’s shadowy, narrow, rain soaked streets until the buildings around her open up into a large square. At it’s end, Saint Stephan’s Cathedral, it’s patterned roof, and huge jutting South spire hi-lighted in shifting moonbeams.

Lucifer walks from the shadows followed by the wolf from Hedy’s room. “I’ve been waiting.” His tone is cold and unemotional. “I couldn’t have made it more obvious. What took you so long?”

Hedy walks toward him. Her footfalls echoing off the silent buildings. She drops her hood and studies him. “Venus as the morning star. That’s what *Pfarrer Schaaf says your name means. You’re still handsome, just like I remember.” Satan’s hair and eyes are jet black. His hair straight and fastened with a tie. His clothing perfectly tailored. All black, except for a blazing red brocaded waistcoat. Hedy matches his gaze. “But then again, looks are so superficial.”

“You on the other hand are just big boned and ugly.” Lucifer answers. He circles her and the dogs. “Yet what you did to Azazel… he was one of my most formidable demons. Still…”

Hedy pivots to keep him in view. “Why are you here? Why did you send that mutt to my house?”

Lucifer smiles. “To lead you away from it.” He flicks a finger and reality pulls away like a curtain revealing Sister Adelbert trussed and hanging head down over the cobblestones. “I wanted to get the dear sister here, and it was so much easier with you out of the house.”

Hedy rushes forward but Lucifer stops her with a glance. “You’re not dealing with a mere underling now you worthless bag of flesh.” He sneers. “Give it to me, or Sister goes to Hell for all eternity.”

Hedy knows there is only one thing he could mean. The relic. The conduit that allows her to channel the power of God. “You can’t do that,” she answers. “You may have dominion over Hell, but only God decides who’s sent there.”

“Then you’ll just have to stop me.” Lucifer twists his hand and Sister groans.

Hedy raises her arm. In the past she’s been able to direct waves of power and light to destroy evil, now there is nothing. She’s helpless. She looks down at Donner and Blitz, they’re as unmoving as statues. Sister vomits, her body convulses. God? Hedy asks silently, no reply.

“I can do more,” Lucifer threatens. Focusing his cold black eyes on Hedy.

“No.” Hedy shakes her head. “No more, but I can’t give you the relic. Me. Take me in Sister’s place. I beg you.” She drops to her knees on the wet stones and looks at him imploringly.

“You won’t give me the relic?”

Her head bows, “No…I can’t.”

Lucifer walks to her and unties her cloak. “Then I’ll just take it myself.” He reaches toward it’s chain and a spark leaps to his fingers. He jerks away and Hedy slowly raises her eyes.

Lucifer’s brow furrows. Hedy’s eyes are pulsing with energy. “Your eyes? What’s wrong with your eyes?”

“There’s nothing wrong with my eyes.” She looks up to the Heavens, I just got the answer I was waiting for.” Hedy jumps to her feet and twitches her index finger. Lucifer flys across the square. The demon wolf leaps, but Donner and Blitz open their mouths and attack with lightning and thunder. The wolf falls to the ground in a smoking a heap. Lucifer jumps to his feet, turns to Sister and twists his hand. The Nun screams. Hedy lifts her arm, and a dark chasm opens at Satan’s feet.

“You! How can you do this?” screams the Prince of Darkness.

Hedy points to the wolf, it disappears into the void. She focuses on Lucifer. “It’s not just me.” Hedy feels the relic pulse. “Now get back to Hell where you belong.”

The scowl on Lucifer’s face is fierce. “This isn’t the end!” he screams as he vanishes into the void.

Hedy flicks her finger and the opening in the earth is gone. She rushes to Sister and kneels beside her. “Are you alright?”

She peers at Hedy with tired eyes. “I’ll never get used to this Frein van Sweiten. First it was Azazel, now it’s Satan himself. It’s never dull around you is it?”

“I told you it would be this way.”

“I know.” Sister pauses. Hedy helps her to her feet. “It certainly makes the battle between good and evil real, doesn’t it?”

“Yes it does, Sister. Now let’s go home, I think I need a good strong cup of coffee.”

The End

*Pfarrer Schaaf- A Benedictine priest who’s also Hedy’s tutor and mentor.

The Other Dogs

By

Mark Ready

Emma woke from her nap into the silence that was her everyday life. She could see the dogs leap from their perches and run outside barking. Sometimes she followed, sometimes she just lay back down. She didn’t know their names, just their smells. But that was fine. She was content.

It hadn’t always been this way. In the beginning there was sound, and there was Vic and Sarah. They told her she was a good girl, and called fetch when they threw her ball. She loved to stand on Vic’s lap in the car. He rolled down the window on sunny days, she stuck her head out and let her ears flap in the wind. Smelling the world as Vic drove through it.

“Careful not to fall out,” he’d say, and brace her body with his arm. Vic would never let that happen, she trusted him. He was so big. A giant. So was Sarah, but they were gentle, and she knew they would never hurt her.

Emma knew something was different when they stopped taking her for walks. They looked tired, and Sarah quit sitting in her chair. She stayed in bed, and Vic cooked for her, and helped her walk to the bathroom. Emma knew she must stay out of the way, that Sarah could fall. So she did.

Sometimes, she would stand against Sarah’s bed and she would lift her so they could lay together. Or, she’d jump into Vic’s lap as he watched television. But it wasn’t the same.

One day Vic lifted her onto Sarah’s bed. Emma looked up into her face, it was different, and Sarah started crying. When she hugged her, her arms felt thin and weak. Emma tried to lick away her tears, but they just came faster. That was the last time she saw her. There were days after that, that strangers came to feed her. She was lonely.

It must have happened slowly. Emma didn’t notice at first. Her world was so small, the yard, her bed, sometimes Vic’s lap. He never drove the car anymore, and she never felt the wind in her face. Then one day everything was silent. It took Vic a while to realize. She saw his lips move and he lifted her into his arms and hugged and kissed her. After that it was gentle nudges if he wanted her to do something. But that was ok. She was just happy to be with him.

One day Vic opened the door to a lady. Emma picked up her ball and dropped it in front of her. The lady smiled and tossed it. She did this a few times and stroked her fur. Emma liked her. She came everyday and would toss the ball. One day she stayed. Men came with a bed, they moved Vic and Sarah’s chairs and put him into it. The lady let Emma sit with her. Sometimes, she’d let her lay with Vic, but all he did was sleep.

One day the lady had tears in her eyes. She hugged Emma, set her on Vic’s chest and stroked her. He felt funny. The lady cried, and Emma blinked. Men filled the room and Vic and the bed were gone. There was only the lady and her. Emma stayed with the lady a while, but it was different. Then the lady took her to another place. She hugged Emma, cried, and walked away.

Emma wasn’t scared, but she didn’t know anybody. There were other dogs. She learned their smells and slept on a blanket in a wire cage. After many days the cage was opened. She was carried to a grassy yard, there was a man and a lady, and another dog. Emma sniffed them, they petted her, and they threw the ball. They petted her some more, and the new lady lifted her up and hugged her and took her away. She let her sit on her lap as the man drove, but he didn’t roll down the window.

That was the last move she made. Emma could watch the dogs as they jumped off their perches and ran to bark in the backyard. She was tired most of the time. Her stomach hurt, and she couldn’t see like she used to. Emma still liked to go for rides, and the man let her stick her head out the window. She felt his arm brace her so she didn’t go too far. Her ears flapped in the wind, and she smelled the world as the man drove through it.

Emma walked through the doggy door into the backyard. She dreaded going to the bathroom. It was so painful, it made her shake, sometimes she vomited.

“Are you alright?”

Emma jumped. She hadn’t heard a voice in years. There was no one around her, and her nose told her there was nobody there. Uncertainty filled her as she walked back into the house and burrowed under the blankets. Food didn’t taste good anymore, and the lady took her to a building that smelled funny. Another lady poked her. Emma shivered, and watched the strange lady’s lips move. Her lady started to cry.

Even special food didn’t taste good, and going to the bathroom was painful. Emma heard the voices almost every time she went out to the backyard. There were three of them. They told her things would be ok. They told her they were waiting for her. The rest of the time Emma’s world was silent, and it grew smaller. Her bed, the water bowl and a few steps outside the doggy door.

Emma couldn’t get up. She wanted to, but her legs were too weak. The man petted her and cried. He left and came back with the lady. She cried too. Emma blinked as the world went by. She was in the car, but she couldn’t poke her head outside. The lady hugged her and stroked her fur. Then she was in the funny smelling building again. As she lay on a metal table, Emma heard the lady and man’s voices for the first time.

“We love you Emma,” they said. “Thank you for being such a good dog.” They patted her side.

Emma lifted her head and felt something poke her.

She opened her eyes and saw three dogs staring at her. “Hi Emma, do you remember us?”

“Not really, but I’ve heard your voices.” Emma looked around and noticed she was in the backyard. She saw the dogs from the house explode out the doggy door and bark at the fence.

She looked at the two red, and one black and tan dachshunds gathered around her. “Who are you?”

“We’re the other dogs.”

“The other dogs?” Emma repeated.

“Yes, you’re one of us now.”

“I’m one of you?”

They all nodded. “All dogs that are loved never go away. We just wait for our people to come and get us.” All three dachshunds turned to the gate.

Emma jumped to her feet and ran barking as Vic and Sarah walked into the backyard. She jumped into Vic’s arms, and he hugged and kissed her while Sarah stroked her fur.

“Look Emma,” Sarah pulled a ball from her pocket. “Come on girl. We’ve been waiting for you for such a long time. Let’s go play.”

The End

The Five Double Eagles

C7339207-02BD-4F4B-80F6-462BA8CF6C0AThe Third and final Chapter

The Yellow Guardians

By

Mark Ready

The secret hiding place was all anyone talked about. Could they find it? Were the coins still there? I almost felt like it was Christmas. You know, the anticipation you felt until you could finally open your presents. Miss Hannah was firm, work came first. There’d be no galavanting around looking for treasure during working hours.

Paul and I had to share a bed. An old bed that squeaked every time one of us shifted. He was also a bed hog. I got about a quarter of the mattress, and almost none of the covers. But every morning I got my revenge. At 6 o’clock sharp, Miss Hannah or Miss Anna stood at the bottom of the stairwell and banged on the bottom of a saucepan with a metal spoon.

I got up without a problem. So did my sisters next door. For Paul it was different. It was as if he were part of the bed, a Siamese twin that could only be separated by surgery. I loved to watch him. First his head left the pillow and he opened his eyes just a slit. He quickly shut them like it was a bad dream. When he opened them again he groaned. After that, resignation must have set in and he threw off the covers.

“Come on, its time to get up,” I always tried to sound cheerful because I knew it pi**ed him off. I also think not being able to have that first smoke of the day made it tough on him. “Hurry up and put on your overalls. Miss Hannah doesn’t like it when we’re late.”

I’m not sure if they ever slept, Miss Hannah and Miss Anna. Sam went to his room around 9 o’clock, but the sisters were awake when we went to bed, and awake when we got up. Plus, there was always a big breakfast waiting for us. Some days even fresh doughnuts. Paul didn’t walk into the kitchen, he more like stumbled looking mad at the world. We’d eat breakfast, then he and I would follow Sam outside and he’d line us out on our work for the day. This went on from early morning until dinner at noon, and then again until supper at 7 o’clock, everyday of the week, except Sunday.

We always went to church, Mom saw to that. Even dressed in my church clothes I felt out of place with the sisters and Sam. Miss Hannah and Miss Anna weren’t dressed in cotton print dresses today. Instead they both wore dresses like you’d see in the old movies they’d play on Saturday afternoons. They also wore pearls, white gloves and these little white doily-like things on their head.

Sam didn’t look anything like himself either. His black suit, white shirt and tie looked like something a shorter, fatter Humphrey Bogart might wear, and we took Papa’s car. I think they only drove it on Sundays, a gray 1947 Chrysler New Yorker. When Sam backed it out of it’s shed, the look of almost perpetual disinterest vanished from my brother’s face. I could tell it was love at first sight.

Sam drove with Paul and I in the front seat. Miss Hannah, Miss Anna, Mary and Ruth in the back. Paul even opened the backwards-opening rear doors like a chauffeur to let the ladies out at the church. I snuck a glance at him during Mass and couldn’t tell if he was having a religious experience, or thinking about the ride home. Anyway, after church was the first chance we had to look for Great Uncle Alphonse’s secret compartment.

Great Uncle Alphonse had never moved out of the family home. The fall from the horse had seen to that. Luckily, it was only a few miles away. Sam offered to drive us, but Paul said no. He’d decided since he was oldest, he was in charge. I think he just wanted to be able to smoke.

The lunch the sisters made for us took three people to carry. Mary packed the bag with the leftover roastbeef sandwiches. Ruth carried the cookies, cake and fruit for dessert , and I packed an old plastic bleach bottle full of water. Paul didn’t carry anything, but said he’d spell us if we got tired.

Grasshoppers crackled in the dry yellow grass of the roadside, and the air smelled of ripe grain. It was a beautiful day, blue sky and billowy white clouds. We walked on a gravel road, some of the gravel might have come from the old rock pit. All the while discussing the best place to look for the secret compartment. We were just starting up a shallow hill when we smelled them, flowers. When we crested the rise, we saw the old family home’s gray weathered boards and split cedar shakes almost entirely surrounded in green leaves and yellow blossoms. Roses, climbing yellow roses.

We walked up to where the front gate used to hang, and looked over the ramshackle wood and wire fence at the briar patch of thorns and flowers.

“It doesn’t look like we can get in this way.”said Paul. “I guess we should try walking around it and see if there’s anyplace we can get through.” We walked down the driveway and circled the old fence, but the rose vines were impassable. When we got back to where we’d started, all we had to show for our trouble was cheatgrass pokies in our socks.

“Even if we could get through those thorns, there’s no way we could get past the bees.” decided Paul. Bees hovered over almost every bloom, and the sound of their buzzing made us raise our voices when we spoke.

“I’m sure we could borrow loppers from Sam. I know he has them.” I said.

“Could we?” asked the twins.

“Bees,” Paul reminded.

“Oh yeah, bees,” the twins replied. They walked over and sat in the shade of a gnarled tree and were pulling off their socks. “At least we can eat our lunch,” Mary suggested.

“Yeah, we can have a picnic,” added Ruth.

I was hungry, but still disappointed. “Hey, Beekeepers use smoke to calm their bees. What if we built this big fire and made it real smoky ? Yeah, that might work.” I untied my shoe and took off my sock.

Paul grabbed a sandwich with mustard. “What about the wind? Oh, and the house is made of wood.”

“Yeah, that might be a problem…Wait a minute. We could come back in the Winter. Yeah, there are no bees in the Winter.”

Paul nodded, and looked at the rose covered building. “Well, that would work, but we’re only here for another week. I suppose if I had my drivers license I could come back in November.”

“November,” exclaimed Mary and Ruth.

We ate the food we’d brought and walked back to Sam and the Sisters.

Miss Anna heard us walk in and called out, “Did you find it?”

“No,” answered the twins.

I walked into the living room and found both Miss Hannah and Miss Anna dressed in their print dresses, sitting with their shoes off reading the Sunday paper. A gentle breeze wafted through the screen door, and it was silent except for the ticking of the mantel clock. Mary, Ruth and I sat down across from them on the sofa, while Paul settled on the hassock near their feet.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” she replied.

“We couldn’t even get near the house,” explained Paul. “It was surrounded by rose bushes and bees”

“Rose bushes and bees?” repeated Miss Hannah.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “There was no way we could get through them. Even if we cut the vines, there’s still the bees.”

She squinted her eyes and looked down at the newspaper. “The roses might actually be a good thing. If you couldn’t get in, probably nobody else could either.”

Paul nodded,”Yeah, I never thought about it that way.”

We spent the rest of Sunday afternoon goofing around. Mary, Ruth and I walked out to the rock pit and I think Paul took a nap.

The saucepan gong woke us as usual on Monday. This week we started picking the rest of the corn, digging potatoes and harvesting the remaining crookneck squash. Everything went as usual until we woke up on Saturday. This was our last full day at Pommerville, Mom and Dad were going to come and get us the next day. When we arrived down for breakfast, Miss Hannah, Miss Anna and Sam were all sitting around the table, something they didn’t normally do.

“What?” I asked.

Sam took a sip of coffee and replied. “We’ll wait to talk about it until everyone’s here.”

When Paul stumbled in a few minutes later he knew something was different because we were all staring at him.

“What?” He looked down at himself self-consciously.

Miss Hannah stood up from the table. She reminded me of my teacher Mrs. Rowland. “Children, you’re not going to work outside today because it’s raining.” I looked out the window. It was.

She had the same look on her face Mrs. Rowland had when she was going to tell us something important. “There’s something about rainy days you might not know.”

I felt my eyes narrow, and I wondered what I didn’t know about rainy days.

Miss Hannah looked at us silently for a few seconds and said. “Bees usually don’t fly in the rain.”

“They don’t?” we all answered.

Sam smiled. “I loaded the loppers, hedge trimmers, a garden rake and the pitchfork in the back of the pickup. After we eat, I’ll drive you over so you can look for Alphonse’s secret hiding place.”

We all thanked Miss Hannah and Sam for their help and quickly ate our breakfast. When we finished, Miss Anna cut holes for the twin’s heads and arms in large plastic garbage bags. She dressed them in their coats and slipped the bags over their heads. Paul and I dressed in her and Miss Hannah’s old gardening coats, gloves and wide brim straw hats. “Well you don’t look pretty,” acknowledged Miss Anna. “But at least you’ll be dry.”

Five people in the seat of the old red International pickup was a tight fit. Sam scrunched as close as he could to the door, and Mary and Ruth sat on Paul and my laps.

It was lucky we didn’t have to go very far. When we got there, Sam pulled into the rose covered house’s drive way and we all got out.

“Boy, I can sure see what you mean. It looks darn near impenetrable.” Sam unloaded the loppers and hedge trimmers and handed them to Paul and I. There were no bees just like Miss Hannah had said, so we went to where the old gate had hung and started cutting through the thorny branches. Mary and Ruth stood out of the rain under the same tree where we had eaten our lunch and watched. Paul and I cut away the vines until we couldn’t go forward any farther. Then Sam would use the pitchfork and clear away our cuttings so we could move forward again. We did this ten or eleven times until there was a clear path to the old house’s front door. As soon as Sam had scooped up the last of our clippings, Paul and I rushed forward.

“Whoa there fellows,” Sam called. “You better let me look inside before you go barging in there.” He walked to the dilapidated porch and tentatively put his weight on the bottom step. It sagged a bit but held. “Ok,” he said. “I don’t want to risk putting my weight on anything else. I don’t think the old wood can stand it.” He turned to Paul and I. “I think you two have the best chance to get in and out without falling through the floor.”

“Now,” he looked at us with a surprisingly stern expression. “Stay away from the centers of the rooms and around the windows. Their glass was broken out years ago and the floors under them are most likely rotten. Walk around the edges of the rooms and don’t walk in the middle of the stairway. Keep your weight near it’s edges, that’s probably where they’re the strongest.” He shook his head. “And please be careful.”

“We will,” Paul and I assured him.

As we took our first steps onto the sagging porch, the rain quit and sunlight shined down through a gap in the clouds. Was this some kind of sign? The door latch had been broken long ago, and the door just pushed open, dragging along the floor. Inside, water dripped from the ceiling, and plaster lay in clumps on the floor. While empty cans , food wrappers, cigarette packages and beer bottles looked like they’d just been tossed to the side once they were empty. There were also roses.

The rose vines had grown in through the broken windows. They snaked across the floor, and clung to the wood lath exposed by the rotting plaster, adding bursts of color to the moldy wood and decrepit interior.

“This is like one of those ruins you see in jungle movies.”

“Kind of,” Paul replied. “But I think we should hurry. The bees will probably come back now that the sun’s out.” He looked around the room. “I’m pretty sure Alphonse’s room would have been upstairs.”

“I think so too.”

We walked around the perimeter of the room and I immediately realized Sam had been right. The floor felt spongy enough at the edges, I couldn’t imagine what it was like in the middle. The stairway was easy to find, so we climbed it keeping our feet near the edges. There was trash upstairs too, just like in the room below, but the packages, cans and bottles looked old. Alphonse’s was the first room we entered. We could tell because his wallpaper patch was hanging halfway off its lath and plaster backing.

“I don’t think anyone’s ever opened it.” I said, “At least not recently.”

“Yeah, he probably had his nightstand in front of it.”

“Kind of like where you hide your cigarettes.”

Paul gave me a snotty look and tried to pry the cover loose by its edges, but it just fell apart in his fingers. He lifted the bits of plaster and wood out of the cavity revealing a rusty tin lined chamber. “They’re still here.” He brushed the soggy plaster aside and picked out the five silver dollar size gold coins and set them in the palm of his hand. The five Double Eagles.

“They look perfect,” Paul said, turning to me. “It seems almost unbelievable he slept next to these for years and never remembered they were there. I feel sad for him.”

“I do too.” We stared at the coins in silence.

“Are you boys alright?” Sam called from outside.

“Yeah, we’re fine,” I called back. “We’ll be out in a minute.”

Paul reached in and pulled out two barely recognizable magazines. One was Colliers the other National Geographic. “That Mr. Elliott was sure nice to give him those cows.”

“Steers,” I replied. “It’s too bad he never got to make that trip he dreamed of.”

“Yeah,” Paul agreed. “It doesn’t seem fair.” He handed me the rotted magazines. The Colliers Weekly was dated July 6th, 1912, and had a blue eagle with its wings spread over a light green box on its cover. It said something about a convention, I couldn’t read anything else. The National Geographic was totally mildewed and ruined. I tossed them both in the corner.

I thought we’d all be more excited that we found the coins, but even Mary and Ruth seemed quiet. Paul seemed especially reserved, and didn’t say a word all the way back to the house. Sam was the only one who spoke. “Aren’t you happy you found the secret hiding place, kids?” He took his eyes off the road and glanced down the seat at us. “I’m not sure what those coins are worth, but they must be worth something?”

Nobody answered until Mary said quietly.”I feel funny. Like we took something that doesn’t belong to us.”

Sam nodded his head. “You have a point there, Mary. Is that how you all feel?”

We all nodded.

“Ok then, as soon as I get back to the house I’m going to call Sophie.”

“Why are you going to call Aunt Sophie, Sam?” I asked.

“She’s Alphonse’s oldest living relative. We’ll tell her about the diary and the coins and see what she says.”

Aunt Sophie and Uncle Matt arrived in their old gray Chevrolet Impala. Aunt Sophie was a tall thin woman with glasses and a hair net. Uncle Matt was short, bald, always dressed in gray Dickies work clothes and smoked cigars. Mary, Ruth and I ran out to meet them.

“Hi Paul, hi Mary and Ruth.” Aunt Sophie put a rectangular baking pan with a warm unfrosted cake in my arms. She handed Mary a plastic tub of vanilla ice cream, and directed Ruth to guide Uncle Matt, who’d gone blind from Diabetes, into the house. She got a box tied with string from the backseat and walked with us.

Once everyone had said hello, and the cake and ice cream had been served, we showed Aunt Sophie Alphonse’s diary and the five Double Eagles.

“Oh my goodness. I never knew any of this about him.” She looked at the diary’s last entry again. “I never would have guessed, he was always just a quiet simple man when I knew him. Uncle George and Uncle Willie watched out for him.” She stared over our heads. “ He died when he was only 35. I have a picture of him if you’d like to see it?” She untied the string holding the box, and shifted through it until she pulled out an old black and white photo.

Three men sat on the top rail of a wooden fence. They were all dressed in work shirts, black trousers and straw hats. The two on the outside looked straight into the camera, but the one in the center was smiling. “That’s Uncle Alphonse,” she said. “The one in the middle. I think he died the year after that picture was taken.” Aunt Sophie handed it to Paul, he studied it for about thirty seconds and passed it to me.

So that’s what he looked like. Alphonse was shorter than his brothers and seemed to have lighter colored hair. He reminded me of the pictures I’d seen of my great-grandfather on his wedding day. I shook my head and passed the photo. Once everyone had a chance to see what he’d looked like, Aunt Sophie cleared her throat.

“Sam said you had something to tell me.”

Paul’s eyes shifted from Aunt Sophie’s face to ours. We all know what he was saying even though he never spoke. He piled the coins into a stack and slid them across the table like poker chips. “I think these belong to you.”

Aunt Sophie looked down at the stack of gold coins. “Why do you say that, Paul?”

“You’re Great Uncle Alphonse’s oldest living relative.”

She smiled and put her hand on the coins. She stroked them with her fingers like she’d rub the back of someone’s hand. I saw her eyes move to the diary and linger on it for a few seconds. Her head nodded, she sat up straight in the chair and she turned to us. She lifted a Double Eagle off the little pile and set it in front of Paul. Then she set one in front of me and each of my sisters. “Until you showed me his diary, I didn’t know my uncle dreamed of traveling the world.” Her expression changed, and she looked down at the lone Double Eagle in front of her. “He never realized his dreams, so now I’m giving them to you.” A tear ran down her cheek. “I don’t know if your dreams involve seeing Paris, or traveling the world. But whatever they are, please think of Alphonse when you finally realize them.

I wiped my eyes and noticed Mary and Ruth rubbing theirs. Even Paul’s eyes were watery. When I looked back at the coin I saw it differently than I had before, and knew I could never spend it.

“Aunt Sophie,” Paul asked. “What was Mr. Elliott’s first name?”

She crinkled her eyes, “I believe it was Clarence.”

“Is he buried in the Cemetery?”

“Not in the Catholic Cemetery, but he is in the one across the road from it. Why?”

Paul looked down at the gold coin. “I’d ahh, like to put some flowers on his and Great Uncle Alphonse’s graves. Roses, yellow roses from the house.”

Miss Hannah reached over and touched Paul’s arm, “I think that’s a wonderful idea Paul.” She turned to her brother. “Sam, do you think we can all fit in Papa’s car?

Sam looked around the table. “Well, it’ll be tight, but I think we can just manage it.”

THE END