Magic in the Mundane – Part 4 of “In a Pig’s Ear” – a Steemit Freewrite

Her. Jack wanted her to meet someone, and it was a her. Sarah pocketed her phone and watched as two figures skate-walked toward her through the snow and ice that would never stop a northerner or a Derby goer.

What the–

The little blonde from Register Six!


“Mom, meet Suzi,”

he said. Her hand hovered in the air but Sarah could only see her eyes. Those arresting, unforgettable eyes, pale blue with a dark ring around the iris. Layne knew the terminology for it. “What makes a pretty blue-eyed blonde even prettier,” he said, “is the limbal ring. It’s completely unconscious, the way we all judge one face more attractive than another.”


Suzi wasn’t shy.

When Sarah failed to extend her hand, Suzi gave her a quick hug and big smile. It quickly faded as she said, “I’m so sorry about Layne. He did so many little things to cheer me up after my mom died. I just can’t even begin to put it all into words.”

Jack draped an arm around Suzi. “You know the story Mom. The woman who fell off her bicycle…?”

Layne the brain surgeon had a million stories. Sarah just shook her head.

“Mom was such a fitness fanatic. One day someone found her on the bike trail, face down, and Mom had no idea what she hit. Just that an impact had sent her through the air and–” Suzi caught herself. “Oh God. I’m sorry.”

Layne and Rocko had gone airborne when that texter rear-ended the old Dodge. “Go on,” Sarah said. “I’m a farm girl. And an E.R. nurse. You don’t have to worry about triggering a meltdown.”

Suzi’s small sigh clouded the air like smoke. She continued: “Mom dusted herself and rode home, showed us her scraped elbows and knees, and said she was fine but for a bruised ego. And we believed her. Until she lapsed into a coma right before dinner. Layne was on call that night. A blood clot had formed in Mom’s brain. She died before they could start surgery. Subdural hematoma.”

Suzi’s sentences fell like hammer blows. Her voice was calm and neutral but the pain that edged her words was all too familiar.

“Dad recognized her years later when he came in with Rocko. Said he’d know those eyes anywhere,” Jack added.

“He had a photographic memory,” Sarah said. “See a face even once, and he’d remember the name and the place and time of day and an hour-long story to go with it. Funny. He couldn’t seem to remember that he’d told us the same story a hundred times already.”

“Or maybe he didn’t trust us to remember his stories, so he kept repeating them.” Jack always made excuses for his dad.

It was possible Layne had mentioned the story of the blonde at Register Six while Sarah was doing dishes or chopping wood or feeding dogs, and she’d tuned it out.

“He was so bright and so full of fun,” Suzi said. “No matter how bitterly cold or stinking hot and humid it was, no matter how long the line at the register, he would just smile and strike up conversations with strangers, and leave a kind word to anyone. If a clerk was grouchy, he’d go out of his way to be nice. He could get old Edna Schneider laughing and smiling. Now that takes a special kind of magic.”

Finding magic in the mundane.

That was it. That was how a wacky, zany, impulsive, reckless big spender like Layne Davis had conquered the heart of Sarah Savage.

She turned her gaze to Jack. Their only son, just as her brother Jack had been the only son, and there was so much of him in the nephew he never lived to see. There was a lot of Layne in that boy too, but a mother can see the good in her son and turn a blind eye to any shortcomings. For some reason, a husband’s shortcomings were far too easy to see, while the good was harder to remember.

“It was by her eyes I found her here,” Jack said. “Dad had described them well, plus he’d fronted her the money for that butt-ugly brown Fairlane.” He waved a hand toward a derby car. “She was all over Kevin Klunder’s 1979 Monte Carlo. Hell, I wanted to buy it and restore it, but he wants to smash it.”

“Bad memories of an old girlfriend who cheated on him in the back seat of that car,” Suzi said.

Ahh. And that was the magic of the derby. Mostly it was just simple fun, but for too many of the drivers, it was therapy. Better than a thousand dollars an hour for a shrink.

Suzi was a derby driver.

Layne had “fronted” her the money to be here. Typical Layne. He’d never ask to be repaid, even after fronting the tuition for students who were about to drop out of two-year programs for lack of funds.

“It don’t have to cost twenty grand for a derby car,” Suzi said. “Jack is old school. Says you might see us spewing smoke and dragging broken parts around the arena, but we’re in the arena, dammit, and we’re gonna kick ass.”

Dented cars, dented hearts. Sarah extended her hand to Suzi.

“Welcome to our world.”


Day 482: 5 Minute Freewrite: Thursday – Prompt: magical realism

a style of painting and literature in which fantastic or imaginary and often unsettling images or events are depicted in a sharply detailed, realistic manner. —

Magical Realism

We recognize the world, although now–not only because we have emerged from a dream–we look on it with new eyes. We are offered a new style that is thoroughly of this world, that celebrates the mundane. This new world of objects is still alien to the current idea of Realism. It employs various techniques that endow all things with a deeper meaning and reveal mysteries that always threaten the secure tranquility of simple and ingenuous things. This [art offers a] calm admiration of the magic of being, of the discovery that things already have their own faces, [this] means that the ground in which the most diverse ideas in the world can take root has been reconquered–albeit in new ways. For the new art it is a question of representing before our eyes, in an intuitive way, the fact, the interior figure, of the exterior world. (Franz Roh, Magic Realism: Post-Expressionism (1925).Magical Realism. Ed. L. P. Zamora and W. B. Faris. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. p. 15-32.)

Part 4 was inspired by this news item:
  and this:

“The limbal ring is well-named. Limbis means border or edge, and it’s related to limbic, meaning emotion or drives. The limbal ring, seen from inches away, is an intimacy zone. Don’t flirt until you see the whites of their eyes.”
How Big Is Your Limbal Ring? | Psychology Today

And of course THIS – the daily freewrite prompt at Steemit!

Check Out The @FreeWriteHouse Prompt Of The Day By @MarianneWest


Part 1 – In a Pig’s Ear – Day 478: 5 Minute Freewrite: Sunday – Prompt: pig’s ear

Part 2 – Pineapple Finials- Day 480: 5 Minute Freewrite: Tuesday – Prompt: pineapple

Part 3 – “Live. Love. Smash.” – Day 481: 5 Minute Freewrite: Wednesday – Prompt: sound of sirens

Part 4 – Magic in the Mundane – Part 4 of “In a Pig’s Ear” – Day 482: 5 Minute Freewrite: Thursday – Prompt: magical realism

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Live. Love. Smash.” – a Steemit Freewrite, Part 3 of In a Pig’s Ear

What kind of people live for a Demolition Derby?

Rude barbarians and helmeted gladiators, Huns and Vikings were only yesterday on the scale of human history, so the urge to slash and burn boiled strong in the gene pool. The controlled violence of football and hockey served as some kind of safety valve, but the Demolition Derby filled a void like no other. While preachers and teachers urged a life of nonviolence and civilized conduct, rednecks and brutes might need a million years to internalize it. You could take the man out of the fight, but you couldn’t take the fight out of man. Or woman.


“Live. Love. Laugh. Smash.”

source: Jackson Forderer, Mankato Free Press

She hadn’t planned to start playing crash-cars

with her son again, but then, she hadn’t planned to have the sound of sirens transmogrify her life. One minute her husband was off on a mission to get Rocko more pig’s ears, code for I’ma gonna go flirt with the blonde at Register Six, and the next minute he was dead. Part of her died with him. Until Jack pulled a fast one on her. Only say the word and I shall be healed. Their son, like Jesus saying “Lazarus, come forth,” had said “Derby,” Winter Slam Demolition Derby, to be precise, and she was transfigured.

They weren’t here for the money.

Gunning their engines, unleashing a deafening noise that drowned out the roar of the crowd, they lived for a blood sport of gasoline, oil, and metal. It drowned out the sound of sirens, the horrid strains of “Amazing Grace” and the fumes of funeral flowers.

   Sarah Savage rose from the dead. She raised old cars from the dead–at least long enough to give them one last ride to hell–and it was good.

Until Jack texted her Mom there’s someone I’ve been wanting you to meet.

Her. He wanted her to meet someone, and it was a her. This was interesting. Sarah pocketed her phone and watched as two figures skate-walked toward her through the snow and ice that would never stop a northerner or a Derby goer.

What the–


The little blonde from Register Six!

To be continued…

Part Three: “Live. Love. Smash.” – a Steemit Freewrite, Part 3 of In a Pig’s Ear

Check Out The @FreeWriteHouse Prompt Of The Day By @MarianneWest

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Pineapple Finials” – a Steemit Freewrite and sequel to “In a Pig’s Ear”

Pineapple Finials- Day 480: 5 Minute Freewrite: Tuesday – Prompt: pineapple

*my daughter’s old walnut four-poster  | carolkean  in freewrite

Her husband was dead

and she couldn’t sleep in their room, not with his old faded Levis piled under those leather boots leaning like the Tower of Pisa against the giant ceramic pot of his ludicrous avocado tree, not with the scent of Irish Spring soap still emanating from the master bath, not with the little Caspar dog bed Rocko had loved lying empty by the floor-to-ceiling window.

So she slept in the bed her parents and grandparents had used, the one with the bedposts that terrified her all through childhood. They looked like spears wielded by cannibals who ate missionaries. Not until she met Layne did she learn that this solid walnut bed was hand-carved into pineapples at the “finials.” She only knew the wood had darkened to ebony over the years, and the bed was smaller than a full size but larger than a twin, which made it twice the price for a custom mattress.

Pineapples and finials. The words Layne knew! “Dad just has to show off,” the kids would say. “Nobody says pylon when they could say orange traffic cone.” Well, call her a nobody. She said pylon, but Millennials were woefully uneducated. They knew this much: Never challenge Layne Davis at Scrabble. Every crazy word he came up with turned out to be a legitimate science term that appeared in the dictionary.

Never again would she lose a Scrabble game to him. Or an argument. One minute he was here, annoying and presumptuous as always. An hour later, half a mile from their front door, he was dead in a ditch.

Accidents happen closest to home, people say, as if “home” is dangerous. No. Statistically, drivers are near home more often than any destination, so it only stands to reason that…

Her brain froze up. She tried again.

The car starts out from and returns to the same spot no matter where the driver is heading, so, duh. It was just numbers, not fate, not some Twilight Zone vibe marking HOME as the scene of most fatalities. The riskiest room in the house was not the kitchen but the bathroom. As an E.R. nurse she knew a quarter of a million people a year visited emergency rooms because of injuries suffered while bathing or showering, and fourteen percent occurred while using the toilet.

The toilet! People actually suffered ambulance-worthy injuries while using the toilet!

So for Layne to drive off in her dad’s old Dodge and get rear-ended and killed was really not such a terrible surprise. Stranger things happened all the time. He was a brain surgeon; he’d drilled holes into the skulls of many a crash victim to relieve pressure and swelling. His friend Bill might have had at him with that drill had Layne not died before the texting idiot who’d killed him could summon 9-1-1.


The voice startled her even more than the figure at the door. Jack. So much like his father but also like his namesake, the uncle he never got to meet.

Normally she’d bounce up and greet him with a hug, but normally, he wasn’t watching her like she was a grenade that might go off. “You were just here two weeks ago,” she said. “You don’t have to check on me in person, you know.”

He shrugged. “I just fed the dogs.” Then he looked at her as if awaiting a reply, or a dawning realization.

Had she forgotten to feed the dogs? No. No. She was not that far gone. But she hadn’t heard him pull in. Hadn’t registered the chorus of joyous yipping that always heralded Jack’s arrival.

“You know, that bed isn’t as ugly as I remember,” Jack said. “The granny quilt with the flowers can go any decade now, but the bed. It’s really something. Solid walnut!”

Big yellow poppies wound their way up the old bedspread, looking a little faded nowadays, not as cheery and bright as they did when Sarah’s brother bought it for their mom one Christmas. As if they didn’t have enough quilts made from old work shirts and scraps from hand-sewn dresses, Mom scolded him. Jack Savage was dead of a burst appendix before Mom could get to the return lane with a bedspread that suddenly became priceless to her.

“Mom.” Her son’s voice brought her back to the land of the living. “Didn’t Dad try to get you to sell this bed?”

“He tried. Yes.” She finger-tipped some dust off a finial. “Columbus brought the first pineapple to Spain from Guadalupe. New England sea captains marked a safe return voyage with ripe pineapples impaled in fence posts outside their homes.” A sigh escaped her. “I don’t suppose pineapple finials would have increased the odds of your father coming home safe with Rocko from his little trip to the store.”

The girls would be rolling their eyes at her or making snide remarks at her history lesson, but Jack was so patient. She had to give him that. He was here to insist that she leave the house and get out of her rut, and he knew she knew that, but at least he wasn’t so obvious and so in-your-face about it. Abby and Mandy just never let up on her.

“I didn’t come here just to check on you, Mom.” He shifted his feet, looking tall in his faded Levis and buff in his white T-shirt that fit loose at the waist, tight in the arms and chest. “I came to see if you wanna watch me at the Demolition Derby.”

“You? In a derby?” Her breath quickened.

“Me.” He cracked a smile. His eyes lit up the way Layne’s did at the Chicago car show every February.

Jack knew her soft spot. He knew she had been Sarah Savage, queen of the Demolition Derby, before she became a good Queen Mum to a prince and two spoiled princesses.

Her mind raced, considering what he might be driving in a derby.

“You didn’t get that old Chevy Impala running again!” she said in the same scoffing tone her dad had always used on her when she did something unbelievable.

“I did indeed.”

A vision of the old Dodge rammed from behind, an image of Rocko airborne, then releasing his last sigh: Was she up for this?

God, it would feel good to smash something.

That was her go-to after she lost her brother.

Sarah unclenched her fists and pulled herself to her feet. This was what the Savage family had done for three generations in this old house: both feet on the floor. One foot ahead of the other. Her parents had buried their only son; her mom had lived another twenty-five years after burying her husband. Sarah would go on too because that’s what people do.

One step at a time.


Day 480: 5 Minute Freewrite: Tuesday – Prompt: pineapple

We have an antique bed with pineapple filials, but you all know me. I had to see what was up with pineapple designs showing up in antiques and the doilies my mom used to crochet. The hard, prickly pineapple used to symbolize a home’s warmth and hospitality. Pineapple motifs were carved into wood bedposts and entry doors, window frames, shutters and stair risers, and stenciled onto walls, floors, and ceilings. source

My mother has a pineapple doily pattern,

and I am in awe of her spider-like talent for taking a stick and a string, counting the loops on and off the hook, and creating things like this while watching TV:


Check Out The @FreeWriteHouse Prompt Of The Day By @MarianneWest

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“In a Pig’s Ear” – Steemit Freewrite

“I’m heading out for some pig’s ears,” he said.

“In a pig’s ear, you are,” she muttered.

Sure, he was going to the store for pig’s ears. He drove to the Farm and Fleet with the flimsiest of excuses, the flimsiest being that Rocko loved going there. “Leashed dogs are welcome to join their owners in both the store and the auto service area,” the signs proclaimed.

He was going there to flirt with that little blonde at Register Six.

A brain surgeon and his mutt, Bismark’s dynamic duo. The money he pumped into the local economy was what made him so popular, but he was too full of himself to see that.


Never trust a city boy who drives a big pickup–all country people knew that–but even as a college student, Layne Davis owned a 1981 Harley and an Omaha Orange 1969 Plymouth Road Runner and a sailboat he raced back where he’d come from, so he wasn’t a poser and he was no ordinary city boy. He loved the throaty roar and the adrenalin rush of a powerful engine as much as she did, the big difference being he could afford not just the wheels but the gas, while she scrimped and saved for every hour at the track or on the road in cars she restored herself.

She had been an 18-year-old LPN the first time he saw her, Sara Savage, kicking ass at a demolition derby. She had duly shunned him for being a city boy with a big Ford-150 on oversized wheels, but the more emphatically she told that city boy to get lost, the more he pursued her.


For ten years.

“I could have any girl I want,” he’d kept telling her, and it was true. All those college girls flocking around him were majoring in Pre-Wed.

“Go pick one of ’em, then, and leave me alone,” she’d say.

But he was boyishly cute, pesky as a stray dog, book-smart and common-sense stupid. He vowed he would never marry unless it was to Sara Savage, the “little piston,” the only gal who’d ever captured his heart.

“Unequally yoked.” Dad had waxed Biblical and ordered her to steer clear of Layne, and she did, until Dad died of a stroke, Mom rented out the farmhouse and moved to town, and Sarah finally said yes to Layne the brain surgeon.

She gave up stock-car racing and demolition derby and set a good example for the kids. With every new gray hair she grew wiser, while he just got younger at heart and stupider. His energy and enthusiasm, his sense of adventure, were undiminished. He couldn’t see the effect of gravity on his face or his male pattern baldness, a big shiny spot on the back of his head that made him easy to identify in a crowd. In the mirror and in his mind he was forever twenty. Call it Arrested Development, Peter Pan syndrome, or just plain immaturity; just don’t call it cute. His charm had worn thinner than his bank account. Layne would have had her sell the farm to pay his debts but her dad apparently saw that one coming and added an iron-clad clause in his will that the land was never to be sold.

When the kids grew up and left home, she wanted to move back to North Dakota. With or without him. Layne did her the favor of taking a big new job in Bismark, becoming the head honcho of St. Alexius, “serving residents of central and western North Dakota, northern South Dakota and eastern Montana since 1885.” Of course those gambling debts she found out about later had nothing to do with him taking the new job, nor his getting fired from that gambler’s anonymous committee Allen Hospital had put him in charge of.

In a pig’s ear, he took that job in Bismark just for her.

Like fighter pilots, doctors were a breed apart, guys who lived hard and dangerous and on the edge. By now he should have had a mid-life crisis and dumped her for a trophy bride, but Layne apparently liked fast engines better than fast women. He squandered a hundred-grand on a Mazda Miata and called it her Christmas present, but she called him an idiot and showed him the bank statements.

Brain surgeon. A million dollars a year, but taxes ate up half of it, and he managed to go into debt with all his toys and vacations and buying the kids whatever they wanted. Spoiled ’em all, and made her out to be the kill-joy who’d deny them unlimited credit-card access.

Sarah had the rescue dogs and the farmhouse and her father’s land, his father’s and grandfather’s before him. Some foolish young woman could have Layne–and all his debt too. Their debt. At least her dad had seen to it she wouldn’t lose everything to the man who stole her heart.

She watched him peel off in a cloud of dust

with Rocko riding shot-gun, head hanging out the window, nose quivering at all the awesome smells he was heading to. Instead of taking the Silverado, he drove off in her dad’s old black 1959 Dodge pickup. She shook her fist at him as he peeled out–he had plenty of his own toys to drive–but old engines did need some good road miles to keep them running well, so there was that.

Somewhere down the road, with the kids safely raised to adulthood and sent from the nest, that awful sound of sirens

within earshot of home had finally stopped putting the fear of God in her soul. She never broke the habit of offering up a prayer for whoever was in need of those sirens, but after so many years she’d forgotten that one of these days, it could be a loved one of her own.

Rocko. Oh Rocko.

The Dodge was fixable, but Rocko was not. A cattle-dog mix, the best little mutt she’d ever taken in, the one dog she’d loved most, and God knows she loved all the strays and rescues like children.

Layne didn’t suffer. Not more than a few seconds, they said.

A bag of pig’s ears had flown out the window along with Rocko. Some idiot news reporter photographed that “telling detail,” with lame-ass quotes from the blonde at Register Six. “Layne was a regular,” brimming with life; who could have imagined that it would all end a few minutes after she rang up the bag of pig’s ears for that man and his cute little dog. Some 30-year-old guy had been texting when he rear-ended the Dodge. There went a brilliant brain surgeon and a good dog. “Gone! In the wink of an eye!” she said, feeding the media with the nauseating cliches they sought.

The texter got ten years for unintentional manslaughter but it didn’t matter. “Serving time” behind bars would never bring back that sixty-year-old boy and his dog. She still caught a glimpse of at times, a smiling sixty-year-old boy, and Rocko would flash around a corner in his wake, and she’d blink, only to find nothing but tears in her eyes.

“You wouldn’t miss him so bad if you’d get out more and try meeting people,” their daughters kept telling her.

In a pig’s ear, she wouldn’t.


Day 478: 5 Minute Freewrite: Sunday – Prompt: pig’s ear

Check Out The @FreeWriteHouse Prompt Of The Day By @MarianneWest

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Meet Me In the Limelight – a Steemit freewrite

Meet Me In the Limelight by Carol Kean

Day 461: 5 Minute Freewrite: Thursday – Prompt: in the limelight


Meet me in the Limelight,

he said, and there was a lot of background noise, so I when I asked where the hell that was and what the hell he meant by it, it sounded like he said the castle, and I knew Harley was stoned out of his gourd. Musicians.

Sure he was cute. That long, unruly hair and little-boy mischief in his eyes and the slender build all those underfed rock stars had. And young jazz musicians like Harley, all sinewy arms and long, strong fingers from plucking that bass.

Q: What do you call a musician without a girlfriend?

A: Homeless.

It was an old joke but a good one.

Sure, meet him in the limelight, give him another chance. He’d stopped squatting a long time ago and had a nice carriage house with five other musicians now, but that wasn’t the point.

The cordless phone was still in my hand. I walked it back to the kitchen and caught myself gently putting it back like I was putting a child to bed. And that’s all Harley McSweeney was. A boy who’d never grow up.

The little black dress would be just right for my date. The staple of every smart woman’s wardrobe. How to accessorize tonight? A cold, wet wind from Lake Michigan and a drizzle of rain out my brownstone window decided me. Heels, yes, but not sandals. Silver, gold, faux pearls? Jared was an architect, into the Old World look. I settled on Grandma’s rhinestone necklace and earrings and her wool cape with the mink collar. The PETA activists would have me stoned, but the minks were already dead, and so was Grandma, and the cape still looked regal.

Jared was already there, waiting at the cafe,

and I got there a minute before seven. So punctual! So much better than Harley’s chronic lateness. His wardrobe was spotless and new but never as awesome as Harley’s.

Harley. He could wear any out-of -find from a consignment shop and it would look amazing on him. Tall, with high cheekbones, and that underfed musician slenderness, he could have made his fortune as a fashion model. In high school people would ask him where he got that incredible paisley shirt or those white leather shoes and those mind-blowing tight purple pants. Grandpa’s Closet, he’d say. Where’s that? Ha. When Harley’s distinguished grandpa died, Harley was the only grandson who fit all those nice clothes. At school, others tried to copy his look but nobody else could pull it off like Harley did.

Everyone said we were the couple most likely to marry from St. Francis High, Harley with his elegant musician look, me with the vintage film star look, thanks to my grandma. Harley got a degree in music; I got a degree in marketing along with art, and I had a real job at an art gallery. Which is where I met Jared.

Jared had money to buy his own dinner. And mine. He insisted on paying everything, even the tip.

On our way out we passed a skinny guy playing a sax under the canopy, out of the drizzle of Chicago in almost-October. I stopped and tugged Jared’s sleeve even though he hated jazz. And buskers. Anyone blocking his path on the sidewalks hoping for coins and dollar bills in their instrument cases had best stay out of Jared’s way.

I tossed a dollar into the man’s sax case. He’d just finished something I didn’t recognize, probably an original composition, because Harley had dragged me to so many jazz gigs, I knew the “Fake Book” meant The Real Book and I knew all the jazz standards in it, to the point I could recognize them even during some of the wilder improvs. Harley once had a very well known trumpeter play Happy Birthday for me when I turned sixteen and I didn’t even recognize it as Happy Birthday. That’s how improvisational these guys get, and the more seasoned they are, the more liberties they take.

“Thank you,” the sax player said.

Jared stared ostentatiously at his ostentatious watch.

“You’re really talented,” I said, squaring my shoulders as Jared took his turn tugging my sleeve. Er, cape. “I’ll bet you know of a young jazz bassist named Harley. He’s jammed all over Chicago with some of the last of the old gang who played with Miles Davis and all them.”

The man tipped his head back and laughed, his teeth straight and white, his dark skin glistening with that mist. “Oh, do I know Harley. He’s going places. Fact, he scored a gig at the new Limelight.”

Miles at 25, photo by his mother

Jared yanked, and I gave him the snake-eye. “Hold on. Did you just say the Limelight?”

“Yes Ma’am. Night club that started in Florida, with spin-offs in London and Atlanta and New York. Now us!”

“It’s in the old Chicago Historical Society building,” Jared said. “Looks like a castle. On the corner of Dearborn and Ontario.”

“Ooh, I’d love to see!”

Jared went stiff. He knew about Harley. Hell, everyone knew about Harley. Most of the CDs I played were songs Harley burned at home after recording himself on some multi-track system he bought from the estate sale of a dead musician.

Meet me in the limelight, Harley had said with his usual calm, but I’d heard the sweet, hopeful note of cajoling in his voice and those undertones of vulnerable little boy, and I wasn’t falling for that again.

So I had told myself a thousand times before.

“I have tickets to the game,” Jared reminded me. The pissy look on his face and the way tried to dress but fell short and the way he showed off his watch and his ability to pick up the tab–suddenly I couldn’t fathom another minute with him.

Not when Harley was a cab ride away in a castle in the limelight.

“Jared, go on ahead without me. You can scalp my ticket on the sidewalk.” On impulse, I fished a five from my vintage clutch purse and tucked it into the sax player’s shirt pocket. “Thank you for the tip,” I said.

A cab slowed down for a red light. The rain-wet streets glistened and a chorus of tires made that awesome sound you only hear in cities. The sax player took up a familiar melody, “September In The Rain.”

“Hannah!” Jared shouted as I hailed the cab, got in and shut the door. He slapped the window. “Hannah. Seriously?”

“Seriously, thanks for dinner, Jared!”

“Where to?” the cab driver said with an easy smile and all the time in the world.

“The Limelight.”


Check Out The @FreeWriteHouse Prompt Of The Day By @MarianneWest

Hi carolkean,

This post has been upvoted by the Curie community curation project and associated vote trail as exceptional content (human curated and reviewed). Have a great day 🙂
Visit or join the Curie Discord community to learn more.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

But Never Jam Today – a Steemit Freewrite

“But Never Jam Today” – Day 473: 5 Minute Freewrite: Tuesday – Prompt: jam tomorrow


“Let’s jam tomorrow,”

he texted me. I would have pretended not to get the message but we both had iPhones and he’d see that I saw that he wrote. Damn.

“The Music Lab is right off the Brown Line, so I don’t have to lug my gear across town to peel the paint off the walls,” he texted.

I could see him now. Probably while lilting down Michigan Avenue with a song on his headset, dreamily taking in the scene and hearing new beats in his head and thinking up new lyrics after seeing a girl on a bicycle in the rain.

Oh, Lionel.

What were the chances I’d drag my ass to Lincoln Avenue tomorrow and find him there, on time, or at all?

He was so easy to love and so hard to endure. I met Lionel in middle school, that tender age when we are so insecure and concerned about appearances. Being self-conscious, though, would have required some level of thought that Lionel didn’t aspire to. His mental energy went to music and not much else, until, girls.

Oh Lionel. It was the biggest band concert of the year, with all parents and siblings in attendance. The band was about to begin. Except, no drummer. The principal got on the loudspeaker. “Lionel Davis.” Yeah, that was his real name, a tip o’ the hat to his dad’s favorite musicians. “Lionel Davis, the band is about to play.”

Tense silence punctuated by Mr. Blackman’s repeated Lionel. Earth to Lionel which went for what felt like three minutes. Suddenly from the top of the bleachers a tall, skinny silhouette stood up and stepped lightly down the steep, crowded risers, then sauntered casually to the drums, sat on the throne and picked up his sticks. The evil eye from Mrs. Haydn bounced like oil off a hot Teflon skillet as Lionel started playing on cue. He was flawless. He was not the least bit embarrassed or apologetic; he just went to those drums as if he hadn’t been chatting up the girls, oblivious to the obvious. What kind of parents manage to send out into the world a kid so imperturbable, so talented, and so maddening?

Lionel had the calm of the Buddha and it wasn’t from smoking weed. He was born laid-back, like his dad, but his dad was a scientist with a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday gig at the same laboratory for his entire working career, designing acoustical stuff. Lionel’s mom on the other hand was a scatter-brained poet-fiddler-artist who proved that opposites attract.

Any musical instrument he touched, Lionel could play. Guitar, bass, violin, jazz flute, any wooden instrument, any silver or gold or brass, would respond to the touch of Lionel’s lips, Lionel’s fingers.

A hundred million times, people would get homicidally angry with Lionel, yet the minute anyone blew up at him, he would calmly look black, blink, and shrug with that little smile that stopped anger dead in its tracks.

He had to be a ghost,

we figured, the way he’d drift from place to place, with that silent glide he had, that hint of a smile, like the Cheshire cat who left his grin behind on the tree branch. Call me Alice. Ok, call me Alicia, my real name, but hanging out with Lionel was often like living in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.

Some time after college, ghosting became a verb, and if it was in the dictionary, Lionel’s picture would be next to it. If you think Lionel ever ghosted someone and said “Sorry,” you don’t know Lionel. I asked my therapist about it back in my “Life Without Lionel Isn’t Living” phase. She said it only makes the injured party feel more aggravated or trespassed against when the trespasser says “Sorry,” but I honestly couldn’t believe Lionel even registered the fact that he’d trespassed against someone and owed that person an explanation or an apology. His mind was probably so caught up in his latest composition, there was no room in his brilliant brain for such trivialities as people who relied on clocks and calendars to go places in life.

It wasn’t just me,

Alicia, the girl who’d crushed on Lionel since Day One of middle school. Everyone was an equal-opportunity victim of Lionel’s head-in-a-cloud ways. If the prime minister of England scheduled a meeting with Lionel, it’d take security guards to follow him and make sure he would really show up. If Miles Davis or Lionel Richie had ever booked a jam session with Lionel, chances are, our guy actually would have shown up, but not on time. How he survived in a city the size of Chicago was a mystery more puzzling than crop circles and the pyramids of Egypt.

No one ever seemed to know where he was,

and he was never where he was supposed to be. Phone messages? His inbox was always full.

And then you’d get a call from him after midnight telling you it wasn’t too late to catch him jamming at the Green Mill with a rising star like Matt Ulery, or some old guy who used to be a studio musician for Nat King Cole and who played on all these famous albums everyone in the world hears without ever knowing who did the instrumentals.

My phone went off. One of Lionel’s tunes, of course. I picked up. “Hey.”

“A-liiiiii-cia.” That lilt in his voice was as distinctive as the lilt in his walk. He always sounded pleasantly surprised.

The shock of hearing Lionel in real time was like seeing a freight train bear down on your stalled car on the railroad tracks and your life flashes before your eyes. I steeled my nerves.

“Look Lionel,” I said, “it’s after midnight and I have an actual day job to get to tomorrow, and I’m not packing my sax to get on the Brownline and wait for you to show up at The Music Lab only to get ghosted again. Sorry.”

“I’d love to see you,” he said calmly. “I’ll be there at six. It’d be great to jam with you again.”

Ghosting him yourself had no effect on him whatsoever. I’m not the only one who’s tried. He could face down a tornado without flinching. How did he even know I’d moved to Chicago? I gave up social media long before those Russian hackers allegedly dug in.

Fact was, tomorrow would be Friday, and I had nothing better in my social calendar.

I programmed The Music Label into my phone calendar.

Lionel. Oh, Lionel.

Like Charlie Brown and Lucy’s football, I would never learn.


Jam tomorrow

Jam tomorrow or jam to-morrow (older spelling) is an expression for a never-fulfilled promise. It originates from Lewis Carroll’s 1871 book Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, in which the White Queen offers Alice ‘jam to-morrow’…

‘The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.’

*Story location inspired by Cameron‘s review of The Music Lab

Why People Ghost — and How to Get Over It by By Adam Popescu inspired “Lionel”

Day 473: 5 Minute Freewrite: Tuesday – Prompt: jam tomorrow

Prompt: jam tomorrow
Set your timer for 5 minutes
Start writing
Use the hashtag #freewrite and #freewritepoetry if it turns out to be poetry
Publish your piece (include a link to this post if you wish)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Token Irishman – a Steemit Freewrite

Miles Collage

Day 474: 5 Minute Freewrite: Wednesday – Prompt: token

Tokenism is the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to be inclusive to members of minority groups, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of racial or sexual equality within a workforce. Tokenism – Wikipedia


“The Token Irishman” by Carol Kean  photo collage by Miles Kean

Our crew was diverse,

highly skilled, trained to face every kind of adversity except one: how did we get stuck with the token Irishman?

He was young and green, with nothing but optimism and perpetual faith that all things work out for the better. Our ship, Mannschaft Rinderhund, was on its way to shake some gods loose from the surprisingly human inhabitants of planet Eisweld. What did Leif O’Leary know of ignorant savages who had to get enlightened or get out of our way? He was no warrior, but the Eiswelders were. Barbarians! They lived like Earth’s long-ago Vikings and worshipped the same nonexistent gods with human sacrifices. Violent, superstitious, rapacious, greedy, they had killed the first two teams who’d landed on Eisweld.

DNA tests showed them to be kin to Iceland natives, supporting the theory that UFOs really had scouted Earth thousands of years before, collecting humans to populate new worlds. Maybe we’d find the gods of Egypt still being worshipped in some desert world lightyears away. Maybe the last of the Neanderthals had been spirited away by UFOs to a planet of their own, stocked with a Noah’s Ark of mastodons and giant sloths.

Leif O’Leary had Viking DNA, Leandra told me. Some long-ago Irish woman must have met a Norseman on his way to Iceland and passed off his progeny as a local’s. The Hun gene had been found in Germans; stranger things had happened.

Irish or Viking, and more than a little bit Catholic, Leif O’Leary was on our team. He frolicked like a puppy when we reached the snowy beaches of Eisweld, where low gravity allowed us to sprint in slow motion–rise, hover, and slowly touch down again the way humans had done in during dream-sleep for thousands of years.

It was too cold for us to really enjoy the novelty of low gravity, but Leif O’Leary seemed to have antifreeze in his veins. Like those larvae that could survive a polar vortex. Specialized sugars, proteins, and alcohols kept the larva’s internal fluids from freezing, and Leif had acquired some version of that. Too much beer and sweetness in his blood, maybe. He partied like an Irish Catholic but got his work done every day in a fraction of the time it took everyone else no matter what the task, and wherever we put the guy, he carried with him that damned optimism and self-assurance and the sheer joy of a zealot who’d found Jesus.

We all wanted to kill him.

Leif O’Leary spent more time on the snowy beach bouncing dreamily than he did watching live footage of the natives, transmitted to us from drones disguised as falcons. When they weren’t making a blood sacrifice of goats or the occasional white rooster, they would go on raiding parties. In Old English, “viking” was a verb. Dudes like Leif might say let’s go viking this weekend and they’d go “vike,” or so I remembered hearing it. Linguistics was never my strong point.

While we watched in secret from afar as these bloody-thirsty Eiswelders looted and hacked each other to bits, Leif bounced on snowy beaches. He talked in his sleep, too. Antique prayers: “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.” On all the worlds. The point of it was that Catholics must pray for every soul, even–or especially–the most awful and unrepentant among us.

He prayed in his sleep, he worked like a demon, then played on the beach. We got him corralled, finally, but he smiled all the while and winked at the ladies as we hauled him to HQ.

“We have a new job for you,” I said.

“At your service, Cap’n,” he replied.

“Leif, we think you’d be best suited to approach these Eiswelders.”

“Yes!” he said far too ethusiastically. Did he know what we were suggesting? Two missions before us had been exterminated by these rude Eisweld louts.

“I’ve mastered their language,” he said. “I’ve built a hang glider. I have a dream of dressing all in black and drifting down from the sky like a raven. In this vision the Eiswelders think I’m a god and lay down their axes. I deliver the good news that they are no longer to kill goats, roosters, and God forbid, humans, because Jesus was the ultimate blood sacrifice and…”

My ears filled with static and I tuned him out until he got to the part where he said he was ready to go.

Leif O’Leary was either too stupid or too brave to flinch in the face of danger. Sure, we had uniforms make of spider silk genetically spiked with goat protein, and some high-tech electromagnetic shielding, but Leif had to know nothing was foolproof. He would be outnumbered. And he was too gentle and compassionate to fire a pulsar to take down dozens of people at once.

Someone had to go first. Might as well be the token Catholic.

“I feel kinda bad for him,” Leandra said as Leif O’Leary get into the pod, made his sign of the cross at us, and bravely whooshed off into the land of the barbarians.

I kinda felt bad too.

But not bad enough to offer to take his place.


Part Two, Day 475: 5 Minute Freewrite: Thursday – Prompt: rooster

The pod shot off from the space station. *

Miles on subway

We watched from the safety of the vid room as Leif O’Leary sailed over icy waters and snowy fields. The land turned greener and more hilly as scattered settlements came into view.

The pod ejected him. The black wings of his hang glider unfolded and Leif O’Leary soared above the clouds. Maybe scouting out a village, more likely just enjoying the view. Knowing Leif, he’d forget why he was even there. Let him enjoy it. He might not have much longer in the land of the living.

Leif O’Leary was either too stupid or too brave to flinch in the face of danger.

Leandra started mouthing prayers –stuff like “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”–stuff only a lip reader who kept sneaking glances at her would notice. She was our token librarian, the kind who pulled their hair into a tight bun and peered through thick eyeglasses in the old world, but Leandra was too cute and perky to fit that ancient stereotype.

Leif wore a body camera that gave us a view of everything he saw from the air above Eisweld. Other vid screens showed us views from hidden surveillance cameras, compliments of the brave souls who’d come here before us.

A crowd of Eiswelders formed as a dark figure in the sky started growing larger and larger. Leif drifted into view, smiling that beatific smile of his. Bows and arrows were aimed at him but the locals were holding off until they could see what sort of creature was falling from their sky.

Leif’s voice was amplified as he spoke, and subtitles showed up on our vid screens, conveniently translated for us.

“Be not afraid,” he thundered. “I come in peace.”

He also came with a bottle of red wine and a loaf of bread.

Not a bottle actually but one of those plastic bags with a built-in pour spout, the kind that come in boxed wine. Leif launched into missionary speak–the Bood of the Lamb, the bread and wine, the end of blood sacrifices to appease the gods, yada, yada. It took about a million years, but the barbarians traded glances and started nodding.

At some point it occurred to me that Leif might be toppling their gods only to replace them with his own. Leif was not just a token Irish Catholic. He was truly Catholic. It took me a while to process this: he actually believed in Transubstantiation, the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the Resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.

And he truly did not give a shit if these people killed him. That might have been his saving grace. If Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic, so was Leif O’Leary.

The ritual sacrifice of a rooster took a new twist with Leif telling everyone God wanted this bird to be cooked and eaten, not burnt to a cinder for some sketchy gods who, let’s be honest, were not really coming through for these people. There were frowns and skeptically crossed arms. Even so, Leif presided over the head chopping. After the spurt of blood and the headless running of the rooster, he presided over the fire and the rotating of the spit. He carved the succulent roast bird and distributed it to the large crowd. I don’t know how he pulled it off, but the rooster carcass, the bread, and the wine never ran out.

I never did figure out how he smuggled that wine on board our ship.

The party lasted for three days. The pod had returned and we decided to launch it again to retrieve Leif from his revelry. Leandra begged to be the chosen one this time. Considering how she had taken up praying for Leif’s safety, I figured she wasn’t as smart as I’d thought. If she wanted to risk her neck on behalf of that addled Irishman, I wouldn’t try to talk her out of it.

The pod returned without her.

Another million years seemed to pass. We took shifts going to sleep, watching vid screens, waiting for Leif or Leandra to send us progress reports.

All we’d get was a thumbs-up emoji or smiley faces.

Then the vid screens started going fuzzy and making weird bloopy noises. The cameras started showing what could have been memes that began in the 21st Century on old Earth. Old songs like “We are the champions of the world” sometimes played, and “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us,” and “Go back.” Then we started seeing maps and charts pointing us to other planets we should check out–while the familiar white and blue world of Eisweld had a big, old-fashioned red X through it.

I’d had enough of this nonsense. I girded my loins, so to speak, and got into the pod.

It was dead.

Next, the cameras, the audio, everything except the launch button was fritzed, and no matter what course we charted, the ship would point in only one direction: up, up, and away from Eisweld.

Was that goofy Irishman really smart enough to reprogram all our sophisticated electronics using whatever fit in his pockets? He was here for his calm and charisma, his talent for charming anything from a snake to an ax-wielding Eiswelder. Also, and this was just my own logical deduction, the token Irishman surely was here to serve as cannon fodder. In old-world military lingo, the least valued men would be sent to the front to absorb the first blasts of war.

More than ever, I wanted to kill him. Leif was right, this planet wasn’t big enough for the both of us, but the universe is a very large place.

Space colonies like ours had been trawling the galaxy for other habitable planets ever since a comet named Kevin, for the amateur astronomer who saw it coming, had hit Palestine in 2095 and obliterated the Holy Land. It was about time. Science would replace irrational beliefs and outmoded rituals. After Kevin’s Comet, most of the world’s Christians were relocated to their own planet in another galaxy. Jews colonized a new world of their own in a galaxy far, far from the new homeworld of the Muslims. Christianity, Judaism and Islam had been almost eradicated in the Old World, but that dodo known as Catholicism just wouldn’t go extinct. Like dormant seeds sprouting up in disturbed soil, another Catholic mystic would pop up. Science couldn’t explain it. Diversity was an accident of birth. Religion, unlike ethnicity, was a choice. Belief in nonexistent gods was not genetic.

Of all the fringe minorities who’d escaped cultural homogenization, we got the Catholic.

And he got the planet we were targeting.

He also got Leandra.



I pushed the button to nuke the place as we departed, but the little bastard had deactivated that too.

Eisweld. Who needed it? The place was too cold anyway.



selfie by Miles Kean  “it’s just my reflection in the subway window at night”

Comments from the Steemit site:

Wonderful tale and I do hope you continue the story. Leif O’Leary reminds me of the tale of St. Brendan who is said to have traveled to America in the 6th Century. Was St. Brendan an inspiration for O’Leary?

carolkean   Oooh – I’d never even heard of St. Brendan, but I’m about to go google more!

I’m not sure where Leif O’Leary came from – maybe stories of Loki, the trickster? Originally I intended him to escape a near-crucifixion via the “extraordinary phenomenon” of bi-location (see: Padre Pio) but as I was writing, the trope of “dumb like a fox” took over, and Leif pulled a fast one on Cap’n. Thank you for reading and commenting!


interesting freewrite, esp the subject religion?


carolkean   In 1974 Robert Silverberg tackled religion in The Dybbuk of Mazel Tov IV, one of the funniest sci-fi stories I ever read, in which Jews have colonized their own planet… you can read it online via Galaxy’s Edge.



This post was shared in the Curation Collective Discord community for curators, and upvoted and resteemed by the @c-squared community account after manual review.

Hi carolkean,

This post has been upvoted by the Curie community curation project and associated vote trail as exceptional content (human curated and reviewed). Have a great day 🙂
Visit or join the Curie Discord community to learn more.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

“What prompted me to say it?” 5-Minute Freewrite

For the past year I’ve been freewriting short-short stories via Steemit’s #freewritehouse, and it’s so much fun to see all the various and unexpected characters who spring to mind when you set the timer for 5 minutes and start writing with no pre-planning and no idea what’s gonna happen next or who’s gonna show up. The 5-Minute Freewrite is the brainchild of @mariannewest, whose resume is so long, I won’t post it here.

“Prompt” is today’s prompt!

I don’t know what prompted me to say it

but after years and years of hearing Sarge complain about his wife, I said maybe you ought to do something already, rather than vent about her to me every day.

She wasn’t a bad-looking woman. No sir. Highlighted hair, manicured nails, Botoxed face, pouty lip-filler lips, and a personal trainer who kept her looking half her husband’s age. Sarge wasn’t bad-looking either, but men get more of a free pass. Shaved head. Gray beard stubble. Knife-edge cheekbones, and those cold, pale, Aryan blue eyes. Sure, he could lose a few pounds, but it was “all muscle,” he said, and a lot of bad-asses have gone down under those Popeye forearms. He limps like an old man and lurches when he runs thanks to a thug with a sawed-off shotgun, but there isn’t a young man on the force who out-fight Sarge.

Big Brother to countless kids from the wrong side of the tracks, he’s always been a gentle giant. When he’s not chasing down drug dealers, he’s taking their kids bowling or out on nature hikes.

The wife turned out to be an anomaly. High school sweetheart. Moving to the big city was a promotion for him and some kind of inspiration for her. She laughed every time the waiters mistook them for Dad and daughter. I never liked her, but I never knew her as the small-town girl he loved since junior Prom.

The 9-1-1 call from their granddaughter who found her took the city by surprise, to say the least. School got out early due to another bogus bomb threat, and Grandma’s house is this girl’s usual go-to, but her bombshell grandma wasn’t usually dead in the water. Literally, the bubbles were still like foam mountain peaks, and the smell of Green Tea with Rejuvenating Ginger lingered in the air, and that blonde babe had her hands on a Bluetooth thing with a Mindfulness tape playing mindful nature sounds to keep her looking calm and youthful. A nearly empty crystal wineglass, the crazy-expensive kind, stood on the mosaic tile rim surrounding the whirlpool.

“Was it something I said”

is a common phrase, but the consequences of saying some lame cliche can be pretty uncommon.

Then again, in our line of work, a lot of cold cases stay cold because there’s just no evidence to prove foul play.

And nobody, I mean NOBODY, would imagine Sarge could stage a scene like his wife’s final act.

The insurance policy wasn’t anywhere near enough to cover her credit card bills. He didn’t kill her for any windfall, that’s for sure. About all he’d accomplish was plugging the steady drain from his bank account.

If he did it.

I’m the only one in Carson City PD who might conceivably raise the question of whether that electrocution in the bathtub was really only an accident.

Does he have an alibi? We were at the bagel shop that day, but can I honestly say I can account for every minute of his afternoon?

He didn’t complain to anyone but me because I’m the quiet one, the man who listens without judgment, who tosses out an occasional one-liner to break the tension.

What prompted me to say “Do something already” in that mafia mobster voice–it had been weeks since I watched “Goodfellas” on Netflix.

Sarge is a stoic, so it was especially moving to see him blinking back tears at the funeral home visitation, but ya gotta wonder.

“Maybe you ought to do something already…”

Maybe I’ll never shoot off my big mouth again.

Anyway, she was home alone and it was an accident, and I have more than enough drug dealers, missing persons, and cold cases already without opening up a whole new can of worms.

That’s my story. Ain’t no one gonna prompt me to do anything about it already.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lady Graves – NaNoWriMo 2018 – my 50,000-words-in-one-month novel

I did it – I took the challenge; I wrote a whole novel in one month. Toward the end my word count was low and the November 30 deadline was looming, so I wrote some swift, shabby, poorly thought-out exposition. I’ve still not begun the huge remodeling effort, the gutting and rebuilding of those final chapters, the streamlining and purging of deadwood from earlier scenes.

A quick synopsis:

LADY GRAVES and the Road to Lindenstein by Carol Kean

Buried treasure doesn’t usually bring to mind a young woman left for dead in a shallow grave, but when Herr Doktor Niklaus Stangler follows his barking dog in the night, he digs up more than a Fräulein who is barely even alive. He finds her dressed as a maid but when she gradually revives, she asserts she is a lady, and her name is–well, she can’t think of it–nor can she imagine who might want her dead. In a stone cottage hidden in Bavaria, she recovers under Stangler’s care, but her mind is slower to heal than her body. She yearns to remember her identity and regain her life–until she starts remembering. When the truth is too painful to face the mind is able to repress what we know, but she learns enough to send her on the road to Lindenstein, where her future with a prince was apparently usurped by an imposter.

In her new life as Lady Graves she has nothing–no money, no title–but her resources include a one-eyed dog named Emil, an exiled baroness charged with paganism and sorcery, and an impassioned Enlightenment-era doctor who escaped prison after being falsely arrested as a Bonapartist, and who dreams of starting over in the New World, the land of his dreams, America.

The story is a stand-alone at 50,000 words. It could be expanded with more descriptions and back story about Napoleon’s impact on Europe, especially the lands that eventually united in 1871 as The German Empire. The French Revolution, the Napoleonic Code, the ideals of the Enlightenment play a role in this story, but the focus is on Lady Graves recovering her identity and seeking the truth about her would-be assassin.



The one-eyed dog had earned his keep, but that infernal barking had to stop. It wasn’t like Emil to get riled up this way after retiring for the night with his master. Whatever was out there, Niklaus Stangler had no more concern for it than he did for Emil’s most hated foe, the squirrel in the oak tree. “Halt den Mund, Emil!” Stangler shouted, pulling a pillow over his head.

Boing! Boing! Emil leaped straight up, swatting the door latch. That crazy, crafty, stubborn little villain got the door open himself.

“I am no longer shocked that someone tried to kill you,” he added as his little dog catapulted into the cold, dark midnight air. Stangler hurried into his pants, boots and cloak. The moon was full and bright and probably the source of Emil’s Angst.

On a moonlit path through the trees, Stangler broke into a run along Emil’s well-worn course to the stream. He followed Emil’s yipping, past the usual rabbit warren, past the old oak with the squirrel, and on, until a gyrating tail gave him away like a white flag waving. Dirt and leaves went flying from his paws.

“Enough, Emil. Genug!”

Emil, so quick to learn new commands, obeyed only when it suited him. He pawed the earth until something pale and fleshy came to light. Stangler bent down.

This was no animal.

Not since his first day as a battlefield medic, sawing off arms and legs of young men who’d been perfectly healthy minutes before, had Herr Doktor Niklaus Stangler felt so queasy.

He pushed away branches that had been heaped over a human body. There wasn’t much for Emil to dig. A grave this shallow suggested someone in a big hurry to move on.

He grasped two ankles and stepped back, pulling, dragging. Emil sniffed around and started barking at the trail that led to the road.

“Ah, Emil. If you could talk, I’d have you go down that path and find out who did this.”

He laid out the body. A maid or a serving wench, bodice unlaced and skirts hiked up. He wished for someone he could send in search of the murderous gravediggers, but exiles like him had no neighbors.

On her arms, dark liquid beads formed along fresh scratches.

Dead people didn’t bleed.

He checked for a pulse. It was very, very slow, barely detectable. It would be easy to mistake her for dead. If not for Emil, she would have been completely dead before anyone ventured far enough from the road to find her.

The dog looked up at him with an eager expectation of attention and praise.

“Well done, Emil.” He couldn’t share the tail-wagging joy, knowing how little life remained in this cold, cold body. “Ach, Emil! This one may be harder to resurrect than you were.”

The dog listened, one ear cocked, his one eye full of concern. Surely, animals had souls.

Stangler scooped the dirty young wench into his arms, enfolded her in his cloak, and hiked back to the cottage.

She was so cold. Desperate to warm her, he allowed the dog to snuggle under a blanket with his find on Herr Doktor’s own bed. He assembled tools and implements, hot water and clean linens, then tended to her wounds. Her bleeding scalp indicated she had been dragged by her hair, which was tangled with dirt and leaves. A gash in the back of her head required sutures. Her pulse was stronger now, but she was far from conscious.

Like a mother hovering over her sick child, Emil watched over the wretched girl. Not long ago it had been the dog as his patient. Stangler wondered how he could saw off a soldier’s limbs but wince at having to snip off the eyeball that dangled from a dog’s head, clean the empty socket and sew it shut, and keep the dog from waking and biting off the hands that healed him. Perhaps he would have been wiser to let mother nature take her course, but it was the physician’s nature to intervene, to fix, to heal.

He plied the needle and thread, then dabbed a tincture of walnut leaves on her open wounds. His busy hands were well accustomed to this work, allowing him to examine his conscience and lament his plight. Why couldn’t he have left a mostly dead wench to complete her task of dying? If not for Emil, she’d be no concern of his. There was no telling what she might have done. He might be harboring a thief–or worse. Women, too, were capable of murder.

More likely, this woman was an innocent victim. Clearly, someone had tried to kill her. He would go off in search of her assailant but she might die in his absence. If Emil could talk, he’d send him on the trail of the assassin. That dog loved to run off and come home barking incoherently of his finds.

He saved a dog who saved a girl, but who was saving him? To warm her, he’d have to strip off all her garments and his own as well and lie with her, skin to skin, until her body temperature rose to a safe level. It was a dirty job but someone had to do it. Under the blankets, naked, holding her close. A terrible job. He almost smiled.

Soon he could hear her breathing and he shifted back far enough to start checking his patient for deeper injuries. Preferably before she awoke. Pray God she would not come to and find a stranger groping between her legs!

The cottage walls danced with shadows from the fireplace, and Stangler wished for a healthy dose of bright sunlight to illuminate his job. If the girl came to now, she’d think him a mad man and scream for help but there was none at hand, nought but a dog and a stranger.

She had not been raped. One consolation.

In fact, he could be sure this was no wench from a brothel. Nothing had penetrated her and broken her maidenhood.

At some point he must have drifted to sleep. The sun rose as always no matter what happened in the night, filling his cottage with light, but Stangler felt himself still in the dark. He took up his journal and noted the latest events, the nature of the maiden’s injuries, the medical interventions he ministered. Her face was swollen beyond recognition, cheekbones level with her nose, a countenance more leonine than human.

Keeping his new patient warm and hydrated would occupy him for hours. He had to implement a feeding tube to get something warm and nourishing inside her. Ancient Egyptians used reeds to give rectal feedings of chicken broth, wine, and eggs, but this was 1821, and physicians knew how to fashion a flexible, hollow tube of leather to deliver blended food to the stomach. Liquids first for this half-dead woman. Through the nose, down the throat, to the stomach. Stangler concocted a mix of warm chamomile tea for its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory action, and cream, which reminded him–he must get out and milk the goat, if Nana hadn’t leaped the fence again. Emil had been preoccupied all night with his new charge. He let the little watchdog out to do his morning duty, sniff about, then return to the girl while Stangler milked the goat.

Sometimes the girl moaned but didn’t awaken. Better for her to sleep through the pain. Stangler added capsicum and more chamomile to the feeding tube and got her to swallow without choking.

He detangled her hair, rinsed it with vinegar followed by water infused with lavender. The girl would live, he decided, but not without his vigilance.

Time was wasting. He had work to do, gathering more roots and herbs from the woods, drying and storing, labeling and collecting. Fritz Lanza, the local boy, should pay Herr Doktor a visit soon to earn some chore money. Why had he told the boy not to come every day? If only he would come now, and the cleaning lady too, but once a week was all he’d asked of her. Now he’d squander more time hand-washing and mending the girl’s garments himself. Then again, he wouldn’t touch the stained and tattered dress or apron. Leaving them as is might make it easier to identify her.

Her thick, rippling hair finally dried, and Stangler admired the rare shade of dark blond with hints of red. How fitting that the leonine distortions of her battered face should be framed by a lion’s mane. He took up his sketchbook and tried to capture the image of a lioness-woman, unconscious in his bed. Then he started to tear out the page, lest anyone else come upon the image and think ill of him–but no, it was part of his medical work, and he would duly record what he observed.

Stangler checked the laceration on her head. The stitches looked clean. Gently, he brought her long, thick mass of hair to one side and separated it into thirds. So much more hair than Maria, God rest her soul. Plaiting the tresses of his English patient brought back memories and the sting of tears in his eyes, but he kept moving, kept looking forward. He fed Emil, fed himself, fed the fire, then sank into the wooden rocking chair facing the bed with a book in hand. True loneliness was hardly possible when he had so many companions on a shelf, always there at the touch of his fingers, opening up to him, allowing him into the minds of others, and never casting judgment on him. No disapproving stares, no head shaking, no mobs rioting for his head. There were men in this world who espoused the same ideas he held. They communed with him from the safety of books.

The mantel clock ticked the afternoon away .

Up! Up! Bark! Bark! Emil summoned him from a dreamless sleep, springing up and down like no other dog Stangler had seen. The dying flames were the only source of illumination now; daylight had fled.

A voice, soft and weak, murmured in English: “My head is on fire.”

Stangler bolted to his patient’s side. One eye opened and focused not on him but on Emil, who immediately sprang up and down again with unstoppable  joy.

“Am I in hell?” she whispered. “What is that?”

Stangler laughed. “That little demon is your guardian angel, mein Schatz. His name is Emil.”

She gripped the blanket and held it like a shield. Did she know German? “My treasure” might translate into an unwelcome endearment.

A buried treasure, indeed, this Fräulein he had dug up in the woods.

“What has happened to me, and why am I here?”

Her voice was rather imperious, for a maid or serving wench. And accusing. As if he had brought here to this sorry state–he who had lost a good night’s sleep and used no ordinary skill to keep her from her grave!

Stangler tried to look past the sickly greens, grays, and blues of the bruised face of the stranger and into her heart.

“Fräulein,” he said, gentling his voice, “I would love to know the answer to those questions. I have been looking forward to your waking and telling me.”

Her head rose slightly from the pillow; her lips parted, she began a reply, only to sink back as if exhausted by the prospect of making a proper introduction. At this point, propriety was as far away as the brute who’d failed to kill her. Stangler had undressed her, bathed her, and inspected her wounds, with no such nicety as having been employed by her to secure his services.


But she had fallen under once more.



Her head was on fire and she didn’t know where she was or how she’d come to be here. A one-eyed dog stared at her, his head cocked, as if trying to choose the most courteous way to inform her that her life was ruined and she’d only herself to blame. Not that she believed that, but everyone else did.

To her sudden chagrin, she couldn’t recall who “everyone else” might be.

“Who are you,” she asked the dog, “and why am I here?”

He wagged his tail, then leaped from the bed and bounced up and down like a coiled spring. What a strange animal! She’d never seen a dog quite like this one, but she heard the name Emil in her mind.

She sat up, slowly, her throat raw, her scalp burning–and only one eye! She and the dog!

Gingerly, she touched the swollen, bruised flesh that sealed her right eye. Ouch. Very well, her eyeball was still there, hidden inside her head.

“What is this place?” she asked, though the man was nowhere to be seen. The dog yipped an agreeable reply.

“I have been abducted,” she whispered, coming slowly to her senses. “I must escape!”

Someone had dressed in her a clean linen shift, one she’d never worn before–that much she knew. Her one eye made a swift surveillance of the tidy stone cottage with a window on each wall. Steep, narrow stairs led to an upper level. The air was sweet with a yeasty aroma of bread rising, of drying sage, rosemary, lavender, and more herbs than she could discern in one sniff, and milk curdling over a warm stove. She caught a whiff of dog as well, but like horses in a stable full of hay and even the occasional skunk, the odor of dog had never offended her. This, she knew. How she came to be here, she had no clue.

She swung around and planted her feet on the floor, tried to stand, and fell back to the straw mattress and feather tick. Then she noticed a bedpan and shuddered to think of the indignity of a man assisting her to a chamber pot, much less dealing with–oh, the indignity! Surely the man had a maid she hadn’t seen yet.

Fräulein. She had been hearing that a lot.

Slowly, she rose to her feet and managed the chamber pot, then found the pitcher and basin for hand washing, then fell back to her sick bed. Her sick bed! She wasn’t ill–she was injured, grievously injured, and her only guardian was a one-eyed dog.

Apparently she had dozed off again, because her eye opened and there he was, the man with green eyes and dark lashes.

Her captor.

With a gasp, she shot up, just as he was bending closer, and their foreheads collided.

“Ach du Liebe!” he cried, rubbing his head, then clasping hers and investigating the damage. She flinched away from his touch. “Keine Panik,” he said. “You have good reason to be jumpy, but I can assure you, my mission is to do no harm. I a healer.”

Emil’s tail thumped the floor as if to vouch for him.

“Good Sir,” she said slowly, “if I am to trust you, then you must tell me who you are.”

He hesitated. “You may call me Klaus.”

“I would not presume to be so familiar, Mr. Klaus.”

“You are no ordinary maiden,” he said with a smile. “Perhaps you attend to a baroness–or duchess–in England, I should guess, by your fine speech.”

“Maiden. Maid. What do you take me for, and why do you hold me in such low esteem?”

“Why do you bite the hand that feeds you?” he returned. “And why do you not favor me with your name, young lady?”

“My name is–”

He cocked an eyebrow at her, the same way his dog did. She gripped her long braid and brought it closer to her eye, as if her hair might reveal her name.

“This is not how I braid my hair at night.” That was it–the one revelation that came to her while examining her hair. “This looks lovely, though. Like a herringbone. You must show me how it’s done.”

He laughed, and she remembered that he had been impertinent and presumptuous with her.

“My name,” she said, with every expectation that it would roll right off her tongue, “is…”

Tears sprang to her eyes, or one eye, at least; hot, salty tears ran down her throat which was already raw, and she couldn’t even let out a scream. Just a hiccup. She stared at the stranger sitting at the edge of the bed she’d so mysteriously found herself in.

“What have you drugged me with?” she cried out. “I cannot recall my own name!”

The dog moved closer, standing on two legs to lick the tears from her face, his front paws on the edge of the mattress. She managed a brave smile for the endearing little character but not for the man with the mild German accent.

“Emil found you, Fräulein, badly beaten and buried in a shallow grave,” said the man. “I’ve seen head injuries far worse than yours, and your amnesia is only temporary, I am sure, but very grave. If you’ll pardon that word.” He flashed her a penitent smile. “We found you dressed as a maid. I did not imagine a fine lady would wear her maid’s garments, but you tell me you are no maid. Very well. Until you can tell me your name and title, I shall call you Lady Graves.”


Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

“Unheard Melodies” – my story won a little contest!

“Unheard Melodies” for Fiction Comp, #1 Week 1 by @carolkean 

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter –

–“Ode on a Grecian Urn,” John Keats, 1819

This is my entry for the “Fiction Comp – All writers are welcome – #1 Week 1” fiction writing competition hosted by @kyrios.
Writing Prompt:
Having seen the fall and rise of empires…
the death of his loved ones… an immortal tries
his best to not mingle with society by holing
himself up in a cave far away from any civilization.
During one stormy night…
his home becomes the shelter for a stranger
who is the spitting image of his grandson.

Unheard Melodies

Alone in his mountain hideaway, the immortal heaved a godly sigh. The women he had loved! The demi-gods he had sired. Gone, all gone.

On a Grecian urn in a warm, dry part of the cave, fair maidens “forever panting, and forever young” danced under leafy boughs. Frozen in marble–ah! It seemed only yesterday he’d cavorted with them, not thousands of years.

Nor did it seem more than a century since John Keats gazed at those “marble men and maidens overwrought” in a British museum. Immortalized. Silly word. A graven image was no substitute for maidens who panted no more. All his statues, books, paintings, and music were also no surrogate for flesh and blood companions. They did remind him, though, why he had to distance himself from the mortals.

Thunder crashed, making the cave walls vibrate, but Weltschmerz didn’t worry about electronics or storms. He didn’t need human technology. With a swipe of a finger he called up songs from a life he’d led long, long ago.

photo credit: Margit Wallner, pixabay)

Humans. So good at burning cities and libraries, spilling blood, and shutting out the voices of the gods. Then again, the gods had done their share of mischief.

But they’d done so much that was good, and beautiful, and true. Music, math, literature, science, history, art, and more, all existed in “the Cloud.” The nine Muses kept track of things that mortals kept forgetting, destroying, or failing to create in the first place. Euterpe had been saving music from ages past and ages yet to come. It took humans thousands of years of ignoring messages from the gods before they finally learned to capture sound on invisible radio waves. Soon, someone would wake from a dream, take silicon from sand, and build computer circuits. Knowledge would be backed up in an invisible realm so far known only to the gods.


That was what they called him now, the gods, who’d scattered. Did he really hear that name in his hidden cave? The immortal swiped a finger over a tablet, silencing a damsel with a dulcimer in Xanadu. He listened.

Howling wind, that’s all he’d heard.


No mortal knew him by this new name, Welt (world) plus schmerz (pain). As if the world weariness of the gods were more his fault than anyone else’s.

Oh for one more night of nectar and ambrosia on Olympus, with all nine Muses at his table! He especially missed Euterpe, though he continued to see evidence of her across the ages. Mozart channeled her magic in his music, allowing mortals to hear the sublime sounds the gods had enjoyed long before. Euterpe also visited Coleridge in 1797, but the opium-addled poet awoke from a dream unable to remember the ending of “Kubla Khan.”

Weltschmerz remembered. If only the powers of the gods included calling up a panting maiden with a mere swipe of the finger.

“Weltschmerz! I know you’re in there. I’m coming in now, like it or not.”

How odd. Nobody else knew the path through the Black Forest to his mountain home. Weltschmerz blitzed to the cave entrance, a mere slit in the rocks, as a man squeezed through. How dare he?

The man straightened, coming eye to eye with Weltschmerz. They both blinked, leaned closer, and stared. Weltschmerz recognized the high cheekbones and chiseled jawline of his grandson, who’d been dead for–well, he’d lost track of time.

“Gott in Himmel,” the familiar stranger whispered. “You look exactly like the man in my dream.”

Weltschmerz caught a whiff of dog and sheep in the stranger’s wet wool jacket, warm blood, cold wet hair, and the stench of a battlefield.

“Well.” He remembered the hospitality of the ancients, Homer’s exulted Greeks and Germany’s less-celebrated Nibelungs. No greater shame was there than to neglect a visitor. Time to lavish this one with a warm bath, dry clothing, and a feast. “First things first.”

Weltschmerz whisked his visitor to the hot springs deeper inside the cave, saving questions for later. He was an immortal, after all. Biding his time wasn’t an inborn talent. He’d learned it with many a sob of remorse.

His human visitor finally took a place at table, gazing around in wonder, yet accepting the incredible with the assurance of a demi-god. Weltschmerz engaged only in small talk–more wine?–until they could retire to chairs by the hearth.

“A man who pays attention to dreams,” Weltschmerz began. “Silas, you are an anomaly.”

“Indeed.” Silas cast a furtive gaze at all the antiquities. “The dream did not, however, give me a sense that you are a Nazi. I wondered where they–where all the artwork was being hidden.”

“Relax. It was World War One that drove me into this cave, and the Nazis who kept me from venturing out again. The antiquities you see are my own personal collection, and most were new when I acquired them.”

“That’s a scary thought.”

“You have no idea.”

Silas stared into the fire. “I faced a firing squad today,” he said, “and I’m not entirely sure I’m still a real, live human. If my executioners had seen me get up from a shallow grave and walk away, their surprise would be no greater than my own.”

“Not bad, for a demi-god.” The old one steepled his hands. “Your crime?”

Judenliebe. I tried to save as many Jews as I could–until I got caught. I can’t save the world, but there is a way I could go back and save more people than I did. A way to do more good than harm.” He looked intently at his host. “If you’ll help me.”

“We can only do so much.” Weltschmerz felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. As usual. “Sometimes, we think we’re doing the right thing, only to find out later we are the ones who caused the strife we’re fighting so hard to stop.”

“You can help me. I couldn’t have dreamed you exist, much less have found you, if this were not so.”

“Ah, you Germans.” Weltschmerz sighed. “Just when I make good on my vow to stop meddling in mortal affairs, I see Nazi soldiers build nesting boxes and feeders for birds at the front. The Third Reich has a Department for Bird Protection. They protect the flora and fauna, yet they exterminate Jews. What would you have me do?”

“I was executed for treason, yet I didn’t die. I had a dream, and here we are. You can tell me why.”

“No. I’m done. If I had answers, would I be hiding out in a cave?”

Silas folded his arms, unmoved.

“Don’t give me that look, young man. My days as a god among mortals is over. Moses should have been the last straw, telling his so-called Chosen People to throw us away. Then that badass Paul came along. The minute he’d turn his back on his converts, they’d worship their own gods again.” Weltschmerz tapped his chest. “What am I, a wooden idol to smash and burn? To add insult to injury, Paul wrote long letters, full of chastisements, along with promises of an afterlife in some resurrected body, and do these epistles go up in flame like the lore of the Aztecs, or drown like the library of Alexandria? No. Two thousand years later, millions of people call his nastygrams the gospel truth.”

The god heaved a profound sigh. “Still. Whatever thoughts I had about Moses, I wouldn’t even dream of harming the people. Exile is bad enough. Genocide? Where is their God now?”

“The God of the Jews did not send angels to stay the hands of the executioners,” Silas said. ‘There’s a Spiel about free will going on there. But I’m not satisfied to watch innocents die and hope there’s a better life for them beyond this world. I want to do something here and now.”

Weltschmerz laughed, shaking his head pityingly. “Been there, done that, as people will be saying in the future. Just don’t complain to me when your efforts to undo any harm you’ve done lead to worse harm.”

“I want a time machine,” Silas said.

“So, go invent one. You Germans are good at that stuff. In fact, the Nazis already started work on one.”

“You can travel without machines. Help me.”

“I don’t care if you’re my grandson, or his Doppelganger, or a demi-god, or a lunatic. No.”

Silas rose to his feet, slammed a fist to his chest as Kubla Khan himself might have, and recited Coleridge:

I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair

Weltschmerz laughed, without pity, this time.

The Muse had spoken. How could he refuse her?


Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments