Sunday
Oct272019

Old Joe

He drove an old pickup, the paint so old that the color was indistinguishable.  His overhauls were worn, and it looked like he always had on the same long-sleeved work shirt but both always appeared clean.  He rented a house down a dirt road that belonged to a mill owner.  I never actually saw the house but when it got dark and my dog, Shelby and I sat on the porch after dinner, lights could be seen through the scrub trees growing wild between my house and his.  In the warm summer nights, if the frogs weren’t making a racket down at the pond, I could hear bits of conversation, sometimes laughter. When the wind blew right, the strong smell of cigarette smoke journeyed my way. 

Occasionally when I was near the road working in the garden, he would slow up and wave, yelling “Howdy Missy” through the open window of his truck and then continue driving on.  Other times he would stop to pass the time for a few moments and we’d discuss the weather or maybe he’d comment on my summer garden, asking what was growing the best and we’d both complain about the bugs and fire ants as well as the rain or the lack of it.  After a bit, he’d run an old but strong-looking hand through his bushy white hair and replace his brown fedora on his head, saying his goodbyes. Joe would explain that he had to pick up some stuff for the boys.

“The boys” were homeless men that he invited to stay at his place in exchange for whatever they could afford to pitch in towards his rent.  Some of his boarders were on parole, some had substance abuse problems, and some just needed a place to stay until they got their heads on straight.  I don’t know how many would be there at any given time; they would come and go.

Joe was a regular at our small-town grocery store.  He bought produce that had seen better days and would haggle with the butcher over lowering the price of meat that he insisted needed to be reduced, pointing out a speck or a spot of discoloration.  The people there were generous and, knowing his situation, let him talk them down to a price agreeable to all concerned, even throwing in occasional freebies.

Wanting to do more than just feeding his flock, Joe scoured the area for anything that needed fixing.  The bed of his pickup might carry home furniture that needed some sprucing or lawnmowers that had seen their day.  He picked up vehicle parts and engines, planning for when they might just need them.  Some said he just collected junk. 

A large metal building that he used for a workshop was overflowing with his finds.  Aided with tools that Joe provided, the men under his care would do what they could to refurbish anything remotely restorable.  When he came back with an exceptionally good haul I could hear the drills and saws working their magic and the rumble and roar of the portable generator.

Some of the people who lived nearby wanted Joe and “his boys” removed, complaining that the men were a nasty lot who were probably dealing drugs and doing other despicable acts.  “The building is a fire hazard,” they’d say.  “Who knows what he’s got in there?  Too much stuff is piled around the place.  Looks bad.  Kids could get in trouble!”  Occasionally a police vehicle drove down that dirt road; my guess was they did so primarily to appease the complainants.  They knew Joe was harmless and that he kept the men in line, making sure to get them to meetings with probation officers or their drug and alcohol rehab sessions. 

One afternoon Joe stopped his truck for a quick visit.  He was on his way to his son’s house to spend the afternoon with his grandchildren.  This was the first time he had mentioned a family and I got the impression that visits like this were not frequent occurrences.  In one drawn-out breath he told me he had just turned eighty-five and, that he had Cancer.  Caught off guard and not sure what to say other than wishing him a Happy Birthday, I let him get back into his vehicle and watched him drive down the road, hoping that his time with the grandkids would be a good time. Should I have given him a hug or at least taken his hand in mine?  The easy answer would be yes, I should have.  In reality, neither one of us would have been comfortable.

That was the last time I saw him.  I did see the building get emptied out and eventually, the house behind it had new tenants.  Maybe, I thought, his family had found room for him with them so he could enjoy the time still allotted to him in a caring environment much like he tried to do for “his boys.”  Maybe it was time for family reconciliation?  Later I found out that Joe had died alone in that house down the dirt road, behind the scrub trees.  At night.  Alone in the dark.  Damn them all.  Rest in peace, Joe.

Sharon

Friday
Aug302019

The Thin Line between Science Fiction and Science Fact

             A point was brought up that THE SURVIVALIST series has become too “science fiction” over the years.  I don’t know.  I’ll leave that up to the readers to decide but I will state my case as to why we let it happen.

            In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell makes the world's first long-distance telephone call, over a distance of about 6 miles.  With the device we carry with us, we can project our words into outer space, take studio-quality photographs, grocery shop, and play games.  Henry Ford started his auto business in 1903.  Many people might say he also was the inventor of highway congestion.  The Wright brothers are credited with the invention of the first working airplane that same year thus causing mass disturbance to our once peaceful skies.

            My dad was born in 1898.  At a very early age, he helped to support his family by propelling a horse-driven wagon through the streets of New York, making deliveries.  Sort of an early version of what would become UPS or FedEx.  Here is this little kid controlling a huge animal, pulling a dray wagon past peddlers who are pushing wooden carts loaded with produce while keeping a watchful eye out for the horse-drawn trolley carrying its passengers about town. It must have been an exciting place to live and to watch the world change so quickly.

            Eager to see more of the world, he rode the rails wherever they took him until he eventually settled down.  He found work, bought himself a Ford and eventually dated and married my mom.  They rented part of a two-flat apartment where she washed clothes in a large tub, using a washboard and hung everything outside to dry. They eventually got a telephone with a two-party-line, a black desk set with a chunky cord, which they used until the late 1950s.

            By the time I started working in downtown Chicago during the late 60s, I too rode a trolley each morning, although this trolley was powered by a cable line above the street that fed electricity to the vehicle via a pole that could swivel enough to allow the trolley some flexibility to maneuver.  Occasionally, the driver made a move that allowed the pole to disengage from its power source and passengers were stranded until help arrived to reconnect.  Today we have cars and trucks that can travel driverless.  Bullet trains in China travel at speeds of up to 200 MPH and a Tesla Roadster can do 250 MPH.  Yes, it’s claimed that a Hennessey Venom F5 clocks at 301 MPH!  My first car was a 1960 Hillman Minx that maxed out at 65 MPH; any faster and it shook so badly you could barely hold onto the steering wheel.

            When Jerry and I first started planning out the continuation of The Survivalist story after the Rourke’s had slept for many hundreds of years, we realized a decision had to be made as to what sort of world they were returning to.  Would it be inhabited by animal-like humans, cult worshipers or would it be a dead, wasteland?  Our decision was to create a world just as diverse as the one before.  Some things might have taken a step back, some remained the same and some ideas took a giant leap forward.

            Many of the technological advances written about in Mid-Wake were real or at least on the drawing boards.  We consulted with experts in the diving and underwater fields as to what would be coming in the future and we incorporated these advances into the books giving our characters a glimpse of what the new world could be under the right circumstances. 

            Yes, The Survivalist has aliens and cloaking devices, and advanced medical procedures, as well as underwater cities, but it also has crooked politicians, kidnappers and rapists, just as well as people who are determined to make the world a better place.  Our real world has encountered the genius and vision of da Vinci as well as the evil madness of Hitler. The world of The Survivalist should be no different.  One world is real; the other is fiction, catalogued as science fiction or adventure.  Fiction is not real but can reflect both reality and what the author sees as our future.

            John Thomas Rourke is still fighting for the same values he did in the 1980s and he and his companions will continue to do so.  So don’t think that Rourke’s world has changed too much, same problems, maybe different solutions.  When it comes time, Rourke pulls one of his thin dark cigars from his shirt pocket and the battered Zippo from the watch pocket in his jeans and lights up.  He shrugs his shoulders to straighten his Alessi shoulder holster carrying his twin Detonics pistols and mounts his Harley, ready to take on another battle. 

Sharon

Tuesday
Aug062019

Don't Let Words Become Obsolete

I don’t know, maybe it’s an age issue.  Maybe people aren’t talking to me because they think I’ve gone deaf.  Maybe they think I don’t understand the real world today. Maybe they feel the need to stick to only the basic means of communication because of some cognitive deficiency I’ve developed.  Maybe they are only attempting to amuse me.  Maybe…

                Communication skills have taken on a whole different meaning lately.  Complete sentences are becoming obsolete.  Words are being replaced by pictures.  Complete thoughts are watered down into one-syllable utterances.  Don’t get me wrong, if I’m not paying attention and my next few steps could take me plunging down the side of a cliff, an authoritative STOP will work just fine.  By the same token, turning a love sonnet into a one-liner just doesn’t do the trick.

                Jerry was a man of many words and lots of emotions.  He could turn a simple statement into an epistle.  A greeting card was simply a pretty picture with some nice words and plenty of blank space left over for his feelings.  When we were teenagers he was out of town for two weeks and every day I received multi-page letters written on both sides with his terrible handwriting filling me in on the day’s happenings and letting me know how much he missed me.  I didn’t need the reassurance, we were always meant to be, but the pictures he painted with his words made separation more bearable for two young lovers.

                In today’s world of cell phones and internet connections, our communications would have been in an entirely different ballgame.  Would I have gotten messages with hearts and little round faces showing different expressions?  How about hashtags and abbreviated words?  Never abbreviated words!!!  I’m sure I would have gotten emojis and hearts and whatever else looked appropriate but a picture of a heart and the words I Love You are not the same.  I’m sorry for your loss, I’m happy for you or I’m angry, are words that should come from our hearts, not generated by some computer program.

                Just maybe, if we could go back to saying what we mean or writing down our true emotions, we might be taken more seriously.  Maybe if we took the time and energy to actually talk about how we feel or listen to someone else’s concerns, there would be less anger or frustration and more understanding.  Just saying.  Don’t know if it would do any good in this world of pent up rage and secrets that we don’t know how to share but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.  Maybe… 

Sharon

God wove a web of loveliness,

Of clouds and stars and birds,

But made not anything at all

So beautiful as words.

Anna Hempstead Branch

Thursday
Jul042019

INDEPENDENCE DAY 2019

This may be a work of fiction but it was penned by a person who believed in this country and the basic integrity of its citizens. He also believed that we have certain rights granted to us under law and an obligation to protect and preserve our Constitutional Republic.  To some of you this may sound corny and that’s ok – you have a right to your opinion.  To some others…well.  Enjoy your Independence Day!

 

                …”I have to,” he said to them.  “I have to do this – show the KGB why they lost, why they’d lose again or anyone else would lose if it happened all over again.”…

                …Rourke bent down, flicking on the flashlight, shining it up inside.  Rungs were anchored to the living granite, three feet apart, the tunnel inside angling steeply upward.

                He turned back to the shelves.  From a box he took an American flag.  He returned to the escape tunnel….

                …Rourke crouched beside the opening at the top of the mountain, electricity arcing through the scrub brush.  In the distance, he could see one of the Soviet helicopters crashing down, struck by the lightening, burning.  Only one remained.  Rourke stated to his feet, running, crouched, toward the center of the mountaintop.  His radio aerial, camouflaged in a bracken of scrub pine.

                Small patches of cloth were visible protruding partially from the inside of his shirt – red and white – as he touched at the flag.

                Rourke reached for the antenna mast, electricity sparking from it.  Rourke drawing back his hand.

                Below him, far beneath the mountain, massive ball lightning rolled across the ground, the ground itself burning, the remaining Russian soldiers running, clothes burning, electricity arcing from their bodies, their heads, bodies exploding with it.

                Rourke reached for the mast again, the leather magazine pouch protecting his hand.  He started to tug at the cloth, pulling it from inside his shirt.  Red. White. Red and white stripes.  A blue field with white stars.  A strong wind whipped across the mountaintop as Rourke secured the grommets on the flag to the antenna mast, the flag catching in the stiff wind, unfurling, blowing across the top of the mountain.

                Rourke stepped back, staring out across the valley.  The thunder seemed to be in waves, lightning bolts ripping the sky around him.

                Out of the black sky, the last Soviet helicopter came.  Rourke started toward the escape tunnel entrance.  The helicopter was firing its machineguns, the rocks around Rourke’s feet chipping up, seeming to explode. 

                A missile launched from the gunship, a smoking trail.  It exploded less than a dozen yards from the blowing flag.  Rourke fell to the ground, the concussion stunning him.  He started to push up to his feet.  The flag was ripped, tattered – but still there.  The Soviet helicopter was making a run, coming low, its coaxially mounted machineguns blazing, slugs impacting around the flag.

                “No-o-o!” Rourke screamed the word, his hands flashing up to the twin stainless Detonics .45s, ripping them from the leather.  On the horizon, the sky was burning, like a wave, the fire licking across the air, toward him, engulfing the ground.

                Rourke could see inside the cockpit of the helicopter now, past the open cockpit door.  “Rozhdestvenskiy,” Rourke snarled.  The rock beneath Rourke chewed up under the impact of the machinegun slugs, a small wound opening on Rourke’s left forearm as a rock chip impacted against it.  Rourke stood unflinching, the pistols in his hands as the helicopter closed.

                Rozhdestvenskiy was leaning out the cockpit door, a submachinegun in his hands, firing.

                Rourke shoved both gleaming Detonics .45s ahead of him at arm’s length, then started to fire, first the right pistol, then the left, then the right, then the left.

                The helicopter was still coming.  The slide locked back on the pistol in Rourke’s right hand – empty.

                Rourke, his lips drawn back over his teeth, shouted, “God Bless America!”  The pistol in his left hand discharged, Rozhdestvenskiy’s body lurching, twisting, the submachinegun in the KGB colonel’s hands firing still, but into the helicopter.

                The fire in the sky was rumbling toward Rourke as he started running toward the open hatch of the escape tunnel.  He dove for the tunnel; the fire welled up and consumed the mountain, as it had the sky and the earth below….

SURVIVALIST #9    Earth Fire  1984

Sharon

Friday
May172019

Life and Dandelions Go On

                Recently, a visitor commented on the height of my lawn.  “Isn’t it about time to get it mowed,” she said.  “What are you waiting for?  We cut our grass once a week so it looks nice.”

                “What’s the hurry?” I argue back, but I know the choir isn’t backing me up on this one so I just smile and we drift off onto another subject that we can more or less agree on.

                The winter was long, even for down here in the South, and the early spring, wet and turbulent. For many of us, gardens have been delayed until the earth has had time to dry and the danger of flooding subsides.  Bursts of pink and yellow and white blossoms have emerged from their winter’s nap proclaiming loudly that Persephone has returned from the underworld to join her mother and the time has come for us to dig and plant and hopefully, eventually harvest.

                Maybe I feel that I get an early peek at what spring will be like.  When the sun is just coming up, I can look out the window and see dots of white clover covering the ground.  Soon, after the sun has had a chance to spread across the yard, the dandelions’ petals open and stretch out.  A well-manicured lawn cannot compare to the sea of yellow and white flora waving in the breeze.  The landscape is ever-changing; a different view can be had by just a slight turn of the head.  At nightfall, when the sun has journeyed over the yard and begins to set, the dandelion petals will fold and wait for the darkness to pass, and then get ready for the next show.

                Another positive argument in favor of my degree of lawn care is that the clover brings neighbors over to enjoy the fresh bounty. One of the cows from the pasture next to me has found a way past the fence and gate and crosses over the dirt road to feast on the gourmet salad bar my property provides.  She is a frequent enough visitor that Shelby doesn’t bark at her but merely sits on the deck, watching. 

                Last evening the cow we named Clover was escorted onto a cattle trailer along with a dozen or so of her bovine friends and traveled down the dirt road to her next adventure.  Today the young man, who cuts my lawn, rode across that same dirt road and transformed my yard into a more “respectable” lawn where only the green grass is visible. 

                I know not to worry.  The cycle of life is spinning as always, renewing each and every living thing.  It won’t take long before the clover springs back and the yellow dandelions spread across the landscape.  It may not be acceptable in today’s norm, but it sure is pretty.  What a dull world it would be if everything was neat and perfect and the dots of white and dashes of yellow disappeared forever.

                 I do hope that when the new herd of cattle has settled in the pasture at least one of them learns Clover’s secret escape route.

Sharon