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Running From the Law
By Leah Mueller

    Prolonged anxiety has a tendency to make me sleepy, and I was in the midst of a troubled mid-afternoon nap when I heard the doorbell ring. I stumbled off my futon, which rested on the floor underneath a mound of blankets. As I staggered to my feet, the doorbell rang twice more, sharply, like the report of a shotgun. I lived in Chicago in an apartment building that a group of sadistic urban planners had erected directly beside a busy el station. To compensate for this disadvantage, and to encourage the occupancy of responsible renters, the building's owner had remodeled the apartment to within an inch of its life-including track lighting, two huge and fully functional stone fireplaces, and an island kitchen that faced the tracks. For the past two months, I had shared the apartment with two men, Dirk and Ken, neither of whom interested me even remotely as romantic prospects. Dirk was a wood-worker, house painter and drunk, who would have been more at home in the wilds of Arkansas, except for the fact that he had been raised by wealthy parents in Wilmette, and Ken was an alcoholic high school buddy of Dirk's. Although Ken seemed incredibly stupid, he had a surprising affinity for Miles Davis, and owned every commercially released recording that Miles had ever made. He often stayed up past the break of dawn in a stupor, drinking and intently listening to "Bitches Brew.". Occasionally, his attention was diverted by a sudden urge to grope drunkenly at me or some friend of mine, but these efforts were always met with derision.
    The most horrible thing about Ken was his treatment of his two stunted white German shepherd puppies, who had spent most of their young lives barricaded in the kitchen. Ken's drinking schedule kept him busy until at least 6 AM, after which he collapsed into bed until roughly 3 in the afternoon.. During this extended sleep period, his two dogs, imaginatively named "Whitey" and "Snow" spent their time in the kitchen, with a limited amount of food and water, and no access to a yard. We didn't really have a yard, since our back door opened directly underneath the el tracks. Dirk and I had tripped on mushrooms behind our building two months beforehand, after Dirk had scored a fabulous rent deal on the apartment. We sat in the snow at two in the morning, and waved at people as they climbed the stairs to the platform, welcoming them to our yard. Most of them found it funny, or so it seemed through our psilocybin goggles. All three of us were in our mid-twenties; we had no need for a yard anyway.
    The doorbell rang three more times before I reached the front door. I knew exactly who it was; the very source of my anxiety. The door had a couple of locks on it, and a curtained window-through that window, I could make out the gaunt form of my mother, a cigarette in one hand, and a dark, bulging garbage sack in the other. "Hurry UP!" she implored me through the glass. "It's fucking cold out here! How in the hell can you live in weather like this?!"
    Polly was conveniently forgetting that she had spent her first forty-eight years in the Midwest, until a series of cataclysmic events, including the suicide of my stepfather, had caused her to flee for a warmer climate. Though her decision to move to Mexico after Gil's death had seemed insane on the surface, it actually made a certain amount of pragmatic good sense. With her monthly social security check and VA benefits, she was able to rent an attractive hacienda with maid service in San Miguel de Allende. Still, once the money was spent, it was gone until the first of the following month, and there could be a long stretch of time in between, when cash was scarce.
    My mother sought to bridge that gap with the contents of her garbage sack, which she triumphantly hauled into my living room as soon as the door was open. She hurled the sack onto the floor as if it were a dead antelope. "Two pounds", she announced. "Extremely fresh-harvested just last week. Cured in crème de menthe." She opened the sack, which had not been secured by so much as a twist tie. "Smell" she commanded me.
    I took a quick, apprehensive sniff. Sure enough, I could detect an overpowering odor of mint, mixed with the trademark, herbal scent. "There's hardly any seeds" my mother announced proudly, as if she had just given birth to the contents of the sack. "And there are nine more sacks just like them, waiting outside in the spare gas tank."

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Confirmed
By Brian Hartman
(For Mary Anne)

    "No disrespect intended, Sister. I just don't think it's for me."
    "I understand, David." She paused. "I'll pray for you." The way she said it, it was the closest Dave had ever come to hearing a nun say, "Go fuck yourself."
    "Thank you, Sister."
    Dave hung up the phone. His mother came to the doorway of his room. "Was that Sister Agnes?"
    "Yeah. She wanted to know what I decided."
    "What'd you tell her?"
    "I told her I wasn't interested."
    "I hope you were polite."
    "Yeah. I was nice about it. I felt kinda bad, though. She said she'd pray for me."
    "Praying for you's a good thing, Dave."
    Dave turned back to his desk. "Yeah. I mean, I guess. I dunno. Anyway, I told'er thanks."
    "Well, finish your homework and get ready for dinner." She walked back to the kitchen.
   
****
    In the morning, Dave got dressed for school. One of the things he liked about Catholic school, especially eighth grade, was they had uniforms. That was one less decision you had to make when you got out of bed in the morning. Light blue dress shirt, navy blue tie, and blue pants. Really simple.
    The blue van that drove Dave to school was the same one that had taken him to grammar school for the past four years. It was just a different building. The town had refused to put an elevator into the public high school, but had agreed to pay for Dave's Catholic school education. Since eighth graders went to the high school in public school, Dave started his first year at St. Augustine's.
    "Biology is destiny." I wonder who said that...
    The van pulled up to the school, and the driver lowered the lift. Dave rolled on and waited for the sound of the lift hitting the ground. He rolled off the lift, up the gray ramp. The school had built it when they had heard he was coming. It was on two levels: Not a bad job, for only having a few months' notice... Push three times, turn, push three times, land. He rolled in to class, and sat next to Jimmy, who had befriended him in September.
    The day started with the morning prayer. Dave always got the Lord's Prayer mixed up with the Hail Mary.
   
    Our Father, who art in Heaven,
    Hallowed be thy name.
    Blessed art thou among women,
    And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
    Give us this day our daily bread...
   
    After the prayer ended, the principal's voice came over the PA system.
    "Good morning, everyone. These are the morning announcements. As a reminder, ticket sales for our presentation of "Guys and Dolls" end this Friday. All the money you have raised is due by the end of the day. Students who raise more than two hundred dollars will receive two extra days added to Easter vacation. The Knights will be playing this Saturday. Let us all pray for a successful, safe game for all players, and for victory for our boys. Tommy Nelson is recovering from his spinal surgery. His family thanks you for your prayers and asks that you continue to pray for his speedy recovery. God bless you, and have a good day."
    Sister Mary Ignatius stepped in front of her desk. She was younger than most of the nuns. Maybe in her forties. She wore the traditional Augustinian habit, a black gown, with a white wimple. She wore her rosary from the waist of her habit, as if it was a holster for the power of Christ. "Please remember to hand in your permission slips by tomorrow for the retreat on Friday."

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Summer of the Long Knives
by LS Bassen
What if Hitler had been stopped early on? Is history the story of what was or what could have been? Does art reflect the ideal or the real? Explore these thoughts in a page-turner set in Berlin in the 1930's. Beautifully written the text will transport you to that time -- in a parallel universe.

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I was never Cool
by Joseph Musso
In this charming journey through a life filled with weirdness as well as wisdom, a man is caught between letting in and pushing away the people he needs most. Odd roommates, old girlfriends, family relationships, a trumpet, a mystery, and friends both disturbingly sane and profoundly crazed crowd a crooked but coherent path from, and back to, the heart. This book is easy to read and hard to put down. Read it and join the rest of us who care more about being ourselves than being cool.

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A Flawed Man
By Carissa Chesanek

    I stare blankly through the smudged plexiglass. The person on the opposite side is saying something, but I've yet to pay attention. A lot of useless yammering I suppose. Pointless words getting lost through his receiver. Words that no longer have any impact.
    A jab of the person's finger against the plexiglass wakes me from my self-loathing stupor and our eyes finally meet for the first time since he's been here. The man across mouths for me to pick up the phone, pointing to my receiver then jabbing at the glass again for a bigger impact.
    I sink deeper into my metal chair. The once fleshy part of my body now provides no comfort between the metal and my rear. I've lost far too much weight to even recognize myself when I look in the mirror, and now sitting is a chore.
    My left hand that's slumped in my lap slowly lifts and reaches for the black receiver -- the old friend I grew accustomed to these past 5 years locked up in the state penitentiary. A friend I once longed for; the gift of voice sparked from the other end is now just a distraction.
    I breathe in deeply before picking up the handset. I look through the plexiglass again and see the man before me. A trusted man who once brought me such hope. A man with courage, strength, and promise, now looks at me with an expression I have yet to see since the trial. Sadness. Disappointment. Whatever it is, it drips from his face like droplets of a melting icicle come the thaw of spring.
    I hear someone call my name and realize I haven't placed the receiver to my ear. I'm still holding it in midair, staring blankly at my trusted lawyer across the glass divider.
    Swallowing hard, I reluctantly put the receiver in its proper place, propped slightly on my shoulder.
    "David," the familiar voice says on the other end. "David, I'm so sorry."
    My eyes glance down at my feet shackled tightly side-by-side. I move one foot a few inches to scratch the other which makes the chains rattle together. It's a habit I've grown familiar with: moving my feet to hear the chains, making sure this is all still real.
    "David?"
    I look up again at Mike, my best friend of 14 years and criminal defense lawyer for the past 5. His face stares back at me. The lines around his eyes are now more profound than I remember. The circles under his promising blue eyes are also deeper, and the once clean shaven all-American golden boy is now covered in untrimmed scruff. He looks tired. I guess he should be since he put up a good fight all these years, defending his friend when no one else believed of his innocence. Oh yes, a fine fight indeed, even if he is the one on the other side of the glass. The one who is free and gets to go home at the end of each day.
    "How are you David?" He squints as if it hurts to ask. "How are you holding up in there?"
    I stare at him for a while before responding.
    "Not great Mike."
    "I'm so sorry David, I did everything I could."
    Bowing my head down, I'm forced to stare at my shackled feet again. My head falls heavy into my right hand. I'm too tired to keep it up.
    "I didn't do it," I whisper into the receiver. "I could never do it."
    "I know David," Mike says. "I know you didn't."
    My head lifts as I look back at Mike.
    "Then why didn't they?" I ask. "Why did they think I did it?"
    Mike breathes in deeply.
    "Because you were the only one on the scene. It was only your DNA found in the crime scene--"
    "The crime scene?" I bark. "You mean my home? The home I bought with my wife 7 years ago?"
    Mike looks down at his hands.
    "Yes, David."
    He looks back at me and for a moment we’re silent. He realizes he’s still talking to me in “lawyer” mode.

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Cigarette Money
By Joe Romano

    Green and brown glass rains down and the smell of liquor hangs in the air like a frat party at dawn. He stood staring at the bloody wreckage of what had recently resembled the face of a handsome, 50-something Middle Eastern man. A man who just moments ago had been standing in front of him, pointing a pistol he'd produced from God knows where.
    He shook himself, attempting to clear his head and focus.
    "Shit! Shit, shit, shit!"
    With his free hand he grabbed the pile of bills lying on the counter top and shoved his gun into his waistband with the other. Turning, he bolted toward the glass doors, side-stepping the bloody, yet nearly perfect nose, lying near the magazine racks. Outside and away from the cameras, he removed his hoody and sunglasses and walked purposefully to his car parked around back of the 7-11. He climbed into the driver's seat, slammed the door, and promptly threw up in his lap. By the time he'd finished retching the red and blue lights of the patrol car blocking his exit were already reflecting in his rear view mirror.

****
    Blake looked at the balance on their monthly Visa bill and released a sigh. He couldn't understand it; $679.00 more than they were bringing in each month. He thought they'd been so careful.
    Six months ago, when the factory had decided to move forward with some temporary layoffs (though not before promising Blake he'd be one of the first brought back when things picked up), he and Gayle had eliminated nearly everything but the bare essentials. They'd cancelled the cable and cut the phone down to just basic service. They never ate out and Gayle brown-bagged her lunch to school each day. When shopping for groceries he no longer purchased anything that they'd agreed was "unnecessary." No more potato chips, soda, frozen meals, pre-packaged snack-type food of any kind. Even alcohol had been eliminated. So why were they still coming up short?
    He scrolled through the purchase details looking for something out of the ordinary. Finding a $119.00 charge at a downtown department store he remembered the dress his 16-year old daughter had needed for a school dance. Sighing again, he recalled how his wife had gone all over town, combing clearance racks in search of something affordable, yet still fashionably acceptable. It saddened him that his daughter had to suffer for his failures.
   
    And then there were the cars, both over 15-years old; both on life support. Always in need of another procedure to replace some aged appendage. The $412 charge from Joe's Automotive was the result of a Tuesday morning three of four weeks ago when the Sentra's water pump decided to give up the ghost.
    That brought him to about $500 and change. Looking further he found a few charges for local pizza joints, nights when neither he nor Gayle had been up to making dinner, and the kids refused to choke down another grilled cheese sandwich. That kicked it closer to $600. Throw in a co-payment or two at the doctor's office, maybe a prescription and there you go. It comes in and it goes out, with nothing getting saved for those monthly surprises.
    Pouring a glass of milk, Blake turned on the radio and dialed in an all-night 70's music station that broadcast out of a suburban strip mall. He sorted through the bills again, deciding on which to make the minimum payment and which he would allow to go delinquent. The bills stamped and ready to be mailed, Blake pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and looked inside. He counted 7. Slipping one out, he tucked it into the corner of his mouth and struck a match. And then there were six; the last 6 he'd be smoking, since cigarettes had just made the unnecessary list. He'd been meaning to quit anyway.

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Bad Blood
by Lorne Patterson
The man his fellow patients call 'The Professor'  has been kept locked away in the high security unit of a mental hospital for a long time. Insane or not - it is hard to tell after all his years of incarceration - The Professor believes a psychiatric hospital should serve the best interests of its constituents. However, he has grown increasingly disturbed by what he sees: shock therapies, psycho-surgery, toxic and addictive medicines, an ever-shifting line on what is 'illness' and what is 'treatment'. Seriously disturbed. Something needs to be done and The Professor is just the lunatic to try…

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Lives of Crime & Other Stories
by LS Bassen
These are great noir stories, with a very intelligent self-awareness that makes them existentially perplexing and entertaining at the same time. Kind of a guilty pleasure, wry darkness.

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Sleeping Dogs
By Dan Boylan

Part One

        The cottage lay at the end of a winding track, surrounded by poplars and mostly hidden from the main road and the village. It was a two-storey, Victorian redbrick, no frills or architectural beauty, a working man's cottage with a privy at the bottom of the garden.
    The ageing policemen had dismounted from his bicycle to avoid the ruts and potholes. He turned to the old man some yards behind him and asked,
    "Is this it? Mrs Jenkins's house?"
    He nodded and grunted in the affirmative.
    "Aye, Belvedere Cottage."
    "When was the last time you saw her up and about?"
    "Ain't seen her for days but there was smoke coming from the chimney about a week ago. Ain't been no smoke or sign of her for many a day, thought I'd best come an' tell 'e. Ain't goin' inside though."
    "Why?"
    He shuffled awkwardly,
    "Dunno, she was always a bit spooky, a bit weird, some said she was a witch or something, most folk gave her a wide berth. I don't wanna go inside her house. I don't wanna offend her or, you know, stir things up."
    "What can you tell me about her?"
    He shrugged again.
    "Not much, she came here during the war, her husband was away in the army. He died about ten years ago, she's lived alone since then, never went into the village, used to take the bus into town, when she couldn't get to the bus stop, she had groceries delivered to the door, none of the delivery boys wanted to come here, she was too scary, too creepy."
    "Go on, get out of here you old wuss. I've dealt with bigger skeletons in cupboards than this."
    And he turned towards the cottage.
    He turned the doorknob, pushed the door open and called, in an authoritative voice,
    "Anyone home, Police Constable Rutherford here, just come to see that everything is alright....."
    He stood on the door mat, observed, sniffed, listened and made an initial assessment. The cottage was as plain and ordinary inside as it was out. The deal table and chairs and the dresser were homemade, the walls and ceiling distempered and the floor was flag stoned. A York range covered most of the outside wall and he could tell the fire had not been lit for some time. Crockery and bits of food littered the table and there was an air of neglect about the place.
    He wandered through to the front room and discovered more untidiness and neglect and a jumble of blankets on the tatty sofa. He called again from the foot of the stairs,
    "Anyone home, Constable Rutherford here...." but the house lay silent.
    He climbed the stairs, sniffing and listening as he ascended, when he reached the top stair, he pushed the bedroom door open and a slight, musty smell invaded his nostrils.
    The bed was another jumble of blankets and he saw a hand, white and wrinkled lying on top of the bedding.
    "You alright Missus?" he asked, in an even, untroubled tone, "Police here." And he stepped forward and held her hand and felt for a pulse. He knew instantly from the coldness that she's gone and pulled back the blankets to look at her face. Her pasty white skin was drawn and tight and she wore a pained expression. He nipped the underside of her nose but there was no reaction so he pulled the bedding over her head. He glanced around the room taking in the clutter and disorder and saw a small notebook on the bedside cabinet. He pulled on his glasses and opened the note book at the first page. The handwriting was spidery yet clear as if it had been written with great care, he read aloud, slowly and with great deliberation.
    'My name is Doris Jenkins and I was born and raised in these parts over sixty years ago. When my husband was away at the war, I saw a soldier in the village and said 'hello' to him. Without me knowing, he followed me home and as I closed the back door he forced his way in. I could smell the beer on him. He made a grab for me and I pushed him hard and he fell heavily and hit his head on the hearth. He groaned a while, then went quiet, I felt his pulse and I realised he was dead. I know I should have gone to the police but I panicked. After some time, I dragged him outside, across the lawn and buried him in the soft earth at the bottom of the garden and later, planted an apple tree over the grave. I never knew who he was and never mentioned the matter to anyone.'

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Statute Of Limitations
By Bob Smith

    Andrew's first reaction at seeing Gordon again on the first day of high school was a mild frisson of pleasure. He hadn't before thought about the fact kids from all over town would be bussed to the large composite secondary school. That reaction was quickly followed by a sharp mental recoil as he thought, When did he get so weird?
    They had been best friends in Kindergarten and Grade One. For some reason, Gordon had latched on to Andrew, always stopping for him on his way to school, always walking him home afterwards. After First Grade though, Andrew had moved. Later, he understood that his father had been given a big promotion in his government job, one with a hefty pay increase that let them leave the working-class neighbourhood downwind of the slaughterhouse for the ritzier west end. Like many childhood friends, he and Gordon initially maintained contact with phone calls. There had even been one visit, Andrew's father picking Gordon up and taking him home afterwards. However, email, texting, and Skype were Science Fiction dreams and the long-distance relationship had withered and died. Other boys replaced Gordon in Andrew's life, and other interests grew, from bicycle tag with neighbourhood kids to baseball, hockey, and eventually girls.
    Gordon wasn't entirely forgotten, but if for some reason something triggered his memory, Andrew pictured a tow-headed, roly-poly youngster with glasses. Now the straight blond hair was darker but Andrew wasn't sure it was simply the actual shade - it looked in need of a thorough washing. Worse yet, 'roly-poly' had become 'fat'. Andrew himself had been a little chubby, but his baby fat had turned to muscle thanks to his dedicated commitment to sports. That obviously hadn't happened with Gordon. He wasn't obese but he was headed in that direction. He reminded Andrew of the man he had seen on the local TV news who had had to be rescued from the revolving door at Deegan's Shoe Store when his weight caused the mechanism to jam.
    And instead of stylish frames, Gordon's thick lenses had heavy black plastic rims that reminded Andrew of the pipes he had seen plumbers carrying into the houses under construction in the new subdivision. He briefly wondered about contact lenses, then realized that they wouldn't be a financial possibility. He was now aware of economic realities unlike when he was six when Gordon lived with his single-parent mother above Bud's Variety on Fraser Avenue.
    When that hair, that physique, and those glasses were combined with non-descript beige trousers worn so high Gordon's white socks glared like a street light, 'weird-looking' was an understatement. Add the plastic pocket protector with four pens - red, green, blue, and black - and Gordon seemed like some cartoon character who everyone ridiculed.
    He assumed Gordon would eventually recognize him but he seemed withdrawn as he huddled into his desk with downcast eyes, unlike the others who shared tentative smiles with new classmates. A few seemed to know one other person - in Andrew's case, a girl from his elementary school - and there was one group of four guys who insulted each other with raucous laughter. All of them seemed to have nicknames. Andrew couldn't imagine a parent actually naming a child Core or Dirty Ernie, much less Maggot. They called the other one Bull, Andrew assumed because he was the biggest, though not that much bigger than Andrew himself, and not terribly muscular-looking despite his size. But he was also louder, less funny, and more personal with his insults.
    At lunch time in the cafeteria, Andrew sat with several other guys from his new class. The Four Stooges, as Andrew was starting to think of them, sat at the other end of the long table. Gordon sat by himself, two rows over.
    Conversation was dominated by speculation about the girls in their class and the upcoming Phys. Ed. period. Talk about the girls was entirely hypothetical, though Andrew found it interesting to hear the comments about Emma Tompkins, the girl who had been in his class all through the junior grades. Now he saw her through others' eyes and realized there had been some major upgrades to the skinny, awkward girl he had always ignored.
    Gym class was more real, or at least, more immediate. All of them were going back to their lockers after lunch to pick up sports bags with the T-shirts, shoes, and shorts that had been mandated. One fellow said his mother had an ironing mania so he expected his jock strap to be crisp and creased. Someone else commented, "As long as she didn't starch it too."
    Changing in the locker room was awkward. However, unruly laughter covered the discomfort most of them felt. Andrew at least had had hockey change rooms to prepare him, though he had been with the same boys since parents accompanied their children to help them dress. This group included strangers, but everyone managed.

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River of Skulls
by J.F.Langton
Emily Fairfield, a proper young woman from Connecticut, sails to San Francisco in 1850, expecting her husband to meet her for a second honeymoon. Instead, unmet, she disembarks into a wild and lawless gold-fever culture totally foreign to her. Feeling abandoned, then terrified by the violence around her, she undertakes a quest to find her attorney husband, now a miner. She summons the strength, ingenuity, and resolve to save their gold claim in the southern mines of the Sierra Nevada foothills,  defying the odds stacked against her very survival. Before setting out for the Mother Lode, Emily is chilled when an old man at the San Francisco waterfront tells her that where she is going to seek her husband, El Rio de las Calaveras, is Spanish for The River of Skulls.


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Slices of Life
by Bob Smith
Enough already with the superheroes, superstars, and supernatural characters! Most of us are ordinary people, leading regular lives.  But we are all the heroes of our own existence and that isn't unexciting. In this collection of short stories, there is no one with X-ray vision, no Hollywood idol, no vampire.  Instead, there is a man who reluctantly attends a memorial service for an unremarkable colleague and discovers he wasn't so ordinary after all.  A girl whose mother recently died reconnects with her father who is lost in grief.  A woman discovers support from school friends who seem to have grown apart as adults. Positive and optimistic, these stories affirm the strength, creativity, and thoughtfulness we all have. It is available for order at ottbookstore.com  and as an ebook at many online stores.


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Alter Ego Meets Soulmate
By Jennifer Jo Fay

Chapter One
    My brain is infested with an invisible fog and my life seems to be spiraling into a container of nothingness. I needed a good fix of something. May I suggest a strong cup of coffee? I really wasn't aware at all about what my near future was going to be. All I wanted to do was down a good cup of coffee with Bailey's Irish Cream flavored creamer and my three heaps of sugar and start blogging.
    When waking, I have no thoughts of what will come. Just do with me what you will, okay? And today, I have woken up ungodly early. Another night passing without taking my prescribed sleep medicine and here it is 5am. I suppose I am ready to face the world. Not really. I'm not even ready to look at myself in the dusty mirror.
    Someone knock me out with a Little Tikes orange hammer! I hear nothing but silence. Oh well, it was a thought from an insane person like myself. I'm fast to turn off Mr. Bleep. I hate it on days when the constant ringing gripes at me while I possess clumsy hands.
    Hells bells. I might as well get up. My daily mirror shows me I need to fix my curly blond hair. She looks like me, but is she? I haven't yet told her today is a new start and I am going to somehow change myself. How? I do not know that yet. But don't we say we are going to make amends and start fresh? How many of us stick to all we set out to do?
    Where on Texas Toast is my bucket list? I do have one but I don't seem to accomplish all the things festering in it. Is it possible for new beginnings? I'm supposed to hop into that canoe on the calmness of lake and find my fresh slate every day? Someone who created the blank page forgot to include routines, ruts, and bad habits. I'm queen of all three.
    It's time for a shower. I love my yellow bathroom with the purple pansy wall border. It puts the cheer in my day. Here is the wonderful hard, warm pulse of the shower as it beads down on me and clears my senses.
    Ten minutes later, toweled off with my purple towel, minty fresh teeth, dressed in my navy blue trumpet skirt and a baby blue floral tank top, I am ready to kick start my morning. I don't know what is going to be the outcome, but I'm sure going to give it my all.
    
    Chapter Two
    Downstairs, I sit on my lime green wicker chair, open up my laptop and stare out the white paned window while I wait for things to slowly chug along. I'm an impatient person. I don't know who I get it from. Maybe it stems from Aunt Lucia. Her influence on me was always overbearing. I guess I need to call her and say I'm sorry for being a royal BEE. Or should I say female dog? I really hate to curse.
    Mom cursed plenty for the whole family. Family was me and my younger sister. I wish Melena was here today. I hate drivers who fall asleep at the wheel. Really ticks me off. If only he hadn't hit her. And to see her sprawled out mangled over her nice red bike with the old fashioned basket really sent me on a drinking binge for a while.
    I'm really not an alcoholic, but after her death, I did drink to drown my misery. To top it off, a year later, Mom committed suicide as she just couldn't handle what life had given her. She dealt her cards wrong in my mind when she should have stuck it out and seen it through to a better tomorrow.
    I hope Melena met her with a massive slingshot to give her a taste of her medicine. I hated Mom for leaving me like that.
    Anyway, here I stare out the window, past its blue gingham curtains and into the deep blue sea and white sandy beaches. I love my view of the ocean. Every waking day I have to pinch myself to make sure I am blessed to be in this beautiful sea side cape house nestled on this private beach.
    All I can gratefully say is, "Thank-you, Marvin." Marvin, Medeiros, my only uncle died shortly after Mom to prostate cancer and I got lucky and inherited his lovely secluded property. There isn't another house around for several miles. Just me, the cats and the sea.
    So not so plain Jane, Marina Elenora Medeiros gets to sell seashells by the sea shore… well, that happens in my dreams. I have Mom's maiden name as she was a single mom. Some Tom, Dick or Harry ran off and couldn't handle having a child. I never met him. The only man in my life was Marvin and he's gone.
    I sit near my laptop blowing a kiss of thanks for showing me my wallpaper. I've got Bella Swan and Edward Cullen in one of their sexiest moments now on my screen. Hello, my lovely vampires. And I guzzle down my small white glass of orange juice. I need that too. I need something healthy to go with the coffee with my sugar. And the coffee just sits there. I've only had two sips so far.    

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Trench Boots
By Larry Duncan

February 1920
    Joseph Barrett was still in his uniform when he boarded the train in Baltimore.
    The war was over. Everyone but his own country had ratified the treaty in Versailles. The Germans were done. His own paper work had been finished and filed that morning. After he signed his name on the last line, he sat rigid in the chair as the sergeant seated across from him moved papers from one side of his desk to the other. The sergeant cleared his throat and began filling out another form. Joseph could feel the next doughboy in line hovering over him. When the sergeant finished what he was writing, he looked up and seemed surprised to see Joseph still seated across from him.
    The sergeant laid his pen down on the desk and slumped back in his chair. He took his glasses from his face and lowered his head into his other hand, pushing his fingers into his eyes. When he looked back up, there was a red indentation between his eyes from where his glasses had pinched the bridge of his nose.
    "You're done," he said, leaning forward and perching his elbows on the edge of his desk. The sergeant's eyes darted back and forth from Joseph to the next soldier in line behind him and Joseph saw for the first the puffy, dark circles. The sergeant was tired, but there was something else beneath his heavy lids, something nervous and uncertain. "You can go home, son."
    Joseph stood, brushed his hand down the sleeve of his jacket and lifted his pack from the floor. When he turned to leave the sergeant's office, he saw the soldier who had been standing at attention behind him-a fresh-faced, redheaded boy with freckles and dead, staring eyes.
    On his way out, he passed close enough to brush shoulders with the boy. Joseph watched him out of the corner of his eye. The boy didn't acknowledge him at all, didn't even seem to see him or anything else for that matter. He didn't move a muscle or even seem to breathe. His gaze locked on a point just above the sergeants head. Then the sergeant said, "Take a seat soldier," and the soldier sat. Before he stepped out of the office and into the hall, Joseph angled his head just enough to glance back at where the other soldier had been staring and saw an empty wall. In the hall outside the sergeant's office, there were three or four other soldiers waiting to sign their discharge papers. Joseph hurried passed. He didn't look at any of their faces.
    He carried his pack with him down the hall and passed the nurse's station. He knew the nurse on duty. Her name was Margret. She smelled like lilacs and her hands were soft and cool as clean linen. She was smiling at him over the high counter. Her arms crossed over her chest, cradling a few patient files to the buttons of her blue sweater. He watched the smile fall from her face out of the corner of his eye, but didn't turn to look at her. He kept his eyes on the twin doors at the end of the hall, the light breaking through the crosshatched window panes. As he got closer, he had to squint, and turn his head down and away as if walking into a hard wind. She might have called his name. But before he could be sure, he was out the door and slinging his pack over his shoulder.
    He spent the rest of the morning wandering the streets of Baltimore. The snow had all but melted, leaving only a few dirty patches clinging to the bases of telephone poles. Everything was a mess and it didn't take long for the cold to seep in through the seams of his boots. He had a map in his pack along with detailed instructions on how to get from Fort McHenry to the train depot downtown, but once he found himself in the city he just let himself be pushed along by the crowd. Now and then, someone stopped him, shook his hand or slapped him on the back, saying "Welcome home," or "Way to go, son. You sure stuck it to them Kaisers." A man in a heavy coat and top hat handed him a cigar. Joseph wrapped it in a handkerchief and placed it in the breast pocket of his jacket. A group of young girls giggled as they passed, one of them running back to kiss him on the cheek. Throwing her head back and laughing as she dashed off to join the huddled arms of her friends waiting on the corner-her hair trailing behind her in a mess of black curls, like Margret's when she took the pins out and let it fall. He paused outside store windows and watched women shop, pretending to look at displays as their fingers slid along hems of hangered dresses and getting nervous when one of them happened to look back. His fingers left ghost prints on the plate glass, fading from the heat inside the stores as soon as he lifted his hand.
    It didn't take him long to get lost. He followed his feet. When they turned, he turned, down side streets and back alleys, until the crowd thinned and he was alone, standing between two brick walls and staring up at another. Trash was strewn all over the alley, spilling out of bins and toppled metal cans, and the air was thick with sick, sweet smell of rot.

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Family Secrets 
by Diane Valentine
Maggie Lange is a young widow with three preschool daughters.  Her grandmother dies and leaves Maggie the farm and a large sum of money.  On a trip to take care of some details, she spends the night with Karl Gustavson, the man she had a crush on as a teenager.  He doesn't call.   A few months later, she realizes she's pregnant.  She and her best friend concoct a plan so Maggie can have her baby and not be deemed an unfit mother. She fears if her in-laws find out, she may also lose custody of her daughters.  Karl finds out about his son and insists Maggie marry him.  His harshness causes Maggie to fear him.  Gradually, Karl shows he cares about her and the children.  But someone is out to harm Maggie.  There is a question about Maggie's father's parentage.

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The Boulevard Trial
by Stephanie Laterza
The Boulevard Trial is the story of three women who face a guilty past during a New York prostitution case. It is a story of lawyers and clients, mothers and daughters and the redeeming power of unconditional love. When attorney Helena's Partner boss discovers a secret from her law school days, she realizes she may lose her job or worse. Before then, she will continue defending prostitute Francesca after a police raid. When Helena's adversary Alexandra, a powerhouse prosecutor, hints that she also knows Helena's secret, Helena must decide whether to expose Alexandra's German, post-war past to save her client and herself.


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Face of War
By Joseph Grant

    It's been said, that in war, you never hear the shot that kills you. But you never hear the one that almost kills you, either. Nor do you hear the roadside bomb called an IED for Improvised Explosive Device when it goes off nearly dead center beneath your supply truck. But if you are somehow fortunate to wake up in a hospital afterwards, you will hear the ringing in your ears for weeks. The screaming of the dying soldiers around you never quite goes away.
    "You're one of the lucky ones." is what they tell as you lay in the hospital bed but you don't consider yourself lucky at all. You feel like hell as your body fights to stay alive, fluids oozing through gauze everywhere. The bed is a mess and they have rounds where they pick you up as you scream in pain so that they can change the bed, change the tubes and the dressings, put you back together again before the morphine kicks in again. No, you don't consider yourself lucky. You're pieces of your former self. The lucky ones have all died, for they no longer have to live with the memory of war.
    These are the thoughts racing through the mind of Sgt. Pedro Gonzalez. He and his company were running supply lines in the supposedly secure southern province called Helmand. Prior to their arrival, there had been fierce battles in the sector as this had always been a Taliban stronghold. This owed to the fact that this was one of the largest opium and hashish producing regions in the world. Helmand accounted for 75% of the 90% of heroin that fed the global supply out of Afghanistan alone. With Bin Laden and his endless cash supply as dead as he was, the Taliban now funded much of their operation through the illicit drug trade.
    There had been rumors of soldiers going rogue and leaving Helmand and Kandahar to the east with what were speciously described in the guarded state run press as 'large truckfuls' of opium. Not only were the soldiers, described by the media and the Taliban as 'infidels', invading their homeland, but they were also stealing their one major source of income. This enraged the rebels even further and as a result, homemade roadside bombs were hurriedly prepared and planted when word was put out by the media that Pakistan was opening up their NATO supply route once again.
    The lurching convoy in which Gonzalez and his fellow soldiers were riding was a typical supply unit, delivering extra parts, mail, medical equipment, food, water, and other essentials for the day-to-day occupation. Gonzalez recalled the group commander telling them during their morning mission briefing about if there was any trouble, the convoy would box in and the gunners who usually doubled as drivers would tear out of the vehicle and bound up onto the grill and get into the 50 caliber and 240 machine gun turrets and let loose. This would be especially true in the case of an IED blast.
    IEDs are a strange phenomenon, thought Gonzalez. They can be detrimental as well as instrumental is weakening morale but they can also kill civilians who are unaware of their placement. A large number of insurgents who place them have been killed when they used pressure plate-type of IED's incorrectly. Usually, it isn't the initial fiery blast that kills, although it will kill; it will kill and maim just as much as the subsequent concussion that rips through the 1029 Humvee or heavy hauler cargo trucks. MRAPs, RG-31s, Marauders, Cheetahs and Buffaloes could also be found in standard convoys.
    Gonzalez remembered how he felt he was safe from harm as he rode in one of the larger armored trucks with the higher carriage clearance on the bottom. He remembered thinking that he wished to God he was in an MRAP Cougar, although he was aware of their rollover ratio and the antennas hitting the infamously low power lines in these regions and creating an electric arc, which lead to the electrocution of many soldiers. Still, the survival rate of soldiers in MRAPs and any of the other mine and IED-resistant vehicles was greater than those in any heavy truck, he knew.
    As navigator, Gonzalez would radio dispatches to the lead car and keep watch in case of an ambush. The larger trucks weren't always the quickest if the soldiers got into a jam, but they could be used as battering rams for any smaller vehicle loaded with rebels who might fire upon them. The height of the truck also gave him and his men a better field of vision to spot such aggressive personnel.
    The scouts always rode ahead in lighter armored all-terrain cars but more often than not on motorcycles. This allowed the scouts to zoom in and out of any possible congested area to radio back about any suspicious devices, roadblocks or too many people in one area that might lead to an ambush. Behind Gonzalez was the middle of the convoy, consisting of the lighter-skinned, soft-weight trucks and jeeps. The insurgents liked to pick these off as these were where a lot of the soldiers would usually ride.

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Frances Cochran Dead Too Long
By Tom Sheehan

     Closing on forty-five years on the Saugus Police Department, all of it on the street it seemed except for the last few years of count-down to my retirement, I owned up to a few things. If I were asked to give a thumbnail sketch of myself I would have replied simply, but very graphically, as follows: God-fearing, American to the absolute and final core, stiff believer in the Marine Corps and its heady history, a cop every day until my last day, and a detailer. That I loved, and lived by, details, was a paramount importance in all I did. So it was not odd in 1990, late in the year, leaves crisp and yellow as butter or red as lava flow, the stadium a full bandbox of sounds on Saturdays, dates and anniversaries and common events came piling across the back of my mind like some inner movie being run for the hundredth time.
     Silas Tully's my name and I always paid heed to such home movies. Now the old headlines grabbed at me, tossed their thick and tall blackness and page-wide shrieks into my mind, their gripping attention reaching out to grab me. MURDER they had screamed, VIOLENT MURDER, a girl, a nice neighborhood girl, some fifty years ago, garroted and strangled and fiercely and barbarously treated and then dumped off the side of a lonely road.
    I'd been just a spanking brand new fifteen year older when the murder had taken place, and even now, after all the years on the force, after all I've seen and wished I hadn't seen at times, the newer murders, the later crimes, the heinous deeds I sometimes had been witness to, it still came to me as if it happened only yesterday.
    It had happened almost fifty years ago, and I found an old reproduction of a LYNN DAILY EVENING ITEM, one I finally Xeroxed before it gave up the ghost, the cream of wheat texture of it, the aging yellowness falling away to near dust. I read again the lead paragraph, a paragraph some reporter had written when I was a mere fifteen years old, a paragraph hard enough and tough enough to make any man sit up, even today: Twenty-four hours after the mutilated body of attractive Frances Cochran, nineteen year old bookkeeper, of 54 Water Street, was found in a thicket near the Salem-Lynn-Swampscott line police were seeking the driver of a '34 or '35 Chevie with yellow trimmings. The Chief of Police had reported that a mysterious caller to a local radio station had advised that a body could be found off Danvers Road. Frances Cochran had disappeared on July 17 and was the object of an intense search for three days before her body was discovered. After the tipster called, two Swampscott patrolmen had found her body.
    I could still feel the taste in my mouth, all these years later, which the story had induced. Nothing was as despicable as hurting the fair sex, and I realized that much of my character and all my police life had been painted by that distaste. Now and then I shook in anger at such doings. It made me work much harder than the guy at the next locker, the one who took over my shift, my beat.
    The girl's body was found with her face and head bludgeoned into a pulp, her skull crushed and parts of her shoulders and torso burned in a crude attempt to burn the body. Her teeth were broken and her entire body maltreated. Her clothing was torn to shreds. "Absolute barbarism and the work of a crazed fiend or a maniac," said the chief. A tree twig, about an inch in thickness, was found lodged deeply in Miss Cochran's throat. The body was sprawled in a tangle of brush about thirty-five feet from the road.
     The beastliness of it all came a full charge at me, a horrible sense of the deed working on me as strong as it had when I was that mere boy. Over and over again I read the story, assimilating every detail, categorizing and filing each little item, each entity or bit of information, and slowly and surely, the way a glacier makes its way out of the mountains, a matter of resolve began to fill me. From every known source I gathered additional details, taking Xeroxes of everything in the files of THE LYNN DAILY EVENING ITEM and THE SALEM EVENING NEWS. In turn I was lead to clippings from Boston papers, the GLOBE and the HERALD and TRAVELER and the RECORD and AMERICAN and the old POST, and subsequently to an innumerable number of magazine articles and specialty features about one a most brutal crime. Certainly, for those along the North Shore, from tightly-packed Winthrop under the sound of aircraft popping in and out of Boston's Logan Airport to the water-world that was Gloucester and Rockport and Manchester-by-the-Sea, the crime was one for the century.
     And for the fact that half of that century was about to pass, I, plain Officer Silas Tully, God-fearing, American, Corps' man, cop forever, detailer (Ars Punctilio, as Chief Noel Rebenkern had so often referred to me), sitting daily now in the soft chair easing me down the road to retirement, decided to have a go at it on my own.

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I Ate Tiong Bahru
by Stephen Black
I Ate Tiong Bahru is a cross-genre collection of stories about the  people, food and buildings of Tiong Bahru, a community in Singapore. "... I Ate Tiong Bahru, the exquisite 'lyrical documentary' on Tiong Bahru, gave me many hours of pure pleasure... I wish I'd read it before visiting the estate, and still in Singapore so I would be able to go there again.It's in Paris that I read it, where I followed all of its descriptions and encounters, street by street, on my detailed map of Singapore... I loved the book." M.Abreu

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Twelve Women in a Country Called America: Stories
by Kelly Cherry
Kelly Cherry’s tenth work of fiction delivers twelve compelling stories about women of the American South. These are women struggling to find their way through the everyday workings of life while also navigating the maze of self. From a young woman’s nightmare piano lesson to an elderly woman’s luminous last breath, Twelve Women in a Country Called America takes readers on a journey sometimes dark, sometimes funny, and always enlightening.

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Ginger Rogers Once Played
Tennis in North Vancouver
By John Joyce


    Paul Tulley was in his front garden, half-heartedly raking leaves. The little black dog appeared from nowhere and playfully jumped up on him.
    "Hello Max. Have you already forgotten your mistress? I haven't. But that's between you and me."
    "Max, Max come back here." It was a local neighbour and his wife standing at the top of Paul's driveway with another dog. It was a golden retriever, but it was just a brown dog to Paul.
    "Of course you know Max well," called out the woman, who was wearing a Sun Fun Run T.
    "Oh, yes. We know each other."
    Max scampered back through the nutrient-enriched soil and joined the threesome for their walk.
    Paul leant on his rake and stared at the house across the street. There were new neighbours now. Mike and Diane. Well, not new, anymore. Easter before last is when they moved in, or rather, when Peggy moved away. He recalled when he'd first heard about Max.
   
    ****
    "His name is Max. Lively little devil. Jumped on me," said Anne-Marie pouring a second mug of breakfast tea. "I thought you'd like to know I brought another Amazon DVD across to Peggy."
    "What on this time? Dog training?"
    "You have a thing about dogs?"
    "Only dog owners who don't control their hounds, especially when I'm out running."
    "Max is not a hound. He is a lovely Labrador Retriever. Perhaps we should think about getting a dog?"
    "Never!"
    Peggy and Roger Mont lived across the street and were the owners of Max. Except for reserved waves there had been little contact. Sometimes Anne-Marie brought an Amazon package across the street to Peggy. "I think Peggy buys DVDs," said Anne-Marie over breakfast one morning. The CBC radio played in the background.
    "I wonder if she has any blues or Jazz ones for me to look at?" remarked Paul who was listening to Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue.'
    "They keep to themselves, not like our previous neighbours."
    "Do you think there is something sinister about the neighbour's wife ordering a DVD?"
    "No. I don't think so. Probably a DVD on Pilates or Yoga or Tai Chi," said Anne-Marie in her customary Cape Breton Accent.
    "Sounds like an early Christmas list from you!"
    Peggy could often be seen taking the black dog for a walk. On Sunday evenings her husband Roger joined her and there appeared to be a group of dog walkers all promenading along the street destined for the park near Cleveland Dam.
    About three months after the arrival of the dog, Roger suffered a heart attack during a marathon in Victoria. Anne-Marie and Paul rallied around Peggy when the tragedy struck. They invited her over many times and tried to help with her grieving. Paul was often dispatched to do odd jobs such as moving chairs and twice cleaning eaves, which he hated because of the height thing. On three occasions when Peggy wasn't well Paul had even taken Max for a walk. Twice in the rain.
    Peggy sometimes joined them for Sunday dinner but didn't eat or speak much. She had lost a lot of weight. They learnt she had been born in California thirty three years ago but grew up in North Vancouver near the Capilano Suspension Bridge. She was an only child and her mother had died when she was ten years old. Her father never re-married but had a girlfriend. After graduating from Simon Fraser University in Environmental Studies she worked at her father's consulting company where she met her husband Roger. She hadn't worked for many years but spoke about getting a part-time job. Anne-Marie sometimes tried to get her to talk about her interest in movies, but there was little response. She did seem to fuss about Max a lot, but it wasn't clear if that was a new development. Peggy was really quite dull company.
    It was an April Sunday evening while Anne-Marie served lasagna and Paul viewed the clarity of his favourite Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, that Peggy came out with, "I hate rain. Don't like the cold. I like sunlight."
    Before leaving that night, they'd all played ping pong. At first Peggy was reluctant to play, but once she got going she was unbeatable. Later that night Anne-Marie commented, "The girl was almost enjoying herself. I hope she's coming out of it. In addition to the grief she's depressed due to lack of sunlight around here. It's called SAD for seasonal affective disorder. Many of my patients have it. Normally people put on a little weight though."

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Mack’s Winter
By Dorman Nelson

    The birds, overhead, were making no progress against the wind. It had been blowing cold, then colder all morning and now with the sun slanting down in the west through the trees the shadows were chilling fast. Felt like a frost coming on.
    Mack shook his auburn hair out of his face, and tied on his hood. His ears were tingling as he realized this year would be the first Christmas he would spend out of St. Louis. It took him most of the summer and the start of fall of 1861 to get up to the Montana Territory without resorting to boating along the Mississippi or Missouri thus avoiding most travelers…McClelland was a loner; as it was with most of his family. The men seemed to wander off into the world, the women making home and hearth, stirring the heart and latch strings of the men so they eventually didn't wander so far…and still there were numbers of children every generation feeding upon that wanderlust that continued the Clan of McClelland that had started so long ago in the Highlands across the sea.
    He strode back to his camp. He'd have to hunt tomorrow and fetch in more wood. He gazed on the brush and earth lean he had made against the two trees on the edge of the chest high grassy meadow. Further over was a half-finished cabin he had started on as soon as he found this valley. Clear running water meandered around the edge of the far tree line. Mostly evergreen there with a smattering of white trunked birch. He was far enough away to not scare the game coming to drink, but close enough to score a hit with his rifle. Handy, he thought, but realized lugging water to the cabin and livestock was a downright chore.
    There had been rains and some hail. Snowfall was not far off, and he had to get his camp in order and try to finish the cabin before winter was in earnest. He bend down and gathered up an armful of wood from his pile and threw it near the rocks he had propped up against the dirt on one side of the structure. Someday it would be an honest fireplace, now the fires just reflected the heat back and did for cooking.
    He thought about his life in St. Louis as he bunched some tinder together in his callused hands, grabbed some small limbs and some chunks of wood making a pile in a small circle before flinting sparks to start his fire. He bent lower blowing on a prospectral glow and the fire started up. He fed a few smaller twigs in the flame.
    He reached over and broke a larger limb over his knee swelling the material on his shoulders that hid the slabs of muscle underneath. He was a very large man in a larger world; and aware as he was of the dangers and pitfalls, he felt the strength of life bubbling up entwining with his youth knowing he would always persevere. With him it was no small boast. His family concurred. Especially his father who had tried one more time to bully him into work around the family plot. At the last the young brute force of 17 summers overcame the power and want of the elder resulting in Mack's packing to head west. He hoped the tales told in the markets and taverns would come to pass. Rich farmlands, herds of bison, gold and silver, vast expanses of plenty there for the taking, waiting for a young lad such as he to go, conquer, start new roots, make something count and thus becoming a man in the process.
    The fire crackled up. The heat was a fine thing reminding him of his mother, sisters, brothers and even his father. His father wanted him strong, capable, and schooled in the makings of a farming life. The blacksmithing, tanning, grain sowing, carpentry and all, did round him out, but he wanted more than to be chained to the house and land there. He wanted his own way and here he was. He frowned, thinking for once maybe his father was right…he shook his head. His father was fists, fury and fully in charge of his own domain. Mack was no slave, and wanted to be treated as a man, not a sniveling boy to order around every day. He finally had enough. He realized he was able to harm his father when he grabbed the swinging arm intended for his shoulder. His father's eyes widened as he uttered, "aye, it is so.", and stopped to look over his growing son. They stood for a time in silence feeling again that closeness they had over the years of toiling together. Time had passed. Mack was more man than youth. It was understood. The next few days his mother was grim, but embraced him before he left. His father gave him a full shoulder bag full of tools and gripped his hand. St. Louis was far, far behind him now.
    He gathered more wood for the night and started over to the corral. The mule and his horse needed be led to water, and staked out for an evening dinner. He had some leftover meat for himself, which he'd delve into after chores. The sun had set down behind the mountains and the cold had set in. As he marched across the meadow he and the animals were exhaling drifting clouds. Though the grasses were green to mostly brown awaiting full winter, they had now faded to grey in the shadows.
    He watched the mule and horse drink, and looked up. The wind was finally dying down.  He gently pulled the pair away and wrapped each, one at a time, to a stake he had set out earlier in the day. He tied both front legs together from the neck to the stake, giving both enough to move but not run. They wouldn't go far with this lush grass in any event.

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