Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 in review ...

January
 February
 March
 April
 May
 June
 July
 August
 September
 October
 November
 December

Friday, December 28, 2018

haunted melody

This ongoing creative release was started quite a while ago. The Words for Wednesday prompts are provided by a number of people and has become a movable feast. Essentially the aim is to encourage you to write. Each week a selection of prompts are provided: which can be words, phrases, music or an image. You are encouraged to use any form of artistic expression (stories, poems, music, pictures) to express how those prompts move you. The prompts have been at Drifting Through Life's blog this month.
     Skye pulled out the ribbons to let down her hair and absentmindedly began brushing it as she looked out the window.  She could see snow falling in the porch light of the house across the causeway, but knew it wouldn't stick just yet.  It had been raining earlier in the day, and the wet ground caused the snow to dissolve into an icy slush.

     The power flickered and then went out.  Instinctively, Skye reached for the candlesticks she kept in her vanity for just such an occasion.  Winters could be harsh, and power outages were frequent as the weight of ice caused trees to fall, breaking power lines.  A frown crossed her face.  It hadn't been that cold, and ice certainly wasn't a problem just yet.  She looked out the window at the neighbor's house and realized that their power was still on.  It was only her house that had gone dark.

     A sound coming from the attic caught her attention.  It sounded almost like an accordion, but not quite.  She remembered once that her grandmother told her that her great-great-great grandfather had played the concertina when he was a young man in Germany, and it had been "instrumental" in his courtship of her great-great-great grandmother.

     Closing her eyes, Skye listened to the haunting melody, swaying slightly, letting the sound carry her away to another time ....

     "Heinrich, you play that like you are a wizard and you have bewitched my heart."
     "That was my intention, Elise!  Tell me you will go to the Oktoberfest bonfire with me this weekend."
     "Only if you help me unload the garden's harvest at the market.  I must get this done before Father comes back from town."
     "But of course!  You know I would do anything for you, just to see the way the light beams from your smile and brightens my day!"
     "Stop flirting, Heinrich, and just work or we will never be done in time to go to the bonfire and share a hot chocolate!"

     The music stopped suddenly, and Skye realized it had been more than just a distant memory of a story her grandmother had told her.  It had been real.  She discarded her worries of ghosts and a haunted concertina and slowly climbed the stairs to the attic.

     "Heinrich!  She's coming!"

Thursday, December 20, 2018

twins...

This ongoing creative release was started quite a while ago. The Words for Wednesday prompts are provided by a number of people and has become a movable feast. Essentially the aim is to encourage you to write. Each week a selection of prompts are provided: which can be words, phrases, music or an image. You are encouraged to use any form of artistic expression (stories, poems, music, pictures) to express how those prompts move you. The prompts are at Drifting Through Life's blog this month.
     Rushing to George's office, Sam threw the door open.  The acrid miasma of gunpowder and a coppery smell of blood caught him off guard and he took a step back.  On one side of the office, the security guard, a large powerhouse of a man named Nathan, lay clutching his chest and gasping for breath.  Blood poured from a wound in his abdomen, and as Sam leaned over him, he tried to speak.

     Pedro could hear women behind him sobbing, and someone on the phone asking for a doctor to come right away.  He looked over to the desk and saw George leaning back in his chair, blood, bits of skull and brain on pictures of George and his family hanging on the wall behind him.  He shivered and looked away.  Such a foolish thing to have done, no matter what he had been afraid of.  How would his children face life now without him, Pedro wondered.

     A man rushed into the office wearing a denim shirt that said "Ace's Plumber" over the left front pocket, looked at the dead and wounded men and rushed back out.  Pedro wondered if he had been the third man arrested with his father and if Nathan had also been one of them.  He suspected he was because of his behavior when Sam had mentioned Moose's name.  Men barely out of their twenties, their lives just beginning, now bleeding out or dead on the floor.  Shaking his head he walked out of the room.

     George followed him outside a few minutes later.  Pedro stood in the shade, smoking a cigarette that he knew he'd have to explain to Amelita, but it was the only way he could get the smell out of his nostrils.  He glanced up at George.

     "Is he ...?"
     "Yes.  He died just a few minutes ago."
     "Did he ...?"
     "He confessed to being part of killing both Moose and your dad.  Said that Moose had been an accident.  They'd been drinking and a prank just went too far.  It had been eating him alive ever since.  When your dad rolled into town, they saw it as an opportunity to make some extra money by ripping off some houses and robbing people before going on the run.  But George got greedy, and things got out of hand.  It was his idea to blame it all on your dad."
     "Who was the third man?"
     "A guy named Ace."
     "He was just here.  Came in and took a look at what happened and then took off like a bat out of hell."
     "Probably realized they'd be coming for him soon."

     Just then the sound of a gunshot down the block caused both men to stop talking and look up.

     "Well, maybe he decided not to run after all."
     "What a waste."

      Ace had left a letter addressed to the sheriff on a table in his foyer that detailed what they had done to both Moose and Pedro's father.  The letter had been dated two years prior.  Apparently, Nathan wasn't the only one whose guilt had been keeping him awake at night.  George had been the only one of the three who had no remorse, at least until Nathan had told him he was going to tell everything.  George had shot him point blank and then realizing he'd never be able to explain it away, shot himself.

     The circus had left town a week later when the audience was more interested in the local scandal than they were in the center ring shows.

     Three months later things had almost returned to normal.  Amelita had been reading palms one night when she sensed a presence in her tent.  She waited until Pedro had finished his high wire performance before sending a message for him to come to see her.

     Pedro pushed aside the intricately embroidered curtain and saw Amelita sitting at her small table with a thoughtful look on her face.

     "What is it, my love?  Are you alright?"
     "Yes, of course.  I just need to tell you something.  It's about your father."
     "My father?"
     "He was here tonight, during my reading, and gave me a message for you."
     "What?"
     "He wanted me to tell you he's sorry for how he treated you when you were a child.  For hurting you the way he did.  He didn't understand that things could have been different.  He wants you to know how proud he is of you and says that you are a much better high wire artist than he ever could have been."
     "I wish he'd been able to tell me those things when he was alive."
     "He does too.  After your mother ended her life, he realized just how hard he had been on you, but he didn't know how to change.  She had been the one good thing in his life.  When you left, he lived a very monastic lifestyle, focusing on his craft to hide from his pain and loneliness.  He wishes things could have been different.  You've become the man he wishes he had been able to be for you."
     "I wish I'd been able to tell him I forgive him, and how much I love him."
     "He knows, Pedro.  He knows and he loves you too."

     A year later, Amelita and Pedro stood in the courtyard of the small house they had purchased in Goleta, California.  While the house was small, the property was forty acres that sprawled along a hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean, giving them plenty of room to grow.  Amelita rubbed her hand on her growing belly and smiled as the baby kicked.  "Babies." she thought to herself.  Twins, just like Pedro's father had told her she would have.

Friday, December 14, 2018

the sheepdog

This ongoing creative release was started quite a while ago. The Words for Wednesday prompts are provided by a number of people and has become a movable feast. Essentially the aim is to encourage you to write. Each week a selection of prompts are provided: which can be words, phrases, music or an image. You are encouraged to use any form of artistic expression (stories, poems, music, pictures) to express how those prompts move you. The prompts are at Drifting Through Life's blog this month.
     Sam kept a controlled smile on his face as he strolled into the front door of the bank with Pedro.  A security guard walked towards them with his hand out to stop them from going further into the bank.

     "Can I help you, sir?"
     "Why, yes you can young man!  I'm here to open an account and I was told I could speak to the man in charge here.  I believe his name is Mr. George Andersen.  Is he by chance here?"
     "Do you have an appointment?"
     "No, but since when does someone need to make an appointment to open an account?  My money not good enough for you all?"
     "Mr. Andersen is a busy man.  Perhaps one of the tellers could help you open an account?"
     "Oh, I don't need to take up the time of one of those pretty young ladies, when I'm sure Mr. Andersen will make time for me.  You just run along and tell him Mr. Sam is here to collect Moose's belongings"

     At the mention of Moose's name, the security guard paled and withdrew his hand.  "You just wait here.  I'll get Mr. Andersen."

     Sam began laughing so hard he shook, and Pedro had to look away to keep from laughing as well.  The fear on the guard's face told both men everything they needed to know about his involvement in Moose's disappearance, as well as what might have happened to Pedro's father.
     A few minutes later, a woman came out of George's office and pointed to a pair of leather chairs.

     "Please have a seat.  Mr. Andersen will be right with you.  Would you gentlemen like some coffee?"
     Sam smiled at her.  "Well, that would be mighty nice of you if'n you don't mind.  You know, you just reminded me so much of a lovely lady I once knew who worked at a diner hereabouts.  I wonder if she might be your sister?  I think her name was Luella?  We went out dancing one night, and she had the sweetest laugh.  I'd sure like to see her again."
     The woman blushed hotly and began to backpedal away from the two men.  Sam's laughter again shook him and the large, black leather chair he was sitting in.
Image Source: WeHeartIt.com

     "I tell you what, Pedro, the more I see of this town and these people, the more I realize how evil and corrupt some people can be.  It just digs at my craw that I didn't turn back the next morning when I realized Moose was gone to go look for him.  It just kills me that I let him down like that when I know he'd have been like an old sheepdog with a bone if the tables was reversed and it was me that up and disappeared.  That man was like getting a sample of what a truly godly man was like.  Gentlest man you ever met.  Wouldn't hurt a mouse, in fact, he'd even leave out a little bit of his own dinner each night just to make sure they was fed.  Never had a hateful word to say about anyone, even as much as people was cruel and hateful to him just because of the color of his skin.  Me 'n him had gotten into a morning routine of having our coffee sitting out on the edge of camp to watch the sun come up.  We'd just sit there in silence and watch it get bigger and bigger on the horizon, then as soon as it was full up, Moose would say 'Amen' and stand up.  That was how we started our days.  Lord I miss him."

     Before Pedro had a chance to console his friend, the sound of a gun going off in George's office caused the men to jump up and several of the women in the bank to scream.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

the Moose

This ongoing creative release was started quite a while ago. The Words for Wednesday prompts are provided by a number of people and has become a movable feast. Essentially the aim is to encourage you to write. Each week a selection of prompts are provided: which can be words, phrases, music or an image. You are encouraged to use any form of artistic expression (stories, poems, music, pictures) to express how those prompts move you. The prompts are at Drifting Through Life's blog this month.
     Sam and Pedro took a leisurely stroll into town, talking as they walked about the circus people they had known in their lives who had gone on to the great Center Ring in the sky.  As they happened to pass a large tree on the side of the road, both men were startled to see a noose hanging from one of the lower branches.  They stopped, momentarily speechless, before walking on.  After about fifteen minutes, it was Sam who first broke the silence.

     "Do you remember the strongman we called Moose?  A huge black man that spoke with a deep French-Canadian accent?"
     "That was before my time, but I sometimes hear people talking about him.  Why?"
     "It was different times back then.  A lot of strong feelings on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.  Didn't matter he was born somewheres other than the United States, or that he spoke with a French accent.  All most people saw was the color of his skin.  It was a shame they couldn't see that he had a heart of gold, or that his blood ran red just like everyone else's."
     "What happened to him?"
     "The circus was playing in a small backwards town, and after we'd been there for a few nights we started finding nooses hanging in the trees around the camp.  For such a big man, he was just as gentle as a lamb.  Pretty soon, however, he was downright spooked by all of them, and was just as jumpy as a cat in a rockin' chair factory."
     "Can't say that I blame him."
     "Things started to go wrong in the camp, and some of the gypsy women traveling with us said that it was a bad omen of things to come.  We decided it was time to move on before things really turned ugly, and made plans to pack and travel immediately after the show that night without even waiting for dawn.  Couldn't wait to shake the dust of that place off our shoes."
     "I bet."
     "The thing about little hick towns like that one is that sometimes they are like peeling back the layers of an onion.  Just when you think you've gotten past the layer that makes you cry, you get hit by another one.  Before we even started the show that night, things went really bad, really fast."
     "How so?"
     "The weather was so hot, you could see steam rising off the blades of grass as the sun fried them to a crisp.  When it started to set that night, it looked just like an hourglass on the horizon with the heat rising up off the dirt.  It wasn't just like standing in front of an open oven, it was like standing inside a blazing hot fireplace. Tension in the camp started to rise as performers had to get ready for the night's performance, and pack for the move when it was over.  Fights broke out.  It was as if we were tearing ourselves apart into tiny little fragments, just itching to get out of there.  What at first felt like a small desert paradise, suddenly felt like hell on Earth."
     "So how does Moose and all the nooses play into it?  Did he get hung or something?"
     "Nah.  Or at least as far as I know he didn't.  We finally finished the show that night, got the tents yanked, and slowly started to move out when there was some kind of ruckus on the road ahead.  I had a little motor scooter that I used back then, so rode up to see what all the fuss was about.  There was Moose, having some kind of a heated discussion with this little old gypsy woman.  She was reading him the riot act, up one side and down the other, all in that Romani language of theirs.  Moose was given' it right back to her in French!  It would have been funny if it hadn't been for the terror I could see on both their faces.  I had to practically pull them apart.  Moose stormed off back to his wagon, and the gypsy went to hers, and I never saw Moose again.  I don't know if he ran off, or got run off.  It's something I've been wondering about ever since."
     "Wow.  That's quite a story.  I can see why you got fired up about the banker and what happened to my father.  But are you sure you want to stir things up in town?  Seems like we'd be asking for a lot of trouble."
     "No doubt about it.  I think it's high time we found out what happened to your dad, and to Moose."
     "Wait a minute.  You don't mean to say that this is the same town, do you?"
     "Yep."

Saturday, December 1, 2018

the opera

Image Source: WeHeartIt.com
This ongoing creative release was started quite a while ago. The Words for Wednesday prompts are provided by a number of people and has become a movable feast. Essentially the aim is to encourage you to write. Each week a selection of prompts are provided: which can be words, phrases, music or an image. You are encouraged to use any form of artistic expression (stories, poems, music, pictures) to express how those prompts move you. The prompts are on the Elephant's Child blog this month.
     Amelita placed a record on the player and heated water for tea. Madam Butterfly was her favorite opera, even if it did make her cry every single time she listened to it. She stopped what she was doing when she could hear Pedro's voice rising outside of their wagon.

     "And just what exactly do you recommend, Sam? I told you I would get on the wire again, but I just don't know when."
     "Pedro, I just don't understand why it is suddenly so hard for you."
     "I don't either. I just ... I've been having nightmares that keep me from getting much sleep, Sam. When I'm on the wire, I need to be able to focus on my balance and when I'm exhausted it is that much harder for me to concentrate."
     "Nightmares of what?"
     "My father mostly. The things he did to me when he was teaching me how to walk the wire. He was a hard man. Cruel. Hurtful. He used to burn my feet with cigars to make them sensitive to the wire."
     "Wow. I'm sorry, Pedro. I had no idea. Is he still part of your life?"
     "No, actually. He died. In this town in fact. I think that he has brought us here somehow to help solve his murder."
     "Murder?!"
     "I think it was murder. The authorities felt it was suicide, but I don't think so. I think he was framed for robberies I don't believe he committed, and when he threatened to prove that he was innocent, he suddenly turned up dead."
     "Holy moly."
     "The thing of it is, that one of the guys that testified against him was the banker you had a run-in with the day we arrived. He was arrested with my father and two other local men, but only my father was convicted. I think that he was set up by the locals because he wasn't from here."
     "And you think the banker was involved."
     "I think that it's pretty odd that someone who had been arrested for various small-time crimes is now a banker and my father who was never arrested for anything was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and then winds up dead when he said he had evidence he was innocent."
     "So you think they killed him?"
     "I think it's pretty odd that some local yocal who grew up on cheap beer is now sipping champagne with the bank president, while my father is haunting my dreams at night."
     "What do you want to do about it? Shake up this town and give them a little excitement?"
     "I think I want to know the truth, and I think the only one who can give it to me is dead and buried."

     The next morning Sam woke Pedro and Amelita up at dawn with a loud rap on their wagon door.

     "Rise and shine, sunshine! We've got some digging to do!"
     "Sam? What on earth?"
     "I was up all night thinking about this mess, and the jam it has got your mind in. I think it is high time we paid a visit to the local sheriff and started asking some questions about what kind of justice system they got around here."
     "I'm not sure if that's a good idea, Sam. I don't want them chasing us out of town when we've had sold-out audiences."
     "Well, I think it's a damn fine idea. We need to stir the pot a little and use it to fire up some added publicity. Throw these rednecks into another dimension and let them see what a little city-slicker justice is like for a change. What are they gonna do? Raid us and arrest everyone? It's gonna be mighty hard for them to weed out the good and bad from this bunch, and I know that we can make a mighty big noise about it that will stretch all the way back to the East Coast."
     "You know, Sam, I've got a lot of admiration for how you think sometimes, and you've never done us wrong, even with me not being able to get up on the wire right now. But I worry that if the three men who framed my father felt like they were backed into a corner enough to kill him, what would they do to our families if we pushed the truth out into the light? I couldn't live with myself if someone with the circus got hurt because of me."
     "And why do you think I employ someone like Hercules? Just for eye candy?"

     Pedro laughed, and soon the two men were making plans for how they would approach the sheriff. Amelita smiled and heated up their small stove to begin cooking enough breakfast for the three of them. It was good to hear Pedro laugh again.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

sparrows

This ongoing creative release was started quite a while ago. The Words for Wednesday prompts are provided by a number of people and has become a movable feast. Essentially the aim is to encourage you to write. Each week a selection of prompts are provided: which can be words, phrases, music or an image. You are encouraged to use any form of artistic expression (stories, poems, music, pictures) to express how those prompts move you. The prompts are on the Elephant's Child blog this month. 
     "Pedro, my love, come in out of the rain and eat some hot soup, please?  You have lost so much weight I am afraid.  Your skin looks almost transparent under your eyes!  I am so worried about you, please, talk to me.  Tell me what is wrong."
     "I'm sorry, Amelita.  I don't mean to worry you.  I've just been trying to solve the mystery of these nightmares I've been having and when I was walking back from the library tonight I believe I have come up with a theory about them."
     "What?  Please, tell me and tell me how I can help you with this."
     "I read old newspapers today that said my father had been accused of a crime I don't believe he did.  I think he was framed because he was an outsider here."
     "Oh no!"
     "There were three local men who were arrested with him, but they testified against him and he was the only one who was convicted."
     "What did they accuse him of?"
     "Theft.  That he stole from people in the audience and robbed several houses in town."
     "I know you don't talk about him very much, but do you think he would have done something like that?"
     "No.  Not at all.  My father was more interested in being the center of attention than in trying to steal or loot people's houses.  He would never take something that didn't belong to him."

     As he told her what he had read in the newspapers, about his father's performance reviews, then the arrest, trial, and death, a thud on the window made both of them jump.  Amelita shuddered as a cold breeze went through the room even though the windows were all closed.

     "Pedro!  What is going on?"

     Holding his finger to his lips to quiet her, he slowly stood and moved to the door.  Opening it, he stepped out into the misting fog that had settled over the area.  She sat, wide-eyed in fear, and watched the door.

     When he returned a few minutes later, he was holding a sparrow in his hands with a broken wing.
Amelita inhaled sharply and looked at Pedro.

     "They say that sparrows are sometimes harbingers of death," she whispered.
     "Nonsense!  It just got confused in the fog and flew into the window."
     "At night?  Most birds don't fly at night, Pedro.  Especially in the rain."
Image Source: WeHeartIt.com

     Pedro looked at her, then at the sparrow in his hand as its head fell to the side.  "It just died," he whispered.
     "See."
     "It doesn't mean anything, Amelita.  It is just a bird.  Not a harbinger.  A bird, and a small bird that hit a large and very hard window."
     "But what if..."
     "What if what?  If it is some kind of messenger of death, perhaps it was just foretelling its own death.  This demonstrates nothing."
     "But what of the chill that we just felt?  Surely you felt it too, Pedro."
     "I will not let this conversation graduate into some superstitious mumbo-jumbo, Amelita.  I know you read palms and look into your crystal ball to tell people what it is they want to hear, but this is not my father's ghost trying to right a wrong done to him?"

     Amelita looked hurt at his words, a tear fell to her cheek, and he instantly regretted saying what he had.  He knew that he was just as frightened by the appearance of the bird as she was, but it did not justify his words to her.

     "I'm sorry.  I was wrong to say that.  You know I respect you and your visions.  It's just that the nightmares have put such a strain on me.  I'm afraid to sleep because I'm am frightened by the nightmares.  It isn't just memories from my childhood anymore.  It's as if I'm seeing my father's life through his eyes.  The things that his father did to him, and the persecution that he suffered at the hands of those who didn't understand him.  I hurt, Amelita, physically hurt when I wake from the nightmares.  I feel the beatings he suffered as if they happened to me.  As if they are still happening.  To me.  I'm afraid, my love.  So very afraid."

     Saying nothing, Amelita stood and walked over to him.  She took the sparrow from his hand and laid it down on a newspaper.  Pedro sat down heavily and sighed as he watched her gently wrap the small bird in the paper and tie it with a piece of string.  She walked behind him and put her hands on his shoulders.  Leaning in towards him, she kissed the top of his head as her tears continued to fall, staining his shirt.

     "Do you believe that your father was killed because of what he knew?  Could he have been blackmailing the men who testified against him?"
     "I don't know.  The article did say he had proof of his innocence."
     "Did the newspaper mention the names of any of the other men?"
     "Yes, but only one man who was the most vocal about my father's guilt.  His name was George Andersen."
     "George.  Wasn't that the name of the banker that was so rude when we came into town?"

     Pedro looked at her and raised his eyebrows in surprise.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

revenge

This ongoing creative release was started quite a while ago. The Words for Wednesday prompts are provided by a number of people and has become a movable feast. Essentially the aim is to encourage you to write. Each week a selection of prompts are provided: which can be words, phrases, music or an image. You are encouraged to use any form of artistic expression (stories, poems, music, pictures) to express how those prompts move you. The prompts are on the Elephant's Child blog this month. 
     Amelita began to peel the orange as she watched Pedro from a distance.  It had been a long time since they had such a luxury, and the scent of it reminded her of where she grew up in Florida.  Pedro hadn't said much since he told her they were going to the town his father died in, and while she knew that the painful memories of his childhood might justify his silence, she was worried about the walls he seemed to be putting up around him.  Even the other circus performers had noticed his silence and some had questioned her about it.

     The circus had been traveling through Cimarron County, Oklahoma and finally stopped in Boise City.  It was the most desolate county they had traveled in so far, and no one seemed to be in a cheerful mood.  After they rode through the small town and set up camp, an employee of the one bank in town had come out to ask how long they would be there.  The sun had just gone down, and the temperature was still so high that lines of sweat rolled down the man's face as he stood talking to the owner of the circus.

     "How long are you planning on staying?"
     "Well, I don't rightly know.  I reckon we'll just have to see what the ticket sales are like."

     Raising the volume of his voice, as if it would make him appear larger than he really was, the bank employee took a step forward.

     "We don't take too kindly to strangers around here."
     "Well, now, my name is Sam.  What's yours?"
     "George.  But why..." 
     Sam quickly cut him off.  "Well, George, we ain't strangers no more, now are we?"
     Glaring at Sam, George spun on his heels in the dust and stormed off.

     It was now the third night that the circus had stayed in Boise City, more out of revenge for the bank employee's arrogance than for ticket sales, although each night sales had increased as word had traveled of their performances.  People had been coming from the surrounding states and counties since it bordered four other states: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Texas.  Sam had a notion that the longer they stayed, the more profitable it would become for them since many of the people in the audience had never before been to a circus or even seen a live elephant.

     Pedro had not yet gotten back up on the high wire, and instead had been spending his nights listening to the locals' talk as they came and went from the big tent.  Every now and then he would hear his father's name mentioned as people said they had once seen a high wire artist that defied gravity, but that he had died after being accused of being a fraud.  Pedro desperately wanted to ask someone to explain what they meant, but he was too afraid of drawing attention to himself and his relationship to the man they were talking about.

     Amelita knew he wasn't sleeping well, and she worried that he was becoming ill from whatever was haunting him.  He barely ate during the day, and she could see that he was becoming weak.  When she tried to talk to him about it, he would give her a vague answer and change the subject, which only made her worry more.

     Trying to avoid drawing too much attention to himself, Pedro went to the town's library and asked if there were any issues of the local newspaper he could look at.  When the librarian asked if there was a specific time frame he was looking for, he asked to see papers dating back to six months before his father died.

     He found what he was looking for two hours later.  A small article in the middle of the paper mentioned a high wire act that had just come into town that was amazing everyone who went to see the performance.  The artist appeared to float in the air, without any wires or safety support.  The first week of his performances sold out, and he would be in town for another two weeks.

     There wasn't another mention of the performer for a month when an article on the first page said that the high wire performer had been found to be a fake and that he had been arrested along with three other men.  They were accused of stealing money from the audience and were suspected in several robberies in the area.  The trial was set for a month away and they were all facing at least ten years in prison for theft.

     The next mention of his father was in an article on the trial.  This time, he was the only defendant mentioned and the three men who had originally been arrested with him had testified against him.  He insisted he was innocent and he had proof he was being framed by the three men.  While the evidence against him was only circumstantial, he was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

     Four days later, a small article on the back page of the newspaper indicated that Pedro's father had been found dead in his cell.  Nothing was said about the cause of death, and he was not mentioned again.

     Pedro sat and looked at the article with a dozen questions running through his mind.  His father had been hard and cruel without a doubt.  But he had never been a thief or a liar.  He knew that his father lived for the applause of the audience and that was more of a reward for him than any price the audience paid.  He went back to the original article that mentioned the arrest of the four men to see what he could learn about the three who eventually testified against his father.

     All three of them were locals, his father the only outsider.  The three had previous arrests for minor crimes.  Public intoxication.  Disorderly conduct.  Vandalism.  His father had never been arrested.  Why then was his father the only one who was tried and convicted, in spite of his claim of innocence?

     Pedro returned the newspapers to the librarian and walked out into the street.  A light rain was falling as he walked back to the circus camp.  He wondered if his father had indeed been framed for the crime and whether or not the men had anything to do with his death.

     Amelita sat at the window of their wagon, watching the road and waiting for Pedro to return.  Tonight she was going to get him to talk to her and she would not take no for an answer.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

gravity

This ongoing creative release was started quite a while ago. The Words for Wednesday prompts are provided by a number of people and has become a movable feast. Essentially the aim is to encourage you to write. Each week a selection of prompts are provided: which can be words, phrases, music or an image. You are encouraged to use any form of artistic expression (stories, poems, music, pictures) to express how those prompts move you. The prompts are on the Elephant's Child blog this month. 
     "I felt like the air was enclosing me in a fire."

     Pedro shuddered as he recounted his nightmare to Amelita.  The two of them sat once again on the edge of the circus tents, just beyond the light of the night's fires, and the ears of the other performers.

     "The wire felt like ice under my feet, yet the air was like fire.  I was frozen there, unable to move forward or backward.  It was not just physically, but mentally I suddenly felt without purpose, as if there was nothing more for me to live for.  I tried to look down to see if the net was beneath me but I couldn't.  I wanted nothing more than to just fall without a care into the darkness."

     Amelita pulled him closer to her, wanting to will away the darkness that was finding its way into Pedro's mind at night.

     "Pedro, my love, you do have so much to live for.  You have a beautiful life.  We have a beautiful life.  There has to be an explanation for this dark patch right now.  Some reason for the fears and nightmares.  We will find the reason together.  I will not let you go.  You must be strong, and I will be strong for both of us."

     Both of them jumped at the sound of the wood benches in the main tent jamming together, and they turned to look as shouts and screams filled the air.  Getting to his feet, Pedro began running toward the wild cat caravans that stood empty in the fading daylight.  It was time for the act to be in the center ring, and if something had gone wrong during the performance, the audience could be in danger.

     In the days that followed, there were investigations by the local police that did little to explain what had happened.  Somehow during the big cat's performance, the holding pins in several of the benches were removed, causing them to collapse.  Several people in the audience had been seriously injured, including children, but there were no deaths.  Fortunately, the large pen that surrounded the big performance prevented them from bolting as chaos erupted when the benches fell.  The handler had done an amazing job in maintaining control over the lions and tigers in what could have been a very dangerous situation for him.

     All of the performances had been canceled for the next several weeks during the investigations, and when they were concluded, the owner had held a meeting the next morning in the big tent for all of the performers and hired hands.

     "I just wanted to let everyone know that there is no shame in admitting that you might have been in a hurry while we were raising the tent and might not have securely fastened the bench pins."
     
     Loud voices of protest from the hired hands began to rise, and one especially large man stood to voice what everyone was thinking.

     "So that's what they think?  That one of us did it?  One of us made a mistake?"
     "No, not conclusively anyway.  All they have been able to determine is that some of the pins were removed and bent in such a way that it had to have been organic in nature."
     "Organic?   What exactly does that mean?"
     "It means that the pins couldn't have failed on their own, and they couldn't have been bent by the weight of the audience on the benches."
     "So they ARE saying it was one of us!"
     "No.  Not exactly.  They are saying that 'someone' had to have removed and bent the pins prior to the performance.  The weight of the audience on the benches as they filled the seats, made the whole structure shift and that is what caused the remaining pins to fail.  The benches and their supports were so mangled that there really isn't any way to determine the identity of the person, or people, that did this."
     "A textbook case of gravity creating a catastrophe?"
     "Perhaps that is one excuse, but the bottom line is that in the weeks to come we all need to be extra vigilant for unfamiliar faces in places they shouldn't be."
     "You still believe it was done deliberately?"
Image Source: WeHeartIt.com
     "I'm not sure what I believe.  I know that Hercules himself couldn't have bent those pins.  I know because I asked him to try and he is the strongest one here.  I think it was something supernatural, but I suppose being married to a fortune teller makes me a little more superstitious than most.  Regardless, we have been asked to leave the area and considering that the locals distrust us now, I think that is a good idea.  I'm asking that everyone pack as quickly as you can.  We've lost too much money here waiting for the investigations to be concluded.  I would like to get on the road before lunch so that we could possibly have the clowns and elephants do a short performance in the next town tonight.  I think that getting as much distance between this place and the next large city where we could set up for several weeks would be a good thing for all of us."

     Pedro and Amelita sat together on the front seat of their wagon as the horses slowly followed the line of wagons, elephants, and caravans leaving the small town.  She noticed the frown on his face and that he had been silent for several miles.

     "Pedro?  What is it?  What has you worried?"

     "I just realized where we are going.  We're going to where my father made his home after I left him."

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

the wanderings of an ADD mind on coffee ...

... at an early morning eye appointment ...

darn, I should have brought my glasses so I could actually read while I'm waiting
hmmm, how long have I been wearing contact lenses?
46 years!  wow.  that's unsettling.
I wonder if Lasik would reduce the risk of a retinal tear in my good eye?
how long has it been since the tear?
13 years! wow. 
I bet I wouldn't be able to wear a contact lens in that eye again.
that means Dad has been gone almost 12 years.
I wonder if the dead can't "rest" in peace if we think about them constantly.
CR's dad was the first dead person I saw.
that was creepy for a 16-year-old.  
he looked like he was sleeping.  
I think I had nightmares for a week after that.
who was the next one?  
was it Dad?  
no, it was that guy I worked with when I was doing HR.  
wow. that was a heartbreaker.  
liver cancer.  
called to tell me on a Monday that the tumor was shrinking and he was so excited because the chemo was killing him, then his wife called on Wednesday and said he had died in his sleep on Tuesday.
Dad must have been the third one.  
Monsignor Metsy who lived near me was the next one.  
Stroke when I was in Alaska during the summer, and then he just wasted away for almost a year.
ugh.  why am I thinking of dead people?
at least I'm not seeing dead people.
that was a good movie.
need to think of something else.  
should have brought my glasses.
wish they'd hurry, my coffee has shifted.
I wonder what made my eye doctor change careers from being an engineer to being an ophthalmologist?
was that my stomach growling!?!
hope no one else heard it.
yay! my turn!
.
.
.
.
all this hurry up and wait.
should have gone to the bathroom.
maybe it won't be as long for the next part.
my eyes are so numb 
they feel weird
I guess my pressures are okay.
I wonder if it is still snowing.
hope not.
can't believe it is almost Christmas.
wish the stores would at least wait until November before putting out Christmas decorations.
there is just something wrong about Christmas music and Halloween decorations.
yay!  that's me!
.
.
.
.
ugh. my eyes are so dry now.
why so many pictures of my eyes?
I guess considering all the surgeries they want to be sure.
how many was it?
cryo
laser
scleral buckle
laser again
cataract removal
silicone oil
another laser
oil change
ACIOL
boy, that doctor sure didn't like me talking during the surgery like Dr. W did
where is the bathroom?
I wonder if I have time to go before they call me again?
nope!  rats.
at least now I can ask him why he switched career fields

Friday, November 2, 2018

the chagrined funambulist

This ongoing creative release was started quite a while ago. The Words for Wednesday prompts are provided by a number of people and has become a movable feast.Essentially the aim is to encourage you to write. Each week a selection of prompts are provided: which can be words, phrases, music or an image. You are encouraged to use any form of artistic expression (stories, poems, music, pictures) to express how those prompts move you. The prompts were on the Elephant's Child blog in October and were provided by Margaret Adamson, and her friend Sue Fulton. 
     Crumpling up the newspaper, Pedro angrily threw it in the fire pit the tent crew had built between the big cat caravans to keep warm.  If his mistake on the tightrope hadn't been enough to sully the reputation of the circus, the chagrin he felt at the article about his performance was more than enough to cause ticket sales to drop.

     "Inept Funambulist Falls Again" was the kind of headline that closed down shows, not the kind that brought in more customers.  His fall the night before had been the third performance in a row, and his shame over his mistake was almost as heavy on his mind as his worry about why he kept falling.

     Lowering himself onto the sand at the far edge of the wagons, Pedro listened to the rest of the high wire performers talk among themselves as they went through their evening ablutions.  There wasn't any point in him joining them, it would be wasting what little water was available with the current drought conditions.   None of them had questioned his decision to sit out the performance that night, yet he could hear his name being whispered as they washed.

     "Pedro?  What are you doing out here in the dark?"

     He hadn't heard Amelita walk up behind him, and her soft voice was like a whisper on the wind.  To the rest of the performers and the public, she was a saucy clown with a perpetual smile and laughter that sounded like a nightingale.  But to him, she was like a ray of starlight and he found himself moonstruck in her presence.

     Standing to face her, he pulled her close to him.  How could he tell her he was afraid?  How could he tell her that he didn't know if he could walk the tightrope ever again?  The first fall had caught him by surprise and his confidence had been shaken.  It was the scent of the cigar someone in the audience had been smoking that had brought memories of his father rushing back so quickly he had forgotten where he was.  It was a split second of distraction that had  caused him to slip.  She knew that he had been estranged from his father before his death, but she didn't know why.

     Leading her to the wagon they shared, Pedro began to explain how he was a 5th generation tightrope walker, and that it had been his father who taught him the same way that each generation before him had.  His father had been a hard man, who demanded complete submission from his wife and son.  He manipulated and controlled them with fear.  His weapon of choice was a thick cigar that he would use to burn them when they displeased him.  The scars on bottom of Pedro's feet were what gave him the soft step that helped him to sense the vibrations in the wire as he performed.

     As soon as he began to walk, Pedro had repeatedly been pushed or forced off of the wire from higher and higher heights to teach him to respect the wire.  He had suffered broken wrists, arms, ankles and legs before he had finally mastered the wire to his father's satisfaction.

     When he was twelve, his mother had left the wagon they shared to get meat for the evening meal from the town butcher where they were performing and had never returned.  Her body had been found a week later, on a dirt road not far from the circus' camp.  She had slit her wrists with his father's shaving razor.  In her pocket she had left a note addressed to Pedro that simply said she was sorry she hadn't been able to protect him.

     After her death, his father had pushed him even harder to become an exceptional performer, burning him with the cigar on the soft tissue at the back of his knees to build scar tissue that would strengthen his hold on the high swings.

     On his 18th birthday, Pedro had joined the Army.  It was the beginning of World War I and while the burns his father had inflicted to the bottom of his feet would keep him from being sent to the front, they wouldn't keep him from working behind a desk in support of the war effort.  Knowing his father would disapprove of him joining the Army, Pedro had left in the middle of the night without even saying goodbye.

     Two years later, he had heard from a circus passing through town that his father had died in his sleep a short time after Pedro had left.  The guilt he felt for leaving as he did began to give him frequent nightmares.  When the war ended, Pedro had trouble finding work, and falling back to his family legacy, found a circus to join.  It was there that he met Amelita, and the nightmares had stopped.  On their wedding night she had seen his scars for the first time, gently touching them with a questioning look on her face.  He had simply said they were from a childhood that he barely remembered.  In the five years that they had been married he truly had almost forgotten about the things his father did to him.

     Until the scent of his father's favorite cigar wafted up to him on the high wire and shook him to his core.  The second night it had happened again, and after finding his way out of the safety net he had looked intently at everyone in the audience, trying to find the person smoking the cigar.  Last night, as he stood at the top of the ladder before he stepped out onto the wire, he looked to see if there was anyone smoking in the audience.  There wasn't.  But for the third night in a row, just as he got to the most difficult part of his act, he could smell the cigar, causing him to hesitate and lose his balance.

     As he told all this to Amelita, she had listened intently, but hadn't said anything.  Now, his words exhausted, she reached out and gently stroked his face.

     "I'm so sorry, Pedro.  It must have been so hard for you when your mother died.  Do you know exactly when your father died?  Is it perhaps close to the anniversary and you are feeling guilty again for some reason?"

     "I hadn't thought of that.  Yes, it was this time of the year when I found out, so I suppose it could be the anniversary.  But why after all this time would I remember?"

Thursday, October 25, 2018

extreme juggling ...

This ongoing creative release was started quite a while ago. The Words for Wednesday prompts are provided by a number of people and has become a movable feast.Essentially the aim is to encourage you to write. Each week a selection of prompts are provided: which can be words, phrases, music or an image. You are encouraged to use any form of artistic expression (stories, poems, music, pictures) to express how those prompts move you. The prompts will be on the Elephant's Child blog this month but are provided by Margaret Adamson, and her friend Sue Fulton. 
      "Charlie, you need a haircut."
      "Hmmm.  So you speculate!"
      "Oh, so you like having hair dangling in your eyes and in your oyster dinners?"
      "Oysters?!?!  I thought I was eating mollusks!"
      "Ugh.  I'd rather chew on a horsehair crinoline than eat those!"
      "So I guess this isn't a good time to talk about the couches?"
      "What?  What about them?"
      "Perhaps it isn't a good time.  Who is your favorite basketball team for March Madness?"
      "Charlie, it's October."
      "Really?  That's odd."
      "What's odd is you asking about basketball."
      "Oh.  Well, do you have a thimble I can borrow?"
      "What do you need a thimble for?  You don't have thumbs.  You're a dog."
      "I need them to mend my knickers I wear when juggling chainsaws."
      "What?!?!? Wait a minute.  What are you talking about?"
      "Oh, I didn't tell you?  I do freelance extreme danger acts while parachuting."

      "Cindi?  Wake up.  You're talking in your sleep again."

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

lost in the fog

This ongoing creative release was started quite a while ago. The Words for Wednesday prompts are provided by a number of people and has become a movable feast.Essentially the aim is to encourage you to write. Each week a selection of prompts are provided: which can be words, phrases, music or an image. You are encouraged to use any form of artistic expression (stories, poems, music, pictures) to express how those prompts move you. The prompts will be on the Elephant's Child blog this month but are provided by Margaret Adamson, and her friend Sue Fulton. They may also include photographs taken by Margaret's friend Bill Dodds.   Today we are graced with two photos ...
photo by Margaret
He sat on the bench, facing the sun, which was so bright and blinding that he was forced to look away.

The emptiness of the bench beside him served as a harsh reminder of the emptiness he felt inside.

His world changed after she was gone.

Once they would have sat together in the sun, holding hands and laughing like school children again.

photo by Bill
His thoughts wandered aimlessly back and forth between past and present in his memories.  She had always been the one to keep his thoughts on track.  To keep him from getting lost in what he called the fog.

She called it "The Big A" as if it was a tourist attraction like New York's Big Apple.

When he was first diagnosed, he was afraid that he would forget her.  That she would become a stranger to him, tending to his needs out of a sense of duty, not out of love.

As he began to get lost in the fog more often, he became aware of how her appearance had changed.  Losing weight.  Losing hair.  When he was lucid, he would ask if she was alright, and she would tell him it was a new diet fad and not to worry.

She died one night when he was in the fog.  The cancer had eaten her up faster than The Big A had eaten him up.  When the haze lifted and he realized she was gone, a part of him was grateful. 

Now she was a part of his past, that he would never forget.  

Friday, October 12, 2018

sliced bread

This ongoing creative release was started quite a while ago. The Words for Wednesday prompts are provided by a number of people and has become a movable feast.Essentially the aim is to encourage you to write. Each week a selection of prompts are provided: which can be words, phrases, music or an image. You are encouraged to use any form of artistic expression (stories, poems, music, pictures) to express how those prompts move you. The prompts will be on the Elephant's Child blog this month but are provided by Margaret Adamson, and her friend Sue Fulton. They may also include photographs taken by Margaret's friend Bill Dodds.
This week we were given two phrases [and I'm taking an easy way out because I'm just so overwhelmed emotionally from the pictures of Hurricane Michael that I have no creative writing skills right now]:

Let the cat out of the bag. Or in this case, in the bag.


and the best thing since sliced bread.
I'm not sure why that is a "thing" but apparently, it is because there were a ton of pictures of cats in slices of bread.  Personally, I think my cats would rip my eyes out if I tried it on either of them.
And then Charlie would eat their little heads off because he loves sliced bread.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

fighting the cassowary

This ongoing creative release was started quite a while ago. The Words for Wednesday prompts are provided by a number of people and has become a movable feast.
Essentially the aim is to encourage you to write. Each week a selection of prompts are provided: which can be words, phrases, music or an image. You are encouraged to use any form of artistic expression (stories, poems, music, pictures) to express how those prompts move you. The prompts will be on the Elephant's Child blog this month but are provided by Margaret Adamson, and her friend Sue Fulton. They may also include photographs taken by Margaret's friend Bill Dodds.
     Lainee glanced out the door of her tiny house as the sound of rain distracted her.  Light precipitation?  Hardly! she thought to herself.  The weatherman was never right.  However, given how tall and lanky he was it could have been that his view above the clouds might not have given him the best forecast for those who lived a little closer to the ground.

     She turned back to the dinner she was preparing for her family when she felt it beginning to squirm in her hands trying to escape.  It wasn't her favorite meal to prepare, but her family loved it so much that she occasionally swallowed her disgust at the grotesque little things and made them just to please them.  Escargot?  More like escar-gross.

     Just at that moment, like clockwork, she heard her heard her children come running in from school.

     "Yay!  Snail for dinner!  When will we eat?"
     "As soon as your father gets home from work, so just be still about it and go do your homework."
     "We don't have any homework today.  Teacher said that since tomorrow would be a planning day and we wouldn't have school, we didn't have to do anything until we came back next week."
     "ANOTHER planning day?!?!?  Don't they have one of those every other week?"
     "No, just one a month, but then there are quarter-planning days, half-planning days, three-quarter planning days, and holidays."

     Well, I obviously chose the wrong profession! she thought to herself.  Lainee glanced out the door at the sun and wondered what was keeping her husband.  Wrangling dinner was hard enough without ten children under her feet.
Image Source: WeHeartIt.com

     "I wonder what's keeping your father.  Did he say anything to you this morning about being late?"
     "No, only that they might be transporting some items to the winter storage today since there was a bit of frost on the grass this morning."
     "The way he and the city managers act, you'd think we were all going to become Eskimos this winter."

     The children squealed with joy over the prospect and Lainee felt a migraine starting at the back of her head and creeping up to her ears.  Rolling her eyes at the thought of being confined inside during the coming winter with ten hyperactive children, she wondered if it was too late to start praying for a cyclone to carry her away.

     "Mum?  What is a c-a-s-s-o-w-a-r-y?"

     Lainee glanced over her shoulder while scrubbing the dirt off the snail shell.  Einstein.  It figured.  When her husband had suggested the name she wondered if they weren't inviting trouble.  The child would either be in the principal's office at school for bad grades or for constantly showing up the teacher.  Fortunately, it was the latter.

     "A cassowary is a large bird.  A very large bird that lives in Australia."
     "Does it eat children?"

     This time Lainee recognized the voice.  Og.  Short for Ogelsby.  It was supposed to mean fearsome, although whoever told her husband that didn't take into account how small Og would turn out to be.  He was always afraid of large things.

     "No, dear.  But it might eat snails."  She heard the children giggling.
     "Maybe it will take your share of the snail, Og."

     Og wailed at the thought of fighting for his dinner with a gigantic bird, and Lainee turned and glared at his siblings.

     "ENOUGH!  One of you girls, pretend you are a waitress and set the table.  Make sure everyone has a bit of water to wash their dinner down."

     The children scurried around, cleaning the table and trying to look busy.  They knew that when their mother was so flustered and annoyed that she couldn't remember all their names that one of them was going to get a tail whipping before bath time.

     "Oy there!  What's for dinner?"  Immediately the children rushed to greet their father.
     "What took you so long getting home?  The children have been climbing the walls!"
     "We had to make repairs to the roof of the city auditorium to prepare for the winter storage.  What's got under your skin?"

     Lainee ignored him.  Men!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

unbridled

Words for Wednesday is a weekly writing prompt designed to get creative juices flowing. It's been around for quite a while now and we are always glad to see people join us. You can use the weekly prompts any way you like. Use all some or none of the words. The idea is just to become inspired to write...anything...poetry or prose, fiction or nonfiction, sci-fi or fantasy. Why not give it a try? This month, Delores is hosting the words, and they can be found (here).
     Sara sat on the edge of her bed, shaking with fear, her hands tied behind her back and the hood still over her head.  She couldn't see what was happening in the other room, but she could hear it and it terrified her.  She didn't know the men who had grabbed her, but she suspected they were from the family that Quigley had taken the money from.  She knew what they had done to him, trying to find their money, and there was no telling what they would do to her know that they knew she had it.

     She also didn't know why they had run out of the room and if it had something to do with the kitchen timer going off (although she couldn't remember setting it for anything), and who they were fighting now.  The list was probably endless considering how many people Quigley had probably cheated in his lifetime, and the amount of money he had taken in his last grift.  If word had gotten out how much he had taken, there would be more than just the Shulaya Clan looking for her.

     The silence was scaring Sara even more than the men had.  She struggled to free her hands so she could pull the hood off her head.  When she was almost free, she heard someone come back into the bedroom, breathing heavily.

     When the kitchen timer had gone off, David had braced himself in the doorframe of the pantry.  He had no idea how many men were in the room with Sara.  He raised his handgun to aim and took a deep breath.

     Four large men rushed into the kitchen with guns.  David was able to shoot two of them in their shoulders before the other two knew where he was and he ducked down as they began firing wildly at him.  Rolling out of the pantry and behind the kitchen island, he shot one of the men in the knee before the other jumped on him from behind.  Just at that moment, half a dozen heavily armed and protected SWAT police charged into the room and quickly took control of the situation.  They were followed by three FBI agents who helped David to his feet.

     "Are you alright, Agent James?"  Without answering, David turned and rushed into the bedroom to check on Sara.

     Hours later, Sara was curled up in a chair on David's deck with a glass of wine, wearing a handmade alpaca wool sweater she had ordered from Bespoke Clothiers the previous winter.  The weather was just beginning to feel like early fall, but she hadn't been able to stop shaking.  She watched the moon begin to set as daylight began to chase the stars from the sky.

     Seeayetee purred in her lap, and Rachel was sleeping just a few feet away in a hammock, covered by her favorite quilt.  David had brought her down there to rest after she had answered all of the FBI's questions.  Her condo was in shambles, the front door had broken off the hinges when the men had forced their way into the unit, and the sliding glass door had been shattered by stray bullets when the men were firing on David.  Blood from the men David had shot was soaked into the carpet and some of the furniture.  It would be days before the FBI unsealed it as a crime scene.

     David stepped out onto the deck and sat down in the chair next to Sara.

     "I know you must be tired of answering questions, and that you probably have some of your own to ask."
     Sara nodded silently but said nothing.
     "I also know that it took a lot for you to let down your fences and trust me with the things you told me."
     "Am I going to prison?"
     "No, you aren't.  We've been watching you since you first met Quigley and know that you had nothing to do with the grift.  He was actually working with us as an informant to get information on the Shulaya Clan.  But we weren't aware that he was also had his own agenda to steal from them.  Once they murdered him, we knew they would eventually come after you, we just had to wait patiently for them to find you."
     "Oh, so you just let them put up a Wanted: Dead or Alive poster with my picture on it and left me alone for them to find?"

     David was silent for a moment.  He knew she was hurt and angry, and that she had every right to be.

     "You were never alone, Sara.  We had people watching you for the past six years.  We couldn't do anything until they made their move because we needed to make sure we got all of them.  We've been building a case, rather, several cases against them the whole time.  You were never in any danger."
     Sara laughed.
     "Oh, right.  Like getting the crap beat out of me was all fun and games?"
     David reached out to take her hand and Sara jerked it away from him.  She was exhausted, emotionally drained and just wanted to be in her own bed.  She arched her back to stretch it and wished she had the ergonomic chair pillow from the office.  It was hard for her to feel anything other than unbridled anger and pain at the moment, but she knew she had a lot to be grateful for.

     "We oversaw the installation of your security system, Sara, and when the wires were spliced by the men smashing the panel, the FBI got an alert that something was wrong.  But you can actually thank Seeayetee for getting me here before them.  If he hadn't shown up on the balcony when he did, I wouldn't have gotten to your condo in time to draw them away from you before SWAT and the other agents arrived."
     "So what now?  When can I get my things out of the condo so I can move back to Ventura?  I'm sure the government is going to seize the condo and all the money, and I'm really actually relieved about that part.  I just want to be able to get my life back again.  So what is your real name Mr. David James?  Is Rachel one of your undercover agents also?  Is that her real name?"

     David bent his head and took a deep breath.
     "It is my real name, but I'm not the same David James that founded the advertising agency.  His last name isn't actually even James.  It was just a fortuitous opportunity for us to take advantage of the merger when we realized that the Clan was moving closer to finding you.  Rachel is actually my niece, and everything I told you about her is true.  When they asked me to take part in this operation, I did so under the condition that she be a part of my cover story so that her life would not have to be disrupted again.  See, both my sister and brother-in-law were in the agency as well.  They died in the line of duty during an undercover sting.  Rachel didn't even have a chance to say goodbye to them."
     "So not only are you okay with putting my life in jeopardy, but also hers?  Wow.  What an awesome uncle you must be."
     "Sara, you can wallow in your anger all you want, but understand something.  We did everything we possibly could to make sure you were kept safe, and we couldn't risk derailing the entire operation.  I kept Rachel close to me because I knew that I would be able to keep her safe.  If my cover had been blown at all, her life would have been at risk whether she was with me or not.  I wasn't going to have her go through all the fear and pain again.  It was weeks of not knowing what had happened to her parents before she was even told they had died."

     A tear ran down Sara's cheek, and David reached over to wipe it away.  This time she didn't jerk away from him.
     "If you want to have me stoned for caring about what happens to her ... what happens to you ... then I will hand you the first stone to throw."
     Sara shook her head no.  "So what will happen to me?"
     "Well, you will have to testify to what you know about Quigley and the grift in Federal Court."
     "In front of the Clan?!?!  They will kill me!"
     "No.  A Federal judge has agreed to accept videotaped testimony from you with your identity and voice disguised.  You will be put into the Witness Protection Program, relocated to a safe place, and given the chance to have your life back."
     "But I won't ever see you or Rachel again, will I?"
     "Probably not.  I can't risk her becoming a pawn to find you."
     "Do you really think they will come after me?"
     "It isn't likely, but we'd rather be safe than sorry.  I think the Clan knows that Quigley was acting alone and that he alone was the informant on their activities.  They just wanted to get to you to get their money back.  It was a lot of money that he took from them.  You didn't see any of their faces and were never a part of any of their illegal activities so you really can't identify them or give us any information that we didn't already know from Quigley.  Going into the program is really more to give you a sense of security than anything else.  I know how afraid you've been."
     Sara sighed and nodded.

     Four months later, safely in her new home with a new name, Skye sat watching shooting stars against the backdrop of the mountains.  The government had seized all of the Shulaya Clan's funds and the condo the money had bought, but surprisingly they had let her keep all of the interest her investments had made.  She had put it all into a savings account that allowed her to live an extremely comfortable life without needing to work, just drawing on the interest each month to buy necessities.  She had opened a guard dog training facility that she operated out of her home and on the 100 acres that she had purchased.

     No one was ever going to sneak up on her again.