Alone and Accused

Charles’ red eyes glared up at the wall clock, and two am stared back at his bloodshot eyes. He could feel the black bags beneath his eyes resting against his cheeks. Charles had been up for two days and had yet to find an answer. His wife, Joan had understood when he told her he had to work late again. Their trust and love for one another had seen them through difficult times. Joan had even put a couch in his home office, so he had a place to nap on his late nights.

Unfortunately, his boss, Larry, was not so understanding. Although Charles had been working on another project, Larry placed the blame for the current system outage squarely on Charles’ shoulders. Charles did lead the effort to set up the online banking systems, but that was three years earlier.

In truth, it was the new team Larry had put in place that had caused the current headache. The total experience of the five new developers may have added to up three years. None of the men and women had ever worked on a critical system before, and yet Larry claimed they were up to the task. The three-day outage had proven they were not.

Larry knew he was in trouble, but he was a shrewd manager. Rather than admit he had made a mistake in hiring his new team, Larry directly placed the blame at Charles’s feet and claimed his original design had failed. However, Larry gave up on his new group of young hotshots after they were unable to resolve the problem in the first twenty-four hours. Instead, he went to the man he claimed had caused the issue to find the problem. Charles had been up for almost two nights deciphering the new team’s code that had crashed the system and cost the bank hundreds of customers.

Charles’ body demanded sleep and desperation filled his mind. He wanted to quit, or get up and go to bed. The black sky outside his office window looked as bleak as his current situation felt.

“So what if I’m fired,” Charles growled in the empty room, “Larry’s team still won’t have this fixed, and he’ll be out the door behind me.”

Charles pushed his chair back, and a picture caught his attention. His two sons sat laughing with their heads barely visible above a leaf pile. Charles’ head drooped. He knew he could not let his family down no matter how unfair or onerous his current predicament might appear. Still, he needed a break.

He got up to make his way from his home office to the kitchen. The balls of his feet were the only part of his body to touch the floor as he stealthily navigated through his house. Charles had lost count of the number of mugs of coffee he had gone through over the last two days. Balancing the full mug, he silently walked back to his office with his warm cup of much-needed caffeine.

Sitting down, Charles looked up and saw what he had searched for the last two days. A bug in the program that would send the banking system into an infinite loop, but only when there was a fraction that tried to divide by zero. Charles typed with newfound excitement. A short test and two hours later the system was running again.

Charles shot off an email to Larry to tell him everything was working. Four-thirty in the morning glared up at him from the computer screen. He stretched and smiled. At least he could finally get some rest. To Charles’ surprise, Larry responded immediately. He was expected to be in the office for a meeting with the senior managers at eight in the morning. Charles dropped his head between his legs and fought the scream that was urging its way out of his throat.

The boardroom was filled with managers of managers. By Charles’ count, there were at least ten senior and executive people in the room. Larry sat to the right of the head of the table. The only empty chair was next to him. The empty seat was not meant as a sign of leadership or deference, today it was a sign of accusal before a tribunal. Nobody seemed to notice, or care about the unkempt appearance of Charles.

His bottom had barely touched the black leather seat when Larry spoke up, “Please tell us what you found.”

“I know you all are busy,” Charles began, “So I will make this brief. There was a mathematical error that locked up the system.”

A stern looking woman leaned forward and stared harshly at Charles, “Why didn’t you catch this before? I would have thought the two years that you had to build this system would have been adequate time to test for this sort of issue.”

Charles worked to hide the knowing smirk he could feel growing inside him. He clasped his hands together on the top of the table and responded, “Indeed, I would have, if I had made the error. Unfortunately, it appears to be something the new team put in place after I moved off the project.”

Larry’s voice rose two octaves, “What do you mean? You didn’t tell me that in your email.”

Charles response was calm and even, “I didn’t know you were looking to assign blame. I was only telling you what caused the problem.”

Chairs began to groan, creak, and rattle as the managers squirmed in anticipation. The meeting was not going where they anticipated, and like school children forming a circle around two adversaries, they leaned in to watch the drama.

Larry’s fingers began to drum on the table, “I don’t understand, I was quite clear that I wanted to know what caused this issue.”

Charles allowed a faint smile to pass across his lips as he nodded. Then he replied, “You did, and what I described is what caused the problem.”

Larry crossed his arms, “Okay then, how do you know it wasn’t your code, or maybe it was John who helped you write the program?”

“Because Manju did an excellent job of commenting his code. His name, date, and change number are all in print next to the offending code. My comments are now under his.” Charles leaned back and let his arms relax on the chair.

The stern lady leaned back in and glared at Larry, “I thought you said Charles was the problem. How many other issues have you blamed on him that aren’t his?”

Charles looked over at Larry with his eyes stretched wide. “Other problems?”

Larry ignored Charles and looked back at the woman, “Lisa, I can promise you that if I had known.”

Lisa cut him off, “It sounds to me like you did know.” She turned her attention to Charles, “How many hours did you have to work on this?”

Charles’ eyelids felt heavy, but the joy and terror of the moment kept him focused, “I’ve been on this for two days and two nights. Since the problem was not something we had seen previously, I had to walk through all of the program line-by-line until I could find the issue.”

Lisa’s eyes softened, “You look exhausted. Take the rest of the week off.”

Charles dipped his head, and then responded, “What about my current project?”

Lisa gave Larry an icy stare and then softened her look as she turned back to Charles, “I’m sure Larry can take care of things the rest of the week. After all, he took you away from your project to fix this fiasco.”

Charles smiled and said, “Thank you.”

Lisa looked around the boardroom, the other men and women nodded in agreement with her. She turned back to Charles, “Why don’t you go home before you find yourself asleep in here.”

“Thank you, thank you all.”

Larry began to stand with Charles.

“Not you,” Lisa said in a harsh tone.

Larry’s butt hit his chair with a thud. Charles was a half a step from the doorway when Lisa said his name. He froze and turned his attention back to her.

“When you come back next week you’ll be reporting to me until I decide where I want to promote you.”

Charles did not try to hide his happiness at the news. He stood there transfixed, nodding his head. Lisa gave Charles a dismissive wave of her hand. At that command, Charles was out the door.

Joan gave Charles a kiss on his cheek as his head snuggled into his warm pillow. His nightmare was over. He closed his eyes and urgently sought the sweet dreams that awaited him.

The Answer in The Forest

     The tension in Paul’s muscles made every breath labored. He sat there looking out this window questioning his very existence. The yellow trees of fall were letting loose their leaves onto the forest floor that surrounded his small one bedroom cabin.  Paul questioned every decision he had made. 
     His laptop’s screen glowed into his fallen face. Paul saw nothing but despair around him. His book sales had died off, and he felt like he had been hidden in the abyss. Paul had followed the advice of some of the most successful people in his life. He had worked day and night. Everything should have resulted in resounding early success.
     Paul looked up at the ceiling. The old logs were almost black with age. Splinters, gashes, and scrapes covered much of the wood, but the roof was solid. Paul spoke towards the ceiling, “Why, God? I thought you wanted me here. I thought you gave me stories to share. It’s like I don’t exist. Is that your idea? Am I really this useless? No income, no hope, no readers?”
      The computer’s lid gave Paul little resistance as he closed it. Paul knew his body was too broken to enter the rat race once more. Paul mumbled to himself, “Run with the big dogs or stay on the porch.” A smile traced across his taut face. He remembered a time when he not only ran with the big dogs, he led them. Paul let out a long sigh and stood up.
     The cabin’s old wooden floors creaked under his weight. Although Paul could feel small dips in the wood, there was no sign of structural rot as he paced laps around the open living room and kitchen. Plates would rattle whenever he drew near the hutch with its shelves of blue patterned platters and plates. Paul knew he was going nowhere fast, but he needed to expel the anxiety and stress that had built up inside.
     A wooden bolt held the cabin’s only door in place when it had a resident inside. Age and seasons had swollen and shrank the pin and the sleeve. Now a temporary resident was required to wiggle and cajole the wood into place when they wanted the door locked. The same process had to be employed when a vacationer wished to be set free. A sliding latch, also of wood, then had to be set free through a wiggle of the front door to coax it loose.
     Paul managed to get himself into the open air after a few seconds of wrestling with the front door. He sat in a nearby chair on the front porch and let the cold air of the late fall flow over his body. The cold breeze seemed to wash away the tension it found as it blew over his body. Paul looked out at the woods and spoke into the woods, “What am I supposed to do? I’m ruined.”
     “That sounds a bit dramatic.”
     Paul startled. He turned to see a brown bearded man with a broad smile. He was not a large man, Paul guessed around five feet eight inches, maybe five feet nine. His green flannel shirt and dirty jeans gave him the look of an old lumberjack. Without asking permission is sat down next to Paul and reached over and patted Paul’s hand.
     Paul wanted to pull his hand back, but for some reason allowed the stranger to continue. Something was comforting and familiar in his touch.
     “I’m sorry, do we know each other?” asked Paul.
     The stranger looked him straight in the eye. Paul thought his brown eyes looked plain, but they had a twinkle that was hard to miss. The stranger replied, “You know me better than you think. I was just watching you in the cabin. You know, the answers you seek have been in front of you this whole time.”
     “You were watching me?” Paul asked in an alarmed voice. A shiver flowed down his spine. “Who are you?”
     The stranger responded, “Paul, how have you become so blind? The wood, Paul. It’s all around you.” The stranger swept his arm across and around as he spoke. “Both alive and dead, these trees serve a purpose. When they are alive, they convert CO2 to oxygen so you can breathe. Their beauty gives a sense of peace, and when they are harvested, they provide shelter.”
     Paul shook his head, “I don’t understand. So are you saying I’m dying, but I have a purpose?” The question shot a bolt of fear through him. He wondered once more what this stranger’s intentions were.
     The stranger’s eyes seemed to suddenly lock Paul’s attention. Paul felt pulled towards this frightening man with no name. The stranger continued, “Paul, stop looking for answers in your mind and look at what you’re seeing. The wood is scarred, it’s going dormant, and one day the leaves will sprout again. The trees will spread their pollen and seeds and not only live but reproduce. Yet, the scars and knots are going to remain. All this dead wood that makes the cabin has rested from its known existence, and yet it provides shelter to troubled travelers looking for peace.”
     Paul nodded and scowled as he attempted to respond, “So, you’re saying all the scars I carry on my body, and all this stress and anxiety that are a burden to me have a purpose. Are you saying that even with my weakness and despair my life still has a purpose?”
     The bearded stranger smiled, patted Paul’s hand, stood and walked off the porch. He looked back at Paul as he rounded the corner of the house, “Now you understand.” Then the stranger disappeared from view.
     Paul pushed himself out of his chair and quickly made his way around the corner of the house. There was nobody there. Paul did laps and could find nobody. The cold seemed to cut through Paul’s body, and he shivered. A Bible verse popped into Paul’s head, “If you seek me you will find me.” 
     The answer had been there the whole time. Paul knew he was not alone, and he knew what he needed to do. Paul made his way back into the cabin. He tossed another log into the woodstove and returned to his computer. He needed to keep writing because his role in this life had not ended yet.

Help in the Woods

Enjoy some macabre humor, a twist on an old faerie tale, and Lucius makes an easter egg reference to a movie at the end.

Help in the Woods


My debut novel “Joshua and the Shadow of Death” is releasing October 30th, 2018.

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Stolen Dreams

The green clouds in the sky matched Owen’s environment. He had worked for over a year to bring his company to fruition, and now, when everything should have been going right, it teetered on the edge of disaster. His partner, Abigail was everything a person desired in an employee, but Abigail was not just Owen’s employee in the business, she was his partner in love. His soul mate, and now he sat here with the storm clouds gathering outside his window a soulless human being,

Abigail’s eyes were as green as the sky outside his window. They looked like a pair of sparkling emeralds whenever he stared into them. She seduced him the first time he saw her. She had auburn hair and green eyes. Her purple miniskirt draped across her five-foot-two-inch frame perfectly accenting her petite figure. His brain seemed to quit working the first time they spoke. Owen had never felt so goofy. When Abigail indicated that she was a software engineer, Owen nearly squealed in delight, but he managed to hold on to some pride in her presence. Owen decided he needed Abigail to be part of his small company. The attraction between them was apparent, so she would watch his back as they navigated the corporate client jungle together.

Owen’s teammates did not hold the same view. There was a steady stream of trusted friends into his office the day she walked in and started. Owen was thankful the company only had ten people including himself before Abigail came onboard. Every single employee objected to being left out of the hiring decision. After all, group approval was the hiring practice since the company began. Everyone had to agree to the to hire the applicant, or they moved on to the next candidate. Nine objections to Abigail walked through his door, and he argued with every dissenter. Owen should have known then that he was making a mistake, but his heart told him he was doing the right thing.

Abigail seemed to be the model employee for the first three months. The deadline for the most prominent client was quickly approaching, and everyone was working overtime to make sure they beat their milestones. Abigail always worked longer than everyone else, and some of Owen’s friends in the company had taken the time to apologize to him for being wrong about her. Owen’s pride swelled. Not only did he recruit the most beautiful woman he had ever met to go out with, but she had turned out to be the best employee in his company. Owen had found a way to make nepotism work. He was on top of the world.

Then he walked into the office early this morning. Charles had called him in. The original nine employees stood in a semi-circle with their arms crossed and their faces stern. Owen’s world slowed to a crawl. Everything had been stolen. The software that would revolutionize fuel economy was ripped from their servers. All their backups deleted. Abigail had gone to the trouble not only to degauss the servers’ drives that sat in the closet, but she had set loose a network virus and turned on every machine. Like something from “Jurrasic Park,” a meme image of her face echoed in an evil cackle throughout the workspace. The company had lost everything, and the client was due in the next day. Owen dismissed the team and told them to return tomorrow, ready to present to the client. The group exited with faces of confusion, shock, and malaise.

The dark clouds began to release their watery burdens. Hail peppered the window. Owen stared at the icy, wet projectiles slamming into the window, and watched as the city faded from view under the violence of the storm.

Abigail’s familiar voice broke through the den of the rain. “Why did you call me in?”

Owen did not turn to face her but kept watching the rainfall. “Why did you come?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I’m feeling a little guilty this time.” Abigail’s voice cracked a little.

Owen let a smile creep across his face. He sat upright and turned his chair her direction. “This time? Oh Abigail, and here I thought I was your first.”

Abigail twisted her lip in disgust at his innuendo.

Owen continued, “I want to know why. Why me? Why us? Why my company? We’re a small company and no threat to anyone.”

Abigail shook her head, “I can’t tell you that. My clients pay me a lot of money to remain anonymous. You’re a smart group of people; you’ll find jobs. My unnamed client would kill to have you join their team.”

Owen allowed his smile to return across his tense face. Abigail’s expression became confused. Owen said, “It’s funny you should mention kill.” Abigail’s eyes grew wide with fear. Owen reached over and opened the drawer. He slowly pulled an object out of his desk. A simple thumb drive.

“I don’t get it,” said Abigail. Owen watched her flinch in surprise as the policeman emerged from behind a cubicle wall, grabbed her wrist and slipped the first handcuff on her. “What’s going on?” demanded Abigail.

Owen waited for the policeman to finish handcuffing her. “Please give us a minute,” said Owen. The policeman took a step back. “You see, Abigail, I was hoping my friends were wrong about you, but I learned a long time ago to listen to the people you trust, and I trust my team. Still, I had to give you a chance, and you proved me wrong. This simple thumb drive is more than large enough for an offline copy of our software, and it’s safely encrypted. It’s true that you took out our servers and network, but not the security camera’s and offline servers I have hidden to monitor the office after hours. You tried to kill my company but failed.”

Abigail pulled against her handcuffs and said, “Please, Owen, it’s me. I came back because I care about you. Maybe we can work something out.”

Owen frowned and shook his head. “I’m afraid not. Corporate espionage is still a crime, and you’re going to jail. Unfortunately, there is nothing the courts can do for my stolen heart, but I will heal.” Owen nodded, and the officer pulled Abigail to the elevator. Owen looked back out at the storm. Abigail’s wails were barely audible above the tears from the sky.


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The Truth Shall Set You Free

Grayson stood there in shackles. His hands chained to his orange jumpsuit. The manacles on his ankles bit into his flesh each moment he tried to move his legs too far. Not more than five feet to his right stood Caleb’s mother. Tears streamed down her face. Between them stood his lawyer and the District Attorney. Sheriff deputies stood vigil around the group. Nobody knew what the judge would say.

The judge’s voice was firm, “Mrs. James. You may address the court, but not the defendant. The court is aware of your loss and has compassion for your situation, but I need to remind you that this is still a courtroom and we need to maintain order.”

“Thank you, your Honor,” said Mrs. James.

Time stood still for Grayson. Judge Webb was in his mid-sixties. He had been a fair judge throughout the trial. Grayson had only had a limited dialog with the judge, but the man always seemed respectful, even though he had every right not to be. Judge Webb turned his eyes towards Grayson, “Young man, the words I just spoke to the victim’s family apply to you too.”

Grayson shuffled his feet and said, “Yes, sir,” amid the rattling of this chains.

Although Mrs. James was supposed to address the court, she looked squarely at Grayson. Grayson could not stop himself from looking in her direction. Mrs. James’ long gray hair was frazzled and looked as though she had not taken a brush to it in days. Her kind blue eyes that had once looked upon him as a child pooled up with tears of sorrow. Black circles and sunken cheeks made Mrs. James appear older, sicker, closer to death. One good look and Grayson wanted to burst out with the truth, but he would not dare. He had given Caleb his solemn word. Some might call him innocent, but Grayson knew he was guilty.

“Why would you shoot him?” asked Mrs. James.

“Address the court,” said the judge.

Grayson looked up at the judge, “Please, your Honor, it’s okay. She has a right to ask me.”

Grayson turned back to Mrs. James. “Ma’am, your son was a brother to me. We had been together through school, the Army, the middle east, and back home again. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for your son.”

Mrs. James’ tired eyes narrowed as she spoke, “Then why would you kill him?”

Grayson sighed. He could feel the tears flowing down his cheeks. He wished he could reach his face to wipe them away. His defense attorney took a tissue from her purse and wiped them for him. “I wish I could tell you,” said Grayson, “I do, but I made a promise.”

“What kind of promise, Grayson? I thought we were like family.” Mrs. James voiced strained against her frustration and grief.

Grayson shook his head, “I’m sorry ma’am. It’s best if Y’all just put me down like Caleb.”

Mrs. James began to weep, and the judge interjected. “I think that’s enough of the victim statement.”

The judge’s voice deepened and projected farther as he took on a firm, magisterial tone. “Mr. Grayson, this court finds you,” suddenly the rear doors burst opened on the closed hearing. Two deputies stepped in front of a young lady who was smartly dressed and carrying a briefcase in one hand, and a piece of paper in another. The DA spoke up quickly. “I’m sorry, everyone. Your honor, she’s part of my staff.” The District Attorney looked towards the commotion at the rear of the courtroom and raised her voice, “Jenny, this had better be life and death.”

Jenny nodded her head furiously.

The DA turned back to the judge. “Please, if I might have the court’s indulgence, just five minutes. Jenny wouldn’t cause a scene if it weren’t important.”

“Five minutes,” said the judge.

Grayson was led back to his seat behind the defendant’s table. The DA walked to the back of the courtroom to meet with Jenny.  Grayson sat quietly while his defense attorney, Kim reviewed some notes she had written in her plea to avoid the death penalty. Only a minute had passed when the DA asked Kim to join her in the back of the room.

The judge returned six minutes after leaving the courtroom. The attorneys were behind their respective tables, and Mrs. James sat behind the DA with Jenny consoling her. The DA remained standing as everyone sat down with the judge. “Your honor, if it pleases the court. Crucial evidence has come to our attention that we must share.”

Judge Webb raised an eyebrow and said, “I don’t think you need to add anything new to prove your case, Ms. Willis.”

“It’s not for my case, your Honor, it’s for the defense.”

Judge Webb paused, let out a breath and invited the lawyers to the bench.

Grayson began to tap his feet. Why don’t we end this? Haven’t I been tortured enough? Just convict me and put me away already, he thought to himself.

The attorneys returned, and Kim remained standing. She motioned for Grayson to stand up.

“Mr. Grayson Long, it has come to the court’s attention that you did not, in fact, shoot the defendant but attempted to stop him from shooting himself.”

A wave of nausea swept over Grayson. How could they have found out? He never said a word to anyone. “Who told you that?”

The judge frowned at Grayson, “Why does that matter young man?”

“I gave Caleb my word nobody would ever know. I couldn’t get to him in time to stop him, but I could at least keep his reputation intact. It’s the least I could do. I tried to stop him, but I was too slow getting the door opened. I should have been holding that stupid key. I should have known he would lock the door. I lost precious time having to dig through my pockets to find that apartment key. Seconds, I was only a few seconds too late. The only thing I could do was make him a promise to keep things a secret and tell him I loved him as he took his last breath.”

“You risked the gallows because you didn’t have a key in your hand? Young man, you could have been executed for something that isn’t your fault,” said Judge Webb.

Grayson shrugged, “Everybody dies sometime.”

Judge Webb thought for a moment and then nodded his head. His magisterial tone returned, “It is the order of this court, in agreement with the District Attorney, that this case is dismissed, and all documents and records of evidence associated with said case be sealed. Additionally, any arrests, fines or other items associated with this case and Mr. Grayson Long are to be expunged. We’re adjourned.”

“What about Caleb?” pleaded Grayson. “I made a promise!”

Kim put her arm on Caleb’s shoulder, “Don’t worry. We are going to say the weapon accidentally discharged moments before you arrived for a visit. We won’t release all the security camera footage the exterminator found when he was up in the attic. He was the person who found the hidden security camera with the memory stick still inside it.”

Mrs. James walked over. As soon as the chains were free, she threw her arms around Grayson and wept into his shoulder. Her muffled voice was barely audible through her sobbing. “Thank you. Thank you for honoring my son. I prayed you hadn’t done it. You were like a brother to Caleb and a son to me. I feared I had lost both my sons.”

Grayson began to cry, and he and Mrs. James held each other tight.


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Author: “Joshua and the Shadow of Death”

  • Releasing October 30, 2018

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A Lonely Place

Ethan sat by the quiet stream. The bubbling brook brought peace to his soul. A gentle breeze blew through the freshly leafed Spring trees. Green ferns graced the edges of the crystal-clear water that ran over the rocks. Eastern blue star flowers dotted the sides of the woods. Poplar trees and oaks populated much of the forest around Ethan. He sat there on his favorite rock pondering what he was going to do next with his life.

Caroline had always been his true love, and when they married, he knew he would never need anyone else. Their life together had been everything he dreamed it would be. Although both worked to make ends meet, they had managed to always have the weekends free together. Love filled their little two-bedroom apartment, and strangers quickly became friends on their weekend adventures to nearby tourist attractions.

Unfortunately, all that changed when Mason appeared. He was a handsome rogue who had been assigned as Caroline’s boss at the bank branch where she worked. At first, Caroline would mention him almost daily when telling Ethan about her workday. However, as the weeks went by, she stopped saying his name. At first, Ethan assumed Mason had settled into his job, and Caroline had less interaction with him. Then one day Ethan surprised Caroline and showed up at her workplace to take her out to lunch. He was shocked to learn that Mason and Caroline had already left for lunch together. The bank teller behind the counter mentioned they often had lunches together.

Ethan set aside his jealousy, afraid of what it could mean. It wasn’t until that fateful day a week ago that all his fears became true. Caroline was sorry and wept bitterly, but she had fallen in love with Mason. Ethan’s heart was broken, but he let her go. In the end, her happiness was all that mattered to him. Although his chest felt hollow inside when she walked out the door, he knew he was doing the right thing.

It took less than two days for Mason to reject Caroline. She called Ethan crying on the phone from a hotel in town. Caroline sobbed and told him how Mason had walked into the hotel with another woman under his arm. Caroline knew Ethan had no reason to help her or even comfort her, but she had taken the chance and begged his forgiveness. Now, Ethan sat in his quiet place in the woods. He watched the sunlight play in the shadows of the trees and considered his options.

The footsteps behind Ethan were not unexpected. In fact, they were five minutes late. Each step was determined but slow. It seemed the person he had invited into his special place was not used to walking a mile up a muddy path.

“There better be a darn good reason you called me up here.” Mason’s arrogant voice immediately started a rage inside of Ethan soul, but Ethan controlled himself.

“I thought we would talk privately, in a relaxed environment,” replied Ethan.

“Talk about what? I don’t have anything to say to you. The only reason I came here was that you said Caroline was thinking about talking to Michelle. I don’t need that witch chatting up my new girlfriend.”

Ethan wanted to end him now, but he had to give Mason a chance. He had to give himself a chance. To provide Mason with what he deserved would cost him a piece of his own soul. Ethan continued, “I may have lied about that.”

“Lied?” Mason’s voice was a combination of annoyance and anger. “What was your plan? Bring me up here and kill me?”

Ethan forced a laugh from his tightening chest, and responded, “You really are a makebate.”

He could hear Mason begin to step closer, and Ethan finally turned to face him. Ethan nearly burst out laughing. The man had hiked up the path wearing khakis and a button-down blue business shirt. His once shiny Italian leather shoes were now scuffed and stained with red clay. Mason was apparently out of his element. Ethan stood, and Mason stopped less than two feet away from his face.

“I should punch you in the mouth right here,” growled Mason. “You dragged me all the way up here, and for what? Because your wife was a slut? I did you a favor. She was so easy to seduce. All I had to promise were all the things you couldn’t give her.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

Mason took a step back and crossed his arms. With a smirk on his face, he continued. “All you guys are the same. You assume your relationships are perfect, but nobody’s perfect. You had money issues, there were nights you were too tired to pay attention to her, and you’d stop complimenting her as often as you use to. All I had to do was promise her wealth and give her the attention she missed. It works every time.”

“But why did you break her heart?” Asked Ethan. “She loved you, and you used her.”

“Of course, I used her,” said Mason. “That’s the point, and now I’m using Michelle. They give me a little happiness, and I return the favor.”

“You destroy lives.” Said Ethan.

“They destroyed themselves.” Said Mason dismissively.

Ethan had had enough. “Come with me over here a moment.”

Mason raised his eyebrow with suspicion, “Why would I do that?”

“If I were going to kill you I would’ve already done it.” Said Ethan. “I just want to show you something that Caroline had hidden out here the concerns you.”

Mason gave a quick nod and followed Ethan. They walked 5 yards downstream, and Ethan gave a kick to a stick that was leaning into a bush sitting next to the edge of the water. A tree limb shot into the air with a whoosh. Mason screamed as he found himself hanging upside down four feet above the ground.

“What do you think you’re doing? I thought you weren’t going to kill me. Get me down, or I’ll call the police.”

Ethan tilted his head slightly upside down and looked Mason in the eye. “Oh, I’m not going to kill you, and you’re not calling the police.” Ethan reached into Mason’s front pocket and grabbed the cell phone that was dangling out. Then he pulled the twine out of his own pocket and quickly tied Mason’s hands to his belt. Mason yelled and cursed, and attempted to fight back, but his office physique offered little defense.

“How long do you intend to keep me here?” asked Mason through his tears.

Ethan looked down at Mason and smiled. Then he said, “Long enough.” Ethan then turned and began walking back the way they had come.

“Long enough for what?” yelled Mason as he sobbed.

Ethan turned and answered, “Long enough for the bears. They’ve recently come out of hibernation. They always come here for water, and to forage for food. Don’t worry, you probably won’t last more than a few hours before they finally show up.”

“You can’t do this!” Cried out, Mason.

Ethan didn’t respond. He just turned back and whistled to himself as he strolled down the path back to his car.


Dictionary.com word of the day – makebate

Left but Not Alone

Lewis didn’t mind being called a benedict. After all, it was true. He had enjoyed the bachelor life until Marcia came into his life. Now here he stood before two hundred mutual friends, waiting to say his vows with the only woman he had ever truly loved. Lewis’ best friend Jack stood next to him sweating. Clearly, being forty-five and fitting into a tuxedo was not easy. Jack’s neck slightly overlapped his color, and his cummerbund strained against his stomach.

Lewis leaned over to Jack and whispered, “Why didn’t you rent a tux?”

“I didn’t see the point since I own this one,” replied Jack.

“It doesn’t fit.”

Jack’s voice sounded strained, “Yes it does, it’s just a little tight.”

Lewis raised his eyebrow, and the two men had to turn away from one another as they stifled their laughter. Lewis noticed John standing by the doorway at the front of the church. He discretely waved his hand to get Lewis’ attention. Unlike Jack, John had rented his outfit and the gray tux fit over his middle-aged body like a loose-fitting glove. Lewis knew John would be prepped and ready. In many ways, John had been the best man instead of Jack. John had planned the bachelor party, and he made sure Lewis was ready and on time. Of all his friends, John was the most sensible, but it was Jack who had been with him through thick and thin. When Lewis’ world would come crashing down over the years, it was always Jack who appeared on his doorstep first to offer a helping hand and a compassionate shoulder.

John waved his hand in front of his chest again, like a moth bouncing off a flame. At the same time, Denise peaked around from the other side of the door frame. Much like John, she was Marcia’s most reliable friend and the obvious choice to coordinate their wedding. Marcia’s best friend, Sophia, resembled Jack in many ways. Although she was not always prepared for what would happen next, she had been a faithful friend to Marcia for the last three decades. Lewis felt indebted to her for introducing Marcia to him.

Lewis thought about Marcia’s ex-boyfriend Conner and what he had missed. The man had been a fool to leave her like he did. Lewis shook his head and thought, why would anyone leave her like that. To just leave a note that says I need to go. No phone numbers, no reason. A smile crept across this face. Conner’s loss was his gain.

The piano player stopped, and the shuffling of feet pulled back Lewis into the room. The piano player started the wedding march introduction, and Lewis turned to the opened doors in the back. His emotions were overwhelmed. Marcia’s thick auburn hair had been woven so that the veil and her hair appeared as one. The white wedding dress had sparse lace covering her cleavage until it formed a v at the middle of her chest. The white silk underneath the lace covered her chest and flowed down her body to the floor. Marcia’s blue eyes shone brightly and glistened as though she could cry at any moment. The large bouquet of roses she held in front of her completed the outfit.

Marcia walked alone down the aisle. She had lost her father five years earlier and told Lewis she wanted to be alone so his spirit could walk with her. Everyone was transfixed on Marcia as she made her way down the aisle. Halfway down a voice broke into the moment and all heads turned to the back. It was Conner. “Stop!” he yelled.

Marcia turned, and her bouquet dropped to her side.

“What are doing?” Conner asked.

Lewis immediately left his spot at the front of the church and joined Marcia’s side. He could see the tears streaming down Marcia’s cheeks, and he put his arm around her. “How dare you.” snarled Lewis.

Conner did not seem concerned but continued to talk. “Why are you marrying him? Didn’t you get my note?”

“That you left? Of course, I did.” burst out Marcia.

“No, the other part of the note,” said Conner. “The picture of California inside that travel magazine you liked to read.”

“I thought that was just an old magazine,” said Marcia with a tinge of regret.

“No, it was my way of telling you I had gone to California to find work. We always dreamed of moving there one day, and I left to make it happen.”

“Why are you here?” demanded Lewis, “How did you find out about our wedding.”

“Sophia sent me an invitation,” said Conner.

Marcia released herself from Lewis’ grip and spun back towards Sophia, “You did this? You knew he was in California and never told me? Why is he here? Why would you send him an invitation?”

Sophia started to weep, “I’m sorry. I just wanted him to know he was free. I love him, I’ve always loved him. I didn’t think he would come for you.”

Conner chimed back in, and Marcia spun around. “Come back with me. Come to California. I’m your true love.”

“No,” shouted Lewis

Marcia began to cry and handed Lewis her bouquet. “I’m so sorry, but I could never truly love you knowing what Conner has done for me and the love I still feel for him. I’m sorry.” Lewis watched in horror as she hiked up her wedding dress and rushed into Conner’s arms. Lewis stood there shocked, unsure of what to do.

In a moment Jack was at his side with his arm around Lewis. “Come with me, Bro,” is all Lewis heard among the commotion in the church. The two men headed to the back of the church. Marcia and Conner were nowhere to be seen. Jack directed Lewis to an empty room and shut the door.

“We’ll get through this,” said Jack.

Lewis buried his head into his friend’s shoulder and wept as the two men held one another.


Dictionary.com word of the day – benedict

The Blame Game

Sweat beaded on Hank’s forehead. He clasped his hands together. They felt clammy. He had never had sweaty palms before. Hank knew he had done nothing wrong, but he also knew that the truth made no difference. Denise’s stare seemed to cut through his soul. Her coal black eyes looked as dead as they were dark.

Lewis and George sat to his right. Their arms were crossed, their brows furrowed, and their lips were curled down in disapproval. To his left Lori and Rachel sat. Lori drummed her fingers on the boardroom table, feigning impatience. Rachel refused to look Hank in the eye.

Hank had been to these blamestorming sessions before. However, he had always been on the other side of the table. So this is what it feels like, Hank thought. Should I even try to defend myself?

“Well?” Denise’s voice was impatient.

Hank cleared his throat. His speech was deliberate, “Well, Denise, I’m not sure why I’m here.”

Lori jumped in with a condescending tone, “You’re here because somebody in your department dropped the ball. A bug in our software caused the assembly line robots to go out of control at our clients’ sites. They’re looking at several million dollars in damage, and one death. The lawsuits should be arriving on our doorstep at any moment. Is there something about that you can’t comprehend?”

“Well, yea,” said Hank. “I’m familiar with the robots suddenly getting stuck in a loop and smashing everything within their reach, but my team doesn’t work on that code.”

Lori rolled her eyes, and everyone jumped as George’s hand slapped the wooden table. All eyes looked in George’s direction, and he responded with his voice raised. “Really? That’s your excuse? Your team had to run this code to test their part of the software. Why didn’t you catch this bug during your testing?”

“Wasn’t it your team that wrote the bug?” Hank asked George.

Denise jumped in. “Hank, in case you’ve forgotten, we’re a team. Our success depends on everyone backing each other up. If you’ve forgotten that maybe it’s time you start considering other options.”

There it is, thought Hank. They’re hoping I’ll hang myself. I can’t let this happen. I have a family to support. Maybe it’s time to start pushing back on some people.

“Denise, I’ve been in my job longer than anyone else at this table, including you. I’m well aware we are a team, and you’re right, my team should have caught this bug.”

George piped in, “Good, I’m glad you see it our way.”

Hank pointed his index finger at George, and said, “One moment, I wasn’t finished. If my team had been involved, we would’ve caught this problem. I talked with my lead developer, and it turns out George’s team made some changes that were sent to the clients without first being tested by our team.”

Denise clasped her hands together and rested them under her chin. Her eyes shot over to George. Everyone else, including Hank, crossed their arms and glared at George. “Well?” asked Denise.

George stammered. Fear filled his eyes, and he absent-mindedly reached down and fiddled with his pen. The right corner of Hank’s lip curled up despite his best effort. He had saved himself and his team. Now it was George’s turn to sweat in their little blame game.

“Well yea,” George finally managed to say. “We did push a bug fix through without everyone testing it, but that code change couldn’t have caused the disaster.”

“What makes you so sure?” asked Denise.

Hank could see George’s forehead glistening under the fluorescent lights. George squirmed, sighed, and then said, “My lead developer told me it didn’t.”

Denise put her arms down and leaned in, “Does she know what did cause it?”

George looked down at the table, “Um, not yet.”

Rachel finally spoke up, “George, you do know a man was crushed by one of the robots. He had a wife and two kids and was their only source of income. How could you sit there and let Hank take the blame?”

George’s brows furrowed, “Who said it isn’t his fault? What if something else caused the failure?”

Hank knew his job was on the line. More than that, his very reputation could be destroyed if he didn’t speak back up. “George, stop trying to deflect the blame. Your team wrote the code that killed someone. We all know that. To make matters worse, you didn’t thoroughly test your bug fix, and now we could be sued out of existence. We could all lose our jobs because of a screw up that you won’t take responsibility for.”

Denise chimed in, “I think we have what we need. Everyone is dismissed, except George.” The team stood to leave, and George and Denise remained seated. The group began to exit when Denise spoke up.

“Hank.”

Hank stopped in his tracks and fear shot up his back. Maybe he wasn’t going to escape the blamestorm after all.

“Good job,” said Denise.

Hank smiled, nodded, walked out of the meeting room, and closed the door behind him.


Dictionary.com word of the day – blamestorming

Bad Luck

Chatzkel sat on the side of the road in the hot Sonoma desert. His car’s radiator hose spewed steam like a small geyser. Saguaro cacti dotted the landscape along with prickly pears and other succulents. Chatzkel looked up towards heaven, “Why?  Why did you put me on this earth?  Oy vey, everything I touch seems to fail. Why do I seem to be so cursed?”

Chatzkel sighed and looked up and down the two-lane highway. He had walked a hundred yards in either direction in hopes of gaining a cell signal. Unfortunately, his efforts only resulted in more sweat, greater thirst, and no sign that any part of civilization had ever heard of the piece of blacktop.

He looked up to the heavens once more. “Why? Why have you made me such a schlimazel? Nothing ever goes right for me. Do you remember that fantastic job you blessed me with? It was wonderful. Then came that fateful night. I didn’t put that dolly in the shadows of the walkway next to the wall of stage switches, but there it laid. Nobody even cared that I broke my leg. They were more concerned with the lights suddenly going out on stage during the rock concert. How does that happen at the exact time a singer is jumping from a platform? I suppose I should be grateful that he only fractured his spine and didn’t break his neck. Still, you allowed the blame to fall on me, God. Now here I am trying to get to Tuscon for a job interview, and my car breaks down. Why have you cursed me with such bad luck?

In the distance, Chatzkel heard the rumble of a semi. A large black Peterbilt appeared on the horizon. Chatzkel stood next to his car and waved his arms furiously. The truck began to gear down as the distance grew shorter between the two. The truck driver stopped on the shoulder just past Chatzkel’s car. Chatzkel watched as a rotund man made his way out of the cab. He had a thick black beard that contrasted sharply with his gray balding scalp. His green eyes seem to pierce straight through Chatzkel.

“Run into some bad luck?” asked the trucker.

Chatzkel stuck out his hand, “Yes, My name is Chatzkel, but everyone calls me Chaz. My radiator hose cracked.”

The truck driver shook his hand. “Call me Lou. Don’t you have any duct tape?” The trucker released his grip.

“No.”

Lou continued talking as they walked over to his car. “You should never go anywhere without duct tape, especially the desert. How much water do you have?”

“None, I drank all my water.”

Lou continued mumbling as he stuck his head under the hood. “Should always have extra water.” The steam had receded, and Lou tried to touch the hose but quickly pulled his hand back.

Chatzkel spoke up, “Can you call for help, or give me a ride somewhere?”

Lou shook his head and laughed. Without saying another word he walked over to his cab and opened a lower storage compartment. The trucker pulled out a roll of silver duct tape and came back over to the car. In just a few seconds he had the cracked hose taped up. Lou shot Chatzkel a disapproving look and returned to his cab. He walked back a minute later with a jug of water and poured it into the radiator’s thirsty reservoir.

He capped the tank and turned back to Chatzkel, “That should keep you going until you get to the next town. Check your fluids there and by some radiator fluid if you need it. Don’t leave town without duct tape and extra water.”

Lou made his way back towards his semi. Chatzkel followed behind and said, “I want to thank you. I’ve had nothing but bad luck my whole life. You’re a real Godsend.”

“Not a problem, just remember, duct tape and water.”

Chatzkel turned to leave when the sound of a rattle froze him in his tracks. Just inside the shade of the rig’s trailer was a six-foot-long diamondback rattlesnake. Lou cursed, climb up into his cab and emerged with a snub-nosed .38 revolver. He pointed toward Chatzkel and the snake and let loose a shot. The bullet went clean through the snake’s head, hit the asphalt, and ricocheted into Chatzkel’s thigh.

Chatzkel collapsed on the road. Lou cursed and ran over to check on Chatzkel. “I am so sorry. I ain’t never had that happen before. I didn’t know a bullet could even do that after going through a snake’s head. Lou drugged Chatzkel over to his car and placed him inside. He started his engine and cranked up the air conditioner. “Now you stay right here. I’m going up the road just a few miles, and I’ll bring back the sheriff and some help.”

Chatzkel started to feel woozy. Sharp pain brought the world back into focus for a moment.

“Don’t touch that tourniquet,” said Lou. “I promise I’ll be back in less than thirty minutes. You stay in this cool car until then.”

The air temperature had begun to drop below the heat outside. Chatzkel nodded. He tried to stay focus and watched Lou run to his rig. Both diesel stacks blew jet black smoke as the trucker floored his semi and willed it up the road as fast as he could make it go.

Chatzkel looked up to heaven. “Okay, maybe I am a schlimazel, but you sent me help. Thank you for your mercy. At least I have my air conditioner.”

Although the bleeding has stopped, the throbbing of his leg and the blood loss sent waves of dizziness and nausea over his body. He did not want to fall asleep for fear he would not wake up. For five minutes he battled his own body. Chatzkel was desperate to find something else to focus his attention.

He had no idea how long the car had been hissing. Chatzkel had been looking down muttering what he would say to the recruiter about missing his interview. Looking up he saw steam once more escaping from under the hood. Chatzkel took a deep breath and shook his head. Perhaps it was better this way. Chatzkel reached down to the seat’s controls, reclined his chair and closed his eyes. He would survive, or he would not, but at least he would get some rest. Then Chatzkel’s world went peacefully dark.


Dictionary.com word of the day: Schlimazel