Monday, December 24, 2007

Burritos and Gasoline by Jamie Beckett

Title: Burritos and Gasoline

Author: Jamie Beckett


Call me crazy, but I believe life comes to us preloaded with its own inertia. Think of it as Newton’s First Law of Humanity. The point where science leaves the lab and delves silently, secretly, into the lives of each and every one of us.

Yes, it’s true. I’m sure of it.

There is most definitely a force that propels inattentive, unfortunate souls like myself through doorways we know we’d be better off not walking through. It pushes us to do things that are best left undone. Selfish, destructive things that can only backfire and do us harm. Yet somehow, against our own better judgment, we do them anyway. And we pay a high price for being so habitually reluctant to heed our own inner voices.

Fortunately, there is evidence that even the most self absorbed and blatantly arrogant examples of humanity can redeem themselves, given certain conditions and the proper motivation.

At least that’s been my experience.

The series of events that initiated the end of my own carefully guarded existence remain crystal clear in my mind. Even now, years after the fact, I can still mentally run through the movie of my life in all its cinematic glory. Oh, what a ride it’s been.

My all but unavoidable downhill slide began on an otherwise unremarkable Friday afternoon in an unabashedly blue collar town known as Manchester, Connecticut. The exact time was 5:05 PM.

Even before that much deserved dose of reality bore down on me, I was suffering from a desperate case of the emotional blahs. Which, I freely acknowledge, was pretty much the norm for me in those days. Still, I didn’t have the slightest suspicion about what sort of surprise might await me as I drove dejectedly to work that morning. In only a matter of hours, my less than vibrant outlook on life would be forced to change in a big way. And not for the better, I might add.

Manchester, like so many towns that came into their own during the golden days of the industrial revolution, can be viewed in one of two ways. How you choose to see it depends very much on your point of view. It could easily be taken as a lovely little working class town, full of charmingly narrow streets, majestic leafy trees, a multitude of tidy parks and several thousand residents who represent the salt of the earth. The place exudes a certain southern New England charm that cheerfully embraces and celebrates the town’s hard working, mechanized roots.

Then again, it could be viewed as a prime example of urban decay, where the potholed and cracked asphalt streets are thickly lined by weather beaten, multi family homes inhabited almost entirely by families who are either too poor or too dumb to move somewhere more prosperous. Somewhere like East Hartford, perhaps.

In general, I subscribed to the latter opinion. A fact that I’m not the least bit proud of.

I lived nearby, in East Hartford, which borders Manchester to the west. I suppose you could say that my hometown was distinguished from Manchester primarily by being a more economically hopeful place overall. It wouldn’t necessarily be true, but you could say it. Others certainly have.

I believed that degrading theory with all my heart in those days. Although if I’m being honest, I didn’t have much heart left at that point.

Even further west, only one short river crossing away from my own apartment, was Hartford, the capital of the state. In Hartford there was opportunity. White collar jobs in government office buildings or the crisp, clean, modern glass and steel high rises of the insurance industry paid much better than most of what was available on the east side of the river. A certain measure of status was attached to having a job, or even better, a career, in the city. To be employed in Hartford was to be upwardly mobile. Those who were lucky enough to steer their cars west with the morning commute were seen as being headed in the right direction in life. Those lucky bastards had hope. A big, rosy, flashing neon sign that read, “Prosperity!” was on their horizon.

My drive to work took me the other way, to Manchester, which forced me to squint into the rising sun as I made my way. I lived in East Hartford, hardly more than walking distance from downtown Hartford and a substantially better life. As a matter of fact, I’d lived in East Hartford for the entire 42 years of my existence to that point. But I drove the wrong way to work. Each morning I steered toward that blue collar kingdom with a chip on my shoulder and a scowl on my face.

It was that fact more than any other that caused the color to slowly bleed out of my life. The act of driving eastward, away from the opportunities of the city, eventually caused me to become a shell of the man I was convinced I should have been. I’d achieved so little, my life was barely a thin shadow of what my boyhood dreams had suggested for my future.

To be blunt, I was 100 percent dissatisfied, disgusted and disinterested in any aspect of even my own life, let alone anyone else’s.

Then the hands of the clock ticked over to 5:05 PM. Things were about to take a turn for the worse.

As I pushed my way through the door to the Personnel Department, which was my habit on Friday afternoons, I took three deliberate steps toward Mildred Hanrahan’s desk and extended my right hand without comment or eye contact. This wasn’t an expression of affection or gratitude or even basic civility. In retrospect, I have to admit a sense of shame that I never showed poor Mildred the least bit of courtesy. Back then I saw her as something of a human cash machine. For Mildred was the secretary to Ted Winters, the personnel manager at what I perceived as the dumpy little company where Mildred and I both worked. A company that shall remain nameless for fear of possible litigation. I'm sure you’ll understand, considering the circumstances.

It was Mildred's sad task to hand out paychecks every Friday afternoon to a long line of hurried, haggard employees who wanted nothing more than to get their checks and hit the bars hard and fast. It was a duty she performed without the slightest hint of enthusiasm or charm.

Who could blame her, really?

My hand remained extended momentarily, but no envelope passed between Mildred and me as was usual. Instead she spoke, a fact that in and of itself should have tipped me off that something was wrong. Mildred never spoke to me. I never spoke to her either. All in all, we were even.

“Ted wants to see you,” she chirped, chewing a wad of gum, big enough to choke a lesser woman to death.

“About what?” I asked. The suspicious nature of the moment began to dawn on me. Mildred looked up at me wearily, chewing to beat the band. She never got the chance to answer.

“Frank, come on in,” Ted’s voice called out from behind his half-open door. The entrance to his office was located only two short steps behind Mildred’s desk.

With butterflies suddenly flapping madly in my stomach, I made my way into the personnel manager’s office for only the second time in my life. My first visit had been eight years before, when I'd been interviewed, then hired to work for the company as a CNC router operator. Suffice it to say the firm was a leading manufacturer of circuit boards. I'd prefer not to be any more specific than that.

Over the course of the eight years I'd been a part of that organization, I'd seen Ted a number of times. Our paths had crossed in the hallways, occasionally in the men’s room, and once or twice at the company Christmas party. We nodded in a familiar manner, of course. But neither of us had ever said anything of importance to the other since the day he’d clapped me on the back, shook my hand and welcomed me aboard as an employee of the company.

That was about to change.

“Have a seat, Frank.” He waved a hand at the lone empty chair in front of his desk.

Ted was my age, but looked ten years younger. Skillfully placed dark curls hung gracefully across his forehead. His suit jacket hung on a rack in the corner, crisp and clean. Nobody who encountered him on the street would take Ted Winters for a factory worker. More likely they’d peg him as a stockbroker or a lawyer rushing to catch a quick lunch with a client.

His office was another story, however. The wallpaper was beige and unremarkable, the bookshelves dusty and unkempt. Aside from the empty seat he’d indicated, there was only one other chair in the room, his. I hadn’t noticed it eight years before, but Ted’s desk was one of those build-it-yourself deals you can pick up at discount stores for cheap. The room struck me as being every bit as depressing as the reason I’d been invited into it was curious.

Sitting down as instructed, the sudden movement caused a wispy cloud of fiberglass dust to shake loose from my rumpled work clothes. The tiny glass threads begin dancing in the air spontaneously, gently circulated by the air-conditioning duct blowing across the ceiling above my seat. Within seconds, gravity began to drag the delicate cloud of minuscule fibers earthward. While watching them fall I said the only thing that came to mind,


“Frank, we’ve got a problem.” Ted was matter-of-fact. He didn’t hem or haw or beat around the bush in the least. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go.” The words rolled smoothly, effortlessly off his tongue. There was no emotion of any kind in his voice.

I returned his gaze with the blank expression of a man who’s only recently received a sudden, debilitating head injury. “Huh?” I said.

"It’s your attitude, Frank.” Ted wasn’t apologizing and he wasn’t about to backtrack or try to rephrase the salient point of my visit to his office. He merely proceeded to form the news into neat little bite-sized portions that he no doubt assumed I would find more easily digestible.

When it came to personnel matters, Ted Winters was the consummate professional. He didn’t show his feelings one way or the other. For all I knew, he was mentally working out the potential benefits of changing auto insurance providers while we were having our little chat. The man was that emotionally detached from his work. He was a wonder.

Ted continued, “Your productivity scores have been sliding for months . . . you’ve received three consecutive unsatisfactory reviews from your supervisor and from what I’ve been able to gather, you haven’t made any effort to correct these inadequacies at all.”

Throughout the entire exchange, brief as it was, Ted was polite, dispassionate and unshakable as he delivered the bad news. I, on the other hand, was having great difficulty getting myself mentally up to speed. I watched his mouth move for several more seconds, although not a word was sinking into my addled brain. By the time the gist of his message finally began to register, I realized that Ted was holding an envelope in his right hand, offering it to me. Slowly, unsteadily I took it. The envelope contained my paycheck. The one I’d expected to receive without comment from Mildred moments earlier. Now here it was, weighing on my mind far more than it did my hand.

As it turns out, the thin slip of paper inside that envelope represented the last paycheck I’d ever receive from an employer. No more would I take money in exchange for hours of mind-numbingly dull work each week. Not that I didn’t want to. But in a tight job market, a man in my position was left with limited options.

I'd given so little thought to each of those previous 400 odd paychecks. The first one got me excited, I imagine, although I have no clear recollection of picking it up or feeling anything one way or another about it. The last one certainly caught my attention, though. My head was swimming. The rest of me was locked in place, not moving an inch. I was dumbfounded.

“Good luck, Frank.”

Ted stood deliberately as he reached out to shake my hand. I rose unsteadily and shook the offered appendage, as much out of reflex as anything else. Then I turned to the open door and slunk out. Mixing among the throngs that were lined up to receive pay envelopes of their own from Mildred, I felt oddly out of place. For her part, Mildred sat as quietly as ever, diligently working her way through the pile of envelopes on her desk and the associated line of workers that stretched out through her doorway and into the hall beyond.

Shouldering my way through the crowd, I began making my way toward the main exit as best I could. The walls seemed to heave and swell as if they were attempting to expel me from the building. The floor beneath my feet felt as if it had softened to the consistency of marshmallows. Time lost all relevance, except for the fact that I wanted to get out of that hallway, out of the building and out of the company parking lot, as fast as I possibly could. Unfortunately, try as I might, I felt as if I was unable to move any faster than a hobbled octogenarian using a slightly irregular walker.

Finally, after pushing myself with great effort down the hallway toward the cold, bitter world that was no doubt waiting patiently to add to my humiliation, I reached the steel exit door. Pressing against the panic bar with my hip, I oozed out onto the damp sidewalk, confused, embarrassed and just beginning to realize exactly how deep a hole I’d stumbled into.

The sun was still hours away from disappearing behind the curvature of the earth. But it was shaded mightily by a steel gray Manchester sky that caused the look and feel of the whole day to run together.

The calendar suggested it was the middle of summer. But the sky above my head looked more like late fall. The thermometer struggled throughout that dreary afternoon to reach 70 degrees. Yet, even considering that relatively warm temperature, overtones of the chilly, depressing nature of autumn were pervasive. The atmosphere surrounding me looked and felt more or less the same as it had when I’d arrived for work at eight in the morning. At lunchtime the world had looked just as bleak. By five minutes after five in the afternoon, nothing had changed much. At least not in the meteorological sense.

A light drizzle teased my nose and beaded up on my eyebrows and hair as I trudged to my car. The damp air caused my blue jeans and cotton work shirt to feel tighter, restricting movement, making it hard to breathe. I tugged at my collar, to no avail. Air flowed to my lungs only with great effort. My scuffed, dirty boots weighed a ton. One shoelace had somehow come undone. Rather than stop to tie it again, I let it drag behind me. The boot loosened slightly with each step.

My only thought was to get away. If my boot had fallen completely off, I’m sure I’d have continued on with only a sock to cover my foot. My embarrassment was unimaginable in its enormity.

With considerable effort, I quickened my pace.

Around me were straggling bands of my former co-workers laughing, joking and enjoying the freedom represented by a Friday afternoon. I on the other hand was just at that moment coming to realize exactly how isolated I was from the 200 or so men and women I’d shared a working environment with up until only a few minutes before. Not one of them made my list as someone I would count as a real friend. Then again, I didn’t really count anyone else in the world as having a solid spot on that list, either. I talked to no one as I made my way through the parking lot and no one talked to me. Much like my relationship with Ted’s secretary, Mildred, we were even. All of us. I knew I wouldn’t be missed on Monday.

The world and I were at odds. Yet even with that critical tidbit of information gnawing away at the back of my brain, it still hadn’t occurred to me that I was rapidly making the transition from being a deeply troubled man to being a man in deep, deep trouble.

There is a profound difference between the two conditions. I didn’t know that then. I also didn’t know that I hadn’t hit bottom yet. I’d find out, though. Oh, how I’d find out.

Web Site: link:

Sacred Ground by Rita Karnopp


BY Rita Karnopp


Release date: Nov. 7, 2007 Eternal Press

Chapter One


eep your damn buffalo on your side of the fence," Brett Turner shouted.

Willow Howling Moon watched the most irritating man she knew stand in the stirrups and stare down the fence line, his glare unmistakably fueled by his anger. If she could get past his arrogance and narrow-mindedness, she might admit he bordered on handsome, with that curly wheat-colored hair edging his collar beneath a worn Stetson hat. Ranch work rendered him lean and muscular and in better shape than most men who worked out.

"My damn buffalo haven't crossed onto your property since 1890! As usual, your mouth is speaking before you've had a chance to think, if you think at all," she snapped, gritting her teeth.

"You think twenty head of my prized cows died from brucellosis without one or more of your ancient beasts giving it to them?" He wiped his brow on the back of his leather glove.

The gesture didn't fit the spoiled, rich-boy image she had of him. Uncomfortable under his steady gaze, she swung into the saddle. This cowboy had a way of unraveling her nerves. She raised her chin and stiffened her back.

"My buffalo have been tested for brucellosis," she informed him, looking directly into baby blue eyes flanked by too-long dark lashes. They gave him a look of innocence she knew didn't exist. "Your sickly cattle didn't die from any buffalo of mine." She gave his herd a glaring once-over. "Find someone else to blame for your misfortunes." She reined her mount away from the barbed fence, then into a slow trot away from Brett Turner.

"I catch one of those ugly horned beasts on my property, and I'll shoot it!" Brett shouted.

"You'd better think long and hard about firing a gun at my stock." She reined and turned in the saddle to face him. "You can't afford to spend any time in jail now, can you?" Noticing his clenched jaw, Willow Howling Moon paused. She caught a glimpse of a faraway gaze, an almost sad expression, before he quickly covered it with a look of defiance.

"Keep them on your side of the fence and you won't have to worry about it. I suggest you keep that wild kid of yours on your property, too!" A smug smile tipped the corners of his mouth.

She brought her horse to a complete turnaround and raced back toward him, moving as one with her mount. Her hair had escaped from the leather tie and flew behind her like the mane of her horse. She didn’t care how it looked at this point. She glared at him. If he had any smarts he'd read the fury and back down.

"Listen, Brett, I can take your accusations and insults with a grain. But, I won't tolerate them when it comes to my son. Lance hasn't been on your property―"

"Since 1890? I've heard that one," Brett interrupted. "I thought I'd remind you, again. I don't like Sean associating with any―"

"Indians?" she spewed the word out with an inflection of disgust. "I know how you feel about Indians. Bear in mind, I don't have control over your son. He comes over to play, and I'm not about to make him feel unwanted. He's welcome, it's more than I can say for you."

Lifting the reins, she moved her mount closer. "Sean doesn't seem to notice Lance is Indian. Prejudice is a learned behavior. I'm sure, given time, you'll have him hating us, too."

"I don't hate you, Willow, but I do hate drunken Indians as a whole. Always have their hands out, expecting to be paid for the injustices done their ancestors. Hell, we've all had life kick us in the ass. We all could be waiting for a handout. You have this great ranch, and you're still out there fighting for Native American rights. Makes me sick."

Willow took a deep breath. "You’re so narrow-minded, you wouldn't know the right and wrongs of it if I spent hours explaining. I don't expect you to change nor to understand. You have no idea what we face today."

"They face large handouts and do squat with the money."

"Shows how much you know," she snapped. "The average Indian lives in poverty. The reservations are nothing but a place to hide from the rest of society. Many are still waiting for forgotten promises."

"They should close those damn reservations and make the Indians mix with society. This Indian revival thing is crazy. Learning the language of their ancestors . . . how stupid. Who are they going to talk to?" Brett snickered.

"Somewhere in that ignorant persona you must feel a certain respect for other cultures. Native Americans were forced to forget their belief in Napi, the Great Spirit. They were forced to speak English and punished if they spoke their native language. They weren’t allowed to dress or practice the old ways. Their code of ethics would put today’s society to shame." She wondered why she bothered explaining anything to this man.

"Native Americans should be a thing of the past, like Vikings and knights in shining armor. Indians have to learn to blend with society. You're wasting your time trying to convince me otherwise. Nothing would, or could, change my mind." Brett adjusted his hat. "And I repeat; I don't want Sean playing at your place. Indians don't supervise their kids. They just let them run wild."

"That's a crock and you know it!" Willow exploded. "We don't raise our children any different from the typical American. Where do you get these warped ideas?" She shook her head in disgust. "Sean’s a nice kid. He and Lance love feeding the ponies and―"

"I don't want him at your place," Brett interrupted. "It's as simple as that! Nine-year-olds don't think about consequences. If Sean gets hurt, I'm holding you personally responsible."

"It's surprising he doesn't have that spoiled little rich kid syndrome like his father."

"You may have a cute little ass and a face that puts most women to shame, but once you open your mouth, a man forgets all the rest. I don't want Sean playing with Lance. That's all there is to say. Remember it!" He whirled his chestnut around and pushed the animal into a hard, full run away from her.

Willow couldn't remember them ever talking without arguing. It always ended with one or the other running in the opposite direction.

Amidst her anger, his comment about her cute behind and a face that put most women to shame came to mind. Did he really think that? She refused to allow his semi-compliment to soften her anger . . . she told herself, even though it already had.

* * *

Damn, that woman got his blood pumping, and he’d pushed his horse harder than he intended. Brett brought the animal to a halt on top of the ridge and led him around to face the backside of his property.

Willow rode across the plush green meadow, then crossed the trickling Dog Creek. As

always, the sparkling water angered him. He gritted his teeth and drew in a deep breath. A lack of water had always been his major concern. Damn his great-grandfather. What could have possessed him to buy land without obtaining water rights? Plain stupid!

Endless times Brett wanted to put Willow Howling Moon Jenkins in her place. If she ever decided to reroute the water and bypass his property, he'd lose everything, plain and simple. The entire situation graveled him. Whenever he allowed himself to think about it, which wasn't often, his blood pressure skyrocketed. To be controlled by a woman, an Indian woman on top of it, wore on his pride.

Now, as he watched her, he couldn't help feel a stirring. When she rode that prized pinto, she was beauty in motion. He hadn't missed how her full breasts moved seductively beneath her beaded Indian shirt. She always wore her long shiny black hair pulled back at the nape of her neck, secured with a single beaded and feathered leather tie. When her hair worked loose and flowed around her, primitive and free, it excited him. Her shapely bottom bounced sexily in the saddle. She posed an impressive looking woman for an Indian.

He couldn't stand Willow Howling Moon Jenkins, yet something about her intrigued him, pulled him toward her. God, he hated what the Indians had become, yet she radiated a vitality that drew her to him like a magnet. Damn! He wouldn't allow himself to think about her.

Brett gently nudged the belly of his chestnut and headed for home. His anger had settled, not as quickly as it had erupted, but that was something he'd always worked hard to control. Willow pushed all the wrong buttons, making him forget to hold back. His comments had been cruel, and he wasn't proud of himself. Honest but not proud. The hurt look in her eyes told him he wasn't being fair or considerate. Insensitive might be the right word.

If only he could believe she had nothing to do with his recent streak of bad luck. If only . . .

* * *

"If only that man didn't get me so damn riled," Willow Howling Moon said under her breath. The sound of pounding horse's hooves drew her attention across the valley. She watched her son race toward her. He waved, and she returned the gesture. Lying low on Spirit Dancer's back for greater speed, he passed by her in a cloud of dust, giving a shrill whoop. He would have made a fine warrior, she thought, smiling at him proudly.

"A-pe-ech-eken," he shouted at her.

"Why?” she asked, pleased he'd chosen to speak Blackfoot. She'd struggled to instill pride in his heritage. His looking more like his white father than Indian didn't help with her goal. He loved the horses and the tribal dancing, and she used those interests to encourage him to learn others he didn't find as important. "I'd planned a leisurely ride home. Give me a good reason to hurry and I'll consider it."

"Thunder's having her calf!"

"You're kidding! That's certainly good enough reason for me," she shouted over her shoulder. Willow tapped Whirlwind's side and let the horse have her head. With a skill born of instinct and years of experience, she picked their way among the trees and rocks, finding the trail without effort. They returned to the ranch in half the time that it took to leave.

Her feet touched the ground before Whirlwind came to a complete stop. Glancing around at the darkening spring sky, and drawing in a moisture-laden breeze, Willow rushed to open the barn doors.

"Help me get Thunder inside," she told Lance. "She won't like it, but I don't want her and her baby getting soaked tonight." Willow tapped Thunder's backside gently with a willow stick.

"She's not gonna make it inside, look she’s dropping that calf right now," Lance said, excitement in his voice. "Would you look at that, Mom? Thought you said she's gonna have trouble."

"It's not over. Step back and let her do what comes naturally. We'll help if she needs―"

"Mom! The hind feet are coming first! The calf is backwards!"

"Easy girl," Willow coaxed Thunder to the ground. She watched the calf's feet slide back into the large animal. "You'd better go call the vet. His number is under the buffalo magnet on the fridge." She soothed Thunder's stomach with large, circular rubs.

Lance ran toward the house, filling her with pride. He took responsibility seriously, a trait not often found in boys his age these days.

"Take it easy, Thunder. You're giving birth to the first buffalo calf on the Arrowhead Ranch, just like my father wanted. Don't let me down, girl."

"Doc Tanner said he'd be here in about an hour," Lance said between breaths. "I told him he needs to come now. He's at the Tumbling T."

"I don't think Thunder will wait an hour. Did you tell Grandpa Antelope Tipi?"

"He's getting some of his potions."

"You go help Grandpa; I'll stay here with Thunder. Remind him to bring the Bowie hunting knife. and have Grandma Sings Always boil some water."

"She’s making Dutch apple pie, and it smells great. She said we'll celebrate with it."

"I'm hungry already. Go now and help Grandpa," she instructed. "Oh, Lance, bring some rags and old towels from the basement closet."

With concern she watched the huge shaggy animal and thought about what this calf meant to her People. She was glad her husband wasn't here to voice his usual opposition where the buffalo were concerned. She couldn't help feeling a shimmer of guilt at being glad.

As a young girl, she'd always dreamed of marrying for love. But her father described a different destiny. She quickly realized her dream would never be reality. She’d been chosen to protect the sacred, ancient burial grounds of her People, which spread across the backside of Gordon's land. Taking her responsibilities seriously, she married him. It had been the first step, of many, her father had envisioned in regaining the land of their ancestors. Soon step two would be fulfilled with the birth of this buffalo calf, born to the People.

She'd done her duty, but she'd also paid the price. Where Gordon could have been gentle, he'd been violent. Where he could have been bonding, he chose conflict. When he could have been a loving father, he found ways to push his son away.

Although Gordon's death seemed poetic justice, she found herself haunted with guilt. Surely no man deserved to have his body torn apart by wild dogs. She should have felt a loss by his absence the past six months. She should have mourned his passing, but she didn't.

"We're back." Lance ran up to her, breathless.

Willow jumped, startled from her reverie. Her son had an air of excitement about him. "I'm glad. Thunder missed you."

She nodded to her father, but remained silent. Although a large man, her father possessed great gentleness. He wore a necklace of many colored beads, representing the rainbow, which endowed him with supernatural power and wisdom. He held his head erect, proud. His long black-and- gray-streaked hair fell loosely upon his shoulders, framing an aged face. His dark penetrating eyes hinted at hidden secrets and knowledge of the old ones, guarded and preserved.

He sat on a blanket more ancient than he. With care and experience, he rolled, between his thumb and index finger several pieces of dried sweet grass, the sacred grass of the People. He chanted, soft and steady, calling out with throaty tones to the sky and earth.

"What is Grandfather doing?" Lance whispered, as her father raised the smoking grass.

"He's showing respect, first above to the Creator, then down to Mother Earth. He'll now do the same to the Spirits of the Directions. Tell me, Lance, what are they?" she asked, continuing her soothing rubs to Thunder's stomach.

"Grandfather will start by facing east. See, I'm right." Lance sat back on his heels. "It's the source of light and understanding."

Willow noticed the look of satisfaction on the face of her young son. "Now he's facing south. Watch how sincere his movements are."

"South is the direction of youth, where all things are made to grow. It's my favorite direction," Lance said, excitement building in his tone. "I suppose west is your favorite." A teasing look washed over his once serious expression.

"Right." Willow made a face at him. "The direction of old age. Just remember, it symbolizes wisdom of the elders."

"If Grandfather doesn't hurry, the direction of north is going to get him wet," Lance said, giggling into his palm.

"I agree That storm's almost here." Willow wiped several wet droplets from her face.

Silence settled between them as they watched Grandfather Antelope Tipi direct the smoke to float across the suffering animal. Willow felt Thunder relax beneath her palm. Her father had a gift, an ancient gift . . . the power of healing. Some people laughed at his old ways, but she never did.

"How come Doctor Potter isn't here yet?" Lance asked, moving to sit next to his grandfather.

"Good question." Willow responded in a hushed tone.

Her father spread a white paste across Thunder's tongue.

"If Mr. Turner knows we need Doc's help for delivering a buffalo calf, we might not see him for hours,” she spat. “You can be sure Mr. Turner wouldn't consider this an emergency."

"You're wrong, as usual," Brett returned her harsh tone with his own.

"What are you doing here?" She jumped to her feet.

"I'm here to help―"

"Like hell you are! You expect me to believe you drove over here to help me, an Indian woman, deliver a buffalo calf? Please! Give me some credit for brains."

"Doctor Potter had some heart arrhythmia while he was out at my place. He's going to be fine, just needs to take it easy for a couple of days. He's the reason it's taken someone so long to get here. He asked me to come and help with the calf. A suffering animal is what matters. Even if it’s a damn buffalo."

"What exactly do you think you can do, that I can't?" she asked, watching him struggle to suppress his anger under the appearance of indifference.

"I have some training in animal science." He leaned over Thunder. "She's acting pretty sluggish. You give her a sedative? That can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing."

"Antelope Tipi gave her something to relax her.” Willow glanced at Brett and read concern in his expression.

"I'm supposed to trust some ancient mumbo jumbo?"

"Nope. I didn't ask you to. It's your choice to be here. Leave if you find it too much of a challenge." She fell silent and watched him press Thunder's stomach high, then low. He pulled on long plastic surgical gloves and inserted his hand into the birthing canal. "The calf is presenting itself breech. Both mother and calf are in danger. I'm going to try turning the calf. There's no time to waste. You'll have to help." He hurried to his truck.

Sean slammed the truck door and shuffled toward Lance.

"Hi, guy," she said with forced cheeriness. "You boys better stay at a distance and keep quiet. If things get . . . tense, and I tell you to go to the house, I expect you both to get tracking. Understand?" She looked at the twosome. They both nodded, moving back to sit with their backs against the barn door.

Several cold droplets reminded her of another potential problem. She couldn't think of that now. They’d take one thing at a time. If only Doctor Potter had come instead of Brett Turner. The crunch of gravel made her turn. Brett approached carrying a large black vet bag.

"What do you think you're doing, you're not a veterinarian?"

"You're right, but I'm the next best choice you have at this moment. I've finished all but my job experience hours under a licensed vet, to become one myself." He set out several instruments on a clean towel he'd spread on the ground.

"I didn't know that," she muttered. "But if you haven't had field experience yet, you really don't know what you're doing, do you? I mean, there's a big difference between reading something in a book and knowing what to do. What are those for?" she asked, observing the straight row of ominous looking knives, clamps and needles.

"A C-section. We need to be ready just in case," he answered, without looking at her.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" His glaring response caused her to fall silent. She had to admit having Brett help was better than no help at all. She didn’t want either animal to die. She swallowed what remained of her pride and asked, "What can I do to help?"

"Tell your father to pack up his feathers and rattles and get out of the way," he said, kneeling behind his patient.

"I guess it's impossible for you to stay civil for more than a few minutes. Why did I expect anything different?" she asked, between clenched teeth. "Thunder needs my father. He stays!"

"There's no time to argue, Willow. Pull on a pair of gloves and get down here."

While he pushed and pulled the calf inside Thunder, Willow snapped on long latex gloves.

Brent grunted slightly. "Whatever Antelope Tipi gave this animal, it's sure effective."

"How's it going?" she asked, dropping to her knees alongside Brett.

"Hold this position while I double check where the cord is," he directed.

She moved in closer. "I've got it," she said, struggling to keep her balance and remain motionless as he moved knowing hands around the birthing cavity. She became aware of his warm breath on the back of her neck.

"Be ready. When I say pull, I want you to give it all you've got," Brett said.

Willow glanced at him, confused by his sudden change in character. She'd never seen this side of Brett Turner. It made her feel more on-guard than his arguing did. She'd have to distract herself with conversation or her body might betray how his closeness affected her. "Why did you quit school? Too much work for a rich rancher's son?"

"Rich had nothing to do with it," he said, glancing her way. "Hand me that bottle and sponge. This will sterilize the birth opening some. My father was dead set against my becoming a vet. He hated it so much, he wouldn't give me a penny toward my schooling."

"Why would he be against something so worthwhile and what you wanted?" Willow sat back on her heels to give him more room to work. "How'd you pay for it all?" She drew in a breath of burning sweet grass, and her father's soft chants calmed her.

"I worked two jobs and studied in between. I'll admit it was difficult, but I did what I had to do. It was my dream." He reached his hand back into the laboring buffalo. "This is it, pull!"

Willow pulled on the struggling calf, guiding it through the opening of its mother's body. Brett grabbed her hand in an attempt to help lift the newborn. She glanced at him and paused, finding warm blue eyes staring back at her. Uneasiness washed over her. Once again she realized she didn't know this Brett Turner. She tore her gaze away and settled it on Lance and Sean.

"Boys, grab some towels and be ready to dry our newcomer," she shouted, while helping Brett bring the struggling calf into the world.

A silence fell over all of them.

"He is a sacred buffalo," Grandfather Antelope Tipi said in a quiet tone. "It is considered sacred and has been revered by Plains Indians for centuries. This is a sign."

"That's all superstition," Brett snapped, turning away from the old Indian.

Willow could tell Brett seemed impressed, even awed by the rare sight before him. She wondered why he tried so hard to hide it. The story of White Buffalo Woman, which had been told and retold through generations, prophesied she would return to the People in times of need. The birth of a female white buffalo is an important event.

"I've never seen a white buffalo," Lance said, his voice equally hushed as his grandfather’s. The boys moved in closer for a better look.

“It’s an albino, might be somewhat unusual, but many animals have albino births,” Brett offered.

“Not albino with black nose and black eyes,” Antelope Tipi pointed out. “The last time a white buffalo was born was nineteen-ninety-four, in a small town in Wisconsin.”

“That’s right, Father. That was on a small farm in Janesville, Heider farm, I think.”

"Wait 'till I tell the kids at school! Can we take him to show everyone?" Sean asked, crowding alongside Lance.

"We may have to consider having a school field trip here." Willow smiled at their eagerness and noticed Brett watching the calf with great interest, in spite of himself.

"Wow, Mom! He's beautiful," Lance said.

"Yeah, Mom . . . Willow. Can we dry him off?" Sean asked.

"You boys stay back," Brett ordered.

"Oh, let them wipe the baby off. It'll be something they'll always remember," she said.

They raised affirmative thumbs-up at each other. Willow wondered what Brett would say if he knew the 'x' scar on their thumbs meant they were true blood brothers. She smiled, liking it.

"Please, Dad?" Sean asked, his tone bordering on a whine.

"Okay. But stay clear. We're far from done here and I don't want you in the way," he answered, working on his patient.

Aware of his intensity and gentleness, she handed Brett a plastic bag, and he cleaned the area without hesitation. He did appear to know what he was doing. "Why didn't you finish what you needed to become a vet?"

"I had a ranch to run, a son to raise, and a mother to think about instead of myself." He looked concerned and moved his hand back into the laboring buffalo.

"Something’s wrong with Thunder, isn't it?" She inched closer for a better look.

"Not exactly. There's another calf." He pressed his hand in deeper.

"What? You've got to be kidding! Did you hear, boys? Thunder is going to have another calf. We're having twins! No wonder she was so big. Doc Potter never said a word." Glancing over at her father, Willow watched his rhythmic rattle and listened to his steady chants. Somehow she got the feeling he knew they weren't done before they did.

"Why isn't she loose with the other wild animals?" Brett grunted with an effort to pull.

Willow moved to stand beside him, ready to help. "You might say she's more of a pet than a wild animal. The boys have been playing with her for years. Now I'm grateful. Otherwise, this much human contact might have been a shock to her." She felt Brett’s body heat and found it unsettling.

"The boys shouldn't be anywhere near a buffalo, wild or not. They're unpredictable." He guided first the calf's head, then legs through the opening.

"If I'd felt the boys were in any danger, you can be sure I'd have taken action. Besides, the buffalo is looked upon as the animal given to our People by the Creator. The correct name is bison. In Blackfoot we say Enee, meaning bison."

Brett rolled his eyes upward, and she shook her head. She concentrated on her father's soft chanting and drew in the faint scent of the purifying sweet grass, comforted by his presence, in spite of Brett's negativity.

"Grab hold, this one doesn't seem to be struggling too much. He may need some immediate attention." Brett rubbed his sleeve across the sweat that rolled down his forehead.

Willow grabbed a strip of cloth and wiped off his brow without thinking. The gesture seemed personal . . . too personal. Uneasy, she pretended a need to check out the boys, feeling his stare for only a few seconds. She stood and gripped the newborn's slimy legs. Brett lifted and she pulled. With a minimal amount of effort, together they brought another buffalo calf into the world.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Witch's Brew by Tabitha Shay




“Witch's Brew”


The Time of Bron Trogain

Salem Village


“Elsbeth Winslow, you are under arrest for the vile crime of witchcraft!”

Elsbeth dropped the large wooden spoon into the pot of stew hanging from the hob in the hearth. She whirled to face her husband as he entered their tiny cottage. “Not you, John.”

His six foot form blocked the late evening sunlight streaming from the entry door of their cottage. His brows beetled over eyes grown mad with heightened emotion. His once precious mouth, a hard, slim slash across his face, brooked no disobedience.

Elsbeth straightened to her full height, ignoring the stew she'd set to heat. Would the sun never set on this terrible day? Tomorrow would be no better. There would be more arrests, more questions, more sentences and more hangings. Men, women and children were sick and dying in the crowded jails before they could be brought to trial or hanged.

With charges now brought against her, Elsbeth knew there was only one decision she could make. She must flee Salem Village. Take her daughters and leave as quickly as possible. But first, she would have to get past her husband.

John closed the door behind him and strode closer. She backed up a step, but the hearth was behind her. She could retreat no farther. “Don't do this evil thing, John,” she pleaded. “I'm taking our daughters and leaving Salem. Do not try to stop me.”

The firelight from the hearth flickered, revealing John's eyes clearly for the first time since he'd entered the cottage. An ebony hue dulled his eyes. They were no longer the warm, gentle brown of years past, and lacked the sparkle of life and laughter that had always lit up the whiskey-colored depths.

Bewitched! Her husband was bewitched. Elsbeth barely stifled a gasp. “John.” Her throat went dry. Her voice sounded hoarse to her ears. “Samhain,” she breathed, invoking the god of the dead. “Help me!”

A wave of cold sweat broke over her. Her chest tightened as if the evil magic poisoning John's soul squeezed the life from her heart. She couldn't breathe. A veil of blackness slid over her vision. She shook her head to keep from swooning.

Someone had recently used Black Magick on her husband. The evil enslaving his mind reeked. Her eyes burned from the noxious, rotten-egg scent enveloping him. She wrinkled her nose, her nostrils flaring. The musky scent of sex and the spicy aroma of another witch rose from his close fitting doublet and baggy breeches.

He'd lain with another. Not John! her heart cried. It hurt. The jagged splinters of pain piercing her soul could feel no worse than if she'd been stabbed through the heart with a dagger. Dear Samhain, she could not bear this betrayal.

John was lost to her now, as surely as if Death had lifted his skeletal fingers and plucked her husband away to the Underworld. There was no undoing another witch's Black Magick.

Elsbeth blinked. Her eyes stung with unshed tears. A sob as big as a toad's banyan lodged in her throat. It was too bad full blooded witches were incapable of tears. She wanted nothing more than to fall to the floor in a sobbing heap like the illumrof females.

Instead, her heart bled crimson droplets of sorrow. She wept for what had once been and would be no more. Fleeing with her daughters to the safety of her own realm was the only choice left to her now. Her mind screamed an urgent warning. Go! Hasten! Run!

Cautiously, she stepped around John.

He grabbed her arm, twisting her around to face him. “Do not consider leaving, Beth, there is nowhere for you to hide.” He tightened his fingers around her wrist. “You will come with me. Magistrates Hathorne and Corwin are waiting to examine you this night.”

Her slippers skidded across the dirt floor as he tugged her toward the door. Terror jittered up her spine, chilling her blood. Her pulse quickened. Dear Samhain, she couldn't think with the scent of that other witch all over him.

She drew a deep, soothing breath, slowly exhaled, and told herself to remain calm.

“Let go of me.”

“You are guilty of casting spells. You must be punished for your crimes.”

“I have cast no spells. I am innocent of any wrong doing.” She clawed at his hands, wincing as his fingers bit into her shoulders. Her nails broke on his hard flesh.

“You have conspired with the Devil. Spawn of Satan! Cease fighting or I will drag you to the hangman and place the rope around your neck myself.”

She couldn't bring herself to obey or even to look into the eyes that had once been clear and brown as a rom's wing. There was no mistaking John's voice, but the cold tone was unnatural.

He yanked harder on her arm. “Move, Beth. Now!”

Elsbeth cried out as she lost her balance and stumbled toward him. She bit her lip, digging her nails into his wrist. Her heart pounded. The children! She had to get to her children. She wrenched free and put distance between her and John--what distance the crowded room allowed. He stepped squarely in front of the ladder to the loft and blocked her path to the children.

Slowly, she slid her hand across her aching chest, in a useless attempt to soothe the heaviness there. It would not be soothed as long as her babies were in danger. How could she get to her daughters when John stood between her and the way up to the loft where they slept?

She closed her eyes. To reach trance state, she needed to visualize the once-peaceful haven of her home, the low fire crackling in the hearth, the kettle hooked on the hob whistling a merry tune as steam shot from its spout in a wet hiss. She pictured the weak flame of the tallow candle, nearly burned to a stub as it flickered on the long table where they broke their fasts.

“Stop this witch's trickery! Your Devil's games will not work with me. I have no fear of you.”

Her eyes snapped open. Uneasy shadows danced on the rough, log walls, shadows cast by the guttering flame of the candle. Chills snaked up her spine. “Flickering shadows are a bad omen,” she whispered, “a sign of things yet to come.”

She thrust wispy strands of her hair under her mobcap and lifted her gaze to John. His face was set with determination.

“You talk nothing but foolish jabbering,” he said.

At last, he'd moved from her path. She scooted around the end of the table and headed to the rickety ladder propped against the wall below the loft. Her daughters slept up there and she was determined to get them to safety.

Samhain, forgive her. She'd thought they were safe in this world, safe from the soul-stealers of her realm, safe from witch assassins. But she was wrong and her mistake cost the soul of her husband.

Even the villagers were not protected from the vile accusations of power hungry illumrofs or ill-met witches who sold their souls to gain knowledge of Black Magick. Those who were innocent of practicing the Black Arts were tried, convicted, and executed alongside the guilty.

Of a sudden, John's burning anger slammed into her with the driving force of a hammer. Her bosom heaved as she struggled to keep from revealing her panic. His fury was unjustified; if anyone had the right to be enraged, it was surely she.

Someone hated her enough to destroy her marriage. Who? The accusing girls? She'd done nothing to them. They weren't witches, just unwise girls who'd swept the village into panic with their foolish lies and acts of convulsive seizures.

Elsbeth shivered. It should have been warm and toasty inside the room, but a chill pervaded her bones. Ice settled like a cold lump of congealed porridge in her belly, yet sweat glazed her palms. She stiffened under the onslaught of an evil presence that closed around her like a heavy cloak. Dark and venomous, the putrid, Black Magick surged into the room, filling it, surrounding them and twisting her husband into a stranger.

John stared at his hands as if he didn't know they belonged to him. He looked up, his expression dark and thunderous with hatred.

Desperate, she whirled around, searching for any weapon to defend herself and her children. Her gaze fell on the ax leaning against the wall by the ladder. She grabbed it. “Stay back!”

Spittle flecked his lips. His eyes bulged, wild and horrific. He charged toward her like a wild bull.

She raised the ax in warning. “Stop! I swear I will use it!”

He stilled. His big body seethed with convulsive rage.

'This is a heinous thing your people are doing, hanging innocents and crushing them with stones! I'm taking my babies and leaving this wicked realm.”

“Put down the ax, Beth. You are coming with me.”

“Get over to the other side of the table. Stay there or I will turn you into a legless lizard.”

She knew she had stunned him. She stunned herself. She had always been the obedient wife, but he'd cast away his right to give her orders. Her lips trembled. Dread lurched in her heart. She couldn't face this alone. She needed help.

Hesitating but a second, John put the table between them as she'd ordered. She lowered the ax to the floor, raised her arms in a graceful arc above her head, and swayed from side to side. Outside, the wind rose, howling fiercely through the trees so the window panes rattled. Sparks crackled and leapt up the chimney.

Drawing in a deep breath, Elsbeth chanted, summoning the Coven of the Sisterhood:

“Circle of three,

I summon all.

Come to me,

Heed your sister's call.”

She had no idea if the Sisterhood would answer her summons, but she knew they would hear her pleas. This night, the time of Bron Trogain, the Coven's power reached its zenith.

“Please. Help me!” Elsbeth tossed back her head, clenched her fists, and repeated the summoning chant. She prayed her words would bring them to her. The wind rose in strength, a screeching howl as it carried her pleas to the Coven.

“Stop it!” John shouted.

She continued her soft chant, ignoring his outburst. She couldn't risk her children, not when John had so betrayed her. She pleaded for guidance, begged for help, made promises to the Circle of Three. Not for herself, but for her daughters.

The wind died away, so suddenly, she knew she'd lost. The Coven wasn't coming.

I've failed! Failed as a wife, failed to protect those I love.

She hadn't expected them to save her; not after she'd wed a mortal and abandoned the Coven. Although her children were Impures because of their human blood, she'd thought the Circle might at least save ther daughters.

Lifting her head, she watched as John withdrew a paper from his vest pocket and shook it at her. It was a warrant for her arrest.

“Being wed to you has ruined my life,” he said. Accusation twisted his once handsome face. “You have no ability to produce sons.” His lips drew together, tight with contempt. “This warrant is for all of you. Awaken your daughters. They will hang beside you.” His lips twisted with victory. “Know this, I have bedded another and she now carries my son in her belly.”

Elsbeth swallowed hard. A child? A son? Her soul cried out. Her heart splintered and bled. Her husband would gladly hand her over to the magistrates just to gain his freedom. That treachery alone was enough to shatter her wounded spirit. But for him to create a child with another, and be willing to watch his daughters hang was unforgivable.

She lifted her chin. “Turn me over to the magistrates if that is your desire, but I will not allow you or the magistrates to harm our daughters.”

“Obey me or pay the price.”

“Search your heart. I know you do not truly feel this contempt for me. You have always been a righteous man, and now you are compelled. You are hexed. Fight it, John! We can go away. Start over. Remember how happy we were? ”

For a moment, his eyes--those dark, unfathomable eyes--sought hers. In that brief connection, she saw a second of lucidity. Deep grooves bracketed his mouth. Pain twisted his face. Tears spilled down his cheeks in a pale ribbon. “Beth,” he choked. “Forgive me.”

Then he cast off his remorse, as once more the oily spell blackened his mind. He mopped his tears on the back of his shirt sleeve, and his eyes glittered with renewed venom. “I renounce you!” he shouted. He clenched his fingers. “Your witchmarks will determine your guilt.”

Elsbeth closed her eyes. Fool! He couldn't see the invisible witchmarks any more than she could die from a rope. True, severe injuries ripped the soul from a witch's body and it could take centuries before it found its way back, but fire was the true enemy. There were others, but fire was the most damaging. It could force her spirit into an eternal black void, but John didn't know that. No one did, except another witch.

He dropped his gaze to her breasts. “You tempted me with your lush body.”

“Do not tempt me into turning you into a croaking toad! Harm me or our daughters and I will do exactly that! Now get out of my way!”

John threw up his hands. “Take your daughters,” he ordered. “Do what you will, for they are as evil as you. I never want to see them again! Get out!”

Elsbeth flinched at his cruel words.

“I have watched you in the woods with them. I have seen the magic fly from their fingertips,” he ranted. “I have witnessed your chanting, summoning the Devil. The silver-haired one--”

“Saylym,” Elsbeth interrupted. “Your daughter's name is Saylym. She is but two, John. How can you fear her? We were not summoning Satan but asking for blessings upon our home. Your children love you. You are their father.”

“No,” he denied. “Demon seeds! They are rooted from Satan's own seed, not mine.”

The light of fanaticism glowed in his eyes. He looked feverish, his face flushed with madness. Sweat trickled down his cheeks and throat and dampened the neck of his shirt despite the cool of the evening.

The leaves outside rustled against the window. The wind rose to a fierce howl until it surrounded the cottage. The Coven! Elsbeth's heart raced with excitement. Her pulse pounded.

“Mama?” The frightened voice came from their eldest, six-year-old Nyra.

Elsbeth whipped around and looked up to the loft. “Go, Nyra! Wake Saylym and Kirrah. Gather your sisters. Quickly! Our Coven draws near.”

“No!” John yelled. “It cannot be!”

Elsbeth turned her attention to her husband. Her steps faltered at the sight of the heavy, flintlock pistol shaking in his hands. Revulsion filled his eyes as he aimed it toward her. She drew a sharp breath at the sound of the lock mechanism snapping into place as he cocked the gun. “The children,” she said faintly. “Please. Do not do this terrible thing, I beg you.”

Not a whisper of remorse glimmered in his eyes as his finger tightened on the trigger. Elsbeth threw up her arms in defense. The sound of the gunshot exploded through the cottage.

Is by Scott Langston


A novel about awakening



A southern Cornish beach. Rocky. Sandy. Small children with bamboo fishing nets and bright, new plastic buckets inspect and torture crabs, shrimps and periwinkles: whatever they can find. It's too windy for the beach really. People are huddled behind their variously coloured, but uniformly garish windbreaks. Wind-broken. An optimistically raised beach umbrella - for the sun here, for the threatening rain there - now dances crazily along the shoreline. It is chased, not-chased, by a sunburnt man in his mid-twenties, self-consciously trying to run without seeming to run. The tide is out but turning. Seagulls populate the sand flats, mug-worming when the myriad children, oblivious to the wind, allow them a few seconds' peace. Now and then a lone gannet joins the feast, its black-tipped wings scattering its smaller rivals, but never for long.

In a semi-sheltered cove bobs a bright orange inflatable dinghy. Two boys climb in raucously and allow the larger waves to bail them out, again and again. The boat is tethered to a football-sized rock on the shore. They are no more than ten metres from the beach. A larger wave arrives, unexpectedly, for the boys are waving to someone on the beach, and tips out the smaller of the two, throwing him onto the rope. On the shore, a woman's smile and raised hand freeze. She sees the mooring rock slowly turn over at the pull on the rope and the thrice-wrapped rope unsnakes. The small boy resurfaces. His companion realises he is drifting. The small boy watches as the rope eels past him, not thinking to grasp it. The older boy, still in the boat, paddle-less, doesn't want to abandon his toy. He looks searchingly at the shore, 'What shall I do?' A man is sitting up, following the woman's stare, and now jumping quickly to his feet. He has seen in a shutter-flash what will happen. There is another man walking slowly past the boys, oblivious. The rope is at his feet. The first man wants to call out, but he cannot. He can only run. The little boat moves swiftly into the breaking waves. As the man reaches the small boy at the water's edge, they both see the dinghy overturn. The man starts to swim after it, but it has gone too far, too fast and it's empty now, although he can't see that.

The small boy doesn't move; tries even not to breathe. He has done something horribly wrong. Somewhere is the fear that he'll be in trouble for losing the boat, but he is unable to focus clearly on the idea. He hasn't realised yet, doesn't understand, the twist his life has just taken. He is vaguely aware of voices, panicking, screaming, but he doesn't hear them. He's already once removed from the scenes around him. He sees people running, jumping into the surf much further down the beach. He wonders why they are all moving so slowly. He feels calmer now too. All he can hear are the seagulls' cries and the rush of seawater on sand. The scene is monochrome, colour drained from it as from himself. He realises he is cold, but doesn't move. He doesn't know what to do next. He is not sure where he ends and the ocean around his feet begins.


Martin is sitting in his flat in South London. He is drinking a large gin; actually his third of the day, but he is not counting. He looks to be thinking as he gazes out across the city, but he is not thinking. Rather, more accurately, he is not consciously structuring his thoughts; he is their servant, not they his. This is not a desirable state of existence. Indeed, Martin's situation is not a desirable one. He has not had a good day…

Through the darkness and unfocussed fuzziness of half-slumber, it had taken Martin several seconds to recognise that the relentless ringing noise he could hear was of reality and not of his ebbing dream. After a couple of vague attempts to turn off the bedside alarm clock (those luminous red digitalised numbers staring wide-awake into his sleep-sodden eyes) he was sufficiently awake to realise that his telephone was ringing. The clock from Hell was declaring 4.17.

"Mr. Martin Gelan?" an unrecognised voice had inquired.

"Yes, speaking," he had clearly answered in his mind. "Uh," he had replied into the mouthpiece, as coherently as he was able. He woke. He listened without hearing.

That was just about all that Martin could recall of the telephone call earlier that day. The call, and his staring dumbly at the receiver in his hand once he'd heard the deafening click of the caller hanging up. Paralysed in both body and spirit, something within him took over, pushing him to move, one step at a time, to the bathroom where he vomited copiously. He next found himself dressed and being led from the flat to a waiting car. The news had failed to register; the numbness was already at work. Denial. Nothing was real. He was floating, a body-less spirit, unfeeling, unthinking.

Arriving at its destination, the car pulled to a halt next to a self-declaring 'Polite Notice' informing drivers that, if left here, their vehicles would be immobilised by a private wheel-clamping task force. Martin was oddly concerned about the now forsaken car's welfare, and kept turning to look at its forlornly flashing hazard lights, like an about-to-be abandoned dog's blinking eyes, as he was led up a wide flight of steps at the building's entrance.

Inside the building, he was assailed by artificial light and an incongruous sense of activity. Like a beehive. But one that served no purpose, Queen-less. He frowned to himself, an imperceptible shake of the head, wondering that these people could have things to do, things that they thought were important. As though things still mattered. How could they know? How could they even suspect how much of a game this all was? He felt a little sorry for them. Long corridors led to shorter ones. He was steered by kindly hands, fatherly and authoritative, through the maze, eventually to find himself a quiet and subtly lit room banked with large metal drawers on one side. A white-cloaked woman with an expressionless face opened one of the huge drawers, waiting for a nod of a head from somewhere unseen, before slowly pulling back a green sheet.

Martin had the curious sensation of being alone in the room with her. He felt calm: no rising bile, no fear or imminent collapse. He felt he was there and, at the same time, he wasn't. A serene calmness enveloped him. He felt above and beyond all that was going on around him, a voice somewhere within his depths telling him all was well and as it should be. He felt the vague beginnings of a feeling he couldn't identify, somewhere between contentment and acceptance, and, as if in admonition, a hand gently squeezed his left shoulder. It was a clumsy gesture of inquisition, attempting also to be reassuring, as though the touch of another person's fingers was the link that meant life continued on. He became gradually aware of the other people in the room and of a voice that seemed to be addressing him, like the memory of a recent dream swirling teasingly around the edges reality before succumbing to it. He nodded twice in answer to the inevitable question. He allowed himself, automaton-like, to be led out of the room. One foot in front of the other, then the next, then repeat. It was easy.

It was the coffee, remarkably, that Martin remembered most vividly a few hours later: the bitter, burnt plastic, uncoffee-like taste emanating from the polystyrene beaker he had been given after he was led from the room. "Can I call someone for you? Is there someone you'd like to talk to?" The offers hung in the air, uncomfortable, not comforting. Martin had looked briefly at the face which was addressing him, oblivious to its questions, a million words fighting for ascendancy in his head, none of them finding voice.

Sprawled on the living room sofa, telephone unplugged, stereo exceptionally muted, spirit cupboard as yet untouched and tears stubbornly refusing to come, Martin thought he might be going mad. He took what comfort he could from that notion.

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Finding Funboy by Matt Golec


by Matt Golec

Chapter 1

Summer Bike-theft Season

Gets Underway in Portland

by August Frank III, staff writer

Greg Reynolds left his bike unattended for only a minute, but that was all it took.

"I had to return a book I'd bought for my wife's birthday. It's such a nice day, I didn't think about anyone stealing my bike," said Reynolds, 32, of Portland.

"My mistake," he said.

Like auto thefts, the number of bicycles reported stolen in the city of Portland has actually fallen in recent years, according to police statistics. But those statistics don't comfort riders who dust off their bikes after a long, Maine winter only to have them stolen.

"Thieves aren't stupid," said Maine Frame Bikes manager Andrea Wynne, commenting on the summer spike in bicycle thefts. "That's when the bikes come out."

--from The Portland Post, 7/17/99

The night JFK Jr.'s plane went down was a hot, sticky mess.

Not that I knew at the time. I mean, I knew it was hot and sticky the whole goddamn summer had been like that but I didn't find out about John-John until Saturday, the day after he died.

No, I'd worked late Friday at my night job and slept even later the next morning. The hot, humid air had hit me like a brick-in-a-blanket as soon as I sat up in bed, and I couldn't even bring myself to turn on CNN ("I figured you'd turn on CNN," my dad told me later) to hear the news. I brushed my teeth while thinking about going to my dad's gym at least they had air conditioning, and a lap pool but the sweat streaming out of my armpits told me I'd probably get enough exercise that day just breathing.

Instead, I wandered around the corner to the Eastern Promenade, a sprawling public lawn overlooking Casco Bay on Portland's old east end. From time to time, the wind stirred the thick soup of a day, dredging up a briny smell that was either low tide or the pair of lawn-mowing sneakers that I'd slipped on before leaving the house. Just to be safe, I kicked off my sneakers before settling down with two peaches and an onion bagel smothered in bacon-cheese spread.

Sitting in the shade of a thick red maple, I killed the next couple hours with The Boys of Summer it was simply too hot to read anything I hadn't read a thousand times before and then stumbled back home, where I found six messages on the answering machine and my pager chirping madly for my attention.

The first two messages were from my dad, who was standing in as weekend editor at the paper--the rest were hang-ups.

First message: "Gus, it's dad. Get up. Get out of bed. We need you in here. Call me when you get this message."

Second message: "Gus, pick up the phone. It's important. Call me immediately."

The phone rang again, but I ignored it while scrambling for the TV remote. CNN, MSNBC, even the Weather Channel had it JFK Jr.'s plane had disappeared last night off Martha's Vineyard while en route to a wedding. No bodies yet, but everyone was presuming the worst.

Standing barefoot in my living room, staring at the TV with a cold, bleeding glass of water pressed up against my chest that's how I learned he was dead and gone. I picked up the phone and told my dad I was on my way.

* * * *

A scant 14 hours later, it was home again, home again, jiggity-jig. With the lack of sleep and the fact that I wasn't supposed to work Saturdays, I had every right to be cranky walking home alone in the predawn morning. But as a reporter, you slog through school board meetings and church bazaars and a zillion weather features (Typical question: "It's been awfully hot/cold/windy/mild/wet/dry lately; how do you feel about that?") just so you can tackle big stories like this one.

It's all worth it. Sure the hours blow, and yes, everything you've heard about the pay is true, but once in a while you give people the information they need, either to understand an important event or to make their world a better place, and that's a privilege you can't buy unlike, say, leather-trim seats for a new BMW.

I've drawn attention to hotels trying to sneak up on public waterfront property, I helped a deaf telephone linemen with two years left until retirement keep his job, and once I made sure the undergrads at my school (University of Wisconsin at Madison, a.k.a. Mad City) got the birth control benefits they'd paid for with their student fees.

Plus you get your name in the paper, which chicks seem to dig.

JFK Jr.'s plane crash was probably the biggest news story I'd ever been involved in, even if The Portland Post (the Post-Record on Sundays, to remind readers that we'd swallowed the afternoon Maine Record about 15 years back) didn't exactly sit in the eye of the storm. Still, the Kennedys were like the Celtics or Red Sox all of New England claimed ownership, even if they lived a state line or two away. It was a real kick to feel like you were part of the main news of the day.

I barely saw my dad that night as managing editor running a weekend skeleton crew, he had his hands pretty full.

"Go speak with Marti," he said, his gray, ink-smudged shirtsleeves rolled up past his elbows. Despite the AC, the newsroom grew steamy in the depths of July. "She'll have something for you."

Marti Jacobs, the chain-smoking city editor whose sizzled gray hair looked like the butt end of a cigarette, had something and a half for me. Within ten minutes I was on the phone, chasing down single-engine pilots to find out why JFK Jr. shouldn't have flown when he did. I threw together a sidebar for the main story, and then took off on a twenty-incher exploring how local priests and pastors planned to make sense of this new Kennedy tragedy to their Sunday congregations.

I'd just filed my last story to Marti's computer basket and was feeling good despite the hectic pace (or maybe because of it the deadline pressure is half the fun) when a familiar hand clapped me on the shoulder.

"Gus, my boy," my dad said. "How'd you like to perform a great service for our readers?"

I groaned loud enough for them to hear me in Fenway's cheap seats; I knew what he wanted. After a hard day's work on my day off, no less I was being flipped over to the copy desk for a second shift.

The copy desk was a fun place to hang out, but I wouldn't want to work there not permanently, anyway. I liked checking over all the stories before they went in the next day's paper, I liked the laid-back attitude that belied the rolling page deadlines, and I loved the hours: 5 p.m. until 1 a.m. Could there be better summer schedule for a young man not quite out of college? One drawback outweighed all the benefits, however: I didn't like having to polish somebody else's stories. I'd much rather be out reporting my own.

So I dragged my feet a little as my father walked me over to the desk. "I've been working an awful lot this week," I said. "Aren't there, like, labor laws you have to follow?"

"You're an intern," he said, grinning wickedly despite his sagging eyes. "We could have you waxing our desks eighty hours a week if we decided that met our educational obligations."

Dad slipped me a twenty for food later, and I sat down with the rest of the desk, checking copy, writing headlines and shipping pages to beat the 1 a.m. press start.

* * * *

I meant to go home right after work, really I did I hadn't been kidding when I told dad I'd been working a lot but the guys teased me about being too young to go out with them for a few drinks. I had to show them my ID to prove that I'd turned 21 a few months ago, and then they didn't believe the ID was real so we had to go to a few bars to make sure I could get past the bouncers well, you get the picture.

I didn't drink the entire twenty dollars my father gave me, but I had more change than dollars in my pocket by the time it was all over. Mark Mason (who, after a few days of acquaintance, will casually ask you to call him 'Mace'), the photo intern who had given me a ride to work, passed out in some downtown apartment we'd ended up in and wouldn't wake up enough to tell any of us where he'd parked his car. Since the buses had stopped running hours ago and I couldn't afford a taxi, I decided to walk the mile or so home.

I bitched about it to the guys before leaving, but really I didn't mind. The air smelled salty and cool, which was reason enough after running laps through the hot, smoky confines of Portland's summer bar circuit. Hiking up Munjoy Hill toward the Eastern Prom and my house, I imagined I could just see an orangish hint of dawn out over Casco Bay.

I stopped at the newsbox on the corner of my street and looked for my name on the front page. It was there small, and attached to the sidebar instead of the main story but I'd made it above the fold, and that was always worth smiling about.

Satisfied, I cut across the neighbor's lawn toward our driveway, looking forward to a pleasant day's sleep, and nearly fell on my face tripping over a U-shaped bike lock, hiding like a snake in the damp grass.

My bike lock. Open. Unlocked. And not even remotely attached to my bicycle.

"Shit," was all I could think to say as I scanned the driveway for well, I don't know what was I looking for. Footprints? Tire tracks? A goddamn trail of breadcrumbs? None of them were there.

With a pit growing in my stomach, I opened the side door to the garage where I kept my bike. We never locked the garage door, because it seemed every time we did somebody smashed the windows to get at the old newspapers, mismatched lumber, broken lawn mowers and other junk my dad kept in there ("I only wish they'd carted away more of it," my mother told the police after a break-in).

I waded through the darkened garage until I found the three solid iron rings set into the cement floor that my dad, brother and I had installed so we'd have a place to lock our bikes. My dad's bike was probably with him at work; I assumed he wasn't coming home tonight. My brother had taken his with him to Boston, although as a general surgery resident I didn't know when he found the time to ride it.

All three rings stood empty. My bike was gone.

What a way to end the night. I was overtired, overworked, and now, at four in the morning, I'd just found out my only reliable source of transportation was gone. I threw the bike lock into a dark corner of the garage and listened to it smash against whatever crap my dad had stacked there. JFK Jr. was lost at sea, and I didn't feel so good myself.

I stormed outside and unlocked the door to our 'antique' house in Portland's Munjoy Hill neighborhood. "Three stories of house on a one-story lot," is how my dad described the tall, narrow home that we'd lived in since I'd been born.

With its views of the bay you had to lean a bit out the window, admittedly and location within striking distance of the Prom, our house was worth a bit of money. My parents had bought it for a song back in the '70s, during the fire sale that was Portland's real estate market. The economy had soured, and I guess Portland's future didn't look so bright that's what I've been told, anyway. Property used to be there for the taking, but like in so many other places, the economic growth in the '80s and '90s changed everything. Now I have friends who can't afford a shoebox to rent, let alone buy, in this town.

Not that we lived in an exclusive neighborhood. A few blocks away and out of sight of Casco Bay, the houses morphed into tightly-packed duplexes with pale blue aluminum siding, parking for Irish only signs taped in the windows, and brick sidewalks for front lawns. Italian mom-and-pop stores (where you can't buy a sub, grinder or hero for all the olive oil in Sicily here in Portland, we call them Italian sandwiches) kept the neighborhood in fresh pizza, cold milk and cheap beer. Over the years, Munjoy Hill has held on to its solid, working class roots, and the smart money bet against the scattered efforts at gentrification.

I grabbed Saturday's mail on the way inside and threw it down on the breakfast table. I was still pissed about my bike, and I hoped the distraction of sorting mail would give me time to cool off so I could get some sleep.

I picked through my parents' bills, dimly aware that after graduating next year, these same bills would be arriving with my name on them. I tossed the ad circulars, missing children postcards and a J-Crew catalog (I ordered a shirt from J-Crew four years ago, and since then, I'm sure I've burned through twice any profit they made on me in printing and postage costs) into the recycling. I kept the pizza delivery coupons and began to page through the latest issue of the New Yorker when I noticed a lumpy envelope that was hand addressed to me.

There wasn't a postmark, or even a stamp whatever it was, it had been delivered in person. I tore the envelope in half and dumped the contents the bike lock key I kept hidden in the garage, and the key to a car onto the breakfast table.

The envelope had no return address, and there was no note, but the handwriting was all Funboy.

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Woman Submit by Jocelyn Andersen

Woman Submit!

Christians & Domestic Violence

By Jocelyn Andersen

Chapter 1

I Should Be Dead…

But I'm Not!

I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord….
The Holy Bible

My pastors and I had made the difficult decision not to hide the abuse from our church family any longer.

As a member of the Praise Team, I was accustomed to standing before the congregation, but this particular evening the bruises on my face made the public appearance a bit more difficult. Due to the unusual absence of my husband, the person responsible for the bruises and an associate pastor of our church, it was imperative that the issue be dealt with as quickly, delicately, and honestly as possible.

He was evading arrest. This was the second time in six months he had tried to kill me.


Friday, 8:30 a.m., August 29, 2003

In my distress, I called upon the Lord….

“Jesus won't help you!”

With those words ringing in my ears, John brought his loafer-encased foot crashing down onto my face. Then, as suddenly as the violence started--it stopped.

I sent up a silent prayer of thanks, saying, “Yes you did, because everything stopped.” It had not yet occurred to me that I was lying on my back, staring at the ceiling, in a different part of the room, and in a completely different position than I had been in just moments (or so I thought) before.

John was standing over me, pacing back and forth and ranting about letting me live--this time. It wasn't until he stopped, looked down at me, and said, “Oh my God, look at you,” that I realized the violence must have continued even after I cried out to Jesus for help. It also began to dawn on me that I could not raise myself up from the floor. I was not in any pain. I simply could not get up.

After John lifted me off the floor, I knew he must have injured me very badly. Besides not being able to focus my eyes clearly, close my mouth all the way, or sit or stand without assistance, I was afraid I was going into shock. Although it was August and very hot outside, I was freezing--shivering violently.

I asked him if he would take me to the emergency room. He said, “No, you'll call the police.” When I asked if I could call someone else to take me to the emergency room, he said, “No, either God will take care of you or he won't.”

It was obvious he was afraid he had fatally injured me, and I could see that my repeated requests for help were beginning to agitate him. I knew I had said all I could safely get away with, so from that point on, I asked for help only from God. I consigned myself to His care and began praying for rescue.

There was a telephone on the nightstand just next to the bed I was lying on, but I was too injured to reach for it. Unable to do the slightest thing for myself, a portion of the sermon our assistant pastor had preached just two days previously kept running and re-running through my mind. “The devil,” he said, “comes to steal, to kill and to destroy, but I have come…” Those words were like a lifeline to me. I repeated them over and over to myself and said to the Lord, “You came, Jesus. You came...”

But the circumstances seemed hopeless. I was injured, isolated, and completely helpless. I was at the mercy of a man who had just tried to kill me and was steadfastly refusing to allow me to receive help of any kind. He was more willing to allow me to die than to face possible arrest and conviction for assaulting me.

John's emotions appeared to be on a frightening roller coaster. His behavior was erratic and unpredictable. One moment he would appear to be calm and treat me very gently, the next, for no apparent reason, he would begin raging again--particularly against women he felt wanted to rule over men. At one point he spoke about having to leave the house and told me he would be forced to tie me up while he was gone. I absolutely knew if he ever did that he would feel he had no choice but to go ahead and finish me off. My position was precarious at best. Whenever I was forced to speak to him or answer his questions, I chose my words very carefully. I knew only the Holy Spirit could help me navigate the situation and keep me alive until help came.

It concerned me that I did not have a definite sense of the Lord's presence. I remember asking, “God, where are you?” He answered my question with a question of his own, “Do you feel this peace?”

Yes I did. And I knew that peace only came from one source--God. It was good to know I was not alone.

I had not looked in the mirror yet, so I did not know I had what the emergency room physician would later describe as “raccoon eyes,” a discoloration caused by bleeding from the eyes. I had not yet seen that my right jaw was grotesquely swollen, though it concerned me greatly that I could not close my mouth completely--I could not bring my teeth together. I felt certain I had a broken jaw. I was experiencing severe dizziness and equilibrium problems. I could not sit or stand without assistance; walking was completely out of the question. I was very nauseous. Each time John lifted me to a sitting position, I began retching violently. If he let go of me, I collapsed like a rag doll. I was having severe problems with my vision; I could not focus my eyes clearly on anything. And whenever I moved, even slightly, the vertical hold on the room would spin out of control. Within a short while, I also realized blood was seeping from both ears. The emergency room physician said most of my symptoms corresponded with those of a skull fracture, but besides a mild headache, the only real source of pain I experienced came from my right hand and arm which were fairly useless. That was my condition for about 20 hours.

Sometime during the early hours of the next morning I woke up and realized I felt different. I felt better.

I thought, “I think I can sit up,” and I sat up. I thought, “I think I can stand up,” and I stood up. I thought, “I think I can walk.” And I walked!

I knew that a supernatural healing from God had taken place while I slept.

This was an exciting development. The first thing that occurred to me, of course, was not to tell John. I reasoned that if he thought I was still helpless, he might relax his guard and I could get away from him. But instructions from the Holy Spirit came quickly and clearly--I was not to try and deceive him. It did not seem at all logical, but I knew I had heard from God. So, when daylight came, I confided to him that I had been able to get up by myself during the night. His answer was chilling. He said, “I know--I was awake.

My imprisonment continued, but in spite of my desperate circumstances, the peace of God guarded my heart. I was in a deep sleep most of the time. I awoke at some point during the second morning and found myself alone; of course, I headed straight for the telephone. But it wasn't there. John had removed all the phones from the house.

This was a big problem, because even though I could walk and the visual disturbances I had been experiencing were now gone, my balance was still extremely poor. I was still very weak, and I was too slow and unsteady on my feet to attempt leaving the house with no guarantee that anyone would be nearby to help.

We had a large fenced front yard that, in my condition, looked as large as a football field. I knew it would take me quite a while just to make it to the street (climbing the fence into the neighbor's yard was not a physical possibility), and if John came home before I cleared the yard, it would take no effort at all for him to drag me back inside. If that happened, I knew that I would not survive the consequences of trying to escape. I was confident the Spirit of the Lord was leading me not to try just yet.

When John returned, I asked, “Am I a prisoner?” He said, “No.” I was nervous about questioning him, but felt a boldness to go on. “Then why are all the phones gone?” He said he had removed them so I could not call the police. I promised him, before God, that if he would return the phones I would not call the police--and he did! Then he left again.

But now I had another problem. I had just made a vow before God that I would not call the police. I stared at the phone and mentally worked through my options--breaking my vow was not one of them.

I did not know how much time I had before John returned, and most people I knew lived at least twenty miles away. Simple things overwhelmed me. I could not remember telephone numbers, and John had taken my cell phone that had my frequently called numbers programmed in it. The phone book wasn't any help, because (besides my mother and my pastor) I could not think of anyone to call. I could not remember who I knew.

I picked up the cordless phone, looked at it, thought about it--then carefully replaced it.

I knew I was having a difficult time thinking clearly, but, again, I was confident God was leading. John returned after being gone only a short while and made a point of looking to see if the phone had been moved. It had not. I had returned it exactly as he left it. Then, after a few hours, he left again.

This time, with no hesitation, I picked up the phone and quickly dialed my pastor's cell phone number. God's timing is always perfect--my pastor and his wife “just happened” to be in my neighborhood--only blocks from my home. Within minutes I was safely on my way to the emergency room where X-rays and an MRI confirmed what I already knew: nothing was broken, and there was no internal bleeding--because God had already healed me of the most serious of the injuries that had been inflicted on me 32 hours earlier.


There is not a doubt in my mind that I should not be alive today to tell this story. I am convinced that, had it not been for the immediate and supernatural intervention of a great and mighty God, my life and death would already be a statistic.

I would either have mysteriously disappeared at the hands of my husband, or my family and friends would most certainly have found me--within a just few days, lying in my home--beaten to death. And every year on August 29th, they would celebrate a heartbreaking anniversary. For some, pilgrimages to my gravesite would be made with flowers and heavy hearts filled with remorse. Others would be tormented by memories of missed opportunities--guilt would gnaw at them for the miserable comforts they had offered in their frantic, but ineffectual, concern for my safety. They would wish with all their hearts they could take back unkind and condescending words and actions they now understood had only acted as wedges--alienating them from their beloved daughter, sister, mother or friend.

But what could they have done differently? What could my pastor, family or friends have said or done that could have helped me? What could I have done that could have helped me? And why couldn't I have done it sooner?

These questions must be answered. Lives depend on it. It is time to stop the useless rhetoric. Why doesn't she just leave? If she stays, she deserves what she gets… well if I were her….

Well we're not her!

To my everlasting shame, there was a time in my own life when I said the same hateful things. I knew that I would never tolerate abuse. My attitude towards the battered woman was more condescending than compassionate. Certainly she was an object of my pity, but more so of my contempt…until I unwillingly joined her ranks.

Then I experienced, first-hand, the terrible dynamics that bind a wife to an abusive husband.

If this book helps shed a little light into a very dark arena from the perspective of one who has been there but is there no longer--if it can help induce compassion where formerly there was little or none--perhaps save a life and give a happy ending to someone else's story, then it will have accomplished its purpose.

In this I am reminded of the story about a small boy walking along a beach that was littered with dying starfish. It seemed thousands of them had been washed ashore, but the little boy walked patiently among them picking them up and, one by one, throwing each back into the ocean where it belonged.

A gentleman approached the boy and asked why he bothered. How in the world, the man asked, did he think he could make a difference when there were simply too many to throw them all back?

In reply, the boy stooped down, picked up another starfish, tossed it into the waves, and said, “It makes a difference to this one.”

And that is all any of us can do--try and make a difference for this one--for the one who may be looking to us for help.

Being a support to a battered or abused woman is a frustrating experience at best and frightening at worst. She is often indecisive and cannot be counted on to keep her promises to get out, and stay out, of the line of fire. Her abuser holds tremendous emotional influence over her…and we do not. The temptation is great to throw up our hands and say, “I'm through with you! You deserve what you get! Let yourself be beaten to death if that's what you want!”

But do not do it.

We need to remember that we are merely inconvenienced--she is genuinely suffering and possibly in very real danger. Our friendship and support can make all the difference to an abused woman in the face of seemingly overwhelming circumstances. Our friendship and support can help make her existence a little more bearable, thereby giving her the strength she needs to make choices that, ultimately, may help to change her circumstances and possibly even save her life.

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