Life Giver

I posted this a year ago. But I’m putting it up again for the three new followers I’ve accumulated over the last 365 days.

 

 

We are here to create … I do it with words … but we all create … if nothing else, we create our lives each and every day as soon as we get out of bed.

I once had a mystical experience when I was quite young and on the road.

That experience forms my writing … it forms me … I spoke with God … once upon a time …

I swear this is all true. This is an abbreviated version of what happened on that magical, mystical night.

Back in 1968 when I was eighteen and hitchin’ around the country, I was going from LA to Miami. Thought I’d go home for a spell. Along about sundown, a blue pickup truck picked me up on Old Highway 90 in Arizona. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew, I was spending the night with a young Apache Indian. His name was Jimmy.

After his grandmother fed us, we walked out into the desert and sat down on a small rise. The western sky was aflame with bright orange and pink clouds. Another day was coming to an end. Jimmy talked of Geronimo. He spoke for over an hour. I listened with my eyes closed.

Then things grew quiet. I was hesitant to open my eyes; I did not want to break the spell. Though, eventually, I did open them and looked directly into the face of God!

While Jimmy was talking, the sun had traveled to the other side of the world and the stars had come out. Never had I seen anything like it. For three hundred and sixty degrees the stars touched the horizon. No light impeded their brilliance. There were no buildings to block my view of that wondrous sight. There was just as much starlight as there was black sky. I felt as though I could reach out and touch them, they seemed that close. I could see how Ptolemy believed the earth was encapsulated within crystalline spheres. In the dry desert air, the stars did indeed look as though they were made of fine, delicate crystal. I saw the Great Bear … and Polaris, the only star that does not move. Orion seemed as though he could lower his arm and smite me with his club. I was in the midst of searching for other constellations when Jimmy broke my reverie. He said, “It is time.”

Jimmy handed me a wooden bowl; he had one just like it. We each held our bowls with two hands in front of us, about chest high. I was told the potion would help me go within, to commune with the Old Ones. Jimmy said: “It is my hope to speak with Life Giver at times like this, but it has not happened yet. Although I have been trying for many years. I am told by the older men to be patient. That Life Giver will speak to me when I am ready to hear what he has to say.”

Jimmy reached his bowl towards me, as in a toast. I did the same. Then we drank whatever that concoction was. (Hey, I was young and open to anything.)

He said that we would not speak again until morning. He would continue facing west, and I should face north. I walked ninety degrees around the rise to Jimmy’s right, sat down, and awaited whatever was to come. It was starting to get a little cool, and I thought it would have been nice if I had had the forethought to bring a jacket. In an effort to keep warm, I brought my knees up to my chest, folded my arms about them, and rested my chin on my knees.

Time started to stretch out. A second felt like a minute. After a while, I noticed I wasn’t cold any longer. I unfolded myself and lay back to look up at the stars. As I said, time was playing tricks on me. I don’t know how long it was before I heard The Voice. At first I thought it was Jimmy, but when I looked in his direction, he was staring off into the western sky, oblivious of me and his surroundings. Then I heard it again. It was in my head.

Aloud I said, “Are you calling me?”

“There is no need to use your vocal cords … think … and I will hear you.”

For some reason, this all seemed perfectly natural. As though I spoke with disembodied entities every day.

My first … or if you want to be technical about it,  my second question was, “Who are you?”

I swear this is what I heard:

“I have many names, and have had many other names in the past. I am known to your friend Jimmy as Life Giver. I am known to you and your culture as God. Some refer to me as Jehovah. I am called Allah and Krishna by others. Some call me The Tao, or The Way.”

I don’t know why, but, for some reason, it did not seem strange that I was having a conversation with God.

“If you are who you say you are, why do you speak with me when Jimmy has been trying to speak with you for years?”

“I have been with Jimmy all those years, and more, waiting for him to notice me. I am with my children—all my children—always. I am never not with you.”

NOTE: To cut down on the prose, I offer a transcript (as I remember it) of my conversation with the entity, which I have come to believe was indeed who It claimed to be: Life Giver. Before you make up your mind, read the transcript in its entirety. Then decide if what I heard makes any sense.

ME: It just doesn’t seem fair that I’m here speaking with you when it should be Jimmy instead.

LG: Jimmy and I do speak, all the time, but not in this way.

ME: Have you come to teach me some great truth?

LG: You have nothing to learn. None of my children have anything to learn. You only have to remember.

Me: Remember? Remember what?

LG: Who you are, and where you come from.

ME: Now I’m getting confused. Aren’t you God?

LG: We are God. Some refer to me as All That Is, which is more descriptive of the truth. There is only ONE. We are both a part of that ONE. This planet’s first religion was The Law of One. In a time long forgotten, man knew from whence he came. That is what I mean when I said you have only to remember.

ME: So, why can I experience you and Jimmy can’t?

LG: As I have stated, Jimmy, you, and all of humanity experience me every day.

ME: What I mean is why am I talking to you tonight, and Jimmy is not?

LG: How do you know he is not speaking with me now as you are?

ME: Well, I guess I don’t. I reckon God can carry on more than one conversation at a time.

LG: You reckon?

ME: I didn’t know God had a sense of humor.

LG: I have what you have, you have what I have. We are ONE.

ME: I guess I was pretty lucky when Jimmy picked me up this afternoon, or else I wouldn’t be here speaking with God.

LG: It was no accident that Jimmy offered you a ride and a place to sleep. Jimmy and I arranged it while he slept last night. We spoke in his dreams. Though he has consciously forgotten our talk, he has remembered it subconsciously.

ME: Then why am I here?

LG: Do you mean why are you here tonight, or why are you here on the planet Earth?

ME: Both … I guess.

LG: You, and everyone else extant on the physical plane, are here because you want to be here. You, personally, are here tonight because I have a message for you, and this was the only way to make sure you heard it.

ME: Before you give me the message, may I ask just one more question?

LG: You may ask as many as you wish.

ME: What is the meaning of life?

LG: The meaning of life, the reason you, and all our brethren on this planet and on all the other planets in other star systems, is to choose. Making choices is the reason for life. The choices you make is the way I express myself. When a life is completed, the experiences you bring back to me are a gift. A gift from a loving child who has volunteered to endure the hardships of the physical plane in order that its parent may BE.

ME: What if we make the wrong choices?

LG: You cannot make a wrong choice. Whatever you choose will eventually lead to evolution, and over time evolution creates balance as part of the nature of existence.

ME: Even if we make a choice based on hate?

LG: Remember this: Ultimately, there is only Love. All so-called negative emotions—hate, anger, jealousy, greed, just to name a few—stem from fear. The only way to combat fear is Love. Love always wins out over fear.

ME: WOW!

LG: WOW, indeed.

ME: You said you had a message for me?

LG: Yes, you are planning on going home. You, of course, may do anything of your choosing. However, you came to the Earth to teach. Some of those you have agreed to teach will miss their lessons if you go home now.

ME: I thought you said we have nothing to learn, we only have to remember.

LG: The lessons help you to remember. As a song will bring back memories of the time you first heard it, the lessons you, and all teachers, impart, help those involved to remember.

ME: I’m just a kid, how can I teach anyone anything?

LG: First of all, you are as old as I am. We existed before time began. Secondly, you teach by example. Some will learn from you after seeing you for only a moment, others will have learned their lessons after many months with you. As you, in turn, will learn your lessons from others you will encounter.

ME: You say I have a choice?

LG: Of course you do.

ME: Okay, as long as it’s my choice. I don’t like to be pressured, even by God. When will I know when it’s time to go home?

LG: I will tell you.

ME: Sounds like a plan.

LG: Yes, it does. It is almost daybreak. It would be better if you left without disturbing  Jimmy. He is speaking to his inner self.

ME: Well … good-bye.

LG: I am always with you.

I got my carcass up, looked over at Jimmy, and mentally said good-bye. I walked the few hundred yards to his house, picked up my gear, and walked into a new day.

Three years later, I finally made it home.

 

 

 

Fishin’

fishingJohnny Donohue was my best friend when I was twelve years old. On Saturday mornings, we would go fishing. Because we would arise at 3:00 am and meet shortly thereafter, we called it “going fishing at three in the morning.”

This particular Saturday morning when I arrived at Johnny’s house, two of his three brothers were milling about outside. His brother Terry was a year younger than Johnny and me and sometimes hung out with us, so it was no surprise to see him. But, to see his youngest brother, Matthew, who was only six, was a different story. Before I could ask Johnny what was up, Matt came running up to me and said, “I wanna go fishin’.”

Johnny approached me. “If I try to leave him behind, he’ll just follow us or make such a racket he’ll wake up my parents.” So we bowed to the inevitable and let Matt follow us as we started for the lake. It wasn’t really a lake; it was what was called a rock pit. A rock pit being a place that was once dry land until a company came along and started dredging gravel, dirt, and muck for development out west near the Everglades. What was left after they had taken as much as possible was a small lake. We were fortunate; there were two such lakes within blocks of where we lived. They were identical, about a quarter mile long and half as wide. Between them was about a hundred yards of fine, sugary-white sand.

Our 3:00 a.m. fishing routine consisted of me, Johnny, sometimes Terry, our fishing poles, a frying pan, a can of baked beans, and a stick of butter. At sunrise, we would stop fishing, clean our catch, build a fire, and cook the fish we had caught moments before. And of course, coming from good Irish (Boston) stock, the beans were always Boston Baked Beans.

As a rule, we always fished the north lake. Why, I don’t know. Probably because that’s the lake we swam in and we felt comfortable there. However, this morning we were fishing the south lake, and by the time the sun was fixing to come up over the horizon, we had caught nothing. Matt may have helped our bad luck along by throwing rocks into the water right where we were fishing. So, we decided to call it a day, or a night, or whatever. It was still dark out when we reeled in our lines and started for home.

Johnny, Terry, and I were walking along the shore of the south lake. Matt was somewhere behind us. Or so we thought. There was no need to fret about Matt. We were only blocks from his home, which he knew his way to as well as we did. And there were no “Bad Guys” to worry about. It was 1962, after all. But with what happened in the next few minutes, it just goes to show you how wrong a guy can be. At this point, it’s still pitch black out, but a gray sky in the east was only minutes away.

As we neared the bit of land between the two lakes, we heard a sound that immediately put us on guard. In those days, our neighborhood was way out in the boondocks, and we had never run into another living soul in all the time we went fishing at three o’clock in the morning. The sound was a scratching sound, immediately followed by a sound that sounded like thud, scratch, thud, scratch, thud—it had a kind of rhythm. By then dawn had broken, barely. It was finally light enough to see where the sound was coming from.

We could make out the silhouettes of two men and a car. The bigger of the two was leaning against the car, arms folded, watching the other man as he dug a hole. Those were the sounds we had heard, the scraping of the shovel as it was thrust into the sand, and the sand as it was dumped onto a slowly growing pile. As we stood there watching this strange sight, it got stranger still. The big guy went to the trunk, opened it, and dragged out a dead body. Or what sure as hell looked like a dead body.

All three of us dropped to the ground. After all, we were the first generation of children raised on television; we’d seen enough to know that witnesses always get “rubbed out” and dead men tell no tales.

Johnny and I were right next to each other, with Terry behind us. We lay in that position for about five minutes, wondering what would be the best course of action to take that would not end up with us getting shot. Johnny and I were for staying on the ground and slowly crawling away so as not to be seen. Terry was for jumping up and making a run for it. Well, wouldn’t you know it, little Matthew decided which course of action we should take, and it was neither of the above.

As we lay there conducting The Great Debate, we saw Matt walking up to the two men from the opposite direction. He must have circumnavigated the lake, and was heading in the general direction of home. The only problem being two bad guys were between him and his destination. Because he was so small, and the men were so intent on what they were doing, Matt was able to walk right up to the hole still being dug and peer into it. Even from our vantage point, we could see the men react as all reasonable men would react when discovered burying a corpse at six o’clock in the morning. They nearly jumped out of their skins.

After taking a moment to regroup, the bigger of the two, the one not shoveling, grabbed Matt by the arm, and force-marched him about ten feet before flinging him in the direction of the street. Of course, the little kid stumbled and fell. He sat there looking up at that big bully as the man pointed to the street. You didn’t need to read lips to know the guy was telling Matt to scram.

If I may, I’d like to digress for a moment and tell you about Johnny, Terry, and myself. Johnny and I were good kids. We were altar boys; we never gave the nuns at school any trouble. We kept our noses clean. Of course, as we got older and joined the Boy Scouts, Johnny made Eagle Scout while I never made it out of Tenderfoot. Johnny went on to become an FBI agent, and I went on to break many, many laws with impunity. But on that morning, we thought alike.

Now Terry, on the other hand, was a holy terror. Whenever he hung with us, we could expect to either be reprimanded by someone, or punished by our parents when we got home. All the Donohue boys, except Terry, had red hair and freckles. Terry was different, he was a blond. Come to think of it, he was different in a lot of ways. I tell you these things so you will understand why things turned out as they did.

Back to the story: When we left off, Matt was sitting on the ground with Mr. Big standing over him.

Johnny jumped up and yelled, “My brother!” and started running in the direction of all the excitement. Because he was my pal, I was two steps behind him, and Terry was a step behind me. We reached the scene of the crime and injected ourselves between Mr. Big and Matt. When he saw us, the big guy laughed and turned to the guy shoveling. “Hey, Nicky … the cavalry to the rescue.”

Nicky dropped the shovel, pulled out a gun that he had tucked into his belt, and pointed it at us. At this turn of events, Mr. Big said to Nicky, “Put the fuckin’ gun away, pick up your fuckin’ shovel, and dig the goddamn hole!” I thought Nicky was going to shoot him. I would have if someone spoke to me like that. But Nicky only shrugged, slipped the gun back into his belt, and resumed his spadework.

“So, kids, what’s the problem?” said Mr. Big. “Why don’t you be good little tykes and just run along home?” When we heard that, Johnny and I looked at one another. We knew our troubles were over. All we had to do was walk away, go home, tell our parents, and they could take the appropriate steps to deal with the situation.

As Johnny took Matt by the hand and we turned to leave, we heard, “You guys gonna bury that dead body?”

Fuckin’ Terry! was my only thought at the moment. I don’t know what Johnny was thinking, but by the look on his face, he was thinking along similar lines. With that bit of oratory, Nicky again dropped his shovel and pulled out his gun. Mr. Big stared him down until Nicky meekly put the gun away. But in an act of defiance, he did not resume his shoveling duties. So there we were: four kids, two bad guys, and a corpse. What next? was probably the only thought going through everyone’s head—except for Matt and Terry. Matt was too young to comprehend the situation, and Terry was just getting warmed up.

As we stood there in this Mexican standoff, we heard a groan coming from the corpse. Then the corpse raised itself on one arm and shook its head. Now I’ve got to hand it to Mr. Big. If nothing else, he was a fast thinker. I could tell he was just as surprised as the rest of us at the resurrection taking place, probably more so. But without missing a beat, he turned to Terry and said, “You talkin’ about Marty? He’s no dead body; he just had too much to drink.”

I was thinking, Saved by the bell. All we’ve got to do is play dumb and we can walk out of here.

No sooner had I thought those encouraging thoughts, I heard, “Then why are you digging the hole?”

You guessed it. Fuckin’ Terry again. But no one paid any attention to him. Marty was slowly getting to his feet, and all eyes were upon the Lazarus-like spectacle. The only one present who did anything was Nicky. He pulled out his gun again. Mr. Big walked over to him and slapped him on the back of the head. “Not in front of the k-i-d-s.”

How old did this guy think we were that we couldn’t spell kids? But that was cool, if he wanted us stupid, we could be the stupidest sons-of-bitches you ever saw. But unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to exhibit our acting skills. Just then, Marty said to no one in particular, “You fuckin’ assholes. You tried to kill me!”

“We ain’t done trying yet,” was Nicky’s retort. With that brilliant statement—in front of witnesses nonetheless—Mr. Big lost his cool. He turned to Nicky and shouted, “Alright, just shoot the bastard once and for all. Kill him before I kill you, you sorry sonavabitch!”

Nicky grinned from one end of his face to the other. “Right, boss,” was his reply, just before he raised his gun and put two right in Marty’s head. The rest of those assembled, with the exception of Mr. Big, jumped a foot in the air with the explosion of the first shot. Marty did not take it so well. He was flung back against the car and stared at Nicky for a long moment before he collapsed like a wet dishrag. Us kids were frozen to the piece of earth we each happened to be standing on at the moment the shots were fired. Even Terry couldn’t think of anything stupid to say.

As soon as Marty hit the ground, Mr. Big ordered Nicky to pull the body away from the car. Mr. Big got behind the wheel and yelled for Nicky to hurry up and get into the car. Standing at the passenger side window, Nicky asked, “What about the kids?”

We were still rooted to our respective pieces of earth, so we were close enough to hear Mr. Big’s reply. “Nicky, fuck the goddamn kids, fuck Marty, fuck you, and fuck this miserable town! Get your ass in here or so help me, I’ll blow your fuckin’ head off right where you stand.” With that, Mr. Big pulled out his own gun and pointed it at Nicky’s head. Having his boss point a gun at his head didn’t seem to faze Nicky, not at all. Before getting into the car, Nicky turned to Johnny and me and winked. “See ya, kids.” He then got into the car and Mr. Big backed it out onto the street, driving out of our lives forever.

But wait, the story isn’t over quite yet. After our friends had left, we formed a circle around Marty. We stood there looking down at him. He was lying face down in the fine white sand with a small pool of crimson-colored blood forming next to his head. Terry said, “Cool.” Johnny looked like he wanted to throw up. I was paralyzed and Matt was building sand castles. After a few minutes, Johnny said, “Let’s go home.”

The walk home was the least eventful part of that entire morning’s fishing expedition, at least until we arrived at Johnny’s house. When we got there, he said, “You guys wait out here. I’ll go in and tell my parents what happened.”

A few moments later, we heard a scream, followed by the exclamation, “My babies!” Within seconds, Mrs. Donohue, wearing an old blue bathrobe and with curlers in her hair, flew through the front door, stooped down, and like a mother hen, enfolded Matt and Terry into her arms. After a few moments and a few sniffles, she stood up and, while pointing at the door, shouted, “Get in there, misters, before I beat you!”

After that, there was nothing left for me to do but make my way home. I was hungry; we hadn’t caught any fish that morning. And, for some reason, we were never again allowed to go fishing at three o’clock in the morning.

Treasure

He stumbled upon the treasure quite by accident. He had been exploring the vicinity when he happened upon it. His first thought: This cannot be real. He cautiously approached. Someone might be playing a trick on him. Perhaps he was being observed. But no one sprung from a concealed location—no one yelled for him to halt his advance. It seemed safe enough to move forward. When he arrived at the treasure, he bent down to touch it, just to make sure it was real. It was real! After one touch, he fled to better-known and safer environs.

That night he could not sleep for thinking of what he had discovered. He thought and thought of ways he could explain it to members of his tribe. If he suddenly showed up with the treasure, anything he said would be suspect. One does not find treasure of this sort every day. No, he would have to think this through.

The next day he went back to where he had found the treasure, but dared not get too close. Instead, he peered at it from a far. It was still there and untouched! But for how long? A fire burned within him to possess it. If not for the taboo placed on matters of this sort by the Law Giver, he would claim the treasure as his own. But no, the Law Giver would never allow it.

As he tried to sleep on the second night after his discovery, he thought perhaps the Law Giver would understand. Perhaps he should approach her, and tell her of his find. No, then if she forbade him from keeping the treasure, it would be lost forever. Conceivably, he could bring it to his village and hide it from the Law Giver. But … where could he hide it? The Law Giver was all-wise; she knew the secrets of his heart.

Quite unexpectedly, he overheard the Law Giver speaking of the place he had found the treasure. This is what he heard: “When they moved out, they told me they left a few things behind, and if we wanted anything, we were welcome to it. I’ve been too busy to go over there, but I think I’ll take a look this afternoon. Maybe there will be something Billy might like.”

Something I might like. Something I might like! Was she toying with him? Did she indeed know of the treasure? Later that afternoon, his mother called Billy to the front of the house. He was not allowed far from home because he was only five years old, so he appeared right away. His mother said, “Look what I found next door where the Simms used to live.” And there it was—the treasure!

His mother handed little Billy the bright red, toy fire truck that had caused him to lose so much sleep. You see, Billy had been afraid his mother would think he had stolen it, even though it seemed to have been abandoned. And in his home, stealing was the one thing his mother, the Law Giver, would never tolerate.

 

Someone’s Been Ridin’ My Mule

Someone’s been ridin’ my mule. She ain’t the same no more. She kicks up a fuss when I try to ride her. She kicks up a fuss when I take her into town. She’s always brayin’ at what I do. She’s never done that before.

Someone’s been ridin’ my mule in the rain. She’s wet when she should be dry.

Someone’s been ridin’ my mule. She don’t like listen’ to Jimmy Rogers no more. She’s likin’ a new kind of music. A kind of music I don’t understand.

Someone’s been ridin’ my mule when I’m not around. She don’t get lonesome for me no more.

Someone’s been ridin’ my mule and I don’t cotton to it. But ain’t much I can do if someone rides my mule when I’m away.

Someone’s been ridin’ my mule, so reckon I’ll get me a new mule.

This Time Tomorrow

Reckon I’d better start at the beginning. Reckon I’ll tell it all. I first met her up at Grayson’s Creek. I had just bought a pair of new boots and my feet were hurting me something awful. With my feet cooling in the water, I was thinking of things past. I’d been back from the war a year by then. Four years of marching and fighting them bluebellies, my feet never did hurt so much as they did that day. Ol’ Robert E. and them other generals rode horses everywhere they went. Us privates walked the whole damn war.

Softly, she came up behind me. The first I knew she was there was when she giggled. I turned to see a young girl no more than sixteen years. She was smiling.

“Whatcha doin’ with your feet in that water?” she wanted to know.

“What are you doin’ sneaking up on a peaceful man just mindin’ his own business?” I asked in return.

Her hands clasped behind her back, she took a tentative step closer. Still she smiled.

“This is my husband’s land and I have a right to know who’s trespassin’ through.”

“You married?”

“Sure ’nuff. Husband’s name is James Foster. He’s a big man in these here parts.”

“You look kinda young to be married.”

She pointed her chin skyward. Eyes veiled, she said, “Us mountain folk marry young. But James is a lot older, he’s thirty-one. I’m his second wife. His first wife, Anne, took sick and died two years back when the cholera passed through. Not that it’s any of your business.”

“The name’s Tom Dula. What might be yours?”

“I’m Laura Foster and I’m mighty pleased to meet you, Mister Dula.”

Without asking if she could, she came and sat down by me—her feet splashing in the water next to mine; she had no shoes to kick off. “Well, Mister Dula, what brings you to this neck of the woods of Tennessee?”

She was pretty. Keen grey eyes. A pert strong chin. Dimpled cheeks that blushed as she wiggled her toes in the cool, clear water. Her hair was dark and loose and fell to her waist. Her fresh young white skin, translucent in the bright sunlight. I took all this in as I was formulating in my mind how much I would tell her. For some reason, I wanted to tell her all of it. I was twenty years old and on the run from the law. I had killed a man. But in the end, all I said was, “Had me a little trouble over in North Carolina. Thought it might be best if I hightailed it outta there until the dust settled.”

She tilted her head and nodded as though she understood. As though she was wise beyond her years. As though she wasn’t a little wisp of a thing. As though my heart wasn’t hers for the taking if only she wasn’t married.

I pulled my feet out of the water and put on my boots. “I gotta be movin’ on, little missy. No time to tarry further, gonna be dark soon.”

Her smile faded, her eyelashes fluttered. “Thought I might invite you to have supper with me and my husband.”

With one foot in the stirrup, my hand on the horn, I hesitated. Perhaps for a moment too long to her way of thinking.

“You wanna eat with us or not?”

She looked hurt. “I’d be right proud to sit at your table. But how is your husband gonna feel about you bringing a strange man to his home?”

Her eyes grew big and round. Her smile returned. “You just leave James to me, Mister Dula.”

I should have gotten on my horse right then and there and rode out. But I did not, to my everlasting regret.

Their cabin wasn’t but a mile from the creek. As we came into the yard, a man who had been chopping wood stood straight and tall. The axe held loosely at his side. His eyes followed us up the path. His manner was neither friendly nor hostile.

“Where ya been, Laura? Ya know there’s chores to be done.”

Laura brushed her hair behind her ears and straightened her back. “I was just down to the creek and came upon this nice gentleman. His name’s Tom. He’s from North Carolina. I’ve invited him to have supper with us.”

He gave his wife a look I couldn’t interpret. He nodded at me, but no smile was forthcoming. “Does Tom have a last name?”

I started to say something, but Laura beat me to it. “Of course he does, silly. It’s Dula.”

“Well, if Tom Dula is going to eat our food, he can help with the wood chopping. You git on inside and lay the table.”

Without a word, Laura turned on her heels and went into the cabin, leaving us two men staring at one another. I rolled up my sleeves and walked over to the man. Holding out my hand, I said, “I appreciate you having me, Mister Foster. I’d be happy to chop all the wood you might need.”

He shook my hand and at last favored me with a slight smile. “No offense, mister. But Laura’s been gone half the day, leaving her chores undone. It kinda threw me for a loop when she walked up with you.”

I started in on a log at the ready while James Foster picked up what he had chopped and brought it into the cabin. I got me three logs cut and was just starting in on splitting them when Laura called from the door. “Supper’s ready. There’s a basin and pitcher up here on the porch. Get washed up and come on in.”

The cabin looked fair sized from the outside, but had only one room. In the far corner stood an old wood stove. I was surprised to see they had a short-handled pump attached to a thick wooden plank that also served as a work counter. The bed was on the opposite side. Right smack dab in the middle of the room was the table with four chairs arranged around it. James Foster sat facing the door with a napkin shoved in his collar. He looked ready to eat. Laura, standing at the counter and still barefoot, had put her hair up. I liked it better loose.

“Come in, Mister Dula, and have a seat,” she beamed. Her husband had lost some of his reserve. “Yes, boy, come on in. You’re welcome at our table.”

The food was good. I hadn’t known how hungry I was. I told them a little about myself and a few war stories. When Laura pressed me for what kind of trouble I was leaving behind in North Carolina, her husband said, “Ain’t none of your concern, girl. Let the man eat in peace.”

After supper, as Laura cleared the table, James and I took out our pipes. I offered him my pouch. “Here, try this. North Carolina is known for its tobacco.”

Him and me chewed the fat for a bit. Then I figured I had stayed my welcome. “I thank ya’all for the vittles, but I reckon it’s time I was movin’ on.”

Laura, who was at the pump cleaning the last of the dishes, turned around and said to James, “It’s late. You think it would be alright if Mister Dula slept in the barn tonight?”

James had warmed to me as he smoked my tobacco and did not hesitate. “Good idea. Fetch him a blanket.”

After lighting their spare lantern, James walked me out to the barn. “While you unsaddle your horse, I’ll pile up some hay for ya. You’re lucky it’s springtime and not winter. You should be comfortable enough. If you have need, the convenience is behind the cabin.” It was a lot better setup than I had anticipated when I had hit the trail that morning. James bade me a good night and left me to myself.

Before turning in, I watered my horse and gave him some hay to hold him over until I could replenish the oat bag hanging from my saddle.

Lying there alone in the darkness, breathing in the smells of a Tennessee barn, I confronted my demons and wondered how I’d gotten into the fix in which I found myself. Sure, I had killed a man. Ol’ Jake Parsons. It was in self-defense, but no one had seen the act. He was drunk and I was drunk. No one had seen him lunge at me with a knife clutched in his hand. No one saw us tussle and fall. No one saw the knife pierce his heart but me. He was well-respected. I was a nobody. By the time I realized what had happened, people were starting to gather. Murmurs were going around that perhaps justice would be best served with a quick hanging. No need to trouble the sheriff. I pushed through the crowd and made for my horse before more people showed up. I was one step ahead of them and made it out of town before they could coalesce and pursue.

I would have to make miles in the morning. Word had certainly gotten about by now. I would head north and hide among the Yankees. Those damn hated Yankees. But it was better than the alternative: a hemp noose and a short dance in the air. I drifted off to a troubled sleep thinking those thoughts.

I don’t know how long I was asleep before I was shaken awake by a gentle hand. It was dark and I was disoriented. “Hush. Don’t say nothin’.” It was Laura.

“What is it, Laura? What’s the matter?”

“Nothin’. I just wanna talk.”

“Well, let me light the lantern so I can see you.”

“No! Just talk to me.”

I brought myself up on one elbow and waited. What did she want me to say? What was this all about? I soon found out.

“Do you think I’m pretty?”

So that’s what it’s all about. “I think you should go back into the cabin before James finds you gone.”

“Don’t you talk to me like I was a child. I’m all grown up. Now answer me. Do you think I’m pretty?”

With a heavy sigh, I answered her. “Yes, Laura. You are pretty. Now leave me be. You’re gonna cause nothin’ but trouble being out here.”

She came closer. I could feel her warm breath on my cheek. I could smell her hair. She must have washed it recently. It still smelled of soap. Her hand touched mine. It was soft like I knew it would be. She was trying me. Lord, was she trying me. “If you don’t leave, I’m gonna saddle my horse and be outta this barn before you ever knew I was here.”

She grabbed my hand and held it tight. I could not see her, but I heard her sniffles. All her words came out in a rush. “I’m in the prime of my life. I don’t want to grow old and worn on this forty acre farm. I’m no farm woman. I was meant for better. I’m only married to James because my pa made me do it. He has eyes on this land. Let’s leave tonight. Let’s head to a big city. I’ll be your woman. You’ll never be sorry. I know how to please a man. You don’t even have to marry me.”

I gently extricated my hand from hers. I hadn’t been around woman folk much. I mean in that manner. But I knew they were filled to the brim with emotions. You had to be careful with them. You never knew, they could go off like a firework on the Fourth of July. And the last thing I needed right then, with her husband not twenty yards away, was an hysterical woman on my hands.

In a soft voice, one I hoped sounded caring and honest, I said, “Laura, you are probably the best lookin’ woman I ever did see. And if things were different, I’d take you to the ends of the earth. But a man does not ride onto another man’s land, eat his food, enjoy his hospitality, and then ride out with his wife on the back of his horse. It just ain’t right. You understand that, don’t ya?”

Things were quiet for a spell. For a long spell. At long length, she whispered, “Are you saying if I weren’t married you’d take me with you?”

I nodded my head. But then realized she couldn’t see the motion in the dark. So I said, “That about covers it.”

She patted my hand. How she knew where it was, was beyond me. It was pitch black in that barn. She must have been part cat. “That’s okay, Tom. I understand. You go back to sleep now. I’ll see you in the morning.”

She leaned in and kissed me on the cheek, and then she was gone. My only thought at that point was, like hell she’ll see me in the morning. I was gonna be gone before first grey light. I lay back down and smiled to myself. Life sure can be crazy at times.

I must have been more worn out then I knew. I was awakened by a crow’s caws. He sure was insistent. It was full light out. Damn, I should have been long gone by now.

I got up and grabbed my saddle, but before I could fling it on my horse, Laura walked in. “Don’t be in such a rush. We have time to have breakfast before we leave.”

I shook my head in dismay. “I told you last night, you’re not leaving with me.”

“I know what you said. But I’m not married no more.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean James is gone and now I’m free to go with you.”

“What do you mean James is gone?”

She flung her arms up in the air in exasperation and explained it to me. “I killed him last night right after I talked with you. Pulled the big carving knife right across his old throat as he slept, I did.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Was she funning with me? The look on her face said otherwise. I dropped my saddle and raced for the cabin. The door stood open and I went right in. There he was. Lying on his back. The front of his nightshirt stained a crimson red. His eyes half lidded, his mouth open.

I heard a noise behind me. It was Laura as she came in through the door. “What are you dallying for? If you don’t want breakfast, I have my kit packed, ready to go. And I won’t have to ride the back of your horse. I’ll ride James’ mare. She’s a fine horse. Her name is Maggie.”

I looked into her grey eyes. She was stark raving mad. Funny I hadn’t noticed before. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to set her off. I just wanted to get out of there. Then any decision I might have made was taken out of my hands. The clip clop of horses’ hooves came to me from outside. Someone was riding into the yard.

She looked at me. I looked at her. I knew what she was gonna do before she knew what she was gonna do. Through her eyes, I saw the thought process going around in her mind. When she had decided her course of action, a determination played across her face. She grinned at me and said, “It would have been so much fun, Tom.”

I was resigned to my fate. I should have died in the war. I should have died when Jake Parsons came at me with that knife. I didn’t know it, but I’ve been on borrowed time since I left North Carolina. I smiled at her and said, “Yup. It would have been one hell of a hay ride, Little Missy.”

Without another word, she turned and ran screaming from the cabin. She ran right into the arms of her father and three of her brothers who had come for a visit. The upshot is that the trial was over before I knew it. Laura testified that she and James had befriended me and I paid back their kindness by slitting his throat while she was out of the cabin, pulling water up from the well. She said it had been my intention to kill her after having had my sinful way with her. Only the fortuitous arrival of her family saved her. It made no sense. But she was believed. I said not a word. What was the use?

The horses move sluggishly. They are in no rush. Neither am I. I hear that old crow cawing to his mate. I notice every leaf on every tree, the green and brown of the different grasses. The clouds have never been fluffier, never whiter. The sky never bluer. The sun rides high, the crisp morning air flows around me, embraces me, caresses me. It is a beautiful day. There’ll never, ever be such an astonishing, lovely day again. Never. It’s a great day to be alive. I’m riding in the back of a wagon, my arms tied behind me. My coffin follows in a wagon of its own. We’re headed for an old white oak just outside of town. The hanging tree. This time tomorrow, I’ll be planted six feet down, wishing I was anywhere else.

Guest Post from Danny the Dog (owner of author Andrew Joyce) PLUS #BookReview of My Name Is Danny #humor #dogs #TuesdayBookBlog

And now a message from Danny’s good friend, Barb.

Barb Taub

Morning. It’s not pretty…

When my dog Peri first got me, she woke me before dawn to take care of all her important stuff—walking Peri, feeding Peri, playing with Peri, walking Peri again, giving Peri her treats, and oh yeah…dropping my daughter at high school and heading into work. Peri was fine with that schedule and doesn’t see any reason for it to change just because said daughter is now a college graduate and I’m retired. 

Every morning about half an hour before dawn—she’s never differentiated between weekdays and weekends, and sees no reason to start doing so now—the dance begins. It starts slowly, a formal gavotte with maybe a little brush against the side of the bed, followed by a cold wet nose pressed against some innocently somnolent bit of me that isn’t expecting up-close and personal dog snout contact.

If that doesn’t result in me leaping to my…

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