Lost Souls

By Ned Rodriguez

(Originally Published in Journeys V)

They came shuffling out of the river mist, their heads down, eyes half closed, up the embankment, to the river trail. The taller of the two, Billy, looking older than his thirty years, had shaggy, dirty brown hair that was matted with the remnants of the underbrush where they had slept. His clothes were disheveled, stained with days of living. He wore an ancient blue suit coat, threadbare and frayed at the collar and cuffs. His head was bare. His dirty brown slacks shined at the knees and seat. His skin, dark from years of exposure to the unforgiving sun of the Arizona and California farmlands, was mottled and scarred. His hooded eyes showed the yellowing sclera of the chronic alcoholic.

Johnny, the shorter of the two, had first met Billy and the Preacher after being discharged from the Army. He was hitchhiking from Los Angeles to Delano, a small farm community where he was born and raised. At a fast food stop in San Fernando, he was able to talk a farm contractor, an old Korean war vet, into giving him a lift in a truck carrying laborers from Brawley in Imperial County to the San Joaquin Valley farmlands.

When he jumped into the back of the truck, the men made room beside the lift gate. With a slight wave of his hand to the group, he sat beside the only two gringos.

“Hey, man, do you speak English?” Billy, smelling of cheap wine raised his chin toward Johnny as he spoke.

“Yes. Why?” Johnny’s eyes darted back and forth between the two men.

“Oh, I was just wondering. The Preacher and I don’t get to talk to many folks. Most of these guys only talk Mexican. The bosses never talk to us, so all we got is each other.”

Johnny lips tightened and turned down before he answered, “first, they don’t talk Mexican, they speak Spanish. Second, I’m not going to work the fields so I won’t be around. I’m just going to visit my folks in Delano. Sorry.”

The old man put his hand out as if giving a stop sign, “don’t take offense, mister, I’ve tried telling Billy that for the two years we’ve been together. He just doesn’t understand. He doesn’t mean anything by it. He really is a good guy, just a little on the slow side.”

“I’m sorry, too.” Johnny said, expelling a breath he didn’t know he was holding and extending his hand. “I just got back from ‘Nam and I’m having a tough time adjusting. Sorry.”

The old man reached out and shook Johnny’s hand, “they call me Preacher. He’s Billy,” then turning to Billy he continued, “shake the mans hand, Billy.”

“I’m Johnny.”

That was his introduction to the two men who would become a part of his life. Except for the short time Johnny stopped to visit his folks, the three had been together ever since.

Now here they were, half starved and in search of some miracle. In contrast to the way Billy appeared, Johnny was aware that he was healthier in both appearance and fact. Johnny was always surprised when he remembered that he and Billy were the same age. Johnny’s body was broader and more muscular even though the three, Billy, Preacher and he had been on the road together now for almost eight years. His dark skin was smooth and seemed to have an inner glow. Maybe it was because of his mestizo heritage. He always made sure to have his clothes clean, his body washed, and his hair combed. It was not only his military training, but also the was his parents had insisted that he present a good image to the world around him. He wore a dungaree jacket with a lamb’s wool lining over an old khaki shirt and blue jeans. His clothes were clean and neat. They both wore tan work boots that appeared to be identical except for the knife and scabbard that Johnny kept tucked into the inner side of the left one. When Johnny looked at Billy, he realized that Billy was feeling as desperate as he. They looked in both directions as they climbed, before walking west toward the distant roadway. It was early in the spring of 1978.

“Johnny, whaddya think we oughtta do about the Preacher?” Billy had a soft hoarse voice. The worry was like a stamp on his rough, unshaven face.

“I don’t know, Billy,” he answered. His voice, although deep and resonant, conveyed his feeling of desperation, “he needs some food, but I haven’t got a nickel.” Johnny was worried about the Preacher. He’d been so weak from hunger and worry that Johnny and Billy had to help him off the freight when they came into town last week. The Preacher had fallen when they were walking down to the river from the railroad tracks. They had left him at the camp this morning, sleeping under the lean-to that they had fashioned to create a barrier from the wind and sun. The Preacher hadn’t been well the last month or two. The three of them, the Preacher, Billy and he had been on the road from Arizona to the San Joaquin Valley. It had taken over a month just to get to the outskirts of San Bernardino. The Arizona cops had thrown them in jail for vagrancy. When they got out, the cops would hassle them every time they tried to panhandle.   Their luck was so bad that even the soup kitchens always seemed to be closed or out of food. The most work any of them ever got was a couple of days at a car wash and one day doing some yard work for an old couple in Indio. Food had become hard to find. The Preacher, their friend for these last eight years and older by twenty or more years, had become so depressed that he seemed to have lost interest in eating or living. Johnny figured the Preacher had lost twenty pounds in the last couple of months.

They began walking to the entrance of the small city park. There they would go north to the coffee shop next to the county offices. It was half past seven, and the workers would be coming in for their morning coffee. The customers were almost always good for a little “touch” and, sometimes Amelia, the Mexican owner, would give them a few day old donuts if her old man wasn’t around.

“Johnny, you talk Mexican. Why don’t you tell Amelia about the Preacher? Maybe she knows what we can do to help.”

“Okay, Billy, I’ll talk to her if I get a chance.” It was already beginning to get light.

There was a bathroom at the top of the hill, close to the entrance of the park. It was a small, single pit toilet with a water spigot on a free standing iron pipe beside it. Turning to Billy, Johnny said “We gotta clean up before we get there or we won’t get a penny, Billy. Take off your jacket and shake it out, then we’ll comb your hair, okay?”

They used their hands to collect water to wipe the grime from their faces and slick back their hair. Johnny took an old black comb from his inside pocket and began combing Billy’s hair. Billy stood there as he did when his mother would groom him in those days long past. After straightening and brushing off their clothes as best as they were able, they continued out of the park and turned north toward town.

As they were approaching the coffee shop, Billy asked, “Johnny, don’t you think he needs more than donuts. Maybe we ought to go to the market and pinch some food for him.”

“And what happens to him if they haul us off, Billy?” Johnny shook his head as he looked at Billy, “there wouldn’t be anybody left to take care of him. I don’t think we can take the chance.”

“Johnny, the old Arab that runs the Mom and Pop store on Jefferson is always busy cleaning. If two of us were to go there, we could boost some food for the Preacher. And it’s real close to the camp. It wouldn’t take long to get back and feed him. Whaddya think?”

Johnny looked at Billy for a moment as if in deep thought. “Billy, you’re right, we have to do something, but let’s wait until we try getting something from the folks at the coffee shop, okay?”
As they approached Amelia’s store, Luis, her husband came out and met them, “Get out of here or I’ll call the cops. All you tramps keep bothering our customers. Then they get mad and don’t buy anything. You cabrones go somewhere else and beg. You’re bad for business.”

The two men turned and walked off, their shoulders hunched, wearied heads hanging. They began walking toward the city center. Johnny thought it over before deciding that they had no choice. They would have to try and steal some food from the Arab’s convenience store after all. Johnny had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. Stealing was something he had been able to avoid since he started living on the streets eight years ago. When he was released from the service, he promised himself that he would live a better life. A life that would make his parents proud. He remembered his days in ‘Nam and the things he had done. They were the nightmares that tortured his life. His parents had raised him to be an honorable man. “Juanito, your soul is the last thing you will have in this life,” they would say, “so protect it from the evils of the world.” And, “Be good, mijo,” they would say, “and God will keep you safe.” If they only knew the evils he had committed.

He had volunteered for the Army right after High School and was sent to Vietnam immediately after training. He hadn’t led a sheltered life, but when he first saw a prisoner being questioned, the brutality was more than he had imagined. The methods used by the interrogators caused him to go outside and vomit. Within a few months, Johnny was helping. He didn’t enjoy the experience but he became inured to it. Soon he was assigned to a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol team. The three man teams would go out into enemy territory for weeks at a time. It was there that he learned to live off the land by stealing and killing without remorse, and lost his humanity in the process.

“Look, Billy, I’m quicker with my hands,” Johnny said as if he was soliciting an opinion from Billy, “so do you think, maybe, I should go grab something? You get him away from the front of the shop and I’ll do it.”

“Okay, Johnny, I’ll go to the back of the store and do something to make him come to me. Don’t worry, I’ll do a good job.”

The palms of his hands sweating, Johnny worried over what would happen if they were caught. If they went to jail they would at least have food and a bed, but what would happen to the Preacher. In the condition he was in now, he would not be able to take care of himself. Johnny was afraid he would die if Billy and he failed and the Arab turned them over to the cops. He felt an oppressive weight begin to force itself on him, threatening to overwhelm him.

When they reached the store, they waited outside until they saw that the Arab had no more customers. Billy went in first. He went to the back of the store near the coolers where the beer and wine was stored. After waiting a few minutes, Johnny followed him inside and began looking on the shelves at the front of the store where the breads and dry foodstuffs were kept. The Arab was sitting on a stool behind the counter, reading a newspaper while he kept an eye on Billy through the large mirror that hung at the rear corner of the store. It looked as if he was totally ignoring Johnny. Suddenly, Billy turned his back to the mirror and opened his coat wide. The Arab jumped up and hurried toward the back. Johnny used the opportunity to shove a loaf of bread and a bag of beans under his jacket. He then went to the cold case by the front door and took a package of lunch meat and put it in his jacket pocket. At that moment, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He froze.

“Stop!” the Arab shouted.

As Johnny turned he saw Billy come up behind the Arab and hit him with a bottle. It wasn’t like in the movies. The Arab didn’t fall, unconscious. He just wheeled around and threw a punch at Billy. Johnny made a grab for the Arab but missed. The Arab ran to the counter, pushed a button beside the register and picked up a sawed off pool cue. The Arab turned and swung the cue at Billy. Billy ducked out of the way and hit him with the bottle again. This time the Arab did go down. He fell on his back. Johnny jumped on the Arab, straddled him and began hitting him with his fists. It was ‘Nam all over again. This wasn’t some store clerk, this was Charlie. And it was kill or be killed. He took the K-bar from the scabbard in his boot and stabbed the Arab just as he had learned in the Army. Under the sternum and up into his heart. The Arab made a guttural sound and went limp as the last breath left his body.

Suddenly, he was aware of Billy shaking him and the Arab lying there, lifeless eyes fixed on nothing. “Johnny, what did you do?” Billy’s face was contorted with shock and fear. “Let’s get out of here,” he said in a loud whisper.

The feeling of crushing defeat hit Johnny, taking him to the point of tears. How could this have happened? How could he live with himself after this? What would happen to him? What would happen to Billy? What would become of the Preacher? The old man wouldn’t survive if they didn’t get back to help him. It was his fault for not keeping the monster at bay. For letting it get the best of him. Then he remembered, the Arab had hit the alarm button. The police would be here soon.

Johnny stood and ran from the store with Billy at his heels. As the two frightened men went around the corner to Washington Street, he heard sirens begin to wail in the distance. They began making their way to the park entrance about a half mile away. Everything became a kaleidoscope of blurred color and sound. Johnny and Billy arrived at the park entrance and entered running as fast as they could toward the camp. As they turned the final bend in the trail, they saw a police car parked on the trail above the camp and a policeman standing at the open driver’s door. The officer must have guessed where they would come, and he was waiting. Waiting to arrest them. Waiting to keep them from helping the Preacher.

When the officer saw them, he yelled something as he pulled his pistol from the holster. The first bullet hit Johnny in the left side of his abdomen just below the ribs. The second hit him in the throat and continued until it hit the cervical column and he fell to the trail. Billy was screaming as he ran. Not words, just a primal scream. The policeman fired at Billy. The bullet passed through his right eye and killed him instantly.

Johnny lay on the ground, eyes open, staring at the sky. He heard a gurgling sound coming from somewhere. It took a moment to realize that it came from him. The edges of his vision darkened and he realized that he was dying. Instead of fear, the knowledge set him free. Free from all those demons that had plagued him these last ten years. He welcomed death. His last thought was “Gracias, Dios, peace at last.”

                                *                                  *                                  *

            The young officer leaned against the fender of his radio car. He was puffing a cigarette with trembling fingers as he tried to explain the circumstances of the shooting to his sergeant. “I don’t know how the hell it happened, Sarge,” he said as he took a drag, “I just saw these two guys running at me from over there.” He pointed at the bend in the trail, “the shorter one had a big knife in his right hand. There was blood all over his hands and shirt front. At first, I thought that he had cut himself. I ordered them to freeze but they just kept coming, so I fired. I hit the guy with the knife twice and he went down. The bigger one was screaming. Not words, just screaming like some wild animal and he kept running at me. I had no doubt that he was coming to hurt me, so I fired and he went down.” He looked down at the ground as he shook his head, tears welling in his eyes.

The sergeant put his hand on the officers shoulder, “Look, Travis, everything is going to be okay. It’s normal to be shaken, for Christ sake, you just shot someone. If you didn’t have some reservations, if you weren’t concerned, I would be worried about you. Try to remember that if you hadn’t reacted, it would be you lying there. These are the guys that killed Ali, the clerk at the convenience store on Jefferson and Washington. They would have killed you, too.”

He paused then added, “by the way, how did you end up here? How did you know? There wasn’t time for a broadcast about the robbery.”

The officer just shook his head as he looked at his feet, “one of the doctors from Memorial Hospital was jogging the river trail and saw someone lying under a lean-to. He was pissed about all the homeless in the park. He ran up to the entrance just as I was passing and flagged me down. He came along to show me where the guy was. When we got here and checked it out, we found that he was dead. The doctor said it was natural causes and stayed with him while I came here to call for the coroner on the radio. I had just opened the door when these guys showed up and everything happened.”

The sergeant looked around, “three damn people, maybe a fourth, are dead for no good reason. What in the hell caused all of this?”

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With Inconstant Mind

by Ned Rodriguez

(Originally Published in Journeys V)

Thou canst not vex me with inconstant mind,
Since that my life on thy revolt doth lie.

–William Shakespeare, Sonnet 92

It was early afternoon when he stepped down from the Greyhound onto the gravel apron across from the drive. The farmhouse sat on a rise about a quarter of a mile away silhouetted against the high Kansas sky. A large sycamore sat to the right in a recently plowed field, its thick, leafy branches, the only source of shade within miles. Before he began his walk, he kneaded and rubbed the knee and calf of his bad leg to alleviate the cramp caused by the long bus ride. Small puffs of dust kicked up from the heels and toes of his scuffed brown brogues as he began to limp up the rutted drive to the house where he had spent his childhood. A worn knapsack sagged over the back of his tired brown suit coat. His hair, a recently cut sandy blond, was covered by a battered grey fedora. He leaned heavily on an old, gnarled oak branch he was using as a walking stick. Short and slight, he looked older than his thirty years. An ancient guitar case hung loosely in his right hand, moving in time to the gentle rhythm of his stuttered gait.

He passed an old, rusting ’49 Chevy pickup parked beside the colorless, two-story farmhouse as he approached the wraparound porch. His brother-in-law, Mort, dressed in sweat soaked chambray shirt and jeans sat on the glider by the open front door. He was a tall, lean man in his forties. His salt and pepper hair, matted with the ring of a recently worn hat, was cut short with no sideburns. There were vestiges of dried sweat on the forehead and temples of his long, lined face. He held a tall, sweating glass of sweet tea in his calloused hand. Eddie could just hear Clara’s voice from inside the house singing one of her favorite hymns.

“Been a while.” Mort didn’t blink when he saw him.

“Yeah, near six years,” Eddie’s voice was quiet and submissive. “That sweet tea?”

“Clara, you best get out here,” Mort called out over his shoulder into the house, ”… and bring another tea. Edward’s come to visit,” he added as he turned back to Eddie with a quiet smile.

His sister, ten years older than he, came to the door, an old blue apron and a dark, formless house dress covering her small, stubby body. She wore her hair, the color of weathered wood, in a bun. Clara peered at him through the screen with that stern look that had been her essence as long as he could remember. Without saying a word, she disappeared back into the darkness of the house.

Eddie sat on the top stair. “I’m just passing through, Mort. I was hoping Clara might let me spend the night in the barn.”

“You know how your sister is, you’re gonna have to ask her your own self. Me, I kind of like having you around”

Clara came out with a small glass of tea, without ice. “You planning on being here long?” she asked dourly as she extended the tea toward him.

“I was just saying to Mort, I’d like to spend a night or two in the barn if you’ll let me.”

“Edward, Daddy left the farm to both of us. You can take your old room for as long as you want but remember, even if Mother’s passed, we still follow her rules.” The scowl that covered her face showed she hadn’t forgotten.

It had always been a strange house, Daddy and Mother, never Momma, never Father. He could still remember Daddy working in the fields or around the house, quiet but always having time for Clara and him. Daddy wasn’t a fun man, just a good man; a reliable man; an honest man. Mother, on the other hand, was fire and brimstone. The church was everything. And woe onto anyone she felt was a transgressor. Even the preacher couldn’t soften her. Then one day, Daddy stopped the tractor by the sycamore and just sat at the wheel until Eddie realized that something was wrong. By the time he got to him, Daddy was gone, and Mothers’ rules became the only rules. Strictly enforced. No drinking; grace before meals; family Bible readings in the evening; no “Devils Music”; altogether a joyless house. Clara was her Mother’s daughter alright. “I can do most of that, Clara, but I need to pick the guitar. It’s what keeps me going, what keeps me sane. I’ll stay in the barn, and play out there if that’s okay.”

“Suit yourself. As long as I don’t have to hear it. Supper is at five like always.” Her pursed lips formed a tight line as she went back into the house and began her housework again. This time without the singing.

“How did you come by that limp?” Mort stared off to the horizon as he spoke.

Eddie looked down at his leg, “I got that after the trial, just before they transferred me to State Prison. I was mad at everything that had happened and acted up. Some guard hit me across the knee with his night stick. Busted it up pretty bad. Taught me a lesson.”

“How was it at Lansing?”

Eddie paused before he answered, “Prison is never good, Mort. It’s never easy, but I kept my nose clean, kept to the rules, and they let me out on parole.”

“I wanted to visit, but Clara wouldn’t have been happy. She isn’t the most forgiving person in the world.” Mort shook his head. “We turned your Daddy’s tool room into a bunk house when we had a hired man. It’s comfortable out there. I use it every once in a while, when I need a little quiet.”

“Thanks, Mort. And don’t worry. I won’t cause any trouble, I’m going to try and get my thoughts together. Maybe I can make some sense of what happened. I just want to get on with my life.”

When they went in for supper, Clara had set Eddie’s place at the far end of table, away from Mort and her. She served the meatloaf, mashed potatoes and string beans boiled to a soft greyish green, on the blue and white Royal Danish, passing the filled plates first to Mort and then Eddie. Except for grace, during which she seemed to include everyone except Eddie, she remained silent and withdrawn during the entire meal.

“You ever going to talk to us, Clara,” Mort chided.

Her jaw clenched, she looked at Mort, “I am not. You two go on and talk or do whatever. I’m just eating.”

“Look, Clara,” Eddie began, “I’m not here to cause trouble. I just want to spend some time getting my life in order. I was telling Mort…”

“I don’t want to hear what you were telling Morten or what you have to say. Spend however long you want here, doing whatever you think you have to do, but I will not be a part of it.” Clara’s voice was like the cawing of the crows that roosted in the sycamore.

“Clara,” Mort began, but Clara snapped her head to glare at him.

The rest of the meal was held in a crushing silence. At the end, when she began to clear the table, Eddie stopped her, “I’m used to this Clara, I’ll do it.”

“I’ll do this, Edward. You never helped before, there’s no reason why you should start now,” Clara’s cold stare caused Eddie to stop as he shook his head slightly.

Mort placed his finger lightly on her lips, “It’s all right Clara. I can help Edward and that way, he and I can talk.”

She looked at the men before turning her back to Eddie and moving to the parlor, saying in a tight, cramped voice, “I’ll be in here. Reading the Book.”

Both men went out to the porch after cleaning up. Eddie sat on the rocker. The sun was hanging low in the west, the sky brilliant with colors ranging from soft, pastel yellows to an intense purple. The shadow of the sycamore was marching noiselessly toward them. Mort was sitting on the glider again, whittling on a small block of wood. Clara had taught him well, there was a sheet of newspaper on the floor between his feet to catch the shavings.

“What are you going to be doing when you leave, Edward?”

“I’m supposed to check into the parole office in Kansas City on Monday.” He answered quietly.

After a short time, Eddie looked at the other man, “Mort, was it Mother or Clara that turned me in?” His voice was almost a whisper.

“Sorry, Edward, I don’t know. But if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.” He looked at him with that same gentle but firm stare he always used.

Eddie knew that Mort wouldn’t tell him, just as he knew that if he asked, Clara would say that she had called the police. Whether it was true or not. Whatever the truth, he had been accused and convicted of stealing the money.

Every year, when the Department of Agriculture farm subsidy check came, Mother would take a portion and keep it at home in cash. That day, Mother and Clara had gone to town with Mort while Eddie remained at home. When they returned, Mother found that the money was missing and that Eddie had gone to Salina to “hang around with his no account friends”.

Actually, Eddie had gone to Salina for an audition with R. T. Davis. After his band’s lead guitarist, Lincoln Boggs, suffered a fatal overdose, R T was desperate for someone good enough to take his place because he had a recording date in Denver in just two days. R T was in Salina visiting his family when he put out the call to the union for a possible replacement. Eddie went as soon as he heard the news from his old teacher. R T had liked what he heard and hired him. Eddie was supposed to go home, pack and meet the band in Denver the next morning for the recording session. Eddie was hyped. He was on his way to the big time. When he returned home, the deputies were waiting. No one, family or cops, would believe him when he denied doing it. After they arrested him, they found the guitar in his car, and he couldn’t prove where he got the money to buy it. The 1956 Les Paul Special had cost him the five grand he had spent years saving for in secret. He was supposed to be at the studio the next morning for his big break. Instead, he went to jail and didn’t breathe free air again until this morning.

Eddie stood up and leaned against the railing, “Mort, I came all the way back to Phillipsburg to let you both know that I’m going back to playing in the clubs.” Eddie looked off into the distance as he gathered his words, the words he had practiced. “I know that Mother and Clara wouldn’t be happy until I gave it all up, the music, the clubs and everything. That they wanted me to go back to church,”

He paused before he continued, “I can’t do that. I met this man, an ex-con. He came to talk to a work shop I belonged to at Lansing. He lived a violent life, from boy to man, until he married some woman from China. Says he’s a Buddhist now, and it’s made him the man he didn’t know he could be, calm and happy. He told us that we can’t find peace unless we forgive and get on with our lives. Somehow, what he said made sense. Made me feel comforted sort of. I don’t know, but I believe him, so that’s why I came by.”

Mort turned toward him, his head canted slightly, “You really plan to forgive your Mother and Clara?”

“I’ve already done it. I came here to tell Clara and ask her to forgive me for the way I’ve felt all these years.”

Mort sat silent, eyes cast downward toward the wood in his hand, “What are you going to do when you get to Kansas City?” Mort asked absently. “You got a place to stay? What about a job?”

“Yeah, the parole office got me a place and renewed my union membership. They said it’s okay if I work at the clubs, as long as I report to them, keep my nose clean and follow all their rules.”

Mort looked at him in silence for a while longer. “You know, Eddie, sometimes a man fools himself,” he was quiet and still as he spoke, “He tries to convince himself that things aren’t his business and, so, he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t get involved because it’s easier than doing the right thing. But actually, all that does is make him a coward.”

Eddie, brow furrowed, squinted slightly as he looked at Mort. “I don’t know what you mean, Mort.”

Mort stood up and went into the house as he said, “Wait here.”

A few minutes later he returned with Clara in tow. “I want to say this in front of Edward, Clara. You’re going to have to tell him. He deserves to know, and if you don’t tell him, I will.”

Clara’s mouth set so that her lips were barely visible. Her eyes locked on Mort before she answered in a strangled voice, “Morten, we should go inside and talk of this together.”

“No, like I said, tell him or I will.” He was quiet but firm.

Clara looked at Mort for a long time before turning to Eddie. Her face slowly slackened, her mouth relaxed, and her shoulders moved forward slightly. She whispered, “She only did it because she thought it would do you good.”

“Tell him all of it, Clara.” Mort was now more forceful than Eddie had ever seen him.

Clara’s eyes went first to Mort and then to Eddie, “After you went to prison, Mother found the money. It had fallen behind the filing cabinet, but she said that it was the Lords’ will. That you had to be punished or you would be lost forever. She hoped that prison life would make you go back to God. She was doing what any good Christian would do for a sinner. That the Redeemer would only save you if you sought Him and renounced your transgressions.”

Eddie pushed away from the railing, standing rigidly as his hands clenched into fists, the rising anger tightening his throat. Then suddenly, a primal scream seemed to envelop them all as Eddie threw his head back with his mouth wide open and tears flooded from his eyes.

“Don’t you understand? She did it for you, for your soul. She was trying to rescue you from everlasting Hell.” Clara was standing there, looking at him with her arms wrapped tightly around herself.

Eddie’s knees almost buckled at the shock of what Clara told him, “Do you have any idea what you and Mother put me through? The horrors. How can you blaspheme God like that? My first day in prison, I was gang raped by five or six men. They beat me and used me for hours. For all the time I was there, I was constantly being threatened. I was treated like an animal by the guards and the inmates. I have seen men maimed or killed for nothing. Men prey on other men, just to show the power they hold.

You wanted to rescue me from Hell. Are you out of your mind? You put me in Hell. And I was there until this morning.”

Eddie grasped the railing as a terrifying howl of a rent soul burst from his mouth again. Tears came pouring from his eyes, “My God, please help me understand. How could you do this? How could she do this,” his crying was coming from some deep hole within him.

Clara, with a tremor in her voice, said “Edward, stop. Whatever you went through, we did it for you. For your soul.”

Suddenly Clara’s chin fell to her breast and her shoulders slumped. A mewling groan broke from her lips, tears began pouring from her eyes and mucous snaked it’s way out of her nose, “God, what did we do? Please, Edward. Oh, God, oh God, why did I go along with Mother? Edward, I really and truly am sorry.”

Her wailing was muffled as she buried her face into Mort’s shoulder. More gently than Eddie had ever known him to be, Mort took a handkerchief from his pocket and began wiping her face as he put his arm around her, “Not you, we. You and me, we’re to blame.” Mort shushed her in a whisper. He rocked Clara as if comforting a child, “All we can do now is try what we can to fix things.”

“What!” Still unsteady, Eddie supported himself by holding on to the post beside the steps of the porch with both arms, “How are you going to fix this? How could you have done this to me?” His eyes were still streaming and his face was contorted. “This was my mother, my family, all of you, that made it so I had to stay in that place. My God! Do you know what it was like in there, what kind of hell I went through. And it was all for nothing, all for nothing.” His voice diminished to a hoarse whisper.

Mort went to Eddie and put his hand lightly on his chest, “It was important that you know the truth. What we did to you was horrific. If it were me, I don’t know that I would be able to forgive anyone, but you’re going to have to accept it happened and move on. Don’t forget what that man told you. I hope that you can see that it’s important, not for us but for you, to find a way to forgive. You can’t be happy until you can put this behind you.”

“Mort, I have to get out of here” he said. His chest felt as if it were being crushed. His throat was so tight he had trouble breathing. His hands clenched so tightly his knuckles had turned white, “This is too much to think about. I do believe what he told me, and I do believe I have to forgive, but I can’t right now. I’ve just got to go somewhere and think.”

“Edward, I’m glad you know what happened. I’m just as much to blame, probably more. I should have said or done something a long time ago. Maybe, after some thought you’ll truly be able to forgive us.” Mort looked at Clara and then back to Eddie, “I know we don’t deserve it, but, like I said, I think that man told you a truth. I don’t know if I could forgive something like this if it happened to me, but I think the man was right. It will set you free.”

“Mort, will you give me a ride into to town?” Eddie, with shoulders drooped and head hanging low, began descending the steps to the yard, “I’ve just got to get out of here. I’ll take the bus to K. C. tomorrow early.”

“Alright, Edward, I’ll do anything you want,” Mort put his hand on Eddie’s shoulder, “but if you would rather, we can leave for Kansas City tonight. I’ll take you now. I’ll stay with you and come Monday, we can go to the parole office and see if they can help us figure out what we can do to fix this. Just say the word.”

Eddie just nodded, “Okay, Mort, I think it would be a good idea if we went now. I wouldn’t be able to stay by myself,” he whispered. Without raising his head or looking at either of them, he added, “What happens if they want to press charges on someone? How does that get fixed?”

Mort turned to Clara, “You go see Edward’s lawyer tomorrow, Clara and explain what happened.” Turning to Eddie, “If charges are going to be filed on us, there is nothing we can do. We have to accept whatever happens.”

Clara, still sobbing, nodded yes.

Mort took his hat and truck keys from the hook inside the front door as he put his hand softly on Eddie’s shoulder, “Alright then, grab your things, Edward.”

The men entered the truck and drove off. Clara, her hands clasped as if in prayer, leaned against the rail and watched the twin red lights bounce up and down, and side to side down the rutted drive to the interstate.

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Writer’s Corner: Haiku

By Helen McCarthy

The simple definition is that haiku is a poem of 3 lines consisting of 5-7-5 syllable written in plain language capturing a moment, movement in nature. But beneath this simplicity is a rich history and complex meaning.

The haiku can trace its origins to 7th century Japan. Poetry and lyrical songs make up the fabric of the Japanese culture. Royal courts had poets and song writers as part of their entourage with the renga being a popular form of poetry. This was a long poem in which many poets met together and added verses.

The gathering of poets writing a renga was held in a sacred place like a temple. At the beginning of the poem, the poets thanked their host, honored the place they were gathered and paid homage to the spirits within. The poets would each contribute a verse or verses to the renga. Part of the renga included the hokku which was considered the most important verse or to put it in contemporary terms, the “meat” of the poem.

When parlor games became popular among the people, the renga was part this entertainment. However, the classical traditions were eventually ignored and the renga was cartoonish and often bawdy.

Then in the 17 the century Japanese Master Matsunaga Teitaku wanted the renga to ruturn to its classical roots and taught his students in the old traditions. Among those students was Matsuo Basho who would become the foremost haiku poet. He took the hokku again, an important part of the renga, and turned it into the shorter form which became known as the haiku. Following Basho would come renown poets Yosa Buson in the 18th century and and Kobayashi Issa from the 19th century.

Interestingly, the haiku did not become well known in the United States until the 1950’s. Some well-known writers however, were familiar with it such as Alan Ginsberg and Carl Sandberg. Eventually the haiku influenced the Beat Poets.

Today, the haiku is well known with worldwide haiku societies and even haiku twitters where you can receive daily haikus.

There’s a company in Seattle called Haiku that sells haiku handbags which they describe as… “beautiful handbags that function poetically and reflect our need for balance and well-being.” If they are talking about how their product reflects the poetry of haiku, they have it all wrong. Well-being is not what the haiku is about.

What follows are haiku basics in which you will see that the Haiku is more complex than a feel good feeling. The moment in Nature that the poet describes may create a beautiful scene for the reader yet it also has meaning beyond the imagery.

* * *

Haiku Basics

It’s a poem of 3 lines with a 5-7-5 scheme. The first line has 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllables, and the last line 5 syllables.

The haiku uses simple language capturing a moment, movement, or full experience in Nature.

It is attentive to time, place and season.

With the seasons there is a sense of change, the transience of life and exposure to the elements (this especially reflected when writing of snow)

The beginning of traditional haiku’s first level is its location in Nature.

The next is the Buddhist reflection on Nature. In the Buddhist religion there is no creator-being. In Buddhist cosmetology there is no higher meaning to which Nature refers.

This the Buddhist view of Nature which is reflected in the haiku:

  • Nature is transient
  • Nature is contingent
  • There is suffering

When writing a haiku poem, imagine you are holding a camera and capturing a moment in time which is what we do when we take pictures—capture a moment.Your observation is that moment and your words are the “click” expressing that moment.

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Summer Meetings and Events

Brea Library Summer Reading Program: Adults, teens, kids. Get a free book for signing up. Read and win prizes. Ends August 1.

Writer’s Meeting: Saturday, July 11*, 2015 1:30-3:30. Brea Library. Writer’s Corner, Critiques, Free Write. *Moved to second Saturday due to holiday.

Writer’s Forum: Saturday, July 18, 2015, 1:30-3:30. I Knead Love. Brainstorm and Hang out.

Writer’s Meeting: Saturday, August 1, 2015, Brea Library. Writer’s Corner, Critiques, Free Write.

Writer’s Forum: Saturday, August 15, 2015, 1:30-3:30. I Knead Love. Brainstorm and Hang out.

Author’s Visit: Rebecca Lang (club member) and Michelle Knowlden. Saturday, August 22, 2015, 11:00AM. Brea Library. Topic: “Putting the Fantasy in Mystery and the Mystery in Fantasy.”

Note: This is Becky, and I had a question for everyone. I wanted to host a workshop on Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month): How to Prepare for it and Win! Even for those who don’t want to do Nanowrimo, it’s a good opportunity to learn brainstorming, organization, and time management. Ned suggested that I take over the September Writer’s Forum at I Knead Love. What do you think? I could also find a separate September weekend to host the event.

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Meeting for May 2nd

By Rebecca Lang

Today our group met at the library as usual for our first Saturday meeting of the month. But things didn’t go as planned. With our agenda to full and our critiques too few, we decided to mix it up and spend the meeting brainstorming and planning.

Writer’s Corner: Literary Orange

Helen opened up the meeting with a report on Literary Orange. There were two keynote speakers, one eloquent and one funny. She went to a panel on historical fiction and a panel on romance (the two genres she writes). According to the historical fiction panel, there were two points of view about the genre: those who said facts were most important and that everything had to be accurate, and those who said it was fiction and that facts could be tweaked to suit the story. The panel also noted that sales of historical fiction were dropping because most of the land had already been explored, which led to a rise in SF/ Fantasy.

When she came to Literary Orange, Helen came in with the question: “Do I want to be a serious writer or not?” For her, the most important thing she gained from the experience was the energy that comes from a large gathering of people who love to read and write. 

Helen bought two books: A Star for Mrs. Blake, a historical fiction about mothers who took a trip overseas to mourn their sons who died on foriegn soil during the war, and Pen on Fire, a nonfiction book about how to write even when busy.


By a stroke of fate, Ned happened to buy a membership to the Southern California Writers and he was glad he did. He went to the meeting and found it packed with published writers and great information. Unfortunately, it happens to meet at the same time as our Writer’s Forum (the third Saturday of the month), but if a particular topic looks interesting, it might be worth going to.

Rita also discovered Book Bub, a website that offers special discounts on books in whatever genre you like to read. They even send emails with daily deals.

New Events for Our Club?

Here the meeting veered off-topic, as we ditched the critiques and began talking about new writing events for our club to try. I’m going to break the third wall here and tell you that I, personally, was very excited about the ideas that author Lauren Christopher talked about in the author visit. We began to rift off that.

  • Writing Session

What: Everybody gets together and writes. We try different methods. For example: White Out–everyone sets their document’s text to white and writes blind. Another example: Word Sprint–everyone completes for highest word count in ten-minute bursts.

Why: Some people like the energy of writing in a big group. For some people, being in a group helps their discipline. It’s also a good way of trying out new writing methods.

When: July might be a good time. It could replace our usual Writer’s Forum.

  • Critique Partners

What: Rather than having to worry about the writing of the whole group, partners within the group show each other their manuscripts and chapters.

Why: It’s hard to get a critique on the whole work, if we keep breaking it up, piece by piece. A partner might offer more depth. It might be easier to share rough work. It’s a good way of keeping each other accountable.

When: Summer might work.

  • Brainstorming Session

What: The group meets together for an all-day brainstorming party.

Why: Our Writer’s Forum work like this, wherein we throw out ideas and bounce them off each other, but this would be a larger version of that event. We also might try out new types of brainstorming.

When: October. November is Nanonwrimo, so if we all brainstorm together beforehand, more people might be willing to take the plunge and try writing a novel in a month.

Launch Party–Volunteers Needed!

Rebecca Lang is having a launch party for her first novel, The Changelings (illustrated by Kaleo Welborn). The party will take place at Canyon Hills Library on June 20, 2015 from 2:00-3:30. It will include trivia, a reading, a raffle and yummy treats.

We need volunteers to greet, clean up, and act as MC. We’re also looking for people to bring light snacks for the party’s refreshments. Interested? Contact Becky, Helen, or Kaleo.

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Upcoming May Events

Saturday, May 2

  • 11:00 AM–Brea Library: Author Visit by Lauren Christopher
  • 1:30 PM–Brea Library: Brea Library Writer’s Group Meeting. (We may meet early to go to the Lauren Christopher visit and have lunch in between.) Critiques and News.

Saturday, May 16

  • 1:30 AM–I Knead Love: Writer’s Forum. Brainstorming, Chatting, and Cookies.

Saturday, May 30

  • 11:00 AM–Brea Library: Author Visit by DP Lyle and Joan Burke. They will be doing a forensic science Q and A. 
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Writer’s Corner: Christopher Lynch on Self-Publishing

By Nina Sights

On February 22, 2015, one of our new members, attended a Self-Publishing Seminar by Christopher Lynch at the Cerritos Library. She was kind enough to take notes and present them to us for our March’s Writer’s Corner.

Things Christopher Lynch Likes about Self-Publishing

  • You can print in a single day
  • You can set your own price
  • Make more money by doing it yourself

Things He Didn’t Like About Self-Publishing

  • NYT and other big reviewers won’t review you
  • You have to pay for everything
  • You have to keep track of expenses

Three Things You Must Do

  • Finish Your Manuscript 
  • Revise It
  • Have it Professionally Edited

Putting Together an EBook
For Editing he recommends EBook Editing Services

  • Website: http://www.ebookeditingservices.com/index.html
  • It’s an American Company
  • Phone service and email
  • They edit for grammar/spelling/continuity errors
  • They charge .0095 cents/word, so for 50,000 words = $475.00
  • Turnaround 10 biz days

For Cover Design he recommends Digital Donna

  • Website: http://digitaldonna.com/
  • Send photos to her and she tweaks them
  • She charges $100.00 for the Front Cover only and $125.00 Front, Rear and Spine

For Formatting he recommends Iron Horse

  • Website: http://ironhorseformatting.com/
  • For 45,000 words, the cost is $40.00
  • They take care of extras, eg. table of contents, link to website, etc. all included in the $40.00 price
  • Sends in PDF, Word, Mobi, all file types for same price

POD (Print on Demand)

For Editing, Formating, and Cover Design, he recommends the Same as Above

  • However, the Cover Design for POD is dependent on page count and it’s CRITICAL it’s correct.
  • You will need a Front, Rear, Spine Cover

For IBSN and Barcode he recommends Bowkers

Business Issues

  • You will need a seller’s permit and certificate of resale in order to sell your books yourself
  • You will need a city business lisence (not a DBA)
  • You will have to market yourself (that’s why he does these presentations)
  • Get an email list
  • Never put song lyrics in your book (you will have to pay for them)
  • You need written permission to include people’s real names in your book

Other Good Writers Websites

The Passive Voice: A Lawyer’s Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

Writer Beware: The Blog

  • Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news and commentary, and a focus on the weird and wacky things that happen at the fringes of the publishing world.”
  • http://accrispin.blogspot.com
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