You Can’t Always Get What You Want?

“Well, it appears that there is nothing distinctive. Perhaps…” Clara Hathaway’s voice trailed off as if she were deep in thought. She fanned herself absentmindedly with the real estate brochure. “…Perhaps we could build?”

Clive Greene sighed. They were sitting in the back of Staley’s Store. The store was actually more or less a diner. But it did carry some groceries. It had a delicatessen counter and an ice cream bar. Clive thought their coffee was the best he’d had, mainly because it was still percolated. The real reason they were at Staley’s though, was because it was centerally located. He had driven Ms. Hathaway and her grandson all over the valley and had not been able to show her anything that might make her happy. Besides, it was lunchtime and he was hungry.

Clara Hathaway was the epitome of a spoiled rich woman. Clarence, his boss, had told him that Ms. Hathaway was the widow of Paul Tatsuo Hathaway. So she had money with a bold, italic capital M. But she was not the woman he’d expected. What made it so futile was that the house she wanted was not for herself, but for her son and her grandson. He looked at the six year old boy who was neatly folding real estate brochures into various paper airplanes. So far, he had not thrown any.

Staley’s was, apparently, a hit. The boy loved the juicy mess of a hamburger and the chocolate sundae. “Gran-Clare, it’s the best burger I’ve ever had.” He was a cute, polite boy, obviously wanting to go outside and run—or play in PayDirt Creek. Gran-Clare, however, would not let that happen today. Clive smiled again as he thought about how the boy had reacted to the little waterfall at the cabin in the forest just up the road. For a moment he thought the boy would jump into the pool at the bottom of the falls.

“Mr. Greene, what about that? Is there a place where we could build?” For some unstated reason, Clara wanted a place in this valley. She had insisted on Beaver Ridge Village. He had told her there was nothing like what she wanted. But she insisted on seeing the valley. Clara’s question might be the answer. He held up one finger and touched his lips, “Maybe…” Oh, yes, she could build something. But not what she wanted. What she wanted, apparently, was a Beverly Hills mansion that looked like a log cabin tucked neatly in a cove at the bottom of a waterfall on top of a mountain with a great view. He had tried to explain that waterfalls do not exist on top of mountains, thus she wanted a cove on top of a mountain. That was not going to happen, either. He said nothing, hoping this impossible client would decide to back to Rockbrough.

“Gran-Clare,” Paul Hathaway III asked pleasantly, “could we go back and see that little waterfall? I know you said the cabin was not right, but I’d like to see the waterfall again.”

Clara Hathaway smiled almost wickedly at Clive and asked, “Would you mind letting the boy see that place again. He seems to really like it.” She paused in thought a moment and then asked further, “Maybe we could tear the cabin down and build a nice cottage on that site?”

Clive sighed again. “Well,” he said, “If you could find a way around the deed restrictions. That whole section is inside the national forest. The Harrison family kept ownership, but, as I told you, placed restrictions on the land and the cabins to help protect the environment. You cannot tear down or modify that cabin. It has to be maintained and preserved as it was when Amos Harrison lived there. It would be a costly court battle and, even if you won, remember that the only view is of the little village. You can’t see a sunrise or sunset.”

“Well, Mr. Greene, I am not sure you want to sell anything. Clarence told me you were his best agent. But you constantly tell me why I can’t buy what I want. What about up there?” He had tried to avoid any of the McQuillan property, but Clara was tapping the map he had placed on the table. She was pointing to the top of Watson’s Roost, the highest point in the area.

“We can ask. The McQuillan clan is very unlikely to sell. But we can ask.” Clive paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and then offered a last ditch proposal, “May I take you to another part of the valley? I’d like to show you something if you think you’d like to build.” As he talked, Clive spread out the map of Beaver Ridge Village and the surrounding area. He pointed to the place he was describing as he said, “The Smith’s have sold much of their old farm, turning it into a subdivision called “The Meadows” but it’s all what we call low-ground. They have not even tried to sell the higher land. It’s over on the eastern side of the valley. They call it ‘Backside Ridge’ but if you bought it, you could name it whatever you wanted. May I take you over there and let you see what you can? It’s not developed at all. There’s no road up to the top, but you can see the ridge line from the street below it. Now, I have no knowledge of a waterfall in that area, but you will have a view from the east sweeping north and ending in the southwest. I have not been up there, but if there is any place in this valley that would meet most of your desires, it would have to be that ridge up above The Meadows.”

Clara nodded her head and said, “Well, we have a bit more time. But first, could we go back by that little cabin near the waterfall. We both want to see it again. Even if we can’t build there, we’d like to look at it one more time. It’s such a beautiful place.”

Clive agreed, knowing that the ‘we’ actually meant the boy. So they headed back up Beaver Ridge Road. When they got there, Paul jumped out of the car and headed straight for the waterfall. Clive noticed that he was carrying his paper airplanes. When he and Clara caught up with the boy, he was standing on a rock at the edge of the little creek, carefully placing his folded creations in the water. Clive laughed out loud. They were not airplanes, they were boats. Paul placed the first one in the water and then jumped off the rock onto the dry bank and ran downstream a few yards to a place where he could watch the paper boat flow over the falls. He launched another boat and then turned to his grandmother, saying, “I’m going to put the last one in below the falls. It will float all the way down to the sea!”

Clive just could not say anything about the paper boats being litter in the eyes of forest rangers. The boy was so very excited. And a couple of pieces of paper would not hurt that much, he hoped. As the third boat sailed out of sight, the boy climbed back up the trail to the top of the falls and said, “Okay. Let’s go see this next place.”

There was not a lot to see. The road passed through some suburban subdivisions and meadow-like fields. There was a big, fancy Methodist Church, but little else except for houses, many under construction. Clive had stopped near the church and pointed out that they were at a trail crossing. The Backside Ridge Trail went up toward the ridge on their left and down to the Cross Valley Trail on their right. He told them that the place he was thinking they might like was the top of the ridge. They could see it from almost anywhere in The Meadows.

As they turned left onto another street to get a bit closer to the ridge, Paul said, rather loudly, “Stop! Please stop!” Then he said “Look!” He was pointing at a cliff face. Suddenly, Clive saw what the boy was seeing. There was a long narrow waterfall. It started about a third of the way down from the top of the ridge and flowed over the cliff. It was a tiny stream, but it fell about a hundred feet.

Maybe, Clive thought, I am his best agent after all.

The Waterfall

 

I

Chaz swung his leg over the seat of his bike and pushed hard on the pedal. He was so glad to get out of the insanity of school. Some days it was okay. Today it was horrible. Rather than think about school, he decided to take the long way home. He headed up the Cross Valley Trail and stopped at Beaver Falls. He dismounted and sat for a while. Watching the water flow over the rocks helped him put the troubles of the day behind him.

Nothing, thMap of The Village of Beaver Ridge ought Chaz, was more fun than riding his bike through the hills and creeks of the valley where he lived. His mountain bike was a gift last Christmas. It was, he thought every time he rode it, probably the best gift he could ever hope to get in his whole life. After opening the gift: a new bike, new helmet, new bike shoes, new water-bladder and backpack, even a pair of waterproof socks! He vowed silently to obey his Dad, to do everything he could to make the man happy. But he felt that he could never make his Dad as happy as he was the next day when he went riding.

It was odd, Chaz thought, that just watching water fall over rocks would wash away the irritations of the day. As he started to climb over some rocks his feet began to slide in his shoes. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. Sometimes he had trouble keeping his feet securely placed on the bike pedals. His shoes seemed to have stretched over the past few months and were now too wide, his feet slid around in them, not matter how he laced them. Perhaps the pair he got were made wrong. Or maybe they just were not made for riding through creeks. He was going to have to get a new pair of bike shoes. One more reason today was horribly insane. He was going to have to go shopping. He just did not like shopping.

It wasn’t far up Beaver Creek Trail to the junction with PayDirt Trail, but it was an uphill challenge. Today it was even harder: he had to concentrate on pushing straight down on the pedals, otherwise, his foot would slide in his shoe. When he reached the main trail he realized he was hot, thirsty, irritated and quite a distance from home. Rather than try to ride straight home, he headed downhill to Staley’s Store. The ride down to Staley’s was not much fun today. Instead of feeling the excitement of riding downhill like a crazy gorilla, he had to ride slowly, like a novice biker.

He was hot, thirsty and frustrated when he reached Staley’s. Parking his bike in the bike rack, he went inside. Hank was behind the counter, making a milkshake. Martha gave him a glass and a pitcher of water. He drank three glasses before he felt reasonable.

Hank called out, “Hey Kermit” and held up the milkshake. A guy walked over from the grocery section and, saying thanks, took the shake. Kermit, milkshake in hand, sat at a nearby table. From the bike helmet and other paraphernalia it was obvious that he had been sitting there. Chaz wondered about the man. He had talked to the guy a few times. He was, probably, mid-twenties, medium height, fit but not muscular. Still, he looked like he could hold his own in a fight. He seemed self-assured, like he knew he could take care of himself. One odd thing, he lived in Rockborough but frequently drove up here to go bike riding. Suddenly he had an inspired thought. He looked at Kermit and said, “Hey, Kermit, may I ask you something a bit personal?”

Kermit looked at him. People sometimes teased him about his nickname and why he liked riding in the rain. But Chaz was a fellow biker. Besides, Chaz appeared to be bothered about something. So Kermit smiled politely and said, “Ask away. If I don’t like your question, I’ll flatten your tires.” Then he gave Chaz a big grin.

Chaz found the grin reassuring. He glanced at Hank and then pointed to his feet, saying, “I need some new bike shoes. These were new Christmas, but they’re wearing out. I started wearing skate shoes on easy rides; but for the tough stuff I need a good pair. I hate shopping. There’s a bike shop in The Plaza, but…” He stopped talking, not knowing what to say next.

“Get them online,” Kermit said bluntly. Chaz looked at him, unsure. Kermit smiled and offered, “I like Five-Tens. I order them online. Just surf around the Internet. Check out Five-Ten’s website, Amazon perhaps, but there’s others. Read some blogs. They’ll tell you what you need to know. They’ll be cheaper online and you’ll know you have what you want.” He paused in thought, then said, “Ask Doug. Or maybe Steve. I ride for fun, for play. They’re the serious riders. They’ll know.” He smiled and added, “You might try two pairs of socks so your feet won’t slip around.”

He stared at Kermit, wondering how the guy knew exactly what the problem was. Chaz thanked him for the advice and then thanked Martha for the water. As he mounted his bike he thought that Staley’s always cheered him; someone was always there to help, even if it was a bit weird.

The Internet was insane. He searched for about an hour each night for the next three nights. He read blogs. He read reviews. He found all sorts of information. And the more he read, the more confused he became. The pictures on his computer screen were helpful, but the reviews sometimes indicated that they were not totally accurate. Even more irritating was trying to find out how stiff the sole was. Bike shoes needed stiff, supportive soles. It looked like a trip to The Plaza. The problem was that he’d buy something just to end the shopping trip. That’s why he ended up with the shoes he was wearing now. Santa had put a handwritten coupon for one pair of bike shoes in his Christmas present. So he and his Dad went shopping. Like always, his Dad expected him to make a decision and buy something. Apparently it was “like father, like son” in that they both disliked shopping.

Saturday morning Chaz headed down the mountain to The Plaza. The Plaza was not a mall in the big city sense. It was by comparison rather small, about the length of Main Street. Built up against the expressway, it was WalMart on one end and a sporting goods store on the other. The middle was a covered shopping plaza. The best part was the fountain. It was in the middle of the covered plaza. On a hot day everyone splashed in the fountain. Most of the stores had moved into The Plaza from Main Street. This had caused much animosity, as it looked like the village might disappear. Instead, the old village had become a tourist destination, with boutiques, handmade crafts, camping outfitters and souvenirs, even a fancy coffee shop that sold espresso and panini sandwiches. Mike’s Hardware and the florist were the only stores that had stayed downtown. Even though Main Street seemed to be flourishing, there were a number of people who were unhappy. It had caused a lot of bickering, even in his own family. His Dad and his Uncle Phil had a huge disagreement about it. But that was over five years ago. Chaz was pondering all this as he rode toward The Plaza. He had been to Charlotte, Atlanta and Dallas. He knew what big cities were like. And he did not like them. The Village of Beaver Ridge was as urban as he wanted.

In a big city he couldn’t ride through the woods on his way to a mall, like he was doing today. He had taken PayDirt Trail from behind his house and followed it the long way around. It was a very pleasant, easy ride following the creek as it flowed toward the river. As he rode his mind raced from one topic to the next. His thoughts about shopping led him to thinking about shopping on the Internet. He’d never done anything like that before. He wondered what else he could find by searching, instead of surfing from site to site or checking Facebook and Wikipedia or YouTube.

This led to other thoughts and eventually he began to get tired. It was a long ride, after all. His Dad had offered to take him shopping, but he decided to go on his own. After all, he was almost seventeen and it was a nice cool Spring morning. More to the point, his Dad would want him to make a decision, to buy something now. This trip was only for looking. He wasn’t desperate for new shoes since Kermit had been right about wearing two pairs of socks: his feet did not slip around as much when he wore two pairs. He had made a promise to himself that he would not buy anything today. He was just going to look; he had time to think about what he was going to buy. Besides, once his mission was accomplished, he would be free to ride wherever he wished.

It was about 10:00 when he chained his bike to the rack nearest the bike store. For the first half hour or so he did nothing but window shop. Then he found a pair of high-top skate shoes that would be great for biking. The soles were really too stiff for skateboarding, but that was what he wanted for mountain biking. Still, he had promised himself…

So, he walked around a bit and ended up at the fountain. It was not spraying, and the water level was rather low. Today, no one was even sitting on the ledge that surrounded the fountain. He sat down and, as was usual for him, spun around and put his feet down to touch the top of the water. Only today, it was so low that he could not stretch enough to get the soles of his feet to touch the water. He realized there was less than an inch of water in the fountain. He could walk across it! Now, if someone he knew could take a picture, that would be a bit wild. It might look like he was walking across the fountain!

While he was sitting there, two friends, Aiden and Matt, sat down on the opposite side of the fountain. Aiden was tall enough that his shoe almost touched the water. Chaz decided to walk over to them. As he walked over, they began to laugh.

“Almost looks like you’re walking on the water!” Aiden said, laughing.

Matt was grinning. “Great idea,” Matt said. “But you can’t get wet and cool off in that.” He was pointing at the fountain. “And that,” Matt continued, “was out plan. To get sprayed by the fountain. Then we’d continue our ride.”

A few minutes of conversation and Chaz learned that his friends, who were bored, had been riding around the valley and were now very hot. So they decided to cool off in The Plaza’s fountain. The discussion continued for a while. The cool Spring morning had become a very warm day and his friends wanted a place to refresh themselves by getting wet. They could ride out to BeaverDam Pond, up in the forest, but it would be crowded. Same, most likely, for Beaver Falls and The Cascade.

It was when Matt suggested a waterfall that was far up in the national forest, some distance up highway 12, that Chaz remembered the little falls. Up above his Uncle Phil’s house was a small waterfall. It was maybe four or five feet high. But it was wide enough for three or four people to sit under it. He told them about it.

In moments he was calling Uncle Phil on his cell phone. Then he called his parents and told them he’d called Uncle Phil. They headed up Beaver Ridge Road, stopping at FoodMart to buy water and lunch. Bicycling to his uncle’s house was harder than one might expect because it was almost totally an uphill ride. The ride home would be a blast. But on this hot day, it was like riding in a sauna.

To make matters worse, each of them was wearing jeans. Considering how cool it was at sunrise, jeans made sense. But it was now noon, no clouds, and they were riding uphill wearing skate shoes, t-shirts and jeans. Their shirts were soaked after the first mile. They quickly ran out of water. Chaz took a left and headed to Staley’s. Refilling their bodies with water and buying more for the rest of the trip, they returned to their quest.

Uncle Phil’s house was actually in the national forest. It was near the original McQuillan family homestead. The family had owned it as far back as the Civil War. Sean McQuillan managed to hang on to the farm when the government set up the national forest. His son had turned it into an organic farm, producing mostly organic apples.

Soon they rode past Uncle Phil’s mailbox. This last section was hardest, and not just because it was steep. Struggling with anticipation, they felt like the forest service road would never be found. Chaz began to feel a bit of worry, since he had only been to the waterfall once before. That was last September. He hoped he wouldn’t ride past it.

The forest service road was a dirt road about half a mile beyond the mailbox. The boys were relieved when they saw it. As soon as they left the paved road they could feel the difference. Trees shaded the road. The temperature dropped about ten degrees. They were in the forest. The real adventure had begun.

As they forded Sawdust Creek, they saw a sign that they were on private property. Chaz relaxed a bit, knowing they were in the right place. Aiden heard it first, then Matt and Chaz heard it. The song of water splashing over rocks was drifting daintily through the trees. Matt saw the old road that led to the McQuillan Homestead Ruins. They dismounted and rolled their bikes down the overgrown trail.

Their girlfriends would call it “cute”. It certainly was not Niagara Falls. But it was a true waterfall, not a cascade. A stream of water was dropping maybe four feet into a small pool. The three boys stood in reverent awe as the spray blew up and around the pool area. They put their phones and other items in the bags that hung from their bike seats. Walking around the bank of the pool, they felt the waterfall spray blowing on them. At the base of the falls the cool spray was truly refreshing. Not knowing what the pool was like, if it was shallow, deep, sandy bottom or deep sticky mud, strong currents or safe, they stepped gently into the pool. As the cool water seeped into their shoes they began to relax. The floor of the pool was sandy with some rocks sprinkled around.

As they walked deeper, soaking the legs of their jeans, they felt a solid bottom. The pool was about as deep as the falls were high. There were some large rocks in it, but they could swim a little. The best part was sitting under the falls. The falling water was a rather thin curtain of wetness, sometimes mostly spray, sometimes a solid sheet of water. But it was very cool water, so refreshing after the long, hot bike ride.

It felt like a very sacred place. The feeling of awe never departed. They did play and swim, but they never made any loud noises. Shouting and hollering with exuberance seemed totally inappropriate for this place. Instead, they felt moved toward prayer. Not that any of the three were spiritually pious; but that it just felt like this place required an attitude of reverence.

The waterfall itself was landing on a pile of rocks, apparenly broken from the ledge above. That had happened a long time ago, as that rocks had been smoothed by the water. The way they had fallen made a sort of bench on which they were sitting. One of the most interesting things was the way the water felt. The water in the creek was crystal clear. At first Chaz reveled in the silky texture of the water as it poured over him; it felt cool at first, but it was warm enough to made him sleepy. He looked around, seeking a distraction from the way the water made him feel. An idea popped into his head. It was a crazy idea, but he liked it.

Wading around the pool, he noted the position of the larger rocks. All of them were on the edges of the pool; there were none in the middle of the pool. He climbed under the falls, reaching up to the ledge above. It was so slick he could not get a grip on it. The edge of the ledge, the creek-bank, gave him a good purchase. He swung his legs and was up on top of the falls.

His plan was to jump off the ledge into the pool. He stood on the ledge and started to swing his arms for a long jump. Then that feeling of sacred awe swept over him. He could not move, much less jump. From where he was standing he could not see Aiden and Matt sitting in the falls just beneath him. Then, just as Chaz would have jumped, he saw Matt, followed closely by Aiden, launch themselves from under the falls into the pool.

Chaz tried to holler; the spirit of the place, whatever it was, would not let him. Then he saw something totally unexpected. Standing at the level of the pool the tall weeds blocked the view, but from up here he could see clearly. There were at least a dozen mounds of rock surrounding the pool. Graves! This was a cemetery! He sat down in the water. The spirit seemed to overcome him. He had a vision of a massacre. He did not know who was killing or being killed. But the graves were testimony to a horrific event.

Sliding down to the edge, he slipped over the falls into the pool. “Aiden! Matt!” He heard himself holler in a whisper. “It’s a cemetery!” Again, he was hollering in a whisper. He headed to the bank and stepped out of the water. “Look!” he said and pointed at one of the mounds. In a normal, but very quiet voice, he said, “There’s about a dozen of them. Old graves.” He pointed to several more, “there’s one, there’s another. From up there,” he pointed at the waterfall, “you can see all of them.”

All three of them were silent for a few minutes. Then Matt walked over to his bike, lifted it up and began to head toward the road. Aiden and Chaz quickly followed him.

By the time they passed Uncle Phil’s mailbox they were feeling much more relaxed. The downhill ride was exhilarating. They began to shout for joy. The still warm air flowing past them did help their clothes dry. Instead of going down Harrison Hill, they took the long way around, to Watson’s Roost. The Downhill Run was the perfect way to end the ride. As they rode past the school parking lot, Aiden headed home up Harrison Hill Road, Chaz headed up Cross Valley Trail and Matt headed toward The Meadows.

Chaz had learned to keep a pair of dry jeans, t-shirt and shoes in the garage. After a thorough washing with the garden hose, he slipped into them and tossed his clothes in the washer. He put his wet shoes on a shelf and turned on the small fan he kept there to dry them. After gathering some more dirty clothes from his room, he turned on the washing machine. Then he called Uncle Phil.

II

Every day for the past month had been on the cool side. Then, two days ago, God turned on the furnace. PayDirt Creek Valley was suddenly hot and dry. Chaz rose at sunrise in order to get his chores done before the heat became unbearable. When he finished, he went for a ride. The forest was always cooler. And, he could jump in the creek.

Unfortunately, The Cascade was crowded. And the little pool at the little dam was too. He headed toward Beaver Falls and then decided to enjoy Staley’s air conditioning. He could quench his thirst, refill his water bladder and get a bite to eat. He was surprised to see the parking lot full; even more surprised at the uproar inside.

Phillip Harrison, whose wife owned one of the craft boutiques in the village, was almost shouting. Thomas Rodriguez, a relative newcomer—having moved to the valley about five years ago—was the object of Mr. Harrison’s irritation. It took about ten seconds for Chaz to figure out the topic of conversation. He wondered if he wouldn’t be wise to leave. His thirst won.

He walked over to the counter with a quart bottle of Gatorade and put some money on the counter. Martha rang him up. He was almost out of the door when Willie Smith called out his name.

“Hey! Chaz! You found the place. What do you think?” Willie was grinning from ear to ear. He was hoping for Chaz to say something even more controversial.

Chaz had talked about this with his Mom and Dad and his Uncle Phil and Aunt Lucy. So he smiled and said, “I think it’s best to leave the dead alone. You know what happens when you stir up ghosts.” Then he turned and walked out of the door.

The Gatorade was refreshing. He headed up PayDirt Trail. Soon he was deep in the forest, close to the small pond that was a favorite swimming hole. The two couples who had been there when he rode by were gone. Looking around, he found some rabbit and fox tracks and plenty of wild turkey tracks. Fortunately, they had taken their trash with them.

The pond was about three feet deep and ten feet wide at the center, made by a neat little dam that someone had built many years ago. It was made of stone, no cement was used, so water did seep through the stones. But not very much. A minor engineering marvel. The pool was always fresh, since the water flowed through the stones. The most impressive part was that it was still standing. Neither storm nor human had damaged it. That was even more impressive.

Since he was peppered with mud from his ride he stepped into the pool to rinse off. At least he would get the mud off his face and out of his hair. When he felt relatively clean he climbed up on the rocks above the pool and pulled off his shirt and shoes. Then he let the sun do it’s magic. It didn’t take long for his clothes to go from wet to damp.

Sitting up, he looked around and soon was pondering the dam. The thought that there had been no human effort to damage it nagged at him. Why, he thought, did no one try to destroy the dam. They destroyed sand castles at the beach. There were always some who seemed to enjoy destroying what others had done.

His thoughts drifted to the controversy that was raging across the valley. The uproar in Staley’s was just a tiny part of the animosity and anger that flowed through the valley. And everyone was, in one way or another, blaming him, even though Aiden and Matt were with him when they found the graveyard. Uncle Phil had warned him. But he really didn’t believe it would be this bad. Later, his Dad and Uncle Phil explained the whole thing.

It actually started with The Plaza. That, his Dad confessed, was his fault. He had leased the land for The Plaza to a developer. Because it was down at the intersection of Highway 12 and the Expressway, his Dad did not think it would harm the valley. That caused the disagreement between his Dad and Uncle Phil.

When the local stores moved into The Plaza, some thought the village would turn into a ghost town. But Phillip Harrison sold some of his farm for a subdivision and set up his wife in her arts and crafts store. After that, a number of boutique stores opened. Rumor was that the Harrisons were involved in a few of the newer boutiques. People like Rodriguez, who had bought a small farm several years ago, saw all of this as the urbanization of the valley. They were afraid that turning the farms into subdivisions would destroy the rural lifestyle.

Staley’s, which originally was a ‘seed and feed’ store, was evidence of the changes taking place in the valley. The Village of Beaver Ridge was the closest town to the national forest. Smokey’s Back-Country Outfitters had just opened in the village and there were rumors of a Zip-line going in somewhere. And now this graveyard was deemed an archaeological site of historical importance. Some believed that it could become a tourist attraction.

Uncle Phil had called the state historical society to find out what they knew about the graveyard. Most likely it was some of his wife’s ancestors. It was when some professor at the university got involved that the craziness took over.

The sun had moved into the west and Chaz began to feel a little cool. He put his shirt and shoes on and headed back down PayDirt Creek Trail toward town. When he reached the ford where the trail crossed the creek he stopped and dismounted. There was a little cascade just above the ford and Chaz stood watching it for a few minutes. Willie Smith may not have got the controversial comment he wanted, but he sure did manage hijack Chaz’s thoughts. As he watched the cascade, Chaz wondered about the little dam again. There was something to it, something he didn’t understand.

He sat down on a rock. The sun had moved so that the cascade began to catch the sunlight. From the vantage of his rock, Chaz could see rainbows in the splashing water. The people who lived in the area, he thought, were the ones who hiked and biked the trails. When they arrived at a place like this, they stopped to enjoy it, just as he was enjoying this cascade right now. So, he thought, it’s local people who enjoy this place. There are few visitors to this area. And, his thoughts clarifying in his head, he realized that when someone arrived at the little pool and dam, they stopped to enjoy a dip in the pool. They know that they will want to do that again and again, so they don’t damage the dam.

None of this helped him understand why someone would enjoy destroying a sand castle, or a dam, or anything else. Maybe he could find a way to understand that later. He remounted his bike and rode home.

III

Chaz put the shoe box on his bed, took off the top and looked at his new bike shoes. It occurred to him that these shoes had caused a lot of trouble even before he had bought them. They were the reason he had gone to The Plaza and they were the reason he had sat down by the fountain. So, he thought, looking at the shoes, they’re going to be a source of adventure. In fact, they already were.

As he put the shoes in his closet he almost laughed out loud. Uncle Phil had been right. The graves were his wife’s ancestors. But they also turned out to be the first people to settle in the valley. That meant that his Aunt Lucy and his Dad were the descendants of the first family in the valley. And so were his cousins: and so was he…well, with his sister and brother. His family was totally cool. The oldest family in the valley.

Phil Harrison disputed this claim; but the professor was certain. The Harrison family cemetery was at the Old Stone Church. The McQuillans were also buried there, but only after they had abandoned the cemetery by the falls. The little cemetery dated back to 1738. There was more, but it all proved that they were the first family in the valley.

Like his Mom had said, that and two bucks will get you a doughnut and a cup of coffee. But it was still really cool. They had looked up relatives and a family tree was now hanging on the wall near the TV. The tree branches were all spread out with the McQuillan family crest and almost everyone listed.

He started to toss the box to the trash, but noticed that it was a nice size and rather sturdy. It might be useful, so he put it on his desk until the morning. A short while later he said his prayers and crawled into bed. Just before he turned out the light he noticed the shoe box. He clicked off the light but found himself thinking about his shopping trip. It really was not horrible. In fact, it was fun. That surprised him. He had gone back to the store where he had seen the high-top skate shoes. They still had them, along with another style that was even more suited to biking. Instead of black or gray, these were brightly colored. Vibrant, electric colors: red, yellow, blue and green with black laces. He wondered how they’d look covered in mud. They were specifically designed for mountain biking. They were even waterproof. The clerk said he had a pair and they dried quickly when soaked. He told the clerk that if they didn’t, he’d bring them back. Still, it had been an enjoyable trip. But then he knew exactly what he wanted when he left for the store and he’d found it when he got there. That made a big difference, he thought.

A few days later he was enjoying a milkshake at Staley’s when Phillip Harrison and Willie Smith walked in. They didn’t seem to notice him. But they did sit down at the counter and order lunch. Their conversation was a bit loud, considering the topic, but Chaz didn’t mind listening to them. They were discussing ways to get state government to obtain parts of the national forest and turn it into a state park. They wanted to tie it to the graveyard at the waterfall. They also wanted to build an amphitheater and a big barn for square dancing and music concerts. Chaz just listened. Later, he tried to repeat everything he’d heard to his parents.

The question that bothered Chaz the most was whether or not Mr. Harrison and Mr. Smith knew he was in Staley’s and could hear every word they said. If they did know he was there, well, were they setting some sort of trap? Hard to believe they didn’t see his bike chained in the bike rack, harder to believe that they had not seen him sitting at the first table. His parents and his uncle and aunt took note of his concern. Suddenly, he was included in the adult discussions. Not just to listen and learn, but to express his opinion, to be a part of the conversation.

Aunt Lucy also had a concern, one that was rather frightening: it sounded like they might be trying to force the state to take over their farm. That way no federal land would be involved. They also might try to take PayDirt Springs. The springs belonged to the McQuillan family, but was maintained by the National Forest. There had always been some animosity between the Harrison family and his, ever since Great-Grandpa McQuillan had managed to keep a part of his farm. The Harrisons had taken the money; their old family home was now a display maintained by the Forest Service. Which is why many thought they were the oldest family in the valley. They had kept and developed what is now known as Harrison Hill. They also laid out the four streets that are now the Village of Beaver Ridge, giving land for the school and the town hall.

Uncle Phil was doubtful. “Look,” he said, “Phillip is just trying to keep what his great-grandparents set up. They didn’t keep their land. It’s part of the national forest. He’s just trying to farm what he has the best way he knows how. Charles, I know you and Lucy have had trouble with him for years. But he’s not as bad as you think. He just sees things differently. They’ve sold the best part of Harrison Hill and their lowland to developers. They’ve got money now, not land. They’ve got to find ways to keep the money flowing. Willie Smith is in the same boat. If they can get something to attract tourists, they might survive. They’re not thinking about your farm or our farm, I’m sure.

“When that professor started yakking about the cemetery up by the falls I pulled out the agreement your great-grandpa made with the government. They can’t condemn the land and take it as long as the land is used for agriculture. Charles, I’m sure your farm has the same provision. But you’re right to worry about what they’re doing. They could make BeaverDam Pond a state or county park, as well as the Springs. They could do that and still pay the lease on the Springs. And if they did that, we’d have tourists hiking all over our farms.”

The family sat in silence as they pondered what Uncle Phil had said. Finally, Chaz’s Mom spoke, “Well, we really don’t know what they’re up to. Charles, why not check this out with Dan Piper? Maybe he can shed some light. Can the state even buy or lease national forest land? From what I understood Chaz to say, our neighbors don’t know the answer to that.” Chaz grinned. The way she had said “neighbors” was quite funny. Even Aunt Lucy was smiling.

As he donned his pajamas, Chaz looked in the mirror. He’d become an adult today. Well, sort of, anyway. It wasn’t what he’d expected. Adults always seemed to have it easy. They knew the rules. They knew how to deal with life. He was always getting into trouble because he did not understand the rules. Today he learned that there were no rules. At least not like he’d thought. He used to think that if his great-great grandpa had sold the land they’d be as rich as the Harrisons. Now he knew the truth. His family had fought for their land. And they were still fighting for it. But they had land. The Harrisons only had money. He didn’t comprehend it completely, but he was beginning to understand the Harrisons and the Smiths.

Adults didn’t live easy lives. His Dad and Mom didn’t just get up each morning and farm. Sure, they enjoyed it. It was work, but it was fun. The hard part was keeping what they had. They were going to have to work with the Harrisons and the Smiths. He realized that much. Mr. Rodriguez was mistaken. Phillip Harrison wasn’t trying to ruin the valley. He was just trying to survive.

He now understood his friend, Aiden, and his older brother, Bob. They were Phillip Harrison’s sons. While they’d always been friends; sometimes Bob would get weird and Aiden could be weirder. Now he knew that they lived in a much less secure world than he did. Money, even a lot of money, did not solve everything.

Chaz said his prayers and pulled the covers up. He felt the cat jump up on his bed. “Missie,” he said to the cat, “you are the only one who truly lives an easy life. All you got to worry about is where the dog might be.”

Douglas Meets A Frog

It was one of those days when boredom seems to come from every direction. Just hot enough to make laziness a virtue. Doug sat scrunched up on the love seat, remote in hand, glaring at the wasted effort of producers, directors and actors. He pressed the mute button and looked out the window. He could see the morning dew on the lawn, twinkling on the zinnias and petunias. It was going to be a hot summer day. As he stared out the window he could hear in the back of his head one of his Dad’s favorite musicians, Ella Fitzgerald, singing the Gershwin tune, Summertime: Fish are jumping and the cotton is high. Well, you could fish for trout in the creek, cotton, however, was down the mountain. The creek did give him a great idea. Several phone calls later he was still sitting on the love seat. Everyone he called had to work. The ones he didn’t call were on vacation. Still staring at the dew on the lawn, he thought about the trout swimming in the creek. What he wanted to do was play in the creek. But it was dangerous to play there alone. The rocks could be slippery and sometimes rather dangerous.

Switching to The Weather Channel he saw that rain was supposed to begin around noon. Well, he could go bike riding in the rain. But that was something that was more fun with friends. Still, it was better than mind-numbing TV.

Retreating to his bedroom, he dressed for playing in the rain. His favorite biking shirt was a yellow polyester tee shirt. The fabric was thick, providing good insulation when it was wet. Plus, the yellow color helped with safety on the highway. It was much too hot for jeans, so he donned some 501 cutoffs with a stout belt to keep them from sliding off if he did go swimming. Remembering that tomorrow he was biking with Scott, he selected a pair of skate shoes, so he could keep his Five-Ten bike shoes dry for the ride tomorrow. Since his feet might be wet for several hours he picked a pair of wool socks. Buckling his bike helmet and grabbing his water bladder backpack he headed out the door.

He reached Main Street shortly after ten o’clock. The heat, combined with the humidity, was stifling. Very few people were walking around. As he looked around his gaze kept returning to Watson’s Roost, the highest point in the valley. There was a narrow road that was called The Downhill Run which, from the center of the village, was the shortest way up. As he began to climb up the road to Watson’s Roost he prayed that it would be much cooler on top of the mountain. The heat made the climb worse than usual. He was drenched with sweat and exhausted when he reached the top. Fortunately, there was a breeze at the top, so it felt cooler.

From there he could see the village and much of the county. The valley they lived in was a long, moderately wide floodplain that had, since before the Civil War, been a farming community. Paydirt creek had, over the eons, carved this valley out of the hills. His eyes followed the meandering creek upstream. He just could see Beaver Falls but the dam with it’s swimming pool was easy to spot. Just over the ridge he could see The Cascade. PayDirt Creek merged with the little creek from Beaverdam Pond just above a stretch of water that cascaded across a section of rock about 250 feet in length. It was the waterfall. However, it could be very dangerous. No sane person would ever go swimming alone. Still, the temptation to head straight to the falls actually hurt. Yet he did not move. His promise to never go there alone was binding. He looked back at the Downhill Run he had just climbed. The ride down was always a great bit of fun. But today he did not want to end up in the village. So he looked at the only other option: the road to Harrison Hill was not so steep, but it was a downhill run. And he would be up on the ridge, where the breeze was nice and cool.

Doug rode across Harrison Hill without realizing where he was. Partly due to being tired after climbing the Downhill Run, partly from the heat, Doug had become hypnotized by his ride. He felt like he was one with the bike. Even though he knew the roads, he was not really aware of where he was. A misty drizzle of rain brought him out of his trance. He was near Beaverdam Pond. Soon it was raining just enough to keep him cool. He was actually enjoying this solitary excursion. The rain had removed the need to jump into the pond; but his water bladder was empty. Then he realized that his stomach felt empty too. Staley’s was just a few miles down Beaver Ridge Road. And as he started peddling, the bottom of the sky opened and a deluge fell upon him. His only worry was that a car might not see him riding. Fortunately, there were no vehicles of any sort on the road except for him. Beaver Ridge Road was a series of switchbacks up and then down the mountain. Even with the switchbacks, it was the closest route to Staley’s. But in this deluge it was a nightmare of a ride.

When Staley’s Store emerged from the mist he let out a long sigh. That’s when he realized that the last few miles had been extremely stressful. Riding downhill in driving rain, tired, hungry and thirsty, through all those switchbacks was some of the most difficult riding he had ever done. Fortunately, his brakes worked properly and the skate shoes gripped the pedals well enough; still, he hoped he would never have a ride like that again.

Staley’s was one of those old country stores that suburbia had surrounded. Many of the farms that had filled the valley over the years were now subdivisions. But there were still a good number of farms. And Staley’s had managed to adapt to the changes. Moon Pies were discretely merchandised next to the organic granola energy bars. The store, located on the west bank of PayDirt Creek, had been patronized by the farmers since the late 1800’s. The current building, dating from post World War II, had been remodeled during the Reagan era. That’s when they added the delicatessen and dining area, making the store more or less a diner. And that attracted the post-football crowd on Friday nights.

When Doug rode into the parking lot he laughed. The puddle that occasionally formed after heavy rain was more like a small pond. Usually it quickly drained away; however, the deluge had overrun the parking lot. The light pole he normally used to chain his bike was in the middle of the giant puddle, but he was soaked anyway. He swung around and rode through the puddle lengthwise, causing a small spray of water to rise up around him. After making sure the bike was secure he splashed toward the door. Looking around he saw four or five cars in the parking lot. The puddle was probably keeping people inside.

Inside the store the air conditioning hit him like an Arctic blast. It felt great. He found the sports beverages in a cooler and then headed to the deli counter. They made a fried bologna, egg and cheese sandwich that was near heaven. The sandwich, a tub of potato salad and the Gatorade made a nice lunch. There were two picnic tables in front of the store; normally high and dry, today they were islands in Staley’s pond. He waded over to the one with the better umbrella. As he ate he watched a small trickle of customers dash in and out of the store. Everyone parked on the high side of the parking lot until a little Ranger pickup pulled in.

Doug could see a nice mountain bike strapped in the truck bed. The truck sported numerous muddy splashes: it was obvious that the four wheel drive technology had been put to good use. It slowed to a stop and then rolled to the far side of the giant puddle. A guy got out and made a distinct effort to be nonchalant about splashing through the length of the big puddle. He was dressed much like Doug, except that he wore trail shoes. As he waded by the picnic table Doug grinned and said, “Great day ain’t it?”

The guy looked at him, smiled, and then glanced around the parking lot. “That’s your bike?” He nodded toward Doug’s bike chained to the light pole.

Yea.”

The guy grinned and went inside. A few minutes later he came out with his lunch. “Okay to join you?”

Doug grunted an okay and looked at the guy. His clothing was almost as wet as Doug’s. He had a small blond goatee, but otherwise looked like most of Doug’s friends, except that he was very tall and very skinny.

This skinny dude did not eat like most of Doug’s friends. His lunch was two tubs of hummus, veggie chips and orange juice. Doug grinned at the hippie meal, introduced himself, and learned that his new acquaintance was named Mike.

There was a seminary bumper sticker on the back of his truck and Mike crossed himself when he prayed. Doug wanted to ask about that, but decided against it.

So,” Doug did ask, “where are you from?”

Mike grinned, “Well,” he said slowly, “I grew up in Greenville. Are you from this valley?”

Doug smiled, “Yeah,” he said. “My family’s been here for generations.”

It was obvious Doug wanted to say more, but Mike changed the subject. “My bike’s in the back of the truck,” he said, “I’m looking for a good place to ride.”

Doug nodded. “Well, there’s lots of trails in the forest. And a couple of good ones in the valley.” He said. Then he pointed to the far side of the parking lot. “PayDirt Creek Trail is right there. You can take it upstream to PayDirt Springs or downstream to the Cross-State Trail.”

Mike showed some interest. “I’m staying with some friends of my parents over in Rockborough. I parked at The Plaza and rode up to the top of that little mountain.” He pointed toward Watson’s Roost. “That downhill run into the town is really nice. But I don’t like riding paved roads and I don’t know where the trails go. It would be nice to find a swimming hole too.”

Doug happily told him about the creek with its cascade down the rocks. Kermit thought it would be great, so they finished their lunch and splashed through the puddle to retrieve their bikes.

They headed up PayDirt Trail into the national forest. It took well over an hour to ride up the muddy trail to The Cascade. By the time they got there the rain had swollen the creek to the point where climbing up the rocks was even more dangerous than normal. Fortunately, the little pool at the base of the cascade was now deep enough for swimming. They spent the next hour splashing, jumping and swimming in the pool.

The afternoon slipped by. They ended their swim and sat on some rocks just above The Cascade. “So,” Mike asked, “you’re family’s been around here for generations?”

Doug nodded, then said, “Yeah. Since the Civil War. You want to know something funny? This place was so isolated that the war was half over before anyone here knew about it. Story is that a couple of Union Soldiers got lost and followed Beaver Creek down from the ridge. They saw the Harrison’s place—that’s the old homestead on display in the forest—and found out they were still lost. But they made their way back here after the war. One was Bill McCoy and the other was my ancestor, William Douglas Smith. I’m number seven.”

Mike grinned. “Number seven. Well! Alright. Pleased to meet you, number seven. I’m Mike, Michael Rossini. Some of my friends call me Kermit.”

Kermit?”

Yeah. Once you get to know me, you’ll understand.”

Doug stared at him, then asked in a rather strained, weird voice, “You don’t have a foot long tongue do you?”

Mike, startled at the question, then doubled over in laughter. A minute or so later he had his laughter under control. “No one,” he said, still giggling, “No one has ever asked that!” He shook his head and pointed to the creek, “It’s because I love to play in the water. You know, like Kermit the Frog.”

Doug nodded, then laughed.

They took the long way back to Staley’s. Kermit did live up to the idea of being a frog. Even though the rain had relaxed into a spotty drizzle, Kermit found all sorts of nice puddles to splash through. When they reached Staley’s they were just as wet as when they left the creek. There was no one in the parking lot at Staley’s, so they hit the big puddle there at full speed, soaking each other with spray from their tires. It was a great way to end the ride.

Staley’s Store Introduction

This originally was to be a series of short stories that revolved around a place called “Staley’s Store”. Every story was to be independent, linked only by the fact that each story had at least one scene at Staley’s Store. Somewhere along the way, a plot developed. You may read the stories in this series in any order; however, your reading might flow better if you read them in menu sequence.

A few stories are almost like a “GIF” photo. Just a few moments to paint a scene. There might not even be a dramatic moment or climax. It is a scene which is connected to past and future scenes/stories. Eventually you may see why I included that story. But if you never do, I hope you can enjoy the picture it paints.

In order to keep my stories straight, I have drawn some maps of The Village of Beaver Ridge. If you want to access these maps they are placed in online/cloud storage. Click on the map link. Then click on “Open“.  LINK TO Map of The Village of Beaver Ridge

FYI: There’s a color code in the upper left corner of the Main Map. I really drew the map to keep me straight. I make it available in case you prefer maps.

13 Sept 2020 Update: “A Frog Finds His Pond” was just published. After re-reading some of the earlier stories, I need to update the maps. I will be working on the next story in this series.

The Last Fishing Trip

The fact that the whole world had turned upside down somehow did not seem to have changed anything about the sea. As Simon looked out over the sea and around the shoreline he could not imagine all that had happened in the past few years, even more so, the past few weeks. It seemed a dream. He looked out over the sea. Did he actually walk on the sea? And over there, did Jesus really feed 5000 men with a few loaves and fishes? What had really happened? They had crucified Jesus. Simon had watched from a distance as they put his body in the tomb. Yet he had appeared to them, risen from the grave, and told them to meet him here, on the shore of this lake.

Some called it the Sea of Galilee, others called it Lake Gennesaret, and a few called it the Sea of Tiberias. He shook his head as if to clear it; wondering why he thought about such trivial things as the name of the sea. He had never thought of it as anything except “the Sea”. His thoughts were all jumbled in his head. This sea was the one unchanging thing in his life. Its appearance might change due to daylight or weather; it might be called different names; but the essence of the sea, what it actually was; that did not change. He had been fishing since he was a little boy. He had made friends, had boyhood fights, learned all the best fishing areas, learned how to handle a boat, met his father-in-law and his wife, in fact every important thing in his life was connected with The Sea of Galilee.

It was where he had first met Jesus. Looking out over the sea, Simon remembered that first meeting. He had first seen Jesus in the synagogue. He had watched as Jesus cast a demon out of a man. That demon had said that Jesus was the “Holy One of God”. Simon had heard it and wondered. Jesus had even cured Simon’s mother-in-law, though Simon was not there to see it. Simon looked out over the lake. Over there, in that cove where the hills came down close to the shore, Jesus had borrowed Simon’s boat and preached from it. As Simon looked at the grass and shrubs he remembered how they had been fishing all night and caught nothing. They were washing out their nets when they saw the crowd on the shore. So, they headed to the cove to find out what was happening. Jesus was preaching, and the crowd was beginning to press in, pushing him close to the waterline. Andrew had told them that John the Baptizer had said that Jesus was the Messiah. So, when Jesus asked to borrow the boat, Simon was elated. That was the moment he first met Jesus. After Jesus’ preaching, he told Simon to go out and lower the nets. Simon, skeptical, said as much but did as Jesus asked. The catch was overwhelming. What Andrew had said was now obvious. Simon looked at Jesus and realized how holy this man, Jesus, was and how sinful he, Simon, was. Even so, his brother, Andrew, and his best friends, James and John, quit fishing and the four of them went with Jesus.

That was how all this had started. On this sea. And now, well, he did not know. Jesus had told them to meet him in Galilee. But Jesus had only said, “Galilee” and nothing more specific. So, Simon decided it would be the place where it all started. But there were only seven of them. Fearing that the Romans or the High Priest’s agents might spot them, the fishermen had decided to go down to the boats and wait for Jesus there. The other four were not fishermen and they had stayed in Capernaum.

Simon continued to look at the sea. The sky was clear. It was too early for the Moon to rise, but the stars were extremely bright. Occasionally, a soft, gentle breeze would play with the leaves on the shrubs and bushes that grew on the beach. Simon, hounded by his own cares, listened as the others were talking about the last few days. Their thoughts echoed his own.

Why, the other disciples were asking, after all the miracles he had performed, was he unable to stop the Sanhedrin and Pilate from crucifying him? Simon stood a short distance away from the other six disciples. They rehearsed once again the events that brought them here. They had been hiding when Mary came with the news that the tomb was empty. He and John sprinted to the tomb, but, remembering his denial, he let John run ahead. John described how the stone had been moved from the tomb entrance. Then, once again, John told them about the folded facecloth. But Simon remembered, silently, that he was a bit relieved that he did not have to face his Lord at that moment. Even now he felt the shame of his denial. He heard John reminding them that they left quickly, afraid the Jews would arrest them for stealing the body of Jesus. It became very quiet as John finished his story. Simon looked around. He wanted to do something, anything. But the others stood very still.

In a few minutes Andrew picked up the story. No one believed Mary when she told them that she had seen Jesus. James added his memories, and the others filled in with their thoughts. No one seemed to notice that Simon had started playing with the fishing gear in one of the boats. They were busy recounting how the two disciples that lived in Emmaus had come running back to Jerusalem, all excited about having seen Jesus. Then Nathaniel added his memories. He told the part where Jesus had appeared to them, even though the doors were closed. Thomas, rather sheepishly, related his part in the story. Each of them said that they, like Thomas, would not have believed if they had not seen the Lord. None of them noticed what Simon was doing.

What Simon was doing was setting up the boat to go fishing. He was not really aware of it, concentrating very intently on the past. But setting up the boat was something he knew, something to do besides talk. It wasn’t just denying the Lord that bothered him. He had never understood Jesus. He could see that Jesus was just like him: a man. Yet Jesus calmed the storm and walked on water. He even called Simon to walk on the water, too. The sound of the others drifted his way. They were talking about the Passover meal. He could hear Andrew talking about Judas. Even though Judas had betrayed him, it was Simon that Jesus had called “Satan.” Simon would never forget it. Jesus had asked them who they thought he was. Simon had said that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus had praised him. But then Jesus began to talk about the chief priests torturing him and executing him. Simon, in love for his master, had told Jesus that Heaven would protect him, that these things would not happen to him. After all, he was the Messiah. That was when Jesus had called him “Satan” and that he, Simon, was an obstacle to Jesus. It shook him to the core. He felt frozen with fear when Jesus had said that. It was something he could not forget.

Then, to add to his failures, he had denied his Lord three times, just as Jesus had said he would. Simon was feeling his guilt, his shame, his failures. He really did not want to see Jesus again. He heard James voice drifting on the wind, then he heard John, but could not make out the words. They were always arguing, the three of them. Jesus frequently chastised them because they argued about who was the best disciple. Then John’s words became clearer. He was describing how Jesus had washed their feet. Simon picked up the net as John’s words drifted by; but he wasn’t focused on the net.

Yes, he had argued with Jesus about washing his feet. That was so humiliating, having his master wash his feet. But worse than that was the feeling of fear when they accused him of being one of Jesus’ disciples. He had to admit he was a coward. He denied Jesus, even after Jesus had warned him that it could happen. And then he had lied to himself, saying that he really did not know Jesus, that he really did not understand who this man was. How could he perform all those miracles, raise Lazarus from the dead, and still be unable to prevent the High Priest and Pilate from crucifying him? Simon began to understand that he had lied to himself. He had wanted to believe that when he said, “I don’t know the man” it was a confession, not a denial. But more than that, he had been lying to himself from the beginning. His desire was to be a prince in Jesus’ court. If Jesus really was the messiah, he would drive out the Romans and become a king like King David. Jesus had told all of them that it would not be that way. He had told all of them that he would suffer and die. Was that why Jesus called him “Satan”? Was that what the chastising and feet washing were all about? Simon, trying to fight for his Lord when Judas came with the guards, cut off a man’s ear. Then Jesus healed the man and went willingly with the guards, ending Simon‘s hopes of being a prince in Jesus’ kingdom.

The net slipped out of his hands. Anxiety pouring out like perspiration. All these thought racing through his head. Jesus had risen. He was not dead. But …

Simon picked up the net and laid it in the boat. He shook off all his thoughts and called out to the others, “I’m going fishing!”

John look up at Simon. Fishing was something to do. Something they know how to do. It would help pass the time until Jesus arrived, even though they were not sure what would happen when he did. Soon all seven of them were in the boat, doing what they knew best. From the moment Judas kissed Jesus in the garden, each of them had begun to understand that their dreams, their plans to be leaders in Jesus’ kingdom were shattered. They would not be governors or prefects. Simon was right. They might as well go fishing. For that was what they were: fishermen.

They seemed to have forgotten how to fish. They worked very hard for the rest of the night with no reward. It was a very hot night; the occasional breeze that drifted by did little to cool them. A small crescent of a moon had risen in the early morning. It shed little light and gave faint comfort. They fished all night and caught nothing.

Little wonder that they caught nothing: Apprehension concerning their future worried them. Fishing had been their livelihood; surely they should be able to catch a few fish. They had left fishing to follow Jesus. They remembered how he had chastised them when they were arguing about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom. They remembered how he had washed their feet. And they remembered how they had fallen asleep in Gethsemane and then ran away when Judas showed up. Even though Jesus had risen from the grave, he was not the Messiah they had expected. He had not told them what the plans were, or if there were any plans that included them. Why had he told them to meet him in Galilee? Had he set up the Kingdom now, in Jerusalem, without them? With an uncertain future, it was difficult to concentrate on the one thing they knew for certain: fishing. Dawn was breaking. They had caught no fish. Nor had they seen Jesus. Their mood changed from bad to worse. Simon was muttering incoherently when someone saw a person on the shore.

“Have you caught anything, friends?” the stranger on the shore called out. They answered in the negative. Then the stranger said, “Throw the net out to the right and you’ll find something.” They looked at each other and shook their heads. Nathaniel said, “Why not?” As soon as the net hit the water it was full to overflowing with a huge catch of fish, so big they were unable to haul it into the boat. John looked at Simon and said, “It is the Lord.”

Simon, in spite of all his doubts and worries, was overjoyed. Being unpresentably dressed, he pulled on his cloak and swam to shore. At that moment he left fishing behind and went to his Lord. The others, being less impulsive, accepted the gift of the fish and worked the boat toward shore, to save the catch. It was, after all, a gift from the Lord.

Jesus had a fire going, roasting some fish. He told Simon to bring some of the fish they had caught. So he went back to the boat and helped them get the net ashore. “Come get some breakfast,” Jesus said, offering fish and bread to them. They were amazed and gratified by the gifts of his presence, the catch of fish and the meal.

As they finished eating and the embers of the fire spluttered, the first rays of sunrise peered across the hills on the far side of the Sea of Galilee. It was very quiet. The fish they had caught were wriggling about, making flapping sounds; the waves broke softly on the shore and off in the distance, to greet the sunrise, a cock crowed. Peter looked around and saw that the fire looked much like that fire on that fateful night several weeks ago. He shivered in spite of the heat.

Jesus, looking Simon straight in the eye, asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me with all your heart? Do you love me more than these others, or more than the fish?”

Simon answered, “Lord, I love you like a brother.”

Jesus responded, “Feed my lambs.” Then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, “Do you love me dearly?”

Simon answered, “Lord, I love you like a brother”.

Jesus responded, “Look after my sheep.”

John and the others were all but frozen in their places. A gentle breeze wafted in off the lake, bringing warm, moist air. Everyone knew that Simon had denied Jesus three times. But they knew that they, too, had run away.

Then, for the third time, Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me like a brother?”

Now Simon felt his shame exposed. He understood that Jesus was asking him three times because he had denied Jesus three times. It hurt him to say it, but Simon answered, “Lord you know all things, you know that I love you like a brother.”

Jesus commanded, “Feed my sheep.”

Then he told Simon how he would die. “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. Follow me.”

And Simon, once again, missed the boat. He understood the meaning, that he would be executed. But he failed to understand that it would not be because he was a fisherman, but because he was a ‘fisher of men’. He looked around and, seeing John, who was headed over to help Nathaniel and the others with the fish, asked, “What about him?”

John heard it and turned around. He looked at Jesus, wondering what his own fate would be. And as on other occasions, Jesus rebuked Simon. “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

The others heard this and Simon, embarrassed, looked at the sea. It had no words for him. Jesus looked him in the eye and said, “Simon, I call you ‘stone’ and so you are. You, Peter, are to follow me. You know me, you know who I am, I am the cornerstone. On that foundation I will build my Church. You, Pebble, must feed my little lambs. You can start by helping with the fish.”

“Pebble, Stone, Rock”. That was what Jesus had been calling him for two years. And then a revelation fell upon him. It was not a put-down. He was like the sea. He had several names. His nature did not change. He was who he was. His name was Simon, but he was not a good listener. His mother and his wife both said so. He had not listened to Jesus. He had not heard what Jesus said. But this morning he heard. “You, Pebble, must feed my little lambs.” He understood. So he got up and went to help the others with the fish.

See The Gospel of John, chapter 21

Henny Penny & Chicken Little

The following story is rather sad. But it does tell about an important event that happened way back in the dawn of time. You may remember from other stories that at one time many of the animals could talk. They lived in villages with the humans. The animals had skills just like the humans. For example, wolves were bankers, chickens were scribes, bears were entertainers, dogs were chefs and pigs were plumbers. Humans were usually merchants, farmers or government officials.

Don’t misunderstand; humans and animals were equals, since the animals could talk. They had their skilled jobs, just as the humans did. No self-respecting horse would pull a plow, unless, of course, he was doing it as a kindness for a friend. Almost everyone had a garden. They grew wonderful vegetables in their gardens. Some were better at growing one thing, some another. A bantam cockerel once produced a wonderful crop of corn; it was so sweet that the bees were jealous. I’ve heard of a fox that grew the sweetest and tangiest grapes. And a pig who grew some potatoes that were just smashing. There was a wolf who, even though he was a banker, grew the most marvelous cabbage. Everyone liked to visit their neighbors and sample the wonderful things they had grown. So, on Saturday afternoons, you would find everyone running back and forth, checking out the wonderful produce of their neighbors.

All that running around turned into chaos. One day some turkeys wanted to take some of their pumpkin pies to a neighbor. But the streets were crowded with everyone running back and forth tasting everything and taking samples to their friends. So the turkeys just sat down by the side of the road, totally confused by the fox running this way and the horses trotting that way and the squirrels scrambling back and forth, not to mention the dogs and cats and chickens, cows, goats, ducks, deer, wolves, rabbits, porcupines, badgers and, most especially, the humans. It turned out that one of the humans saw the turkeys and offered to buy a little taste of the pumpkin pies the turkeys had made.

That started what we now call ‘tailgate’ markets; it also started the events we call ‘fairs’. Soon everyone was selling their excess produce by the side of the road and then taking their best items to be judged at the village fair.

One of the villagers was a very smart chicken named Henney Penney. She liked to grow all sorts of things in her garden. In fact, she even had a small millstone that she used to make flour out of the wheat she grew. She always won first prize for her “Penny Loaves”.

Henney Penney had a nephew, a cockerel, that everyone called “Chicken Little” because he was a very small chicken. Chicken Little was one of those rather annoying children who acted first and thought later. The little cockerel frequently made a fool of himself, usually by telling the adult chickens around him some fantastic tale.

Henny Penny and Chicken Little lived in a village on the shore of a large lake. Unfortunately, the shoreline had receeded because of a series of terrible droughts. There would frequently be years of no rain. This would be followed by some very wet and rainy years. However, there was never enough rain to refill the lake. So the shoreline moved slowly away from the village.

The villagers eventually dug a canal and several ditches for better access to the water from the lake. That led to some villagers moving their houses closer the the lake. They built new houses on the edge of the canal. Soon, there was a nice street on either side of the canal, with new houses and new gardens. The mayor formed a planning committee and they laid out new streets and a nice village square.

Moving their village did not solve their water problem. It was not long before they had to dig the canal and the ditches deeper in order to get the lake water to flow into the canal. That’s because the droughts were getting worse. The sky would turn odd colors. It might be that the dust from all the dry ground blew up into the sky, or there might have been another reason, but the sky would turn pink or orange or amber or lavender or even olive drab. Each drought was named for the color of the sky.

Chicken Little was born at the very beginning of the Lavender Drought. So he had never seen it rain. He knew about rain, or he would have, if he had listened to Henney Penney, Horace the mule, Petruchio the eagle or Ignatius the wolf. But Chicken Little was too full of himself. He bragged to the pullets that he did not believe in nonsense like ghosts, fairies or water falling from the sky. He strutted through the village with many of the pullets and some of the cockerels following him, listening to his prattle.

The drought was devastating. The grass and wildflowers in the meadows turned brown, as did the leaves on the trees. Many of the animals that lived in the forests began to starve. And it looked like the village would starve next year if a better way to water the crops was not found.

Horace the Mule and Petruchio the Eagle had been working for over a year on a pump system. Their pump would make it much easier for the village to have water. Instead of having to lower buckets into the ditches to get water, the new pump system would provide water. It was a windmill system. As long as there was a little wind, the pump could fill a giant tub with water. The villagers could take their buckets to the water tub.

Well everyone was excited and very happy about the pump system. Then Horace and Petruchio added a most wonderful feature. They raised the tub up above the village and attached a few hoses to it. Then they put meters on the hoses and began to charge villagers for water from their pump system.

The villagers were furious. The claim was that Horace and Petruchio were taking advantage of the drought and charging for what should be free. Horace and Petruchio countered that they had to pay the blacksmith and the carpenter for their work and no one was forced to pay. They could still haul the water to their crops.

It was Chicken Little who led the protesting against Horace and Petruchio. He talked about how everyone had a need for water and it was not right that Horace and Petruchio should make everyone suffer. Henney Penney challenged him to a debate. She said that it was the drought, not Horace and Petruchio, that made everyone suffer. She challenged Chicken Little to provide his service as a scribe for free. After all, she said, Chicken Little was taking advantage of others by making them pay for his skill. Chicken Little said that was different. The person wanting his scribe services could go to another chicken. Horace and Petruchio had a monopoly. They were the only ones who had a pump system. They were asking for payment for water when water was free. Henney Penney countered by saying that they were charging for the pump system. The water was still free. Anyone could go to the ditch and haul it to their crops.

Most everyone agreed with Chicken Little. They were greedy. But Horace and Petruchio refused to give away their pump system. Finally, the mayor decided that the village would buy the pump from Horace and Petruchio and then everyone would have the use of it. Horace and Petruchio, happy to rid themselves of their frustrations, sold the pump system to the village.

That was not the end of the troubles about the pump. First, it had to be decided who was in most need of water. Not a few animals and people got into fights over that. Finally, a schedule was designed so they everyone would know which day they got water. And second, the pump broke down. Horace and Petruchio at first refused to assist the village. Eventually they agreed to standard wages to fix the pump. Third, a big fight broke out over who should get water next. Those who were scheduled said it should be them. Those whose days had been passed over due to the pump being broken said they should have their turn. It took the mayor, Henney Penney and Ignatius to solve that. Fourth, because the pump was free, everyone used as much water as they could, not just what they needed. So the ditch soon ran dry. They had to build more pipes to reach the lake. Then the environmentalists said that the village should levy a tax on water pumped from the lake because there was a great danger of the lake drying up. That started another fight.

This last fight was worst of all. It ended with the mayor, Horace, Petruchio and Ignatius being run out of the village. The villagers proclaimed Chicken Little as mayor.

Chicken Little’s first decree was that the water from the lake would be free. When the village on the other side of the lake heard what was happening, they declared war on Chicken Little’s village. But Chicken Little offered to let them see how to build a pump system. So the war was avoided. But the lake began to dry up. The two villages decided to charge for water. That caused the lake to last a while longer. But everyone could see that they would run out of water soon.

Rumors began to run through the village that it was Chicken Little’s fault. If he had listened to the environmentalists or better yet, if he had just let Horace and Petruchio charge for the use of their pump like was only fair, then there would still be some water in the lake.

It was because of these rumors that Chicken Little was walking around one morning trying to rebuild his support. He did not notice that clouds had gathered to the west and were slowly moving across the sky. He was so busy talking about his wonderful plans for the village that he did not notice how the clouds covered the sky. He did not notice how dark it was getting.

But he did notice the raindrops when they hit him. At first he thought someone had thrown water on him. Then he realized the water was falling from the sky. He panicked. He began to run through the village shouting, “The sky is falling! the sky is falling!”

Everyone began to panic. The young chickens, goats, geese, dogs, cats, calves, lambs and all the young animals began to run around screaming. “The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Take cover! Take cover! No! Not in there. The falling sky will knock your house down.” The panic and screaming went on for some time.

Finally, Henney Penney and a few of the other old hens began to scold the animals. “It’s just rain,” they said, “we should be celebrating.” But no one would listen.

The panic stopped when everyone was exhausted. Then the rain stopped. The older villagers came out of their houses and shook their heads. Thinking they were going to die, Chicken Little and his friends were laying on their backs in the street. Instead of dying they were merely covered in mud and embarrassment.

Henney Penney made a short speech suggesting that the village send someone to bring the mayor back. “We need someone with the proper training to be mayor,” was her main point. And for a short while it seemed like the village would take her advice.

Chicken Little’s campaign to save his neck paid off. No one spoke of the panic. Everyone who had panicked was too embarrassed and the older villagers were too polite to mention it. No one went to find the mayor. “Chicken Little is the mayor now,” was what those who were willing to comment on the subject would say.

The drought was slow in ending. The rain made no difference to the level of the lake. The villages imposed water rationing. Some protested, claiming that the fee charged for water was sufficient to regulate water usage. Others claimed that a few villagers were hauling water from the lake and storing it in barrels and cisterns. A guard was posted to make sure that no one took water from the lake. That brought criticism from the few who preferred to haul water rather than pay for it.

Chicken Little dealt with all of this by prescribing his philosophy: give to the ones who are in need. He appointed his friends to decide just who was truly needy. And he settled back and enjoyed the perks of government.

The old villagers left the village. The humans left, too. Most of them moved up past Henney Penney’s little holding. They began to settle around the old fields where the village had raised grain before it moved closer to the lake. These old fields had become meadows. But they were easy to clear and plant crops. The humans dug wells and found little creeks they could use as sources of water.

Henney Penney walked around the village asking if anyone would help her clear some land on the edge of the forest so that they could plant more grain. She moved back to her old home where she lived before the drought began and the village moved. She said that the lake would rise up into the village when the drought ended, Chicken Little laughed at her. “It’s fifty yards from the shore to the village now. And the village is twenty feet above the shore. Do you have any idea how much water that is? You’re getting old and foolish, Henney Penney.”

She looked hard at him and whispered, “The sky is falling, Chicken Little, the sky is falling.” He was so embarrassed that he couldn’t speak for two minutes. But he didn’t change his mind.

Henney Penney went home and cleared her land. More rain came. The level of the lake slowly began to rise. Spring came. She walked around the village and asked if anyone would help her plant the grain. No one would. “We have plenty of grain. And Chicken Little says that all we have to do is tax those who have and give to those who need.”

Henney Penney asked, “What if no one has any?”

Don’t be silly,” they said, “someone always has grain.”

She shook her head and went back to plant her grain. She had not been able to clear a lot of land, working by herself, but she had cleared a nice field and planted grain. Henny Penny hoped that what she had planted would get her through the winter.

It rained almost every day. “The wettest spring in fifty years,” some would say. But they really didn’t know, not being anywhere near fifty years old. The lake rose too. By the end of March the shore was forty feet from the village. The villagers gave Chicken Little credit for the end of the drought. He said it was really God, but he accepted their accolades.

Unfortunately, the drought was not really over. It did rain in April, but not as much. By the end of April the shore was thirty five feet from the village. At the end of May it was still thirty five feet away. And at the end of June the shore was thirty seven feet from the village. July and August were a bit wetter and the lake maintained its water level.

On her trip into the village Henney Penney asked the villagers if anyone would help her harvest the grain. They politely told her, “No.” Henney Penney harvested a bumper crop in September. She estimated she had enough grain to last three years. And when the sky turned amber and the rain stopped falling she was really grateful to God for the grain.

Her neighbors, the former mayor and his friends, also had bumper crops. But no one in the village knew anything about it. They were afraid that they would be asked to work if they went near the farmers.

It was obvious that this would be a longer drought than the Lavender Sky Drought. The amber sky made it seem even hotter than it was. Henney Penney filled up her cistern and many barrels with water from the springs that trickled down from the hills above her as they flowed into the lake. The former mayor and his friends build huge cisterns to hold water from the springs. But no one knew what they would do when Chicken Little and the villagers found out about the grain and water.

When the villagers came to Chicken Little and asked about water to plant grain he said that each citizen would be given the same amount of water. They could do with it what they wanted. It would rain, soon, he assured them. Just like last time. It would rain in the spring.

When spring came there was no rain. The villagers suspiciously watched each other. No one dared to plant grain when his neighbor was not planting. They knew it would be taken and given to the lazy neighbor. They hoarded what grain they had, pleaded that they had none and begged for more.

Over the summer the lake began to shrink. What had been a huge lake about a mile across had become a small lake about half a mile across. Which meant that most of the water in the lake was gone. Severe water rationing was imposed.

Then a cat named Felix asked about Henney Penney. “Oh, she’s dead,” was Chicken Little’s reply.

Well, maybe she left some in her house.” And the cat headed up the little road to Henney Penney’s house.

Suspicious, many of the villagers followed the cat. Henney Penney saw them coming and figured out what was happening.

Well, hello!” I didn’t think any of you villagers were still around. Well, you’re just in time. I need to grind some grain. I sure could use some help.”

The cat turned around and said, “See, she’s still here. Well, don’t trample me to help her.”

Oh, we can’t help grind grain. We’re too exhausted. We have no grain or water and we’re about to die.

Henney Penney could see that they were still rather fat and far from starving. She told them, “Well, if you won’t help me, then I can’t help you.”

The villagers looked hard at Henney Penney. She was a much thinner chicken than when she lived in the village. They were a rather nosy group, looking here and there. All they found was a barrel half full of grain and a barrel full of water.

Well, we’re glad to see you are doing alright,” the villagers told Henney Penney. And they returned to the village.

The villagers, all of whom were animals, found food over the summer in the forest and fields near the village. There was dry grass in the fields and seeds and nuts in the meadow and forest. While they were out foraging the villagers found the humans.

When the humans suggested that the villagers come and work with them Chicken Little said, “Well, it’s supposed to be that those who have give to those in need. We shouldn’t have to work.”

All the animals agreed. “Imagine not wanting to share!” was the comment, even though none of them was willing to share their hoarded grain with their neighbors.

In early November the bears said they had had enough. They packed up and went looking for a nice cave for their winter hibernation. The hawks, eagles, turkeys, rabbits, squirrels and many other birds and animals said they would do better in the forest. They left, taking their grain with them.

Chicken Little said that it was good, because now there would be more for the rest of the villagers. But it did not seem so.

A few of them wandered back up to see what Henney Penney was doing. She said she had a little flour left and was going to try to bake a cake. She asked for help gathering firewood. None of the animals was interested in gathering firewood for her. So they wandered over to the former mayor’s place.

There they found a thriving farm. The humans were pulling a plow through their fields to get ready for spring planting. They seemed to have enough water and grain. But the animals were not allowed to snoop around.

If you want to join us, you have to be willing to work.” That was all they were told.

Sadly, they went back to the village and told Chicken Little and the others. “Let’s go see if Henney Penney has baked her cake,” suggested Chicken Little.

So they hiked back to Henney Penney’s house.

I asked you to help me clear this land. Not one of you would. I asked you to help me harvest the grain. Not one of you would. I asked you to help me grind some grain. Not one of you would. I asked you to help gather firewood. Not one of you would. And now who do you think is going to eat some of my cake? Not one of you would. I am taking it to the real mayor as a thank you for the help he has given to me!”

In despair, they went back to Chicken Little. He told them he would have to raise taxes again in order to buy grain from another village. One of the roosters, Henry, crowed very loudly and grabbed Chicken Little by the neck. Then the rest of the animals took him and threw him in the mud which used to be the lake.

The last time you were all muddy like that you told us the sky was falling. It is to our shame that we believed you. It is even more to our shame that we kept on believing you. Well, you have been our ruin. We have no choice but to go to the real mayor and see if he will help us.”

The mayor, who was now a farmer, said that he could use some help. “You’ll have to work hard. The horses and oxen will have to pull plows and wagons. The cows and goats will have to share their milk with me. You all will be my property, my livestock.” Because they were thirsty and beginning to starve, the animals agreed.

Like I said at the beginning of this story, it is a sad tale. But then, every version of the Henny Penny or Chicken Little stories that I have heard were, actually, rather sad. It would be nice if there could be some sort of happy ending to this tale. It is a parable. Perhaps the happy ending is what you might learn from it?

‘Tis The Season To Vote…!

Da Da-Da Da Da  ---
Da Da-Da Da Da ---
(Blues ‘riff’ like the Piano Riff in an iPhone)


I was born on the wrong---
Wrong side of the tracks,
With holes in my shirt
And mud on my slacks.
 
The rich treat me wrong
The poor treat me worse
Shun me like I was---
Yeah—Like I was a curse.
 
But I’m gonna go down
‘Cause I have a – Hope
And I got a right—Yeah--
And I’m gonna Vote!


 
The rest of the year
It’s me they ignore,
Don’t care what I want
Or who I’d vote for.
 
When Election Day comes
The ‘Cans and the ‘Crats
Come grovelling to me
Like a pack of starved rats!
 
They stuff my mailbox
With the flesh of dead trees
And fill my TV
With stretched truth and pleas.
 
They truly don’t like
That we have a say
And that we’re going to get
To run things our way!

We do it with votes
Not arrows and spears--
The Rev-o-lution
Happens every two years!
 

The Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull
From Wikipedia Commons

Clip Art of Election Voting Box from imgbin.com




 

 

Seeing Red

– I –

Okay, Frank, get ready. I think I see him. Bright red, moving from lane to lane. He’s coming fast.”

Yeah, I see him. Camera’s ready. When he goes by I’ll start shooting.”

A red flash shot past the truck. Frank pressed the record buttons; in less than a moment the red car was a speck in the camera’s viewfinder.

I don’t know if this will work, Jim. I don’t think there’s ten seconds.”

Don’t worry. A few more days like this and we’ll have him. We’re not making a movie, just recording a jerk.”

Frank wondered about his friend. Jim had been preoccupied with a flamboyant red Honda S2000 and its driver for about two weeks. They usually saw it on Memorial Boulevard, weaving in and out of traffic at high speed. The red Honda had almost caused a wreck. Frank had listened several times to Jim’s moment-by-moment description of how this poor lady driving a Buick had almost been rear-ended by a Volvo. He would go on and on about that incident, even though Frank had been in the truck with him when it happened. Once he got started he kept talking about how he had to walk the lady to a nearby Denny’s, buy her coffee and phone a relative. Then he’d go back to talking about the red car. He would describe the driver, a wiry young man with straight black hair, medium height, who usually wore an Atlanta Falcons ball cap and, as if to purposely infuriate Jim, a rather large golden earring.

Apparently, Jim had a plan; however, he had not revealed all of it to Frank. It involved a video of the car driving recklessly down the road. Frank had known Jim for a long time. Jim was a good Christian man; an elder in their church. But this red car seemed to be an obsession. Frank didn’t think Jim would do anything illegal; but this already seemed crazy. All Frank knew to do was hope—and pray.

– II –

See ya Thursday!” Kevin hollered to a classmate. He put his books on the seat and glanced back at the college with a grin. Here it was October and he was looking at a “B” average. His friends had laughed and laughed when they heard he was going to college. They even pretended to bet on what day he would flunk out. No one had even picked a day in October. The popular bet was Labor Day. He laughed regretfully. He should have taken their bets. He was making it. He might not become a brain surgeon, but he wasn’t going to put up drywall for the rest of his life either. With any luck, he could manage an auto parts store. Anything that was a steady job with a steady income. He never wanted to live job to job the way his father did.

He glanced around the parking lot as the students’ vehicles were moving into position to exit. The tree leaves, he noticed, were just beginning to turn color. The line of cars waiting to merge into traffic began to shrink. It was nice of God, he thought, to let the leaves change color instead of just dropping to the ground to quickly turn brown. As the last car moved into the street Kevin opened his car door, slipped into the seat, buckled the safety belt and turned the key. The sound of mechanical power fueled by gasoline was music to his ears. He moved the car to his spot: the point at the far end of the parking lot where he could see past the trees and into the street. It was time to head across town and today Vera would be waiting for him. He looked at his watch, set the timer and started the car. He felt “game mode” commence, much like when he turned on his X-Box. Muscles tensed, senses quickened, nerves steeled. Checking the street for traffic and seeing none, he pressed the timer button on his watch and launched the car from its parking space. It shot across the parking lot, reaching 35 MPH before it hit the street. Like a small red space ship racing around other ships, meteors and space debris, the little red Honda flew down University Avenue. His eyes racing, seeking the enemy, spotting hazards, moving back and forth, in and out, feeling the machine roar with the power he controlled. Driving: the greatest game in the world.

The stoplight at University and Springer forced a tire squealing halt. Just as the light turned green, he accelerated over the railroad tracks with a nice bounce. At the intersection of Springer and Memorial Boulevard he tried a new trick. Pulling into the right turn lane on Springer, he arched right onto the paved shoulder of Memorial Boulevard, and checked for traffic in the mirror. He had split seconds to merge, but it was great! He gained at least seven seconds, maybe ten over a green light, and minutes over a red one. Memorial Boulevard was always easy. The traffic wasn’t too bad at this hour, and he could just fly. He was there in a flash. He steered a tight arc into the parking lot and gently rolled into his special space. He switched the ignition key to off and then pressed the button on his watch. 11 minutes, 16 seconds was the time on the dial. It was just average. His best time was 10 minutes 18 seconds. He guessed the stoplight had slowed him down.

He got out and started walking toward the restaurant. Vera always teased him about parking so far out in the lot. But he needed the same space every time and he wanted to make sure no one banged his car with their doors. He looked back at the car gleaming in the afternoon sun. Every day he said a thank you to his grandfather for giving him the car for his high school graduation present. It was a gift beyond his wildest dreams: an old Honda S2000 in need of a little restoration. Even if his grandfather could have afforded a new one, Kevin preferred one he could fix. Not only had he restored the body and the upholstery, he had rebuilt the engine. And not just rebuilt; he had tweaked it to perfection. It ran better than Honda ever dreamed. It was now a true show car, and he was proud of it.

– III –

Idiot!” Jim hollered as he quickly pumped the brake pedal, swerving his truck a little to the right to avoid hitting the car that had just pulled in front of him. Frank looked hard at Jim. They had been riding to work together for several years. He had never seen Jim this frantic; he didn’t recall ever seeing anyone so stressed for such a long time. Jim used to be a very careful driver. He called it “watchful driving” and said he was watching out for the idiots the government licensed; then he’d laugh and say, “Like me.” Too bad, he didn’t see himself that way now.

You know, Frank, sometimes I think the morning drivers are the worst. That guy just now, seems like he’s trying to get in an accident. Maybe the bum just doesn’t want to go to work.”

Frank murmured agreement. Anything less would bring Jim’s wrath on him. He’d tried once to point out that maybe the other driver was another human being with worried and cares. The tirade Jim delivered almost caused Frank to drive alone. But later Jim apologized, and Frank decided to continue riding with him. However, he didn’t stop praying every time he got in Jim’s truck.

You’re lucky, Frank. Six more months of this stupidity and you’re done. I’ve got two years before retirement. Two years, one month and thirteen days before I can ditch these idiot rush hour drivers.” He wished Jim wouldn’t talk about retirement. Frank was still a little bitter about the way the recent reorganization had forced retirement on him. Those two years would mean a lot in terms of retirement pay. Still, that was better than Jim’s new job supervising a herd of college kids. He had almost laughed out loud when Jim told him of his new position.

It’s like they’re brainless!” Jim was yelling about the traffic again, “Look at that! No turn signal. Just jump around from one lane to the other. It’s not faster to drive like that. I’ve proved it.”

Unless you’re that red car.” As soon as Frank said it, he regretted it.

Jim was silent for a moment. It was almost exactly like the moment when they launch the space shuttle. A brief silence as ignition takes place, and then the rockets start blasting. It only took moments for Jim to go into orbit, circling round and round the same old stuff. The accidents the red car almost caused, the way it surprised other drivers when the red Honda slipped in front of them from out of nowhere, other drivers that tried to emulate the red car, where were the police, what good is government, punk kids with no respect for themselves or anyone else and that damn earring.

Maybe Frank would start driving by himself. At least he wouldn’t have to watch every word. Could he risk Jim’s friendship for six months of peace?

– IV –

Martha looked at the clock: 11:30 pm. She sighed, realizing she’d missed the TV news. Jim was still talking about that kid in the red car. It was way past bedtime and he was still wound up. She had to force him into the shower. Now, sitting on the edge of the bed, she started to cry. How, she wondered, could she get Jim into counseling?

Focusing mindlessly on his dresser, she began to notice the items on it: the car keys, the cologne, the little frog dish their son had made where Jim kept his tie-bar, his college beer mug which now functioned as a coin bank, the old hair brush that she so disliked but he refused to throw away. They were familiar items, each reflecting a small part of him. Even though it seemed like none of these things could help, she had stopped crying.

She couldn’t help but ponder her husband’s words. Apparently, Frank had joined him to try to make a video of the red car speeding down the street. Today, they had recorded several cars slamming on brakes, surprised by the movement of the red car. Jim was overjoyed. “It was,” he kept saying, “the icing on the cake.” He never did tell her why he wanted a video of the car.

However, he did tell her about what he called a stroke of luck. They were able to follow the kid into an Italian restaurant in a shopping plaza over in Clifton Terrace. It seemed the kid was very friendly with one of the waitresses. Jim’s focus was so narrow that he couldn’t even describe the restaurant to her, but he told her almost everything the kid had done.

She gathered that there was a counter in the restaurant and the kid sat on a stool at the far end of it. Jim told her that he and Frank sat at a table right behind him, where they could hear much of what was said. They learned that the kid’s name was Kevin and the waitress was named Vera.

Jim was incensed that the kid drove fast and reckless just to see a girl. She watched her husband get angry, raising his voice to nearly a shout, telling her how the fool kid wasn’t rushing to work, or anything that might offer a rationalization: he was just a careless, reckless kid endangering others for no reason at all. She had rarely seen her husband so upset and angry. Even the time Jim Jr. sneaked out when he was grounded, went to a party and came home drunk, she didn’t remember that Jim was this upset.

Thinking of their oldest son made her look at the frog dish again. Could this have something to do with Jim Jr.? When the news came that the plane he was flying had crashed in a training exercise they both felt that more than just their son had died. Could something about this kid remind Jim of their son? All she knew was to listen, love him and pray. She did not remember the last time they had prayed together. He just talks about the kid and the car. At least he was talking about it. It would be worse if he kept it bottled up inside. Maybe one day soon he would say something that would help her understand.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Jim, invigorated from his shower, enthusiastically jabbering about the plan he developed while in the shower.

Honey, slow down! I don’t have the foggiest notion what you’re talking about. Now come over here, lay down on the bed and tell me what you figured out.” And, she hoped, go to sleep.

He walked over toward the bed, but stood in front of her to explain his plan. “Well, I’ll just take a copy of the video to that restaurant and give it to him. I can get him talking about rude drivers and people who don’t know how to drive–jerks never think they drive like that–and then I’ll give him the disk. That’ll teach him.”

She said nothing, but looked at him as if he’d just asked her to sleep on the roof. “Well?” He was very uncomfortable with her silence, but knew from experience not to push her.

Finally, she made her statement, “You get in a fight and get arrested for brawling with that kid and I’ll let you rot. And then I’ll get up in front of the entire Church on Sunday morning and tell them you couldn’t be there because you’re a damned fool.”

Jim was stunned. “Martha, Honey, there’s not going to be a fight. I just want to stop that fool kid from causing an accident. I’m not going to tell him what’s on the disk, I’m going to make up some story about having a disk of some inconsiderate driver and maybe he might help me figure out what to do and then I’ll go to the truck and get it, and give it to him, and leave. I’m going to be a friend, and he’s going to help me find this rude driver. No confrontation. No fight. Just a friendly conversation anda parting gift. He’ll never see me again. And if he keeps endangering people, I’ll sen d a copy to the police. If he drives safely, well, all’s well that ends well.”

She looked up at him, “I don’t know. You’ve been acting so crazy lately. Nothing but that fool kid. You don’t talk about anything else. I don’t know why he bothers you so much. You’ve quit reading. You quit watching C-span. You don’t know anything about football this year. You don’t even know what I fixed for dinner.” She paused a moment. He wanted to say “Chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, broccoli, biscuits and ice cream for dessert,” but he knew better.

It’s been weeks since we prayed together,” she continued. “I don’t think you’ve prayed at all lately. You do nothing but fret over that kid. Nothing. Nothing but that kid. Now don’t say another word, just get in bed and go to sleep.”

He lay down on the bed, reached over and turned off the light, and whispered, “Martha, I love you. I love you very much.”

– V –

It was one of those cool, wet autumn days when a cold front was washing away the last vestiges of summer. Kevin loved the weather. Rain, snow, sunshine, any weather was wonderful. Today he loved the way the cool damp rain had cleaned the air and left it fresh and sharp. He had even dressed for the rain because he would need to walk in it between classes. As he sped down the street, the S2000 created a wonderful cloud of water that sprayed everywhere. He wished he could turn around and watch the spray, but he had to keep his eyes on the road. The rain had been extremely heavy and there were puddles on the pavement that could make the car hydroplane. The puddles were one more obstacle for him to avoid and they added to the challenge. There was little traffic, and he was able to really fly down the center of Memorial Boulevard.

He spun the car into his special parking space and tapped the button on his watch. 10 minutes and 12 seconds was the reading. He looked at it again, gave out a loud joyful yell. A new record time! He just set a new record time and he did it in the rain! He hardly remembered the drive; everything went so smoothly. He sat there for a few minutes, celebrating. There was a great old Rolling Stones song on the radio and he could sing along with the chorus, “Jumping Jack Flash is a g-g-gas!” He wanted to do something special to celebrate, and decided to give Vera a flower. So he put the car into gear and headed across the street to the florist’s. The radio began reporting an accident on Memorial Boulevard. Traffic had stopped in both westbound lands. He looked down the street and noticed that there was no traffic in front of the plaza, so they must be right. He could drive straight across with no problem. It occurred to him that he could be caught in that traffic jam. He said a thank-you to whatever gods watched over the traffic.

Kevin bought Vera a red carnation. He didn’t have enough money for a rose. The florist was nice and wrapped it up with some tiny white flowers. As he returned to his special parking space, he noticed the girls under an awning outside the restaurant, pointing at him and laughing. At first he was puzzled by their laughter. Then he stared in amazement as he realized why they were laughing and pointing at him. The parking lot had filled with water up to the curb.

The rain had tapered off to a drizzle. If the girls weren’t watching, it wouldn’t be a problem, but how, he wondered, does one wade through a parking lot with your girlfriend and her friends watching you? Should he move the car up closer to the curb? That seemed like wimping out, and he’d still have to wade through the water. He decided to ignore the water. His black boots were laced up over his jeans, and he had his leather jacket for the drizzle. He held the flower carefully in his left hand, stepped out of the car and tried to walk nonchalantly toward the restaurant.

It dawned on him when he was halfway there that he was in a no-win situation. The girls would laugh no matter what he did. Seemed like it was always that way. No matter what, the world laughed at you. It set you up and laughed. Unconsciously, he looked up to the sky. It was very low, dark and ominous. For a moment, it seemed that the whole world was out to get him.

Then he saw the smile on Vera’s face. Something in her look was warming and loving. Just for a second he saw how sexy he must look to her; but he let it slip by, thinking himself looking foolish wading through the parking lot. It had started raining a little bit harder as soon as he closed the car door. But he couldn’t run in water that deep. Because of the splashing he made wading to curb and the sound of the girls giggling, he felt like a real fool. He had no idea that the girls might be giggling because the tall, beefy young man with long dark hair, leather jacket and his jeans tucked into his boots striding vigorously toward them through the rain looked dark, handsome and very sexy.

As he stepped up on the curb Vera ran up, accepted the flower and kissed him as though she were reaffirming her claim on him. When she loosened her hold on him, Kevin found himself facing her girlfriends. He wanted to melt away like cotton candy in the rain, but he could only think to greet the girls properly. He took off his cap and made a bow, like a knight or duke might make, and sauntered into the restaurant. The girls giggled some more and clapped nervously. He felt extremely foolish, in spite of Vera’s kiss, and buried himself on the stool at the far end of the counter.

The restaurant was completely empty, which explained the girls being outside. It wasn’t empty very long. The rain stopped, the parking lot drained quickly and customers who had been sitting patiently in their cars wandered in. Kevin felt even more foolish, realizing that almost everyone in the restaurant saw him wade through the parking lot and make a fool of himself.

– VI –

Jim left work a few minutes early: Frank had found another ride home. It was odd how Frank suddenly developed some excuse to do something at the house and couldn’t join him this afternoon. Jim wished he could leave early every day, since the traffic was so light. The rain eased into drizzle and driving was relatively easy. He was coasting to avoid hydroplaning in a large puddle when a wall of water suddenly covered his truck. Instinctively, he hit the brake, and fright made him hit it too hard. He hydroplaned to the shoulder. Fortunately, no one was behind him. In the distance, he could see a red Honda S2000 straddling both lanes.

Anger does strange things. Sometimes it makes you act hotheaded and irrational. Sometimes it makes you act in a cold, calculated manner. Jim, shook up by the near accident, sat quietly for a moment. A couple of deep, angry breaths and he put the truck in gear and checked the traffic. It was clear, so he pulled back onto the right lane and continued toward the restaurant. He couldn’t think. All he could do was drive.

The red S2000 wasn’t in the parking lot. Unfortunately, the parking lot was full of water. He would have to wait for it to drain. He parked his truck a short distance away from the restaurant. The entire parking lot and the restaurant were visible from his vantage point.

Jim began thinking about how he was going to handle things. How, for example, would he get to talk to the kid? Then, could he get the conversation turned to inconsiderate drivers? Finally, what would the kid do?

Lightning struck close by, followed by a peal of extremely loud thunder. The rain dropped from the sky like someone pouring out a huge bucket of water.

Staring at the downpour, Jim wondered what the kid’s face would look like when he saw the video. Then a thought jarred him like thunder: he would not be there when the kid looked at the video. He would not get to see the kid’s face! Jim felt robbed. He stared at the clouds and the rain blowing across the parking lot and could not understand why he had not seen this flaw in his plan. What good was it if you couldn’t see the look on the guy’s face when you get him? It made him think of an old movie, The Sting. He had always wondered why the heroes went to such an elaborate scheme when they couldn’t tell the villain that they had beat him. For Robert Redford’s character it wasn’t the money; it was the revenge. He got everything but seeing the guy’s face.

Jim wanted more. He wanted more than revenge. He wanted more than to see the kid’s face. He wanted to hurt the kid. He wanted to hurt the kid and he really wanted to hurt that car. He imagined a rifle. A .22 caliber rifle. He could almost feel the rifle in his hands aiming at where he imagined the red car would park. He was trying to decide whether to shoot the car with the kid in it, or let the kid get out, then shoot the car while the kid watched. He took a practice shot. His anger was so great that he could feel the recoil of the rifle. He laid the rifle on the dashboard. Looking across the parking lot, he could see water pouring into the lot from the street. Near where he thought the red car would park, he could see the kid lying in the water, blood pouring from a single hole in the side of his head.

Jim blinked. The parking lot was empty except for a blue Volkswagen and a black Civic. The rain had once again reverted to a light drizzle. Three more cars pulled into the parking lot. Then the enemy appeared.

The red S2000 seemed to glide into its parking place. Jim watched Kevin fiddling with something. Slowly, he reached for the rifle. His anger was so great that he could feel it. Solid, cold, wicked: and very comfortable in his hands.

He fired a round into the rear window. The second round went through the left rear window and the right front window. Kevin got out of the car. He put the third round through the trunk, aiming down so the bullet would pass through the gas tank. The explosion was beautiful.

Kevin didn’t seem to notice. He was holding something in his hands, something precious. He was walking, almost strutting, and splashing through the water as if it were not there. Jim aimed at the precious thing in Kevin’s hands, fired, and saw the red blood. He aimed at Kevin’s head and fired again. As he fired, he saw the precious object and recognized something very familiar in the way Kevin was strutting toward the restaurant.

As Kevin fell to the ground, the sky immediately turned blue, the sun was shining and Jim was working in the flower bed in his front yard. His son, Jim Jr. was strutting up the walk, carrying a red carnation to his mother for her birthday. Instead of a shovel, the tool in his hand was a .22 caliber rifle. Jim Jr. was dead on the sidewalk.

Lightning flashed, thunder roared, and Jim saw Vera kiss Kevin as he gave her the red carnation.

– VII –

It was a good ten minutes before Jim began to realize his surroundings. He had been crying, sobbing, weeping, unable to cope with the emotional pain. As he began to comprehend his situation, the sobbing started again.

He had committed murder. Not actually, but in his heart. He knew that if there had been a rifle in his truck, he would have used it. He wanted revenge, but he had no idea why. Revenge, vengeance, retribution, justice. In his mind he could hear the words, “’Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord,” and, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” Here he was supposed to be a leader in his church setting an example for others, and he was down here seeking to murder a kid.

Jim sat in his truck staring at the rain and finally he did something he had not done in weeks. He bowed his head. “Oh Lord, forgive me,” was all he could say. He sat there for a few minutes, head bowed, repenting. It all came up, like eating something rotten, only this was spiritual food: the attitudes and thoughts he had feasted upon. The traffic, the red car, the kid, the reorganization at work, the young men and women he was supervising, his age and retirement, even his anger at God over the death of his son, all were elements of his life that he had tried to manage himself. He was trying to manage a whirlwind, a tornado that had ripped up his life, spreading confusion and anger. It was so easy to get sucked in and blown away. Nothing in any of this was for the glory of God. He had to drop all of it. Just let it go. Just do his job for the glory of God. Just drive the truck for the glory of God. Just let God have it all, the kids at work, the jerks on the highway, his son, everything. It wasn’t going to be easy to give all that stuff to God.

He suddenly realized that he was sitting in his truck with the windows rolled up and fogged over. Thankfully, no one had seen him. That was good. He wiped the inside of the windshield. The rain had stopped. The water in the parking lot was down to less than an inch at most. Many of the restaurant’s customers were splashing through it in anticipation of a steaming plate of spaghetti. Their splashing reminded him of Kevin strutting through the water carrying that flower.

Foolish kid. He was amazed that the kid got out and walked to the restaurant. The kid had guts. He could never have done that. Walking through water, even with good sturdy boots, was a risky thing to do with those girls watching, but it seemed a normal thing for him to do. How he handled the girls was another matter. If Martha had kissed him like that in front of her girlfriends, Jim would have turned around and fled into the darkest part of the restaurant. All those girls laughing and giggling would have been too much. Kevin, Jim guessed, must be what they called “cool.”

His son was like that. Jim Jr. would have splashed through the water to give a girl a flower. He would not have worn an earring; but he would have kissed a girl like that. Jim had seen it happen. He was grateful that Martha had never done that to him. Kissing should be done in private. Martha’s kisses were wonderful. Private and wonderful.

Martha! How could he tell her about this? Should he? How could he keep it from her? He didn’t know what she would think, but he had to tell her. She was upset with him last night. She didn’t say anything to him this morning. Remembering her tirade last night, he realized how idiotic he had been. She was right; there would have been a fight.

He sat quietly. The rain stopped. The remaining water drained out of the parking lot as the wind blew the clouds away. The calmness that now strengthened him was a welcome relief. He sat in prayer, asking God what he should do. If he left now Kevin just might cause an accident and kill someone. However, he couldn’t just walk in and give the video to the kid. He prayed patiently, honestly listening to God. It wasn’t long before he had his answer.

When he opened the restaurant door, he saw Kevin sitting at the far end of the counter. Jim looked back at the red car in the parking lot, then up toward Heaven. “Thank you,” he said quietly, and entered the restaurant.

Vera was delivering four plates of spaghetti to a booth by the window. He walked up to the counter. One of the other girls greeted him with a smile. Jim smiled back and pointed to Vera, “I need to see her.”

Vera appeared behind the counter.

Handing the DVD to her, Jim said, “Hello. You have a friend who doesn’t understand what he is doing. Perhaps this will help him understand his situation. I hope, for his sake, that it does.” He turned around and walked out the door.

 

The photo of the Honda S2000 I found on Flickr…Google marked it as “Labeled for Reuse”. I found it at https://www.flickr.com/photos/vivekjena/9167263841. I altered the license plate so that the actual number is unreadable.

The Inheritance Cycle

 

First, let me say that these books are fun. “A boy and his dragon” always has potential for a fun romp through fantasy land. These books keep that promise, for the most part. They are not “perfect” but they are really fun to read. That’s why I recently picked them up to read them again. I was in the mood for reading an adventure tale that was loads of fun.

The fun begins quite early. But it quickly enters the realm of human reality. I don’t want to subject you to “spoilers” so I won’t say much about the plot. I do want you to know just what these books are. So, without popping ‘spoilers’ on you by discussing the plot, I will tell you why this cycle is great writing. To start, this boy and his dragon go for a romp that equals the ideas of the hero which Joseph Campbell outlines. We have the evil king, the training of the novice knight, dragons, elves, dwarves and evil monsters: most of the elements we enjoy in our fantasy-fairy tales. But it’s all rolled into a world that is cohesive and logical. As we read we experience joy and heartbreak. We are subjected to puns and jokes and other sorts of humor as well as heroism, loyalty, integrity, unbroken friendship and, of course, death of loved ones, betrayal, humiliation and the agony of defeat.

When I first read Eragon I had no idea that this book was written by a teenager. Of the hero tales I have read, none of them deal with “teenage angst” the way this story does. The character, Eragon, sometimes does things that are quite immature. He is a flawed human who tries to overcome his deficiencies, and, to the character’s credit, he does a decent job of it. It is to Christopher Paolini’s credit that the way in which Eragon acts is believable. It is also to Paolini’s credit that nothing seems “contrived”. There is no fake suspense as a character enters a house where the evil monster lurks. The characters in the story and the readers both know what’s going on. We suspect that, when the hero enters the house the monster will be destroyed, but we don’t know that. The suspense here is long-term. The description of the fighting is realistic. The characters feel the stress of their quest and so do we, the readers.

In addition, the world that Paolini creates reflects the reality of our world, and Paolini uses the reality of his imaginary world to comment on our world. As the story flows, we readers are asked to consider for ourselves the meaning of war, evil, religion, and other human cultural characteristics. Not in a barrage or a sermon, but as Eragon explores his world, he asks questions. In the first novel the boy turns 16. For many of my ancestors, 16 was the age one married and began to live as an adult. I and my friends were getting our driver license at 16. However, Eragon is charged with a quest, not one that he chose, but one that was thrust upon him. With the quest thrust upon him, Eragon must quickly enter the ‘adult’ world. Yet he is still a youth, and some of those he meets will do their best to remind him of this.

In order to deal with this, Eragon asks questions about the “meaning of life” and so we, the readers, are confronted with the reality of immortality, the true nature of magic, the existence of God and other philosophical and ethical questions. For example, one of the elves that help train Eragon asks him, “Why do you fight?” This is not so Paolini can preach his opinion of war. It is essential to the plot that Eragon understands why he fights against the empire. But, in Eragon’s pondering and his dialog with others, we, the readers, are given a chance to think about the necessity of war. Eragon makes the choice the plot demands…but…we are not forced to agree with him.

Much later in the story I found a section that discussed war in a different sort of way. It reminded me a little bit of C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet and a discussion that occurs that story. In Out of the Silent Planet Lewis describes a world that is not “fallen”. The inhabitants of this world are not “bent” toward Sin the way humans are. However, they enjoy certain activities that provide for heroic effort and courage. And that is, as I recall, one of Joseph Campbell’s themes. Humans need to prove themselves through heroic effort and courageous acts. He offers, I think, that religion provides a framework for this type of endeavor. 

The concept of privacy is examined through the mechanism of mental telepathy. Moral responsibility is examined in all sorts of ways. The racism of Humans, Elves, Dwarves and Urgals permeates the story. Paolini does seem to address much of this directly. That is because his main character is always asking questions, meeting new & different “races” such as dwarves and elves, and goes into an intensive training. As this main character, Eragon, learns about the world beyond his little village, we also must deal with the same questions he has.

There is a scene in the third novel that comments on much of this ethical pondering in a way that is most typical of Paolini. Eragon and a Kull (a giant Urgal humans and dwarves mistrust, mostly because they are a very warlike race, like the Klingons of Star Trek) are on a mission together. They are camped in the mountains when a giant wolf native to the mountains wanders by their camp. Eragon, through telepathy, talks to the wolf. At this point, Eragon accepts the wolf and invites it to eat the entrails of the deer they have cleaned and is currently roasting on a spit. The Kull, not being a telepath, does not know what has transpired. He accepts Eragon’s warning not to attack the wolf, but he displays his distrust of the animal. Paolini does not delve into the racial comparisons of Human, Kull and Wolf. Instead, he just tells us the story and we, the reader, can bring into the scene our understanding of how the Kull frequently battle these wolves and dislike them. But Eragon, with no history of fighting these wolves, befriends it. Paolini does not preach, he describes the situations his characters play out. The rest is up to the reader.

Again, I’m commenting on on the non-plot aspects of these tales because I hope you will be able to enjoy these books as much as I do. As I re-read this tale, I remember that the plot was the main point for me on first reading. I was astounded by the twists and turns that Paolini implements on his characters. But I sometimes am astounded by the events my characters find themselves facing.

The magic that is practiced in Eragon’s world is much more believable than that of the Harry Potter books. Using magic in Harry Potter’s world does not ‘cost’ him anything. Harry has the ability to flick his wand chanting some words and thus he can bring forth a cup of tea. A magician in Eragon’s world can say words that will produce a cup of tea, but he will expend the same amount of energy that it would take to produce it without using magic. In Harry Potter’s world those who use magic do not normally interact with those who do not. In Eragon’s world the magicians and other humans live together, and work together. Not that the “non-magic” fully accept magic. For the most part they seem to tolerate it, but they do not actually like it. That magic is the industrial technology of Eragon’s world is emphasized by the fact that, at one point, magic is used to manufacture a product that can be sold to raise money.

For us, on Earth, the equivalent could be the Industrial Revolution. We like the products of industry, but we dislike the way industry dehumanizes us. We like the way industry has removed the pollution of animal feces which resulted in typhoid and other horrid illnesses. But we dislike the way industry produces water and air pollution that could end up making water undrinkable and air unbreathable.

Now that I’ve said all the above, you’re probably wondering how in the world this story could be fun to read. Well, I give Christopher Paolini credit for telling a wild, crazy tale. And…I have skipped over the plot. This is written without ‘spoilers’ so that you can enjoy the books as I and other readers have. As I have said, there is very little preaching. Instead, the writing here is very action oriented. It is through the dialog and actions of the characters as the story progresses that these philosophic concepts are encountered. But that’s the fun part. These stories as marketed as “Teen” stories. But they truly are, in my opinion, written for both teens and adults. (Personally, I think the publishing industry labels books “Teen” if they do not contain lurid sexual encounters and plenty of English curse words. That Paolini chose the ‘high ground’ and avoided lurid sex and English curse words makes these books more enjoyable.) We encounter these concepts, but we are left to draw our own conclusions. I bring them up because I want you to understand that these books are not simple fairy tales with little else to recommend them.

All this, in my opinion, makes The Inheritance Cycle more than fantasy genre, it moves the book into “literature”. Not that the story is as refined and polished as Lord of the Rings, but that it can sit on the same shelf.

The Fantasy Tale: An Observation

 

I love fantasy tales. This section of Always Rejoicing contains my thought on some of my favorite fantasy tales. Consider that, for most of us, the first literature we encounter is commonly called a Fairy Tale such as Cinderella. This site is about Joy. It’s about the things that point to Joy and to Heaven. Fairy Tales and Fantasy have a way of pointing to Joy. They have a way of helping us understand Heaven.

That’s because Heaven is, for many, a fantasy. However, Fantasy has its roots firmly planted in Reality. There are many qualities that make a story a Fantasy. But any story that has talking animals is, basically, indulging in a fantasy. So, by that definition, Animal Farm is a fantasy. Yet Animal Farm helps us understand the Reality of our world.

Another element of fantasy is the wondrous machine. Included in this would be the famous time machine. Space ships are also included—but they will be fantasy for not too many more years. What you might not realize is that Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged also contains wondrous machines, including the steel alloy that one of her characters invents. Those who have read it should now realize other elements of that story that are wondrous machines. ‘Nuff said…I don’t want any spoilers for those who have not read it.

The use of magic is probably the most frequent quality that identifies a fantasy story. Diana Gabeldon’s Outlander stories include a sort of magic. She structures it in such a way that it almost appears to be a real scientific quality. The Harry Potter stories are probably some of the best know magic tales. What we don’t often recognize is that the fantasy story does not work well if the magic or wondrous machine or talking animals are the focus of the story. There must be something else for the story to work.

That quality is called the “plot”. The fantasy stories that are best are the ones that employ the “quest” as the foundation of the plot. If you read my story about the Stone Circle you’ll see that the protagonist experiences events, but he does not actually do anything. However, if I told you that the story was chapter one of a novel, you would immediately see that there are many options for a quest plot. That’s why we love stories like The Oddessy. We enjoy reading about the hero and his quest.

That brings me to the first point of this essay. I have read many critics of the fantasy tale which complain bitterly that the author has ‘borrowed’ from stories like Lord of the Rings to tell his/her tale. They say that these ‘borrowed’ elements detract from the story. The critic wants a new story with new elements. Or the critic complains because vampires don’t work the way the author portrays them. Or the story contains elves that look exactly like elves in LOTR. Or—worst of all—they are upset because the hero meets a mentor who teaches the hero the things needed to accomplish the quest, just like in Star Wars.

What I think these critics do not understand is the foundation of the fantasy quest story. That’s in spite of the fact that Joseph Campbell’s works, including The Hero With a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth tell us exactly why these stories seem to be similar. They also explain why vampires in one story are different from vampires in another story or that the dwarves or elves seem the same. (What qualities must a creature have vs. an author’s concept of how that creature might work.) Or why the protagonist meets a mentor who teaches him how to accomplish his quest.

What I’m actually saying is that a genre of fiction must produce certain qualities to satisfy the requirements of that genre. And when a critic complains because a story does not meet his/her criteria my first question is, “Do you understand the genre?” Complaining because a dragon can or cannot fly, because the hero meets a mentor, because the elves look like elves in another story, et cetera, reveals that the critic does not know what he/she is talking about. Would you complain because the hero in a “Western” rides a horse or uses a pistol or seems to be much like John Wayne?

Please do not misunderstand me here. I do not subscribe to all the nonsense that Joseph Campbell offers in terms of theology and religion. I do think he has a valid and very useful point about how the concept of the hero on a quest works. Shakespeare employs these ideas in many of his plays. Some of the best King Arthur stories follow these ideas. I think these hero concept ideas work even in the detective mystery story, the straightforward drama, even romance novels.

Finally, I’d like to address the idea that stories that involve magic are inherently evil and Christians should avoid them. To understand this, one needs to understand exactly what “magic” really is: it is the manipulation of the elements of this world in order to achieve a personal goal. For example, if I employ a magic carpet to carry me from my home to the store then I have used magic to accomplish a personal goal.

But,” you say, “the Bible tells us that sorcery is a sin.” And I must agree. It does say that. My answer starts with a question: “What’s the difference between using an automobile to go to the store and using a magic carpet to go to the store?”

Magic is a technology. By saying the right combination of words one can manipulate the environment. We, in the ‘modern world’ use what we call Science and Technology to manipulate our environment. What, I must ask, is the difference between a crystal ball and using Skype?

In these fantasy stories we can easily see how magic is extremely difficult to use “for good only”. In fact, that’s one of the main ideas of LOTR: many want to use the ring for good, but we see that it would only end up being used for evil. While that idea is not so clear in the Harry Potter stories, we easily see it in the King Arthur stories.

And that brings me back to my question about the magic carpet and the automobile. What the fantasy story can do is show us how a technology, magic, is very very dangerous. The problem is that sorcery is sinful, not because of what it is, but because of what we are.

So, yes I do enjoy Fantasy. An author can make racial comments about elves and dwarves without sounding ‘politically incorrect’. And magic can be a comment on science and technology. But mostly, it’s just fun to read about imaginary worlds–or our world with imaginary elements added. It’s fun to read about how the ‘farm boy’ struggles with impossible obstacles to rescue the damsel in distress. We cheer for Luke Skywalker, just as the ancient Greeks cheered for Jason.

And, no, I have not really dealt with the question of the Bible and Magic. That’s far beyond my intention here. I do intend to discuss it in my comments on my favorite fantasy tales. For now, let me ask this question: Should one read or watch a story about lust and adultery; is a story about a swindler or murder sinful in and of itself? Be careful how you answer this…for the Bible contains these types of stories.