New Book Reviews: The One Discovered by Yvette Calleiro, Journey to the Rainbow’s End by Forrest Stepnowski, and The Ex Chronicles by Maura Beth Brennan

Three great reviews for three great books by three great authors, brought to us by another great writer and reviewer, Vashti Quiroz-Vega:

The Writer Next Door

Hello, everyone! I hope you are all safe and healthy.

“There is no place like home.”

~L. Frank Baum

The best thing we could do right now to slow the spread of the coronavirus is to stay home. Of course, that’s not possible for everyone, but if you can work from home you should. Self isolation has worked well for other countries and in past pandemics. Practice social distancing even if you’re young and healthy because although your chances of dying from COVID– 19 is low you could still spread the disease to people that are vulnerable and could die from it.

I’d like to thank all the people in the medical field, including my brother Ralph, who’s at the front lines every day, and my cousins Lissette, Ray, Miguel, Leo, and Sonya. You’re putting yourselves at risk on a daily basis to help those in need. Thank you.

Changing…

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Poetry Friday ~ The Night Sky

Vashti Quiroz-Vega and her friends are sharing a wondrously poetic view of the night sky. Enjoy…

The Writer Next Door

Hi, everyone! Welcome.

Photo by Mark Basarab

It’s the fourth week of the month – time for a Theme Prompt! Last month, Colleen Chesebro from Colleen’s 2020 Weekly Poetry Challenge selected Sally Cronin to pick this month’s theme:

The Night Sky

I am the night sky

you are the feverish stars

that fill up my soul

You are the night sky

I am the stars you embrace

only to help me

shimmer all the more brighter

you hold me close until dawn

Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger

Thanks for stopping by today! Have a safe and happy Friday!

Why don’t you join me on:

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/vashtiwrites/

Twitter http://twitter.com/VashtiQV

BookBub https://www.bookbub.com/profile/vashti-quiroz-vega

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Grinders – New Release from C.S. Boyack @virgilante

New CYBERPUNK release from C.S. Boyak, master storyteller. Check it out, and learn more about Author Boyak and his work!

Writing and Music

It is with excitement and great pleasure that I turn my blog site over to C.S. Boyack today so that he can tell you about his latest cyberpunk novel, Grinders!

Take it away, Craig!

Thanks for the invitation today, Jan. I’m honored to address your fans with my new book, Grinders. I’ve offered multiple topics on this tour, and I’m really excited that you chose The Grid.

Grinders is a cyberpunk story, set in San Francisco. This means an environment with a lot of neon, holographic advertising, and bustle. Computers and the Internet are a big part of these stories. That’s the “cyber” part. They also seem to have a seedy, almost underground, element to them. That’s the “punk” part. Now that you know what we’re dealing with, let’s talk about The Grid.

The Grid falls firmly under the cyber part of the environment, but it’s more than that. It’s…

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My Review – “Strange HWY: SHORT STORIES” – @BeemWeeks

A fine review by Maretha M. Botha of a fine book!

MarethMB

It feels like the “Good Old Times” to me this month as I’ve enjoyed the pleasant pastime of being my old self again – a bookworm! I’ve not ceased to marvel at the high standard of Indie Authors’ books I’ve had the pleasure to read this past week. Here is another review from me. I hope you like it enough to read the collection for yourself!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/review/R1DPMDYJS809DH/ref=pe_1572281_66412651_cm_rv_eml_rv0_rv

“Strange HWY: Short Stories” by author Beem Weeks – my first reading exposure to this amazing author – had me reading non-stop, and then go back again to those stories that played around in my mind – those that won’t let you forget – such asOvercome (Holy Water) where the author uses such writing skills to make me strongly dislike an elderly white resident, Jimbo Rutherford, and his infamous, “Know your place boy”, frequently repeated phrase to a young African…

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Veneer, from Comes this Time to Float: 19 Short Stories by Stephen Geez

Veneer

from Comes this Time to Float: 19 Short Stories by Stephen Geez

 

Okay, I wrote this one for a literary journal, too. They asked for something that addresses class and race. I limited the point of view to one old lady, and I let the narrative reflect her ways of seeing and speaking. I did grow up in the melting-pot of Detroit suburbs in the 1960s, an era when rioting and racial disharmony affected our relationship with the city. The few run-on sentences are on purpose. At times, I’ve found that adage about the veneer of civilization to be quite the case.

 

 

In the end, bad weather turned out to be what pierced the veneer.

 

Two uniforms pounded on the door, demanding entry and using her name like they had a right. She remained frozen, barely breathing, her stroke-addled leg throbbing, finger twitching on the trigger of Daddy’s rifle.

 

Bam bam bam! “Mizzus Heidway!” came the door-muffled call of Sheriff Dander, his voice a rumble under that drone of wicked downpour shotgunning the tin roof. “Now, y’alls got to come with us! They’s evacuatin’ the whole valley!”

 

Twenty years since Mama died and left her the house, twenty years since Iris came back to live the South Alabama life she’d fled hoping never to return, twenty years running all her errands in nearby towns to avoid in-yer-business local busybodies, yet now these uniforms had the gall to come uninvited right onto an old woman’s property.

 

“If you’re in there, you’s got to come out now!”

 

Nothing is what she ever got to do, especially for two bullies with badges. She’d seen Sheriff Dander on the news a few times, always under investigation for some kind of brutality. Seems like the kind of person who wants to be a cop is the one who has no business being one.

 

Letting her screen door slam, the intruders retreated into a frenzy of rain. Iris Heidway hobbled to the window and peeked through the curtains. A county van packed with busybodies turned around, then rocked and swayed its way back up the hill, splashing through a frantic gravel-washer streaming down the rutted road. She couldn’t see herself climbing in with that mob, or wedged between all those so-and-so’s at some makeshift shelter, everybody grabbing and hugging, you’ll be okay honey this’ll be over soon anything you need just let us know . . .  Touchers pretend they’re doing something for you, but they’re the ones tricked by a fool’s notion of connection. Anybody lays a hand on Iris Heidway, he’ll be lucky to get it back.

 

Once the taillights disappeared into swirls of dense downpour, she checked the TV again, same panicky story, storm of the century, worse coming when the hurricane lands tonight, several old dams and earthen-berm reservoirs threatening to fail. Iris Heidway intended to ride this out just fine, thank you very much. Somebody needs to protect what’s hers.

 

Looting would break out when the waters receded, especially down these out-of-the-way country roads, unattended homes. Convinced they can get away with it, people will do anything. Scare them, and they’ll turn on each other. Thrust them into adversity, hungry and cold and homeless, they’ll go savage, predatory, murderous. It’s true what they say:

 

The veneer of civilization is very thin.

 

Rifle in hand, she limped out to the covered back porch. It did look bad. Normally a tortuous climb several hundred yards downhill to its bank, the river had risen even with the overlook where Granddaddy built this old two-storey tin-roofer some hundred years ago. Muddy water lapped at the back wall of the windowless smokehouse, now converted to her garage.

 

She sat in the chain-swing and watched a debris-bobbing rager rushing down the main channel beyond the old tree-line. Backwash spun off eddies rolling into her yard and nudging the footings of her house. The rain refused to slack off, even as sky-patches of green and gray dimmed to the purple bruise of dusk. That river never had the gumption to rise even half this much. Worse, it seemed to be having too much fun to stop now.

 

Surprisingly scared, she headed back inside, but still didn’t feel any safer. Surely there wouldn’t be enough current to pull down the house if floodwaters backed into this holler. Need be, she could retreat to the second floor, even the attic room with that small dormer window overlooking the slope of corrugated tin.

 

The power flickered a few times and went out. She worked the panel loose to fetch her only kerosene lamp from that hidey-hole behind the pantry. Stick-matches cluttering a knick-knack tray on the middle-bedroom dresser proved sufficient to light the wick. Relieved to find its eight-hour reservoir full, she regretted never buying that intended can of refill.

 

A series of bangs, several loud cracks, and a walloping thump hurried her from window to window. The fading glow of dusk silhouetted swaying trees and flailing branches. A portion of hillside across the clearing had collapsed like puddin’ cake into the roadway. She stepped outside, fouled her shoes in mud the uniforms had tracked onto her covered porch, got sprayed by gusting rain, and retreated to the doorway. Everywhere, sky reflected off the ground . . . water.

 

From the converted garage, another thump! Out the kitchen window she saw him, a figure moving around the roll-up door, pounding the padlocked hasp with something—a rock, maybe—now pushing the door open—

 

Looters!

 

One emerged and splashed his way toward the house. Iris grabbed Daddy’s rifle and hobbled to the hidey-hole, then closed herself in and slid to the floor. Trying to catch her breath, she aimed the barrel and wished she’d brought the lamp.

 

Must be quiet.

 

Wait . . .

 

They could take whatever they wanted. Meaning, expecting, intending to defend her property, now at the critical moment she just wanted to be left alone. Things is just things, she decided, blinking through the blur of tears, but 72 is way too young to die. Nobody would remember Harold, killed forty-odd years ago. Nobody would remember Cynthia, their baby girl, a wonderful young woman who never saw twenty-five.

 

In the house now . . .

 

“Mizzus Heidway!” came the muffled voice, hoping she’d gone. “Mizzus Heidway!”

 

Room to room, then up the stairs, moving faster now—

 

Extra words, can’t make ’em out.

 

Sounds in the kitchen, fifteen, ten feet away. “Mizzus Heidway! I know you’s here! The lamp in the bedroom’s full up, just been lit!” An occupied house wouldn’t stop him from robbing the place, doing an old lady harm.

 

She stifled a sob, stared into blackness, decided she’d not been ready for this after all. The footworn Linoleum floor squeaked.

 

Closer now.

 

Her muddy footprints had led him right to her. Too late, her fatal mistake settled about her shoulders, weighing her down.

 

Scraping on the wall, gentle raps, hollow echoes, silence . . .  and the hidey-hole door slid open, white eyes against a dark face, the blinding glare of kerosene flame moving into the opening, her rifle barrel fixed on his forehead.

 

Eyes wide now, his free hand up, he backed away. “Mizzus Heidway, it’s me.”

 

“I know who y’are,” she said, recalling the gangly teen, seventeen, eighteen maybe. Struggling to her feet, she held the barrel steady, her composure fueled by rage over unrighted wrongs. “You’re Caroline’s boy, but you ain’t about to get away with stealin’ from me again.”

 

“Whatchoo mean again?

 

“You know why I fired you and yer grandmaw.”

 

“First off,” he said, feigning indignance, “Mamaw’s the one worked for you, not me. Ten years, she worked hard, lookin’ out since you done had that stroke, and not for much money, neither. All I did was help out sometimes ’cause I wanted to.”

 

Iris Heidway knew better. Anybody offers to help for nothing, count on him to come back expecting something later. Same with people trying to give to you: Man with a crust of bread won’t offer half unless he figures next time you’ll feel guilty about eating a whole slice in front of him. “Help yourself, you mean.” She brandished the rifle, backing him and the lamp through the dining room and into the front parlor.

 

“I never took nothin’ from you,” he argued, setting the lamp on the table. “You broke Mamaw’s heart, and never give her no reason why.”

 

“Either you or her, maybe the both of you, took my granddaddy’s collection.”

 

“That old box of coins you was allus hidin’ here and there?”

 

“Many of them coins went back to the Civil War. Shop over to Birmin’ham offered me thirteen-thousand dollars, meaning really worth three times that, at least.”

 

“If we stole ’em, then why did me and Mamaw keep livin’ in that shack upriver? Why didn’t we just light on out of here?”

 

Water squirted around the front door jamb, rivulets snaking across the hardwood floor. More sloshed from the back door into the kitchen. Rain continued shotgunning that corrugated-tin roof. The lamp’s flame guttered.

 

“You need to go,” she said, trying not to panic. “Ain’t no call for you to be here.”

 

He shook his head, then turned to gaze out the window. “Was planning to say you’s going with me, but now it’s too late.”

 

“You can wade. Wade back up to your place.”

 

Genuine surprise creased his features. “That’s all washed down the river now.”

 

“What about your grandmaw?”

 

He moved to another window, pulled back the curtain, and gazed out; then turned to face her, a deep sadness rising in his eyes. “Stroke. Lived two months, been gone a couple weeks now.” Louder, he added, “Didn’t see you come up to help her like she did you after yours.”

 

Stung, Iris backed up, sat in the overstuffed high-back. “I didn’t know,” she said quietly.

 

“She didn’t want you to know—didn’t want you to see her like that.”

 

“But—but I was her—” She lowered her eyes and watched muddy water creep across the floor, wishing for some way to wash away regret. Finally, she took a deep breath, raised the barrel again, and said, “You can still head up for the road, get a ride.”

 

He shook his head. “Upriver, the bridge is washed out. Downriver, the road’ll be under water by now, too dangerous to wade.”

 

“So you did have time to go,” she accused, standing again, “but you figured I left in the sheriff van, so might as well come loot my house first.”

 

He snorted. “No way you was leavin’ in that van, that I know.”

 

“So you broke into my garage to see if I drove out on my own.”

 

He crossed the room, stopped before her, then carefully reached out and pushed the barrel down toward the floor. “That part you got right,” he said, heading back toward the window, sloshing through the spreading pool formed by front-door and kitchen streams connecting.

 

“But you did find my car out there,” she said, exasperated now, “and you broke in the house anyway.”

 

“I broke in because I found it.”

 

“But that means you knew I’d be—” She stepped back, lost in the moment, then retreated from the spreading water to sit in the corner rocking chair, her knees up, feet off the floor.

 

He opened the door, letting several inches gush into the room, then stepped outside and held up the lamp. The door framed an unexpected scene, several trees all the way down, debris bobbing in the front yard, branches flying through the rain.

 

“Time to head up,” he pronounced, rushing to the pantry to fill a sack with snacks and drinks from her fridge and cabinets. Setting their supplies on the stairs, he handed her the lamp, then started several times as if he would lift and carry her. Instead, he dragged her to the stairs, chair and all, so she could step up. “Water’s cold; better stay dry.”

 

They hustled their cargo up to the front bedroom. She set the rifle aside and perched on the bed while he pushed a cedar chest over to the window where he could watch the rising water.

 

Quietly, she asked, “Is this bad as it’ll get?”

 

“Water’s already topping the dam. Ground around it gives way, a whole lot more water’s coming through here in a hurry.”

 

“Will that pull down the house?”

 

He bit his lip, then cautioned, “We’re not in the main channel, so I’m more worried about what’s in the water. Floating trees and what-all push up against the house, that’s a lot of push.”

 

As if his words vibrated the very earth, a sustained rumble rose in the distance, echoing thunder growing louder and lasting too long. Soon a higher-pitched roar overpowered it, drowning even the tin-roof onslaught.

 

The entire house groaned, following that with several shudders and loud bangs. It sounded like a mountain slamming into the walls.

 

She hobbled to the window, steadied herself against his shoulder, and watched the lamp’s glow highlight the churning water now rising faster.

 

He hurried to look down the stairs and blurted, “Oh God.” He yanked down the attic access and unfolded the wooden ladder steps, then helped her climb. He handed up the food bags, then bedspreads and sheets. By the time he joined her, the second floor had disappeared under several inches of brown water.

 

“Hurry!” she warned. “Pull up the stairs!”

 

“No, no,” he said. “If water’s coming anyway, don’t make it come all at once.”

 

And come, it did, an inch at a time over the next forty minutes, finally leveling out five steps from the top. Another half hour of sitting on each side to stare into the watery hole, and they seemed to hold back the flood by sheer will alone.

 

The lamp guttered again. “You got matches to re-light it?” he asked.

 

She pulled some from her pocket, agreeing they should preserve their oil. Once he extinguished the flame, darkness closed in around them. Neither said much beyond, “You hear that? What’s that?” She thought of so many things to say, but never found the words. They stared toward each other, blind yet somehow unraveling twisted truths, and still she couldn’t even recall his name.

 

Finally, he broke the spell. “How come you to be such a hater? And how come you’s all alone out here?”

 

The pain washed over her again, weighing her down. She never told anybody her business, but words in the darkness didn’t seem meant for anyone in particular. “They killed my Harold.” She paused, and he said nothing, refusing to help, the work now hers and hers alone. “We’d been living in Detroit ’cause Harold worked at the Cadillac plant on Clark, but we had just got us a house in the suburbs. 1967, hot hot summertime, and what broke loose in Detroit they hadn’t started calling a riot yet. When Harold got off work he drove down Hastings to get Emma, the old woman who used to babysit when Cynth was little. He was gonna bring her out to our place till the trouble passed, but he never got to her.” Tears filled her eyes again, and her voice broke. “Found him bludgeoned, they said. Blamed the rioters, but Emma said out her window she could see uniforms swinging billy clubs. Ain’t nobody did a proper investigation.” She wiped her eyes, her nose. “Ain’t nobody cared.”

 

A new wave of rain pounded the tin roof even harder, then eased up after a few minutes.

 

“Where’s your daughter?” he said quietly.

 

Iris took a deep breath and sighed. “Twenty-four, pretty as a peach, engaged to be married . . .  she stopped beside the road to help someone broke down. A car skidded into the whole mess, run her down—run her—” She cried openly now, that image she’d avoided picturing for decades begging to be seen, the infinite blackness now a velvet canvas on which to paint truth. “Took off, left her to die right there in the road.”

 

“Oh damn,” he said quietly, a voice in the dark. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Sorry nothing!” she snapped. “Ain’t your fault.”

 

“Not yours, neither.”

 

“Ain’t nobody gives a damn anymore.”

 

“Mamaw did,” he insisted.

 

She buried her face in her hands, his words too true.

 

After a few minutes, he said, “I better check the water.” He felt for her hand, then gently opened her fist and took the matches. The lamp revealed water at the top step inching its way higher. “It’s time,” he said.

 

He set the lamp in the middle of the floor, moved the groceries over by the window, and punched the transom several times to unstick the seal so he could slide up the single small pane of their dormer escape. As the roar of relentless rain filled the cramped space, he raced around, looking for supplies, not very pleased with what he found. An old wardrobe held some dry-cleaning, fancy dresses not much use in a flood. He carefully removed the fragile plastic coverings, thin veneers over a discarded past. In the bottom he found old winter clothes, including sweatpants and -shirts, and more sheets . . .

 

And an old, hand-carved box, the coin box.

 

Now she remembered.

 

“Put these on, quick,” he said, giving her a set of sweats, then pulling a shirt over his tee. He set the coin box by the window, but never said a word about it.

 

Water crept across the unvarnished wood floor. He tipped the wardrobe on its side with a crash, then shoved it in front of the window. “Get up here,” he urged, still trying to keep her dry. He carefully widened the hole in one plastic cover, had her step into it, and pulled it up like a long skirt, tucking it into her waistband. He tore two arm-holes and a head-hole in another, pulling it over her shoulders, tucking in a third to act as a hood. He repeated the process for himself, then shouldered the blankets and sheets, grabbed the coin box, and climbed out on the roof. “Hold the light out where I can see!”

 

She braced her good leg and leaned out the window with the lamp.

 

Slipping several times on the slick corrugated tin, denuded by rain, he set the coin box atop the dormer, then climbed up and threw blankets over the apex. He tied several sheets together, anchoring them to the chimney. Back inside, he crouched with her on the wardrobe, watching the water until it reached for their toes. Hooking the lamp just under the dormer eaves, he climbed out on the roof, then guided her out, putting a twisted sheet into her hands, helping her climb to the top. The blankets provided non-slip footing, a bit of cushion. Bracing her against the chimney, he tied one sheet into a loose sling.

 

“I don’t want to trap us!” he shouted, his face against hers. “Put your weight into it, but if the house gives way, pull free and push off. We get pulled apart, swim for something big. If it feels solid, like a tree, get up out of the water fast.”

 

She trembled too violently to hold on, but he settled in beside her, put his arm around her, and held firmly. After a minute, she rested her head against his chest, feeling his warmth even as cold rain washed over them.

 

They couldn’t see the lamp directly, but its glow across the water helped them monitor the rise. Eventually, they shifted around, finding a more comfortable position, still eyeing the water, now over the eaves and inching up the tin roof, just a few feet below them.

 

They wouldn’t make it, despite all this. Nothing could save them now. If they wound up in the water and Caroline’s boy tried to help, she would pull away, improve his chances without her.

 

Nearly submerged now, the lamp flickered and went out.

 

Black rain slapped at them furiously, testing their resolve. Sometimes people have no choice but to endure.

 

“They brought him inside,” she said, crying now, picturing the image again for the first time in forty-odd years.

 

“Who?”

 

“Harold. Emma’s neighbors. A couple risked their lives, grabbed him, carried him to their apartment, tried to help, called for an ambulance. Of course, none came.”

 

“Most people’s good,” he said, “given a chance.”

 

“And them two boys,” she said, trying to catch her breath. “Two boys on their bikes, they stopped and stayed with my girl. One put his jacket over her, kept her warm while the other put his sweatshirt under her head. The man at the fire department told me about it when he come by with a card and some flowers from the squad. He cried a little when he give ’em to me, said it’s hard answering a call like that, said if I needed anything . . .”

 

He pulled her closer, Caroline’s boy, Caroline’s grandson—called himself Edwin, she remembered now. Edwin held her tight, a selfless gesture, connection.

 

“Lotta people said the same thing, brought food, come by to help, neighbor kids mowing the grass . . .  I figured they did that to make themselves feel better.”

 

“They did it for you,” Edwin said. “You just didn’t notice, is all.”

 

“I don’t like to scratch the surface, see what’s underneath, always expecting something bad, ugly.”

 

Water touched their feet, and for some reason it felt good, knowing the time had come, the way, not feeling so alone.

 

Secret panel left open, Iris’s submerged hidey-hole mocked her fears.

 

Trigger never pulled, Daddy’s rusting rifle protected none from her fate.

 

Scattered by currents, Granddaddy’s coins would sink forever in the river’s mud . . .

 

But the water pulled back, dropping a few inches. The rain tapered off, turned to mist, then sputtered out.

 

In time, dawn broke over the horizon, misty patches of brightness peeking through ragged trees. The water had fallen to just below the eaves, a soggy hand-carved box holding fast.

 

Soon, a helicopter appeared, circled, and hovered. Sheriff Dander leaned out to check on them, signaling won’t be long just hold on we’re coming to get you.

 

The rumble of a speedboat approached from downstream. Sunbeams burst across the treetops, firing the revelation of one very different world emerging from receding waters, a world caked with mud yet somehow scrubbed clean.

 

The need to protect themselves past, two survivors huddling atop an old two-storey tin-roofer tore off their makeshift veneers and prepared to face a new day.

 

Prepare to think as you explore these wildly disparate literary short stories by author, composer, and producer Stephen Geez. Avoiding any single genre, this collection showcases Geez’s storytelling from southern gothic to contemporary drama to coming-of-age, humor, sci-fi, and fantasy—all finessed to say something about who we are and what we seek. Some of these have been passed around enough to need a shot of penicillin, others so virgin they have never known the seductive gaze of a reader’s eyes. So when life’s currents get to pulling too hard, don’t fight it, just open the book and discover nineteen new ways of going with the flow, because NOW more than ever Comes this Time to Float.

 

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Comes this Time to Float, Stephen Geez Tour Day 11, “Holler Song”

Welcome visitors from Vashti Quiroz-Vega’s Blog!

Holler Song

Retta danced the willy-nilly, grabbed at slick branches, then lost both feet and whomped back-end down on the ice.  Hit ’em mean like that and 70-year-old bones act scared, then angry, then out for revenge—and they’ll complain bitterly for weeks. It’s not how hard the ground is, makes ’em mad; it’s how brittle the bones has got.

Now a sheet of frozen slick, this low patch in the double-rut drive-back had been needing some ’dozer work a long time running, one of many get-to’s set for when next year’s lump-sum money could hire some younger help. Hardly anyone drove it but Randall, easing the pickup ’tween overgrown mirror-snaggers when he brung groceries and what-not to Lurlene and her girl. Deputy Wallace used to ramble back here regular-like to pretend friendly and keep an eye for signs local cookers mighta set up, but when he found Hollis’s makeshift lab a ways down Cutter Road, his brother Cletus shot him dead. State Police come in and tore ’ern up from there to right up Middleton Holler just beyond. Now a new deputy’s done took over, but ain’t yet been out here lying about smells to claim “probable cause” when he trespasses on Lurlene and Retta’s private property. This very minute would be a good time, him to show for a howdy-ma’am, seein’ as how there’s an old lady needs picking up off her arse.

Retta rolled over on her side and wound up mashing the holdin’ end of that pocketed fish-knife into her thigh, then managed despite bad arthritis to pull herself up and set about shuffling forward, keeping to the treeline for more grab-branching. She came to sight of cousin Lurlene’s place, built by their granddaddy when he carried his unimpressed young bride here for a lifetime of second thoughts in the hills of East Tennessee. Lately the place looked embarrassed at being let to run down, but now the dim gray fog and last night’s snow gave it a fairy-tale gingerbread-house look, all sugar-frosted and gleaming with drips of icing drooping its eaves. Wisps of smoke fed by a stingy stack of splits curled from the chimney and bent north to tickle more sleet from dark clouds of a mind to paint these hollers another coat of quick-freeze.

Lurlene stepped out and stood on the wide, covered porch. Ten years younger than cousin Retta, she looked real old of a sudden. Bundled in wool coat, crochet hat and scarf, jeans and hide boots, she’d already got a mind to head out. “Found her, didn’t they?” she asked as Retta stopped at the slicked-over bottom step. Eyes red and swole, Lurlene had been crying, imagining the worst and expecting nothing better.

Retta sighed and nodded. “TJ got eyes on her. Sykes Bluff, about like I figured.”

Lurlene sagged terrible, legs about to give out, but she gripped the rail and held herself up.

“Randall and TJ done started on gettin’ her up, gonna need our help,” Retta said, looking off into the ice-gleaming woods. Seemed like she oughta be hearing one of those no-words nonsense songs scattered among the trees, but them days was gone.

Lurlene eased her sturdy frame down the slippery steps, then acted for a second or two like she might just hug her cousin’s neck, but them days was gone, too. As a kid she’d hug the neck of anybody would let her, but not too many would, and the older cousin went from not too often to not for some time now. Hugs never much suited her or Randall, Retta’s husband, who started coming around sparkin’ when he and Retta was teenagers and li’l-dab Lurlene got just old enough to walk clear to her cousin’s place at the high end of the holler. Turned out not to suit TJ much, neither, ever since Randall’s grand-nephew come to visit and never left. Lurlene used to spend plenty of hugs on Frances, her only child, the girl Clayton left her to raise alone when he up and disappeared; then on Cammie, the chestnut-haired grandbaby she raised after a bullet shard behind the ear left baby-girl to grow up not caring if she ever got hugged or not, for all the good they woulda done. What’ll Lurlene do now with all them hugs, and nobody to take ’em?

“Slippery uphill,” Retta said, leading her through the woods to avoid the iced-over double-rut.

Not a hundred yards up yet, and both of Retta’s bad hips demanded to know just where she thought to get to. “I reckon,” she said, breathing hard already, “we best carry the girl straight to rest with her mom and them.”

“No preacher? Nobody to come?”

Retta shook her head. “Can’t even think about trying to show her face—” She stopped and turned. “’Sides, you let it be known she’s dead, checks’ll stop, and next year’s big’n won’t never come, neither.”

Lurlene kept quiet, turned and looked away. The woods tinkled and popped, bits of ice falling, branches cracking, a beat with no song in it for singing. Mist skulked about, sniffing at all the shiny bark. Lurlene was showing that look on her face, the one where she’s still picturing how it happened, bullets flying, newlyweds sprawled in a pool of blood, baby-girl wailing in dead mama’s arms, daddy’s shot-up body still holding the stick police tried to say looked like a gun. Lurlene had just convinced her daughter to move back this side of the state line, maybe even back to the holler, but family comin’ home wound up two bodies for buryin’ and six-month-old Cammie with the tip of her nose grazed, her brain messed up for good from that head wound. Time the lawyers got through, Cammie was set with a small monthly check barely paid for all the pills, plus a big lump sum to come next year on her 25th, supposed to last the rest of her life. Them pills made her okay to be around when the pain wasn’t too bad. Sometimes her mind would focus just enough to care a bit about what-all is and where she fits into it. Those days, often as not, would find her somewhere by herself in the holler, singing, like that to be her only job in the world.

Retta stood there in the iced-over woods and waited for Lurlene to think her way back around to the job at hand. Mist crept closer, curious, sniffing their sleeves. Ice slid off a big branch not ten feet away, clattered and cracked its way into the brush. Seemed like Cammie oughta be out there singing right now, the way she’d find wannabe words in the tunes, no sense in ’em lest you knew how to listen to what she meant and not what she said. Retta thought she might could understand a time or two, but maybe not. Lurlene seemed to could make a bit of sense of her, and TJ turned out to have a knack. He could make her sit still long enough to look right at him, and lately he’d even figured how the right kinda look back could make her smile. Seemed like she finally understood something when she lit up like that. Everybody figured that to be a good thing, but after what she done last night, maybe not.

Maybe she finally understood too much.

Lurlene wiped her face with a sleeve, and they moved on without another word. Once they crested the rise and crossed the flat-top, they come to Randall belly-down and dangling blue rope off the overhang of creek-bluff. Lurlene stopped a dozen feet short, stood over by a tree where Randall’s rifle and TJ’s shotgun leaned, several coils of rope close to hand.

Randall turned and studied on her. “Don’t gotta look,” he said, “but we might not can get her up ’less you help pull.”

Lurlene eased closer to the edge, leaned out a bit, looked down. Retta figured to grab on if her legs give out, but Lurlene kept to it hard.

Was a bad sight down there, forty-foot drop, Cammie face-down on the gravel bar. She’d managed to drag herself a good ten feet toward that twist of shallow fast-water, smearing a trail of blood in the orange chert. Either hitting the rocks took some minutes to kill her, or she wound up going black and the cold got her. Woulda been no way on or off that bar, ’cept through that ice-cold water.

Already down there, TJ cut the corners off Cletus’s old tent and spread the faded green canvas beside her. At barely fourteen and built skinny like a Daddy Long-legs, how that boy managed to climb down the icy bluff face without he should get busted up like that girl, well, it struck a wonder, it did.

Lurlene turned away, put arms against that tree, buried her face in sleeves, made sounds of the kinda hurt don’t ever stop. Retta wished it hadn’t ended this way, but she and Randall had been layin’ wishes on that girl since the day it started, all the good it did her. You can’t live in a world of wish.

TJ pushed his makeshift tarp against the dead woman, but he fumbled, hands shaking. He took a deep breath, studied the situation a minute, then got her by the shoulders and pulled her about halfway on and rolled her over. Cammie’s face had busted to pieces, bits of rock bedded in the meat, that scar on the tip of her nose never to matter no more.

TJ turned away, then tuned up and started crying. Just stood there and cried, he did, like first time he’d had to figure what dead really means, like listening for Cammie singing in the woods from now on means hearing nothin’ but the birds and a creek that runs no matter who comes and goes, like doing this man’s job your 76-year-old great-uncle can’t do still leaves you feeling too much like a little boy.

“TJ?” Randall called, unusual patience in his voice. “Now, you got to finish so you can get her covered up. Do right by her, son.”

The boy wiped his face with a sleeve, then tugged at her feet until he got her full on. He straightened her out, thought better of it, and with some effort pulled her legs forward so she lay curled on her side. Pulling one end of the canvas over her, he gathered the corners and cinched them together, struggling to get her stiffened body to shape right. Satisfied, the boy sat right down on the cold gravel and worked hard at not crying some more, all the good it did him.

“Let’s get this done,” Lurlene said, catching Retta with a start. “New deputy’ll be pokin’ around soon; can’t risk him figurin’ out.”

TJ settled himself down and went to work, tying off both ends, setting a loop and hooking it for lift. He turned over the bigger rocks that showed blood, then tossed the small ones into the creek before Daddy Long-legging his way back up the bluff rock. Randall tied the rope to a tree, and all four set to pulling up Cammie’s body. Took ’em some work to get her up over the edge, but once they got off the bluff rock, it proved easy to slide her on the icy ground, straight to that unfenced plot where the earthly remains of kin rested, most of their markers long weathered away. Randall fetched a shovel from the truck and started a hole, but TJ did most of the digging, near done after forty-some minutes when he stopped to catch his breath.

Lurlene said, “As many times we found her looking down at that spot, she was thinking on doing this—doing this to herself.”

“No!” TJ said, digging again, stabbing that shovel through layers of Tennessee chert. “She wanted—to get closer—tried to climb down is all. Slipped and fell.” His eyes watered on him, nose all snotty. He handed the shovel up, jumped up and shimmied out, stood there and drawed himself up. “She figured this holler couldn’t be, ’cept with her songs. No way she’d a-wanted to leave us without.”

Maybe the boy said truth, or maybe just what needed heard. Either way, Lurlene would have to find some kinda way to live without her girl.

And now she had one more heartbreak to picture how it happened.

Lurlene stood there, face showing hurt with no place to put it, waiting while TJ and Randall managed to lower Cammie’s body gently to its resting place. Retta wished a preacher could come, not that Lurlene and them believed anything, but just to have some kinda way to mark the passing. Girl never left the holler from six months on, never learned to talk, never got seen by a soul these past few years ’cept that dead deputy and the kinfolk gathered here now, three outta the four now more short to this world than long. Nobody could think a thing to say, which sure didn’t seem right. Preacher would have sounded like something bigger than this holler cared about a dyin’.

So TJ started to sing.

No words, just one of them songs like Cammie always sung. Randall’s eyes swole, got watery, and he put his hand on his heart. Lurlene tried to look calm, respectful, but she wound up bowing her head to cry. Retta couldn’t see clear, eyes all leaky, no custom for her, but that hole in the ground . . .  that pile of dirt. She had to look away, into the woods, all gleamy with ice . . .

Someone there.

A face, watching.

Frozen, caught.

The deputy? No, a woman, a stranger, seeing the whole story, clear as day, the holler’s secret right out in the open, dug up and put back on the creek-bed gravel-bar for all to see.

Click.

Randall had leveled his rifle, cocked it.

TJ fell quiet, eased over to the pickup, lifted his shotgun from the bed, trained the business end on that woman.

She made like to ease her way backwards, all the good that would do her. TJ broke loose, rabbit-streaked beside the double-rut, flashed a ways behind her. She turned like to run, but willy-nillied on the ice, flour-sacked her backside to the ground, pulled herself back up one-handed. Randall eased toward her, TJ now thirty, forty yards behind.

“Stay here,” Retta said, hand on Lurlene’s arm. She shadowed Randall, unsnapping the pouch holding that fish-knife in her coat pocket.

Woman made like to run, couldn’t get a foot to hold. She whirled one way, then the other, surrounded now. She picked up a stick, made like to swing it one-handed, fight all rised up in her . . .

But she had no chance, no choice, and her shoulders slumped, the fight gone as fast as it had come. This woman had fought before, and giving up had learned to come easier than losing. She sat right down on the snowy ice and put face to hands, shoulders all a-shake. TJ moved in, stopped at twenty feet, lowered his gun a bit, ready, careful. Boy knows to watch his aim when a group is climbing slippery rock, wading fast water, sliding shiny ice, or moving on a down animal from both sides. But what do you do with a soul don’t care no more? Warn her away from the bluff drop?

Everybody stepped closer, both women now looking down at her. Woman looked up, her lip split wide open in two places, one eye black. Maybe twenty-some, she held one arm close, like maybe broke or pulled out the socket. “Jus’ kill me,” she said, and she meant it. “I’m dead anyway. Least then he’ll be left to wonder.”

Lurlene knelt down, lifted her face up, pushed long streaks of dirty blond out the way. “Who done this to you?”

The woman jerked and twisted her head at the snap of a branch, then took a deep breath, closed her eyes.

TJ put his own eyes every direction, listened close. That boy could hear willowflies rising from the water, come early spring.

Lurlene said, “How’d you get here, hon?” Must be liking this girl, whatever reason, “hon” never coming easy nor often. Lurlene sat right down on the ice with her. TJ relaxed a bit, fidgeted with his gun.

Five full minutes, they waited, and when the girl looked, Lurlene just raised her eyebrows and waited some more.

“I come east,” the woman said, “—from over the Arkansas line?” She went on, pausing ’tween bits, sometimes askin’ instead of tellin’, like she needed to be told it’s right, or wondering if it’s okay to say. “I finally put Leroy’s sorry butt out, so he come back and burned my place, then beat on me for lettin’ him do it.”

“How come you to be here?” Randall said, suspicion before hospitality for the uninvited.

“Drove till my car made bad noise and started smokin’—pulled up the gravel road yonder? Tried to park for the night, hit a slick ice patch, slid right over the edge.”

“Deep over there,” TJ said, voice lower, tough-sounding, like a bear cub on its hind legs looking big. “Big drop—all growed over, too.”

Randall gestured up toward the roadway, so Lurlene made like to help the woman up, but both wound up helping each other. Retta stood back, watched.

“How come you to hold that arm?” Lurlene asked as they started walking, Randall back a ways, TJ well out front.

“He stomped all over it when I fell,” she said, a sniffle trying not to cry. She eased it out from the sleeve of that ratty wool, shivered from the cold, the man’s undershirt no good, considering. All swole, dark and colored like a caught bluegill that’s give up ever touching water again, even a scraped spot like a bass-tail at bed-fanning time. It didn’t look so much broke as angry.

“Married to him?” Lurlene asked, gently helping her pull the coat back up, urging her on.

She shook her head.

“Won’t give you up?”

“He’ll be out to Jack’s place for now—but soon as he comes off that drunk? He’ll figure out can’t expect me to come back—ain’t no place to come back to—so he’ll head out to see can’t he find me. I got nobody, ’cept maybe a friend workin’ remodels with me over to Castor’s—when he can find us work?—but she lives with her mom and them, no room for me.”

Retta said, “He won’t be thinkin’ past state lines, not with no direction to guess.”

All three women helped each other up the chert piled alongside the double-rut, Randall and TJ still keeping their distance, weapons ready. They kept to the gravelly middle till they come to a gravel-scatter running into the deepest drop. Scrub, jack pine, quite a few discouraged spruce, and a patch of sycamore stealing most of the sun filled the space, no car in sight; but a powerful whiff of burn seemed to be sneaking around the misty cold, the smell of gas and oil. TJ walked down the road a piece to find a good spot, then worked his way down snag-to-scrub, disappeared in thick.

“Engine done burned!” he shouted with a boy-squeak from somewhere below, the mean low voice forgot. “Front tires melted, glass broke—nothin’ but junk in the first place!”

“I been meanin’ to bring a ’dozer through here,” Randall said, “—flatten this part, push some into that drop-off. Might could cover the car right up, never know it’s buried there.”

The woman’s eyes went big, and she stepped back, scared.

“No hurry,” Retta said. “Can’t see it ’less you’re looking for it, and maybe not then.”

Sounds of the car door opening come up from the scrub, all pig-squeals and clanks, then more squealing as it closed after a minute. The boy appeared where’d he gone down, oversized purse under his left arm, no telling what-all poking out of it. He presented it to the stranger. “That’s all,” he said, “’less something in the trunk.”

She shook her head, then with that good arm clutched the bag to her chest, all she got left.

“Gettin’ late,” Randall said, and they all worked their way back to finish conducting a funeral, rifle and shotgun propped against a tree, woman’s purse on the ground beside ’em.

TJ sang again, and the stranger even cried as they covered Cammie over. They stood back while TJ gathered branches and disguised the grave, scattering more close by to hide their work, give dirt time to settle ’fore anybody could notice. He eyed a gravelly patch off to the side where weeds never took a liking, no doubt worryin’ someone might figure ’em out, then started to go after more branches, but Retta told him, “That’s enough.”

And that woman stood there watching every bit of it.

Randall looked to Retta, and she knew what he was thinking.

“We need to stop by Lurlene’s quick-like,” Retta said, all matter-of-fact, “so we can get home ’fore dark.” They all headed through the woods, the stranger who’d seen their secret keeping to the middle of the group, nobody saying a word.

At Lurlene’s place, TJ fed sticks into the kitchen pot-belly, then started adding splits to the parlor fireplace while Retta pulled one of Lurlene’s vinyl chairs from the dining room and placed it middle of the tile floor. She gestured for the woman to sit, then gently took the purse from her. Randall stood to the side, holding his rifle. TJ kept working the fire up front.

Lurlene helped her out of her coat, clucked and shook her head at that arm again, offered the girl some water.

“Whiskey,” Retta said. “Pour it big.” She looked at Lurlene, and finally it seemed to dawn on her cousin what might be about to happen.

What had to happen.

The girl trembled a bit, but said nothing. She downed the glass in five swallows, set it on the floor. Didn’t take long before she slumped some in the chair, head looser, eyes a bit glassed-over.

Finally, Retta spoke. “Got nobody but that man lookin’ for you?”

She shook her head.

“Weren’t figurin’ to go back, was you?”

She snorted at the very thought. “Can’t never go back. He knows ever’body in the county.”

“No place else to go?”

“Got nothin’ and nobody.”

“And not a soul knows which way you come?”

She shook her head.

Retta put a hand in her coat pocket. “You said you hit a patch of ice, went off the road?”

The girl nodded, then closed her eyes.

Randall said, “Weren’t no ice on that high part—all gravel.”

TJ came into the room, the boy looking confused.

“Step out on the porch, son,” Randall told him. “Wait for us, and don’t come back in, no matter what you hear.”

TJ’s eyes went wide, then darted back and forth between the woman in the chair and his great-aunts, finally settling his gaze on Retta’s hand in her pocket.

Randall raised his voice a bit. “I gotta tell you twice?”

TJ backed up, stood there a second, then turned and hurried out to the front porch, closing the door firmly behind him.

Retta said, “So you slid off the road where they wasn’t no ice?”

Tears formed shiny smiles under the girl’s closed eyelids, then broke loose and run south with a quickness. She looked sick now, hard time staying in that chair.

Retta demanded, “How come you to go off the road up there?”

“I could see dark over that side,” she said quietly. “Deep . . .   Soft . . .”

“Didn’t figure to leave this holler ever again, did you?”

The woman tried to shake her head, but it lolled to the right, wouldn’t come back up.

Retta said, “Figured to be dead by now.”

The woman just sighed.

Retta moved fast.

The woman opened her eyes—

The knife flashed.

#      #       #

Weeks passed before the new deputy got around to pulling up front of Lurlene’s place. He stepped out of his dusty Chevy Tahoe, put his eyes every which way quick-like. “Afternoon, ladies—young man.”

“Deputy,” Retta and Lurlene acknowledged, coming down from the porch. TJ paused from painting the porch-rail and nodded. Birds hollered from every direction, that ice storm forgot by now, early-spring nesting places a matter of vigorous discussion.

“Y’all are really fixin’ this place up,” he said, nodding approval. “I just introduced myself to Randall up by the road. He’s sure workin’ that ’dozer good for a man his age. Real nice work on this road. Real nice,” he repeated, turning to survey the smooth drive-up and new circular turnaround. “Doin’ some work inside, too, looks like. Oh, where’s my manners? I’m Deputy Kistler, born and raised in Humphreys County, just come east for this job.”

Retta stepped forward, introduced herself and cousin Lurlene. TJ put down his brush and moved closer, then reached out to shake the man’s hand as his great-aunt introduced him.

Lurlene said, “And that’s my granddaughter, Cammie.” She gestured to the young chestnut-haired woman painting the windowsill, her back to them, oblivious. Sounded like she might be singing to herself, barely heard over that bird racket and the roar of Randall ’dozing the highway access.

“Yeah, I heard about her,” the deputy said quietly. “Never been right, they say; never leaves this holler.”

“So sad,” said Retta.

“But she’s doin’ quite well,” Lurlene added, “and we’re even thinkin’ next year or two lettin’ her try livin’ with kin up north.”

“Well, good for her,” he said. “Hope it works out.” Quieter, he asked, “Fragment off a round caught her in the head? Something about the end of her nose shot up, too?”

Lurlene nodded, sadness in her eyes. “Cammie!” she called to the woman. “Cammie!”

The woman turned, looked sorta vacant, maybe aware some, maybe not. The end of her nose was tore up, tip missing, ugly scar to show for it.

“If you’re headin’ out,” Lurlene said to the deputy, “could you drop me out at the mailbox, save me half a walk? I’m expecting something important.”

Deputy tipped his hat to the others, held the door for Lurlene.

Retta watched them drive out, then turned and smiled at TJ and the young chestnut-haired woman with the funny nose.

Cammie came down from the porch to stand between them, then put her arm around the boy’s shoulder. “Up north?” she said, chuckling. “Why, when I get my share next year?—ain’t no telling which way I’ll head.”

“Settle in a college town,” TJ suggested. “Then I might could stay with you when I go ’way in a few years.”

She laughed, then gave him a hug with that hurt arm, now mostly healed, bruises about gone, doing good. “You got a deal,” she said. “Now, let’s finish this paint and get to work fixin’ up that bathroom.”

Retta watched the Tahoe’s trail of rising dust meet up with the big cloud where Randall ’dozed gravel.

Cammie and TJ went to work, singing again, louder’n birds, filling the holler with Cammie’s “words,” that song only the two of ’em could understand.

 

Check the RRBC-specific trailer!

 

Prepare to think as you explore these wildly disparate literary short stories by author, composer, and producer Stephen Geez. Avoiding any single genre, this collection showcases Geez’s storytelling from southern gothic to contemporary drama to coming-of-age, humor, sci-fi, and fantasy—all finessed to say something about who we are and what we seek. Some of these have been passed around enough to need a shot of penicillin, others so virgin they have never known the seductive gaze of a reader’s eyes. So when life’s currents get to pulling too hard, don’t fight it, just open the book and discover nineteen new ways of going with the flow, because NOW more than ever Comes this Time to Float.

 

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/comes-this-time-to-float-stephen-geez/1136280139?ean=9781947867819

 

“Krab Kaper,” short fiction from COMES THIS TIME TO FLOAT: 19 Short Stories by Stephen Geez

Krab Kaper

Short fiction from COMES THIS TIME TO FLOAT

 

These characters were introduced in my media-thriller novel Fantasy Patch. Well, Flynn Durbett harkens back to my military-scifi-thriller Invigilator. I wrote this short piece to use during a promotional tour for Patch. I don’t carry characters over from one tale to another, and these are the only exceptions except for my Rich Mr. Fixx series—so far. Still, I liked spending some extra time with these people. Dante’s angles tend to be right.

 

 

Some lettuce just leaves a bad taste.

 

I don’t know why, but this critter won’t eat the stuff, instead preferring collards and other greens.

 

So imagine warm light, cool breeze, a splash of gurgling water, eight explorable square feet, one climbing ladder of latticed sticks, a thatch of tasty greens beckoning from above, and our hero methodically clawing his way upward for all he’s worth—which is normally about five bucks, free if you simply pick him up, as Taj did.

 

It’s a hermit crab, about the size of a jawbreaker, the landlubber version found in tropical beach-side brush.  This crab and its three crabby cohorts hail from Gulfcoast Florida, having hitched back to Chicago in a sack of shells collected by the four-year-old son of my youngest producer.  I normally frown on taking souvenirs from sites above water and below, these being nature’s mobile homes for myriad denizens wet or dry, but young Taj didn’t know better, so no major harm.

 

I help him and three other kids, all now dedicated hermit-crab owners, as they outfit a large terrarium in the day-care area of our video-production facility.  Dabbing quick-clean non-toxic paint, each decorates his crab’s shell for easy identification, this despite my warning that these critters often change houses for better fit and to runway-strut the latest in chic crab style.

 

We provide a small plate of corn meal, little-bit fruit bites, and other crabby snacks; but for some reason the one now climbing after the greens always decides to pass when it’s offered mere iceberg.

 

Apparently, some lettuce just leaves a bad taste.

 

So we’re watching the crabs one day when my friend/client Flynn Durbett stops by with a sackful of test products designed for kid safety and/or fun learning.  Flynn’s the soldier-of-fortune character first introduced in Stephen Geez’s novel Invigilator, way back before he settled down a bit and founded a company dedicated to helping people protect themselves from a dangerous world. He needs some marketing hooks, packaging, design—anything I might contribute as his agency-of-record creative director.  My name is Danté Roenik, but Flynn’s been occasionally calling me “The Image Maker”—ever since I deigned to narrate Stephen Geez’s novel Fantasy Patch, the tale of my infamous tilting at pharmaceutical-conglomerate windmills. Yikes! Turns out windmills are quite willing to shred anybody who dares get in their way.

 

Flynn shows me a sort of child’s poncho boasting swirls of fabric stitched to hold pocketfuls of kid-stuff—tearaways for safety, elastic gathers to avoid strangle-strings—all topped by a nifty hood with sewn-in sweatband crafted such that side panels pull away to ensure full peripheral vision when young street-crossing bike-riding skateboarders turn their heads to look both ways.  Flynn has inked a distribution deal with a chain of big-box stores, a test-market roll-out in the Chicago ’burbs, but the product needs a name, a hook, and some cool images laser-screened on the front and back.

 

Big-eyed Taj dons the smallest in Flynn’s Santa-sack, and I’m instantly reminded of a hermit crab, the swirling shell, this spiky-haired lad peering out from under the hood, his expression that sneaky escapade-plotting look of appraisal often found on little kids and littler crabs.

 

I notice the real crab has reached his goal, now perched atop the ladder, contentedly munching his greens as I paint an art-deco shell design onto one of Flynn’s pullovers.  The kids all want them, but each prefers to paint his or her own design.

 

And there’s Flynn’s hook: KrabbShells, pre-screened as a plain hermit shell, each including a small set of disposable fabric markers so pint-sized fashion plates can customize unique looks—or visit Flynn’s company website for ideas and templates, a safe place to share photos of their own and to admire the works of other young artists.

 

Next we paw through Flynn’s collection of new products.  I’m intrigued by a tiny ball with a slot that reveals a mini-light and magnifying glass with tiny tweezer and gripper.  They prove especially handy for examining real crabs up close and personal. We all want one.

 

Flynn trundles off to meet with the big-boxers. They’re lucky to be working with such a good man who values loyalty and integrity, one who looks out for others and the world we share—unless you cross him or try to hurt a friend, but that’s a longer story, actually two, both attractively priced in print or multiple ebook formats.

 

So KrabbShells sales rapidly climb that ladder for the big-box stores, and Flynn’s company feeds on the green, but we’re not in control of the promotion, and Flynn’s contract doesn’t confer veto power over the unacceptable: our retailer starts offering one free hermit crab with every KrabbShells sale.

 

I do encourage responsible pet ownership for young people to learn about caring for others.  Hermit crabs aren’t endangered, and they’re certainly not dangerous, but I have a pet-store-chain client who rightly rails against such indiscriminate pet-mongering.  Buy a hermit from one of her outlets and you’re not getting out the door without the proper habitat, supplies, how-to pamphlet, and a thorough conversation.  Living creatures are not toy prizes; they should be entrusted only to those who truly want them and will properly care for them.

 

The big-box buyers dismiss Flynn’s objections, opting instead to enforce their contract in lieu of maintaining good faith between retailer and supplier.  We’re all angry about this, including the kids and their chums, most of whom want to voice their outrage.  After some serious hand-wringing over where to draw the line between exploiting young’ns and nurturing their burgeoning need to self-express, I do what people so often pay me a lot of green to do: I orchestrate one bodacious media spectacle, nationwide coverage, a public-relations cesspool to mire the mid-city big-box headquarters of these crass exploiters of innocent crabs.

 

So picture this: more than two-dozen subtly supervised teenies and tweenies dressed as hermit crabs, their hand-painted KrabbShells emblazoned with “Kidz for Krabs,” a crusading cadre marching sideways in the cutest camera-calling crabwalk you could ever imagine. These irate squeaky-voiced orators are delivering little-bit sound bites for sympathetically amused on-the-scene TV reporters, crowds gathering to gawk and chant, our urban beach awash in a growing tidal wave of righteous indignation.

 

In a surprising move, egregiously unprofitable for successful builders of bigger boxes, our adversaries opt out rather than address the problem, apparently preferring to retreat into their shells to avoid fostering an image of cavers-in to special-interest pressure.

 

So Flynn gets his product back, then re-launches with a smaller big-box that’s been angling to out-box the bigger big-boxers.  Cranking up the Danté publicity machine proves a cakewalk—a crabwalk, as it were—after the impromptu kid-protest already raised awareness about the irresponsible, um, spreading of crabs.

 

Besides, offering free KrabbShell handhelds that open to reveal a tiny light, magnifier, and tweezer/gripper crab pincers starts piling some serious green on Flynn’s plate.

 

Taj’s crustaceous little friend promptly moves himself into a bigger, more stylish shell, and the young’ns all learn about making planet-friendly choices when their own careers someday find them climbing that ladder in the age-old quest for a little bit of green.

 

It’s a lesson fit for a sound-bite:

 

Some lettuce just leaves a bad taste.

 

<emb>https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evGhXAQQ10Q</emb&gt;