A Dark and Stormy Night (2)

Part Two

Royal peered out the window, barely able to see between the rivulets of water running down the pane. “Maybe it’s someone lost in the storm? Or now that he’s out of town, he can’t see to go on.”

“But whoever would start out in a night like this?”

“Maybe it’s thieves who just robbed a bank and need a place to hide out,” said Bluette.

“Just the thing we need to hear,” Mother said in a sharp, reproving tone.

A white zigzag arced across the heavens. “It’s a two-tone,” Bluette announced. “Light body, dark top.”

Royal had gotten a good look, too. “It’s a ‘56 Olds 88 — you can tell by the grille. It has one of those new Rocket V 8 engines,” he said with a superior air. He poked his sister. “Light and dark! You don’t know anything about cars.”

Bluette stuck her tongue out. “It’s cream with a tropical green roof, just like Uncle Nolan’s car. Who cares about engines? I do hope it’s them.”

“Yes,” Mother exclaimed with delight as the vehicle came to a halt near the front door. “It is Uncle Nolans.” She hurried to the door with the children right behind her.

The passengers spilled out of the car and dashed for the sheltering porch. Mother flung the door open. “Come in, come in!” she urged. “What brings you out in this storm?”

“Oh, just thought it would be a good time to pop in for a visit,” Uncle Nolan said as he peeled off his wet coat. “With the lights flickering off and on, we thought the electricity might go out altogether and things would get chilly at our place. Then, of course, we thought of you folks with your nice warm fireplace and decided that’s where we’d rather be if we have to sit in the dark.”

“I hope you don’t mind us coming over,” Aunt Stacey added. “I thought with Tom gone you might appreciate a little company on this miserable night anyway.”

“Oh, yes, we do!” Royal said as he helped hang their jackets over the kitchen chairs to dry.

Mother gave everyone a big hug, even Uncle Nolan. “Your timing is perfect,” she said. “Someone was just speculating that the house would be struck by lightening,” Mother gave Bluette a meaningful look, “while someone else was predicting a tornado would blow us half way across the country. You folks can help put paid to such gloomy thoughts.”

“My word! Well, I must say some thoughts like that were bouncing around at our house, too,” Aunt Stacey admitted, glancing at her own children. “So maybe we can cheer each other up.”

“We should make hot chocolate for everybody,” Bluette suggested.

“Yeah, and popcorn, too,” Azure added. She looked at her cousin Caroline, who nodded enthusiastically.

“That’s a great idea,” Mother said. “But, Royal, you need to bring in some more wood in case the power does go off.”

Royal grabbed a flashlight from the shelf beside the stove and turned to his cousin Michael. “Want to help me split some kindling and bring in the wood?”

“Sure, let’s get at it,” his teenage cousin replied.

“I’m so glad you came,” Bluette said to her cousin Darlene, who was the same age as her.“You’ve saved me from a really tough slog,” she added as the girls wandered back into the living room.

“Like what?” Darlene asked.

“Mom was just saying I had to write a letter to Great Aunt Opal thanking her for the handkerchiefs she sent. Did you get some for your birthday, too?” She rolled her eyes. “It’s hard to write some gushy ‘Thank you’ for a gift you’ll never use.”

“You know, Bleet, I found a really good use for Aunt Opal’s hankies. I use them for bookmarks.”

Bluette stared at her. “Bookmarks?”

“Yeah. I fold them up and iron them so they’re really flat and use them to mark my place. That way I don’t have to leave books cracked open like this.” She pointed to the book Bluette had left on the arm of the chair. “Then I can write and tell Aunt Opal that I’ve found her handkerchiefs ‘really useful.’ And everybody’s happy.”

“You know, that’s not such a bad idea.” Not being as neat and organized as Darlene, she’d have never thought of it herself. “At least it’ll give me something to say when I write her.”

She picked her book off the arm of the chair. “I’m really glad you all came over. Have you ever read Wuthering Heights?”

“Yes. Isn’t Heathcliffe a heartless brute!”

Soon Michael and Royal were carrying in armloads of firewood, Uncle Nolan was stoking the fire and the aroma of hot chocolate was scenting the air. Before long the corn was popped and everyone was sitting around by the fireside enjoying the visit even if the lights were apt to go off at any moment.

“Hey, everybody. Wouldn’t it be neat if the electricity did go off and we get to sit here in the dark?” Royal asked in between mouthfuls of popcorn. He grinned at Michael.“That’d make the evening just perfect.”

A Vintage Year — Book Review

Last week I received a free copy of A Vintage Year by Kate Preston, with the promise that I’d review it and give my honest opinion of this book. So here it is:

Through the main character, former tennis star Harris Tucker, the reader gets a look at the immoral, self-centered world of a celebrity athlete. He’s portrayed as a careless playboy pursuing the pleasures of the flesh— seemingly well indulged in this by many attractive women. But as the story opens he botches an important game and his politically-aspiring mother, disgraced by his fiasco on the tennis court, disowns him. Then his accountant and best friend shuts off his allowance until he learns to curb his wild spending.

In Laura Bollier the reader sees the struggles of a young divorcee tackling both the hard work and planning necessary to keep the family’s grape-growing business solvent and the parenting responsibilities of a single mother. On a dare she offers Harris a week of work, an action that gets her some flak from her family. He may be clueless, but he’s desperate enough to stick it out.

If you are familiar with vineyards, and especially wine production in CA, you will find those details more interesting than I did. I felt the book slowed down in the middle as the writer took time to describe regional vine culture and wine festivals.

I found the story is well told, the plot believable, the characters well fleshed out. Most of the story moved along well. However, the relationship between Harris and Laura is a long, drawn out affair more off than on. And I did feel Harris’s mother’s “Wicked Witch of the West” role was sometimes overplayed. It’s a totally secular story; there are no religious references in it at all.

It seems the editor and writer got tired partway through the book. It could use one more editorial polishing, especially the last third. Language got a little coarser in the tense spots toward the end, too. There are typos, missing words, wrong verb tenses and such that an editor should have caught.

In places the personal pronouns are confusing; in a few spots the POV switches abruptly from one character to another, sometimes in the middle of a paragraph, and the reader is left to guess where exactly the break comes. There were places where the writer “showed” us but then told us anyway — and places where we were just told. Over all it was an interesting story.

Susan, Lady of Leisure #1

HER LAST DAY

“Now don’t you be in here with sunstroke next week!” Lynn, the head nurse winked as she waggled her finger at Susan. She cut a piece of the celebratory cake, dropped it onto a paper plate, and handed it to Susan. “Here’s the biggest piece for our guest of honor.”

“Best of luck, girl. You’ll be a lady of leisure now,” said Ethel, another ward nurse. “I’m sure looking forward to joining you – but I’ve got ten more years to go,” she added with a sigh.

“Well, I’m cheating to retire at 55, but with the inheritance from my Uncle James adding a bit to my pension, why shouldn’t I?” Susan admired the neatly formed icing rose on her piece of cake and shoved it to the side of her plate to keep as a souvenir of this party.

Nurse Karen balanced her plate of cake in one hand and patted Susan’s shoulder with the other. “You just enjoy your retirement years. You’ve earned it. And just think: no cranky old ladies hollering ‘Nurse! I need a bedpan.’ Lucky you!”

“I prescribe sunny southern climates all winter for the next twenty years,” said one of the Residents as he shook Susan’s hand.

“That sounds great! But I probably can’t afford that lifestyle if I’m not working 8-5 every day.” Susan chuckled at the mental picture of herself basking in the sun at the Riviera. With her fair complexion, plus being rather pale from years of working indoors, she might look like a boiled lobster if she spent too much time in the sun right off the bat.

Susan’s daughter Rhoda, who had taken time off to join the celebration, told the group, “Mom may not be doing the South Seas every winter, but she’s bought a neat little bungalow in a small southern village right on the coast close to Bournemouth.”

“Good for her,” Nurse Amanda cheered. “When can I come for a visit.” Everyone laughed.

“Will you be renting out a spare room for guests?” Nurse Collin asked in a teasing tone. “My wife would love a weekend down at the coast. Stuck here in Aylesbury all our lives, never toured southern England yet.”

Susan looked around the staff’s lunch room at the coworkers, dear to her heart, who’d come to say farewell. She smiled at the “Happy Days Ahead!” banner someone had tacked on one wall. In spite of the joyful occasion, which marked the end of running back and forth along this ward, she felt tears prick her eyes.

Yes, she’d had her holidays and some hobbies that kept her busy, but the past twenty-five years of her life had been devoted to this place. She’d gone back to nursing to support herself and her two children after Harvey’s death and the work had been a lifeline for her in more ways than one. What would she do now?

Susan made up her mind right there: she would not become a lonely old widow. As she nibbled at her cake her mind started flipping through the possibilities — all the dreams she’d had, some of which she might now be able to fulfill. She chuckled. If she got too bored she could always enroll in university.

Stella, another nurse a few years younger than Susan, wrapped an arm around her and gave her a gentle squeeze. “We’ll miss you. You’ve been so good with the patients. You’ve definitely earned your day of rest, Susan. Put your feet up. Read some good books.”

Susan waved her hand upwards. “I sure will. The sky’s the limit!”

At the end of the party Susan circled around the lunch room one last time, gave everyone a hug and left them with a promise to follow the prescribed course of treatment: total rest. Together with her daughter she walked down the hall and pushed the elevator button, dabbing at a few lingering tears.

“This is so sweet,” she said to Rhoda. “Last time on this elevator. Freedom!” They got off by the staff exit and Susan walked out that door for the last time.

To Be Continued…

FULL HOUSE–Book Report

FULL HOUSE
© 2012 by Maeve Binchy

This book is classed as a “Quick Read” and it was. I picked it up at the library last week and read it in one evening. It was also a delightful tale, the story of Dee & Liam, whose adult children still live at home and are totally at ease in the old nest. The young folks are totally focused on their own personal problems and take it for granted Mom look after all their physical needs: the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.

Then Dee & Liam face a financial and emotional crash and Dee realizes this system can’t go on. But now, how to go about re-educating their offspring after years of “training” them to be careless and self-centered? A rebellion is in order here.

I think this story could be a great eye-opener for teenagers and young adults living at home as well as for parents of teens and young adults.

Back cover blurb:
Rosie moved out when she got married, but it didn’t work out, so now she is back with her parents. Helen is a teacher and doesn’t earn enough for a place of her own. Anthony writes songs and is just waiting for the day when someone will pay him for them. Until then, all three are happy at home. It doesn’t cost them anything and surely their parents like having a full house?

Then there is a crisis and Dee decides things have to change for the whole family…whether they like it or not.

Sometimes You Hit A Homer

Gord and I had just finished shooing a few last gawkers away from the crash site when a car pulled into the driveway and a young woman got out and walked toward us, an inquisitive look on her face.

Gord rolled his eyes heavenward. “Whenever there’s a crime everyone and his pup wants to see the blood,” he grumbled.

I winked at my fellow officer. “I don’t see any pup. Just a nice looking lady.”

“Well, you deal with her, Mike. Tell her, ‘Sorry. No bodies today’.” He turned to talk with the tow truck driver and the two of them walked away.

As I watched the woman coming toward me, I guessed her to be in her late-twenties. Not pretty, exactly, but neat. Sandy blond hair fastened behind her head with a clip. Her outfit, a soft green skirt and matching flowered top, coordinated nicely.

Amanda always liked color-coordinated outfits. A twinge of grief hit me. Poets probably call this feeling “bittersweet.” Sweet memory; bitter grief. Co-ordinated sentiments?

This lady didn’t look like your usual crime-scene spectator. Did she have some business here? Neighbors had told us the owners were away on vacation so perhaps this was some friend or relative checking up on things.

She watched the tow truck driver haul away the car the young hoods had totaled, then she turned to me. “What happened, Officer?”

“We’re still investigating, ma’am, but it appears a couple of teen boys held up a gas station and tore off when police tried to stop them. They lost control making a turn, spun out, and hit this garage.”

She frowned. “I hope they weren’t killed!”

“No, just stunned a bit. They ran when our officers got here, but they’re in custody now.”

“Well, I’m sorry they crashed, but at least they’ll get the chance to think it over.”

“Yeah. Probably for six months or so.” I noticed her different accent. Out of state. “And what brings you here this morning, ma’am?”

“My friend asked me to meet her here. I wonder if she knows about this? She didn’t say anything when I talked to her earlier.”

“Your friend?”

“Brianne Rancourt. She’s been house-sitting for these folks while they’re on holidays.”

“Ah. We’ll need to talk to her.”

“We planned to meet here, check on the place, then do lunch. Shall I call her, sir?” She turned her huge peepers on me — nice denim blue ones — and my pulse did a quick double blip.

I took a deep breath. “Uh… Just give me her number and I’ll get the investigating officer to contact her.” I grabbed my notebook and she rattled off the pertinent info, then waited as I relayed it to headquarters.

She eyed the damage. “Brianne will be so shocked. She’s been house-sitting here for the past two weeks and never had any trouble. I feel sorry for the owners, coming home to this.”

Her tone, soft and gentle now, reminded me of the folks at my wife’s funeral. They’d give me a hug or pat me on the shoulder as they filed past, murmuring, “I’m so sorry, Mike.” Or they’d look at my kids and say, “This is so sad!”

I jerked my mind back to the present. “How long have you known Ms Rancourt?”

“Only ten days, actually. My Aunt lives here in Houston. She had a bad fall and broke her hip, so I took time off work and drove down from Great Falls to help her out. I met Brianne at the hospital; her aunt’s on the same ward.”

“Great Falls, Montana? Ah! That explains your accent.”

Her eyes sparkled. “Actually, we don’t have an accent. It’s you Texans that talk funny.” I chuckled at the way she drawled this last sentence.

I flipped to a new page in my notebook. “I should take down your name and number as well, ma’am.”

Her eyebrows lifted. “Really? But it’s purely coincidence that I’m here now, sir.”

I put on my best stern-cop frown, avoiding those curious blue eyes. “Perhaps we’ll need to contact you for some reason.”

“Okay. I’m Shannon Ryan. As I said, I live in Great Falls. Age thirty-one — in case you need that, too.” I couldn’t miss the hint of teasing in her voice.

I grinned. “I admire your honesty, ma’am. Most women I know stop at twenty-nine.” That made her smile.

Amanda had always joked that she was going to quit counting birthdays when she hit thirty. I’d laughed and told her I’d just have to grow old all by myself then. Those words came back to haunt me now. We never dreamed she wouldn’t live to see thirty; we never foresaw a fatal aneurysm snatching her away from me and the kids.

I focused on my notebook. “Married or single?” Police records didn’t require that, but hey. We can do things different here in Texas, right?

“I’m a widow.”

That got my attention. “I’m sorry to hear that. For long?”

She sighed. “It’s been ten years for me. And Brianne was widowed two years ago. I guess that’s why we hit it off so well when we met. We can commiserate.”

My brain did the math. “You must have been married real young then?”

“Yeah. I was seventeen when we got married; Brad was eighteen. Young and foolish, folks said, but we were very much in love. He was killed in a car accident on his way home from work one night. Four sweet years — far too short.” She blinked back some tears.

I nodded sympathetically. “I hear you, ma’am. I lost my wife four months ago. Feels like our time together was far too short, too.”

“My condolences,” she murmured. “Those first few months alone are a long, hard walk.”

“You’ve never remarried? Not currently, uh, involved?” Man, you’re nervy, Mike, I chided myself. But I had to ask.

“No.” She hesitated a moment. “I was engaged briefly three years ago, but that really blew up in my face. I run a daycare and it turned out he had an agenda. An ‘unnatural interest’ in children. I’ll admit a few red flags did pop up, but I so much wanted a home and family of my own that I reasoned them away.”

“The snake!” I spat the word out, thinking of my own innocent kids.

“Yeah. How could I have not seen it? And the scandal when he was arrested really sank me. Headlines like: ‘Day care operator’s fiancé arrested for trafficking in kiddie porn’ and ‘Police investigate pedophile’s involvement with day care owner.’ I’d never left him alone with any of the kids in my care — I testified to that in court — but my business was toast. I had to sell my house and start up elsewhere.”

I gritted my teeth. “I know what I’d like to do with someone like that!”

“So I’m sure you can understand why I try not to think about marriage anymore. I’m scared to hope again for fear it’ll be ‘Three strikes, you’re out’.” She smiled then, but the tears made her eyes glisten.

She shook her head and fixed her eyes on the garage. “Anyway, this isn’t all about me, so I’d better get on my way.” She turned and walked toward her car.

Should I just let her go? Something about this lady impressed me. She’d been through the mill and could still smile. I could use someone like that in my life — someone who’d understand.

A nagging voice piped up. It’s too soon to get involved, Mike. Just drop it!

Yeah, too soon. Yet I was so lonely! The emptiness had set in as soon as the last relative left. Every day my house felt empty: the loving greetings, the noisy meals together, the hugs and kisses were all gone. Every night my bed felt lonelier.

What will people think? They’ll say you didn’t love Amanda much if you find someone else so soon.

Stuff it, I retorted. I need someone. The kids need a mother. I’ve prayed God would send me someone who’ll love my kids. And if this is my someone, I’m not letting her walk away.

“Shannon, wait…” I called. She stopped and turned around.

“I’ve been thinking — since you’re down here alone and don’t know the city, perhaps you might, uh, like an unofficial police escort? Maybe for some shopping or sightseeing? And there are some really neat cruises in the Gulf you might want to take in while you’re here.”

She was quiet for a moment. Wrestling with her own nagging voices, most likely.

“Don’t give up on finding love,” I encouraged her. “After all, not everybody strikes out. Sometimes you hit a homer on the third swing.”

Something seemed to click and her face broke into a beautiful smile. “You know,” she said, “a police escort might not be such a bad idea. Might save me from some other slippery snakes. Yeah, I’d like to look around this town more, with a little help. Since you’re offering.”

Her smile seemed to bring the sunshine into my world again. I held out my hand. “My name’s Mike Andrews, by the way. And I have a five-year-old and a two-year-old who’d be glad to spend time with someone who likes children.”

She reached out and shook my hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mike. And I do like children. In fact I always wanted house full.”

I gave her my biggest smile. “I’m with you on that one.”

Troy’s Wake-Up Call

WHAM!

As a reward for our recent hard work, our sales team had chosen to spend a few days at a resort renowned for its golf greens. I was coming in with my small plane and everything was A-okay.  Visibility was great; the tarmac stretched out invitingly; my landing gear was unfolding as it should.

It would have been a perfect landing — if only those crazy birds had stayed put.

In my descent I could see the fairway on my left farther up. I also took note of the winding stream below as I brought my small plane down, focused on the strip of asphalt ahead. I never saw the two birds they say rose up from the river below. I only felt a violent jerk as something hit the prop and I lost control.

I vaguely recall a tumbling, falling sensation, the far-off wail of sirens. I remember thinking at one point, Guess my buddies will have to play without me, ‘cause I won’t be making it to the fairway today.

I woke up flat out on a bed, hearing blimps and bleeps from machines and soft voices. Definitely hospital sounds. I tried to open my eyes or turn my head, but my body was like stone. I couldn’t stay awake.

I came to later, hearing familiar voices right near my bed. My wife, Lacey, my mom and dad. They were murmuring, talking about the crash of a small plane, a bird in the prop. Bit by bit the memory came back to me.  I tried to make some noise. I tried moving my hand, my foot — anything to let them know I was awake — but my body wouldn’t co-operate. I couldn’t even tell that I even had arms or legs. Maybe I didn’t? That thought scared the living daylights out of me. But I couldn’t open my eyes to check.

HOW LONG?

“How long do you think it will be until he comes out of this, doctor?” I could hear the fear in Lacey’s voice.

Another voice, professional, yet kind. “We can never be sure. A lot of patients with similar injuries come to within a week or two. Some don’t.”

NO! I don’t want to lie here another week or two, I want to get up, move around. Then his last words buzzed around in my brain, torturing me. Some don’t. Ever.

“When he does come to again, what are the chances that Troy will live a normal life?” Dad’s voice. Always the optimist, he wouldn’t take ‘never’ for an answer.

“That’s impossible to determine until he wakes up and we assess how much neurological damage has been done.”

Hours passed — or was it days? I came to many times and tried to move, but it was like someone had set me in concrete. What I wouldn’t give to at least say a few words, find out what was going on! When the doctor was in the room I tried my hardest to scream, but not even a squeak came out.

I lived for the visits of my family. Lacey brought Kyle and Tianna. They were full of questions. Lacey explained, “Daddy’s in a coma. It’s like he’s asleep. But maybe he can hear us, so talk to him.”

Poor kids. They didn’t understand, but they tried. Kyle told me about school. Tianna told me about the new girl on our street. Their voices were like a lifesaver to a drowning sailor. If only I could communicate just how much those visits meant to me.

I made a vow. When I come out of this, I’m going to tell them every day how sweet their voices sound.

Even the medical people brightened my dark world. How I wish I could tell them that! I knew from the few comments the nurses made right by my bed that they were moving me, washing me, but I felt nothing. Much as I hated to be so helpless, their snatches of gossip as they worked with me reassured me that I was still in the land of the living.

SECOND CHANCES

Then came that marvelous day when my eyes opened.

If you only knew what it’s like to live in grey shadows for days — or was it even weeks? — and then one day be able to see light and color and people. Wonderful is far too small a word; it’s like saying the Grand Canyon is large. And to see the faces of Lacey, the kids, my parents, standing around me with great big grins. To see the hope shining in their eyes.

The only thing that it was the day I took my first step. It was the first step of my new life as a husband, a father, a son. Thank God for second chances!

The Castle of Blood

Once Upon A Time…

Trembling with every step, I made my way down the dim corridor of the castle. I knew what was ahead and I dreaded it, but one of the noble princes of our land had commanded me to appear there and I could not escape my fate.

At the end of the hall a woman waited, grasping in her bony fingers a long rubber band. I shuddered as I advanced toward her. She wanted my blood.

Where, oh, where, can my fairy godmother be staying these days? Why does she not swoop down to rescue me from this ordeal?

For me there has been no reprieve from this long corridor and this constant bloodletting. Oh, so many times I had to present myself to this woman with the sinister smile. So many times she reached out and took hold of my arm, drawing me into her room. So many times — yet it was never enough. All too soon she wanted yet more.

I cringed as she punctured my vein, laughing all the while. She would take my blood and spin it, twirl it, torture it. Would she love to do the same with my body, I wonder? Thankfully, permission has not been granted her to torture my flesh — and she is not allowed to pierce my jugular vein. So I have escaped with my life.

She drained enough blood to fill three pots, relishing the bright red tone. Then she released me and I fled that terrible enclave. Outside the castle door my knight in shining armor waited to carry me off to his mansion, where I might recover until the next summons comes and they want yet more of my precious blood.

As we walked back to our carriage, we heard a sound like a bull frog and turned to see what odd creature was lurking nearby. At last our eyes located the source of this unearthly sound: up in a pine tree beside the castle a raven peered down at us. No doubt he was disappointed there was no flesh for him to feast on.

My reply to today’s WordPress prompt isn’t quite a fairy tale, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.

The Wizard of Sherwood Forest?

It seemed to Dorothy that the tornado was losing some of its strength — she and the various things caught up with her seemed to be spinning more slowly. She felt a sensation of descent, like being in an elevator going down. Yes, the twister that carried her away from Kansas was finally dropping her back to earth again.

The tips of her toes brushed some tree tops. Green leaves fluttered around her now. She held tight to her dog, fearful of losing him among the branches that reached for them as they tumbled down in a clearing right next to a brooklet.

Dorothy let go of her small fellow traveler, who shook himself vigorously and let out a few yips. Gingerly she got to her feet and dusted herself off. “Oh, Toto! Are you all right? I don’t think I have any broken bones, but look at my dress! It’s a mess — and so many rips. Whatever will Mother say when I get home?”

She surveyed the clearing. “And which way is home? I’m so glad to be out of that horrible wind — but this can’t be Kansas. We never had such huge trees as this. Which way should we go?” Dorothy climbed onto the trunk of a toppled tree trunk and looked around. “I see a path over there. Let’s go, Toto.”

Half a mile away two men peered out from under a group of sheltering trees. “What a gale! I haven’t seen a wind like that for many a year,” said the taller man. He stood up and grabbed his bow and quiver of arrows off the ground.

“I was certainly glad to be in the shelter of these strong oaks, Little John,” his companion said as he surveyed the litter of small branches around them. “Though I wondered if the wind might have brought them down on our heads before it passed. Then he laughed heartily. “Whatever would the Sheriff of Nottingham say if, when he’s tried so hard to capture Robin Hood all these years, he found me done in by an oak limb?”

Suddenly the two men froze. “Is that a dog I hear?” Robin muttered. “Whatever would a dog be doing wandering here in Sherwood Forest?”

“Where there’s a dog, there’s undoubtedly a master,” Little John replied. “And who is he, I wonder?” He grabbed an arrow and fitted it to his bowstring, ready to take aim.

Robin pointed toward the far end of the road where a young girl was coming into view. “The dog seems to be with that young waif. Look at her dress, will you. Such garments as I’ve never seen on an English child. She’s a real ragamuffin! Must have been fearfully tumbled about in that storm.”

Little John slipped the arrow back into his quiver. “No need to fear a mistress that small,” he murmured. They listened as the girl talked to her dog.

“It looks like the road divides up ahead, Toto. Which way should we go? Oh, how I wish I were home and not stumbling around in these woods!”

The two men stepped out from their hiding place in the trees, startling Dorothy and setting Toto to barking furiously. Dorothy gasped when she saw their longbows and grabbed Toto in her arms so they wouldn’t hurt him.

“Lost, are you, little maid?” the one man asked. “How come ye to be in the forest alone? Where is your home?”

Wherever can I be? Dorothy wondered. I can barely understand what they’re saying. But she answered bravely. “I’m from Kansas, sir. The twister picked me up and carried me away from my home. It dropped me here in the woods and I’m trying to find my way home.”

She tried to hush Toto, who was still barking and wriggling, trying to escape her hold. “Please don’t hurt my dog, fellows. He’s only wanting to protect me.”

“Indeed he is, young maid, and the good Lord knows you have need of some protection if you’re wandering in Sherwood Forest alone. You can set him down; we won’t hurt him.”

“Thank you, sir.” She set Toto down. He stayed right beside her, eyeing the two men dressed in green.

Dorothy frowned. “Say, did you say this is Sherwood Forest? I’ve heard of that.” She paused a minute, trying to recall where she’d heard that name. “Isn’t that where Robin Hood lived?”

“Lived? He lives here right now. Indeed, it’s Robin Hood you’re talking to right now, and this is my good friend Little John.” Robin clapped the shoulder of the man beside him.”Welcome to this part of merry old England.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Hood sir, but I thought you were only a fable.”

“A fable?”

“Yes, like a fairy tale.”

“A fairy tale! Goodness me, girl, that’s even worse.” He sounded huffy. “I hope I’m more than a fairy tale. I was rather hoping with time I’d be a legend.”

“Oh, yes, sir! That’s it.” Dorothy quickly replied, hoping she hadn’t offended him too much. “Legend is certainly the better word. Yes.”

“And where might Kansas be, wee maiden?” Little John asked. “I’ve never heard of it. Your accent is not from this part of England, I’m sure. I can barely understand you.”

“I speak American, Mr. John, sir. Just like my Pa and Ma and all the other people in our country.” She paused a moment more. “Say, if you really are Robin Hood, then do you rob people?”

“Only the rich. No point robbing the poor; they have nothing to take. Well, we do snatch the odd pig or cow now and then. My merry band of men has to eat, too.”

Dorothy thought of her father, a poor farmer. It would cause him grief to have someone steal their cow or one of their pigs. She looked up at the man and stated firmly, “It’s always wrong to steal.”

“A Sheriff’s child, are you? Or maybe the daughter of a Judge?” Robin Hood asked, and the two men laughed.

“It IS!” Dorothy shook her finger at them. “It’s wicked. You should say sorry and give back what you’ve taken.”

“So much you do not know about current affairs in England, little maid. But come with us now and we’ll see if my friend, Friar Tuck, might hap to find a place for you until we can find out where you belong. It won’t do to have you wandering in the forest alone like this. There are wolves — and other wicked men, too, who might sell you for a slave. You wouldn’t want that.” He winked at her.

The prospect of wandering in the woods at night scared Dorothy and being sold as a slave was even worse. So she and Toto meekly went along with Robin and Little John to Friar Tuck’s cottage. There the three men pondered how to get the maid and her dog back to her parents in Kansas — wherever Kansas was — and meanwhile where to get her some decent English clothes.

Written in response to today’s Daily Prompt

The House that Tom & Susie Built

“Oh, to be more patient!” Susie sighed as she got ready for bed that night. If only Tom could see my point! I don’t want to be a nag but he needs to make some changes — for the good of our home.

For one thing, he could say ‘No’ to some of these pleas for help. Like this morning when Uncle Jim called. Could Tom do a few repairs for Grandma?

“Yes, we love Grandma,” Susie had countered, “but any of your cousins could help her. They just say they’re too busy; well, we’re busy, too! We’ll never get our own house finished if you’re always helping this one and that one. Say ‘No’ this time!”

And had he listened? No. Then he wasn’t home in time for dinner, either, and the children became whiny and hard to manage. Irked, Susie grumbled at him after he did get home until he snapped back at her and stomped out to mow the lawn. The girls stood looking at her in wide-eyed silence until she shooed them outside to play. And Javon started to fuss.

Susie warmed up a bottle for him. “I guess I should apologize,” she told Javon as she fed him his bottle. “But maybe your daddy will think about this, too, and see that charity begins at home.” She brushed away the feelings of guilt.

Javon fell asleep and she started to vacuum, but she found resentment a bitter companion and was very thankful when Tom came in to say he was sorry. She apologized, too, and they both agreed that they wanted a happy home.

That night Susie whispered a prayer into her pillow. “I do want to be a good helpmeet for him, Lord. But there’s so much to do around here and the children need their Dad and… Well, You know it all. Please help us.” Then weariness overcame her and she fell asleep.

Next thing Susie knew, she and Tom were walking down a long road that stretched out ahead of them, then started to curve.

As they walked along, she had a sense of years passing. She glanced at Tom and saw with surprise that he had a cane in his other hand and was leaning on it a lot. She saw the grey in his hair and knew that hers was turning white, too.

Suddenly from around the bend in the road a man came toward them. With a spring in his step and a cheerful hello, he beckoned them.

“You must be the Reeds. I’ve come to show you your new house.”

She and Tom looked at each other in surprise and delight. The man, who seemed to be a real estate agent, led them around the next bend. Beside the road they saw a lovely new cottage.

Susie gasped. “Is this ours?”

“No,” the agent replied, “this is the home of John and Linda Thomas.”

Right then an elderly couple opened the door and waved at them. It was indeed a couple they knew from their congregation, but they were both very old now.

“Well, they certainly do deserve that neat home,” said Susie. “They’ve been so faithful in the church and such a good example to us all.”

The man smiled. “Yes, they’ve been building well all these years.”

They walked along farther and passed other houses, some looking very good and some rather ramshackle. One place wasn’t much more than a heap of crooked boards tossed together. The couple outside were bickering with each other.

The agent shook his head. “Even in old age some folks are still trying to decide whose fault it is.”

“I hope we don’t have them for neighbours,” Susie said curtly.

A few miles later the agent stopped beside another house. “And here we are, folks. This one is yours!”

Tom and Susie walked over to the house and eyed it dubiously. The siding had some jagged edges, a few boards were put on at odd angles. The door frame wasn’t quite straight.

“This is ours?” Tom sounded puzzled. He studied it up and down, and wandered around to the back, leaving Susie alone with the agent.

Susie examined the house and said to herself, “Somebody sure made a mess of things!”
The man seemed to read her thoughts. “It has been fairly well built. A few flaws here and there, but most of it is quite sound.”

He opened the door and Susie followed him into the cottage. Floor tiles were missing here and there. The fireplace stones stuck out at odd angles; amazing they didn’t tumble down!

“Oh, there must be some mistake,” she protested. “This can’t be ours!”

“Madam, I assure you, there’s no mistake,” he answered politely. “This is the house you and Tom have been building all these years. And you’ve done a halfway decent job, too. Some really good materials here.” He rapped on the wall. “Most of the subfloor is good wood. Most of the studs are in place, though some are a bit warped. Most of the roof is intact.”

“But…we would never build a place like this!”

“This is indeed your work, Mrs. Reed. What you have here is what you’ve put into your marriage all these years. You reap what you sow, you know.”

He pointed to the floor tiles. “Most of the time you and Tom have spoken to each other with respect — but not always.” Then he indicated several holes in the ceiling. “You and Tom have patched up most of your quarrels, but not all of them.” He waved at the gaps between the wall and the ceiling. “Times when each of you insisted on getting your own way. A bit was lost in your building. Selfishness is such a thief!”

Susie examined the fireplace with its stones askew and he explained. “These are the times you’ve accepted each other’s faults charitably — or complained angrily. They’re all here, just as you’ve stacked them.”

Susie cringed. What he was saying was too true. Sick at heart, she walked into the kitchen. The cabinets looked attractive, except that some of the doors were warped.
She didn’t dare ask, but he told her anyway. “Most of the time you’ve been honest with each other, but not always.”

Susie blushed, remembering a few of those times. “If only we’d known it would all show up like this,” she wailed. “How can we ever live here?”

The agent drew himself up in a huff. “That’s not my problem, Mrs. Reed. I’m only the agent of Time. My job was to bring you here and I have. All these years you and Tom have been building your old age. And may I remind you that when you were young you thought these things were good enough. ‘About like other couples,’ I believe you said then.”

He walked over to the entrance. “If you’d wanted something better now, you should have started years ago. Remember the old proverb: A wise woman buildeth her house, but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.”

Susie hung her head in shame. “If I’d only known I was building I’d someday have to live with…”

“Perhaps you could still make a few repairs,” he suggested cheerfully as he opened the door. “And now, good day, Mrs. Reed. I have others to bring to their houses, too, including your children. They’re married now and are building their own homes.”

“My children! What kind of houses will they have? If only they could see…”

“No doubt they will be following the example you’ve left them, so their houses will be half-ways decent, too,” he assured her. Then he stepped out the door into a whoosh of wind and was gone, leaving Susie standing there contemplating his last words.

She turned around to look over the house again and a wave of despair overcame her. How many repairs could they make at this late date? She sat down in a chair and began to sob.
Then Tom was beside her and his arm was around her. “It’s all right, Susie. Don’t cry. We’ll do what we can.”

Suddenly she was sitting up in bed, with Tom’s arm around her. “It’s all right, Susie. Don’t cry,” he was saying. “You must have had a bad dream.”

Susie nodded, then thought again. “No, I’ve had a very good dream. and I hope I’ll remember it for a long time. She leaned on his shoulder. “Oh, Tom, I’ve been fussing so much about getting this earthly house finished and I’ve been neglecting the most important one!”

Part of the Family

Part II

Tyler ran into the park, avoiding the playground where other boys would be having fun with their dads. Instead he followed the path that led down to the creek, to watch the ducks and swans swimming.

Suddenly he stopped. There on the path ahead was the Canada goose. He had never been able to get this close to it before!

He watched as it pulled at strands of grass and ate them. I’m going to chase it into the water and watch it swim, he thought. In the water the goose was really neat; it looked like a sleek grey boat with a long black flagpole.

But the goose would not be chased. It waddled over to the edge of the creek, right in front of a duck family that was swimming around in the water gobbling up bugs, and there it stood, calmly watching Tyler with his tiny black eyes.

Tyler stepped closer and waved his arms to shoo it into the water. But the goose just raised its wings, stretched out its long neck, and honked a warning.

“Silly goose!” he shouted at it. “Get in the water and swim.”

The goose stood its ground at the edge of the creek, eyeing him warily.

Maybe if I had a stick, Tyler thought. He looked around beside a nearby bush and found a long one. But when he waved the stick at the goose, it stretched out its neck again, hissed and flapped its wings as if to say, “Look out, kid!”

A little girl came skipping along the path with her mom and dad following behind her. “Why are you trying to hit that goose?” she asked.

“I just want it to get in the water. I want to watch it swim, but it won’t go.”

“Do you see that duck family?” the man asked. “That’s why it won’t go in the water.”

Tyler looked at him, puzzled.

“This is a father goose–a gander,” he explained. “He has no family of his own, so he’s adopted this duck family. He always stays near them, watching that nothing hurts them. He’s put himself in between so you can’t get near them.”

“But where’s the ducks’ dad?” Tyler asked.

“We don’t know,” the lady answered. “He just went away–or maybe he got sick and died.”

Tyler nodded, feeling a lump in his throat. He knew all about dads getting hurt and dying. He studied the gander until the lump went away.

“But why does he stick around when he’s not their real dad?”

“Maybe he’s just lonesome and wants to be part of the family,” the man replied. “Maybe he sees that the mother duck needs his help to take care of all those busy babies. What do you think?”

For a minute they watched the many duck babies zipping this way and that to snap up water bugs. Yes, she might need help to watch over them all.

“This gander will fight anything that tries to get near his family,” said the dad. “When he flaps his wings and hisses at you, he means, ‘Look out! One more step and you’re in for it!’ His wings are strong and could give you a few good bruises and if he grabbed your leg with his beak, you’d feel it!”

“But if you want to watch him swim, go sit down a bit,” he suggested. “Once he knows the ducks are safe, he might get back in the water and join them.”

The people walked away. Tyler threw away his stick and sat down to watch; pretty soon the gander did waddle into the creek and swim over to the ducks.

As he watched the unusual family, a thought came to him. What if one of the ducklings decided he didn’t like the gander and tried to chase him away? Tyler smiled as he pictured a tiny duckling chasing a big goose.

“Like you’re doing to Paul?” The words popped into his mind, surprising him, but he realized this was the truth. By refusing to like Paul, by being crabby to him, he was trying to make Paul give up and go away.

So why did Paul stick around? Was he lonely, too? Tyler knew about lonely, about the ache inside that never went away since Dad died. Many times he wanted to cry and there was nowhere to go with his loneliness. If he told Mom how he felt, she might cry, too, and that was worse. Did Paul sometimes feel like that? Did he want to be part of their family so he would not be alone anymore?

Did Mom really need Paul’s help to raise her family? He thought of one little duck trying to look after the whole family. Silly! The gander obviously could do a much better job. He was big and brave enough to stand up for them.

Maybe Paul feels like that, too, Tyler thought. Maybe he thinks we need him. He sat and pondered the idea. And maybe we really do, he finally decided.

Tyler jumped up and started for home. Paul would be there now and might play ball with them. Maybe they could be friends. Paul wasn’t Dad, but having him there might not be so bad after all.

The End