Monday, January 3, 2011

Editor's Corner

January 2011

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot -Unknown

A New Year holds so much promise that we sometimes don't think that part of the promise is built upon the foundation of all that has gone before, experiences and friendships and always family. So no, never forget the "Auld Acquaintances." Our LC Van Savage celebrates her birth with the birth of the year annually, and that is a nice way to begin the season! However the year did get off to a rocky start with wild weather globally: Flooding in Queensland, drenching rains and mudslides in California, tornadoes in Missouri and Arkansas, and even threatening nearby states. Should we look on this as a wake-up call, and get our act together. Not just making resolutions, but planning for our future with the best safeguards we can provide?

Such looking ahead is an "Endless Trail," as suggested by John I. Blair in the poem by that name. Bruce Clifford says "I Can't Forget," and his other poem this issue is "Remembering," so we aren't the only ones in a reflective mood. Blair's other poems for January including more reminiscing are: "1642 South Washington," "Puddle-Seeking Plymouth," and "Looking For The Horse Thief." The next two, also by Blair, are more subtle: the bird lover in him makes "Canada Geese" a tone poem, while "Sensation" explores living in the moment awareness.

Awareness is what spurred Mike's blog, which can be read here: "My Christmas Bonus." Of course if you are reading this on our blog which is the dot net version (the ezine is the dot com version) you can simply click it on the sidebar.

Thomas F. O'Neill in his column "Introspective," is elated to announce that one of his mentors he worked with personally, Mother Teresa will receive special recognition. Mattie Lennon with "Irish Eyes" lets us in on the fact that his retirement is nigh. Congrats, Mattie.

The article by LC Van Savage on "Teachers and Heroes" is also about remembering, while her column "Consider This" delivers her promised truth about Snow White. Gerard Meister shares some insight on 'mothering' in a poignant manner in "Thinking Out Loud."  The Mail Bag features the letter from the Titans unit Commander, Cpt. Tim Heisler, who happens to be Leo C. Helmer's grandson. Two of Tim's sisters and his younger brother are also serving militarily as National Guard and Army Reserve. And yes, Grandpa has pictures to show.

The story "Doll Hands" will wake you up, and you'll likely recall it for awhile. It is by Bruce Clifford's collegiate daughter Brooke who graced our pages while still in High School. Speaking of stories, the continuing one, "Rabbo Tales," adds Chapter 6, part 1 bears the title "Full Moon," and our rabbit is growing up fast.

"Cookin' With Leo" by Leo C. Helmer brings us "Aztec Annie's Superbowl Coffee," and Eric Shackle gives us the low-down and where to on "Willie Wonky's Amazing Chocolate" in his column, so we have delightful snacking info. "Always Looking" John I. Blair's column and "Angel Whispers" by Peg Jones, are on vacation for January.

This issue appears in the ezine at and also in the blog with the capability of adding comments at the latter. We invite you to become a fan of our publication at FaceBook.

See you in February for the first issue of the new volume!

Click on Mary E. Adair for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Endless Trail

By John I. Blair

Whatever the fruit,
I mean to trace
This endless trail, to chase
What lies beyond the bend,
Desirable, elusive,
Unknowable place.

The wind blows in my face,
My eyes weep, skin tingles,
Gnats cling to my arms,
The sun beats down
On my sweating head,
Stinging with delight.

Around me, hints of night.
The long and glistening river,
The duck-dotted ponds,
Silently listen as I pass.
Every mile looms new,
Every mile’s the same.

I’m confident whence I came
But not sure where I’m going;
Nor do I much care.
I just devote my body,
My mind, my bliss
To the pure pursuit.

©2004 John I. Blair

Click on John I. Blair for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Puddle-Seeking Plymouth

By John I. Blair

Where Grandma Braun had dwelled
Only the well adorned the spot
And the big barn, leaning just a bit
As the beams within began to rot.

We were two feckless teenage boys
Out on an early April lark
Deep in the Kansas countryside
Meaning to fly a kite before dark.

With Roger at the steering wheel
And mine the navigation part
We were in reckless trouble
Nearly from the start.

The car rolled down the rutted lane
As far as we would dare,
Looking for empty pasture
And unencumbered air.

And then a sucking mudhole
Swallowed us to the doors,
Mired us to the ankles,
Scared us to our cores.

A long hike on a county road,
A sympathetic farmer
A big green John Deere tractor
Left us feeling calmer;

But when we drove back to the city,
Our faces flushed and red,
Instead of abashed embarrassment
It was exhilaration instead!

Before that year was cold and done,
A year among our worst,
We’d stuck that car in two more bogs—
The best time was the first.

©2004 John I. Blair

Click on John I. Blair for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Eric Shackle's Column

By Eric Shackle

Willie's Wonky Chocolate Factory Visited

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Intrigued by a TV series,Willie's Wonky Chocolate Factory, shown in Australia, we searched the internet for details, and found an amazing story about a charismatic guy, Willie Harcourt-Couze.

He was born during World War II to an Irish woman, His father was Burmese. After attending schools in Ireland he moved to London when he was 16.

There, he worked variously as a decorator, restaurateur, and part-owner of a nightclub, among other jobs.

In 1993, he fell in love with a lovely model, Tania Coleridge, a descendant of the famous poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author of Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Kubla Khan. He flew to her home in California to marry her.

They spent their honeymoon in Venezuela, where they discovered and later bought a 1000 acre (400 ha) cacao farm.

A few years later, Willie built a factory in Uffculme, Devon, England. to make what he hoped would be the world's best chocolate. British TV Channel 4 cameras followed the project step by step for a series of documentaries.

In 2008 the TV show was recommissioned for a second series, the follow-up series Willie's Chocolate Revolution: Raising the Bar, aired on Channel 4 over three consecutive nights in April 2009. This followed Willie's attempt to introduce a high-cacao chocolate bar, "Delectable", to the British market.

Willie Harcourt-Couze has been dubbed an eccentric entrepreneur with a mission to educate the public in the delights of top quality chocolate.

He may be eccentric, but he's also very clever, and probably very rich ... like his chocolate.

To find out more about Willie, the farm and factory, visit Willie's World at

      We asked Willy's sister -in-law Sophie how we could taste his chocolate. She replied:
Dear Eric,
Thanks very much for your email.
We're very pleased to hear that you enjoyed the show.
You will find Willie’s Cacao in Australia in branches of jones the grocer, see
Alternatively you can buy Willie’s Cacao at our online shop, please visit our website for details or contact
Willie is currently looking at more beans from around the World so there should be some more interesting bars available in the future.
In his quest for more beans earlier this year Willie visited Colombia and Mexico see
Kind regards,

So we emailed Jones the Grocer and asked about buying a few blocks of Willie's wonderful chocolate, only to be told stocks were "flying out the door."
Fortunately, they caught one for us.
Our report... Great chocolate: five stars. *****

Posted by shack at 9:08 PM to


Click on Eric Shackle for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Thinking Out Loud

By Gerard Meister

My constant readers know of my high regard for women. And I speak of an assembly of pertinent facts: they are both the “givers - of - life” and the keepers of the nest, while at the same time manage to weave into the warp and woof of the fabric of society some of their God given sensitivity into all of our lives, to wit:

My wife and I now use wheel chairs to get through the airport. Customarily, my wife receives a female attendant for the chair and I a male. This time I received a female attendant and my wife a male. While it is true that my wife has less ambulatory and balance problems than I do, the difference of being in a woman’s hands as opposed to the hands of a male are significant, in that the man stands by and watches as you progress through the TSA gauntlet, while the woman seeks to help proactively. For example, my attendant helped me take my shoes off – no mean feat while balanced on a cane; then she slid over a few bins and helped me off with my jacket and packed the bins for me; then walked around the metal detector with my cane so I needed only one step to grasp my cane (phew); then she brought me a chair to wait for the bins to come and helped with getting my shoes back on and getting my stuff together. In other words dear reader, she “mothered” me.

Then there was this: I watch the television show “Cops” quite often. I like the show because it is unrehearsed and save for the camera on the scene, the director lets things unfold without his/her imprint on the action. In this one segment, a young mother and father were caught while in their car buying heroin from a sidewalk drug dealer. This with their son – toddler of about 18 months – strapped into a car seat. The parents, particularly the mother, started crying as they were cuffed and dragged from the vehicle. The baby seeing his mother in tears started to whimper and a female officer on the scene quickly unstrapped the child and cradled him to her chest. The little boy immediately put his arm around the officer’s neck and stopped crying. Clearly, he knew instinctively that he was safe; he was being “mothered.”

Shortly, child protective attendants came on the scene and a young female officer smilingly took the little boy from the policewoman who protested by kicking and flailing his arms. “He’ll be fine,” she said as she turned to walk away and the little boy began to cry.

Now, the scene shifts back to the police officer, a young, blond woman probably in her mid-thirties seated in the front passenger seat of her patrol car. She is alone; her partner is nowhere to be seen. The director, in a Scorcese type move, keeps the camera out of sight and shoots the policewoman through the driver’s side window as she dissolves into shoulder-heaving sobs (we cannot hear her), covers both her eyes with the palms of her hands and the sobbing intensifies – no sound – but the shoulders heaving ever higher as the scene fades to black; not a sound from the narrator – no background noise, except for the tears flowing softly down my wife’s and my cheeks.

Click on Gerard Meister for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Canada Geese

By John I. Blair

Image shift
Calm drift
Heads aloft
Eyes soft
Last kissed
Balsam mist
Boreal tryst

©2004 John I. Blair

Click on John I. Blair for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.


By John I. Blair

Even these bleary eyes
Half-glazed with weariness
Can sense the fibrous strength
Of sanseviera leaves
Bunched there on my desk
Erect and green.

My stuffy nose at length
Can still detect
The tantalizing
Promissory smell of lunch
Drifting in the
Perfectly proportioned air.

And dreary though my day
My tongue can taste
The wind-tossed grain fields,
Rain-bright vineyards
It took to make the trail mix bar
I’m munching just to stay awake.

©2004 John I. Blair

Click on John I. Blair for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Teachers and Heroes

By LC Van Savage

Teachers, the great and mostly unsung heroes of the world, are one of the singular most important influences on the formative-and-beyond years of our children, responsible for forcing vitally vital knowledge into their bread-dough brains, hoping most of it stays and doesn't ooze out.

But, as in all professions there are some who should never have taken up teaching, but did anyway for reasons best known to them.

My friend Pearl told me about one of her teachers over lunch one day, as we reminisced about the teachers who'd most influenced our lives, a man who probably should have sought another profession; her history teacher. Pearl said she'd so yearned to love history, but this teacher managed to chase away this passion of hers and replace it with an overwhelming desire to escape from his classroom under any circumstances. His name was Mr. Grey, and the name fit.

Mr. Grey, she said, would come into the room, his arms laden with stacks of books which he'd drop on his desk from a height high enough so the sound would startle his students, already somnolent from too hot radiators, into pop-eyed wakefulness. That was the highpoint of the history hour for those kids. Mr. Grey would look about the classroom and mumble "Good Morning," or sometimes "Good Afternoon," depending. Everyone dreaded his next move: The Picking Up of the Chalk. When that happened, the lesson would begin and so would the semi-comas. Eyelids would lower, flutter up, lower, flutter, lower, lower again and stay lowered.

And then Mr. Grey, she said, would write his entire lesson on that board and he'd speak every single word as he wrote. Each and every word would begin with the first written letter of that word, and would end at the last. Mmmaaaaaggnnaaa Caaarrrtaaa. Wwwwaaaaarr of Eeeeiiiiighteeeeen Twwwwelllllvvve. Sewwwwwaaaaaaarrrd's Follllllyyy. Thommasssss Jeffferrssssonn. By the hour's end, the blackboards on two sides of the classroom and the big one in front were completely filled with his cursive and his students would by then be in full-coma. When the bell mercifully rang and the groggy students would stagger from the room, Mr. Grey, said Pearl, would slowly erase all this chalked droney words so he write them all over again for his next history class.

Just listening to Pearl describe these horribly boring history lessons had me falling over into my soup. High School History for her was a maaaajjorrrr drrraaaaggg when, as everyone knows, it can be the most vibrant, funny, fascinating and enjoyable of all school courses.

I then told Pearl about a couple of my teachers. One was Mrs. W. who taught biology, a sneaky woman who'd deliberately bring a substitute teacher into class even though she was in robustly good health just so she could sit in the back and spy on us. We'd all of course, shortly forget about Mrs. W's being there and would begin passing notes, not paying attention and getting away with whatever we could. I'll never forgive Mrs. W. for calling me in after class and saying, "Well Miss Richardson, it's no wonder to me at all that your marks are so terrible in biology, since you insist upon spending so much class time flirting outrageously with Bobby Maxwell across the room. Do not attempt to deny this. I have watched you steadily and I know what I saw, young lady! Furthermore, I have taken assiduous notes.” I had always thought that assiduous described lemon trees, so Mrs. W’s taking assiduous notes meant nothing to me. I vehemently denied this scurrilous accusation, but in fact she had me dead to rights. Bobby Maxwell was one hot dude back then and the guy had goals. He wanted nothing more than to become an undertaker which is what they were called back then. Funeral director is probably more PC. Bobby Maxwell’s undertaking business became a chain, a sort of McDonald’s of Funeral Homes, and he did very well for himself.

And then there was the French teacher, Mme. C. who refused to speak a single word of English even in emergencies, such as fire drills, insisting that we'd learn French to perfection if we heard only French. She also refused to allow any of us to speak a word of English either which made things very difficult on the first day of school when my stomach was in knots, since I had no idea how to say diarrhea in French. Miming was definitely out too even though miming “diarrhea” was pretty basic I thought. Mme. C. was tres cruel. I saw her years later at a gathering when I was married and a mother and was sorely tempted to speak to her about her nastiness from years back, but decided to wimp out and not bother, although I preferred to call it “taking the high road.” To this day I wonder if I could have saved other student had I spoken up.

And Mr. D. who taught science and who had a running battle with Mrs. F., the English teacher next door, a feud which began when one of his students began bouncing a ball before class against the wall separating his classroom from Mrs. F's, and oh, the lovely brawling that ensued! It was delightful and went on for months, the two teachers taking real cuts at one another in front of all of us until it finally ended when the gallant Mr. D. finally caved, sent compunctious flowers to the enraged Mrs. F., and the fun abruptly ended. Way disappointing

And then there was Mr. M. who taught math, who would try to explain inverted something-or-others to us, and would illustrate inversion by picking up the smallest boy in the class and hanging him upside down for rather a long time. (This classmate told me forty years later at a reunion that that mathematical action of the well-meaning Mr. M. put him on psychiatrist's couch for much of his adult years.)

But for all their peccadilloes and human frailties, these people taught me well and shaped my life. I wish I'd thanked all those uncelebrated, and I suspect shamefully underpaid teachers from my way-back, who worked so endlessly hard at pounding all they knew and all they could into my bread-dough brain. Some of their lessons did ooze out, most did not. I am who I am today because of those long suffering men and women, and I owe them.

Click on LC Van Savage for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.
Email LC at
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Consider This

By LC Van Savage

Snow And Pals Wilhelm, Jacob, And Walt + 7

As promised in my last column or somewhere in the recent past, I’ll write this week about that wonderful old children’s story called “Snow White” written by the Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm and Jacob in 1812. These two guys wandered around Germany and in particular the town of Kassel and wrote down folk tales and children’s fairy stories so they could rewrite and make books out of them so they could become rich, successful authors which most of us writers recognize as a maddening oxymoron.

From my exhaustive research of these stories and the bros. Grimm, I conclude that German kids who read these tales must have lived lives of abject terror, which might explain a lot of things. They were told these frightening stories in order to keep them in line or something. Well actually, so were we. We all had those messagey stories read to us too, but at least our versions in the USA were tamed a bit. Those grim Grimm stories told to German kids back then must have made die kleine Kinder prime candidates for Dr. Freud’s Oriental carpet-covered couch, only Dr. Freud wouldn’t be born for another 44 years. I guess German parents thought that their Kinder would mind their Pays and Koos if they heard those tales. I wasn’t a German kid, and yet the practice wasn’t lost on me. My WSM used to get me to gag down my Brussels sprouts by telling me that “Peter” was coming for me from out of the basement if I didn’t eat the stuff and woe be unto me if Peter showed up and saw untouched sprouts on my plate. She’d then go around the corner and make Peterish disgusting guttural noises, and as a heavy abuser of Lucky Strikes, she could carry that off pretty well. I have never touched a Brussels sprout since, I avoid basements tend to back away from men named Peter.

Anyway, the real story of Snow White, not Uncle Walt’s version which I happen to love, really started out with a beautiful girl named Lisa from Italy. It was one of nine folk tales from something called the Pentamerone. Anyway, at the age of seven, Lisa falls unconscious when a comb gets stuck in her hair. That’s kind of a stretch, unless the teeth of that comb were maybe coated in the poison excreted from the skin of the poison dart frog which, when you think of it, must have been hard to find in old Italy because those frogs hop around in South America I think. But whatever, some kind of poison was on that comb because poor little Lisa fell into a dead---well, a dead.

So the locals dumped poor Lisa into a glass coffin and oddly, weirdly, she got prettier as she aged in that glass box. Ew. A female relative, grinding in jealousy over Lisa’s beauty, popped open the coffin and hauled Lisa out by the hair, dislodging the comb and naturally bringing Lisa back to life. I’m not sure where the great shining Prince stepped in to carry the now grown-up, fully mature and hottie Lisa off to a castle for that happily ever after stuff, but who knows? Anything’s possible in the world of fairy tales. BTW, where were the fairies, anyway?

Enter the Grimm Bros. and a bit later one W. Disney. Here’s their version, quick -style. Beloved, kind queen in a land far away is sewing next to a window. Snow’s falling. A bird flies by and startles her, she pricks her finger and a couple of drops of her blood fall onto the fresh snow. She thinks, “I sure wish I had a daughter with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as black as ebony.” Since she lives in fairy tale world she quite soon delivers a baby girl with all those criteria and names her Snow White. Right on schedule, good kind loving mother/queen ups and dies. Grieving King Dad soon marries a gorgeous woman who’s just plain mean. Overly vain. Has an unnatural relationship with a talking mirror whom she keeps badgering with just one question; “Mirror Mirror on the wall/Who’s the fairest of them all?” And that mirror who clearly knew how and when to suck up, always answered, “Thou O Queen, art the fairest of all.” Satisfied, Queen Ignominious would back off, at least until she passed that smarmy mirror again when she’d once more ask the same-O question.

Well, one morning she asked the question and that timorous mirror, finally growing a pair, answered “You my queen, are fair ‘tis true/But Show White is even fairer than you!” That queen threw one shattering, shrieking tantrum the likes of which no one in that palace had ever seen or heard. It was really something to behold. She screamed for a palace huntsman to kidnap Snow White, take her into the forest, kill her and to bring back her heart in a golden box as proof the deed had been done. Ew. The huntsman couldn’t do it, set Snow free, killed a wild boar and took its heart back to the queen who fried it up with a bit of salt, a few onions and mushrooms and ate the thing. Ew. Queenie was happy again and didn’t even get heartburn from eating heart.

Snow ran and ran through the dark forest, came upon a small house with seven of everything, and fell asleep in one of the tiny beds. The home’s owners, seven dwarfs, came home from their jobs in the mountains and found her, fell in love with this pretty girl and struck up a deal; she could stay safely with them if she’d cook, make beds, wash everything, sew and knit, clean and keep everything tidy. You know, like a wife. She went for it. Everyone was happy.

Back to Queenie. Just to feed her ego she asks the mirror the same old question. This time the mirror answers “You my queen are fair, ‘tis true/But Snow white (who’s now living in the forest with seven dwarfs) is still a thousand times fairer than you.” Yes, that lily-livered mirror ratted-out our Snow White. I suspect at just about now, that huntsman was high-tailing it outta there and heading for distant castles.

The livid, wily queen disguised herself as a nice old lady who sells apples,went to the dwarf’s house while they’re at work, convinces Snow to taste an apple the old queen had laced with lethal poison, the stupid girl goes for it and drops dead. The grieving, wailing dwarfs had a glass coffin made because Snow White looked so fresh and rosy, and carried it out to the woods so she could be with her animal friends. A Prince happened by on his steed, saw Snow in that glass box, fell in love, smooched her good, the poison apple piece came flying out, ew, Prince and SW fell in love and rode off into the sunset.

The queen heard of this, went to their wedding with evil plans, and was either banished from the kingdom forever, or was forced to wear some metal shoes heated in a fire, and danced herself to death. Nice touch. I’d vote for the latter. She was one bad apple.

So that’s the scoop on the real history of Snow White. Little Snow got the Prince and the HEA thing. I have no idea what happened to the dwarfs. Can you name them? Dopey, Sneezy, Doc, Grumpy, Bashful, Sleepy, Happy. Hi Ho, Hi Ho!

Email lc at
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on Saturdays at 10:30 AM on MPBN.
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By Thomas F. O'Neill

Mother Teresa of Calcutta worthy to be on a commemorative U. S. postage stamp

On September the 5th 2010 the U.S. postal service honored Mother Teresa of Calcutta with a commemorative postage stamp. Many in the Pennsylvania coal region where I was born and raised went out and purchased the stamps.

I am sure I would have purchased the 44 cent stamps as well if I was in the U.S. to purchase them. A friend of mine in America purchased 10 dollars’ worth. She mailed the stamps to me here in China and I only have five stamps left. My students here asked me for the others and I obliged their curiosity. They love everything American including American postage stamps.

There are some people in Northeastern Pennsylvania that are angered that the U.S. postal service never honored the coal miners with a commemorative stamp. Some Congressman and Senators are pushing the cause because there are people like myself who feel the coal miners’ hard work and sacrifice is virtually forgotten by the coal regions youth.

I am a great admirer of what Mother Teresa of Calcutta accomplished in her lifetime and she is deserving of all the honors bestowed upon her.

According to the Mother Teresa’s biography on, “Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910, in Skopje, Macedonia.”

“Agnes left her home in 1928 to join the Sisters of Loretto in Ireland. Six weeks later, she was sent to India as a teacher for the Sisters' school in Calcutta. While teaching in Calcutta, Mother Teresa began her work with the poor and sick, a work that would become her life's calling.”

“Working tirelessly for the less fortunate for more than 50 years garnered much recognition for Mother Teresa. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan in 1985, and honorary U.S. citizenship in 1996 – an honor she shares with only six other individuals. In 2003, the Knights of Columbus dedicated a Mother Teresa statue in her honor (one of several such statues around the world). There has even been a Mother Teresa movie and a documentary made in honor of the founder of the Missionaries of Charity.”

Mother Teresa died in Calcutta India on 5 September, 1997.

As you can see from she was greatly revered throughout the world due to the compassion she showed towards the sick and dying.

I discovered that all the major religions in India revered and loved her because she was a great humanitarian. She reached out to the unseen, the undetected, and the downtrodden with deep warmth and caring. She recognized the physical and spiritual longing of those in great need and she responded openly. The organization she founded the ‘Missionaries of Charity’ may have started out in 1948 caring for the sick and dying on the streets of Calcutta, India. Today, however, her organization reaches out to the most impoverished places throughout world. Her overall life’s devotion caring for the physical and spiritual needs of others, Mother Teresa, in death, is still universally respected and loved.

I worked directly with Mother Teresa in Calcutta in the early 1990’s. I also witnessed the Missionaries of Charity’s work in Ecuador, Malaysia, Australia, Washington DC, and the Bronx, New York. I spoke with Mother Teresa, almost on daily bases, when I was in Calcutta. I can still recall those conversations as if we spoke yesterday. She was deeply open and personnel with others when it came to spiritual matters.

What Mother Teresa possessed is not solely a religious trait it’s part of our humanity. Our spirituality is woven into the essence of what makes us human. Life whether we realize it or not is synonymous with the essence of god’s love.

We all know right from wrong the difficulty for most is doing the right thing when the right thing is called for. Mother Teresa’s spirituality led her to become proactive with a deep desire to be the presence of god to others. She believed every person she came in contact with was for a reason. Her spirituality impacted the lives of others in a positive way. Mother Teresa’s life’s work was not a mere religious platitude. She truly became a living and breathing act of love, especially, for those dying of AID’s.

In the early 90’s, AID’s victims, were referred to as ‘the modern day lepers,’ by many Roman Catholic Priests. Religious leaders told others to pray for the sick and dying. Mother Teresa on the other hand was building centers throughout the world to care for the sick and dying.

Her organization also has a center located in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania just three miles from my hometown of Shenandoah. I visited the center their twice and spoke to the Nuns about my experiences with the “Missionaries of Charity.”

Mother Teresa visited Mahanoy City in 1995 a few years before she died. I can remember a conversation I had with Mother Teresa in India about the deep poverty in Schuylkill County, PA. One year later her organization opened a center there and her Nuns are still in Mahanoy City. The name of the Church she visited in 1995 in Mahanoy City was changed to ‘Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta’ to honor her.

There were many other great spiritual leaders throughout history, Mahatma Gandhi, and Saint Francs of Assisi, come to mind. Their lives were also shining examples of how their spirituality transcended the religious divisions of their day. Their humane compassion was not rooted in ill willed fundamentalist beliefs but rather their lives were rooted in what makes us compassionate human beings.

When we reach out and touch those in need both physically and spiritually we become the light to help those living in darkness see more clearly. We also can become the presence of god with a simple kind word whispered from one heart to the other.

Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi they are both worthy to be on commemorative U.S. Postage stamps because of their spiritual significance, stature, and life achievements.

As for the coal miners, I come from a long line of coal miners but my ancestors immigrated to the Pennsylvania coal region not because coal mining was such a great job. On the contrary, they immigrated to the coal region and labored so that their children and their children’s children can have better opportunities as Americans.

I agree that the coal miners should be honored on a commemorative U.S. postage stamp because they are truly deserving of such an honor.

Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill

Phone: (800) 272-6464

China Cell: 011-86-15114565945

Skype: thomas_f_oneill


Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog, Link:

Click on Thomas F. O'Neill for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Cookin' With Leo

Aztec Annie’s Superbowl Coffee

By Leocthasme

OK, so all the big playoff games are coming up plus the Superbowl, so here is a bit of brew to keep all the watchers you invited over to see your brand new big, big, big screen TV, calm, cool, collected, and sober, while the players jump out at them and practically land in their laps. A cup or two of this calming coffee can be quite comforting. Well, on the other hand the games are not too calming or comforting to the rooters of the losing teams, but then a good cup of hot strong coffee will soothe the nerves of all supporters, pro and con and whoever.

Well, of course I obtained this coffee recipe from My Dear Sweet Italian Fairy Godmother’s pal Aztec Annie. She happened to be flitting about one day on the back patio. Soon she flipped into a nearby chair and gave out with a big sigh.

“Gee, I’m sure glad to see you around here Annie, but what’s wrong”? I asked,

“Oh, I jest get tired of that stupid job I got, guarding the Fountain Of Youth, what nobody can find anyway after some stupid Spanish Conquistadors lost the only map that Good King Acamapichti ever made.”

“Well Annie, who guards the place while you are up here shooting the breeze with me?”

“Oh, nobody really, jest a few poison snakes, some boa constrictors, wild animals and other pals of mine, who like to hang out.”

“Good, you can bet I’ll never go near the place. So, what else is new Annie?”

“Oh, maybe I jest give you a Christmas and New Year gift of some of my good coffee what grows near me an’ hardly nobody find that either.”

“That sounds nice and the best of the New Year to you too, Annie”.

And with that she flew off into the sunset and now I have some great coffee beans and a great coffee recipe.

Aztec Super Bowl Coffee

    ¾ cup of a good dark roast coffee, ground to the specs of your coffeemaker.
    1 tsp cinnamon and some extra for dusting
    1 cup Half and Half
    1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    ¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
    1 tsp pure vanilla extract
    Whipped cream for topping
    6 cinnamon sticks for stirrers.

How to do it:

Place the coffee and the cinnamon into the brew basket of your coffee maker and brew according to its directions with 6 cups water. Place the Half and Half, cocoa powder and brown sugar in a sauce pan and simmer on low, just enough to melt the sugar and mix the cocoa powder with the Half and Half., stir so that nothing sticks and make sure all is dissolved. Stir the brewed coffee into the Half and Half mixture and then divide into 6 coffee mugs. Top with whipped cream and use a cinnamon stick for a stirrer.

And A Happy New Year To All!

Click on Leocthasme for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

1642 South Washington

By John I. Blair

In Google Street View
Grass grew in the cracks
Of the broad cement slab
I’d watched poured while I played.

An old shot in our album
Shows me in big boots
All at sea in a puddle
On the gravel we’d had.

My body, my life
Started under that roof,
Behind those two windows
Like eyes on the street.

I learned to crawl, walk
On that polished oak floor,
Ran down the hall,
Squealing with glee.

Like a big nesting box,
Snug and secure,
It sheltered and warmed,
Then released me to fly.

I’ve been gone, strayed
From that cluster of rooms
Since Elvis was King;
But it looms in my heart.

And though I well know
A house is a scheme
Of boards, bricks and brass,
Held together with wishes,

It can grow to a dream,
To memories of hopes;
So I cried just a bit
When I saw what had passed.

©2009 John I. Blair

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Looking For The Horse Thief

By John I. Blair

I’ve been looking for the horse thief
In my family tree,
Prizing up the metaphoric rocks,
Pacing down the cemetery lanes
Taking rubbings of old tombstones,
Parsing ancient tax reports and census logs,
As the DNA runs down across the decades
To the box where my name gets inscribed.

Lots of farmers in torn overalls reside there;
A carpenter, some soldiers, frontier guide,
A railroad engine driver, miners, ranchers;
And it’s garlanded of course
With scores of women
Both delicate and strong, shy, bold,
Some adorned with buds and beads,
Some worn with care.

I see their names as windows to the past,
Flesh and blood relations
To populate the dusty leaves in books;
I look at photographs
Of bodices and beards
And almost hear their voices
Talking of their lives, their dreams,
Children, loves and grief.

And I’ve decided
That if I ever find him
I’ll not task him for his deeds
So long ago in time, so far away,
But ask him for a tale
I can pass on down the trunk
And share with others in the hope
That it won’t boggle their belief.
©2009 John I. Blair
Click on John I. Blair for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

If peradventure, Reader, it has been thy lot to waste the golden years of thy life -- thy shining youth -- in the irksome confinement of an office; to have thy prison days prolonged through middle age down to decrepitude and silver hairs, without hope of release or respite; to have lived to forget that there are such things as holidays, or to remember them but as the prerogatives of childhood; then, and then only, will you be able to appreciate my deliverance. (Charles Lamb.)

Why did I start with that? It has something got to do with the fact that by the time you read the February Irish Eyes I will be a superannuated man. On 31st January I will be retiring from Dublin Bus after almost thirty seven years.

What is retirement all about? Many years ago Maeve Binchy wrote that women retire much more positively than men. She says, “The job c’est moi mentality has destroyed the lives of many men who should have had a perfectly happy 20 years or more after their retirement date but who instead believe that they have been somehow cast adrift when they still have a lot to contribute.”

I have no idea how I will feel on that last day at work. One of my bosses frightened the living daylights out of me when he said, “Despite how talented and successful you are in this company, there is some danger that you will not be as happy and satisfied as you hope to be in retirement.” It was no surprise to me that this man didn’t agree with Brendan Francis, who said, “Most people perform essentially meaningless work. When they retire that truth is borne upon them.”

I’m being given all sorts of tips and a family member has given me a book, by Ernie J. Zelinski, How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free. The happy and free I go along with but I’m a bit long in the tooth for wild. A colleague has pointed out that I’ll be able to do nothing without any fear of being caught doing it and I’m bombarded with quotations from the erudite on the subject. William Cowper said,

    Absence of occupation is not rest,
    A mind quite vacant is a mind distressed.

Then of course John W. Raper pointed out that there is no pleasure in having nothing to do: the fun is having lots to do and not doing it and Laurence J. Peter said that the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. It’s a confusing business, this retiring. I’m thinking of writing a memoir. Encouraged by Honore de Balzac’s observation that when one has no particular talent for anything, one takes to the pen.

Recently I have been thinking about my early years on the buses. In 1974 there was a television ad running along the lines of, “wanted, two men to crew this Dublin bus”. I applies and was called into CIE’s head office for an interview and came up with a suitable pack of lies in response to the question “why do you want to work for CIE?”.

Next came the exam. This consisted of doing sums and writing an essay. I thought I could manage the essay but I would nearly have to open my trousers to count to twenty-one.

However my lack of mathematical prowess in the latter was more than compensated for by my dubious talent for reading upside down, sideways, or at any obtuse angle that presented itself. I sometimes tell people that I acquired this ability when I worked in a printer’s. This is a lie . . . it is a natural defect which, coupled with good sight, enabled me to cog from the fellow beside me, behind me or anywhere in the vicinity.

My essay, “Why I want to be a Bus Conductor” was a not-quite Kavanesque account of snagging turnips in the frost, loading dung, picking stones and cutting thistles. And how, when the building trade would slow down, I didn’t want to go back to such menial agricultural tasks. If this document is extant today it would embarrass me (and that is not easily done).

I passed the exam and when the Doctor, at the cursory, “medical” checked my lungs and counted my testicles I was in. After a week in the training school and a further week with a conductor I was let loose on the travelling public, with a bag and ticket machine. Six years as a Conductor and I became a Driver. After a further six years I was promoted to the grade of Inspector. That was 1986 and for me it was “final placement syndrome”; I haven’t gone any further.

Will I call in the see the lads in the control room now and again? That passage from Lamb’s Superannuated Man keeps going around in my head,

“To dissipate this awkward feeling, I have been fain to go among them once or twice since; to visit my old desk-fellows -- my co-brethren of the quill -- that I had left below in the state militant. Not all the kindness with which they received me could quite restore to me that pleasant familiarity, which I had heretofore enjoyed among them. We cracked some of our old jokes, but methought they went off but faintly. My old desk; the peg there I hung my hat, were appropriated to another. I knew it must be, but I could not take it kindly.”
How will my retirement go? I’ll keep you posted. Will I once again be quoting Lamb? “I am Retired Leisure. I am to be met with in trim gardens. I am already come to be known by my vacant face and careless gesture, perambulating at no fixed pace, nor with any settled purpose. I walk about; not to and from. They tell me, a certain cum dignitate air, that has been buried so long with my other good parts, has begun to shoot forth in my person. I grow into gentility perceptibly. When I take up a newspaper, it is to read the state of the opera. Opus operatum est. I have done all that I came into this world to do. I have worked task work, and have the rest of the day to myself.” And . . . I have to finish How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free before I retire; I’m damned if I’m going to read it on my own time.
Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

In picture below, Mattie identifies himself as 'the one on the left.'

Mail Bag

Having received this in the mail over the Holidays, we wanted to share as this Commander is Leo C. Helmer's oldest grandson. (See pic at bottom of page.) This excerpt is from the Titan Times a very well done news vehicle sent by PDF to family and friends of the 512th Military Police Company Rear Detachment. The 512th Military Police Company was re-activated on 16 October 2008 at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri as a Combat Support FORSCOM MP Company. Upon activation the Company received orders to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Spring of 2010. Throughout 2009 the company became trained and ready for the up-coming mission. In February 2010 the company deployed to Iraq. The company is currently serving in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 10, and will be one of the first units to support Operation New Dawn.

Commander’s Corner

By Cpt. Timothy J. Heisler

As Christmas 2010 comes and goes, we are more than ever ready to return home. It has been a very long year for both Soldier and Family alike. As we know and hear on a daily basis you are all proud of our service to our Country, but what you may not know is how much your support to us while we are away really means. It was wonderful during the Holiday season to see many gifts, packages and letters being delivered to the Company. Each one of them we know was sent with love. Just know that all of us here are more than grateful for the sacrifices you have to make on a daily basis as our friends and family.

The next big step for us is locking in the date of when we will be with you all again. As soon as it is locked in we will be getting that information to you and our Soldiers so it can be passed to everyone who wishes to welcome the Mighty Titans home. I pray that the coming New Year brings joy and happiness to each and every one of you and your families. It is times like these that we truly under-stand the meaning of:
Absence makes the heart grow fonder.‖ See you soon.
–Titan 6

I Can't Forget

I can't let go of a few bad days
So long ago
With me it remains
I can't forget

I can't brush aside
Many lonely nights
Yes, I have tried
I never seem to get it right

I can't forget

What was that sound I heard
Did someone hit the floor
Where am I now
I'm not sure anymore

What was that thing I hear
Did someone cut the chains
What's left of me now
Is this all that remains

©12/8/10 Bruce Clifford
Click on Bruce Clifford for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Rabbo Tales, Chapter 6 - part 1

By Mark Crocker

Full Moon

    Rabbo looked up at Merwyn as Merwyn slept in the chair. Merwyn looked so peaceful with his eyes closed, but having his mouth open and drooling a little did not fit with the image of Merwyn that Rabbo had in his head. So Rabbo reached up with one paw and tried to push Merwyn’s month shut, but as soon as he took his paw away, Merwyn's mouth opened again. Rabbo settled down in Merwyn’s lap waiting for him to wake back up and avoiding the odd drip of drool. But knowing that could be awhile as Merwyn had been up all night. Rabbo wanted to thank Merwyn for hunting down what was causing those strange feelings in his head and coming up with something that would help with the problem.
    Athena came walking down the stairs carrying a light blanket and a choker with a small silver ball. She looked at Merwyn and smiled. Then she placed the blanket gently over Merwyn and Rabbo, making sure that Rabbo’s head was free and Merwyn was covered.
    Rabbo snuggled closer to Merwyn and pushed his head gently against Merwyn’s so that he would know in his sleep that Rabbo was nearby, and thanked him for all the hard work he had done to find what had been making Rabbo feel so strange. Rabbo then curled up in Merwyn's lap to wait for him to wake back up. But soon Rabbo joined Merwyn in sleep.
    In Merwyn's dream, Rabbo saw a field full of green grass with mountains in the background and snow on their summits. There was a crystal clear lake, and a young woman was sitting by the lake with her feet in the cold clear water. The woman stood up and turned to face Merwyn. She was about six feet tall with brownish blond hair. Her eyes were greenish blue and her skin slightly tanned. Her face was an oval with lips that were soft and full. She was slim yet had good muscle tone that spoke of great strength. Next to her on the bank was a basket with white padded linen and a little pink foot poking out of the far end.
    As Merwyn walked closer, the woman ran toward him and embraced him in a passionate greeting that almost knocked Merwyn off his feet. “Come meet our daughter, my darling!” The woman reached down into the basket and held up a little wriggling blond girl with the brightest eyes. “Athena, meet your daddy. Athena, this is Merwyn, your father. Merwyn, meet Athena. She has already named herself. Isn't that wonderful?”
    “What are you doing in my dream, rabbit? As you are here, enjoy one of the most precious moments in my life,” said Merwyn to Rabbo.
    Down on the beach was a blanket spread out with cushions and a basket with food and wine. “My darling Isis, I love you with all my heart. I am home and never will I leave you again.”
    “I know, and I will always be here for you and our daughter.”
    They sat down on the blanket, and Merwyn took hold of infant Athena and held her up so that she could look down on him. Isis snuggled closer to Merwyn and looked up at Athena. Merwyn lowered Athena and held her in the crook of his arm and started to sing to her.
    "The rest of this dream is private. So wake up, rabbit.”
    Rabbo woke up and wondered how he had got into Merwyn's dream, and how Merwyn had known that it was him in his dream and not Athena. Athena sat opposite Rabbo and Merwyn, teasing wool so she could spin it into yarn that she could later weave into cloth for Merwyn and herself.
    As Rabbo looked around the room, he saw his mother come hopping in though the kitchen door and hop over to her food bowl that was heaped full of fresh carrot tops and grains. Rabbo slipped off Merwyn's lap and hopped over and joined his mother at the food bowl and started to eat as he was suddenly very hungry.
    “Don’t you have things you should be doing today?” said Athena.
    “I guess you are right. But I would rather stay here and wait for Merwyn to wake up.”
    “That might be a while.” Athena said.
    Rabbo finished his breakfast and hopped off to the library.
    Cat was asleep in the window, and as Rabbo looked out the window he saw the wild rabbits playing in the grass. Behind them dark clouds were forming over the mountains and there was a promise of thunder later in the day. Rabbo was glad that Athena had given him the day off from his classes, as that meant he could do what he wanted and he wanted to check the garden to make sure the wild rabbits had not been what Merwyn called “raiding.”
    Cat would often patrol the garden to keep the wild rabbits away from the vegetables that they liked. But when Cat was off doing Cat things they would sneak in and “raid” the garden, often times eating a whole bunch of spinach and carrot tops. It was a good thing that Merwyn and he had planted extra so that the “raids” were not too bad as long as the wild rabbits did not go crazy as they had a few times.
    Rabbo hopped though the kitchen, stopping to check on the sleeping Merwyn before he went and got his rabbit size shovel and headed out to the garden. Rabbo stopped by the big barn that now housed the cattle at night and looked inside. Cat was lying on the straw that had been harvested from the meadow around the back of the house that Rabbo hardly ever went to.
    Cat looked up at Rabbo with sleepy eyes. “Shhh listen to mice. Go away now you scare mice and I no hunt with you here.”
    Rabbo hopped off and was about to head down to the garden when he had a thought. So he closed his eyes and pictured Cat in his head.
    “Psst Cat. Can you hear me?” said Rabbo
    “Pah I hear well. You slow learner. I talk with mind. Why you ask?” said Cat.
    “Well, I just wondered if you could talk mind to mind, that's all,” said Rabbo
    “Silly rabbit. Mind like yours,” said Cat. “Pah! Stop bothering me as I hunt.”
    Rabbo hopped off down the garden path toward the area that he had planned to plant more carrots and something called squash that Athena liked to cook with or eat raw. Rabbo had only tasted squash a few times and he was not sure he liked it. But his mother loved squash. She liked it so much in fact that when she smelt it she would run around in circles.
    Rabbo arrived at the spot he planned to plant the carrots and squash, and was a little upset to see a long row of grape vines right where he had planned to plant. As Rabbo sat and thought about where he could plant the carrots and squash, a thought popped into his mind. He needed to return to the house. Something was pushing on his mind shields and it was not good. Rabbo stuck his small shovel into the ground at the end of the row of vines and hopped fast up the pathway back to the house.
    As he hopped he thought of Athena: “Shields being attacked, need thing that Merwyn said would help protect me.”
    “I’m not sure how it works, but you should be ok close to me. So come inside and sit next to me.”
    Rabbo arrived at the house were Athena was standing waiting for him. She reached down and picked him up, sitting him on her hip before she walked though the kitchen into the living room. In the corner was her loom all set up, so she could make cloth for clothes that she and Merwyn could wear.
    Athena sat Rabbo down next to the loom and started to weave the wool into cloth. She had made some of the wool into different colors, and as Rabbo watch she wove the different colors in to make a checker board pattern. The wool was so fine that it looked like it would break, but as Rabbo looked close and pulled on one of the balls of yarn, he found that it was very strong.
    Rabbo started to get bored sitting next to Athena with nothing to do. But because he knew that the people far far way were trying to get though his shields he stayed close.
    Athena noticed that Rabbo was having a hard time sitting still, so she stopped working on the loom, got up and went to the book shelves, pulled down an old book and handed it to Rabbo.
    The book had a mix of words and pictures that showed huge bodies of blue water with huge fish like things swimming in the blue water. Rabbo started to read and was surprised to learn that they were not fish but mammals that had evolved to live in the water and were in fact very intelligent. As Rabbo sat reading about dolphins he heard a very faint rumbling off in the distance.
    “Thunder,” said Rabbo.
    “Ahh, I thought the storm was heading our way. You think it is going to be a big one?” asked Athena.
    “Yes, I think so. The rumble was long.”
    After a while Rabbo finished reading and sat and thought about Athena and the place she had lived before.
    “You talk of Bastet like Merwyn talks about Isis. Why is that?” asked Rabbo.
    “She was and is a very special friend. Well, more then a friend, really. She was my mother’s younger sister. And when my mother was sick, she kind of took over the role of mother for a while. Then she taught me about other things and we became … um … very close.”
    Athena closed her eyes and for a moment she seemed to blush and smile before she opened her eyes again.
    “You love her like Merwyn loved Isis?” asked Rabbo
    “Yes, I do. I just wish that she had come with us. But, well, she stayed to try and help the people. I guess in some ways she is stronger than Dad or me.”
    “She is a very strong woman, is your Bastet. And I am glad she stayed behind. I’m not sure if you would have got anything done with her around,” said Merwyn standing in the doorway looking a little less tired.
    Athena turned bright red and looked down at the ground, then lifted her head back up and smiled at Merwyn. To Rabbo it was clear that there had been some telepathic interplay between them on the private telepathic mode.
    A low rumble filled the room, and Merwyn turned and looked out the window at the approaching storm.
    “Looks like it’s going to be a nice storm,” said Merwyn.
    “Oh, I do love a good thunder storm,” chuckled Athena.
    This time it was Merwyn who blushed as he looked at Athena.
    A bright flash lit up the living room, followed by a loud crash of thunder close by. Rabbo stood up on his hind legs and looked out of the window and saw that the storm clouds were very close by. So close in fact that he could see rain falling over the woods at the end of the meadow.
    Cat walked into the living room, sat down at Merwyn’s feet, and started to clean his paws by spreading each toe apart and licking between then. Then Cat bit his claws and pulled gently to get rid of a nail that had split. After cleaning his paws and claws, Cat worked his way up his front legs, and then he turned and started to clean his hind paws in the same manner as he had done with his front paws.
    Rabbo looked around to see where his mother was, and she was sitting near to Merwyn who was looking down at her. Just then there was another flash of lightning and Rabbo’s mother hopped so close to Merwyn that he had to take a step back. Merwyn reached down and picked up Rabbo’s mother and held her close to comfort her as the storm drew close.
    A loud clap of thunder filled the room.
    “My, she hates thunder!” Merwyn said.
    “It hurts her ears and mine, too,” said Rabbo.
    Merwyn turned and looked down at Rabbo as he petted Rabbo’s mother. “I guess it would hurt her ears, and yours, too. That last clap was loud.”
    As if to make Merwyn's point, the next flash of lightning was followed very closely by an even louder clap of thunder. Then a hiss was heard followed by a flash, and right after the flash an even louder clap of thunder. The storm was right on top of them and the hissing, flashing and thunder boomed loudly overhead, jumping from one side of the house to another.
    Athena stood up with her hair standing straight out from her head from what Rabbo thought was the static charge in the air. As Rabbo looked at her, he noticed that she was on tiptoes and not moving her feet as she glided across the floor.
    Athena spun slowly in a circle and brought her arms out to make a cross. Her fingers glowed and little lightening bolts of static electricity popped out from her finger tips flying off harmlessly.
    Merwyn looked at Athena and shook his head sadly. “Just like your mother when it comes to thunder storms. Are you holding it overhead , too?”
    Athena laughed and carried on spinning slowly with small harmless bolts of lightning popping off her finger tips. Suddenly Athena arched her back and laughed wildly and her toga blew apart and she sunk down to the floor in a heap giggling and laughing wildly as if she could not control herself. She looked up at Merwyn, her eyes wide and with a look of pure delight and enjoyment.
    “I seem to remember Mom doing this once when I was little. It’s a thing I think I remember,” said Athena sitting on the floor not even bothering to hide the fact that her toga was in tatters laying in different parts of the room.
    She drifted back up from the floor and let her legs down as she spread her arms again. There was a bright flash of light and a loud boom that filled the whole house.
    As the boom shook the house, Athena arched her back let out a loud moan. “Storm! I let you be free to move away to where you will!” shouted Athena in loud passionate voice.
    Then a faint hissing sound was heard as the rain started to fall outside.
    Rabbo turned to look though the window and saw rain falling hard against the window and flashing as the storm moved off towards the south.
    Merwyn put Rabbo’s mother down and she hopped towards Rabbo and sat down, looked at him, and then started to clean her paws. She seemed unworried by the faint flashing and faint thunder booms coming from the south.
    Merwyn looked at Athena and walked past her as he left the room heading towards the stairs. Athena giggled and laughed as she floated with her feet a few inches above the hard wood floor. She then stopped spinning, arched her back again, making all her muscle tighten, and then bolts of harmless lighting shot out of her finger tips. She turned and drifted out of the room with her hair still standing wildly out.
    Cat walked over to Rabbo and looked at him shyly. “She like thunder bumpers. She make thunder bumper stay over house. She get silly with thunder bumper.”
    Rabbo hopped out of the room through the kitchen to the back door. He pushed open the door and watched the rain falling. Cat and his mother joined him and the three sat watching the rain falling in the garden and around the house.
    Rabbo mused to himself that Athena seemed to enjoy the storm so much that she was more than glowing and delighted by the storm, there was something that the storm had done to her, or was it something she had done to the storm? Some kind of energy that had made her whole body glow. Something he did not understand.
    It was almost dinner time when Athena came down the stairs and walked into the kitchen. She was as she had been when she drifted out of the living room. She walked into the living room and returned with the tattered remains of her toga.
    “I guess it was worth losing my toga,” she giggled wildly.
    “Why?” asked Rabbo.
    Athena just looked at Rabbo and giggled.
    Athena walked over to the cool storeroom and picked out fresh vegetables and three steaks of venison. She looked over at the cooker and small flames popped up on one of the burners. A large skillet drifted over and sat down on the flames. A bottle of olive oil floated over and a small amount poured from the bottle before it returned to its place. Athena walked over to the cooker, put the three steaks in the skillet, and walked over to the sink and started to wash the vegetables.
    As Athena cooked dinner, Merwyn came walking down the stairs carrying a white robe for Athena. Athena turned and took the robe without saying a word and started to chop carrots while keeping an eye on the green and yellow squash that was cooking next to the steaks.
    Merwyn started to set the table with knives, forks, spoons, napkins and wine glasses. He set out three dinner plates and four salad bowls ready for them all to be seated at the table. He then walked over to the cool storage room and came back with a wine skin.
    Merwyn poured the wine into a wine decanter and placed that in the center of the table were the condiments were sitting.
    “You going to get candles, too, Dad?” asked Athena.
    “Why?” said Merwyn.
    Athena laughed. “I know what today is. And don’t say that you don’t, as I know that you know what today is.”
    Rabbo looked over at Athena. “What is today?”
    “Dad, do you want me to tell Rabbo? Or are you willing to tell him?”
    “It’s not important what today is,” replied Merwyn.
    “Oh, so I have to tell Rabbo,” chuckled Athena. “Dad is 1725 years old today. It’s his birthday.”
    Athena turned back to cooking dinner and flipped the steaks, making sure that they were being cooked the way that Merwyn liked them.
    Dinner took about an hour to cook and it was starting to get dark outside. But just before the sun went down it broke though the clouds and sent a ray of sunlight shining in though the window on the west side of the kitchen. The sunlight lit up Athena and her white robe for a moment became transparent as she walked towards the library to get the candles for the dinner table.
    After they had eaten and Athena had cleared the table and washed the dishes, they all went into the living room and sat down. Soft music filled the room, and the fireplace sprang into life as the storm had left a slight chill in the air. Athena sat down on the rug with her wine glass and sang to the music in such a soft sweet voice that Rabbo did not recognize her voice. Each phrase was so clear and sweet that it was true beauty. The song filled Rabbo’s heart with delight and joy, and brought on such rapture that he could not look away even if he had wanted to. Rabbo got up and started to clap his paws in time with her words and the tempo of the music, yet he was unaware that Athena was in control of his body and mind.
    Merwyn watched as Rabbo danced and Athena sung. Totally aware that Athena was using Rabbo to entertain him for his birthday, Merwyn watched in delight. Yet he hoped that Rabbo would not be upset once he realized that Athena was using him as a puppet.
    Athena stopped singing and let Rabbo slip out of her control, so he could sit down and rest after dancing for Merwyn.
    Rabbo thought for a moment and then looked up at Athena, “Why did you do that to me?”
    “I wanted to entertain Dad for his birthday and thought you would not mind while I controlled your mind.”
    “Oh, I don’t mind, just please let me know next time,” replied Rabbo.
    Merwyn covered his face to hide his amusement that Rabbo knew Athena had been in control of Rabbo’s mind and body.
    “You know, that’s bad manners to do that to Rabbo,” said Merwyn to Athena.
    Athena turned to Rabbo, bowed her head, and said, “I am sorry I used you like that Rabbo my darling rabbit."
    “That’s ok, but next time please ask me.” Rabbo hopped up on her lap and kissed her on the nose.
    After a while Athena stood back up as a new song started and danced for Merwyn. She moved her hands and arms like ocean waves and swayed her hips almost in a seductive manner. The words she sang were in a language that Rabbo did not understand. Yet they filled him full of thoughts of a great body of water with waves and a rolling soft sound like millions of small rocks washing back and forth.
    As she sang and danced, her body changed into a half cat with brown and black stripped fur on her legs and lower body. She took off her robe and Rabbo was surprised to see that her skin had changed color, and that she seemed to be wearing a body suit of light brown fur with black strips on her back and shoulders and white fur on her stomach and chest. Her faced changed into that of a cat with pointed ears and cat's eyes and nose. As the song ended she sank down onto all fours and looked like a giant cat with no tail.
    Athena sat like a huge cat with her front legs towards Merwyn and Rabbo and her hind legs curled back around towards them.
    “I like how it feels to be a tiger. I might spend a whole year like this,” laughed Athena.
    Merwyn threw his head back and started to laugh hard. “Daughter, you are crazy. Just because Bastet spent ten years as a huge lion does not mean you should spend a year as a tiger.” Still laughing, Merwyn added, “Remember how she had a hard time afterwards and her face is still cat like.”
    “Yeah, and her tongue is still rough, or the last time I saw her it was,” giggled Athena.
    Rabbo turned and looked out the window and saw that the forest to the west had a faint white glow.
    “Rabbo, could you get the wine skin from the kitchen, please?” meowed Athena.
    Rabbo hopped off to the kitchen and went into the cool storage room. As he passed by the back door he saw that the full moon was casting a bright glow that filled the whole night sky with a bright silver glow.
    When Rabbo hopped back into the living room Athena was laying on the rug in her normal human shape sipping on an almost empty wine glass.
    Merwyn was talking about what he had planned for the garden and that he was going to have to cut down some trees to make a fence so he could fence off an area for the cattle as he thought that the bull might have covered one or both of the cows.
    It had had been a few hours since Rabbo had gone and got more wine, and he was starting to feel very sleepy. So politely he wished Merwyn and Athena good night.
    He hopped into the kitchen, over to his elevator, and went upstairs. Once upstairs he hopped into Athena’s room and climbed up onto the window sill. As he sat there looking at the forest and the full moon, he saw that the rabbits where out in the grass that had been cut short. Rabbo watched them eating, hoping that he would see his female rabbit friend. But there were too many rabbits and some where too far away to see if his female rabbit friend was among them. Soon Rabbo drifted off to sleep in his spot in the window sill.
    Rabbo awoke with a sudden start. He looked around and the moon was setting and there was a faint glow to the east that hinted of morning. The rabbits where still out at the far end of the meadow feeding. Two rabbits were on guard duty, watching over the other rabbits.
    Rabbo looked around and saw that Athena’s bed was still made and that she had not slept in her bed.
    Rabbo slipped off the window sill and hopped out of Athena’s bedroom and hopped down the hallway. When he reached his elevator he had to push the lever so it would come up. As he waited he heard the faint sound of Athena coming from down stairs.
    Once the elevator arrived he hopped on and rode down to the kitchen. As he hopped though the kitchen he noticed that the living room door was closed and a faint flicker of light was coming from under the door.
    Rabbo hopped outside into the early dawn light and sat and watched as the moon set over the forest. Then he hopped down to the meadow keeping his ears open for any sound that might mean danger.
    Rabbo looked back to the house and saw that light was coming from the living room and that he could see movement though the curtains. He turned back and headed down the path to the low mound where the warren was. Upon arriving at the low mound, he was greeted by two of his brothers his female rabbit friend and another female rabbit. His brothers sat up on their hind legs, looked around and started to chatter at him. Each time they stopped they looked at both females. Then they would chatter at him again. After a while of not understanding Rabbo had an idea.
    With his nose he pointed at the grass and said “grass” then he pointed again with his nose at the grass and said “grass” again. He did this a few times. Each time his brothers would look at him, cock their heads to one side, look at each other and then back at him.
    Rabbo tried again, and this time one of his brothers looked closely at him, shook his head, sniffed the grass and made a single sound. His brother then looked at him again, looked back down at the grass, made the sound again, and looked back at Rabbo.
    “That must mean grass,” Rabbo said to himself.
    So he made the sound again and sniffed the grass.
    One of his brothers shook his head, sniffed the grass, and made the same sound that he had before.
    Rabbo repeated the sound and pulled a single blade of grass up and looked at his brother.
    His brother nodded and nibbled the grass right out of his paw.
    “Ahh, if I can get them to make the sound for things, I can learn their language,” Rabbo thought to himself.
    His female rabbit friend hopped closer before Rabbo had the chance to start learning the rabbit’s language. She rubbed against him and was soon joined by the other female.
    As Rabbo sniffed the other female, he felt very interested in her. Suddenly she ran off a little way, turned and looked at Rabbo. His female friend nudged him from behind to follow the other female rabbit. Rabbo ran after her as she headed towards the large burrow that they had dug for him.
    It was full day when Rabbo came up out of the burrow. The light was very bright and it took him a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the bright light.
    He hopped back up to the house, but about half way there he heard movement in the long grass. Before he could react a huge cat with brown and black striped fur and a white underbelly leaped out at him, knocking him to the ground. Rabbo rolled and pushed upwards with his paws and hind legs to stop the mouth from coming down on him. Then he felt himself being pinned to the floor. He sniffed in panic and something smelt very familiar to him. So he stopped fighting and wriggling.
    “Stupid rabbit,” said Athena's voice. “What if I was a real tiger? What then?”
    “I would be dead no matter how hard I fought,” answered Rabbo.
    Rabbo sniffed the air again and looked around with wild eyes. “Someone or something is coming. I don’t know their smell.”
    Athena in cat form started to close her eyes, but suddenly a light brown female lion leapt on her, biting at her neck. Athena in tiger form and the lion rolled around on the ground. To Rabbo it looked like they were fighting at first but then after a few moments it became clear that they were play fighting. Then the lion transformed into another woman. The woman was about six feet tall with brownish blond hair and green cat eyes. Her face had the look of a cat, yet was clearly human. She had good muscle tone like someone who keeps in shape and takes pride in how they look. Her skin was lightly tanned and totally naked.
    “Is Merwyn awake? I know how he feels about people being fully naked,” said Bastet. “Or have you cured him of that?”
    Athena turned back into her normal self and like Bastet she was totally naked. “No, but I am working on it,” laughed Athena. “But thankfully he just went to sleep. So he won’t be bothered by us being naked.”
    Athena looked down at Rabbo. “Come, let’s go back to the house and get Bastet some clothes.”
    Athena took hold of Bastet’s hand, learned in and kissed her on the lips. Then they both started to walk up the pathway, talking and holding hands, as Rabbo followed along behind them.
Once in the house, Athena made breakfast for Rabbo, all the while looking over at Bastet and smiling.
Watch for February's continuation of "Rabbo Tales."

Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.


Falling to pieces
Taking chances
I don't know where to run

Remembering star shine
Treasuring moonlight
We did it all for the fun

Going to places
Looking at our faces
Until the day was done

Capturing starlight
Remembering moon light
The day has only just begun

©12/22/10 Bruce Clifford

Click on Bruce Clifford for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Doll’s Hands

Akiko stood at the gate of the Yamashita’s Western-style home. It had been a while since she visited her friend Miyu. She was asked to come today, though, by their teacher, to give Miyu the work she’d missed. It was weird that Miyu suddenly got sick; she was the healthy, lively type and this was a rare occurrence for her. Even when she did get sick the couple of times that Akiko could remember, Miyu didn’t stay ill for long. For her to suddenly get sick and to miss almost two weeks of school on top of that? It didn’t sound like her at all which made Akiko worry.

Sliding open the large, wooden gate, she quickly remembered how the family loved keeping everything well-maintained. The lawn, fresh and vibrant green, was neatly and squarely cut. Not a single weed or other unsightly blemish was to be found. Even the paint on the house looked like it was new. She walked toward the oak front door, packet in her hand, and noticed the unsettling silence that blanketed the house. It was as if the house and its immediate surroundings had been placed in a soundproof bubble.

As she crossed the stone pavers toward that door, she looked around, expecting to hear birds chirping or something but heard nothing. The silence felt like it was drowning her, forcing her toward the ground. Akiko stopped for a moment, looking for any sign of moving life, but was still greeted by overwhelming silence. Her feet hurried toward the door, her heart fluttering. She knocked. And waited. It felt like she waited a while. She began to speak as soon as the door finally opened, her eyes cast toward the floor with respect.
    “Hello, I’m Akiko Watanabe, one of Miy—"
She stopped as she felt something coming uncomfortably close to her personal space which made her look to see who had opened the door. Her eyes were met with large black ones that blinked curiously at her. Taking a step back, Akiko realized a little girl had answered the door and was looking at her as if she hadn’t seen another human before. Her face was round and full and her skin looked like it never saw sunlight, almost as if it were made of porcelain. Chocolate colored hair fell into the soft waves of curls that had begun to come undone. Just as Akiko was looking at the girl, she, too, was being examined. The child’s eyes caught sight of her visitor’s hands and without hesitation took hold of one to look at further. Her hands were tiny and cold, but they held Akiko’s with both gentleness and firmness as if she were handling a precious item.
    “Your hands are so pretty,” the little girl commented, voice quiet and as tiny as the rest of her. With the utmost care, she examined the hand, turning it this way and that, bending the wrist and posing the fingers. Akiko didn’t know what to do or say; she wasn’t exactly comfortable with a strange girl getting so close to her without permission, but it wasn’t like this girl was doing anything harmful, either. She was just a curious little girl, Akiko supposed.
    “Um…” she began, hoping to get the little girl’s attention. Sure enough, black eyes returned to looking at Akiko’s face. “I’m a classmate of Miyu’s, I was asked to bring some work to her. Can I give them to her?” she asked. A couple seconds of silence passed between them as the little girl thought this over.
    “You’re here to see Onee-chan*?” She finally asked with a pin drop of disappointment in her tone. “Well, come in, then.”
Onee-chan? Akiko couldn’t recall Miyu having a little sister. At least, she didn’t remember her friend saying anything like that. But, if this little girl called Miyu that then it must be so. The little girl quietly brought Akiko through the house, an energetic bounce in her small steps.

Akiko looked around and took note of the details of the living room they passed through. The walls were a soft cream color with detailed rectangular paneling and a white trim running along the top, where several pictures of various shapes and sizes hung. A few featured trees and gardens with lush colors; a couple depicted open fields and rivers, green and thriving in the height of spring; one had a girl, standing and looking at the viewer, holding a china doll tightly in her arms, with a look of sadness in her eyes.. The dark wood couches and armchair were upholstered with matching cream fabric and positioned just so around the square, dark wood coffee table that had magazines arranged perfectly on it. The red and off-white Persian rug beneath their feet muffled most of the noise they made as they crossed the room. An old grandfather clock stood stiffly in the corner of the room, its massive bronze pendulum making the only other noise in the house.

The silence that loomed outside, it seemed, pervaded inside the house as well. Everything looked as though it had been cleaned just a few minutes before her arrival and yet there was this feeling that Akiko couldn’t shake off, a feeling that the room hadn’t been touched or disturbed in years. Everything was immaculate; there was not a speck of dust to be removed, not a spider web to be seen in any corner, not a trace of life. Nothing but the sound of the girls’ footsteps and the ticking that the grandfather clock emitted from its corner in the room. Akiko blinked, eyes returning to the picture of the girl, staring for a few moments, before continuing to follow the small girl.
They moved through the hallway which had the same cream colored walls and hardwood floors. They reached the staircase on the other side of the hallway, which the little guide started climbing, holding onto the railing and taking one step at a time, making sure that both feet were on the step before she proceeded any further.
    “So,” Akiko began, trying to break the silence that fell upon them again, for the grandfather clock could no longer be heard. “What’s your name?”
    “Ai,” the little girl said, not looking at Akiko as she slowly made her way up the stairs.
    “And how old are you, Ai?” Akiko asked after a few more moments of silence. Anything to get rid of it would work.
They reached the top of the stairs and Ai soon turned to Akiko, tiny hands folded behind her back as she fidgeted slightly before the older girl.
    “Well, see… Onee-chan's sleeping right now, and, and, so you can’t go see her right now,” she mustered, fumbling over her words. “Why don’t you play with me until she wakes up?” Her large black eyes looked up to Akiko, who frowned slightly.
    “I’m sorry, but I can’t. I need to give these papers to your sister and go home.”
Ai stared up at Akiko for a few moments, before her face contorted and a whimpering sound came from her throat. She started crying, right then and there, crying about how she was so lonely and she didn’t have anyone to play with and how it wasn’t fair, stamping her foot in anger.

Akiko stared, bewildered by the sudden onslaught of tears; having no interactions with small children before, she had no idea how to respond to this behavior.
    “I-If I play with you for a little while, will you stop crying?” Akiko asked desperately. Ai’s crying ceased almost instantaneously.
    “Yeah, yeah!” Ai smiled, gently grabbing Akiko’s hand and guiding the girl toward her room. Once at the door, the little girl stopped to pull a necklace up and over her head; it was plain with a brass key attached and used to unlock the door.
Ai’s room contrasted starkly to the rest of the house. Where the rooms downstairs had very clean, simply-elegant color palettes, this room had bright pastel colored walls, white-washed furniture and floral motifs. There was a large bed with white curtains and in front of it a large, pink and purple chest sat, overstuffed with costumes of various sorts and other accessories thrown around it. A small table with a few chairs sat toward one side of the room, with a tea set spread out on it and with a few dressed up stuffed animals seated in the chairs. There was a door on the other side of the room, off by the corner, but it was shut and there were no indications as to what it was.
    ‘Maybe a bathroom?’ she thought.
As Akiko looked around, taking in the massive piles of stuffed animals and games, she felt the room get slightly colder, making her shudder. There was, in the corner of the room, a series of papers that were stuck to the wall with flower stickers. As Akiko moved closer, she noticed that many of them were clippings from journals and magazines or printed pages from websites. The headlines of many of them spoke of a strange medical term Akiko had never heard of. Something about immunity, “B lymphocytes”—‘whatever those were,’ Akiko thought—and frequent infection.
    ‘It must be a disease. But… Why would a little girl have this on her wall?’ She mentally questioned, her eyebrows furrowing as she looked closer at the clippings. The rest of that page was covered by another article.
Ricin: A chemical made from processed castor beans, Ricinus Communis, and is fatal in small doses. Can be ingested, injected, and inhaled. When purified, it becomes a white powder. Dissolved, it is odorless, colorless, and flavorless. There is currently no cure or antidote for it. Symptoms can appear in as little as a few hours and often include--
There seemed to have been more written but it was torn in half.
    “Hey, Ai,” Akiko asked, as she started to gloss over the fragments. “What are these papers? Do you know what they’re talking about?”
Ai didn’t respond. Instead, she sat in front of the costume chest, looking through all sorts items with a small smile on her face.

Akiko moved away from the corner, as she spotted a dollhouse. It was large, perhaps a few feet tall, and as she moved closer, she noticed the high level of detail that went into making the house. The main room on the first floor had pink walls and white, Victorian furniture. There were two couches and an armchair arranged perfectly around a square coffee table with some tiny, fingernail-sized magazines spread over it. There were all sorts of miniature paintings stuck to the walls and a large, white grandfather clock in the corner. The room led to the hallway which had a staircase that led to the second floor, which had four rooms in it; two of which had their furniture thrown about in chaos and completely void of all colors; the third room was bright and colorful and looked like a child’s room, with pink walls and white furniture. A little girl doll sat on the bed in that room, with brown hair and a pink dress. The fourth room was tiny and attached to the bright, colorful room. In it were a few chairs, a large shower, and a couple of empty tables, as if it were a craft studio of sorts. A Victorian-styled doll sat in that room. A chill ran down Akiko’s spine.
    “We’re in the middle of a tea party, but you can come, too, Onee-chan. Here, put these on,” Ai smiled, getting up and hurrying over to the girl who had moved away from the dollhouse.
Akiko knelt down, letting Ai put a boa around her neck and a tiara on her. Ai then put a poofy pink tutu on as well as a princess hat, telling the older girl that they were both fairy princesses, before bringing Akiko to the table.
    “Now, choose an animal. You can have either Mr. Kero or Mrs. Nya,” Ai held out the two animals for Akiko to choose; Akiko took Mr. Kero, the frog. The two girls took their seats and Ai turned on a small electric kettle which took a few minutes to heat up the water she put in.
    “So, Ai…” Akiko began, watching the small child. “Where are your parents? I haven’t seen or heard them since I’ve been here.”
Ai’s face hinted at a frown momentarily, before pouring a cup of tea into one of the small cups and handing it to Akiko.
    “…Mama?Is that you? Mama? Where are you?!”
    “…Ai?” Akiko asked, but got no response. After a few moments, Ai blinked and looked up to the older girl, quickly smiling before sipping her cup of tea. A little time passed, the two girls sipping a few cups of tea and playing with the stuffed animals. Ai poured another cup of tea for Akiko, who looked at the door.
    “Well, I have to give these to your sister and head back. It’s been fun playing with you, but I really have to go now.”
    “No, Mama! Don’t! I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna!”
Ai’s eyes widened, watching Akiko get up and move to the door. She quickly put a spoonful of sugar in Akiko’s cup.
    “Just drink one more cup before you… go,” Ai’s voice quieted as she handed Akiko the cup. A small smile spread over her face as she watched the older girl take the cup.
    “Alright, but this is the last cup. I really have to go, Ai,” Akiko said, forcing a smile. After a few moments, she felt a little nauseated, but figured it was because she was hungry.
    “Oh! Before you go, I have to show you my doll! She’s really pretty, you’ll love her.” Ai eagerly rushed off to a separate room before Akiko could object. The older girl sighed and, after waiting a little while, sat back down at the tea table. Her stomach suddenly felt sore and the nausea returned.
    “No peeking!”Ai called out soon after, still from the other room.
Akiko closed her eyes. She heard some shuffling and dragging noises after a few minutes and resisted the urge to throw up.
    “Okay, you can look now!”
It was the most elaborate, beautifully made doll Akiko had seen. She was the size of Akiko, actually, with a pretty pale lavender Victorian-styled dress and matching bonnet. Everything looked so real, so life-like. Even her soft, chocolate brown curls and fair skin looked real. A chill ran down Akiko’s spine.
    “Wow, Ai, it’s amazing! Can I touch it?” She asked, and the little girl nodded, a creeping, cat-like grin now on her face. Akiko noticed it became a bit hard to breathe. She tilted back the doll’s head and jumped back, knocking over the table and shattering the tea set in the process. Hands thrown over her mouth, she stared in horror, unable to turn away from the sight before her. There, with soft, black eyes that shone dully, sat Miyu. Akiko wanted to scream but her throat would not allow it and she seemed permanently glued in place, weighed so far down with shock and disgust. She wanted to cry for her friend and demand to know how Ai could do such a thing. She wanted to think that this hadn’t actually happened. It wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be!
    “What’s wrong? Don’t you think big sister looks adorable as a doll? The best part is she won’t ever leave me…” Ai stood up slowly, walking toward Akiko, her smile spreading into an unsettling grin. “And neither will you.”
    “…N-No… No!” Akiko ran to the door but it was locked. Her heart began palpitating, her body shaking, she tried forcing the door open, shaking and pounding on the door as hard as she could. “Please! Somebody, anybody, help—Please!” She cried.
    “No one else is here, silly. Mama hasn’t been here in two whole years,” Ai’s own voice quivered now, tears starting to form in her eyes.
Akiko soon collapsed to the floor. Her heart ached and her chest felt like it was shrinking to a speck as if it wouldn’t allow her to breathe no matter how hard she tried. She struggled, desperately clawing at her school uniform, trying to breathe in, but couldn’t. Ai stood over her, crying and laughing at the same time.

      “I told you not to leave me! I didn’t want to be alone! You left me alone when I needed you most, Mama! Well, now I don’t have to ever be alone again. You, and Onee-chan, and Akiko will stay with me forever and we can play all day and I won’t get sick ever again!”

And then Akiko’s vision went black.

Ai soon dragged Akiko’s body off to the door that was off to the side and into a redesigned bathroom. There were two long, knee-high tables with small stools by them, and several dissection tools in different containers. She paused for a few minutes, coughing, before washing her hands and then putting on long gloves. Ai carefully took off Akiko’s clothes before pulling her body into the walk-in shower. She took time washing Akiko’s hair and skin so they were as clean as possible, before retrieving a scalpel. She made a few incisions along Akiko’s abdomen and carefully took out as many organs as she could, blood flowing into the shower drain.
    “You have to stay in your room, sweetheart.”
    “We can’t have you getting sick again, can we?”
    “Why do I get sick all the time?”
    “Well, Daddy says that your body doesn’t have everything it needs to protect itself from getting sick. He says it’s best for you to stay in your room, where it’s safe.”
The organs made the oddest shloshing noise as they moved around in the bucket Ai brought into the shower. She brought Akiko’s body over to one of the tables, laying her out. She stuffed the body cavity with medical gauze to soak up any extra blood that hadn’t drained yet, moving limbs to move blood faster to the gauze stuffing.
    “You told me you’d stay with me today!” Ai whined, lying in bed with an IV drip in her arm.
    “I’m sorry, honey… Daddy says—“
    “But you promised! I hate being by myself…” She started sniffling and whimpering.
    “I’m sorry, honey. But, I bought you a new doll! It was the one you wanted, right?”
    “Really? Thank you, Mama!” Ai’s face instantly brightened.
Process nearly complete, Akiko took a small sewing needle and silk stitches, and gently began stitching up the incisions. She made sure to make tiny, even stitches that wouldn’t be seen. Though Akiko’s skin was treated, it still gave a bit of resistance before accepting the needle with a muffled pop. It sounded like Ai was puncturing a peach. She began coughing again, lungs starting to hurt.
    “I’m sorry, honey, but, Daddy says—“
    “No!” Ai knew this day was coming. “No, don’t! I don’t want it!”
    “I’m sorry, but it’s for your own good. You need to stay healthy.”
    “I am healthy! I don’t wanna be alone!” She started crying.
    “Well, I got you a present. I know how much you love dolls and when I saw this, I thought of you. I’m really sorry.” The porcelain doll was left at the foot of the bed and Ai’s mother walked toward the door.
    “No, Mama! Don’t! I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna!” Ai started throwing pillows, stuffed animals, anything she could get her hands on. Her mother didn’t look back as she walked out of the door. Ai threw the doll at the closed door, watching it shatter and leave a chip on the doorframe.

     “Would you like more tea, Akiko?” Ai asked, as she poured more into the child-sized cup before her friend who sat beside Onee-chan. Her parents lifelessly watched with their unnatural, glass-like eyes from the crack in the door that connected to the other room. “You have such pretty hands, just like a doll’s…” she smiled before sipping from her own cup. The cough returned, wracking her lungs with pain as she spent several minutes coughing.

*A term of endearment, meaning “big sister.” © 2010 Brooke Clifford

Click on Brooke Clifford  for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.